Wednesday, June 3, 2015

California Dreamin'...

Major update on my so called life. Back in December 2014, E and I were driving home from church. More like, we went to church, drove around for 45 minutes looking for parking, gave up and decided to go home, sad at yet another attempt to find parking near our church in Brooklyn. During our drive, E turned to me and said, "I think I'm ready to leave NYC." Gasp! I had been wanting to leave for quite a while although that desire had been waxing and waning for years. But in the more recent months, the need to figure out next steps in life made certain things very clear to me: 1) We did not want to live anywhere else but Brooklyn (and only certain areas of Brooklyn), Manhattan (again, only certain areas) and Queens (only I was open to the idea of heading back to Queens, and again, only certain areas). The idea of moving to Long Island or deeper into any of the outer boroughs to accommodate a family was just not something we were excited to do, 2) other than my sister and cousin, we really did not have family in NYC anymore, 3) a majority of the family we wanted to be near to were on the west coast, and 4) if we ever wanted to buy a home, we would get more for our money in anywhere but NYC.

Of course there were a billion other pros and cons. And the biggest problem was that we were both very much in love with NYC. And we had a very good situation going on...why mess things up? We both had pretty "easy" jobs given our professions, we had a large and amazing one bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood, with parking and very below market rent, we were close to all our friends...but we were in a constant state of "gray" - are we moving? are we not? do we lay down roots here? And to be frank, I was so over it. So off we went to visit Los Angeles in early March and while we were there, God must have blessed this decision because I went on 6 interviews at 3 different places, E went on 1, and within a few days after flying back to NYC, E had a job offer and I was still doing my next round of interviews. By week 2 since our return, I too had a job. Six weeks later, we were gone.

Now we are here in sunny CA. It's different, it will take some adjusting. The people are so much nicer here, but IMHO, they just do not have the hustle. I'm sick and tired of going to Target, buying a bunch of little things, and then having to gather everything into my arms because I forgot to bring my own bags. Or dealing with awful awful LA drivers who are completely absorbed in their own safety or their phones, and therefore become irresponsible and reckless drivers (can you tell how much I hate them?). But I love going to Trader Joe's on a Saturday afternoon and having no lines. Or people who say "hello" "how are you" "goodnight" just as you are walking by. And I love that most of my fruits and veggies come from the many farmers markets in the neighborhood. And I love that I get to work right across the street from the beach (albeit in business formal).

We are learning, adjusting, figuring things out. But regardless, I am so grateful that this move even happened at all, as smoothly as it did, and with both of us having jobs. God is good.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Love Affair with Breakfast Sandwiches

Dear Reader,

Pre-Made Frozen Breakfast Sandwiches
Does this happen to you? You open your eyes to a beautiful weekend morning, sun is shining, your mind begins to wander to all the things you want to accomplish for the day, and then *grumble grumble*. Your friend the appetite monster begins making some unreasonable demands - something about "breakfast now!" and "where is my coffee!" and "HELLO we've been on a fast for 7 whole hours, where is the FOOD?"

I can relate. This is me on a consistent weekend (and weekday) basis. I've written about my hangry stage (appears around 4pm every weekday), now you meet the appetite monster. So much of my world is driven by a narrow agenda - my next meal.

My usual breakfast cravings are for hearty breakfast sandwiches. In an effort to save time (get. in. my. belly.) and money, I decided to take an hour to pre-make breakfast sandwiches in bulk, package and freeze them for easy consumption. Huge success, even E loved them and brought a few for lunch! Super convenient, super cheap and super easy.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mangia! Mangia! Homemade Fresh Ricotta!

Dear Reader,

I've mentioned in past stories of dinner parties where I tried my hand at making homemade Ricotta. If you haven't tried making cheese at home, please do! And then tell me all about it because Ricotta is the only one I've made so far. I've heard that Mozzarella is also fairly easy to make, but the added ingredient of rennet always deters me (gotta find it, then go get it, you know, first world problems). One day I'll make Mozzarella, and lay freshly grown tomatoes and basil leaves on it from my organic garden, the garden that I hope will one day exist in my reality instead of just in my food fantasies. In the meantime, Ricotta will do because it's very very simple to make and is sure to wow any dinner party. I use the Ina Garten recipe, which only requires 4 simple ingredients. You can dress up the cheese however you like - my favorite is to use fresh herbs like dill, chives or even rosemary.

For my last dinner party I made this cheese plain and turned it into a delicious bruschetta with heirloom cherry tomatoes and reduced balsamic vinaigrette on top of a crusty baguette buttered to the nines. Simple, affordable, and made with a lot of love.

Homemade Ricotta - adapted from Ina Garten
Curds and Whey
Makes about 2 cups

4 cups of whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar (white vinegar is fine)

Pour the milk and cream into a pot, preferably stainless steel or enameled and add the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat (so as not to burn the liquid) and stir occasionally. Once the liquids have come to a boil, add the vinegar and stir. Leave the liquid to stand for about 1-2 minutes. You will start to see the liquid curdle, eventually separating into two parts, the curds and the whey (yellowish liquid). During this time, take out a cheese cloth and put it over a sieve or a tall bowl to allow the water to drip down. Pour the liquid into the bowl and let it drain for about 30 minutes. The longer you allow it to drain, the thicker the cheese will be. Make sure the liquid does not touch the cheese cloth. Once you are done, transfer the ricotta into a bowl and discard everything else (unless you want to keep the whey - that's for another recipe). You can serve the cheese immediately or you can cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Mcgyver'd Cheese Drainer

I didn't have a cheese cloth and used a nut milk bag instead, it worked fine. And since I didn't have a sieve big enough I Macgyver'd my way into hanging my nut milk bag onto a wooden ladle, which then hung over a stock pot. I also ended up draining my cheese for about 2 hours which made for extra thick ricotta. Very yummy.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A (Pork) Shoulder to Lean On

Dear Reader,

This past week and half has sped by so quickly. The holiday season is now over and I feel as if I never really got in the spirit, and now, it's too late. Our Christmas tree has been taken down, ornaments put away, and all of the holiday festivities are over. I always get a little blue from January - April, since these are the hibernating months in NYC. When winter really sets in and snow storms pass through overnight. When it's so cold that going out for a quick walk is just out of the question. The good news is that these are the perfect months for hearty stews and meats, roasted vegetables and even more dinner parties since going from house to house sounds so much nicer than going from venue to venue in the bitter cold.

Braised Pork Shoulder Goodness
Today, E and I decided to have a lazy day (these come all too often) and stay in instead of running much needed errands. We put on two pots of coffee, watched Sons of Anarchy and snuggled. Since we were staying in all day I decided to braise some pork shoulder in the oven, as inspired by a friend of mine when we visited her house. I've been trying to think of more dishes that could be made in bulk and saved for lunches and leftovers and affordable protein is always a plus. Pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) is relatively cheap at about $1.50-$2.00 per pound. For a healthier option, you can purchase pork shoulder raised without antibiotics for about $4.00-$4.99 per pound and still make a large amount without breaking the bank.

Braised pork shoulder is great because the actual prep time is very minimal, it's cheap, it can last for a long time, it's versatile and it's very difficult to mess up. I researched a few recipes and ended up making my own, but really, almost anything goes. This recipe is meant to be a guide, feel free to substitute with whatever you think will work. The Kitchn has a great post on the different ways to cook and use pork shoulder.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Homemade Honey Lemon Ginger Tea

Dear Reader,

A few days ago E turned to me and said, "I feel like I'm coming down with something." These words cause a million alarms to go off in my head because E is quite often sick and very very often tired (which leads to him be sick, etc.). Our remedy is to usually take a food based multi vitamin, probiotics, cod liver oil, and vitamin C. Oftentimes this does the trick but if we catch it too late we load him up with a cup of nice hot tea. Ginger, with its natural healing properties and the boost it gives to your immune system is key, but you need to take it fresh, raw and in large quantities. Here is my homemade recipe. I usually fill a mason jar and keep it in the fridge and it stays fresh for at least 3 weeks!

Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
Makes about 1 quart 

1 cup of grated or sliced ginger (about 5-6 medium sized ginger pieces)
3 lemons
8 ounces of honey (I usually end up using 12 ounces)

Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
Scrape off the skin of the ginger using a peeler or the back of a spoon. Once all the skin is off rinse the ginger to clean off any bits that may still be attached. You can thinly slice the ginger or you can put them into a food processor and purée.  I grated mine because I like to get it really small so that it's easier to consume and all the nice juices come out into the tea. Put into a bowl. Next, clean your lemons and zest the skin of two lemons into the ginger. Slice the lemon pieces and cut into quarters and add to the ginger. Then add the honey. Mix well and pour into a bottle (air tight if possible). You can drink some right away but it will get more potent when you let it marinate. After the tea has been in the jar for a day or two, the ginger taste will be noticeably spicier, but don't fear because that's the good stuff! Feel free to eat the ginger as well, the more the better. Turmeric is another great addition with some amazing healing properties. I haven't tried it yet, but hope to for my next round. Stay healthy this winter!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Holiday Season and Cauliflower Puree

Dear Reader,

It's the holiday season, yet this year my holiday feeling-ness has been slow to come. Maybe because it has been warmer this year than the past, and there has hardly been any snow on the ground. Maybe because I have been feeling pretty lethargic and have yet to come up with a substantial list of holiday goods to bake or meals to make. Whatever it is, I have been slow to join the festivities and I want to rectify this asap. This week E and I have been on vacation, a staycation really, and we have been lazy McGees. All the ambitions of reorganizing our kitchen, de-cluttering, clearing out the linen closet, watching broadway shows and christmas concerts, long drives, etc., have flown out the window and we are instead here on the couch, where have been for the last 4 days. We did drive up to Rhinebeck and to the Culinary Institute of America to have their yummy apple pie and peanut butter latte at the Apple Pie Bakery. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves to cook - their bookstore alone is euphoric.

Cauliflower Puree
I have been thinking of holiday sweets to bake and have only come up with a few items, which I will post about later. For now, let's talk about cauliflower puree. Ever had it? If not, you are certainly missing out! E and I recently had it while in Montreal (which I will have to do a restaurant review of later because it was a culinary party in my mouth that must be memorialized) while at Hotel Herman, the best restaurant I have ever been to in my life. Big statement and I mean it. We had the guinea flower atop of a bed of cauliflower puree and after the entirety of the fowl was consumed, I could not stop spooning the puree into my mouth. Each spoonful was bliss. There were squeals of joy, giggling and lots of words with overuse of exclamation points. So when we returned, I decided to make some for our dinner party of 10.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Quick Homemade Dinner - Thai Curry Night

Dear Reader,

Tonight was one of those nights that was so similar to every other weeknight. I got into my car and raced home, starving, stomach eating into itself and I was angry at the world for putting so many obstacles in between me and my next meal. This is what hangry looks like. Hungry + Angry = Hangry. That's me at 6:00 p.m. The stomach rumbles usually start rolling in at around 4:00 p.m. where I then reach into my stash of Trader Joe's trail mix. By the time I'm on the road I've become an entirely different being. This. is. serious.

Nights like these mandate meals that are quick and easy to prepare, yet are still healthy, delicious and filling (for the very hungry man that lives with me). One such meal is my version of Red Thai Curry, a dish that is seemingly complex but is actually quite simple. Prep time is about 20 minutes (give or take) and ingredients can all be found at your local grocery store. Except for one ingredient, fish sauce, that is usually found in any Asian market.

Red Thai Curry
Makes enough for 3-4 bowls

1 14 oz. can of coconut milk (I use light coconut milk - you can use regular)
1 tablespoon of oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 cup of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable. If you don't have broth, you can use water instead)
2 tablespoons of red curry paste (you might want to add more curry paste as you taste test)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce (you might want to add more fish sauce as you taste test)
2 chicken breasts, diced
Mixed vegetables (I like to use broccoli, squash and carrots, but you can substitute with whatever you like)

Start by opening the can of coconut milk and setting it aside. You will need to reach for this quickly in the early stages, you'll see. In a saucepan, pour in the the oil and wait until it gets hot on medium heat. Then add the minced garlic, stirring until aromatic. Add the red curry paste, stirring quickly until the paste begins to loosen and spread. Careful, the oil with the paste will start "popping" and you may get hot paste shooting out at you! I like to mix for a few seconds, then quickly pour in the can of coconut milk, the broth, fish sauce and bay leaves and close the lid. If you haven't diced the chicken yet, you can do so while the liquid goodness continues to heat. Once the chicken is diced, add it to the liquid and simmer. After about 6-8 minutes, add in the vegetables and continue to simmer. Squash tends to cook quickly and gets mushy, so if you want to put it in a minute after the harder vegetables, do so, however, I tend to just put everything in at once.

Thai Coconut Milk Curry
So much of this recipe depends on your preference for the curry flavor. Taste test after the chicken has been cooking for at least 8 minutes. I usually end up putting a bit more curry (1/2 tbsp) and sometimes a bit more fish sauce. Once the veggies are soft, turn off the heat. Pour over a bowl of brown rice (or white, up to you), mix, and eat. Bon appetite!

There are a lot of versions of this recipe out there and I have tried a few. But in my opinion, a lot of the additional fuss doesn't make a huge difference for me, especially if I want this to be an easy go-to meal during a weeknight (and during my hangry moments). You can substitute tofu for the chicken. I take this opportunity to pack on the vegetables and like to include snow peas, cauliflower, etc. since this is one of the ways I can trick E to eating more veggies, and since he is also eating the broth a lot of the nutrients are still being consumed. Basil, lime basil, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and potatoes are also some additional flavors and veggies commonly included.