Roast the Chicken, Not Your Hand

August 4, 2011

The universe seems to be sending me a message; every time I attempt to roast a whole chicken on a weeknight, disaster strikes.

On Monday night, while attempting to deftly place a valiantly salted 5lb bird into the center of an oven-proof skillet, I missed, landing the chicken about 3/4 the way in. I grabbed the pan’s handle for further stability in order to shift it into the center (the immutable laws of roasting dictate that the potatoes and onions need to be evenly distributed around the bird. Anything else would cause lightning bolts to shoot out from the oven range and deal swift punishment for such transgressions).

The only problem with this maneuver? I forgot the skillet was currently 500 degrees.

Yes, I had pre-heated the skillet in the oven. This little adventure left my hand a good medium rare. Apparently somebody missed the memo that I’m not training iron palm kung fu. Now I know how all these poor roasted chickens must feel.


Me? Overenthusiastic?

July 21, 2011

I started my official marathon training this week. Hold on, let me clarify that. My marathon training plan started this week. I’ve been too busy bruising my heel while kicking people’s elbows and slicing my calf open on my bike to actually get any runs in just yet.

I’ve run intermittently ever since I quit running full-time in undergrad, and I think it’s definitely helped my maintain my endurance level and keep my exercise-induced asthma in check (how that works, I’ll never know). Ever since Elana got the running bug a year or two ago, that intermittent running has gradually increased in frequency, to the point that when Elana was signing up for her first marathon, I finally said to myself “well, I’ve never run a marathon before, why not give it a shot?” So a couple of months ago we signed ourselves up for the Philly Marathon this coming November.

And then last week, somebody had the NERVE to come to our kung fu school and inform us of an international tournament in New York City this coming October. One that actually has prize money, in the tune of $5,000 for each first place division.

So that’s two things that I decided to go ahead and simultaneously train for. No biggy. I never liked having free time anyway. Oh wait. Hm…

I’d like to claim that the running will actually complement my kung fu training, providing me with more endurance (plausible) and energy (huh? How do you figure?). Whether I’m biting off more than I can chew and should actually curb my training schedule to meet halfway and accommodate both is still up for debate. We’ll see. Once I’m up and running (literally), my plan is to re-visit my schedule after a couple of weeks and evaluate its actual toll on my body/mental state/life.

I’ll post up a training schedule outline soon for all the world to see, critique and/or ridicule, but for now, at first glance, what do you think? Is training for two very different things a fool’s errand? Or am I just a trademark overachiever that just likes a good challenge?


Plenary Indulgences

July 12, 2011

I read Mark Bittman’s July 3rd article in the New York Times Magazine of a truly decadent staff dinner at El Bulli. It sounded positively delightful, homey, and simple. (As Bittman aptly points out, ‘simple’ cooking is an entirely subjective term depending on who you talk to. I’d imagine that Ferran Adriá’s conception of ‘simple’ is a little different than most people’s, but now we’re splitting hairs, and I agree with the two chefs on this occasion. I promise, the recipes were pretty simple).

After a straight week of chili and rice, and other painfully similar bean-centric meals (this is what sometimes happens when I’m alone to my own devises for a week; I produce excessive quantities of the same meal and am forced to eat it day in and day out), I decided to indulge a little bit. I had yesterday off, so I thought I’d treat Elana and myself to a little luxury on such a (sufficatingly hot) day.

For now, I’ll keep the original recipes and their titles, as there was literally no variation on my part; why try improvisation on recipes that read as seamlessly and brilliantly as these? Also, I’m immensely inexperienced with fresh fish. Also, copying them verbatim allows me to just link you to the articles (1, 2, 3).

I went to the New Deal Fish Market in East Cambridge (a local father and son joint known for its delicious wares) to procure the 7lbs of seafood I was about to cook (apparently, I thought the two of us could eat 6 servings by ourselves). I wound up going their three times in one afternoon. First time around they weren’t open yet (whoops!). My second trip yielded mussels, but they hadn’t gotten in their delivery of sea bass yet. My third trip finally got the motherload: three 1-1.5lb European Sea Bass so fresh they were still gasping for air (well, not really, but with the lobsters and crabs aimlessly wandering around the fish, it was easy enough to imagine the fish had been flopping mere seconds before I got there). After being cleaned and gutted, they were good to go.

1. Marinara-Style Mussels

Though we ate both the sea bass and the mussels simultaneously, these were a positively delightful “first course”. And at $3/lb, who knew fresh mussels were actually somewhat affordable?? Next menu scheduled menu: mussels and frits!

2. European Sea Bass with potatoes, tomatoes and onions.

When you’re dealing with fresh fish, simple is almost always the best way to go; it emphasizes the overall fishy flavors, and ALSO dramatically reduces prep time.

3. Bread with Chocolate and Olive Oil

Note to self: must look up proper way to shave a chocolate; hands melt chocolate rather quickly and chocolate regular bars break rather easily.

Who knew some chocolate, a little evoo and some sea salt on some homemade sourdough baguette could taste so good? Actually, I probably should’ve already known this, considering Elana’s addiction to sea salt infused chocolate. I like to claim that the slight sour taste of the bread added a little extra layer of complexity to such a dangerously delectable dessert.

Overall, even though it involved a 375° oven on a 90° day, the meal was completely apropos: quick (~1hr including prep time), light and summery, with all the comforts of a home-style meal.

(2 out of 3lbs of aftermath)


A Day in the Life, Wordy Elana-Style

June 30, 2011

When Julius posted his return to the blogosphere post with a day in the life of his eats, I commented about his photos. Namely, that we have great light in our new place and that if he just walked his food 5 steps over towards said light, his pictures would look much more vibrant. He psha-ed me and said he was too busy eating. In response, I said I would write my own day in the life post for him, and take all my pictures by the window to show him the difference. Here we go.

Warning: if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I am WORDY.

Breakfast. I tended to go without it for much of my younger life, but have now taught myself to eat something first thing in the morning no matter if I feel like it or not. Often times, my stomach is growling but I just don’t feel like making the effort of eating. If you know me, that’s odd–I love food. Anyway, what that means in the warmer weather is that more often than not, I have a smoothie for breakfast first thing, and an english muffin halfway through the morning or when I get to work and my stomach realizes it hasn’t had enough to eat. I forgot to take a picture of my smoothie, but you can probably imagine it right? Banana, some protein powder, often some strawberries, milk, and if it’s around, a handful of spinach–I promise you can’t taste it, but it does make your smoothie a wonderfully bright green color and gets you some extra veggie power first thing in the morning. Try it. I convinced a co-worker recently to put it in and he hasn’t turned back since.

This day in the eats took place on a Saturday, one of the recent few that we were home most of the day–trying to move things around and organize the new place, of course. I had also just gone to the produce market we love so dearly that morning, so our fridge was exploding with delightful spring produce. I should mention I have a slight obsession with spring produce and spend the last few weeks (months?) of winter awaiting the arrival of fava beans and fresh peas and spring spinach and asparagus and all the other delights that arrive once the weather warms up.

So. Lunch.

In my hometown of Ithaca, NY, there used to be a little restaurant called Ragman’s that I’d been going to since I was a kid (though I think it was something else similar before Ragman’s). They had simple but delicious sandwiches and one of these inspired me to create my own similar version, which I aptly named “Raggedy Pockets.” While I have a “recipe” written down in our recipe box, I usually just glance at it to remember vaguely what I like to put into these–it changes each time I make them.

Basically, stuff some veggies and avocado in a pita with some tarragon-lemon-infused mayo and some tasty cheese (usually a jack of some sort, but that all depends on what’s in the fridge) and melt away!

Try to remember to pay attention to the toaster oven and don’t put it too close to the top like I did… I ended up with my pita on fire. Consequently, my Raggedy Pocket was not the most gorgeous thing. Instead, I took a picture of Julius’s:

But I must note, his is delicately stuffed and extra cheesed up. Mine is always exploding because I put too many vegetables inside and more often than not ends up tearing. I may not have a picture of before, but I do have a picture of halfway through:

DELICIOUS!

For dinner, I was ready to pack in the spring produce.

I have a slight obsession with asparagus risotto, but Julius claims when I make it, the risotto tastes simply of asparagus (which he doesn’t love). I tried to go for a more balanced flavor for his sake, and let a Chez Panisse recipe for “green risotto” with fava beans, fresh peas and of course asparagus inspire me.

So pretty, these fresh peas. And so delightfully tasty and fun to eat.

While this was tasty, I have to admit it was nowhere near as good as my normal haphazardly made asparagus and mushroom stuffed risotto. I tried to be very light handed with the asparagus (and other veggies) to please Julius, but it just made for a not-veggie-filled-enough-for-Elana risotto. I’m also just getting used to using an electric stove and screwed up my vegetable timing, which made for less-than-vibrant veggies (still delicious). Ah well, next time.

Julius threw together a quick balsamic glazed chicken to go with this and made some fresh breadcrumbs to top off our salad (FANCY!).

Annnnndddd… that’s it! If you made it all the way through this lengthy post (bravo!), tell me, how did the pictures compare?


Overwhelmed and Undernourished

June 29, 2011


(This past Sunday’s ground oatmeal and whole wheat flour pancakes; a delicious testament to our current frazzled state of mind)

For the past month, we’ve both been completely overwhelmed. No matter how hard we’ve tried, we’ve been having a tremendous amount of difficulty managing the day-to-day of our lives.

Cooking, for one, has been the greatest challenge. My Tuesdays and Thursdays now basically involve an 11 hour day at work, so the scant hour and a half I have before I leave for work has usually become laden with a steady stream of cooking and meal prepping that barely gets me through a single weekday. Weekends have also been immensely busy (organizing and cleaning a small apartment is a lot harder than I would’ve thought), leaving no spare time for cooking extra meals in advance. Our old “cook and freeze” method no longer works when we don’t actually have TIME to cook and freeze things during the weekend/week nights. Basically, there are some large inefficiencies within our current overall routine that have been leaving us to fly by the seat of our pants (a state that is OK for a short stint, but quite bad for the long-term).

All is not lost though! Adversity breeds creativity out of necessity (can also force out extraneous endeavors, but that’s the topic of a later post). A few things have been determined that may help attenuate our current plight that could help keep our heads above water:

1. Going back to basics.

  • While getting fancy in the kitchen can be inspiring and fun, a busy life does not lend itself to the time needed for such fanciness. There is nothing wrong with rice and beans (plus a couple of spices for good measure).
  • 2. Tradition.

  • Until a few months ago, I almost had forgotten we have a recipe box full of quick and easy recipes. Using tried-and-true recipes during times of panicked busy-ness is an imperative step towards mental, emotional and physical survival.
  • 3. Quality AND quantity.

  • When we DO find the time to cook, we’re going to try to make sure we make more than enough food (i.e. at least one pint container worth of food to be frozen for a later date)
  • 4. Divide and conquer.

  • By teaming up and dividing cooking and meal planning tasks more effectively between the two of us, the brunt of these tasks will hopefully diminish.
  • 5. Getting versatile.

  • We’re starting to experiment with a few very versatile sauces that can give some of our simpler meals and delicious twist. More on that later.
  • The list is a work in progress, but so far we’re off to a good start. What do you think? What are your ideas for the us weary working folk?


    …And We’re Back! Plus, a Day in the Life

    June 15, 2011

    Hello again dear readers! It’s been too long; I’ve missed your smiling faces (or at least my imagination of said faces). How’ve you been? A quick recap of the past month or so:

    Apropos: As we were moving our last couple boxes out of our old apartment, the cops were at our house looking for the landlord’s grandson… again.

    Torture: Navigating furniture and a metric ton of boxes into a 3rd floor walk-up.

    Traumatized: Our cats for the entire 10 hours worth of moving from one place to another (Fitzy was balled up in his carrier throughout the entire experience)

    Boxed Chaos: The first week or so of our new 450 sq ft apartment. Just about everything aside from the tchotchkes has found a place, though there still is one lone box of random junk in the living room, taunting us.

    Borderline Chaos: Just about every children’s kung fu class I’ve taught at my new job so far. Things are getting incrementally better as we are increasingly standardizing the curriculum and partitioning classes into concise and dependable “blocks.”

    Magnificent: The amount of sunlight we’ve been waking up to every morning.

    Positively Delightful: Being able to cook in an awesome kitchen! There’s a dishwasher and everything!!! (While this may seem trivial to some, I assure you this makes our lives infinitesimally more pleasant.)



    I had this Monday off, so I thought I would start things back up with a tour of what I eat when I’m left to my own devices.

    Breakfast:

    (Apparently, the cat helped make my tea.)

    Nothing fancy, eggs over easy on Trader Joe’s english muffins, slathered in Frank’s Red Hot. Normally I’d just make toast, BUT there was not bread to be had. At least, not until…


    The inaugural first batch of sourdough bread was ready!

    oooo, an oven light. How novel!


    It’d been almost a month since I’d baked some bread, so believe me, I was going through withdrawal. Luckily, my sourdough starter “pet” is a hardy soul. All starters tend to be nearly impervious to death, but I like to think mine is PARTICULARLY hardy (despite my constant pampering and cooing).


    Lunch:
    The bread was out and cooled enough in time for lunch, where I made a sandwich of sorts from the leftover Moqueca that was in the fridge (I’ll share my recipe soon, don’t worry!).

    Dinner:
    I decided to go lazy/fancy, with some spicy breaded lime chicken, mushrooms & garlic in vinegar, corn on the cob and a salad.


    Sorry the dinner pictures are so horrible, we were starving and didn’t really want to wait around while I plated things nicely.

    The highlight of dinner turned out to be the chicken; absolutely delightful! I’d added some dried chilis to the bread crumbs, which gave it the perfect zing. Here’s the recipe in case you want to give it a try:

    Spicy Breaded Lime Chicken

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Bread crumbs
  • 4-6 dried chilis chopped finely
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2.5lbs chicken breasts (sliced across to make thinner)
  • 2-4tbsp evoo
  • 1. Pour lime over chicken breasts, let sit for 5-15 minutes
    2. Combine bread crumbs, chili, salt and pepper in a bowl
    3. Dredge chicken pieces in batter
    4. In a large pan, heat oil to high temperature, then fry chicken on both sides until batter is browned
    5. Transfer done pieces to a plate with a paper towel to drain


    Never Say Die

    April 4, 2011

    Come June, we’re moving one city over. To a place approximately 1/3 the size of our current apartment.

    In light of this, we’re packing things up, purging most of our worldly possessions, doing a bunch of DIY projects to help maximize the space of our future tiny quarters, and generally running around like a pack of escaped chimpanzees trying to get everything done amidst the hectic, event-filled months leading up to our move-in date.

    Instead of delivering rushed, lackluster and badly written posts about the rather dull and half-hearted meals we’ve been scraping together amidst the busy fury, I’ve decided to take a break from Martial Cooking (yeah, I know, only 3 months after the last break and I’m already calling another time-out).

    Here’s the deal. So you’re not left in an unknown abyss of uncertainty, periodically checking for my momentous return, then inevitably giving up in frustration to never return, let’s agree to meet back here on Friday, June 17th. Pinky swear? Alright, good.

    Again, this will be a break, and does NOT mean the blog is done for. Quite the contrary. By then, our busy schedules will have settled down a tad, we’ll be fairly established in our new digs, and likely overjoyed with the prospects of a normal sized stove and access to a dishwasher. And that will mean we’ll be at the ripe stage for kitchen invention and innovation. So get ready!

    In the meantime, I’ll continue to do kung fu, Elana will continue to run, and we might even manage to squeeze in a delicious recipe or two that we’ll share upon our glorious return to the blogosphere (man, what a dorky word). Until then, thanks for your support and understanding.

    Até proximo!

    -Ju