Foodie In Training

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I like spices

Ok, remember that post where I vowed to be more bold? Well, I've taken that to heart and really tried to order dishes at restaurants that really catch my attention and are different than the things I normally order. I've also been a lot bolder when it comes to spices. My dinner tonight was definitely bold and very different for me. I was leafing through another issue of Cooking Light and I found Coconut-Chile Snapper with a Caribbean bean puree. I was very intrigued by the recipe ingredients and the Caribbean bean puree..the fact that black beans and banana was on the same ingredient list was really interesting to me so I decided I had to try it. Normally, any dish with jalapenos, I veto it, but this dish was really not that spicy for me. It was more of an underlying heat and a level of flavor than crazy-spicy-sweating-eyes watering spicy.
This was another dish I made for one so I had to adjust the amount of each ingredient. If you know me, you know I'm not good with numbers, so I think the consistency of coconut chili sauce was a little different, but all in all it turned out really wonderful.
I started by mincing shallots and then adding them to a sauce pan with a clove of minced garlic. After that softened I added thinly sliced bananas and let that saute for a minute or two. The smell was actually amazing at this point with the sweetness of the banana and savory smell of the garlic and shallots. When that was softened I added black beans, vegetable broth, lime juice and cumin and salt. I covered the saute pan and let that simmer until all of the liquid was absorbed. (Just so you know I'm not being specific about measurements for the ingredients, because I really eyeballed it and measured it out for one person). When that was finished I poured that in to the food processor and pureed it up! It doesn't look appetizing but it tasted amazing. The sweetness of the banana combined with the garlic really worked together and the hint of lime juice made it really pop. According to the article in the magazine, the sweetness of the puree is supposed to compliment the spice in the fish and it really did.After the puree I started on the fish which did not take much time at all. Even though the recipe called for snapper, they did not have any at the grocery store so I bought tilapia instead still worked great with the ingredients. I combined coconut milk, shredded carrot, minced jalapeno, chili powder and salt in to a sauce pan and brought it to a simmer. Once it was simmering I added the fish and covered the pan and let it cook for about 10 minutes. I realized later that I should have turned the heat down once it started simmering because the pan got too hot and the sauce cooked into the fish, which really wasn't a bad thing, just not how the recipe described it.
But as long as it tasted good, who cares!! Once the fish flaked when I stuck a fork in it, I knew it was done and ready to eat. I poured the remaining sauce over the fish.
This meal turned out really good...and I mean really good. The bean puree was awesome and really complimented the heat in the coconut chile sauce. The chile sauce was really not that spicy, I think next time (and there will be a next time) I'll add more chile powder and (gasp!) more jalapeno.. But even though it wasn't that spicy, the fish and coconut-chili sauce was wonderful. The carrot and jalapeno worked really well together and the chili powder gave a great layer of heat. The coconut milk also really complimented the spicy flavors. I wasn't able to find light coconut milk, but I wasn't using much anyway, so I don't think it really mattered (calorically speaking).Once again Ryan was not here to join me, but I'm definitely making this for him because I think he will really like it (especially the spicy part) and he's been apprehensive about buying and cooking fish, so now I have 2 great fish dishes for him to taste.
I'm really proud of myself for doing something different and upping the spice level a bit. I'm getting obsessed with finding new and different recipes so hopefully May will be full of them.

I Win, Ryan Loses...

I'd like to say that I'm the winner this month for posting the most. Ryan can get very Nazi-like always telling me "post! post! post!" "we need so many posts this month" but hmm..I don't see him much on the ole' blog. :) I'm just giving him a hard time. Another reason Ryan loses is that I've made a few dinner for 1 the past few nights (Ryan has been busy with school) and I don't want to brag, but they've been pretty darn tasty.

Last night I made Pesto Halibut Kebabs with steamed spinach and it was a quick and healthy meal. I got the recipe from Cooking Light magazine, I've been perusing this magazine a lot since I've been trying to eat healthy and I'm able to keep track of what I'm eating a little easier because they provide nutrition information. This recipe probably took a grand total of 15 minutes, it was so quick and easy. I bought a 1/2 lb. halibut steak and the fish in to 1 inch cubes. I chopped up 1/2 a red bell pepper in chunks and put the fish and pepper in a bowl and added 1 tbsp. of pesto and a couple splashes of white wine vinegar and some salt.
Now, you are probably asking..did you make your own pesto? And the answer is no..I didn't. I've never made pesto before and I know it's not difficult I honestly just didn't feel like it and the basil didn't look so hot at the grocery. So I bought a jar of prepared pesto. I coated the fish and peppers with the basil and vinegar and then alternated fish and pepper on my skewer. Off it went in to the broiler for 8 minutes. While that was broiling, I just steamed fresh baby spinach in a vegetable basket and when that was done I seasoned it simply with salt and pepper and lemon juice. When the kebab was done I seasoned it with some lemon juice and it was ready to eat! I really liked the dish, the white wine vinegar really complimented the halibut and brightened the whole dish. The pesto was also really great, in retrospect I probably could have added more because in some parts it was a little sparse. The red bell pepper was crunchy and sweet and the white wine vinegar also worked really well with the pepper. My spinach was really simple and wonderful and complimented the kebab really well.Doesn't that look pretty?
It would have been great to have Ryan join me for this meal, but I think this will definitely be a great summer meal where we can be creative and try other veggies and types of fish on the kebab.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I am a Grill Master

So, I'm a grill master...it's official. I got off work early the other day and Ryan was super busy with school so I decided to cook him dinner. We have a little market in Mt. Lookout Square and I went in a while ago and wasn't really impressed. The market has a hodge podge of things from frozen dinner, to deli meat, to fresh veggies and wine. It also smells a little weird, but I think it's the combo of ingredients they carry. Anyway, I digress, I decided to try it out again and see what they had. The veggies they had left were a little banged up, but I found the best zucchini and yellow squash yet and 2 butterfly pork chops.

When I got home I told Ryan to continue studying and I would handle everything. I seasoned the pork chops with with salt and pepper, lemon pepper seasoning and a little red pepper flake. I sliced the yellow squash and zucchini in long strips and drizzled with olive and added some salt and pepper.

We had tons of pasta leftover from the last post so I just reheated that and also used the leftover balsamic dressing from the last post. We also saved the grilled onion from the last post and I put that in a saute pan with a few whole cloves of garlic and softened them up. The garlic helped them season it a bit more and we also added the balsamic dressing to the onions.

I rarely operate the grill (that is usually Ryan's department while I work on another part of the meal) but I have to pat myself on the back, I did a really good job. The pork chops were well seasoned and very moist and the grilled zucchini and squash were amazing. After I took them off the grill I poured the balsamic dressing over it and they just absorb all of the dressing and create a wonderful dressing. The pasta reheated very nicely too.

My dinner turned out really good, Ryan really enjoyed it and was happy not to have to help so he could work on his studies.

Some Good Things, some bad things

A few weeks ago when it FINALLY started to get warm out, we bought some steaks and we were ready to get the grill going. We also bought some shallots at the store and I wanted to use them in some sort of pasta dish. I'm not trying to be mean, but the steak and the grilled onion did not turn out very good, but the pasta dish was actually pretty good especially for totally winging it.
Ryan seasoned the steak with a lot of things, too much seasoning which was the reason it wasn't very good. Some of the seasoning was jerk seasoning I bought in Jamaica and other spicy things. It was waaayy to spicy for me so I didn't eat much of it. The other thing we made was grilled red onions. We have done this before and it is really good, grilling the onion brings out all of the sweetness and I swear it's better than any fried onion ring I've ever had. We made the mistake of just cutting the large red onion in half and grilling it. We made a balsamic dressing to pour over the grilled onion, but that couldn't save it either. It didn't cook all of the way and I don't really enjoy chomping on raw onion, so I didn't really eat much of that either....
My "winging it" shallot pasta actually turned out really well. I started by sauteing shallots in about a 1/3 cup of olive oil and once those had softened a bit, I added fresh garlic, minced. I did a trick that Ryan does when seasoning a sauce, I added crushed red pepper flakes to the hot oil and let the red pepper flakes flavor the oil instead of just having every other bite be spicy. Once the shallots and garlic were nicely cooked I added about a half cup of white wine and I also added basil and lemon zest. After the penne was finished cooking I drained it and added it straight to the saute pan to combine with the olive, shallots, wine and herbs. I added a little more wine and some lemon juice and let that flavors heat through a few minutes and it was ready to serve! Once in a serving dish I grated some Parmesan cheese on top. I must say, the pasta turned out great, it was a light sauce but the flavors of the white wine, lemon juice worked really well together.

We also made some green beans and just seasoned it simply with salt, pepper and olive oil.

We learned some lessons in this meal and proved that we are still foodies in training.

A favorite restaurant

Did you miss us?
Many moons ago, my friends Mo, Mary and me went to Kona Bistro for drinks and a few appetizers. Kona Bistro is a great restaurant in Oakley Square in Cincinnati. I have eaten there quite a bit over my three years in Cincinnati and I've always had a great meal. The atmosphere at Kona Bistro is really friendly and bright and cheery. They have bright murals on the walls and a funky decor. The food is fresh and eclectic and they always have great daily specials featuring ingredients that are freshest of the season.
We just had cocktails and 2 appetizers, the Mediterranean munchies and steak and Gorgonzola crostini's.
The Mediterranean munchies platter was really good, it's homemade hummus and baba ghanouj with pita wedges. They also put fresh tomatoes and spinach and feta cheese. The hummus is a basic recipe but it is really good and with a little kick to it (I think they add hot paprika). Baba Ghanouj is not my favorite, but combined with some feta and tomatoes, it is not bad.

The steak and Gorgonzola crostini was also really good and quite filling for an appetizer. Each bite had a bit of all the ingredients; flank steak, Gorgonzola cheese, tomatoes and red onion. The steak was a little hard to bite sometimes but I really liked the combinations of flavors. The Gorgonzola was really creamy with a sweet bite from the onion and sweetness of the tomatoes mixed withe crunch of the bread. I think it would be a great thing to serve for a party of company.

After our appetizers at Kona, we actually went to a party where there was even more food. The pictures from the party actually get a little crazy (flip cup in a friends basement) so I only put up one. :) By the way, the little guy we are holding up is Flat Stanley, a school project for a Mo's little cousin.

Friday, April 18, 2008

broken promises

hey everyone, sorry about the lack of posts. these past few weeks have been crazy for both of us. I know we promised you 2 posts a week and while we haven't been documenting on the blog, we've still been doing some great cooking. This weekend we'll get caught up. For an update, I have started a new diet program so you will be seeing healthy meals and smaller portions (at least on my plate). So far the diet has been great and I've been successful.

Here is a quick rundown of what I made last night and I overcooked it a little bit, but the flavors were great! I bought a 1/2 lb. of sockeye salmon last night and coated it with a little bit of olive oil. I added about 1 tsp. of lemon zest, dill, 1 tsp. of minced garlic, and salt and pepper. I also put 4 thin slices of lemon with the ingredients, tossed it all together and set the salmon in the foil and put the lemon slices on top. I tightly closed the foil and put it in the oven at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. In retrospect I should have cooked it about 5 minutes less. I was going by a recipe that called for a larger quantity of salmon than I used and the cooking time reflected that, so I should have decreased my cooking time. But it turned out pretty good. I served the salmon over a handful of baby spinach and squeezed fresh lemon juice over the top. Can you tell I'm on a diet? haha. But really, it was a tasty meal that was light and perfect for a warm spring night. You can also do the foil packets on the grill which I will try next time, it was just too dark by the time I got around to eating.

We'll be doing some cooking this weekend, stay tuned for some posts! We won't break our promise this time. :)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Book Review: Julie & Julia

I just finished a good book with a foodie twist; Julie & Julie: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell.  The book is about Julie Powell, a 29-year-old secretary living in New York who was at a crossroads in her life.  She was feeling pressure to start a family, in an uninspiring job and living in a small apartment in Queens.  It starts when she is home visiting her parents in Texas, she picks up her mothers battered old copy of Julie Child's first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MTAOFC)and it calls to her.  She decides to start a project called the Julie/Julia project where in the span of one year she will cook every recipe in MTAOFC.  She did this project in 2002 and actually blogged about the experience and created quite a following.  By the end of the year she was interviewed by many newspapers (including the New York Times) and appeared on CNNfn.  In the book she documents the year of making all of the recipes with a lot of stories about her daily life, working at her job and all of her crazy friends.  She cooks everything from Potage Parmentier (potato soup) to making everything from the aspic chapter.  MTAOFC is a staple of French cooking but it is bit outdated.  She lived in New York City and still had trouble finding some of the ingredients.  Throughout the year she cooked all of the recipes and had many meltdowns, but as corny as it sounds, she kind of found herself and what she really enjoys doing.  She realized that if she could accomplish this, than the skies the limit.
After Julie completed the project, Julia Child passed away and I think she sums up her experience well in the blog post after Julia's death: "I have no claim over the woman at all, unless it's the claim one who had nearly drowned has over the person who pulled her out of the ocean."  The project was life-changing, she is no longer a secretary in a dead-end job, now she is a writer.   Overall, I really liked the book, there were times when I wished she talked more about the recipes and less about her friends and random stories, but I think it really speaks to how powerful food and cooking can be.  Julie was not a professional chef, nor did she have a lot of fancy gadgets or expensive cookware. It also doesn't seem like she had a lot of space in her cramped Queen's apartment, but by sheer determination and passion, she created beautiful dishes(and a many disasters) in her quest to complete the Julie/Julia project.  Grade- B+

It almost makes me want to take on a similar project, maybe Ryan and I will vow to complete the entire Mario Batali cookbook in one year.   Maybe next year...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Come on Erin and Ryan, be bold...

This is what I said after our dinner we had tonight at Wild Ginger.  This is our second time at Wild Ginger, a great Vietnamese bistro in Hyde Park in Cincinnati.  I have been really craving Asian food lately, I think I've had it 3 times this week so when Ryan asked where I wanted to go for dinner, I decided on Wild Ginger.  The place is always busy and the decor is very modern and "green." For example, our chairs are woven with recycled seat belts and bamboo.  
Ok, back to our dining experience.... The menu at Wild Ginger is really large so it took us forever to decide what to eat.   My method for deciding what to eat is to pick my top 2 or 3 favorites and then close the menu until the server comes back. When they ask me I want I just decide spontaneously between my choices, that way I feel like I get what I really wanted all along.  I had my choices narrowed down to vegetable stir-fry with shrimp, Pho or the fisherman's hot pot.  Pho  (pronounced F-uh) is a Vietnamese dish with white rice noodles in a light beef broth with thinly cut steak garnished with onions and bean sprouts and other seasonings.  I've not had it, nor am I very knowledgeable about Vietnamese dishes, but I read a post on Amateur Gourmet  about his experience with Pho and I was very intrigued.  I was very close to ordering this, but I chickened out and ordered the vegetable stir fry with shrimp.  And don't get me wrong it was good, but pretty standard.  The same with Ryan's dish, he ordered the spicy shrimp stir fry (with a 10 spice level) and it was good, but pretty standard.  And, according to Ryan, not spicy at all (the plight of the white man continues).   So when we got home I kept thinking, "I should have gotten the Pho or sushi, or something new!"  I was getting angry at myself for not being more adventurous.  Especially in light of the fact that we do blog about food and it would have been a much more interesting post if I talked about a new dish or a new sushi roll I tried.  blah.  Next time I vow to be more bold!!  What have I got to lose!?