Cravings

What’s the Deal with Spam?

We do not eat Spam. We eat fast food burgers and hot dogs from street carts at 2:00 AM, but we do not eat Spam. Spam is for weirdos…..what’s it made out of, anyway? Eating Spam would destroy my reputation.

What if I told you Spam is delicious?

First, open the can….you don’t even need a can opener. Break the seal and slide it out (this is not sexual at all – trust)….in this moment your entire existence will change. This is the moment you decide who you are….there is no “reset” button. Now look. The reason we “don’t eat Spam,” is because Spam doesn’t play by the rules. We don’t know what’s in it. It comes in a can. It’s processed. It’s strange.

Why?

It’s found all over Hawai’i. It’s found all over the world. In 2007, seventy years after its inception by Hormel, the 7-billionth can was sold.

I’m serious! You can go on and on (and on) about how you “don’t get” Spam. That doesn’t change the fact that 30% of American households consume it on a regular basis. The highest per-capita consumption is in Hawai’i, but that makes sense, considering it was developed by local Japanese residents during World War II to be used by American troops. The large military presence in Hawai’i cemented its use after the conclusion of the war.

Its most common use is in Spam Musubi.

musubi – (Japanese) a rice ball wrapped in nori, usually with some kind of filling – usually something salty

Wait! Don’t pack up and leave yet. Go to Amazon and purchase a Spam Musubi mold for between $4-6 if you don’t have one. (I’m assuming you don’t, since you’re most likely reading this post with moderately perturbed curiosity, unless you’re a member of my family.)  If you don’t like this recipe, you can use this mold for other Japanese sushi rice cooking endeavors. Try it.

A basic teriyaki sauce consists of equal ratios of soy sauce and sugar (i.e. 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for every 1 tablespoon of sugar, for those of you not used to talking in ratios,) and you’re going to use this magical unicorn sauce principle to make Spam taste delicious. This isn’t about ego, this is about you experiencing a simple, onolicious flavor that’s da kine, bro. I don’t have time to explain what “da kine” means, because I’m too occupied trying to get you to try Spam. Google it after this.

Onolicious Spam Musubi

STEP 1: Prepare steamed white rice. (I use a rice cooker. You may use the stove. Tomato. Tomaahto.)

STEP 2: Remove Spam from can and slice lengthwise into 8 pieces.

STEP 3: Heat a few tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is warm – NOT smoking – add the Spam slices and sprinkle sugar on top. Cook, flipping occasionally, until caramelized on both sides. Remove with a spatula and drain on a paper towel.

ASSEMBLE: Lay out 1/2 sheet of nori (that’s the dry seaweed sold in the red bag in the international section, for those of you without access to a Japanese market) and place the musubi mold on top. Fill the mold with rice, a singular cooked Spam slice, and more rice. (Don’t overstuff the mold, or your musubi will fall apart.) Press the top of the mold down to compact the rice and spam. Wrap the seaweed around the finished pressed filling.

007

I know what you’re hesitation is. I honestly do, but you’re doing the right thing. Trust.

Chocolate. Cake.

Once upon a “second time around,” (and I really do mean the second time around, since I completely destroyed the first cake batter), in a mythical land between “rich” and “too dense to handle,” a mere mortal pulled a chocolate cake from the oven. It was perfect. I felt like Hozier playing lead guitar for Annie Lennox at the 2015 Grammys.

Entering my equivalent of hell….baking. Say what you will of the stigma associated with designer boxes of cake mix, they work the same way every single time. Yesterday afternoon, I got to thinking about cravings and desserts – cookies, ice cream, cake, frozen yogurt….are they really mutually exclusive when what we want is anything made with chocolate? We seem to feel a desperate need to pick a favorite chocolate dessert to explain the random hopelessness that is staring into a full pastry display case. Usually, we choose for the sake of variety. Eating too much of the same thing weighs on the palate and nerves. After what seems like an eternal internal monologue of “I’m not really a brownie person,” we suddenly realize we’re nervous about committing to the slice of chocolate cake. Will the dessert gods smile and relieve us of guilt? Or will we sigh and grab a bottle of water and a Be Kind bar? (Not to hate on the Be Kind brand, because those things are definitely responsible for 15% of my existence.)

I put little stock in the idea of “the perfect chocolate dessert,” but I have a very strong belief in searching for the perfect chocolate cake.

Never mind that when the first cake was in the oven, I realized I’d forgotten 2 of the 3 liquid elements and vanilla extract. It was the sort of scenario I have nightmares about: the equivalent of Jack Dawson freezing to death and sinking off that piece of the Titanic into the ocean, while I’m in my seat yelling at Rose that “Myth Busters” proved there was plenty of room for both of them.

Speaking of mythology, in every myth, there comes a point where the tragic hero is given a test. Unfortunately, the way this hero responds does not determine their ultimate fate, because the tragic hero is doomed to be benefited and limited by their super-ability for all eternity.

I didn’t want my cake to become urban myth content, so I started over. Everyone in my apartment must have heard me swearing and banging just-washed mixing bowls around.

It was worth it.

Chocolate Blackout Cake

For an 8-inch cake pan (I experimented with both round and square, so you’re covered boo.)

  • 1 and 1/2 sticks Unsalted Butter, diced
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 3 large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Mayonnaise (Don’t question it. Just use it. Your cake will stay moist and be spoon-tender.)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • A large pinch of Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 cup Low-Fat Buttermilk (It’s in the dairy section, I promise.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees and grease whatever pan you’re planning on using.

(If you have a stand/hand-mixer or immersion blender whisk attachment, this next step will work much more efficiently. A whisk works just as well, but it will take more elbow grease.) Combine the butter and sugar together until a thick paste forms and no butter lumps remain – it will look like frosting-in-a-can. Don’t fret, you’re not reading the wrong recipe. Cake is coming.

Add the eggs one-at-a-time, whisking thoroughly after adding each egg. Remember to scrape the side of the bowl! Add the mayonnaise and vanilla, and whisk again.

In a separate bowl: Combine the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Sprinkle a large pinch of Kosher Salt over the top – you can’t have sweet without some salt. Gradually add this flour mixture to the egg mixture (Add, Whisk, Add, Whisk, Add, Whisk. This process should have three-ish parts to it.) Pour in the buttermilk and whisk together.
Pour batter into greased cake pan and bake for 27-30 minutes-ish, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.Cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. To complete the blackout cake process, pour Easiest Chocolate Ganache Ever over the top, recipe below.

Easiest Chocolate Ganache Ever

Heat 1 small container (the itty-bitty-one that only looks like, 1 cup) heavy whipping cream in a saucepan over Medium Heat until simmering. Pour 8 ounces (the standard Nestle bags are usually 10 ounces) dark chocolate chips into a heat-proof bowl (that means glass, y’all). Put out 1 tablespoon unsalted butter to warm to room temperature.Once the milk is simmering, pour over the chocolate chips and let stand (seriously, don’t do anything, or I’ll cut you) for five-ish minutes or until the chips are melted. Stir in the room-temperature butter until the ganache looks like something out of a sexual fantasy. Pour over cake, ice cream, brownies, etc.

chocolate blackout cake

Do I need to caption this? Come on.

 

Turn to Popcorn

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating, there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”          – John Ruskin

It’s finally raining in Los Angeles.

We need it. Farmers need it. The reservoirs need it. Everything needs it. What we don’t need is the increased traffic, subsequent automobile accidents, and everyone coughing, sneezing, and shivering.

Meanwhile, life needs to go on the way it does in every other part of the world that has ever experienced rainfall. I stare forlornly out of the shower window and fight with my Lazy Girl urge to call in sick. (Yes, there’s a window in my shower. It has a great view of a wall.) Don’t worry Mom, Dad, and employers of the word. I’ve never called in fake sick for ANYTHING. I’m too concerned about my karmic cosmic balance kicking me in the face at an inopportune time.

Although not a bad alternative, there are only so many coffees and delivery containers of Hot and Sour Soup I can go through before I start staring forlornly out of the window again. In my world, rainy days are an ideal time for popcorn. Have it curled up under a blanket with some sort of movie or TV marathon on, or eat it at your work desk while skimming through Business Insider and Buzzfeed on your ten minute break.

Popcorn is an ancient variety of comfort food. I’m talking 3600 BCE in what is now New Mexico ancient. Maybe even 4700 BCE in Peru ancient. Don’t believe the hype that English settlers learned about popcorn from Native Americans. There is no evidence to suggest that popping corn grew in New England during the colonial period.

Popcorn mania began during the Great Depression and World War II, when farmers struggling for cash supplied it to purveyors who sold it for 5 to 10 cents a bag. (It also helped that candy production was focused on making products like M&Ms to send to the boys in the trenches overseas, but that’s another history lesson for another time.)

Also, if I haven’t been clear, I’m referring to the type of popping corn made on the stovetop and in over-priced (but still badass and cravable) popcorn machines. It’s easy to make, but remember to keep an eye on the heat. If the heat is too high, the outer layers of the popcorn break too early (burned/scalded popcorn or popcorn with a hard texture.) If the heat is too low, the pressure inside the kernel won’t increase enough to pop.

Oh, calm down. It’s easy. Plus now you’ll get to see what all those gourmet varieties of popcorn are about (although I’m pretty devoted to my name-brand Orville Redenbacher.)

Popcorn Instructions:

Heat a few tablespoons (enough to cover the bottom of the pot) of extra virgin olive oil or butter in a large pot over medium heat. Throw 3 individual popcorn kernels and cover the pot, leaving a small crack for steam to escape. Once all 3 kernels have popped, pour in 1/2 cup of popcorn, and tilt the pot to spread the kernels around evenly. Re-cover the pot, leaving a small crack for steam to escape again.

Now listen for the magic. The same rules for microwave popcorn apply to stovetop popcorn – 1 or 2 seconds between pops (“One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand”) means the popcorn is done.

Pour the popcorn into a bowl and season to taste with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, salt/truffle salt/garlic salt/various other toppings.

Now, your only mission is to eat the entire bowl in one sitting.

Popcorn

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie: A Ridiculous Rhyme and A Legacy Recipe

First, a poem I composed while drinking wine and packing for my Thanksgiving flight up north.

‘Twas the day before Thanksgiving, and all through the house
The scent of ground cinnamon saturated my hair and my blouse;
My apron and sweater hung forgotten in the corner;
My prep list was making me wish I were a foreigner;
A disposable pie tin nestled all snug in its plastic,
While visions of burnt crust made my task unenthusiastic;
With Jay-Z, Cher, and Blink-182 on shuffle,
I was ready to settle for buying a Godiva truffle (or twelve);
When out in the living room there arose such a sound,
It was my cell phone – as always – bringing me something profound;
An e-mail from my mother pops up with a flash,
Calming me just before my teeth started to gnash;
The recipe for my late Grandmother’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie,
Was enough to make me heave a relieved sigh;
Losing her this year is still raw and I miss her so dearly,
Maybe by making her pie – my favorite growing up – I’ll be able to feel her presence clearly;
It’s simple enough – nothing strange or profound,
And all my holiday memories are full of me eating slices by the pound;
More rapid than eagles my inspiration came about,
Enough to rid my mind of any shadow of a doubt;
It’s pie crust, and filling, and a meringue, to boot,
The directions so simple, there couldn’t be a more clear route.

For my Grandmother, who laughed at my foolishness and never complained.

 

I apologize for the ridiculous rhyme. It’s my first Thanksgiving without my maternal Grandmother, the classic iteration of a Japanese-American farm matriarch, and I’m not quite ready or certain about what to write. The fact that I’m making the pie always associated with her – she made it last year, with the exception of the crust, since the arthritis in her hands made her unable to roll out the dough – hasn’t fully absorbed yet.

I’m tearing up, and I haven’t even written the recipe yet. Just know that this is copied almost directly from an ancient edition (1950s or earlier) of a Betty Crocker/Better Homes and Gardens/equivalent recipe book. The pie crust recipe is a combination of various experiments, and doesn’t include directions for a food-processor, since my Grandmother couldn’t afford one.

This is the lightest pumpkin pie I have ever had, and probably have yet to have.

My Grandmother’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

For The Crust (9″):

Don’t freak out at the weight measurements! Those proportions come from the incomparable pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, who believes measuring cups are for sandcastles when it comes to baking. (Buy his shirt at Flavour Gallery if you agree.)

  • 1 and 1/4 cup (200 g) All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 g) Cold Unsalted Butter – Cut in Cubes
  • 3 tablespoons Ice Water

Combine the dry ingredients with the cold butter – use your hands, get dirty – until it becomes the size of small peas/coarse meal. Add the ice water and knead lightly until the dough becomes a ball. Pat the dough into a round disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for 1 hour.

Once the dough is chilled, roll out to your liking. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until light golden brown.

For the Pie Filling:

  • 1 envelope Unflavored Gelatin
  • 2/3 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • 1 and 1/4 cup Pumpkin (use Libby’s. Make life easier on yourself. Besides, any other variety will use a lower quality squash and not actual pumpkin.)
  • 3 Eggs – Whites and Yolks Separated and Saved
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 3/8 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
  • 1/2 cup Sugar

In a saucepan, combine the gelatin, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, pumpkin, egg yolks, and milk over Medium Heat until it just starts to boil. Let cool.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until frothy, then beat in the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (You’ll feel it get difficult to mix.)

Fold the egg white mixture into the pumpkin mixture and pour into the baked pie crust. Cool for at least three hours.

No whipped cream necessary for enjoyment.

Pumpkin Pie

Back to the Beginning: Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Dough

“The universe is hilarious! Like, Venus is 900 degrees. I could tell you it melts lead. But that’s not as fun as saying, ‘You can cook a pizza on the windowsill in nine seconds.’ ”          -Neil deGrasse Tyson

Is there a guilty pleasure more well-rounded than pizza? Not the cauliflower or whole-grain or pita crust type. The type of pizza you order in the personal size after you’ve had a bad day, when the warmth of the box on your lap fuses with the glow of your favorite television show. The type of pizza that comes in a “jumbo” size that sits open on a coffee table while you and a group of four friends are playing Mario Kart, the latest edition of FIFA, or Borderlands.

Don’t get it twisted. Pizza is a beautiful thing, but the combination of bread (low in nutrients, full of blood-sugar-spiking glucose, bloat-causing, you know the stuff), cheese (saturated fat), and potentially some form of red meat (sorry vegetarians and vegans) isn’t the wisest one as far as various nutritionists are concerned.

Yes, I comprehend that the basic ingredients needed to make a pizza have the potential to be less-unhealthy and full of clean-eating-good-karma. I also comprehend that the amount and type of cheese, processed meat toppings, and amount of pizza consumed in one sitting also contribute to diet-busting. I fully realize that making a healthy pizza is possible. I just chose not to do that.

I’m not going to get into a discussion analyzing what went into this pizza besides the dough. I refuse. Pizza toppings and condiments are enough to inspire arguments, and the choice between swallowing glass versus discussing the pros and cons of pizza crust iterations is an easy one for me. After this post goes public, I welcome combinations of cheese, toppings, and condiments from all walks of life. I’m an equal-opportunity pizza eater, as long as my crust isn’t burnt.

When I was in middle school, my mother’s boss hosted an office party. The brick pizza oven imported brick-by-brick from Italy was the centerpiece of his backyard. He’s a nice gentleman, but very intimidating. Growing up, I always shied away from him behind my mother’s skirts when he attempted conversation during my in-office visits. At this party, I lingered transfixed on the edge of adult conversation I didn’t understand. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pizza dough being kneaded and tossed into the air. I couldn’t believe this man with flour on his t-shirt and glass of beer in hand joking with those around him was the same person I’d been scared of. Pizza has a way of making whoever is preparing it look jovial and festive.

The idea of making my own pizza dough always appealed to me, but I had a strange mental block about working with active dry yeast. In many ways, I still do, but cooking with a glass of wine next to me alleviates that stress long enough to be productive.

Wolfgang Puck’s recipe and methodology saved me with this one. I recommend having a friend over to help you (thanks Saylor, love you girl) so you can make all sorts of inappropriate jokes about yeast and balls. Sexuality aside, pizza dough made from scratch is equivalent to a small child. Take it seriously, or things will get messy and annoying. Remember, yeast is a living thing.

Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

  • 1 package Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Honey (I used Buckwheat Honey)
  • 1 cup warm (105 – 115 degrees F) water
  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Don’t be too proud to use a stick thermometer. Remember, the yeast will die and you will fail miserably in your task if the water is too hot.

Heat water in a kettle or on the stove until the temperature reaches 105-115 degrees F. Any warmer than this, and the yeast you are trying to wake up and activate will die.

Once the water is the correct temperature, dissolve 1 package of active dry yeast in 1/4 cup of the water with 1 teaspoon of honey. (The honey gives the yeast something to eat when it wakes up. It’s alive like Frankenstein’s monster, guys. Treat it with respect.) Let the yeast dissolve for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes have passed, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 3/4 cup of water (still in that 105-115 degrees F range), and the yeast mixture together until it barely forms a dough-like substance. Turn the dough onto a work surface sprinkled with flour (make sure there’s plenty of flour on your hands, as well) and knead in the remaining 2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Put the dough in some sort of vessel (a large bowl) and cover with a damp towel/washcloth and let rise for 30 minutes to 2 hours. (Yes, 2 hours. This is why a friend coming over to help you with this is helpful.)

Pizza Dough

It started at approximately 1/3 this size. Who said playing with yeast wasn’t fun? Wait….

After the dough has suitably risen, turn it back onto the floured work surface and pat it down with your hands. Yes, deflate it. I know you’re incredibly proud of your hard work, but just do it.

Quarter the dough, and divide it into 4 balls. (Make as many inappropriate jokes as you like.) Pull down the sides of the dough balls (this just keeps getting worse) and tuck the dough under itself 4 or 5 times until it is smooth and firm. Cover with a damp towel/washcloth and let rest for 1 hour.

Pizza Balls

Direct Quote: “When I grow up, I’m going to teach my children all about these balls.”

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let chill for 24 hours.

To Make the Dough Into Pizza:

Heat your oven to 500 degrees. (If you’ve got a pizza stone, use it. If not, sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet to make sure the dough crisps up properly.)

Stretch 1 ball of dough into a 12-inch round (or something close to round) pizza shape. Leave a 1/2-inch border for the crust, regardless of what toppings you put on. The general rule of thumb for things not getting too soggy is 1/2 cup sauce for every 3-ounces of cheese. I can’t be more specific than that at this time, because I’m too busy getting excited over all the dough I have to experiment with this week.

Play around. Have fun with it. It’s PIZZA, for crying out loud.

Pizza Puck

So I missed the “round” memo, which makes this pizza look like a diorama of the Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was delicious.

“Baby’s First Curry” Has a Better Ring to It than “Baby’s First Steps”

The first time I had curry and remembered it was at a Japanese restaurant I frequented growing up in Sacramento. A new collaborative chef-partner revised the menu after I left for college. While home for a visit and out to dinner with friends, I randomly selected one of the new dishes to try. My initial reaction was to look around in shock, my eyes widened and most likely dilated. “Guys, this is f**king perfect. I’m serious,” I said.

After that, I didn’t speak very much. I was too busy shoveling as much curry as possible into my mouth like a truck driver. The restaurant in question passed to new ownership last year. This broke my heart, but I’ll always have my spicy and creamy memories.

Do not fret. I won’t get on a plane and leave you without giving you this curry recipe. I’d regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life.

My preference for curry exploded during my senior undergraduate year. A conservative estimate is that I ordered or ate curry out once every other week. I’ve calmed down about various combinations of garam masala, coconut milk, tamarind, ginger, chilis, papadum, sambal, etc. from various parts of South Asia, but this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped imbibing occasionally. On the rare irksome day where I come home and the thought of cooking fills me with anxiety, I will inevitably roll lazily to my computer, where curry is only a few clicks away.

The title of this post is deceptive, because I’ve actually attempted making my own curry several times; usually when I look at charges made to my card, and realize that I could probably figure out how to satisfy my own craving.

Curry is a difficult thing to execute correctly. The spicy, sweet, creamy, and crisp stars all need to align into a gorgeous constellation of flavor. This isn’t an easy task to accomplish. Unless perfection is staring you straight in the face, you’ve failed miserably and should run along and play with other toys for awhile.

I still want to refine this recipe, but it’s the closest to a restaurant love-affair with a curry recipe I’ve ever gotten. The original proportions for the curry paste came from the Foot Network website, but the vegetables and methodology have been revised considerably to suit my kitchen.

Almost-A-Love-Affair Green Curry

Ingredients:

  • Green Beans
  • Small Purple Potatoes
  • Broccoli Florets
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 bunch Cilantro, roughly chopped (No that’s not an error. Use the ENTIRE bunch.)
  • Fresh Ginger, roughly chopped – I used a piece that was the size of my two thumbs held together
  • 1 Jalapeno, seeded
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 Lime’s-worth of Juice
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
  • 1 cup Unsweetened Condensed Coconut Milk – Yes, the kind from a can, guys.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil over High heat. When the water boils, add a large pinch of salt. Throw in the potatoes and let summer for 5-ish minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, toast the cumin and coriander in a tiny (as tiny as they make them) skillet over medium heat. When you can actively smell the spices without trying too hard, they’re ready.

Blend the toasted spices, cilantro, ginger, jalapeno, garlic, onion, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of water until a thick paste forms. This is your curry paste (duh.)

Throw the broccoli into the boiling water and cook for 1-ish minutes. Stir in the green beans and let them cook for another minute. Drain the vegetables (careful of the boiling water and steam, I accept no responsibility for you inadvertently scalding yourself) and put them back into the pot.

Pour in the vegetable stock, coconut milk, and 3 tablespoons of the prepared curry paste from the blender. Bring everything to a simmer, then serve over steamed rice or coconut rice.

Green Curry

Try not to shove your face into the bowl. I know it’s tempting.

A Pitcher is a Single Serving, Right? P.S. This Cocktail Tastes Like Iced Coffee

Trivia: Two Mondays ago, it was National Coffee Day.

In preparation for this momentous occasion, I figured I would combine the taste of two favorites: coffee and alcohol.

Trivia: 57% of coffee drinkers add some sort of sweetener to their drink.
I am not one of those people. I like my coffee beverages the way I like my soul, my men, my women and my humor. Don’t analyze that sentence with the stereotypical ending, either. Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, suffice to say I understand the desire of most female coffee (and alcohol) drinkers for something sweet.

Make that, I had bangs until age 20.

Trivia: Between 20% and 30% of coffee sales are comprised of flavored coffees (i.e. chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, and cinnamon).

This is based on a recipe torn from inside “Cosmopolitan.” I shifted things around a bit, with feedback from one of my girlfriends, who came over this weekend for a day of cocktail experimenting, pizza-dough making, and film-noir watching. (By the way, films from 1948 have amazing “Is it Good or Is It Bad?” pick-up lines, despite their lack of cultural variety.) Don’t worry, the pizza dough recipe is coming later this week.

The original magazine tear-out called for half-and-half. While shopping for ingredients, I pulled a small carton of fat-free half-and-half, because I wanted to be mindful of the figure-conscious ladies who read this blog. (Thanks for sticking around through the numerous bacon mentions, by the way. You girls rock.) My verdict? It tastes disgusting, and coated my tongue more thoroughly than heavy cream. While searching for ingredient alternatives and cross-referencing other “coffee-tasting dessert cocktails,” I noticed how many after-dinner drinks are dairy-based. Not so much fun for people like my Mother, Aunts, or the 65% of the population who identify as Lactose-Intolerant. Raise your hand if you order your Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peets, or anything in-between/indie with almond milk, since soy milk has the major-estrogen-it’s-actually-bad-for-you-if-you-drink-it-every-day thing going on. That’s what I thought.

Using almond milk turned out to be a phenomenal solution. Counter-intuitively, it mellows out the sweetness from the Kahlua. Add one of those hyper-feminine flavored rims, and your adult quasi-iced coffee/quasi-chocolate milk is served.

Iced Coffee Cocktail (for one, double the proportions for two if you’ve already had one on an empty stomach)

  • 1 shot Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey
  • 1 shot Kahlua
  • 2 shots Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • Honey (optional)
  • Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (optional)
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs (optional)
  • Ice

If you’re going for presentation (and flavor) points and making the graham cracker/chocolate rim, use the tip of your finger to spread honey around the rim of whatever glasses you’ll be serving this drink in. Once the rim is suitably sticky (and you’ve made several inappropriate jokes about this), pour equal parts cocoa powder and graham cracker crumbs onto a paper plate, turn the serving glass upside down, and rub the glass around and about on the plate to coat the rim with deliciousness. (Make more sexual jokes during and after this part.)

Place ice in both the cocktail shaker. (If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, improvise with some sort of mason jar type deal. If you’ve gotten as far as buying the ingredients, there’s no going back now.)

Shake the whiskey, Kahlua, and almond milk over ice, and strain into the serving glass.

coffee drink

 

 

 

Everything is Better with Tacos: Pork and Green Chili Stew

I’m sorry about not posting last week. Computer Complications + First Family Visit in Six Months + Some Sort of Stomach Virus = No Free Time to Speak Of.

 

To quickly get to the point:  I’ve realized tacos are a universe-uniting food, capable of solving emotional problems and alleviating unwanted stress.

World Peace

I cooked for my parents while they were in town with a couple of old reliable recipes, but this recipe is definitely inspired by their visit. I’m happy that six months isn’t going to pass again before I see them. (By the way, Sacramento, I’m coming for you twice in November and for New Year’s Day.) However, I’m also happy that I’ll have an ace up my sleeve the next time they come to visit.

Pork and Green Chili Tacos

  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Pork Shoulder (that’s Pork Butt, to you) cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • Sat and Pepper
  • 1 large Sweet Onion – finely chopped
  • 1 pound Mild Green Chilis – I used poblanos and anaheims – finely chopped
  • 3 Serrano Chilis – seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 Garlic Coves – finely chopped
  • 2 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • Cilantro
  • Lime Wedges
  • Corn Tortillas

Heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a large pot over High heat. Season the pork shoulder cubes with salt and pepper to taste, and cook in the oil until lightly browned (less than 5 minutes.) Throw all vegetables into the pot, and cover the pot until the vegetables are soft. This should take another five-ish minutes.

“This recipe takes so much time,” she said sarcastically while drinking a Pacifico with lime.

Once the vegetables are soft, add the chicken broth and bring everything to a boil.

Once the stew is boiling, partially cover the pot and simmer over Medium-Low heat until the mixture has reduced by half (20-ish minutes.)

Stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with lime wedges on corn tortillas. If your parents like cocktails, make sure the beer is cold.

Pork Taco

I Have a Wish, But Also Here’s This Recipe for Pulled Pork

This one goes out to my family in Sacramento.

My family celebrates every special occasion in the same manner. Birthdays, Holidays, Funeral Services, Memorial Services, Engagements, Pregnancies…..you name the occasion, and the wagons will circle at my late Grandmother’s farm. We are also benefited (and incredibly lucky) by having numerous talented home cooks at our disposal. Every time we gather for a meal, there are inevitably enough leftovers for two more diet-busting dinners.

Exhibit A: New Year’s Day 2014.

However……take one guess at how many dishes on that table I contributed to? If you guessed anything other than, “None,” you are incorrect.

I love my family so much. I am proud of my heritage and know I am fortunate to have a multitude of strong family memories centered around food, large dinners, and laughter. Akin to so many brooding pre-teens and teenagers, I was absolutely unappreciative of these gifts while they were readily accessible to me. In elementary and middle school, I was a picky eater. I essentially used family dinners as an excuse to Hoover up – yes, I eat like a truck driver at these things – rice, mashed potatoes, and fruit salad, with the occasional piece of pumpkin pie or leftover appetizer to round things out. I shunned all vegetables except green beans, broccoli, and corn, and was so opposed to tomatoes, squash, and pickles, I might as well have been allergic to them.

So I realize I’ve created my own circumstances. I know it’s difficult for them to take me seriously as a cook after eighteen years of picky eating and marching numerous flaky significant others through our gatherings.

I wish I could cook for my family…..once.

I am hindered by being the youngest adult cousin and living almost 500 miles away. I realize there is very little room for me to sneak in edgewise with a side dish or dessert option, since everyone in the family already has their signature contributions to each meal. Dip and deviled eggs, baked beans, roasted, smoked, or blackened meat (brisket, teriyaki chicken, etc.), the list goes on. My family is full of nurturers who feed others, hard workers who never complain, and strong believers who stick together.

I just want to feed them, damn it.

I’ll put the request out there. I know you guys have real jobs and kids and such…..but on the off-chance you’re reading this whiny, selfish blog entry on your coffee break, between phone calls, or during commercials….the best birthday present I can currently imagine (aside from my usual request for no presents in lieu of a donation to the Elisabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation) would be to cook a meal for all of you. 

You don’t have to love it. You don’t even have to like it. I would just feel incredibly honored to have the people who have funded my formative years and compose the majority of my core try my food. For those of you who are only here for the pulled pork recipe, I apologize for the “Full House” worthy speech. It’s below, and it slays. Make it at the risk of eating nothing else for four days.

Pulled Pork and Bonus Curating My Cooking’s Signature BBQ Sauce Prototype

For the Pork:

  • 2 Heads of Garlic, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup ish Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Dried Thyme
  • 2 teaspoons Mustard Powder
  • 2 teaspoons Paprika
  • 2 teaspoons Fresh Ginger
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • One 1 and 1/2 lb. Pork Butt (it’s called a Shoulder Roast now, but it’s Pork Butt, okay?)
  • 1/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup White Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Cider Vinegar

For the BBQ Sauce:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups Ketchup
  • 1 cup Cola (I highly recommend Mexican Coke)
  • 1/4 cup Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Crystals Hot Sauce (any other supposed “Louisiana” hot sauce is not up to snuff)
  • 2 tablespoons Molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Cornstarch

Turn your oven to 350.

Roast the garlic (season the halves with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Kosher Salt, and Pepper to taste) for 1 hour ish. Let cool and squeeze the garlicky goodness out of the cloves. Trust me, the extra hour is worth the extra flavor. Plus, it gives you an hour to crack a beer and relax.

Combine the roasted garlic cloves with the thyme, mustard, paprika, ginger, orange zest, and 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a bowl and make a paste out of it.

Place the pork in a roasting pan, season on both sides with salt and pepper to taste, then rub the paste all over both sides of it. Use your hands. Get dirty and messy. It’s going to be amazing. Cover the roasting pan with foil and roast for 2 to 6 hours, depending on your oven’s degree of heat. (Stop every 45 minutes to baste the pan juices over the meat.)

If you’ve got a meat thermometer, you’re looking for an internal temperature of 200 Degrees. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you’re obviously looking for the meat to be cooked cooked all the way through. That’s not pink anymore, for our newer students.

A Note: When I tried this recipe, I was able to get the appropriate texture after 2 and 1/2 hours of roasting, but I had to chop up the pork a bit. The longer you cook the pork for – provided you are willing to nurture, baste, and love it like a small child or puppy, ideally until the meat is literally falling apart – the more flavor it will have.

Once the pork is done roasting, combine 2 tablespoons of the fat/pan juices with the light brown sugar, white vinegar, cider vinegar, and one cup of water in a pot over Medium Low heat until bubbling. Toss this with the chopped/pulled pork and season with more kosher salt and pepper to taste.

To Make the BBQ Sauce: Combine all BBQ sauce ingredients in a pot and boil over Medium heat until glossy and thick.

I served this on Kings Hawaiian Rolls alongside killer cheese grits and sauteed kale made by my dear friend (and newest Netflix employee) Cully.

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I’d say this is worth at least one bite.

Shrimp, Corn, and Brown Butter Pasta: I Tried Classic Comfort Food

In 2011, the United States was seventh in the world in pasta per capita consumption, but consumed more total pounds of pasta than Italy. Pasta is everywhere, all the time. It’s a date night classic, easy to throw together when you’re too lazy or tired to cook, and the majority of things it can be mixed with for flavor even comes in cans, jars, or some combination thereof for maximum convenience.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend and chef during which he described making pork bolognese to feel better after a bad day. I came home from that conversation to our former roommate sitting on the sofa, drinking beer and describing bolognese as the ultimate comfort food. Deja vu.

I mean, I get it. It’s warm, hearty, rich, meaty (or vegetable-y, depending on what school of thought you follow), and like a good relationship, gives back exactly what you put into it. I’ll be honest, though. This culinary force is not strong within me. To be blunt: I have never associated pasta with being a comfort food. I do not crave it after a bad day. I do not crave it after a good day. I do not crave it here or there, I do not crave it anywhere.

All right. What were we talking about?

Right.

I realize my wolf pack is going to dwindle to a minuscule number after I reveal I’m “not into pasta.” This acknowledged, I wanted to drink the Kool-Aid and try making something recognizable to the general public as a pasta dish. The focus was flavor. If the dish ended up being comforting, it would be a bonus.

I find comfort in….

  • closing my eyes on the sofa with The Beach Boys, The Ventures, or other instrumental surf music playing in the background and a glass of nice Tempranillo (preferably a Crianza….and Reserva….) on the side.
  • a long massage followed by a leisurely cappuccino.
  • curling up with cheese toast and a juicy book.

Which translated itself in my notebook to something rich (but not necessarily creamy), simple, and relaxing (i.e. very few steps) to make. I don’t have a new comfort food, but at least I’ll be able to whip something together for a last-minute date night.

Shrimp, Corn, and Brown Butter Pasta

  • 1/2 pound Shrimp – Peeled and Deveined
  • 2 ears Corn
  • Unsalted Butter (3  and 1/2 Tablespoons Total)
  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Dry White Wine (I used Francis Ford Coppola’s Director’s Cut Chardonnay. Remember, always be willing to drink the wine you’re cooking with.)
  • 1 stalk Celery – roughly chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons Celery Leaves
  • 1 Shallott – 1/2 left whole, 1/2 finely diced
  • Parsley Sprigs (Grab a large handful)
  • Paprika
  • 1/2 pound (usually half a box) Fettuccine, Pappardelle, or other long pasta

Melt 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over Medium-High heat and saute shrimp until pink and fully cooked through. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Cut the kernels off the corn cobs. SAVE THE COBS! YOU NEED THEM. Repeat, YOU NEED THEM.

Melt 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over Medium-High heat until the butter starts to brown. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Toss in the corn cobs, celery, whole shallott half, parsley sprigs, and 3 cups of water. Boil this again, and reduce by 1/3. (30 minutes-ish)

Strain the vegetable stock (congratulations! You made stock without realizing it!) into a bowl and save.

Melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter (it’s not that much, I’m just mentioning it a lot. Do you want to feel better or not?) over medium heat, saute the diced shallott half until soft, then stir in paprika to taste until everything is a rusty red color. Pour in the reserved vegetable stock and 1 additional cup of water. Reduce by 1/3 (20 minutes-ish).

Stir in the corn and let boil and toil in the butter/stock mixture until fully cooked. If you’re stressed about scalding the bottom of your pan, add more water by the 1/4 or 1/2 cup….I didn’t need to, but you might, depending on how volcano-like your stovetop is.

Finally, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a large pinch of salt. Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions, drain, and return to pot. Stir in the corn mixture and cooked shrimp until heated through.

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