Monday, January 31, 2011

Sorry Folks...

...due to the 18 inches of snow we're due to get this week and the training I'm part of, I'll be spending most of the week in Cambridge (don't worry, Nick will be taking care of the critters...or vice versa, whatever).  Tonight is the only night I'll have access to cooking facilities, and it's going to be a long night as is so it'll probably be basic pasta or something.  Polish week will have to be postponed.  I'm lame^max, I know.  Sorry.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Selection of Images from This Week

I won't lie, this has not been my favorite week of 2011.  It's been cold, it's been exhausting, but overall, it's been survivable. 

Monday night, Nick made dinner.  Bless his heart.  It was SO good.  Shockingly good, considering it was ketchup on rice with raisins. 

Tuesday night I battled some fierce Word demons.  The rest of the week has been pretty much a blur.  I finished a quilt then promptly spilled hot wax all over it.  Go me.  Tonight I'm hoping to finish up a Valentine's Day quilt I started almost a year ago.  I'm also going to make...something.  Probably pasta-based, since that's about all I can muster at the moment. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week #14: Thailand

The sad fact is, it's Sunday and I'm throwing this post together as a way to take a break from throttling Word (which, if you didn't know, is what I do for a living).  That's right, I've worked the whole weekend.  This week is going to be kind of nuts too...tomorrow I need to drive in to Cambridge for work.  Tuesday night I'll need to hit the gym (trust me) and it's my long workout night (not to mention a school night for Nick).  Wednesday is Nick's surgery.  Thursday is up in the air.  Friday, if I make it that far, should be a little less hectic, but it doesn't look promising.  Saturday is training for Spin stuff.  Wow, just writing all that out made me curl up in the fetal position in my chair.  Oops.

In any case, I'm going to do my best to keep cooking this week, since the last couple weeks have been kind of fails.

So Thailand.

Thailand (pronounced /ˈtaɪlænd/ TYE-land or /ˈtaɪlənd/;[6] Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย Ratcha Anachak Thai, IPA: [râːtɕʰa ʔaːnaːtɕɑ̀k tʰɑj]( listen)) (formerly Siam Thai: สยาม) is an independent country that lies in the heart of Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Burma. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest.

What about the food?
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as Hom Mali rice) which is included in almost every meal. Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice, and Thais domestically consume over 100 kg of milled rice per person per year.[64] Over 5000 varieties of rice from Thailand are preserved in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines. The king of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI.[65]

Lots of rice.  I can handle that. 

So, without much ceremony or introduction, here's the recipe list for the week:

Monday (Nick's night to cook):

Tuesday is going to be a very long day (what else is new) so I'm going to stick with something familiar...maybe even red beans, who knows. 

Sorry for the lackluster post folks...gotta get back to exorcising the demons in Word.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lemon Basil Backup Plan

Last night I ended up getting some chicken sausage (easily the worst part of this meal, but it wasn't awful...just a little hotdoggy) and cooking it up with an onion, a whole lot of basil, juice from one lemon, about 3 tbsp of butter, some white wine, and some heavy cream.  Very similar to that thing I made during French week that I'm too lazy to find a link to right now.  It was yummy though.  Super quick, not terribly low-cal, but at least it was fresh.  All I wanted was fresh. 

It's a snow day here again, so lunch today should be creative.  Probably fried udon noodles again.  Yum yum yum.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MIA But Not Forgotten... of these week's I'll stop pushing regions to the end of the list.  I swear.  It's just been one of those has been crazy (I was up working until 1 am on Tuesday), it hasn't stopped snowing in like, 3 years, and I started training at the gym last night.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I haven't been this excited about anything in a really long time...look out Jillian Michaels, I'm coming for you. 

Seriously though, I've been cooking at home, it just hasn't been exciting (last night for example, I fried up some udon noodles for me, and made a pb&j for Nick). 

Tonight I won't get home until probably 8 PM, so I need something fast and healthy.  Suggestions?  Salad mixes won't cut it. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Combined Efforts

I feel like I'm running into a meeting late, with papers and hair flying everywhere...sorry sorry sorry. It's been a heckuva week.  I'm going to combine the end of Moroccan week into one post, and remind everyone that it's Thai week and I'll do my best to have something exciting for you this evening...since I haven't even managed to eat yet today though, it doesn't look promising.

Saturday we had Moroccan grilled chicken...except that our grill is under 3 ft of snow, so we baked it. 
Nick applied the marinade while Kini watched with acute interest.
Baked at around 375ish for around an hour.  I also threw some carrots in and whipped up some brown rice.
And dinner was served.  Very yummy.

Last night we had Thursday's tagine.  I started it in the morning (see above) and snuck a peek in the evening (see below). 

Served over rice with toasted almonds and cilantro.  YUM! 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

To the Women of the World, I Apologize

But the fact is, I married the best man of our generation. Possibly of the world.

Yesterday I woke up knowing for sure what I'd known (but wasn't willing to admit) on Tuesday...I have a cold. Not a huge, nasty, full-blown monster of a cold (thank God), just a really nasty throat cold. This is extremely familiar territory for me, but I actually haven't had one in a while...I got my tonsils out in college, so the odds went down considerably after that.

Enough of the TMI.

Anyway, last night, I was tired, achy, and knew I wouldn't sleep well because I never do with a hacking cough and an aching throat. So what did my man do? Looked up the recipe for hot totties online and whipped us up a batch.
 An ounce of whiskey, boiling water, a stick of cinnamon, 2 cloves, 2 spoons of honey, and a splash of lemon juice. 
 Cloves and cinnamon, steeping in the whiskey.
It was SO good.  We both slept like babies after that.  I love that man.

Oh, and dinner was pb&j because I didn't want to cook anything and we couldn't get out of the driveway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Tagine Saved Christmas

Or at least a snow day.

Nick usually works from home on Tuesdays, so I did some prep work on the first crockpot tagine and asked him to start it for us so it'd be ready for dinner last night.  Unfortunately, he really does WORK from home, so it didn't end up in the crock pot until nearly 7 last night, making 10 PM the earliest we could have eaten it.  Suffice it to say, I made us a workaround meal (pasta) while drooling over this teasingly undercooked tagine he'd put together.

Around 11, we called it done and put it in the fridge to save for today, which happens to be the first day we've been completely snowed in together.

Enter lunch:

It's marvelous.  The apricots (which I don't usually like) picked up the spices and flavors in a wonderful way, and the whole thing smells divine.  I had some toast with it, and it was the perfect cold day meal.  Yum.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Moroccan Meatballs

This dish was pretty good.  I thought the meatballs were a little dry, but Nick liked them...we have different tastes in how dry is too dry for meat though (he loves a big ol' chicken breast, which is just the blanded, driest sounding thing in the world to me...he hates thigh meat though, which I think sounds delish). 

Tempting the puppy with meatbally deliciousness.  It had a little kick but not so much that I couldn't eat it (which probably meant it really tasted like cardboard, since my tastebuds are definitively anti-spicy), and worked really well over pasta. Wish I'd had some good crusty bread to go with it though! Oh, and that's provolone on the side.  I tried that with it, and it was meh.  I actually found myself craving a little sour cream with it...go figure.  We didn't have any though, so no verdict. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Udon Noodles and Peanut Sauce: The Most Colorful Dish in A While

In an effort to use up some of the last of the Japanese week leftovers, last night I made Udon Peanut Butter Noodles. Kind of a quick 'n' easy version of Pad Thai almost.  It was super good and SUPER fast.  Using rotisserie chicken made it ridiculously quick to put together.  I used 16 oz of noodles (the recipe calls for 9) and half a red pepper, and there was still a LOT of sauce.  I think I could have lived with half the sauce, to be honest.  I also used water instead of chicken stock, and low-sodium soy sauce, and it still seemed a little salty to me.  But maybe that's just me.  Regardless, udon noodles are yummy and have a fun texture.  I'd make them again. 

Of course, Kini was just miserable about this dish...peanut butter covered chicken??  Poor puppy didn't get so much as a lick!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Week #13: Morocco

By the end of this week, we'll be a quarter of the way through the year!  w00t!  I never thought cooking could ever be so exhausting, but it turns out when I get home from work, it's really nice to have a meal that I don't have to put a lot of brainpower into making.  That hasn't happened in weeks!  This week will hopefully be a little less stressful than last week, since Moroccan food feels somehow familiar to me...even though I've never been there personally, there was one Thanksgiving that we spent eating in "Morocco" at the EPCOT center.  I think that counts...right?  The most memorable part of that dinner was when I nearly spit water out my nose from laughing so hard at how many different ways there are to say "throw up".  Including, apparently, "couscous" in Turkish.  I was 15, what do you expect?

Anyway, moving on.  What do we know about Morocco?

I think I didn't realize it was so long.  I knew roughly where it was, but I think I thought it was only half as long as it is.  Nifty.  Actually, after reading more, the bottom half where it's shaded is actually Western Sahara, which is disputed territory and a non-self-governing land according to the UN.  Nifty.

How about the cuisine? 

Moroccan cuisine has long been considered as one of the most diversified cuisines in the world. This is a result of the centuries-long interaction of Morocco with the outside world. The cuisine of Morocco is a mix of Berber, Spanish, Corsican, Portuguese, Moorish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and African cuisines. The cuisine of Morocco has been influenced by the native Berber cuisine, the Arabic Andalusian cuisine brought by the Moriscos when they left Spain, the Turkish cuisine from the Turks and the Middle Eastern cuisines brought by the Arabs, as well as Jewish cuisine.
Spices are used extensively in Moroccan food. While spices have been imported to Morocco for thousands of years, many ingredients, like saffron from Tiliouine, mint and olives from Meknes, and oranges and lemons from Fez, are home-grown. Chicken is the most widely eaten meat in Morocco. The most commonly eaten red meat in Morocco is beef; lamb is preferred but is relatively expensive. Couscous is the most famous Moroccan dish along with pastilla, tajine, and harira. The most popular drink is green tea with mint.

I won't lie.  I LOVE tagines.  I also love couscous, in spite of what the tour guide in Turkey made us believe.  So without further ado, here's this week's menu:

For Monday: Moroccan Meatballs. Quick, easy, yum.
For Tuesday: Slow cooker tagine. Tuesdays are traditionally a very long night for me, and this week is no exception.  This Tuesday I get to go in and fill out paperwork to be a group fitness instructor (emphasis in Spin, but they're training me to do other stuff too!) at this gym I adore.  SO EXCITED!  After that, there are 2 hours' worth of classes I want to take, and then it's Biggest Loser night.  Oh, and Nick starts his classes that night too, so I need to stay out of his hair.  All that to say, I think I'm going to start making Tuesday night crock pot night, if I can manage it. 
For Wednesday: Chickpeas and sweet potatoes - a vegetarian option. 
For Thursday: Another crock pot tagine, this time more fruity.  I'd much rather prep in the morning and come home to a house that smells yummy and a dinner that is ready to eat than cook at night. 
For Friday: Grilled Moroccan Chicken with a side of (what else) couscous.

I had hoped to find a good Moroccan restaurant to try out on Saturday, but it looks like the only ones around are either sketchy or way outside our budget (unless someone wants to sponsor me, wink wink nudge nudge).  Maybe next region.

Anyone joining the challenge this week? Check back tomorrow for a link to other Menu Plan Monday posts.

Miso Soupy

Friday night was miso soup night.  I took a couple of very small liberties with this one...first, I used enoki (straw?) mushrooms instead of normal mushrooms as suggested, because that's what I had on hand.  I didn't grill anything, I just pan-fried it in olive oil.  I also added some soft tofu and probably a little more miso than strictly necessary.  I also accidentally forgot to leave the seaweed in, so it was a fairly dichromatic dish. The eggplant was really good though.

Nick whipped up some garlic bread for us, too!
I even got us some special spoons from the Asian market, just for soup.  Yum!

Garlic-Flavored Flubber

Bet you thought I didn't cook the past 3 nights, huh?  Oh ye of little faith. I just kept forgetting to upload pictures, so I didn't post yet.

Anyway, Thursday night was the konnyaku.  It was...interesting.

 Sort of like dark flubber.  It started wobbly and soft, then when I boiled it, became wobbly and less soft. Weird.
From one package, this was all we got.  The garlic and red pepper helped a lot, as did a healthy sprinkling of sea salt.  But we still ordered pizza.  That's right folks, 12 weeks in and we had our first "Domino's required" night.  Nick made a point of saying that it was for want of quantity, not of quality, but I'm pretty sure this was about all either of us really wanted to eat of this stuff.  Not terrible, just...weird.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In Which Our Hero Conquers Many Fears

2010 was a pretty awesome year.  I overcame more than a few fears (solo travel, bungee jumping, various smaller, less blog-worthy activities, etc.)  2011 promises to be more of the same. In fact, just today I conquered two very significant (to me) fears: Asian markets and sushi making.

That's right folks, I went there.  To the Asian market on Amherst street that is.  Lordy it was confusing.  There were so many colors, and the organizational scheme would make Sheldon Cooper die on sight.  I think it went roughly (left to right, facing in from the door) "non-edibles", "crunchy, dry edibles", "squishy dry edibles", "sauces and pickled stuff", "more sauces", "cold stuff".  There was another section of "cold stuff" along the back, too.  Nothing neatly stacked, just crammed in where it would fit.  It wasn't dirty at all, it just looked like they had a lot to provide and not a lot of space in which to present it.  That said, the daughter (I assume) was VERY helpful, and even pointed me to the Japanese pickled plums when I'd accidentally grabbed the Chinese ones.  Turns out they're pretty awful either way, so I think I'll be throwing those in the work fridge and calling them a delicacy from a friend.  Blech.

Anyway.  About that sushi.

Quiet before the storm.  Bless him, Nick made the rice for me while I was at the gym...thank god for that or we (or at least I) would have been eating just sushi fillings last night.
Starting with the prep.
Mmmmm bbq broiled eel...
Makings for eel rolls, California rolls, and Philadelphia rolls.
I did it!  Immediately after this picture, I picked that sucker up and waved it around the kitchen like a baton until Nick reminded me that rice is not Gorilla Glue and it might be a good idea to do my celebrations without flinging rice around the kitchen.
So I cut it into big pieces.
Loaded up the next one with way too much avocado and some roe.  God I love roe.
The end result.  One of each kind of roll.  The philly roll turned out nicely in terms of how well it held together, but the other two not so much.  I think I needed to put the rice more towards the far end of the roll, rather than spread evenly from start to finish.  Oh well, I'll know better next time.  :-)  It was a yummy way to conquer a fear!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Deep Fried Veggies: Tempura

Confession time: I have never deep fried anything.  Nick has a deep fryer, and there was an incident with some funnel cake when we first started dating (we don't like to talk about it, but there's a reason there wasn't any funnel cake in our county fair engagement pictures), but I've never actually deep fried anything myself. 

That all ended last night.  I made the batter per the directions provided...way way way too doughy.  Next time I'll add a full cup of water, not half a cup.  I did use ice water, per the directions, and I dried my veggies on paper wasn't bad.  It needed some salt for sure, but it wasn't bad.  Definitely not restaurant grade, but for my first attempt, I'm ok with how it came out.

What you see are sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and bananas.  There's just nothing that isn't improved by deep frying it.  :-D

Monday, January 3, 2011

In Which The Asian Grocery Was Closed, Or: How We Invented Sweet Potato Nachos

Full of all the best intentions, courage, and what I hoped would pass for "please help me, I'm new to this" charm, I ventured out on Sunday night to go to my first ever Asian market.  Following Google maps diligently, I arrived at my destination...Closed.  Not closed, like we'll open tomorrow after our hangover dissipates, Closed, like we'll never be open again.

Feeling not unlike a deflated balloon (best intentions makes your chest puff out a bit), I went to make my U turn, when what do I see?  They're not really Closed, they've relocated!  I pull into the new parking lot and...what else...closed.  Just closed this time, not Closed.  Curses.

In an effort to not let the universe foil my attempts at Japanese cooking, I decided to see what Hannaford had as far as Japanese necessities.  They have a lot, but not enough to make anything substantial.  On the way home, I called Nick and we tried to figure out what to do instead.  I had sweet potatoes, he found some ground turkey in the freezer, and I'd picked up some cheese curds.  And with that, sweet potato nachos were born:

The turkey was simply browned, then mixed with Sweet Baby Ray's bbq sauce to taste.  I baked the potato slices at 400(ish) for about 15 minutes (the slices were thin), then put a little turkey and curd on top of each one and baked for another 5-7 minutes, until the curds were melted.

My. God.  How have we never had this before???  It was SO good!  The second round used Mexican blend cheese instead of curds, and it was ok, but not as good as the first batch.  This is definitely on the "I don't want anything complicated or expensive, let's just have ____" list.  YUM.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Week #12: Japan

I bet you guys thought I'd given up on this blog, huh?  Not so lucky, sorry guys.  I just fell prey to the annual onslaught of chaos and confusion generally known as "the holidays".  I might redo French week at the end of the year...I really didn't do it justice at all.  Even Southern American was pretty sloppy.  Sorry about that.  I think I'm going to make a new rule that if I cook fewer than 4 dishes from that region, it gets booted to the end to redo.

Anyway, fresh start.  No pressure or anything, but it's Japan week.  Oy.  In case you're wondering why you (or at least I) get dirty looks in Japanese restaurants, check out this list of rules to follow when eating:

It is customary to say itadakimasu, いただきます (literally "I [humbly] receive") before starting to eat a meal, and gochisōsama deshita, ごちそうさまでした (literally "It was a feast") to the host after the meal and the restaurant staff when leaving.
Hot towel
Before eating, most dining places will provide either a hot towel or a plastic-wrapped wet napkin (an oshibori). This is for cleaning hands before eating (and not after). It is rude to use them to wash the face or any part of the body other than the hands.
The rice or the soup is eaten by picking up the bowl with the left hand and using chopsticks with the right, or vice versa if you are left-handed. Traditionally, chopsticks were held in their right hand and the bowl in their left, but left-handed eating is acceptable today. Bowls may be lifted to the mouth, however should not be touched with the mouth except when drinking soup.
Soy sauce
Soy sauce is not usually poured over most foods at the table; a dipping dish is usually provided. Soy sauce is, however, meant to be poured directly onto tofu and grated daikon dishes. In particular, soy sauce should never be poured onto rice or soup. It's considered rude to waste soy sauce so moderation should be used when pouring into dishes.
Chopsticks are never left sticking vertically into rice, as this resembles incense sticks (which are usually placed vertically in sand) during offerings to the dead. Using chopsticks to spear food or to point is frowned upon. It is very bad manners to bite chopsticks.
Communal dish
When taking food from a communal dish, unless they are family or very close friends, turn the chopsticks around to grab the food; it is considered more sanitary. Better, have a separate set of chopsticks for the communal dish.
If sharing food with someone else, move it directly from one plate to another. Never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another, as this recalls passing bones during a funeral.
Eat what is given
It is customary to eat rice to the last grain. Being a picky eater is frowned on, and it is not customary to ask for special requests or substitutions at restaurants. It is considered ungrateful to make these requests especially in circumstances where you are being hosted, as in a business dinner environment. Good manners dictate that you respect the selections of the host.
Even in informal situations, drinking alcohol starts with a toast (kanpai, 乾杯) when everyone is ready. It is not customary to pour oneself a drink; rather, people are expected to keep each other's drinks topped up. When someone moves to pour your drink you should hold your glass with both hands and thank them.

Boy, I feel like a jerk. I know I've washed my face with those towels at least once...and I use chopsticks to point ALL the time. My bad.

Here's a list of common dishes. I'm also drawing inspiration from this blog/list.I won't lie.  I am VERY intimidated by this week.  I want to actually learn to cook this stuff, so I'm going to do my best not to half @$$ it this week.  I'm reserving the right to let Japan week bleed into next week (pushing next week out, potentially) if I feel like I'm not really "getting it".  There's just an overwhelming amount of technique that seems to go into Japanese cooking that's completely foreign to me.  At the end of the week, we're going to Takumi as a reward.  :-D

Anyway, here's what I'm going to attempt. 

This looks interesting.  I've never heard of these things, but they sound good. Until you look at the comments...choking hazard?? Yikes...
Tempura. Duh.  The tips in this article look sound, so I have high hopes.
Lucky sushi with a great tradition (a few weeks early) sprinkled in. 
***Note: with the emphasis on freshness in everything, I'm starting to think I might not actually do all my grocery shopping today, but get all the perishables one day at a time. 
Table top soup sounds SO good right now.  Yum.
Variation on Miso Soup - looks to be super quick and warm.  Win win.

I won't lie though, on my way to the grocery store I'm definitely stopping at Barnes & Noble to pick up a real cook book.  I wish cookbooks were cheaper...I'd love having a good book for each region.

As an attempt to start the year off right, I'm (gasp!) going to an Asian market today.  You heard me.  I'm doing it.  Seriously.  I'll take pictures, promise. 

Also, I've recently gotten hooked on "Worst Cook in America" and while it really is just a terrible show, they're teaching the contestants good how to organize yourself BEFORE you start cooking.  Duh.  Just not something I'm in the habit of doing.  So this year, that changes.  This year, I'm going to attack dinner, not just fling myself at it and hope for the best.  Think MMA instead of a slap fight.  This is the year I MMA the cr@p out of dinner time. 

And on that note, I think I've officially gotten punchy enough/psyched myself up enough to make the trip to the Asian market.  Wish me luck and stop laughing.