Archive for January, 2012

January 24, 2012

Dessert, Breakfast, and Pie IN ONE!

by Kathryn Baldwin

If I want to learn to cook like a Mexican goddess, I should learn to cook meat. Ha! Baby steps.

I found my next Mexican food cooking adventure in the back of my cookbook: Fruit Filled Empanadas. I did not expect that eating this warm, Mexican hot pocket would feel as good as I felt as a kid when I begged for those mini apple pies from McDonalds. Except, where McDonalds pies use flavor from a chemically concocted potion made in the worlds largest flavor company factory (Flavors & Fragrances) in New Jersey, this pocket of love was made by my inspired labor and lonely Saturday night. They’re like dessert, breakfast, and pie all in one: I think I could make these once a week…and I know my family wouldn’t complain. Not to mention, unlike McDonalds’ products, you could probably venture to eat the whole batch without a heart attack interrupting halfway through.

January 22, 2012

Ode to My Fifth Sense

by Kathryn Baldwin

Thanks to my throbbing head cold last Thursday, I was unable to detect the urine stench that is normally the first local to greet me at this 24th St. portal. My class stepped off the elevator, clutching their own elbows in defense of the swelling storm, and I prayed that I would be able to smell all that this Mission District Grub tour had to offer.

Our tour began at La Victoria, where floor to ceiling cases of Mexican pastries tested my olfactory senses. Fail. Our bite-sized samples of conchas were so airy that when I dipped mine in freshly pressed coffee, the liquid grabbed the corner, climbing so far up the piece that most of it fell right in.

Elotes had a dense yellow center that I smushed between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, and sugar grains grinded between my teeth. Life without a nose may help me to recognize new textures but that’s not why I came to the Mission.

At Mr. Pollo, our empanadas were drizzled with a garlic, cilantro, and mayonnaise sauce (so the solo chef told us). Without my nose, it was green, watery mayonnaise. FML.

At Mission Minis, my “Cinnamon Horchata” cupcake tasted like a cinnamon roll. Any other time this would have been fantastic but when you put “Horchata” in the name, I expect 10 stars. I’m still convinced that with my fifth sense I would have been able to distinguish the subtle taste of a Mexican rice drink.

At Humphry Slocombe, I didn’t realize we were entering an ice cream parlor until our guide actually explained that we were entitled to a scoop. The thick, sweet air that I usually swim through in an ice cream place while I pick out a flavor was non-existent.

I numbed my mouth with my Brown Sugar Fennel ice cream on the walk to the Mexican Market, contemplating the decision I made of devouring something so cold, with a cold, in the cold. Smart.

Upon throwing away my cold-in-a-cup, I ventured into the crowded, every-Mexican-ingredient-you-could-ask-for, corner store. My nose ran away with the piles of fresh corn tortillas. At last…my love…had come along. I followed the path of jostling customers around the center island three times to the tune of “con permiso.” I never wanted to leave that place, where the warm corn fumes cleared my sinuses and reminded me of my Mexican host mother nursing me back to health. I listened for the pat, pat, pat of Maseca balls slapping between sticky palms and I warmed my hands, hovering over the piles of sweating tortillas packed in plastic as they waited patiently for a ride home next to their close friends Mr. Chicharrón. After my olfactory glands received their giant tortilla hug, I could devour my Huarache and Taco al Pastor with newfound appreciation for life with a nose.

All my nose needed was that distinct reminder of what smelling is meant for, but an hour later I was back to four senses. Five hours later I was down to the equivalent of about two. My NyQuil wouldn’t work that night and I wished I could snuggle with a bag of warm tortillas. A few days later, having recovered a bit, all I want to do is ride back to 24th St. I would accept the greeting from Urine with open arms just to sniff my way through each place, experiencing the Mission aromas that I missed out on.

January 19, 2012

“Chopped:” rum, tofu, and ground turkey?

by Kathryn Baldwin

What do you do when you get home late, too sober to fall asleep but not drunk enough to pass out? Well, I curl up with some tea and mindless munchies, equipped to stare at reruns of Food Network’s Chopped until I fall asleep! Forcing me to treat this mindless entertainment seriously, my class developed a mock Chopped assignment. We blindly exchanged ingredients and marched home with 4,320 minutes (instead of 20) to create a meal.

“Chopped” is my uninspired, dead energy, dumpsite. How could I find enough inspiration under these mundane circumstances to combine two flavorless proteins and a cocktail? I settled on rum-glazed turkey meatballs and a tofu dressing for a side salad.

For the tofu salad dressing I made the mistake of following Emeril Lagasse’s idea: I put a bajillion ingredients into my Magic Bullet expecting a high-protein version of Ranch. It’s possible that to succeed in Emeril’s magic, I should have tossed the ingredients into the Bullet screaming “BAM!”, but the dressing turned out to be liquid shallot. Sniffing it brought tears and licking it felt like I’d sneezed horseradish through my nose.

“Chopped” is not just a mindless, drunk-munchies theme song; like any competition or art form, it requires concentration, innovation, and inspiration. While I would have been Chopped with my rancid dressing (even after trying to save it with a fountain of honey), I have grown a new respect for the inspiration that “Chopped” chefs are able to conjure when conditions turn bland.

Luckily, anything glazed in melted butter, molasses, and rum inspires me. Looking back, the proteins weren’t “bland,” they were a clean slate waiting for inspiration.

Recipe: INSPIRING, RUM-GLAZED TURKEY BALLS

Combine one-fourth cup of bread crumbs, a half tsp each of salt and nutmeg. Also add 1 tsp each of pepper, cumin, tarragon, and paprika. Take your rings off and roll up your sleeves. Plop in 1 lb. ground turkey and one lightly beaten egg. Then, shove your hands in and mush it all around. Roll about 16 balls the size of an average avocado pit. After they’ve baked on a greased, foil-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, spoon about three fourths of the melted inspiration over each one (half a stick of butter, half a cup of rum, half a cup of molasses). Then, put a layer of foil over top and bake for 5-10 more minutes. Sacrifice one to be sure they’ve cooked all the way. Then spoon the rest of the Inspiration Juice overtop.

January 17, 2012

H.A.D.D. (Hungry Attention Deficit Disorder) … in Chinatown

by Kathryn Baldwin

When my bladder is so full that I have to hold myself, half-jigging in place like a desperate kindergartener wondering if I’ll make it on time, nothing can get my mind off of sweet urinating bliss. Trickling water, yellow walls, pressing seatbelts; even the image of an open door reminds me of the desired heaven awaiting me at my empty, home bathroom. In a similar way, when I visited Chinatown last Thursday, I was fully distracted by my empty stomach and could think of nothing but food.

Glancing up (the overused, romantic motion that consumes anyone upon entering a large city), I noticed rags, faded blue t-shirts, and a rust orange pillow-case clipped to a wire line that stretched from someone’s Single Room Occupancy window to the stairs of their fire-escape. Rust orange, I thought, is the perfect way to do describe the glimmering fat that coats the roasted ducks, head and all, strung in the speckled front window of the prepared-food shop to my right.

The famous Chinese man, perched in front of his one-chair barber shop playing his “urhu” was a foggy image because of the warm, sweet fumes that lurked through the air, flowing from the neighboring fortune-cookie factory across the alley between my view and the impromptu concert.

Lugging myself down the sidewalk, I lifted my feet like elephant hooves and planted them each time with an exhale. My delirious stupor was interrupted by a familiar argument. When my gaze finally met the lips delivering their nasal squeak, I realized that the four-foot, 80-year-old? woman wanted something long, green, and fuzzy for less than 70 cents per pound. Rows of yellow, green, brown, and red produce were stacked as high as her chest. I didn’t care what she wanted (nor could I tell you which language she was speaking or name half of the foods in front of me) but whatever it was, I agreed with her case and would have been willing to pay for it and carry it home for her if she’d just let me sample it all.

My stomach continued to tug on the overtly creative side of my brain all day. The streets smelled of salted fish. The sunrays that snuck over the financial district’s high-rises highlighted food delivery trucks. Tea was nothing but a teaser. Chinese characters turned into noodles.

I visited San Francisco’s Chinatown last week fully equipped with a group tour, ready to learn about Chinese-American history while marveling at foreign crowds and useless Americanized Chinese trinkets. Clearly, my mind was in other places. Next time, I will plan the meal for the start of the tour and maybe then I’ll learn something about history.

Then again… what is a culture without food?

January 13, 2012

Fire!!!! Part 2 (Read Part 1 first!)

by Kathryn Baldwin

Last weekend, when my hands had finally recovered from the rashes caused by continuous bleach exposure, I bought some gloves and put away the tequila in preparation for redemption. Two hours later, my family sat down for some fried Poblano chiles, stuffed with Oaxaca cheese, golden potatoes, and cream cheese, with sides of refried pinto beans, and long-grain Spanish rice. Other than the fact that the beans were saltier than the Mediterranean, I wanted to take my plate to bed and spoon with that dinner all night. To avoid this act of infidelity to my boyfriend, I decided to fork it slowly at the dinner table instead.

The heat increased with each ascending bite as I worked my way toward the stem, and the oozing cheese, held together by clumps of sweet yellow potatoes, mellowed the spiciness in preparation for the next bite. Everyone at the table had been present for the previous disaster, making this “normal” Mexican meal seem like a masterpiece on a plate. Watch out Diego Rivera.

This time around I approached the recipe with an entirely different plan. Not to mention, and regardless of my gloves, I Dawn-scrubbed my hands between each step (purely out of fear). Most importantly, I was more mentally prepared. It takes concentration, hours, and midway meditation to pour the amount of love onto these chiles that is required to accomplish what his mother does with such ease.

Other lessons learned:

  1. When it comes to chiles, bigger is not always better.
  2. Take the time to prepare an organized assembly line, or else you’ll be sprinting around between counters, flinging oil, flour, and cheese through the air and blurting F-bombs like you’re Lil-Wayne.
  3. Don’t start drinking until AFTER you’ve served your masterpiece. This helps prevent fires while cooking and helps you to finish the dishes without envisioning hanging yourself with your wet dishcloths.
  4. I still do not understand how the chiles are supposed to shed their skin with careful ease. Someone PLEASE spare me this misery!

And remember kids, keep fire extinguishers near and have an evacuation plan before attempting to be a Mexican mom.

 

January 12, 2012

Fire!!!!! (Part 1)

by Kathryn Baldwin

My Mexican boyfriend of five years has created a religion in reverence of his mother’s chile rellenos. To prepare for a day when his mother’s cooking is not a constant background symphony during our evening Wheel of Fortune competitions, we plunged our amateur hands and naïve hunger into a chile relleno recipe we found in my Christmas gift from my Godmother: The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking.

Fully equipped with our ingredients from Las Montañas in Concord (the closest Mexico around), our first solo creation of an elaborate Mexican meal taught us valuable lessons about how to prevent two different types of fire:

  1. Never put cold oil in a hot pan! When all else fails, sprinting across the kitchen with a flaming pan yields an inferior result to smothering the flames with something as simple as a lid.
  2. Never handle chiles with bare hands! If the fire on your hands has already begun, plunge them in diluted bleach, soak them in sour cream or buckets of iced milk, find heaven in numbness, and pray.

A week later (last Sunday), lucky to not be busy mourning my boyfriend’s eyebrows, I attempted the recipe one more time. Stay tuned for the next circus act…

January 10, 2012

Eggs on three! Eggs on three…

by Kathryn Baldwin

A typical day at my house when my patience has heightened potential to crack involves boys “Gorilla-Glue”-ing their thumbs to the remote, convinced that the answer to their life-problems lies in the outcome of whatever sporting event that seems to me never-ending. My mom, likely the smartest woman around, leaves the house for some “retail therapy.” My two female poodles, also quite resourceful, use the opportunity to coil up and dream of chasing squirrels. My sister, the bravest, screams along with the men (and when that gets old, she Pinterest’s her nails to death). I, on the other hand, take the “bum, bum, bum, bum” football theme song as a motivation to check the fridge for fresh eggs.

For example, just last Sunday, the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos, inspired me to crack two eggs practicing my Grandma Charlene’s cinnamon roll recipe. The edges were too crisp but my loyal, sports-fan father gobbled two on his first plate and popped an entire one into his mouth while transferring a plate of seconds.

A Sunday morning last July, the United States vs. Brazil women’s soccer game (plus overtime) inspired me to spend two more eggs fluffing some of Martha Stewart’s famous Buttermilk Pancakes with blueberries. I was so excited to break in the used Favorite Comfort Food recipe book I’d found at the “Paris Flea Market,” and a captive soccer lover provided the perfect occasion.

I’m sure egg sales spike during the summers of nine-inning baking sessions. One particular night early last baseball season, when the Florida Marlins made all bay area men cry for Buster Posey, I had enough time to spend “three extra large eggs” on Ina Garten’s “Lemon Yogurt Cake” that was so moist you’d think their tears sloshed right into my batter.

And Later, the yearly ceremony of a never ending World Series, and the HD views of Bush, front row for the Texas Rangers, threw me in the kitchen to spend half a Styrofoam carton making mounds of Snickerdoodles from whatever recipe I could find on such frantic notice. The first couple batches had no chance to cool.

The week before our 2011 Christmas, as well as Christmas eve morning (49ers vs. the Seahawks), when sugar plum fairies were counting by sevens, I stirred some unsulfured molasses into two eggs for more Barefoot Contessa: “Ultimate Ginger Cookie” recipe (aka, the best ginger cookies that ever lived).

And while the men were busy taking a knee in Tebow pride, I snuck out to pick up a new dozen for a double batch of Jacques Torres’s Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies that had me cracking, drum roll please, 8 eggs!

So, thanks to the constant drone of sports announcers humming through the air from the family room to the kitchen, I try to keep the fridge fully stocked with fresh eggs. This way, the men are fed, I learn how to bake like The Greats, and the addition of overtime comes as a pleasant surprise rather than an extended jail sentence. Not to mention, it pulls Venus and Mars into a more loving orbit.

Eggs on three. Eggs on three. One, Two, Three… Crack!

January 6, 2012

No Games, Just Crab

by Kathryn Baldwin

Fish”: a restaurant so organic that it refuses to taint its name with distractions like articles or adjectives.

I only discovered this hidden perfection from Tyler Florence’s leak on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and my boyfriend and I created an entire daytrip just to find it. At first, the u-turns and traffic on the trek to Sausalito were balanced by my anticipation for coming bliss. I had drooled over the crab sandwich on my twelve-inch television but I refused to believe a paid show’s rant until my own bite held enough power to melt a crab. I spotted the crowd before I actually spotted “Fish.” Finding parking and space for two at one of the outdoor picnic tables forced me into starvation mode. My boyfriend waited in line as I collapsed in the sun, contemplating the cruelties of charging $25 for a sandwich and judging how expensive the real estate on the restaurant’s backyard boat dock must be. After marveling at the view of invading birds and north-bay snobs bickering over shade spots, I recognized how pathetic I was for spending more than an hour’s salary on a sandwich. I texted my boyfriend: “Order me the fish tacos instead. That price is too depressing!!” Thirty minutes later, when I was two seconds away from frantically searching for a beer, he joined me with a grin of accomplishment and nothing less than the sandwich that had beckoned my obsession all the way from the FoodNetwork.

Usually, an item on a menu that contains crab is like a game of “Where’s Waldo” and when you finally find the crab you can’t help but wonder where it came from. This was no game. The homemade roll was nothing but a shadow to the mound of crab packed between its walls. Messy, yet elegant, clamping down on one corner was like finally opening your front door after being locked out of the house. You jam the key in quickly but by the time the handle swings inward you can’t help but switch to slow-motion for a deep sigh of relief. Once I had opened the door, my neck released my shoulders and I hoped I could just chew forever. Mouthfuls of dissolving crab shreds, butter, and shrinking bread forced my eyelids closed and confused my perceptions. My scorching shoulders were suddenly cool. The snobs were friendly and patient. The birds were silent and distant. The wooden bench was soft and forgiving. Fries were unimportant. My boyfriend was a hero for disobeying my texted orders.

“Fish” was sufficient without “the.”

January 6, 2012

The Snow White Syndrome

by Kathryn Baldwin

Studying abroad in Mexico, my “host mother” was a vegetarian, slave-to-her-husband grandmother with a soft voice and more patience in the kitchen than Mother Teresa. Sitting at “Mamá’s” table for comida was like receiving the holy host at church as a severely devout Catholic. Still, when she handed me t

hat polished red apple for the third time to pack in my lunch for a field trip, I morphed from a worshipper to Snow White herself.

Slyly avoiding those evil potions was a routine for years ever since they’d started to make the inner lining of my mouth numb, swollen, or worse: itchy. I could NOT be allergic. To apples? What about our apple tree and Grandma Charlene’s apple pies?! No way! Luckily, each time prior to this field trip, I had managed to pass off the poison to a bus-buddy with the excuse that my plump torta with avocado was enough, and I’d reached an OXXO for a snack-run just in time to pacify the bear in my belly. My bony shoulders could use all the help they could get and gifting my red ball of fiber was just asking for hunger. Unfortunately, this field trip was different.

After wandering museums, perching half a butt-cheek on anything that remotely looked like a chair, and inhaling the thick, black air of Mexico City, we drug our feet up the bus steps for a late lunch and I swear my torta was suspended in the air like a hovering angel from heaven. It was squashed to a corner by my arch nemesis the red apple and sweating inside its clear plastic bag, but my heartbeat found new life as I freed an edge for a bite. The upper and lower rows of my teeth met with a clack; there was not a sliver of avocado between the bread, nor a juicy tomato slice as a substitute. My mind raced through the future and before I even pouted through the next bite I was anticipating my coming hunger. “I will not be tossing this apple today” I thought, “at least not until I find a back up snack.”

The scenery became more monotonous along the ride out of the city, robbing me of distractions for my loneliness and boredom. I tossed and turned in that coffin-like bus seat, wishing fo

r the remedy of sleep but nothing could get my mind off of the shiny red apple that I had tucked between the window wall and my left thigh. I decided that nothing would solve my depressing mood better than a beautiful snack. At home, a family sized bag of tortilla chips, kettle corn, or a pint of ice cream would solve this problem (or so I seem to think every time), but there on that scratchy blue seat, enclosed by suffocating walls and sweaty bodies, my apple was the only antidote.

Suddenly charmed by its spell, I noticed that small apple was big enough for two hands. My shoulders reached forward, my forearms linked, and when my front teeth poked through the thick skin, I stopped denying the evil queen. My eyes rolled back with relief for the five minute indulgence, my pressing thoughts fully

released for the moment. By the time I had stashed the naked, yellowing apple core, my once watering l

ips were suddenly pulsing. My guilty lips grew, they burned, they tingled and finally, they itched. For the next four sweltering days of life in “the eternal spring” of Cuernavaca, those swollen, burning lips, along with oversized tonsils and a burning esophagus were a true motivator to remind Mother Teresa before the next field trip that I preferred a less poisonous ball of fiber.