Steak with Mustard Onion Sauce and Yucca Fries

First things first: that picture doesn’t do this meal justice. I know, I need better picture taking skills. I was talking to a friend who is friends with a local food blogger, a very successful food blogger, and my friend said I need to up my picture taking game. This topic has come up before and it’s one I wrestle with often. Here’s the thing, taking curated pictures is only not “my thing” but it’s also hard with what I do.

Most food bloggers test out their recipes before they publish. This means they make it a few times before they post about it because they have to make sure the ingredients work well, that measurements are accurate, and that it doesn’t suck. Because of this, they have ample opportunities to take good pictures. Yes editing plays a huge part in picture taking but so does the set up. I’d say the set up is just as important as a filter and I bet many photographers agree with me. It’s an art form for a reason!

I don’t have that luxury. For me, these meals are a one and done. I’m not creating these recipes, I’m merely following them, so the luxury I do have is not having to test them out. But since I make them once and feed my family directly from them, I don’t have time to take a lot of pretty pics. Even when I’m actually cooking, it’s hard to take a minute out and set up a shot. I’ve tried, with both my phone and an actual camera, and it’s not easy. I’m messy when I cook and my kitchen has crap lighting so taking a good pic involves cleaning up a bit and then standing on a step stool and come on, when I’m working on a sauce or something attention consuming, every minute is precious. I literally don’t have time for that.

And then I have hungry kids and a husband. And myself. I get hungry too. When I finish cooking, I want to eat. I don’t want to place my food on the table and then haphazardly throw a napkin to the side to make it look super casual and take a pic; the food will get cold and my kids will annoy me even more because they won’t stop asking for Goldfish crackers.

But if people think that’s what will make this more appealing, maybe I should do this. Maybe I should make the time, somehow. Once again, input from my five readers is most appreciated.

But this meal, even though the pics don’t show it, it was guuuuhd. Not just good, GUUUUUUHD. The steak was crispy on the outside and medium rare on the inside. The sauce, oooh, I can eat that sauce all day, e’eryday. It was a little tangy and salty but creamy and buttery. I ate two pieces and didn’t even care. The fries were spectacular! The three year old couldn’t stop eating them. She really liked smothering them in the sauce and kept stealing mine. They were lighter than potato fries and not as starchy. I will make these again for sure.

So make this one meal, if you can. It’s easy, yummy, EASY. Also let me know about pics. I’m conflicted.

Recipe, Recipe

Black Bean and Sausage Soup and Ham and Cheese Puff Pastry

I am still a week behind, yay! Luckily I’m taking this week off from cooking so I can catch up. I’m still cooking, but not specifically for the blog. I am toying with the idea of creating a separate page for my off week meals because 1. they’re easier and 2. I get to experiment. I will probably only post one or two meals because the point of having an off week is to give myself a break from posting and planning but some meals are meant to be shared. I’m just not 100% sure I want to do it because off weeks are when I catch up and do admin work and adding new posts kinda defeats the purpose. Also, is there even a desire for it? Would the five people that read this blog really enjoy it? Five people, feel free to leave input.

Last week we ate Brazilian food, specifically food from Rio de Janeiro. I found a couple of Brazilian cookbooks I liked but My Rio de Janeiro: A Cookbook stood out. It’s very colorful (I most definitely judge a book by its cover) and I really liked Leticia Moreinos Schwartz’s personal anecdotes that accompanied most recipes. The stories weren’t long or complex but I did feel like I was transported and was able to clearly visualize the story being told.

The soup was incredible! The recipe called for linguica sausage or chorizo but I used kielbasa. Being in Texas, I have access to Mexican chorizo but Mexican chorizo is very different from Spanish chorizo, which is what I assumed was closer to what she used than Mexican. Mexican chorizo is spicy, greasy, and crumbly; Spanish chorizo is cured so it’s closer to salami than Mexican chorizo. I love Mexican chorizo and if I could, I would eat it more often but it’s messy and not the healthiest food. The best foods are hardly ever the healthiest. I did a bit of research and saw that kielbasa was pretty close to linguica and it was right there in front of me at HEB so I went with it. The recipe said to crumble it up but I just sliced it. Easy peasy.

I also used dried beans instead of canned because canned beans don’t do well in soups. They get mushy and it really messes up the composition. If time allows, I always prefer to soak my dried beans for a few hours and then boil them. They get soft but very rarely break up the way canned beans do.

The baby loved the soup. Here’s proof. And yes, she’s shirtless. When we have particularly messy meals, I strip her down to nothing but a diaper. I am not about the laundry life!

The puff pastries were really good too! Baby was not a fan of those but the oldest one did enjoy peeling away the sheets of pastry. I would add more cheese next time because I felt they weren’t oozy enough but other than that, I loved them. They weren’t too heavy and I felt they went very well with the soup. The soup was just a little salty, probably because of the sausage, but the pastries helped calm it down. I actually ate one for breakfast the next day, heated it up in the oven for about five minutes at 350, and it was heavenly.

The meal was great and made us very anxious for the rest of the week. I’m just going to leave it at that.

Recipe, Recipe

Banh Mi

From August 2005 to May 2006, we lived in Houston. We moved because James got a job there and I didn’t really have anything going on in Austin so I followed him. It was a stressful move. He moved up there first, just a couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and I followed a few weeks after. I moved up on a Saturday and the following Wednesday, there were mandatory evacuations from Houston due to Hurricane Rita. That pretty much set the pace for our nine months in Houston: pure chaos. 

What does this have to do with banh mi sandwiches? James had a co-worker in Houston, Johnny, who introduced him to all different kinds of Vietnamese food. They would regularly go to lunch at different restaurants off Bellaire and James would tell me all about his culinary food adventures. Meanwhile I worked in property management, in an office of seven, and I could only tolerate one person. That one person was El Salvadorean and she introduced me to all kinds of stuff; the others were true to life succubi who rolled their eyes at me when I’d talk about “weird” things like eating lentils, using crueltry-free cosmetics, or believing that women should be equal to men. “Go back to Austin with that crazy talk, Melissa!” That was seriously said to me numerous times. 

God I hated those women.

Anyway, Johnny would take James to eat banh mi and James loved it. He always planned on taking me but we never got around to it. I think he was also a little hesitant to go without Johnny because most people in that area didn’t speak English and he was afraid we’d get the wrong food. I feel like that was a very valid concern. Oh, and by the way, up until I made it, I’d never eaten banh mi. It’s become fairly popular in the past few years and there are a couple of restaurants that specialize in it here in Austin but we’ve just never made it. And now I don’t need to, cause I know how to do it myself. 

I didn’t use the recipe that was in the book because it called for pâté and I don’t eat pâté. I don’t know if pork pâté is made the same way goose pâté is made but I don’t care, I’m not supporting the pâté industry and its barbaric ways! I used a recipe from Chowhound; it also called for pâté. I just eliminated that part from the meal. 

The hardest parts about this meal were the brining of the meat and making the mayo. The brining wasn’t hard in itself but it just took forever. Like nine hours forever. Making the mayo was pretty cool, though, and I now refuse to use store bought mayo. There’s just no reason to buy it when you can make it yourself with a few ingredients AND it taste so much better than store bought! The only drawback from making it yourself is that you do end up making about two cups and you have to use it within a week or it goes bad. I don’t know anyone who uses two cups of mayo a week. That’s not true. I bet my old boss in Houston uses two cups of mayo a week. 

So anyway, my first experience with banh mi was amazing! I loved it! James said it wasn’t as spicy as he’s used to but that’s because I pulled out all the membrane and seeds from the jalapeños. I do not have to time to have my mouth on fire. The meat was so tender and juicy and the mayo, oh, the mayo was perfection. I’m glad James requested this meal.

This was our last Vietnamese meal and I’m glad we ended it with a bang. The wait was totally worth it. I just need to find a way to make this faster. Recommendations? I mean, other than going to a restaurant and ordering one. 

 

 

Hanoi Style Fried Fish and Stir Fried Morning Glory

I always have reservations when making fish because a meal involving it can go south real quick. There have been times when I’ve cooked with a new kind of fish and my body processes it in a way I didn’t know it was capable. I’m looking at you orange roughy…Or there are certain fish that regardless of how you prepare it, you can’t get rid of that fishy taste. That typically happens when the fish isn’t cleaned properly or you’re eating a bottom feeder (hi catfish!) so it’s possible to do things to avoid it but it happens nonetheless. And it sucks when it does. Especially when you’ve put time and energy into the preparation. Because of this, I really try to stick with fish I know and if I have to try a new fish, I always prepare for the worst. 

I didn’t prepare for the worst with this meal because I’ve had cod before. 

I should have prepared, a little. 

Okay, that makes it sound a lot worse than it was and it wasn’t THAT bad, it just wasn’t that good either. I think the problem for me was the tumeric paired with the fish. Both are very strong and it was a little overpowering to have all that together. The vermicelli did help mellow it out but when I tried to eat the fish alone, it was just too much. It was salty and then a little numbing, which is the tumeric, and then more salt. I really don’t like salt.

The surprise was the morning glory. Morning glory is also known as Chinese water spinach and my mind immediately went to the Stir Fried Water Spinach from Burmese week. They are two completely different greens but my mind still went there and it wouldn’t leave.

Then I ate it.

My mind got over it and moved on. It was nowhere near as bitter as the kailan and it was very, very similar to regular spinach. It was kind of buttery and I loved it. I actually ate a lot more of the morning glory than the fish. The best part was how easy it was to prepare although I did have some run-ins with a worm and a grasshopper when I was cleaning it. That probably didn’t help put my mind at ease before eating it. Always wash your produce. Always. ALWAYS.

Recipe, Recipe

Grilled Pork with Vermicelli and Green Mango Salad

So I’m almost a week late in posting!

Last week was not an off week but it was a very busy one! I don’t typically cook on Mondays anyway and I didn’t cook on Tuesday because I had a friend’s birthday dinner. This meal was made on Wednesday but I forgot to post on Thursday because James and I ran some errands and caught up on House of Cards. I didn’t post on Friday because both girls were home and the little one wasn’t feeling well so we just vegged out. I also saw The Cure on Friday night, which left me incredibly hungover on Saturday and part of Sunday. It was worth it, though, they played for three hours. 

It doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s surprising how fast the day can slip away from you. The girls go to school Tuesday through Thursday so I try to schedule my blogging for those days. I have to fit blogging, errands, chores, appointments, and running into those twenty-two hours, which never feels like enough time. And things always come up, like today the oldest one is home from school because she isn’t feeling well. We also have the little one’s birthday party on Saturday so in addition to my regular junk, I have to make decorations and food. It’s never-ending.

I’ll stop whining now. I just felt the need to explain my absence. And to whine. Mostly to whine.

Last week I used Cafe Vietnam for my recipes. I choose this book because of the simplicity of its recipes. This book focuses on street and cafe foods so nothing too complex, time consuming, or with hard to find ingredients.I know I’ll use this book again and again because of that ease. 

The most time consuming thing about this meal was marinading the pork, which at thirty minutes really wasn’t all that bad anyway. It was a little salty and I think that’s because of the fish sauce. I don’t like salty foods but thankfully the vermicelli noodles mellowed it out. I’ve had this meal before but I’ve never prepared it myself. Mine was a little dry, I think I left it in the oven too long, so now I know, less time, the better. 

What I really enjoyed making was the mango salad. I made a green mango salad during Thai week and it was not fun. It took forever because peeling green mangoes sucks BUT I learned from that so this time around, it was pretty easy. I learned how to julienne a mango in less than an hour, which is how long it took me last time, so I was very pleased. I like when I can incorporate what I’ve learned from previous meals because it feels like maybe this isn’t a complete waste of time. 

Both girls ate the pork, neither one ate the mangoes. They both really liked the vermicelli noodles, with the oldest exclaiming she was excited to eat them because another girl in her class eats them all the time. Peer pressure sometimes has its benefits. 

Recipe,

Ropa Vieja

This dish…this dish right here did not work out so well for me.

Ropa vieja means “old clothes.” My interpretation of the name is that old clothes is typically tattered, or “shredded”, like this dish. As you can see from the picture above, mine was not shredded. I don’t really know what I did wrong, I followed the recipe to a T but the meat came out tough and wouldn’t pull apart. The only thing I can think of is that I covered my skillet and the recipe didn’t say anything about that. Though I don’t really think that would hurt it because if anything, putting a lid on it would keep the moisture in.

Balls.

The meal was fine. I made some black beans and rice to go with it and the meat itself was tasty, it just wasn’t shredded and juicy.

This was not a good way to end Cuban week so I might try my hand at this again during an off week. I really do enjoy my off weeks because I get to experiment with things I’ve picked up so far. For instance, I recently made a cilantro cream sauce that was to.die.for. Yes, this project has turned me into not so much a cilantro lover but a cilantro tolerator. That’s a word. But anyway, that was one of my goals for this project: to learn how foods work together. I was already pretty comfortable in the kitchen but I did (do) feel like I still have a lot to learn in putting together a meal. I’m getting there.

Next week we are eating Vietnamese food. I’m going to make so many shrimp spring rolls.

Recipe

Costillitas and Moros y Cristianos

Quick translation on the title: Little Ribs and Moors and Christians.

Yes, this is a cannibalistic recipe. Bet you never expected that!

Obviously I’m kidding. I mean, we did eat little ribs but we didn’t eat people. Black beans are the Moors and the white rice Christians. This is probably not the most politically correct name for a meal but what are you gonna do? Call it the boring Black Beans and Rice? If you did that, you probably wouldn’t fall into a Wikipedia black hole of articles on the Islamic conquest of Spain and the effect it had on Spanish speaking countries. You can’t just eat this food, you must also learn!

In addition to being thrown back to Ms. Stock’s Spanish II class in 10th grade (I will always associate “Moors” and “Visigoths” with Ms. Stock’s class because the lady had a major obsession with them and we studied them for an entire semester) I got to eat probably one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a long time.

Yes, I’ve eaten a lot of good food throughout this project but not many have made me moan in pleasure. Yeah y’all, this meal was a little sexual. Ew, gross. I just remembered my kids ate this…be right back, need to go pour bleach onto my eyes.

I’m back and I’m blind.

But really, this meal was ridiculous good! My beans and rice didn’t come out the way Google images said they should but they were still really good. Sofrito is now one of my favorite sauces ever and I am going to use it as often as I can from here on out. Also naranja agria (the sour orange juice)? Fantastic! I’m not all that in love with sour things but this was goooood! It made the ribs taste like they were coated in Lucas Limon and that is NOT a bad thing. Also, Lucas Limon is why I can no longer tolerate overtly salty or sour things. I ate so much of that junk in third grade, I killed my taste buds and am now very sensitive to both those flavors.

James said the ribs were only second to the Salt Lick’s and if you’ve ever had Salt Lick, you know that’s a big deal. If you haven’t, I’m sorry. You must remedy that real soon. Just don’t stay here, Austin is already too packed.

Both girls ate this as well, which makes TWO meals in a row that they’ve enjoyed. Moral of the story: we need to move to Cuba.

Recipe, Recipe

Arroz con Pollo

This is the second time I’ve made Arroz con Pollo. The first was during Costa Rican week and now estamos en Cuba. Translation: we’re in Cuba. 

There was no real reason for choosing Cuba. I pretty much choose countries at random but I do try to choose countries from different parts of the world each week. Like, I won’t do Vietnamese one week and then Cambodian week the next or Brazilian followed by Portuguese. I like to switch it up a bit week by week because I feel like it keeps me on my toes and my stomach doesn’t get too bored.

I didn’t use a cookbook this week, I used a website, A Taste of Cuba. I prefer to only use one website instead of a bunch of different websites because it’s easier to keep track of one versus many. I used a bunch of different sites for Indian week and I had to go back and delete a crap ton of bookmarks afterwards. It wasn’t that big of a deal but it was just one more thing I had to do. 

Researching recipes for Cuban week was, how do you say, interesting. As anyone with an internet connection knows, US relations with Cuba have definitely changed over the past year. I think most people would argue that it’s for the better but there is a small sect of people that actually think it’s not the greatest news. I kept reading about the urgency to visit Cuba before it “changes” because apparently Cuba being in a time warp is a good thing. Without getting too political, because no one reads a food blog for politics, that way of thinking is stupid. 

Yes, I said it. 

Cuba is in a time warp because its restrictive, oppressive government has not allowed progress. That’s it. The end.

I guess it’s a good thing almost no one reads my blog so I can’t offend anyone.

But this meal was not offensive (way to segway, Melissa).

Ingredient wise, it was similar to both the Tico Arroz con Pollo and the Peruvian Arroz con Chancho.  In taste, they were all a little similar as well. The Tico version also called for annatto but during Tico week I substituted it with paprika and this week with saffron. I think the Panca Chili Paste gave it the same flavor in the Peruvian version. I feel all three were used mostly for color and flavor was secondary. The Cuban version was a little saltier, which I think had to do with the marinade. I wouldn’t call it savory, it was definitely salty, but it wasn’t terrible. 

More than anything I liked the ease of the recipe. I didn’t have to sit in front of it for long and I always enjoy meals that allow me to get out of the kitchen. Both girls liked, which I kind of figured they would. Although you never know with the three year old. I will say she’s getting better about eating the food. There are a lot less “Yucks” and “It gross” than there used to be so either she’s getting used to the varied cuisine or I’m just learning how to ignore her. A little from column A and a little from column B.

Recipe