pretend-healthy comfort food

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I haven’t been as diligent about updating this as I’d hoped, but I’m feeling more motivated than I was. So, let’s get to it!

I made this recipe a while ago, and I’ve made it before. I originally got it from an old roommate and college friend of mine, Becca, who really should have her own cooking blog because she can actually cook. The food prep is quick, cook time is less than an hour, and the results are really a crowd-pleaser (I think I’m still in magazine-writing mode from this morning’s internship…I need a beer or something).

I had my friend Stephanie take some lovely photos of this meal, which I cooked for a couple of friends. I also just realized that WordPress provides suggestions of photos from the web to include with each post. Here’s one they suggested for today:

Some chicken, pork and corn in the barbeque

Some chicken, pork and corn in the barbeque (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can find a version of the recipe here, which I used as a guideline. I serve this dish—garlic roasted chickpeas and swiss chard—over cheese grits, because they are probably the most unhealthy thing you can make or eat, aside from chocolate cake with icing made of french fries.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 15oz cans of chickpeas, drained
  • 10 garlic cloves, whole and peeled (I cook with garlic so often, I don’t think I’ll ever get the smell off of my hands. Tip: supposedly rubbing your fingers on stainless steel removes the scent.)
  • 3/4 c olive oil
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 4 sliced shallots
  • 2 bunches Swiss chard (never heard of the stuff? Don’t fret. I hadn’t, either, until a few years ago. I also pronounced quinoa “Kwin-oh-ah” until a few years ago, when someone overheard me and kindly asked if I had been locked in a basement for the duration of my life. Chard is just a leafy green plant that’s used a lot in Mediterranean cooking. It’s a good source of vitamins A, K, and C, as well as fiber and protein. With this recipe, it helps fool you into thinking you’re being healthy.)
  • 1 1/2c vegetable broth

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In a baking dish (mine literally won’t fit into my EZ-bake because it’s too big, so I used a small, disposable casserole dish), combine the chickpeas, whole cloves of garlic (peeled—of course), and two of the sliced shallots. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper, and then drizzle your olive oil over the concoction. I used my hands to incorporate everything before wrapping it in foil and sticking it in the oven, preheated to 350 degrees. Bake this for about 45-55 minutes, or until the garlic and shallots are nice and soft, like an oven-baked baby’s bottom.

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Heat some olive oil in a pot on the stove, over medium heat. I say “some” because only an OCD person would measure for this kind of thing. Add the remainder of your shallots and cook them for about 10 minutes. Add in the Swiss chard, which, I forgot to mention, you need to tear into strips, and let it cook down. Pour the broth over the chard. Since I did not have vegetable broth, I dissolved a veggie bouillon in hot water.

Cook the chard until it looks done. If you have eyes that function, you should be able to tell. Once the chickpeas are finished roasting, add them into the chard and blend. I cooked some grits on the side with sharp cheddar and Monterrey jack cheese and plated the food in bowls—first the grits, then a healthy heap of chard and chick peas.

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Next on the cooking to-do list: coffee cake cookies. (So much for cutting out sweets…)

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thai, take two

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I kind of wish I knew how to add MSG to things, because then this dish might have tasted better. The good thing about it, though, is that it’s a little bit gross, so after one serving you’re good to go and will probably feel nauseated for another hour.

I didn’t follow a recipe this time. Instead, in an uncharacteristic burst of culinary confidence, I winged it. So this shit’s original.

Here are things I purchased at a local, overpriced organic grocery store:

• one green bell pepper
• one shallot (what are shallots? They’re like tiny onions pretending to be garlic. ALSO, I just looked up a picture…are scallions the tops of shallots? My mind is blown)
• one clove garlic
• Pad Thai sauce (premade. That’s right. They don’t call me Sandra Lee for nothin’)
• brown rice noodles
• hydroponically grown alfalfa sprouts (that just means the place where I was shopping is pompous)

Here are things that I used and already had:

• some parsley (to help the plant feel like it has a purpose in the world aside from almost dying and then being brought back to life in a rain shower)
• an egg (you know how you always find pieces of egg in your takeout, and you kind of like it? That’s why)
• olive oil

Boil the nooders. I mean, noodles. Only for like five minutes. Don’t touch them once you drain them because not only are they flaming-lava hot, they’ll also stick to your fingers and continue to burn them even after you shake your hand furiously.

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While the noodles are draining somewhere else, pour some olive oil into your pot and add in some minced shallot and a few cloves of minced garlic. You might want to add in a hefty amount or cook them for less time, because as soon as I added in the noodles and other ingredients, the shallot and garlic disappeared. Like, fully disintegrated or something.

I cooked the minced stuff for about 5 minutes before adding in some parsley, in an attempt to make the dish taste more—fresh? Then I added in chopped green pepper, cooked that for about 5-10 more minutes, and then added in my premade Pad Thai sauce.

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Scramble an egg or two in a nearby pan, and kind of overcook it to mimic the chewy eggness found in restaurants. Add the egg in towards the end.

I added in the noodles, which had solidified into a single block much like their original packaged form. This took some finagling to fix. I’d recommend making exaggerated stirring motions with a metal fork.

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I tasted the dish, was unimpressed, added in some soy sauce and cayenne pepper, and then decided that I didn’t care. What’s that slightly sweet, slightly tangy artificial taste found in packaged Asian foods? Do you know what I’m talking about, or do I have a brain tumor? I can’t get that taste out of my mouth.

Top the dish with your alfalfa sprouts, which I can only assume are the same thing as bean sprouts. I now have no money and way too many bean sprouts. I don’t recommend adding chopped peanuts, and here’s why:

A list of things that peanuts belong with

1. Jelly, when they’re mashed up
2. Elephants in a circus
3. Raisins and other nut varieties in trail mix
4. Chocolate, on top of them
5. Whatever’s in a Snickers bar

A list of things that peanuts do not belong with

1. Anyone with a peanut allergy
2. Strangers’ greasy fingers when the nuts are sitting in a communal trough at a bar
3. The travesty that is circus peanuts, which don’t actually contain peanuts—just Styrofoam
4. Small, dumb things like children who choke easily
5. Savory dishes, such as noodles

So, please, forget the peanuts, unless you like an unexpected and horrifying crunch that is impossible to extract with any utensil, fingers included. They’re almost as bad as raisins in cookies or bread pudding, but that’s another post entirely…

why buy caramel when you can be pretentious?

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I like baking things to give away. The reasons? One, receiving something delicious and homemade thrills even the grumpiest people (unless they’re anorexic), and two, I won’t eat all of it in one sitting.

So, I decided to bake brownies for a friend. But not just any brownies—smitten kitchen’s salted caramel brownies. I wanted something a little unique, and I’m discovering more and more that sea salt is the perfect addition to any otherwise-too-sweet dessert.

The source blog includes tasteful photographs of perfectly sliced caramels and comments about the caramel being “really easy to make.” For an experienced food blogger, yes. For someone with spastic hands and zero patience? Not quite.

I kind of fucked a few things up. Like, the process of cooking and slicing the caramel was a total bitch. I didn’t think I’d make it through—kind of like when I’m in hot yoga trying to bend my torso backwards and feel like I might vomit. But, just like in yoga, I persisted and finished the job without throwing up. Or farting in front of a bunch of people.

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Here’s how to make the caramel:

Prepare a medium-sized plate for the caramel with a square of parchment (I used wax) paper sprayed in cooking oil. Melt 1/2 c sugar in a dry pan until it’s liquid and caramel-colored. This could take a few minutes. Then, stir in 4 tbsp. unsalted butter.

And so begins the endurance test. You’ll immediately think to yourself, Why, I can’t stir in this butter! The sugar has solidified into immovable clumps! Ignore the protesting thoughts of your rational mind, and add in 1/4 tsp. sea salt and 3 tbsp. heavy cream (I used whipping cream…I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume they’re pretty much the same thing).

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This will all melt together, eventually, but the process blows major dick. I started trying to un-stick the sugar from the bottom of the pan and ended up flinging droplets of boiling-hot butter all over myself (I wasn’t wearing an apron—I don’t own one). The sugar became one with my plastic spoon, so I switched to metal, which attracted the remaining clumps of sugar like a magnet and quickly became too hot to hold.

Sometimes I wonder about my brain.

My tip is to use a rubber spatula, if you have one. Once this bullshit finally liquifies, and it will, pour it onto your parchment paper and freeze it for about 20-30 minutes. Don’t freeze it too long, or it will shatter (I’m speaking from experience, which I’ll expound upon later).

While your caramel’s hardening, you can gather the stuff for the brownie mix:

• 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used bittersweet and cut down on the amount of sugar I used by about a third)
• 1 stick unsalted butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1/4 tsp. sea salt
• 2/3 c all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper, or, if you don’t have any (I’ve learned my lesson about putting wax paper in the oven…), just grease the shit out of it. That worked fine for me.

Melt the chocolate and butter together. I simply stuck them in the microwave for two 30-second sessions, stirring in-between. You can also heat them in a heat-proof bowl over hot water, but I think that sounds too labor intensive.

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I snickered to myself when I looked in this bowl. It’s like Paula Deen’s version of cereal (JK Paula—I ❤ U!)

Once the chocolate is melted and fully incorporated with the butter, add in your sugar, then each egg one at a time (why? I don’t know. Just do it), then the vanilla and finally, salt. Stir in the flour slowly until it’s all nice and smooth, like poop the morning of a wine hangover.

Uh…

Chop the caramel into 1-inch squares when it’s firm enough. The squares on smitten kitchen’s blog are, of course, perfect. But as soon as I pushed my knife into the sheet of sugar, it cracked like glass.

See if you can guess which one is hers and which one is mine:

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Well, fuck it! That’s my motto. Just break it up into little pieces and stir these into the batter. Save some to place on top. Pour the batter into your greasy pan, top it with the remaining caramel chunks and maybe a few pinches of sea salt for good measure, and bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Not surprisingly, my god-forsaken EZ-Bake burned the edges for no reason.

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You’ll want to refrigerate the brownies before trying to cut them. Even though these are a gift, I tried a bite…which turned into a corner…despite the burned bits, these brownies are a major winner. Salted caramel should be on everything—that’s my takeaway.

put on your sombrero and grab some queso

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I was about to apologize for not posting in such a long time, but I guess I should first apologize for my title…#sorryimnotsorry #fml #lol

OK, let’s get the fuck down to business. A few days ago I made some empanadas, using this recipe for guidance. Empanadas are baked/fried pastries filled with whatever-the-hell and found in Latin American, Southern European, and Southeast Asian cuisine. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread (all of this via Wikipedia. Ermahgerd, Werkerperderer!) I’m surprised the translation specifies wrapping something in bread…does that happen so often that it warrants its own verb?

Oh, I forgot about tacos. And burritos.

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Since I’m rapidly progressing in my culinary skills, and also because I couldn’t find any pre-made at the local Kill-Me-Now-Kroger, I made my own empanada dough. I don’t think I did it the authentic way, which I’ve heard involves using lard (I could have finally made use of Cat!), but I did do it the really freaking simple way.

Basically, you mix 3 c flour with a couple pinches of salt, 1 1/2 sticks of cold butter (this one’s for you, Paula Deen), an egg, and 4-5 tbsp. water. I kind of eyeballed everything and mixed it all together with my hands, but I’m guessing a food processor would have been helpful.

I had a couple of friends over to help me cook/eat the food. Stephanie acted as sous chef and took photos. Leanna rolled out the dough with an empty wine bottle (who has a rolling pin?) and, employing the use of her production design skills, grabbed a vase that I had totally forgotten about to cut out small circles.

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While she worked with the dough (which, shit, I forgot to mention—you need to chill it for, like, 30 minutes before handling it), I started the empanada filling.

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 1/4 of a large white onion, diced
• 1 c green peas (the original recipe calls for “fresh shelled,” as well as “twice peeled fava beans,” but I’m not a fucking trophy wife with enough time and money to prance around organic markets in 6-inch heels and buy esoteric beans for my personal chef to peel, not once, but twice, so I bought a can of green peas), for Christ’s sake
• 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
• 1 tbsp. chopped thyme (I didn’t have this…)
• 1/2 lb of asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces. We used a whole bunch, so I had leftover filling that I later used for pasta. Genius!
• 2 tbsp. butter
• Salt and pepper

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Melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the diced onions and cook for a few minutes, then add in the asparagus and, like, half a can of drained green peas. Or thrice shelled mystical fava beans, if you’re a princess. Add in some herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and then mix in the goat cheese. The filling will become creamy and delicious-smelling.

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To assemble, take your little circles of dough, place a spoonful of filling in the center, and then fold the circle in half. Make an egg wash with a whisked egg and some water and brush this around the edges to help seal the pastry. Score around the edge with a fork to finish the packaging process, and brush your egg wash over the tops of each empanada.

If you feel like it, you can also make an empanada-cat. Empanacat. Catpanada.

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Bake at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, or until the tops and edges are golden brown. Naturally, my oven charred some of the edges and left the tops baby-bottom white.

Now for the important part. This sauce is crucial. Like, seriously. It’s a balsamic chimichurri sauce that I found on the same blog—super easy to make, fresh-tasting from the herbiness, and totally something that I want to pour over my face and naked body.

Hmm, scratch the last part.

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Here’s all the shit that you need to mix together for the sauce. Try to use it the same day you make it.

• 3 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (I didn’t have this but used dried instead)
• 2 tbsp. chopped parsley (yes! The parsley I’ve been growing finally came in handy!)
• 4 minced garlic cloves
• 5 tbsp. olive oil
• 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
• 1 tsp. chili powder
• 3 tbsp. finely chopped green onions (or scallions…aren’t they the same thing? Or are scallions those little oniony-looking things?)

Mix all of these things together, and enjoy. We opted to drizzle it over the tops of the empanadas in a very chic way.

The dough was a little dry, so I would recommend looking for a more authentic recipe or simply buying pre-made dough. Enjoy!

all hail the cookie queen

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…er, not really. But these did turn out pretty f*cking boss, if I do say so myself. Despite a few minor mishaps.

I found the recipe on this blog and followed it almost exactly. I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies that had a little something extra, like the sea salt and toffee found in this recipe.

I got the chocolate chips and Heath bar bits down, but I have no clue what the difference is between sea salt and Kosher salt, except that one comes from the ocean and the other sounds Jewish. So I ended up using Kosher, since that’s all my parents have at their house (I’m home for a few days).

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The recipe also recommends using a standing mixer, which my parents do own, thankfully, except I literally had to retrieve it from, like, a 17th century trunk in the adjoining den. Carrying it to the kitchen was a feat, as the machine weighs about 94 lbs.

Here’s what you’ll need for salted toffee choc chip cookies:

• 1 c unsalted butter (that’s two sticks), room temp.
• 1 1/3 c light brown sugar
• 1/2 c white sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• 3 c whole wheat flour (I used my parents’ “Enriched Whole Wheat White Flour Product,” which sounds like a load of bullshit, but it seemed to work OK)
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 12 oz. choc chips
• 8 oz. toffee bits

Attach a paddle…attachment…to the standing mixer and blend the sugar and butter together until fluffy. Then beat in the eggs and vanilla (I always pronounce it “vanira” in my head, like an Asian stereotype…I promise I’m not racist, my brain just works in a way that might seem racist…I’m stopping now).

Add in the flour and baking soda, slow as fuck. Like, maybe a spoonful at a time. I poured all of the dry stuff in and watched, mesmerized, as white clouds poured out of the mixer and drifted around the kitchen, coating every surface in a fine film of flour. Mix in the toffee bits and chocolate, not by hand. Unless you’re super strong, which I am not.

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Scoop 1 tbsp.-sized pieces onto a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a shitload of oil. I am hesitant to use parchment paper ever since I confused it with wax paper and filled my kitchen with stinky smoke. Top each cookie with a healthy pinch of salt and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.

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Boom! I nailed this one. Except for one tiny, inconsequential thing…some of the wrapper from the sticks of butter ended up in the dough. I pulled out a few scraps before baking, but there might be more lurking. I’ll just tell people it’s good luck if they find a piece of paper in their bite, kind of like a fortune cookie.

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If fortune cookies had blank, waxy fortunes.

ermergerd, fersh tercers

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Fish tacos are probably my favorite food, next to Thai takeout and pineapple pizza. Oh, and wine/chocolate. (My aspirational self loves celery and anything gluten/sugar-free!)

(She’s a dumb whorebitch!)

For good fish tacos, I think it’s all about the perfect balance of ingredients: tender, flaky white fish; crunch from raw cabbage or shredded lettuce; chunky, fresh salsa with mango, tomato and avocado; spicy, smooth chipotle mayo, etc. etc. (I’m such the gourmet! *pretentious fake laugh*)

With my brother David’s guidance (ex: “Don’t use a serrated knife on fish. That’s why it keeps catching.” On what? I asked. “On the meat” he casually replied. What? Why does it have strings?) and a little intentional sobriety, I was able to make fish tacos successfully. And I actually enjoyed the process.

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Speaking of sobriety, I’m on my second dark and stormy right now, so this might not be the most coherent post.

I’ve spent the week with my family at VA beach and opted to cook dinner one night because, you know, this blog content ain’t gonna generate itself. I used one recipe for guidance and also made a spicy mayo/sour cream sauce as an extra accompaniment.

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 2 lbs of any firm, white fish. I wanted to use Mahi, but ended up with cod, which worked fine.
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
• 1 1/2 tsp. chipotle chile powder
• 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
• 1/2 tsp. onion powder
• 1/2 tsp. oregano
• salt and pepper
• corn tortillas, to wrap up the shit.
• Shredded lettuce or cabbage

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Salsa:

• 1 1/2 mangos, cut into chunks
• 1 avocado, cut into chunks
• 1 roma tomato, chopped
• 1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo
• 1 clove minced garlic
• 1/2 lime, juiced
• 1/4 c fresh chopped cilantro
• salt and pepper

Rub your fish in the olive oil and then coat it in a generous helping of the dry seasonings after blending them all together. Do this on both sides of each fish fillet. Stick all the fillets in a pan and broil the suckers for like 5-7 minutes, or until…cooked.

Mix everything together for the salsa (duh). Serve with the fish.

If you would like another creamy sauce to serve, mix equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream in a bowl. Add in 2 tbsp. of sauce from chipotle in adobo and a few of the peppers, roughly chopped. (At first, I forgot to chop the peppers, so I had to extract them from the sauce. Unfortunately my brother and his girlfriend caught me in the act and snapped a picture.) Squeeze half a lime in there, too, and mix well.

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Set out both sauces, lettuce, tortillas (I was encouraged to grill each one individually on a skillet, which, had I been cooking for one, I wouldn’t have done), fish, whatever, and allow people to serve themselves.

My brother boiled some corn on the cob and coated it in chile powder to serve with the fish. Arriba!