Destination: Best Coast

Moving sucks. We all know that. Some people may try to focus on the bright side (if there is one)—it’s a chance for a new start, perhaps returning to an old life to attend to unfinished business, a new job, blah blah blah. That doesn’t change the fact that moving sucks. You have to pack your whole life (mementos from childhood, important documents, knick knacks we haven’t been able to let go of for a decade, stuffed animals an ex got us when we were sick that one time and its eye is falling out…) into boxes, and maybe pack those boxes into a giant box. Or you finally sell things you’ve toted around the country or State or county with you for the last 7 years. You have to save a LOT of money… like, a LOT of money. You have to say goodbye or see you later to friends you’ve had for years or maybe new friends you’ve only had a few months to enjoy with. You have to try to fit in things to do that you still have not yet done in the city even though you’ve lived there for half a decade. Moving sucks.

I hate moving. This is my 10th time moving, and half of those times were across town. I have moved from an island to another island about 7 hours away by plane, then from that island to the mainland US about 5 hours away by plane. Then from one coast to the other. And now I’m working my way BACK to that coast. I hate moving, but when I do it, I do it BIG.

When we first moved from California to Boston, we drove across the country and did it in 5 days. That wasn’t exactly a “see your country and all it has to offer” kind of drive. That was an “oh shit we have to get to Boston and we don’t really have any money to spend any more time doing stuff” kind of drive. While the latter is still pretty true, there’s not as much urgency to get to our destination this trip. So we at least have the luxury of time so we can enjoy the road trip this time around. Eighteen days allows for a hell of a lot more sightseeing than 5. And because I hate moving (and the Lady is not necessarily a fan), we decided to call this portion of the move our vacation. And we are going to enjoy it, dammit!

(The next couple of posts will be recaps of the trip. I hope you enjoy it as much as we are.)

Gimme more…

Fall in the Form of Butternut Squash

No matter where I have lived, Autumn/Fall has been my favorite season.  Even in places with only wet and dry as the seasons, I have always loved the months of October and November (and not just because that is my birthday month).  It is the month when temperatures start to drop — even 5 degrees makes all the difference in Guam or San Diego — and when I was in school, it was when I was getting into the groove of the new academic year.  Since moving to Boston, my love for Fall has increased ten-fold.  Not only does the weather cool down, but leaves start to change, evenings are longer, and squash.  More specifically, winter squash.  Pumpkin, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti.  All delicious.  My favorite, though, is butternut squash.

Practically all I ate my first fall here was butternut squash (or, as I lovingly address it when I see it in the store, squatter nutbash).  I made butternut squash soup every other week, and even made butternut squash ravioli, which was amazeballs, if I do say so myself.  Last weekend I bought a squash with the intention of making the ravioli again, and then posting it.  However, since it is quite time consuming, I don’t think I will be able to just yet.  Hopefully I will this year, though.

I started thinking what else I could make with it.  Since we’re going to a party this weekend that some of my lady’s classmates are throwing, I decided, what better party food than dip?  So I thought of this dip that can easily be enjoyed with a spoon — it is simultaneously sweet (the nature of the squash), savory (with the addition of parmesan cheese, roasted garlic and onions), and is the embodiment of a New England Fall (with subtle hints of cinnamon and nutmeg).

So, what are you waiting for? Get your Fall on!

Butternut squash dip, chilled

Butternut squash dip, chilled, enjoying the crisp Autumn afternoon

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Week 1: Reacquainting with Hawaii

As soon as I stepped off the airplane, I took a deep breath, relishing in that sweet Hawaiian air, the scent transporting me back to what feels like a lifetime ago.  The last time I was here was about 6 or 7 years ago.  I was still in undergrad, I was in a different relationship, and I had barely even begun to scratch the surface of my love affair with food.

When I arrived, it was almost 11pm on a Friday.  It had just recently rained, and it even sprinkled a bit as we drove.  The damp cool air was a blanket welcoming me back to one of my homes.  As I rode the 15 minutes to where I would be staying, I chuckled inwardly when we got onto the H-1 freeway, one of Hawaii’s three interstate highways (take a moment to think about that statement), smiled at the Likelike  (pronounced LEE-keh LEE-keh) Highway sign, and struggled to remember which exits I would take most often.  I knew that the first few days would involve a bombardment of memories, just like these on the short drive from the airport, and I couldn’t wait.

Hawaii was the first place I lived after graduating high school (literally — my mom, stepdad, and I moved less than a week after graduation).  I lived here for four, very formative, years.  I often say that it was the best stepping stone to living on the mainland.  Oahu is bigger than Guam, has a freeway (!!), but the Pacific Island culture in Hawaii is very similar to what I was familiar with growing up on Guam.  Even though the radio stations also played island reggae, and everyone wore shorts with slippers (AKA zoris/flipflops/thongs), and the people looked like the people on Guam, and the climate was almost identical, I was still in an unfamiliar place with no friends or family other than my parents.

What I ended up clinging to most for its familiarity was the food.  Although red rice and kelaguen aren’t part of everyday food in Hawaii, there are enough foods in common that it was easy to forgive.  The love of white rice and liberal use of soy sauce in dishes were probably the most apparent connections.  And, of course, their reverence for SPAM also made things easier.  Other than a few cravings for red rice and kelaguen, I don’t really recall being homesick for Guamanian/Chamorro food.  I didn’t realize this until years later, looking back at the kinds of food that I grew up with, the kinds of food I consider to be comfort food.

So as not to be completely overwhelmed by the flood of memories and nostalgia on my first day back, I decided to take it a bit slow.  I walked to the Ala Moana Center with the hope of purchasing some slippers (because why on earth would I buy them in Boston… in February?).  On my way there, I had to step into the 7-11 just to see this:

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Context Clues

Aside from talking about food with people who share the same passion and thirst (hunger?) for knowledge in talking about food, the thing I loved most about being in the Gastronomy Program at Boston University was the snacks.  Because our classes most often were from 6-9pm on weeknights, instructors would incorporate a shared snack situation to be enjoyed during the mid-class break.  A time to stretch, pee, freshen up, socialize (outside of passing notes – not that I did that; I mean, this is grad school… who does that in grad school?), we were also able to indulge in yummies, especially after talking about food for an hour and a half.

On January 31, I presented my thesis as part of the Jacques Pepin Lecture Series at BU.  My thesis is about the foodways of Guam, where I am from.  I talk a lot about the flavor profile of the food preferences of locals, and have a bunch of photos that I took while I was there doing “fieldwork” (yes, it was fieldwork, but I was also there visiting family and generally having a lovely time soaking in the sun and gaining about 15 pounds).  Taking inspiration from the class snack time, I decided to provide topical snacks at the lecture for attendees to enjoy so they had some gustatory context for what they were learning about.

In case you are unfamiliar with the food (or anything) of Guam, basically people there like their food salty, sour, spicy, and meaty.  The most common ingredients used (according to my participants, and my experience living there for the first 17.5 years of my life) are soy sauce, coconut, lemon, vinegar, onion, garlic, black pepper, and donne’ (local hot pepper).

For the snacks, I chose red rice, chicken kelaguen (similar to ceviche, but the chicken is cooked by heat before acid is added), finadene (the preferred condiment), and manha titiyas (coconut tortillas).  I also made roskette (Chamorro cornstarch cookies).   AKA:

2013-01-31 18.05.172013-01-31 18.05.28

Red rice, kelaguen, and finadene are must-haves on the fiesta table.  Shoot, finadene is generally a must-have in the refrigerator.   I know I always have some!  Roskette is something that personally transports me back home when I eat it.  When I lived on Guam, I would only have it on special occasions, though it was usually readily available at certain grocery stores and mom-and-pop shops.  Once I moved away, it was one of many things I longed for in care packages.

Gimme more…

Tortilla Soup

Yesterday, the ever-helpful weather app on my phone stated that, at 9:54AM, the current temperature was 10F.  Holy freezerpants, Batman!  This weather definitely necessitates using the oven or cooking some warming, stick-to-your-bones kind of a meal.  I was considering making brownies, but I don’t have enough chocolate at home (the travesty!), or some mac and cheese, but I don’t have any super-yummy cheese to make it with (the shame!).  So, I made soup.

This soup.

Tortilla soup

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The last brownie recipe you will ever use

I love chocolate.  You may have already guessed this, since I’ve already posted a chocolatey recipe before.  (Granted, I’ve been a bit slack with updating this blog… my apologies.)  Regardless, I am compelled to share the single best chocolate-related recipe I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  A little over a year ago, my friend Ashley made my idea of heaven in a dessert for her culinary final —  a towering brownie-peanut butter-pretzel-caramel concoction that should be outlawed.  I was already sold with her description. I mean, how can you mess up something that consists of chocolate, peanut butter, pretzels, and caramel? Even more so, how much better can it get?  Using this brownie recipe, that’s how.

You know how you have some brownies that are kind of like a sad, frosting-less chocolate cake in the shape of a brownie?  Or worse, some dry, crumbly thing that tastes vaguely like chocolate?  They should not be called brownies.  That completely disgraces the glory that is the brownie.  But that all ends with this recipe. Ok, just how good are these damn brownies, you ask?  Well.  Every.single.piece. of this brownie is simultaneously crisp on the outside, and gooey on the inside.  With 11 ounces of chocolate, there is nothing vague about the chocolatey-ness.  After I made them myself, I decided right then and there that I will never ever ever use any other recipe ever again.  And once you make them, you won’t either.

Since the holiday season is upon us, I started getting a bit homesick for my in-law/adopted family in San Diego and the Mexican hot chocolate with pan con mantequilla (bread grilled with butter) and pan dulce (sweet bread).  So, I decided to put some Abuelita chocolate in the recipe, and they turned out better than I thought.  The texture remained the same, and the Abuelita chocolate was subtle yet was noticeable enough to the discerning tongue.  Mexican hot chocolate brownies.  Yes.

So, on with the recipe.

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Braisin’ and stewin’

Since we did not have enough time the last class to make the trout amandine, we made it this day (July 12, Day 4) as the first item of the night.  It was so simple — no recipe necessary (especially with all of the ingredients mise’d out).  I was assigned trout amandine for a dish analysis assignment.  We had to research the history of the dish — where/how it originated, what part of the meal it appears in, its evolution to how it is today, etc. — and give a mini presentation on it.  Trout amandine is a dish popular in the south, particularly on the Gulf Coast – New Orleans, in particular.  It is trout filet (skin-on) dredged in flour, fried in butter, and topped with a brown butter lemon sauce and toasted almonds.  It was delicious — very lemony with a slight nutty component (from the brown butter, and almonds, of course).  My particular trout could have used a bit more salt & pepper, and the almonds could have browned a bit more.  Other than that, it was absolutely fantastic, if I do say so myself.  I even made it at home a couple of days later.  It was even better!

Half-eaten trout amandine

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Start bringing the meat

So, I’m terribly sorry for the lag in blog posts.  My culinary class kind of blew up (in the busy sense… not the *actual* fire-in-the-kitchen sense) and it flew by before I could even say julienne.  ANYway.  I will still post my journal entries as blog posts for your reading pleasure.  Carry on…

After two whirlwind classes of knife skills, soups, stocks, sauces, and an adrenaline rush, we got to: The Meat.  This day (July 11, AKA Day 3) was about roasting and sautéing.  On the agenda for the day: whole roasted chicken, whole chicken breakdown, sautéed chicken breast, steak au poivre, and trout amandine (if there was time).

Class started off with a demonstration on how to truss a chicken to be roasted so that we could each get our chickens into the oven as soon as possible.  One of the first things Kevin brought up was one of the great debates: to wash or not to wash (a chicken before prepping).  Apparently there are two ways commercial chickens are chilled: either air chilled (in which the chickens are chilled in a cold room post-plucking) or water chilled (they are thrown into cold water after being plucked – the chickens seen in the grocery store wrapped tightly in a plastic bag with blood/water in it as well are usually water chilled).  Whether you should wash the chicken is a personal choice, though I prefer to rinse it and pat it dry, especially if it is the water chilled variety.

This was the first time I had trussed a chicken.  I’ve roasted chicken before (several times, in fact) but had never trussed it.  Trussing seemed to have more of an aesthetic reason, as the chickens I have roasted in the past have been quite tasty and retained moisture quite well.  So, I have not been swayed one way or the other.  If presentation is important the next time I roast a chicken, I will definitely truss it.

Robyn demonstrated how to make porchetta, which I had never done or had before.  The main things I took away from the demo were: stuff the meat with as much filling as possible (and then stuff it some more) because it tends to fall out when rolling, and how to tie the porchetta.  It’s not too complicated, but it does involve slipknots, so I feel like I should probably brush up on some Navy knots before attempting to tie it when I make it at home.  Robyn said that she sometimes wraps the porchetta in pork belly to ensure that it is basted with a constant source of fat.  She spoke my language – meat wrapped in meat.

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Chocolate+ginger+brown butter=heaven

I recently “discovered” brown butter and all its glory.  It’s so versatile and can be used in savory and/or sweet dishes.  I can’t decide which I love more, though.  I’ve made brown butter strawberry pasta with a balsamic glaze and grilled herbed chicken; I’ve made chocolate chip cookies with brown butter; I’ve even made scallops in brown butter.  The combination of sweet nuttiness and that distinct butter flavor pairing so nicely with pretty much anything — oh, I absolutely love it.

The other day I told my partner I was going to make dessert for her.  She’s a chocoholic.  I’m a chocoholic.  So of course it was going to be something chocolatey.  For some reason, candied ginger came to mind — something I bought a few months ago with the intention of using with something chocolatey.  So I looked up some recipes in the cookbooks I have (specifically, I found a recipe for chocolate ginger shortbread cookies in my copy of Ming Tsai’s “Simply Ming”), but they all seemed either too involved or included ingredients I didn’t have on hand at home.  So I resorted to the internet and found an amazing recipe for chocolate cookies with candied ginger.  It was in Jamestown, ND’s newspaper, The Jamestown Sun back in September 2010.   Gimme More…

Feeling saucy

*This is my second journal entry. I will be posting subsequent journal entries with photos from my Culinary Arts class (please excuse the crappy photos taken with my phone).

Day 2: Sauces
07.08.2011

Whenever you start anything, you should always start with the basics.  Establish a foundation, if you will.  That way, you can improve your skills and expand your abilities by building on that foundation.  The same goes for cooking, especially with French techniques.  And the French love their sauces.  So today’s lesson was on the five leading or mother sauces – béchamel, velouté, espagnole (brown sauce), hollandaise, and tomato.  In class, we only covered the first four, as we will cover tomato sauce on Italian food day.  However, the espagnole was a demonstration, as it is a bit more involved and takes much longer.  We did, however, make béchamel, velouté, hollandaise, and cream beurre blanc (white butter sauce with cream).

Gimme more…