July 30, 2009

Waiting for my butter to soften

A's birthday is coming up in approximately 48 hours and I have been working my fingers to the bone conceptualizing her cake and as what I thought would be a sweet and relatively cheap romantical birthday present. Who doesn't want a homemade/completely made-from-scratch cake for their birthday? Well, let me just say this has neither been a cheap nor easy process. I made part one (half) of the cake before my beer and popcorn snack (pictured above - YUM). But this started way before baking commenced in La Kitchen Chicana.

My plans were put into action on Wednesday when I took a trip to Williams Sonoma at the one and only "Place for fun in your life" Mall of America to get some supplies. For one aspect of the cake I was in need of a fine mesh strainer much like this one. In fact I did get the mid-size one, of course it was missing it's price tag and me being me thought, oh well, how bad can it be? Well, $45 later I guess that's how bad. Shit.

The ideas behind the trip and plannings and several baking jobs is due to the grand (casino) celebration I am planning for A's birthday. We will not be home to celebrate A's birthday, Sunday August 2nd, rather we will be relaxing and playing slots and bingo, a snapshot of our future old-lady relationship of when we'll be at the bingo hall after some seventy years of bliss much like these amazing women. So, as we celebrate her 29th year I decided I would bake a mini-cake so that we could just transport a small cake that could easily be consumed in one sitting by two people. Thus the planning, baking and messing began. This also led to me having to purchase 4 6oz ramekins (also another pricy investment), an offset spatula for icing another pretty penny. Well, I'm sure you get the point, I have to make these cakes freaking good otherwise my investment (I should've seriously bought stock in Williams Sonoma) will be for naught.

This is what my kitchen looked like after I had completed about 1.5 aspects of a 3-part cake. Clearly I cannot divulge what I was up to in the kitchen because I'm sure A is waiting on the edge of her seat to see this blog post. I'm amazed her presents are still wrapped! Here you can see some chocolatey goodness in my bowl ready to be saran wrapped and lidded into the fridge to rest until cake construction day (tomorrow!) But this picture is really a testament to the unspoken aspects to cooking and baking projects. The mess. Seriously, you should see my La Kitchen Chicana when I'm in there doing my thing, it's like a tornado. This is after I had already cleaned up from a raspberry concoction (part .5 of 3) and this was the second time I had to face the mess tonight! The messes were so bad I am kind of dreading the actual baking day tomorrow!

Doing the dishes isn't exactly a loathsome task and I love to have a clean kitchen. Perhaps I feel this way because I have the luxury of my own in-apartment dishwasher. But I digress, I had plenty of time to contemplate my cake and my blog posts, and my dissertation outlining. I had the water up so high that I got a mini-facial out of the deal. I also felt quite refreshed from the hot, steamy water giving me somewhat of a heating treatment for my right wrist that was sore from transcribing today.

I did manage to fix La Kitchen Chicana up after a long day. A special note to The Lone Baker, thank you. Many of the things I did tonight could not have been possible without your love, patience, guidance and generosity. I would not have my cuisinart food processor that I used twice this evening. I would not have nearly the motivation to make delicious food. I wouldn't be able to admire my broiler king griddle on top of my stove because that is its home for now, I may not have been inspired to be baking and cooking all of the time for A. I definitely wouldn't have my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer which will be put to use tomorrow for my cake batter. Lone Baker, you are an inspiration, thank you for believing, thanks for answering my questions at all times of the day, especially when I'm in the Barnes & Noble cookbook section wondering what cake book I should buy. A and I love you very much!

Guacamole Guacamole!

Well, I have returned safely from my cross-country trip to my honey A telling me "guess what honey?! I volunteered you to make guacamole for my staff retreat tomorrow!" My response... hmmm, I'm not really in the mood and I'm not that confident in my abilities but since it involves an avocado (or three specifically) I guess I'll give it a try. It's not like I haven't made it before, or seen my abuela make many batches upon batches of guacamole with freshly squeezed lemonada yum! But, it's just guacamole is such a personal thing, so many different ingredients can be chosen or omitted so this leads to a dish that many people expect different things from. Imagine my trepidation then when I needed to make enough guacamole for seven of the Minnesota Justice Foundation's finest. This post is especially difficult because as my abuela cooks, there is no true "recipe" it's more like throw a little of this in, a little of that, as you'll see on the recipe card almost all of the ingredients have "to taste" after them. So, it's up to you and I even had to estimate how much of each ingredient I actually put in to actually post this entry! Not too easy!

Because I HATE brown avocado I tend to chop up everything that I am going to put in my guacamole before I peel the avocados. Here you see my delicious tomatoes. You can of course use any kind but these looked the best in the produce aisle so I cut them into fourths.

Then I chopped up my cilantro, with some help from two out of three of my kitchen assistants! The process of taking pictures was time consuming and I was supposed to have my dish ready to go and A came home to get her guacamole and was not happy when she found me taking pictures of my ingredients! But, look at how cute Sandie and A are as they're helping me rinse the cilantro!

After you wash, mince and chop all of your ingredients: tomato, pepper, cilantro, peel your avocados, de-pit them and cut them up into at least quarters. They should slice very easily. **Side note: look at my new shiny red bread box that A bought me

It's so wonderful to have a photographer during my cooking time! A totally helped me by taking photos of all of my steps (almost) from here on out.

At this point squeeze one half of a lime onto your avocado to prevent browning. You can of course use less, but I am a major lime addict.

Unfortunately because of time constraints I wasn't able to fully document my new jalapeño corer that I picked up along my many travels in Nuevo Mejico. It was AMAZING! I cut off the top of the pepper and then inserted my corer in, and gently and quickly scraped out the insides of my pepper! This made slicing and dicing the pepper absolutely amazing!

From this step you need to add all of your ingredients to the bowl, your garlic, salt, tomatoes, cilantro, black pepper, onion if you're using it (I had a special request not to so it's not here) and mash mash mash! I used a big fork, I don't really know of any other tool that will do the trick as well as a good ole fork.

Your finished product should look something like this. Here's the portion of guacamole I took for myself to ensure that I had actually made it edible for others. Unfortunately in A's haste to get to her staff retreat she took my pretty bowl full of guacamole away. But you get the picture, guacamole is like your favorite i-pod playlist, only you know what you want and what will make it good, but there are also always crowd favorites that many people might enjoy.

Off to my next project! I'm baking a cake for A's birthday this weekend and I still have plenty to write about from my travels, including my abuela's enchiladas that are about the best thing I've ever eaten. Yum. Off to my Boulevard Wheat and popcorn snack now!

July 15, 2009

Away from my Kitchen

I just wanted to let everyone (who cares anyways) know that I am currently on my dissertation research expedition across the country. So, this means La Kitchen Chicana is going to be kind of empty of Chicana cooking anyways. Although A did assure me that she would take some pictures of the meals she'll prepare for herself but I took the camera on my trip in hopes of perhaps doing some reviews of the delicious meals I might encounter on my travels. Think Rachel Ray's $40 a day meets Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel. Well, that's rather ambitious but, I'll try to keep abreast of any food interests that might influence my kitchen somehow.

Of course, it's my only night in Lawrence and I left the camera at my friend's house so we're clearly off to a good start.

I guess these will just have to be "mental pictures", 'cause let's face it, when was the last time you heard Lawrence, Topeka or Emporia, Kansas were exactly culinary epicenters anyways? Maybe it's best that the camera was left at home so as to not document my oh-so-soon consumption of a drenched with house-made spicy mustard grilled turkey sandwich and (at least) 3 wheat state golden beers from Freestate Brewing Company that is about to commence in t-minus 2 hours...

July 13, 2009

Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes

I got this recipe from my wonderful hairdresser K who got it out of a Cooking Light magazine - I think this is where it's from, sorry I don't have the exact reference but I'm pretty sure this is where it came from. It's delicious and nutritious for two pancakes it's 160 calories with 5 grams of fat. I've doubled the batch which usually yields about 16 pancakes. Keep in mind you do need to soak your oats overnight in the buttermilk, so if you're going to make these delicious treasures you need to plan in advance.

Add two cups of oats to two and a half cups of buttermilk. Then you put this into the fridge to marinate overnight.

It will look like this before you put it in the fridge overnight. A note about these pancakes -they are absolutely divine. You know it must be true because in general I HATE pancakes, yet I crave these. My hate-affair with pancakes began when I was about 10 years old. My family had moved to the beautiful island of Kawaii for the summer for my dad's work and he had promised to take my brother on a deep-sea fishing trip. I should say that this might have been my first feminist moment, I loudly protested that it wasn't fair that my brother got to go deep-sea fishing and I didn't. So, the morning of the expedition we rose early and were treated to some buttermilk pancakes from the box, you know the kind. I gobbled them down with my stomach turning from being up so early and for my first trip on the open sea. I don't remember much of the trip because I was in a sea sick haze, I did see dolphins, which was awesome because at the time I wanted to be a marine biologist. But the point of this story is that I tossed my pancakes right overboard. And ever since then well, pancakes have never been the same, let's just keep it at that.

These pancakes however, will never be tossed. After they've soaked overnight the batter is a lot thicker. See exhibit A above.

Add all of the ingredients to the oat and buttermilk ingredients. 1/2 cup egg beaters (or three egg whites), 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup flax seed (I never have this on hand so I leave it out), 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Mix all of your ingredients together and you are ready to make some delicious pancakes.

This was my first experience with my Broil King griddle - I must say, it sure beats making pancakes two at a time on a skillet on the stove, when you flip them they don't flip and then they're a crumpled mess - well with the Broil King there are no worries of that happening unless you're totally inept and you try to flip your pancakes too soon.

Kind of like here. I didn't flip toooooo soon, but I could've left them on their back side just a wee bit longer. The normal procedure with pancakes is to flip when there are no more bubbles in the batter. With the Broil King however I noticed that it was time to flip when the outer edges of the batter on top began to brown, it was quite helpful to notice this small change in your pancake! Flipping on the royal Broil King was a dream come true.

This was my first set (clearly they're a bit misshapen - but I cut off the bits around their edges with my spatula and those were sent to my kitchen assistant for tasting.

I think she likes them.

I tried to capture the browning around the edges of the pancakes in this photo, not sure you can see it, but the batter changes colors around the outside and makes for a good indication for proper flippage.

I got kind of confident for round two when I decided I would put up six pancakes at once. Yes, six pancakes at once! This was pretty much a dream come true!

Look at what beautiful pancakes I've made, see this is why if you don't really like pancakes this will draw you in and make you crave them! They're soft and chewy and a little sweet from the honey and delectably cinnamony.

They were so good that Kitchen Assistant #2 (JoJo) thought maybe she would come and check out what was going on in the kitchen. Kitchen Assistant #1 (Sandie) took some issue with this - she did end up getting pancake bits between each batch. Who can blame her?

My finished product. I decided to let them cool on a rack because A was still asleep when I made these early on Sunday morning, you can't see the time on the oven but it was 8:30am or so. She was asleep and I didn't want them to get soggy. Again, I often make 16 because I'll have two when they're hot with some delicious maple syrup and then refrigerate the others and have them as tasty snacks later. A little peanut butter on top is a major power booster, I'll eat one in the mornings before going to the gym and it will give me amazing energy then I'll have another one when I get home to make it until lunch. They're really filling even though they aren't very many calories, they're thick and chewy and you won't be disappointed. I promise you won't want to toss these bad boys!

July 11, 2009

Works in progress

So, as my loyal readers may or may not know, yes all three of you, I am about to embark on a two week dissertation research quest "vacation". If by vacation one means doing five interviews over a five day period then a 10+ hour drive and another interview and then an academic conference then yes, call it a vacation. But how this all relates to the kitchen is a funny story. You see, A has these "ideas" about what the good "rich wife" should do when she leaves her "rich husband" to fend for herself. She had a quip about me preparing meals in advance and then labeling each with reheating instructions for all 13 days I'll be gone. I said, "yeah right". See I tend to think that if/when I am actually a "rich wife" then I might be a little more inclined - as it stands however I just like to pretend to be one.

But the point of this longwinded story is that I tried to find a recipe that would be quick and easy but would also be able to be frozen and eaten at another time. NOT because I needed to keep A fed while on my "vacation" but because as an occasional temp worker I'm often trying to find something quick and easy to take to lunch that's really a no-fuss kind of thing. So, on the world wide web I found a delicious and nutritious idea for a sweet potato and black bean burrito which of course I would add my own touches to. The best part of this story is when I told A about my plans she said something like, "who's going to eat that?!" But that response, my friends, is for another post.

Using my bean pot from The Lone Baker which had to take an 8 hour soak today since I hadn't used it in a while, here are my black beans soaking with some cilantro sprigs. Doesn't that look yummy? I'm super excited about what's to come from this. I've started to become rather snobbish about sodium in my food, and other additives that one finds in a variety of foods. The recipe can definitely use canned black beans, which you know people always advocate for rinsing and draining to rid yourself of the salt they add to the cans, but I decided to do my beans the good old fashioned way. I thought, hey, I've got time on my hands, I'm only supposed to be writing a dissertation, what's a little bean soak going to harm anyone? As per winePhixation's request I will be posting the rest of the experience as I continue on with it tomorrow.

In other news The Lone Baker sent me this amazingly large Broiler King electric griddle for my pancake making. I'm thinking I'll be making up a batch of oatmeal pancakes courtesy of my friend K via a cooking light magazine... I should look up that exact reference when I post the recipe tomorrow. But here it is in all its glory - ready for some pancakes and A also noted, concurrent quesadilla making! Yum!

I couldn't help but share this photo of our cat who I found wrapped up in the bubblewrap that came around Mr. Broiler King. She is my second kitchen assistant but she usually just lays in the light of the sun streaming through the window or at the base of the refrigerator most often she is in the way of me opening said fridge's door, or in the path of my other kitchen assistant, Sandie scrambling underfoot toward falling food. I love my little family - A, Sandie and JoJo make cooking worth it!

July 05, 2009

The Lone Baker and La Kitchen Chicana Collaboration

The wonderful Fourth of July holiday took A and I to visit her mother (who happens to be The (one and only) Lone Baker and step-father in the lovely Moorhead, Minnesota. (Side note: The above picture documents a lot of flooding up in the Red River Valley which is exactly where we were - see the debris piled up on this bridge? Scary! Moorhead and Fargo are ok now, I just thought this was a cool pic of some of the damage the area had recently dealt with.)

Before we left, The Lone Baker called to make sure that I was bringing up my New Mexican Red Chile Sauce because she was preparing pulled pork for tacos and wanted to marinate it in my sauce! For her pulled pork recipe, see her blog entry on the subject: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork. I was excited yet nervous, knowing that the entire dinner was pretty much hinged on my sauce - if it wasn't good, the whole meal would be ruined! We pulled into town and The Lone Baker said hi quickly and then proceeded to ask where the sauce was! We brought it inside and it went straight onto her pulled pork and marinated as we settled into to our wonderful accommodations. The aroma quickly filled the house and our mouths were watering! The other main event of the night was that The Lone Baker had made corn tortillas for our tacos - and a delicious faux chile releño which set off the meal perfectly. The tacos were great, and everyone loved our meat and sauce collaboration! I just wish I would've taken some pictures and truly documented our tacos because they were great.

Here's a picture of our marinated pulled pork the next day, there was so much left over we decided to do a red chile pulled pork quesadilla an even truer collaboration because The Lone Baker was so inspired by my chicken quesadilla post that she wanted to try out some quesadillas with the left over pork and the left over homemade corn tortillas. Note the beautiful light that comes into the Lone Baker's Kitchen and the wonderful materials she has to work with! Here are quesadillas with a layer of cheese and the pulled pork adorning them. Don't they look marvelous? We decided to do three flour and three corn tortillas.

Here's another shot of our flour tortillas waiting for their final touches. Another layer of delicious cheese and it's flour tortilla hat.

I was in charge of finishing these up while The Lone Baker worked on preparing the pans and the corn tortillas.

On the corn tortillas we used queso fresco. Look at how beautiful they looked! And if we thought we would even make a dent in our pork we were seriously mistaken!

All of our friends coming together nicely.

The marinated shredded pork was so good A ran in from the living room and just had to have a few bites!

Here are our quesadillas all in a pan making friends and getting melty! I am so jealous of the Lone Baker's equipment - she cooked up all of them at once! In my kitchen one quesadilla per skillet- two if I'm working with the small corn tortillas!

The Lone Baker's kitchen is magnificent.

She finds these amazing tools just hidden in her bountiful cabinets! This is her birthday present and it sliced and diced these quesadillas in seconds!

As you can see the flours were quickly devoured and the corns were on deck.

During the meal I managed to catch this lovely shot. I promise I wasn't the only one eating - it seems as though the Lone Baker, Mr. Lone Baker and A are a bit camera shy. But, clearly they were enjoying the meal because it was quickly disappearing.

I had so much fun at The Lone Baker's house - there was delicious food every meal and I felt I contributed a valuable addition to two of them. I came home two pounds heavier than I left - I'm not exaggerating, the scale at the gym told me so this morning. But, overall it was worth it. On the way home we heard a statistic on the radio about how the French eat and live the best in the world - that opposed to Americans who spend an average of 40 minutes eating per day the French spend hours. We chuckled to ourselves that amidst the corn tortillas, red chile pulled pork, fresh baked bread, steaks, potatoes, and delicious homemade shortbread, that this is definitely never the case at the Lone Baker's - where we all eat like royalty, or at least like the French.

July 02, 2009

Tasty Chicken Quesadillas

Last night I cooked up one of my quick and easy favorites - chicken quesadillas! Delish! Always a crowd favorite. A always gives my meals a 1 through 5 star rating. 1 star means it was inedible, 2 stars means A will never eat it again, 3 stars means it was ok, maybe could tweak a few things, 4 stars means she wants it again, but it could still be improved and 5 stars means it was perfect and she wants it again next week. Needless to say, this meal is a 5 star all the time! The beauty of a quesadilla is that you can use what you have at home and experiment with different ingredients. And La Kitchen Chicana is always stocked with tortillas and cheese.

Here are my ingredients for the night. Now, I am no Sham-dra Lee but I do like to take shortcuts in the kitchen when I can and when it doesn't jeopardize the overall quality of my end product. So, I usually use the left over aspects of a whole rotisserie chicken as my protein, shred it quickly and it's ready to go. The debate between corn or flour tortillas is one that often weighs heavily on me. Lucky for me, A loves flour tortilla quesadillas while I prefer corn. As a Chicana I love both - corn from the homeland and flour from Nuevo Mexico. New Mexican food rarely uses corn tortillas whereas Mexican food (authentic) rarely uses flour. You can understand my confusion then when it's time to put the tortillas on the skillet, topped with cheese. It's also incredibly important to have all of your materials ready to go as it literally takes seconds for the cheese to melt. As you can see in my photo I decided I would be adding in some avocado to make the best quesadilla I possibly could last night.

I've heard of some people who put their tortilla in the microwave, top with cheese and press the start button. As a Chicana, I cannot endorse this method. Nor, can I endorse the put in oven and bake method, although there are some tasty concoctions that do actually come out of the oven and involve tortillas - they just can't be quesadillas.

The cheese should be melted all the way - like so. You need to be able to pull your quesadilla apart and have the cheese be all gooey. Otherwise, you're just doing it wrong. Also, when using shredded cheese you're probably going to get it all over the place, outside the boundaries of your tortilla and that's ok! I just found out that A's favorite part of her quesadilla is when the cheese cooks on the griddle, hardens and attaches itself to the outside of her tortilla. Next time I'll be sure to make this happen more for her.

This is A's meal, two quesadillas with fajita size flour tortillas, chicken and cheese. Garnished with some pico and sour cream. Yes I could make my own pico but who really has time for that, I mean I'm procrastinating enough with this blog from my dissertation - if I was slicing and dicing tomatoes, onions and jalepeños all day I really wouldn't make ANY progress on my dissertation and we simply cannot have that!

Now, to witness the whole process with my quesadillas. Since corn tortillas are smaller than flour I was able to fit both on my griddle at once. This thing isn't technically a griddle, but it's not a skillet either. Should I know these things? Hmm... how does one go about finding this out? I guess I'm going to have to do some research!

Start with a thin layer of cheese then top with your chicken. I would also suggest throwing any other items in here now so that you're able to melt the cheese around your ingredients to prevent them from falling out of your quesadilla when it's time to move tortilla to your mouth.

Here I forgot I had sliced an avocado so I put it on after my additional layer of cheese. I tried to make a pretty design here but was unable to make the one on the left as nice as the one on the right. I could however, live off of avocados for my entire life. I'm thinking avocados and red chile need to meet one another and become acquainted.

Again, no matter what is inside your quesadilla, the cheese needs to get gooey and your tortillas should be crispy on the outside. This is a delicate balance, not so crispy you will lose a tooth or your tastebuds will be overwhelmed with charcoal, but crispy on the outside and still soft on in the inside.

Doesn't this just look so yummy? And it literally took me about 10 minutes after I shredded the chicken which took 10 minutes - so prep to table 20 minutes. Of course, when you become a quesadilla expert you'll be racing to the finish so you can get that bite of gooey cheese!

I just had to show off the inside, look at how delicious that looks! Cheese, chicken and avocado - heaven. In fact, I remember turning to A and saying, this is a slice of heaven, I really need to take a picture of this. As I said, quesadillas are easy, inexpensive, quick and can incorporate whatever you have in your fridge. I love corn tortillas with mozzarella cheese - I used to make them all the time for lunch when I was still taking classes, I'd make them in the morning before I left for school, wrap them up in foil and microwave them for five seconds to warm and have a delicious and nutritious lunch/snack while I read my feminist theory.

Other possible combinations for delicious quesadillas - shrimp, cilantro and lime for a "fish taco" quesadilla, cheddar, egg and bacon for "breakfast burrito" quesadilla, cesina, onion and cilantro "taco al pastor" quesadilla, olives, artichokes and feta for Greek quesadilla, you know the options are endless, I can't wait to hear all about what you create!

A note about the absence of my kitchen assistant - Sandie. The one drawback to making quesadillas is that I can't make them all at once with this method so I make A's and then I make mine. Well, with this system Sandie can't be bothered to be in the kitchen with me because she's too busy begging for a piece of chicken or cheese or tortilla morsel from A out in the living room. Sigh, maybe next time I'll get her full attention!