Another Type of Soul Food// Otro Tipo de ‘Soul Food’

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Soul is “the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment”, as defined by Merriam Webster. Although the same dictionary defines ‘Soul Food’ as “food (such as chitterlings, ham hocks, and collard greens) traditionally eaten by southern black Americans”, I have recently been pondering on the idea of how the food we all eat affects us as individuals. Using this as my starting point, I came to the conclusion that we all have our own types of food with some sort of “soul” in it.

The key is that our very own personal type of Soul Food is different from that of anyone else’s, whether it be Grandma’s famously mind blowing cake, or a hearty stew cooked by Mom. That one soup or that one pasta has an emotional link with us, so it stops being a simple meal, and it starts representing something well beyond physical nourishment. Connecting and finding peace and comfort with what we eat nourishes our souls in a spiritual way that not many things can. We grow up knowing that when we are sick we must have soups, and when we celebrate a birthday we will typically do so with a cake, but it isn’t until we grow older that we learn what exactly gives us this spiritual nourishment. Once we grow older, we are able to taste what we call in Spanish “sabor de recuerdo” or, the taste of memories.

We’ve previously written and discussed the importance food has in our lives. Well beyond the fact that it is necessary for us to live, I have always considered food a gate to different cultures, as well as different time periods, but most importantly, a way to connect to our roots and our family; including both the ones that are still here with us, and the ones that no longer are.

After having the opportunity to live in another country, I learned to value and appreciate the food I grew up eating, unlike anything else. It stopped being just an everyday activity with the “same old things” everyday, and I realized that what we eat everyday back home is a part of who we all are, and why we are the way we are.

A really important instance in which I could literally taste my very own Soul Food, happened in January. One of my Grandmothers, named Flora, makes a picadillo that’s to die for, so I asked her if she could teach me how to make it and she did. Culinary-wise, it was one of the toughest weekends ever, no joke. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn how to prepare one of my favorite meals ever, with a person I love so very dearly. As described in this Instagram post, it was quite literally, a heavy job to prepare 20 kilos of picadillo, but honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything better!


My other Grandmother, Ana, who passed away two years ago, made the very best banana cake I have every tried (and I’m sure, I’ll ever try). It took me two years to get her recipe and attempt making the cake. A couple of weeks ago I finally made it and it was such a bittersweet process for me. To connect through cooking with both of one’s grandmothers is something I will surely appreciate and carry with me forever. These meals and different types of foods that have such deep meaning and importance to me will accompany me for a lifetime, and I’m glad they will. As someone who has learned to use cooking to cope with hard and complicated times, I found it is super important to learn and know what our personal type of Soul Food is. What is it that makes us who we are and brings us back home?

 

Regardless of whichever type of food makes up your list of Soul Foods, I hope you appreciate them and I hope they bring you home even if you are not there. Having your own Soul Foods does not mean you necessarily know much about cooking, it just means you are connected way beyond blood with those you love, and with the place you come from.

Just as you would with your Soul Foods, I hope you enjoy this post plentifully!

Always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook or write about next, please let me know!

~AJ


La palabra ‘Soul’ (espíritu) en inglés, es definida por Merriam Webster, como “esa cualidad que causa sentimiento y emoción”. Si bien el mismo diccionario define el término ‘Soul Food’ como “comida (tal como menudos de cerdo, trozos de jamón, y vegetales verdes) tradicionalmente preparada e ingerida por Afro-Americanos del sur de los Estados Unidos”.

Últimamente he estado pensando en cómo todo lo que comemos -o alguna vez hemos comido- nos ha afectado de diferentes maneras. Utilizando esta definición como mi punto de partida, llegué a la conclusión que todos tenemos comidas con su propio “soul” dentro de ellas.

Lo más fascinante de esta idea es que nuestro “Soul Food” es diferente al de cualquier otra persona; ya sea ese incomparable queque característico de la abuela o el guiso de nuestra mamá que tiene la virtud de llenarnos el alma. Ese espíritu puede venir en una sopa o esa pasta inigualable que tienen una conexión emocional con nosotros y logran llevar a estas comidas a convertirse en algo más allá de un alimento físico. El poder conectarse y encontrar paz y consuelo en lo que comemos, alimenta nuestra alma de una manera espiritual poco comúnPero es hasta que crecemos que logramos apreciar ese “sabor de recuerdo”.

Pero también es sencillo: Crecemos sabiendo que al estar enfermos debemos de comer sopas y que al celebrar un cumpleaños lo haremos con un queque, pero es hasta que los años pasan que aprendemos a conocer que es lo que nos alimenta espiritualmente.

Hemos discutido previamente sobre la importancia que la cocina y la comida tienen en nuestras vidas, pero más allá de ser necesidades para vivir, yo siempre he visto la cocina y la comida como una ventana para conocer tanto culturas diferentes como épocas distintas a la nuestra; sin embargo no hay comparación como cuando esto nos conecta con nuestras raíces y nuestra familia… aquellos que siguen acá con nosotros, y aquellos que ya no.

Tras tener la oportunidad de vivir en otro país, me dí cuenta cuánto se aprende a valorar y apreciar la comida con la que crecemos y eso es impresionante.

Pasa de ser una actividad del día a día con “las mismas cosas de siempre”, a aquello que es tanto parte de nosotros que de alguna manera tiene que ver en cómo somos actualmente.

Un momento sumamente importante en el cual pude saborear de primera instancia mi propio “Soul Food” pasó en enero. Una de mis abuelas, Flora, hace un picadillo “de muerte lenta”, por lo que le pedí que me enseñara a prepararlo y accedió. Desde un punto de vista culinario, fue un fin de semana sumamente demandante y cansado. Para mí fue una oportunidad única en la que podía aprender a cocinar uno de mis platillos favoritos y con una persona a la que amo muchísimo. Tal y como lo describí en este post de Instagram, este fue un trabajo (literalmente) pesado ya que terminamos preparando 20 kilos de picadillo, sin embargo, ¡no pude haber pedido nada mejor que eso!

Mi otra abuela, Ana, quien murió hace ya dos años, hacía el mejor queque de banano que he probado (y posiblemente jamás probaré) en mi vida. Me tomó dos años conseguir su receta y al menos ya estoy intentando hacer el queque. Hace ya un par de semanas finalmente lo pude hacer y fue indudablemente un proceso agridulce para mí.

 

El lograr conectarse a través de la cocina con nuestra familia y aquellos a quienes queremos es algo que se aprecia y se lleva con uno por el resto de la vida. Estas comidas y los muchos otros tipos de comida y platillos que tienen una importancia singular para mi me acompañaran por siempre, y me alegra que así sea. Al ser una persona que utiliza la cocina como un método para lidiar con momentos complicados y difíciles, he encontrado que es importante saber y aprender cuál es nuestro propio “Soul Food”… ¿Qué es lo que nos hace lo que somos y nos lleva devuelta a nuestro hogar?

 

Sea lo que sea que componga tu lista de Soul Food, espero que aprecies estas comidas y que te lleven de vuelta a tu hogar incluso cuando no estés cerca del mismo.

Tener nuestras propias “Soul Foods” no significa que se tiene que saber mucho sobre la cocina, simple y sencillamente significa que estamos conectados por algo más que sangre con nuestros seres queridos y con nuestra tierra.

¡Tal y como lo harías con tus propias “Soul Foods”, espero que hayas disfrutado de este post!

¡También déjenme saber si tienen comentarios o sugerencias sobre que puedo cocinar o escribir en un futuro!

~AJ

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Crêpes 5 Ways

I as usual apologize for not writing as frequently as I’d like, however, when I first began my blog I decided that I would cook and write whenever I felt like doing so for my own personal pleasure and not just to put something up everyday or every week. Had I not been doing so, I wouldn’t be enjoying writing or cooking all that I have as much as I have in the past months. Whenever I write a post about a particular recipe or subject, I want it to be as best as it can; and I just know that not doing it wholeheartedly and with all the passion and will I know I have will result in something I just don’t feel anybody will like (myself included). So, my not writing as constantly as I would sometimes wish to is not because I don’t want to, rather because it just hasn’t felt right and I want to provide you all with the best I know I can.

Anyway, let’s get cooking.

Life is all about trying new things from time to time and doing so hopefully as confidently as possible. If we do so with confidence, then it is much more likely that we will enjoy the experience so much more and sooner! Experiences can be big or small, and in my case, last week I had an experience of a lifetime I never thought I’d get from what I did.

Last week I decided to cook some crêpes from scratch all by myself, and I kid you all not, I was really afraid I’d put a French staple dish to shame. After all I had never really seen the magic or the reason for why this was such a beloved dish. I had once tried a crêpe nearly 9,000 km away from their place of origin and it must have been some ten years ago perhaps, and it didn’t really stand out to me in anyway. This experience of a decade ago is what I think made me never really give much thought to crêpes, up until about two weeks ago.

I was recently in the US taking care of some family members that needed my help, and one of my jobs was preparing the meals. I know, I know, it sounded perfect for me… up until you realise my aunt didn’t have a kitchen for the whole ten days I was there so we had to rely on take out. Honestly, a culinary experience I honestly don’t really want to have again, but that you know, was somewhat necessary for me. Anyway, due to this I found myself going to diverse restaurants and places to get whatever it was that we were going to have for lunch or dinner (we somehow managed to get breakfast by ourselves without having to buy it from some place). I distinctly remember going to a crêpe place to get my aunt her beloved Chicken Honey Mustard Crêpe and getting my “I-guess-I’ll-go-for-the-pizza-crêpe-cause-you-know-you-can-never-really-go-wrong-with-pizza-even-if-its-a-crêpe-and-it’s-a-slightly-confusing-concept”. Thinking back to it, it was a good crêpe; it tasted pretty decently and it left me wondering of the other about 25 types of crêpes that they sold there, and how they managed to create so many different crêpe dishes. After all, most people are familiar with the concept of sweet crêpes and not really all that familiar with savoury crêpes.

Fast-forward to when I am once more in Costa Rica and while hanging out with a friend of mine, the idea of making crêpes just pops up into my head. Although I must’ve seen slightly mental for attempting to make crêpes from scratch for the first time, I was as excited as ever. Crêpes are relatively simple to make and don’t really require as many ingredients as my naïve self once thought they did. I mean, flour, eggs, sugar, salt, milk, and butter didn’t really seem as complicated ingredients to work with.

Paring these incredibly simple crêpes with things such as chicken, vegetables, mushrooms, berry sauces, and even homemade whipped cream, now seemed a real and actual possibility for me, and truth be told, they all tasted incredible. I was now obsessed.

Below you will find not only the five different ways I ended up making my crêpes this past week, but the recipe for the crêpe batter.

Crêpe Recipe

Depending on the size of your pan, this recipe can make from 6-10 crêpes approximately.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of butter melted

Directions:

  • Combine the flour, salt, sugar, milk, eggs and melted butter. This can be done by hand, by blender, or what I recommend, a mixer. The mixture doesn’t take much to actually mix, however try to make sure that it is mixed thoroughly.
  • Once the mixture is smooth, place it in an airtight container for at least 20 minutes in the fridge. The longer it stays in the better it is for it, however, don’t leave it for more than a day in there.
  • Once this time is up, put a nonstick wide (preferably) pan in medium-low heat. Lightly coat the pan with butter for your first crêpe.
  • Once done add enough mixture to coat your pan when swirling your pan. Make sure this coating is not too thick. Let cook for a couple of minutes until you notice the edges separating from the pan (this for me is the easiest way to know my crepes are done on one side).
    • A great advice my mom once gave me is that pans tend to need to be “cured” at first. This means that usually the first crepe you make will definitely not be your best, and might even break, but that will help your other ones be much better. Remember that as you move along this will become easier and easier because of the practice you will acquire and because you will start knowing how the mixture works and which amounts are better for the size of your pan. 
  • Once the bottom is done, with a rubber spatula start lifting it up in order to flip it. Depending on how confident you feel, you can flip it with the spatula or use the spatula as a helper to use your fingers to do so. Always remember to be careful though!
  • Slide your crêpes into a plate and repeat until you run out of mixture and you are done! Get creative and enjoy!

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Asian Styled Chicken and Veggies Crêpes

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 1/2 a cup of carrots cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 a cup of broccoli
  • 1/2 a cup of green beans
  • 1/4 of a cup of low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 1/8 of a cup of oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • Sesame seeds to garnish

Directions:

  • In a medium or large pot, boil the carrots, broccoli and green beans. Make sure the water is salted well.
  • Place a medium pan in medium-high heat. Add the sesame oil and the chicken chunks. Season with a little of salt to give it flavour. Cook until the chicken is cooked thoroughly.
  • While the chicken is cooking, check the vegetables. Make sure they are not overdone seeing as they are meant to be blanched vegetables. Once they are done, shock them in iced water to allow them to maintain their color and crunchiness and set them aside.
  • Later, add the vegetables to the chicken and mix. Add the soy and oyster sauce. Mix well and add the honey. Taste and add salt or pepper to taste if necessary. You can also add a little bit of butter to give it a creamy flavour, however this is optional.
  • Once done, add the chicken and veggies to one half of the crêpe. Fold the side that has nothing towards the other half where the contents are. Then fold once more, garnish the open side of the crêpe with sesame seeds and enjoy!

Mushroom & Cheese Crêpe

Ingredients:

  • 1 big pack of fresh mushrooms of your choice(the more the better)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of parsley
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/3 approximately of white wine
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 3-4 cups of your grated cheese (or cheeses) of preference. I used processed Mozzarella for this crêpe seeing as it was what I had available.

Directions:

  • Before you begin, make sure you wash your mushrooms thoroughly and cut them in quarters.
  • Place a medium sized pan in medium heat. Add the butter and the olive oil. After the butter has melted, add the mushrooms. Cover if possible. Once your mushrooms are almost cooked, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley and then add the wine. Let it simmer so that it reduces and the alcohol disappears. Once done check again for taste and add more salt if necessary. Slowly add a little of the flour and mix well to thicken the sauce of the mushrooms. Add more flour until your desired thickness and the mushrooms and sauce are done!
    • For these crêpes, I like to have the cheese (or cheeses) melt as the crêpe is still cooking. In order to make this happen, I add the cheese to one half of the crêpe as soon as I have flipped it in order to cook the other side. Once the crêpe is well cooked and the cheese has melted, I slide the crêpe off into a plate. 
  • After the mushrooms and the crêpe are done, add the mushrooms to the half where the cheese is and fold twice (just as with the Asian Styled Chicken and Veggies Crêpe!). Garnish with some extra mushrooms on top and enjoy!

Chicken Béchamel and Vegetables Crêpe

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3/4 a cup of carrots cut into small chunks
  • 3/4 a cup of broccoli
  • 7 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 4 cups of milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of rosemary
  • 3 avocados

Directions:

  • In a medium or large pot, boil the carrots, and the broccoli . Make sure the water is salted well.
  • Place a medium pan in medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the chicken chunks. Season with a little of salt to give it flavour. Cook until the chicken is cooked thoroughly.
  • While the chicken is cooking, check the vegetables. Make sure they are not overdone seeing as they are meant to be blanched vegetables. Once they are done, shock them in iced water to allow them to maintain their color and crunchiness and set them aside. After this, place them in a pan with two tablespoons of butter and rosemary. Sauté well and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • Once the chicken is well cooked, place in a separate plate and add the 5 tablespoons of butter. Let it melt well and add the flour. Mix well until it is smooth and it starts changing color. Heat up the milk separately and slowly add it to the butter and flour mixture. Mix well and add the salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and mix.
  • Once this is done, cut up an avocado and use it as a base for the chicken and vegetables. Add the chicken to one of the halves of the crêpe and place the vegetables on top. Fold as previously instructed, add some veggies on top and enjoy!

Berry & Vanilla Cream Crêpe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of various berries (they can be previously frozen berries)
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1/8 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons of confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Directions:

  • Place a Medium pot in medium heat. Add the berries and sugar. Let the berries loose some of their liquids and then add some water to help this process. Continuously (but very carefully) taste the flavour of this sauce and add either more water or sugar depending on what it needs. Let it simmer for a bit in order to let it thicken a little bit, however be careful to not leave it too much to avoid having it become a berry caramel.
  • Add the heavy cream to a mixer and slowly mix. Be careful to not over mix or the cream will break. Once the cream has mixed for some 15-20 seconds, add the sugar and the vanilla and mix until little picks form.
  • Add the berry sauce and the cream to a half of the crêpe and fold as instructed. Drizzle some of the betty sauce on top and enjoy!

 

Nutella & Vanilla Cream Crêpe

Ingredients:

  • Nutella
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 3 teaspoons of confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Directions:

  • Add the heavy cream to a mixer and slowly mix. Be careful to not over mix or the cream will break. Once the cream has mixed for some 15-20 seconds, add the sugar and the vanilla and mix until little picks form.
  • Thinly spread your desired amount of Nutella on one half (or both even!) of the crêpe. Add the vanilla cream to the half of the crêpe and fold. Garnish with some of the cream or some of the Nutella and enjoy!

 

I hope you enjoy this dish plentifully, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next, please let me know!

 

~AJ

Sweet Chocolate Chip Blondies for Bittersweet Days

I have always believed that food tells stories, and that every plate carries history inside of it, regardless of how big or small the dish is. Here in Costa Rica a common saying when it comes to talking about food, particularly when it is one that we can immediately connect with dishes that are important to us or that we used to have when we were younger, is that it “tastes like a memory”. This saying resonates highly with me because as we grow old, it is evident that not everyone who has been there with us in the past, is here with us in the present, or will be with us in the future. Aside from the obvious importance these people have in our everyday life, they also mark us in little ways we many times aren’t aware of; whether it is by a saying they had, by the hugs we realize we so dearly miss, or even, those comfort foods that once received us with arms wide open in our lowest days.

Just like that, we slowly start noticing the interpersonal role food has with each and every one of us, and how it is that something is able to “taste like a memory”. The other half of the story though, is the people who prepare this food. As cooks, it is pleasant to cook for others and to bring some sort of joy and pleasure to people, however, many times cooks also enjoy to cook for themselves. I personally did this, on this past Friday when I returned from my Senior Breakfast, which was also the last school activity I had with my classmates before Graduation. I’m not going to lie, these events are really, really weird. They are weird because we aren’t even able to grasp the importance of them and really take advantage of them as we probably should.

I returned at about midday to my home and couldn’t really find much to do. I somehow, though, had an urge to cook something sweet to kind of remove that bittersweet taste I had from my mouth. I was less than 24 hours from graduating High School and if I’m honest I felt numb because there were so many emotions running through me I really couldn’t distinguish one properly so I was just stuck in a confusing and numb limbo sort of thing.

My love for chocolate chip cookies is enormous, and although I was craving something sweet like that, I was also craving a more mushy food that could more accurately depict my state at the moment, so I opted to make some blondies. For those who are slightly confused about what blondies are, they are simply an abbreviation of Blond Brownies, and they are pretty great. If I am honest I have always been more of a cookie type of person, but recently, I have found deep admiration for brownies and the art that comes with them. Anyway, below you will find this simple recipe for these Chocolate Chip Blondies that accompanied me through possibly some of the most confusing days of my life.


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/3-1/2 a cup of semisweet chocolate chips (depends on how much you like)
  • 1 stick of melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 2/3 of a cup of brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

 

Directions:

Before you begin remember to always mise en place and have your ingredients and station ready to begin working. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease the pan you would like to use. Some people like to have the blondies be a bit thicker so they use smaller pans, and some like them a bit thin so they use larger pans. An 8×8 pan leaves a nice thickness and chewy-ness to the Blondies so I recommend using one of those (Its one of the square ones).

In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter and the brown sugar. I didn’t have available packed brown sugar so I had to use regular brown sugar and spoiler alert, I recommend it; it actually gave the Blondie a bit more texture so don’t be afraid to use it! Add the egg, the salt and the vanilla to the mix and combine. Make sure that the butter is room temperature to avoid having a scrambled egg disaster! Once done, add the flour and mix throughly. Finally, fold the chocolate chips in and place the mixture in the pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden. Let cool, cut and enjoy!

 

I hope you enjoy this dish plentifully, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next, please let me know!

 

~AJ

Chicken Fried Rice 

Hello! I would firstly like to apologize for an absence this big! I would have never thought I’d get so busy during my vacations, but preparing for my graduation and making sure everything is set for college is really time consuming! However, what I bring to you all today is a delightful and very simple dish to prepare!

Many times, friends of mine tend to tell me that the thing that limits them the most when wanting to cook is not having all of the ingredients listed in recipes. As I am yet to become an actual adult with a paycheck who does her own grocery shopping and has the chance of choosing and picking specific ingredients, I can definitely relate to them. Because of this, tonight’s dish, Fried Rice with Chicken, aims to show you all that working with what You already have can give us great and tasty results!

I encourage you to use what you have available to you! If you have beef instead of chicken, use it! If you want to add green beans and bell peppers instead of the carrots, broccoli, and zucchini used in this recipe, go ahead! Experiment as a cook and dare to find great results!


Ingredients:

  • Leftover rice (I used about five or six cups of it because that’s what I had!)
  • Three chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 cups of broccoli
  • 1 big carrot
  • 1 big zucchini 
  • 1/4 of a cup of low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/8 of a cup of low sodium soy sauce
  • 8 teaspoons of sesame oil 
  • 1/3 of a cup of oyster sauce
  • Sesame seeds to garnish

Directions:

On a clean cutting table, cut the chicken breasts into chunks. Place a medium pan in medium-high heat, add two teaspoons of sesame oil. Once hot, add the chicken chunks and cook. When the chicken is about halfway done, add the 1/8 of a cup of low sodium soy sauce to add some flavor. Once done, set aside and place the chicken in a bowl.

On another cutting table (‘Avoiding Salmonella’ is the actual song missing in Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life), cut the broccoli as you normally would, however, make sure that the little “trees” are big enough to eat but not too massive, this generally varies depending on the person! Carefully Julienne the carrots and the zucchini. (This means cutting them into little strips!) Set each vegetable into separate bowls. Using the same pan used to cook the chicken, add a teaspoon of sesame oil and once hot, add the vegetable of your choice and sauté. To ensure cooking the vegetables thoroughly until al dente, add little bits of water and cover the pan. (The steam created by the water will quicken the cooking process and ensure a better cooking). Once done, return the vegetables to their respective bowl and repeat the process with the remaining vegetables you have. 

Using a big pan in medium-high heat, add 3 teaspoons of sesame oil and add the rice. Stir lightly for some minutes until hot. Add the 1/4 of a cup of soy sauce and mix well. Add the chicken and combine. After this, add the oyster sauce and the vegetables. (The vegetables are added lastly to avoid having them over cook in the process) Mix well. Taste and make sure the rice is flavorful. If not, feel free to add a little more oyster sauce or soy sauce. It is important to NOT add additional salt seeing as both the soy sauce and the oyster sauce is sufficiently salty. Not only would you like to avoid an overly salty plate, but remember that it is better for your health!

Once done, serve the fried rice and add the sesame seeds over it as garnish and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy this dish plentifully, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next, please let me know!

 
~AJ

Tortellini alla Vodka

I’m not going to lie and say that I woke up planning to cook tortellini alla vodka… If I’m completely honest I was planning to so something much more complex, but due to timing issues I found myself unable to do so. With an urge to find something tasty and relatively quick to do, I decided upon doing Tortellini alla Vodka.

The first time I tried anything alla vodka was when my brother Graduated college this past April. I tried Pasta alla Vodka at Brio and found myself mesmerized by the incredible flavours in the dish. The ricotta-filled pasta made great contrast with the spicy and creamy tomato sauce that accompanied it and had that special kick in it.

Finding inspiration in this dish and the simplicity with which it could be done, I decided to make some Tortellini alla Vodka. The parmesan filled tortellini have an evidently saltier taste than the ricotta filled pasta I tried back in Jacksonville, however, I decided to make it work and adapt the sauce to the pasta I had. I also decided to avoid having this sauce be too heavy, and used milk instead of heavy cream

I encourage you to give this tasty dish a try!

Ingredients:

  • 8 Saladette or Pear tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup of vodka
  • 1/2 a cup of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 cup of basil, chopped
  • 1/2 a cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 table spoon of oregano
  • 1 pack of 250g of Tortellini al Fromaggio
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Extra Parmesan for garnishing

Directions:

Place a medium pot filled 3/4 with water in high heat. Salt generously and let boil. Once it has boiled, add the Tortellini and let it rest for about 16 minutes.

Place a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, the oregano and about 1 tablespoon of salt and 1/2 a tablespoon of pepper. Place the chopped tomatoes and let them release their juices for about four minutes stirring continuously to avoid having them stick to the pan. Add the vodka and let simmer. Once the sauce has reduced slightly, add the milk and the water. Stir and add the tomato paste. Lower the heat and add the chopped basil. Mix well. Add the butter and the parmesan cheese and mix again. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

Drain the Tortellini and serve on a plate. Add the sauce and garnish with parmesan. Enjoy!

 

 

I hope you enjoy this dish plentifully, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next, please let me know!

 

~AJ

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The 1930’s brought numerous changes to the world, however, one of the most notable changes ~cooking wise~ has to be the invention of chocolate chip cookies. This past Tuesday May 17th was the World Day of Baking, so I deemed it appropriate to bake some great chocolate chip cookies.

After numerous attempts at baking cookies, I’ve learned a few tips that are highly useful to know in order to bake great cookies. This of course is my personal concept of practicality when it comes to baking cookies si feel free to use them as you please. From knowing which type of chocolate benefits the cookies best, to knowing the importance of handling room temperature butter, it is important to remember that the small details are the ones that amount to something spectacular. 

I have figured out that using semi-sweet chocolate chips made the best chocolate chip cookies, seeing as it helps avoid having an overwhelming sweet taste in the cookies. Another thing that tends to work best, is to have room temperature butter as opposed to refrigerated butter at hand when cooking both cookies ,or any other pastry. In this recipe melted butter will be used but, worry not, room temperature can also be used without a problem. The final tip I have, which I believe is essential when cooking ANYTHING, is to have mise en place. “Mise en place” is a French culinary phrase which basically means “putting in place”, and refers to having everything ready to start cooking. This allows cooks to be more efficient and it facilitates cooking as a whole, so if anything, give a mise en place a try!

Now, onto what you all came, the recipe for the chewy goodness. I have come up with this recipe after trying many different recipes and never really setting down with one.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 sticks of butter (this makes up 1 cup of butter)
  • 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar
  • 3/4 of a cup of sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups of all purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips (or 2 if you’re feeling more it’s more of a chocolate day)

Directions:

In a bowl mix all of the dry ingredients except the sugars. (Salt, baking powder, and flour)

In another bowl, mix the sugars with the butter. In order to ease the mixing, you can melt the butter, let it cool for a bit, and then combine it. Add both eggs and mix well. After this, add the vanilla and mix once more.

Start adding the dry mix to the wet one and slowly start folding the mix in. Do so with all of the dry and wet mix until it is all mixed uniformly. Add the chocolate chips and mix. Let cool in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Grab a mini cupcakes oven tray and set about a tablespoon of the mix into each space. You can also get regular oven trays and set the tablespoons with about three inches of distance apart to avoid having them clash with each other. Once this is done, place the trays into the oven for about 14 minutes and remove the trays once it is golden. Let cool, serve with cold milk if you wish and enjoy! 

Feel free to serve these cookies with anything you wish, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next please let me know!
 

~AJ

Crispy Chicken Tenders

As a child, many times our palettes are constrained to the same old “child-friendly” meals that are often offered at restaurants. These meals don’t really offer a wide variety of flavors and restrain our young palates to the same flavors year after year. Regardless, chicken tenders tend to be a favorite even after we grow and start experimenting with other flavors, which is why I decided to try them with my own personal twist.

Chicken tenders can be a guilty pleasure to many due to the high amount of calories a serving usually possesses, however, there are various alternatives to make this classic both tasty and healthy. I decided to serve these tenders with a baked potato instead of the classic fries in order to have a side that hits close to home but that isn’t so heavy ~calorie wise~. Check them out and give them a try!


Ingredients:

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 3/4 of a cup of flour
  • 1/4 a tablespoon of Rosemary
  • 1/4 of a tablespoon of Thyme
  • 1/4 of a tablespoon of Basil
  • 1/4 of a tablespoon of Oregano
  • 1/8 of a tablespoon of Pepper
  • 1/8 of a tablespoon of Salt
  • 3 cups of Panko or breadcrumbs
  • 6-8 medium- big potatoes
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 of a cup of fresh Basil
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • Aluminum Foil

Directions:

Set your oven in 350° F. Wash your potatoes thoroughly and dry them well. After dried, cover them individually in aluminum foil. Place the potatoes in an oven tray and place them in the oven for 30 minutes. Make sure to check the potatoes after the 30 minutes are up. If they are still not done place them for another 15 minutes. Repeat until tender.

After you have placed your potatoes in the oven, get your chicken breasts and cut them into individual strips and small chunks. Season with salt and pepper well.

Prepare your flour, eggs, and Panko to begin breading your chicken. Mix the flour with the Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, and the 1/8 of a tablespoon of salt & pepper in a plate. Mix well with a fork. On another plate of the same size, place the four eggs and the olive oil and mix well with a fork. Finally place some of the Panko on another plate of the same size. (Add the rest as you go on and more is needed)

Carefully take each individual piece of chicken and cover them with the flour. Pass them through the egg (so that it covers it well) and then cover them with the Panko. Set the pieces in an oven tray separately but evenly.

Place the tray in the oven (make sure it is on 350°) for 15 minutes. After the chicken is evidently done, raise the temperature to 400°F and keep an eye on the chicken until it browns (that is about 2 minutes or less) and take it out.

Plate a couple of the tenders and a potato. Spread the butter on the potato and add salt. If you wish, you can add sour cream to the baked potato. Chop the fresh basil thin and sprinkle the chicken and the potato. Enjoy!

 

Feel free to add any other ingredients or sauces you wish, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next please let me know!

 

~AJ

Bruschettas for Days

As it is already quite obvious, Italian is one of my favorite styles of cooking. The marriage of fresh and crisp ingredients create irresistible flavors that melt in your mouth. The huge variety of simple yet flavourful plates that Italian cooking has to offer is really something any cook, beginner or experienced, can take advantage of in order to create a truly magnificent plate. As a plus, Italian cooking is relatively simple; not many ingredients are needed in order to make a truly exceptional dish.

When it comes to appetizers, Italians have a dish that trumps chips and salsa all day, every day. Bruschettas are an Italian appetizer that is, simply put, a garnished toast full of flavor and colors. Bruschettas are made all throughout Italy and depending on where exactly they are being made, different ingredients are used, however, olive oil and garlic are the two definite musts for this dish.

Today I decided to play a little with this appetizer and I prepared a Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta and a Mushroom and Basil Bruschetta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Baguette (or 2 mini Baguettes)
  • 8 Pear (or Saladette) Tomatoes
  • 2 cups of Basil
  • 6 medium-big Button Mushrooms (clean and dried)
  • 1/4 of a cup or olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove cut in half
  • 250 grams of fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of Oregano (+ extra for garnishing)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

For the Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta dice six tomatoes and chop 1 cup and 1/4 of Basil leaves chiffon style. Mix both of these ingredients with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Set aside.

For the Mushroom and Basil Bruschetta, put a pan over medium heat with a little bit of olive oil, about 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of oregano. Mix well and once hot, add the sliced mushrooms and let cook for about six minutes. Afterwards add two diced tomatoes and let cook. Adding these tomatoes will give it more flavor and will prevent the mushrooms from drying out too quickly. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Grab the baguette and cut it into 1/2 an inch slices. Spread them in a baking tray. You can use a pastry brush to spread the remaining olive oil into the slices. Once this is done, grab the half of the garlic clove and rub it into the bread. (If you wish to have a stronger taste of garlic, add one of the halves of the cloves to the oil beforehand and rub the other half in the bread as well.) Place the tray into the oven and set the timer to 4 minutes.

After the timer has gone off, take the tray out of the oven and add small slices of the fresh mozzarella to the individual slices of bread. Put the tray back in and set the oven to Broil. Keep and eye on the oven and make sure your soon-to-be Bruschettas don’t get burnt!

Once the cheese has browned, take the tray out and carefully add the Mushroom-Basil mix to half of the slices. Make sure to turn the heat back down to 350°F in the oven. Take the other half of the slices out and set them in a plate. Put the tray back in for a couple of minutes. Grab the remaining slices and add the Tomato-Basil mix into them.

Garnish the Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschettas with fresh Mozzarella, and sprinkle a bit of oregano over them. Take the tray out of the oven, set the Mushroom and Basil Burschettas in a plate and garnish with a bit of fresh Basil.

Enjoy!

The fresh and sweet taste of Pear tomatoes combined with the buttery taste of fresh mozzarella make this a beautifully light appetizer. On the other hand, the woody taste of fresh Button mushrooms combined with the aromatic and peppery basil create an earthy taste and a dish with amazing contrast. I truly hope you enjoy this dish!

 

Feel free to add any other ingredients you wish, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next please let me know!

 

~AJ

Breakfast Sandwiches

When Saturdays come around they are either filled with energy and excitement for what the weekend holds, or they come with the weight of the past week resting heavy on our shoulders. This was an extremely heavy week for me, and so I woke up relatively late and unsure of what the day would hold.

I decided to go downstairs and make some breakfast, however, I didn’t really know what I wanted. I eventually decided to make a Breakfast Sandwich for myself. This easy to make and healthy dish is filled with protein, veggies, and the necessary nutrients to fill your morning with energy.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 small or medium size eggs
  • 2 slices of bread
  • 1/4 a cup of spinach
  • 1/4 a cup of diced tomatoes
  • 2 small slices of the cheese of your choice
  • 2 slices of ham (it can also be turkey ham)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of low-fat butter
  • A pinch of rosemary
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:

In a small bowl whisk the two eggs with the rosemary. Add spinach and a little salt and pepper. After this, put a small sized non-stick pan in low-medium heat and place the tomatoes in. After a couple of minutes check that the tomatoes are significantly softer than before. Add a pinch of salt and add the egg mixture in. Lower the heat (set it to low) and cover your pan so that the omelet can cook thoroughly and evenly without having it burn.

Once the omelette is evidently done, set it aside and place a new pan in the stove. Put the heat to medium and add a little amount of butter to it. Once the butter has melted, place one of bread slices with the ham in, cover it, and let it brown slightly. Make sure that the ham is looking up to avoid having it stick to your pan! Once it is golden brown, plate it. Repeat this same process with the other slice of bread and add the cheese if you wish. Once both sides are done, add the omelette to the sandwich, finish plating and enjoy!

 

Feel free to add any other ingredients you wish, and always remember that if you have any comments or suggestions for what I can cook next please let me know!

 

~AJ