There She’ Goes (Blog)

Hi there!  Welcome to my blog.  Originally begun to track the progress of my little patio garden, it quickly branched out beyond the growing of food to the cooking of it, as well.

Please have a browse through my ramblings, and let me know what you think!

 

Jalapeno Cheddar Tater Tots
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A few years ago, I pitched in on a friend’s short film, appearing as an extra in a couple of scenes, and helping out wherever I was needed behind the camera. If you’ve never worked on a film set, it generally consists of flurries of frenzied activity separated by long stretches of time spent sitting around, just waiting to be needed again. If you’re working as an extra, or “background,” as it’s called in the industry, you’ll more than likely be doing so in full costume and make up. On sets with massive budgets, background actors are kept in a staging area well away from the main action. There you can read a book, chat with your fellow actors, grab a snack, check your phone (assuming the production allows you to keep it with you), knit, play Candy Crush, or whatever you feel like doing to pass the time. On micro-budget sets, you (and most of the crew) are often hovering just off camera, tucked in between unoccupied C-stands or perched discretely on an apple box, doing everything you can to be as out-of-the-way as possible, and praying you don’t sneeze and ruin the take.

These are apple boxes. They’re used to make short things taller for the camera. Tom Cruise, for example.

It was a relief, then, that my friend’s production, while small, was shot in locations that allowed us to (quietly) spread out a little. This was how I found myself spending most of an overnight shoot in the back of a swish Italian bistro, dressed to the nines (right down to the Spanx), and paging ravenously through a stack of food industry magazines I found just off of the kitchen. I’d never seen such a thing before, and reading them was a real insight into the business of running a restaurant. There were articles about upcoming food trends, news bites detailing which chefs had been hired where, featured recipes, advice on bookkeeping, and advertisements for everything from professional kitchen equipment to ingredients suppliers, and even, to my horror, frozen crab cakes.

Hey, if I want machine-made crab cakes, I’ll buy them at Trader Joe’s and warm them up at home like everyone else.

One recipe in particular, tied to a lovely origin story that I have sadly since forgotten, caught my eye: Gruyere Tater Tots. Fellow home cooks, please tell me I’m not alone in occasionally seeing a recipe for something traditionally store bought and thinking, “Wait, you can *make* those?!” “Well, of course you can,” I usually chide myself with a smack to the forehead, “Where do you think they came from before big business got a hold of them?” The idea of homemade tater tots was one such facepalm for me, but adding cheese? Pure genius. I scribbled down some notes about the recipe, and within a week, I was making them at home, then riffing, trying them with different cheeses, bacon, etc. Not gonna lie; I was making them so often, I got burned out. Turns out there is such a thing as too many tater tots!

 

Heeeeeelp!

Recently, though, I got the bug to play around some more, and my Jalapeño Cheddar Tater Tots were born. They’re kind of a no-brainer, as far as flavor combos go (you really can’t go wrong with spicy and cheddary), and they’re simple to make, which makes them a great contribution to parties or game day gatherings. I love keeping them on hand in the freezer (see recipe for freezing instructions) so that I can break them out whenever I’m craving something crunchy. If you try your hand at them, please let me know what you think in the comments!

 

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium russet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 jalapenos (seed just one if you like spice)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 oz mild cheddar cheese
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Instructions:

- Shred potatoes as finely as possible, using a cheese grater or mandoline.

- Place shreds in the center of a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth. Gather the corners of the cloth up into one hand so that the potatoes are covered completely and form a ball-shaped lump. Over a sink or bowl, twist the ball to wring as much moisture from the potatoes as possible.

- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Roll into balls roughly the size of a globe grape.

- In a high-sided pot, heat about 4 inches of oil to 350º Faranheit and fry the tots, a few at a time, until they are a deep, golden brown.

- Transfer cooked tots to a tray lined with paper towels and allow to cool before slamming them in your face!

Dipping suggestion: These are great solo, but also work well with blue cheese dressing or my yogurt cumin lime sauce.

Storage: These can be kept in a plastic zip top bag. If you don’t expect to eat them all within a couple of days, they can be frozen. Just pop them in the oven straight from the freezer for 10 minutes at 450º Farennheit (or in a toaster oven at 350º).

 

Community Garden Plot – Update
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First Fresno Harvest - Patio Garden

Howdy, all!

Summer is just around the corner, and both my patio garden and the community garden plot I share are growing like gangbusters. (The plot seems to grow weeds better than anything else, but we’re making it work.)

You may remember that on Earth Day, I wrote about using ollas, an ancient form of super effective irrigation, employed to keep my patio plants’ thirst quenched while using a minimum of water. Well, we’ve desperately needed to do the same in our shared plot, so last week I trotted to the hardware store for some supplies.

These are medium-sized pots, not nearly large enough to service our entire garden, but it’s a start. My plan is to add a few more every week until we’ve got ample coverage.

This season we’ve got a bunch of different lovelies growing. We’ve got our year-round guests, the blackberries, sage, and a rose bush, which never fail to thrive. We also have our permanent swath of strawberries. They grow like crazy, but we’ve had trouble with potato bugs nibbling on them before we can pick them. To counter this last year, my gardening partner planted onions throughout the patch, which seemed to help a lot! At this point, though, while they’ve grown past the stage where they should be dug up and made into something delicious, I just can’t bring myself to do so just yet. They’ve gone to seed, and are absolutely gorgeous! I’m hoping they’ll provide a new crop of tiny onions to help guard our berries, and in the meantime, they’re attracting bees, which is never a bad thing. (Except at picnics when they refuse to stay out of the sangria.)

We’re having the usual success with our kale and chard; we can’t eat it fast enough. And then there’s the dreaded zucchini. Would you believe I actually found myself craving it recently? That’s a known sign of the coming zuke-pocalypse, and sure enough, I pulled and cooked my first baby fruit this past weekend.

Our pole beans got off to a slow start, but they seem to be doing their darnedest to catch up.

We planted three different kinds of tomatoes, including this roma:

You can see that it’s far pointier than it ought to be, almost like a big, fat pepper. My research tells me that this tends to happen when there is infrequent/insufficient watering. With drought conditions persisting and strict water regulations still in place, I’m not surprised at that. I planted one of my ollas at the base of the romas in hopes it will help the poor plant get more consistent moisture. I put some ollas at the bottom of my heirloom beefsteaks, too, which have failed to grow much at all, in spite of the fact that all of their siblings on my patio garden have shot toward the sky. I suspect lack of water there, too, and hope the ollas will solve all of our tomato-related problems.

The one plant that hasn’t seemed to suffer from malhydration is our tomatillo!  I’ve had to stake it about three times now because it just keeps growing and adding more fruit. In fact, we’re probably going to need to think the fruit if we want to get anything usable off of it. After all, the poor plant only has so many resources to go around!

They sure are pretty, though!

That’s it for now. I’m going to try to get some good pics of the happenings on my patio for my next update. In the meantime, here’s an adorable shot of our latest addition to the other garden.

Soho loves to soak up some rays on a warm afternoon.

Yogurt Cumin Lime Sauce
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Regular readers of this blog will know that I usually like to offer a little story to go along with my recipes. All memorable food has at least one good tale tied to it! However, some recipes have so many stories attached that to try to capture them all would be an exercise in tying one’s brain in knots. The following is one such recipe (lovers of brevity rejoice!). It has its roots in a modified recipe here and an urge to experiment there, and has evolved a few times over the years to become one of my all-time favorite go-to sauces. Its warm tanginess, with a teeny kick of spice, goes fantastically with just about anything from fish tacos to fritters to meat pies, to…I don’t know…bike tires, probably*. What’s more, it’s incredibly simple to make. You can throw it together at the start of cooking and put it aside to let its flavors come together while you prep the rest of your meal.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  •  ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill (note: you can use fresh dill, but you’ll need to use more to achieve the same level of flavor)
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

Combine ingredients in a non-reactive container. Let sit for minimum 30 minutes.  Use to top fish tacos, fritters, bicycle tires**, whatever.

 

 

 

*Joke. Hopefully that’s obvious.

**Still a joke.

Earth Day 2015 – Gardening in a Drought
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Continued from: Earth Day 2015 – Cooking in a Drought

Moving on from the cooking segment of my Earth Day two-parter, let’s talk about our small-scale gardens, whether they be on our patios or part of a larger community.

Last week, Sunset magazine posed the question, “Should We Still Grow Backyard Veggies in the Drought?” It’s an excellent question, but I’ll let you read the article to see what conclusion they draw. When we hear every few days about how much water it takes to grow even the most basic of fruits and vegetables, it would be easy to see our earthy ventures as nothing more than water traps. The fact of the matter is that we need to eat something and there isn’t a blessed thing that we consume that doesn’t require water. My thinking, then, is that it’s perfectly fine, even helpful to grow our own, as long as we are smart about it. With that in mind, here are a few things I’ve been doing to cut back on my own usage.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I reuse as much water as I’m able. I not only throw both bean and pasta water on my plants (after they’ve cooled, of course), but also egg-boiling water, the remnants from steamed vegetables, and any cups of coffee or tea that I fail to finish drinking. Basically, if it’s still mostly water, and doesn’t contain anything harmful like noxious chemicals, it goes into the watering can. And bonus: some of the nutrients from the foods cooked in it can now make their way through the soil and into new fruit and veg.

In addition to saving while cooking, as I wait for water to heat up in the shower or sink, I collect it, rather than letting it slip down the drain. I’ve got a giant soup pot in my shower (silly, but effective), and large bowls next to my sinks. It might sound inconvenient, but it takes almost no effort to put a bowl under the faucet. The hardest part is remembering to do it, after decades of other habits.

Another way to use less water in the garden is to, quite simply, use less. This can be accomplished through improved irrigation, of which there are many methods. My personal favorite is ollas.

Someone Else's Olla

I wrote about ollas for Earth Day in 2013, but I felt the topic could use a revisit. Ollas are an ancient watering technique that are enjoying quite a comeback in the current climate (pun sort of intended). When I started using them in 2012, I had trouble finding much information, let alone guidance in making my own. I’m delighted to report that in doing research for this post, I found page after page dedicated just to ollas and their construction and use.

Essentially, Ollas are simply unglazed terra cotta vessels that are buried in the dirt next to plants and filled with water through a small hole. The pots are semi-porous, which means that water won’t run through them quickly, but it can slowly seep out as the dirt around them begins to dry, making it a near perfect way to ensure that our greenery has the right amount of hydration at all times. No more guesswork, and for those of us who use them in patio gardens, no more watering until liquid runs through the pot (and down the sidewalk and into the street, etc.).  As long as the ollas are in good condition and full, our tomatoes will always have enough moisture.

If you want to learn more about ollas, I recommend having a gander at the Dervaes Family and their Urban Homestead.

There are several places online where you can purchase ollas like the one listed above, but as they are out of my price range, I elected to make my own. Because I use ollas primarily in my patio garden (we do have a couple in the community garden plot, and could use more), I needed small ones, in varying sizes. I opted for plain old unglazed terra cotta pots like one would find in the gardening section of the local hardware store. I plugged up the drainage hole with a pared down plastic cork and sealed it in with melted wax.

(These next couple of pictures are terrible, I know. Forgive me, these were taken in the dark ages of my blogging life.)

I planted them.

And filled them with water.

I also used the clay drip tray as a lid. It’s important to keep them covered to prevent unnecessary evaporation and mosquitoes. Adding mulch on top of the lids helps keep the water from escaping, as well.

The difference I saw was incredible and nearly instant. No more accidentally over or under watering! Minimal waste! I have had to replug a couple of the pots over the years, but for the most part they have all worked wonderfully. The plants clearly like them, too. Look at the root structure when I pull one of the pots out of the soil.

 

A couple of years ago, I even had one tomato whose roots had pushed their tendrils up under the lid so they could dip straight into the water, greedy buggers.

If you want to make your own, but want bigger ones than I use, The Suburban Farm has a wonderful tutorial.

Lastly, and briefly, it’s really important to mulch. Mulching provides a layer of protection for the soil. It helps keep water in and weeds at bay, and it can be made up of all sorts of things: dead leaves, bark, or in the case of my patio garden, large gravel, as seen in the photo above. If you live in the Los Angeles area, there is even free mulch available from the city!

Obviously I’ve only scratched the surface with this post when it comes to water conservation. There are many, many other things that we can all be doing in the kitchen, the garden, and everywhere else around the home to help keep this crisis at bay. These are just a few of the relatively simple ones to put in place. In fact, if you want a very thorough list, there’s a great one to be found here.

Do you live in a drought-rattled part of the world? What sorts of things are you doing to cut your water usage? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

Earth Day 2015 – Cooking in a Drought
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Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Today is the day set aside to remind us how important it is to take care of the planet that takes care of us. Seems silly, perhaps, even granola, but the reality is that ours is a delicate ecosystem, developed over millennia, and with our newfangled technology, we sometimes forget how very dependent on that system we are.

Especially when the Earth is portrayed by the super strong, crazy talented Bette Middler!

One reminder of that has relentlessly dogged those of us living in the southwestern part of North America for the past four years. I speak, of course, of our ongoing, catastrophic drought.

 

I’m sure that at this point there are folks who are just plain tired of hearing about it (is drought fatigue a thing?), and wish those of us continuing to talk about it would just shut our yaps. And I can certainly appreciate that we are starting to sound like a broken record. It’s hard, though, not to sound like a broken record when the issue is so vital, and we’re still not doing nearly enough to tackle it.

The prevailing argument I hear on the “pry my swimming pool and long showers from my cold, dead, and extremely dehydrated hand” side of things is that because agriculture in California uses most of our water, conserving on a residential level won’t make a difference. I take a different attitude. If I save one cup of water today, then that’s one cup of water that’s still available for tomorrow. If 100 of us save one cup of water, then that’s 100 cups. If the entire population of Los Angeles saved just one cup, that would be nearly 4 million cups of water being saved every day. That adds up. It may not be enough to eradicate the drought, but it gets us 4 million daily cups of water closer to the next decent rainfall, and I think that can only be a good thing.

"I’m gonna stay in here until I look like Grandpa!"

It’s really not all that hard to conserve, even if the idea might be scary at first. There are small, easy changes we can make to the way we live our lives that can spare well more than that cup-a-day. Here are a few places where we can save water in our kitchens.

Someone Else's Beans and Rice

When cooking things like rice and beans, do so in broth instead of water. If you’re like me, and you make your own broth, then it is almost always the byproduct of having cooked a hunk of meat. So reuse that braising/poaching/pressure cooking liquid as broth. Then, assuming you’re not saving it for soup, use it a third time down the road to rehydrate your legumes and grains. Not only does it save that precious H2O, it also brings extra flavor to your dishes.

If you’re going to use a store bought broth or stock, do a little Googling and make sure that it’s manufactured outside the drought zone. No sense in buying our own depleted water back from a major corporation. (Nestle, I’m looking at you!) One good example I found in my search, based solely on location, is Swanson, whose factories are located well outside the afflicted area.

Not necessarily an endorsement, just an example

If you do use water to rehydrate beans or if you cook pasta, don’t toss it when you’re finished. Bean water is perfect for making soups, pasta water can be used to cook rice, and both are great to water plants with. (More on that later.)

If you want to pitch in on the agricultural front, a great way to help save agua is to cut down on the amount of drought-guzzling ingredients you’re cooking with. If that sounds like a daunting prospect research-wise, take heart. There are loads of folks who’ve already done that work for us!

From the LA Times:

Note, they made one mistake with chickpeas, which my research tells me are actually quite drought friendly. Don’t let this one snafu deter you. It’s still a super helpful infographic.

From the Huffington Post:

 

For the super swotty in the crowd, check out this 42-page report called, “The Green, Blue, and Grey water Footprint of Crops and Derived Crop Products; Volume 1”

And lastly, if you’d prefer to do a little less of the legwork yourself, some chefs, like Nathan Lyon and “Super Sous” Sarah Forman, are developing drought friendly recipes, like this smoky, warming, and incredibly craveable Eggless Shakshuka. I ate mine with a baguette, as specified in the instructions, and when I ran out of bread, I spread it on buttery crackers like a tapenade. Mmm!

Oof, on that note, my stomach is burbling at me. Best tame it with some lunch and save the gardening portion of this Earth Day tribute for my next post. Stay tuned!

Next: Gardening in a Drought

 

 

Garden Update – April 6, 2015
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Spring has sprung here in Los Angeles (let’s be honest, it’s been “spring” since mid-February), and that means it’s time to stick stuff in dirt! It’s been years, literally, since I last gave an update on my little patio garden, but I assure you it’s still going strong. I’ve got some holdouts from years past, like my two dwarf pomegranates…

…a Fresno chili…

…a scraggly bell pepper that seems to be perpetually hanging by a thread, and Son of Legz.

Sadly, we lost Legz Sr. a year and a half or so ago, but to my delight, the following spring a little seedling poked its leafy head above the soil. One of Legz’s pear tomatoes must have fallen without my noticing it, and a seed had taken root! Legz Jr. did beautifully last year, and I expect nothing less this time around. In spite of a good pruning, he’s a big boy, already towering over me at more than six feet! I might have to top him to keep him under control!

A lovely mint plant is one of this season’s new additions.

Also new are the arugula…,

…cilantro (planted at the base of one of the pomegranates)…,

…and these beefsteak tomatoes, all of which were, remarkably, grown from seed!

Tomato seedlings surrounding an olla

If I seem extra excited, it’s because I’ve had very spotty luck with seeds in the past. It seems like they rarely want to take, and when they do, the poor little seedlings never manage to hang on until adulthood.

One thing I know that I’ve been doing wrong in the past is that I wasn’t thinning the shoots enough. I just hated the idea of planting something, feeding it, watering it, singing to it (okay, maybe not), and then killing it before it has a chance to reach its full potential. The plain truth, though, is that it must be done if *any* of the shoots are to reach their full potential. So I’ve been doing better, even if I have to steel myself and apologize to every seedling I am forced to pull. They haven’t gone to waste, though. When the arugula were just sprouts, I would eat any that I pulled. Then, when they were bigger, I transplanted a bunch of them to another pot so they’d all have more space. Soon I will be thinning the pots further and using them as baby greens in my salads. As for the beefsteaks pictured above, I have transplanted three of the heartier shoots, one to another pot on my patio, and two to my community garden plot. Fingers crossed they will all do spectacularly and I will be swimming in tomatoes before the season is out.

Speaking of the community garden plot, I haven’t really ever written much about it, I know. Allow me to introduce you!

Readers, this is my plot. Plot, my readers.

A couple of years ago I had been on the waiting list to get a plot at the nearest garden for quite some time when a darling friend of mine, Val, asked if I’d like to join her in tending her own plot there. I jumped at the chance, of course, and have been happily gardening ever since. Just a week or so ago we planted some fresh, springly things there, as well. In addition to my two transplanted beefsteaks, we put in a few other tomato varieties, including this Early Girl.

We planted both Anaheim and jalapeño peppers, a zucchini (just one this year; I made Val promise!), eggplant, pole beans, tomatillos, and kale.

We have some holdovers from previous seasons and years. That massive patch of green in the main photo above is our strawberry section with some onions planted among the berries to keep varmints away. We also have blackberries and raspberries, a massive sage bush…,

…and this lovely sugar snap pea bush that miraculously sprang up from seed I’d planted and given up on months ago.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I look forward to keeping you guys much more up to date on my garden goings on this year, in addition to bringing you more kitchen adventures!

Happy eating!

 

Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 3: Dessert
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Continued from Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 2

Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 3: Dessert

Dessert: Daifuku

One of my favorite items at dim sum is a sesame ball, lightly sweetened red bean paste surrounded by supple, chewy deep fried rice dough rolled in nutty toasted sesame seeds. About a year ago, I got the bug to learn to make them myself, which I did more or less successfully. The recipe for the paste made SO much, though, that I couldn’t eat it all, so I ended up freezing half of it. When I first began contemplating this meal, that paste, made from small, red adzuki beans cooked down with brown sugar, was in the back of my mind as something I needed to use before the freezer rendered it inedible. As dim sum is a Chinese tradition, I thought I might make this meal sort of generally Asian rather than specifically Japanese, but then I read an article on making mochi, and that set me off on the search which ultimately led to Daifuku.

Daifuku, like so many things Japanese, is simple and elegant, a layer of soft, luscious mochi filled with sweet, fluffy adzuki paste. The recipe I used for my own paste has gotten lost in the bowels of the internet, apparently, but justonecookbook.com, where I found the instructions for making mochi and assembling the daifuku, has one if you’d like to try your hand at it. Otherwise, you can buy it pre-made if you’re short on time or ambition.

The mochi itself was ridiculously simple to make, particularly as I chose to do the microwave method.

 Ingredients:

      •  ¾ cup sweet (or glutinous) rice flour
      • ¾ cup water
      • ¼ cup granulated sugar
      • ½ cup potato starch/corn starch (I used corn)
      • 1 ½ cup red bean paste (I didn’t need nearly this much)

 Directions:

 1. Combine rice flour and sugar and whisk together.

 2. Add water and mix to combine

 3. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 1 minute. Stir with a wet silicon spatula. Microwave for 1 more minute, and stir again. Microwave for 30 seconds or until mochi is translucent instead of white.

 4. Cover your work surface with parchment paper and dust with potato starch. (I put parchment paper down on a cookie sheet first, as it was easier to keep the roly poly paper in place with the help of a little Scotch tape.)

 5. Transfer mochi to the dusted paper and dust mochi with starch. Allow to sit until it’s cool enough to handle. Dust a rolling pin liberally with starch and roll the mochi into a thin sheet.

 

6. Transfer paper and mochi to a cookie sheet, unless you’ve already taken care of that in step 4, like I did. ;) Refrigerate for 15 minutes to set the mochi.

 7. Cut mochi into circles (justonecookbook recommends 3.5 inch). Dust excess starch off of one circle with a pastry brush, and place on a small plate covered with plastic wrap.  Do the same with the rest of the circles, making sure to put a layer of plastic wrap between every circle.

8. Using a scoop (I like a melon baller, large end; justonecookbook recommends a cookie scoop) place a dollop of red bean paste in the center of the mochi, and bring two sides up to the center and pinch closed.   Repeat with other two sides and pinch to make sure all openings are sealed, dust with starch, and set aside.

 Repeat with remaining mochi.

 Once again, this recipe was not only crazy easy, but it made more than could be eaten at one sitting. Yay, leftovers! :D

The total cost of this dessert was as follows:

Daifuku Rice flour 2 oz $.25
Adzuki beans 1 oz $.19
Corn starch 4 oz $.12
Total per person $.56

Adding dessert’s paltry fifty-six cents to the cost of the starter and main brings our total for th entire meal $6.31 per person! If that seems unlikely, given the cost of ingredients when you go to purchase them at the store ($2.29 for a bottle of rice vinegar or $2.99 for a pound of dry adzuki beans, for example.), remember that only a small portion of these items went into this particular meal. Most of them keep for a very long time, some indefinitely, allowing me to stretch their cost over many, many meals. If you’re strapped for cash, I recommend buying one long-lasting item here or there as you can afford to, and before you know it, you will have collected everything you need to create an indulgent meal, one that would easily set you back more than three times that wad of cash if you were to order it out.

Another investment I made in the preparing of this meal was time. Ordering in a restaurant is quick and easy, but if you want to save some serious dough, you’re going to have to put some time into it. Particularly if sushi rice is involved. That alone took nearly two hours, and that’s not counting the time I burned by stopping to take pictures. On the other hand, not only did I have the fun of cooking, but I had leftover Japanese food for days. This meant I spent very little time cooking throughout the rest of the week, and I got to indulge several times in food which is normally a luxury for me. That’s a massive win from where I’m standing!

So when naysayers complain that it’s too expensive to cook at home, don’t you listen to them. If you plan accordingly, and if you shop and cook smart, you can treat yourself to just about any meal for pennies on the dollar.

 Note: Unless otherwise specified, the recipes used here are not mine, but belong to the bloggers whose pages I have referenced. I may have paraphrased or streamlined instructions to fit my use of them, but I take no credit for the recipes themselves.

 

 

Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 2: Main Course
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Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 2: Main Course

Continued from Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 1

 Main: California roll with steamed edamame

When I moved to Los Angeles in the late 90s, sushi, both authentic and Americanized, was everywhere. Angelenos couldn’t get enough of the stuff, and it seemed that whenever friends wanted to grab dinner, the suggestion of sushi wasn’t far behind. Although I had eaten raw fish once or twice since my tempura days, I found the texture unappealing, and my stance on nori was fairly unwavering. However, it was clear that I was the odd man out. Curious to understand why people thought it was incredible, I gamely went along, making myself try something new each time. Finally I found that one item that made sense to me, that gateway lump of rice and seafood that unlocked the door to a whole world of new flavors. It was shrimp nigiri, which, ironically, is cooked. After that I discovered unagi (also cooked), and then got brave enough to try other, uncooked, varieties. Now, of course, I love the stuff, including the rolls and other items made with the dreaded nori. (I still can’t do green tea, for some reason, but I guess you can’t win ‘em all.) In fact, if it weren’t so pricey, I would probably eat sushi at least once a week. I decided instead to learn to make it myself! I’ve only tried my hands at it a couple of times, and still haven’t gotten up the courage to make anything meant to be eaten raw, but I’m not half bad at putting together a tasty California roll.

Once again, I turned to the Internet for guidance in making sushi rice, which is a time-consuming, ritual-filled process, but one which I have come to enjoy. This website outlines the preparation and cooking portion of that process pretty well, as well as providing other helpful tips.

Note: The above-referenced page suggests using 2 cups of rice, but as that would have left me with far too much rice, I cut the recipe in half. This was still more rice than I needed for the actual roll.

 Ingredients:

      • 1 cup sushi rice (I used Cal-Rose)
      • 1 ⅛ cup water

 Directions:

 1. Rinse the rice in cold water, swirling it around until the water turns cloudy. Discard the water (or do as I did here in drought-stricken California, and use it to water your plants).

 

Repeat this process 2 to 3 times.

 

2. Discard some of the water, leaving just enough to reach the top of the rice. Gently rub the grains of rice together to polish them, being careful not to break them. (This is my favorite part of the cooking process. It’s quite calming.)

 

3. Add fresh water and repeat rinsing process until the water is nearly clear.

 4. Pour rice into a fine mesh strainer, allowing the water to drain away. Drain for 30 minutes.

 

5. Return rice to pan and add the 1⅛ cup of water. Let the rice soak in the water for 30 minutes to an hour.

6. Bring water to a boil over medium heat and then put on a tight fitting lid. Cook on high for 1 minute, then turn down to medium for 4-5 minutes. Then reduce to low heat and cook for another ten minutes.

 7. Remove pan from heat and cover with a cloth and let sit for 10-15 minutes.

 Note: Once you have started cooking the rice, do not lift the lid, not even once, until the 10-15 minute rest-under-cloth time has ended. This allows the rice to continue absorbing moisture from the pot.

Once the rice is cooked, you need to add sushi vinegar, or sushi-su, to it to turn it from plain Japanese-style rice to bona-fide sushi rice.

I like to use the recipe I found on this site. Again, I cut the recipe in half, and it still made more than I needed to complete the California roll. This same site has a handy guide to how much sushi-su you should use according to how much rice you’ve got.

Ingredients:

      •  1 cup rice vinegar
      • 3 tbsp sugar
      • 2 ½ tsp salt

 Directions:

 1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

 Once the sushi-su is sufficiently cooled, you’ll want to start applying it to your rice by drizzling a bit of it over the rice, and using a paddle or sturdy spatula, cut and fold the rice a few times to combine. You don’t want to stir it, or you risk breaking the grains. While you are doing this, test your multi-tasking abilities by fanning the rice. This helps to both cool the rice and cause the vinegar in the sushi-su to evaporate a little so that it sticks to the rice almost like a glaze.

Now for assembling my roll. There are special bamboo mats that are made for rolling sushi. I find that a silicon baking mat works just as well. I placed the nori squarely on my mat and covered it in a thin layer of rice, being sure to keep my fingers wet to keep the rice from sticking to them. Then I put a few strips of cucumber, some avocado, and chunks of imitation crab meat in a line right down the center.

I turned it so that I had the nori lengthwise, and using the mat to lift the edge of the nori, I rolled the whole thing gently, taking care to pull the mat away from the roll as it began doubling on itself.

 

I then used my trusty chef’s knife to cut the roll into its familiar, bite-sized sections. I found that, just as with fingers, it helped to keep wetting the knife blade so that it got through the roll without sticking to the rice and squishing the roll.

 For my dipping sauce, I went the traditional route: soy sauce with a flying butt-load* of wasabi. If you’re not a fan of spice, I recommend using less. Like, a quarter of a flying butt-load, perhaps. The edamame were kind of a cheat, in that they came in a little steaming box that I could just throw in the microwave.

 Let’s look at the total cost of this main dish:

Edamame Beans 3 oz $.50
California Roll Nori 1 sheet $.40
Rice 3 oz $.31
Imitation crab 1 oz $.27
Avocado 1 oz $.12
Cucmber .1 oz $.00
Sushi-su Rice vinegar 2 oz $.35
Dipping sauce Soy sauce 1 oz $.31
Wasabi .1 oz $.23
Total per person $2.50

 

*Not an actual measurement

Next: Daifuku

 Note: Unless otherwise specified, the recipes used here are not mine, but belong to the bloggers whose pages I have referenced. I may have paraphrased or streamlined instructions to fit my use of them, but I take no credit for the recipes themselves.

 

Food Blogger Smart Cookie Challenge Part 1: Starter
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Andrew Lo (@CakeBoy626), of The School Cook recently hosted the #FDBloggers chat on Twitter. The subject was frugal eating, and at the end of it he posed a challenge to all of us food bloggers. We were charged with putting together a full meal, starter, main and dessert for under $7.50 (£5) to demonstrate that it is possible to eat well for very little money. As someone who has been something of a career temp day job-wise, and who is all-too familiar with unemployment and enforced penny pinching, this was right up my street. In fact, over the years I’ve learned to make a game of it, viewing my shopping and meal planning as a brain teaser, a puzzle to be solved, so that I quite enjoy the task of finding creative ways to stretch a dollar. Since I eat fairly frugally most of the time, I felt that to just throw together any of my “go to” dinners wouldn’t be properly challenging. No, in true Myjo style, I had to seriously up the ante.  (I case you doubt that, notice that I’ve had to break this into three separate posts!)

 Sheila Myjo’s Thrifty Japanese Dinner

 Continuity note: I’m presenting the following three dishes here in meal order, but for efficiency’s sake, I prepared them all at the same time. Don’t let the photo of a cornstarch-dusted cutting board, for example, throw you when there’s no cornstarch in the dish at hand.

 Starter: Tempura with Pickled Cucumber

The first time I tried tempura was on a field trip with my high school Japanese class. In spite of the fact I was studying the language and culture, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of eating raw fish. Nori was out, too. Having lived most of my younger life near the Puget Sound, the flavor and smell of seaweed made me think of damp, briny fishing piers, slick with encroaching algae and reeking of expired shellfish. But tempura was safe. Tempura was just vegetables and shrimp, battered and deep fried, and *everything* is delicious deep fried!  (Just ask the Scots!)

Before taking on this challenge, I’d actually never made tempura myself. As I often do in these cases, I took to Google, which gave me a lot of good info. Ultimately, I settled on this site, as it not only had a simple tempura batter recipe, but also included advice on prepping and cooking just about anything you’d want to dip in it. It even included instructions for cleaning the shrimp, along with a video! (Be still my geeky heart!)

Ingredients:

      • 1 cup all purpose flour
      • 1 egg
      • 1 cup cold water (I used club soda, as I’ve read it helps keep the batter light)
      • 1 tsp baking soda
      • 2 tbsp corn starch or potato starch (I used corn)
      • Your choice of vegetables, sea food, etc. (I went with potatoes, sweet potatoes, red bell pepper, broccoli, and shrimp).

Oil for frying (I went with canola)

While I felt comfortable playing with the ingredients a bit, I followed these instructions almost to the letter.

 Directions:

1. Mix Plain flour, baking soda and corn starch/potato starch together.  And then sift mixed flour as preparation. (I misread, and sifted the flour mixture as I added it, when instructed below, to the wet ingredients.)

2. Crack an egg into the bowl and beat it roughly. Add the cold water and mix them.

3. Put 1/3 mixed flour into egg mixture and gently mix. Long cooking chop sticks are the best utensil for mixing tempura batter. If you do not have them, use a fork instead.

4. Then add an additional 1/3 flour and mix.

5. And finally add the last 1/3 flour and mix.

6. Important: Lumps in the flour is completely fine.  Do not mix it too much as you will get a lot of gluten which makes it heavy and un-crispy tempura batter.

I brought the oil up to 350º, and then I started frying.

 

When cooked through, I removed them from the hot oil and let them drain on a cooling rack with paper towels under it.

For the pickled cucumbers, I improvised a little.

 Ingredients:

      • 1/8 cup rice vinegar
      • 1 tbsp sugar
      • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
      • Pinch of salt
      • 1 ½ – 2  inches of cucumber

 Directions:

 1. Combine all ingredients except the cucumber in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Slice cucumber into pieces about the thickness of shoestring French fries and put slices into a non-reactive container with a tight lid.

 3. Pour pickling liquid over the cucumbers. Put container lid on tight, and allow to sit for a couple of hours.

 4. If pickling liquid doesn’t completely cover the cucumber slices, turn the sealed container a few times and let sit upside down for a while to ensure that all pieces spend time in the liquid. (Be careful the container lid doesn’t leak!)

Here’s the total cost of this starter:

Tempura Flour 3 oz $.45
Club soda 4 oz $.10
Sweet potato 1 oz $.04
Potato 1.5 oz $.01
Bell pepper .5 oz $.10
Shrimp .8 oz $.40
Dipping Sauce Mirin .5 oz $.15
Soy sauce .5 oz $.12
Red wine vinegar .5 oz $.09
Pickles Cucumber 1 oz $.03
Rice vinegar .5 oz $.09
Total per person $1.62

 

Next: California Roll with Steamed Edimame

 Note: Unless otherwise specified, the recipes used here are not mine, but belong to the bloggers whose pages I have referenced. I may have paraphrased or streamlined instructions to fit my use of them, but I take no credit for the recipes themselves.

 

December – 2013 Cookbook Challenge
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It is one of the near-indisputable facts of life that tiny things are adorable. One has only to glance at social media to find that it is dominated by hamsters eating eentsy burritos, tea cup pigs dressed as darling, porcine people, and more miniature knit goods than you can shake a Pinterest at. I, of course, am not immune, which, combined with my love of entertaining and of food (duh!), made it impossible for me to pass on this particular cookbook:

Isn’t the cover even adorable? Don’t you just want to eat it up? If not, there’s a chance you have no soul.

My delight in this book was doubled when I paged through it and found that there was a recipe for mini coxinha. Coxinha (pronounced co-SHEEN-ya) is one of my favorite treats at one of my favorite restaurants in my favorite city in the world, my hometown of Los Angeles. These pointed little balls of dough, which hail from the streets of Brazil, are stuffed with a mixture of chicken, cream cheese, and heaven, as far as I’m concerned, and then deep fried. They are meant to resemble chicken drumsticks in shape, and until I found them in this book, I had never considered that I could make them at home.

  •  Teeny-weeny
  • COXINHA
  • makes 20*

Ingredients:

1 quart vegetable oil, for frying
3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade, frozen)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 celery rib, quartered

CHICKEN FILLING

      • 1 large chicken breast
      • 8 ounces packaged cream cheese, softened
      • 1 ear corn, kernels cut off the cob (I used frozen. 1 ear = ¾ cups corn)
      • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
      • 1 garlic clove, minced
      • Salt and pepper, to taste
      •  ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
      • 2 cups all-purpose flour
      • 1 egg
      • 1 tablespoon whole milk
      • 1 cup plain Italian bread crumbs (I used homemade, non-Italian ones)
      • Salt and pepper, to taste

 1. In a large pot, preheat oil to 305ºF.

 Okay, confession time: I rarely follow these kinds of preheat instructions at the start of an unfamiliar recipe. I often find it takes me too long to work my way through the other steps, and the oil or the oven or whatever reaches the desired temp faaaaar ahead of when I’m actually going to use it. In terms of the oven, that’s no huge deal, apart from the energy burned keeping it at temp and the potential to render a hot kitchen miserable. Heating oil is another story entirely. Unless you’ve got an electric fryer that will keep the oil at a perfect, steady 350º for you, you’ll need to keep a close eye on its temperature. Not only does that distract you and drag out the timing of the rest of the cook, but if you forget and let the temp climb too high, the oil could smoke, which gives food an awful flavor, or even catch fire. So I prefer to until it’s closer to cook time to actually light that baby up.

 In another large pot, combine broth, onions, carrots, and celery and bring to a simmer.

 

Carefully add chicken, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.

 

Poach chicken for 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through.  Turn off heat, but leave the pot of hot poaching liquid on the stove. Remove chicken from liquid and let it rest for 10 minutes.

 2. For the filling, finely chop or shred chicken into a large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese, corn, green onions, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Fold to combine.

 

3. Strain 1 ½ cups of the poaching liquid and discard the rest. (I kept the rest and put it in the freezer for later use in soups and such.) In a saucepan over high heat, bring reserved liquid and oil to a boil. Add flour and stir vigorously until dough forms.

 

The above was achieved by what seemed like a only few seconds of stirring.

And another mere  few seconds.

 Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.

 

I found that the dough was somewhat difficult to work with at first. Remember that moments ago it was boiling hot, so now it’s scalding and tacky. I quickly learned to sort of pat it flat a few times to start, with obscenely floured hands because any dough that touched bare skin would stick and burn. It cooled to a workable temp in just a couple of minutes.

Roll out to ¼ inch thck. Cut out small rounds using a 3-inch circle cutter or the rim of a round cup.

 

This was the point at which I started heating my oil. You may choose to do so at a different point, but this one worked nicely for me.

 Place a small scoop (about 1 tablespoon) of the filling in the center of each round.

 

Pinch dough together at the top to seal, creating plump little teardrop-shaped pouches.

 I had some trouble with this step, as the dough wanted to either not stick or to tear, until I developed the following technique, performed with liberally floured hands and frequently refloured fingertips.

I sort of pressed and gently pulled at two opposing sides to make them a hair longer, then folded them up and pressed them together.

I did the same with the two unfolded sides of the circle.

Then I sort of pulled it all up and together.

And then, finally, pinched the top as instructed, to create the shape of a chicken drumstick.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs and milk together place bread crumbs in another small bowl.

Carefully dip each pouch into the egg wash and then the bread crumbs until fully coated.

 

Fry coxinha in small batches for 7 to 9 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

Drain on paper towels, lightly season with salt, and serve hot.

 

These. Were. Incredible. They are a bit fiddly, and take a fair chunk of time to make, but in my opinion, they are completely worth it. In fact, I think this was one of my favorite recipes of the entire challenge, and I had such fun with the coxinhas that I recently made them again for a friend’s party (they were declared “amazing!”). They really make such a lovely change from the standard potato chips/pretzels/wings/deviled eggs lineup, and you’ll feel so accomplished when you’re finished that you will totally have earned that caiparinha you’re holding in your hand.

Someone else’s caiparinha (darn it!)

*I found that this recipe made more like 30 coxinhas, and that there was actually enough filling for double that number.  However, this could be due to me possibly using a slightly smaller cutter than recommended for the dough(I eyeballed the size), or perhaps I was meant to use more filling in each one (I used the large end of a melon baller).