In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Post 114 ~ A once-in-a-lifetime experience... recreated. (sorta.)

It's been a while, fair readers, and the reason is because I am currently teaching four classes, with over two hundred and fifty students (263, but who's counting?) and am facing a life change that I will write about in a separate post soon on my Singapore blog. But until then, let us focus on the present.

Singapore is on its final day of Chinese New Year celebrations. For the fourth year in a row, I have been generously hosted by my "Japanese Mom and Dad" for the holiday break. As you'll remember, last year we went to Nagano to see the snow monkeys, the year before that took us to Hokkaido for the Winter Festival, and the year before that saw my very first visit to Japan with my mom and dad to visit my Japanese mom and dad, the latter of whom took us on such an incredible tour of Japan, we believe we saw a month's worth of sites in eight days.

But again - back to the present. 

This year, my incredible hosts took me up through the mountains, on planes, in trains and automobiles, to Shirakawago, a 300-year-old village nestled in the high northern mountains. The air is a clear, crystalline variety one would expect to find in the Alps. The houses, too, have an alpine feeling, as they are structured with an A-frame not unlike their European cousins, only the Shirakawago variety is in a nearly perfect equilateral triangle. The village has survived, to my understanding, for centuries due to the following reasons:
  1. The village is extremely remote. I cannot imagine a neighboring, hostile clan saying, "Let's cross these mountains in the sub-zero temperatures so we can capture those twelve houses over there."
  2. The houses were built with nothing but solid wood beams, thatched roofs and rope. So, during the inevitable earth quakes - picture a rope bed - the frame shifts, but settles back into place.
  3. The fires kept burning in the center of the dwelling served not only to warm the premise, but also to effectively carbonize the wood.
  4. Miso.
A woman selling miso (in the barrels) to patrons.
Alright, the fourth reason is not historically proven, but I think miso helps. Miso, for the uninitiated, is fermented soybean paste prized for its versatility, health benefits and "umami" flavoring (a secretly distinct flavor that our tongues cannot quite compute - a mix of savory, sweet, and something... else...). Miso is used in soups, cooking, and is as versatile as regions that make it.

The miso in these high mountain regions is characterized by its sweet, nutty flavors, created by sugars and sake. Mmmmm... sake. See? I told you there was a reason these people have survived centuries in freezing temperatures.

Our server is demonstrating the proper way to cook hoba miso.
One evening while traveling through the region (more on this entire trip in a blog post to come in LeftorRight), Tetsuji took us to a small, local restaurant that specialized in hoba miso - a magnolia leaf on which miso was spread, and meat was cooked, over an open flame. 

Naturally, I'm game for any new dining experience.

There are those moments in life where you taste something and you know you'll never taste anything quite like it again. It might be a perfectly prepared family dinner. A glass of rare wine. And sometimes, it's a travel experience (my first and only experience with clotted cream in Cornwall, England comes to mind). This was one of those times.

The miso is sweet, but savory. The famed Hida beef that is cooked in it is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I admit to shamelessly scraping my chopsticks across the singed leaf to get every. last. bit.

And then Tetsuji said I could buy some in a market the next day.

We went to a morning market at a sleepy, quaint village on a blindingly bright winter day. The air was crisp, our breath hung in the air and the water was so clear, we could clearly see koi in the river like bright, orange jewels.

I purchased a pack of three hoba miso sets - three magnolia leaves artfully folded around packets of the rich, reddish-brown miso.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I packed them so cautiously in my suitcase. When I returned to Singapore, I pondered them for a number of days. When to cook with them? How to cook with them?

Which brought back a wonderful sensation, one that I have not truly felt for four years, since I moved abroad: The feeling of planning a meal. No. Not a meal. A culinary experience.

My life in Singapore is structured around a very hectic schedule and grocery stores that are unpredictable. I do most of my shopping online, and often find myself facing unique situations, like the time the grocer I depended on inexplicably stopped carrying milk. For a month. Now I always keep a quart in the freezer.

But this was different. I had the most crucial ingredient. Now for the rest.

This was a very long warm-up, but I assure you, it's worth the wait. And if you can't get hoba miso (which, I regret to say, can only be purchased from the Takayama region of Japan), I believe you would enjoy cooking a meal over any style of miso. I know for a fact, after desperate research, that you can find a wide variety of miso at Wegmans. Go figure. 

Here's what you'll need:

~ Meat of choice. I chose chicken fillets (cut into bite-sized piece) for economical ease
~ Leeks sliced as thin as you can
~ Japanese pumpkin or any squash, cubed
~ Sliced mushroom of choice
~ Edamame beans
~ Rice
~ Miso (of course)
~ Magnolia leaf (if possible)

I soaked the magnolia leaf while preparing my other ingredients. I sliced the leeks, mushrooms and the pumpkin, and steamed the latter in the microwave for one minute. I cut up the chicken tenders. I placed the leaf on a pan with a little oil, which I rubbed over the leaf, as well. Onto the leaf went the miso.

I licked the spoon clean. I cannot overstate how good this miso is.

Onto that went my ingredients, in an attempt at  replicating the careful, artful arrangements I had seen countless times while dining in Japan. Food is an artform there, and it is presented as such. Color is balanced with size, texture, shape and flavor. I made a large batch of food, because I was planning on leftovers for later in the week.

I should also mention at this point that I cheated and bought pre-cooked rice.

Here you can see the progression of the meal. I kept the heat at low-medium the entire time. The miso occasionally hits the pan and pops, and I also didn't want to scorch the leaf. I stirred it around a bit, until everything looked beautiful, golden and done. It smelled soooooo good!

I layered some rice in the bowl and the chicken and veggies and yummy, yummy miso on top of it all.

It. was. AMAZING. I am so happy that I have two more packages of this, and even though I know I can't get the same thing back in the States, I think that cooking with miso will become a regular occurrence for the Accidental Chef...

I served tonight's meal with a mellow French Cabernet Sauvignon. It was oaky in a way that
complemented the aged flavor of the miso, but fruity in a way that offset the saltiness, too. All in all, a delicious, international affair.

And this is where I leave you, fair readers, until another post. Be sure to watch my Singapore blog for a post about the rest of my fabulous adventure in Japan, as well as updates about my incredible time here on this side of the planet.

Until then...

Yours in the love of good food and wine, and incredible life experiences,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Post 113 ~ The Optically-Optimal Omelet

Today I completed a goal I've been trying to reach for two decades. And I only set one (very small) kitchen fire.

It's been twenty years since I took Life & Careers class at the Orchard Park Middle School. That's the class that used to be called Home Ec, but has gone through many iterations, and when my child takes it someday, it will probably be called something else. But two pinnacle learning moments stand out in my mind from that class:

Here is my 6th or 7th grade
school photo, complete with
popular 90s "wispy" bangs
and braces. You're welcome.
1.) Using a fork to make the little criss-cross pattern on the tops of peanut butter cookies is one of life's singularly pleasing experiences.

2.) I cannot make an omelet to save my life.

I tried. I really did. Despite Mrs. Huen's careful guidance, I just could never get the spatula to gracefully glide along the pan and turn that golden full moon into a half moon of egg like the other kids could. I resolved myself to making other egg dishes - mostly scrambled, poached, or my other specialty: Eggs Over Violent (nothing is ever "easy" with eggs for me).

But today, for some reason, I decided I needed to make an omelet. Here's what I used:

  • 2 eggs scrambled with a splash of milk
  • One shredded brussel sprout
  • Half a tomato
  • Several thin onion slices
  • Butter
  • Garlic salt
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Chives
In my smaller stick-free pan, I melted some butter and sauteed the veggies. When they were cooked, I slid them onto a plate, and into the pan went the scrambled egg.

Here's where things started out really, really good.

The egg gently cooked in the pan, and I rotated the pan around to get the liquid egg nicely spread around the edges. Mrs. Huen would be proud. When the liquid bit was concentrated just in the very center, I put my ingredients onto one half and topped it with shredded cheddar. Mmmmm... Melty cheese...

Wait! Focus! 

: : PAUSE : : 

In my defense, the spatula I've gotten in this semester's apartment is awful. It's curved up on the sides, and the other option is a small, blunt wooden spatula. I tried using both at once today.

: : UNPAUSE : :

I slid the wooden spatula around the edge, and it immediately started to shred. I pushed it and prodded it and instead of all of it flipping at once, just the outer edge flipped - kind of a 1/3 flip instead of a one half. Of course, the flipped edge immediately adhered to the melty cheese.

Don't panic. I grabbed the other spatula and slid it under and took the stubborn outer edge with my fingers to try to coax it over the rest of the way, burning my fingers in the process.

Then, I tilted the pan, hoping gravity would aid me. It did!

But about two inches of outer edge broke off of the omelet and flipped right on top of the electric burner.

Soooo much smoke. 

I scooped it off the burner with the spatula and let it smolder away while I tried rescuing the omelet. Because now, it was flipped beautifully, but there was a burst-open tear right across the top. 

So I flipped the entire thing over. The underside is a hot mess. Quite literally. But the top is beautiful, as you can see in the picture above. It was truly photo-worthy, especially after I slid it expertly (ha!) onto a plate and topped it with shredded mozzarella and chives.

The Accidental Chef today.
Well, a year and a half
ago. But close enough.
And it tasted DIVINE. 

And so, my little Life & Careers readers, we have two lessons to take away from this post today:

1.) Looks don't always matter - it's what's inside (melty cheese! sauteed veggies!) that's important and

2.) Don't believe every perfect photo you see in a cooking blog! And don't underestimate the hard work and struggle that might have gone into it.

But in the end, it was totally worth it. I've gained practice, and I think with the right utensils, I might actually master the omelet someday. In the mean time, I devoured this one with a hot cup of coffee, and am now ready to continue grading!

Yours in the love of good food, lessons and experience,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Post 112 ~ More meal prep - Helped along by my new favorite kitchen gadget

Remember in Post 110 when I finally worked up the courage to try my convection oven? MAN I wish I had gotten braver sooner. The convection oven is fast, convenient, and makes prepping my week's meals SO easy.

Here's what's on the menu for this week:

  • Monday is my day off, so I made a pizza. Another post will be coming soon about that!
  • Tuesday: Savory orange glaze pork chop with green beans and roasted pepper
  • Wednesday: Leftover roasted chicken (another post soon on that) with potato and brussels sprouts
  • Thursday: Greek marinade pork with Brussels sprouts (can you tell I splurged on an order of them?) and some roasted pepper
  • Friday: Tangy chicken breast with - wait for it... well, you already know.
Here's what you'll need:
~ Brussels sprouts - about 10-15, shredded
~ Green beans
~ 1 Orange pepper that has to be eaten soon Or Else
~ Leftover roast chicken and potato (I'm totally cheating a little on this post)
~ 2 pork chops

~ 5 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 single serve packs dressing: Greek and French
~ 1 tsp brown sugar
~ about 1/4 cup orange juice
~ Chives
~ Garlic salt
~ Butter

All these meals really take is just a little forethought. Earlier today I got two pork chops and a chicken breast out to thaw. Once they thawed, I put them each in a ziplock bag. Onto one pork chop went a single-serve packet of Wegman's Greek dressing (yes, I bring half of Wegman's grocery store with me when I travel to Singapore). Onto the other pork chop I shook some Worcestershire sauce and orange juice (I'm a big fan of impromptu marinades). Onto the chicken breast went Wegman's French dressing and about a teaspoon of brown sugar. Into another bag went the sliced pepper with some EVOO and garlic salt. I let them marinate for a few hours. 

Before I prepared to cook them, I sliced and steamed the brussels sprouts and beans, and prepared them in the containers. Then it was time for the fun part. This time, I had decided to go all out with the convection oven. I set everything onto the rack like this:

Then I topped the Worchestershire pork chop with some chives, and put the whole thing in the convection oven, set it on "steak" for "0.8 kg" because I don't speak metric and have no idea what I'm doing, and turned it on.

About halfway through, it instructed me to flip everything, and at this point, it was looking like I was going to have to add more time, but surprisingly, when the timer went off, everything was cooked - I poked a knife into each piece of meat and juices ran clear. I was happy that the peppers even had a little browning to the edges that nicely roasted veggies can get!

Into containers they went, I made myself a pizza for dinner, and cleaned up the kitchen (really, I only had a cutting board, some utensils and the rack and pan to clean - that's it!) and settled in for the evening knowing that when I come back from my long, late days, dinner will be waiting for me! With a glass of wine, of course.

Ooh! That reminds me! I've discovered a really nice wine, and it seems to go on sale quite frequently! Grant Burge Shiraz, from South Australia is my new favorite! It is big on flavor and not "harsh" like a lot of the *ahem* less expensive *ahem* wines that I've been finding. The best part is that this one is frequently on special, so I bought another bottle as well as a cabernet sauvignon to try. Life is looking up for the Accidental Chef!

Yours in the love of good (convenient) food and good (and reasonably priced) wine,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Post 111 ~ Prepping ahead for a busy week

If you've been with me, loyal readers, these past six years, then you know that sitting down at the end of a day to a home-cooked meal and a glass of wine is one of my greatest joys. And although my schedule has gotten busier, it's still an aspect of my life that I've worked to maintain.

Don't get me wrong - some nights, there's nothing quite like take-out in your pajamas. Or a Lean Cuisine when you're in a rush.

But for the most part, I really enjoy eating something that I've prepared. But how to keep that habit going when you know you're facing a non-stop week?

Watching my mom prepare dinners for my grandmother and for my dad to take to work has shown me that sometimes, it takes just a little more time to prep a couple meals at one time. So I've started doing just that.

On Mondays, I don't have classes, so in-between other tasks like class prep, laundry and errands, I spent a little time in the kitchen to prep lunches and dinners for the week - all in all, I'd say about 45 minutes in the afternoon and 30 minutes in the evening. Here's what I did, and here's what you'll need:

~ 1 small bag radishes
~ 1 large zucchini
~ 1 large carrot
~ 2 peppers (red and yellow)
~ 1 small onion
~ 3 cloves garlic
~ 3 tomatoes
~ brussels sprouts (for later)

~ 2 pork chops
~ 2 small chicken breasts (or one large one, halved)

~ Italian herbs (ratatouille)
~ Garlic salt (1 chop)
~ Rosemary (1 chop)
~ Coarse dijon mustard (1 chop)
~ Italian bread crumbs and parm (chicken)

And EVOO and butter and salt, of course.

First, I chopped up a bunch of veggies. Some went into a pot with onion and garlic for ratatouille, and others went into baggies with a little water to keep them crisp to take to work with hummus or dressing and a piece of fruit and a granola bar. I made short order of that job with a big chef's knife and a cutting board.

Once the ratatouille was sitting and resting and the veggies were stored in the crisper, I got the large chicken breast and two pork chops out of the freezer to thaw, then I busied myself with the rest of my day.

That evening, I heated some EVOO in a pan, and placed the pork chops in to start browning. One one chop, I placed a sprig of rosemary and garlic salt, and on the other, a teaspoon of coarse dijon mustard. While they were cooking, I shredded the brussels sprouts (which I suppose I could have done earlier that day when I was prepping veggies) and steamed them right in a storage container, draining the water out and adding a bit of butter.

When the pork chops were finished, I transferred them to containers. I cut the chicken breast in half, and breaded it with Italian bread crumbs mixed with parmesan (my old standby) and set them to sizzle in the same pan I had just cooked the pork in (I didn't feel the need to rinse it - it just added extra flavor!).

While the chicken was cooking, I placed the rosemary chop in the container with a hearty serving of ratatouille, and the dijon chop in the container with the brussels sprouts. I could have easily subbed another veggie for a serving of ratatouille, but I was really craving this dish and decided to have it a few times this week.

Once the chicken was done, I placed one half on a plate with our favorite Provençal concoction and the other in a container with another good scoop. The remaining ratatouille went into a ziplock bag and was laid flat in the freezer for fast thawing later this semester when I need a quick side.

One meal went on a plate, three meals went in containers. I stacked them in my fridge, and after late classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I had ready-made dinners that could be microwaved and ready to enjoy in two minutes flat.

With, of course, a nice glass of wine.

Yours in the love of good food, good wine, and good, fast convenience,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Post 110 ~ Finland-inspired fish and potatoes (Alternatively: I used my convection oven and the world didn't end)

So, that's a rather long title.

Just like it's been a rather long time since I've posted. My apologies. Life has this nasty habit of just HAPPENING the moment you turn your back.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Two stories go into the introduction of this evening's dinner:

1.) My parents and I, during the summer break, took a lovely trip to the Baltic. We took an RCI cruise from Denmark to Stockholm, Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Helsinki and had many grand adventures along the way. We were surprised at the fact that the majority of the ports we visited were quite "citified" and so, the food offerings were largely restaurants that seemed to either be chains or restaurants reflecting a different culture than the one we were in (pizza and spaghetti in Denmark?). As it is the nature of a cruise that one visits the ports that are accessible by sea, I am sure that things are different when one ventures further inland, and indeed, our hopes are to return to Scandinavia to journey further into the heartland. But our most authentic "food moment" by far was in Helsinki, where we ventured to a local market, a magical produce/hot food fair, where we were lucky enough to eat our way through the town's culinary joys. We enjoyed salmon, potatoes, vegetables, chowder, even crepes. And the herb that was prevalent throughout in heaping spoonfuls (well, not on the crepes) was DILL. So that's story #1.

2.) I live in fear of my apartment's convection oven. It's a microwave... and an oven. God didn't intend microwaves to get that hot. I used it once, in a past apartment, to make a pumpkin pie, but it found me plastered against the opposite wall the entire time, convinced the apartment was going to explode. If you follow my blog, you know I love to roast, broil steam and bake my food. But alas, I have been using a cooktop for the last three years. No more! I resolved that I would, this semester, the start of Year 4 in Singapore, use my convection oven. And so I did.

Here's what you'll need for tonight's dinner:

~ A fillet of tilapia (I use frozen, because that's what I can get)
~ Lemon
~ Dill (I brought over some freeze-dried herbs that I got at Walmart and LOVE them)
~ Coarse-ground salt
~ White potatoes
~ Snap peas
~ Rosemary
~ Corningware
~ A convection oven and a sense of adventure

I put a fillet of tilapia in a good ole New York Corningware dish (imagine my delight when my new apartment came furnished with cookware from my home state!), and, nostalgic for my summer voyage with my family, added a hefty spoonful of dill. I topped the tilapia with two slices of lemon, some onion, some salt, and some more dill. Then I halved some potatoes (will dice the next time; they did not cook evenly) and added some snap peas. I drizzled EVOO over them, added the remains of some not-so-fresh rosemary I had wilting away in my crisper, and put the whole thing in the Evil Machine.

And I hit "grill." And selected "fish" (the primary ingredient, no?) and stabbed in "0.4 kg" because, well, it seemed a reasonable metric equivalent of a corningware dish with fish, potatoes, peas and seasonings.

And I hit "START."

I couldn't take it. 17 minutes. I went to my laptop and busied myself with tomorrow's class prep so as not to think too hard about what might be happening in the other room.

10 minutes in, and I poked my head around the corner. My kitchen was not, in fact, engulfed in flames. It carried on.

And then it beeped.

In the bottom of my corningware dish was ...

...A beautiful dinner. I put it in for 5 more minutes (then heated the potatoes some more later) and served it with a normally-harsh glass of Singapore-bargain chardonney, but found that the dill and lemon softened the wine, coaxing out its oaky, fruity undertones.

The aroma and flavor of the dill brought back fond memories of my time with my family in the Land of the Vikings just a few short weeks ago, and all was well in my world.

I have, it would seem, conquered my demons. And opened up a great new world of cooking for myself!

Yours in the love of good food, fair wine, and the adventure of life abroad,


The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

109 ~ Tuna steak and Veggies (at a price)

Last night I left campus at 7pm - yes, on a Saturday - because I had been riding a wave of productivity that continues even today. So this is going to be short and sweet, as I'm heading back in to finish my To-Do list! But last night I was craving simple, wholesome fare. And so I did one of those "If I could have anything in the world right now, what would I eat" games. It's a dangerous game to play when you're living so far away from Wegmans or Panera. I settled on simply prepared fish and a steamed veggie.

I wandered in to Cold Storage and grabbed a tray of Brussels Sprouts, which, I'm sad to say, were 50 cents a sprout. But fresh veggies are worth it, right? Next was a tuna steak - a tray with two - so I could justify the cost since I'd be getting a second meal out of it, right? I won't tell you what I paid for the tuna. I just won't. Next into my cart went an oaky Chardonnay. Because if you're gonna be a big spender, you might as well go all the way, right? RIGHT?!

This was one of those meals that was so simple I almost wonder if anyone out there wants to read a blog post about it, but I think the reason I will post on it is because it shows how fast preparing a truly delicious meal can be. I was sitting down to eat this less than 15 minutes after I walked in the door.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Tuna steak
  • Butter
  • Seasoned salt (I chose garlic salt)
  • Coarse salt
  • Brussels sprouts (yours will be cheaper. Be quiet.)
First things first - open the wine. Ha! You thought I was going to wax poetic about starting the pan heating? Let's be realistic. Okay, NOW you can get the pan on the stove. I always cook with stick-free cookware. Start a good chunk of butter melting down in the pan. 

Wash the brussels sprouts. With the absence of an oven, another great way to eat Brussels Sprouts is how my mom and I prepare them when we're home together. We buy them pre-shredded at Wegmans and steam them. Since mine aren't pre-shredded, I make short order of them myself with a chef's knife, then stick them in a bowl with a little water and tightly cover it with cling wrap. I popped them into the microwave on 1:30 and then put the tuna steak onto the pan. I seasoned one side lightly with the garlic salt, and when I saw it was heated partway through, I flipped it over. At the same time, I stirred the Brussels Sprouts and popped them in for 30 more seconds. 

: : PAUSE : : 

All in all, the tuna was probably cooked for about 10 minutes (I decided to cook this tuna all the way through, but you can use your judgment on cooking times and make it to your preference).

: : UNPAUSE : : 

I flipped the tuna steak one more time, making sure to move it around the pan to get all that good browned butter on it, turned off the heat but let it sit there a little longer while I drained, buttered and salted the sprouts. 

Onto a plate it all went, and I called it dinner.

And a grand dinner it was!
Yours in the love of good food and wine and a speedy combination of the two,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Post 108 ~ "The Purest" French Toast

Growing up, my mom would sometimes declare a certain night "French Toast and Sausage" night. This would typically be when summer was drawing toward autumn and the air had a crispness in it, or better yet, in the darkest days of February, when the sun starts setting at 4pm and the world has gone quiet and frozen.

In any case, it meant that the kitchen would fill with the smell of browning butter, warm sage, maple syrup - all the smells of a dinner that was surely better as a reward at the end of a day than as a sluggish "well-I'm-obviously-not-getting-anything-done-today" starter. When my mom makes French toast, it's not an over-the-top, flavored, sugary-sweet dish. "It's all about the eggs and the bread," she'd say, beating eggs in a bowl as butter browned on a long, rectangular skillet. "Eggs, bread, and maple syrup. It should be unadulterated."

In Singapore, it may be September, but it hardly means the weather is cooler. In fact, the temps have been consistently in the 90s with a "real feel" temperature sticking (pun intended) around 103 all week. I have survived these days in a manner not unlike a CW vampire, hissing at the touch of the sun and ducking into shade spots, seeking, perhaps, the cold and darkness of the comforting winter months.

But that doesn't mean I'm not still craving autumnal foods. In fact, with the ubiquity of social media (hello, Pinterest, and your obsession with all things pumpkin), reminders of autumn foods are impossible to escape, even on the equator. So this morning, I set about making my version of "Purest" French toast. Minus a few key things, like sagey sausage and maple syrup. The simplicity of this dish is what enabled me to justify it as a breakfast food. Here's what you'll need:

  • French bread
  • Eggs
  • Condensed milk
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey
I was cooking for one, and made a small portion. I started a stick-free skillet heating on med-high with some butter. I sliced three slices about one inch thick off of a bâtard I bought at the Swiss bakery downstairs. It's always a little stale when I get it (pretty impossible to keep a crusty bread like that fresh in 90% humidity!) so it's perfect toasting bread. I put about a tablespoon and a half of condensed milk into a bowl when I mixed up a new jug of creamer this morning (more on that another time!) and added about a teaspoon of regular milk. I cracked an egg into it and mixed it all together.

I dunked the bread slices into the mixture, making sure it had a few seconds to soak in, then onto the hot pan it went with a sizzle! I let it brown on one side while I made coffee, then added a bit more butter so I could flip them over. I flipped them all a few times, pressing down lightly on the centers and sides of the pieces so they would brown nicely. I put them on a plate, dusted them ever-so-lightly with cinnamon (this is, after all, supposed to be PUREST) and added a drizzle of honey over the top of the whole thing.

Lovely, warm, nostalgic and pure. A perfect not-too-heavy breakfast that has sated a bit of my desire for autumnal food - and has made me that much more excited for winter dinners to come over break!

Yours in the love of food and nostalgia,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Post #107 ~ Lemon Chicken Rice Soup

I'm delighted that a friend of mine from Buffalo is arriving in Singapore to join her husband, my friend and colleague (and neighbor!) for the rest of the semester! I wanted to give her something to say "Welcome back!" and knowing how I feel when I'm jetlagged, I decided on soup. Something light. Something simple. I found this recipe, and naturally, utterly failed to follow any of the directions. However, it has been taste-tested and approved by said neighbor, and, if I do say so myself, I think it is quite good!

Here's what you'll need. Again, I'd like to point out that this was a recipe that I adopted from foodiecrush, but I butchered the directions to such an extent, I felt it merited its own post by yours truly!

  • Splash of EVOO
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 kg. skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water with 2 chicken bouillon dissolved
  • Hearty splash of white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup Wegmans Mountain Red Blend rice
  • 1 full stem fresh tarragon, chopped
The directions on the blog are quite straightforward. However, I did not realize how much of my brain's cognitive powers had been sapped by a double-header of COM101 today. So here's how I went about it.

Put on a good rainy day album. I chose Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlantacism Demos. Start choppin'. I chopped up the carrots, onion, celery, garlic and leek, and put them all in a bowl. I've never cooked with leeks before, but I'm really happy that to say that this is another new veggie that's going to become a staple in my soups.

Chop up the tarragon and add it to the veggies (this is the point where my brain and my attention span seriously parted ways with the directions). Chop the lemon in half and squeeeeeeeeeeze the juice over everything. It smells SOOOO GOOOD! Today is the first day of spring, too, and while this isn't a terribly big deal in Singapore where it's summer year round, the Northerner in me still feels that chopping up all these fresh smelling veggies was a good springtime thing to be doing!

Dump a splash of EVOO into a large soup pot. Start it heating.

Heat it way too much. Back that baby down.

Chop up the chicken, season with salt, and slide into the hot oil to brown.


Okay, so the chicken is browning fine without the flour. Whatever. Add a hearty splash of Chardonnay to the chicken. Mmmmmm! Smells even better! (I love cooking with wine! Sometimes I even add it too the food!).

Dump ALL the veggies and tarragon and lemon into the pot and stir it around. Smells really good. Realize at this point you were supposed to do all of this separately. Shrug. Carry on.

Pour in the stock and realize you're one cup short. Quickly dissolve two Herb Ox bouillon cubes in a cup of water. Pour it in! Dump in another cup of water shy a bit, since you've added wine... 

Turn it down and let it simmer. I probably had it simmering for about 15-20 minutes, and then added my half cup of rice and simmered it for 20 more. I tasted the broth after the first 10 minutes, and it was pretty puckerful (I just made that word up. "Puckerful," © A. Lohiser, 2014) with all that lemon and tarragon. I'm pleased to say that it mellows beautifully over the course of the cooking time. I turned off the heat and dished some up in a take-away container for my friends to enjoy in good health and good company!

And I'll be enjoying a lot of bowls of this soup, now and in the future, that's for sure! This recipe is now part of my regular rotation! So fast and easy, healthy, and yummy!

Yours in the love of good food and wine,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Post #106 ~ Pan-fried Dijon pork with homemade applesauce

This is one of those super simple meals I love. And again, may I state my undying love for my crock pot?

The main attraction of this meal, to me, is the applesauce. Every semester when we arrive at our serviced apartments, we are greeted with a lovely welcome basket. The basket always contains some butter cookies (called "biscuits" here), a granola bar, some chocolate, and bananas and green apples. Lots of apples.

The apples are good, but you can only eat so many (insert "keep the doctor away" jokes here), so around Week 2, when the apples are starting to look a little sad, I make some applesauce. My mom always makes applesauce (well, we call it "hot apples," being a very literal family) so the added perk here is that it also makes my apartment smell like home. Rather than increase the homesickness factor, it actually serves to abate it. Perhaps "home" can be wherever you feel your family's love - no matter how far away they are?

So usually I make it on the stove top, which requires, you know, attention, but today I thought I'd toss them in my crock pot. Great idea, if I do say so myself. Here's what you'll need:

  • Lots of apples. In this case, 6
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar (I use brown and white, but I don't suppose it matters too much)
  • Dried fruit is a bonus
  • Just a tiny pinch of salt
Get out your cutting board and make short order of your apples. I am pleased to say I don't waste much, but everyone's applesauce desires are unique. I leave the skin on, but am generous in my coring, cutting each apple in half, then whack-whack-whacka-whack each half like I'm cutting lines of longitude on a globe. Then I run the knife down the insides of the wedges wherever it's seedy. 

Toss the wedges into your crock pot with about a half cup water. Sugar and cinnamon are largely a to-taste thing. I use quite a bit, because, well, sugar and cinnamon are yummy. You can't take it out, though, so my suggestion is add some, taste, let it cook; you can always add more. I start by just kind of sprinkle-pouring it over the surface of the apples as they rest in the pot.

Slap the lid on, put in on high, and walk away. Stir it once in 30 minutes and that's a good time to assess your sugar and cinnamon levels. At that point, turn it on low. I let mine cook on low for another hour and a half. Halfway into that cook time, I stirred it once more and added a good handful of dried berries. They reconstitute in the most lovely way, adding just a touch of tart to the otherwise sugary sweet apples.

I came back downstairs and turned off the apples and made the pork. This would have been doubly-good marinated, but honestly, I just thought of it as I was coming down the stairs. Here's what you'll need:
  • Pork tenderloin cut into medallions (to serve one - in a country where this cut of meat is expensive - I used three medallions for my serving)
  • One scant teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Garlic salt
  • Dried herbs
  • Butter
Open the baggie/container of pork and sprinkle it generously with garlic salt. Smoosh it all around so the meat is evenly seasoned. Add the mustard and continue smooshing. Seal it up for a little bit while you let your butter melt in the pan on low-medium heat. Prep your side (mine was more steamed green beans, this time with a small clove of garlic cut in). 

Dump the pork in the pan (please don't splatter yourself with hot butter like I foolishly did; I mean, really.) and let it cook slowly, moving it as minimally as possible. One flip #1 I sprinkled with herbs, let it cook a bit more, flipped it again and let it cook for a few more minutes. I like my pork a little pink inside, so once I pierce it with a fork and the juices run clear with just a little red, I turn off the heat and let them rest.

Serve the pork with the apples on top with your side and enjoy! I had a glass of a French red table wine - it honestly would have been paired better with an oaky white, but this was on hand and paired just fine, thank-you-very-much! It added a note of tart acidity like the reconstituted berries in the applesauce!

All in all, a homey meal!
Yours in the love of good food and wine,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Post #105 ~ Crock pot "coq au vin"

I put the title in somewhat ironic quotes, because I fear Julia Child would have a few things to say about my accidental rendition of this dish.

My story goes like this:

Back in Singapore for another semester, I have a freezer full of chicken and a crock pot at the ready. I love my crock pot. I invested $30 and a strenuous train ride back to my apartment to enable me to enjoy slow cooked "fix-and-forget" meals. I will do a separate post on the wonders of freezer meals, but for now, let us return to our story.

I had been madly pinning recipes over the summer to try when I returned to the Lion City, one of which is this one. I had read in the comments section that this recipe could also be done in a crock pot, and seeing as I possess both a crock pot and a penchant for garlic, I was in like Flynn.

This morning I woke up to an out-of-whack lower back. I'm not sure what I did yesterday (well, I'm pretty sure it entailed carrying heavy stuff - when I return to the States and become a car owner again, I will appreciate the convenience of a trunk in a whole new way!) but it was definitely looking like one of those bottle-of-advil-and-a-heat-pack kind of days. But I still wanted to make a good dinner. So I remembered this recipe, thawed out two large chicken breasts and got out the garlic.

And completely chickened out.

No, that's not a pun.

I had peeled six cloves, and by now my hands and my apartment are smelling intensely like garlic. Just how pungent would this dish be? What would happen if I cooked it for six hours in my small apartment? Would I have any friends left?

So I decided to wimp out on the garlic and substituted some other things instead. So into the bottom of the crock pot went:

  • 1 tbs EVOO to coat the pot
  • 1 medium sized onion, julienned
  • 6 peeled but whole cloves of garlic
  • 2 small tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 green apple, sliced (hey, I had a bunch on hand)
  • 1 sprig each rosemary, thyme, oregano

On top of all of this I plopped the chicken. I put a bit more EVOO over the chicken and sprinkled some coarse-ground salt over it. Now for some chicken broth. I have some broth in my fridge from a few days ago - one sec...

OH, no. Never mind. Equatorial climate + a jetlagged interpretation of "a few days" have not been kind to this opened carton of broth.

"What other liquid is within reach?" I think, as I hunch over my counter, a heating pad upstairs calling my name.

Well, that's a simple answer, if you know me well enough: Wine.

I had about 2/3 of a glass of a red table wine left that was a little too dried out for drinking, but not bad at all for cooking. Into the pot it went. 

I set it on low to cook for 5-6 hours. About half-way through, I stirred things around and added 3 chicken bouillon cubes. It smelled AMAZING.

I steamed and buttered some green beans to go with it and uncorked a new bottle of a French red. The thing that bugs me about crock pot meals is that as good as they smell and taste, they just don't photograph that well. So you'll forgive the above image if it doesn't look as pretty as other dishes do. Take my word for it - it makes up in taste for what it lacks in appearance!

And the garlic cloves?

Well, my friends, when I make it again for a crock-pot swap I've got arranged with my colleague and friend who also lives in this building, I'm thinking of the following adjustments: Less onion and more garlic.

Yep, more garlic.

The garlic cloves turn out rich, buttery and smooth. I actually spread two of them over the chicken breast I ate and it was FABulous. Next time I might get a piece of crusty bread and spread the rest of the garlic over that. It's not pungent or bitter at all - just sweet and nutty and mellow and oh-so-creamy!

So, there's something to be said for both Pinterest and accidentally cooking with wine instead of broth: 1.) Garlic is good and 2.) A bit of wine never hurt anyone (or anybird!).

Yours in the love of good food and wine,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.