Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sole as a Soul

So I had to experiment this week at the boyfriend's brother's house.  They had a project to work on, and so since I offered to cook, the boyfriend suggested that I do my experiment while they worked on their project.  A little overwhelming to me since I know very minimal about his house's kitchen, and cooking in someone else's kitchen without their knowledge of cooking except what's good and not is difficult.
Paupiettes de Sole

For the experiment itself, the boyfriend picked another recipe from his grandmother's cookbook.  He picked Paupiettes de Sole since it sounded "interesting."  Sometimes I don't like when he says, "oh, this looks good.." I say how do you figure, "because its interesting..."
Interesting I'll say because it means I have to decipher what a recipe dated 1970s means for one, and figure out how someone else's stove and oven works!

The last time I cooked in the boyfriend's brother's kitchen was when I offered to help with Thanksgiving dinner for the brother's in-laws and wife.  As much as they boyfriend's brother and wife love food, neither of them cook very much.  So Thanksgiving in itself posed to be a challenge.  We called it the great pumpkin fiasco of 2012 because of how they boyfriend's brother prepared a pumpkin.  Normally when I prepared pumpkin pie these days, I do it from complete scratch.  But, when you're in a time crunch and want it easy, you can buy the pre-made crust, canned pumpkin and sweetened condensed milk.  Simple, right? Not difficult when you have the proper ingredients...however, the pumpkin fiasco of 2012 wouldn't be if it was simple.  The pumpkin fiasco involved evaporated milk in the pie.  The pie was so bad that the boyfriend's brother's wife spit it out.

Having said all of that, the pressure of me cooking in her kitchen was a bit daunting.  Fortunately for me she was gone for this particular weekend so I only had two hungry guys to worry about.

I prepared Paupiettes de Sole, since both of them like seafood and seafood for me to me is still a challenge and uphill battle.  Sole is a very delicate fish and can flake very easily even before its cooked.  Paupiettes de Sole required the sole to be folded over the stuffing and placed in the sauce prior to steaming in the oven.  Another challenge when you steam fish such as sole, it doesn't change color when it is fully cooked.  Its hard to tell when it actually sole is done without actually cutting it or breaking the fish.  I tested the sole by getting a nice little steam bath to the face...

By this time, the creamed spinach and my test of mushed artichoke hearts were done and the project the guys were working on was complete.

It all came together and another cooking challenge complete, but I do have to say, the next time someone wants me to cook in someone else's kitchen, seafood may not be something that is served unless I have gotten better at by then.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Chinese meet the Indian Saag

I haven't put recipes on this blog for a reason.  Yes it is a cooking blog, but blogs with recipes are a bit overdone, and my purpose is to try and experiment with the food around me.  Though, if you as the reader, would want the recipes I used, I can release it.  Otherwise, its more of a sociological take on cooking as opposed to the art of cooking.

The boyfriend challenged me with the ingredient of bok choy.  Otherwise known as Chinese cabbage.  I had watched an Iron Chef episode on bok choy and feared that my challenge would involve my ice cream maker.  Thankfully, it didn't, but the request of a non-Chinese dish did come up.  I was definitely stuck on this one, until I thought to myself, if it has the same composition as spinach in the leaves, why couldn't I use it like a spinach?

Bok Choy Saag
I challenged myself to think a little further.  What is a spinach dish that I love?  Okay, maybe love is too strong of a word, but aside from wilting spinach and calling it a meal, what could I do?  I kept on the Asia continent for this dish, which made it even more interesting since I was specifically told, no Chinese style to the Chinese cabbage.

I reverted to Indian.  Yup, Indian.  Indian Saag.  I love the flavors that come out of saag when I have it in the restaurants and I thought, why not try making it out of bok choy.  The results were hardly different from spinach saag, in fact, I almost had to do a second take myself when I tasted it since it was almost no different.

Rued by Cornstarch but not Overruled

Gluten free mac and cheese rued by cornstarch
The adventures continue and so does the little hamster that could.

I found myself with the ingredient cornstarch and thought well, this can't be too hard, right?  Well, its not per say, but originality was probably the tricky part of this ingredient.

Cornstarch is used as a thickener when it comes to a variety of dishes, including egg drop soup.  I could've known egg drop soup, but I chose not to.  I could've done a lot of things, but wanted to to go to the other side of what cornstarch substitutes.

My sister recently found out that she has a gluten allergy, and with the fear of the possibility, my mother figured, that I too, must be gluten intolerant.   Now I could understand that possibility if my sister and I were fully related.  We share a father, and we look completely different from each other that people have a hard time saying, "oh, that's your sister," or even, "oh, that's your father." So the remote possibility of me having a gluten allergy are fairly slim since she did say one of her relatives on her mother's side has it.  I've never met her mother, and no way related to her so my chances are that much slimmer.  Still, I owed it my sister to experiment.

So, I figure if cornstarch was used as a thickener, could I do a gluten free dish and it still taste similar to a regular gluten dish?  I opted to make gluten free mac and cheese since the pasta is always a bit tricky being gluten free.

The results were good, a little on the tough side, but gluten free pasta isn't as springy as regular pasta since it depends what its made of.  I used the brown rice variety for this dish.  I also figured, while on the "healthy" route, a side salad would compliment it quite well.

Whether I use gluten or no gluten for mac and cheese, it seems to go away quite quickly.  Cornstarch is definitely a good stock item to keep in the pantry.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Every so often, the boyfriend requests something out of his grandmother's cookbook, The Doubleday Cookbook Complete Conteporary Cooking, Volume 1 and 2, 1975, Jean Anderson, Elaine Hanna.

Queen of Puddings
Hesitation sets in since I'm not one of following directions well when it comes to cooking and the expectation of cooking like his grandmother scares me even though I've never met her.  Would I ever be able to cook as well as her? Would it compare to what the boyfriend remembered as a child? 

The boyfriend revealed that he didn't remember the cooking so much of his grandmother's so everything was fair game.

His first request out his grandmother's cookbook was Queen of Puddings.  Sounds too English to be true, but its as English as the Queen herself.  Traditionally this dish is prepared at England County Fairs in Honor of her Majesty.  Though, for the boyfriend and I, its a bit too much sugar.  Shortly after eating a small bit, I experienced a sugar crash.  I've never been one of sweets so my body doesn't react well with processed sugars.

Chickpeas are peas I like..

I am one not to like peas, no matter what you do to a pea in terms of cooking, it tastes of nothing.  I disown my English roots on this matter.

Though chickpeas are a different matter.  The boyfriend requested that I did something with chickpeas that didn't involve humus.

Curried Okra and Chickpeas served with curry chicken
Chickpeas can either be bought dried or in cans, at least from what I could find immediately.  For time sake, the canned chickpeas isn't overly filled with sodium like most canned goods.  I'm kind of anti-canned goods when at all possible due to the sodium content and well, fresher is better taste wise anyways.  Its also cheaper in the long run.

Anyways, for this dish, I decided to go to an Indian favorite of mine growing up. I lived next door to an Indian family and they always invited me over for Indian food.  The aromas that came from their house every day would end up on my clothes and I seriously didn't mind since I liked Indian food.  It was also more incentive for me to figure out how to cook Indian food since I was moving from the area and soon to be on my own.  I could've easily gone to the Indian restaurant but that would've involve more money than I was able to spend.  Poor college student was never truer than living in the San Francisco Bay Area post North of Houston high school wages.

Upon reflection, I probably should've given the boyfriend some traditional naan or Basmati rice to go with his chickpea to ward off the excess heat. Either way, the dish brought back some memories of mine and the challenge continues.

Liking Elk

So the food experiment continues and finding items that are within budget and figuring out how to cook them also continues.

The boyfriend went from something so easily found (shrimp) to something only certain markets carry, elk.

I honestly didn't give too much thought into how to prepare elk, so I'll probably redo this part of the challenge at some point when I give a little more thought into it.

Elk patties with potato and cabbage 
We didn't mind the taste since its a lot milder than beef, and if I did my research a little more, we probably would've had better results than elk patties served with potatoes and cabbage.

Further research to be done on this elk...

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Project Begins with a Small Ingredient: Shrimp

A small ingredient but mighty enough to fill even the biggest appetite? Protein wise, its shrimp! I'm not about to go into the various of forms of shrimp because I'm sure I'd bore everyone and no one quite does it as well as Bubba Blue (

At the beginning of the year, as said in my previous post, I was to challenge my cooking style as much possible, which meant trying new things since well, that's the challenge, right?

My first challenge was a shrimp scampi with risotto since the boyfriend requested: shrimp, light, and Italian.  To those who grow up with seafood, this would be way too easy, but for me, lack of seafood as a family food, gave me a disadvantage early on in this challenge.

shrimp scampi with risotto
Shrimp comes in various forms at the supermarket: veined, de-veined,  once frozen, pre-cooked, shell on, shell off... of course, part of this challenge for me is to de-vein the shrimp and cut the tails off without taking too much of the actual shrimp with it.  Also, the challenge of not over cooking the shrimp.

To say the least, the boyfriend was quite pleased with the results.  I found that cooking shrimp is a quick way to cut cooking times and a good form of protein.  At least this form of shrimp and not the way mom prefers it: sambal terasi (dried shrimp chilli sauce).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In the Beginning...

In the beginning, we all start with basic nutrients in order to survive.  Think about it, from the time we're conceived, we are fed nutrients to help us grow to full term.  Whether we are given the right nutrients, that's a whole different topic in itself and not the purpose of this blog.

I was born into two different cultures, but more so into a multicultural smorgasbord of foods.  My father, a proper Englishman in all accounts, had traveled the world quite a bit before meeting my mother, who is Javanese Indonesian, who had also traveled the world quite a bit before meeting my father.  Between them, their pallet of food is one of diverse richness.  At the same time, growing up, as a family, we rarely ate seafood since my father just "doesn't like the taste."  So much for being English since England is, after all, known for their cod fish and chips with malted vinegar wrapped in newspaper.

Having said all of this, my food pallet was already a multicultural smorgasbord of foods from the very get-go.  Fortunately and unfortunately, I have developed a taste for not just food, but good wholesome food.  I don't go to fancy restaurants to get this experience, but go to my local supermarkets and pick up the necessary ingredients and try making the "fancy" stuff at home for WAY cheaper.

Hence the purpose of this blog.  At the beginning of 2013, I found myself wanting to become a better cook after re-watching Ratatouille for the umpteenth time.  After all, Auguste Gusteau, claimed, "anyone can cook."  I knew I could cook since I haven't died from starvation OR gone completely broke from eating out.  I wanted a challenge, and I also found myself wanting to give my boyfriend the gift of a multicultural smorgasbord since he grew up in the Midwest and always claims that his bland pallet is because of the Midwest.

So we came up with some rules for my cooking challenge of 2013:
  • An ingredient a week will be chosen and I must prepare one dish containing that ingredient
  • Specifications on how to prepare that ingredient is not required
  • Type of dish prepared with that ingredient are allowed; for example Italian versus Indian
  • All food must be from scratch and not prepackaged boxes; for example, mac and cheese from store bought box
  • Dishes can be picked from a cookbook rather than a solo ingredient but I am not allowed to pick that dish (in other words, if it comes from a cookbook, the Guinna pig, aka boyfriend has to pick the dish)
  • Once a week, the ingredient or dish is tested (prepared, cooked, and served)
  • A type of beer or wine must be paired with the ingredient or dish (if appropriate) 
  • Final cost of prepared food must cost under $20.00 and serve a minimum of 2 people (our allowance to eat out if I pay :) )
  • I am not allowed to pick the ingredient or specific dish of the week, but I am allowed to cook within set parameters of the idea.  For example, the ingredient is shrimp but a request of Italian and light was requested, so I must cook according to, but if the ingredient was just shrimp, I could cook it how I felt could challenge my range.
To date, the challenge has been successful.  Kind of like my mini Iron Chef moment of the week as it were, but less dishes to prepare as they normally have to prepare 4 to 5 different dishes with the secret ingredient in all of their dishes.

I also have found something to hit my sociological brain in this challenge too.  I can't help it, I majored and graduated with a degree in Sociology/Anthropology so I'm always thinking of something critical.  The boyfriend's go-to cookbook has been his grandmother's The Doubleday Cookbook Complete Conteporary Cooking, Volume 1 and 2, 1975, Jean Anderson, Elaine Hanna (1080-08)) and it got me to thinking.  Some of the recipes thus far have been pretty easy preparation wise, which surprised me since all of my visions of cooking come from the notion of the typical 1950s housewife who spends all day in the kitchen.  So if they take minimal time to prepare for, why don't more people prepare them in 2013?  Is cooking that lost of an art? Have cultures shifted from tradition so much that food has been McDonaldized (term used by sociologist George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993). He explains it occurs when a culture possesses the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant. McDonaldization is a reconceptualization of rationalization, or moving from traditional to rational modes of thought, and scientific management from Wikipedia)?

These are the questions that keep me thinking and my hamster running at full speed some nights. So hopefully, in this blog, I'll be able to articulate what goes on in my head and how I find cooking to be.  With fad diets coming and going, I plan to explore the sociological impact of how we view, taste, and enjoy food.

For the record, Silly Bean, was a nickname given to me because I tend to "act silly" with my sociological brain, not for the Urban Dictionary definition of "A light hearted way of telling someone they have been a bit stupid," as my boyfriend discovered when trying to come up with a good name for this blog.