Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th and a couple updates

The thing about change is that it sneaks up on you so quickly you find yourself in the midst of it, head reeling, wondering how "that point in the distant future" somehow became "today."

In December, I found out I'd be moving to Iowa City in the summer for residency. And now, here I sit, in an unfurnished sublet, writing from you from Hawkeye Nation itself. Let me start by saying, I've been so impressed with this city so far - it seems like there are some phenomenal places to eat, I got to go inside the football stadium off-season, and I wandered into a Jazz Fest. I'm also extremely lucky to say that my co-residents are pretty awesome and I think the next two years are going to create some amazing friendships in addition to a wonderful career. 

I made this pasta dish tonight - a simple fettuccine alfredo. The recipe is based off this one by Ree Drummond. I had to modify it for one. I included some suggestions for when I make it again. Let me preface this by saying, alfredo sauce is all fat - there is nothing healthy in this no matter how you spin it. So resolve yourself to having to walk 10 miles after and enjoy it. 

Cook your pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Before draining, reserve a cup of cooking liquid to loosen the sauce later if need be. Heat 1 Tbs oil and 1 Tbs butter. Throw in a minced clove of garlic. Add a generous splash of heavy cream (about 1/4 cup) and then a whole bunch of freshly grated Parmesan (a loose 1/3 cup). Season with a bunch of black pepper but hold off on the salt until you serve. Add 1/3 cup shredded chicken breast (I had a rotisserie chicken so I used that). The chicken is optional but I wanted some protein. Toss in your pasta and coat with the sauce, using the reserved pasta water if necessary to create a nice sauce. Sprinkle with a fresh grating of Parm, salt, and more pepper. The sauce comes together super fast so I just make it in the same pot as the pasta after it's finished cooking.

The first time I made this, it was in Richmond as an experiment to impress a boy. The second time I made this was for said boy, and I was so nervous, I shattered the glass lid to my pasta pot by accidentally leaving it on a hot burner. We're still together...but after that disaster I'm not really sure why. Maybe because no glass got into the meal and therefore I did not poison him. Nailed it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies have taken the blogging world by storm since the beginning of time. I've probably tried 5 or 6 different variations, some stuffed with nutella, many with browned butter, and usually I have just stayed with a recipe handed down by my aunt. But when Deb of Smitten Kitchen posted this PICTURE, I literally couldn't get it out of my mind.

It took totaling my car and feeling like absolute crap to actually tip the scales in favor of making them, but I'm glad I did because friends, nothing soothes the soul like a nice, soft chocolate chip cookie. I liked this recipe for a few reasons: the baking temperature is weird and I like weird things, as someone keeps tell me. Or maybe it's more that I am weird. Same difference, really. Anyway...I also liked that she used chunks. I've never used Trader Joe's Pound Plus before, but if Deb says it's good, I am willing to give it a try. I got the dark chocolate (they also have 60% cacao and milk) and really liked it - not too sweet but definitely overpowering thanks to the recipe calling for 1/2 pound of it. Finally, my personal test of whether or not I like a cookie recipe is how they taste the next day: I hate that stale, crunchy exterior-next day-cookie taste. But seeing as I'm sitting here munching on one 3 days after making it, happy as a clam, I'd say we're good on that front.

I didn't change the recipe at all, except I used 2 Tbs granulated sugar in lieu of turbinado (didn't have any: I am a grad student/I am moving/due to afore mentioned car accident I was afraid to go to the grocery store). I also sprinkled with Himalayan pink rock salt, finely crushed, instead of sea salt (see reasons mentioned in last sentence). I liked the added saltiness, personally, but I shared these with some compadres who asked if I'd done something different with them and they asked in that way that really means, "These were a little salty." So maybe I do need the sea salt.

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies (this is Deb's recipe, straight from her blog) with my opinions inserted

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (or, she says, you can use it out of the fridge and beat the heck out of it to make it room temperature. I usually speed defrost it for 10-15 seconds and it's fine)
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (25 grams) turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw; you can use more brown or white if you don’t have this, but the subtle crunch it adds is delightful) - I used white
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (165 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon (or, technically, 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) fine sea or table salt
1 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (225 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
Flaky sea salt, to finish

Heat oven to 360°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated, and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in salt fine sea or table salt and baking soda until combined, then the flour on a low speed until just mixed. The dough will look crumbly at this point. With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks. 

Scoop cookies into 1 1/2 tablespoon mounds, spacing them apart on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft inside. Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet out of the for 5 minutes before transferring a cooling rack.

Extra dough can be formed into scoops and frozen on a sheet until solid, then transferred to a freezer bag. I’ve baked these right from the freezer; they need, at most, 1 minute more baking time. You could also form them into a 2-inch log, freeze it, and slice and bake the cookies off as desired. The only difference I’ve noted between the cookies baked right away and those baked a day or more later is that the older cookie dough is less puffy when baked.

Store in a Tupperware with the lid tightly closed for maximum chewiness the next day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cleveland Eats: Part One

Cleveland holds a special place in my heart - our family used to trek out to the city (ok, so it wasn't exactly a trek but all road trips seem long when you're 10) to go antiquing. There was this one really cool dude who'd take my parents to the dusty back room of his shop and they'd find treasures like stained glass windows and bronze doors. I am pretty sure my parents rewarded me for this dustmite-invested experience by taking me to an award-winning restaurant where I only ordered mashed potatoes and New England clam chowder.  I asked my mom to confirm this last night on the phone and she couldn', I might be telling tales about that last part.

I revisited Cleveland recently (like, yesterday), armed with a few foodie recs from a friend who's dating someone at Case. While we could't try them all, we did make it to one, Barrio, and it was so delicious I think we might go back a couple times before venturing down the list. We only ordered their special tacos, but when we go back, I think I'l try and create my own. In addition to being dirt cheap, they were so incredibly flavorful and very, very generous when it comes to portions. Below is my breakdown of our restaurant experience - despite the low points, I'd go back in a heart beat.

Barrio, Tremont Location

1) Atmosphere: kinda grunge, cool vibe, hanging bicycle with lights = very good first impression

2) Drinks: I got a traditional margarita which was very delicious, although not filled completely. One was enough for me because once the food is in front of me, I tend to forget about my drink. I also tried the jalapeƱo variation which was yummy - I think they must make a simple syrup and add that because it didn't taste fake.

3) Extras: It's been a while since I've actually received a starter of chips and salsa for free at a Tex-Mex place, but literally seconds after our margs came, so did these munchies. And they were amazing. The salsa blew my mind - it was on the runny side and had a hint of chipotle. They served a mix of white and yellow corn chips which was kind of cool - I liked the attention to detail.

4) Apps: I was craving guac (actually I was craving falafel but the place was closed hence our trip to this establishment instead, but I digress). The portion was huge and for the price ($6) not unreasonable. I would have liked a little more lime and cilantro, though. Consistency was  chunky but creamy and so thick that the chips had a hard time standing up for themselves when it came to scooping.

5) Tacos: Big, flavorful, great combinations. We only ordered off the suggested specials menu. They have something called a "stoner" shell which is a hard taco smothered with queso and chorizo and wrapped inside a soft shell. I'm not usually a fan of double carb things but the texture and flavor was so, so good. In terms of sides, next time I'll just order the guac with my taco and skip it as an app because they were very generous with the amounts of sides. Here however, was my least favorite part of the meal because one of the tacos was vegan with veggies and it was literally a soft taco shell full of pickled vegetables and 2 tiny strips of mushrooms. This was offensive for two reasons: the veggies were served with the pickle juice so the taco was super soggy and two, I was surprised that a place which seemed really aware of flavor profiles would have chosen such a caustic substance to serve their patrons. The pickle overpowered everything and it was the same as what they offer as a side so I kind of felt that was a cop out - should have just grilled all the vegetables and put some sort of sauce over top. I am selectively going to forget this part of the meal from this point forward because my other taco was heavenly.

6) Service: For the most part, fine. I felt a little rushed at the beginning to order and the waitstaff didn't seem so invested in chit-chat. But then I reminded myself I was back in the Midwest and polite efficiency is how we roll. One negative here was that the busboy nabbed our guacamole before we were finished with it.

Final thoughts:

- Why did I not build my own taco? That was dumb. I need to do this next time.
- Why did we get an app? Because we thought it'd be teeny, which it wasn't. Do not do this again,  
          Sheila. You will hate yourself.
- When can we go back???

Convo of the evening, said while taking a very short walk because we did, in fact, hate ourselves for the sheer amount of food we'd just consumed.
me: "Ok, I didn't eat that much did I?"
companion: "Babe, you ate a ton. And I ate more than you, so imagine how I feel."
me: "You are rude."

Yep...this is love.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Soup

I have to preface this post by saying I have no photos of this soup. Which is good because it means I will have to make it again and bad because, of course, we eat with our eyes first and you might not believe that this is seriously one of the best soups I have ever made.


4, 15oz cans chicken stock
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 red onions, diced
4 carrots, diced
2-3 potatoes, diced
1/2 can tomato paste
2 chicken thighs, diced (although, to be honest, you could leave this out and only use the sausage)
2-4 links spicy sausage of some kind (I used an all-organic turkey sausage from Whole Foods), largely diced
1/2 cup barley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 Tbs turmeric
1/2 tsp dried sage
salt, pepper, garlic powder

Start by frying the sausage in a bit of olive oil until it's nice and brown, then add the chicken. Toss in the onions, garlic, and carrots and cook until the onions have wilted a little. Add the diced potatoes and fry those until they get a little color on them. Pour in 2 cans of chicken stock and the tomato paste. Next add the spices. Cook this over medium-high heat until the chicken stock starts to evaporate (about 20 minutes), then add the other two cans of stock. You might want to add more tomato paste to thicken the soup, but if you keep cooking it, it should reduce down. Taste to make sure the stock is flavorful enough - you might want to add more oregano, sage, or turmeric. Add the barley and cook for another 20-30 minutes - the potatoes should be cooked through at this point.