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.

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
Ingredients
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.

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.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And Then There Was Cake

Dear Reader,

This weekend went by in a flash! I wish I had one more day just to myself to binge watch Gilmore Girls (please don't judge me....). But it's Sunday night and before I get myself ready for bed I wanted to do a post on something pretty amazing. Ice Box Cake. Have you heard of it? I hadn't either, until I listened to a podcast from Spilled Milk (my favorite! Next to Serial) and Molly and Matthew were discussing how easy it is to make Ice Box Cake. Since I was hosting a dinner party this weekend and attending another, I knew I wouldn't want to do much cooking for the latter but I wanted to bring something special and homemade. Ice Box Cake seemed to be the perfect solution, and Reader, it really was. Simple, sweet and it received way more credit than it deserved. The perfect contribution.

Traditionally, Ice Box Cake requires Nilla Wafers from Nabisco, you know the ones I'm talking about. Since they can be difficult to find and apparently they can also be pricey, I went to my good ole Trader Joe's where an appropriate substitute was readily available.

Ice Box Cake - adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

3 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar (I used coconut sugar, which gave the cream a beige tint)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 box of wafers (I used the Trader Joe's 13 oz. Ultimate Vanilla Wafers)
Fruit for topping (I used banana slices)

Vanilla Ice Box Cake
In an electric mixer combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed until peaks start to form. On a flat plate, take a spoonful of the whipped cream and spread into a medium sized circle. This is to just hold the first layer of wafers in place. Place 7 wafers in a circle, with one in the middle. Add on another layer of whipped cream (about 1.5-2 heaping spoonfuls), and spread evenly across the cookies. Add on another layer of cookies. Continue until you are out of cookies and finish with a thick layer of whipped cream. Add fruit slices on top of the cake for decoration. You can leave as it is or sprinkle chocolate shavings, cinnamon, whatever you'd like. Voila! It can come out a little sloppy, but who cares, it's delicious!
Leave in fridge for at least 2 hours.

Bring it to your next dinner party, it'll be a hit!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pistachio Pound Cake and Other Happenings

Dear Reader,

Time has been passing all too quickly in my little corner of the world. Halloween has already gone and November is here. Soon, with all the prepping and flurry of holiday festivities, it will be 2015 before you know it. I have developed a habit of counting time, a form of holding on, which I can't decide if it makes me more mindful and aware of time, appreciative, even, or if I am dreading the passing of time, mourning the loss of my "youth" (that has been long gone, I seem to also be struggling with denial). What I know is, the more you try to hold on the faster time seems to go and I have been trying to adopt the attitude of "life is short". Because it is, dear Reader. Take it from someone who has been carefully monitoring it. It goes by in a pinch.

Fall weather to me triggers pies, loaves of bread/pastries, and hearty stews. When I was a little girl, my father frequently baked a killer banana bread and zucchini bread. Until I was too old, I thought he had cleverly invented zucchini bread and swore that he was a culinary genius of his generation. Clearly he did not invent zucchini bread, but I still believe that his culinary endeavors were adventurous and exciting for a man of his age and circumstance. Pound cake was another one of his favorites, and so in memory of my "youth", I bring you Pistachio Pound Cake. Happy fall weather!

Pistachio Pound Cake - adapted from Leite's Culinaria

I substituted the granulated sugar with Coconut sugar, and used european unsalted butter. I also did not bother with the frosting since we planned to eat it over days for breakfast with coffee. E and i found the cake to be quite dense and a little flaky, but not as moist as I am used to for pound cake. Mr. David Leite has informed me that the lack of moisture may be due to the sugar substitution. Still, i loved the nutty texture added to my morning feed and found it to be a treat.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Butcher, The Baker ...

Dear Reader,

We have been having some chilly and rainy fall days over here in Brooklyn, NY, but fall days in NYC are almost never wasted in my book and I love them all the same, just because they are part of the very few days that make up my favorite season. With that said, those grey days seem to be made for curling, cozying and cuddling into a favorite throw blanket and binge watching tv show after tv show, or book after book. Days like these call for something homemade and warm, like tea and a nice big piece of fluffy buttered toast. Toast! Aha! Says the brain. We shall make toast, and we shall make it chewy and soft just like the big loaves you can get at almost any Asian bakery. Have you tried them? If not, please do yourself this one great favor and go to your closest Asian bakery and buy a loaf. You can toast them, eat them plain, pull them apart - they are just pillowy and magnificent and so perfect. A statement toast, really. French pastry, I'm sorry, but you ain't got nothin' on Asian bread, a.k.a. Milk Bread, a.k.a. Hokkaido bread.

Here are two recipes. I have tried the NY Times version and may try the Food52 version next. I won't even attempt to write out the instructions since baking bread is quite a sensitive topic and instructions should be followed very closely.

Japanese Milk Bread Recipe - from the NY Times
Hokkaido Milk Bread Recipe - from Food52

Fresh made Milk Bread for Saturday morning toast.
My first batch (pictured above) came out fabulously. I baked into the night and it was well worth it. My second batch...not so much. I doubled the batch in order to get 2 loaves but something must have gone wrong. Lesson learned. If you are a fan of good bread, please make this. And make frequently.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

What's for Dinner Tonight?

Dear Reader,

There are some days spent in Brooklyn where everything seems to just make sense. Work. All is well. Like putting that last piece of a puzzle together and looking with sudden clarity at the “big picture” – ohhh, so that’s what I spent hours upon hours sifting through cardboard cutouts for! All the good and bad had and to be had makes sense on this very day. 

I’m so very thankful for such days because it’s when I feel most grateful for my life and I certainly do count my blessings. This week, E and I went for a long walk through our neighborhood, hobbling through cobblestone streets and maneuvering through tourists admiring the NYC skyline (a picture never does it justice, does it?) and our conversations tend to always center around the same vibe. We are so blessed. Even when facing the worst of circumstances, I am so thankful to E for keeping my mind in a high spirited place filled with gratitude instead of resentment or disturbances of my peace. It’s in these moments where we are often overwhelmed with joy and with a real need to celebrate life.
And I have a tendency of celebrating such said life by throwing dinner parties.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fake It 'Til You Make It

This is one of the many mantras in my life. There are many others. Lately, a lot of people in my life have been in a transition phase of their lives, myself included. Change and I don't do well, unless it's completely by my own choice. I remember when my dad told me that we were moving from San Francisco to New York, I was devastated and refused to accept it. At 13, such a move can be traumatizing. But he made it clear that he was leaving with or without me (obviously with), so none of my pouting was going to change the situation. In fact, I remember him saying, as he looked at me through the rearview mirror of our really awesome Toyota Cressida, "You are so resistant to change and you're life is going to be pretty rough if you don't start getting used to it". True story dad, true story.

Oftentimes at my job, I'm faced with very overwhelming and foreign tasks, with high expectations and tight time frames. I used to handle these situations better my first year, since I was "allowed" to make mistakes. My second year, I was a complete wreck. I would cry in my office, call my husband sobbing, and cry at home. I'm so glad that time has passed. Now, in my third year, I've come to accept that I'll get these hard tasks, and there is nothing I can do about them but try my best. So what do I do? I smile, be calm, and say "Great, I'll have this to you soon." I'm sure the girl in me is having an absolute meltdown, but perception is everything. So I've been saying this mantra more and more. I'm faking it til I make it. 

It's been doing wonders for my wardrobe, since retail therapy seems to be my outlet.