Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Do You Say Goodbye?

Tomorrow I leave my job of 13 years.

My time at this company seems to have flown by, but looking back on it, 13 years is a pretty significant chunk of my life.  It's as long as I spent in public school.  When I started with the company I was single as were many of my coworkers.  In the time I was there I saw many marriages (including my own) and births of many of coworkers' children. I have said over the years that my job is not my life and it only supports my "real" life, but now as I'm leaving, and think of all of my friends, I realize my job needs a little more credit.

One gift I have always given my coworkers has been a steady supply of baked goods.  The office was always the place to easily dispose of holiday leftovers, or a place to test new recipes, or simply a place to dump things I made because I had a cravings and don't want extras around the house.

In recent months I have hardly baked for them at all.  No, I'm not angry with them because I was laid off.  No one in my office is responsible for that decision.  I can only blame the corporate bigwigs in Denver, who don't know me at all and don't care if they ever do.  I just wasn't baking because I was trying to distance myself from the office a bit, trying not to care about about the people too much.

Now that I'm leaving, I find myself wanting to do this for them one (or maybe more than one) last time.

Last week I decided to go with cookies.  I made my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe of all time.  Emily's Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I love these cookies. 

I have now sworn I will never make them again though because I can't resist them when I bake them.  I find myself reaching for them at the office.   I leave a few at home for SPP and end up eating most of them myself.  I'm trying to lose weight here! 

I admit I don't make them with the candied walnuts though.  I agree nuts are good in a cookie, but I never know just how many walnuts I can eat before it triggers and allergic reactions.  My allergic reactions are not severe, but they are uncomfortable, so I try to avoid them.

This week, I came home from a job interview for a new position in NYC and decided to bake a cake.  I made My First Chocolate Cake.  I had wanted to experiment with different dairy products to see how they changed the texture, so I tried sour cream this time.

Now that I learned to make Swiss meringue buttercream I decided I would use it to frost the cake.  I made mine white chocolate flavored for contrast.  Then I stirred in mini chocolate chips.

It sadly got a bit overbaked.  My oven went from baking everything too slowly to baking everything too quickly.  Edges were dry, but the center was decent.  People certainly ate it.

I must say another goodbye.  This time it's to you, My dear TERP Muffins.  Don't worry!  It's not permanent.  Sir Pickypants and I are headed on a vacation to the southwest where we will be touring Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon.  If the food is worth blogging about, you will be sure to hear all about it!  See you when I get back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Plates - A Birthday Dinner

Plates is one of those restaurants that has been around for years, and always seems to receive heavy praise, but I never ate there.  I never thought to eat there.  While it's not to far from home, it's just out of the way enough that I never go by it or think about it. 

When my brother and I were trying to come up with ideas for my mother's birthday dinner, he was the one who suggested Plates.  He had never tried it, but he knew all about their "bottomless barbecue" Sundays, which seemed like a great deal, plus they had cheap meals for the kids.  Everything about the food sounded great to me, so we decided to give it a try. 

Plates is not a large restaurant and I was concerned about how well they would be willing to reserve table for a party of 13.  Happily they were willing to do so.  They set us up in this charming little window seat nook opposite the bar.  I was in love with the restaurant when I walked it because it was just so pretty.  I wish this photo gave a better idea of the pretty little park view outside the window.

We ordered our wine and were presented with bread baskets and sides of butter and a roasted pepper spread.  Everyone raved about it. 

I started my meal with a salad of field greens, pears, dried cherries and goat cheese.

For my entree I ordered the bottomless barbecue of course.  They gave me ribs, brisket, and pulled pork with beans and cole slaw.  When I finished they offered me more.  I was getting pretty full, but I couldn't resist more of that pulled pork.  It was really tasty.

Plates is not just about barbecue though.  They do more sophisticated fare as well.  One overwhelming favorite at the table was this black bass.

I had an espresso mascarpone semifreddo for dessert.  It was creamy and not too overpowering with the coffee flavor, but I did have a few regrets about not ordering the chocolate caramel tart.  It was two dense layers of chocolate with lots of gooey caramel sandwiched between.  The kids loved the homemade giant ring dings.
I can't say enough good things about the service.  The staff was friendly and professional and I have to say that there were a few events during the evening that were sure to try their patience.  We closed the place down and they did nothing to shoo us out.

I will definitely get to eat that chocolate caramel tart in the future because I'm sure I will return.  This is now on my list of go-to special occasion restaurants.

Most importantly, Mom had exactly what she wanted - a birthday dinner surrounded by family.  That's what really counted.

(I told you I did a lot of diet cheating this week.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Adobo Tacos (Or Chile Rellenos - Whatever You Like)

I don't talk about it much on this blog, because it seems wrong to talk about such things on a food blog, but I have taken on the task of making a major effort to lose weight this year.  My goal at the beginning of the year was to lose 44 pounds.  I took a very radical approach to my weight loss and so far have lost 15 pounds.  My diet is probably a bit too radical, which is why I don't always stick to it and why after 5 months it has only been 15 pounds, but I believe the slow weight loss is probably the healthiest and will likely stick more as I'm adjusting my diet in ways I can stand.

The problem with trying to lose weight is that I still have to cook for two. Sir Pickypants is a naturally thin guy who can keep his weight down just by making sure he works out regularly.  I'm not so lucky as I have a voluptuous body type that puts on weight just thinking about food.  That means he has to suffer through my dieting.  When I saw he was likely to be someone who had problems with gluten, he had no problem taking that from his diet (well, most of the time).  I went (mostly - still struggling) gluten-free in solidarity, but then took the whole thing a step further and cut out corn and legumes in addition to wheat.

Husband hasn't complained much.  He has been very compliant about eating what I put on his plate (it's not as if he has another choice), but recently he started speaking wistfully of the food I don't cook for him anymore.  No more tacos.  No more chili.  No more spaghetti and meatballs.

I took pity on the poor man.  A few nights ago I made him my awesome turkey chili for dinner and left the beans out of my portion.  He was very happy.  I like to see him happy. 

When I was shopping for ingredients, I had not been able to purchase my poblano peppers individually.  I had to buy a package of them.  This left me with a conundrum.  What would I do with the extras?

This month's issue of Food & Wine magazine gave me some inspiration.  It's all about grilling.  Normally I ignore the grilling issues since they're useless to apartment dwellers like me. Nonetheless, this month I did flip through the recipes a bit.  While I couldn't get on board with the cooking methods provided, there were plenty of good seasoning ideas.  I could be inspired by the flavors the magazine provided me without having to actually grill anything.

There was a very tasty sounding adobo chicken recipe that contained different types of chili powder and sweet spices like cinnamon and allspice.  I decided to adapt those flavors into a turkey taco using the ingredients I had on hand. 

As for the non-corn-eater, I took those poblano peppers, roasted them, and then stuffed my adobo turkey into them.  I roasted them first and stuffed cooked the turkey mixture into them.  I thought they would be less soggy that way.

The turkey was good.  It was a little sweet, even though there was no sugar in it.  I think I would definitely use this seasoning again.   It would make a nice turkey burger or rub for roasted chicken or pork.

I had a lovely orange-avocado salad on the side rather than try to stuff veggies into the shells.  

It's nice to know I can adapt a recipe and still do things that help me on my ongoing weight loss!

(Unfortunately, as you will read in future posts, my diet this week has run way off the rails.)

Adobo Turkey Tacos

2 pounds ground turkey
2 Tbl olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 Tbl chipotle powder
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp smoke paprika
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
Warm corn tortillas  OR roasted poblano peppers*

Heat 2 Tbl of olive oil in a large skillet.  Cook onions in olive oil until soft.

Add the chili powders, cinnamon, allspice and paprika to the pan.  Continue cooking until the mixture is very fragrant, onions are well coated, and spices are forming a bit of a paste at the bottom of the pan.

Add turkey, breaking it up as you brown it.  Cook over medium heat until completely cooked through.  Stir in salt.

Serve in tortillas or roasted peppers.

*To roast peppers, heat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the stems off the peppers and remove the seeds.  Coat with a little oil and roast on a baking sheet about 20 minutes or until the skins start to blister.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Post in which I Rape Chinese Cuisine in the Name of Childhood Memories

I grew up obsessed with Chinese restaurants.  If I could eat only in Chinese restaurants every time I went out, I was perfectly happy.  We're not talking about about real authentic restaurants of course.  I was into places that served standard American Chinese fare.  If the restaurants had red silk on the walls and a menu whose first page displayed pictures of fancy umbrella drinks, it was authentic enough for me.

I went through phases of what I most liked to eat in Chinese restaurants.   In those phases I would order the same dishes with single-minded purpose.  My earliest memory of such an obsession was roast pork.  I loved Chinese style roast pork.  Sometimes I had it with fried rice.  Sometimes I had it with lo mein.  Sometimes I would even order it with a vegetable.  Whatever accompanied the meat was inconsequential.  I just loved those sweet, red, pork nuggets. 

One day I was able to order just plain old sliced roast pork.  I don't remember if the pork was on the menu by itself like that or if the kitchen made it special for me.  I just remember it was the day my love affair with Chinese pork ended.  The pork they served me was dry and tough.  From then on I moved on to pressed duck or spare ribs.

Years later I was having dinner with friends at a local diner and was browsing the sandwich menu and discovered something called a "Chinese Roast Pork Sandwich."  It promised Chinese-style roast pork on a garlic roll.  I tried to imagine what it could be like.  Would it really taste like the Chinese pork I loved so much as a child?  I had to order it and find out.  Sure enough, it was exactly like the roast pork in Chinese restaurants - sweet, salty, and tinged with red on the outside.  I loved the idea of having piles of it on a sandwich.  Every subsequent time I went to that diner I'd order it and slather it with the provided duck sauce then proceed to make a pig of myself.  Each time I devoured the entire sandwich with a side of fries and a massive linzer tart for dessert until they stopped offering it on the menu. (How dare they!)

I still find myself thinking about Chinese roast pork and wonder why I eat so little of it these days.  (I suppose part of it has to do with my diet and part of it has to do with my digestive system.  Even if I could still order that sandwich, I don't think I could wolf down the whole thing anymore.)  I was really having cravings.  Could I replicate it at home?

I began investigating recipes so I could find a way to replicate that taste in my own kitchen.  I learned that Chinese barbecued pork, a staple of Canton (so not exactly inauthentic) is called Char Siu.  Recipes vary all over the place, but generally consist of something anise-flavored, something sweet, and something acidic. That signature red color is actually dye.   To this end I decided replicating it wouldn't be too hard and I would happily sacrifice that color if it meant leaving out a few chemicals.

Here are my players: Rice wine*, gluten-free soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, five-spice powder, and honey.  This is a very stripped-down version of the classic marinade.  Most other recipes consist of hoisin and occasionally ketchup.  I wanted to keep my ingredients and flavors to a basic minimum without a lot of the added sugars and salt that come from bottled and jarred sauces.

For my pork I used two very large shoulder steaks.  I thought they would best as I could slow roast them for barbecued pork flavor without the bother of taking 6 hours to cook an entire shoulder. 

I put them overnight in a plastic bag in the lovely marinade.

Roast at 325 for 45 minutes and then give it a blast under the broiler to caramelize the outside a bit.
I served with lightly braised baby bok choy.  These were really tasty.  They weren't quite the same as the roast pork you get in a Chinese restaurant, but the flavor was closer than I would have expected.  I even put aside a little of the marinade and coated some shrimp with them for Kevin.  I want to use this marinade again for sure.  Maybe one day I'll cook an entire shoulder in this marinade, or at least do this more often on pork chops or pork tenderloin.
I had the light box all set up and then realized my camera battery was dead.  IPhone to the rescue! 

*Yes, I used cooking wine.  Sorry.  Sometimes you have to work with the ingredients you can easily get your hands on.  I just added no extra salt to the recipe.

Chinese Roast Pork My Way

  • 2-4 pounds pork shoulder chops
  • 3 Tbl soy sauce
  • 2 Tbl rice wine
  • 2 Tbl sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp 5-spice powder
Whisk together all ingredients except pork until well blended.  Toss pork in the marinade and place pork and all excess marinade in a plastic bag.  Refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Place pork on a baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes.

Optional: Place under the broiler for one minute to caramelize the outside.