Thursday, March 31, 2011

Snack Attack -- Simple S'Mores

I toy a lot with the idea of a "dream career." What job would I have if I could have any job in the entire world? And at 23 years old I can safely say, that I am 100% positive that...

I have no freakin' clue.

There are lots of passions floating around in my head that I know someday will all fit together into my idea of a perfect job, an ideal career. But whenever I think of doing one thing for the rest of my life, I can't decide. Something with writing, okay. Something with travel, of course. Something with food, perhaps... but what about marketing? I'm loving it at the moment, will that passion grow? And fashion, oh how I love fashion and shoes and shopping... what happened to my 16 year old dreams of working at Cosmo? What happened to my art portfolio for all those art schools I never applied to senior year of high school?

Well what can I say, with perfect certainty, that I am good at and comfortable with? Let's see...

Snacking. Professional snacker? Oooh...

Even that, as lovely as it sounds, I probably could not picture myself doing forever. But for now, I can share one of my recent Snack Attacks with my humble tiny collection of readers. Who knows, maybe it will lead to a job in Travel Writing Marketing Cooking Snacking Painting Marketer Professional.

Awkward hand angle, delicious treat
Ohhh the s'more. How I long for you in the chilly months, your toasty perfection plucked from the end of a hand-carved marshmallow stick. But as it is still a few months until summer, and Mother Nature's impending April Fool's trick of 12 inches of snow in the Northeast is making us all sink back into a winter depression, I had to come up with a substitute.

Highlighted resume skills: Impeccable Improvisation Skillz. With a z.

Two second s'mores. Take some 'Nilla wafers, spread with Fluff and Nutella, sandwich, and enjoy to your heart's content. You're welcome.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deconstructed, Reconstructed Eggplant "Parm"

First attempt at "plating"
Peacocking: a term "The Pickup Artist" uses to rationalize using feather boas to pick up chicks. I have no idea in what setting or situation a feather boa on a man is attractive, but to each their own I guess. What I suppose peacocking is supposed to mean is flaunting your best features in order to attract the opposite sex. That makes a lot of sense, but I'm not sure when feather boas are ever effective.

Nearly two years ago, when The Boyfriend and I (I've yet to pick out a pseudonym for him, he just suggested "Cee" because he's original like that, oof) first started dating, I was doing somewhat of a culinary peacocking. Though the relationship was blossoming nicely and I was in a state of utter bliss I decided I would take it a step further and really seal the deal: I'd cook him a magnificent dinner.

At the time, I was living in the city and he was a two hour drive away. For one of his first trips out to visit me I picked a fancy sounding dinner that was also healthy (Eggplant Stacks, from "Cook Yourself Thin"). I remember after much preparation finally sitting down to dinner with him in my apartment's tiny kitchen, watching him take a bite, then taking my own bite. I was immediately disappointed, this was not my best. It wasn't even close to my best. I KNEW I should have gone with my old reliable, baked mac and cheese! Why did I--

He loved it.

I couldn't believe it. I didn't hate the dish really, it just totally did not do it for me--I had been convinced that the culinary peacocking had tanked, I had made a sad, bland little unimpressive meal. I thought he was just being nice in saying he enjoyed it, but on a recent stroll through the produce department of the local supermarket he turned to me and said "Hey, why don't you ever make that eggplant thing?"

Uhhh... Because I didn't like it? It was not good? But after mentioning it in passing at least three more times, "no, I really liked it! It was really good!" I decided to give it another try, albeit with some modifications so that I could enjoy the meal as well. It's almost as if I took a traditional eggplant parmasean apart and then put it back together again, half the traditional version and half the slimmed-down "Cook Yourself Thin" version.*

Though I'm far past going out of my way to clumsily peacock for him these days, it's still a great feeling to create something that puts a smile on his face. Extra points when I enjoy the meal as well!


Deconstructed, Reconstructed Eggplant "Parm"
makes three servings of two eggplant stacks each


Ingredients:

  • 1 Large Eggplant
  • 3 tbs balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 1 cup Panko 
  • 12 tbs pesto (homemade pesto makes all the difference!)
  • 12 tbs marinara sauce (again, go homemade! This is my new favorite sauce recipe.)
  • 3 tbs feta cheese
  • 6 slices of fresh mozerella
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • frying oil of choice (I used mostly olive oil with some canola)
  • salt and pepper

Note: all tablespoon amounts are approximate, you may find you need a little more or less to complete the recipe as directed

-Cut the eggplant into 1/2" thick slices. Arrange on a cookie sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Salt and pepper the tops of the slices, then brush a light coating of balsamic vinaigrette over each slice. Broil until soft, about five minutes or less. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool just enough to be able to handle them without burning yourself.

-Lightly flour the broiled eggplants and dip each in egg, then breadcrumbs. Fry in oil until light brown, about a minute or two each side. Be careful not to burn! Pat with paper towels to remove excess oil.

-Arrange half of the eggplant slices (there will be about six) on the cookie sheet. Layer each with a tomato slice, mozzarella slice, and about a tablespoon of pesto and marinara. Top with a second fried eggplant slice and another tablespoon of each sauce. Sprinkle with feta cheese.


-Bake at 350 degrees until the mozzarella begins to melt and the tomato wilts a little. Remove from oven and serve immediately.


*I made a few the original way, just in case he ended up liking them better. The verdict? "The fried ones are good, but I think I like the first kind better." Good thing I did both!

**"The Pickup Artist" is a terrible show, btw.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Home-Made Guacamole -- Cook Yourself Thin Burritos


Stuffed and ready to roll!
About the time I realized I needed to start cooking for myself more, I stumbled upon this cute little show on Lifetime called Cook Yourself Thin. I haven't seen a new episode in about a year, but all the recipes are still on the Lifetime site and I have a backlist of ones I'm waiting to try. The first one I ever tackled was the Chicken Burritos With Pineapple Salsa. Since it would totally be plagiarizing to post the recipe here since I followed it word-for-word with no edits (except adding jalapeno to EVERYTHING instead of just the beans and adding a teaspoon each of chili powder and cumin to the tomato sauce to make it more taco-ish), please follow the link if you want to try it out and see a much better picture of the end result.

The fixins. Feel free to add any fresh veggies too.
Seriously, these things are amazing, despite being horribly time-consuming with many parts and so. much. chopping.* I totally destroyed Boyfriend's kitchen for the evening making these. But we both agreed, it was more than worth it. The pineapple salsa was the perfect sweet note to the mostly savory dish. At about 500 calories per burrito I could consume in utter bliss sans guilt.

I know a cookbook for this show exists somewhere in the world, and you best bet I'm gonna find it. 



However, since I'm trying really hard to have good side dishes to my meals, I decided to try my hand at home-made guacamole accompanied by crispy tortilla chips. And, because I can't resist a good guac, I also added a hefty tablespoon to the burritos as well.




Perfect Guacamole and Tortilla Chips

For the Guacamole:
  • 4 Ripe Avocados
  • Juice from Half a Lime
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Diced
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Chopped Cilantro
  • 1/4 Cup Diced Onion
  • 1/4 Cup Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 Jalapeno, Diced or Pureed
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Spoon works too
For the Chips:
  • 3 Multi-grain Tortillas, Cut into Triangles
  • Pam Cooking Spray or Olive Oil
  • Salt

-Add all ingredients for guac to a bowl and smoosh together with a fork or pulse in a food processor until desired consistency is reached. Chill.

-Arrange tortilla triangles on a cookie sheet and coat both sides with a light brush of olive oil or spray evenly with Pam. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees for seven minutes, turning halfway through.

Chill guac and serve!

Things to Note: The lime is absolutely necessary so that the guac will keep and not brown as quickly. Also, I much prefer smooshing the ingredients together with a fork instead of a food processor. This could mean the difference between a creamy guac with delicious chunks of ripe avocado, and an equally tasty but definitely baby-poo looking smooth puree of guac. I prefer the esthetic quality of the chunky, don't you?

Also: KEEP AN EYE ON THOSE CHIPS. This is adapted from a recipe that suggested broiling and I nearly burnt down my kitchen on the first try. I turned down the heat and lengthened the time, adding a turn halfway through.
Perfect on these burritos!


*Thank GOODNESS for my Pampered Chef Chopper, which I found in my parents' basement never-used. It's my current Kitchen VIP and I use it for just about everything now. Cuts prep time in half and is a bit less cumbersome than a food processor when you just need a quick chop.

Home-Made Pesto -- And A Full Dinner For Once!

After trying my hand at home-made marinara sauce (from here, obviously, where else?) I concluded that canned, bottled, or boxed absolutely pales in comparison to what you can make from scratch. Jarred pesto is lovely, but fresh is ten times better, albeit expensive at the local grocery store. So I dusted off my mom's never-used food processor and decided this past weekend I'd try my hand at making it from scratch.

The results? As expected, I don't ever want to go back to jarred pesto again--unless I make it myself of course! It's fairly inexpensive, the priciest ingredient being the pine nuts. This summer I hope to have a little windowsill herb garden with loads of basil, which I'm sure will make this recipe even more fresh and full tasting.

I've been realizing lately that although I've been a recipe fiend lately, I'm not so good at the side dishes. So I made this into a full meal for Boyfriend and I: The pesto was tossed with angel hair and apple chicken sausage with a quick caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and sliced basil with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon) and "home-made" garlic bread (store-bought french bread sliced lengthwise and baked with butter and garlic at 400 degrees for about seven minutes). Paired with a light Chardonnay it was reminiscent of when I worked in an Italian restaurant.




A great Saturday night dinner indeed!

Home-Made Pesto
Makes about 2 cups


  • 4 to 6 Cups Fresh Basil, packed
  • 5 Cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Pine Nuts
  • 1/4 Cup Almonds
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


-Add all ingredients to food processor and pulse until desired consistency is reached--I found that pulsing the nuts first until ground fine, then adding the dry ingredients and pulsing until blended, then adding the oil until mixed throughly works best.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Things I Need to Have a Successful Cooking Blog

-A new camera so my creations don't translate to "colorful poo" on this blog
-Any sort of semblance of food photography knowledge
-Pretty serving plates/napkins/placemats for said photos
-A better blog layout

Though this blog is still a baby, and I'm trying to keep internet-anonymous for the most part for a while until some personal things blow over, I still want this blog to have a little bit of an active following. I'm realizing that the most successful cooking blogs are not only great recipes (or easy recipes, or recipes-on-a-budget) but also gorgeous food photography. That is a piece that I am seriously lacking here, and I don't see anything getting better until I can make my photos look a little less crappy.

Though I did find my trusty old camera before my LA trip, I've found that the 9/10 times I'm cooking at my boyfriend's house* it's dark outside and his florescent light overhead makes my pictures come out pretty crappy. My flash washes them out and then we get what you see here: poop-food-photos.

Also, despite having taught myself web design in elementary school, I haven't had a chance to utilize my knowledge in a long time. The one time I did for a class it was quite the struggle. This pink business is not my fave, but it'll have to do until I can set aside some time to really pick my brain and try to do something about it.

But yeah, I guess the lack of recognition is good for now. I've learned my lesson in not being careful on the internet, so until I can come up with a good game plan for promotion with a site I can actually feel proud about--sans blogger-freebie-layout and poopy pics--I can be content in the internet shadows.

*I live with my parents but spend half the time at my boyfriend's house, so I really have no kitchen to call my own. The 'rents are pretty strict about their kitchen and it's pretty small so if they already have dinner planned, I'm out of luck in recipe experimentation. I'm hoping that in a year or so I can get my own place, but until then I'm a kitchen leaser between these two.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Meals for the Week -- Zesty Hamburger Soup

I was never much of a chef. Early experiments in the kitchen ended in disaster--and that's putting it mildly. It wasn't until I was out on my own, in the big bad city, when I was FORCED to not only cook but cook well enough to make something worth consuming.

However, I was a college student. I was paying sky-high city rent on waitress wages. I could not afford a pantry full of fancy ingredients, and most weeks I kept my grocery shopping to under $50. Breakfast was never a big meal for me, lunches were nibbled on throughout the day. Dinner was the big meal, and often when I finally got back to my apartment I would be pooped from 9 hours of class or 9 hours of waiting tables.

My advice to anyone in this situation: Cook big, cook ahead.

This soup is hearty, filling, and absolutely delicious. Add some bread and it's an entire meal. I would make a huge pot on Sunday and be happily fed all week with minimal effort the night of the nomming. Half would go into freezer bags for future meals.

A trip to Trader Joe's could complete the list for this meal for around $10, and I'm sure clever shopping and substituting could save you even more.



I should just accept that this will be The Blog of Crappy Pictures... a food photographer I am not.

Zesty Hamburger Soup
(Adapted from a Taste of Home Recipe)*
  • 1 pound ground beef (also can substitute ground turkey, or leave it out entirely)
  • 2 cups sliced celery
  • 1 cup sliced baby carrots
  • 1 cup onion
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 4 cups hot chicken broth (substitute veg broth or water if you wish)
  • 2 medium red potatoes
  • 2 cups frozen corn
  • 2 cups uncooked shell pasta 
  • 4 cups V8 juice
  • 1.5 cans diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • Hot sauce (as much or as little as you'd like--I like it spicy so I use a lot, plus a little cayenne pepper)

-Cook beef, celery, carrots, and onion over medium heat until meat is browned. Add the garlic and mix in.

-Drain the fat, then mix in broth, potatoes, corn, hot sauce, and pasta.

-Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes and pasta are cooked to your liking (I'm not a fan of al dente so I go for the full 15 to get them a little softer)

-Add the rest of the ingredients (V8, diced tomatoes, and sugar) and heat over medium until heated through.



*I thiiiiink. My mom made this a bunch of times at home and I had a bad craving while at school. I vaguely remembered that it included V8 juice and hamburger, so I googled until I found the closest thing match.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Instead of Three Fast Food Chains...

I can't figure out how to get this right-side up, urrrg
...I just did In-N-Out twice.

It just didn't work out that we had time for Carl's Jr. or Pollo Loco. Sadly, I never even stumbled across a Korean-BBQ-Mexican-Infusion cart. But we did sample In-N-Out, which was the one I really cared about anyway. Immediately upon getting off the plane, renting a car, and discovering we had over an hour before we could check-in to our hotel room without an early fee, we punched "In-N-Out" into the GPS and were on our way.

I felt very cool sauntering up to the counter and asking for a Double-Double Animal Style with extra special sauce on the side. Very cool indeed. The boyfriend got a regular double-double with fries. I got a lemonade, because I didn't feel like trying to order a rootbeer float, and felt like I was pushing it as a newbie with the secret menu items. When asked if I wanted my fries Animal-Style too, I declined. Too much animal was being consumed already.

With high expectations I took a giant bite. I was ravenous--thanks American Airline for not even giving us PEANUTS on our six hour flight, yeesh!--but I tried to savor my first taste of In-N-Out. 

Animal Style Double-Double DELISH.
"Oh my God," I mumbled through chewing, "this is what a Big Mac wants to grow up to be..."

Delicious.

But, way too much. I got through about half and could do no more. I don't know if it was the extra pickles, the extra sauce, the extra cheese, the amount of caramelized onions or the fact that it was two whole burgers in one bun (I can NEVER get through a double anything haha) with all the fixin's but I just could not finish this beast. The fries were also a bit of a letdown, as I'd been warned, so I only got through about half of those too. I took the lemonade with me. Overall a pretty satisfying lunch.

Boyfriend liked the food, he got a regular Double-Double with fries, but was skeptical about the sauce

The next day we met a friend of mine outside of the Warner Brothers tour. Sadly, she couldn't get tickets and we had gotten ours the night before, so we decided to meet for lunch after. "Can we go to In-N-Out?? I've been in LA for three days and still haven't had one!" Boyfriend and I looked at each other. "Um, maybe, we just had it yesterday..."

By the end of the tour we were craving the burgers. At this point my friend had eaten without us, so we had no actual reason to go to the same place a second time. But the craving was bad. How do LA-ers do it? How do they pull themselves away from the burger perfection that is In-N-Out?

Animal Style Fries, Well Done and quite delicious!
This time, I tried the Animal Style fries (well done), with a regular Double-Double. If I lived in In-N-Out Burger territory I think this would be my meal. The Animal Style burger was a bit much, but on the fries it was slightly less heavy and greasy for some reason. Well-done-ing the fries was a wise choice, they were 100% better that way.

About an hour later we were seriously regretting this decision. Bloaty gross stomach aches for us both. I barely was able to stomach half of a taco that night for dinner (Lucy's El Adobe, it tasted fresh and delicious and I wish I could have enjoyed it more), which was hours later.

To sum it up: The burgers were delicious, and if I lived in the area I would definitely utilize the place on a bi-weekly basis at least. Writing this is making me drool, and I am concocting ways to re-create this masterpiece at home. 

These birds were thrilled to be at In-N-Out
Also: LA was wonderful and we're already planning another trip, and talking half-seriously about possibly moving there someday. Highlights included this burger experience (duh), a wonderful day at the beach (both Venice and Santa Monica), an excellent tour of Universal Studios, being on Jay Leno as Leprechaun #44 in the show's attempt to break the world record for most leprechauns in a single room (223 I think was the final count), and seeing the following celebrities: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jane Lynch (outside of the Paul premiere), Angelina Jolie and two of her children (at Universal Studios, couldn't tell which kids, but I think maybe Shiloh and Zahara), Jay Leno and Rainn Wilson (at the taping for the Jay Leno show).

Not happy to be back in the Northeast snow, that's for sure. Get me back to Cali please?




Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sorryish...

Updates are currently lacking because I'm busy and planning my LA excursion! Also have a business trip this week, so it's doubtful that I'll cook something up anytime soon.

Probably no updates (or, maybe one? maybe?) until I'm back from my trip.

I doubt I have any followers yet though, so I'm probably not upsetting anyone, haha.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Impending Trip, Blog Idea!

Today my boyfriend and I officially booked our Los Angeles getaway in two weeks. I've never been to the West Coast, so this is endlessly exciting for me.

Have I mentioned yet that I'm a foodie waiting to happen? Maybe it's just Travel Channel Propaganda, but LA seems like a wonderful food city, and I can't wait to take a bite.

Unfortunately, the trip is turning out to already be a lot more expensive than we realized (direct flights, hotel with a pool, and traveller's insurance will do that) so I'm thinking one fancy dinner out is all we'll be able to swing with everything else we want to do.

Foodnews Journal had an In-N-Out article in it today, accompanied by drool-worthy photos of the signature burgers, making me wish there was one anywhere near me up in the Northeast. Also, no Sonic. No Carl's Jr. No Fatburger. And no food trucks!

Sidenote, are there any Eastern fast food joints that aren't out West? I can't think of any besides Papa Gino's...

Anyway. So here is the plan: I want to try at least three fast food places out West that are nonexistent here in the East, and review them in this here blog. In-N-Out will be first, as I plan on making the boyfriend pull over at the one near LAX immediately upon arrival as I'm certain we'll be famished. I'll take pictures, take bites, share my thoughts.

Food trucks won't count, but I'm praying I stumble upon a Korean-Mexican infusion one at least. I've seen pictures of Korean Tacos that look heavenly.

I just got really excited about this idea and felt the need to share. I know nobody reads this yet, but whatevs. My stomach is growling already!

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Peanut Sauce -- Our New Addiction

So the boyfriend and I have made this no fewer than four times. It's delicious, and what's more--it's cheap!
The crappy photos will be done soon... hang in there.




One of my favorite places to go out to eat in the city was the wonderful PF Chang's. I know, I know--it's not true ethnic food, it's cheesy, it's run by some guy named Steve Smith or something, I'm not a real foodie, please let me enjoy my sugary plum sauce'd mooshu pork in peace. And do not forget the lettuce wraps. The most amazing appetizer, the one the place is known for, and with good reason. They're great. I crave them often, which makes living an hour away from any major city containing a PF Chang's difficult.

But a craving must be satisfied, and since I have a fear of driving and a crappy car, I must try to create my own.

It doesn't look like much, but the taste makes up for it!
Adapted from Ten Dollar Dinners (again, by "adapted" I mean I add some things), I give you: Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps With Spicy Peanut Sauce! This meal is amazing, makes lots of leftovers, and if you don't go overboard on the sauce, I'm sure it's fairly healthy-ish too! Though far from the PF Chang version, it satisfies a craving long enough between trips to the big bad city.

But oh, that sauce. Its deliciousness cannot be matched. The creamy, sweetness of peanutbutter and brown sugar combined with the spice of the Sirachi sauce... divine. The second time I made this my mom made a regular stir fry the next day, and you best believe I drowned it in this stuff. Make extra, take it to the limit, put it on everything. It is my gift to you.



Ginger Chicken Lettuce Wraps
  • 1 lb Chicken tenders, cut into chunks
  • 1 head Iceberg Lettuce
  • 1 cup Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tbsp Soy or Shoyu sauce 
  • 2 Tbsp Canola oil
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup canned bamboo shoots, diced
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms, diced
  • 1/4 cup water chestnuts, diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Pine Nuts per wrap (Not necessary, but gives it a nice crunch)


Mix broth, garlic, shoyu/soy sauce, lemon juice and ginger and pour over chicken. Marinade for 30 mins to 1 hour. Shorter is fine, but the longer the better for the flavors to really seep in.

Heat oil in medium skillet or wok to medium-high heat. Add marinated chicken and stir-fry until browned and cooked through.  

Toss in all veggies and cook until desired texture is reached. It will get a little watery, so I like to drain it at this point.

Sprinkle with Pine Nuts and serve with rice and Srirachi Peanut sauce.

Srirachi Peanut Sauce:
(this is the original recipe, I double it for extra sauce)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter - I highly suggest the honey-roasted variety
  • 3 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1-2 Tbsp Srirachi Sauce (I use 3 with the doubled recipe)


Combine peanut butter and hot water/broth with sugar in small sauce pan over medium heat.  Mix till sugar and peanut butter are well blended. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, garlic, srirachi and soy sauce. Mix well and set aside to cool.