Monday, September 28, 2009

I Forget to Eat, and Ensuing Failures

Fire Alarm Count: 31

One of these was at 4:30 am. Seriously? Seriously? Who the fudge (it's censored because my mother reads this blog. Hi mom!) is cooking badly/smoking at this hour? If it were up to me, I would demand to know the identity of the guilty culprit and then cheerfully beat them to death. Which is, of course, why it's not up to me.

All ranting the past week has been fairly eventful, food-wise. The main thing being, of course, that this Friday, I forgot to eat. Yes. That's right. Those of you who know me well will know how absolutely shocking this is, considering usually all I think about is my stomach. 9/10 times you catch me zoning out whenever, it is likely not my next fabulous art project that I'm thinking about. It is what I'm going to make for dinner. So for me to forget about that...well...let's see how this happened...

Friday morning: I don't have time to eat. This is not unusual.
Noon: I have forgotten my 3 objects of which I must draw for Drawing class. Feel like an idiot. Run back to my dormitory during my 1-hour break to get said objects. Grab a hot dog w/ ketchup and mustard along the way. It is not particularly filling, and I debate buying some other sort of junky fast food on the way back, but decide I don't have time to eat it.
10 pm: Texting The Boyfriend, I realize that my hands are shaking and that I barely have enough energy to stand thanks to my relative lack of energy input.

Upon realizing that all I've had is a hot dog all day...I run to the fridge and find...nothing. Ever since class started, Mi, E, and I haven't been cooking daily like we used to. Which means, of course, that our fridge is not nearly as well-stocked as I would like it to be. There was a smallish bowlful of dried, days-old rice on the countertop and a bag of frozen mixed veggies in the freezer. After much scrambling, I come up with this:

Brown Rice Porridge with Mixed Veggies.

Basically, I rehydrated the dried-out rice in a pot with about a cup and a half of water, then tossed in half a cup of frozen vegetables. The bowl on the left contains cucumbers pickled in soy sauce, which is a common Chinese side dish eaten with rice porridge. Not pictured here is the bowl of sliced vine-ripened tomato I marinated in a bit of oil with a large pinch each of salt, sugar, and chopped fresh basil. On the right, you see some of the delicious chicken that E brought back from home.

In fact, the chicken was so delicious I feel the need to elaborate on it....

This is what I had for dinner about a week ago. Brown rice with fries and spicy Korean chili-chicken. That's not the official name--I'll have to ask E what it is as some point and then beg for the recipe because I must have this chicken again sometime. It is the best chicken ever. if you care, even a little, about my nutty cooking exploits in college, you may wonder, So what have you done lately?

I'm working on this microwave cooking business. I swear. But the thing is, some things just don't cook the same way in a microwave as it does in an my latest cooking disaster will prove.

Cheesecake. I love cheesecake, always have, even when I was a little kid. I think it's pretty odd--cheesecake is a pretty "adult" dessert, isn't it? Either way, at all the parties my parents ever went to, I was the only kid there that ever wanted the cheesecake. And when I figured out last year that I could make it on my own...

Anyway, I've gotten pretty good at cheesecake. The original recipe is from Kraft Foods, but ever since following this recipe to the T the very first time I made it, I've been continuously tweaking it according to suggestions by the people who've eaten it (and my personal taste, of course), and here's what I've come up with. It's more than pretty good, and really, I'm not one to brag about my cooking too much, because I'm starting out and mediocre at my opinion this is the very best thing I make. My dad approves of it. Which, I assure you, is a big, big deal. Because my dad is the pickiest eater in the world. He'll eat anything, but for him to actually like it and have nothing critical to say...well, that is a rarity. Trust me.

Yumi's New York-Style Cheesecake

1 cup graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
Don't even try to soften these cream cheese packets in the microwave. Don't do it. You'll just make your microwave explode. If you must microwave, take them out of the packets and do it at 30-second intervals. Or better yet, just take them out a couple hours ahead of time and let them soften on their own.
1 container (16 oz.) sour cream
1/4 cup flour
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla

~Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
~Beat cream cheese, flour, baking powder, 1 cup sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla together until well blended.
~Add 1 cup sour cream, and then the eggs 1 at a time. Beat on low speed until it's smooth, creamy, and delicious.
~Mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter together to make the crust. I usually pulverize the graham crackers in a food processor and then add the butter, but this time in my dormitory with no food processor to be found, I did with a mixing bowl and the bottom of a Pyrex measuring cup. Turned out just fine.
~Press the crust mixture into a pan. I prefer a 13x9" pan lined with aluminum foil, but sometimes we can't always have what we want. You can basically use any sort of oven-safe container you deem acceptable. Please remember that aluminum foil CANNOT go into the microwave. Please. Chuck your container into the oven and let it bake for 10 minutes, then pull it out.
~Pour your cream cheese mixture over the crust and then bake for another 40 minutes, or until it no longer jiggles like Jell-O.
~Beat the remaining sour cream, sugar, and vanilla together, and spread it over the cheesecake. Bake for another 10 minutes, then pop it in the refrigerator for 4 hours to chill.

Makes enough for...well, it depends on how big (or small) you slice it, but from my experience if you bring this to a party with known cheesecake eaters, there probably won't be any left by the end of the night. So do what I do--make two, and leave one at home. Just for you.

Do be warned, this cheesecake will rack up the calories like no other. It is an indulgence. Completely worth the two pantsizes, in my opinion, but then again...I would do so much for a good cheesecake.

Okay, amazing recipe aside, when I tried to make it yesterday, it flat-out bombed. I get the feeling it was some combination of my botching the order of mixing the ingredients together, and the fact that I microwaved it (I can hear all the anti-microwave-chefs around the world gasping right now...get over it). In any case, while the taste was exactly as I remember it, the texture did not come out right at all. Instead of being smooth and dense like it's supposed to, it had a curdled consistency vaguely resembling the steamed, beaten egg my grandma used to make me for breakfast when I was a kid in China. Which isn't entirely unpleasant, but disturbing enough when you're expecting thick creamy cheesecake. Here's what it looks like:

The Boyfriend, who had come to visit and was the reason for my attempting this in a microwave in the first place, swears it isn't bad and ate both the mini ramekin-cakes I made, but I don't believe him. I guess I've spoiled myself on my "perfect" cheesecake, because I couldn't bring myself to finish even one. I was too put off by the consistency. In fact, I was too depressed by this abject failure to even use all of the cheesecake mixture I had made (and I'd halved the recipe). Instead I just shoved it into the back of the fridge and crawled into bed.

Today, faced with the dilemma of needing my mixing bowl back, I decided that the main problem with this newest cooking exploit was the microwave. That darn microwave. I don't have this microwave business quite figured out yet, but I was unwilling to ruin any more perfectly yummy cheesecake mixture by microwaving it. So this is what I did instead:

Pressed the remainder of the crust crumbs into the bottom of a clean plastic dish left over from one of Mi's microwave meals, poured the chilled cream cheese-sour cream mixture on top, decorated it with sliced strawberries, and left it in the freezer. It's still there. I'll tell you how it turns out. I'm too nervous to try it now...

So instead, here's a picture of what I had for lunch today. Fried rice with mixed veggies, onions, and vine-ripened tomato. Nothing special, but the colors are pretty...and it was very tasty, in a homey sort of way. Not that I'm getting homesick or anything. Really.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Food is Best Eaten Outside

Fire Alarm Count: 28

And let it be known that two of last week's alarms had me tramping down 11 flights of stairs in 5" stiletto heels. Don't ask me why. Just know it happened.

Sooooo...this past weekend I went camping for the first time ever. With a bunch of Russian people. Make that a few hundred Russian people. There was a lot of singing and smoking and drinking and wasp-catching. And there was beer pong, although I (sadly) did not partake. I think if I ever have a normal camp experience now, it will be boring as hell.

But still...there were some interesting experiences. For one, I drank a whole 2 mL of vodka (seriously, I probably just dipped the tip of my tongue in it) and it burned so bad I wanted to spit it out. Vodka is not for me.

I also tried a mouthful of bourbon, which didn't go much better. Between you dear blog readers and myself, I nearly gagged it back up despite the fact that I have better-than-average control over my gag reflex. I was still not prepared for that burn. I don't understand why anyone drinks spirits, seriously. I can easily foresee myself going to bars and being THAT ONE that orders all the fruity pink drinks with goddamn paper umbrellas in them, and then getting completely hammered because it doesn't taste like alcohol AT ALL. Yes. Mind you, being a 105 lb. Asian girl I will probably get hammered anyway trying to keep up with my RUSSIAN boyfriend, who can apparently put away half a bottle of vodka and come out sober in a couple hours. That bastard.


Aaaaanywaaaaayyy...on to the food. Camp food.

I am starving just remembering this. Normally I don't even like wheat bread, but GAH. I will eat anything with cream cheese, lox, and tomato on it.

Dammit, I'm hungry.

And just like that, my ironclad will is broken and yes I WILL be splurging for that $14.99 package of smoked salmon at Trader Joe's. It's worth it. To me, at least. Because I looooooooove salmon. I would totally marry it--EXCEPT I HAVE A BOYFRIEND. WHOM I LOVE. Yes.

Erm...that bit of weirdness aside...not only was there awesome food there were awesome people.

Guy on the left is A. The Boyfriend is on the left. A kept hitting on me and I kept expecting The Boyfriend to leap up in a fit of jealous rage and tear A's head off. But apparently being mutually Russian crosses unseen boundaries of friendship and makes hitting on one another's girlfriends acceptable. So it's all gooooood. Because I like A. On a totally platonic level, that is. Because HE IS TOO YOUNG FOR ME AND I AM NOT A PEDOPHILE.

Nah, just kidding. He's not that much younger than me. >_<;; OhmygodIswearI'mnota40yearoldcreeper. (You can tell it's time for me to go to bed when I start talking like this).
So next up on the list is D (there were a lot more people there than just A and D, but I didn't get any photos of them because I'm a loser). This photo is a gem. Why, yes, that is a double cheeseburger he is cramming into his mouth. And not a wimpy one like you get at BK, either. A few minutes prior to this epic moment, an exchange between D and A went something like this:

A: Yes, dear~!

Basically, these two get the position of Honorary Gay Couple.

Okay, so that photo of the lox and tomato is making me SO HUNGRY and it is LATE and I want food dammit. But it will have to wait for morning *emo tear* because it is more imperative at the moment that I shower and go to bed so I can wake up a 7 am tomorrow.

Edit:// Correction, apparently A is the same age as me. I'm not sure why I thought he was a year younger...In fact, we have the exact same birthday. Life is funny like that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Simplicity, Midnight Snack 2, and a Tiny Extravagance.

This is what I had for dinner last night:

E made it for the two of us--chilled oriental-style noodles with scallions, seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce. Simple, but delicious. Simplicity is good.

Simple Sesame-Soy Sauce Noodles

2 servings of thin oriental-style noodles
1 tbsp scallions, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil

~Cook the noodles in boiling water. Drain and rinse quickly in cold water to prevent sticking.
~Separate into two bowls and chill to slightly below room temperature.
~Divvy up the scallions, soy sauce, and sesame oil and mix it in good.

Makes enough for 2.

And then around 3 am, we decided to have a midnight feast, and Mi, E, and I each contributed something. tamagoyaki (rolled eggs) with nori and carrots from Mi, stir-fried green beans with garlic and onions from E, and mashed potatoes from me.

Garlicky Mashed Potatoes

7 baby russet potatoes (or 2-3 normal-sized ones), scrubbed
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

~Boil the potatoes in a pot until it is soft and easily poked into with a chopstick/fork.
You can peel the potatoes if you want. I didn't.
~Drain the water and start mashing up the soft potatoes. I did my mashing with a wooden spoon. If you have a potato masher, that's great, otherwise a fork or something works fine too.
~Add the milk and continue mashing until it's your desired consistency. I prefer my mashed potatoes a little chunky, so I didn't mash them completely smooth.
~Add the butter/margarine, and season with salt and pepper according to your tastes.

Makes about 3 servings, depending on the size of your potatoes.

Just as we were in the middle of eating our feast, the fire alarm rang. At 3:30 am.

Fire Alarm Count: 24

I woke up at 3 pm today, so my eating schedule has been erratic. I had a handful of Swedish Fish after getting up, and then some shrimp-flavored crackers which tided me over until evening. Then I decided to make myself a little snack.

Mi, E, and I went to Koreantown yesterday, and in the supermarket there was an entire freezer in the back with sushi supplies: fish, octopus, and different types of roe, including salmon, tobiko (flying fish) and masago (sweetfish/capelin). I picked up a little 0.3 lb container of masago for $4.50. It's a splurge for me, because how full can that tiny container make me, really? But we all have our priorities, and since the only other thing I've dropped a lot of money on lately is my Brita pitcher (which I consider an investment) and I've been pretty tightfisted with my funds, I decided to indulge a little bit. Just a little.

Tonight I was in the mood for eggs. I'm sure for many, fish eggs with chicken eggs sounds odd, but for me it sounds delicious. And it was. Scrambled eggs topped with masago. I love roe (most foreign canned caviar is too salty for my taste, I prefer the lighter variety used for sushi), but tobiko or masago is my favorite because they're so tiny that the little explosion of salt in your mouth is more pronounced. Plus, the colors were gorgeous.

For some people who are probably, I haven't gone out to any parties or gone clubbing even though I've been in NYC for almost a month. Nor have I yet gotten drunk, high, or knocked up. Instead I find it more fun to stay in my room, cook good food and write on this blog. Yes, I make a lame college student, I know. But you're reading this, aren't you?


Okay, one last snack before I take a shower and hit the sack...

This is another treat I picked up at the Korean supermarket--a pack of 6 mochi, two white, two pink, and two green. For those of you who don't know what mochi is, it's a sticky rice paste cake filled with a sweet filling. This filling is traditionally red bean paste, but a popular twist on this traditional food is filling it with ice cream instead. Either way, it's a yummy dessert or a late-night snack. I had a pink one, and E had a white one.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Korean Version of Fried Rice

It's been a while since I posted. Class has started, and the workload is ridiculous--I get the feeling that the professors are trying to keep up the 51% dropout rate of the graduating Fashion Design (which is what I'm going for) students.

Fire Alarm Count: 23

Tonight, Esther cooked dinner for us. She made a popular Korean dish, essentially rice with mixed different vegetables, meat, and a spicy chili paste. It's a fairly simple and versatile dish conceptually but there are a lot of components and thusly a lot of ways it could go wrong. As she said, when the Chinese had fried rice, the Koreans had...

Bi Bim Bap

4 slices (1/8 pound) bulgogi beef
2 tbsp bulgogi marinade
you should be able to find the beef and marinade in an Asian market.
1/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cooked short grain rice
it's important that it's short grain, because long grain rice doesn't have the correct texture for this dish.
1/2 cup romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 cup soybean sprouts
1 tbsp Korean chili paste (add more or less to taste)
2 sheets 3x4" Korean nori seaweed
Korean, not Japanese (the kind you use for sushi), because Korean nori is crisper and tastier by itself.
1 egg

~Mix the beef and marinade in a bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour. Then remove it from the marinade and cut it into 1/2" slices.
~Heat some oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the beef with the mushrooms on medium-high heat until cooked.
~Blanch the soybean sprouts in boiling water for 30 seconds.
~Fry the egg sunny-side up.
~Arrange the bowl in this order if you want it to look pretty (if you don't care, you can probably throw it all in in any old order): rice, lettuce, sprouts, beef and mushrooms, egg, and chili paste. Shred the nori sheets and add it to the bowl.
~Mix it all together and eat!

This is for 1 person, but obviously you can double or triple (like we did) the recipe easily.

*This is a spicy dish! It's not the kind of spicy that smacks you in the face--rather, the chili paste tends to seem not very spicy when you first taste it, then creep up on you slowly. It's not very spicy (proof is that I could eat it without downing 3 glasses of water), but, y'know...just a word of caution.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Like Deconstructed Pizza

Grilled cheese and tomato soup, that is. I just described it as "deconstructed pizza" to get The Boyfriend interested in it. And that's what I made for dinner tonight.

Of course, no meal preparation in this dormitory would be complete without a fire alarm interruption, of which there were 2--one just as I was about to get started, and one just as I was almost finished with the soup.

Fire Alarm Count: 17.
No, I didn't add wrong. There was also one at noon today when Mi, E and I returned for a short reprieve from our classes.

WAIT--Make that 18. It just went off as I am writing this, at 8:59. Yup. And we didn't get back in until 9:30, because some people who decided to stay in the building looked out the window and an RA saw them. The building advisors wound up making us stand outside while they checked every room in the building. Do the math--12 floors, 12 suites per floor, 2 rooms per suite. That's 288 rooms to inspect. Clearly, the ones who alerted the RA in the first place were dumbasses. If you're going to break the rules, at least do it inconspicuously and without inconveniencing everyone else.

Now let's get back to the food...

I have never made tomato soup from scratch before (read: I've only ever made it out of a can). But I love tomato soup. I love tomatoes, for that matter, but tomato soup is special. I prefer mine thick and sweet and acidic and basil-y, and for me it's what chicken noodle soup is to others. Better yet, since it's completely vegan, Mi, who is pescetarian, can eat it too. So today, I looked at those four beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes in the fridge and decided it was time to use them. And what would I make to accompany my lovely fresh tomato soup? Grilled cheese. I believe I've mentioned before that I love my grilled cheese. I could probably live happily on it for the rest of my life. And grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup is my idea of heaven. I'm such a food geek, I know.

But anyway, my first time making real tomato soup, I decided to wing it. And it came out exactly the way I'd hoped.

Tomato Soup Not From a Can

4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cubed
2 large tomatoes, cubed
Don't get your tomatoes from a supermarket. I bought mine off one of the many street carts selling vegetables and fruits in NYC, and the produce there is much better, not to mention cheaper.
2 sprigs of fresh basil
1 tbsp salt, plus more to taste
2 tbsp sugar
3 tblsp olive or vegetable oil
Olive oil is preferable, but I have yet to find a market where they sell it for less than $8 a bottle.
1 tbsp garlic powder

No water. No water is needed for this recipe. This is for thick, delicious tomato soup with nothing to dilute the flavor. If you want watery tomato mush, go elsewhere where they tell you to use water.

~mix the oil, salt, and 1 tbsp of sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add the basil leaves and crush them slightly (I did my crushing with a whisk) to release the flavor.
~Pour in the cubed tomatoes, and toss it all together so that it's nicely coated. Let it sit in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. This is my "treatment" for tomatoes that are not home grown, which in my opinion, will never be as good as a tomato you grew yourself. If you're lucky enough to live near a farmer's market, try there. Either way, I prefer to soak my tomatoes in this solution a bit before cooking.
~After 10-15 minutes (or if you just decided to skip this step), heat up a bit of oil in a pot and put in the garlic powder. Fish out the basil leaves and put those in the pot too.
~Then pour the entire contents of the bowl into the pot...and stir. Add the second tbsp of sugar. Taste the soup before adding salt as needed. Put the fire on medium heat, and stir some more. Keep stirring until the tomatoes have cooked down into soupy mush.

Yields: Enough for about 3 bowlfuls, depending on the size of your bowls. Enjoy with freshly fried grilled cheese, like we did, or with crispy garlic bread.