Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Kitchen Comeback Update 2

                       Turkey pepperoni pizza with homemade marinara

In September, I continued my path in increasing the heat to my food. When I mean heat I mean as in spicy or piquant. The Mexican enchiladas Suizas had a wonderful kick to them. This started in June when I made the first batch of a Pace picante sauce copycat recipe.  This was hotter than I had planned. I did not stop using the salsa. Since, I have made a few things spicer than I used to do things.  I even have experimented with heat with Thai, Indian and other cuisines. I made coleslaw with Serrano chiles; I did not put enough in the batch, next time I have to use more. One issue I am noticing is that certain peppers have a large range of heat. Something that would be spicy in one batch could be milder next time. One batch of Carroll Shelby’s chili I added Hungarian hot paprika, ancho chili powder and all of the cayenne that came with the kit. It gave it some good heat.

Chilled tangy avocado soup

I am also working to use less pre-prepared foods. I found a copycat Carroll Shelby’s chili con carne recipe. That will lead to my own personal chili con carne recipe. I made the mistake in September of using a pre-made marinara sauce for my vegetarian lasagna.  I later discovered how loaded with sugar it was. In October, I have made my own homemade marinara and froze it for future use. I froze some of my homemade salsa for future use too. The vegetarian tacos I made in November called for Old El Paso taco seasoning.  I found a copycat recipe and made my own, so as to avoid sugars. All the pre-packaged taco seasonings have sugar (and/or corn syrup) and MSG in them.

                                 Quinoa spaghetti in tonnato sauce

I am doing more improvising. I had leftover marinara, zucchini, and summer squash.  I added roasted garlic, onions and topped it off with parmesan cheese.  I referred to it as my low rent ratatouille, for true ratatouille I was missing eggplant, bell peppers and some of the herbs. It is funny how this improvisation came out of an experiment. Next time I make lemongrass beef or Thai chicken and lemongrass soup, the plan is to use the food chopper to make the lemon grass edible. It was too fibrous otherwise.

                                Thai chicken and lemongrass soup

In November I changed my quesadilla recipe. Since October I have been using my toaster oven to make quesadillas. My recipe was simple cheese, flour tortillas, and Valentina hot sauce. In November, I replaced the hot sauce with chipotle powder, or chipotle powder and ancho powder. The smokiness of the chili pepper powder really gives it a kick and flavor with out the biting sourness of the vinegar found in the hot sauce. I have been adding the chipotle powder to many dishes to enhance flavor as opposed to salt.

                                     Shoyu Chicken

Then after researching Mexican cheeses, I discovered that traditionally quesadillas are made with corn tortillas and without oil. Previously I was frying them in olive oil, but I found them too greasy. I tried them without the oil and using the cheese with the chipotle and ancho powders. They were not as crispy as I tend to like them, but I still loved them.

Hungarian pan fried pork steak with Hungarian paprika gravy and mashed cauliflower

I experimented with more vegetarian and vegan dishes. This was due to the advice of my doctor.  I am working to eat healthier. I have a Veggetti device that turns vegetables into spaghetti or fettuccine shapes. I have a few ideas there like cucumber noodles with a dill yogurt sauce (tzatziki salad), cucumber noodles with a spicy pickle dressing (Thai cucumber condiment inspired salad), zucchini or cucumber noodles in tonnato sauce, zucchini noodles in pesto, zucchini noodles in marinara sauce, and a cucumber noodle salad based on bread & butter pickles. I was making more egg dishes as well.   

Spinach pizza with pesto, feta, sun dried tomatoes, and shaved parmesan 

There are few dishes I really want to try out. They are noodles in Thai Peanut sauce from scratch, Mexican pipián sauce (a pumpkin seed sauce), Indian Saag (either lamb or paneer cheese), Puerto Rican tostones (twice fried mashed plantains), Puerto Rican arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), Thai massaman curry, and homemade pesto. I also found a German delicatessen that makes their own sausages including Hungarian, and Polska kielbasa. I am thinking of picking a few up for a meal.

                           Asparagus and mushroom salad

September 2015

Mexican enchiladas Suizas, Indonesian lemongrass beef with rice, Yucatan sopa de lima, Rick’s vegetarian lasagna (zucchini noodles with garlic and onion marinara, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan cheese, and mushrooms), turkey Polska kielbasa scramble (turkey Polska kielbasa, eggs, hash browns, and onions), Rick’s low rent ratatouille (zucchini, summer squash, onions, garlic, leftover marinara sauce, and topped with shaved parmesan cheese), Vegetable medley (asparagus, carrots and potatoes) with eggs, and honey mustard chicken with rice.

                            Spaghetti squash enchilada boats

October 2015

Pizza with homemade marinara (turkey pepperoni and skim milk mozzarella), chilled tangy avocado soup, turkey bratwursts with mashed potatoes, ground turkey tacos with Serrano vinegar base coleslaw, homemade salsa, Denver scramble (eggs, ham, green bell pepper, onions, Cheddar cheese, and hash browns), quinoa spaghetti in tonnato sauce (tuna, anchovies, lemon juice, capers and olive oil) garnished with parmesan cheese, parsley, and black pepper, Turkey ham with mashed potatoes, California scramble (Spanish chorizo, hash browns, onions, olives, Ortega mild green chiles garnished with avocado and salsa), Thai chicken and lemongrass soup with jasmine rice, Madras beef curry with jasmine rice, quesadillas with Valentina hot sauce, Carroll Shelby’s Chili con Carne with ground turkey (added garlic, corn, Ortega mild green chiles, diced tomatoes, black beans, pinto beans, and onions), and Shoyu chicken with jasmine rice.

                           Vegetarian tacos with spicy crema

November 2015

Country link sausage with mashed potatoes, quesadillas with chipotle powder, Hungarian pan fried steak with Hungarian paprika gravy and garlic mashed cauliflower, spinach pesto pizza (pesto, spinach, sun dried tomato, feta and shaved parmesan), black bean and cheese burritos, turkey cheddar bratwursts with mashed potatoes, asparagus and mushroom salad (with red bell pepper, arugula, and a citrus dressing), corn quesadillas with chipotle and ancho powder, spaghetti squash enchilada boats, gazpacho Mexicano (Mexican gazpacho, the difference is jalapeño, lime, cilantro, and spicy tomato juice), vegetarian tacos with spicy crema, chile relleno casserole, homemade taco seasoning, and Rick’s ground turkey chili con carne (diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, mild green chiles, corn, black beans, and small red beans).

                                        Gazpacho Mexicano

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kitchen Comeback Update 1

                  Filipino chicken pancit with mung bean threads

Now that I am cooking from scratch again, I am actively seeking out things I miss from my youth.  In July I made the meatloaf recipe I grew up with. In July I also finally made Filipino adobo, although it was chicken not pork like I had planned in May.  Filipino adobo was my signature dish back pre-old life.  I had not made it in over a decade.  The last time I made it, I struggled because I used old white vinegar that had become more potent sitting around.  This time I used rice wine vinegar.  I was extremely proud of the results.  In September I finally made Filipino pork adobo.  My version is not traditional.  I cut the meat in bite size pieces and thicken the sauce to gravy consistency.  I also tend to simmer the meat from 45 minutes to an hour, for more tender meat.

                                            Madras beef curry in the skillet

In August, I made Filipino chicken pancit with mung bean threads for the first time.  I was happily surprise with how well the first attempt went.  I learned a few things, especially since this was the first time I used mung bean thread noodles. In June and August I made my maternal grandmother’s zucchini casserole. Each attempt leads to me perfecting things.  In May I used a microwave and in August I baked it.  I need to cook it longer and beat the eggs better in the next attempt.  For the first time using a new cooking method, things went well.  Another old favorite that I cooked as a youth I revisited in August was homemade taco meat.  I made ground turkey tacos; this was my first time using ground turkey. They came out very good, so good I ditched the plan for ground turkey steaks for another batch.  August I was shown how to make my mom’s pot of beans, this time we use smoked pork shank.  I learned a wonderful trick to thickening the beans take the vegetables and puree them, then add them back to the cooking liquid.  It came out wonderful.  I made it again by myself and mom gave it her seal of approval.

                         Madras beef curry with Basmati rice plated

A Facebook friend noticed that my dishes are extremely eclectic with ethnic origins.  Part of that is growing up in an ethnically diverse family and in an ethically diverse town in Southern California.  I have cooked dishes from or inspired by the following cuisines: Mexican, Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Indonesian, Filipino, Greek, Middle Eastern, Thai, Russian, Cuban, Spanish, Irish, classic American, Indian (as in India), Hawaiian, Portuguese, Polish, German, Cajun, and Creole.

                               Stuffed Anaheim chiles

One of the growing pains is not having some equipment.  When I ended my old life in December of 2011, I left all my cooking utensils and equipment. I work my way around that stuff.  My mother has been gifting me equipment almost every gift giving occasion she can.  I have a few kitchen appliances I have no clue to use.  I also have a few that are a godsend.  My Vitamix and my microwave rice cooker are wonderful.  Originally I was going to make sorbets with my Vitamix, but I really enjoy the yogurt fruit smoothies I have been making instead.  Since I do not have a whisk the Vitamix at low has been doing the job for eggs.  I started doing this after the fact the whites and yolks were not complete mixed in August’s version of Grandma’s zucchini casserole.

                                     Hawaiian chicken teriyaki

In August I finally had a culinary stumble.  I made Hawaiian chicken Teriyaki.  I found the version I made too sweet, almost cloyingly.  The plan is to add more soy sauce and reduce the honey and the pineapple juice.  Enough honey and pineapple juice will be in it for flavor, but not to be the overpowering.  I am not sure the overly sweet flavor profile was from too much honey, too much pineapple juice, or both.  I did learn that honey as a sugar substitute is not 1 for one but 2/3rds to 1. This was bigger than something that needed tweaking.  This was making the dish something I was not happy with.  In September I made Greek spanakopita, and the phylo dough seemed burnt to me.  My family thought it was wonderful.

                          Hawaiian chicken teriyaki with rice

One of the things I missed about cooking was cooking on the fly.  In May, I had planned Filipino pork adobo, but ended up making slow cooked pork in barbeque sauce.  In August, I had left over stuffing (Mexican chorizo, onions and cheese mixture) from the stuffed Anaheim peppers.  I had a few small potatoes and a few eggs.  I threw all of those together and ate with salsa and steamed corn tortillas.   Also in August I had planned vinaigrette marinated chicken with mashed cauliflower.   I still had leftover vinegar based coleslaw and felt more vinegar based dishes was overload. I used the left over Madras curry paste and made Madras chicken with jasmine rice.  Taking one dish and adapting it to different ingredients is fun.  It keeps excitement in cooking for me. 

                                            Pork chile verde

I had originally in August planned on making a turkey ham and cheese scramble with onions, eggs, turkey ham and cheese.  I ended up making several different dishes with it: turkey ham and eggs with hash browns, and turkey ham with corn and mashed potatoes.  I had originally planned to make a version of lasagna with zucchini and summer squash as noodles with spinach, but I have used spinach in spanakopita.  It seemed like too much of one thing.  I decided I would use mushrooms instead of spinach, which works better as a meat substitute.

                                         Pork chile verde

Getting back to cooking has done wonders for me.  I get to experiment with flavors, cuisines and techniques. It fills a creative void I have had for years. I did not know I missed it.  It is one thing I plan on never giving up again.  When I left the old life, a dream I had was possibly to my own food cart or truck.  In recovering my passion for cooking I want that even more.  I am going to work to get more cooking tools to make that possible. I have a few recipe ideas I need to play with, three dishes and a condiment.

Here are the past Menus:

                                 Beans with smoked pork shank
May 2015

Chile relleno casserole, sopa de lima (Yucatan chicken and lime soup), jalapeño jelly slow cooked pork tacos, Carroll Shelby’s chili con carne using stew meat (with beans, corn, tomatoes, and Ortega chiles), Zatarain’s dirty rice, slow cooked pork in barbecue sauce with mashed potatoes and corn, Mexican chorizo and eggs, Greek tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic and dill sauce), roasted garlic hummus (Middle Eastern garbanzo beans/chickpeas pureed with roasted garlic, lemon juice, tahini{sesame seed paste}, olive oil, paprika), salsa, guacamole, olive oil baked tortilla chips, sandwiches and bratwursts with mashed potatoes.

                              Spanakopita with tzatziki

June 2015

Thai Lemongrass and chicken soup, grandma’s zucchini casserole, Zatarain’s Black beans and rice with linguiça sausage, Cuban mojo sauce marinated roasted pork in mojo sauce with Zatarain’s Caribbean rice, Russian style beef Stroganoff with rice, hamburger steaks with mashed potatoes, Polska kielbasa scramble with hash browns and onions, Indonesian sweet pork with rice, tzatziki, roasted garlic hummus, salsa, guacamole, olive oil baked tortillas chips, and sandwiches.

                                   Filipino pork adobo

July 2015

Zatarain’s red bean and rice with andouille sausage, Filipino chicken adobo with rice, tortilla Española (Spanish tortilla: an omelet of eggs, slice red potatoes and onions), Carroll Shelby’s chili con carne  using ground beef (with beans, corn, tomatoes, and Ortega chiles), California scramble (eggs, onions, mild green chiles, Spanish chorizo with avocado and salsa as garnishes), Quaker oats meatloaf with Irish colcannon (mashed potatoes with leeks and kale), Dublin Coddle (potatoes, onions, ham , parsley, Irish sausage, and nutmeg), Tamale pie (corn bread type dish with tomatoes, green chiles, olives and onions, garnished with cheese and enchilada sauce), tzatziki, roasted garlic hummus, salsa, guacamole, and olive oil baked tortillas chips.

Rick's vegetarian lasagna

August 2015

Indian Madras beef curry with Basmati rice, Filipino chicken pancit with mung bean thread noodles, turkey ham with hash browns and eggs, turkey ham with mashed potatoes, stuffed Anaheim peppers (stuffed with Mexican chorizo, cheese and onion garnished with enchilada sauce and cheese), Mexican chorizo and eggs with hash browns, onions and cheese garnished with enchilada sauce, Hawaiian chicken teriyaki, Mexican pork chile verde with refried black beans and homemade red rice (AKA Spanish/ Mexican rice), ground turkey tacos with vinegar based coleslaw, Indian Madras chicken curry with jasmine rice, beans with smoked pork shank, tzatziki, roasted garlic hummus, salsa, guacamole, and olive oil baked tortilla chips.

Indonesian lemongrass beef

September 2015

Chile relleno casserole, beans with smoked pork shank, salsa, tzatziki sauce, Zatarain’s dirty brown rice with ground turkey (diced tomatoes, corn, mild green chiles, roasted garlic and sweet onion added), Greek spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie in phylo dough) with Greek tzatziki sauce, Filipino pork adobo with jasmine rice, and Carroll Shelby’s Guilt-Free turkey chili (with beans, corn, tomatoes, and Ortega chiles).

Honey mustard chicken

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Back in the Kitchen

In my Road to wellness, I have learned that in order to get healthier I need to forego many convenience foods.  What that mean is that no more Hamburger Helper, canned chili con carne, canned soups, frozen dinners, frozen burritos, Hot Pockets, corn dogs, and more.  There are a handful I will still buy like Zatarain’s rice dishes, Thai Kitchen’s rice noodle brick soups, Carroll Shelby’s chili con carne starter, sandwich fixings, canned vegetables and frozen vegetables.  Carroll Shelby’s is basically a spice mix with thickener, masa flour.

                           Sopa de Lima with Julienne tortilla strips

The last week of April 2015, I made a roasted turkey and shoyu chicken (chicken with soy sauce, ginger and sugar, I usually use honey instead).  The first week of May half of my cooking was prep work.  I had to bake my tortillas chips, roast my Poblano chilies and roast my garlic.   I also made tzatziki sauces, salsa, hummus, and guacamole.  May’s menu included sopa de lima (Yucatan chicken and lime soup ) Filipino pork adobo, Carroll Shelby's chili, pork cooked in Jalapeno jelly tacos, dirty rice, chili Relleno casserole, chorizo and eggs, sandwiches, homemade salsa, oven baked tortilla chips with olive oil, homemade guacamole, homemade hummus, homemade tzatziki sauce, and bratwursts and mashed potatoes.

                                        Indonesian sweet pork

One of the things I missed about cooking from scratch regularly was being able to play mad scientist with my dishes.  I have an innate knack of being able to come up with variations of recipes when a see or eat a dish. In May I had crispy tacos with potato filling. The potatoes were mashed; I figured why not, do that with plantains, a starchier type of banana. I had been wracking my brain to combine Japanese and Mexican foods. Years ago I came up with making ceviche with Japanese flavors, now the new idea is adding wasabi to guacamole.  In making my own salsa I got to play with chili peppers I missed using, Poblanos and Aniheims.  I get to make my hummus to my particular tastes. I will no longer be happy with what some corporations tells me is tasty.  I will be able to make things to my tastes.

                           My Grandmother's zucchini casserole

Relearning how to cook and having to go back and find recipes is both fun and frustrating at times.  I realized that fresh salsa is more like Pico de Gallo, which I am not a big fan of.  I also learned I bought too much food in the month of May, the first month I started cooking from scratch.  I found out after I purchased can chickpeas/ garbanzo beans that many hummus recipes call for dried chickpeas / garbanzo beans.  I learned that one lime is sufficient for a single batch of guacamole.


 Re-learning to shop is also a struggle.  You shop differently for scratch cooking than you do when eating a lot of convenience foods.  I am also going to consult my recipes prior to shopping.  By not consulting the recipes I had too many return trips to the grocery store.  This is nothing new, in my twenties and early thirties I cooked from scratch 90% to 80% of the time. In my mid-thirties till now, it was less than 10%. 

                                    Filipino chicken adobo

So far the mistakes I have made are the learning kind.  In cooking there is another kind of mistake, the glorious kind.  This is the kind of mistake that a flub leads to a new discovery in flavor.  Like the time I used tomato sauce instead of canned tomatoes for a lamb dish.  This led to my turning Armenian lamb shanks into Armenian lamb sauce on spinach pasta with parmesan and feta.  This happened over several dishes. 

                                               Tamale Pie

My experimenting with what works and does not is the part of cooking I love.  I seriously missed it.  Mind you, I did not realize how much I missed it until I started creating my menu. On my book shelf, I moved some books into storage, so I could put my cookbooks up there.  With the internet, finding recipes for dishes not found in my cookbooks is a wonderful resource that opens up the possibilities.  I find myself doing what I did years ago, modifying recipes to fit my personal tastes.  That is what a good cook and/ or chef does.  Those modifications represent cumulatively a particular taste and style of the cook.

                                              Tortilla Española

I have posted my menus for May and June on my Facebook page.  They have got good responses.  Even though most of my tastes in food are Latin/ Hispanic and East Asian, I will try anything. With in my entrees and snacks there have been Mexican, Cuban, Thai, Filipino, Japanese, Hawaiian, Russian, German, Greek, Middle Eastern, Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex, and American dishes.  Those who know me know I come from a Multi-Cultural background both personally and by influence.  It is no surprise my food reflects that.  I am fairly adventurous with food. The only area I am very picky is sweets. 

Quaker Oats meatloaf and Irish colcannon

There are still places I want to explore in food.  Once I get my blender I will start making sorbet with no added sweeteners.  I am becoming a big proponent of olive oil.  It is healthy and known to help with good cholesterol.   I am also using organic and/ or Greek yogurt, for probiotics.  I need to add some more seafood to my diet, my situation makes that difficult unless it is canned.  I am working to reduce gluten, specifically wheat from for diet.  Milk is down to cheese and yogurt.  I am using reduced sodium products.  Some fat free and low fat products are not good.  I am relearning to read labels and pay attention.  Some dishes are healthier than others, this is still better than the old convenience foods.   This is my journey and it changes as I go along, I keep what works and jettison what does not.

                     Grandma's zucchini casserole version 2