Taco Night

It’s sad to say this, but until today, I haven’t eaten tacos since I left Los Angeles.

I know. It’s tragic. But I ended my Mexican food drought today, at the request of my Norwegian friend and neighbor.  Naturally, being skeptical of Mexican food on the East coast, I called my cooking mentor in Los Angeles for advice.  When I was nineteen, I fundraised for a volunteer trip to Tanzania — a friend of my father offered to help support my cause in exchange for help in the kitchen.  I basically spent my Saturday afternoons that summer chopping vegetables in his kitchen, but learned to cook in the process (I can attribute my cooking skills to him these days).  He is the authority on authentic Mexican food — I spent Christmas breaks making tamales (and almond florentines) en masse.  So this morning he gave me recipe instructions for legit tacos.

      

They were quite successful — luckily, they sell some sort of variation of “Mexican Chili Powder” at Secret Safeway in Dupont.  And we made tacos for nine people.  Needless to say, Dillon and I spent our entire Saturday slaving in the kitchen and are now in a state of taco coma, while my friends are having trouble convincing me to go out.  I’ll probably head to my favorite bar in an hour anyway.

      
      

WHAT YOU NEED:

Bone-in chicken breasts (we made about six pounds)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mexican chili powder
Vegetable Oil — about 1.5 cups for 5 pounds chicken
Onions, diced
Garlic, minced
Corn tortillas
Shredded cheese

Toppings:

More shredded cheese
Lettuce, finely chopped
Tomatos, diced
Sliced avocados
Lime, sliced

WHAT TO DO:

Boil the chicken in water with a pinch or two of salt for about two hours, until chicken is fully cooked and tender.   Let cool, and then shred finely by hand, then toss in chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste.  Preheat your oven to broil.

In a large frying pan or wok, sautee the garlic diced onions until translucent.  Then add the shredded chicken to the pan, mixing vegetable oil according to appropriate texture (you don’t want the chicken to be too dry or too oily).  Use salt and pepper to taste, and toss in dried oregano.  Afterwards, transfer the chicken into an oven-safe pan, like a casserole dish, and drizzle shredded cheese on top.  Broil in the oven for ten minutes, until the cheese is bubbling.

In the meantime, prepare the tomatoes, lettuce, limes, and avocados for toppings.  Heat corn tortillas over the open flame on your stove, two at a time, as if they were one tortilla.  Flip them with caution until the bread puffs slightly, and wrap them in a warm towel until all are complete.  Remove chicken from the oven, and serve.

Sloppy Dads, Sloppy Joes

Some of my favorite memories of childhood stem from visiting my dad after my parents split up. My parents went through a nasty divorce when I was a kid, but our dad was always the perfect cure of goofiness and a hands-off upbringing that I can attribute much of my personality to today. It also explains why all of my college guy friends befriended my dad after losing a number of drinking games to him at a UCLA-USC tailgate! Anyway, when I was eleven or so, my dad moved into his own house in Reseda, a Hispanic suburb of Los Angeles. He would pick my younger brother and me up on Wednesday nights for visitation, and we’d make dinner, do homework, and go to the driving range, or go running, or some other odd activity that defined nights with Dad.

One of the most-told memories at the Gerrity family gatherings dealt with visitation nights at Dad’s — forget that I taught him how to do laundry or the fact that he lived off of beer and canned sardines for a while — the night he made sloppy joes for dinner was just so typically Dad. He picked us up from Mom’s, and we headed to Ralph’s to go grocery shopping. After years of hearing about his childhood favorite, “sloppy joes,” our father was finally determined to make them. So he bought the canned mix and burger buns, amongst other odds and ends that he ate during the week (packaged sandwich meat, string cheese, and his personal favorite: Trader Joe’s taquitos).  We got home; he poured the can into a saucepan on the stove, and toasted the buns.  When I came into the kitchen to have him check my homework assignments, I asked the magic question.

“Dad, aren’t you supposed to cook it with meat?”


When he tells the story these days, he justifies that he assumed a can of sloppy joe would automatically come with meat in it (as repulsing as that sounds now).  To be honest, I don’t actually remember how we resolved it that night: we probably migrated down the street to our favorite Mexican joint, Melody’s.  The important details illustrated the smartest, most rational figure in our childhood, forgetting something so basic simply because he was not used to organizing normal weeknight dinners for his kids on his own.  Looking back on it, I realize how adorable it really was.  But since then, Daddy has learned to triumph in the kitchen, and he had done so long before I even tried cooking.  To celebrate, he installed an amazing poolside kitchen a few years ago, complete with his own kegerator.  He’s come a long way from sloppy joes.

WHAT YOU NEED:

1 French baguette
3 medium sized chicken breasts, diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, also diced
2 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 small can tomato paste
1 12-14 oz. canned tomatoes, finely chopped (use a food processor if needed!)
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

WHAT TO DO:

First, sauté the garlic, onions, olive oil, and chicken together until the onions are translucent. Then, add the bell pepper and cook on low heat for 3 to 4 more minutes. Combine the worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and tomato ingredients in the saucepan as well. Heat on low until bubbling. Then, add dry ingredients slowly, stirring continuously and tasting as you go.

Slice the baguette horizontally lengthwise, and toast in the oven. As a variation, brush a little butter or olive oil to help toast — then, spoon the sloppy joe mix onto the baguettes. I prefer mine open faced, and therefore slightly more refined. Don’t be ashamed if it gets everywhere… we cleaned up and enjoyed our isolated thunderstorm evening with a nice Sauvignon Blanc, strawberries, and mint hookah.

<3

Sea Salted Dark Chocolate

The one thing I love more than cooking itself might just be observing peoples’ reactions to my cooking.  For instance, today, I put out a plate of dark chocolate shards I had broken apart — it was laced with sea salt.  One of the roommates ate some, and while reclining on our couch, exclaimed “Ooh, I understand now!”
Could a culinary response be any more clear?  Thanks J.  You haven’t even tried the slivered almonds that we smothered in this.

(Read More…)

WHAT YOU NEED:
As much dark chocolate as your heart desires.
Sea salt to taste
WHAT TO DO:
Chop the dark chocolate into half-inch chunks (or smaller, depending on your laziness).  Heat your double boiler.  For those of you who are unaware, chocolate has an extremely low melting point.  This means it also has an extremely low burning point.  You don’t want burnt chocolate — trust me.  So use a double boiler, which heats the pot with steam rather than a direct flame.
A double boiler uses two pots: a base piece, filled about half way with water, and a top piece, which holds whatever your are trying to melt.  Since chocolate melts easily, I brought the water to boil and then turned the heat off before I placed the second pot on top.  That way, there wouldn’t be too much heat.
If you don’t have a double boiler, use a large sauce pan.  Fill it with an inch or two of water, and place a heat-resistant bowl in it.  Then, place a smaller sauce pan on top of the bowl, so that no part of it is touching the water.
Once the chocolate is completely melted, sprinkle in your salt, tasting as you go, of course.  Once finished, pour the chocolate into molds or on a plate lined with waxed paper.  Chill the plate in your freezer (or, in my case, my balcony covered in snow) until the chocolate is firm.  Enjoy the contrast between the dark cocoa and sea salt of your choice.

Parmesan Crisps

Surprisingly, I’ve been sleeping much more than I expected this week.  And I feel like I’ve been in a constant food coma — we really haven’t been eating that much.  But cooking, and perhaps drinking, non-stop.  Is that what cabin fever feels like?
Anyway, it took a few tries to get the parmesan to cook nicely and curve.  No matter what they look like, they always taste good.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Shredded parmesan cheese.  Lots of it.
WHAT TO DO:
Sprinkle a circle of cheese onto a clean, non-stick frying pan, with the heat on low.  Let the cheese melt and then sizzle for a minute or two.  Then, using a flat metal spatula, peel off the round of cheese.  While it is still hot, lay the parmesan over a pint glass or a rolling pin, pressing it down so it cools with the round shape.  That’s it!

Snickerdoodles

Apparently, snickerdoodles are everyone’s favorite type of cookie.  A while back, a close friend of mine suggested I make them.  He immediately scanned the recipe he uses, and emailed it to me — so I tried it.  For some reason, the first batch didn’t turn out so well, as far as my snickerdoodle standards go (the UC Santa Barbara DLG made bomb snickerdoodles).  There were a number of possible explanations for my less-than-perfect snickerdoodles: I was short on butter, skeptical about using white sugar in brown cookies, and slightly delirious from the previous weekend.  The cookies came out a little too crunchy, a little too light in color, and not so melt-in-your-mouthy.
So, for the second attempt, I opted to substitute brown sugar for a portion of the white sugar to help with the color, and I made sure I had enough butter on hand to fix the consistency.  Here we go, thanks Pat!

WHAT YOU NEED
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 medium-sized egg
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons coarse, white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
WHAT TO DO
First, combine the brown sugar and white sugar, and cream it with the butter.  For those of you who don’t know, creaming the butter means to mix the butter and sugar together evenly, to the point where it forms a very smooth mixture.  The easiest way to do this is with an electronic mixer, but if you are short-handed with kitchen equipment, you can do it by hand, and work on your forearm muscles while you are at it.  By hand, mix the sugars together first, then take a form and smash the softened butter against the sides of the bowl.  Once the butter is broken down, stir and mix with the sugar very briskly, until the mixture is even and smooth.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar, baking soda) and mix until even.  Add the egg, vanilla extract, and creamed mixture, and stir until the dough is consistent.  Then, roll into 1-inch balls.  Combine the 2 tablespoons sugar with the ground cinnamon, and coat each ball of dough in the mixture.  Then place on a baking sheet, each two inches apart.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

Bresaola Bruschetta

Being able to share dinner with someone is what makes winters on the East Coast even remotely bearable.  I spent most of last night shivering my goosebumps off at the Eagle Bank Bowl, watching my alma mater kick Temple University’s ass.  The downside?  It was 25 degrees, and that doesn’t take account for the wind chill.
You see, on the east coast, there’s this thing called wind chill.  In California, the only wind I ever experienced came from Santa Ana when the fall clocked in at about 95 degrees.  Everyone in California told me I was crazy for moving to Washington–that I would literally die because of the cold.  That’s absurd.  Most of the world lives through non-LA winters.  As a Californian who has made the move, I’ve discovered that the cold is very livable when 1) it’s not raining and 2) it’s not windy.  I came home, took a hot shower, and sat wrapped up in blankets next to the furnace vent in my bedroom.  Hours later, my bones still felt frozen.  On days when the cold is livable (i.e., not wet or windy), I’ve found that the cold is actually very pleasant, and I enjoy it very much!
I’m never going to a football game in the winter again.  At least UCLA won–I can’t imagine how much my body would hate me if I spent multiple hours in 25 degree wind chill weather, only to watch UCLA lose a football game (as if I haven’t seen that before).  Last night was a special treat.
Anyway, I didn’t make this bruschetta last night.  I actually made it a couple of weeks ago, with a friend of mine who arrived home Hawaii at the exact time I happened to be suffering through wind chill at the Eagle Bank Bowl.  We served this with my stuffed chicken, fresh ravioli he brought back from Little Italy in New York City, and a nice cabernet.  It was by far the best dinner I’ve had in a long time.  We’re planning for another, even though this one will be hard to beat.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Bresaola (the beef version of proscuitto)
2 whole tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup green olives
1/2 cup basil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
fresh mozzarella for garnish
1 baguette
WHAT TO DO:
Slice the baguette into 1/2- to 1-inch angled discs. Drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet, and let the bread soak up the olive oil as you make the bruschetta. Slice the bresaola into bite-sized pieces, and arrange on top of the baguettes.
Combine the basil, garlic, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse-grind until choppy, then stir in the tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange about 2 tablespoons of the bruschetta on each baguette slice, and broil for 5 to 7 minutes. Then pull out, garnish with the fresh mozzarella, and broil for 2 to 4 more minutes.

Citrus Cayenne Carrots

My stepmom put me in charge of carrots for Christmas dinner this year. Thank god, because I normally hate cooked carrots. This was their chance, I thought. Carrots might just be able to redeem themselves this year…
They totally did.
When I was going to school in Santa Barbara, California, one of my close friends had a job at Blenders, a local smoothie chain. She’d always swing by with smoothies after a shift, of various experiments she’d concoct in her down time. Once, I had been deathly ill, and she made a fabulous smoothie composed of mostly orange and carrot juice. From that day on, I was hooked. It was my personal form of crack. I’ve never been able to resist an orange-carrot based smoothie ever since. It became the inspiration for this spicy version of half-cooked carrots (honestly, who likes mushy carrots?).
I wanted to pair something savory with the roast that was planned for dinner. Warning: the carrots definitely have a sharp bite to them! But you can alter the amount of cayenne to your particular tastes to adjust that.

WHAT YOU NEED:
1 pound carrots, washed and peeled
1-1/2 cups orange juice
1 orange or lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
mandarin oranges for garnish

WHAT TO DO:
For the glaze, juice the orange or the lemon into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Then mix the remaining ingredients with a whisk. Cover and let sit while you prepare the carrots.
Slice the carrots diagonally into quarter-inch discs. Pile them into a large saucepan with the orange juice, and add just enough water to cover all of the carrots. Let simmer on low for 10-15 minutes, until the carrots are slightly tender (but not soft). Remove the carrots and strain over the sink. Toss the carrots in the dressing, and serve in a large bowl. Garnish with mandarin oranges. The oranges add a nice contrast to offset the spicy glaze.

Orange-Clove Cupcakes with Vanilla Spice Buttercream

I’ve never been a big fan of cupcakes–or cake, in general. But using certain spices in cakes can throw my sweet tooth into bliss. Cinnamon happens to be my favorite, but since it was snowing outside, I thought I’d put a little citrus twist on my normal recipe.
I had decided to make cupcakes because of a lunch break I took with co-workers on Friday, to the Chinatown Holiday Market down the street from the office. It was terribly cold and we had a bit of a windchill, but braved the walk. Red Velvet, a specialty cupcake shop in the area, had sent a poor employee out to the fair to hand out mini cupcakes and hot chocolate to everyone enjoying the craft fair. The poor thing was wearing a sweater and trekking around giving away food and drinks.
… We swarmed her. There were red velvet cupcakes, vanilla bean cupcakes, maple syrup cupcakes, lime cupcakes–the list could go on. I’ve never had such delicious mini cupcakes in my life. And the vanilla frosting actually tasted like vanilla beans. We had died and gone to cupcake heaven. We asked her about them, and if she was getting frostbite in the cold. Her response was “No, I’m running back and forth with this tray, I’m fine.” So naturally, we hid in the fair until we saw her coming back. And we swarmed her again. And again.
The next day, my best friend from elementary school and I were snowed in. Literally–the porch was covered in two feet of snow. So we baked. Rather, I baked, and I invited her and one of my roommates to decorate. I try to make everything relatively presentable and pretty in terms of decorations, and I have a knack for that. Harry and Adriana, on the other hand, enjoyed making abstract cupcakes and giving them inappropriate names. Like “Kama Sutra.” And “Auschwitz,” in memorial of the sign that was recently stolen from the death camp. Then there were the humorous names, like “Zipper,” (featured below) and “Chinese Take-Out Boxes.” You’d think the snow day had driven them mad. I’d beg to differ.

WHAT YOU NEED:
preheated oven to 350 degrees
electric hand mixer
cupcake or cake pan
Cupcakes:
2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup frest orange zest
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup orange juice
Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
5-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
sprinkle of ginger, sprinkle of nutmeg
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

WHAT TO DO:
First combine the sugars and the orange zest, and mix thoroughly. The natural oils of the orange zest will release the orange flavor into the sugars. Using the hand mixer, add the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat with the electric mixer for about five minutes. Gradually add the milk and orange juice. Then, in a separate bowl, combine the sifted flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices. Stir dry ingredients until evenly mixed. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the others with the mixer on, until the batter is smooth and lump-less.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan.
For the frosting, combine softened butter and a few cups of sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low until smooth and creamy, then add the vanilla extract and spices, and gradually, the remaining sugar. The frosting should be sweet and fluffy.
Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cooled, and decorate with remaining orange zest or sliced almonds, as shown.

Artichoke Tomato Pesto

This weekend, I experienced Washington’s first “blizzard.” The office reeked of anticipation for what you would expect to be a wind-chilling, biting, frozen-cold type of storm. When I think blizzard, I think of Christmas movie blizzards, where the storm is so bad that Santa can’t cut through it with his magical sleigh. Right?
Wrong. In Washington, this blizzard was just a full day of pleasant snowfall. I kid you not–there was absolutely no wind, and it wasn’t so cold that my eyelashes felt like they were freezing off. It was actually, really nice. Oh, except for the fact that the roads were barely even salted at 4 PM when I trekked out in the snow because we were out of wine.
How were all the liquor stores open until 10, but the grocery stores were all closed by 2 PM on account of the blizzard? I don’t know. DC in the snow reminded me of Los Angeles in the rain. Everything had completely shut down… it was pathetic.
My best friend scheduled a stopover in Washington on her way to Miami and Bolivia. I had stocked up the kitchen in anticipation of cooking with her, but only regarding the baking realm. So we had to scrap up the remainders of my kitchen, two weeks removed from the grocery store, in order to make a blizzard lunch. This is what we came up with.

WHAT YOU NEED:
2 cups basil leaves
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3/4 cup artichoke hearts
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
oregano, salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup whipping cream
2/3 cup tomato sauce
As much broccoli as your heart desires (we used about 3/4 lb.)
~1 lb. fusilli
handful of feta cheese and pine nuts to garnish
WHAT TO DO:
First, chop the basil, garlic, and pine nuts together in a food processor. Then, add the artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. With the processor on, add the olive oil slowly through the hole in the top. Transfer to a sauce pan and heat on low, adding olive oil as necessary.
Begin boiling water in order to cook the pasta. Since we were snowed in, we had to use frozen broccoli, which we heated in a saucepan to defrost, using a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and ground peppercorns. When the broccoli was finished cooking, we added it to the pesto sauce, along with the tomato sauce. Let that simmer on very low heat for 5-10 minutes. I added a bit of oregano, salt, and pepper until the sauce had the flavor I was going for.
Finally, add in the cream, stir evenly, and then mix in the cooked pasta. Garnish each dish with a sprinkle of feta cheese, pine nuts, and oregano for aesthetic presentation.