Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Reluctant Vegetarian, Part Two

Today was the ultimate test of my newly adapted lifestyle: hamburger night... My roommates had requested it due to the rare occasion of me taking them grocery shopping yesterday and as the residential chef in our apartment, I agreed because I told them if they request it, I'll make it. Let me be perfectly honest, I was kind of dreading this because I know that I don't have a very strong will and like I said, I love meat. But I am here to tell you, my fellow foodies, that I came out on top, resisting the call of juicy red meat. WOOT!

Actually, it really wasn't all that hard once I started making the hamburgers. It wasn't because I tricked myself into thinking they would taste bad (I knew they'd taste delicious) and it wasn't because I was picturing some dewy-eye cow in a green pasture. No, I was able to reject the meat simply because it looked gross when I was cooking it. Each time I pressed down to flatten the patties, thick grease would ooze into the pan until I had to scoop it out. Yuck. I could just feel my arteries clogging when I thought about eating them. Surprisingly enough, the thing I caved on was my potato avoidance (supposedly those are bad for Type A). Those french fries looked so good, though, and my food wasn't ready yet, so I had a few. Oh well, Rome wasn't built in a day. Thankfully, my food didn't take long to make and it was really tasty. I've also discovered a new food: quinoa. The little grain reminds me of couscous; it was definitely a nice break from rice.
Black-eyed peas with leeks and quinoa. Yummy. It was light, quick, and best of all, filling. The cilantro in the dish was a good compliment and the leeks gave it a good bite. Who knew vegetarian stuff could be so good?

Black-eyed peas with leeks

2 cups cooked black-eyed peas (I used canned)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

In a cast-iron skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add leeks and garlic, turning well to coat with oil. Add water, cover, and braise leek until soft (or desired softness, mine still had a bit of crunch). When the leeks are done, add the beans and heat thoroughly. Toss gently with the cilantro and salt. Serve hot with rice or quinoa for dinner or cold/ room temperature with olive oil and lemon juice dressing for lunch. Serves 4.

Since I'm new to this whole vegetarian thing, recipes would be nice. Yes, I understand I'm not really a vegetarian, but I'm still clueless. Now it's time for the other part of cooking: cleaning... Until next time, eat well!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Reluctant Vegetarian

Damn, foiled by science once again. Yesterday, while helping some very good friends move into their new apartment, I happened to come across a book, "Eat Right 4 Your Type" which discusses how to eat according to your blood type. I gave one of the friends a quizzical look and she immediately told me to take it home to read. Now, when it comes to diets, I'm a skeptic mostly because of my food issues in high school. Even though I wasn't really overweight, I considered myself to be (like a typical teenage girl) and put myself through one diet after another paired with strenuous exercise programs. If I hadn't have come to my senses senior year, I can say without a doubt that I would have a serious eating disorder now. The only thing about this "Eat Right 4 Your Type" program is, it actually makes sense. I wish it didn't, though, because according to the book, some of my favorite foods are ones my blood type should avoid. Like meat.

Now, I know people that are vegetarians and all of them love the lifestyle. Me, however, I'm a meat and potatoes kind of gal that sometimes craves nothing more than a thick, juicy burger. And now some guy is telling me I shouldn't have meat?! What kind of world is this? Apparently one where you can't always get what you want. Despite my complaining, though, I'm going to give this a try, mostly for vanity issues once again. Lately I've noticed that I seem a bit heavier, so I weighed myself only to find out that I've gained almost 20 pounds in the last year. Not cool. Sure, I've stopped running and sure I was stuck eating college campus food for a while, but that's no excuse. So here I am again, about to start a diet, only this time I'm going to try and make it more of a long term change. Let the point be made, though, I'm not giving up meat completely, I can't. I'll just start with cutting out red meat and pork, then go from there because after tonight, I realized I can't live off tofu.

Mmm... Looks tasty, huh? There you have it, folks, the mysterious stuff known as tofu. Now, don't get me wrong, they aren't kidding when they say tofu takes on whatever flavors you cook it in, but something about the texture... It's a bit like scrambled eggs and while that's all well and good, I don't think I want to feel like I'm eating eggs all the time. Tofu has none of the resistance meat does; personally, I think that's boring. I'll give it a chance, though, especially in stir fry like the one I made tonight. Thankfully the book came with recipes that, unlike most diet books, actually seem good. Dinner for me was broccoli and a stir fry composed of curried tofu, apricots, almonds, and brown rice. It was quite tasty, to tell the truth. Maybe I can do this whole quasi-vegetarian thing. Guess we'll just have to see.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back in the Swing of Things

I am not a good sales person. While my job at the water park doesn't necessarily require me to be one, it helps. I just can't do it, though. When people ask me how much the cabanas (basically a big tent with a fan) cost, I tell them, then offer free alternatives. I try to give them as many different free options for seating as possible because honestly, I think it's the nice thing to do. The guests have already paid however much money to get into the park, why pay more just to sit in the shade? This job has also shown me how much of a natural born gopher I am; my lot in life is to follow and serve, at least for now. I'm okay with that, too because I know that we can't all be leaders. I finished reading Kitchen Confidential today and it made me long to be an underling, a line cook or sous-chef at some restaurant. The fast paced nature of it sounds wonderful compared to my job right now and while people say it must be great to get paid to do nothing, I have better things to do with my time than sit around with my thumb up my ass. Things like actually working. Or cooking.

Tonight, after over a week of not cooking, I finally made something I'm proud of. Unfortunately there are no pictures because my camera doesn't have batteries, but I'll put up the link to the website I took it from. Tonight's menu was roasted basil shrimp, which was really good and surprisingly easy. The hardest part was butterflying the shrimp, a skill I definitely need to hone better. I found it interesting that the soup/ sauce that you make with it is more alcohol than anything else. Not that I'm complaining, I like being able to taste the alcohol, I just thought it was different. Since I had already used all of my white wine I used rum that was leftover from a party, a good substitute in my inexperienced opinion. It was either that or whiskey, which I know would have thrown the flavor off.

The only regret I have with this dish is the bread I served with it. I love and cherish bread; it is the staff of civilization. Due to my lack of knives, though, I had to abuse my bread in order to eat it, violently tearing it with my hands instead of properly slicing it. Bread, like meat, can't be man-handled; you have to treat it nicely. That goes with most food, really. Food can be like a needy, spoiled child that requires constant coddling and affection. Not that I mind because if you do it right, you'll find yourself ascending to sensual Nirvana where only those that truly care go. And speaking of bread, I have not baked in far too long so that is what I'm going to do on my day off tomorrow. I'll have batteries by then, too, so you'll be able to see my work. I'm quite proud of my bread, but there's always room for improvement. So until tomorrow, peace out.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Running on Empty

Crazy stuff, that's all I have to say. I have been -super- busy to the point of A) not having time to cook and B) not having any time to write about it. Funny thing is, I didn't cook anything tonight, either. The only reason I'm writing is so I stay in the habit. Dinner tonight was delivery pizza and anything else that could be scrounged up from the depleting pantry (I haven't been grocery shopping in over a week).

I'm just really tired, is all. Hopefully I'll be able to take a break soon (and get back to cooking!) Until then, I think I'll pass out now.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Like it Hot

It was like a scene out of a porno, which is ironic considering where I was: A young, attractive woman in shorts and a black tank top leans against her van, glistening with sweat due to the Florida heat. She looks a bit irritated and semi-desperate, but each time someone walks out of the shop she's at, her eyes light up with hope. Each time, however, she is disappointed. For an hour this goes on; in some ways it is pathetic to watch. Finally, though, a car parks next to her. Thankfully the driver is a middle aged Latino woman and not an old man in search of eye candy like would have happened in a proper (or disturbing) porn. The young woman gets out the jumper cables needed to bring her van back to life and her Latino savior is happy to help out this stranded, shimmering unfortunate. A good ending to a sucky situation.

I guess that's what I get for stopping at the Todd instead of going straight home after dropping my roommate off at work. What can I say, I was bored. And what better place to go when you're bored than a sex shop? On the bright side, I had an adventure. That's what life is, a crazy adventure that I'm going to enjoy instead of being miserable about random, unforeseen things (well, I'm going to try, at least).

Interestingly enough, I made hot drumsticks for dinner tonight (I didn't have chicken wings). The heat from today kind of sapped my appetite, so that's all I ate, but they were SO good. And they're super easy to make. First, you're going to preheat your oven to 350 F. While your oven is getting toasty, place your chicken in an oven safe glass pan thing. Depending on how spicy you want your chicken, bombard it with crushed pepper flakes.

Confetti chicken!

I also added a bit of paprika, too. Alright, now stick the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes. During these few minutes, you can make the sauce. Now, do exactly as I say. Go to your fridge and open it. Take out the butter. Not the margarine or "butter spread", butter. Screw all those low fat, fat free, reduced fat foods. Give me the full, greasy, buttery experience. I love butter, which is good because you're going to need almost a full stick for this sauce.

Stick the butter in the microwave and nuke it until it's nice a melted. Next, get a 12 ounce bottle of Louisiana hot sauce. Are you ready for this? Turn the bottle over your bowl of glorious melted butter and mix in almost all of it.

After the 15 minutes are up, take out the chicken and smother it in the sauce. Place the pan back in the oven and leave it for 45 minutes. About halfway through, baste the chicken (we don't want it to dry out). Let the mouthwatering smell engulf your kitchen for the remaining time, then take the chicken out, let it cool, and enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

[Insert Inspiration Here]

Realization comes at the oddest moments, sometimes. You hear all the time of people having the greatest breakthroughs in the bathroom, tying their shoes, or playing golf. I had such a moment of enlightenment yesterday and although I'm not looking forward to what it means necessarily, I'm glad it happened because it's progress, something I've been a stranger to for a while.

As I said last post, I had an appointment at the Art Institute's culinary school (which I'll admit that I was perhaps too excited about). Not knowing what to expect and with my usual rose tinted optimism, I endured the introduction that was given to me by a late twenties Latino man with too much gel in his spiked up hair; I sat there, smiling, and nodding my head like a silly little school girl at all the right places, adding the occasional "That's cool" when I couldn't think of anything else to say. Yeah, I'll admit that it seemed nice, but with the cost of a single credit being more than my monthly rent, or better yet, what my income is every two weeks, I knew deep down that it probably wasn't going to happen.

Nevertheless, I smiled brightly as I shook the Latino guy's hand on my way out and told him I'd talk to my parents about it. The true realization didn't happen until I got out to my car, though. Just like any other person, I got in and inserted the key, but when I turned it, the van wouldn't start. Great... I tried again only to be rewarded with the same depressing sound of failure. What to do...? Not many of my friends have cars and the ones that do live kind of far away. Thankfully someone was able to come and get me, even if it did take three hours. On top of all that, it started to rain when I hung up the phone. As I sat there, watching the rain from inside my dead, stuffy van I realized that I wasn't going to culinary school. There was something disgustingly poetic about the situation, like my van was my future in the business and its failure to start was a sign (being a Pisces, I see signs everywhere). Maybe I'd get into culinary eventually, and maybe I'd even get to go to culinary school, but not right now (or anytime in the near future). While my mom was here visiting last week she talked a lot about "paying my dues"; guess I haven't paid mine yet.

After my van was shocked back into life I drove home irritated, depressed, and surprisingly relieved. I started to formulate a plan for my immediate future. First of all, I'm going to attend the community college here in Tampa; I will NOT be going into the military. At the community college I will get my associates degree in dental hygiene. That's about as far as my plan extends, but it's better than what I've had previously. So, armed with my new plan I made it home and did what I always do: cook. Tonight was country ribs with a chinese inspired sauce, rice, and oranges. Pretty tasty, if slightly too salty because of the soy sauce. I seem to have that problem a lot with soy sauce getting too salty, must find a way to remedy that...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You Are (Not) a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

All I asked for was one simple thing: do the dishes. Of course she didn't, though. I love my roommate, I really do, but sometimes I wish she helped out more. Yes, I understand that she works the late shift at Steak 'n Shake and gets tired, but I do too. Not only do I cook for my roommates practically every day, but I generally end up doing the dishes too. Not that I have a problem with the cooking part, it's just sometimes... I mean, today dinner for me was a nutritious meal of ice cream and Cheez-Its because all my pans were dirty. I'd just like a little bit more help, is all.

Alright, rant over. I finished reading Service Included today, which feels good. Finishing a book always leaves me satisfied and yet wanting more, like a well cooked meal. I've already started Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and am really liking it. The book is making me wonder, though...

Earlier today I was looking on at all the blogs out there, thinking to myself about how I'm just one grain of salt in the vast pixelated ocean of the internet. I mean, let's be honest, who out there really cares about the rantings of a nineteen year old that probably eats too much? This blog isn't the lofty work of some published author or freelance artist, it's the babblings of a mixed up young person. I won't pretend to think that I have revolutionary ideas that absolutely have to be brought to the world; in some ways this is just a public journal. Interesting how our views of privacy have changed, huh? With social networking and blogs and all that, complete strangers can now know the daily going ons of our lives. Food for thought...

No work today, but I do have an appointment at a culinary school set up. Should be fun (or depressing). I also need to figure out what I'm making for dinner... It's probably about time I got some sleep, though, so I'll be back later.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meat is Tasty, Tasty Murder

Flavors I love:
  • garlic
  • lemon
  • bacon
  • chocolate
  • cheese
  • salt
Flavors I don't like:
  • licorice
  • fennel (which I think taste like licorice)
  • avocado
  • amaretto
  • artificial banana

Those are the short lists, of course. The love list is much larger than the dislike list; I'm not a picky eater. At least, not as much as I used to be. I don't think I'll ever like raw tomatoes, or peanuts, but I'll eat spinach now along with lots of other things that I hated before. Science will tell you all these things about how your tastebuds change and most of that goes right over my head. All I know is that I like things I didn't before and I'm willing to experiment.

Take steak, for example. Not too long ago I only would have eaten it well done, but recently I cooked it medium rare to discover that I love it. The flavors are so much more intense; the meat is much juicier, too. I'm sure part of it is mental. Blood is the subject of horror films, murder mysteries, and other such unpleasant things, so it's natural to see bloody meat as gross. Today I started watching the TV show "Dexter" (I know I'm behind the times), which is about a psychopath that only kills other killers. Very good show, in my humble opinion.

After the first episode I made dinner, which was 20 clove chicken. I know, I know, normally it's 40 clove chicken but since I was only cooking for two people I figured I'd halve the recipe. A big thank you to the blogger of "Life's Ambrosia" from where I took the recipe. My sauce was a bit saltier than I necessarily would have liked, but it was rich and full of garlic so I loved it anyway. After I'd finished my first plate, I ended up standing at the stove, scooping up the sauce with bits of broccoli (and my fingers...). I was very happy to be able to complete the recipe in full, thanks to what was left of the white wine my friend brought over two nights ago (yes, I drink occasionally, get over it). I added a few more splashes of wine at the end because if I'm going to go through the trouble of putting alcohol in something, I want to taste it. Don't go overboard, of course, but add just enough. Listen to the food and your tastebuds, they'll steer you in the right direction.

I paired the chicken with brown rice and broccoli because sometimes you just have to focus on one aspect of the meal instead of trying to make the whole thing elaborate. Especially if you're crunched for time. For this, it was all about the sauce. The garlic cooked perfectly so that by the end it was nice and tender with a mild flavor; when squished it practically melted so there was no need to take it out of the rest of the sauce. Mmmm... so good... I'll definitely save that recipe if just for the sauce.

Now that my roommate and I are fed, I'm starting to get sleepy. Which is probably a good thing considering the fact that I have work at 8:30 am tomorrow. As much as I'd like to watch another episode of "Dexter" or play a video game, I think it's time to hit the hay. Goodnight!

Recipe link: 40 Clove Chicken

Sunday, July 11, 2010

For Our First Course...

Yep, that's it, my kitchen. I know there are some people with ones smaller than mine (I pity them) and some people with ones bigger than mine (I envy them), but for now that is the place I cook. Two people in it at a time feels cramped and more than that... forget about it. The limited counter space means that I sometimes use the top of the washing machine for whatever I need to at the moment. Plus, it's never clean...
Oh well, such is life. And that's what this blog is about; my life as I try to make it on my own. Well, sort of. Mostly this blog is about my extended love affair with food. If you ask me when I first realized that I love food and cooking, I get this blank, glazed over look. You might as well ask me when I first realized I was breathing. Food (oh glorious food!) has been one of the few constants in my life and while some of you may be saying "Well duh!", let me tell you that constants are a big deal for me. This young woman is a product of the Navy; change is the only constant in my life. Even now, as I sit clacking away at my laptop, my parents are going through a divorce. So constants are something I treasure like a new cookbook.

Speaking of which, I was very bad this week. Despite the fact that I'm trying to manage my budget better, I bought about $100 in food related books this week. Books, food, and music are my greatest loves in the world; combining any of those is pure bliss for me. There is a used bookstore nearby that I frequent and I was powerless to resist the chance to own some of the books I found. Not that I put up much of a fight, I tend to buy things when I'm feeling a bit down. Why was I in a sour mood, you ask? Well, my mother is visiting and we have been discussing the potential paths in my (currently bleak) future. One year ago I moved to Tampa, FL to attend the University of South Florida with the intention of majoring in mechanical engineering. Let me tell you now, that was a horrible choice. I stopped going to my classes during both of the semesters; out of the ten classes I took, I failed seven, including tennis. Now, according to my mother, I need to strongly consider enlisting in the Reserves. To be fair, I have no idea what I want to do with my life, so that may not be the worst plan ever, but I still don't like it. Tampa has become my home, which is new for me. I want to stay.

So here I am, with the threat of the military slowly descending upon me like a shroud and no back-up plan. Well, maybe no back-up plan. As I've already stated several times, I love food. Any career that I could make a living off of that involved food, I would jump on it in half a heartbeat. All my friends ask why I don't do that, then. If only it were that simple... Then I started to think. I started to think about all the chefs and big names in food or anything ever; they all had to start somewhere. I'll be honest with you, I'm not a very ambitious or confident person and in my mind it's always someone else that makes it because who would be interested in me? My current situation has made me realize, though, that it's about time that I got the hell over that type of thinking. Why NOT me?! Maybe I won't be the next Anthony Bourdain (love him) or Julia Child, but I'll make something of myself rather than this scared little person I am now. That's what it boils down to, really, fear. I am terrified of screwing up again, but I'll never move forward if I just wander around scared all the time.

What to do, then? Enroll in culinary school? Maybe. Cook a lot? Definitely. Let's face facts, though, I'm no gourmet. I have no idea what a tartare is, nor have I ever poached an egg. Right now my knife set is composed of (Walmart) steak knives and one fillet knife. I'm not even old enough to buy the sherry that was called for in the French Onion Soup I made last week. Never said this was going to be easy. And let it be noted, I am not starting this blog with the hope that it will be a "rags to riches" ticket (even though I did just watch the movie "Julie and Julia" and that would be amazing). This is just a place for me to record my attempt at being more honest with myself, motivate myself, and eat good food. Let's dig in, shall we?

(And for those that are curious, these are the books I bought)

The one I'm currently reading; it's actually very entertaining. Honestly, the thought of being a waiter is fairly appealing to me.

No clue what this one will be like, but it was cheap.

Middle Eastern food is SO tasty, but I don't get it very often and don't have much experience making it, so I thought I'd remedy that. This book also includes a lot of cultural things, from what I've seen. The only drawback of this book is that there are very few photos (I'm a visual eater, so I like cookbooks with pictures.)

Anthony Bourdain is awesome. Period.

A more fancy, smancy book. Again, not too many pictures, but I thought I'd try it out.

Now, I love my mother (who taught me a lot in the ways of cooking), but she cannot cook Asian food. I thought stir-fry would be a good introduction. Note to self: buy a wok.

Another cheap book. Not too familiar with French food and I'm trying to expand my horizons, so it'll be good for experience.