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!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

January Jambalaya


EGGS BENEDICT:

I have made one perfect Eggs Benedict in my life. A beautiful Hollandaise Sauce with flawlessly Poached Eggs. I kind of thought I had it down.

Today, I was rudely reminded that the Eggs Benedict I refer to above was made more than a year ago. The version I made this morning was a sorry excuse for the dish, and if served at a restaurant, would have been thrown back in the chef's face. I attempted my first round of Hollandaise as a single serving, cutting down the recipe I had to a single egg yolk and all other ingredients at the same ratio. It was going alright until I poured in too much Worcestershire Sauce and walked away for 10 seconds too long, totally scrambling the egg. I thought I could salvage it, but the sauce turned out runny and gross. In the trash it went.


I quickly rebounded to made a second attempt at the sauce, this time babysitting it like I knew I was supposed to. I got the sauce to a good consistency, but the butter I'd rationed out hadn't all been used up yet. So instead of being smart and just stopping where it looked good, I tried to get all the butter in there. And of course, it also looked way to runny now. So I threw in another egg yolk. Bad idea. The sauce thickened a little more, but it was not right. I still ate it though.

My eggs were poached well (a little over done - 3 minutes is better than 4), and the ham was delicious. English Muffin was under toasted though, and now I have two rounds of sauce dishes to worry about cleaning for the rest of my morning. I look forward to hopefully doing better next week.


SOURDOUGH BREAD:

Something went slightly awry with the bread loaf this week. When we made the dough, I forgot to stir the starter before using it, and I think that was the major issue. We didn't get the same rise out of it during the proofing processes, and it ended up baking very oddly... the center rose almost too well, while the exterior "skin" barely grew at all. We ended up with an almost rose-like shape this week which feels very dense and heavy. We also unfortunately found an undercooked portion in the center of the bread. The taste, however, is just as good as last time. So we will be happy to still enjoy it very much this week!



JAMBALAYA #1:

We needed a base to start out with for Jambalaya, because I didn't have a saved recipe from any time we may have cooked it before! So we started with Emeril's Jambalaya recipe that we found on the food network's recipe website. It was a really good start, but we've already taken a few notes for next time: more salt, less rice (it made SO MUCH), less cook time for the shrimp, more paprika for the color, and chicken and sausage are always so much better when they're hard seared first. So we'll try all of that next time. Notes are taken, recipe is revised and we're ready for the week ahead. 5 day countdown to the next adventure!



Saturday, January 5, 2019

Our 2019 Resolution


Now that we're settled into our new house with a gorgeous kitchen, calling my name every weekend, we've decided to use this year as a time to master some of our favorite dishes. All of them are challenging in some way, requiring some practice and time to master. Some require lots of technique while others need help getting the spice level and taste just right.

We figured out of 52 weeks, there will likely be at least 4 that require us to travel somewhere for something. So we figured 48 weeks of cooking: 8 different meals, cooking them 6 times this year to see if we can get them to a point of "easy."
  1. Jambalaya
  2. Gnocchi
  3. Chicken Coconut Curry
  4. Spaghetti Carbonara
  5. Sushi
  6. Chicken Thigh Mole
  7. Parmesan Risotto
  8. Chicken Pad Thai
We figure that each of these lend themselves to lots of learning. And if we start getting flavors right in the first few tries, there are other challenges we can throw ourselves into. Jambalaya might get us into our own sausage making, and Spaghetti Carbonara might allow us to learn how to make a great home-made noodle. But first, we need to master the sauces and flavors.

Today or tomorrow, we will start with some Jambalaya. I'm going straight to the obvious choice and we're going to make Emeril's Cajun Jambalaya recipe this first time around. I figure we can't get a better start than with the king of Cajun food, right? From there, we'll take some notes on what we liked, didn't like, and what to do different next time.

We'll also keep up with the Sourdough, especially now that our Starter is so much better. And I also have a personal goal to master the perfect Eggs Benedict (Hollandaise Sauce and a Poached Egg to perfection still evade me). But since the hubs won't eat that meal, I just need to maybe start my own little tradition.

So Happy New Year to all of you - here's hoping that you are just as excited about your 2019 Resolutions as we are about ours.  <3