Monday, August 30, 2010

Cooking class

Ok, I've admittedly been slacking, but once you start slacking, it's hard to stop.

The most exciting culinary news in my life in this gap was, hands down, the first cooking class I attended. Oh my goodness, it was absolutely delicious.

First off, we arrived a little early, about half an hour, but didn't end up regretting that. To our surprise, the location was the home of the chef, with the class kitchen located in her beautifully outfitted kitchen. On first approach, when we started down a country dirt road, I wondered if we were lost. A culinary paradise on an unpaved road, across from a cemetary? What were the odds?

But there it was, on a dirt road off another dirt road. The driveway was uphill and unpaved and must be a nightmare to navigate in the winter. The front yard was huge and decorated with beautiful ivy-covered arches, benches, fruit trees, and a huge weeping willow. The house itself was a deep wood brown with sharp roofs and windowboxes bright with scarlet flowers. The scene looked like something from Harry Potter. Navigating our way past giant herb beds and a variety of tomatoes, we got to the back of the house, which made us feel like we had been transported to the south of France in April or somewhere thereabouts.

The back deck was paved with red tiles and the sides were ivy-leafed and high. There was a massive stainless steel grill which brought us back to the food.

We enjoyed exploring all the little details of the gardens from the little, yellow-orange pear tomatoes to the overflowing frog pond to the pear tree in front and the cottage sign by the front door. When we were finally allowed in, we were even more amazed at the sight in front of us. A giant six-burned viking range, complete with grill portion and dual convection ovens, and a massive, unbelievably well-stocked viking fridge, all stainless steel with no fingerprints. The walls had yards and yards of magnetic strips lined with thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars worth of Wusthof knives (which I absolutely fell in love with). There were shelves with stacks and stacks of all the stuff in short supply in our kitchen, from cutting boards to mixing bowls. There was a tableful of dry pantry goods, which I'm proud to say, ours is comparable with! (maybe even a bit better stocked on the asian side)

We chatted and chatted, but the best was when we began cooking. First we made a trip to the huge herb beds. I want to know how she fertilizes them, because I saw the most massive basil bush (it can only be described as a bush) that I have ever seen. It was maybe...2+ feet tall and the same wide and the leaves were picture-perfect, glossy and green and huge. We cut sprigs of thyme and chives and got handfuls of mint, all organic and all massive and delicious.

We began with the mint chocolate creme brulee (yes, mint chocolate, no, I can't imagine having "normal" creme brulee after that). We steeped the fresh mint leaves in heavy cream and separated the eggs. Aside from the guy and I, there was only one other student, so we got plenty of hands-on instruction and work time. From there, the chef led us expertly through the steps for smoked sweet corn souffle (honestly, I could leave the souffle and just have the corn, it was that good). There was the perfunctory sales pitches, such as the $60 stove-top smoker and a $12 silicone spoonula, but we passed those breezily.

We dipped and dodged and winded through the dessert and souffle and the passable mashed red potatoes (personally, I like them with a bit of texture left to them, as well as some garlic). Although the red potatoes did offer us an occasion to realize just how much better the Wusthof knives were compared to the ones we have in the kitchen. I'm still pining for them..

The finishing touch was a beautifully grilled filet mignon with a deliciously simple sour cream and green onion sauce. The chef put the finishing touches on the presentation and when we finally ate, it was with great relish and appetite, since it was halfway to 10 already, much later than our usual tuck-in time.

It was an absolutely amazing and delicious time and while I have other delicious bits to share from the farmer's market, which we finally got to this past weekend, and a slew of movie and book references, I think the cooking class occasion deserved to shine in its very own spotlight, the way it will in my memory. What an amazing birthday experience!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oww..banana bread

While cooking's been chugging along the past few days, typing hasn't and it was the thought of having to type that deterred my blogging. Somehow I managed to slice my finger open...on the coffee maker. Yes, it's made of plastic. I was apparently in a bad luck spell for that afternoon.

Anyway, the cut's mostly healed, so I'll share what's been happening.

The guy and I splurged and went out for sushi at our favorite place Saturday. The restaurant he took me to on our first date, etc. I simply can't resist their salmon nigiri (well it's difficult to resist the stuff in general, but the guy loves their tempura rolls the best, too). Sooo..we stopped for a snack which turned into a full meal. I'm embarrassed that I finished my salad and miso soup...and proceeded to commandeer the guy's too. Well, he wasn't going to finish them!

Sunday we tried to use up some of that huge thing of bean sprouts we got and made pad thai again. No complaints here, it was just as tasty! We figured out that when we make it, it costs maybe...$1? At the most $2 per giant serving, I'm talking 8 oz of noodles serving. Well, really! The limes we got were on sale, $0.50 for a bag of 10-15 of them. But they're still only a quarter each normally. The rice noodles are $1.50 for a 16 oz bag. Then it's just sauce, which is probably a quarter or less, especially if you buy bulk. A dime for an egg, a penny for some cilantro garnish. It tastes amazing and it's cheap as heck, I wonder why we were afraid to try making it before?

Anyway..the most notable things of the rest of the week consisted of an amazing broccoli salad recipe we found. It's easily the best of its kind that the guy and I have ever had, and we both wolf it down. Speaking of which, the guy is literally craving veggies at meals now! I'm very proud.

Broccoli Salad

Anyway, the salad has some...bacon and cheese, BUT you're still getting almost all the nutrients in the broccoli, and I think that benefit outweighs the cons of moderate amounts of each. Basically we take a big ole head of broccoli and chop it up into very little florets. Since broccoli is such a sturdy veggie, the smaller the pieces, the better the dressing gets absorbed. While you're doing that, you crisp up a few strips of bacon. We use four because we usually have two strips each anyway. See, a moderate amount!

The dressing is boyfriend's territory, but the highlights are a little mayo (much less than your typical creamy dressing) and rice vinegar to thin it down and add some zing. Some lemon juice for brightness and...probably not much else. Maybe some secret ingredients of his.

After you finish the bacon and take it out and break/rip it up in little bits, (and here's my favorite part that the heart-healthy or heart-attack-wary might skip..) you stir fry the broccoli a bit in the bacon grease. Not till it's limp or even very cooked, just to get the smokiness of the bacon in a bit more and help the color. There's a point where it should be very bright green, after only a couple minutes!

Then you mix it all up and let it sit for 20 minutes, an hour, or however long you can resist, and voila, absolutely delicious broccoli salad with a tangy yet smooth dressing. It's amazing, I want more already!

Banana Bread

Yesterday, when the guy got home, I had a very nice after-work snack for him. We have this candle warmer and banana bread candle that his parents gave us. When we have it on, the whole apartment smells like bananas, and I used to use it quite often just before he got home. But today he noticed there was actually something on the stove, was kinda like a kid at Christmas. He loves anything to do with bananas. Actually, we still have some banana wine in the fridge. He seemed quite surprised how I managed to make it. The conversation went something like this:

Him: "'d you make this?"
Me: *clueless look* "With bananas?" *typical smartass reply*

We had 3 very spotty ripe bananas and I'm somewhat picky about the dark spots, so what better way to use them up? Surprisingly, we had all the ingredients necessary already. That's a surprise. I guess we're getting to that point of having a stocked pantry! In only three months of cooking on our own, too.

Anyway, it was your basic flour, eggs, butter recipe. A little salt to bring out the flavors, a little baking soda for lightness, and brown sugar for added sweetness. I was afraid it'd be too sugary, but I love the gentleness and flavor of brown sugar. It came out delicious and had just enough time to cool before the guy got home. You'd think I'd planned it!

Of course, there was a nightmare moment when, as soon as he saw it, he reached for the loaf pan with both hands. I had a horrified moment of a slow motion "Noooooooooo" when he did that, as I thought it'd still be hot. Actually I think I squeaked "DON'T TOUCH THAT" but it was too late of course, and only resulting in his holding the pan while turning towards me with a deer-in-headlights expression. The guy has this...really, really bad habit of grabbing things that come out of the oven. Thankfully he's stopped trying to grab things from INSIDE the oven, but still, there are moments.

Lucky for him, the handles of the loaf pan had cooled enough that he didn't burn himself at all. The bottom would have burned him, had he touched it, and the handles were still a bit too warm for me, but, sigh of relief, it was fine.

Ay yai yai yai yai, Lord Zordon...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Steak and Ramen

Best ramen! And I've had plenty. This is by far my favorite. It's a Korean brand and has all the spiciness that Koreans (and I) love. The noodles are much better quality than your average cup o' noodles and the flavoring is addictive. Boyfriend and I use it as popcorn seasoning occasionally! Very, very good stuff and lunch today.

Dinner last night was unbelievably delicious again. With the pad thai earlier in the week and my favorite, favorite, faaaavorite wings from my favorite wings place for dinner later, I dare say this is my favorite week culinarily so far! Unfortunately I didn't manage to snap any pics before they were devoured, but suffice to say, no steak sauce was needed at all.

The sauce was to die for! I'm definitely doubling or maybe even tripling the recipe next time so I can use it as a gravy over the smashed redskin potatoes we had with it. It was a rosemary, bourbon, mustard, worcestershire-based sauce. The worcestershire added a perfect tartness from the vinegar. The mustard was hot and sweet and added a nice kick. The rosemary was a surprisingly subtle earthiness. The bourbon had a delicious yeastiness that always reminds me of making cinnamon rolls. And the bacon was a perfect solution for grilling, adding the crispy crunch of caramelization and smoke. Absolutely amazing and quite simple! Definitely a winner that we'll have to make again. Soon. Boyfriend absolutely loved it too, of course, it was a big, delicious hunk of meat.

The recipe was adapted from to suit our taste. The original is here, but the version we actually made is below:

~ 1.5 lbs steak
salt and pepper
2 gloves garlic, minced
4 T hot and sweet mustard

Crisp, crumble, and top:
4 slices bacon

1 T hot and sweet mustard
1 T dry rosemary
1/4 cup bourbon
2 T worcestershire sauce
1/2 T brown sugar
1 T lemon juice

So you can see we modified quite a few of the measurements!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thai in our pad!

Excuse the terribly unpunny title, but I'm so pleased with what we had last night! Since introducing boyfriend to the deliciously sweet, sour, salty, spicy pad thai a few months ago, he's loved it and we wanted to try making it ourselves. Yesterday we finally did and boy, did it exceed my expectations. We're still useless at cooking rice noodles, but at least this time it turned out way, way better than the congealed blob from last time. It was mighty tasty!

The little eggs on the right are quail eggs, which we picked up from the oriental mart while we were there. Tasty, but not as good as I remembered from my childhood, sadly. Boyfriend didn't care for them, so I ate his. Why so many limes? It's the final garnish that's absolutely crucial. It just really pulls all the flavors together, granted one slice or two at the most was enough.

I wish I had spent more time cooking up the shrimp separately and just adding them to the top after it was done, I'd like to get a bit more color to them..

But all in all, I'm just picking at bones now. It was delicious!

Lunch was simple but good. I had my favorite summertime salad, which just consists of sliced cucumbers and italian dressing to dip. Couldn't get any easier and I enjoy much more than any salad with lettuce. Very fresh and summery and it gets a bright burst of acid from the dressing. Yuuuum!

Also had some leftover chicken with rice. From the top, there's two pieces of cumin/cayenne chicken, then one piece of boyfriend's teriyaki-style chicken. Both absolutely delicious and tender and savory. They don't look as great as they did fresh, but the flavors are even better!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mmm...lunch, Part 2

So that rotisserie chicken I had made into a chicken salad lunch? The rest of it got recycled last week into chicken and dumplings. Here's what I did.

First I took all the meat remaining from the bones and set it to boiling in a pot of water for an hour or so to make my own chicken-flavored-water or broth or stock, or whatever it'd be classified under.

In another pot, I sweated down some red onion, celery, and carrots for flavoring and added the chicken meat. To that, I added most of the chicken-flavored-water-broth and seasonings to make a rudimentary chicken soup. The excess chicken-flavored-water-broth, I froze individually for later use. The boiled down chicken carcass was finally discarded.

Once the soup came to a boil, I tried a couple different dumpling recipes. First I tried a rolled out one that used butter, milk and baking soda, but it was a little light for my taste. I prefer big, doughy drop dumplings, so I ditched the extra stuff and just mixed up some flour and water. and dropped it in big spoonfuls into the boiling soup. These came out more like I wanted. I didn't add salt because I hoped they'd pick up some of the soup, which came out too salty despite cupfuls of water added to try to dilute the salt. Oops..

All in all, it came out okay, tasty and doughy, which was just what I wanted. Although there are a couple points I'd like to troubleshoot, mainly how to make a better chicken broth or stock from scratch. I don't think I should have left the skin on the chicken, because the broth came out with lots of fat, yuck. And I'm not sure if I want to boil the veggies with the stock or just leave it plain chicken. Lastly, I need a way to save this, if at all possible. One batch makes too much for one lunch and when I tried to save it and reheat it, it came out a very lumpy, thick mess, not delectable...

Weekend slump

I didn't blog about food this weekend, but really, there wasn't much to blog about. This has to be our laziest weekend on record.

Friday after the boyfriend got home, we went shopping hoping to find lamb. I've been wanting to make yang rou chaun, which is a lamb kebab dish and popular streetcart food in Beijing and many Northern chinese cities. I absolutely loved these as a kid. It's funny how most of the foods I loved as a kid make it onto my toplists now. I wonder if I had been introduced to them at a later age, if I'd still love them just as much or if part of their appeal is in reminiscing?

Anyway, little chunks or strips of lamb are threaded onto wooden skewers and grilled over an open charcoal flame. They're heavily seasoned with hot stuff and cumin, the predominant flavoring and served to you fresh off the grill, dripping lovely lamb fat and spices.

Although grilling presents a difficulty since we live in an apartment with an electric stove, we decided to try the recipe in the oven with similar spices, hoping to produce a similar taste. But we didn't expect to be stumped by the sheer lack of lamb. Now I'm not a meat expert, so we hopped over to Meijer, but the only lamb they had was fit for chops or a huge leg that boyfriend and I would have no clue how to butcher, nor could we hope to eat that much. So we hopped over the local meat store, which is absolutely amazing, stocking things like elk, buffalo, and venison and occasionally rabbit. We were sure they'd have some! Well, at the meat market, we learned we probably needed "round" but that they didn't have any. Two places down. Onto the next Meijer, but they only had tiny chop pieces again or ground lamb. What a fail..

Maybe that was what demoralized us for the weekend, because we ended up picking up frozen pizza on Friday, takeout on Saturday, and sandwiches on Sunday.

The pizza was DiGiorno's and the first time I've tried them, although everyone knows the tagline of "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno's!" (marketing genius!). We picked up the kind with breadsticks because boyfriend looooves breadsticks, sometimes more than the actual pizza. It was ok, but honestly I was craving supercheap, super crispy flat crust pizza. DiGiorno's had a thick buttery crust. The texture was a little weird to get used to, but the outside ring part of the crust had a buttery flakiness that reminded me of biscuits. I think I liked it. The breadsticks were nothing to rave about, nor the rest of the pizza. I think I might prefer the new Domino's or whatever the supercheap, super crispy flat crust pizza was that we got last time and sorta burned.

Saturday was breakfast/lunch then takeout. And boy, was the takeout horrible.. Boyfriend and I were desperate though, being starved after 9 hours of not eating since lunch/breakfast, unless you count random fruit and junk food. I was hoping that the hole in the wall place would be decent, because the chef could only converse with me through broken English or Cantonese (which I do not speak). But it was the epitome of cheap (read: tons of filler carrots and celery, a practice which I despise and will dutifully pick out every last piece from my food) and greasy (which usually I don't care too much about, but it was ridiculous) and flavorless. Yuuuuck. It offended me to think that they called that chinese food. Utterly unappetizing, despite being starved. I think I had a third of my half-order.

Saturday was our most gourmet day with a picnic at the beach of buffalo chicken and pepper jack sandwiches. For sides, we had some sliced cucumbers with Italian and these huge, toothachingly sweet Ranier cherries that were totally worth the premium price. We also picked up some treats at the Oriental mart, some fried seaweed stuff from the boyfriend and a szechuan-style fish jerky type thing from me. Unfortunately, we finished the fish already and I can't find a pic of it online, but I did find the seaweed:
Boyfriend is sort of addicted to them but I didn't really care for them. The taste is okay, but I think dried seaweed strips on their own (without the frying) have more flavor and I didn't care for the crispier texture of the fried type.

Sunday, we also got...............Speedway frozen coffee!! If you have the fortune of having these machines in your local Speedway, they're absolutely the best frozen coffee I've ever had. They're creamier than they have any right to be and absolutely delicious. Not all Speedways have them, we went through three one time trying to find them. They look like your average icee maker but the coffee in them comes out beautifully, all smooth and cream, and they're even tasty after they've melted, something I can't say about icees. Perfect summer treat!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Easy mac and Beijing duck

Yesterday's dinner was about as uneventful as you can get. Boyfriend came home craving cucumber salad (yay, he's starting to crave veggies!!) and lucky for him, I had started some marinading earlier in the day, so he promptly divided it up, smothered his in sour cream, and got to munching. I prefer mine without sour cream, but the new touches I'd tried, namely adding crushed red pepper flakes and slices of red onion, left it a bit strong. Or maybe it's the new rice vinegar we got. I didn't end up finishing it, but it did make me crave something savory and dinner-y, so we mixed up some easy mac which was way too yummy for its own good, and that ended up being dinner.

Through the rest of the night, we snacked a little more on peaches (me), ice cream (the bf...and me), and kiwi (both!). I deviated from my usual mint chocolate chip to get this coffee ice cream with chocolate swirling and espresso chips. I've decided I really dislike swirls..they're just way too sweet for my taste. But the espresso chips were rich and dark and crunchy and absolutely tasty. Yuuuuum~

I hope tonight's dinner will be something a little more interesting, though. We've had a couple rough nights in a row with the terrible "chinese-style" rice noodles and easy mac. Nothing against easy mac, I love it, but it's oh so simple and I've been inspired to make something tastier! Probably partially by all the tasty food my little sister's having. She just started on a two-week trip to China and I'm unbelievably jealous! She mentioned in an e-mail yesterday duck (which she said was her favorite, BIG SURPRISE! Although it is a surprise to my Chinese-food-disliking sister, but not a surprise to anyone who's had Beijing duck before) and eggplant (I'm sure the oh so tasty szechuan variety, all garlicky and dark). Man, I'm jealous..