Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pan-Roasted Pears

Earlier this week, Mike and I were given some lovely pears. I was really excited because I had spotted this Pan-Roasted Pears (pg. 393) recipe and wanted to try it. Mike helped me make this for dessert for my family's Easter dinner tonight.

Rating: 3 Stars
What We Liked: This was a really, really easy recipe, and the end product seemed more complex than it really was. So, it made me feel pretty fancy. The syrup was my favorite part. It was creamy and light; it was noticeable on the ice cream, but not overbearing.
What I Learned: This is more of a hypothesis than a lesson, but I imagine this recipe could be adapted to other fruit. Apples would almost definitely work, but for some reason I keep thinking of trying it with peaches. That sounds so amazing. So, I guess what I learned is that as I get the hang of new techniques, I should be able to branch out and experiment more confidently.

Easter is such a lovely holiday. I'm so grateful that I could listen to so many inspiring messages about Jesus Christ during General Conference this week!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Perfect Popcorn: Pepper and Parmesan Variation

Tonight, we tried the Perfect Popcorn recipe (pg. 15). There are several variations, and we decided to start with Pepper and Parmesan.

For starters, let's talk Perfect Popcorn
Rating: 5 stars
What we liked: Even though this is a stove top recipe, it was super easy and fast! We will definitely use this recipe again. Bonus points: no chemicals like in microwave popcorn, and, it's a lot less expensive to buy popping kernels.
What we didn't like: Mike is very skeptical that it would be as easy to use a dutch oven for this recipe, even though that's what is recommended.
What I learned: How easy it is to pop popcorn! I have literally seen my dad make popcorn this way one time ever. I knew it was a thing, but I had no idea it was an easy thing!

Next up, Pepper and Parmesan variation:
Rating: 3 stars
What we liked: The flavor is light. It's a good choice for people who don't like the strong flavor of, say, movie theater popcorn.
What we didn't like: For me, the flavor was too light. And we added too much salt. Also, our cheese didn't melt and ended up just hanging out at the bottom of the bowl. This, of course, might explain why there wasn't much flavor.
For next time... I think this variation might still be a winner; it's at least worth one more shot. Next time, we'll definitely use less salt. We will also splurge for a block of Parmesan so we have very fresh, finely, finely grated cheese that will hopefully melt better.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Cooking Challenge

Today I've begun a journey. I have set a goal to cook my way through The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook. My goals in doing this are to:

  • Add some new recipes to our menu. We make some good food, but sometimes it feels like we get stuck in a food rut.
  • Learn some practical/technical cooking skills.
  • Encourage myself to try foods that I normally wouldn't. I've always been a picky eater, and I'd like to try to change that.
I chose the ATKQ cookbook for several reasons. Firstly, quick is good for me. The hardest thing about cooking for me is staying focused and being patient. Hopefully quick recipes will keep me from getting too distracted.  Secondly, like all of the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, this cookbook includes a lot of instruction and explanation. It tells you how to do something as well as why to do it. So, I feel like this cookbook will (generally) provide explanations for techniques or ingredients that I'm unfamiliar with.

Today, Mike and I cooked up Lemony Chicken and Rice Soup (pg. 35). This recipe didn't appeal to me at first glance, but the final product was amazing!

Rating: 4 stars (we liked it a lot!)

What we liked: We liked how pretty the soup turned out to be! The picture doesn't really do it justice, but the last step of the recipe is to add an egg yolk/lemon juice mixture. It made the soup this lovely sunshine yellow. It also gave the soup a very smooth, velvety texture. According to the cookbook, this recipe is "loosely based on the Greek classic avgolemono," so that's fun.

What I learned: To start with, I had never cooked with a fennel bulb, which this recipe required. In fact, we had no idea what it looked like when we went to the grocery store. But, now we know, and it was a tasty element to the soup.

The other thing I learned is how to temper eggs. As I mentioned, you add an egg mixture to the soup in the final stages. If you were to add the eggs directly to the soup, they would just scramble. So, before you add the mixture to the soup... you add soup to the mixture! By adding a few tablespoons of broth, you adjust the temperature of the eggs so that they make the soup smooth and delicious!

So far, this has been a very productive experiment! It may be a little dorky, but I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment as we sat down to eat. I'm excited for the next recipe! My goal is to do a new recipe once a week.

Monday, March 9, 2015

En Francais, S'il Vous Plait

Recently, I decided to dust off my French and try to level up my fluency. Mike suggested that I put my study into practice by reading an accessible book. A lot of consideration went into my choice, and I finally landed on this:
I chose to read the French translation of To Kill a Mockingbird because it's a text that I'm super familiar with. I've read it at least ten times because of teaching it so many times and because I love it. In the future, I'd like to do more with French literature, but for now my focus is simply putting the language in a context that helps me gain confidence.

My copy of the book arrived (shipping from England, oddly), and here's what I've gathered.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird is just so incredibly good. I am so excited to read it again. I have always enjoyed the book, but now I have a stockpile of memories of sharing this book with students. This book changes lives, and I'm so grateful I've gotten to witness that so many times.
  2. Initially, I thought that I would have a lot of remembering to do, and that with time it would be a relatively easy read. That's not really the case. There's a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary and structure, so I'm spending a lot of time with a dictionary. However, I do feel like things are getting easier as I go.
  3. I have so much to learn! My goal is to internalize the language a little bit better. I hope that will help me to be a more fluent speaker. And then, of course, I hope to have some authentic communication opportunities, like when I finally get to go on my dream vacation to Europe!
  4. It's exciting to learn! So often, the "to do lists" of life get in the way of making time for learning. It feels wonderful to be stretching and expanding my capabilities.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Movies

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is snuggling up with a snack and watching holiday movies. Here are a few of my all-time favorites.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph and it's hokey clay-mation have always been my favorite Christmas movie. I love Hermey and his dental ambitions, and I think Yukon Cornelius and his assortment of sled dogs are hilarious. As a kid, the Island of Misfit Toys really got to me. I would subsequently pile all of my stuffed animals on my bed to sleep with me so that they would know that I loved them all and they didn't need to be exiled. I can see why other people may not like it, but, to me, this movie is the essence of "classic Christmas."

What I love about Elf is Buddy's infectious joy. You can't listen to him talk about how much he loves Christmas and not start to think about how you love it too. I love the idea that we need to try to see Christmas the way that we did as kids. The truth is kids have a lot more fun, and, they often see important things more clearly than adults do.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Simple and sweet, A Charlie Brown Christmas is another classic. The Peanuts cast of characters and their Christmas plights are still relevant to the struggles we each face. Linus' voice-of-reason speech is touching and memorable. What's not to love?

The Muppet Christmas Carol
I love muppets so very much. If I had one wish, I might use it to wish that muppets were real. I also love classic literature, and this is hands down the most amusing adaptation of Dickens well-known and much-adapted story. The musical score is catchy and fun, and, of course, so are the asides by narrators Rizzo and Gonzo. Considering how great this movie is, and how great Muppet Treasure Island is, I would submit that there should be many, many more muppet literary adaptations in the world!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Taco Tour: Part 2

To continue our Taco Tour, we re-visited a new favorite with my mom, who had never been.

We discovered Taqueria 27 a few months ago. I had heard of it from coworkers who knew what they were talking about when it came to food. This is an important discovery because this is the place where I had a taco that made me care about tacos.

The thing about Taqueria 27 is that they have tacos with really cool twists. The ingredients are high-quality and put together in combinations that you wouldn't usually associate with Mexican food: duck confit, pork belly, Wagyu beef, bleu cheese... Definitely not traditional, but incredibly tasty. 

The taco that made me care about tacos is the Citrus Pork Carnitas taco. The ingredients are "slow roasted and shredded, charred tomatillo salsa, pickled red onion..." (which I skip) "... cilantro and chicharones." What I love about this taco is that it's not just a glob of meet with some stuff on it. There's a very subtle flavor because of the citrus. The chicharones give this taco an incredible texture. It's basically amazing. Also, it made me interested in trying other tacos, which is what led us to begin a taco tour! Here it is in all it's glory!
On our most recent trip, Mike tried the PBLTA (Pork Belly Lettuce Tomato Avocado) taco. Ingredients: "pork belly, lettuce, tomato and avacado with jalapeno mayo in flour tortillas." I didn't really branch out, but I was still happy with my choice! Here's a picture of Mike's taco. 

This was a very tasty taco. The pork belly was that cut and it was kind of amazing even though you knew it was not good for you. Avocado and tomato or really fresh and really counterbalance the fatty pork.

We found this restaurant about three months ago, and we've been at least five times. Go once, and you'll want to go again!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Taco Tour: Part 1

As a local exploration experiment, Mike and I are in the process of executing a taco tour. The goal of a taco tour is to visit as many fine, taco-serving establishments as possible and sample many (hopefully) delightful fare. We started our adventure last week.

Stop #1: Chow Truck

The first part of this stop was not getting run over by ecologically conscious and parking lot negligent REI shoppers. While our tacos cooked, we tried the root chips, a mixture of golden potatoes, purple potatoes, carrots, yams, beets, and lotus root. There were some subtle flavor differences, but they were fairly mild overall. We ordered two different tacos to share.

Calamari with Asian Spice
These were unanimously the favorite taco of the night. The calamari was tender and the seasoning was perfect. Calamari tacos seemed like a stretch, but the execution was spot on. We'll definitely go back for these!

Spicy Beef with Cilantro-Chile Pesto
Mike's second favorite and my third. The beef was tender and the sauce, though a bit on the juicy side, gave it a satisfying kick.

Stop #2: Luna Blanca Taqueria
Beautiful chalk art added to the funky artistic/Southwestern blend of this restaurant. The service was great, and we heard four Johnny Cash songs while we were there, so that's +10 points in my book. Again, we ordered two tacos to share.

Chicken with Avocado Crema
While completely good, this taco came in last for both of us. It was nice, but, just friends nice, you know? What we determined is that you either need dark meat or a really interesting sauce to make the chicken flavorful enough to be memorable. With a mild sauce and shredded breast meat, this taco just didn't leave an impression.

Seared Shrimp Taco with Avocado Crema
This was my second favorite and Mike's third. Another seafood win. The shrimp was chopped and very tender. The citrus marinade gave it a very fresh feeling. In the case of this taco, the avocado crema nicely accentuated the flavorful star of the show. Eating this shrimp taco reminded me of the kind of high quality seafood dishes that you generally only get when you're near the ocean.