Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Soba?

I'm pretty bad at grocery stores.

I'm the girl who stands in front of the shelves of olive oil, comparing prices, picking up bottles, trying to determine quality based on cost and packaging, making a final decision, then pushing the cart back to the same spot three minutes later to return the chosen bottle and go for the sale item.

i made soba noodles.

I don't really know what I'm doing when I'm grocery shopping. I don't know the difference between brands, I don't know what half of those vegetables are or what I can cook them with, I don't know if I'm getting ripped off on meat, and sometimes I come home with cracked eggs in the carton because I didn't check them thoroughly enough. So one can only imagine what I'm like at a grocery store where the majority of the foods aren't even labeled in English.

i made soba noodles.

A couple of weekends ago, I found myself in the noodle aisle at the Super H-Mart near my apartment. I was looking for soba noodles. I know nothing about soba noodles. I know they're healthy and they're made with buckwheat flour and they're Japanese. I knew I didn't want to get too much in case I didn't like them, and I knew I didn't want to get some expensive Americanized version. I compared prices and nutritional info and ingredients and packaging and asked myself if it's really worth it to spend more on organic. In the end, I chose the one with the least amount of sodium content.

I don't think I made them right. The package said to cook them in boiling water for six to eight minutes, except mine were starting to get mushy after four. And then they clumped together after I drained and rinsed them. But they were still noodle-y and edible and the kale and garlic helped a lot.

i made soba noodles.

Fortunately, there are still five more bundles in the package for me to experiment with. Pretty soon I'll be a soba noodle expert. And then I'll march into that H-Mart, having conquered the soba noodle, and I'll tackle the udon. Ha.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sushi salad.

I was nineteen when I moved into my first apartment. I lived with two of my best friends from high school, and our kitchen had pink cabinets. It was in this kitchen where I made fried rice for the first time, discovered that deep-frying your own food is kind of gross, and learned the food habits of my roommates -- which, looking back, really shows a person another level of a friend's personality.

I've shared a kitchen with a total of seven different roommates over the course of three years in college (the last two years in a house with five other girls and no dishwasher). And looking back, I can associate at least one food with each of them. Nicole made biscuits and gravy for dinner. Leslie made a different kind of pasta nearly every night of the week. Jenna ate zebra cakes. Krissy made pizza bagels. Katie always kept a box of corn dogs in the freezer. Marci put ketchup on everything. And Di made sushi salad.

sushi salad

After a summer in New York City, Di came back our senior year with a recipe for sushi salad that her sister (creator of the vegetarian food blog Vanesscipes that, unfortunately, no longer exists) made up one day when they were craving sushi. It's a simple recipe that basically involves throwing together all the flavors of a California roll: white rice, cucumber, avocado, carrots, green onions, toasted seaweed (nori), and sesame seeds, all tossed with a splash of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and wasabi.

In a word, genius. In another, delicious.

sushi salad

I had a craving one day for sushi salad, so I e-mailed Di for the recipe (she had asked a few weeks earlier for my fried rice recipe because *surprise* I was the roommate who made fried rice every week). As I shoveled the salad into my mouth (the chopsticks in the photos are just for show -- I used a spoon for devouring purposes), I couldn't help but think of eating dinner in a college living room, a bowl of food on my knees while watching TV and surrounded by roommates eating their own dinners of pasta, or stir fry, or pizza bagels, or ketchup...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's official.

italian beef. destroyed.

Forget all that stuff I wrote about how the Italian beef sandwich is just meat on a roll and how I need veggies on my sandwich and blah blah blah. I officially love the Italian beef sandwich. Forget the peppers. Forget the slightly soggy bread. I want mine dripping and juicy and beefy. Yes.

(Thank you, Boston's Beef, for showing me the way.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not Cinnabon.

cinnamon buns.

For breakfast on the weekdays, I usually bring a hard boiled egg to work, or a slice of Hawaiian sweet bread, or a packet of instant oatmeal, or a bagel. And I'll eat at my desk with a cup of coffee and a bottle of water, enjoying the quiet morning before everyone else arrives.

cinnamon-y.

Then there are those days (too many, actually) when I'm just too lazy or running too late to grab breakfast from home. On those days, I usually stop at a cafe in my building for an egg and cheese sandwich. Other days I give in to the breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin' Donuts or the overpriced bagels at Au Bon Pain. One day last week, I completely lost control of my own two legs and walked straight into McDonald's for an egg mcmuffin and hash browns. By the time I could tell myself, No, this is wrong, you'll regret it later, I had already ordered. Oops.

But despite the fact that I pass by two from Union Station to my office, Cinnabon never gets to me.

slicing the cinnamon roll.

I'll pass by and smell the cinnamon and catch a glimpse of the ooey gooeys every once in a while and get a small craving, but I can never justify buying one. Of all the things I do not need to eat for breakfast, Cinnabon is quite high on the list.

So on one particular week, when my craving for cinnamon buns was unusually strong, I decided to finally do something about it: I asked Jenny to bake some for me.

slightly swirly.

Now this was way back in the beginning of March, around the time of my birthday, and she was all set to make a batch of brownies for my birthday. So when I requested cinnamon buns, she was a little surprised. But she did it.

And they were awesome.

cinnamon buns.

They were sweet, sticky, gooey, crispy, sugary, soft, and chewy all at the same time. We had them for dessert after my birthday dinner and after lunch the next day, and I made sure to leave at least one for breakfast during the week, to eat while at my desk, enjoying the quiet morning.

mmm frosting.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday lunch.

saturday lunch.

First time to cook with kale. Love the texture. I sauteed the greens with tofu, ginger, and sesame oil and served with leftover fried rice.

Went for a run today outside. Yay spring weather! :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reading and eating: Sardines, eggplant omelets, green mush.

"Cooking for yourself allows you to be strange or decadent or both."

- Jenni Ferrari-Adler, in her Introduction to
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone

I fell in love with canned sardines today.

Allow me to explain. The book mentioned above is a collection of short stories that I'm currently reading, in which food writers and chefs reveal their secrets of eating alone -- dinners involving saltines, or black beans, or canned anchovies, or anything else that they wouldn't normally eat with another person. I'm halfway through the book and ready to embrace the dinner for one.

I went to the grocery store tonight and bought ingredients that I don't normally buy, foods that I don't really eat but think I should be eating, like artichoke hearts and kale and tofu. And as I was stocking up on the 10 for 10 cans of tuna, the sardines caught my eye. And I picked up a package of the little fishies, as I often do when I'm exploring the aisles, and I considered buying it. I've always wanted to get into sardines because they're healthy and easy, but I always end up putting them back on the shelf because I just can't picture myself sitting down to a meal of canned sardines and rice (as my parents often do when they need a quick lunch). But tonight I could. So I threw them in the cart.

fell in love.

When I got home, I ate the sardines with a bowl of spinach. After the first bite, I asked myself why I spent so much money on all that other food when what I really should have done was buy fifty cans of sardines because it's all I ever want to eat for the rest of my life.

Yeah, it was like that. And I have that book to thank for bringing us together.

roasted eggplant

Even when I was little, I loved reading about food. The very first book I can remember liking was called What a Good Lunch. Somewhere in the deep, dark corners of my memory I can see the last page of the book, with a baby bear in a high chair, his face covered in spaghetti, saying "What a good lunch!"

In grade school, I started reading Calvin and Hobbes. My mom worked nights and would leave dinner out on the stove for when I got home. So after school, I would spoon some food onto a plate and read Calvin and Hobbes while I ate, pretending that I was eating the same mysterious green mush that Calvin would often face in many of the comic strips.

tortang talong (eggplant omelet)

Of course, my mom never made green mush. And I was never freaked out by her cooking, as Calvin often was with his mother's. But because Calvin was eating, I wanted to eat. And because he was eating green mush, well, then so was I.

The food that worked the best for this game was eggplant omelet, or tortang talong, as I later learned it is really called. It's quite an ugly dish -- a mix of dull browns and greens and yellows formed into a big, shapeless patty that is, essentially, an omelet made with roasted eggplant and ground meat. If I mashed up my omelet and mixed it with my rice, it was the closest thing to Calvin's mush that I could find. Eventually, every time I ate eggplant omelet, I had to read Calvin and Hobbes.

my plate.

So it's no surprise that nowadays, my reading list consists almost solely of books and blogs about food. I tried taking a break from food books for a month or two, and I ended up not reading anything during those weeks. So I'm back to the food books.

And you can bet I'll be eating sardines while I read them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pancit Palabok

I don't eat out at Filipino restaurants.

There are two reasons for this:
1. Filipino restaurants don't exist.
2. Even if they did, anything they can cook my mom can cook better.

OK, the first point isn't entirely true. I'm sure there's a handful of Filipino restaurants in the city, and I've maybe driven by two sit-down Filipino places in my lifetime, both of which I believe are now closed. Because nobody eats at Filipino restaurants. The truth is, most people don't even know what Filipino food is. They might have a Filipino coworker who brings pancit to all the office parties, or a Filipino friend whose mom makes killer lumpia, but that's about it. Otherwise, I can't imagine many people ordering something like peanut ox-tail stew, with a side of shrimp paste, off a menu. I just can't.

palabok.

There is a Filipino grocery store by my parents' house, however, that serves food. My parents sometimes bring home a dessert, like turon or hopia, but it's never as good as homemade.

Which brings me to the second reason I don't eat Filipino food at restaurants: My mom can cook it better. I don't order foods at restaurants that I know will just disappoint. So I was pretty disappointed when, a couple of weekends ago, my mom told me she couldn't make pancit palabok for my birthday because she couldn't get the right kind of noodles, so instead she had to buy the palabok at the Filipino store. I suppose it was better than no palabok at all.

The store's version of palabok was plain. It had the right kind of short, thick noodles and the signature, slimy orange coloring, but that was all. No shrimp, no green onions, no crunchy bits of celery, no hard-boiled egg slices, no crushed chicharron topping. We dressed it up a bit with what we had in the kitchen, but it just wasn't the same.

palabok

Palabok is one of those dishes that was never included in my mom's weekday meal rotation because it takes a bit of work to make. And it's not like the regular pancit that she makes for parties or dinner guests -- it's more garlicky and has a wetter texture and, well, it's bright orange and is topped with smashed pork rinds. It's one of my Top 5 favorite Filipino dishes, so I felt I had to post the pictures of this less-than-stellar version, even if it's not what I'm used to.

palabok, after.

We still devoured it, though.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Good morning weekend.

You know you're getting older when you start to really appreciate mornings.

everything hash browns.

Gone are the days of sleeping in late on a Saturday, only to lazily roll out of bed around 3 in the afternoon, scavenge for food (is it lunchtime? dinnertime? who knows?), shower (maybe), and start making Saturday night plans.

Nowadays, I feel like my morning is wasted if I'm not out of bed by 11. (OK, 11 is still pretty late by morning people's standards, but c'mon. I am just 25, after all.) I've seen many a wasted morning, but I'm getting better. Today I was out of bed by 10:30. Yesterday, 10. There's something about being up early on a sunny day, in a quiet apartment, knowing the whole day is ahead of me, that makes me completely content with life.

saturday morning.

Now just because I'm starting to embrace my mornings doesn't mean I've become a morning person. I like my mornings calm and relaxed. That means I don't get up and clean, or work out, or make phone calls, or get much done at all. My productivity is limited to reading blogs and exploring Flickr and writing while eating breakfast -- usually a bowl of Ramen with egg, or an omelet, or black beans and eggs, or basically anything in my fridge topped with fried eggs.

Yesterday, it was everything in my fridge topped with fried eggs.

saturday morning.

My everything skillet consisted of potatoes, spinach, grape tomatoes, green peppers, and onions. I didn't bother putting the leftovers in the fridge right away; instead, I picked at them throughout the day as they sat cold and unattended on the stove. Is that wrong?

When I woke up this morning, I opened the window to find a warm and sunny day. Good morning, indeed. I ate the rest of the everything skillet mixed with white rice, soy sauce, and scrambled eggs, and began my morning ritual of blogging and Flickr-ing. It was so nice, I even found myself a little optimistic. Maybe winter is over. Maybe spring really is near. Maybe the green will come sooner than I think...

To celebrate the coming of green (and St. Patrick's Day!), I made green soup (adapted from here and here and here). It made me feel fresh and healthy.

spinach and pea soup

Soup on a warm day? Well, I figured I've been slacking in the soup department all winter, and my poor stick blender is probably feeling neglected, so I might as well make a nice, creamy soup while the season's still right.

Now if only I could feel this enthusiastic at 7 in the morning on a Monday...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Please meet the pomelo.

I love my parents' kitchen. When I visit, I always head straight for the kitchen. To check out the leftovers hanging out on the counter, the veggie inventory in the fridge, the weird fruits that remind my mom of the Philippines. There's always something that reveals what my parents have been eating the last few days and what's to come in the next few days. Poking around in the pantry and peeking into pots left out on the stove, I inevitably end up asking "What's that?" I discover something new every time.

green onions, sinkside.

These green onions obviously aren't a new discovery; I just love that I can usually find a bunch of just-washed vegetables hanging out sinkside in my parents' kitchen.

oranges, avocados, and pomelos.

One corner of the kitchen island is often home to a heaping pile of fruits and vegetables. There's usually oranges and grapefruit and tomatoes. Sometimes persimmons. Or okra, or bitter melon, or squash, or mangoes, depending on the season. This time, oranges and avocados. And a pomelo.

...

"What's that?"

a pomelo

Well, a pomelo is this grapefruit-looking thing that my mom used to eat in the Philippines. She had seen them once before at grocery stores in the U.S., but this was her first time trying one here.

pomelo wedges

Peeled and segmented, it still pretty much looks like a grapefruit.

By the way, my mom also peels and segments grapefruit in this way. I've never been in the "cut-the-grapefruit-in-half-and-sprinkle-with-sugar-and-eat-with-a-spoon" club. I grew up in the "take-forever-to-peel-and-clean-the-grapefruit-and-then-sprinkle-it-with-salt" club. In fact, I'm an active member of the latter. I firmly believe you get way more of the fruit when peeled and segmented. It's even easier to be in this club when you have a mom that usually does all the work for you. (When I do it myself, I take apart one or two at a time and keep the segments in a Tupperware for easier snacking. I highly recommend this method. It also makes it easier to toss the grapefruit into a salad or something. Like a grapefruit and avocado salad. With spinach. Yum.)

pomelo wedges

The pomelo has a very, very mild flavor that's kind of a cross between a grapefruit and an orange. Definitely not as strong or bitter as a grapefruit, and the texture is drier and less of the "bursting-with-juice" of grapefruits and oranges.

pomelo peel

Honestly, I'd rather just have a grapefruit. I kind of want a grapefruit right now. With avocado. And spinach...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Well, there's always nilaga.

There's a reason this blog isn't called Happy Jack Cooks: Then I'd actually have to, ya know...cook. And I love cooking, I do! But I also love being lazy. And eating out. And eating food someone else cooked. And being lazy.

I blame it on him.
resting.

He's really lazy. I think it's rubbing off on me. Especially when he's curled up on my chest when I should be washing dishes.

But anyway. I'm here today to tell you that yes, I do still use my pots and pans and yes, I'm aware that the last dish I posted that I actually cooked was a pork chop. Three weeks ago. Yes, I'm ashamed.

nilaga (filipino beef stew)

But I'm not ashamed that my big comeback is a bowl of nilaga, which I've posted not once, but twice before.

It's my go-to. My comfort. My never-fails-me, always-fills-me, can't-get-sick-of food. I made this particular nilaga on a lazy Sunday, when boiling meat for a couple of hours and throwing in some potatoes and cabbage and oh-why-not, some carrots, too, was all I could manage.

Can you tell I'm in hibernation mode here? This winter's been brutal. Thank goodness for familiar comfort foods.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a fat cat on my lap in need of my immediate attention.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A lovely surprise.

Sunday morning at my parents' house. It's quiet here. Almost 11:30, but Daylight Savings Time has everyone confused and tired, which is why my dad and I are the only ones awake. He, because he's always the first one up, and I, because I'm so behind on blogging (February sucks, OK?) and I'm excited to start sharing my weekend eats and treats.

crab legs.

Aren't they lovely? Weekend with the family began with these. Promptly after walking through the door on Saturday, setting down my wicker basket of laundry and kissing my mom hello, she presented me with a plate of crab legs. A birthday treat. An awesome birthday treat. It was midafternoon and I hadn't eaten anything yet, knowing that there would be something in my parents' fridge to feast on upon arrival. Oh was I right. And my growling stomach was oh-so-thankful.

crab legs

And the best part is that my dad had already split open the shells, so there was almost no work involved in pulling out the cold, sweet meat. That's the kicker when it comes to crab legs -- you really have to work, get messy, and dig in if you want to enjoy the meal. The reward is quite worth it. Especially when there's that one stubborn claw that you know is housing a plump, juicy morsel but just can't get open -- even after your fingers are sore and red and you have bits of shell in your mouth from using your teeth and you can see the meat but it just won't come out and then, with a squeal of victory, you pull out a long, fat, hook-shaped piece of crab meat and, after a short pause to admire your efforts and think, "Coooool, it's shaped like a claw...." you devour it and move on to the next.

That's the fun part, really.

why hello there, beautiful.

I've always learned to work for my food. I didn't always get the hang of it, though. At the dinner table, my parents would always suck the meat bones dry and gnaw every bit of meat from every little corner. It can be pretty exhausting(Have you ever seen an ox tail? That's a lot of corners.), which is why I became accustomed to dropping my meat bones onto their plates after my fork and I did all we could with them. I'm getting better, though. Last week I tried bone marrow for the first time. It was interesting.

But when it comes to crab legs, I'm not afraid to get dirty. I'll suck those shells clean and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament.

um. yeah.

That's right.

hell yeah.

Because nothing says Happy Birthday quite like eating with your hands, cheering on Combat Club alumni-turned-knights, and eating with your hands. In a big castle off I-90.

I've been to Medieval Times before, back in the seventh grade, when I still wore braces but was just discovering the wonders of eyeliner. I had a crush on our knight. He had long, flowing brown hair. But another girl in my class caught the rose he threw into the audience, and I never fully recovered from the betrayal. I haven't seen either of them since.

the knights.

We had a coupon for buy-one-get-one-free tickets for the dinner and tournament (Honestly, I don't know what Murdo and I would do without coupons. Probably stay home and eat fried rice every night.), so we decided to round up about twelve of our friends for my birthday weekend and party like it's the 11th century.

i'm ready to feast.

OK, so I know it's like a food photography sin to use a flash. But we were eating in the dark! I had no choice! I had to share with the world the feasting that took place in that glorious, bloody arena!

By the way, the following pictures may not look the most appetizing. There's a reason why you're not supposed use a flash when taking pictures of food. And there's also a reason they make you eat in the dark at Medieval Times...

tomato soup. with awesome garlic bread.

Oh, OK. It wasn't that bad. The tomato and rice soup (I mean, "dragon tail soup") was decent, and that garlic bread was awesome. Very buttery. And garlicky. And toasty. Probably one of my favorite parts of the meal. Second only to the roasted chicken.

i ate this chicken with my bare hands.

There she is, in all her glory. Juicy. Tender. Just what you'd expect from a nicely roasted chicken.

roast chicken, one spare rib, and a potato

Then there was the potato ("dragon's egg") and the spare rib ("rat's tail"). The potato was basically a giant potato wedge. Kind of cold. And dry. But I still ate it because it was the only non-meat on my plate. I really wish they would've served a vegetable. Did they not have vegetables in the Middle Ages?

And that spare rib. That lonely, pathetic little spare rib was definitely the worst item on the plate. I don't even know why they bothered serving it. Again, a vegetable would've been a nicer choice.

our red knight. he lost.

There's our knight. He lost. What a jerk.

murdo's plate. destroyed.

After we destroyed our food, our male wench served us Mcdonald's apple pies for dessert. I got an extra because it was my berfday. And then Murdo gave me his...after he took a bite.

look like mcdonald's apple pies.
murdo eats a pastry.

*Sigh* My true knight in shining armor...

Twenty-five.

Yesterday, on my birthday, I had Girl Scout cookies for breakfast.
girl scout cookies for breakfast

The girls brought me cupcakes at lunch (thanks Jenna, Les, and Krissy!).
birthday cupcake

And for dinner...
heaven on seven fried green tomatoes with crab meat
heaven on seven bbq salmon
heaven on seven shrimp po' boy

A Cajun feast at Heaven on Seven with Murdo: Fried green tomatoes topped with crab meat. Barbecue salmon over Andouille sausage-and-potato hash, with onion rings (mine). Shrimp po' boy and cole slaw (Murdo).

A lovely 25. Thanks for all the birthday wishes!