Monday Musings: The Calm Before the Christmas Storm

2015-12-21 07.10.42
Having my parents around means Filipino food! Filipino fried chicken, sticky rice, and fried eggplant! I decided to rep the South and bring some collards to dinner.

It’s here. The week of Christmas.

Am I panicking?

Oddly, no. Mostly, because I spent the first half of December panicking. I am sufficiently burned out from being anxiety-ridden and all that’s left is Christmas excitement!!

It’s also my birthday this week! I’m not much of a birthday person but I’m pretty excited for it and Christmas this year for a couple of reasons:

  • My parents finally live in the same state as me again. I am ecstatic beyond belief.
  • I GET TO EAT FILIPINO FOOD AGAIN. THANKS MOM AND DAD.
  • I also happen to have extended family that just moved into the area.
  • My darling sister is home from school.
  • My friend group grew this year and they all (new and old) make my heart swell with pride and enduring affection.
  • I have managed NOT to gain extra weight due to an excess of Christmas sweets. Although – I’m pretty sure I burned off the calories by freaking out about presents, Christmas cooking and life, in general.
  • This blog! This blog has brought me so many happy moments, learning experiences, questions, bigger arm muscles (my entire cooking set is cast iron…) and so much more food and time with friends and family than I could have ever imagined.
  • My animals! I have more animals in my life this Christmas than I ever have! My family dog (Kella, who lives with my parents), pets of loved ones in general, and my cat! I have a cat! I never, ever, ever, EVER thought I would ever have a cat. She’s a demon. I named her Ozzy Pawsbourne. I’m clever. Don’t deny it.

2015-12-21 10.02.10

 

I’m sure there are many other reasons why this Christmas season is special. I’m a lucky girl who has a lot of love and food in her life.

Here are some good reads:

  • Uh, hi. Gordon Ramsay AMA on Reddit? Yes, Please! Also, when answering what he has for breakfast –  “The night before, put 3-4 bananas in the oven on a pilot light. And the next day, squeeze the bananas into almond milk, bring it to a boil, then add the oatmeal and dried cranberries, and you’ll have the most amazing oatmeal for breakfast.” Did I try this? You bet your cute bottom, I did. Was it awesome? Yep. No surprise there.
  • Political Polarization. With everything that’s been happening in our foreign affairs and the upcoming election, polarization feels all too real. “…the process appears to be inexorable and irreversible. Polarization is the new normal.”
  • Have I made this Hot Gruyere White Wine Chicken Dip yet? Nope. Do I plan on making it and huddling over the skillet and eating it all by myself while watching Netflix’s Daredevil? Yes.
  • Foster’s Market in Durham is my version of nirvana. Their pies are probably the best in the state. They just celebrated 25 years! The lady who owns the joint actually used to work for Martha Stewart!
  • As someone who had a short stint in graduate school and has always had contact with high academia, I can honestly say that “Impostor Syndrome” is as real as can be. I never knew there was a term for it but when I found out – it was nice to know I wasn’t alone.
  • Owner of the famous Pok Pok restaurant, Andy Ricker talks about how tough it can be to have wage equality in the restaurant business. Food costs money. Didn’t you know? He even states that making just a mere 10% profit is incredible.

Happy Holidays-ing. Keep calm, drink your coffee (laced with bourbon) and remember that I love you all!

 

Cooking With Friends: A Man Called “Frenchy” and an Eclair Crepe Cake

2015-12-19 11.16.45

Old friends are special.

Especially ones that will gobble a whole dozen donuts with you and will always be ready for more. Yeah. He’s that kind of friend.  A keeper.

With his shock of stark, yellow hair, prominent, French nose and his Banana Republic air to him – it was hard not to notice him in a crowd. Frenchy had always been this way – striking and distinct, but always warm and happily magnetic in person.

He is affectionately called “Frenchy” by his old high school friends because his family is actually French. Though he was born in the U.S., Frenchy spent over seven years living in France. Anyone from the European continent felt exotic to us high-schoolers at the time and so Frenchy’s persona was born!

I remember one year, for my birthday, he brought me the best surprise – crepes! We had them with Nutella and sugar and I thought I was the most special girl to deserve such a surprise.

Recently, I begged him to show me how he made crepes. It didn’t take much arm-twisting. He enthusiastically agreed and was excited, as was I, at the prospects of gorging ourselves on crepes for a night.

I was curious as to exactly how “French” it was to enjoy crepes. I found out from Frenchy that his family made crepes together from time to time and would make a whole meal out of it. They would use crepes as a part of the main dish – with savory elements such as eggs, bacon, vegetables and whatever else they liked. They would then round off the meal with crepes for dessert – something simple like sugar and lemon juice or Nutella and banana slices as the filling.

2015-12-19 11.15.19

Frenchy was so skilled at turning out crepes. He made many in no time at all. He told us about a French holiday tradition (the holiday of la Chandeleur in which it is a custom to have crepes on that day) that if you hold a coin in the same hand that you are holding the crepe pan in and you successfully flip the crepe, it will bring you good luck!

2015-12-19 11.14.17-1

Some of us were not so successful in our crepe-flipping endeavors. It was a fun experience nonetheless! I felt so very French while making and flipping crepes!

We decided, early on, that we would make a crepe cake. Aside from the fact that I’m a terrible traditional cake-maker (I am always too manic and impatient. I end up putting the icing on too soon and it all melts into a horrible, sugary mess), I was also desperately craving eclairs. So we decided to make a horrible, wonderful bastardization of two French classics and thus, the Eclair Crepe Cake was born!

 

2015-12-19 11.11.57

Layers upon layers of crepes, vanilla pastry creme and tempting, tantalizing, titillating chocolate ganache.

Did we devour this? Oh yes. Yes, we did.

And now, it’s your turn!

 

Eclair Crepe Cake

What You’ll Need:

For the Crepes:

You will need about 20-25 crepes

A non-stick crepe pan or shallow skillet

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  1. Combine all of your ingredients, EXCEPT for the butter, in a large bowl.
  2. Once all your liquid and dry ingredients are just combined – do not overmix – add in your melted butter last.
  3. Set batter aside in the fridge to rest while you work on the pastry cream.
  4. Once the pastry cream is made – heat your lightly-greased crepe pan or non-stick skillet to medium heat.  (You can wipe the pan with a bit of olive oil or melted butter). Pour 1/8 of cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl the batter in the pan so that the batter covers the pan evenly.
  5. Cook for about 30 seconds or until the sides of the crepe are just cooked and then flip to finish cooking. (Don’t be nervous about flipping. It’s just like a pancake. Be confident! You’ve totally got this!)
  6. Repeat until your batter is finished or until you have the 20 or so crepes you desire.

 

For the Pastry Cream

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tsps of orange zest
  • 2 tblsps of orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and the salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup milk in another bowl.
  3. Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the egg yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from scrambling when you add them to the simmering milk.
  4. Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining simmering milk.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture thickens.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla extract, orange zest and orange juice. 
  6. Rub an additional piece of butter over the surface of the cream, top with a piece of plastic wrap (make sure it touches the top of the pastry cream so it doesn’t develop a skin), then refrigerate until cool.

For the Chocolate Ganache:

  • 1 1/4 cup or 10 ounces of dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 3 tblsp of brewed coffee (or 1 tblsp of instant coffee granules)

Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between each 30-second session until the chocolate has just melted. Takes about 1 minute – 1.5 minutes total.  It’s okay if you still see lumps of chocolate chips. Keep stirring and the mixture will continue to heat and melt the chocolate and you will have a luscious ganache.

To Assemble the Cake:

Gather your cooled crepes. Place the first one on you platter and spread a thin layer of pastry cream (around 2-3 tablspoons of cream). Start from the middle and push the cream outwards. Do this for three crepe layers.

On the 4th layer, spread about two tablespoons of the chocolate ganache, working from the inside out. I like this alternation so that the rich chocolate doesn’t overpower the pastry cream and you can taste all the layers more distinctly.

Repeat 5-7 times until you have the desired height and layers of your crepe cake.

Top the cake with a thick layer of chocolate ganache (1/4 cup or thereabouts) and dot with blackberries or sliced strawberries.

My best advice to you is to make this cake in advance. The cake cools, settles and tastes better if it is left to sit overnight. 

2015-12-19 11.10.57

With that being said – I definitely did not do that. In fact, it was close to 11pm and the friends I was cooking with were worn out and hankering for a slice of the cake. Our sweet, French man cut the cake for us and we devoured our warm, chocolate-seeping slices in a weary but oh-so-satisfied silence.

2015-12-19 11.10.01

Eat and be merry! Be French!

Monday Musings – Holiday Hostile Harangues and Deep Breathing

2015-12-14 13.43.16

 

I won’t lie.

This current holiday season has been an absolute CHORE. I have no idea what it is about this year but December sneaked up on me with all the stealth of Peter Pan’s shadow – seemingly innocuous but altogether mischievous and hard to handle.

Between the hectic schedule, the decorating, the ever-busier roads, the present-buying, and the constant cooking and eating – I can hardly catch my breath. This past week was especially difficult to stand still for a mere moment.

I suppose I found myself in that holiday cliche where I let the stress, the materialism, and the rituals of the Holidays overcome me and I lost sight of what really matters.

COOKIES. 

Just kidding. Sort of.

In all earnestness though, if you’re feeling the stress this holiday season – breathe in deeply and exhale some jolly serenity because when it comes down to it, all that matters is that you have shown some genuine love and appreciation towards those who have made this past year enthusiastically bearable.

 

  • Feel better. Read something. Apparently bibliotherapy is totally a thing. I know reading makes me a happier person.  This article also distinguishes the kinds of writing that becomes transformative and therapeutic for many people.
  • Love above all. Even if that means loving yourself the most. “Sometimes it’s all right to be in flux and still be figuring things out.
  • Need your food-on-film fix? Anthony Bourdain wholly endorses this enumeration.
  • Feeling some holiday warmth, Asian-style? Give Jamie Oliver’s Hot and Sour Soup recipe a try! I definitely added twice the amount of ginger. That will clear you right up!
  • Oh, Donald. Even your own party is skeptical. What are your thoughts?  Are you tuning in for the Republican Debate tomorrow night? (December 15th)
  • Can chefs be the axis of activism? With food culture as ubiquitous as it is, why the hell not?
  • Culinary creativity extends to prisons, too. “The ingredients aren’t fancy; the technique, although creative, is improvisational. The DIY recipes are special, Diaz said, because of what they represent to the inmates—a chance to feel like a human being again.”
  • Listen. I like gifts that aren’t food-centered too! (Although, let’s be real, food-centered gifts are 99.5% of what I wish for every year) Take a gander at this cool gift guide. It covers both genders, which totally stops my panic-induced hyperventilation in its tracks.
  • BUT THEN. There is this foodie gift guide that gives a little back.

Have a beautiful, noms-filled week.

Rebellious Baked Falafel

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
2015-12-10 12.31.49

As a child of immigrants and tradition – I sometimes hate to deviate from age-old recipes but, as always, lack necessitates innovation. I’m sure, to those familiar with Falafel and have grown up eating it, the idea of baking it is near abhorrent. For this, I truly and deeply apologize.

I’ll be honest – I would have fried the Falafel as tradition dictates but I didn’t have enough oil to fry with! Furthermore, the holiday season is ripe with overeating and I can feel my thighs expanding. I figured, just for once, that I could shun my Paula-Deen-excess-loving-butter-glorifying ways and do without the extra fat.

Have you had Falafel before? Does hearing the word ‘Falafel’ make you want to rhyme it with words like waffle or awful? Your answer should be yes. Don’t judge me.

Like hummus, Falafel’s origin is claimed by at least half-a-dozen countries in the Middle Eastern region of our world. Regardless of where it came from, it’s utterly delicious. It is basically  a ball of ground chickpeas with spices and herbs that is usually deep fried.

2015-12-10 12.34.09

 

2015-12-10 12.33.37
Please excuse my weird scratch marks near my wrist. My cat is insane.

Baked Falafel

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups of dried, yellow chickpeas – soaked in cold water overnight
  • 2 tblsp of chopped parsley
  • 1/2 a medium onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of dried coriander
  • 1/4 tsp of sumac (or ground cardamom – sumac can be tricky to find outside of ethnic grocery stores. I’ve used both in different batches and both variations were devoured)
  • 1/2 tsp of dried, ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of baking powder
  • 3 tblsp of flour
  • 3 tblsp of water
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling on top
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. After you have soaked the chickpeas, drain them well. In a food processor, grind together your chickpeas, onion, garlic and parsley.  Don’t crowd the food processor otherwise you won’t get the right consistency. Grind the chickpea mixture in batches if you must.
  3. You’ll want to reach a texture a little coarser than sand. I found myself adding about 2-3 tablespoons of water as I ground the chickpeas just so it could reach the desired texture.
  4. Once you have finished grinding the chickpea mixture, pour the mixture into a bowl. Add all of your spices, flour, baking powder, salt and 3 tablespoons of water. Mix until just combined and don’t over-mix.
  5. With wet hands, form the chickpea mixture into about 2 inches wide patties and place them on their baking sheet. Once you have formed all of your patties, drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top of each patty and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. (I ended up using black sesame seeds because it’s what I had but normal sesame seeds are more traditional. Either way – I absolutely love sesame seeds and will take them in any color.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

2015-12-10 12.32.42

Make yourself a giant spread of pita, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers, sauteed veggies and hummus and labneh. And if you’re like me – you’ll roast some spiced chicken thighs just to cram into your already-overflowing pita sandwich.

2015-12-10 12.35.37

 

Happy Masticating!

 

Monday Musings: A Wedding and Bloody Mary Carts

12316353_10154383762789942_2466753020961659856_n
Photo Credit goes to the lovely Krystyl Boyle.

It is another Monday.

This particular Monday signaled the end of a beautiful weekend spent commemorating a best friend and her marriage to her charming now-husband. Of course, because she is one of my best friends – not only was the ceremony absolutely gorgeous but the food was also phenomenal. I would have expected nothing less. Congrats, Sara and Mark! May your life be filled with happiness and much marinara sauce and cake! (If you knew Sara, you would understand why this isn’t a strange thing to wish her.)

After the wedding festivities, the good times continued with the most glorious of brunch meals at the well-reputed Fahrenheit restaurant in Charlotte. My meal of choice was the Loco Moco – complete with a tender lamb burger and a griddled ramen patty. Don’t even get me started on those sunny side-up eggs. Oh, dear god. Oh. Ohhhhh.

2015-12-07 11.16.46

Furthermore, if you had the good sense to order a Bloody Mary at Fahrenheit, your morning alcoholic needs would be tended to by a very lovely lady who rolled around a cart with all the Bloody Mary accouterments you could ever ask for. When she pulled up with that cart, I felt like Harry Potter on the train to Hogwarts for the first time and the snack trolley just pulled up. My eyes became wide and need for vodka and tomato juice intensified beyond words.

2015-12-07 11.16.11

Aside from attaining Bloody Mary nirvana in a restaurant on the top floor of a beautiful hotel in a beautiful city – I was reminded once again that not only is food a reason to gather together but food as part of a celebration can only intensify the sense of camaraderie and affection for one another. It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyways – that the world can only use more of a sense of togetherness.

 

What are we fighting for? What are your thoughts on Obama’s recent Oval Office address?

Beyond love, a healthy respect for each other what moves us as individuals is required to sustain a marriage. Do we forget this at times? What reminds us?

Yottam Ottolenghi – on of my favorite chefs and author, has come out with a new cookbook! Take a gander at Nopi!

“That is the crucial question that will determine whether a Paris climate change accord has teeth, or whether it is little more than an expression of good will.” And how much money can we contribute to developing countries since 1st-world countries are the ‘aggressors’ in causing climate change?

Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk. Don’t even begin to question it. Yes, it sounds weird. Is it weird? No. NO. IT’S NOT WEIRD. It’s probably one of the best chicken recipes I have ever had the pleasure of making. I’d send Jamie Oliver flowers of gratitude if I could.

So many things to think about! May you have a wonderful week filled with wonderful meals!