Friday, March 29, 2013

Lemon bars


"You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can … and not have evenings where you say to yourself, "What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!""
Nora Ephron
I didn't know much about Nora Ephron before she passed away. I'd seen When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, but knew very little about Nora herself. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time. I'm one of those people who talk and text during movies. Yes, I know I'm annoying, you hate me, whatever, I don't do it in theaters so chill out. But I never tire of that movie and my attention never crumbles no matter how many times I've seen it.

Have you read I Feel Bad About My Neck? I sped through it this past fall. It'd been my first book I read for fun in months. I found out that I loved Nora's writing AND her philosophy on food and life. She's wise and funny as hell.

This could be the motto of Sudacakes:
"I don't think any day is worth living without thinking about what you're going to eat next at all times."
Nora inspires me and makes me laugh. I want to spend the afternoon rereading my favorite parts of I Feel Bad About My Neck.
"You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday. If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it."
I don't want to waste my precious life doing what I'm not passionate about.

I love food. I love to make and write and read about food.

On that note, I put off essay work to make lemon bars. Lemons are lovely. I adore the zing, tartness, and buttery base of lemon bars any day, everyday. Their lightness and fruitiness has me forcefully stopping myself from eating a whole batch. I'm so weak for tart sweets.

Recipe behind the cut. . .


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Carnitas for homesickness


As promised in my chocolate chip cookie post, I'd be focusing people pleasers - meat and chocolate. Here's the second installment...

It's spring break and it seems like everyone is on a fabulous vacation or at home. And I would have been happy with either. Most of the time I like living here and believe that I'm happier here than I would be in Minnesota, but the homesickness comes over me in waves, slowly and inevitably. What do I miss exactly? Clearly, my family and my best friend. But also intangible things like the comforts of home and its familiarity. That's not to say that the US and the UK are poles apart, but the tiny differences that I can't put my finger on exist. They accumulate. And they make me yearn for home.

Today I'm homesick. I just want to hang out with my niece (CHEEEEEKS), my sister, my mom. And have a carnitas burrito.

Soppiness aside, what do carnitas have to do with homesickness? I'm from Minnesota, I'm Asian ... how are tacos and burritos relevant? First, I'm not equipped to cook Laotian food - way too complicated and nothing in restaurants is as good as my mom's food (the fog of nostalgia inflates my love for it even more). The answer is that I really miss scarfing down a Chipotle burrito. I wish I could magically appear in Minnesota and spend a very uneventful day at home with my family and eating carnitas and larp gai. And maybe a visit to J Crew and Target too, because I'm apparently still a midwestern teenager?

Going home wasn't possible so I slow cooked 5 pounds of carnitas for a crowd with pico de gallo, guacamole (plus cheese, lettuce, sour cream, & jalapenos). They were delicious but not near as juicy or rich as Chipotle's. I may have given up on beef stews, but recreating Chipotle is a cause I'm committed to, heart and soul.


P.S. Did you know that a chain similar to Chipotle exists in the UK? It's called Pinto. I was SOOOOO excited to go and I was practically seizing with joy as I watched them make my burrito. It even looked similar-ish to Chipotle inside! And the burrito maker said Pinto it was just like Chipotle!

IT WAS A BIG FAT LIE. The meat was overcooked and dry, the guacamole had too much lime and tomato. The "mild" pico was so painful to eat. The burrito was anemic too.  Chipotle ones are 1.5x the size - you get so much more and BETTER food! The reviews and the burrito maker lied. I was duped. I felt heartbroken. Pinto SUCKS.

 

Recipes
homesick texan carnitas, Smitten Kitchen
  • The meat, which was 2/3 more than the recipe, cooked down in just an hour! I refilled the water back up and let it cook down twice. That must have been why it wasn't really juicy?
Pico de gallo + guacamole, The Pioneer Woman
  • I would really recommend preparing at least the toppings ahead. This would have been much easier if I had done so, but I was so eager for carnitas tacos I didn't mind standing in the kitchen all afternoon. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chocolate chip cookies


I spend ages food planning for dinner parties. If given the time I will spend days and days searching and daydreaming about the right recipes and the right combinations. But this week when I wanted to make a food gift, I just wasn't in the mood for that. You see, it's simple and easy to stick to crowd pleasers (duh) - there's no second guessing. I went to the obvious answers: meat and chocolate. Today I'm focusing on chocolate chip cookies.

I will always choose a chocolate chip cookie with milk over a digestive with tea. The British biscuit is yummy, but never as satisfying as a cookie to me. I'm not sorry in the slightest. The thing I love about them and struggle with as a baker is getting the correct texture. A perfect chocolate chip cookie is crisp on the outside and thick and chewy in the center. It's so good. Nothing is better. NOTHING.


I wouldn't say that these were anywhere near perfect, which sounds insulting, but that's just my pickiness showing. They're a definite improvement from all the others. For instance, I don't always get that pretty, chunky, wrinkled surface that you see here. The first batch (unpictured), which had been slightly warmed by my hands and room temperature, were even more wrinkly than the ones that baked from frozen. They even tasted a bit better to my surprise. Does anyone know why?

People receiving free cookies are less critical than those baking them. Everyone appreciates chocolate chip cookies. I analyze my food meticulously, picking apart imperfections for improvement, but when I get my head out of my ass I realize that most people don't think this deeply about cookies. They just eat them.


This batch benefitted from:
  • Being pre-rolled and frozen. SO SIMPLE. Why did I not do this sooner?
  • Being weighed. I don't mean the ingredients themselves, although I did and always use kitchen scales. More specifically, I weighed the dough balls to be about 25 grams. Sounds like a bit much, but I like them even. Every cookie finishes at the same time and it just looks nice.
  • NOT being overbaked. I've baked cookies until they look done but then the next day they're rock hard - a chocolate chip biscotti. The solution to this is taking them out of the oven when the sides are golden brown and the center is soft. The cookies will deflate to be lovely and wrinkly. If baking from chilled, bake for 9 minutes. From frozen, 10 minutes and 30 seconds.
Next time:
  • Chill dough for 3 days. I have tried this and, yes, it does taste SO much better. But who can wait that long?!?!?
  • Decrease the sugar content by a fourth. The sugar was more pronounced fresh out of the oven. I like em less sweet.
Recipe:
Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies, Smitten Kitchen

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why I hate cake


I really truly hate cake.

It's cause I make godawful cakes. I have the gentle touch of an avalanche. I'm very picky when it comes to cakes. Most of them are too dry (including mine). I'd rather eat a cake than make one.

The thing above was my attempt at a Guinness cake for a topical St Patrick's Day post. So many things went wrong.
  • a fourth of the cake stuck to the pan
  • one side fell off 
  • cake crumbs scattered around the 'frothy' frosting
  • cake itself was tasteless
My cakes erode on themselves - a disintegration of crumbs, frosting, and money. Yet once ever three to six months I try and fail again. I've never made an intact, handsome, tasty cake. The dream eludes me.

guinness cake pre-disintegration

My family's favorite story is the time I baked my first failure. I was about 12 years old and had picked up some cake mix, aqua frosting, and decorations at the grocery store to celebrate my sister's homecoming. It was my first and most spectacular failure. Once again, the cake collapsed from my destructive touch. The aqua frosting, like rushing flood water, picked up the top layer of crumbs and decorations up and over the cliff into the cake's abyss.

This is my sister's favorite story. She brings it up as much as possible, even when I present her with my gorgeous tres leches cake.

 

Anyway, this week has been a dud in general too. I've been making uninspiring meals that have left me hungry soon after (see above). Lately I couldn't care less about cooking - I just want to be cooked for!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fettuccine alfredo

Healthy eating, foiled.

Less than a day after I posted about healthy eating and a fresh start and blahblahblah, I caught a cold. What was the point of those stupid salads?!?! I flirt with salads once in a while, but let's be real - my heart and soul are in cheeseburgers, fries, and cake. Almost always I'd rather be eating junk. I don't love salad in the same way. It's more of a benevolent indifference.

So when I woke up with a scratchy throat despite of my cleaner diet, I threw up my hands and said: screw it, fettuccine alfredo for dinner tonight. I'm not one to restrict myself from food groups unnecessarily (sidenote: has everyone voluntarily become gluten and dairy free?), because I figure that since I cook from scratch 90% (75%?) of the time - avoiding processed foods - I am eating well enough. That's the reason why I don't sub heavy cream and butter when I cook fettuccine alfredo. It's all about balance!!

Fettuccine alfredo is very dear to me. I adore its heaviness and creaminess. It makes no apologies for itself. In consideration of that, I use heavy cream (double cream in the UK) and the fancay parmesan from one of the local cheesemongers. Indulge when you indulge, people. I'd rather have a little fettucine alfredo with a side salad (which I don't) than a lot of a leaner, alternative alfredo.

This is a humble, simple, delicious meal. Please have it tonight.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Kitchen sink salad


I've been on a health kick. That means in the last week I've only indulged in discounted peanut M&Ms just once. Ah, I love them!

Since I was sick for most of February, which was when I had a ton of deadlines, I've become more concerned about eating less junk, drinking more water, and washing my hands at the library until they're papery and itchy. It's not about weight loss. (Aside: I've tried it before and it is too restricting and boring) It's about being healthy enough to function.

Most of my meals are a variation of meat and potatoes, because that's inexpensive and simple. A few weeks ago I had my first salad in months. After all the steaks, burgers, fries, and Tesco sweets - it was spiritual. A communion through vegetables. The holy choir sang. It had been so long! Now I'm trying to work out how to get my daily fruits and veggies for a decent price. The UK is an expensive place. Bananas, for instance, are twice the price as they are at home. Here fruit is a luxury packaged in plastic. I wish another American student had gone before me and told me exactly what to do. I'll have to figure it out myself.

Today, I had a big salad with buttermilk dressing. Here's the price of my salad haul if you're curious:

Spinach, 200g (7oz) (imported)
£1.3 / $1.94

2 eggs (1 dozen: £2.80)
£0.23 per egg / $0.34 per egg

Radishes, 125g (4.4oz) (imported)
£0.70 / $1.04

Half cucumber
£0.45 / $0.67

Feta
£1.20 / $1.89

Smoked salmon on sale, 100g (3.53 oz)
£2.69 / $4.00

Total: £9.14 / $13.61

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tea time at Our Story

A new tea room, Our Story, opened this weekend! I've seen so many girls stop, stare, and wander inside...


I went yesterday and of course I loooooved it. It's the tiniest place (just two tables!) yet cozy, airy, and colorful. The prices are outrageous in that they're actually reasonable, which is unheardof in this town. It's robbery to pay £3 for a soggy sandwich from the library cafe.


I hate it to say it but the scones at Our Story aren't my new favorite. Gorgeous scones still reign. I like em a bit meatier and crunchier, but it was good. I appreciate that they serve them with real clotted cream. I appreciate people who appreciate clotted cream.

Anyway I love this charming, girly little cafe. While my friend and I were having tea and chatting, a man came in for a takeaway coffee, saying that it was "the best coffee in town." I heard that they're looking for a bigger place in the long run. Lately a lot of businesses have been popping up and closing quickly - I hope this doesn't happen to Our Story. I'm definitely going to be stopping in all the time.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Spaghetti and meatballs


Scotland is a dreadfully grey, drafty place from November to March. I once heard an English friend quote someone who described British winters as "living underneath a wet concrete sky." That is so true. As much as I love the misty rain and dour architecture, I'm yearning for more a tropical landscape... I spend a lot of time on Pinterest oohing and aahing over aquamarine oceans and radiant white sand. I dream about the scorching sun evaporating drops of the sea off my skin. In my daydreams I eat fresh fruit and fish all day too. How perfect.

Anyway, blustery winds and constant darkness inspires daydreaming as well as hearty dinners. Spaghetti and meatballs, as I mentioned before, is a staple. I have very little interest in making my own, so I get them from Puddledub Buffalo at the Fife Farmers Market. They're huge and are called "Meaty Meatballs." I respect that. I only wish that they were more tender (see: can't be bothered to make my own). Together with the butter tomato sauce that is the basis of most red pastas I make, this is one generous meal. It's not Bora Bora, but it's something...


Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs
Adapted from tomato sauce with onion and butter from Smitten Kitchen

Serving size: 2 very generous servings or 3 normal servings (boil 75 grams of pasta per person - the amount below is for 2)

Ingredients:

  • 800 grams (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano, if you can find them)
  • 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 150 grams pasta
  • 8 meatballs
  • Parmesan

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 celsius or 400 fahrenheit. Line a baking tray with foil for the meatballs.
  2. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.
  3. After simmering sauce for 15 minutes, put the meatballs in the oven and begin to boil pasta. Turn after approximately halfway through, 15 minutes.

    (If meatballs finish before sauce, just place them into the sauce as it simmers. Remember to remove them of course if you blend the sauce with an immersion blender as I do.)
  4. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste.
  5. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Life lately


Wow. This past week has been terrible on my end, how was yours? In brief: stomach flu, food poisoning,  internship applications, two essays with the same deadline. So much vomiting and so much writing. This weekend I've been catching up on eating normally and showering regularly.

Anyway, the farmers market is the first Saturday of every month here and I made it out of bed just in time. I always buy the Meaty Meatballs from Puddledub Pork. They're HUGE and delicious. I look forward to the first weekend of the month just for spaghetti and meatballs. Another post on that later.

I haven't spent much time outside in the past few weeks. When it's essay time I swing from home to the library. It gets very old. Now with all this free time on my hands I wanted to reconnect with that part of me that made running a regular - and (eventually) fulfilling thing - last summer. Yesterday afternoon I went on a short run and it really sucked. It's so hard to get started again. It took a good three weeks to get into the groove the last time I picked up running. 


I was snotting, dripping sweat, and heaving while I passed by the hordes of families and friends enjoying the gorgeous sunny day. I wondered if they noticed my incompetence and judged me for it. I ran faster so I wouldn't seem so unfit but trying harder made it way more obvious. On top of that, I was really jealous of them. I'd much rather have basked in the sunshine, immobile. In comparison I was fighting for a breath and trying not to choke on my overwhelming phlegm.

I must be an outlier cause I really prefer the treadmill. It's easier and I feel less self-conscious because everyone else is exercising, doing their own thing. Next time I'll run slower. Alone. If at all. Ughhhhhhh. I hate running.


PS Has anyone ever tried running with a Samsung Galaxy S3 without a pocket? It's like taking your laptop out for a walk. It fell 3 times!!!