Can a picky eater overcome a lifelong aversion to "branching out"?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Finally!! (For real this time...)

Our Christmas present to ourselves was to buy a tablet! So, now we have a comfortable computer again.  So as soon as I get pictures loaded on to this thing I can finally get to writing all those blogs that have been waiting patiently all this time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


So like I said, we got a home computer.  But it is a big desktop and we weren't able to find a really comfortable place to use it.  I have discovered that a key factor involved in my likelihood to use a computer is whether it is a giant desktop with a highly uncomfortable arrangement, or a little laptop that I can sink into the couch on.  So despite the fact that I have access to what is needed to write blogs, I sincerely lack the motivation and willingness to spend any amount of time on the computer.  I want to write blogs!  I have the pictures!  I have plans!  I have ideas for the future!  I just really, really, REALLY don't want to sit at that computer.  So....I would like to say there will be a new blog up soon, but if I am honest, I really think it is going to end up waiting until I get a more portable, comfortable computer set up....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

And we're back!!!

Finally got a computer, finally got it hooked up and finally got some pictures downloaded!  New posts coming soon!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quick update

So, I am having computer issues at the moment so it may be a bit before I can update.  But I have things to tell you all!!  Some awesome stuff!  Some "if it tweak the recipe here and a little bit here it has the potential for awesomeness" stuff!!  And one "I can't believe I spent all these years -not- eating this!!" stuff.  So, stay tuned!  Once our computer heals, I will be back to the regularly scheduled blogging!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

When is Guacamole Not Guacamole?

So guacamole is full of things that I do not enjoy.  I don't like the color. I don't like avacados in general.  I don't like the texture.  And I am not a big fan of dips in general, with salsa being one of the few exceptions.  Even then, I am really picky.

Awhile ago, we were at someone's house and they brought out guacamole.  They were very proud of this guacamole.  They were a tiny bit pushy about the guacamole.  And they seemed somewhat offended when I said I didn't like guacamole.  It was....uncomfortable.  So after staring it down for awhile, I went for it.

Sort of.  I took the smallest amount possible that could still make it appear as though I were trying it.

I tasted it.  And then realized that I was being a giant sissy and that I couldn't validly consider that tiny amount as "trying it".

So I tried again.

And....other than the avocado, I really liked it.  And I liked it enough that the avocado wasn't that big of a deal.  It was like a creamy version of salsa.

I put off writing this post for awhile because, while I enjoyed the guacamole, I think I could do better if I made it at home.  I was going to wait until I tried it out myself before I wrote about it, but I haven't had the chance to do that yet and I wanted to write something up for the blog.  If I made the guacamole, I would definitely want more...stuff in it.  I would like it to be spicier.  However, not being a gaucamole connoisseur I am not entirely certain that if I did everything I wanted to the guacamole, this it would still be considered guacamole anymore rather than just salsa with some avocado in it.

So I must ask readers, do you have a good guacamole recipe?  At what point does guacamole stop being guacamole and instead becomes some other type of chip dip?  How many times do I have to type guacamole in this post before I spell it correctly the first time?  These are the type of questions that keep me up at night....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Identity Crisis

I want to change the name of this blog.  I feel like it is too limiting.  Yes, moving out from under the shadow of my excessive food standards is a part of it.  But there is more than that.  It is about expanding all food related boundaries.  

Can I make the foods that I usually buy pre-made? 

Can I ever manage to get rid of my ice cream machine?  

Can I find something new and exciting to do with a food that I use every day?  

Can I master a new cooking technique that has always intimidated me?

I want to come up with something that can encompass all of those things.  And….you know….that sounds cool.  So….suggestions anyone?  

My first idea: Panem et Circenses. 
I need input!!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Balancing it out with a success....

On the heels of the unsuccessful banana granita debacle, I was feeling very unsatisfied and wanted to do something more successful. That something, was Horchata. (Recipe at the end)

Horchata is a drink The Husband loves.  I smelled it once.  It smelled okay, but I never got around to actually trying it.  You can buy this powder stuff that you mix with milk to make horchata at home, but I don't think it was that great because The Husband bought it once and never even finished the bag.  So I thought I would see about making it from scratch.  I looked over a couple of recipes and it turned out to be surprisingly easy!!

Step One:
Put a cup of long grain rice in 2 quarts of warm water.  Stir it up a little and let it sit for 1/2 an hour.


Step 2:  Strain out the rice and reserve the water.  Take the rice and a 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and put them through the food processor until it makes a paste.  Add it back into the water.  This time you will let it sit in there for at least 2 hours, stirring it occasionally to get all that ricey, cinnamony goodness mixed in.


Step 3:  Strain it using a fine sieve and throw away all the ricey gunk.  Mix in 1 1/4 cups of milk, 14 oz of sweetened condensed milk and 1 tsp of vanilla extract.  Then chill it for at least two hours.  Then pour yourself a glass and enjoy!

Done!!!  So I tasted it.  It was delicious!!  Sweet but not too sweet.  Cinnamony but not over powering.  Not too thick, not too thin.  It was really good.  And yet, I still have a weird block against it.  I had a small glass of it and that was all.  Every time I saw it in the fridge, I would think about drinking it but would inevitably end up with one of my usual drinks instead.  Something about it just throws me off and makes me resistant.  It looks like milk, which I hate.  It smells like cinnamon, which I hate.  It kind of reminds me of eggnog, which I hate.  It is the perfect storm of something delicious all packaged up to look like something I would never enjoy.  The Husband loved it.  It lasted all of three days before he finished it.  I am definitely going to make more of it though.  And this time, I am going to remember to ignore my instincts and just go with it.

(PS-I love those POM glasses.  I don't know why they quit selling those.  Half of our glasses are these POM glasses.)

(PPS-Apparently Horchata goes very well with rum.)

1 cup uncooked long grain rice
2 quarts warm water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Rum to taste (optional)

  1. Mix the rice and warm water together in a bowl, and let stand for 1/2 hour. Reserving the water, drain, and place the rice in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cinnamon and process until a paste forms. Return the rice to the water and let stand at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally as the water turns milky white.
  2. Strain the rice through a fine sieve into a bowl or pitcher. Stir in the milk, condensed milk, vanilla, and rum, if desired (Can also be added to individual servings), until evenly blended. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. 
  3. Serve and enjoy!!

Less than awesome...

So my awesome and amazing friend Ashley (blatant sucking up....) sent me this link for Banana-Ginger Granitas and asked me to try it out for her.  I agreed for several reasons.  1--I hate bananas, so this definitely falls under the heading of something I should try out.  2--We have an ice cream maker.  I would love to be able to get rid of it and this was the second mention I had heard about blending up frozen bananas to make ice-cream-machine-less ice cream.  3--Because she asked nicely and I am a nice person :-)

So I went out and bought some bananas.  I got the ripest ones I could find because the other article I had seen about banana ice cream had mentioned that if they aren't ripe, there tends to be a bitter aftertaste.  So...

I sliced up the bananas and put them in the freezer.  The next day I took them out, took out some ginger-ale and the food processor and set it up.

Nervous about having to eat bananas for the first time in years, but excited about potentially finding a way to get rid of my ice cream machine, I set about grinding them up.  There were big chunks of banana that refused to grind.  It is entirely possible that my food processor just wasn't burly enough to take them down but it was incredibly frustrating to keep grinding and grinding and just having it...not work.  So I paused and figured I might as well taste it to see if it was worth it.  I opened it up and saw this:

Wildly unappetizing.  I tasted it.  Yep....tasted like bananas.  To be fair, the part that had blended did have an ice cream-like consistency.  So that part was a success.  I thought maybe I'd add more ginger ale.  The original recipe called for only 2 tablespoons which seemed like a tiny amount to go with 2 whole bananas. didn't help.  I added a little honey to it.  No go.  It was gross.  The husband tried it out and he didn't hate it although he thought it was pretty weird.  He ended up eating a bunch of it.  However, I don't count that as a point in this recipe's favor as there is a reason I refer to him as "The human garbage disposal".  He'll eat pretty much anything.

So I count this as....well....not a failure!  I still tried something new, food-wise and technique-wise.  But definitely not a success.  So for now, the ice cream machine will stay on the shelf, taking up space.  But there is still hope!  I recently found another recipe for non-machine related ice cream that I am much more hopeful about!  So....stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Quick Word about Minimalism

There is a big movement now towards minimalism in the kitchen.  Kitchens equipped with just a few, well crafted and versatile utensils.  Cooking with just a few, fresh, flavorful ingredients.  Minimalism!

I am the antithesis of minimalism.  Seriously.  It is not a joke.  People theorize that "hoarders" tend to have a certain personality type and that some sort of trauma is what kicks that personality type over the cliff into hoarding.  I am that personality type.  If I am going to do something new, I want to go at that task armed with a variety of objects that have been specifically designed to help me complete that task.  Cleaning products?  I don't want a general purpose cleaning product.  I want one for sinks, one for glass, one for kitchen counters, one for bathroom counters, one for the bathtub, one for the sink, one for the toilet, one for rugs, one for linoleum, one for tile........You get the picture.

When we were first stocking our kitchen, I took this approach.  I have three drawers of cooking utensils. A huge cupboard filled with pots and pans.  I have four different types of flour.  I have five different types of salt.  I have 13 different cup measures. get the picture.

Recently, the Husband and I have been working to get things under control (this change may or may not have been spurred by my three day Hoarders marathon....).  We are two people in our late 20's (me) and early 30's (him).  We have 2 dogs.  No kids.  At one point in time, we have more than filled a 3 1/2 bedroom house with stuff.  Excessive.  We cut back a huge amount.  The kitchen and the closets are our last frontiers.
I have plans!  I want to pare down our pots and pans collection (5 frying pans?  A rarely used wok?  7 pots of various sizes including a pasta pot and 2 stock pots?).  I want to get rid of all of our ludicrously specific knives (A fillet knife?  I don't eat fish at all, let alone bring home large cuts of fish that need to be filleted with a fillet knife!) and stick with just a few good quality chef's knives, a bread knife and a paring knife.  Basically, I want to cut down on the excess and instead have a kitchen stocked with a few, good quality items that I can use a variety of different ways.

In terms of ingredient use, (And trust me, those numbers I threw out before were not exaggerations....) I keep running into a roadblock.  I am still working on building my confidence and knowing ingredients well enough to be able to know what I can substitute when and how.  If a recipe calls for a mix of all-purpose flour and cake flour, do I really need both?  Why does it call for both?  Is there a way to get the same effect without adding to my ever-expanding collection of flour?  I don't know yet!!!  So part of this experiment in expanding food boundaries is to further expand my knowledge and understanding of food and ingredients and the versatility of foods.  By expanding in one area, I am hoping it can help me cut back in another!

So....that's all!!  Just a quick thought on how I want to move forward on my cooking/food journey.  Expanding horizons and shrinking kitchen cupboards.

I would also like to point out that this "quick word" was now turned into a 6 paragraph entry.....You see my problem here...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making Serious Dough

I love bread.  I love bread so much.  When I first heard about the Atkin's Diet I was absolutely appalled.  No bread???  How did they expect people to live??  Growing up we had a bread machine.  I loved that thing.  I loved coming home after school and having the whole house smell like bread.  I loved getting fresh slices of bread, still warm from baking.  Hands down beats store bought bread.

When the Husband and I got married, we got a lot of amazing gifts.  Not to at all denigrate any of them, I still have to say, my favorite was the bread machine.  My own bread machine!!  Once again, I could come home from school to the smell of fresh bread!!  Hot, fresh baked slices of bread!!  I took it out of the box, read the instruction manual, cooked one delicious loaf of bread, put it in the cupboard.......and there it sat.  For about 3 years.

Then one day...I rediscovered it.  And rediscovered my love for bread.  I was cooking a loaf of bread a week.  I bought Costco sized containers of bread flour and yeast.  I was set for life!  And then....I discovered Dave's Killer Bread.  Seriously, if you have not ever had this bread, you are missing out.  It is....amazing.  I have no words.  I was a white bread only girl.  I hated wheat bread.  And as I have mentioned in previous posts, I hate nuts and seeds in things.  But Dave's Killer Good Seed Bread.  Ludicrous.  So once again, the bread machine got put away.  I got it out every once in awhile, but very infrequently.

And then....we got broke.  And rather than buying bread from the store, I figured I should probably get back to work on that 50lb bag of bread flour taking up excessive amounts of floor space in the pantry.

And then I was reading StoneSoup's blog about setting up a minimalist kitchen and the variety of equipment that we could easily do without.  And there at number 5 was my beloved bread machine.  The horror!!!!  How on earth could I get rid of my bread machine????  How would I make bread??  Bread is crazy and complicated and intense.  That is why we built a machine to do it for us!!!  Right??  ...........right?  ............hmm.

So, I looked through cookbooks for a recipe.  It didn't look too hard.  More intense than the average recipe, but not undo-able.  Although the 3 pages of intense instruction on proofing, kneading, mixing and rising were a bit intimidating.....  So then I called my Mom.  "Is it hard to make bread?  Real bread?  Not in a machine?"  She and my Dad both assured me that it was not that hard.  All you had to do was make sure the water was neither too hot nor too cold, that the bread was rising in a place that was warm but not hot and that didn't have any drafts, that you put a bowl of water next to the bread to ensure that it stays moist....on and on and on.  And yet they and others continued to insist that it wasn't that difficult.  So I set out to prove them wrong!  I was going to prove that making bread was a ridiculous task and that I should instead save my energy to build a shrine for my life saving bread machine!!

I picked out a sandwich bread recipe from America's Test Kitchen Cookbook and went to work.  (I'll post the recipe at the end for those that are interested.

First of all, I don't really have an accurate kitchen thermometer.  So when recipes tell me that the water and milk need to be 110 degrees and any hotter or colder means your recipe won't work, I can either freeze in panic or....guess.  So I guessed.  It described 110 degrees as "warm" so I nuked the water and milk until they...felt warm!  Very scientific of me....I mixed the liquids together and poured them into the dry ingredients and mixed it all up using the stand up mixer (Another brilliant invention that StoneSoup claims is unnecessary....I will take that issue up at another time...).  I mixed it until "the dough clears the side of the bowl but sticks to the bottom".  An oddly specific direction, but there is a reason that I don't write cookbooks.  Then I turned the dough out.

Well....It looked like bread dough!!  So I began to knead.  And then immediately got tired of kneading.  I made the husband call my Mom and put her on speaker phone so I could find out how long I had to knead this stupid dough.  I got a lot of instructions about "consistent levels of moisture", "smooth and elastic", "Firm but soft" and finally "5 or 6 minutes".  I hadn't been timing myself, but I thought I had probably been kneading for about 10 minutes.  I asked my husband to double check and discovered he put it closer to 2 minutes.....and that was being generous.  So I kept going until I hit 5 minutes.  It still looked like bread dough.  It appeared...smooth and elastic and firmly soft with consistent moisture levels...So, I went with it.  I set it in the oven to rise.  The big test.  Did I kill the yeast?  Were the hours of kneading (yes hours.  It felt like hours, so I get to call it hours...) a complete waste?  I checked back in an hour.  And.....YAY!!!!  It rose!!!!  Next step?  Turn the dough out and press it into a 9 inch square, roll it up into a "tight cylinder" and pinch the seam closed.  Now, I swear I pinched the -hell- out of that bread and the seam had absolutely no interest in closing!  So.....I just smashed it together and put it in the pan seam down....And hoped that worked....

Not exactly awe-inspiring, but there was still one more rise to go!  So, I put it in to rise again.  And when I checked back...

Hooray!!  It was sort of starting to look like bread!!!  I brushed it with butter and put it in the oven next to a bowl half full of boiling water and set it to cook for about 45 minutes.  And then I sat back while the smell of freshly cooked bread filled the house.  The timer went off, I got it out and I saw this beautiful sight:

Bread!!!  Real bread!!!  That I made myself!!!  SO COOL!!!!!!!!!!!  So pretty!!  And after it cooled down, SO delicious.  It was light and airy and sweet and delicious.  It was perfect!!!  But was it worth chucking out my bread machine?  I don't know.  The process was much easier than I thought it would be!!  It was not super simple, but neither was it the back breaking trial that I had anticipated.  I think with more practice I could get the process smoothed out.  And there is something so enticing about being able to bake your own loaf of bread from scratch.  But at the same time.....there is something so enticing about being able to dump ingredients in a machine and wander off for a few hours and then reap the delicious rewards.

Ultimately, I am undecided.  But I am going to try this out for awhile and see where it goes. And if it goes well, I never thought I'd say this, but...............I may decide I don't need the bread machine anymore!  Wow.  In the meantime, I've got bread!!!

American Sandwich Bread
1-9 in loaf

1 cup whole milk, warm (110 degrees) I used buttermilk because we didn't have any whole milk
1/3 cup water, warm (110 degrees)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp honey
3 3/4 bread flour with extra for the counter
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) rapid rise yeast
2 tsp salt

1-Whisk the milk, water, 3 tbsp of butter and honey together in a large measuring cup.  Mix 3 1/2 cups of flour, yeast and salt together in a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook.  With the mixer on low speed, add the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.

2-Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If, after 5 minutes, more flour is needed, add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tbsp at a time)  Mix until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.

3-Turn the dough onto a clean counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball.  Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and wrap tightly in plastic wrap (I just covered it with a dish towel)  Let it rise in a warm place until it doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

4-Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press it into a 9-in square.  Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed.  Place the loaf seam-side down in a 9-in loaf pan, wrap with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until it has nearly doubled in size and springs back slowly when indented with a finger, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

5-Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350.  Bring a kettle of water to boil.  Brush the loaf with the remaining 1 tbsp of butter.  Set the loaf pan on the oven rack and place an empty loaf pan (or metal bowl) next to it.  Fill the empty pan about half-full with the boiling water.  Bake until golden and the center of bread registers 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer (Or until it looks right.....) 40 or 50 minutes.  Flip bread out onto a wire rack and let cool to room temperature before slicing, about 2 hours (Or.....let it cool some but get that first slice while it is still nice and warm!!  Not too fast.  Don't let all the steam escape, but you went through a lot of effort!  You deserve a nice, fresh, oven warmed slice of bread!) 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fried Plantains

A few years ago, my husband and I were at my family reunion.  We were hanging out at my Aunt and Uncle's condo, sitting around and talking.  At some point, my Aunt brought out a plate with fried plantains and chunks of Queso Fresco.  Usually, I would never agree to try something like that.  Plantains are too close to bananas for my comfort.  And I am generally sketchy about trying unknown cheeses.  But my Aunt Sandra is a difficult woman to say no to and she is also a fantastic cook.  The only time I have ever had salmon and enjoyed it was when my Aunt Sandra cooked it (I didn't want to try it but, again, she is an incredibly persuasive woman....).  So I tried it.  And it was good.  And I tried a few more.  And they were good.  The thing that amazes me the most about it, is it wasn't anything big and bold that made me sit up and take notice.  But it was simple, delicious, clean flavors that have stuck with me for years.  Over the years since then, my husband or I will frequently comment to one another "Remember those fried plantains??  Those were really good."

A couple of weeks ago, I turned to my husband and said (for the millionth time) "Remember those fried plantains Aunt Sandy made?  Those were so good."  The difference is that this time, I followed it up with "Do you think we could make those?"  We stopped for a moment and thought about it.  "I mean....they can't be that difficult, right?"  A quick internet search later revealed that no.  They weren't that difficult!  So I headed for the grocery store on a mission.

I bought some plantains and sliced them up into bite sized pieces.

I love the way plantains look.  The picture doesn't show it very well.  They look like regular bananas but then when you slice them, they have a pink tinge running around the center.  It is very pretty!!  And very reassuring to remind me that they aren't actually bananas!

I poured vegetable oil into our cast iron skillet and was letting that warm up on the stove over medium high heat.  In the meantime, I sliced up the Queso Fresco.

The texture of Queso Fresco is kind of like a cross between mozzarella and feta.  Which feels weird to say because those are very different cheeses.  But it has that soft, wetter freshness of mozzarella but with some of the drier crumbliness of feta.  It tastes very clean, very subtle.  It tastes like milk.  That is the simplest way to put it.  It isn't a perfect description, but it works.

Once the oil was up to temperature, I put the plantain slices in to fry.  They tend to group together and they tend to stick together.

Let them float around in there and fry.  Flip them over so that both sides brown.  Take them out when they are a golden brown color and drain them on a paper towel.  While they are draining, sprinkle with kosher salt.  When they are done draining and they have been cooled enough, through them on a plate and enjoy them!!

The plantain chips are delicious on their own.  The cheese is delicious on their own.  Together, they are even better!  This recipe is really simple, really delicious and a healthier alternative when you want a munchy, salty snack.  It is interesting because each chip tastes a little different.  Some of them taste very starchy, just like a potato.  Some of them have a definite fruity, banana-y flavor to them.  The best ones, in my opinion, are the ones that have a little bit of both.  You get the satisfying starchiness in them but you also get that sweet flavor, almost like the sugars in the fruit crystallized while they were cooking.  So delicious.  I highly recommend trying this recipe.  It is so simple and the payoff in terms of taste is so huge.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some plantains to fry....

Spicy Shrimp

It has been awhile since my last update!  But that doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking and trying out new recipes.  It just means that after eating them, I never got around to the part where I sit down and type it up!  But today is a quiet, lazy day so I have the time and headspace to do it!

I don't know if I have made this clear yet, but I don't like seafood.  Sorry.  Reframe.  I struggle with seafood.  I have issues with the textures and I find some seafood vaguely intimidating.  However, the one seafood I have always been generally okay with is shrimp.  Unless it was deep-fried, it has never been something I actively seek out, but it is one of the few types of seafood that I have been willing to eat throughout my life.  (The other one is scallops, provided they are wrapped in bacon and grilled).  I have been wanting to work on eating more shrimp.  It is a food that I am generally good with and it is a good, healthy protein and considering the amount of red meat we consume, it would be really great to switch out every once in a while for some leaner, healthier meats.

So I came across a shrimp recipe and decided to try it out!!  This was another impressive moment in cooking for me.  I read the recipe (Original Here) and I thought it generally sounded good but I had a few issues with it.  One was that I wanted to have it for dinner, not as an appetizer.  The other was that I don't like mayonnaise and I don't have any in the house.  I didn't really want to go out and buy mayo just for this recipe so I tried to figure out how to skip it.  The solutions???  Serve the shrimp over rice and swap out the mayo for greek yogurt and a little olive oil!!  Brilliant.

Instead of cooking the rice with water, I cooked it in some homemade chicken stock to help add a little bit more flavor.  The shrimp was delicious.  I don't think the step about tossing the shrimp in cornstarch really matters that much.  It helps them get brown and crispy on the outside and they look good while you are cooking them, but it doesn't add any flavor and they get so covered in the sauce that you aren't seeing the pretty browning anyways.  It only takes a few seconds, so it isn't a huge hassle to leave it in, but if you are out of cornstarch, I wouldn't sweat skipping the step.  I loved the heat of this meal.  I loved the spices.  It went really well with the rice and green onions.  And on top of it all, it was fast and ludicrously easy.

I am going to end this entry now because the more I type, the hungrier I get and unfortunately, I think we maybe out of shrimp right now.......

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Triple Header

Well this weekend was exciting!!  Three new food experiences!!  One obvious hit, one definite miss and one that was fun but not likely to be frequently repeated.

Shall we start with the obvious hit?  Fried snickers bars!!!  Why have I not tried this before?  Well, partially because I am not a huge fan of Snickers bars and partially because I enjoy not having off the chart cholesterol.  But my husband really wanted to try it, so I figured my arteries could take one for the team.

So good!!!  As you can tell by the fact that it was mostly gone before I remembered to take a picture of it.  First impression was that it tasted like roasted marshmallows.  Which then mixed with the delicious milk chocolate taste.  However, there were nuts in it.  I hate nuts mixed into foods.  It is just too jarring of a texture shift for me.  Like having little pieces of gravel in your food.  However, I think I could overlook that in order to eat more delicious fried Snickers.  So, again, a hit.  Likely not unexpected.  It isn't like it is hard to get people to enjoy fried candy.

Onto the miss of the day!

Barbequed oysters.  Due to conflicting schedules, I lucked out by not having to go to the oyster feed a few weekends ago.  Oysters freak me out.  But I knew I had to try them.  I mean...that is kinda the point of this thing, right?  I dodged the bullet earlier, but here they were again.  I couldn't put it off anymore.  I was scared, but also hopeful.  I have been pleasantly surprised before!  Maybe this would be another time!  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of looking too closely at it before I ate it.  Have you ever looked closely at an oyster?  They have these weird, spongy, foldy gill looking things on them.....Not the most appetizing thing in the world to look at.  So....I ate it.  And immediately wanted to spit it out or throw up.  Ugh.  The texture was horrible.  But I hung in there.  Mostly because I was standing right in front of the people who had made them and I thought it would be pretty rude to spit it out and then throw up all over their table....But it was a close call. 

Once the initial urge to puke passed and I had gotten over the texture, I got to experience more of the flavor.  That was....not pleasant.  It had a really muddy flavor.  Not delicious.  It reminded me of mushrooms which are one of my least favorite foods.  I have no idea if it was at all similar to what mushrooms actually taste like, but it tasted like what I imagine mushrooms tasting like.  They had cooked them in some sort of liquid.  I don't know what but it looked like butter was involved in a big way.  They then put a slice of cheese on it and melted it over the oysters.  I don't know what kind of cheese.  It was white.  I can't be anymore specific about either of those two aspects, largely because they had little to no effect on the flavor of the oysters.  They tasted gross and I don't care what you put on them. Unless it managed to completely obscure the flavor and texture of the oysters, it won't make a difference.

So let's move on to the main event!!!

Crawfish!!  Because we were at the Annual Crawfish Festival!!!  For $10 we got a pound of crawfish and a boiled potato and corn.  In case you were wondering, this:

is what a pound of crawfish looks like.  As a quick side note, the corn was really good!  Sweet and spicy!  I have no idea how they cooked it, but two thumbs up!  That potato just confused me.  I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it so.....we just ignored it.

Here is how to eat crawfish.  First, appreciate the creepiness of the crawdad!

Look at their creepy, beady eyes and their long, twitchy whiskers.  These are some seriously freaky little creatures.  Next step?

Play around with them for awhile!  Part of the fun of them is that they still kind of look alive, so by all means, play with them like they are puppets!  Make them dance!  Make them fight each other!  Make them steal your husband's beer!  It is all part of the inherent crawdad experience.

Then there is the actual eating.  This involves ripping their tails off and then squeezing the meat out of their tails!  And yes, it is just as fun and messy as it sounds.  Like lobsters, the inside of the crawdad is filled with icky, gooey yellowy substance. 

After caving to peer pressure, my husband sucked it out of the inside of the crawdad's head.  He described it as "Not bad for gooey crawdad stuff."  I thought about trying it until he also stated that it tasted "kinda fishy".  He may have been lying because he was concerned by the fact that I already almost threw up once today and that I may not be able to hold it back a second time.  Either way, I decided I had been adventurous enough for one day and settled for playing with more crawdads before devouring their tails.  They were good!  They were kind of like a blend between crab and shrimp.  Definitely seafood-y but not over the top!  I liked it but again, I don't see myself becoming a frequent crawdad consumer.

Finally, the best part:

Gloating over the carnage and destruction that you left behind....and...a random boiled potato.  I love food that you finish eating and you can look at the aftermath and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Maybe that is why I make such a mess in the kitchen when I cook....I just enjoy the visual confirmation of my efforts....

Anyway, it was a blast!  I really had fun sitting in the sun, drinking cheap beer in a plastic cup, listening to a local classic rock cover band, laughing with great company, and tearing my way through a pound of crawdads.  More than the chance to expand my palette, I really appreciate the fact that I got to enjoy that moment.  And without having undertaken this challenge, I might have let that opportunity pass by.  Again, it is the unintended side effects that have continually surprised me and give me a reason to keep on!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Stir it up!

Today I went through a familiar routine.  My husband called while I was at work to ask what I wanted for dinner.  I said I had no idea and he should just pick something. So I came home to chicken breasts marinating in teriyaki sauce and stared at it for awhile and then thought, " what?"  Normally, this would lead to me being momentarily paralyzed with indecision and general anxiety and then would send me on a frantic search for any recipe that involved teriyaki marinated chicken breasts.  Today was different though!  I scanned through the contents of our fridge in my head and then thought, Stir Fry!!!

In general, I am not a stir fry maker.  I don't know why.  I think I have made stir fry one time in the last 10 years.  But I knew I had the stuff to make it and I had confidence that I could figure it out as I went.  So I chopped up the chicken and tossed it in the wok with some canola oil.  I also chopped up some purple cabbage, green onions, leeks, asparagus, garlic and ginger.  I put some homemade chicken stock in a pot to make rice with.  When the chicken was done, I took it out and put a few chicken stock ice cubes and some teriyaki sauce in the wok and tossed in the veggies.  When everything was done, I threw it in a bowl and had a delicious dinner.  The chicken broth gave the rice a really nice flavor!!  It is my new favorite way to cook rice!

It looked amazing too!  Now I know why stir fry has been touted as a delicious, quick weeknight dinner.  Honestly, I kinda thought that was a load of crap.  That it was just one of those things people said but didn't really mean.  I was wrong! It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I try to gracefully admit it.  It helps to admit it on a full stomach though!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A moment of reflection and gratitude

I have to keep catching myself when I say I "hate" certain foods.  Especially because, most of the time, I have never eaten them.  I had biscuits and gravy for the first time this week.  I had salsa verde for the first time.  I think I am going to try oysters for the first time this weekend (There is a local oyster feed happening!!)  It is getting easier each time, but I still am working on overcoming my initial negative reaction to most foods.  It is a strange shift to make from viewing everything negatively and with suspicion to viewing things with hope and optimism.  And I think it helps with my work too. 

So many of the kids I work with approach life with such a closed off, impoverished view of the world.  Understanding that viewpoint intellectually is easy enough, but when you work day in and day out around that sort of consistently negative and depressive viewpoint, it can be draining and it can be such a challenge to keep up that sense of empathy.  So it helps to be currently working on changing my own corner of pessimism and negativity.  I have been able to share some of that with the kids.  Some of them are really enjoying it.  I usually eat the school lunches too so they are helping me pick out things that I wouldn't usually try.  They are giving recommendations and talking about it with me and sharing what they enjoy or dislike about certain foods.  It has been really fun!  And it helps give that opening to encourage them to look at areas where they have closed themselves off to possibilities and to give them extra incentive to give things a shot when they would normally just walk away.  And it has made it easier for me to work on my food stuff when I work in an environment that is so steeped in encouraging new behaviors and branching out and trying new things. 

I love that I work in a place with that sort of attitude.  When we don't know something, we go look it up and learn about it.  When we are unsure of something, we try it out and see what happens.  We encourage curiosity and creativity in our kids and that in turn helps foster that in our own lives.  Also, we are all hyper-competitive so when encouragement fails, turning it into a competition can work wonders!! There are so many things about my job that make me feel incredibly lucky.  Discovering this aspect has added one more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Frog Legs!!

So Sunday, the husband and I went to Safeway to do some quick grocery shopping.  While standing at the butcher counter, waiting while my ribeyes were being wrapped, my eyes slid down the display case and landed on.....

Frog legs!!!  How cool is that?!?!  So of course I insisted that we get one to try out.  They were still partially frozen when we got them, so I had to wait until today to cook them.  Which gave me the day to search and find this recipe.  I only had one set of frog legs and not a pound so I had to kind of guess at the measurements.  I added the seasonings and let the frog legs sit for about 20 minutes.

Then I dredged them in cornstarch and dropped them in 350 degree oil for about 5 minutes!  In the meantime, I made up the dipping sauce (substituting honey for most of the white sugar and red pepper flakes for the chili sauce) and heated the butter and garlic.  When it was all thrown together it looked like this:

Vaguely intimidating but also familiar in that it reminded me of fried chicken.  I was a little nervous to try it out, but it ended up being good!  The strongest flavors were the soy sauce and the garlic.  The frog legs themselves were almost a challenge to taste.  And as cliche as it sounds....they tasted like chicken.  They didn't really.  They were chewier and had a definite gamey flavor, but if I had to pick something that they were similar too, I would pick chicken.  And gator, but I don't know how well that reference point would go over in the general public.

Because I had been nervous about the frog legs, I made an actual dinner of pure, never miss comfort food!  Steak and potatoes!  Red rose potatoes tossed with salt, oil and smashed garlic.

Roasted in a few stages (covered with foil, uncovered and then flipped) they came up delicious, and crusty golden brown.

While that was happening, the steak was being cooked in a cast iron skillet.  First over high for a few minutes per side, then a few more minutes per side on medium.  It was amazing!

Just to clarify, it is sitting on a salad plate.  I mean, it is a really big steak, but it isn't dinner plate sized.  It was a hint too salty.  I just switched from regular salt to kosher salt and I am still working on estimating amounts correctly.  But the crust in the outside was perfect and it was just the right done-ness (medium rare).  All together it was a great dinner and an interesting food experience.  I don't know that I liked the frog legs enough to pay $9 a pound for them!  But, should I ever have the chance to go frog gigging, I will know what to do with the catch!!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Food Experience

So we went home this weekend for a visit.  Beyond it being awesomely fun to get to see family and friends, we had some amazing food!!!  SO good!!!

We went to the mother-in-law's house to visit and while we were there I made a chicken for dinner.  It was delicious!  It was the best I have done so far.  I am definitely getting the hang of it.  And I love how easy it is!  It is definitely my new go-to dish to make for people!

That night, we went out to dinner at Elements, a local tapas restaurant.  It is one of my favorite restaurants.  It is amazing.  About every other week or so, I have dreams about eating there.  And they did not disappoint!!  We started with our favorite, their house dates:

Dates, stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon.  It is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten.  My biggest complaint?  The amount the give.  It never splits evenly and I have totally gotten in fights over who gets the last date.  Eventually it was ended amicably by us getting a second order thus saving my marriage and several friendships....But even would have been worth it.  These are amazing.

I wanted to try something different too, so I ordered the ceviche:

It was bay scallops and yellow tail with scallions.  It was really good!!  I was surprised.  As I have mentioned, I am not a huge fish person.  However, I have wanted to try ceviche for a long time and I totally trust the chef at Elements so I was willing to go for it.  There was a hint of something gritty in it which was off putting.  Any grittiness in a seafood dish automatically makes me feel like there is sand in my food.  But I liked it!  The ceviche style made it an easier texture for me to handle. Also, because it was chopped into small pieces, everything blended well and there wasn't an overpowering fishiness to it.

Next came the Jamon Iberico:

36 month aged acorn fed black-hoofed spanish ham.  It was fantastic!  It has a wonderful creaminess to it.  And you could taste the acorn.  There was a really great nuttiness.  And oddly, there was a hint of chocolate to it.  I've never understood what people meant when they would describe things as having "undertones of chocolate". I never got that and it always sounded a bit pretentious, but this totally had a chocolate taste to it!  It was so good.....

Next, Asparagus Romesco!!

Grilled asparagus with romesco sauce and a balsalmic reduction.  I usually don't much enjoy tomato based sauces but this was fantastic.  Of course I already love grilled asparagus so that was the easy part!  The sauce was great though.  It had really great flavors and spices and had a nice creaminess and sweetness to it.  Again, I freaking love Elements and I can't wait until our next chance to eat there.

The next day I got to eat at my favorite place!!! My mom's!!  We had Easter brunch with my parents.  My mom made a really delicious maple-y, nutty coffee cake, strawberries, roasted asparagus and lamb shanks.  The lamb shanks were fall-off-the-bone tender.  The juice was amazing when drizzled over the asparagus. The strawberries were just on the un-ripe side (the way I love them!!!) but they still had a really good flavor to them.  And I have had the coffee cake before, but I have always been so caught up in the mindset that I don't like coffee cake and I don't like nuts and I don't like the textures and blah blah blah that I never actually tasted it.  It is really good!!  I can't believe I have eaten something so many times and never actually managed to taste it before!  Once again, it just makes me so happy I took this step because I have been missing out on so much.

Finally, we had lunch before taking off back out of town.  We decided to go to Taqueria El Gallo, a tiny mexican place sandwiched between a Minute Market and a Laundromat.  When my husband and I first got together we lived in a tiny studio apartment about a block and a half from the restaurant.  I went through a phase where I ate their tacos twice a day, every day for a couple of weeks.  And it is understandable!  Look at them!!

So good.  Squeeze some limes on there, drizzle them with sour cream and lay one of the spicy carrots on top.  Good lord that is delicious food!  The husband got his usual vegetarian quesadilla.

Creamy, melt-y, salty, onion-y deliciousness all piled onto one paper plate  Such a perfect way to end our visit home.  Satisfied and happy, but already looking forward to the next time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gaining Confidence through Leftovers

So one thing I have struggled with in cooking is improvising.  Thus, the OCD cooking.  I just haven't built up enough knowledge and confidence to be able to branch out on my own.  But I am starting to take baby steps!

I made some tomato soup for dinner last night.  I have never actually had tomato soup until last night.  I liked it!  It was spicy and delicious.(You can find the recipe here)  And fun to make!  And I got to feel super DIY special because I made it from scratch and used chicken stock that I also made from scratch!  (It calls for vegetable stock, but I didn't have any low sodium vegetable stock, so I went with the homemade chicken stock).  And then, while I was eating it, it reminded me that I recently made some homemade Italian Sausage using this recipe here.  So for lunch today, I cooked up some of the homemade Italian Sausage to crumble into my homemade Tomato Soup made with my homemade Chicken Stock.  Can you tell I am feeling pretty darn proud of myself right now??  I added some shavings of Parmesan cheese and now I have a delicious lunch!!  And it was an idea I thought of all by myself!!!  YAY!!!!

I have discovered that, as a side effect of pushing the boundaries of my palette, I am also experiencing a reduction in portion sizes.  It wasn't something that I had thought about before, but it makes sense.  Now that I am eating new things, eating is no longer a mindless activity.  I am eating slower and really tasting things.  Also, there is more pleasure gained from new tastes and sensations than there is from simply being full.  So I no longer feel like I need to eat a lot of something, I just need to eat something that makes me pause and take my time and truly notice my meal.  An unexpected but very welcome side effect!!

Now, off to the hardware store to get some things to help organize my kitchen!

Kitchen Inspirations

This is my new kitchen inspiration.  Everything in it is so organized!!!  I thought I had a tiny kitchen.  I don't. I have a very poorly designed kitchen!  So our project for this weekend is to make a wall mounted spice rack, to free up a drawer and to use an otherwise useless space of wall.

The next project will be to figure out how to hang things from the ceiling.  Because we seriously lack counter space and storage space, but the kitchen has very high ceilings!  So there is a lot of unused vertical space.  Now we just have to figure out how to make use of that.

Then we need to clear out the bedroom we are using as "storage" so that I can turn it into my new pantry space!!  Oh kitchen, I have such amazing plans for you.....

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Comfort Food

I want to make sure during this journey that it doesn't become a chore.  The point of this is to expand my horizons and broaden my tastes, not to lose my taste for food altogether.  Initially my vision was highly ambitious.  Try something new at least every day if not at every meal!  But I feel like that is overkill.  Sometimes you just want comfort food.  And familiar is comfortable.  So tonight I made one of my favorite meals.  Deviled Chicken Lollipops.  They are easy and juicy and spicy and delicious.  I found this recipe in October of last year.  It was on the Food Network's website as part of their Halloween ideas section.  It was the first chicken recipe I had made in years.  And it was amazing!  I forget to make it a lot because I am so used to not making chicken, but when I remember to make it I am always guaranteed a smile.

I usually add extra green onions to it, the exact amount depending on my mood at the time.  I love green onions. I love leeks. I love garlic. I love chives.  When I was younger there was a girl my age that lived near my grandma.  We used to drive her mom nuts because we would sit and play right next to her herb garden so that we could pick all of her chives and eat them.  So any recipe that calls for green onions or garlic or anything of that sort, I am generally adding in a little bit extra.

Beyond having an enjoyable comfort dinner, I also had another fun experience this evening!  I really enjoy DIY projects and the opportunity to make something on my own that I would normally have to pay someone else for.  It is generally money saving, usually healthier and gives me a sense of satisfaction that this was something I made on my own.  I was able to provide for myself rather than having to depend on someone else.  As I was browsing food websites the other day I found a recipe for Italian Sausage.  I love Italian Sausage.  I think it is delicious and it is a great way to add a little extra flavor to dishes.  So how cool is it that I can make it on my own now!!  I had a bit of trouble because I was making a half serving of the recipe and 1-The amounts in the recipe weren't easily halved and 2-I could barely find any measuring spoons!!  Our new kitchen is tiny and has very little storage.  My response to this is to make sure everything is really well organized and that there is no wasted space.  My husband's response is just to shove everything into one drawer.  So currently every kitchen utensil I own is shoved into one drawer.  Which explains why smaller things like measuring spoons are now impossible to find.  But I managed!  And I am so excited to try it out and figure out how to best refine the recipe to meet our tastes.

So that was my day today!  Low key and focused on the familiar and the comfortable.  It was just what I needed to end my weekend.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fish: A Hit and a Miss

Today my husband and I went out for a late lunch.  My new philosophy for eating out is that I have to get something that I wouldn't normally get.  However I make that happen is up to me and up to how I am feeling that day, but I need to make some sort of effort.  Today I decided that I would get an adventurous appetizer and would take a taste of my husband's meal but would be able to then sit back an enjoy my choice of Shrimp Alfredo.  Yummy!!!

So the appetizer.  We decided we would go for the Crab and Salmon Cakes.  They definitely fell into my no-no range, but were something that I was willing to give a try!

I started with the crab cake.  It was okay.  I thought it was kind of bland, but I didn't hate it.  I had my instant texture related "ick" moment, but I held on, and moved through it and came out the other side.  I ended up not minding it!  As I said, bland, but that is more the fault of the restaurant than the food itself.  Then it was on to the salmon cake.  As soon as I cut into it, I knew we were going to have a problem.  I could smell the fish smell before I even got it on my fork.  I dipped it in the sauce and took a bite and......ew.  Ew ew ew ew ew.  I hated the texture of the fish.  I hate the smell of the fish.  I hated the taste of the fish.  I wanted to spit out.  However, I retained a modicum of self-respect and kept from spitting it out.  I swallowed it.  And stared at the salmon cake.  Because I knew what was coming next, and I was dreading it.  I knew what I would have to do.  I would have to take another bite.  I so very much didn't want to, but I know myself well enough to know that sometimes my first reaction isn't very reliable.  So I took a breath, put extra dipping sauce on the cake, and took a bite.  And it was official.  I hated it.  I can now say with a high degree of certainty that I.  Hate.  Salmon.  It was horrible.  Luckily I am married to the human garbage disposal, so he was more than happy to finish off the last of my salmon cake.

The next hurdle was tasting my husband's food.  He ordered the seared Ahi with mashed yams.

I tried the yams first.  Those seemed easier.  I still approached it with some trepidation given my recent brush with Salmon.  But it wasn't that bad!  I still hate the fact that it manages to be both mushy AND stringy, but once I got past that it was okay.  I thought it could have used some more butter and a hint of sweetness, but again, I can't fault the food for the restaurant's choices.  Then I had to try the Ahi.  I was not looking forward to this.  I had already had one horrific fish experience today and here I was, setting myself up for another one.  But I closed my eyes and scrunched up my nose and took the bite my husband offered me.  And.....oh my god!  I liked it!  It was like a fish version of steak!  And I LOVE steak!!  I took a second bite.  And I STILL liked it!  I got a bit more of the fish flavor this time and a bit more of the fishy texture, but I still enjoyed it.  I could definitely see myself making it at home and actually eating it!

I don't know that I can explain what a huge step this is for me.  I have never liked fish.  Ever.  And I come from a fish-o-centric family.  So despite having had to eat many different types of fish cooked many different ways over the years, I have only had two experiences with fish that I liked.  One is eating smoked salmon.  And that is only because smoked salmon has neither the taste nor the texture of actual salmon.  And even then I am hugely picky about it.  It has to be just right or I will refuse to eat it.  The other experience was one time when my Aunt Sandra and Uncle Johnny were visiting.  My Aunt Sandra grilled fish that night and managed to get me to try it (Aunt Sandra is an amazingly convincing woman).  I loved it.  However, I have no idea what type of fish it was or what sort of recipe she used so I have no way to duplicate that experience.  And that has been it in terms of positive fish experiences.  Until today.  And this is why I decided to undertake this experiment.  Because if I hadn't, I would have missed out on opportunities like this.

Feeling the impact

When I had the idea to work on stretching my food boundaries, I didn't think it would be easy, but I didn't think it would be super hard either.  I figured it would just be a case of having to remember to make different choices and maybe a few instances of going through an unpleasant food experience.  But I think I underestimated how deeply rooted food preferences are.  Last night I was looking through a cookbook and talking with my husband about which recipe I could try next on my food adventure.  And then it turned ugly.  Everything was pushing buttons for me.  I could look at a single recipe (French Onion Soup for example) and, off the top of my head, come up with 8 specific reasons why I didn't want to eat it.  By the end of the conversation I was nauseous and on the verge of tears.  It was traumatizing! 

I wish I knew where this all came from too.  I can say with certainty that it did not start at home.  While my mom did indulge some of my strange food obsessions (eating everything separately, dying my food green, etc), she did not limit what we ate based on my limited palate.  My mom enjoyed cooking different foods and trying different recipes and made sure that every meal had all four food group represented.  And I had to eat it all.  I didn't have to eat a huge amount, but I had to eat a serving of it.  She would occasionally do some things to help out, such as serving my plate before adding the clams to her lemon clam spaghetti, or making sure that I got the serving of fruit salad that had the least bananas, but she wasn't going to go too far out of her way.  And not liking something wasn't an excuse to not eat something.  So I can't blame my picky eating on lack of exposure at home.

So maybe I won't figure out where it came from, but my experience last night helped reinforce that this won't be the easiest thing I've ever done.  It made me think about what I was undertaking and what I might have to make myself eat and I asked myself whether I really wanted to do that.  In the end, the answer was yes.  So, game on!