I cooked and no one was harmed in the process

Anyone who doesn’t believe in the transformative power of the new year and the promise of better things to come, should’ve tasted my chicken on Tuesday night.

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Not a great pic, no, but only cause I was in a hurry to eat this beauty

You guys, it was good. Even I— ever the self-deprecating kitchen pessimist— am taking a moment here to toot my own horn, cause let me tell you, I not only made dinner from scratch but I made a damn tasty dinner at that.

The stakes were high. I was cooking for my roommate/best friend and the guy I’m steady wooing these days, neither of whom I wanted to send to the bathroom in the middle of the night with food poisoning or even a mild upset stomach. (Especially since we only have one small bathroom and an ancient, temperamental toilet.)

When I saw a simple enough yet delicious sounding recipe for a spicy roasted chicken and cauliflower mash on one of my go-to blogs last week, I knew what would be kicking off my commitment to cook a proper meal at least once a week in 2017.

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There is hope for me yet!

I sourced all my ingredients, updated our spice cabinet and put my thinking cap on. A couple of hours later, with only some barely noticeable hiccups along the way, I had made one damn good looking, Portuguese inspired, charred (on purpose!) roasted chicken surrounded by shiny, oven-roasted baby bell peppers, served alongside a bowl of steaming, creamy, garlic-and-butter-laden cauli mash.

The chicken was juicy and tender, the flavors of lime, garlic, cilantro and crushed red pepper making it spicy and colorful, and the cauliflower had the consistency and very similar and oh-so-comforting appearance and taste of mashed potatoes. Everything looked good, tasted great, and went down easy with nary a tablet of Pepto or Immodium in sight! (Though I had them on hand, cause you never know…)

 I told you 2017 was gonna be great!

Plated: my new best friend in the kitchen

Fact: I can eat like nobody’s business, but I can barely cook to save my life. No really, not kidding. If my life depended on my cooking, I’d probably die.

But there’s hope for me yet, thanks to a service one of my friends turned me on to called Plated. Every week they put up a collection of meals, you pick the ones you like, and they send you all of the ingredients needed to pull it off, along with nice, easy-to-follow illustrated cooking instructions. (I can’t stress enough what a huge difference illustrated instructions make for us cooking-challenged folks. Total game changer.)

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For someone who loves getting stuff in the mail, this was like Christmas!

For my first Plated meal, I chose a polenta pizza with ricotta cheese, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Plated sends you everything, in the exact quantities you need, so there’s no waste, and best of all there’s no waiting in line at the supermarket, which because I live in New York, the world’s worst city for supermarkets, also means no risk of violent outbursts or homicidal thoughts. (Mark my words, it’s only a matter of time before someone snaps at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square.)

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All the ingredients come individually wrapped and labeled, so you don’t confuse your Brussels sprouts with your thyme, for example.

The only ingredients I had to provide myself were pantry staples olive oil, salt and pepper. Plated sent everything else and with it, this nice big recipe card. Again, pictures make a serious difference.

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Maybe a picture book approach to recipes is what I’ve been needing all along.

So with my oh-so-helpful color pictures to guide me, I followed all of the steps. I cooked up some polenta, sauteed some Brussels sprouts and mushrooms with garlic, oil and thyme, then spread the polenta on to a baking sheet and loaded it up with a layer of ricotta cheese, the sauteed veggies and a sprinkling of parmesan.

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Building the base and toppings for my “pizza.”

Once everything was loaded up and ready to go, I popped my baking sheet into the oven and tried my hardest not to be whiny and impatient whilw it cooked.

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Assembled and ready to go, next and final step: the oven!

Once out of the oven, I let it cool for a bit (but really only because the instructions told me to. I’m usually all about digging in immediately and burning myself with molten hot food.) before cutting it into slices, drizzling with just a little bit more olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and pepper, and BAM! Delicious, healthy, home made dinner for two.

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Who knew a slice of home made polenta pizza could do so much for making me feel like a normal functioning adult?

In my opinion, Plated is a genius idea, for both those who actually know their way around a kitchen and those of us still struggling to to learn the ropes. I’m looking forward to lots more Plated boxes waiting for me on my doorstep.

Tasty and healthy and I made it myself!

Anyone who knows me also knows good and well that while I definitely love food (duh, this blog), I’m way more about eating it than I am about cooking it. (Growing up I always just assumed that by the time I was as old as I am now, I would be so filthy loaded that I would have a personal chef to cook all my meals and therefore, would never have to actually learn how to cook. Needless to say, things did not pan out the way I’d hoped as a child.)

However, every once in a while, the spirit moves me, and I decide to put what few kitchen skills I have to use. Tonight, for example, was one of those times.  Following a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, The Londoner (about a London girl who has my dream life), I made a guilt free egg fried “rice.”

And whaddaya know, it came out pretty damn good! Tasty and healthy? A double win! So here’s how things went down:

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Everybody’s here for the party.

First, I gathered my ingredient and styled them for your viewing pleasure: coconut oil, sesame oil, cauliflower, garlic, scallions, peppers, eggs, cilantro, peanuts and soy sauce (not pictured above.)

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Note to self: invest in a food processor. Grating sucks.

The magic trick to making this dish healthy is that instead of rice, you use cauliflower. Now, on The Londoner she just popped all of her cauliflower into a food processor to break down into crumbly bits, but I don’t have one of those so I took a cheese grater to my cauliflower and grated it all down to teeny tiny bits manually. This, first of all, takes way longer, and second, is a hell of an arm workout. You laugh, but I’m sore.

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Fizzing, foaming and smelling my kitchen with tasty smells.

In a pan (which should’ve been a wok, but again, didn’t have one of those), I poured the coconut and sesame oils along with some garlic. Everything kinda fizzed up into a beigey foam and the smell filled my kitchen (whole apartment really) with awesomeness. At this point, The Londoner added shrimp, but I wasn’t feeling them so I proceeded without.

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Adding a little color and flavor with some soy sauce.

Once that got going, I dumped all of the grated cauliflower inside, stirred it around, then added the chopped scallions and fresh peppers. A little pour of soy sauce (low sodium of course, cause why not cut calories when it tastes the same?)  turned everything a nice golden brown.

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Fact: adding an egg to anything will always increase the deliciousness factor.

Then, I made a little hole in the middle of the cauliflower mix and cracked an egg right into it, letting it simmer and cook up for a bit, before scrambling it all in with everything else. I did that again with a second egg, let everything cook and get nice and toasty, and then finally turned off the stove.

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Behold! Egg fried rice with not a single grain of rice in sight!

I sprinkled some crushed peanuts on top, garnished with fresh cilantro and added a couple squirts of Sriracha sauce, and BAM! A delicious meal I hoovered down with not the tiniest bit of guilt. Now, that’s the kinda cooking I can get into!

Fat kid reverie

If I could travel anywhere right now it would be to Thailand. It’s my dream destination these days, and part of it’s because I imagine gorging off delicious, cheap eats from street vendors and small, gritty food stalls. It would be hot, my hair frizzy and unruly, my skin shiny and sticky, but man, would that food be good.

Recently I was at Pok Pok Phat Thai,  Andy Ricker’s pad thai centric spin off of his more popular Pok Pok in Brooklyn, when I saw something on the menu that confirmed exactly what I imagine about my dream Thai vacation: Hoi thawt, a Thai specialty sold by street vendors at night markets. SOLD.

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In my wanderlust fueled reveries, I visit Thailand and eat stuff like this. And it’s damn near magical.

Served on a green banana leaf, hoi thawt’s an eggy creation made of crispy, thin egg crepe filled with plump little fresh mussels,  chives, garlic and bean sprouts, served with a side of fiery, tangy Shark sriracha sauce.  It filled my whole mouth with bright, colorful flavors and my head with even more delicious, exotic wanderlust fat kid daydreams.

My Thai vacation dreams are alive and well and until I make them happen, thankfully at least some street eats are just a couple trains away.

Mission (Chinese Food) Accomplished

Man oh man do I love the satisfaction that comes with crossing off things on my to-do lists. Even better still when that satisfying feeling of completion comes along with the happy, stuffed high of a great, big delicious meal.

Such was the case earlier this week when a friend and I finally, after talking about it over and over and meaning to go for the past year or so, went to Mission Chinese Food, the tiny, much-raved about Americanized Chinese food joint made famous in San Fran and now also located in the Lower East Side.

Dinner service starts at 5:30pm and hungry folks line up outside before the door’s even unlocked and neon sign turned on just to claim one of the few spots in the no-reservations restaurant. Right there in that line, was us, ready to scarf down our hipster Chinese grub version of an early bird special. Even though I hate early dinners, especially when the sun’s still out, I’d gladly do it again because the food totally, if you ask me, lived up to the hype.

Chili margarita

Chili margarita

To celebrate our success at A.) getting our acts together and finally making it to the restaurant and B.) actually getting seated right away, we ordered ourselves some drinks. The chili margaritas, with their orangey pink color, citrusy bite and toasted chili kick were the perfect way to start things off.

Mapo ramen

Mapo ramen

Food at Mission Chinese comes out as the kitchen finishes it and for us, first out was the mapo ramen, a generous bowl of fatty pork broth, seaweed, coddledegg, mapo tofu and ramen noodles. Like many of the dishes here, this one wasn’t shy about being packed with bright bold flavors and a fiery kick that had me breaking out in full on nose sweats. (You know, when the bridge of your nose beads up with spicy food induced sweat. Not exactly my best look.)

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Sorry vegetarians, this lunch isn’t for you

Lumpiang barquillos: crispy, crunchy, meaty tastiness

Recently, while hanging out with one of my quasi-vegan friends, she pointed out that I’d been neglecting my non meat-and-dairy eating blog readers. (All two of them.) Looking back at my recent posts, she has a point. And while I fully mean to write something soon that will appeal to my herbivore friends, this particular post is not the time. In fact, if you’re still reading and you don’t want to hear about me eating various parts of a pigs face, then you should probably just come back another time.

For someone like me, who constantly wants to be somewhere else in the world and would be content to spend the rest of her life traveling, New York is the best place to live. Where else can you eat from every corner of the world without leaving the city? Last week, during what was one of my days off from both work and my pseudo-diet/healthy eating regime, the beau and I had lunch at  Maharlika, a Filipino restaurant in the East Village.

We started our lunch with a shared order of lumpiang barquillos, long, thin, crispy, crunchy rice paper rolls filled with a blend of beef, pork and water chestnuts. With them came a tangy, chili sauce and a little mound of sweet shredded carrots, both which were great garnishes and enhancers for the meaty, yet delicate barquillos. Their long, rolled up shape reminded me of the taquitos we used to eat in college (usually not in a completely clear state of mind) but way better. These Filipino barquillos would be dangerous during a bout of the munchies…

Sisig: a skillet full of piggy deliciousness

But now the part where I eat pig face. Pampangan-style sizzling sisig seemed almost like a tongue twister when I read it on the menu but once I got past the name and on to the description, I was all about it. Pig ears, snout and belly, (cooked three times) with garlic, fried egg, bird chilies and lemon with garlic rice. Seriously, how, unless you were like one of my aforementioned non-carnivore friends, could you not be curious about a plate like that? I wasn’t sure what that would look like, or if I was really ready to see a snout in front of me, but when it came out, a small skillet with what looked like corned beef hash topped with a fried egg on top, I was so ready. The waiter chopped and mixed everything up in front of me at the table, putting down a small wooden bowl filled with fluffy, white garlic rice  and a tiny dish of garlic and chili infused vinegar next to the skillet. And let me say, for those of you interested in a foray into eating animal faces, this is the way to go. The sisig, with its mix of meaty, rich pig parts, spices, bright tangy flavors of vinegar and chilies was delicious, like the cooler, more exotic, more interesting cousin of a plate of breakfast hash.

You can always bet on the greatness of food topped with a fried egg

The beau, ever along for the ride on my search for good eats,  had the iLog lunch. (Not an Apple product, but a play on Ilog, a municipality in the Philippines.) This particular entree comes with your choice of sausage, so Flaneur went with the longsilog, a spicy sweet longganisa, or pork sausage made with garlic. Inside, the meat was orangeish in color and had a bright, spicy sweetness that was delicious in its own right but even better when dipped in the bright orange-yellow yolk of the sunny side egg. Also on the plate, was a a mixture of pickled Filipino veggies to add a sweet, tangy edge to the rich meat and egg. And like the sisig, the iLog lunch also came with garlic rice, the best base for all of the colorful flavors on the plate.

So vegetarian friends, I’m sorry there wasn’t much for you here this time. Everyone else, get yourself some pig parts Filipino style. It’ll make you appreciate the fact that you eat meat.

When the going gets cold, the cold get soup

Hate the cold? Quit your bitching and get some soup.

Twice last week, I woke up to a city blanketed in fresh snow. On Monday, I walked to work, wrapped up to my ears in a thick scarf, while my fingers, though gloved and burrowed in my pocket, went numb.  At 8:30am, the thermometer struggled to creep up into the double digits.

Today, the snow was back, swirling in pretty white gusts outside my window, big fat snowflakes fluttering by dizzyingly.

Needless to say, winter is in full force in New York, and while some people absolutely hate it and are already counting down the days to spring, I for one, am enjoying it.  And why would I not, when there’s so much good soup to be had! Continue reading