Thursday, March 25, 2010

Baking with beau!

Hello food lovers--

Last night, I did something I hadn't done in a long time--bake! I rarely bake for a couple reasons. One is that I started cooking because it was required. In college, I needed to feed myself and cooking was the cheapest way. Baking, though, isn't really required. I don't need cookies or cakes or pies. Another reason why I rarely bake is that you can't usually "wing it" or not follow a recipe or directions, which is what I tend to do when I cook. Many of my cooking skills have been learned through experimenting, not something you can really do with baking.

But some time ago, Jeremy suggested that we bake chocolate chip cookies together. Now, something you all need to know is that Jeremy was born without a sweet-tooth. In fact, he's basically a salt-tooth. Not only does he prefer the savory to sweet, he will shun any dessert offered and instead go through a gallon of soy sauce. Seriously, here is a photo of our respective desserts on Valentine's Day:

But Jeremy can go for a good chocolate chip cookie now and then, so I was happy that we could make and enjoy one dessert-type food together. Plus, I kinda love doing anything with Jer Bear, even if chocolate or cookies aren't involved. :)

Anyway, back to the baking. I tried to find the most basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, since I'm bad at following too many directions. I ended up using this recipe from (minus the nuts):

Instead of white sugar, I used only brown sugar. And when I realized that the recipe made about 4 dozen cookies, I decided to halve it. (Jeremy and I don't quite need 48 cookies.) I also didn't have a measuring cup or measuring spoons. I know this is blasphemy when it comes to baking (another reason why I hardly bake), but I decided to just be as standard as I could by using the same small mug to measure cups and two different size spoons to measure teaspoons and tablespoons.

I started off by softening the butter in the microwave and then creaming it with the brown sugar. (I actually had to look up what "creaming" is exactly.) I was proud of myself that I managed to do it the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon.

No electric mixers here!

Then I beat in the egg and vanilla extract. I separately mixed the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Then Jeremy used his manpower to stir these dry ingredients into the mixture, plus the chocolate chips. After that, we rolled the dough into balls and put them in well butter-greased pans.

Here's one pan. We had three pans, for a total of 18 cookies. The recipe calls for baking it at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. However, our cookies ended up needing about 12-14 minutes. I found that the cookies baked more quickly in our medal pan (rather than the sheet pan shown here), and those need no more than 10 minutes.

Here are all of the cookies cooling on a plate (no cooling rack needed either!).

We didn't have milk on hand, but the cookies were still delicious with a cup of lemon rose tea. I thought they were so good and I was a little bit proud of us. ;) They were great to have after a spicy Indian dinner, and they were rich enough that I only needed two. Mr. Salt Tooth ended up eating six cookies! I thought that was quite the sign of success.

Now, I have to get all mushy and dedicate this post to Jeremy. Even though he doesn't have a sweet tooth, he is one of the sweetest people I know. When we began dating, "sweet" was the word that summed him up. I know this is a public forum, but I will admit that we have had some hard times lately and have had to deal with pressures and difficult decisions. Sometimes I haven't been the sweetest person myself. However, every day I look forward to making dinner with Jeremy. It's always the highlight of my night, even when I'm tired and don't feel like cooking or cleaning. One thing I love about Jeremy is that we've grown to be each other's sous-chef. He's never left me to do the cooking and cleaning just because I'm a female. He's always been a willing participant (even when he's tired too). Although he's mentioned before that I taught him how to cook, the truth is that we've both taught each other through experimenting together. (He officially makes the best potatoes!) I love our routine of having dinner together throughout the week (we're sort of homebodies I might add), but I also love doing any little new thing with Jeremy too. Baking chocolate chip cookies was something new, and now it's a sweet memory I can cherish (yes, I'm going to keep punning on "sweet"). I know that when he goes to law school and I to graduate school, we won't necessarily have our dinners together. But I know we'll find a way to start new traditions and there will be different things I look forward to doing, besides simply making dinner. But for now, I can take comfort in the fact that I'll at least be able to mail him a care package of chocolate chip goodness. (I know you'll need the sugar rush in law school, my love!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cheap Eats (with no meat)

My last two posts have been about sustainable chicken and fish, but there are other foods that offer eco-friendly and animal-friendly deliciousness. One such meal that I love to make is beans and rice.

Beans and rice make a great meal because together they make complete proteins, but also have lots of fiber and no saturated fat (if you don't add fats to the beans). Best of all, it is a very cheap meal! I use dried beans to save money (and I don't want to lug the weight of cans since I don't have a car).

Dried beans are easy to make as long as you remember to pre-soak them. I usually get a mixture of different dried beans and lentils. Soak them overnight or for a day. I usually put 1 to 1.5 cups of dried beans in a pot and cover them with a good amount of water, about 3 cups of water to 1 cup of dried beans. (Too bad I didn't think of taking step by step photos so you could see the dried beans soaking.)

I start soaking the beans in the morning before I leave for work (around 8 a.m.) and then start cooking them once I get home (around 6 p.m.). Strain and rinse the beans and then put them back in the pot, covered in water. Once the water comes to a complete boil, I take the pot off the stove, strain the beans again, and put them back in the pot with fresh water for a second boil. Doing this makes the beans softer and more digestible (ahem, less of a "magical fruit"). Use about 3 cups of water to 1 cup of beans, so that 1 cup of dried beans will become about 3 cups of cooked beans. This is one reason why it's so cheap!

From there, the beans will take about 1-2 hours to cook. I like to add different herbs and seasonings to the beans. Tonight I added chopped celery, rosemary, onion, garlic, chili flakes and black pepper. After the beans soak up most of the water, I add in a can of chopped tomatoes and some olive oil. Note, do not add salt to the beans until the very end of their cooking.

And then viola! You're done. Cooking beans from scratch is time consuming, but it isn't labor consuming. You really just put everything in a pot and check on it now and then.

I had these beans with white rice (brown rice is good too) and sauteed orange peppers. Tasty, healthy and easy on the wallet.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sustainable Fish

As I mentioned in my last post on chicken, I've been concerned lately about the seafood I eat. Overfishing has caused a huge depletion of fish species, environmental destruction, and harms other sea life, such as turtles, dolphins, crabs, and many other critters. Not to mention mercury poisoning! Unfortunately, I eat a good amount of fish (3-4 times a week); so what's a pescatarian to do?

While planning a weekend trip to Monterey, I came across the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide. This guide is awesome because it lists fish that are best to eat, others that are good alternatives, and those that should be avoided. You can choose your guide according to where you live: I'm definitely no longer eating any fish on the avoid (red) list and hope to eat off of the yellow list only a few times a year (if at all). They also have a guide to use for sushi dining. Both guides can be downloaded to your phone as well.

I further recommend using their seafood search, where you can look up reports for each species of fish. I found this helpful for looking up tuna, since there are different types that often go by different names (Ahi, for instance, can be used to refer to Bigeye or Yellowfin tuna).

Here are some photos of fish dinners I've made with such sustainable fish:

Rainbow U.S. Farmed Trout with potatoes, mushrooms and onion. Yum. Trout is also usually cheap and easy to cook.

To be honest, I forgot which fish this was, but I believe it was wild Mahi Mahi. Troll/line caught U.S. Mahi Mahi is a Best Choice and longline caught U.S. Mahi Mahi is a Good Alternative.

Wild Tuna Steak. Can you tell that I love pairing fish with bok choy with rice?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Return to Chicken

Last night, I decided to buy and make my own Rotisserie Chicken. Now, let me explain why this was a big decision, besides the fact that I have never roasted a chicken.

The summer before my junior year of high school--almost 8 years ago!--I decided to give up all meat besides fish. I wanted to give up fish too, but my parents were too worried that I wouldn't get enough protein. (Plus, I really liked sushi, so that made my parents' demand pretty reasonable.) I still eat fish, but in the last year or so, I've learned about how a lot of fish are over-fished, which endangers their species as well as harms the environment. Plus, there are concerns about mercury poisoning and commercial fisheries using practices that end up hurting other sea life, such as turtles and dolphins.

One reason why I ended up giving up meat was because of the meat industry's damage to the environment as well as their cruelty to animals. So I decided I couldn't keep eating fish if this was true of the fishing industry too. But rather than go full vegetarian, I decided to see if I could buy a sustainably and humanely raised chicken to eat. (This decision was mostly influenced by Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and because Jeremy eats chicken too. Note, I do still eat fish, but I try to avoid the "bad kinds," which I will do another post on later.)

I ended up buying Mary's Organic and Free Range Chicken. Now, let me break down what these terms mean in regard to chicken. Organic means that the food the chickens ate was organic (aka not grown with pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals). Free Range means that chickens had access to the outdoors and were not kept in battery cages. However, I'm not really satisfied with the idea of free range. Why? Because free range means that chickens only had "access" to the outdoors. This means that chickens can be packed together in a barn, with a little doggie door opened up now and then to allow them to wander out. This door might lead to a tiny concrete porch, not necessarily a grassy pasture. Now, this is still a lot better than living in a battery cage, but I'd prefer if the chicken was pasture-raised. Pasture-raised means that the chicken was mostly raised outdoors--they actually had access to fresh grass where they could graze and stayed indoors when necessary (i.e. when they sleep and are young). Mary's Chicken didn't say "Pasture-raised," but other writing on the package indicated that the chicken was most likely pasture-raised. I also did a little research on the brand and visited their website: . I was pretty satisfied with their description of how they raise their chickens, and I was happy that the farm was fairly local. (I suggest watching their video too!)

Now, let's get to the cooking. I decided to copy this woman's recipe, which she got from Emeril, who got it from Julia Child:
(it is the roasted chicken and vegetables recipe). I basically followed her exact instructions with a few minor changes. My chicken was also just over 3 lbs, not 4.

For the vegetables, I used 3 medium yukon gold potatoes, 1 big golden sweet potato, 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, and half an onion (no parsnips). I put the celery leaves and onion in the chicken cavity, along with salt and pepper. I seasoned the outside of the chicken with olive oil, a little butter, salt, pepper, crushed garlic, and some dried thyme I had in my pantry. Also, when I basted the chicken for a second time, I drizzled a little mix of olive oil and red wine (tempranillo) over the chicken and veggies.

I thought it turned out really good! It was delicious and healthy, and I was proud that my first time roasting a chicken wasn't a disaster. :) I think in the future, I will experiment with different seasonings. I am sure adding rosemary would be really good and maybe a bit more of the garlic or wine, as well as salt and pepper. It fed Jeremy and me well with the wings and some breast still leftover.

Finally, at the end of this long post, I want to thank the little chicken who gave up his or her life to feed Jeremy and me. And I hope that its own life was happy on Mary's farm.