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

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.......