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Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I think it’s time I explain my relationship with food. Food is more to me than just sustenance, it is tied to my conception of the world, my community and my culture. Food is how we celebrate our victories, sooth our wounds and how we create community. We eat in times of happiness and sadness, for joy and for pain. We bring a plate of cookies to a new neighbor, a pot of soup to those who are sick. Food can do so many things, and yet at the end of the day, it is just food. It’s not overly complicated, doesn’t require anything from you, it is there simply to satiate your hunger and nourish your body.
I sought comfort in food at an early age, holding on to it for stability when it seemed my world was flying to pieces. It manifested itself in strange ways, like a constant, baseless fear of running out of food. I grew up simply, but having enough food was never once an issue- I have no idea where my fear came from. At birthday parties, I would eye the platters of beautiful food with an almost crazed mind, panicked at the thought that I would not get enough cake; that they would run out and I would be left cakeless, other kids eyeing me with pity. I had no basis for this fear, I have never seen a children’s birthday party with a shortage of cake. But I could not be convinced.
As I got older, I lost the fear of not having enough, and sought the comfort of food in other ways. I was an overachiever in school- straight A’s, dancer in a dance company, Rotary Interact Club President, outrigger canoe team, art classes- my resume was optimized for college applications. Food was my outlet. A simple process of mixing ingredients to yield a yummy finished product. Nothing to be graded, judged, or held up for comparison, this food was just for me.
I found my passion for cooking in college. I was shy, not the type of girl to go to wild parties, and turned to cooking to make friends. The smell of fresh hot chocolate chip cookies baking in a dorm could attract even the most reclusive of college kids. With food, I forged friendships and created my tribe. I joined a sorority, and through it made deep friendships with amazing women- smart, funny and inspiring. Each of our events was marked with food; cookie parties celebrating our accomplishments, dinners saying goodbye to graduating seniors, even attendance at our chapter meetings every Monday night was guaranteed with some sort of food bribe. We laughed and cried over those meals and parties and through them grew into our young adult selves.
Graduation scattered my closest friends across the country, but I stuck close to the familiar in the more sophisticated city of Seattle. The city brought many new things, but brought me closer to the tight knit group of girlfriends who stayed nearby. There were so many restaurants to be explored, happy hours to be tested and food festivals like the international cheese festival in Pike Market. Best of all, we started a tradition called Tuesday Night Dinner. The location rotated between each of our starter apartments, with barely enough kitchen space to turn around, let alone create a meal. We came up with a theme, like breakfast, Mexican, appetizers, risotto, and all brought parts of the meal and, of course, a few bottles of wine. No matter what our crazy lives threw at us, we always had Tuesday nights with the girls. While it was the companionship we treasured, it was the food that brought us together.
I have moved on from Seattle, but not from Tuesday Night Dinners. Instead of cooking to maintain relationships, I am cooking to build new ones. The meals have changed too. That first year out of school we were all playing at being grown-ups, pulling together prepared meals from the glorious Metropolitan Market (my favorite thing about Seattle shopping, more on that another day). Now that I have more time, I spend it creating menus, perfecting techniques (or at least attempting them), and appreciating the power of food.
I don’t know where my relationship with food will take me next, whether it will remain a hobby or blossom into a career, but I know that this love affair will continue throughout my whole life. No matter what else is going on, I know that with a few simple ingredients, I can satisfy someone’s basic needs, nourish their body, and even bring a smile to their face. That is the power of food, and it is a power I am happy to have.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The day started off bright and clear, perfect for our grilling plans. The menu: Teriyaki Salmon, Filet Mignon, leftover Macaroni and Cheese, Rice, Salad, and Corn. Grilled Teriyaki Salmon is one of my all time favorite meals, so moist and hearty, yet still light and healthy. Add to that all those sides (not that Filet is a side, but in my world, Salmon trumps steak), and you’ve got yourself a party!
Unfortunately, the skies had another plan for us. Big angry clouds rolled in around five, and unleashed a torrent of sideways rain, flooding the streets and nearly drowning cars. Grillmaster Andrew was really looking forward to an evening of grillin’, and was convinced that the show could go on but luckily for our delicious food, we moved the party inside. It may have taken a bit longer, and didn’t get that flame-seared flavor, but we ended up with a pretty great plate of food.
The Great Teriyaki sauce debate continues: Soy Vey vs. Mr. Yoshida’s. Last night, Andrew claimed a momentary victory: Soy Vey was available and Mr. Yoshida’s was nowhere to be found. But Soy Vey can make a mean marinade, so all ended well. We filled our bellies so full of the savory; we could barely fit the sweet (the cookie dough pots, made by special request for our guests). A night with friends, good times, and great food- hard to beat!
The Star of the Show
All wrapped up and ready to grill... or broil
Tender and Moist
Look at that bite- yum!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
One of the things I miss most about Seattle is Pike Market. Not that I went all the time, maybe once a month at most, but just having it there made me feel very urban and sophisticated. I loved popping over, grabbing a loaf of bread from my favorite bakery, a pound of Wild Salmon from the fishmongers, and a huge bouquet of flowers and bringing it all home for a simple dinner overlooking the sound. The best part of Pike Market, though, is Beecher’s Mac and Cheese. Hands down the World’s best Mac and Cheese (ask anyone who has had it). Whenever visitors came into town, Beecher’s was a must-taste to get the true flavor of Seattle.
Here in the land of cheese, Wisconsin, I would have thought that they would have been able to top Seattle’s Finest, but it was not to be. Luckily, a little digging on the Internet revealed the holy grail of Mac and Cheese recipes. Tuesday Night has become our night for entertaining, so what better excuse than to present the Amazing Beecher’s Cheesy Pasta?
I could not get all the actual cheeses used in Beecher’s, but its not difficult to find some great ones out here. I used smoked mozzarella, cause I love a great smoked cheese, Fontina for a nice smooth sauce, and sharp cheddar to add a bite of flavor. To top it all off, I used a thin layer of cheddar/gruyere and a sprinkling of Panko breadcrumbs for a crunchy crust. I served it with a spicy honey glazed chicken, and a big green salad. MMMMMmmmmm. Perfection.
milk roux and cheese, ready to make sauce!
mmm, look at all that cheese
the extent of my baby kitchen!
ready to pop in the oven
Crusty on the top, hot cheesy deliciousness in the middle!
Mac and Cheese
12 ounces penne pasta
4 cups Beecher's Flagship Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup cheddar, grated
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 Tsp chili powder
1/4 Tsp Paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Oil or butter an 9x13 inch baking dish.
Cook the penne 2 minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and set aside.
Combine cooked pasta and Flagship Sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses and then the chili powder and paprika. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3/12 cups semihard cheese, (I used cheddar)
1 1/2 cup grated semisoft cheese, (I mixed smoked mozzarella and Fontina)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cooking for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to three days.
Source: Adapted from Beecher's World's Best Mac and Cheese care of the Seattle PI
Sunday, May 23, 2010
A whole weekend on my own, with no one’s palate to please but my own. I was a single girl this weekend, but since I was basically bedridden my adventures didn’t stray beyond my kitchen. So this weekend, I got to cook whatever I wanted- all the goodies that I love that my partner in culinary escapades won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Which means: Shrimp.
My family loves shrimp. In any and every form- You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauteé it (Forrest Gump, remember that movie? No? Rent it immediately). You name it, we love it. You can bet if there is a shrimp option on the menu, at least one of my family members will order it. So it was a given that I make a shrimp dish at some point, I just had to time it right.
The best restaurant on the Island of Maui is A Saigon Café, the best Vietnamese food you will ever encounter. Ask anyone who lives there. It is impossible to find if you don’t know exactly where it is, and it has no sign outside (My mom called it “Opén” for a long time, since the only visible sign was the open sign). To get there, you drive into the creepy area of town, past boarded up buildings and drugged out homeless people, and park on a dark street just under a bridge. But don’t despair, just lock your car and walk inside.
The smiling staff greets you by name, the bright interior sooths your unease. It is always packed- birthday parties, first dates, groups of people eating before they go to the ballet or theater, guaranteed you will run into at least one person you know. The waiters are old friends- trading stories of their families and asking how I am doing on the mainland.
And then there is the food. No matter what you order, you can’t go wrong. My mom and I order about 5 family style dishes, with the intention of taking leftovers home, but it’s just too good to wait. My favorite dish is the make your own fresh rolls, where they bring you the fillings and you roll it all up into a yummy spring roll. While I adore their chicken rolls, I decided to substitute shrimp instead. Though nowhere near as good as their inspiration, they hit the spot.
Shrimp Spring Rolls
For the Shrimp
8 jumbo shrimp, uncooked, peeled and tail off
1/2 tsp chili pepper
1 tsp chopped Sweet Basil
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
salt and pepper
For the Sauce
2 Tbsp Sweet Chili sauce
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
Cooked vermicelli noodles
Spring Roll Wrappers
Bowl of hot hot water to cook wrappers in
- Heat oil in a medium hot pan and add shrimp. Add chili pepper, basil, salt and pepper, and rice wine vinegar and cook until shrimp turn pink.
- Mix the sauce ingredients together, adjusting to your taste.
- Chop the ingredients for the filling and arrange on a plate.
- Dip one spring roll wrapper into hot water at a time, rotating until it softens and becomes transparent
- Lay out flat on a plate and arrange fillings in the middle of the wrapper. Fold edges of wrapper over and roll.- Dip into sauce.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
I tried my best, I really did. Today was just not my day. I’m a little under the weather today, and to make myself feel better, I planned a long afternoon of my favorite thing: baking!! I found these sinfully sweet bites on Our Best Bites, and they immediately went on my must-bake list. Today, I decided they were just the thing to tempt my appetite into coming back.
I love chocolate and mint together- the perfect marriage of two unique flavors into something fantastically indulgent. These brownies take the best idea the girl scouts ever had (Thin Mints!) and made it even gooier and more scrumptious. I needed them in my life. Pronto.
I got off to a great start; everything was going well. I melted the butter and chocolate into a smooth, chocolaty syrup. Melting chocolate is always a risk: heat it too quickly and it will not melt- just chunk up and burn, too slowly and it will never melt, and remain in unappetizing clumps. I like the Microwave method- heating for 30-second intervals, stirring well between each session. The chocolate will not melt on its own in the microwave, only by stirring will it become creamy and smooth.
Then the sugar and eggs mixed into a frothy batter, ready to combine with the syrup and flour. I poured the syrup into the batter while mixing and watched while the chocolate formed a rich brown ribbon in the egg and sugar mixture. Next comes the core of the brownie, adding the flour to create substance. By spooning the flour mixture in, you avoid making the batter clumpy. Poured it in a pan, and threw it in the oven. So far, so good!
Then oven betrayed me again. It’s my fault this time- one of those fool me once shame on you, fool me twice…Bravo toaster oven, you have shamed me well. I shouldn’t expect too much out of the toaster, it is only a little guy. But I wanted my brownies, and I wanted them NOW, not in 2 months when I have a real oven again. So I crossed my fingers and wished for the best. The oven wished for my brownies to burn. It won. But I do not go down that easy- I cut the edges and burned parts of the top off. It may not be the prettiest brownie on the block, but it would still taste just fine.
I moved on to the frosting stage. Minty and light, creamy and smooth- MmmmmmMmm. I added a few drops of vanilla to the mint frosting, just to round out the flavor. I spread it on, covering up the uneven crumbly edges from operation-pretend-it-didn’t-burn-on-top. All that was left was popping it in the fridge to chill it, then drizzling a layer of chocolate glaze on top.
This is where is really went sideways. And I do mean that literally. The edge of the pan caught the edge of the shelf in the fridge and BAM. My pan of yummy mint brownies went crashing to the floor, falling SPLAT on its edge. Half the brownies fell out, face down on the floor. The other half piled on top of each other, mashed up, upside down, frosting smeared all over the place. Disaster.
But too bad. I am salvaging these brownies no matter what. I scraped the brownies off the floor and tossed them. Don’t worry, none of them made it into the final product, I’m not THAT desperate. The brownies that managed to stay in the pan got spread around, re-frosted as well as they could be, and put on a plate. Instead of flat, neat squares of brownie, I ended up with little mountains of minty chocolate goodness, delightfully gooey. While I would not declare this day a resounding success, the brownie mountains did their duty- I was hungry enough at the end of it to indulge in a whole little chunklet. And enjoyed every bit of it. You regular brownies watch out, this may become a new trend!
Source: Our Best Bites- see link for complete recipe
Friday, May 21, 2010
I am not a big breakfast person, never have been. Aside from an occasional big special breakfast, I would really rather just move right on to lunch, on to the good stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it- cereal, oatmeal, a piece of bacon here or there, but it’s just not my favorite meal of the day (hello dessert).
Roll-ups, however, are different. Roll-ups are the best a morning meal can get for me. Like pancakes, but lighter and sweeter. Like a crepe but with more substance. Roll-ups were my mom’s specialty growing up. I think at one point she had wanted to make Swedish pancakes from scratch, and somehow ended up with this delicious concoction instead.
The important trick to remember with Roll-ups is to butter the pan before every batch. This makes a crispy ring around the edge, adding the perfect salty, buttery flavor. They cook a lot quicker than regular pancakes, so you have to keep a watchful eye to make sure these babies don’t burn. They are yummy with any nearly any filling- fruity jam, cinnamon and sugar, lemon juice and powdered sugar, or my favorite- no topping at all, just the warm buttery Roll-ups. Best eaten hot, standing next to the stove while making another batch to gobble up!
2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup milk
Combine all dry ingredients together. Add eggs and milk and mix thoroughly. Batter should be very thin, dripping off the fork after stirring. Heat pan to medium, spread with butter. Pour 1/4 cup of batter per Roll-up. When the edges of the Roll-up are solidified, flip it. Cook for another minute or two and remove from pan. Top with your favorite filling and enjoy.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Food to me is about more than sustenance or nourishment. A good meal is like a good song, well balanced, filled with emotion and capable of changing your mood. A cupcake is a happy, upbeat tune that makes me feel like I’m cruising down a sunny strip of highway in a convertible, wind in my hair and not a care in the world. I like the soulful feel of a steak, a bottle of full-bodied cabernet, and Jonny Lang on low in the background. I like my music like I like my food; uninhibited with a note of soul.
Lat night’s tune is light, carefree and brings me back to the beach, more of a Jack Johnson than a Jimmy Buffet feel. I have been missing home a lot lately; the people, the beach, and of course the food. Even the air in Hawaii is different- it just feels healthy and happy. It may sound strange, but go there and see for yourself (don’t we all wish). Last night, we dined like happy islanders would: pan seared fish burgers on whole-wheat buns. I had a hankering for fish, but being thousands of miles away from any coast, sometimes we have to sacrifice quality. Tonight’s halibut from Whole Foods was perfect, moist with the perfect level of flakiness. And best of all, it was fresh, never frozen. Not quite sure what fresh, previously frozen means (yes, that is what many of the fish selections are labeled here), it seems like an oxymoron to me.
I like to play mad scientist when I make new sauces. Little of this, little of that, taste. Eww gross, dump that, start over. Lots of this, tiny bit of that, taste. Better. More experimenting, then yes! Perfect, Which is a great method when discovering new things, but bad for consistency when you want to recreate the winning sauce. The recipe below is my lazy take on an aioli like sauce (I didn’t write it down as I went, so well see how I do). Aioli is a mayonnaise-based sauce with LOTS of garlic. True aioli takes lots of time and either a food processor or a mortar and pestle, neither of which I own yet. I urge you to try this sauce as is below, and if you find that it is gross, well, become a mad scientist yourself and mix to your hearts content. Hey. I did tell you I had an issue with consistency.
Fish Burger Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
Mix ingredients with a fork, breaking up mayonnaise. Stir until creamy. Taste, add more of whatever you like to taste
Monday, May 17, 2010
Cinnamon rolls hold a special place in my life. While it has never been my favorite sweet thing, my memories of this delicious treat go back all the way to when my parents were still together. Every Saturday morning, my dad would take my brother to the cinnamon roll store to get four big, sugary rolls the size of my head (not too hard-I was 3, so my head wasn’t THAT big yet), and bring them back to my mom and I at home. I can remember sitting on the back porch as a family, swinging my little legs as I peeled layer by layer off my giant satisfying breakfast.
Years later, cinnamon rolls meant a visit to Grandma’s house on Oahu. Grandma’s house meant a big family Christmas, and Christmas meant Christmas shopping. Growing up on the more rural islands of the Big Island and Maui, we didn’t have all the comforts of big city living like the Cinnabon at the mall. After each shopping trip, we treated ourselves with a hot sticky cinnamon roll from Cinnabon to share between three of us. I loved watching them roll the cinnamony dough into a spiral, my nose pressed tight against the glass. When we got our very own bun and opened the flimsy cardboard top, the smell of utter deliciousness overtook our senses. We took turns cutting into the hot sticky treat, unrolling the layers one by one.
The center of the cinnamon roll is perfectly undercooked, deliciously doughy and the best part of the whole thing. It was the treasure, and we always fought over it. We took turns scraping the last of the sweet icing from the container and only stopped short of licking the box because it just wasn’t dignified to do in public.
I don’t know whether it is because Saturday morning cinnamon rolls are one of my last memories of my family all together, or if later getting them as a once a year treat signified the start of our Christmas celebration, or whether it is just because the buns are so perfectly delectable, but Cinnamon Rolls will always bring back memories of family, happiness, and always can put a smile on my face.
I had about 98 pounds (actually, more like 2) of dough leftover from my failed Rosemary Rolls, so the hardest part of making these mini rolls was over and done with. Now came the fun part, putting them all together! Thanks to my great photographer Andrew, I could focus on all the fun bits- rolling out the dough, spreading melted butter all over- hey, no one said this was health, and covering it all in sugar and cinnamon. I rolled the dough into a spiral length-wise and cut it into 2-inch pieces- I liked the idea of little mini rolls, especially after the burned rosemary roll fiasco.
15 minutes after they went into the oven, out came mini golden cinnamon rolls with crusty sugary tops. After a drizzle of icing over the pan of rolls, we served them up and ate them hot. I only took 2 little mini rolls, ok, 3. We had gone on a 3-hour, mostly uphill hike earlier, so we deserved it!! These were amazing. Each bite was filled with cinnamony, sugary, doughy goodness. Now I have a new cinnamon roll memory to add to my collection- a happy Sunday night with my man, cozy in our makeshift home after a long day of exploring. And they definitely put a smile on my face.
Mini Cinnamon Rolls
Dough Courtesy of the Pioneer Woman, the rest courtesy of my memories
1 quart Whole Milk
1 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Sugar
2 packages Active Dry Yeast
8 cups (Plus 1 Cup Extra, Separated) All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon (heaping) Baking Powder
1 teaspoon (scant) Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon (heaping) Salt
Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. “Scald” the mixture (heat until just before the boiling point). Turn off heat and leave to cool 45 minutes to 1 hour. When the mixture is lukewarm to warm, but NOT hot, sprinkle in both packages of Active Dry Yeast. Let this sit for a minute. Then add 8 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour.
After rising for at least an hour, add 1 more cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir mixture together. (At this point, you could cover the dough and put it in the fridge until you need it – overnight or even a day or two, if necessary. Just keep your eye on it and if it starts to overflow out of the pan, just punch it down).
Turning Dough into Rolls
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup melted butter
cinnamon for sprinkling
4 cups of powdered sugar
3 Tbsp Milk
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
-Preheat the oven to 375º
-Sprinkle surface with flour.
-Roll out the dough into a thin, long rectangular shape.
-Spread 3/4 cups butter evenly over dough surface.
-Mix the granulated sugar and brown sugar together and sprinkle over the buttery dough.
-Cover surface with a generous layer of cinnamon.
-Roll the dough length-wise, keeping it relatively tight. Pinch the ends of the roll tight.
-Cover the bottom of a round pan with 2 tablespoons of butter.
-Cut the roll into 2-inch sections and place in the pan. Space the rolls to leave a little room for rising.
-Let the rolls rise 20-30 minutes.
-Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.
-While they are baking, mix together the icing ingredients. Add more milk or powdered sugar to achieve a thick but pourable liquid.
- Remove rolls from oven and drizzle with icing while they are still warm.-EAT!!