Monday, May 30, 2016

Try to See it My Way, Only Time Will Tell If I Am Right or I Am Wrong

When you're learning to cook or play the guitar or write, take pictures, any artistic venture I suppose, you never really see progress.  You always feel 'on the way to'.  It takes a step back to appreciate that there really is movement.  I believe it is that way with our individual turtle-like evolutionary change as well.  Five years ago I can look on this blog and my pictures were not as attractive.  My meals were not as inventive.  The result not as spectacular.  I don't believe I'm a great cook or would even feel comfortable calling myself a good one.... yet.  However, I do notice today that this is not a dish I necessarily would have taken on five years ago as a quick after work type thing.  For a special occasion maybe but with little reservation here I was proceeding to take the steps to make it.
Sweet Potato Veggetti with Cashew Cream Sauce.  Recipe from  Cashew cream is simply soaking cashews in water for 2 hours and blending with a little salt and garlic!  How awesome is that?  And this dish was successful in many ways.  Visually it was enticing. Orange food?  C'mon!  Sweet potatoes for dinner calorie and health wise is a bonus.  Taste wise it was creamy, slightly sweet with a cheesy hit. Plus the fresh herbs gave it a bright sensation.   A non-meat option that does not disappoint is something I need. 
Such is my personal maturation inching along.  Sometimes it seems I fall into my own familiar traps with predictable outcomes, time and time again.  Until one day I recognize I've turned a corner and that one small thing I did differently has made all the difference.   Or so it seems.  Time always has a way of showing us truth.

  • 1 cup cashews
  • ¾ cup water (more for soaking)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 large sweet potatoes, spiralized
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, chives, or other herbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil for drizzling
  1. Cover the cashews with water in a bowl and soak for 2 hours or so.
  2. Drain and rinse thoroughly. Place in a food processor or blender (I got better texture with the blender) and add the ¾ cup water, salt, and garlic. Puree until very smooth.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the sweet potatoes; toss in the pan for 6-7 minutes with tongs until tender-crisp. Remove from heat and toss in the spinach - it should wilt pretty quickly.
  4. Add half of the herbs and half of the sauce to the pan and toss to combine. Add water if the mixture is too sticky. Season generously with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and top with the remaining fresh herbs.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Be Thankful for What You Got

To get to this Key Lime Pie and Banana Split Shake from Big Daddy's Diner in Union Square, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in high heat and humidity.... and.... in the wrong shoes no less.  That is one mistake you realize quickly, ill fitting shoes.  That's when I made my second mistake, not running back to change them.  Unbeknownst to be me, this would then prompt an avalanche of bad decisions that evening.
We were to meet P's brother and I got to pick the place for dinner.  This time it was easy.  I wanted a real Shake Shack burger from the original location.  Not one of the many newcomer franchises around town.  No, we would get the big deluxe versions and sit in the park, talk, relax, enjoy the scenery.  All set. Done deal.
Problem was, about a hundred and some other people had the same exact idea at the same time.  The line was ridiculous.  No one talks about it much but there are so many more people on the streets now in Manhattan.  At times it feels unmanageable, other times dangerous. And when you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge you never get a break from that tight congestion of bodies.  And in the swampy heat, my discomfort was growing.  I was grouchy and realized I had a sucky Plan B because I didn't think we'd need one.
There is tons of great food in the city and so many restaurants but what you never want to do is end up hungry, hot and desparate right in the heart of dinner hour.  Walking even with a small group, you feel overwhelmed and the stress is real.  After walking by a few options unable to pull the trigger,
P suggested Big Daddy's Diner up the street because it would be air-conditioned, easy, and dessert could be incorporated.  That seemed to solve all my immediate problems.  It was not bad but when you have your choice of amazing food and you end up at a place called Big Daddy' just might be a redneck.  We started with artichoke dip and pita chip appetizer.  I was starving. It was good.
I ordered a salad that I immediately regretted when I saw P's burger and tater tots.
Matt ordered the turkey wrap that probably didn't make the grade but was better than my choice.  Fried chicken was the special.  This was one of those days when you come to accept you're going to make bad decisions in succession.  Matt knew he should have ordered the chicken.  I knew I should have ordered the burger.  Burgers are safest in diners.  No surprises.  I know that.  Still ordered the salad.
The great thing is that each day brings another opportunity to eat somewhere in this amazing city and even if you lame it out and try a schmaltzy themed diner, you really don't lose much. People are having real problems somewhere right now.  This is not one of them.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

You Like Potato, I like Potahto, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

This was a quick Mexican Chicken Soup with leftover chicken and vegetables.  My one tip for really boosting the flavor on already amazing broths is to add what everyone calls salsa but my sister wants to keep calling hot sauce, because that's what we called it growing up at home and at our parent's restaurant.  You would get chips and hot sauce, not chips and salsa.  And I agree.  I actually don't like the word salsa, how it sounds.  Reminds me of Fresno and how all the kids there made me to feel like some sort of mutant breed coming from the midwest and having a slight hick accent.  In the same vein I hate the word soda and felt I was forced to change from calling it pop when I moved to California from Indiana.  A heaping dollop of homemade, in this case, tomatillo hot sauce added to the soup with some fresh cilantro and avocado really takes it to wow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

But I Have Found My Treasure in Your Soul

As I sat looking over the dirty Gowanus on my way home from work waiting for the subway on a cloudy, gloomy day I thought, man I'm really hungry.  The kind of hungry that you start to fantasize about the kind of plate that is going to make this alright.  The kind of dish that will make you forget that empty pain in the bottom of your gut.
I didn't want fast food that was going to make me feel gross afterwards either. I was thinking something light but colorful and festive.  The bleak atmosphere was clouding my brain. It's hard to think straight when your body is screaming at you.  I thought about my mom's garden from a million years ago back in Fort Wayne.  How it was filled with flowers and herbs, rhubarb, mulberry and apple trees, raspberries, peppers and tomatoes. When I felt hollow I could always find something there to eat, rinse it off with the hose and use my hands as plates.   Mom's garden was a reflection of her, what she was inside.
I feel that way about what I put on a plate.  I think about it.  It's customized for that day, to suit the situation.  Considerate cooking so to speak.  I wanted a big serving that was going to burst all the grey out of the room.   I found some nitrate free mango sausage and roasted it with cubes of grape tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, zucchini and green bell peppers.  I laid it on a bed of Parmesan quinoa and blanketed it with fresh apple and tomatillo salsa.
Making a really good meal might not change my world but it sure does help to ease the pain of it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wehani Red Rice Bowl

Wehani Red Rice bowl with ground turkey, green peppers, onions and topped with cool chili verde cilantro sauce.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Whatever Gets You Through Your Life, It's Alright, It's Alright

When you're sick but still really crave pizza.
But I did make an herb salad with apples and avocado to make me feel less like a gross, useless, slimy pig.
And when you're feeling terrible about humanity, yourself and the future but you still HAVE to make that omelette.  A giant omelette for breakfast with spinach, tomato and feta. Served along with semi successful hash browns and bacon.
Feed your hole, starve your's it go?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Together We Grow to See the Light, the Beautiful Light

It's not everyday you see a bird perched on a rabbit next to a cat sitting on a table with parrots hanging out like nothing could be more normal.  This is the kind of scene that you move to New York for because it holds those brilliant surprises that no one could predict.  And this is so symbolic of the city's mystery and impressive traits.  Cats and birds and bunnies living together, literally on top of each other yet still managing to do so each day with some sense of normality.  Several varieties of birds, all kinds of cats and rare rabbits that you don't see in other parts of our country in large numbers.  Then there is the little table they are perched on, just like our tiny island. It doesn't work, it can't work, yet it does every day.  Almost as if by some random natural law not yet understood.
Sometimes I feel like there is nothing left to make with the same inexpensive ingredients that I have in my pantry.  I actually have made Mexican Meatloaf a few times before but this time it was just a bit more on point with the flavors.  I seasoned the ground meat like you would for taco filling, lots of cumin, garlic and onion powder, chili powder and pepper.  I fortified the ground turkey with black beans, pinto beans, jalapeƱo, oatmeal, onion, garlic, corn, and a bit of sharp cheddar cheese and an egg to bind.  Then I topped that with a Chipotle infused tomato sauce.

I get a real kick out of putting a Mexican spin on classic American dishes like this meatloaf.  It tastes comforting and familiar but also holds a spark of surprising flavors.
In the same spirit as all the amazing New York immigrants coming in waves each day, sharing their ways with the city, everyday cooks contribute to the variety in which you can enjoy classic dishes as well as introduce new ones.
But for lunch I enjoyed an amazing last bowl of that Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana recreation.  Because at times authentic is the Americanized version.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Here I Sit Just a Wonderin' Why

Some people get preserved in my mind like Marilyn Monroe.  A legend that died right at the height of their essence.  At their best time of influence or prominence in my life.  And when they're upheld there, on that pedestal, it's as if they shine with only their awesome traits visible.  And I have to wonder, how does this happen?  First of all, people generally don't stay the same.  They move on, they become other things. They are no longer that which I hold stored in my mental pickle jar.   Or are they?  Maybe one can conjure that particular section of an individual and it can live again.  Some people are capable of being a lot of things at once. I know I am.
I hadn't seen my brother in over 30 years.  I remembered him being very funny, sharp witted and cool in that older brother from the 70s sort of way.  And that's exactly what he was when I found him so many years later.  I felt like no time had passed that I didn't know him but in fact there was so much that I had missed.  The whole core of his adult life.  Yet there he was, exactly who I imagined.   I have always found it very easy to pick up a lost relationship.  But what calls me, prompts me to come back to past friends I've obviously dropped the ball on long enough for the game to have stopped?  And what is it that I really want from these people?  What do I feel I need from them?  Why do I care so much? 
It's a dangerous game to summon friendships that have floated away.  People aren't always happy to see you.  Also, I must constantly remind myself that when someone shows themselves, you should believe them.
Still, I bank on animal instinct to guide me while seeking valuable life.
I believe we have our brains and our hearts but also our inherent knowing.  A built in preprogrammed portal, more of a third eye that allows us to see a truth that is there but hiding in all the chaos or confusion of a situation.
Most people wouldn't doubt that a great song stands up forever. Once played again.  Even if you hadn't thought of it in years.  You hear it and instantly are brought to your emotional knees.  The power of the song is real.  The storm of effect comes from something alive within us. It never died.  The song just brings it to light. Stirs the pot. Like this pot of soup.

The music buyers used to go to the Olive Garden in Times Square to eat lunch courtesy of the sales reps for the distribution companies.  We could have gone anywhere close but somehow we chose this monstrosity for many reasons on a lot of occasions.  And to this day, I have a great fondness for this soup.  Zuppa Toscana.  With the warm breadsticks before the entree.  It represents afternoons in New York, having fun, laughing with friends, working somewhere incredible and being young and hungry and so alive!  I love Zuppa Toscana even if I have to recreate it here in my apartment using similar ingredients from scratch.

  • 1 lb Hot Italian sausage, broken up
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • salt & lots of cracked pepper
  • chicken broth
  • 4 red potatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch curly kale, leaves stripped and chopped
  • 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving
  • You know how to make a soup.  Throw in the greens in the last 5 minutes of cooking 
The trick was to pull out a little hot liquid and mix up the yogurt entirely before pouring it directly into the boiling pot (but turn the heat off first) in the end so it doesn't curdle.