Snow Day Mimosas

My first day of graduate school this week was cancelled for a magical reason: snow!

No Renaissance Europe for me this week I guess. Most of the time here we get a ton of ice, but this time it was a light powdery consistency that didn’t so much crack underfoot as it did crunch. It was beautiful all in the trees and the front yard, I even made snow angels for the first time in my life. But mostly I enjoyed feeding my wild little bird friends. The tufted titmice, the gold finches, the cardinals, sparrows, and even a bluebird came to visit.

But being from Texas, the snow chill gets to you after a short amount of time. We’re kinda silly here and freak out when snow comes. We have no idea what to do with ourselves, how to drive, how to stay warm, etc. So we stayed home, made pancakes, and mimosas, and bundled up in multiple layers to fight the 14 degree weather. We still had a bottle of champagne leftover from my graduation in December. Only we didn’t have strawberries on hand to garnish them.

I never realized how easy it was to make them. Why haven’t I made these earlier?? They’re delightful! It’s only sad when you run out of champagne. Best to stock up on champagne if you plan on having a great brunch party on a surprise snow day.

Best first day of grad school ever……

Mimosas

Champagne

Orange juice

  1. Fill half a champagne glass with orange juice.
  2. Fill the other half with champagne
  3. Stir together and garnish with a strawberry slice
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Chicken Salad

My mom went to meet up with a friend of her’s for lunch at a really popular restaurant in town one day. I’m talking EVERYONE was singing its praises. She ordered chicken salad and was horrified at what they brought out to her. It was literally a mass of shredded chicken that looked to have placed on the plate with an ice cream scoop. No creamy coating. No chopped veggies or anything. Straight shredded chicken in a ball on a plate served on top of one leaf of lettuce. If that is what these people think chicken salad is, then I must be Beyoncé.

I love making chicken salad. Other than dismantling a whole chicken, the chopping and mixing does not take that long. I am sure there are some things that can be done to cut that time in half, but nevertheless here I am. Also, like guacamole, this recipe practically requires taste testing.

I know some people add grapes and cranberries to their versions, but I’m not really one to do that. I’d prefer to eat my grapes on the side. I do like to add chopped pecans to give it a little added crunch. And sometimes if I run out of sweet relish, I chop up some bread and butter pickles instead and it still works. But there are no issues of using dill relish in this recipe either.

Chicken Salad

1 whole rotisserie chicken

2 stalks celery

1/2 cup shredded carrots

2 cups Duke’s Mayo

Mt. Olive deli style sweet relish

1/4 cup chopped pecans

  1. Remove the breasts, thighs, and legs off the chicken and take out all the bones. Chop everything into small bite sized portions. Place in large bowl.
  2. Cut the white ends and the tops off of the celery and thinly chop them. Add to bowl.
  3. Finely chop the shredded carrot and add to bowl.
  4. Add pecans.
  5. Add Mayo
  6. Add sweet relish
  7. Mix altogether until everything is evenly coated.
  8. Taste test to see if it is to your liking. Add mayo or relish until it tastes right.
  9. Serve chilled on top of toast, crackers, or by itself.

New Years Resolutions and Dieting

I know a lot of people decide to detox, start a gym membership and try to lose weight at the start of every new year. And I’ll admit, I have been guilty of participating in this societal trend. I have struggled with my weight on again off again for a few years but I still try to take care of myself better. Having said that, diets freak me out. I prefer to make better choices that I can still enjoy. Now exercise I admit I could do better on, but I hate running and I do not like gym culture. It creeps me out.

Perhaps I’ll try detoxing and walking more.

Looks like I’ll have to break out the blender and try to make some weird smoothies…but maybe later. Can I really help it if biscuits and gravy call my name?

I’ll be honest though, I’ve always struggled with keeping up with calories or whatever food journals I start. Once we kept food diaries for a week in grade school and I was so self conscious and embarrassed for all the things I was eating that I ended up eating far less than I needed to stay healthy. My teacher was concerned. It’s really quite disturbing when you feel embarrassed by eating, considering that you need to eat to stay alive.

Luckily I was never one of those girls who were subject to eating disorders. My mom says I have always had a healthy appetite, but nevertheless, I want to constantly improve my relationship with food. That makes it sound like I wear shirts that read “pizza is my bae”. But what I really mean by that is portion control, the way I eat, and what I decide to consume. A good habit I am trying out is leaving out healthy options like apples, nuts, and cheese cubes that are easy to grab if I pass by instead of eating so many potato chips or too much chocolate. Again, it encourages healthy habits.

Some good starts are cookbooks that emphasize some healthy choices that include vegetables. I personally like the Barefoot Contessa, and Chungah Rhee of the Damn Delicous blog. Trisha Yearwood is amazing too! I also recommend food essays or anything by Michael Pollen. Just try to avoid anything too sensationalist that tells you how everything you eat is bad. Maybe read food blogs or fitness blogs. I also recommend French Women Don’t Get Fat, just because it is a pleasure to read.

I also recommend the MyFitnessPal app for smartphones. It’s created by the UnderArmour company. It is the one food tracker/weight watcher app that I regularly return to. You can personalize it to your needs and how fast you want to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight based on the kind of lifestyle you live. For instance, I set it so I could lose one pound every week and I could create better habits. In a month I successfully lost four pounds and was very proud of myself. I don’t really believe in the crazy diets that make you lose 35 pounds in a month. That probably is not healthy.

New Years resolutions typically never persist through the year as far as I’ve observed, but that does not mean you should not even try. I will try to make an effort to eat better in the coming new year, even if that means making weird crazy smoothies.

Adventures with the SushiQuik

Not that long ago, I ordered myself a sushi kit. The only appliances I routinely use are the crockpot, coffee maker, the kitchen aid mixer, and water kettle. I don’t even own a microwave. I only get interested in appliances if I can see myself using them fairly often. This time of year though I am consistently bombarded by potential choices. Amazon.com does not help with this situation. “Maybe you should consider these clever kitchen ladles that look like dinosaurs!” Um yeah that’s cute, but I’m good. “What about kitchen tongs that look like kitten paws?” No thanks. “Here’s a toaster that looks like the Death Star and makes toast with TI-fighters on the bread.” ……okay that sounds tempting. In the end, I guess the endless temptation of commercial advertising got the better of me, so I bought the SushiQuik.

It’s not a Death Star toaster, but it will do.

I have gone crazy in the last year for California rolls and other rolls, that I have even gone so far to tell my brother that he can pay me in sushi for the all the payments that he gets on his book Swanky Panky’s Crazy Wisdom $3.95 (I made the cover for him). But after months of eating platefuls at restaurants and buying a small box to eat at lunch for work, I really wanted to make my own. I figure that’s what my parents and I may do to celebrate New Years Eve this year besides building legos in our pjs, eating chocolate, and putting on Jonny Quest.

Not only that, but it makes me think of Mei in My Neighbor Totoro when she is thrilled for her lunch full of sushi her sister made for her. I would love to meet a Totoro and ride in a catbus….

But my SushiQuik came in just the other day and I have been so anxious to try it out. It comes with a stand, plastic rolling mat, a training frame, roll cutter guide, a special rice paddle, and sauce holders that are also used for the storage of the sushi mat. But there are a few things you need before you can jump Willy-nilly into sushi making. First of all is rice. You need special sushi rice because the normal kind is too long. You can usually identify it by the dragon on the cover or by the shortness of the grains. Thank goodness I can confidently cook rice without going into panic mode and worry that it could spill over the floor.

There is also the issue with nori. Nori is the seaweed that wraps around the rice and filling. The way I buy it, it comes in packages of sheets of 10. So you can make a few rolls per package, which is nice if you plan on having company.

Fillings. This is where I had some trouble. Fish, yes. Avocado, yes. Apples? ……. but there are lots of different kinds of sushi out there. They even give you some starting suggestions in the instructions. Which means, I could make dessert sushi, fruit sushi, breakfast sushi with bacon and eggs that go with a maple syrup dipping sauce! Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself…. The list goes on though!

Everything was so nice and packaged when it came in, there was even a lovely set of instructions of how to use it with color photographs. It’s a pretty neat little system! My first time using it was interesting. I cooked the rice according to the package and let it sit afterward for 5 minutes to allow the any heat trapped to escape. My first roll was a little awkward but they still came out nice. By the third and fourth roll I had gotten the hang of it.

After using it a little bit, I discovered a few things. 1 1/2 cups of rice will yield enough for at least 4 sushi rolls which are then cut up into approximately 6 pieces, which means you get 24 sushi bits. Also, the rice is incredibly sticky and that rice paddle was a life saver! Not only that, but the filler parts involved required very little. For 24 sushi rolls, I used half an avocado, not even half a cucumber, 4 sheets of Nori, and there was still 3/4 of crabmeat left in the package. Also, like a lot of websites say, keeping the knife wet will work the best in cutting the rolls. I kinda think having one of those knives that can cut through an aluminum can like it was butter would be ideal in this situation.

I would highly suggest the SushiQuik for anyone and everyone who loves sushi and for anyone who loves trying new things. I would say it is great for beginners as well and could even be fun with kids (what can I say, a part of me was reminded of my Playdoh days). I’ll be sure to post a fun recipe or two once I have experimented with fillings.

The KitchenAid Spiralizer

Earlier this year I wrote a post about how I could eat noodles everyday. Now I can diversify my meals even more through my recent acquisition of a spiralizer attachment to the kitchen aid mixer. I have never been so excited to cook a noodle dish before. Except for that time I found the crock pot lo Mein recipe online. Now I can make zucchini noodles, sweet potato curly fries, cored apple slices for applewhiches! It’s exciting!

Everything is so carefully organized in the box, I may use it for actual storage. As my mom says, it’s much easier to store a rectangle than all the crazy shapes of the attachments themselves.

The first meal I made with this was a pork and zucchini noodle teriyaki dish I found on the Damn Delicious website. It saved me so much from boiling a pot of water and cooking pasta for up to 15 minutes (I really don’t like it al dente). The blade was easily detachable when I had to add or remove a zucchini, but not so loose that I was afraid of it flying out. It comes with a built in safety function that lets it know not to get too close to the head of the mixer.

Best of all, it is so easy to clean which is so satisfying! You really only need to clean the selected blade and the food skewer. The main attachment to the KitchenAid is ready for storage as soon as you’re done spiralizing, that is unless you seriously got it messy for some reason, but I imagine that would be hard to do. I appreciate any and all kitchen gadgets that are dishwasher safe. If they aren’t, they simply aren’t worth my time.

But the food spirals come out divine and delicious! I only realized later that many of them were in one long continuous piece that had to be cut down into smaller portions to make it easier to mix together. That did not bother me too much. My zucchini noodle dish turned out great! I would highly recommend it to anyone who definitely wants to take an extra creative step in food prep and those wanting to sneak more vegetables in their diet. The instructions are easy to follow and the actual spiralizing process is really clever and fun to use. I will definitely be using it within the upcoming New Year to improve my eating habits and hopefully create some new dishes.

Cookie Day

The best day of the year has happened, and I’m not talking about Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza. Cookie Day has come upon us! Where some people bake Christmas cookies sporadically across the Christmas season, at my house it is a full blown cookie operation that goes from 8 in the morning to sometimes 9 at night! A few times we have opened it up to friends who are flabbergasted by the sheer level of cookie baking, but some years I’m greedy and only want family to be around.

There are some staples that have become regular recipes every year from gingerbread (of course) to chocolate peppermint cookies (my favorite). But every year baking them brings about new stories. For instance, Christmas lobsters. One year we kinda went crazy with the cookie cutters and ended up making gingerbread Christmas lobsters for Santa. A few years later we added a pineapple, which if you turned it upside down looked like a squid.

One year I went so far as to give my gingerbread men six pack abs. Why not?

I know Hallmark commercials sell the idea that this is the season for making memories, but Cookie Day is the epitome of this for me. This has been a Christmas staple for my family since before I was a preteen. Back then my brother and I got more tired easily and eventually were let off to play or go watch a movie. Nowadays I make it to the very end. Of course sometimes we end up sharing a beer, but that created new memories itself.

Unlike other posts where I only post one recipe, for The holidays I plan on sharing two: my favorite chocolate peppermint cookie and a jolly recipe to go with it that the Dude would approve of: White Russians. Although I cheat and make mine a tad sweater than normal by adding Nestle Pure Bliss sweet cream.

Happy holidays and Mele Kalikimaka from Texas!

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

6 oz. chocolate chips

2/3 cup Crisco shortening

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup corn syrup

1 teaspoon peppermint extract (powder or liquid is fine)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup crushed peppermints/candy canes

Extra sugar in a separate bowl

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Get a ziplock bag or empty cereal bag and fill with a few peppermints or between 4-5 candy canes. Crush with a mallet, but do not make it dust.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips in a small saucer over low heat until melted
  4. In electric mixer, cream the Crisco and sugar until fluffy looking.
  5. Add the melted chocolate to the Crisco-sugar mixture.
  6. Add the egg, corn syrup, peppermint extract, vanilla, and mix well.
  7. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Add it to the electric mixer in small doses.
  8. Add crushed peppermints/candy canes
  9. When mixed well, dollop out 1 inch balls (a Mellon baller works amazing here)
  10. Roll balls in a bowl of extra sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet. They spread out so do not place too close together
  11. Bake for 12-15 minutes
  12. Cool on wire cooling tray

White Russians

1/3 cup vodka

1/3 cup coffee liqueur (like Kaluah)

1/3 cup cream or whole milk

1 Tablespoon sweet cream

  1. Fill a glass with lots of ice
  2. Combine vodka, coffee liqueur, milk, and sweet cream in the glass and stir well.
  3. Enjoy chilled with a cookie.

After so much blood, sweat, and tears (or the joy of moving on)

Well, I officially graduated yesterday. I feel terrible that I haven’t published anything in a while. But when you have to write a few 10-15 page essays over the military junta in Argentina in the 70s, negative characatures of the United States and Latin America in the time of Pan-Americanism, along with constructing art books over jazz, and finally an illuminated manuscript that has been a year in the making, you lose the time that you would otherwise dedicate to one’s food blog. That manuscript had me in tears more than once, but it turned out beautiful.

The last few weeks have been a lot of lasts and goodbyes it seems. I’ve had to say goodbye to professors, classmates, and even coworkers this week. And now I am officially out of a job. But I have leads to some new potential jobs perhaps during grad school.

Last night I finally graduated with my bachelors degree in history. I confess that I was tired for most of the ceremony and for a millisecond I considered skipping the ceremony and instead opting for my pjs instead of grad robes. But you don’t graduate every day. So after standing in line behind the scenes listening to classmates joke about “overthrowing the bourgeoisie” and talking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I finally walked the stage to graduate magna cum laude.

I have continually been reminded though of how much people associate goodbyes and final things with food. My boss and coworker took me and the graduate student worker to lunch one day at this artsy hipster restaurant that sold specialty pizzas. They had a serious fetish with arugula or something. My last day of Inter-American relations a classmate brought an amazing chocolate peppermint pound cake to share for everyone that was graduating. The day I turned in my final portfolio a classmate bought 400$ worth of Chick-file for approximately 5 people. My graduate coworker gave me a box of candies from India. It accumulated into last nights graduation dinner with my family at my favorite Chinese food restaurant.

I am not sure what to make of this trend. A part of me cannot help but associate these offerings of food and many “lasts” with a form of death. I know that sounds dreadfully depressing, but I do not feel that way. In many ways I’m glad I have all of that behind me. No more statistics or bootstrap samples. No more putting up with kinesiology majors asking you why your discipline is boring. For a little bit I have a break on deadlines and I can try to go to bed early. Although I’m leaving so much behind these last few years, I am genuinely happy to move on. Besides, the holidays are coming, I have a chance to get back into the kitchen and share some goodies with people.