Saturday, February 25, 2006

Working Eater Series: One-Pot Curry Kabocha Squash Soup

My co-workers and I have been talking a lot about using the crock-pot to make ready-to-eat dinners during the busy work week. Ever since our discussions, I've been noticing a plethora of cookbooks, websites, and magazine articles dedicated to using the crock-pot to make diverse and innovative meals. In fact, the crock-pot seems to be making a comeback as a viable cooking method for everyday Americans. However, crock-pots do have their limitations--they are only good for making foods with a high liquid content, such as stews and soups. Thus, even if you are one of those crock-pot junkies who knows how to make hot porridge and cake with your crock pot, you'll still have to get used to eating every meal with a spoon.

In the second installment to the
Working Eater Series, I am featuring a recipe inspired by the crock-pot cooking method, but that can be made by someone who doesn't even own a crock-pot! Furthermore, because this soup is cooked on high heat, this recipe is a speedy and preferable alternative to a languid slow cooker.

Rustic, One-Pot Curry Kabocha Squash Soup
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tsp of curry powder (preferably Madras brand--as it is my family's favorite)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium kabocha squash, cubed into dice-sized pieces (you can find this type of squash in Asian supermarkets)
1 can of chicken stock, plus 1 1/2 cans of water to "extend" the stock (you can also use whole milk instead of water, to make the soup creamier, but then you must stir the soup constantly to prevent the pot from overboiling and the milk from forming a tough film on the bottom of the pot)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil on high heat until shimmering. Add the chopped yellow onions, and fry until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic and fry until the onions and garlic begin to slightly caramelize.

Add the dry spices and the kabocha squash, and stir rapidly, to prevent the dry spices from burning and to fully mix the dry and wet ingredients.

Add the stock and water, and bring the soup to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the squash is fork-tender.

Serve the soup with wilted spinach.

If you'd like to have meat with this soup, I would suggest adding roasted chicken or turkey breast.

For the "working eaters," if you don't have enough time to roast poultry, you could also buy a roast chicken from the supermarket, and use a fork to separate the breast meat from the bone. Add the shredded breast meat to the soup, so the meal is still a one-pot (and a one-bowl) meal! Hey, to save on time, you need to save on dishes too!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Yeecch, I Don't Feel Like Chicken Tonight

My friend and I tried making roast lemon chicken without a recipe, and it was a tasteless, lifeless disaster. This was just another meal that taught me that I shouldn't try making difficult foods without guidance, especially when I have never made it before.

Let me outline my mistakes one-by-one, so that this will be a foreboding warning for you, of what not to do.

The first thing we did, was insert thin slices of lemon and bay leaves under the loosened chicken breast skin. We placed them in a decorative, alternating pattern: two bay leaves, one lemon slice. We also put quartered yellow onions, garlic cloves, and halved lemons into the chicken cavity. We envisioned a roast chicken, with a golden and crispy skin, glittering with spices, and moist and tender to the bite.

However, we quickly ran into trouble. We failed to fully defrost the chicken before our attempts, so the cold icy chicken numbed our hands when we robotically handled it and the chicken skin "broke" off in grotesque clumps. Plus, we were really hungry, and this caused us to take a lot of shortcuts and to be overly abusive to the chicken and to each other. Furthermore, the spiny bay leaf stems speared open the skin, or what was left of it. Simply put, the chicken got the better of us, as evidenced by the pictures.

What came out was a sloppy chicken, not a beautiful bronze, but a bleached out, dingy yellow. The skin wasn't crispy and delicious, but flaccid like a latex glove. And even though we had cooked it for over 50 minutes, the inside still had traces of blood. Eww eww.

Any suggestions as to how I can improve this disaster the next time, to at least make it somewhat edible?

The only redeeming qualities of the meal was the asparagus, which thankfully, did not taste like ass-paragus.

Although I just "caught" your attention with a "disaster," I'd now like to talk about an incredible success: my meeting with the writer and head chef of Eat, Drink, and Be Merry. He just posted about it today! He is a very intelligent and well-spoken gentlemen (or an all-around "friendly guy" as he likes to be called), and I encourage you to check out his site for recipe ideas, restaurant reviews, or just to learn about food in general from someone who loves food and who will become a world-renowned chef very soon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I'll Be Back (Soon)

Sorry for the extreme lack of posts lately! I just finished taking a nice vacation from work, and will be back this week to post and reply to your comments! Keep on visiting friends, I'll try to post some creative recipes tomorrow night!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fore!! Four Meme

I was tagged by The Food Pornographer way back in January, and wanted to finally put up my meme reply:

Four Jobs Once Held By Me
1. Waitress (I felt like I was a good waitress, but the best tip I ever received was for $11.00 ... Hmm... Wonder if that says anything about the quality of my service.)
Grocery Store Cashier
3. IT Help Desk Supervisor
Teaching Assistant at the University Level

Four Favorite Movies
It's a Wonderful Life
The Sting
Catch Me If You Can

Four Places I Have Lived
1. Tempe, Arizona (I spent my childhood and the majority of my life in Arizona, so on this is the most meaningful place on the list.)
Farmingdale, New Jersey
3. Seattle, Washington
Los Angeles, California

Four Television Shows I Enjoy
1. 24
Sex in the City
America's Test Kitchen
Gray’s Anatomy

Four Favorite Books
Catcher in the Rye
The Chosen
Culinaria Spain
Wei-Chuan's Chinese Snacks

Four Places You Have Been on Vacation (Holiday)
Salt Lake City, Utah
New York, New York
Washington D.C.
4. Las Vegas, Nevada

Four Websites You Visit Daily (In addition to the food blogs …)
3. CNN
4. Daily Dish

Four Favorite Foods (Since you already know my Top Ten, here are foods I love, but that I would never share about on my own accord … Until now!)
Canned Franco-American Spaghetti Os
2. Canned Chef Boyardee Ravioli
3. Bananas Wrapped in American Cheese (I learned this from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood)
4. Sardine, Liverwurst, and Sauerkraut Sandwiches

Four Places I’d Rather Be
Lying on the Beach
In the Kitchen
3. Lying Down in the Grass at the Park (with a Wallet as my Pillow)
Lounging in a Jacuzzi with a Cool Beverage

Four Things To Do Before I Die
1. Audition (and Get a Role)
for a Film with George Clooney
2. Have Wolfgang Puck (or
Eat, Drink, & Be Merry) Cater My Wedding
Master a Foreign Language
4. Eat at French Laundry

Four Play (Tag):
Anyone who likes memes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Making Valentine's Day Into a "Carving Holiday"

I am out on a one-woman crusade to make Saint Valentine's Day more enjoyable for passionate eaters, and what better way to make it so, than officially electing it to be another "carving holiday!"

Valentine's Day is such an awkward holiday. It is a holiday that denigrates singledom at the expense of celebrating coupledom. Okay, maybe a little bit of bitterness is seeping in from my past experiences, but c'mon now. It's not like you can go out to eat with a group of your rowdy same-sex friends on Valentine's and not expect to get scowls from the quiet couples who are hunched over their meal. Plus, have you ever gone out to even get take-out on Valentine's Day? I thought so. Me either. It is way too embarrassing to take the "Walk of Shame" to pick up your $5.99 fried rice, as you try not to make eye contact with giggling couples on the sidewalk, because they'll know you are really "alone." I'd rather hide out in my apartment with the blinds drawn, and eat my cold can of pork and beans in front of syndicated reruns, thank you.

Even if you do have a significant other, it is hard to full enjoy a delicious meal without fear of the Valentine's-Day-ramifications. You know what I mean. You want to look your sexiest in your tight-fitting black dress, or your starched and tailored tuxedo, and that means eschewing seconds, and lightly nibbling on the rich chocolate dessert. Simply put, Valentine's is not the time to wear baggy, plaid-patterned elastic pants, and it is not good to look like you have a bun in the oven, when the "bun" is really dinner from that night.

So I've decided that I am changing the way I celebrate Valentine's Day, and I'm making it into a holiday where I still celebrate love, but not in the traditional sense. I am going to celebrate love generally, or my love for friends and family, single or attached.

What better way to celebrate "love," than by making a huge Valentine's feast? I know that couples generally make romantic dinners together for Valentine's, but I'm talking about a big feast--the kind that requires you to bring out the carving knife. This calls for drippings, juices, gravies, and hot steam wafting up into your nostrils! Plus, my justification is that the caloric-intake from scarfing down all of the Valentine's Day chocolates throughout the day roughly equates to having a big, meaty meal.

This is my plan. On the Fourth of July, it's barbeque ribs. On Thanksgiving, it's turkey. On Christmas, it's a beef roast. On Valentine's Day, it's anything you want, as long as you love what you'll be eating, and you share it with someone you love.

I hope that this post has piqued your interest, and that you'll consider having Valentine's Day of "carving" proportions this year!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

2006 Super Bowl Sunday Spread

I am tired. I am really tired.

I just spent this last weekend planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and cleaning again! But, it was worth it in the end, even though I am not a football fan, and don't know the difference between a nickelback and the music group, Nickelback.

I just want to share the pictures of the food that my friend and I slaved over, and hopefully give you some ideas of what NOT to do for your own Super Bowl or sports playoff party.

Lesson #1: Football-watching-men do not like radishes and cauliflower.

I think that a total of one-half radish and three cauliflower florets were consumed. However, the guy who ate the florets later told me that he thought the cauliflower was popcorn. Well, that means more for me for lunch tomorrow.

Lesson #2: Even if you don't have enough bowls, don't mix salsa and guacamole together.

I am not the type who likes guacamole with tomatoes, but I like it pristine--just avocado, garlic, and chile peppers (cilantro optional, especially if you have cilantro-haters as your guests). If you serve multiple dips in the same serving dish at a Super Bowl party with preoccupied and inattentive men, it is going to inevitably get mixed around, and will start to look like . . . Puke/Vom/Grossness.

I don't care what the "7-Layer Bean Dip" advocates say, don't do it at a Super Bowl party.

Lesson #3: Don't follow the "Pool Table Meatballs" short-cut from Sandra Lee.

We made homemade meatballs and for the sauce, I decided to follow a tip I once watched on Semi-Homemade Cooking. Sandra Lee mixed an instant pack of powdered Swedish Meatball sauce with meatball drippings and sour cream. But when I did it, it looked like a curdled mess. Oh well, at least I learned for next time.

Lesson #4: Use Frank's Red Hot Sauce and drumsticks to make "Buffalo Chicken," don't prepare buffalo wings the hard way (cutting up the wings and deep-frying them). They taste the same as buffalo wings, and have more meat!

Lesson #5: Make any potato dish. Potatoes are cheap, and great filler!

Lesson #6: Do not use cheap lunch meat. When we were shopping, we left the items for the submarine sandwiches for last. Unfortunately, we were already past our budget (since we bought the beer first), so we bought bologna as the sandwich "meat." Bad idea. Bologna is not meat.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Working Eater Series: 15 Minute Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu

I’ve decided to start a series of posts, dedicated to making speedy dishes for the working eaters of this world.

Whenever I talk to my colleagues at work about food, we often bemoan the lack of variety in our dinner meals. My typical work day lasts until 6:00pm, so when I come home, I have to act fast if I want to have dinner on the table by 8:00pm. Unfortunately, the majority of my home-cooked meals end up being rice, leafy greens, and meat marinated in soy sauce. Not very interesting, and I get tired of having the same thing everyday. However, I thought if I shared my "everyday" meals with you, I might learn some new ideas from you and hopefully, teach you a trick or two!

My favorite 15 minute meal is vegetarian ma po tofu. A good tip for the working person, is to stock up on tofu on the weekends, and have easy source of protein for your meal throughout the week. Plus, because
studies show that tofu is high in calcium and other nutrients, both Mom and your digestive system will approve!

Quick Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu
2 tsp of vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp of ginger, finely minced and with brown skin scraped off with a dull spoon
2 tbsp (heaping) of hot bean paste
1 tsp of soy sauce
2 containers of firm tofu, diced (can use silken, but add it later and do not mix it as vigorously to prevent "breakage")
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 medium scallions, green section sliced on a bias and white section roughly chopped

Heat the pan to high heat, and add the oil just until shimmering. Add the garlic, ginger, and white parts of the scallions. Cook until it begins to brown. Add the hot bean paste and soy sauce, and stir briefly. Add the diced tofu, and cook until the flavors seep through the spongy tofu crevices, just a few minutes.

Turn off the heat, drizzle the sesame oil over the tofu, and sprinkle the green parts of scallions on top.

Serve with leafy green vegetables stir-fried with chopped garlic, and that’s what I call a "quick vegetarian" meal!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dine About Town 2006: Part Two, Rubicon

Although Dine About Town 2006 has officially drawn to a close, I'd like to dig it up again for one last time. Every year, I vow to get the better of expensive restaurants. So this year, during Dine About Town, I chose the place where I would get the best "bang for my buck." All signs led me to Rubicon--the one owned by legendary Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Mr. Coppola's presence in the Bay Area, allow me to enlighten you. Mr. Coppola owns a famous winery in Napa Valley called
Niebaum-Coppola where he displays his love for wine, his bevy of Academy Awards, and interesting props from his acclaimed movies. Thus, given this background, I was expecting an Oscar-worthy meal from Rubicon.

We started with a sample of crostini topped with duck mousse pâté and dressed in a pomegranate reduction. Even though the brick-hard crostini had soaked up "some" of the moisture from the pomegranate juice, the over-toasted crostini was teeth-shattering. I couldn't tell whether the gravel particles in my mouth were my teeth or the bread crumbs. However, the positive side, was that the pâté was airy, smooth, and as light as freshly whipped cream. The pomegranate elixir was sweet and tangy, almost like cranberry juice.

My first course was the chestnut and celery root soup, made with prosciutto and duck gizzard confit. The velvety soup reminded me of a warming bowl of mushroom chowder, but it was infinitely more complex. The confit imparted a husky and multifaceted layer of flavor, but it also gave the soup a gritty, sandy texture.

Additionally, the ingredients weren't distributed evenly throughout the soup. Thus, my spoon had repeatedly dive to the bottom of the bowl to fish out the brunoised cubes of celery root, flaps of prosciutto, and toothsome chestnuts pieces.

My two companions started with the grilled calamari, which was accompanied with garlicky salt cod and acidic citrus vinaigrette. I was able to snag a bite of chewy and elastic calamari as a snappy introduction to my main dish.

As for the second course, my companions ordered the seared Hawaiian tombo, which came with cipollini onions, assorted mushrooms, and a wild splash of caramelized garlic-marjoram broth. My fork "snared" a few medium-rare flakes of tuna, and the meat was supple and moist. Although my sample was limited, my companions agreed that their dish was superb. However, both of them were put off by strange herbaceous leaves that according to them, tasted like "chemical ammonia."

I selected "the dish-for-people-who-want-to-become-morbidly-obese"--the smoked and glazed pork belly. The pork belly was served with a soft polenta pudding, dried fruit condiment, and braised greens. To be frank, I wasn't that impressed with the greens, the fruit, or the pork fat. The flavors weren't vivid or particularly notable, thus it was an average dinner. The greens and the belly fat (in the words of
Pam from Daily Gluttony) "tasted like the food of my peeps." Simply put, it tasted like regular fare that my mom makes.

However, I did enjoy the thick, creamy, and custard-like texture of the polenta. There weren't any unmixed lumps or undercooked patches that are common to bad polenta. I also enjoyed the crispy pork skin that had been darkened by seasonings and the reduction of the pork juices. It wasn't crispy like the golden-skinned slabs of pork hanging in Chinese barbeque shops, but it had a distinct crunch, reminiscent of my earlier sample crostini.

To polish off my three-course meal, I selected the wild anise chocolate mousse-expresso shortbread with fleur de sel caramel. The decorative chocolate tablet that adorned the mousse had sprinkles of sea salt and wild anise melted into its inner recesses. The mousse was heavy to the stomach and my mouth couldn’t stop watering as my fork cut through dense chocolate mass and hit resistance at the shortbread. One bite, and whoa! I instantly gained another 20 pounds.

One of my companions ordered the other dessert selection: the pistachio and dried cherry nougat glacé with seasonal winter fruits. When the ice cream was placed on our table, we eagerly peered at the rotund mound topped with tiny orange-colored tidbits. Wait a minute. You call those wormy and slimy lil' slivers "seasonal winter fruits"? The ice cream was tasty though, but nothing to write home about.

In concluding, I believe I successfully met my goal of cheating the system (of expensive upper-end restaurants)! Okay, okay. I know what you're thinking. Another restaurant post? (And the post isn't even that good!) Alright, I admit that one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2006 was to "eat out less," and this year I am already blowing that goal to the dumpster, but I'm not going to relegate that resolution to the graveyard of "resolutions n'er accomplished"--just yet.
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