Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Things we ate over the memorial weekend

Spatchcocked Chicken with Harissa Rub
This is a zesty variation of my basic "chicken in a pot" technique.  Roast chicken can be incredibly easy in four steps:  1) Rub chicken inside and out with desired seasoning  2)  Put chicken in large dutch oven with a lid  3)  Bake chicken low and slow for about 2.5-3 hours  4)  Let rest for 30 min. then eat

It's really really really easy.  And almost impossible to overcook.  Well ok not impossible.  But by baking the chicken at a really low temperature with the lid on, it greatly reduces the risk of dry chicken breast.  

1 5-lb fryer chicken, washed and patted dry (remove them giblets!)
1/2 cup harissa sauce
1 lime
1 handful each of parsley and cilantro tops
1 head garlic

Using hands, separate skin from the chicken meat as much as you can.  Squeeze the juice of the lime into the harissa and rub into the chicken on and underneath the skin.  Chop the tip of the garlic head  off and stuff into the chicken, followed by the herbs.  

Place chicken in a large dutch oven, cover with lid, and refrigerate overnight.  About 3.5 hours before you want to eat the thing, preheat the oven to 250 deg F, place dutch oven with lid still on into oven at middle rack and bake for 2.5-3 hours.  If you like crispy skin, you can remove the oven and broil the bird in the dutch oven at the last 15 minutes of baking.  I don't mind either way so i typically don't bother.  It still tastes great and minimizes the attention i have to spend on it.  

Let rest in the dutch oven for 20-30 minutes before serving.  

Maple Syrup Gelato with Toasted Walnuts
We adapted this recipe from The Ciao Bella Cookbook which you should check out from your local library and make every single recipe from.  I'm experimenting with gelato that's easier on the waistline so i subbed out half of the milk volume with skim milk.  I also cut the sugar by about 15%.  For this recipe, the results were... incredible.

1 cup skim milk
1 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

6 T maple syrup (please please please use real maple syrup.  let aunt jemima find something else to do.  we used some from Burton's Maplewood Farm that kaytie's dad gave us)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped then frozen

Heat skim and whole milk to 175 deg F on medium low, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a large bowl.  Temper the egg yolks by slowly pouring the milk into the large bowl (keep the pot, you'll need it), whisking while pouring.  Return the custard to the pot you heated the milk in and heat on medium-low to 185 deg F.  Cool completely and chill overnight.  

Gently whisk maple syrup into the gelato and pour into ice cream machine.  

Drizzled maple syrup = smoky robinson covered in custard


About 5 minutes before you're done churning, pour the walnuts into the machine.  Transfer gelato to separate container to freeze until set.  Or you could consume the entire thing right there.  It'd be easier than letting it set.  Although I suspect the brain freeze would be murder either way.  

Eat me eat me eat me eat me now

Banana Bread
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t sea salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 + 1/3 cup white sugar
1 cup olive oil (did I??? i did)
4 mashed bananas
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 t vanilla
1 1/2 cups toasted and chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.  Butter and flour 2 loaf pans (9 by 5 by 3 inches), knocking out excess.

Beat together eggs and sugar in electric mixer at medium-high speed until very thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon when beater is lifted, about 10 minutes.  

Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl.  (although really... do we always sift?  i don't know about you but i don't.  and my stuff turns out quite delicious.  well ok, i might get an occassional clump of baking soda but never enough to really bother me.  if you're feeling dangerous, skip this part.  in fact, down with the man!  to hell with the damn sifter, it's your banana bread loaf)

Reduce mixer speed to low and add oil in a slow stream, then add bananas, milk, and vanilla.  

Egg-banana-milk-vanilla mixture
Add dry ingredients and walnuts to egg mixture (you may need a bigger bowl), folding gently as you mix to ensure you don't knock out the air holes too much.  (this is another point where you can really just not care if you lose an air hole or two...  really, it'll taste fantastic either way.  just give it a shot at being careful and then count it as perfect.)

Divide batter between loaf pans and bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 1 to 1.25 hours.  I used a steak knife.

Cool loaves in pans on a rack for 10 minutes then turn out onto rack.

Enjoy a fresh cup of coffee with this bread.  I suggest this:  Chemex Coffee Maker

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Red Wine Tomato Sauce
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti pasta
2 T olive oil
1 medium or 1/2 large onion, 1/4" dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup green olives, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 can crushed tomatoes
3-4 cups leftover roast or rotisserie

Heat a large pot of salted water for the pasta. 

Meanwhile, sautee onion in olive oil on medium heat until translucent and brown.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute then add wine, olives, and bay leaf.  Cook for 3-5 minutes to burn off alcohol then add tomatoes and chicken and simmer for 10 minutes on medium low.  

Boil pasta to al dente then add directly to sauce.  Serve with grated cheese.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Things I've been eating - 5.20.12

From greece to spain to north africa all in one bite.
Zena Foods has a stand at the farmers market in Carmichael park.  This stand has sauces and dips spanning over the entire eastern half of the planet from tsatski to harissa.  The vendor had us try a piece of pita with a sundried tomato and feta salad sprinkled on top of a spoonful of tabouleh.  We couldn't say no.  I also bought a container of harissa which i plan on mixing with a bit of mayo for a chicken lavash wrap tomorrow night.  

At home, we opened up the containers and I took things one step further by adding a dollop of harissa on top of the whole pile.  So many flavors.

I think their stand is at the carmichael park market every sunday.  Five bucks for a container of wonder.  Not a bad deal at all.  Esp. the feta salad.  

Masullo Pizza
You should check this place out on google maps:  http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=17796071621744584221&q=masullo+sacramento+coupon&gl=us&cd=1&cad=src:ppiwlink&ei=QWW5T_niJoaspQTZn5noBg&dtab=2

You're driving down the street looking for this place and then suddenly hey what?  there it goes.  turn around and try to find a parking spot in front of the restaurant, which seems more like a sidewalk than a lot.

Anyways, my favorite style of pizza is Neapolitan style crusts.  These are thin crusts that flop over when held from the rim.  The toppings were great but what really got me was the quality of the pizza crust.  Very lightly chewy with a subtle tanginess.  Oh did i mention they use a real firewood oven here?  Not a brick oven that is made to look like firewood but is really just gas.  Real wood fire.  The char on the pizza crust was a refreshing wake-up.

If you enjoy Neapolitan style pizzas, you should give it a shot.  $14-16 a pizza.  Definitely one per person so it's a bit pricey.  However, i think a great deal for an impressive place for a date.  If the later, I might recommend avoiding the one with anchovies.  However if your date doesn't mind, you really should try it.  And if your date doesn't mind garlic and anchoivies, you know that's a big plus.

Olives, red onion, fontina topped with a parsley - anchovy blend

Oyster mushrooms, bacon, and chopped sage with a very light cream sauce

There was also a red sauce pizza but by the time it got to the table i didn't care enough to take pictures.  Also, while it was very good, it didn't hold my attention like these two.

Pizza.  It starts with the crust.  You can get tasty toppings anywhere.  What's difficult is finding quality crust.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lemon Risotto w/ Mushrooms, Bacon, and Spring Peas

I was packing up floral arrangements at the memorial service for Kaytie's late mom when I was approached by someone who said she heard I enjoy cooking.  After I told her that I tend to lean towards Italian and French ideas:

"What?!?  It should be Asian!"

(I don't feel I need to explain how offensive this was - even more so because she wasn't Asian of any sort)

"Sorry... I mean I grew up eating asian foods so i'm pretty familiar wit..."

"But you really should be cooking more Japanese dishes!  It's your culture!"

(I'm chinese)

I stopped emotionally listening to her after that.  I was offended although not entirely upset.  I grew up answering to a lot of asian stereotype demands from my classmates and friends.  It wasn't until high school that people stopped reacting when discovering I, in fact, do not have a black belt in karate (again, i'm chinese) nor do i know how to speak chinese.  It wasn't often that i was given a chance to explain that I did, in fact, grow up very chinese and that I didn't need to be well-versed in Japanese martial arts to qualify as chinese.  

I remember after a few more uh-huhs and yups, she left and I began thinking of risotto.  It's not exactly the set-it-and-forget-it dish but one of my favorites to make.  I think risotto is often misunderstood as too fancy or too much effort.  I love it because it really is simple to make and far, far, far worth the effort.  Oh and since it's really just a rice-based dish, it can actually be very cost effective.  

Risotto is made with a special type of rice, most commonly found in America would be the arborio variety.  This has a very clean, even texture compared to the other, less well known varieties that can range from nutty and to nearly melt-in-your-mouth.  For classic risotto, you want your rice to be soft but firm, like you would expect from cooked beans.  Not mushy, not crunchy (although in some italian recipes I've read the cook actually preferring the center of the rice grains to still be a tiny bit crunchy... and i very much share that preference).  

Here's the basic drill:  Heat a pot of salted / flavored water (four parts liquid to one part raw rice).  In another pot, sautee some onion and the rice grains in a fat (any oil or butter, i prefer olive oil).  Then from here, add the heated liquid in one cup increments, stirring until fully absorbed each time.  On the last cup of liquid, add some cheese and stir with a whisk to form the luxuriously creamy texture that risotto is known for.  It's important to stir the crap out of the dish because risotto-rice actually contains a variety of gluten that  is similiar to wheat gluten.  The aggressive stirring effectively kneads the risotto, causing the rice to release it's gluten that thickens and forms a silky texture that is kept interesting with the subtle firm texture of the rice grains.  

I typically prefer lighter risotto.  Ettore's in Fair Oaks has an excellent risotto that matches my tastes.  Maybe it's because i grew up in California and not italy.  I don't know.  Either way I typically omit butter in my risotto.  Sometimes I'll even omit the cheese, although I recognize that's a greater break from tradition.  And again, I prefer my risotto with a itty bitty, subtle crunch.  This allows leftovers to resist becoming overly mushy as the rice cooks a second time when you reheat.  

Lemon Risotto w/ Mushrooms, Bacon, and Spring Peas

8 cups water or broth (in cold weather i go for broth, in hot weather i prefer water)
2 cups arborio rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lemon's worth of juice and zest, chopped
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded (you can get a great deal on a chunk of grana padano at costco, actually)

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced thick or quartered
1/2 pounds bacon, diced
2 pounds spring snap peas, shelled

Chopped parsley to taste
Pour the water / broth into a pot and put on the backburner.  Heat to a gentle simmer and then maintain on low heat.  

While this is heating, sautee bacon in a fry pan until just a bit crispy and you have some bacon fat rendered in the pot.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl, leaving some of the bacon fat in the pan.  Sautee the spring peas in this bacon fat for 1.5 minutes... just enough to cook them but retaining a firm texture.  Transfer to the bowl with the bacon, wipe the pot clean with a paper towel, add some olive oil, and sautee the mushrooms until they just begin to give off their water.  Transfer to a bowl, add the lemon zest you saved from the lemon, and stir.  Set aside for folding into the risotto at the end.

Heat olive oil, sautee onion until translucent, add rice and sautee for one minute.  

Add lemon juice and 1 cup of water to rice and stir until fully absorbed.  From here add 1 cup of water/broth at a time, gently stirring often until absorbed.  When it looks like you have about 2 cups of liquid left in your stock pot, begin tasting the risotto.  You're looking for the rice to still have just a bit of crunch... you should burn through about 6-7 cups of liquid to get to this point.  Add one last cup of liquid and the shredded cheese.  Stir fast and aggressive.  You're developing the gluten in the risotto with this step to create  the silky texture this dish is known for.  You can add a pat of butter at this stage too if you want but i typically leave it out as I prefer a lighter dish.

Fold in the mushroom / pea mixture and chopped parsley and add salt / pepper to taste.  

Eat with warm whole wheat rolls.  Or just eat this.  It's incredible. 

Lemony, earthy mushrooms, smoky bacon, and fresh peas.  

This food helps me feel alive.

Risotto!  If you haven't tried it yet, try it.  It's worth it.  You're worth it.

If you have tried it, get a recipe and cook it again.  You're worth it.

Celebrate spring!  Wait, it's summer.

Celebrate summer!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

thank you, rick warren

NPR - Fake Food: That's Not Kobe Beef You're Eating

This is a long one.  It's raw.  Sorry it goes on for a while but it's the kind of story that needs time.

I have that Christian stereotype of looking down on mega churches as watered down and impossible to find true connection in.  I consider myself above celebrity-pastors, as if somehow i knew some secret no one else knew and that made me cooler.  It's a struggle for me to take mega-churches seriously.

I owe my life to Jesus.  I also owe my life to Rick Warren.  Through Jesus, obviously.  But if it weren't for Saddleback church, I would not be a Christian today.

There was someone I dated a while back who, during the course of the rocky-relationship, cheated on me three different times.  And these were not "had a cup of coffee with someone else" sort of things.  It was the full on "cheat", if you know what i mean.  Now, I wasn't a christian at the time and while she did grow up in the church, I was not seeing much restraint in her actions, thoughts, and beliefs.  To us, at that time, all things were not only permissible, but probably should be done on a daily basis.

However, because she grew up going to church, that meant that her parents were (want to say are but it's been so long since i don't know) Christians too.  Which meant there was a certain level of expectation required of our behavior.  That meant we were forgiving people who hurt us.  And we were not getting drunk.  And we voted republican, or at the very least, wished Ronald Reagan was still in office.  And we were not having sex.

We were a bitter people who thought ourselves better than most.  We drank nightly and often drove home still very drunk.  As for the politics, well, lets just say we didn't really think about Reagan that much.  And purity was not a high point in our relationship.

There was that expectation from her parents though and while she went to school at UC Berkeley her parents lived in Orange County so during her visits home, sunday was church day.

Here I will mention that this is a turning point in my life:
Up until this point in my life, I had never attended church before.
And until then, I had no idea what real Christians looked like.  Acted like.  Smelled like.  Ate like.  you name it.
At that time, my entire worldview of Christians was formed from movies and TV shows like "Boondock Saints" or "American Pie"  (yes, I know the latter has no reference to Christianity, that's the point)

Through trying to live up to the expectations of her parents,
I attended church for the first time in my life.

And I loved it.

Did I mention what church her parents went to?  Saddleback church in Orange County.  I remember during one of the "mingle" sessions, Rick Warren appeared out of nowhere and personally shook my hand and said, and I quote from memory because it forever burned in my mind, "I don't think I've met you yet.  How are you?"

Out of a crowd of 5,000, Rick approached me because i was new.  We talked for nearly several minutes.  At that time i had no idea how big Rick is in the American Christian world but all I knew was the leader of this ginormous church was spending a long time getting to know me.  I was conflicted because the pessimism in me figured the parents probably approached him and alerted him that I am new and they would really appreciate it if he talked to me because I really needed Jesus.

The other part of me did really give a crap what his reasons were but was hungry.  I didn't care because he cared and that was enough.  I didn't know that there were a type of stranger that genuinely did not want to rob or hurt me but rather to care for me.  I didn't care that within a crowd of 5,000 I was just a number.

He made me feel significant.  Cared for.  Counted.  Prayed for.
To a non-Christian, that meant something even if I didn't want to admit it.

Although i'm not totally comfortable with it, we now need to turn back to purity in the relationship.  I'm not proud of it and it still hurts like an old wound to admit it, but we were having sex.  It made me feel significant.  Cared for. Counted.  But each time, it left me feeling empty.  Tired.  Hungrier.  Thirstier.  At that time, however, feeling meant more and so, like an addict, I needed that short fix to fill the growing void in my soul.  Each time it happened this hole grew larger, as if each time I took a piece of my soul and threw it into a deep, dark hole.  But I desperately craved that short fix.  And so this went on for a while.

And then the cheating started happening.

When you give up purity, you expose yourself to deep, deep hurt.  Purity is dependable.  It's a foundation that we need to count on.  Chloe needs to grow up under the purity of a healthy, God-designed marriage.

Purity is staying within the limits of what something was designed for.  Hurting that purity is like speeding on the road.  You have the thrill of getting somewhere faster until one day you hit someone.  And then we scratch our heads and think "maybe if I was just more aware, I could still run those red lights".

And when you veer from the limits of design, you expose yourself to incredible hurt.  Because you choose to ignore what was put in place to protect you.  The speed limits are there to protect you.  If you drive faster than the speed limit, you put yourself and others at incredible risk so that you can have things your way.

We were having sex because we wanted things our way.  It still hurts to say that.  It still hurts because, each time she cheated on me I forgave her.

See the thing is, with each time I went to Saddleback church with her and her parents, something was stirring inside of me.  I identified with what Rick Warren would preach so strongly it shook awake parts of me that were previously dead.

Each time I gave up my purity for control, a part of me died.

Each Sunday I spent at church, a part of me came back to life.  But would emerge different.  Changed.  Awake.

I began forgiving my ex-girlfriend each time she cheated on me because I began understanding that the world needs forgiveness.  Everything as we know it would collapse into anarchy if we, as a species, could not forgive each other for our mistakes.  So each time, I forgave her. Three times.

And then after the third time, we got engaged.

And four months into the engagement she told me that she had been seeing a guy for the past year and was leaving me for him.  She called to tell me that because she didn't want me to find out on my own and get hurt.  

What happens when you find out the truth?  How easy is it to forgive and to move on?
If you knew that it's 95% unlikely that you will ever find true kobe beef in America, would you still order and pay for kobe beef over regular beef?  Should you?  I mean, if you found out this whole time you were being ripped off, should you still order kobe beef?

After the breakup, I stopped going to Saddleback church because I didn't see her parents any  longer and thus did not need to meet any parental expectations on Sunday.  Instead I drank heavily and took up smoking.  I became reclusive and very, very bitter.  I began drinking, hoping that I might die from overdose but not having the guts to actually commit suicide.

Funny thing though was that all those Sundays I spent at Saddleback church created something in me that didn't die.  The rest of  me was very much dead.  Very much dead.  This light, however, was no longer restrained by my stubbornness and pride and arrogance and all those things that formed my ego.  It was free to grow.

I knew that I couldn't live the rest of my life in bitterness.  And I began not wanting to die.

Thanks to Rick Warren.  Thanks to the mega church Saddleback.  Thanks to the ex's parental expectations.

That's when I started following Jesus.