Holiday photodump part 1

Gearing up for the rest of the holiday season, and things are busy!

Don't have time for a proper post right now, so I'm just going to photo dump for a while. Enjoy!


My Kind of Baking: Yeastless Focaccia

I wanted to try some baking, but I didn't have any yeast on-hand, so I decided to look through some recipes that didn't require it.   I stumbled upon a handful of Focaccia and other flatbread recipes and realized this was what I was looking for.

I prefer unleavened bread anyway, so even if I had yeast, I'd probably stick my tongue out at it right now.

This recipe turned out to be so simple and tasty that I made it 3 times.  (well, 2 times so far, still have a ball of dough in the freezer for another day... we'll see how it works after being frozen)   This could easily be made without all the spice on top and used as a flatbread pizza crust or a something along those lines. As is, this is a great side for a simple pasta dish or salad. Best of all, I was able to make it without going out and buying any special ingredients.  I just happened to have all of this stuff at hand.

Anyway, I'll get right to the recipe.

1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon avocado oil
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp dried basil
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

This is a pretty basic dough from what I understand.   I'm an incredibly novice baker though, so who knows.  Whatever it is, it was easy to make and it ended up tasty, so I'm happy.

Preheat oven to 425

(I don't have a mixer, so this part took some elbow grease)
In a large mixing bowl, stir together water, flour, baking powder, and salt. Once it is mixed thoroughly, turn it out onto a dry, floured surface and knead until it turns into a ball.  At the end of the kneading stage, add the minced garlic and fold it into the dough.

Grease a 9x13 pan and plop the dough in the middle. Spread the dough out to the edges of the pan, should be about 1/2 inch thick throughout. Rub the top of the dough with oil, and sprinkle with the basil, garlic salt, and cayenne (I used two kinds of cayenne because it seemed like a good idea).

Bake at 425 for 20 minutes,  then add the grated Romano cheese and bake for 5 more minutes.

Enjoy the garlicky smell in your home and on your breath.


Sometimes he goes to Europe

Been busy lately, so I'm afraid this blog has fallen down quite far on my list of priorities.

I haven't forgotten entirely, don't worry, but I also don't have the time to make a real proper post at the moment.

I've been doing a lot of traveling over the last few months and have eaten a lot of great food.  I've also been less than wealthy because of my travels, and as a result of my financial status, I haven't been cooking anything all that interesting (at least not interesting enough for me to think of any of it as blog-worthy).

I'd like to get some pictures up on here though, so you can see that I haven't fallen into a ramen-rut at least.

Anyway, here goes:

I'll start with some of the food I was served on my European Vacation, which took me through 9 cities in 15 days:

And what better place to start than with a full English breakfast?
This was from a little place in London called MyCafe, and after a looong flight, a long day of walking around london, and a long night of drinking, this was pretty much perfect. (All I have to say is that I was glad i had the foresight to bring my multivitamins to the UK with me...)

I couldn't leave England without another classic either:  fish and chips.
 (I actually had this in two different places, but didn't take a picture of the first one).  These chips were hands-down the best I have ever eaten. Crispy on the outside, hot and soft on the inside. 

A few train rides later and we were in Edinburgh, where I had one relatively forgettable meal in the evening, and courtesy of the fringe festival, another very long night of partying.  Fortunately, the Scottish are just as capable of frying up a mean hangover-killer breakfast:

It's like black magic. Tasty, greasy, savory black magic.

Then a day and a half later, also like magic, we were in Amsterdam learning about Panakuken.
Mine was basically a shrimp pizza... on a pancake. Pretty ridiculous.
Sadly we didn't visit spain on our trip, but we did find a really great tapas place in amsterdam and had a wonderful lunch there.
Pretty sure I could eat tapas for every meal of every day for the rest of my life and be just fine with that.

Seems like i didn't take any pictures of any of my meals in Germany or Luxembourg sadly, but while staying in Lux, we did pop over the border to Belguim, where (as well as getting some good trappist brews and fries) we also sat down to a very lovely french-style meal.  I had a spicy saucy shrimp dish (not even going to try to recall the french description):
Let's see... last but not least, there was Paris, and my first encounter with escargot. (I absolutely LOVED it, by the way)

I wish I would have thought about this blog more while i was there and taken a more thorough set of pictures, but I was on vacation, and apart from random snapshots here and there, documenting my meals wasn't exactly on my mind.  There was plenty of delicious food across the entire trip, and I'm glad i captured pictures of at least some of it!

I'll definitely be revisiting most of these places in the future.

Ok that's it for now.  I'll try to get another update in soon!


Seafood Pho

I went to Le Cheval the other day and didn't get pho. It was the first occurrence of this phenomenon ever, and while I thoroughly enjoyed everything else that I ate there, I was left with a pretty big pho jones.

Browsing through the freezer contents the other day, I realized that I had a veggie bag ready to turn into stock (I save onion peels and random veggie trimmings in a freezer bag). I also had a bag of shrimp and prawn shells, and a few frozen squid.

I always wanted to make seafood pho...

...so I did, and it was awesome.

Basically, the process is the same as it always is when I make pho, regardless of the type of stock I start from.

First, thaw out the  frozen veggie cuttings.

Meanwhile, halve some onions, ginger, and garlic. Brush them with olive oil and roast them for 30-40 minutes at 450. Set them aside when finished.

Add the shrimp and prawn shells and the squid to the veggie cuttings and simmer for about an hour and a half over medium-low heat.

Strain all of this stuff out and return the stock to the pot.

Add the roasted onions, garlic, and ginger, some shiitake mushrooms, as well as the spice blend, 1/3 cup of fish sauce, a bit of oyster sauce, and a pinch of palm sugar.

The spices I use (clockwise from top):  black cardamom pods, green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, star anise, coriander seeds, sea salt, fennel seeds, cloves.

Simmer for another hour and a half or so and strain again. Finally, add whatever fresh seafood you want and simmer until it's cooked.

Serve over rice noodles with fresh basil, cilantro, mint, and lime.  (A squirt of Sriracha optional but recommended).

This time around I used a pound of cod, and a half pound each of sea scallops and octopus. It was awesome and I had leftovers enough for like 6 more servings later on. 

So now I've done vegetable, beef, lamb, and seafood pho. What's next?


Guacamole my way.

I get asked to make guacamole a lot.

Not exactly sure why it always falls on me to make the guacamole, but I'm always happy to oblige. To be honest, I don't like other people's guacamole nearly as much as my own anyway, so it's pretty win-win... especially when i can get someone else to pay for the ingredients.

Having recently made and photographed a few batches, and having no glamorous entree or ridiculous salad to write about, I have decided to finally share my recipe.  You'll notice I like to have about a one-to-one ratio of avocado and other ingredients. If you live in the Midwest or a similar area where avocados are prohibitively priced, you can substitute cooked, mashed, whipped, and cooled peas for a few of the avocados... but I would recommend that instead of doing that, you just stop being a cheapskate and buy the extra avocados.  My own solution to this issue was simply to move to California. Over time, my increase in cost-of-living will balance out with my not having to spend 3 dollars for every avocado I buy.

Anyway, on with it!

6 medium-to-large avocados
1 medium red or yellow onion
3 limes
1 jalapeño pepper*
1 medium-large tomato
3 cloves of garlic*
large handful of cilantro
salt & pepper

*Nelson family unit conversions:
1 jalapeño = 2-3 jalapeños
3 cloves garlic = 5 cloves garlic

There is one critically important part of the guacamole-making process (in my opinion): Combine the lime juice and avocado FIRST!  This will prevent the avocados from turning brown, which will also prevent the guacamole from turning brown. Brown guacamole, while still just as tasty as its green counterpart, is a failure in my book. Fortunately it is incredibly easy to prevent by simply starting with these three steps:

1) Squeeze your limes into a medium-large mixing bowl. Don't leave the peel in the bowl, I just left it in for the picture so it didn't look like some random pale yellowish liquid.
2) Cut up the avocado. I like to take a butter knife and pre-dice each half of the avocados and then just scoop them out into a bowl.
3) Mash the avocado and lime together until you get a good blend between smooth and chunky. I like to just wail on it with a fork for a while...  Follow these three steps first and your guacamole will stay green until the last bite.

4) Dice up the onion and tomato and mix into the bowl.

5) Mince the garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro and mix in.

6) Add cumin, salt, and pepper to taste, mix and serve.

Repeat this process at least once every few weeks for maximum satisfaction.



Gazpacho !!!

Ok, so I've been meaning to do some spanish cooking for a while.  I also am becoming totally obsessed with soup. It follows that I should learn to make gazpacho. As it turns out... well, it's the easiest soup ever (At least compared to Tom Yum, Lamb Pho, and other soups that I've been making).

As with any new dish I am planning and have never made before, I like to consult several different sources and figure out what the common ingredients and procedures are. Especially when a dish is a big cultural item like this, the recipes tend to vary wildly. Asking for someone's gazpacho recipe is like asking for someone's pasta sauce recipe, or chili, or something...

Anyway, I took a look at a whole slew of options, and tried to figure out what seemed like common ground, and which of the unique items in each recipe sounded good. Here's what I came up with.  I made a huge batch, too... so i'm going to say this will easily serve 8.

4 large tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers
1 medium zuccini
bread (see below)
1 large bell pepper
1 jalapeño
juice of 2 limes
5 cloves of garlic
1 medium red onion
fresh parsley
fresh basil
3 cups tomato juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. cumin
S & P

This is a SUPER easy recipe. Waiting hours and hours for it to chill properly is really the only hard part. Or maybe peeling the tomatoes, but I'm about to make that easy for you.

Easiest way I've found to peel tomatoes:

1) Boil enough water in a pot to cover the tomato you're going to peel.
2) Cut an X in the skin of the tomato on the opposite side of the stem
3) Briefly submerse the tomato in the boiling water
4) Immediately remove tomato and run under very cold water. the skin should pretty much just slough off.

Now that the tomatoes are peeled, the only other item you need to prep is the bread. I used about 6 inches of french bread... you could use a few slices of whatever bread is laying around, or like a kaiser roll or something. I don't see it mattering all that much.
Basically you want about a baseball sized lump of bread when it's done soaking. Take the bread, rip it up in chunks, and let it soak up some water for a few minutes, then squeeze gently to get the bulk of the water out.
(Soaking just makes it work better in the blender.)

Other than that, you pretty much just dice everything and either put half of that item in the blender and the other half aside for later. Start with the bread, the garlic, the cumin, and one of the tomatoes, then just start blending everything else in.

Two of the tomatoes, one cucumber, half the zuccini, half of the bell pepper, and half of the onion should be diced (small dicing... 1/4 to 1/2 inch), put in a bowl, covered and stored in the fridge for later.

Everything else gets chopped coarsely and thrown in a blender or food processor. You may have to do the blending in two parts if you don't have access to a crazy commercial blender like I do. (Thanks AJ!) Take the blended part, add salt and pepper to taste, and refrigerate this as well...  If you have the patience, give it a good dozen or so hours to chill and for the flavors to blend.

Try to wait at least 4 hours though.

When ready to serve, chop up some more fresh basil and parsley, add the diced veggies to the blended veggies, mix well, ladle into bowls, top with the fresh herbs, and serve.  (If it's a real hot summer day, serving in chilled bowls can be a nice touch)