Monday, March 21, 2011

How to eat?

I have been thinking about starting up a cooking blog for a while now, to eclipse my now-retired knitting blog. Knitting was the trend I jumped on in high school, and now that I am graduating college I am clumsily heaving myself onto the foodie bandwagon in the creative wake of yarn and fibers. I am eternally a creatively inclined person, relishing in finding artistic uses for the otherwise useless thing. This was fun with knitting, especially when the end product, no matter how technically austere, had an actual function that kept you warm. This functionality comes into play with my new-found love of cooking less out of boredom, as with counting stitches, and more out of sheer necessity. This year I moved into my first apartment with my first ever kitchen--(MINE!!!)--and I couldn't wait to get cookin'. We eat out a lot. Sometimes every day for weeks. We love restaurants from Jimmy Johns (dirt cheap) to Taco Bell (maybe just dirt) to Sushi (classy) to even classier things that I can't even spell or pronounce. But when they add up, meals that are not made at home are so spensive. As a matter of fact, groceries are pretty spensive too, but at least you get the pleasure of creating a meal from scratch using just a couple of knives and your noggin.

The question presents itself every single day:
How to feed yo self???!!?!?//

Every single day, I must come up with a different answer.
And sometimes it's the most elaborate but ill-planned feast that just turns out wrong.
Sometimes it's pizza.
Sometimes it's a decked out bison burger being brought to my table that I ordered twenty minutes ago. And sometimes...
just sometimes...

it's my own (edible) creation.

(For future reference, I will not post or talk about anything here that was made directly from a recipe. I think that's dishonest. Strictly original.)
Off the top of my head, here are the top 3 things I've made that I was most proud of:
-Bacon-wrapped scallops with bourbon glaze
-Pomegranate-mint lemon rind marmalade
-Creamy Indian spiced sauteed greens
And, for scale, my bottom 3 disasters:
-The time I tried to bake bread from scratch. Spent way too long on the dumb parts, got impatient where I needed the most patience, and ended up with a dry clump of hardened flour.
-Anything baked, really. My cookies aren't even good. And there's always that pernicious temptation to add food coloring to anything I put in the oven. Green cupcakes, anyone?
-This one time I was watching Chopped and got inspired, so I ran to the pantry and tried to make a dish before the episode was over. What I ended up with was a gluey, brown stab at Thai-Mexican fusion (a combination which should NEVER be attempted). Alex Guarnaschelli would have choked.

Speaking of Chopped, let me say that everything I know about cooking I learned from countless hours watching the Food Network. I watch a lot of the Food Network. I watch more Food Network than you watch TV. I like the cooking competitions with angry judges. I love watching the hoity-toity critics get a beautifully executed dish with but a touch too much salt and just stare down the trembling chef with their livid gaze. (I didn't realize that not everybody likes this kind of late-night programming so I am now careful to steer the Food Network discussions elsewhere when people bring up something awful like Guy's Big Bite.)

Let me give you a frame of reference for the stiff food criteria I'm going up against. I don't only cook for myself at home. I also cook for my girlfriend, with whom I cohabitate. She cooks, too, and she's shown me up multiple times. But if you know Katie, you know that she is very particular about her food. Not that she's a picky eater. She's not like one of those adults that brings shame upon their families by ordering the grilled cheese and smiley face fries because they dare not branch out beyond their childhood tastes. No, quite the opposite. She has asserted multiple times that she would eat anything if it were prepared well, including but not limited to a puppy sandwich, or the last panda on Earth.

That's the only thing: If it were prepared well. She grew up eating in all kinds of restaurants with her family, who has made good food and good livin' a priority over all other kinds of wealth. And that, I respect. They've taken me out to dinner more times than I can count, and only in my wildest dreams could I wrap my head around certain luxuries, like snails sizzling in butter, each one tucked into their little snail compartment in a snail pan. Or tender, juicy rabbit in a mysterious but robustly flavored sauce. Until your tongue has dissolved the crispy char on the most silken morsel of grilled octopus, you cannot understand.

But good ingredients are not cheap, and neither is the first or second or third try at something that you still don't have the technique for. I have been known to cry because I used the last of my laundry money to buy a new spice I didn't know how to distribute, or rare mushrooms that I would immediately ruin. (Then I have to wear stinky clothes for a week and can't afford to buy Ramen.)
So I guess I gotta start at the beginning. Simple meals, simple ingredients. You haven't earned the fancy stuff until you can prepare a classic dish well.
I'm hoping, with this blog, to chronicle my learning process as I figure out the ins and outs of doing just that. I have never made a dish that I thought was perfect, including a bowl of cereal I poured, so I am very serious about recording my self-criticism along the way so that I might learn from my mistakes.

So here ends my first entry, concluding with a cheap dish I can make that my girlfriend purportedly likes. (actually, she lovingly calls it "crack," which makes me very happy.) It's chicken tinga poblana:Shredded Chicken Tacos

Serves 4
Preperation time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes

1 (1 lb) package chicken thighs
1 (14 oz) can chicken broth
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 jalepeno peppers, de-seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime
8 small corn tortillas, heated

Pour broth over chicken in medium-sized pot. Bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes or until done.
Sautee 3/4 cup of chopped onion, garlic, and jalepenos in a well-oiled skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally as onion browns.
Add Red Gold Diced Tomatoes, cumin, cayenne, and salt to skillet and stir.
Remove cooked chicken from broth into a bowl. Using 2 forks, remove meat from bone and shred thoroughly.
Add chicken and 1/2 cup reserved broth to mixture. Let simmer 15 minutes, occasionally stirring until liquid evaporates.
Finish by stirring in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

Scoop chicken into 2 tortillas apiece. Top with remaining onion, sour cream, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

En el taco:


  1. This is a very interesting idea for a blog! I too tend to get in over my head after watching the Food Network or Cake Boss. I share your pain when we overspend on food that we wont be able to prepare.
    That being said, I will try your recipe because I like the fact that it calls for chicken tights instead of chicken breast, the meat is so much more flavorful! Especially if its cooked with the bones, like Gandma says: "en el hueso esta el gustito!"

  2. Thanks for sharing your ventures in cooking land Sal!! The tacos looked like did the grilled cheese actually! I'll drool thru your blogs, not in the hopes of preparing any as I'm pretty much a raw vege/simple quick bites kinda 'cook' now, but LOOOVE to drool over the cooking channels in the hopes of eating others well prepared heavenly delights. more power to ya honey! LOVE YO SOCKS!!!!!!!