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

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!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sugar Cravings

Whenever I open up to someone and begin to describe the true extent of my weird food issues, the one that always gets the biggest response is "I hate chocolate."  I generally don't eat much of anything dessert related.  I'm not big into sweets.  But even more than that, I have never liked chocolate.  If I do eat candy or dessert related substances, I tend to prefer sour/sweet things.  This came in handy when I was a kid as my mom is a huge chocoholic and would poach my brothers' candy all the time but would leave mine alone.  But today, I have a sugar craving.  A pretty intense one.  And what recipe should float into my life?  This one.  Brownie covered oreo cookies.  I don't even know what to say.  But I knew I had to try it.

The recipe is ludicrously easy.  Mix up some brownie mix, slather some oreos in it, drop them into muffin tins and bake them!  Couldn't be more simple!!  Or messier!  I took the advice of this blogger and used double stuff oreos.  My husband ate the "raw" version and pronounced it delicious, but I remained skeptical.  After all, he is a sugar junkie.  As long as it is sweet, he is on board.  They are currently cooling on a rack on the counter.  As soon as they cool, I will try them out and be back to let you know what I think!

Okay I'm back.  And let me tell you, these are dangerous.  The oreo cookie kind of melts into the brownie leaving the sweet white oreo filling surrounded by cakey, fudgey chocolate deliciousness.   It is a really great mix of flavors and a really great texture.  And sweet.  Oh dear lord is that sweet!  I've had one and I feel like the inside of my mouth is coated in sticky sugar.  I am so not used to sweets that it is a generally unpleasant sensation.  And yet....I want another one....Even the chocolate doesn't phase me!  It makes me feel slightly dehydrated, but that is what juice is for, right?  So I am signing off.  Send me your willpower.  I may need it if I am going to stay away from these brownie/cookies for the rest of the night!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Taking Stock

There is an entire industry out there based on convincing us that things that appear difficult are actually surprisingly easy and can be carried out quite simply in your own home.  Usually...they are total liars.  It is not easy to carve your own bedroom set out of driftwood.  It is not a simple task to knit your child a princess gown from yarn spun from the wool of your own low maintenance herd of goats.  And I was highly skeptical that making chicken stock was as low stress and effortless as advertised.  But I had a whole weekend free, a bag full of chicken carcass and all the veggie odds and ends from the chicken noodle soup so I thought I might as well go for it!  In the end I was both right and wrong.  It was more of a challenge than other sources would lead you to believe and I ended up with a completely thrashed kitchen, but it also wasn't the disaster in waiting that I secretly anticipated.

I didn't have one specific recipe that I picked off of.  I scanned the internet and various cookbooks and picked up the general idea.  Which was basically, through a bunch of stuff in a pot, add water and cook the hell out of it.  The first hurdle came when I realized that I had gotten rid of my stock pot about a month earlier because I had never used it!!!!  Luckily I have an amazingly understanding husband who is used to my less than prepared culinary adventures and he managed to keep the grumbling to a minimum when I dragged us out of the house at 7:45 am to go buy a stock pot!  When we got back home, the briefly derailed stock challenge was back on.

I had saved the chicken carcass from a dinner earlier in the week and saved all of the peelings and odds and ends from the chicken noodle soup.  I wanted more chicken so I went ahead and roasted another chicken to add to the mix.  I butterflied the chicken (saving the back bone to add to the pot of course) and added salt, pepper and a bit of old bay seasoning and then roasted it just until the skin picked up that nice roasted look and smell.

The meat wasn't yet done, but that was okay.  It could finish cooking in the pot.  I cut up the chicken into quarters and added it to the pot along with a leek, some garlic, more onions and a bit of ginger.  I added in celery seed, peppercorns, sage, a bit of mustard seed, parsley and two bay leaves.  I didn't measure the spices but I went easy on them knowing that the flavor would get more intense as it cooked down.

I added water to cover and covered it and turned the heat up high and waited for it to boil.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I don't know if you are aware of it, but it takes a loooooooong time for that amount of water to boil!!  Finally, after at least an hour, it started boiling and I was able to uncover it and turn the heat down to medium to keep it at a simmer.  I came in every 20 minutes or so to "skim the scum off of the top."  Now, I was incredibly unclear about what constitutes "scum" and, despite a Google search, was unable to find a satisfyingly informative picture.  So I just kind of.....generally skimmed!  I figured that if I got everything off the top, the scum would come with it!  After 2 hours, with the top layer suitable skimmed and hopefully scum free, I took out the chicken pieces.  I let them cool for a bit and then stripped the meat off.  I tossed the bones back in and put the meat in a bag in the freezer to be used later for....well....I don't actually know yet!  Something!  With that done, I let it alone for a few hours to take the dogs to the dunes.

It was a gorgeous day and the dogs got some much needed exercise and it kept me from obsessively checking on the stock every few seconds.  We got back and I made another pass at skimming the broth.  After another 4 hours of simmering, the stock had cooked down quite a bit.  Now, every recipe I looked at had a different cooking time listed.  I went for 6 hours as that seemed to be about the average time of everything I looked at.  After telling you to cook the stock for X amount of hours, every recipe then gave the same phrase "When the stock is done cooking..."  I hate phrases like this.  When it is done?  What does that mean?  How do I know it is done?  Is it a certain temperature?  A certain color?  A certain smell?  I don't have enough confidence in my own judgement yet!!!  Give me something to work with!!!  But once again, Google failed me and I was unable to get any more specific than "When it is done".  So as much as it made me anxious, I just had to shrug it off and use my own best guess.  So I sort of puttered around a bit and dragged it out for another half an hour before I took it off the heat.

The next step is to strain the stock and immediately cool it.  I rigged up a setup with a large metal bowl settled into a cooler full of cold water and, with the help of my patient and adoring husband was able to get the stock strained and cooled in the bowl.  And I only burned my husband 3 times!  Pretty impressive considering we had no idea what we were doing and our straining/cooling process involved me standing at the stove, my husband kneeling on the floor, a huge stock pot, a handheld stainer, 3 different sized metal bowls, a foam cooler full of water and two overly curious dogs who kept trying to involve themselves in the process.  It worked though!  We cooled the stock and then put it in the fridge to finish cooling and separating.

The next day, I pulled the cooled stock to skim off the fat that was supposed to rise to the top.  There was a layer of white stuff that looked like fat on the top, but it was the same consistency as the stock itself, so it was difficult to "skim" it off the top.  I ended up just removing the top layer altogether to ensure that the fat was removed.  I also put a call in to my mom to double check that stock was supposed to be that thick.  She reassured me that it was okay and that it was because it was so cold, but once it was heated up, it would be normal consistency.  So I went ahead and scooped in into a variety of containers (3 with 4 cups of stock, 3 with 2 cups of stock and an ice cube tray with a tablespoon of stock per cube) and shoved it all in the freezer!  And now I am set for stock!  Which is good because I better get a pay off for the fact that my kitchen is completely decimated.  Seriously.  There are dirty dishes and utensils everywhere, drips of stock all over the stove, counters and floor, chicken bones and mushed up veggies piled up all over the place....In terms of actual effort needed to make the stock, it is true that it is fairly easy.  It is essentially boiling the hell out of a bunch of stuff you would otherwise be tossing in the trash.  But unless I am doing something completely wrong (which is always possible!!) it makes up for that in the fact that it creates a lot of clean up!  But we will see!  Maybe the clean up will be worth it to have about 20 cups of chicken stock in the freezer.  Or it will just create another challenge in that I now have 20 cups of chicken stock that I need to figure out how to use!  Only time will tell.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kale Chips

While I am a generally skeptical eater, I tend to be especially skeptical of any sort of health food that promises to "replace" your cravings for other delicious yet unhealthy food.  The last time I fell for that was when my then-vegetarian husband convinced me to try vegetarian bacon because "It is basically just like real bacon!"  He's a liar.  But I married him anyways.  Despite my naturally skeptical leanings, I decided to give Kale Chips a try.  I originally saw the recipe HERE.  It seemed like it could work.  And part of expanding my food tolerances is to get healthier, so why not give it a try!

This was an interesting experience both in terms of expanding my reluctant palette and in terms of wrestling with my inner OCD cook.  The first battle came when I saw that my husband bought curly leaf kale despite the fact that the recipes I looked at had used flat leaf kale.  This was the jumping off point for an internal argument that quickly devolved into a childish back and forth of "It doesn't matter!"  "But what if it does?"  "It doesn't!!"  "But what if it does?"  "IT DOESN'T"  Ultimately the voice of reason won by pointing out that even if it does matter, we are not willing to get out of our pajamas and go out to the store and buy another head of kale.  Thus, the curly leafed kale.

The next battle came when the recipes stated to remove or cut out the center rib of the kale.  When I am cooking, and the recipe tells me to do something that I am unfamiliar with and does not clearly explain what they mean, I tend to freeze in panic.  Even if I know I can probably guess what they mean, I still freak out because I could be wrong and ruin the entire thing!  Luckily, today I was distracted enough and tired enough that I was able to avoid a mini-meltdown and just strip the kale leaves off of the center rib.  It seemed logical that if you are making kale chips and the center rib needs to be removed, if you just rip chip sized chunks of kale off of the center rib, you are going to end up at the place you want to be.

I then washed the kale and began to look around for the salad spinner to dry them.  This led to an argument with my husband about whether we actually even own a salad spinner.  We never found it, but I still say we own one.  My husband also now says we own one because he is awesome at husband-ing and recognizes when he should just agree and move on.  I wonder where that thing is....Anyways!  Salad spinner-less I went ahead and towel dried the kale as much as I could and dumped it in a bowl, added some olive oil and tossed until everything was coated.  I then added 1 tsp of smoked paprika.  As I was smelling the scent rising from the bowl, it reminded me of a Sweet and Smoky Rotisserie spice I had in the spice drawer.  I had never used it before because it smelled like barbecue Lays.  Which are good chips, but are not what I want my meat to taste like.  But here was its opportunity to shine!  I shook out about a tsp and a half of it onto the kale.  I added a dash of salt.  I didn't add too much because the rotisserie seasoning already had salt in it and I didn't want to over salt the "chips".

I then laid them out on the baking pans.  Where the laid-back cook had won earlier, both with the curly leaf kale and the seasonings, OCD cook jumped to the front now and I found myself taking the kale out piece by individual piece and laying it out on the pans to ensure there was no overlap.  Time consuming, but not too bad, so I didn't fight this one.

I put the kale in a 350 degree oven and set the timer for 10 minutes.  At 10 minutes, one of the trays was done.  I took it out and let the other stay in for another two minutes.  I tasted one and felt like it needed more spice.  The kale taste was a bit over powering.  So I put the chips in a bowl and added some more seasonings and some salt and tossed them again.  This was then end result:

They look cool!  But the taste was the real test.  Initial thought?  I hated them.  Under normal circumstances, that would be it for me. I would walk away and never eat kale again.  But I reminded myself, the whole point is to push my boundaries, so give them a bit of a chance.  So I left the bowl out on the kitchen counter and munched on them throughout the day.  The end result?  I don't hate them!  They are very definitely not a substitute for potato chips, but they are interesting.  They could be a substitute in the sense that they are something that is bite-sized, slightly salty and that you can mindlessly munch on, like potato chips.  But if you are truly craving some chips, these are not the chips you want to reach for.  They taste exactly like what they are; Smoky, slightly salty roasted kale.  I am not a big fan of how long the kale-y aftertaste sticks with you, but after getting used to it, I really appreciated the flavor.  You definitely want to make sure they are fully cooked.  I got a few that were not fully crisped up and after a few moments of chewing you end up with this horrible, tough wad of vegetation in your mouth.  Unpleasant, even for someone who doesn't have extreme texture issues with food!

Will I make them again?  Probably not. I didn't like them enough to put in the effort to keep them in the house.  But if someone else made them, I wouldn't turn them down!  And for this picky eater, that is a huge step!

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Introduction and An Explanation

Now that the first post is out of the way, how about a quick introduction.  As you may have guessed, I am a picky eater.  I have tons and tons of food rules that I have spent my life following.
I don't generally eat chicken because I don't like dry meat and chicken is easily overcooked.
I hate mushy foods.  And unless you too are a mushy food hater, you have no idea how many foods fall into that category.  It also means that I hate eating most fruits.  Ever since I was a kid, I would make my mom by super under-ripe fruits because they were the only kind I would eat.  Unless that peach/pear/plum/nectarine crunched when I bit into it, I wanted nothing to do with it.  Same with veggies.  I have gotten better recently, but I used to refuse to eat any veggies that had been cooked.
I hate jiggly foods.  This is a much smaller food category, but I have an intense level of hatred for it.  Seriously, I can get nauseous even watching someone eat Jello.
I tend to go through weird food phases.  I had a period of time when I was about 10 where I dyed all of my food green and had an intense love of making lemonade from scratch (and then dying it green...).
As a child I hated having foods touch.  When my mom made BLTs, I would get a piece of toast, a few pieces of bacon, a slice of tomato and a piece of lettuce all laid out separately on my plate.  I hated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because I couldn't separate them.  This has now turned into a general hatred of peanut butter.  I hated pizza for the same reason.
I hate fish.  I hate mushrooms.  I hate citrus.  I hate oatmeal.  I hate yogurt.  I hate cottage cheese.  I hate swiss cheese.  I hate wheat bread.  I hate mayo.  I hate bananas.  I hate olives......I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

There are two important pieces to being a picky eater.  The first and most obvious is that it is incredibly limiting!  Which is irritating because I love food!!  I love cooking food and watching programs about food and talking about food and looking at food and reading about food.  I want to be able to branch out and truly enjoy food and to open myself up to new food possibilities.  That is what spawned this desire to start a food blog to help encourage me to push my own boundaries.

The second piece is that I don't think I actually am a picky eater!  I know that sounds weird, but I think I just got all of these rules and assumptions stuck in my head from when I was very young and have never bothered to question them or to test them.  I simply accepted them as true and lived my life while following them.  I firmly believe in questioning assumptions about ourselves and in finding those places in ourselves where we have been limiting our own development and our own opportunities.

So this blog is my journey to explore food and to decide consciously, what food I like and what I don't like.  It is also a place to celebrate food and to celebrate the rituals around food which are a critical piece of our culture.  And!  I get to combine cooking, eating, writing and photographing food!  All things that I love!  So welcome to my food blog!!!  I hope you enjoy your visit!  Please feel free to leave comments!  And any suggestions for food explorations are appreciated!

Adventures in Soup

When I decided to start a blog about my attempts to break out of my food rut I spent weeks going back and forth about what my first entry would be about.  Then I caught a seriously intense cold.  Seriously.  13 hrs of sleep and I still feel like death.  However, it solved the problem of what to write about!  Even a picky eater like me respects tradition and what can be more traditional when you are sick that eating chicken noodle soup?

Soup.  Soup soup soup.  So at some point in my life, around 6 I believe, I decided that I don't like soup.  And I stuck with that belief unquestioningly for the last 22 years or so.  When ever soup came into my life, I would simply toss off the phrase "I don't like soup" and move on. I never even questioned it until recently.  I was a person who didn't like soup.  When I made the decision to start stretching my food boundaries, this is the type of thing I looked for in my life.  Those places where I stated opinions with unflinching belief, but was completely unable to provide any sort of supporting data for it.  I don't like soup.  Really?  Why?  What is it about soup that I dislike?  Did I have a bad experience with soup once?  Did a soup once kidnap my dog?  No?  No answer for any of these?  Hmm.  Then I guess it is just about time to re-evaluate my beliefs about soup!

So, not only am I a picky eater, but I also tend to be a very rigid cook.  My husband likes to call it "OCD cooking".  If the recipe says, cook for 15 minutes and flip halfway through, I am setting the alarm for 7 minutes and thirty seconds so I know it is flipped halfway through.  If the recipe says to cut something into 1 in pieces, you can bet that I am searching for a ruler!  Soup doesn't really work like that.  Soup is laid back.  It goes with the flow.  It is a dish based off of leftovers.  OCD cooking and soup do not quite mix.  Once I was able to accept that and let it go, I was able to really enjoy myself!  It helped to be deathly ill.  OCD cooking takes a lot of mental energy and I was lucky just to remain standing long enough to get everything on the stove!  Also, we currently have a lull in our funds and poverty is a great initiator of innovation!  Plus!  For extra added fun!  We just moved and a lot of kitchen things are still in boxes!  So all in all, events were conspiring to make it the optimal moment for me to relax, let go, and make some tasty soup.

So the first thing I did was google cold-fighting foods.  I wanted to make sure I had as much cold fighting firepower as I could get in there!  And then I went on the hunt for an appropriate base recipe.  I found it here!  Soothing chicken soup with all the yummy traditional ingredients and a cold-fighting boost of spicy deliciousness added on top.

I started out by roasting the chicken.  I used 4 chicken breasts, because I had 4 in the fridge that were likely to go bad soon. I patted then dry with paper towels and then coated them with olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary.  I put them on a rack over the top of a baking sheet.  The oven I set on Broil and I put the chicken on the lower middle rack, about 8 inches from the broiler.  They cooked for about 20 minutes.  Once the first side had started to turn that perfect golden brown color, I flipped them to finish on the other side.  Then I pulled them and set them in a bowl to cool.  I poured the drippings from the pan into another bowl to add later to the broth.

Then it was veggie chopping time!  I poured some olive oil into the pot and put in on the stove to warm while I grabbed my knife and destroyed some veggies!!  I chopped up two smallish white onions, half of a red onion, some carrots (about 2 cups) and some celery (about 1 cup).  I tossed those in the pot to soften and chopped up 3 smallish russet potatoes and set them aside.  I minced 4 garlic cloves and set those aside as well.  While the carrots, celery and onions were cooking, I shredded the chicken breasts.  I like somewhat larger chunks of chicken, so I made the chunks about this size:

Once the other veggies had about 3-5 minutes to soften I added in the potatoes and garlic along with some rosemary and thyme and let them cook for another 5 minutes.

Then I added about 7 cups of chicken broth and a bay leaf and turned it up high to boil and then dropped it down to let it simmer.

I set the alarm for 30 minutes.  When it went off, I went in and checked on it.  The vegetables were softened and the potatoes were starting to fall apart.  I added in the chicken and noodles and let it cook for another 4 minutes or so.

While that was cooking I mixed up the "mojo" spicy sauce.   Even while mixing it up I got excited because for the first time in days I could actually smell something!!  And amazingly enough for me, it was the first time that I used a measuring utensil during the entire process!  I made sure to measure out the cayenne pepper just to make sure I didn't accidentally make the entire soup inedible!

 Finally the soup with finished.  Because my sense of smell and, thus, taste were definitely compromised, I sent my husband in at that point to add the salt and pepper.  I wasn't entirely certain what to do with the mojo spice.  I wasn't sure if it was to be added to each individual serving or to just dump it in the whole pot.  I went ahead and dumped it in the pot and stirred it up!  It looked beautiful.

So then came the true test. Eating it!!  I really enjoyed it but there were a few issues for me.  I overcooked the potatoes a bit, but the carrots were perfect to my taste!  I hate mushy foods and the carrots were right at the point where they were soft, but still held shape and the hint of crunch to them.  I really liked the taste.  It was just this side of bland, but I have the feeling that has more to do with my ability to taste and smell right now that with the actual soup.  I really liked it and I really liked the relaxation of making it.  Because I feel like soup is a pretty forgiving food, I felt like I had more freedom to do what I wanted.  My husband came it at one point and asked where the cup measure was and I told him I didn't know. He was absolutely shocked that I was cooking, but wasn't surrounded by measuring utensils, focusing on getting every measurement right.  It is amazing how much more enjoyable cooking is when you are focused on the experience rather than on getting every. little. thing. correct.  And I know for a fact that I won't be able to say "I don't like soup" anymore.