Sunday, May 5, 2019

Playing in the Dirt


We've been in our new house now for 9 months, and the Coastal Spring weather is calling me outside every chance that I can get. So we've slowly been taking on the outdoor spaces, trying to make them feel like home, feel like ours, and look nice. It's been super frustrating that the builders who finished our home didn't take any care in dealing with the landscaping or finishing touches on the house, so a lot of it needs to be re-done. I've been tackling the gardening a little at a time each weekend for the last month or so, and it's starting to come along.

I started with a few new plants that felt more like "me," and they've already been growing and flowering. When I get home from work in the evenings, the sun is still nice and warm out in the yard, and it's a calming task to go out and water the plants. What I should have done though was to clean up the plants that were ugly, overgrown and misplaced all around the yard in the first place. So that's what I did today. I pulled up 7 giant bushes that looked more like weeds than anything else, and it's finally making the area look less like an overgrown mess.

The issue now is that those weedy-looking bushes took up a lot of space, so now the beds look oddly placed and sparse. So that will be my project next weekend. Once all of that looks good, I have 10 giant bags of mulch sitting in the garage, ready to go. It should come together soon.  <3


Mole in the Slow Cooker


This time, instead of boiling the chicken thighs and simmering the Mole Sauce on the stove, I decided to make the Mole and then put it in the slow cooker to go all day. I really preferred this cooking method as it was so much easier. I feel like the sauce also got deeper and richer, and the chicken had better flavor it in by letting them cook together all day.

I unfortunately made the same mistake this time with the Mole Sauce as I did last time... I forgot to strain it before I put it in the Slow Cooker with the chicken, so it came out grainy again. Last time we did this, we went out to the store and found a really nice, high quality strainer for just this purpose, and I somehow still forgot to do this step. Will definitely have to remember to do it next time.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Carbonara: Over-Salted Water


The second time we did Carbonara this year felt like it was going to be perfect! I was getting the egg to cheese ratio right. The amount of pasta water on the noodles was creating the right consistency, and the bacon was nice and crispy. I'd used some local Parmesean with great flavor, and I was sure the only thing missing was a true Guanciale instead of bacon.

It turns out that we learned a huge lesson though with this dish. We over-salted our pasta water. The hubs and I watch enough TV cooking shows to hear over and over again that the "pasta water should taste like the sea." So we went all in. That pasta water was super salty, just the way we thought it should be... and the dish turned out to be so salty that it was almost inedible.  :(

So a few things to remember here:

  1. We are not "salt people." We buy unsalted pretzels, low sodium tuna, and 60% reduced salt potato chips. There is no reason for us to be cooking meals for ourselves that match other peoples' definition of "salty enough."
  2. Making your pasta water "taste like the sea" when you're making gnocchi or fresh pasta makes sense. Those items only go in the water for a few minutes, and need extra salt in the water so that it can absorb any at all. Using the same amount of salt with dry Bucatini, when it needs to boil in the water for at least 9 minutes is not the same. It allows for too much time to absorb.
  3. Carbonara is already pretty salty. Bacon, eggs and Parmesean Cheese are salty in and of themselves. Adding all of those ingredients to a super salty pasta is just not necessary.
On top of that, I am at my wit's end trying to find Guanciale here in the Bay Area of California. I kind of can't believe it. The little hipster place that's located near our favorite brewery is probably sick of seeing us pop in every other week, asking if theirs is ready to sell yet... Although I honestly blame them for telling me each time I go in there that, "It will be ready in another two weeks." Seriously, they've been telling me that for the last four months.

I only know of one place that is guaranteed to have Guanciale, and it means a drive all the way back up to Los Altos. It was a three minute walk away from our last apartment, and I apparently took that WAY for granted. Coming up with a reason to drive all the way up there is not easy. The traffic is horrible, and there are definite reasons why we left Los Altos... but it seems I'm going to need to suck it up and just do it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

A Month of Updates


Sunday, March 10th: Jambalaya #2

Our second attempt at Jambalaya was super successful. We'd changed up a few of the spice ratios to amplify the heat, and it paid off. The only new note that we had for the next time around was to add more chicken. It ended up being "sausage-heavy," and even though that's not really a bad note, we did think that one more chicken thigh would make it just about perfect.







Sunday, March 17th: Product Strategy Meeting at Specialized

My first time presenting to the Global Market Leaders as a Product Manager at Specialized. I was told after the day finished that I somehow made the budget, revenue and numbers side of our business sound exciting and fun to listen to. haha  Super proud of the team and everything that we put together for this meeting. It was the first time since my tenure at Specialized started (almost 3 years ago now) that I've seen excitement about the apparel business.


Sunday, March 24th: Gnocchi #2

Gnocchi is just going to always be an all-day process, I think. Because it felt so stressful the first time, I started everything around noon this time, and we were ready for dinner around 6:00pm. ha!  The process was a lot easier though, not feeling rushed. I was able to make the gnocchi a proper (smaller) size this time around because I wasn't too impatient to make so many. And the sauce turned out delicious again.

Same issue as last time with the sauce though: we didn't find uncooked duck legs in time to make the dish, so we used lamb again. Hoping to finally use duck legs the third time around, although we also keep feeling like this sauce is pretty heavy. Perhaps there is a lighter version of a sauce that can utilize the duck legs? Or we could save them for round #4? We'll see...


Sunday, March 31st: Chicken Coconut Curry #2

This time around, I was able to find true coconut cream (instead of coconut milk), and we used Chicken Thighs instead of breasts. I'm not kidding, this dish was practically perfect. I would eat this all the time, and it's really quite simple of a dish compared to some of the others we've chosen to learn! Similar to the Jambalaya, we were probably a Chicken Thigh short of a truly perfect ratio to potatoes, but that was genuinely our only note.

Because this turned out so great, we're considering moving on to try making different kinds of curry in future months. We just need to write down exactly what we did with this recipe, and replicate this happiness whenever we want this meal!


I also finally conquered my fear of Hollandaise sauce. I decided to look up a specific "single serving" recipe instead of trying to take a bigger recipe and figure out the proper ratios. (That wasn't working for me at all). I had a very happy plate of Eggs Benedict at home last Sunday, as well.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Santa Cruz 5K: March 3, 2019


A few months back, I was looking for something to kick my motivation back into gear so I signed up for a local 5K race. I didn't really get in all of the training that I needed, but it did force me to get in more running than I've done in quite some time.

My run time was slow, but it felt good to get back out at an event. My mother in law, on the other hand, kicked butt at the race and came in third in her age group!! She smoked me by more than five minutes, and it was fun to have someone to race with.

I'm hoping that our upcoming summer vacation will help to be my new motivation for working out. Bathing suit season is always a reason to get myself into the gym, so hopefully I can keep up the routine.




Chicken Pad Thai Round 1


We had a recipe on deck for Pad Thai, which we'd already made a few notes on. From the last time we made it, we were looking to make a version that was less sweet and more spicy. It helped that we were able to find all of the right ingredients this time around, instead of trying to substitute. On top of that, we added a lot more Cayenne Pepper and it did come out with quite a good kick!

Next time around, we need to put in less bean sprouts. The recipe calls for 3 full cups of it, and we just don't think we need that much. To add a little more crunch to the dish, we also think it would be good to chop up some fresh peppers.

It also goes without saying that I need to use a bigger pan next time.  hahaha  It was a bit of a mess in the medium size skillet.




February Parmesan Risotto


It had been quite a while since we made risotto, and I was interested in seeing if we had picked up any good tips from all the cooking shows we watch. The biggest tip I was sure would help was making sure the broth was warmed before we started cooking with it. And I'm not sure if that was the only thing that helped, but this latest version turned out pretty good.

 


We think that we might use a little less white wine next time, and sub some if it with fresh lemon juice. Despite adding the wine at the beginning of the cooking process, it still didn't cook all the way out. We also want to add a little more Parmesan to the final stir to make it a little more flavorful.

I do attribute a huge amount of the result to the local, fresh cheese that we found. We bought two blocks of it, so we'll also use it in the next round of Carbonara. Big game changer to have amazing ingredients to cook with!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Chicken Mole in February


After two weeks off from it, we baked another loaf of Sourdough this weekend. It's surprising how much you realize that you got into a groove with the process of making bread. Then, when you don't do it for a couple weeks, you kind of forget. But despite my fumbling on the technique, the bread turned out great this time around.


Tonight, we made our first attempt at Chicken Mole. This is going to be a tricky dish to get right... or at least to make a version that we're both happy to eat every time.

First thing we noticed was that the recipe didn't take an entire weekend to complete. It wasn't the fastest process ever, but I was really expecting it to take at least two days to taste right. And after finishing the meal, I do think that it would have benefited from a longer cook time to bring all the flavors together. Next time, I'd like to try to do something in the slow cooker, and we need to strain the sauce a little more, so that it's not so grainy.

I also am not a fan of the Anise that goes into the recipe. It's just a flavor that I don't like. So next time, I think we're going to eliminate that as well.

It's hard to know how else to tweak this recipe. There are so many ingredients and steps to it, that knowing how to change up just a few things to make it better is tough. This one is going to take us a few times to really figure out, but that's why we're doing it!




Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sushi Class


I had a strong feeling that Sushi was going to be a meal that required both technique and flavors that we did not understand at all. So we decided to take a Sushi-making class together last weekend.

The price of the class was well worth it, considering that we learned more more in two hours there than we probably would have in several tries at home, on our own. The Sushi we made was delicious, and now I just hope that we can make it just as great at home next time!


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bucket Day Beer Release


How often do you get to cross something off your bucket list? It's such a cool experience to be doing something that you've been thinking about for years, just waiting to get the chance to complete. In July of 2017, I did yoga on Bali and crossed that one off my list. Later that year, I went to Rome with the hubs and crossed that one off the list. In December of 2017, we got to see USC play OSU in the Cotton Bowl, and crossed that in-house rivalry game off our list, too. (Sounds like 2017 was a really great year for my bucket list!!)

This past weekend, we started 2019 off with another one. We headed up to Russian River Brewery to stand in line for one of the top rated beers in the world: Pliny the Younger. My husband has carried around a list of the top 100 beers in his wallet for the last decade, but many of them are special releases and very difficult to come by. This one has always been at the top of this list, and something we've had our eye on almost as long as we've been together,

My parents were in town this last week, and we were planning to head up to Santa Rosa to do some wine tasting and tours with them this past weekend. Once we finally got into doing some research about any events going on up there, we realized that we would be in the area at the same time as the Pliny annual release! So we drove up in the morning on Friday the first, to see what the line looked like. And (although this sounds insane) when we found out that the line would only be 1-2 hours long, we decided to wait to get in for lunch. (Traditionally, the line has been no shorter than 6 hours on the first day of the release).



We had so much fun at the brewpub. The experience of the day was so unique, and it was fun to share it with loved ones. The beer is indeed excellent, and the food at the restaurant was great. It's always fun to be a part of an event that involves such oddly like-minded people, and despite the chilly, rainy wait under the tents, I am so glad that we did it!


Bucatini Carbonara


So the Carbonara thing has been on my list for a long time, and I've been trying to perfect it for the last few years. So it's not like this was the first time I'd ever made the dish, and it's also not the first time I've ever made it right. My goal this year, though, is to master this dish.

Last weekend, I added another egg yolk and another 0.5 ounces of Parmesean to the recipe I've been using. It did come out better, but it's still not the best I've ever had.

When we were in Rome, Italy in 2017, I had a bowl of Rigatoni Carbonara that literally made me cry. The first bite was so unbelievably delicious that it brought tears to my eyes, which subsequently didn't stop running down my face. I'm not sure if any of you have had a meal that made you feel so emotionally floored that it genuinely brought tears out of you, but this is what happened to me. So this is now the benchmark.

Next time we do this dish, I'm feeling confident in the level of eggs and egg yolks I've put into the dish. I found some fresh, local Parmesean Cheese options to grate that I really think are going to amplify the flavor. So I'm pretty excited to do this one, the next time around.



Sunday, January 20, 2019

Yellow Coconut Curry


YELLOW CHICKEN COCONUT CURRY:

This weekend's recipe was delightfully simple to make, in comparison to some others we've had. The recipe I found online required that a Yellow Curry Paste be made a day prior to the actual cooking, so the most time consuming part of the dish was actually all done a day ahead. We're definitely learning that Chicken Thighs are better than Breasts when simmering and stewing the meat, so we'll try that next time. And I couldn't find Coconut Cream at the store, so I went with good old Coconut Milk. Still came out tasting great, but I bet that Cream would have really made it amazing. On a mission to find that somewhere in this city before the next time we do this.




SOURDOUGH BREAD:

This week was a good one. Not sure what we did that was too different from last week, other than making sure we definitely stopped the proofing process at the exact right time. Still not convinced the 20 minutes we were late last week caused the issue, but I don't know what else it could have been.

We have the texture and color down at this point. Still just searching for that very sour tang... A continued work in progress.

EGGS BENEDICT:

I refused to do this again this weekend. I'm frustrated that it's not as easy as I think it should be (I know that's stupid, but so be it...) Plus, I spent a good portion of the weekend at my work computer, trying to catch up in a single weekend a year's worth of ignored responsibilities by a team member who just left our group. I didn't really have the time to make three rounds of Hollandaise Sauce again. Maybe I'll try again next week. Or maybe I'll find a good brunch place near-by.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Gnocchi Number One


Eggs Benedict turned out better this week, but still not great. Last week I over-cooked everything, so naturally, I under-cooked everything this week. Poached eggs were too runny (2 minutes is also not better than 3), and the Hollandaise came out too runny. I'm sure I was afraid of over-cooking the egg yolks again and pulled them off too soon.



Sourdough loaf this week took an interesting turn. After a couple weeks of amazing Sourdough flavor, we're edging back toward the good old White Bread loaf we started out with a couple months ago. Trying to think about how we can keep the starter as sour as we want it while keeping up with feedings as it needs. Tricky balance that we still have yet to even begin figuring out.

For our first attempt at Gnocchi, I turned to my new obsession, Nancy Silverton. In her Mozza Cookbook, she has a Gnocchi with Duck Ragu recipe that we decided to try. Unfortunately, the meat in our grocery store is not exactly the greatest, and unless we wanted to buy a whole frozen duck (that felt harder than a rock this morning in the grocery store freezer), then we needed to find an alternative. So we bought Lamb instead.

The meal turned out amazing. The gnocchi was actually gnocchi for the first time, instead of turning into mashed potatoes at the last minute. I would attribute some of that to the straining technique we used this time vs. what we've done in past attempts. When we used a colander in the sink to drain the water, the gnocchi seemed to always condense and mush together into a fancy version of mashed potatoes. Using the wire strainer to pull the gnocchi out of the water prevented that from happening this time, and made a huge difference. The size of the gnocchi turned out a little large. I think they're supposed to be smaller... But otherwise, they were fantastic! (Thank you, Nancy!!)



The sauce was very good. The Lamb was a good substitute for the Duck, although we'd like to try and actually find Duck Legs one of the next times we try this. And the idea of maybe adding a little heat was intriguing. We keep hearing about Calabrian chili sauce. Maybe that would be good here? We'd also be interested in trying a Brown Butter sauce instead, or something maybe a little less acidic.  Overall though, an amazing start to this cooking challenge!