Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Boy and His Adobo

Among the many, many terrible versions of Christmas carols playing on satellite radio at work, somehow a rendition of "A Few of my Favourite Things" seems to have slipped in. I've never really considered the song a carol (correct me if I'm wrong), but regardless, it served as something of an inspiration. No, not for cream-coloured ponies or schnitzel with noodles - but Pork Adobo, one of Matt's favourite dishes.

Matt had been asking for this one for a long time, and I'm honestly not quite sure why I've been putting it off. I'm not generally a lazy cook, and this was far less time consuming than I remembered it being. That said, the last time I made it, it did fall a little flat. My dad usually does a version with beef short ribs, which I prefer, but Matt wanted pork, and I figured if I was going to try it again, I might as well do it more or less right.

The original recipe is from The New York Times, and is presented with very limited tweaking. I used boneless pork ribs, mostly because they were cheaper than the whole rack of baby back, but also because I'm a recovering vegetarian, and bones in my food weird me out. So does lard, as you may remember from my last post.

Pork Ribs Adobo
adaptedish from The New York Times

1 cup apple cider vinegar, preferably organic and unfiltered
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 small bay leaves
1 large jalapeno chile, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 lbs baby-back pork ribs, (1 side, cut into individual ribs, or boneless ribs)
2 teaspoons sea salt
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons black peppercorns

In a bowl, combine vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves and chile and set aside.

Season the ribs with 1 teaspoon salt. With a mortar and pestle or a small food processor, grind the remaining teaspoon salt with the garlic and peppercorns until it forms a rough paste. Rub past into ribs and transfer to a large ziploc bag. Pour in the vinegar mixtures, seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight, turning occasionally.

Transfer ribs and marinade to a pot, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, until the meat is tender. (I let mine cook for more like an hour and a half, but I like the meat all shreddy, so take your pick). Remove ribs to a baking sheet and simmer sauce until thick.

Preheat the broiler, pour 1/4 cup of the thickened sauce over the ribs, turn to coat, and broil until nicely browned, about 7 minutes, turning once.

Serve over rice with the remaining sauce. Provide coarsely chopped tomato and onion to go along, if you like (it's tasty!)

And smile when you eat it - it makes the cook happy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A nice, multicultural cookie. Or something.

Sorry I've been so lax about updating lately... we are in full swing of Holiday Hell here in retail-land, and by the time I get home from a grueling day of customers and cookware, it's all I can manage to put something together for dinner... let alone photograph or write about it. But I had a day off yesterday, and so I offer these, the most Christmas spirit I've exhibited so far this season:

Biscochitos are high up on my list of favourite holiday foods, and are nigh impossible to find outside of New Mexico. I'd been planning on making a batch for weeks, and finally buckled down and did it, even using my new snowflake cookie cutter that I picked up at work. They turned out looking more like Stars of David, but I guess that makes for a nice, multicultural cookie. Or something.

I was actually reduced to googling "biscochitos" to find a decent recipe for these little cookies, with mixed results. I almost used this one, but it didn't call for alcohol, and I don't believe in virgin  biscochitos. I finally settled on this recipe, with a little tweaking. I feel like they could stand further tweaking, so I'll let you know once I have an updated version. The current recipe is highly edible, though, so don't feel like you need to wait.

Take One

1/2 lb butter (2 sticks - and I know that I am way out of line using butter; a proper biscochito must be made with lard. I'm a recovering vegetarian - I don't know what to do with hunks of animal fat).
3/4 c. white sugar
1 tsp. anise seed
1 large egg
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. red wine

1/4 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter (or lard, you brave souls), sugar and anise seed. Add the egg, and mix until combined.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.

Alternating with with the red wine, add the flour to the butter mixture.

Roll out to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, depending on how you like your biscochitos, and cut into suitable shapes. Snowflakes are great, especially if they melt into not-snowflakes.

Combine the remaining 1/4 c. sugar and tablespoon of cinnamon in a wide bowl, and press the face of each cookie into the mixture before putting it on the baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are golden.

Cool on a rack, and start eating as soon as they are cool enough to not burn your mouth.

In retrospect, here are a few ideas for tweaks: try brandy, which is what the original recipe called for, rather than red wine. While initially a lovely purplish colour, it faded to an odd grey, which is really not what you're going for with cookie dough. I could have sworn my grandmother makes them with red wine.... Also, out here in the humid northwest, err on the side off a little too much flour. I added probably a quarter cup during the rolling process, just to get the proper consistency for a rolled cookie, rather than a drop cookie.

Oh, and a word to the unenlightened - never ever ever call a biscochito a snickerdoodle, or at least not if you value your life.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Post-due Post-Thanksgiving Post

To be honest, I've never really understood the fuss about Thanksgiving. I am a fairly recent convert to mashed potatoes, turkey's never done much of anything for me, and it was always just a lot of fuss and family... usually right before finals.

This year, while calmer in terms of family (my folks flew out to visit, so it was just the four of us) was a blur of work and baking and kitchen heat. Admittedly with some very tasty results. This, however, was probably the best part of Thanksgiving dinner:

This was one of Chuck's later attempts to make friends with the turkey, actually. On his first attempt he got a few good bites off of one wing - I was preoccupied with gravy, I can't be held responsible. That, and it was really cute.

But even setting feline cuteness aside, this was a good year. I was working every day but Thanksgiving, so my folks got to take care of the shopping and prep. 

Dad made his Porcini and Cornbread Dressing which is, in all honesty, to die for. I don't even like dressing and I fought for the scraps. I promise I'll post the recipe soon. We have no idea where it comes from - a newspaper somewhere, some year, someone claims. Origins aside, it's fantastic.
But with ingredients like these, can you go wrong?

Add enough mushrooms to anything and I'll be happy as a clam, that's for sure.

The final spread also included mashed potatoes, broccolini, cranberry sauce and gravy... and landed on my desk.

Our dining room table is miniscule, so there was barely enough room for our plates and the champagne (because what is Thanksgiving without champagne?)

The only drawback to the desk-as-sidetable was Chuck learning a nifty trick of standing up on his hind paws and swiping turkey from the platter with his front paws. Unfortunately, all of my pictures of said trick are blurry, so it will just have to live on in memory....

My major contribution was dessert.

I made two pies that morning - apple and pumpkin - which was only faintly nerve-wracking as my mom is usually the pie maker. I've done a few pies since Matt and I moved out here, (how could I not, with all of the Northwestern berries?) but I knew my work would be measured against my mom's legendary pie-making skills. It stood up favourably, if I say so myself.

The apple pie you may actually recognize from my pretty new title up top - that was the project for the evening. Before anyone actually got to taste either pie, we spent hours photographing a single slice on a red plate, experimenting with countless angles, backgrounds and pairs of chopsticks. The end result makes me feel like a legitimate blogger, if nothing else. (Look! A picture at the top!)

Legitimate blogger or otherwise, I apologize for my recent absence - between holiday retail and finals I'm a bit frazzled. I'm cooking, I just can't think to write about it - we eat watching Top Chef and Grey's Anatomy and I speculate about life as a line cook and tall food and feeling a bit homely and, well, short. But after my Japanese final next Tuesday, the cookbook section at Powell's is calling my name, so hopefully I'll find a little more energy and inspiration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ulterior Motives

Company for dinner is often little more than a cover, here at Itadakimasu. I know, we look sweet and innocent, but you have no idea what's lurking once you're ensconced in a chair and well fed.... Because once you're wined and dined and unsuspecting, we pull out the big red box of Scattergories and dig in properly.

Matt introduced me to the game shortly after we got together, and I'm an unashamed convert.

That said, tonight's dinner was a pretty tasty cover for a few rounds of Scattergories with some excellent company.

We prefaced the game with what I've termed "Cheater's Chicken Mole" - a dish with the flavour of its far more complex ancestor, and an appealingly short list of ingredients, for those of us on a student budgets and jam-packed schedules. The recipe is one I tasted first at a dinner party at another friend's house, and then found in the Epicurious archives. My (current) version goes something as follows.

Cheater's Chicken Mole
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 chicken legs/thighs and 1 breast, all skinless and boneless (what I had on hand - thigh meat is best, as the original calls for)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
olive oil
1 1/2 yellow onions, one thinly sliced, the last half coarsely chopped (reserve for serving)
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced chipotle chiles
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (I had chipotles in adobo, which worked perfectly)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
salt to taste
large handful cilantro, coarsely chopped
steamed rice (for serving)

Cut the chicken into large pieces (about six per piece, depending on the size, really - perhaps three-bite-sized?) and sprinkle generously with cumin.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until it shimmers and then add the chicken, browning on all sides. Add (only!) the sliced onion and saute until just softened. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, chipotle, adobo sauce and chocolate and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer until the chicken is done.The original recipe calls for 20 minutes. I probably let mine go for closer to 45 - until we were too hungry to wait any longer. I also took the chicken pieces out to shred with a fork about halfway through. This isn't necessary, but it's how I like the dish.

Spoon the chicken and sauce over steamed rice and top with chopped onion and cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas, if you are a tortilla person.

We followed it up with a batch of these cookies from Orangette. They are, in a word, killer. Mine are not nearly so pretty as the originals, but I daresay they taste almost as good.

Oh, and do yourself a favour and pull out the box of Scattergories afterwards. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On a non-food note...

Itadakimasu now has a handy recipe index - look to your right!

The index will be growing as the site does, but I thought I'd get started on it early, just so as to make things easier in the long run. Go peruse - and find something to cook and eat!

One more thing to do with apples

I swear I've been trying to post for the last week. First real life ate me, and then blogger ate my post twice in one night, and I decided that was probably a sign that I should go study or something like that. Anyway.

I made this Apple Kuchen shortly after my last post, when we still had apples and were wondering what to do with them. And then I took the name to work and got one of my co-workers to teach me how to pronounce it.

The recipe itself I found on Baking Bites, a blog I have frequented ever since I discovered it via the ReadyMade blog. It was then called Bakingsheet, and the post that caught my eye was a recipe for homemade graham crackers, which were then supposed to be incorporated into homemade s'mores. I was still in my occasional-batch-of-cookies-and-brownies stage of cooking, so needless to say I never got around to either the crackers or the s'mores... but I still read the blog.

Origins aside, this is a nice, not-terribly-sweet cake that goes excellently with tea. I plan to omit the apples in an upcoming version and try it as a loaf cake - I'll let you know how it goes.

And a gratuitous kitty pictures never hurts - it's been too long.

Chuck has this thing for being cute in boxes - I can't help myself.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How d'you like them apples?

We liked them just fine. Liked them for two days and a whole galette, no less.

When we got home from the farmer's market, I had a bag full of apples and a mind full of pie... and then realized that I didn't really want to spend the entire afternoon peeling and coring and slicing. So I went with the slacker's version of apple pie: an apple galette, which combines beautifully flaky pie crust with a generous layer of apples, cinnamon and sugar. And it requires only one and a half good-sized apples, which means you can spend more time enjoying that rare clear blue sky and less time with your paring knife.

It is also the perfect excuse to get out your brand new pastry blender - which you bought specifically for this project. (Some good must come of working in a kitchenwares store).

Apple Galette
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons ice water

For the fruit:
~1 1/2 large apples of your choice (I used pippin)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and then cooled to lukewarm
3 tablespoons sugar
~1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (I don't actually know how much I used - I have a heavy hand with cinnamon)

In a large mixing bowl, combine your flour, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, chop the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs, with a few larger pea-sized pieces. Work quickly, so that the butter doesn't melt. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water over the flour mixture. At this point, I start using my hands to bring the dough together. If it's too dry, add another tablespoon of water, but be careful not to let it get too wet. Form the dough into a ball, flatten it into a thick disc, then wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Use this time to prep the apples. Peel and core 2 apples, then slice them about 1/8 inch thick.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator, and, on a sheet of parchment paper, roll it into about an 11-inch round. Brush a thin layer of melted butter over the dough.

Leaving a 1-inch rim of dough bare, layer the apples in slightly overlapping concentric circles on the pastry.

Fold the border of the dough over the edge of the apples. Galette are supposed to be rustic and charming, so don't worry if it looks a little messy. Drizzle all but about 2 teaspoons of the remaining butter over the apples. In a little bowl, combine the 3 tablespoons sugar and as much cinnamon as looks good (1/4 teaspoon is a good starting point), and sprinkle over the apples.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry starts to colour. Then lower the temperatures to 350 degrees and bake for approximately another 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and sounds hollow when you try to tap it and end up burning your fingers.

Pull the pan out of the oven, brush the apples with the last of the butter and let cool. Once it has cooled, transfer it to a plate (good luck with this - it's a bit tricky, since the pastry is so very crumbly). Your best bet is probably to transfer the galette with the parchment paper, and then slide the paper from underneath.

Serve with milk or tea - you'll need something, that's for sure.

And while it's best that first day, it will keep overnight if covered, and make a very tasty breakfast the next morning.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Itadakimasu: Saturday Morning Edition

Matt and I finally managed to get a day off together - and a proper day off, with no class and no work and no real necessary errands. Instead of sleeping in though, I dragged him out into the sunlight at the brutal hour of 12 o'clock to catch this:

Our local farmer's market, on the Portland State Campus.

It was pretty jam-packed by the time we got there, due to the pumpkin carving something-or-other going on in one of the central booths.

Our first order of business was breakfast - Matt was in search of the breakfast burrito booth, which does a decent imitation of a New Mexican breakfast burrito, but they were nowhere to be found. We went with tamales, instead.

A Yucatan chicken tamale smothered in somewhat spicy salsa - not a bad way to start the morning. The man selling them was handing out warnings alongside.

"I only have hot left - is that all right?"

Oh, more than. Matt had his with lashings of sour cream - prettier than mine, but not nearly as tasty, though he may beg to differ.

We sat on the steps of the library while we ate, much to the chagrin of the students attempting to go study. But once fortified, it was time to properly explore the weekend's crops.

My favourite apple booth was somehow out of Honeycrisp apples - my current addiction. I hope the season's not over. I picked up some Pippin and Jonagold instead - it's a rough life. At another booth, I also found some fresh-pressed, unfiltered cider. I came home with half a gallon, all sweet and cloudy. I may dig out some cinnamon sticks and cloves later on, and make a batch of mulled cider, if any of it lasts that long.

Also, despite being so theoretically isolated from all things spicy and New Mexican out here in the great Northwest... there is a chile-roasting booth at the market.

The roaster they use is just like the one that sits outside of the little fruit market down on 4th street in Albuquerque, where my parents bought (literally) garbage bags full of green chile. I remember chile-peeling parties in the front yard, with everyone gathered around a little round table, their hands gloved, peeling and de-stemming the green chiles, stuffing them into little ziploc bags to be frozen and used, all winter long.

We bought these - the hottest they have - right out of the roaster. We don't have any gloves in the house, so whenever I peel chile I always end up sitting with my hands in a little bowl of milk later that evening. Matt laughs at me, but it's the only thing I've found that stops the stinging.

More in a Northwestern vein, my usual mushroom booth did not disappoint. Fighting my way through the crowd that always gathers, I found a veritable mountain of chantrelles.

I took a hillock home with me.

Not all of those - just a few big handfuls. I haven't decided what to do with them yet: whether to incorporate them into something larger, or just saute them with a little butter and enjoy them on their own.

I also found myself taking absurd quantities of photos of various squash, something I neither eat nor cook, but am inexplicably drawn to.

Are these butternut? I feel compelled to call them butternut, because of the colour, but they could be spaghetti, for all I know. And these, what are these?

Besides amazing, I mean. I wish I liked squash - really, I do. I've tried. There's something about the texture, though, that I can't get past. It's mushy, no matter how it's cooked. And in soups, there's always a faintly powdery texture to it that I just can't get over. So I guess I'll just photograph them, for now.

There are a few other inedibles, besides squash. The Accordian Man, for example, while neither food nor farmer, is always there. He's a favourite with kids - there are usually half a dozen dancing somewhere nearby.

While I was taking a last minute tour of the booths to see if I had missed anything important, Matt took the camera and headed for the balcony of the student union building, to see if he could get some decent aerial shots, or spot anything new.

This picture gives you a decent idea of the scale of the market - it's decently-sized. Not overwhelming, and small enough to get quite crowded, but I had my choice of a fair multitude of different bakers, butchers, cheesemongers and orchards.

And florists - there can never be too many flowers at a farmer's market.

I tend not to bring them home, as I will put them in a vase, forget about them and find them brown and pathetic two months later. I do this with living plants as well, not just cut flowers. My parents' green thumbs passed me over, somehow. So for now, I just enjoy the pictures, and let someone who will remember to care for them take the flowers home.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A few fall colours

I'll be the first to admit that I have mixed feelings about living in Portland - and that I get miserably homesick for little ol' Albuquerque. Laugh if you like - I was so desperate to leave Albuquerque for so long, and now I can't wait to go home for a visit over Christmas....

Don't get me wrong - Portland has its moments.

Like that one. We've had a spell of dry days, recently - relatively clear skies, the weather cool but not freezing, the leaves beautiful and my first actual day off since classes began coming up on Saturday!

Also, I have a lovely new pair of pink plaid rainboots on their way to me right now - to help keep me dry when the rain returns. (According to the widget on Dashboard, it should be rearing its drippy head on Saturday - how ironic).

But when new rainboots and fall foliage aren't enough to keep me and Matt trudging through the grey... I make salsa.

And we eat it by the bowlful. On this particular night, what you see was what we got - chips and salsa for dinner. There were no complaints.

As usual, I don't really have a proper recipe for it. I've watched my folks make it for years, and I've made a few changes here and there to make it my own. On this particular occasion, I made a large batch and we used the rest in burritos the second night. This recipe will make enough to serve a group of people as an appetizer, or two as a major meal with leftovers.

Salsa for the Homesick

6-8 small tomatoes (I used romas, because that was what I found that day. Substitute any tastier, juicier variety you can get your hands on, though)
1/2 a large red onion
1 large anaheim pepper, seeds scraped out (it's mostly for flavour, rather than spice, but you needn't be too scrupulous about your scraping - a few seeds never hurt anyone)
2 serrano peppers, one with seeds in, one with seeds scraped out (change this up to adjust the spiciness to your liking)
large handful cilantro
2 limes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste (plenty!)

Chop the tomatoes and red onion into small, fairly regular pieces, and toss into a large mixing bowl. You don't want to mush them up, but neither do you want to end up with huge pieces of tomato and onion on your tortilla chip. Open the anaheim pepper and scrap the seeds out before chopping the chile into very small pieces. Add to the tomatoes and onions in the bowl. Open one of the serranos, scrape the seeds out and mince finely, and then mince the second one - with the seeds still in. Add to mixing bowl.

At this point, you may want to stir to combine and see how your ratio of tomato to onion to chile looks. Add a little more of any of them if you like. Chop the cilantro and add to the bowl.

This is the point when I diverge from my dad's recipe. He adds a little lemon juice to his salsa. I'm more of a lime kind of girl.

Slice two limes in half, and using a reamer or the citrus juicing item of your choice, juice into the mixing bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and plenty of salt.

Stir to combine, and taste. Adjust salt, lime, chile or olive oil to your liking. Taste again. The tasting process is crucial at this point in the salsa making.

And lastly, if you haven't already, break open the bag of tortilla chips and dig in. 

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Matt and I haven't really had time for one of our lazy Sunday mornings, recently. I work full time, so my "weekend" is comprised of the two days I go to class, and Matt goes to school full time, so his "weekend" is comprised of the two days he spends at work. But the last time we had a day off together, I made us a breakfast (probably sometime around two pm) of what I now call French Toast with Amaretto Apples.

The basic idea behind it is your preferred French Toast with a variation of carmalized apples with brandy - not having any brandy on hand, I used amaretto, and it worked to my advantage. I'm afraid I don't have a terribly specific recipe for this. As Matt can tell you, cooking with me can be an occasionally frustrating experience, as I don't usually measure things unless I'm either cooking from a new recipe for the first time, or baking. I cook the way my parents do. How much do I add? Enough - the right amount. Until it tastes/looks/smells/feels right. So, the following is an appoximation of how I make my French Toast.

Serves twoish - may vary according to appetite.

For the toast:
2 thick slices of whatever leftover bread you have around (I used sourdough boule from a couple days previous, a whole wheat pain would be lovely - walnut bread, if that's your thing)
2 eggs
2 large splashes milk
1 capful vanilla extract (about 1/2 a teaspoon, maybe?)
a few generous shakes of ground cinnamon (anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 tsp - I like cinnamon)
butter for the pan

In a large baking dish or shallow bowl (I use a 9x13x2 inch Pyrex), whisk the eggs with the milk, vanilla and cinnamon, and then add the bread and let sit, turning occasionally, until most of the egg mixture has been soaked up. In a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. When the butter is just sizzling, add the bread. You want it to start cooking on contact, so that it forms a nice crust. Let it fry without disturbing it until a nice goldeny brown crust forms, and then flip it and let the other side develop that same kind of crust and the bread cooks through.

When the bread is done, cover to keep warm.

For the apples:
1 large apple of your choice - something that cooks/bakes well. I used a Honeycrisp for this recipe - I love Honeycrisp. I would steer clear of Golden Delicious - they tend to go mushy. The amount of apple is negotiable - use more if you're an apple fan. I only had one apple left, otherwise I might have used two.
2 capfuls amaretto (3 tablespoonsish)
a sprinkling of sugar
a few more generous shakes of cinnamon
butter for the pan

Note: you should have the apples ready to go into the pan before you start the toast. If you have the kind of stove that can handle it (i.e. more than one large burner) you can start the apples after you flip the toast to its second side.

Core the apple, and then slice thinly. It should look like this when you're done:

Try not to eat too much of it before it goes into the pan.

Again, melt enough butter to generously coat the bottom of a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Saute the apples until they are warm and wilting, then sprinkle with sugar to taste (depending on how sweet you like your fruit - keep in mind that the amaretto will sweeten it further), cinnamon to taste, and then add a couple of capfuls of amaretto. (Like I said, for me a couple of capfuls is approximately 3 tablespoons. Again, this is very however-much-you-want-at-the-time).

Turn the heat down if the apples are getting too soft, and let the amaretto reduce slightly, until it gets a little syrupy.

Put a slice of French Toast on each plate, and top with apples.

Good luck with your version.

Oh, and gratuitous kitty photo, because they were being cute while I was cooking: