9.30.2010

recipe-ish: garlic mushrooms and noodles... aka dinner with the flavor bible

Let's be sacrilegious for a moment. I love The Flavor Bible. It is a gift from God. Well, actually it was written by culinary authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, but in the foodie world, that's good enough.

Tonight, as usual, I have a fresh piece of produce that is on its last day of edibility. So I come home from work already knowing that my mushrooms from the farmer's market need to be the main ingredient.

That's where The Flavor Bible comes in. You can look up any ingredient and find out what goes with it. For example, from this book, I put together white chocolate and basil leaves (you scoff, but I dare you to try it and not be amazed). They call it flavor pairing, and it is the core of creative cooking.

I go with the combo of mushrooms, olive oil, garlic and lemon.



Probably should use zest, but I am without an actual lemon. So lemon juice it is.



First, I heat water in a saucepan and put a handful or two of the egg noodles in once it boils. Meanwhile, I chop a clove of garlic and heat it for a minute in oil olive in a skillet over medium heat. Then, I add sliced mushrooms and a splash of lemon juice. By the time the egg noodles are al dente, they are ready to be tossed in the mushrooms.

Can I tell you that I love egg noodles. They cook quickly, they're inexpensive and they work even with something so basic as tossing them in melted butter with some herbs.

Any how, this is easy, and once you sprinkle in some kosher salt and cracked black pepper, you have it made.

The Flavor Bible is full of pairings just like this that allow your palate to do some exploring. Give it a try. Best of all, you'll learn something new. There's no end to the innovation.



~jennifer.

9.29.2010

flaming salt: dessert on fire

In case you didn't know, salt catches on fire.



A friend of mine and I tried out a new (to us) spot in town. The dessert was a peanut butter chocolate ganache bomb served with a side of flaming salt. Which was exactly what it sounds like.

Seemed weird, but a tiny pinch of that salt popped the flavor of that dessert right out of its chocolate shell.

~jennifer.

national coffee day: when did you fall in love with coffee?



Oh yes, I remember when we first met.

In college, I went to a girlfriend's hometown of Seattle for the first time. I had some amazing food that week. Creamy sweet shrimp in Chinatown that I can still daydream about today. Filipino food that has been the measure to which all else is judged. Hmmm... It was a yummy trip. But the greatest food discovery of all was the first time we got a cup of coffee.

If memory serves me well, it was Seattle's Best Coffee. We were out shopping in downtown Seattle (I want to say it was around Westlake). We stopped off for coffee and I remember telling her I'd never bought coffee from a shop before. Like any 20something native Seattlite, she looked at me as if I'd suddenly started speaking Greek.

People call coffee an acquired taste like beer or watching Glee. You get used to it and learn to love it mostly because all of your friends are doing it. But no, my friend, I loved coffee from the very first kiss. Warm and consoling. Like I'd just been hugged.

When I got home, I bought my first coffeemaker.

Today is National Coffee Day, by the way. While I think it's probably a marketing stunt secretly manipulated by Starbucks, I willingly give in and salute the one bean that brightens up my day, keeps me up all night and fuels writing sessions. Cheers, java!

Well, what about you? When did you fall in love with coffee?

~jennifer.

9.28.2010

finish something... anything

So who here has trouble finishing what they start? Show of hands. Okay, maybe it's just me then.

I can't tell you all of the ideas I've penned only to abandon them a few months later. I had so many beginnings of novels that I could make a book out of all my false starts.

But I'm happy to say that after years of half attempts at a real literary contribution, I've finally finished something. My book of essays is complete... or at least complete enough to call it a first draft.

Surprisingly enough, it's not about food. I do more than eat, you know. And that's for another book any way. This is my more cerebral side. Streams of consciousness. Spiritual, even.

Of course now begins the editing-beyond-recognition phase, but point is, I finished something.

And my roommate made apple pie. It may be after midnight, but I'm gonna call this day a win.



~jennifer.

9.27.2010

why we (want to be) like anthony bourdain

He's old. He's self-depricating. And his salty tongue has made many a grown man cry.

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations

So, how did a regular joe like Anthony Bourdain become an international rock star chef who has quite possibly the best job ever (writer, traveler, do-whatever-the-$%#&-he-feels-like TV host, celebrity judge on Top Chef)?

More importantly, how did we, the public, let this happen? Why are we buying his books, watching his shows and eating by the droves at his restaurant, Les Halles, that coincidently he doesn't even cook in any more?

I don't know about the American public, but I can speak for myself. I am a late bloomer when it comes to all things Bourdain. This past summer, a friend of mine sent me a Hulu link to a canceled show called Kitchen Confidential. I was hooked. Having spent my early 20s in the restaurant business, I thought it was cool to see a show capture the high level of backwards debauchery that goes on while people are cooking your food.

I quickly learned that it was a failed show (I blame pretty boy Brad Cooper) about a crazy successful book by the same name. I picked up a copy, read it cover to cover, and unwittingly joined the Anthony Bourdain fan club.

Again, how did this happen? The best I can figure is this:

1. He is a good writer... Scratch that. He's a great writer. People who have no connection to the cooking world love his books because he is a master storyteller. His wicked sense of humor, complete lack of shame and his colorful use of language, whether good or bad, is unmatched. A thousand people can tell you a story, but very few will tell it like Bourdain does.

2. He is the personification of the American Dream. He came from a normal, middle class New Jersey family. He wasn't making braised duck at the age of 9 or winning Pultizers at 25. He was an everyman, working stiff, earning his way up the ladder... from dishwasher to executive chef. Who doesn't love a story like that?

3. Somehow, despite the fact that none of us could afford to eat in his restaurant or travel in his worldly circles, Bourdain manages to look accessible. Perhaps it's the way he's marketed. Perhaps it's how he writes. He just seems like a regular guy. I couldn't imagine having tea with Martha Stewart or eating fajitas with Bobby Flay. But all of his readers, myself included, see themselves sitting in the corner booth with "Tony", shooting the breeze over his beverage of choice. It's accessibility, and it can't be taught.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and The People Who Cook

I'm in the middle of reading his most recent book Medium Raw, and it's just as good as everyone says it is. His perspective on life now as a father and part of the celebrity machine that he once mocked is both ironic and witty. I hate being a fan of anything that the foodie masses worship but, whatever, I like Anthony Bourdain. I don't necessarily want to be him, but I wouldn't mind walking a mile in his shoes.

~jennifer.

9.26.2010

lessons learned from burnt soup

Today was not my good cooking day.



I should have known things were off when I couldn't find the right artist station on Rhapsody to play. Switchfoot's station was playing too much Christian metal. U2's station was playing too much British '80s punk.

I ruined my soup, taking a chance on soy milk that's best left unexplained. And my attempt at Momofuku's Fried Apple pie barely made it past step one when my dough failed to form (apparently, the cookbook's conversion rate from weight to volume was flawed; by the way, much thanks to Momofukufor2 for straightening out the mystery).

While cooking (particularly baking) can be very unforgiving, mercy can be found in that every burnt piece of poultry or formless, soupy pastry dough is a lesson learned. You figure out what you did wrong, make a mental note, throw it out and then try again.

Not every day is a Martha Stewart day. Some days are barely Rachael Ray. That's okay. I will live to cook again tomorrow. For now, I'm ordering take-out.

~jennifer.

9.25.2010

are cookbooks obsolete? or cooking with Blackberries

cooking with blackberries

I love cookbooks, but then again, I love the printed word. In my old age, I will be that sentimental sucker bemoaning the loss of newspapers and paperback books. I'm a writer. It's in my blood.

That said, are cookbooks obsolete in this digital age? When I can find a recipe for just about anything and learn cooking techniques from real chefs on YouTube, what next? Will there be no more Joy of Cooking? Even that age-old cookbook has a new life online.

By the way, goat cheese grits from the folks at Food52, yum.

goat cheese grits

9.24.2010

les halles fries and blanching in the imperfect kitchen

As my roommates are out with their boyfriends, I am home learning how to blanch a potato for my attempt at the fries from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. That probably says something about me, but at the moment, while I'm sampling a few delicious mistakes I made, I honestly don't mind.

The original idea I had for this blog was going to be called "The Imperfect Kitchen" (unfortunately it was already taken). The idea is learning how to cook great food with less than great tools and facilities, which I still fully intend to do.

While it would be nice to have top-of-the-line cutlery and a high-tech Kenmore appliance kitchen, I live in the real world. One of my burners is on a full tilt to the left. Our pots and pans look like we've been fending off burglars, and the oven torches anything in the back and lightly toasts whatever is closest to the door.

Cooking in the imperfect kitchen takes skill and a keen sense of MacGyver-ism. You have to watch your food more carefully and jerry-rig whatever is missing or not working properly. You have to learn how to make do with what you have. For example, when I sauté and especially when I fry on that tilted burner, I have to turn the skillet handle to the right to counter balance. I rotate all my foods whether they are on the stove top or in the oven. As always, I improvise. Cooking is about bad starts, making mistaking and learning/fixing as you go.

By the way, blanching makes the difference in french fries. Boil it, put it on ice, then fry it. That's how fries get that golden, almost flaky crisp on the outside and burn-your-mouth softness on the inside. I am eating these fries right now wondering why I've ever paid for fries like these outside of my own home.




~jennifer.

lessons from little lion man by mumford and sons



rate yourself and rake yourself,
take all the courage you have left
waste it on fixing all the problems
that you made in your own head


I saw this video and thought, how many times have I done this? How many times have you?

Maybe a change could do us good.

~jennifer.

9.23.2010

what's good: cheesy vegetable pasta

Tonight, I cook from one of my borrowed cookbooks, Real Simple Meals Made Easy. Cheesy Vegetable Pasta | Real Simple Recipes

In typical fashion, I'm listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney, and I've already cut my finger once chopping tomatos.

This recipe calls for the garlic to be cooked over a low heat, which I haven't done up until now. You don't get that pungent-in-a-good-way smell that comes up from garlic heated quickly and on the verge of burning. It's very subtle, and from a quick fingertip taste, it flavors the olive oil nicely.

Also, forever improvising, I use green peppers and mushrooms instead of zucchini and eggplant and pecorino romano instead of mozerella. Not because it's better, but because this is what I have in the fridge. A lot of my creativity in the kitchen is based more so off of what's on the verge of spoiling.

I must admit that a nervous sigh releases as I fold all of the ingredients together. There's always that moment of thinking, "We're all in now". Cooking has shown me that I've become awfully reliant on back-up plans. Always be prepared, always have two of everything. But these were the last of my green peppers, tomatos, pasta, onions and one roommate's jar of pasta sauce. No turning back now that it's all roasted and tossed in balsamic vinegar and oil.

I have one taste before putting it in the oven. When it first hits your mouth, it's like, "Hmmm. Okay. My world isn't rocked but it's all right." And then, the red pepper sneaks up from behind and wow!

The twists and turns a flavor can do on a slow burn... I love it. I go all in and this gambles pays off.

I think it's a stretch to call this "easy". With prep time included, this is over an hour out of your evening before you even put fork to lip. But it's a fun recipe to play off of and the results are Italian rustic perfection.

Cheesy Vegetable Pasta

~jennifer.

9.22.2010

all good food is comfort food

"You eat to live, not live to eat."

"You shouldn't self-medicate with food."

Or my favorite from Friends....

"It's just food; it's not love."

To these phrases and the people who believe them, I say:

Butter!

No, wait. I say:

Hogwash. Delicious, fattening hogwash.

Food is absolutely good for comfort. It helps, it heals, and it makes you feel better. My mood is immediately lightened and brightened by a bowl of ice-cream. Whose isn't?

Food is also a full psychological, cultural, emotional experience. Like that classic scene in Ratatouille, food can blast you back to the most precious moment of your childhood. All of our major holidays revolve around food. Let's not even mention the concept behind "happy hour"...

Have we as a society abused food and its healing virtues? Absolutely, but we do that with everything. If you're eating too much, it signals a different issue. Don't blame food for the fatness. Blame yourself, blame your mother, blame it on the rain; just leave the food alone.

I had a rough day today. Not a miserable one, but one where there was a lot on my mind. I opted for french onion soup. It's easy to make, warm and inviting, and flavorful without being too overwhelming.

Now my belly is full and my head is clear. I can know that things will get better. Because they always do... except when they don't. But if that happens, I'm pretty sure onion soup or something equally as comforting will be there.

~jennifer.

9.21.2010

Recipe-ish: Bruschetta

A good meal lingers like a good kiss. I'm still thinking about the bruschetta from lunch today.

Ciabatta bread brushed with olive oil, topped with a thin slice of a cheese like parmigiano-reggiano and a few dabs of red sauce. Deliziosa!

The red sauce I make is a variation of a recipe in Ted Allen's cookbook The Food You Want to Eat. It's an excellent base recipe, because there are so many different directions you can take it. Here's what I did today (it will change next week as it did last week):

...which reminds me. This is a good time to tell you why I call these "recipe-ish". I'm not a scientist nor a pastry chef, so exact measurements aren't my thing. I generally cook for one or two unless otherwise specified. I'll give you ballpark figures, and we'll both agree to live by this cook's greatest motto "season to taste". You know what your palatte likes anyway.

You will need:

olive oil
handful chopped onions
one garlic clove, chopped
bay leaf
half of a tomato
pepper
salt
oregano
basil (preferably fresh but dried is ok)

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sautee a few minutes. Add the garlic. Sautee for another minute. Add a bay leaf.

Put the tomato in the food processor and grind. Let it get all saucy and squishy. Add it to the olive oil along with the pepper, salt (I use kosher), oregano and basil, and let it cook covered for about 5 to 10 minutes.

When I pour this over pasta, I like it thinner, so I'll add more olive oil and cook it at a lower temp, but for bruschetta topping, I like it thick. So it stays at medium heat, and I let it bubble and thicken until it reduces on its own.

Scoop it on top of the bread which should already be topped with olive oil and the parm, and broil it for about three or so mintues (rotate them around if your oven heats un-evenly like mine does). Again, watch carefully. There are a lot of worthy appliances that can be trusted; an oven on its highest heat isn't one of them.

Take them out and let them cool. Nothing ruins the taste of food more than burning the roof of your mouth and cheese can be very unforgiving.

Otherwise, enjoy and improsive. Use a multi-grain bread. Add mushrooms. Add green peppers. Switch out the parm for Asiago. Have fun with it. Hopefully, it will turn out as tasty as these.

Bruschetta anyone? on Twitpic

~jennifer.

david chang: the rising chef

I love hearing people's personal stories. A good underdog, came-out-of-nowhere-to-success story inspires me to conquer the world -- or at least imagine that I can.

That said, I have such a chef crush on David Chang.

David Chang
Photo © Gabriele Stabile

For those who don't know, he's the rock star chef out of New York whose risk-taking in the kitchen and in life has landed him as an unlikely restauranter. He has always called himself the worst cook in many of his culinary circumstances, but his daring spirit to start the unconventional noodle bar, Momofuku, paid off and then some. Now he has a handful of restaurants under his watch, a cookbook (which is a really good read, by the way), "rising star" and "best new chef" awards, and his pork buns still bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard.

Here he talks about the difference between a great chef and a great cook.








Like I said, I love a good underdog story. And if it involves great food, even better.

~jennifer.

9.20.2010

what's good: shrimp and cheddar cheese grits

Tonight, I'm making Shrimp & Cheddar Cheese Grits, courtesy of the good people at EatingWell.com. I saw this interesting dish a month ago on an episode of my guilty pleasure show Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, when the chef-turned-author-turned-travel-food-guru visited New Orleans. Just today, this recipe was featured on Yahoo. I considered it fate.

As soon as I started whisking the grits into the water/broth mixture, I had  flashbacks of the last few times I've made polenta. The first time that I made the Italian cornmeal, I spilled it in my roommate's shoe. The second time, it was so stiff that it barely came out of the saucepan. The third time... well, it just tasted horribly. I was a little scared it would happen again, but of course it didn't. Because I have roots in South Carolina, and grits -- no matter how infrequently I make it -- is an old friend.

When this recipe says 25 minutes, they're not lying. The grits thickened easily, and if you're dealing with fresh, raw shrimp, they cook within minutes under the broiler.

Generally, I do a lot of substitutions when I cook, not because I'm so avant-garde, but because I'm lousy at reading recipes thoroughly and always seem to be missing something mid-way through. Improvisation is always on the menu. This time, I didn't have scallions on hand, so I used some green onions that I had wrapped in tin foil at the bottom of the crisper. Not as zesty as it probably could have been it, but it worked.

Shrimp and Grits on Twitpic

Enjoy the recipe here.

~jennifer.

why the good journal?

Why the good journal?

A few years ago I was foolishly trying to lose weight. Not that I was fat, or at least in hindsight I don't think I was. I was just on yet another kick to reshape my life. I do that a lot.

Any how, most of the diet gurus suggest that you keep a food journal. Write down everything you eat, so you can read it and shame yourself at the end of the day. I tried it, and my speedy fingers saved the document with an interesting typo in the title. Instead of "the food journal", I typed "the good journal". It's haunted me ever since.

So why a blog?

Well, who doesn't need a little more goodness in their life. I do. I'm a 30-something writer who, like most brooding artists, spent way too many years suffering through my own homemade, oftentimes imaginary lamentations. I want to be happy. I want to celebrate the good stuff in my life that goes unnoticed and underappreciated: books that change your life, food that makes you sigh, music that makes you sing and everything in between. Everyday I want to ask, "What's good?" and find an answer.

I hope you enjoy the journey.

~jennifer.
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