Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My version of huevos rancheros.

black beans and eggs

I stumbled upon this breakfast by accident (which, I've decided, is the best way to find a new favorite food). After spending several days at my parents' house for the holidays, I came back to my dark little apartment only to find a pathetically stocked fridge. No big deal-- we went out for dinner and put off grocery shopping another day. But then morning rolled around, and I wanted eggs for breakfast (big surprise there). A quick dig in the fridge and pantry revealed two eggs (score!) and nothing to serve them with (boooooo!). No toast, no rice, not even ramen. So I dug a little deeper.

I found a lonely can of black beans hidden in my pantry among stacks of canned chicken broth, stewed tomatoes, and tuna. There was a jar of salsa in the fridge, along with the remainder of an almost-slimy-yet-still-edible green pepper and the last quarter of an onion. And plenty of whole wheat tortillas (I knew they'd come in handy when I bought them on an impulse). Looks like I was making my own little version of huevos rancheros.

I heated up a skillet with olive oil and butter and sauteed the veggies with garlic until soft. Then added the drained and rinsed black beans, which I mashed a bit with a fork. A few spoonfuls of salsa went in, as well as torn up pieces of tortilla. Seasoned with salt and pepper, topped with two fried eggs and a lime wedge.

black beans and eggs

I'd say I done pretty good. And this "accidental" breakfast has become a dish I'll most definitely prepare again. And again...

Oh! And have a happy and safe (and FUN) New Year celebration! Here's to more happy eats in 2009...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My most favoritest cookies in the world.

sugar cookie stack

What? Cookies? Yes, you know what that means...I've been home for the holidays, and my sister's been baking.

sugar cookies

I ask for these sugar cookies every chance I get, but it seems I only get them on days like Christmas or my birthday. Which at first I thought was cruel and unfair, but then I learned how much butter and sugar and oil the recipe calls for, and I think I'm OK with just the biannual sugar cookie fix.

best-ever sugar cookies

Picture a couple of things for me, if you will. Firstly, the first cookie you ever remember helping to bake. This was mine. I distinctly remember kneeling on a chair in the dining room, hovering over a sheet of sugary lumps, dipping the bottom of a glass into a bowl of sugar and pressing the lumps flat -- my sister overseeing the entire process.

Next, a beach. Rolling and clumping and forming perfect cookies out of sand, each granule sparkling, the cookie crumbling with even the slightest poke. Eating these sugar cookies is like taking a bite out of the sugariest, most delicate sand cookie, tiny grains of sugar and salt melting sweetly on the tongue.

best-ever sugar cookies

If you've got those images down, then you've got an inkling of an understanding as to how special and delicious these cookies are to me. My favoritest. And I'm sorry, but I've been told I can't share the recipe. Which kinda makes them even more special.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Filipino comfort food: Arroz caldo

arroz caldo

"Please Sir, I want some more."

Every time I eat arroz caldo, I can't help but think of that scene in the 1948 movie Oliver Twist, when all the orphans are eating their bit o' gruel and Oliver dares to ask for more. When I was younger, I would pretend my bowl of arroz caldo was the same gruel served at the orphanage. Sometimes my imagination could stretch far enough to pretend that the arroz caldo was cabbage soup, and I was Charlie Bucket. Whatever the story was that day, the premise remained the same: I am poor, cold, and hungry, and all I have to eat is this porridge stuff.

Arroz caldo is a Filipino version of rice congee. Porridge. And really, what's more comforting than porridge? A dish that can make even a young blonde trespasser feel at home in a house of bears.

arroz caldo prep

It wasn't until recently that I learned arroz caldo is traditionally served at Christmastime in the Philippines. So it was actually quite appropriate that my parents made this dish on the eve of Christmas Eve -- which I requested over the phone as I made my snowy, icy holiday drive through Chicago's northwest suburbs.

Despite my pretending that I was eating gruel, arroz caldo is far from it. The dish is basically chicken simmered in garlic, ginger, rice, and water, topped with roasted garlic flakes. The flavor is rich and gingery, the chicken tender and moist, the rice soft and silky as it coats the bones and warms the belly on a cold, cold day.

arroz caldo

It couldn't be a simpler (or uglier) dish. Doesn't it sometimes seem as though the simplest, ugliest dishes are always the most comforting?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Prime rib dinner on the Eve.

the dinner table

Old traditions: Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas morning presents. Christmas Day movie. Save the ribbons and bows. Spend the day in pajamas. Pick at leftovers. Hot cocoa.

rib eye prep
roasted veggie prep

New traditions: Prime rib. A new side dish each year. Murdo's garlic parmesan bread. And soup.

prime rib
cauliflower soup
Christmas dinner plate

The prime rib was, well, prime rib. The cauliflower soup was light and creamy. The roasted vegetables were soft and sweet. Dessert was lemon bars, bursting with an intense flavor that surprised me each time I took a bite.

lemon bars under the tree

Traditions and surprises. Sounds like a Christmas to me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Confessions of a ramen-lover.

I love ramen. Those near and dear to me are fully aware of this. I was the chick in college microwaving the non-microwavable Maruchan Instant Lunch cup before class in the dorm room. I was the roommate with the constantly-replenished case of ramen packages that became my go-to drunk food. And nowadays, I get really crazy and poach an egg in the broth because, well, why not?

But of course, ramen isn't the blogworthiest food out there. And I'll be completely honest with you: I've been a little ashamed to post a picture of the ramen-and-egg creations that I eat for breakfast at least once a week. I just want you guys to like me. But it's time you knew the truth.

shoyu ramen noodles by takashi yagihashi

I ate this ramen for lunch one day at Macy's Seven on State (where I also ate this juicy burger). And since it was served to the public and not dumped out of a square package with an MSG-packet in my dark little kitchen, I figured it was acceptable to take pictures and blog away.

shoyu ramen noodles by takashi yagihashi

Perhaps I've become some sort of weird ramen snob (after all, I do draw the line at the cheaper, lesser-quality Top Ramen and only eat the Maruchan brand), but I really didn't like this ramen at all. Really. After several bites, I decided I'd rather be eating Maruchan.

I ordered the Shoyu noodles with braised pork, seaweed, green onions, an egg, bamboo shoots, and baby bok choy. I was excited about the egg, but then it turned out weird. And brown, but that didn't really bother me until I took a bite. The pork was soft but kind of fatty and mushy, also. The noodles clumped together at the bottom. The broth tasted funky.

shoyu ramen noodles by takashi yagihashi

What a shame, because I think the pictures turned out pretty nice. I won't tell you what I paid for it, either, because then I'll be really embarrassed. But I will tell you this: if I'm ever craving ramen on my lunch break, I'm heading to Tokyo Lunch Box for their vegetable tempura udong. Waaaaay cheaper and NOT funky.

But still, nothing beats the Maruchan ramen noodle soups, Oriental flavor. Because Orientals taste the best.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A beef stew kind of welcome back

Beef stew

I'm back. And I have to say, what better way to celebrate a comfort food comeback than with beef stew (recipe here).

Last week, as I ate uninspiring salads and sandwiches while trying to figure out how to insert more kitchen time into my schedule, it suddenly dawned on me: I have a Crock-Pot. And my Crock-Pot can cook for me.

Crock-Pot beef stew prep

OK, so it's not the ideal solution. (The ideal solution involves a million dollars, a huge kitchen filled with shiny new cooking gadgets, and all the time and cookbooks and ingredients in the world.) While I'd much rather have a few hours each day to dedicate to chopping, stirring, smelling, tasting, and taking pictures, it all really comes down to the fact that I need a home-cooked meal after a long commute from the city every night. If that means sacrificing actually cooking the meal myself, well, so be it.

It was kind of fun, actually, sitting in my office and wondering what my beef stew was up to all day. Is the kitchen filling with warm, hearty aromas? Is the meat softening as we speak? How are the onions and peas holding up? These are the questions that floated in and out of my head as I waited impatiently for 5 o'clock to roll around. I couldn't wait to come home to my stew.

Crock-Pot beef stew (before)

Of course, this was the night the Metra train decided to stop on the tracks for reasons still unknown to me. Perhaps it was the icy weather, or signal problems, or a slow train ahead. Whatever it was, it was keeping me from my beef stew. And as I got hungrier and hungrier by the minute, I realized that it was a perfect night for the Metra to run late. On any other non-Crock-Pot evening, I'd already be anticipating a mad dash for quick takeout upon arrival home. But on this night, this beef stew night, I could sit back and relax. Dinner was already cooked.

Beef stew

All it took was some chopping and setting out of ingredients the night before, and waking up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning (brutal, but I survived) to toss everything in the pot. The results: tender beef, soft potatoes, and, most importantly, a home-cooked meal ready for the eating as soon as I walked through the door. Success.

Beef stew

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Everybody loves pancit and eggrolls.

My parents and their friends used to get together one Saturday a month for a big party. No birthday, no holiday, no graduation to celebrate. Just an excuse to eat, drink, and dance (as a young girl, I witnessed a lot of Electric Slide to "Achy Breaky Heart" in various Filipino basements).

These Filipino parties were all about the food. As soon as guests arrived and said their hellos, they would be directed straight to the dining room, where a long table would be covered with a variety of dishes -- from lechon on one end of the table to a box of Popeye's chicken on the other. And there was always pancit and eggrolls.

Pancit

Pancit is a party food. My parents told me that pancit was always served at celebrations in the Philippines. And for good reason: It's the ultimate crowd-pleaser. There's something in it for everyone -- chicken, shrimp, pork, Chinese sausage, carrots, cabbage, celery, and noodles. And everyone always appreciates the hard work put into a big dish of pancit. The actual cooking isn't too complicated, but rather the prep and chopping of all those ingredients that really makes a gal sweat. (The julienned carrots are killer.)

This pancit wasn't eaten at a party; I ate this plateful (and another afterward) the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, which helped fuel me up for a night of won ton wrapping. And, as mentioned in the won ton post, we made eggrolls with leftover won ton filling.

eggrolls (lumpia shanghai)

Eggrolls, or lumpia Shanghai, are truly addictive. They're different than vegetable lumpia, which are bigger and more filling. Lumpia Shanghai are smaller, bite-size rolls of fried, crispy perfection. There are never leftovers. When my mom makes them at parties, she fries and serves them in batches. Because if she made them all at once and put them on the table at the beginning of the party, they would all be gone in about half an hour. No joke.

I stopped going to Filipino parties once I hit the terrible preteen years, but my parents would always bring food back when they got home. That's another thing about Filipino parties -- there's always enough food to take home. In fact, when my mom throws parties, she always makes enough for leftovers and insists that people wrap up plates to take away.

I used to get sick of eating pancit every time we had company. But after I learned how to cook it myself and brought it to a potluck, I soon realized the magic of this party dish. Bring pancit to a potluck party, and you'll be voted Most Popular by the end of the night. Everybody loves pancit. As for the eggrolls, no one ever gets sick of those. I could eat about 50 right now. Seriously.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

At home: Won ton soup with baby bok choy

The great thing about having a small, quiet family Thanksgiving with no other guests is that everything is very relaxed. While other kitchens may have been buzzing with frantic cooks fighting for oven time at 6 a.m. on Turkey Day, our kitchen kept a calm, steady beat all day long.

There was no set dinner time. Since no one had to leave by a certain time and there were no guests sitting around, twiddling their thumbs impatiently, no one felt obligated to eat at a certain time. Dinner would be ready once all the food was ready, whenever that may be. Turkey and vegetable prep didn't even start until about 2:30, after we had lunch.

won ton soup with baby bok choy

Lunch? On Thanksgiving? That's right. There are some fools out there who still believe that if they starve themselves all day, they'll be able to pig out even more at dinnertime. Wrong-o. Serious eaters know that it's important to eat something light before a big feast in order to get the stomach ready -- stretch it out, so to speak, to make more room for the big, bad bird and all its side-dish sidekicks. So for Thanksgiving lunch, we had won ton soup.

I helped my mom make the won tons the night before. She ground up some pork, shrimp, carrots, and onions, then mixed it together for the filling.

won ton ingredients

Won tons are much easier to wrap than lumpia. For one thing, the wrappers are smaller and thicker and easier to separate. Second, the process is simpler and quicker -- just spoon the filling in the center of the wrapper, rub the edges with egg, fold the corners together, and pinch with a fork.

pinch

And they're so much prettier. Like frilly little pillows...

won tons

The soup was light and delicious -- a perfect non-Thanksgiving lunch before a very Thanksgiving dinner. Served with baby bok choy, green onions, and roasted garlic flakes.

won ton soup with baby bok choy

Did you notice the eggrolls in the background? There was leftover filling, so Mom made lumpia Shanghai -- to be featured in a later post. But for now...won ton innards!

won ton insides