Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Which We Eat Salad

Okay, so I'll be honest, I'm not really much of a salad-y person. I know that salads are healthy (if you use a darker leafy vegetable like kale or spinach instead of just iceberg lettuce, and hold back on the creamy dressings. I do my homework) and I'm supposed to be trying to eat healthily. But while I have nothing against salads, exactly, I'm much more of a meat-and-potatoes person. I would pick a burger (rare, please!) over a nice green salad any day. But recently, I have been making a lot of salads. First there was the tomato-avocado salad from last week (the chicken salad does not count, as in my opinion it is not a "real" salad). And this past weekend, on my camping trip with The Boyfriend, I encountered a salad that I just did not want to stop eating. Here it is--

DSC_0904 by you.

Isn't it pretty? I didn't make it, but here are the ingredients, as far as I can tell:

kidney beans
yellow, orange, and red bell peppers
and...cilantro? I think.

At first, I only took some because of the bright colors. Then I went back for a second serving. And a third. There would have been a fourth, except The Boyfriend was starting to get annoyed because I'd told him we could leave the campsite to go elsewhere after I finished eating. Oh well. I'm going to the grocery store on Thursday (?) and I fully intend on getting the ingredients so I can recreate it.

When I got home from camping, I discovered that a few of my mother's friends had dropped by for a visit, bringing with them many offerings. Delicious offerings. Chief among them, KFC (which I promptly devoured), a cake, a HUGE carton of organic baby spinach, several packets of instant ramen, and...a rotisserie chicken. The last of the chicken was made into dinner tonight, and I'm making stock with the remains as we speak...meanwhile, here are last week's efforts.

DSC_0899 by you.
This is essence of chicken.

My second time making stock, I've chosen not to put the skins in the stock pot...because my first chicken-stock attempt turned out great, but after refrigeration there was about half a centimeter of fat floating at the top that had to be skimmed off. So while I stripped the chicken, I fed the fatty skin to my dog.


DSC_0942 by you.

Salad. I had difficulty giving this a name, because all of the ingredients have equal attention in this bowl. Cucumber-Tomato-Carrot-Kielbasa salad. Nothing fancy, just a quartered Japanese cucumber, the rest of the grape tomatoes from last week, halved, two carrots cut into coins, and about a third of quartered kielbasa. Tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. Yummy.

Next on the menu last night was soup. Yesterday, I learned something extremely important. And that thing was, rotting asparagus is really gross. I'd bought a bunch of nice, tender asparagus spears when I was at the grocery store last Wednesday, meaning to cook them right away, sauteed with some beef. But of course nothing ever goes according to plan, and that bundle of asparagus was forgotten in the back of the fridge until yesterday. When I pulled it out, the middle few spears were disgustingly slimy. I was both revolted and saddened. I love asparagus, screw whatever it does to my urine. Still, I tried to salvage as much as I could, discarding the slimy bits and carefully sorting through the spears. In the end I managed to save most of it, and with my surviving asparagus, I made this:

DSC_0960 by you.

Spinach-Asparagus Soup

2 lb of asparagus
1 bunch of baby spinach
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

~Break the woody ends off the asparagus and chop the rest into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside.
~Melt 1 tbsp butter in a pot and add the diced onion. Saute until translucent.
~Add the rest of the butter and the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until the asparagus is bright green.
~Add the chicken stock and simmer, covered, until the asparagus is tender.
~Force the baby spinach leaves into the pot, and stir them into the broth so they wilt.
~Puree the soup in 2 batches in a blender until smooth.
~Return the soup to the pot on low heat and stir in the heavy cream.
~Adjust seasonings and serve.

The result? Good, if you like asparagus. My brother finished his bowl, although I get the impression he didn't think much of it. My mother and I both had two servings. My sister refused to try any. Oh well. She is 3 years old and a terribly picky eater.


DSC_0954 by you.

I'm not sure what to call this either. It's the rotisserie chicken meat I stripped off the chicken carcass, stir-fried with onions and garlic and then cooked in tomato sauce until the sauce either evaporated into thin air or was sucked into the chicken. Either way, it was delicious. Albeit a bit salty. Oops.

DSC_0946 by you.

This is my bastardized version of Tammy Donroe's Indian Cauliflower, in which I basically omitted things and screwed up the remainder. Just to go her blog for the recipe, and do a better job of following it than me.

One more dish--Potato salad. This time I decided to deviate from my standard recipe and try a different approach, the idea for which I got from Tammy (again). I also added a super secret ingredient to it. Can you guess what it is?

DSC_0943 by you.

That's riiiiiight. I couldn't resist. I don't understand why I never thought of it before. In any case, the bacon would be overwhelmed by the other ingredients in my original potato salad. But for this one, it's just right.

DSC_0952 by you.

Potato Salad v2
Inspired by Tammy Donroe's Potato Salad for the People.

8 medium red-skinned potatoes
5 strips of bacon
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

~Boil the potatoes whole and unpeeled. When they're soft enough to easily stab with a fork, drain and let them cool.
~Mash half the potatoes well, like mashed potatoes.
~With the other half, mash them gently so they break into chunks. I got too into the whole "being Chris Kimball" thing and accidentally mashed them too well, so they're more like super-chunky mashed potatoes than potato salad. Ah well.
~Microwave the bacon on a folded paper towel for 4 minutes or until crispy.
~Break the bacon up into little chips and add them to the potatoes.
~Add the mayonnaise and mix it all up carefully.
~Salt and pepper it to your liking and serve it up in giant scoops.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back Home: Chocolate and Chicken

So I've been back in P-town for 3 days now. And have spent the 72 hours in transcendent bliss. No essays to write, no tests to study for, no projects to pull consecutive all-nighters to complete. It was a revelation. Even though I did have that nightmare about a project that I just couldn't complete because it wasn't coming out right.

But with all this relaxing, I'm beginning to grow slightly worried that I will eventually become fat and lazy. So I started cooking. Tuesday I made cookies. Yesterday I made lunch. Today I made dinner. And currently, I am boiling a whole chicken carcass to make stock for tomorrow's dinner. If anything, at least the "lazy" part won't apply.

The cookies were Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I grabbed from Elissa's blog 17 and Baking, which in turn she grabbed from Allrecipes. Where to begin with these cookies...? Well, first it should be noted that I picked this particular recipe because I had all the recipes on hand already. No need to go to the grocery store (not that I would have minded, I love going to the grocery store). Or so I thought. Turns out my dad chucked my can of baking powder, because it was getting old. And we were out of vanilla extract, because I had used the last of it in a cheesecake I made during spring break. And we were out of confectioner's sugar...just because.

Well, fine. I forged ahead pigheadedly anyway, I subbing baking soda for baking powder (1/4 tsp of baking soda per tsp of baking powder), forgoing the vanilla extract (everyone knows chocolate is king), and rolled my balls of cookie dough in sugar, cinnamon powder, and cinnamon sugar instead (at least no one will get a mustache when they eat them). And the results...

Awesome! Despite the substitutions and omissions. Although I have to say that they aren't quite as crinkle-y as Elissa's, which I'm guessing is the result of a combination of the baking soda, the 10-minute baking time, and the giant scoops of dough I formed (the recipe is supposed to make 7 dozen, but my batch only provided 3). Also, they're so soft and densely chocolatey and fudgy, they taste more like a brownie masquerading as a cookie. Not that I'm complaining. Clockwise from the top: cinnamon powder, cinnamon sugar, and granulated sugar. I think my favorite is the cinnamon powdered ones.

Moving on...Wednesday lunch was pan-seared tilapia. Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, and when it's hot put down the filets (if it doesn't sizzle, you did it wrong). Sprinkle salt and pepper over the filets. When one side is golden brown (lift it up carefully to check because whitefish breaks easily...as I discovered, when I broke mine) flip it over with a spatula. Grab a lemon and roll it on the counter to break open the segments before cutting it open, and squeeze it over the filets and into the pan. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper, as well as any kind of herb of spice you like (I used oregano). When the other side is golden and the fish flakes when you poke it with a fork, it's done!

Eat it while it's hot, because its deliciousness substantially declines when it gets cold.

There's an interesting story about the first item on tonight's dinner menu. I went shopping at Sam's Club with my dad, and during our shopping, tried a sample of their ready-made chicken salad. The employee doling out the samples explained to us how the chicken salad was "made fresh every day with our rotisserie chicken", and went into great detail about how their "chefs" took the chicken off the bone and mixed it with mayonnaise and other spices and seasonings. My family has always liked the rotisserie chicken, and my dad was impressed with the taste of the chicken salad, which, if you've read the post with my cheesecake recipe, you'll know all about. So I ran to the ready-made food counter and picked up a package of chicken salad, turned it over, and read the ingredients list.

If you aren't aware, ingredients are listed in order of predominance, or from most to least. The first ingredient in this chicken salad was mayonnaise. Okay, who am I to lecture on how much fat they put in it? I kept reading. The next ingredient was "chopped soy chicken substitute". It wasn't even real chicken! Taking the chicken off the bone, my ass, I thought. I told my dad I could make a better chicken salad.

Chicken Salad

1/2 storebought rotisserie chicken
if you're really into the all-homemade thing, you can obviously roast your own chicken. Alternatively, this is a good way to use up any leftover chicken you happen to have.
2-3 stalks of celery
1 cup mayonnaise NOT MiracleWhip! I hate that stuff.
pepper to taste

~Strip the chicken meat off the bone. Try not to get any fat or skin in it, because it will just taste slimy.
~Using your fingers, pull apart the chicken into pieces about the size of the first knuckle of your thumb. If you have big thumbs...pull them into smaller pieces.
~Dice the celery.
~Dump the chicken pieces and diced celery into a largish bowl.
~Add the mayonnaise. You may need slightly more or less than one cup, depending on how large your chicken was and how much you care about your arteries.
~Mix everything up good.
~Season with pepper. Taste. Mix again.

Unfortunately, my dad left for Shanghai this morning, so he didn't get to taste this chicken salad. I'll just have to make it again sometime.

The rest of dinner...

Olive Oil Toast

olive oil

~Cut the baguette into diagonal slices.
~Pour enough olive oil into a pan to coat the bottom and fire up the stove. When the oil is hot, drop the slices of baguette into the oil. Try to get the oil to coat the bread, because otherwise it won't brown.
~Fry each side of bread until golden and crispy (about 2-3 minutes each).
~Pull it out and serve immediately

Tomato-Avocado Salad with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing

2 Hass avocados
2 cups of grape tomatoes
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 tsp of oregano
1/2 tsp of salt
pinch of pepper

~Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit.To to this, you can either do it the pansy way, with a spoon, which will inevitably make a mess of the lovely avocado meat... or you can hold the avocado half with the pit in your palm, take a large cleaver (a small knife won't work here, trust me) and swing it recklessly downward. Aim for the pit. If you're lucky, the blade will lodge in it firmly (it may take a few tries to get it in there securely) and you will be able to pull it from the flesh of the avocado by twisting the knife. If not, call the ER.
~Cube the avocados and put them in a serving bowl.
~Cut the grape tomatoes in half and add them to the bowl.
~Put the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper into a small bowl and whisk to mix it all together.
~Pour your vinaigrette over the avocados and tomatoes and toss to coat.

*If you're not going to eat your salad right away, squeeze some lemon juice over it to keep the avocado from turning brown =)

Oh yeah, and the chicken stock...well, I tossed the chicken carcass leftover from the chicken salad into a pot with a sprouting onion (with the sprout cut off), some broken celery stalks, and a lot of water, and put it on the stove to simmer. And now the whole house smells like chicken, which is quite nice. Anyone know how long I'm supposed to leave it on for?

I bought some ingredients yesterday, and I'll be tackling a cake next week...wish me luck =3 Also, I am going camping with The Boyfriend this weekend! Delicious Russian camp food, mmmm.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Finals Food

Finals week. It's a time of dread for most college students, a period of cramming, sleepless nights, endless rounds of coffee, and meals of limp cafeteria french fries.

For us Parsons students, of course, it's nothing of the sort. All-nighters are a normal part of our weekly routine. Most of us count ourselves lucky if we manage get to bed at 4 am. It is not unusual to have been awake for a solid 48 hours at a time or more. Our class times run from a minimum of 3 hours long to a maximum of 6 hours, with a mandatory 30 hours of class per week compared to the average college students' 15-18. Our teachers (whom I am convinced the majority of are notorious sadists) are one to every 18 students, which gives them plenty of opportunity to spend special individual time with each student, to instruct us. To critique us. To tell us we're doing it wrong and to do everything over. We spend most of our time outside class buying materials, working on projects, writing essays, and studying for Art History exams. On most days, we are a bundle of jittery nerves held upright only by caffeine and adrenaline, but honor-bound by the snootery that is prevalent in our high-profile school to still look "fierce", to not show what a mess we are, to trek the mile to class, carrying our huge portfolios and tottering in skyscraper heels. This is our regular life, for weeks on end.

Finals are just a step up. Only it's Finals month, not week. One month of shading, vectoring, sawing, photographing, cutting, pasting, and inking. One month of transferring documents from one format to another, trekking to the computer labs at two in the morning to print images due in a few short hours, and redoing spreads when a teacher deems them insufficient. One month of consecutive all-nighters, stress, and emotional breakdowns. No one is forcing us to do this but ourselves, so in a way I suppose only we are to blame. We put our time and energy and (no drama here, sleep deprivation is serious) health on the line to achieve our dreams and goals. And because of this, I can confidently say that a student at Parsons works just as hard, if not more, than any average student at a "regular" college.

Which is why it so completely galled me when I confided in a friend who attended a "normal" college how completely exhausted I was, and received the incredulous response "But you're in art school!"

Excuse me?

The voice in my head bordered on hysteria. I'm sure if he had said that to my face, I would have hit him. I was speechless with indignant shock for a good few minutes. I wanted to scream--and not just at him, but at all the people I've encountered who'd said "Oh, you go to art school? That must be fun!" I wanted to shriek "Just because I go to art school does not mean I sit around doodling rainbows and unicorns all day long!" I could hear the little, broken, emo-kid wail in my mind "No one understands meeeee!" I should have let him have it. I didn't. But at least now you know why I've been so absent, so woefully negligent for the past...months?

It's almost over. Only five more days of torture (and I do mean torture, because I literally cannot conceive of how I will finish all that needs finishing in five days. Which is why I am writing this post, to ease my quiet panicking.) before I pack up and leave NYC, a city which I have grown to completely love, but haven't had time to enjoy.

And with that little bit of martyristic prattle aside, we can get on to the food bits of this post.

I'll be honest, I haven't really been cooking much lately. Aside from during a visit by The Boyfriend over his spring break (tomato soup, grilled cheese, potato salad, lemon chicken, fried rice. In rotation. The Boyfriend is not an adventurous eater), and a last-minute catering gig for a party which I will eventually recreate and blog, I've been throwing meals haphazardly together and subsisting off the generosity of my classmates' huge school meal plans. And here are the results--for the most part, not bad, if a bit (alright, a lot) odd.

Bowl of macaroni with tomato sauce and mushrooms. Looks a bit chunky, because instead of simply pouring the tomato sauce on the drained pasta I stir-fried the whole lot. It made the taste heartier, and better. That pink sausage in the corner there is my finger.

Mushroom bruschetta. Essentially mushrooms, onions, and chives sauteed in a lot of butter, and placed upon toast fried in a frying pan with (you guessed it) more butter. It was heaven. Although The Boyfriend will surely disagree.

A bento box I brought to class, with leftover salmon, steamed rice, grape tomatoes, and broccoli and asparagus I blanched in the microwave with my mom's Pyrex measuring cup.

Another bento, in my new special onigiri bento box (I am slightly addicted to buying bento boxes and supplies--I now have 3, as well as a whole stash of little picks and bottles). This one had onigiri, grape tomatoes, a boiled egg, and apple bunnies. The apple bunnies were surprisingly hard to make! There are only two because I wrecked the rest of the apple with my failed bunny attempts.

My first-ever wild salmon filet. The farmed stuff will forever suck in comparison. Totally worth the $6.88. Drizzled in a little lemon juice with salt & pepper, I picked it apart with my fingers and annoyed The Boyfriend with my rapturous texted comments. I have to note that the color was amazing. I had no idea "real" salmon was supposed to look like that--this photo is completely unedited!

Fried potato and onion. This was just because I realized I had a huge sack of potatoes and onions in the fridge. A delicious carb overload paired with rice.

Lemon chicken. I really will have to give a detailed recipe on this eventually, because I've altered it so much since the first time I made it.

There is no name for this dish. It's a bizarre combination of grits, butter, and peas, topped with tobiko (flying fish roe). Comfort food. It sure photographed well in my desk lighting.

Chicken-veggie soup. I had no noodles, so instead I substituted more peas, more carrots, more celery. I stir-fried everything, first the chicken, and then the vegetables, along with some diced spring onions, and then tossed everything into a cup and a half of boiling water and simmered for a few minutes. It was delicious.

Sometimes I really believe that food is the only thing keeping me sane through all this. No matter what anyone says, dieters, health nuts, whatever, there are inherently good feelings associated with food, with the act of eating. And in the middle of everything right now, it's so good to sit down for a few minutes and eat something.