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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The first challenge!

Hello everyone!

I hereby announce the first ever This Blog Cooking Challenge! The name of the challenge is Coconut-Braised Beef. The link to the recipe is on the right sidebar. So start cooking!

Here are the rules for completing the challenge:

  • You must prepare the meal and send me a short synopsis of the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Also you should rate the dish on a 1-10 scale.
  • The deadline is one week from the time of posting.
Here are some guidelines for completing the challenge:

  • Try to feed this food to other people. In this way, you can bribe them to be friends with you.
  • Take pictures if you can, at various points in the cooking process.
  • Try not to be a vegetarian, because then you cannot eat the food (in this particular challenge).
After the challenge is over, I will prepare a post with your synopses and photos. It will probably be epic.

I picked this recipe because I have never cooked beef before, and I'm scared of it. Jeremy Lin (the classicist/linguist, not the basketball player) sent it to me. He recommends using less lime juice, and more pepper. Thanks, Jeremy!

Things to put on pasta!

My most recent cooking exploits have focused on making sauce-like substances to put on the cheap and delicious ravioli I recently bought at Trader Joes (sorry for all of you who are living in Europe and unable to use this resource).

I decided that a good thing to do would be to take some Italian sausage and cook it up with onions and garlic and mushrooms. This worked very nicely. As a variation in order to use up the rest of the sausage I put some green pepper and fresh tomato in as well to make it more resemble a conventional pasta sauce. I used a random pepper that wasn't a bell pepper since I don't like bell peppers.

I guess some preparation directives are probably in order here:
Start by putting the sausages (removed from their skins) in a largish frying pan no cooking oil is necessary. Break up the meat with your stirring implement. Once there is enough grease in the pan to be getting on with put in onions and garlic and green pepper (half an onion and a clove or two are enough to go with 2 sausages). Don't worry about things sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once things look slightly golden brown around the edges, pour a little water into the pan and scrape up the stuck bits, boil out the water and add mushrooms. You might want to do the deglazing ritual again. Add your tomatoes (peeled if you don't like random bits of tomato skin in your sauce) and let them cook down and make this creation more or less sauce-like. Solid pieces of tomato are fine though.

The most important part is addition of herbs and spices though. While you are frying add various herbs from the obvious (basil, oregano, black pepper) to the less (thyme and sage). Make sure to put some red pepper flakes or cayenne or something like that in too (if you like things to be slightly spicy).

You can make this is quantity and keep it around for all your pasta sauce needs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Scallion pancake-lettes

Sorry, guys, I'm on a roll.  I swear I'll stop soon (though I owe you my variations of the Hong Kong pork chop fried rice and Cantonese tomato beef rice recipes; future plans are for dan dan mian and tzar jang mian).  If you ever crave scallion pancakes but are tight on time, here's a quick fix.

Scallion pancake-lettes
Scallions (frozen or fresh are fine)
Egg (optional)
Salt as needed (some prefer unsalted)
Mix them all and fry them up.

But wait!

Real scallion pancakes require special rolling techniques and whatnot and are time consuming and not easy to get right.  This recipe is a lot easier.  The hard part about this recipe is getting the proportions of flour and water right.  So here's the key: Take a chopstick and dip it into the mix.  If the mix drips off from the chopstick in solid droplets (i.e. not sluggishly dripping down or racing down like water), your mix is right.

As an aside, I've also made sweet versions of this--instead of adding salt and scallions, I add in honey or mashed bananas/apples.

2 simple and easy snacks

Since I usually just cook for myself, I tend towards cooking simply--I try not to spend more than 30 minutes cooking and cleaning, which I realize probably isn't what all of you have in mind.  Here are two quick snacks that are good for any time of the day which I made for myself recently.

French Cheese Toast: It's a combination of French toast and the grilled cheese sandwich.  Take stale bread, pop in some cheese in between a few of the pieces (hence, it's easier if the bread's in small pieces, so the cheese will stay in), place the sandwiches into beaten eggs, and fry them up.

Pears, brie, walnuts: Well, it's kind of obvious what this is :)  Had it with a glass of white.  Best if you toast the pears, brie and walnuts; if you don't have a toaster, use a microwave.

My (Healthy) Variation of Steamed Pork and Salted Egg

For those of you who know your Cantonese food (::looks around and realizes it's me::), you may have encountered the steamed pork and salted egg dish.  I loved it as a child when we used to go to Mandarin Court, one of the best Cantonese restaurants in NYC, until I realized that it's a bit on the heavy side--the fat parts of minced pork + salted duck yolk = lots of calories.

But I encountered a recipe here and varied it up a bit, and it turned out to work quite well.  Here are the healthy variations:

  • Use ground chicken or ground turkey (the latter is a bit sweeter)
  • Use one egg--instead of beating the egg, just use the egg white.  Keep that yolk, and use that as the salted egg yolk on top of the pork (and actually salt the yolk).  Make sure the yolk doesn't break; otherwise it spreads over the surface of the meat and looks less pretty.
If you don't have rice wine, sherry can do; I haven't tried rice vinegar, but I imagine it should be fine.

Other things you can add:
  • Cut some shiitake mushrooms and throw it into the mix prior to steaming
  • Add scallions to the mix
  • Add dried shrimp (info here) into the mix
  • On top of the mix: Cut some small pieces of ginger to give it a tiny kick
It's a very low-maintenance dish--as it steams, you can do other things.  In particular, if you've a rice cooker, you can cook rice on the bottom and steam the meat on the top.  

Sure, it's not as fatty-tasting as the original, but it worked for me!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

today's spice: tarragon!

Guys, until recently, I had no idea what tarragon was, other than some kind of herb. Then more recently I learned it can make a sort of interesting vinegar, but it still seemed sort of strange and obscure. One of those spices that's in your spice rack (or rather, your mother's spice rack; I have no spice rack) for completeness but you've never seen it used. Who wants one of them high-falutin' herbs anyway?
Friends, I have been converted. Tarragon is amazing. Principally, it is another way to Make Chicken Delicious. I made chicken salad today with tarragon and it was so. good. And I threw some tarragon in my tuna salad yesterday and it was also super delicious. It might be good in a salad dressing too, but I don't know because I have no vegetables. But basically, tarragon is really good. Hooray!
[The chicken salad recipe isn't super practical, unless, like me, you happen to have a hunk of gorgonzola in your fridge that needs to get eaten, and also a bunch of grapes. But it you have those things, you can add them into a basic chicken salad made by poaching yourself some chicken and cutting it into bits and adding mayo and sour cream. Which you also have, because you love sour cream. And add the tarragon!]

Monday, September 27, 2010

As American as Dutch apple pie

Things you didn't know about Germany #059:

They don't have pie. 

Things you didn't know about Germany #182 (irrelevant, but interesting):

German chocolate cake is not from Germany, but rather from an English guy named Sam German. 

Things you didn't know about Germany #059 (revised):

They didn't have pie, until I created pie.

Pie. I created pie.

Guys, it turns out pie isn't actually that difficult to make! I managed to make delicious Dutch apple pie even while overcoming the following challenges:
  • Germans don't have pie pans.
  • Germans don't have brown sugar.
  • My recipe was all Fahrenheity (not a huge challenge, but inconvenient). 
  • I am a man, and thus my brain is wired for eating pie rather than creating it.
I know you guys can find recipes for pie crust and apple pie all over the internet, so I'm going to offer some pro-tips for creating a pie without flaws.

Crust (double):
  • Substituting 1/2 cup of hazelnuts for 1/2 cup of flour is an excellent idea.
  • Refrigerating the crust before rolling it is absolutely necessary.
  • Rolling between two sheets of wax paper minimises the need for flour (does anyone else hate the texture of flour? Seriously, it makes my skin crawl.)
  • If you use a real pie pan, it has a lip on the edge for your crust to rest on. If you don't have such a pan, there is no such lip, and your crust will look bad at the edges. It will also drop down into the oven, unless you have a cookie sheet under your pie pan.
  • Big pieces of apple are really good in pie, but giant pieces of apple make your top crust really really uneven. The high parts get a little burned. Don't make giant pieces of apple.
  • Cut up 2 T of butter into tiny pieces and put it on top of your apples before adding the top crust. 
  • Dark brown sugar is tastier. I had to bring brown sugar all the way from America.
  • If you pour 1/2 cup of cream into the centre after about 30 minutes of baking, you have Dutch apple pie. 

I think Jill enjoyed the pie. The pieces held together better after the pie cooled.

Photo credits Halyna Mishchanyn, who also enjoyed the pie.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

speaking of red spice--chili powder and chili

Guys, I keep posting, but that is because it is weekend and so I cook things and then I like describing what I ate.
So yesterday I was at the Chinese market, and they have super cheap cans of spices! Except they only have spices you might want for Asian cooking, so it's not the most comprehensive. I picked up a bottle of red pepper powder, not sure what it was but thinking it would be spicy. And it was! I don't know what variety of pepper they use in Asian cooking, but it has Pep. So I used it to make chili powder (usually you use paprika or cayenne). This is done by mixing two parts pepper, one part cumin, one part oregano. And then maybe some extra cumin. And then hey, I have nutmeg, let's put in nutmeg, and black pepper, and garlic salt, and cloves because why not. And look! Chili powder! Now the obvious thing to do is to make chili.
Here are good things about chili: it freezes well (and frozen things are convenient, as per my previous post); it can be served with sour cream (delicious); and I didn't have to go out of the house for any of the ingredients, which was nice because I am lazy. One thing that is not so good about chili is it takes a while and gets your kitchen very steamy. But this is ok, because I had nothing better to do (except homework.)
Here is what I used for my chili:
1/2 cup dry black beans
1/2 cup dry navy beans
1 cup kidney beans
1 can (big) diced tomatoes
1 can (teeny) tomato paste
2 onions
6 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp chili powder (above)
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp salt

Basically you mix it in a pot! The beans are the part that take a while: basically you have to boil them in water for two minutes and then let them sit covered (removed from heat) for an hour, and then drain and rinse. This apparently starts the germination process in the bean and gets rid of all the complex sugars that makes beans hard to digest! SCIENCE. And then you have to pour water in again and cook them for another hour or so until they are tender. This whole process could be skipped if you used cooked beans; however dry beans are cheaper by volume, and since they're shrivelled up you get more food per volume anyway, and they also keep with no preservatives! Yay beans.
Anyway once your beans are cooked you add your onions and garlic and spices (which you've been sauteeing). And the tomatoes. The tomato paste is mostly because you are impatient and want the sauce to thicken without boiling it down forever.
Also you could really use any dry beans you like, and you could add chili peppers or green peppers or any vegetables you might have. I have no vegetables. Also I saw a recipe that put a cup of beer in it, and that seems good too, but alas I have no beer. And some people do chocolate, apparently. And you could make meat chili too, but I lack meat as well.

IN CONCLUSION chili is a good thing to make when you have a lot of time and you have a lot of non-perishable food items. And you wish not to go to the store, and to have leftovers.

Menu planning

So here we are, it's Sunday, and I don't have any food in my house. This seems to happen every Sunday. In Europe, all grocery stores are closed on Sundays. So I generally suffer a hungry Sunday.

I need a Sunday-food. This food would be made of ingredients that I would be sure to have lying around my house. And it would need to be delicious. But it would not necessarily have to be fast to make. In fact, I would rather have it be labour/time intensive. On Sundays, one has time to enjoy one's kitchen. And I intend to enjoy my kitchen.

So I'm taking suggestions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

garlic-honey-mustard sauce

Remember red-spice chicken, everyone? I don't actually, because I avoided it as much as I possibly could. Point is, HUDS did not do delicious chicken, and then they tried to hide it in a sauce. In real life, though, chicken can be truly delicious, because you can make it tender and not cardboard-flavoured. However, sauce is still a wondrous thing, especially if the meat in your life is almost entirely chicken (because it is cheap) and so you want variety. And spice is the variety of life. So here is an easy thing my friend mentioned the other day:
6 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp hot brown mustard
2 Tbsp honey
all roasted together, and then spread on whatever you want. However, thanks to the wonders of AT&T, I didn't have internet yesterday between basically any time range in which I might want dinner, so I couldn't see his exact proportions. I did I Tbsp of honey and 4 tsp of mustard and then thinned it out with olive oil, and that turned out very delicious also. As an added bonus you get all this nice hot honey stuck in your pan that you can burn your fingers on because you want to partake of its deliciousness.
So anyway that is something that is easy and makes good food.

Cake Caroline

Dear Dustin, Jeremies, Anna, et al:

This cake is very yum and also easy. I made it for my dad's birthday last week, and people ate it.

(technically called) Orange Cake
½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cup flour
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup orange juice
1 tsp grated orange rind
1 tsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 deg.
2. Cream together butter and brown sugar in mixer until smooth. Add egg and beat well.
3. Sift dry ingredients together.
4. Combine buttermilk, juice, rind and vanilla in a bowl.
5. Alternately add portions of dry and liquid ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing well.
6. Pour batter into buttered 9” x 13” pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until springy when touched, and edges are starting to turn golden brown.
7. Frost while still warm.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp grated orange rind
2 Tbsp butter, melted
Orange juice
Mix sugar, rind and melted butter. Add orange juice just to moisten, until frosting is a spreadable consistency.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Guys, I really like pierogies. They are probably among the first things I learned to cook--you can get them frozen at the local Safeway, dunk in a pot of boiling water, take them out when they start floating, and eat with some sour cream. (I also love sour cream). Easy. Fast. Very good for when you are on-the-go to choir practice, or you just want to put delicious food in your stomach soon because you are hungry and lazy.
The problem: while Winnipeg is famous for its delicious cheesy potato dumplings (lots of Ukrainians) New England is not. So, I decided to make my own and see what happens. The big appeal is that you can make a bunch, and freeze them, and then quickly cook up whatever you need when you are alone and busy.
First, you make some dough. There are a bunch of ways to do this, but the recipe I decided on was:
2 cups flour
2 beaten eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup water.
Knead it all together. Actually this was really sticky so I'd recommend adding extra flour befor you get your hands all gross.
Then let it sit for a bit while you make the filling.
2 potatoes (I used Idaho types, which worked well)
1 onion (smallish)
1/2 cup cottage cheese
4 oz of cheddar
salt and pepper.
I mean actually you can put whatever you want in the filling; that's just what I happened to use and I would rate it "pretty delicious". Essentially you're making mashed potatoes; since I hadn't actually made those before that I can remember, I will remind you all what to do. Basically you peel the potatoes (I didn't have a peeler, just a paring knife, so I think I ended up cutting off a reasonable amount of potato as well) and chop them into chunks. Then you cover them with cold water, add salt, put a lid on partially, raise to a boil, and then simmer 25 minutes or so. By this point they should be really soft. Then you drain them and put back in the pot. Meanwhile, you chop the onion into little bits and sautee the heck out of it, and then when the potatoes are done you add the onion and the cheese and salt and pepper or whatever it is you're adding, and then you mash. I lack a masher, but since, as previously mentioned, the potatoes are really soft, you can basically squish them with a fork and a wooden spoon and make everything into a delicious creamy happy thing.

THEN you make the pierogies. In an ideal world, you would now roll out the dough (on a floured surface!) with a rolling pin. I lacked such a thing, so I sort of stretched it and squished it around with my hands. I'd really recommend rolling it though, because you want it as thin as you can get it. Then you cut it into rounds with your favourite round thing; or if you're me, you kind of cut it into squares and stretch it around some more. Then you take a spoonful of filling, put it on the square, and fold it up all around. Real pierogies are folded in half and pinched shut, but I kind of liked folding in the corners on four sides. As for the size--my first couple surprised me with their gigantitude. It turns out you really can't put more than about a tsp of filling in a pierogi if you want it to turn out sort of normal. As a result, I had too much potato filling left over. This is ok though, because it is delicious, as previously mentioned.

And now--congratulations, raw pierogi! At this point some of them should go on a baking sheet in the freezer, to be put in ziplocs when they are frozen (if you freeze them right away they'll stick to each other.) What you want to eat now should be boiled up (as above) or pan-fried, or both I guess.
THE VERDICT: Tastes pretty good. My only real problem was that I didn't make the dough thin enough, so the outsides were a little gluey; next time I will try to procure a rolling device to get them nice and thin. They are still very enjoyable and delicious, and now I can partake of food quickly because they freeze so well. The whole process did take a reasonable time investment, but it's compensated for by the time I will save later on with my easily-cooked-frozen-yummies.

Pierogies, folks!

No-cook pasta sauce

I am homeless/nomadic right now, so I don't have a lot of ingredients on hand. But I found an excellent recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (upon whose virtues I will wax poetic in a later post).

I am in general pretty unimpressed with pasta sauce in jars. It is too expensive to buy interesting ones, and I hate having the half empty jars in my refrigerator. This means that, whenever I make pasta, I need to make my own sauce. Today, I didn't want to make my own sauce. But pasta was essentially the only caloric foodstuff in my friend's kitchen (besides straight oil and chocolate).

The recipe that I found is as follows: mash up some fresh tomatoes with some cloves of garlic, add salt and fresh-ground pepper and fresh basil, remove the garlic from the sauce, put the sauce on pasta, then top with parmesan. I didn't have fresh basil (because my plant is elsewhere), but this still turned out to be pretty delicious. And it literally took 5 minutes to prepare.

Things I plan to buy (if my future kitchen doesn't have them):

-A basil plant
-A pepper grinder (and fresh pepper)
-A block of parmesan
-A grinder

My vision for this blog

Hello everyone!

There is a lot of information inside the internet about how to cook things. Like, seriously. But much of this information is written by Real People, with families and automobiles and decades of experience in the kitchen. That is, even if our time at Harvard hadn't destroyed our ability to communicate outside the bubble, much of the information would not be suited to our life situation. We, recent Harvard graduates, are all of a sudden living alone, making budgets, and trying not to get scurvy. We may even wish to feed people in order to bribe them into being our friends. I daresay that our situation is thus unprecedented and entirely unique. Hence, this blog.

Ideally, posts here would be about overcoming the challenges of cooking for one. Ideally, they would include pictures. I plan to post here whenever I am surprised by something I cook (which is pretty much every time I cook anything). On one hand, I hope we can find quick, easy, healthy, and delicious recipes for when we are pressed for time. On the other hand, I hope that we can inspire each other to be more ambitious in the kitchen when we aren't pressed for time. Of course, my vision isn't the only possible or valid one. If you want to be a contributor, just let me know!

Happy cooking!