Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas Cooking for the Parents

Unfortunately, FedEx held my parent's Christmas present hostage for an extra few days. Which means my intended, pre-planned gift ended up late.

I know that Christmas is just a date dictated by some religious script my family doesn't even celebrate, so to us a day is just a day, and that it is the thought that counts. But I still wanted to do something special on the day of. After-all, a holiday should be set apart from the prosaic hum drum of every other day. So I decided to cook my parent's dinner.

I used my summer of cooking experience, failures and successes, to cater the dinner specifically to my parent's tastes. It was my small, subtle way of trying to show that I can be a considerate and dong shi daughter, and not the stubborn bull head I think I always come off to be. The dinner wasn't just about flexing my muscles and adding another post to the blog. No, this dinner was purely my way of trying to show my parent's I love them. Something that, in the end, shouldn't just be expressed during an arbitrary holiday.

So maybe this wasn't a Christmas dinner. It's just a simple dinner, cooked by a daughter for her loving parents, simply because she should. Because she loves them so much, every day of the year.

And now let me put the mush on the back burner and proceed with the actual cooking.

Cooking a full on, complete dinner is actually pretty exhausting. And consuming. And when all is said and done, I feel like I've put in a Prince's feast-amount of effort for a scanty 3 dishes. Not that 3 dishes is scanty in its entirety, it just feels that way after my body feels like its been climbing Mt. Everest.

Aaah, and there goes the mush and back with the dramatic sass. Which do you prefer?

Still though, I was pretty proud of what I turned out with.

~Jennifer's Christmas Dinner Menu~
1. Appetizer: roasted chick peas
2. Main dish: Chinese eggplants with tofu
3. Main dish: spaghetti squash.

1. Roasted Chickpeas

The recipe was easy enough. And this might be the first time I've worked with cooking chickpeas and nothing disastrous following suit! There are a number of different combinations and spices that you can work with for the chickpeas, both sweet and savory. Since my spices were limited at home, considering I brought all my spices back to Berkeley with me, I decided to use olive oil, garlic and salt.

Difficulty: 1
Willingness to make again: 3 (honestly, it is easy enough. But raw chickpeas in salads are good enough for me)
Over-all: 4-5
1. I think I cooked them too long because they came out really crunchy
2. Next time if I do want to try them, hopefully I'll have more spices to work with. The garlic flavor wasn't as strong as I would have liked.
3. I also am curious to try the chickpea+honey+cinnamon combination one of these days.

2. Eggplants

The only thing I did different this time was that I added onions, peanuts and stringy tofu as well. I figured it would give the dish some extra texture. Also, there is no such thing as too much tofu. It may make me sound like a broken record player but that doesn't make it any less true!

Also, check out my kickass double skillet action. I decided to roast my eggplants in a separate pan while slowly frying up the tofu and onions in the other. Once my eggplant was soft enough, I added them with everything else and continued frying one gigantic skillet of eggplant stir fry.

Difficulty: 5
Willingness to make again: 8
Over-all: 8
1. Accidentally dumped in way too much sesame oil. Wasn't able to add enough soy sauce to combat it. Luckily the dish still didn't turn out too salty and I love the taste of sesame oil. In the end, my parents seemed to like it. Hopefully it is coming from a true place and not a pitiful one.

3. Spaghetti Squash!

This was my experimentation dish. I bought a giant spaghetti squash after hearing great things about it from my friend Maya. Spaghetti squash as a vegetable is pretty cool. Hulling it out is fun, and it comes out with SO MUCH content. It's a great college food. Cheap, huge quantity and easy to cook. Can't wait to eat it back in Berkeley.

Since, again, I am short on seasonings,  I decided to keep the squash simple. It also would leave less room for disaster or weird flavors that would turn off my parents.

Here is the process for my squash:
i. cut the squash in half and baked it for an hour (cutting the ginormous squash made me feel like the Hulk. It was a formidable challenge, but I did it!)
ii. Hulled out the squash
iii. Seasoned it with olive oil, salt, garlic, and crunchy peanuts.

Admittedly, making spaghetti squash is easy but requires a lot of manuel labor. It actually is pretty fun though.

Difficulty: 4
Willingness to make again: 10
Over-all: 7.5
1. I think I put in way too much olive oil this time
2 Next time I am definitely going to experiment with different spices.

Home Eatery

It isn't surprising to say that eating at home for  college students is like returning from death valley to mecca. So I decided to dedicate a post on my food blog to just some, a tiny glimpse, of the delicious foods I get to enjoy with my parents. If any home cooking is considered mecca compared to what we college kids put in our stomachs, then my parent's cooking is the oasis of mecca. And I mean that unbiasedly! What I am trying to say is, they are daaaaayum good cooks.

My First Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Raise your hand if you, like me, assumed that grocery stores would be open on Thanksgiving day?


Soooo, raise your hand if, like me, you basically have no soul and will be reincarnated into a rock in your next life because you selfishly assumed that grocery store workers would not take a thanksgiving vacation but would be serving you and your last minute ingredient needs instead.
:( I can probably expect lots of coal in my stockings this year...

What with grocery stores being closed, I had to rely on what I had in my house, and the ever-reliable, 24/7 Walgreens to supply me with ingredients to make not just any tasty dish, a tasty THANKSGIVING dish. Which cannot be taken lightly! Thanksgiving to food/cooks alike, is what the NBA finals are to the basketball world. And I was expected to make slam dunks with a dish comprised solely of convenient store-bought ingredients? Perhaps this is the inner food snob in me speaking, but I felt like the odds were not in my favor.

Equipped with a can of pumpkin, a package of english muffins, and the spices I had at home, I was able to put together my version of this cinnamon bread pudding. And with some of my left over ingredients I also put together an attempt on cinnamon spice muffins

Lets start with the bread pudding. I used english muffin tops for bread left out some of the accessory ingredients that the recipe called for, including white powder sugar. I thought it came together very nicely, and the bread added great texture. This is the first time I've made, and consumed bread pudding. So without any basis for comparison, I would say the dish was a success! 

....Too bad none of the Asian parents thought so. In the end I brought my bread pudding to the Thanksgiving dinner party and no one even bothered to eat it. In fact, the dish didn't even leave the side counter and make it on to the main table! Talk about WOMP...

My parents said its because the cinnamon spice combo isn't a favorite among more traditional Asian palettes. Who am I to combat old-school taste preferences? Shrugs...I do what I can. The rest though is out of my control.

Difficulty: 6
Willingness to make again: 9
Over-all: 8.5
1. X-nay on the cloves next time. I am also not a fan

Now, lets proceed onto the attempted muffins. Notice how I keep using the word "attempt?" The good thing about the recipe is that it completely fit the bill in terms of utilizing left over snacks and ingredients I had lying around the pantry. The major  con is that they turned out like *ish.
Needless to say, if the bread pudding didn't even make the table, that these muffins should not have even left my oven. Points to me for trying, at least.

^props for a recipe that uses your applesauce and random stash of corn flakes

Surprisingly, my parents liked these weird sticky-muffins more than my bread pudding. Again, it is what it is. Not in my control!

Difficulty: 4
Willingness to make again: 5 (done right next time)
Over-all: 4

1. KOREAN FLOUR is not the same as All Purpose Flour and the result drastically changed my muffins. Instead of being fluffy and light, my muffins had a "nian" texture and didn't rise properly, even with adequate baking powder.
2. The recipe doesn't make the muffins sweet enough. So I improvised by melting the rest of the chocolate truffles and drizzling them on top. To let the muffins dry on time I shoved them in the fridge for a clutch cool-down.

In the end, vegetarian Thanksgiving was a success. In that there was actually a very sufficient amount of dishes that I was able to eat. Given that I was at a full on Asian dinner party at someone else's house, I'd say it was quite auspicious! 

At the end of the day, I didn't end my first Thanksgiving with a four-sweep, and I may not have even won the finals...or made it into the semifinals. BUT I survived. And am full. That is always a win of some sort.

Now I can end this post with some cheesy mush about Thanksgiving isn't really about food but about family and cherishing all the great aspects of our lives, being grateful, ya dee ya da. But lets be real here...devout followers of foodism are primarily concerned with stuffing our bellies guiltlessly. After-all it is in the spirit of the holiday! Aaaaandddd, that is what my personal blog is for. For the mush and things. Leaving this space solely for what its meant for, the nomz and creation of nomz.

 But for the record, here is a glimpse of some things I am most thankful for. (:

I TRIED "Fajitas"

Urrrrrggggghhhhhhhhhh. Finals. Tests. Stress. Study. Sleep (somewhat). Repeat.

Here you see a random fajita I made to save myself from the brink of my starvation. That is one "S" I didn't need to add to the ^ list.

It's basically just a stir fry of random things I had in my Antartica-esque (cold and empty) fridge rolled into a tortilla....yep.

At least I tried.
Difficulty: 3
Willingness to make again: 4
Over-all: 4.5

Si Ji Dou

Being a stressed out, busy student with upcoming finals, a weakling wallet and still an incessant appetite inevitably results in the triple bind, being stuck between a rock, a hard place, and a dangerous killer tiger. Here is what I mean: the tightening wallet means you do not want to spend money eating out, but finals dictate that every waking minute of your life must be spend at FSM or some other cafe studying, and yet regardless of how many tests you have coming up, a girl has still got to eat. Right? 

It's like a three legged stool! (HAAAAA, health policy jokes for the WIN). 

Anyway, the triple bind was growing so out of control that it was becoming its own separate stress factor that I decided I did not need on top of everything else. So I finally buckled down and decided to cook again. The bag of beans about to go bad and perhaps a slight twinge of procrastination may have also played a role. Nevertheless, I finally decided to cook for myself. 

My Si Ji Dou turned out great for my first time! I changed it from the way my parents always make it by substituting meat with onions and ground peanuts. 

Difficulty: 4
Willingness to make again: 10
Over-all: 9