Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cornish Game Hens and Roasted Root Vegetables

I love turkey just as much as the next guy, but I'm not usually ready for another one by the time Christmas rolls around a month later. This year, we did Cornish game hens for Christmas Eve instead. Since they're whole roast birds, they tend to have that "special occasion feeling". However, they're much easier than turkey and less time intensive, too.

The same rules for getting a succulent bird still apply just like they did for the turkey. Don't fill these with bread stuffing or anything. You're just going to dry out your bird and wind up with really soggy stuffing. Go for the fruit, herbs and aromatics instead. I kept it simple this time and simply quarted a Gala apple, since Cornish game hens don't come with much cavity space to fill up. I also added some fresh rosemary sprigs from the garden.

Underneath and around the hens, I added a bed of assorted root vegetables -- red potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions, and turnips. They are simply seasoned with only a little Pam spray and cracked black pepper. The rest of the seasoning came from the juices of the hens themselves which were brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with cracked black pepper as well.

Cooking these couldn't be simpler. Simply preheat your oven to 375 while you're preparing the hens and root vegetables. Then pop the whole tray in for about an hour or until hens are fully cooked and the vegetables and potatoes are tender. It's simple, it's easy and it's nutritious. It makes your house smell terrifically festive. Even more importantly, it's delicious without being overly time consuming when you're probably busy trying to finish up your gift-wrapping and holiday prep the way we all were today. More people really need to give these little birds a chance, in my opinion!

How to Make Roasted Chestnuts

When I was at the store the other day picking up the ingredients for my Smoking Bishop punch, I happened to stumble across some chestnuts as well. It occurred to me that figuring out how to roast them would be another fun holiday experiment, so I bought a bagful and decided to do just that. 

I did a little homework first though. I had roasted chestnuts once a long while ago, but I don't really know much about them as a food. I also really had no clue what the best method was for cooking these to perfection. I wanted tasty, delectable, crowd-pleasing holiday snacks for my trouble... not fail-chestnuts. God bless the internet, because there were plenty of chestnut triumphs (and failures) out there for me to read about from bloggers who once had the same bright idea I did.

The first order of business is to score your chestnuts with a serrated knife. If you don't, they will actually explode. One other blogger actually left one of her chestnuts unscored just to tempt fate and see what would happen and she said it was like a shotgun went off in her kitchen when that thing finally blew. She also said her stove was a nightmare to clean afterwards... and that was just from one chestnut bomb. I don't even want to think about a whole batch of them.

The chestnuts will have both a flat surface and a rounded surface. Some people score an "X" into the flat surface of the chestnut. Others score the shell in a straight line across the rounded surface. I read a lot of complaints about how difficult the "X" chestnuts were to shell afterwards though, so I personally went for the straight line. Whichever method you decide on, use a serrated knife and slice deep enough to score all the way through the shell. It's OK if you cut the nut a little bit. Just make sure you get through the shell.

It seemed like there was some debate as to whether or not to parboil or soak the chestnuts before roasting them in the oven. However, it seemed like the general consensus out there was that including that step results in plumper, juicier, all-around better chestnuts that are more like the really good kind you get from the chestnut street vendors in New York. To be honest, the pictures of the chestnuts that weren't done that way looked really unappetizing, while the pre-boiled ones looked amazing, so it was an easy decision for me. 

Place your chestnuts in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Put it on medium-low heat. When the water gets to the point where it's simmering, your chestnuts have soaked long enough and it's time to transfer them to the oven. Feel free to preheat it to 425 while the soaking process is going on.

Your chestnuts may be starting to open along their scores by the time they come out of the hot water. Arrange them on a baking sheet score side up and then pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes and let them make your kitchen smell amazing. When they're done, they'll be really open like in the picture above. These chestnuts also look just as plump and delicious as I expected them to, so I really think the soaking step paid off. Let your chestnuts rest under a clean towel for at least 5 minutes or so. Then you can start shelling them.

Most of the shells came off really easily. Overall, I didn't seem to have any of the trouble some people had with theirs. I wound up with a lot of beautiful whole chestnuts like you see above. Some really stuck to the shells and came out in more than one piece, but they were still really good. A lot of that just has to do with how individual nuts are, so don't stress if they don't all come out perfect. Shell all of your nuts at one time though, because once they start cooling off, it's not so easy.

The texture of these was really similar to a baked potato or a baked yam. The flesh tasted slightly sweet, starchy and pleasant. I did eat some of mine with a little olive oil and salt, but they were honestly very good plain as well. I imagine these would be awesome in some kind of stuffing or side dish for sure, so if you're looking for a way to spice up your next batch of Stove Top or something, this would be a great addition to consider. 

It turns out chestnuts are hella nutritious, too. They're a complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index. They're also high in both potassium and Vitamin C while being low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. These would make a great addition to even strict diets, so they're certainly a holiday treat anyone can enjoy. I will definitely be making them again in the future. 

Channeling Charles Dickens With a Bowl of "Smoking Bishop"

If you're anything like me, you probably look forward to your annual holiday reading of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol a little too much. In fact, I think it's safe to say that I practically have it memorized by now. Being the foodie that I am, I also have been very interested in the few edibles and potables that are mentioned throughout the novel, for instance the item mentioned in the following quote:

A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!
Now... until just recently, I had no idea what "Smoking Bishop" even was. However, thanks to life in the internet age, it wasn't too hard to find out. It's actually a mulled wine punch that has a lot in common with wassail. The odd-sounding name comes from the Dickensian habit of applying clerical names to different alcoholic beverages. For instance, Burgundy was known as "Pope", Champagne was "Cardinal" and Claret was "Archbishop". The "Bishop" in this particular libation happens to be Port.

To the best of my knowledge, no one even drinks this anymore, because the recipes I could find were very old and apparently date back to the 1800's. However, I'm pretty old-fashioned myself, so that actually only made me want to try this all the more. The following is the recipe I used. It makes approximately 15-20 servings. Your fruits will need to steep in the wine overnight, so be sure to get started 24 hours in advance.

  • 5 standard-sized oranges (unpeeled)
  • 1 grapefruit (unpeeled)
  • 30-40 cloves
  • 1/4 lb of sugar
  • 2 bottles of strong red wine (I used Shiraz)
  • 1 bottle of port

Just FYI, I adjusted my proportions a bit. I wasn't making this for a party or a ton of family and friends. I was just whipping up a batch for myself and Seth to enjoy while we went about our Christmas Eve holiday prep activities. I wound up using two navel oranges and one smallish ruby grapefruit instead of all the fruit the original recipe calls for. Hopefully, it also goes without saying that I cut the proportions of the wine and sugar accordingly as well.

The first order of business is to oven-roast the fruit. The original recipe I found naturally didn't specify a cooking temperature since I'm pretty sure people's 19th century wood-burning stoves didn't come with those handy dials we all know and love. That said, I winged it and set my oven to 375. I'd say I had my fruit in there baking for about an hour, but your experience may differ. Put your fruits in a baking dish of some sort and bake it at that temperature until they're all brownish in color. Turn them a couple of times during baking so that they roast evenly for best results.

When your fruit is done baking and cool enough to handle, use your cloves to prick the surfaces of the skins like so. Then place in a ceramic or glass bowl. Add the red wine and the sugar, but not the port. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place for the next 24 hours. I just left mine on the top of my stove so the ambient warmth from the pilot light could keep it toasty all night.

The next day when you come to check out your fruit, they will have soaked up a lot of the wine just like fragrant little sponges. The entire concoction will also smell wonderful -- like citrus and spice. Very holiday like! Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out all of the juice and wine it's absorbed. Then strain the mixture into a decent-sized saucepan to help remove some of the seeds, pulp and loose cloves that have gotten into your wine. 

Add your port at this point. Then heat the entire mixture gently until it's warm and steamy. Don't boil it! Just heat it up. It actually will produce quite a lot of steam that really does look oddly like smoke. When it's ready, pour it into a serving dish and ladle into warm mugs or glasses. 

This was really a very enjoyable holiday cocktail. It was warm and soothing. It was spicy, fruity and fragrant. It was also pretty strong thanks to the port, so you don't need a whole lot of it to be satisfied. I imagine this would also be a pretty cool conversation starter if you're serving it to others at a party, considering it's the same punch from A Christmas Carol. Make sure you tell people what a historic cocktail they're drinking for Christmas. God bless us, every one!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why Photograph Your Food?

Not that long ago, I had someone say something to me about their thoughts on people who like to take pictures of their food and it really stuck with me. They said that they really don't get it and that they feel such a tendency suggests an unhealthy relationship with what you eat. They felt that pictures should be taken only of "things that matter" and a person's meals should be considered fuel to live on and nothing more.

Now as a food blogger and sometime professional food writer myself, you might be thinking that this person's thoughts stuck with me because they offended me. I clearly like to take pictures of my food and have enjoyed doing so even before it ever occurred to me that I might also like writing about it. However, you would also be wrong. The comment actually stuck with me because I really felt truly, honestly sorry for this person. How boring mealtimes must be if you think of your food as simple fuel and nothing else!

I can't imagine not making an event worth remembering out of a meal you really slaved over or a trip to a particularly good restaurant. The memories of the food I eat stick with me long after most of the other memories of a particular day have faded. If an event is truly special -- like a holiday or a birthday -- I agonize over what foods to serve or eat, because they're honestly more important to me than presents are. If I want to make a special event out of a typical day, then the first thing that it occurs to me to do is think up something out of the ordinary to cook and eat.

As for photos, they are definitely about memories to me. Like anyone, I take photos of things I want to remember and since food is such a huge part of any event worth recording for any reason, no photo set is complete without a shot or two of whatever was eaten. When I look through my "Tasty Things We Cook and Eat" album on Facebook, I see lots and lots of delicious memories and I love how even long after the food in question has been consumed, I can still remember how it looked in detail and reminisce about cooking it, eating it, and sharing it with loved ones.

By now, I think people are just totally used to me taking pictures of all the stuff I make to eat. My Facebook followers actually ask when more food pics are coming if I haven't posted any new ones in a while. Even my mom and fiance have learned to ask if I took enough pictures when I make something really good, because they know I will want them later on. It's just part of who I am to people now, I guess, and I can't say that bothers me in the least. Really, it could be anything, too. Naturally I take some pictures of the big feasts or the special meals, but there are plenty of times when I make something quick like a sandwich or a quesadilla and just think "that sure looks good" before deciding on a whim to record it for posterity. The foods I eat are my memories and I enjoy sharing them just as much as anyone else does.

One of my favorite food bloggers, Adam over at The Amateur Gourmet made a really terrific post on photographing food a while back and I loved his thoughts on the subject. Naturally people who write about food for a living (or for fun) have another use for the pictures they take of their food entirely. However, he talked all about how there is a benefit in photographing food for the sake of it, too. It makes us stop, pause, and consider what we're about to eat in a way that you really don't otherwise.

I personally don't think that people do that enough -- stop, reflect and consider, I mean. I really do believe that everything is worth thinking about and reflecting on whether it's a a beautiful sunset, a conversation with a friend, or a wonderful meal that someone cooked and plated with care. The act of taking a photo is a wonderful thing that helps us do this more often and I think anyone can benefit from that. Like Adam also said, it's the ability to consider and appreciate such things that separates us from the animals.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Roast the Perfect Turkey

So last night marked a milestone Thanksgiving for us. We actually managed to make a turkey that was pretty much perfect. Seriously, there was nothing about this bird that could have been any better or that anyone who ate it wished was different. It was tender. It was moist. It was flavorful. It was cooked perfectly and finished right on time. As a major turkey lover, I naturally feel it's my duty to tell everyone how to duplicate this. I also really want to record this for myself so I can remember what we did the next time life calls for a kick-ass roast turkey. (These proportions and cooking times are for a 16-pound bird, just FYI.)

First of all, lets talk about stuffing. I know a lot of people still like to stuff their turkey with bread stuffing or something else to that tune. I'm personally not a fan of that... at all. I find that it not only sucks all of the moisture right out of your bird, but that it makes the stuffing itself soggy and practically inedible. There is also a chance that your stuffing all full of dead bird juices isn't going to cook up to a temperature that is safe to eat, so there's food poisoning to worry about. 

Instead, try filling up the cavity of your bird with fruits, vegetables and spices that will only add to the flavor and moisture content of your turkey (as well as your gravy) instead of sucking it away. You're not going to eat them, so you don't have to worry about the dead-bird-juice-factor so much. They're there specifically to lend flavor and moisture. That's it. Above are the things we used to stuff our bird. (Ignore the stuff in the bowl for now. We'll talk about that in a minute.) 

  • 1 medium-sized white onion (peeled)
  • 1 medium-sized Granny Smith apple (unpeeled)
  • 1 lemon (unpeeled)
  • 1 tangerine (unpeeled)
  • Several scallions
  • Several sprigs of fresh rosemary (from our garden)
  • A cinnamon stick (there's only one in the pic, but we actually wound up using two)
Cut the fruits and veggies into quarters. If the onion is small enough, you can probably get away with cutting it in half, but you can quarter that as well if you like. The scallions are probably good cut in half. Whatever size fits best into your individual bird is fine though. As for the cinnamon sticks, just shove 'em in there somewhere.

Now for the stuff in the bowl! It's a compound butter for inserting in between the turkey's skin and flesh for extra flavor and moisture. If you haven't experimented much with compound butters, you should really think about doing so. They're easy to make and really lend a special touch to your food... even for just spreading on rolls or bread. For this particular one, you will need:

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • Fresh chopped tarragon
  • Fresh chopped thyme
  • Fresh chopped basil
Add the herbs to the butter in whatever proportions you like. If you like more basil and less tarragon, make it that way. This isn't an exact science or anything. I'd say I probably used maybe a couple of generous tablespoons of each though. Mash it all together with a fork until it looks like it does in the picture where I have all the other garnishes shown.

If you don't feel like duplicating my exact ingredients, you can experiment with other herbs or spices as well. We just find that this combination of herbs suits poultry especially well -- especially tarragon. You can preheat your oven to 500 degrees while you do this, too. I know. It sounds high, but it will all make sense later. Just do it.

Rinse your turkey off a little bit in the sink first and get it in the pan. Then start stuffing. Don't worry if it doesn't all fit exactly into the cavity. Just stick it in between the turkey's legs like we did. Then gently insert your fingers in between the skin and flesh of the breast to separate it a little bit. Don't pull it off or anything... just separate gently. Then start inserting bits of the compound butter in between until it's all in there. 

Next, take a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and rub it all over the outside of the turkey. If you want to, you can finish up by sprinkling extra seasoning on the outside. We used regular recipe Mrs. Dash. When you're done, it should look a lot like the picture! See the butter under the skin of the breast?

Put your turkey into your 500 degree preheated oven on the lowest shelf and let it roast for 30 minutes. No foil or anything over the top yet. That will come later. After the 30 minutes, lower your temp to 350 degrees and make a nice tin foil tent to place over your turkey and protect it throughout the rest of the cooking process. Don't wrap it tightly or anything. Just make sure it covers your entire roasting pan tent-style and holds in all the moisture. 

Every hour and a half or so, take your turkey out and baste it with all those awesome juices that will accumulate in the bottom of your pan to keep it moist. Keep an eye on your turkey, too. Every oven is different, as is every turkey. However, you can probably count on about 4 - 4 1/2 hours of total cooking time. Just avoid opening the oven any more often than you really need to so that you don't let all your heat out. It takes it a while to build back up again and extends your cooking time. 

Your turkey is done when you insert a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the turkey and get a reading of 160-165 degrees. We prefer to insert the thermometer a couple of different places -- into the deep part of the thigh, as well as into the thickest part of the breast. Try not to let the thermometer touch bone when you're doing this. Flesh only! If you like crispier turkey, you can remove your tin foil altogether for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking. That's what we did. Once you take your turkey out, don't slice it right away. Let it rest and settle for 40 minutes or so while you finish up the rest of your cooking. It will stay warm. Just keep it covered with the foil. 

There is our turkey all carved up and ready to eat. You can also see the gravy we made with the drippings, as well as our stuffing. We simply made our stuffing separately in a pot and them transferred it to a baking dish later on to get a nice, crispy top on it in the oven later while the turkey was resting. It was tasty and fluffy instead of soggy, just the way we like it.

Here are some of our other sides. We elected to grill our potatoes and vegetables outside since we live in California and get to take advantage of year-round grilling weather. The bowl in the upper left hand corner is a medley of grilled yams, yellow potatoes, and purple potatoes garnished with a little chopped parsley. The other large bowl is a collection of grilled vegetables -- yellow squash, zucchini, sweet onions, and portobello mushrooms. There was also some grilled white corn on the cob and some asparagus on another plate. There were San Francisco sourdough rolls served with another compound butter (homemade garlic-herb butter) as well!

We decided to Sandra Lee the crap out of our cranberry sauce. It's the chunky kind you get in the can, but we added some mandarin orange, as well as some fresh mint we had leftover from making falafels earlier in the week. You need to try that at least once!! The mandarin oranges went really well with the tangerine note that was present in the gravy and turkey meat. As for the mint, it really made that sauce. I expected it to be good, but I didn't expect it to turn out to be a stroke of genius or anything like that. Well, it was... and you owe it to yourself to try it sometime.

And that was our Thanksgiving! Everything was perfectly delicious and I honestly can't wait to dig into the leftovers. In fact, I think I am going to get on that right now. What are your favorite turkey cooking techniques? Do you have any tips of your own that you swear by?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Age of Innocence Through the Eyes of a Foodie

I sometimes wonder if other people pay as much attention to what people are eating in the movies they watch as I do. I really always notice and I can't help but appreciate the simple fact that someone somewhere made those choices when it came to setting the scene. Someone chose those dishes for those scenes and decided how they ought to look. Someone else slaved over them and made them delicious so that the actors could consume them on camera.  It's something I've always enjoyed noticing about movies in general and this goes double for my favorites.

I watched Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence last night for what has to be the millionth time and I found myself thinking about how this is really a secret foodie movie. Secret in the sense that it's obviously not actually about food, but foodie in the sense that there is plenty of focus on food to please someone like me who always noticed what characters are eating in the movies and television shows I watch.

As this is a movie about the society of Old New York and its inner workings, there are more than a few scenes in it where people are sitting down to multi-course dinners or elaborate teas. However, this movie does more than just show the characters shoveling it in while they gossip about what the other characters have been up to. I don't have to pause the film or squint to try to get a look at what's on everyone's plate. The camera slowly pans across the table to thoroughly show you the spread. It zooms in close on every plate as the events move from one course to the next. It even actually shows you juicy ducks being carved and plated carefully or cakes being cut in a way that's more than just fleeting. There are even whole shots that are all about the china plates and cups they're using.

It really almost makes you feel like you're actually there about to be served a plate of your own and it's a very powerful visual device in a movie like this. However, that's Martin Scorsese for you. He pays so much attention to how everything looks in every shot to help the viewer become part of the scene themselves. Really, I long to temporarily step into the world this movie portrays for many reasons, but I especially want to try the food these people are served. I notice it each and every time I watch and I never get tired of staring at it... or commenting on it. I don't even know how many times Seth has had to hear me comment on how juicy the slices of duck look in the first dinner scene or how much I want one of those blueberry muffins during that scene when May and company are having tea with Mrs. Mingott.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Brunch At Bubba's

My dad (whom I haven't seen in person in something like six years) happened to be in town today, so he, Seth and I got together this morning for some brunch action. The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is a major favorite of ours and since it's always a good time for seafood, that's where we decided to go.

This is the New England clam chowder. I never really considered myself to be a major clam chowder enthusiast before, but this might be the day I became a total convert and truly understood for the first time what so many people love about this dish. At first, my dad was the only one that ordered a bowl. However, after looking at and smelling his for a while, Seth and I decided we needed some as well. I'm really glad I ordered this. It was rich without being overly so. The clams, potatoes and broth were all amazing. 

Today was kind of a damp, rainy, grey day outside and this was the perfect thing to warm you up from the inside out. For something I actually ordered as an afterthought, I've really been thinking a lot about how tasty this was. I'm already tentatively plotting further adventures in clam chowder as well. I'd like to try other versions from other restaurants around town, as well as make my own at some point this season. Seth was on board with all of this.

This was Seth's meal. It's coconut shrimp with fries and Cajun marmalade for dipping. Again, in the past I haven't been the biggest champion of sweet/savory combination dishes, but in recent years, I've really come to appreciate them and can't understand what was wrong with me before. The coconut added a pleasant sweetness to the shrimp, as well as an interesting texture. The marmalade was also a really nice touch as a condiment. It tasted a little like orange marmalade that had been spiced a bit as well. Really nice.

Last but not least, this is what both my dad and I ordered for our meal. It is called a "bucket of boat trash" and includes steamed lobster claws, spicy Cajun shrimp, spicy battered fish, and French fries. I probably don't have to go too deeply into what's good about that. Who doesn't enjoy shoving liberal amounts of all of those things into their mouth whenever possible? 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Healthy 16-Bean Vegetarian Chili

So, my mom was recently put on a special diet by her doctor to help her get her system back in check. She has to go totally, completely vegetarian for a while and she really wasn't all that happy about it at first. I can understand this.

We eat really well around here -- tasty barbecued meats, yummy side dishes, and even the occasional dessert. I would be sort of bummed, too. Naturally, this called for the making of something really awesome (that also happened to be vegetarian) for her first day on her new diet though. That is the story of how this chili was born yesterday, but trust me when I say that the world is a better place for its existence. Seriously... praise this chili! It was a masterpiece.

As with before, this is my best guess at a recipe, because you know I don't really do the recipe thing. I wing it Rachel Ray style all the way. However, I do like sharing these things with you and helping you duplicate them, so I always give it my best shot.


1 package of 16-bean soup mix (it's just the beans -- no seasoning or anything like that)
1/2 package of Morning Star vegetarian crumbles
1 large onion
2 medium-sized jalapeno peppers
4 cloves of garlic
1 jar of Prego Heart Healthy tomato sauce
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)


- Do a rough chop on the onions and peppers so they're ready to go. Mince the garlic. Remember that leaving the ribs and seeds of the jalapenos in as part of your mixture adds heat, so include them or eliminate them according to your personal tastes.

- Toss the soy crumbles, onion, and peppers into a large pot or saucepan and sautee briefly over medium-high heat. After 5 minutes or so, throw in the garlic, cumin, paprika, and cayenne if you are using it. Sautee for maybe 5 minutes more.

- Add your beans. (I like to soak mine overnight, but it's fine if you don't want to. Just allow for a longer cooking time.) Also add your tomato sauce (the whole jar). Add enough water to your chili to cover all your ingredients.

- Bring to a boil and then promptly turn your heat down to low. Let your chili simmer and make your house smell f-ing awesome until beans are tender and chili is well cooked. If you soaked your beans, allow maybe 3 hours. If you didn't, allow at least 4.

- Eat and enjoy.

- Come back to this blog and offer to give me all your money for creating such a kick-ass healthy recipe. (Just kidding... sort of.)

My mom, Seth and I all loved this chili. It's only 24 hours later and it's already all gone, leftovers and all. I totally recommend this to anyone on a low-calorie, low-sugar, low-salt, low-fat diet like my mother is right now... or really anyone who loves chili and is looking for a healthy way to enjoy it more often.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lucky Finds: Vintage French Cookbooks Via My Mother

A lot of you guys already know how much I love the movie Julie and Julia and pretty much anything to do with Julia Child in general. (Yeah, I know. Me and pretty much everyone else who considers themselves a foodie or runs a food blog, right?)

I have, of course, read Julia's My Life in France. That and the movie are where I really learned to truly appreciate the whole process behind Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the development of her career as a food expert. Julia's tales of how she fell in love with food, fell in love with cultures different from her own, and ultimately learned to cook relatively late in life (her late 40's) were so rich and descriptive -- a true pleasure to read.

Then there was how passionate and positive she was about pretty much everything that happened during her journey. Her attitude really remained the same whether she was talking about a triumph or a setback. Like a lot of people -- including Ms. Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame -- I naturally tend to let setbacks infuriate me, so I really feel Julia Child has taught me a lot that extends way beyond cooking basics. I would love to be just like her someday, the kind of person that inspires other people to do and be their best regardless of what they are looking to accomplish.

Anyway, after learning so much about Julia's Mastering, I naturally began to wish I had a copy to browse through. It's been on my to-buy list for a while now, but I really haven't had new cookbooks in the budget lately. It turns out my mom has a paperback copy she actually bought in France years and years ago back in the 60's though. That's it above along with another book on French provincial cooking she gave me to look at.

This is even one of the editions that still has the original artist's drawings in it!! Really, I was thrilled and consider it a real treat to see those, especially since I'm an artist myself.

I've always wanted to know more about French cooking in general. Growing up in California, I certainly know my share about Mexican food. I've also been borderline obsessed with anything to do with England for years, so I know lots about British cuisine as well. France is a relatively new obsession though. I'm still in the process of learning about its history, it's culture, it's language, and especially its culinary point of view. I really can't wait to try some of the recipes.

The advice on proper cooking techniques will be a big help as well. I've always wanted to get better at making certain foods (like omelets, for example -- more egg experiments for me!) and executing more advanced techniques. This is totally the book I'd like to learn it from, too.

Don't even get me started on how cool it is to me that this copy of Mastering belongs to my mother. Julie Powell's copy that she cooked from for her blog belonged to her mother as well. This copy actually came from France, too. Much, much better and more special than buying my own copy with no personal history or nostalgic value!

Grilled Chicken Potato Enchiladas

Today was my mom's birthday (or I guess yesterday was, since it's now after midnight). As you all know, on your birthday, you get to choose any meal you like and the people who love you will cook it for you! She had never had the grilled chicken and potato enchiladas I like to make, so that's what we had for dinner tonight. 

I'm going to try doing something a little different with this post as well, which should make a lot of you happy. I'm going to attempt to write down a passable recipe that you can follow so that you can duplicate these yourselves. I'm not much of a recipe-follower-type person. In fact, I don't think I've ever really followed a recipe to the letter before. 

I own and collect cookbooks like any good foodie, but I usually just use recipes as jumping off points and wing it most of the way. I can't help it. I'm one of those creative sorts that doesn't know how to follow directions, but seems to manage pretty well anyway. I just eyeball everything and magically come out with the right amounts and more or less exactly the flavors I wanted. It's how I roll. If you follow this, let me know how it turns out so I can assess how I did at recipe writing.

  • 1 lb white meat chicken (we used tenderloins, but breasts would be fine, too)
  • 1 medium-sized sweet red onion
  • 2 medium-sized jalapeno peppers
  • 5 new potatoes (any color you want, but we used a mixture of red, white, and blue)
  • 6 fajita size flour tortillas (or you can use white corn if you prefer)
  • 1 20 oz can of mild Rosarita enchilada sauce
  • 1 packet taco seasoning (or whatever you normally use to season taco meat)
  • Garlic salt
  • A bottle of Frank's sweet chili hot sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • Fresh cilantro
You'll also need a large baking dish that's at least a couple of inches deep and long enough to hold the six tortillas with filling side by side. If you don't have a dish that big, you can always split the recipe between two smaller square baking dishes.


- Pre-grilling the chicken for this dish over charcoal really makes a difference in how it tastes. We barbecue a lot, so we pre-cooked the chicken in advance along with the sliders we had the other night and set it aside for these enchiladas. Then we chopped it into 1/2-inch pieces like you see above. You don't need to get out a ruler and measure or anything. Just chop it so the pieces aren't too big, but don't make mincemeat out of it either. Then set it aside.

- Next, prep your veggies -- onion, jalapenos, and potatoes. Slice your onion, but dice your jalapenos. If you want mild enchildas, take the ribs and seeds out of the jalapenos before dicing. If you want more heat though, feel free to include them. (We left the ribs in one of the peppers but not the other.) Then dice up your potatoes, too. 

- Once you've got a pan with hot oil in it ready to go, go ahead and drop all your veggies in. Add half your taco seasoning, as well as a pinch or two or the garlic salt. Pour in the 1/3 cup of water. Then lower your heat to medium, cover, and allow mixture to simmer until the potatoes are tender. 

- Once your potatoes are tender and your veggies are cooked, add your chicken, the rest of your taco seasoning, and a few tablespoons of the sweet chili sauce. You can add more (or less) if you prefer. Cover it again and let it simmer until the chicken is heated through. You should preheat your oven to 400 now as well.

- When your filling is done, you can turn the heat off and let it cool down a bit if you want. I personally don't like to. I like to get everything going in the oven right away and am blessed with invincible Bobby Flay asbestos hands, so I just go ahead and start rolling tortillas immediately. 

Prep your baking dish by coating the bottom with a small amount of the enchilada sauce, just enough to coat it nicely. Then divide your filling among the six tortillas, roll them, and add them to the dish side by side. Pour the rest of your sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle Cheddar cheese over the top to your liking. If you're a cheese lover, you can include a little extra in each tortilla as you prepare them as well. (We did!)

- Bake until heated through (uncovered), sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted. Chop or tear cilantro and sprinkle over the top as garnish... like so. Then nom your little hearts out.

These really turned out wonderfully. They go great with refried beans, rice, or both. Actually, Seth and I both agreed these were pretty much the best enchiladas we'd ever made or eaten anywhere. My mom was also very pleased with these as her birthday dinner as well. Feel free to substitute your own favorites as far as ingredients, too. This is a very simple dish, so it's a good one to play around with even if you're not used to cooking.

And because this is a birthday post, I'm sure you'd like to see what kind of cake we got my mom. We didn't make this ourselves, but it is seriously one of our favorites. It's a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cake from Safeway and it's amazing. If you like ice cream cake and have any kind of access to a Safeway, you really need to try this sometime or else your life just can't be called complete. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In Which Cat Eats an Egg

A long, long time ago, I talked about wanting to get over my lifelong phobia of egg-eating for the simple reason that I just up and decided it was downright dumb to not even be able to tolerate such a simple, common food. However, as any good procrastinator knows, it's one thing to talk about eating something that scares you and quite another to actually put said thing in your mouth, chew it up, and swallow it. Last night, I finally decided I was ready and it actually went pretty well.

I consulted Seth as to what the least offensive form of egg would be for a nervous egg virgin such as myself and he said "scrambled" (no gooey, runny yolk to try to get past), so last night I took his advice and scrambled up a couple. (Those aren't them in the picture, but they look like them... and since I forgot to take an actual picture myself, they'll just have to do.) I added garlic salt, cayenne pepper, and cheddar cheese to make sure they had plenty of flavor. Then I put some on a fork and went for it. I expected to really not like eating them at all, but much to my great surprise, I didn't gag or have to fight a reflex to spit it out. They actually weren't that bad! If I hadn't had such a huge mental block built up against eggs all these years, I probably would have even found them delicious.

In fact, I could see how with practice I could actually get to the point where I semi-enjoy eating eggs and voluntarily do so on a somewhat regular basis. They make a nice alternative protein to meat and would be a great choice for when I just don't care to eat a soy burger instead. One of these days, I'll go all the way and try fried or poached eggs as well, but I might have to work my way up to that. In the meantime? Flavorful scrambles and non-threatening omelets it is. If I come up with any interesting recipes, I'll definitely post them for your culinary pleasure.

Do you guys have any weird, for-no-good-reason food phobias like the one I've always had in regards to eggs? Have you ever wanted to get past them?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Make Way for the Skinwich!

So how many of you would be interested in eating a new KFC concoction know as "The Skinwich"? According to a recent post on, a Skinwich consists of 5 layers of deep-fried chicken skin, a slice of white American cheese, and two slices of bacon on a roll. The original post goes on to state that this crispy monstrosity is something new that KFC is taking for a test run to see how it fares with consumers as a follow-up to its already notorious Double Down sandwich.

Luckily, upon further examination of the actual post, one can tell that this tale of a brand new heart-attack-on-a-plate consisting only of chicken skin, cheese, and bacon is a joke. The blogger who originally "broke" this story lists the test cities where Skinwiches can currently be had. All an astute reader needs to do is read the names of the cities backwards to realize they actually spell words like "bullshit" and "satire". Then they can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Fast food hasn't gone quite that far... yet.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised if it ever did. With sandwiches like the KFC Double Down, the Wendy's Baconator, and many others along the same lines grabbing headlines right and left, a Skinwich seemed perfectly plausible to me at first glance. In fact, it did to a lot of people, including celebrated chef Jamie Oliver, father of the Food Revolution himself who tweeted about this horror earlier today.

Many people are only caring less and less about what they put in their bodies as the years roll by and the success of these artery-clogging creations only proves it. Personally, I'd rather stay home and grill something a bit more healthful, but just as tasty, on the grill and eat it with a nice side salad or something, but maybe that's just me. I'd kind of like to find out what living into my 80's and 90's is like... preferably without ever having experienced a heart attack. Sure I indulge in the occasional fast food burger or box of French fries now and then... but it's exactly that -- a very, very occasional indulgence and not the basis of a daily diet.

So what about you? If the Skinwich were ever to become a real deal and make its way onto KFC's menu, would you eat it? What are your thoughts on fast food in general?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Grilled Pork Chops and Sweet Red Corn

I may well just have had the most delicious pork chops I've ever eaten in my entire life. We picked these up at Costco over the weekend and thought they might make a rather enjoyable weekday dinner, so we fired up the grill and prepared to whip up some goodness. 

Little did we know that they were easily twice as thick as any pork chop we'd ever seen in our lives as we soon saw upon taking them all the way out of the package. We were hardly complaining though. We threw them right onto the barbie and enjoyed the sweet, sweet scent of swine roasting over an open flame. We didn't even marinate them -- just sprinkled a small amount of grill seasoning over the tops and that was it. 

The thickness turned out to be the determining factor in these being the ideal chop in every way. They acquired a really pleasant sear, yet stayed wonderfully juicy and moist inside. The smokey grilled flavor was amazing. Overall, they were pretty much the pork version of filet mignon and I now would highly recommend choosing a thicker chop or asking for one from your butcher whenever possible. I honestly didn't know what I've been missing all my life.

We also happened across the first fresh red corn I'd ever seen before during an early evening trip to Safeway. I couldn't help but buy it and see how it turned out on the grill as well. Throw in a few chicken habanero sausages we still had in the fridge from over the weekend, heat up some Spanish rice from Mexican night last night, toast some garlic bread, and you've got a damn fine meal on your plate! 

Really, I think this may well have been one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The pork was so tender and succulent. The corn was sweet, crisp, and held up wonderfully to the heat of the grill. Everything went perfectly together -- no complaints from any of the taste-testers whatsoever! There are no words to express how much I love summer grilling and enjoying a great meal with family.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Run Across America" Sampler at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

Today was a really nice day, so we decided to take one of our epic walks down toward the water. The sights, sounds, and smells are always such a treat. They definitely make burning calories and keeping fit a lot more fun! We never quite know where we're going when we start, but we always wind up going somewhere exciting and fun. 

Sometimes there's even food involved like today. Eventually we found ourselves down on historic Cannery Row standing in front of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Seth had never been here and had been dying to go ever since I first mentioned it to him, so we decided to stop in for a quick bite to eat and possibly a cocktail... something cool and refreshing to suit a warm day spent walking up the coastline.

For those of you who have never been to Bubba Gump's before, it's an awful lot like you're probably thinking. The restaurant, menu, and theme of the restaurant are all patterned after the hit movie Forrest Gump. At one point, there were even a ton of actual props from the movie as part of the decor, although I didn't really see too many of them around this time. It's been a while since I was in the area and had an opportunity to make it a Bubba afternoon.

We didn't feel like weighing ourselves down too heavily, as we did need to be able to walk all the way back home, so we ordered the Run Across America Sampler to share instead of loading up on two separate entrees. In the middle there were some of Bubba's delicious "chilly" shrimp. Also involved were buffalo chicken strips, fried shrimp, and chips with spinach dip. 

My favorite thing on the plate had to be these hush puppy things they included that were totally unlike any other hush puppies I've ever had. They were more than just the fried dough I'm used to. They also had bits of sweet corn, shrimp, and fish in them as well and they were really delicious. I wouldn't mind ordering a whole platter of just those next time! I totally recommend at least trying them as a side if you ever find yourself at a Bubba's yourself.

These were our cocktails. Seth's is a nice, cold beer. Mine was a blueberry lemonade that not only involved blueberry Stoli vodka, but also real blueberries. It was really good and the perfect refreshment for a warm day spent walking a good long way. We also got to take both of the pilsner glasses home with us, which was really nice. We have something to remember our first ever trip to Bubba's together now. Hooray for summer memories!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Recent Adventures in Grilling

It really just wouldn't be summer without  ridiculous amount of grilling going on, would it? I'm pretty sure this goes double for people who live in California. We've definitely been putting out Smokey Joe to good use since we've been here, taking advantage of the wonderful weather, as well as the recent holiday.

Those of you who live in America already realize that this past Sunday was Independence Day. It's pretty much the law that you must barbecue for Independence Day if you are lucky enough to have it within your ability to do so. We followed suit by grilling caramelized onion chicken burgers and apple-gouda chicken sausages. On the side are some homemade oven-roasted potatoes seasoned with fresh rosemary straight from the garden and a helping of maple-bacon baked beans.

The other day, we actually found real live slider buns at the grocery store, so of course I felt the opportunity to grill sliders couldn't be missed. These are made of ground turkey liberally seasoned with garlic herb grill spice and topped with American cheese. They were just wonderful and I can't wait to have them again soon.

The same day we grilled the sliders, we also grilled a couple of turkey legs. This was our first time making these, but it was great fun. These do and probably always will remind me of a day at the Renaissance fair, little medieval history geek that I am!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pesto di Mare Pizza at Gianni's

If I've been away from somewhere I've lived long enough, a lot of details become blurry as the years roll by. I may need to consult my BlackBerry's GPS to jog my memory for exact directions. I might need a little coaching to remember the last names of some of the people I knew. However, I can recall every detail of my favorite restaurant dishes with deadly accuracy. Food has such a huge connection to the memories I have of a particular place. Once I'm away from an area I once loved, I often find myself missing certain restaurants or particular dishes as much as I do the friends or family members who lived there.

I'm sure this is at least part of the reason why one of the most important personal decisions attached to my recent return to the Monterey Bay area was without a doubt where to eat first. Naturally, I wanted to have something familiar that I hadn't eaten in a long while. I also wanted to introduce Seth to something that was a little different for him. Eventually we decided we can't go wrong with a good pizza, so we decided to stop at Gianni's for lunch today. It's a local favorite for a good reason. The atmosphere is cozy while the food is terrific and reasonably priced.

This is the Pesto di Mare special, one of my personal favorites. It features Gianni's signature crust topped with fresh pesto, olive oil, roasted garlic, mozzarella, and shrimp. (It normally also comes with tomatoes, but we ordered ours without.) Years ago, this was one of my first real encounters with pizza that went beyond the standard tomato sauce and pepperoni combination. It also has remained something that I've associated with Monterey over the years long after I moved away. It was certainly a treat to get to have it again right before a pleasant drive by the ocean for the first time in a long while.