SINfully delicious…

Chocolaty and sweet. Can be fudgy or cakey, but it is not a cake. It can have nuts, chocolate chips, mint, frosting, or a glaze. It can be eaten alone, with ice cream, or whipped cream. What am I?

If you guessed brownies, then you are correct. Brownies are one of my favorite treats, coming from a chocolate addict. I like my brownies fudgy and without nuts, but every person is different, which causes more variations among brownies.

The first brownies appeared at the “1893 Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois”. The treat was created after Bertha Palmer requested a dessert to be made specifically for ladies. She described this dessert to be smaller than a slice of cake or pie, which can be easily eaten. Palmer also wanted something that could be packed effortlessly into a bagged lunch. Thus, the brownie was created! At the Palmer House Hotel, they continue to serve the famous brownie with its original recipe today.

But who is Bertha Palmer and why did she insist on having this delectable dessert made? Bertha Palmer is “an American businesswoman, socialite, and philanthropist”. She was part of the Chicago’s Woman’s Club as well. Palmer was very prominent due to her positions in society. Therefore, in 1893 the Columbian Exposition was to be held in Chicago, which is the celebration of the discovery made by Columbus. If it weren’t for Bertha Palmer and her influential status in society at this time, there would never have been a need to create brownies.

After learning about brownies, I was inspired to make my own. I went to Safeway and bought a box of brownie mix. After adding some water, oil, and egg, it was ready to go in the oven. A short 40 minutes later, my brownies were done. They turned out fudgy in the middle, yet crunchy around the edges. Simply perfection.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_brownie

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertha_Palmer


Lions, Tigers, and Plants, oh my!

Berries, bay leaves, coffee beans, mushrooms, and artichokes, sounds like items on your grocery list that you plan to get at Safeway, right? Wrong! These items can all be found in your backyard that is if your backyard happens to be in the fields of Lafayette and Moraga. When I heard that we were going to a park in Lafayette, I had no idea how this would be related to food. Feral Kevin, our tour guide, was enthusiastic and ready to share his knowledge about plants and food with us. While walking along the trail of the Lafayette Community Center, I was eager to learn; however, I didn’t know what was going to be shown to us. We started in the parking lot, learning a bit of history from Kevin about the native plants in Moraga. The native plant life is the plants that were present before the Europeans came here.

As we started along the trail, Kevin quickly pointed out the California Bay Laurel. This tree is the most common, non-mountainous tree in the area. The leaves from this tree are about three times stronger in smell and flavor than the bay leaves we buy at the grocery stores, which comes from Europe. Another fascinating fact about the bay tree is that the leaves are antimicrobial, which means that if stuck in the wilderness, one can break and crumble the leaves, then rub all over their hands to clean them. Furthermore, the bay tree is related to avocados. As Kevin describes the tree’s fruit, he says that the bay tree produces what looks like baby avocados. The nut, or seed, inside the fruit can be used as well. Our tour guide described how he cut the fruit in half to remove the seed. He then explained that the seed needs to be roasted to a dark chocolaty, brown or similar to coffee beans. The seeds can be used to create one’s own coffee in a fresh coffee press.

The California Bay Laurel is one of the most versatile trees, I have ever learned about. It can be used for medicinal purposes or food.


Anything for the baby…

“It’s dinnertime!” Those are the famous words that my mom would yell from the kitchen to gather my dad, sister, and I to the table. Dinner was always one of the most agonizing times in my house due to my pickiness with food. My mom, the great woman that she is, would often cater to my tastes. (And no, I am not spoiled, she just loved me!)

I had a huge problem with the appearance of food. It had to be cooked according to my standards, which meant nothing less than perfection. For example, my eggs had to be scrambled without any white spots showing. Thus, my mom had to hide any imperfections visible to the naked eye. My mom was brave to try to sneak anything past me since I inspected every bite I have ever taken. However, I am sure she succeeded in her undercover missions of serving me scrambled eggs that were not up to par. It just goes to show that mother does know best.

Another meal that my mother had a difficult time preparing for me was spaghetti. Who doesn’t like spaghetti? As a little kid, I was not the biggest fan. I would only eat spaghetti if it was plain marinara sauce, no meat! I did not like the chunkiness of meat sauce, so if I did not catch my mom in time, which was before she added meat to the sauce, I would be served plain noodles with melted butter and salt. These buttered noodles were one of my main meals as a kid.

As I have gotten older, my taste buds’ preferences have changed. I eat scrambled eggs made by anyone now, because I am no longer worried about the white part of the eggs. Furthermore, I enjoy my spaghetti with meat sauce and love the texture. I appreciate all of my mom’s effort in making my special dinners for me. I bet it was not easy to put up with such a picky eater, but I love my mom for enduring all the stress I caused and for loving me through my demanding years.


Saved by CPK…

Spinach. Salt. Cinnamon. Try to create a meal with those three ingredients. That is what I am doing after being assigned the three most random ingredients in class. Once I finished stressing about what I could make with them, I quickly remembered one of my favorite salads from California Pizza Kitchen, the “Chicken Waldorf Salad”.  So below is my version of the salad from CPK.

Ingredients:

  • Spinach (or a bag of mixed baby greens would work since there is spinach included, it is based on one’s preference)
  • Grapes (seedless)
  • 1 Apple
  • Gorgonzola cheese
  • Candied walnuts
  • Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette

How to make the salad:

  1. Cut grapes into halves.
  2. Chop apple into bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, grapes, apple, and candied walnuts.
  4. Crumble the gorgonzola cheese over the top.
  5. Pour the vinaigrette into the salad and toss together.
  6. Place the salad on a plate and enjoy!

How to make the Candied Walnuts:

I found this original recipe From Mary Ann, The Frugal Chef’s website. I did add cinnamon and lowered the amount of walnuts and sugar from which she used in her video clip. The link to her website is http://thefrugalchef.com/2009/09/candied-walnuts/.

Ingredients:

  • 1 heaping cup of Walnuts
  • 1/2 cup of Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. of Ground Cinnamon
  1. Put the Walnuts, Sugar, and Ground Cinnamon in the frying pan.
  2. On Medium heat, constantly stir nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. The walnuts will burn easily, so keep moving them around to prevent any burning.
  3. After the sugar has melted, quickly pour candied walnuts onto a piece of wax or parchment paper to cool and harden. Once they are cooled separate any big chunks.

                                             

                                                                                            

How to make the Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette:

I found the original recipe for the dressing from Food.com; however, I changed the measurements for my personal taste and also added a tiny bit of sugar.  The link to the website is: http://www.food.com/recipe/california-pizza-kitchen-waldorf-salad-copycat-324118.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. of Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tsp. of Minced Garlic
  • 1/8 tsp. Salt  
  • 1/4 tsp. Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  1. Pour all ingredients into an empty salad dressing bottle and shake vigorously to mix everything together. However if you do not have a salad dressing bottle, just whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Place vinaigrette, in the refrigerator to chill.

Review of the salad:

This salad was easy to make. I am not a fan of making salads because I am a firm believer that salads taste better when someone else makes them. Therefore, after getting the idea to recreate my favorite salad from California Pizza Kitchen, I was eager to make it and put it together.

I could have easily bought pre-made vinaigrette or candied walnuts; however, I wanted to make them on my own. I have never made a salad dressing from scratch, or candied walnuts, so I knew it would be an adventure. The Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette could have turned out horribly; it could have been too acidic due to the vinegar. Therefore, I made sure I took my time to add ingredients little by little and to taste test throughout this experimentation. For the vinaigrette, I added the sugar at the end because it didn’t tickle my palate or leave me yearning for more. Therefore, I felt it needed an extra punch of flavor. I decided on adding sugar because I wanted the vinaigrette to be sweeter rather than salty or sour. I felt that little pinch of sugar added the right amount of sweetness to make it delectable.

Furthermore, the walnuts could have easily been burned as well, which would give them a harsh and charred flavor. The recipe was short and quick, which left very little time for mistakes. The sugar and walnuts needed to be constantly stirred to prevent any burning. Once the sugar began to melt, it would clump up. This is when the stirring became crucial to not scorching the walnuts. I continued to stir so each walnut would be evenly coated with the sweet syrup that had been made. Once all the clumps of sugar were melted, I poured the walnuts onto parchment paper to cool and harden. Then I broke them up into little pieces to be tossed into the salad later. I also discovered that these candied walnut make a great snack too!

My favorite part about this salad is that it could be made in parts throughout the day. For example, the candied walnuts and vinaigrette could be made the day before you want to serve the salad; thus, a majority of the work is already done. All that would be left is slicing the grapes and apple, which leaves all the ingredients to be tossed together in a bowl.

                                             


The Infamous Food of Chinatown

 The weather was a great foreshadow for the day’s events. It was a miserable day in San Francisco, the clouds, rain, and cold; however, did not stop us from visiting Chinatown for a class field trip. Frank, our tour guide, had a big personality, which was greatly needed for our tour since I was not looking forward to trekking up the hills in this gloomy weather. Frank was very informative about Chinatown’s history, which was a terrific lead up to the food portion of the sight-seeing.

 Meet Frank.

For the eye-opener of the day, we got to see the processes the Chinese use when preparing the meat. Cleanliness was not a high standard for these markets in Chinatown. First of all, they are wide open to the public, which contains cigarette smoke, sneezes, dirty grounds, etc. Next, the fish were either packed into small bins for the walking pedestrians to see or crammed in fish tanks with water so murky you can barely see the fish. It is obvious to say that they have not been washed recently. As we continued to walk through the market, there were plastic bins full of frogs and turtles. At first glance, it looked like containers filled with dead animals; however, I think they were too scared to move because they saw what was happening in that market. At the end of the hallway, I was not prepared to see a room filled with layers upon layers of cages that were too small for birds to be living in. There were pheasants, chickens, and pigeons just waiting to be chosen. Needless to say, this treatment did not make me crave Chinese food.

Live fish and crabs living their last moments out in small containers with barely any room to move.

The statue-like frogs, fearing for their lives.

This picture does not depict the actual cloudiness in the water… it looks much worse in person.

The birds.


You’re the cheese to my macaroni…

Mmm… cafeteria food is so delicious. Not! After my four years at St. Mary’s I can honestly tell you that the cafeteria food is anything, but appetizing. I found that going to the cafeteria was a huge ordeal for me because it wasn’t so welcoming to a friendless freshman. There would be rows of tables, yet everyone was sitting in groups, I never saw one person eat there alone. Therefore, I tried to make as much food as I could in my room with a mini-fridge and microwave. Yet I had one more thing against me, I had no car to get to the store. Thus, I relied heavily on my mom’s care packages for food and snacks. The most cherished item in those boxes was the packages of Easy Mac. It was always my main go-to entrée in the dorms.

Easy Mac was simple, yet filled the spot. All one needed is water, a microwave, and a fork to make this meal for one. The Easy Mac was perfect for all occasions, a trouble-free dinner, a snack, and a soft concoction that will slide down your throat easily when you are not feeling too well.

Now that I live off campus, I still find myself making the occasional box of Macaroni & Cheese. However, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of Macaroni & Cheese. For example, I will add veggies, meat, and spices to it to make it a different meal than the plain old macaroni and cheese.


My inadvertent attempt at smoked chicken

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts (I recommend skinless and boneless)
  • Some seasonings (I prefer pepper and garlic salt)
  • Oil

 

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Conquer your fears of cooking chicken.
  2. Using a frying pan, pour a generous layer of oil in it. Make sure it fully covers and coats the entire bottom of the pan. Roughly, about ½ inch thick.
  3. Preheat the oil, by turning the burner to High. You want to make sure the chicken will be thoroughly cooked.
  4. While waiting for the oil to get hot, begin prepping the chicken, which consists of cleaning, adding seasonings or marinating, cutting it up, etc.
  5. First rinse off the chicken to remove any unsightly bits and pieces. This is not fun for a germaphobe, I would know, since I have an obsession of washing my hands to get rid of germs. Thus, this part is very crucial to rinsing the chicken and picking off any abnormalities, such as extra skin, veins, etc. that may make the chicken look unappetizing.
  6. Wash your hands.
  7. Sprinkle the first side with the seasonings. The seasoned side will be placed down in the pan.
  8. Using tongs place the chicken in the hot oil. Prepare to be acquainted with loud sizzling, oil splattering, and smoke. Step away from the stove to keep away from getting burned by the oil.
  9. Quickly turn on the overhead fan.
  10. Don’t let your feelings of incompetence take over just yet. Make sure to breathe. Dinner is not ruined.
  11. Turn the chicken over quickly (using the tongs) to try to remove the frustrating sounds of it burning.
  12. You now realize that you did not season the other side of the chicken. More importantly, that you should have left the chicken as it was because turning it over just made it repeat the same process of oil splattering, loud sounds of sizzling, and more smoke.
  13. Continue to flip the chicken from side to side because now you do not know when it is fully cooked since you already have been turning them over constantly.
  14. Be sure to open any windows or doors because the oil and chicken will begin to burn quickly creating a cloud of smoke in the kitchen.
  15. Fan the smoke outside to keep the smoke alarm from being set off. However, if the alarm starts chirping, quickly disconnect it as to not notify the neighbors that you are failing miserably at cooking chicken.
  16. Remember to breathe.
  17. Now remove the chicken from the burning oil, once the smoke alarm goes off or the kitchen fills with smoke, it is safe to say the chicken is done.
  18. Go ahead and plate your dinner with whatever you were able to make while cooking the chicken. For example, a salad, rice, potatoes, and vegetables are all good side dishes.
  19. Now enjoy the rubbery and burnt chicken that you made for the very first time.




An Enchilada to be Forgotten

Although this is not the best experience with food, it is one of my most memorable. I got food poisoning last year, which is some of the worst pain I have ever felt.  Furthermore, I associate that feeling of pain and illness with the food I had eaten right before, which was store bought enchiladas. I should have known that pre-made and pre-packaged food is not the best, most appetizing meal, but I was short of time to make anything from scratch. The enchiladas were cold and looked as if they had been sitting on the shelves for a few days. However, that did not faze me at the time, but I would soon discover the dangers of buying pre-made enchiladas.

The memory haunts me to this day. I am so horrified by my experience, that I cannot consume enchiladas without the flashback of memories. The first time I had enchiladas after that terrible incident, I could not stand the sight, smell, or taste of them. When my mom brought the pan to the table, all I noticed was the thick sauce covering the tortillas. The memories were flashing back. The gooey cheese and sauce were haunting me. Yet, to not be disrespectful, I put some on my plate. However, as I prepared my first bite, which was drenched in sauce, it was difficult to swallow. The mushy tortilla, meat, sauce, and cheese combination would not easily slide down my throat. The pungent aroma was not helping me eat. It smelled like a sauna full of men to me; it was musky yet spicy. The scent was becoming too much for me. Before I knew it, the enchiladas were no longer cooperating. I took gulps of water to aid the barely chewed food down my throat. It was a battle in my body, as my reflexes tried to get rid of the enchilada, I tried even harder to force the food in my body. The enchilada had a mind of its own, and would slither up my throat just as painfully as I shoved in.

I would like to say that I finished the unappetizing enchiladas and got over my fear; however, that did not happen. It still troubles me to this day to think about enchiladas. Therefore, the moral of my story is that one should take the time to make food, rather than buy pre-made food from the grocery store.