Saturday, January 30, 2010

0 All Queued Up & Nowhere to Go ;)

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I've been doing my best to recover from a nasty respiratory bug for the past few weeks -- it really "knocked the wind out of my sails" (!) -- and so understandably, haven't been pumping out recipes at the usual pace as of late.

So, not much has been going on in terms of cooking or recipe-writing over that period. My energy levels aren't at their usual "energizer bunny" levels and honestly, I just haven't felt like doing much of anything, except for sleeping and lying around the house doing things like reading, knitting, or watching movies on TV. As I described to a friend of mine earlier today, "I feel like a coughing Tommy gun." ;) The coughing has subsided for the most part, but I still don't feel back to normal just yet. It's weird to feel restless but yet still tired. Hopefully, only a few more days of this, because it's about all I can take. ;) Frankly, after about the first two weeks, being sick becomes just plain BORING, and believe me, I'm not the type who's easily bored. ;) There's only so much reading, sleeping, home movie-watching, & knitting one can do before one is ready to tear one's hair out. ;) I just want to get back to the usual groove of what I was doing before!

What's really weird is that, even though recipe-writing is basically a stationary activity, I don't have the patience or the focus right now to do that activity. Those other aforementioned activities don't take very much energy or focus for the most part, so it's not a huge effort to do them. Perhaps it's time to cut myself some slack and just take a time-out until my energy levels come back to what they were a few weeks ago.

To a certain extent, that probably explains why there are a lot of recipes on this blog that are queued up with nowhere to go. :)


And then there are the queued recipes-in-the-making that precede the above time-frame. In other words, I have absolutely no excuse or apparent explanation for why they are still in "recipe purgatory," i.e., in draft form on Blogger. ;)

One such example is the "upcoming" tamale recipe. :) (And by all means, major sarcasm is implied by my use of the word "upcoming." ;) ) As some of you may recall, this was a dish I made months ago that I still haven't posted... er, that is, yet. I wouldn't hold your breath there, but it'll probably be posted at some unforeseen moment in time. :) Don't exactly know what happened there. At first, I think I became slightly overwhelmed by the daunting prospect of writing up such a lengthy and involved recipe. ;) Of course, it's the general exposition and the recipe directions -- especially since they are highly detailed and complex with multiple steps -- that usually take up most of my writing time.

Then there's cooking endeavor itself. After all, I was fairly exhausted after spending 10+ hours preparing and cooking the tamales; it was quite the time- and labor-intensive undertaking. I didn't exactly feel like writing immediately after doing that. ;) Anyone probably would've wanted to have taken a bit of a break after such a monumental effort, just to recharge the batteries. Again, it's not an excuse; just a fact. :)

Then, add to that fact that I'd waited a bit too long after the cooking project had been completed. ;) I find that usually I need to post the recipe as soon as I make the dish; otherwise, I tend to lose momentum. Or, if my notes (for the preparation/cooking methods) aren't very detailed or legible -- they are sometimes speedily scribbled down in an attempt to catch up with the torrent of ideas pouring out from my brain! -- then there's the additional challenge of trying to remember (&/or decipher my notes of) exactly what I did. :) And then I'll either have to remake the recipe to remember the steps (yes, I'll admit to having done that before!), or have to make some educated guesses ;), which I prefer not to do, especially if there are large "blanks" in my memory regarding the specific steps I did. Recreating steps from memory can be a tricky thing; there are certain preparations which require exacting techniques that must be precisely timed. Also, the steps must often be done in a specific order, & also be carried out with a high degree of precision.

Anyhow, enough about the tamales.  I also have a few other recipes that I've already cooked but haven't yet posted for one reason or another. They are mostly typed up, but the anecdotal exposition either needs to be fleshed out or revised, & so they are still sitting around in Blogger in draft form. ;) If you'd like to get a preview of some of these new recipes to which I'm referring, you're welcome to check out the corresponding photos on Flickr.

Also, the following recipes are part of the backlogged queue as well:

--Caruru de Camarao com Coentro (Shrimp & Okra with Nuts & Cilantro) (Brazilian dish)
--Jugo de Maracuyá Con Leche (Passion Fruit Smoothie) (Colombian/Latin American drink)
--Panera-style Orange Scones (from the "Make It Healthier" Challenge, promised to @britishbulldog)
--Restaurant-quality General Tso's Chicken (also from the "Make It Healthier" Challenge, promised to @nturnage)
--some lentil dishes (possibly Ethiopian &/or Middle Eastern dishes of some sort) (promised to @JenZenator)
--some kind of recipe with chía (promised to @saltenhaus)
--a wheatberry recipe (promised to a family friend) (recently added to the queue)

These haven't been forgotten, as I've promised several of them to friends. :) Let's just say they've been postponed to a later date, until I can approach them with renewed energy, inspiration, & enthusiasm. Of course, these sentiments are in no way a reflection upon the individuals or their recipe requests; my inspiration to cook particular dishes just naturally cycles in an ebb & flow pattern. For me, recipe creation is all about timing. So, if I'm just not feeling it, I'd rather not force a recipe into existence if can be helped at all. Most times, the practice of creative coercion (at least with regard to recipes!) is highly inadvisable, as it typically yields less-than-satisfactory results.

Anyhow, that's the stuff that's currently backed up in the queue. If my usual pattern is any indication of what's to come, I'll probably make a few new recipes that have nothing to do with the above queue. ;) Then, when I'm feeling refreshed & fully healthy, I'll get back to full-on cooking & recipe posting. So hang in there. Right now, that's what I'm doing too. :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2 Recipe #61: Frozen Banana Custard (Or What To Do With Leftover Bananas!)

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Everyone seems to have a version of homemade banana ice cream/custard.  Here's mine:

Frozen Banana Custard

2 frozen bananas
1 tsp. vanilla
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. honey
1/2 c. soy milk

Directions: Toss all ingredients into a blender & pulse until thick & creamy.

Yield: Makes 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: Make sure bananas aren't frozen solid when you put them into the blender, or the liquids will just swirl around in your blender & not chop up the bananas. :) Best to remove bananas from freezer & let them thaw for a bit first.  However, don't leave them out for too long, or you won't have frozen banana custard; you'll have a banana smoothie instead. :)

This recipe literally takes less than 5 minutes to make.  It's very healthy for you, as it contains no sucrose or cream.

Monday, January 25, 2010

0 Erik Rocks

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I have to say, and this is actually not said to brag or revel in smarmy self-satisfaction, that my man is pretty darned awesome. I'm stating it more as an ode of appreciation to him.

While many women often complain that they don't get enough help from their mates, especially when it comes to chores around the house, I'm happy to say that in my particular case, that this statement doesn't apply to our situation at all. Even though he works full-time, Erik still pitches in on a multitude of household duties, & I truly appreciate it.  He's the true definition of an equal relationship partner, & I thank my lucky stars for that.

Erik also does the bulk of the grocery shopping in our household, believe it or not. I'll typically email him a shopping list & then after work, he'll go around the corner to pick up groceries & head home. That's the agreed-upon deal in our household: I cook, & he shops for the food.

He's well-schooled in the fine art of "getting it right" when it comes to shopping lists.  I rarely have to say "I asked for this instead of that." It's really nice when you can trust your man to get the right thing on the "honey-do" list with complete confidence in his "hunting & gathering" abilities. :)

Part of the reason for this is that he pays attention to details, possesses good communication skills, & has an excellent memory. These are truly blissful qualities that will make any woman jump for joy. :)

He also knows me really well, & at this point is practically a mind-reader. This really comes in handy, especially when it comes to grocery shopping. :) If he can't find the exact thing I asked for at a particular supermarket, he will even go to another grocery store without any prompting from me.  I never even asked him to do this, ever. He is just super-thoughtful & considerate.  One time, he went to four different stores to find something for me. A few times I even had to ask him not to do this, because I just wanted him to return home soon after his shopping excursion, so he could eat before 10 pm. :)

He's also good at improvising: If he can't find something on the list, he will often get the next best thing, which is usually exactly what I want.

His reward is a home-cooked, healthy gourmet meal & my eternal gratitude. Thank goodness for modern men.

Friday, January 22, 2010

0 Recipe #60: Avocado, Feta, & Edamame Salad Garnished With Spring Onions

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I absolutely adore avocados.  Their subtle creamy taste makes them a very versatile ingredient; there's so much that can be done with them! They can be used as a base/background ingredient or can be featured as the main attraction. They can be utilized in both savory & sweet dishes. The creative possibilities are endless....

And of course, they are also very nutritious.  I won't rattle off their many merits in this post, but if you'd like to read more about their health benefits, you can do so here.

Last week I had a craving for avocados. Big time.
Now normally, in this instance, I'd probably make "Solorunner's Infamously Addictive Kale Salad Recipe", which is quite delicious & nutritious. You could say that, for me, this kale salad recipe was the go-to recipe of 2009. My runner pals used to crack jokes on Twitter about how many times I made/ate that recipe as a "training staple." :)

Even though that recipe is truly wonderful, I think that perhaps I need to give it a rest for a bit & move onto something else for a while. No matter how tasty a recipe can be, if made one too many times, it can dull the desire for it, (at least momentarily).

So, I went in search of another recipe to satisfy my avocado cravings. I perused the web & also this blog's existing archives (i.e., Avocado Soup, Steak Fajitas with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, Seared Tuna Drizzled with Wasabi Ginger Soy Sauce, Salsa Roja, Sina Qua Non Salad, etc.) for ideas. Although there was a lot of variety to be had, I wasn't really finding anything that I was in the mood to eat.

A recipe has just got to hit the spot at a particular moment in time. You know what I mean?!  It's often a mood thing, which is why I usually don't like to plan meals 5 light years in advance.  Sometimes, I don't know what I want to eat until my stomach starts to growl. :)

Speaking of which, I like to remain flexible when planning meals for any given week, preferring to generate a roster of ideas that can be rotated around or completely changed to suit what we are hungry for on a particular night, versus having a hard & fast selection for each day of the week.  Erik & I aren't the type of couple who schedule "date night" every Wednesday, so it logically follows that we don't want to eat beans & rice every Monday evening either. :)  We just don't think that way.  We don't like to live our lives like pre-programmed robots. We are both creative souls (in both the arts & sciences), & need room to breathe. We live for variety & not always knowing what we are going to eat every Monday. :)  Besides, too much routine dulls the senses.  At our house, we like every day to be a "food adventure."

Anyhow.... Since I couldn't find anything that satisfied the senses in that particular moment, I decided to create a new recipe. That's the nice thing about creativity: When you've "got nothing," you can always dream up something. :)

So, below is the new recipe I created as a result:  (It was inspired by a snack idea listed in an earlier posting.)

Yeah, I know this isn't a photo of the salad I made, because you
can clearly see radishes & other ingredients not included in 

the below recipe, plus there's no edamame, scallions, 
& sumac, but it's close enough. :)

Avocado, Feta, & Edamame Salad Garnished With Spring Onions

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 1/2" slivers
1/2 c. edamame, shelled and cooked (Boil fresh edamame 5-6 minutes, frozen 4-5 minutes.)
2 green onions (scallions), sliced crosswise into thin rounds
1/2 c. nonfat feta cheese, broken into bite-sized chunks (NOTE: President brand makes a non-fat version; best to buy it in solid block form; not only is it a better value, but it lasts slightly longer in this way.)
freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of 1/2 a lemon) (NOTE: Can also use lime juice.)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
a dash of sumac, to taste (optional)

Directions: Toss all ingredients into a bowl & mix thoroughly.  And that's it!  Yes, it's really that simple. :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

3 Recipe #59: Dulce de Tamarindo (Tamarind Candy)

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In my travels to Mexico, I had the lucky experience of tasting dulce de tamarindo, or tamarind candy. These are sold pretty much everywhere there -- at open markets, festivals & fairs, in grocery stores & convenience marts, etc. -- Heck, you can even find them in airports. :)

While they are sometimes sold in mini clay cazuelas, I more commonly found them wrapped in cellophane.
I've eaten them in various forms -- sometimes in a more natural incarnation -- i.e., shelled whole tamarind covered with sugar, chili, & salt -- & other times, they were pulverized mixtures of tamarind pulp, sugar, chili, salt, etc., shaped into little balls of confection.

Whatever form they take, they are yummy & totally addictive. :-D

As this is a healthy gourmet blog, I decided to come up with a healthier version that can be enjoyed without feeling guilty over the prospect of having all of one's teeth fall out at once. :)

So, here, as promised in a previous post, is my much healthier take on "dulces de tamarindo." Enjoy!

Dulce de Tamarindo

1 c. hot water
1 c. tamarind paste (a concentrate)
1 c. honey
1 tsp. powdered chili (Or alternatively, you can use Tajín Fruit seasoning.)
1 small pinch of salt
Granular or confectioner's sugar, for dusting

1. In a sauce pot, heat tamarind paste & water over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add honey & continue to stir until dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil & continue to cook until the candy mixture is reduced by about 1/3. Mixture should be thick & shouldn't run.
2. As a test, put a small amount on a dish & place in the fridge. If it sets after a few minutes, then proceed to the next step. (If not, then boil the mixture a little longer. :) Be very careful NOT to overcook, as the flavor will become less desirable.)
3. Remove sauce pot from heat & allow to cool a bit. Next, combine with chili & salt, & stir, making sure to blend the mixture thoroughly. Then pour the mixture onto a cookie sheet (or 9 x 13 inch baking pan) & spread it out a bit. Refrigerate for a few hours until it sets & becomes firm.
4. Remove from fridge. Pinch off small amounts & roll into small, quarter-sized balls.
5. Place into Ziploc bag of sugar. Shake to coat the tamarind balls.
6. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Chef's Note: Working with tamarind tends to be a messy affair, so you might want to wear latex/rubber gloves, an apron, &/or old clothes you don't care too much about while working with the stuff. Also, please note, that it stains & is hard to get out of clothing.  Not that I would know that from personal experience or anything. ;-)

Featured above are the flowers of a tamarind plant. Pretty stunning, eh?!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

0 Some Excellent Recipe Blogs I Recently Stumbled Upon.....

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Today, while I perusing one of my favorite blogs, Orangette, I discovered another fantastic blog via the comments section of a post there; the comment was interesting, & so, out of curiosity, I clicked on the associated link to a blogger's profile, which then led me to their blog. The name of this blog is Figs, Bay, & Wine.

I also found yet another excellent blog by the name of Kitchenography. (I think I found this one while searching for a particular recipe on the web.)

These two blogs are the latest "shiny new objects" of my online food-related fascination.

The food photos at both of these sites are truly gorgeous, polished, & highly professional-looking, & the photos are truly mouth-watering. They almost jump from the page, in all their glistening, picture-perfect glory. These sites simply make me sigh, & momentarily wish I had the time & the inclination to make my blog as photogenically flawless as both of theirs.

But it's not just a superficial love. The recipes look really amazing as well. Sigh. :)

A large number of recipes at both of these blogs really hit my "optimal recipe zone." :) If you enjoy my blog's recipes, then you will most likely enjoy the ones at these sites as well.

Happy Exploring & Bon Appétit,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

0 What Do Knitting & Good Nutrition Have in Common?

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OK, I realize that the topic I'm about to mention has absolutely NOTHING to do with food or nutrition, but it does relate somewhat, if rather indirectly to health.  And that topic is knitting.

Why do I mention knitting here, at this blog, of all places?  Well, first of all, like cooking & baking, knitting is another creative endeavor.  Secondly, knitting can be great for your health, & believe it or not, can also be used as a weight-control activity. :-D  When one is focused intently upon an activity that keeps one's hands & mind occupied, the mind tends to relax & forget about other concerns.  One thinks about knitting, or if the project is easy enough & doesn't tax the mind, then there's room for other activities, i.e., thinking, talking with friends & family, listening to music, watching movies, etc.  And of course, it's great for stress relief as well. And all of these factors can contribute to improved physical & emotional well-being.

And, if you haven't guessed by now, all of the above exposition is also the lead-in to a plug for my brand new blog, Underage Knitter. :-D Here is where I plan to document past & present projects, dole out knitting tips, & offer original patterns (created by yours truly), & just talk about knitting in general. So, those of you who are knitters or who might be interested in learning might want to check it out or subscribe to it.


Friday, January 1, 2010

0 Stepping Into the Ring, Round 1: Substance vs. Food Fashion

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I belong to this website called that features absolutely gorgeous, mouth-watering pictures that people have taken of their recipes or things that they're about to eat. Now of course, it's wonderful fun to look at these pictures, & I once even submitted a picture of my own. It was an unceremonious snapshot of a new soup creation, captured while still boiling madly on a gas-lit stove, in all its bubbling, frothy glory, with its steam rising like a volcano about ready to blow.

Of course, it was promptly rejected. (LOL. So what. That's the breaks.) The reason given was that it was deemed an "unappealing photo." In fact, I kind of knew it was going to be rejected even before I posted it, namely because it had been taken in the throes of "cooking passion" & honestly wasn't really caring about the photo quality & composition when I took the photo. Yes, I should've known, but frankly I was more interested in posting the recipe itself versus taking a pretty picture. It seems that I misread the focus of their website; I thought it was a site that featured people's recipe blog links, and was hoping to share my recipe with others there. Apparently, it is a site that cares nothing about actual recipes; they just want gorgeous photos. :) A person could've snapped one of those fake plastic pies sitting in a bakery storefront & they'd probably have been perfectly OK with it. ;)

Yes, food presentation does matter -- I do realize that. However, the funny thing is, had I put a little more effort into perfecting the photo for "public consumption" -- i.e., in order to meet today's picture-perfect, media-savvy standards of photography, I doubt I would have been focusing as much on the recipe creation process itself, which in my book, is more important.

When in the midst of culinary inspiration, I'm usually so consumed with the creation process itself & the final outcome -- i.e., the flavor of the new dish itself, and how tasty & appealing it looks to those who gather 'round the table :) -- that I often forget to take pictures altogether. Or if I do remember, my camera is no where to be found when culinary inspiration strikes. Or I hastily snap photos as an afterthought.

Don't ask me why, but I just don't really think about taking pictures while I'm cooking. Frankly, it's about the last thing I think about doing. And that's even despite the fact that I've got this recipe blog, & do realize on some level that it would be better to have snazzy photos to match the sometimes overly descriptive verbiage. :)

There's also another factor: When a dish has finished cooking/baking, I'm typically more interested in the serving & eating of it than in hesitating a moment to snap a picture of it. Uh well, yeah. No kidding. :)

At times, it amazes me that I even have the wherewithal to remember to scribble down the recipe. :) The truth is that when creativity strikes, I don't always have a pen or pencil or laptop in the vicinity, let alone a camera. ;)

If it weren't for the fact that I blogged about food & recipes, those original recipes might not ever be recorded for posterity's sake.

Are there any other food bloggers making up original recipes who also go through this? I'm just curious.....


Just a few last thoughts on the above matter:

Since I'm not a professional food photographer, & lack the time & inclination to pursue it as a hobby, I couldn't give a fig about snapping photos. I know I probably should care. Or pretend like I care. But then that wouldn't be the truth. Frankly, I don't aspire to have my recipe pictures appear in Bon Appetit or Food & Wine magazine. (However, I do hope that people will enjoy making & eating the recipes, & realize that an encouragingly attractive photo would probably greatly assist towards that end. :-D )

And, while I've been known to snap a good photo every now & then, this is clearly NOT why I cook. I'm in it for the food. End of story. Sure, good-looking food is part of the appeal & appreciation of food -- but so is the smell & taste of it too. (In fact, in the biological sense, smell is intertwined with our perception of taste. But alas, I digress....)

If I must, I would rather use stock footage (which I often, not-so-secretly do!) or have a helpful onlooker (cough, Erik) take a photo of the dishes during their various phases of creation. This would certainly be very helpful & would make it much easier to remember to do, because then I wouldn't be the kitchen equivalent of a cooking-&-camera-snapping octopus. :)

Or maybe if I hit the bigtime and become a famous chef, then I'd seriously bother with that stuff or hire a professional. However, seeing as how I'm not seeking fame -- although I have enjoyed being a featured chef-blogger on cooking sites for other reasons, it's highly unlikely that any of those scenarios will actually happen. Hehe.


While I acknowledge the media's image obsession -- or should I say the obsession with the perfection of those images, (which to a large extent has also become the public's obsession as well), I just don't want to get too wrapped up in this element. It's dangerous to skate along the surface and forget what's resting just below.

Also, it's imperative to realize that when people -- no matter if they are celebrity chefs or everyday people -- aren't being bathed in the media spotlight (TV, movies, satellite radio, written periodicals, internet, etc.) that they lead real & highly normal lives. Lives which cannot possibly measure up to some unrealistic standard of superficial beauty dictated by some TV show, film, or glossy magazine. Lives which often don't always have the time to snap perfect photos at exactly the right moment.

And that's OK by me. I revel in the beauty of the imperfection of real everyday life. In the kitchen, in the world, in myself, & in others. There is beauty to be found in the living beings of this earth as they are. OK, so sometimes a little "dressage" is helpful, but what I'm getting at is that loving ourselves as we are deep down makes everything around us seem a whole lot nicer too. :) [Personally speaking, in addition to possessing an ample dose of self-esteem, I feel lucky enough to be loved by someone who doesn't care if I were to frighten him in the morning with a sea-green face mask. :) ]

So yes, sometimes, there's going to be some unsightly kitchen chaos. Flying tomato sauce that just so happens to stick to my ceiling & walls. Or messy spatulas with unexpected trajectories. :) And those messy spatulas will undoubtedly be resting on napkins & plates instead of the beautiful ceramic spoon holders safely tucked away in my kitchen drawers, because let's face it -- very much like a camera -- that spoon holder is really sometimes just an imperfect afterthought. But I've accepted it all; it's all part of the creative process. I consider it all a sacrificial offering to the Muse of Recipe Creation. :)

Happy New Year,

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