New Year/New Beginnings

Hello, everyone!

As the title of this post suggests, it’s a new year and it’s time for some new beginnings. To that end, I have decided to start a new blog in order to follow my foodie passion. Rather than the mix of things that Rough Draft has become, Fearless Kitchen will be dedicated to my love of making, eating, and sharing good food. I would greatly appreciate if those of you who would like to continue reading my posts head on over to fearless-kitchen.com and subscribe.

The content hosted on Rough Draft will not be deleted. I may still update this site with my random musings. Please note, however, that all food-related posts will be updated exclusively on Fearless Kitchen.

Thank you all for your endless support– you have made my experiences so far in blogging enjoyable and rewarding. I hope I can continue entertaining you and exciting your taste buds over at Fearless Kitchen!

Chicca

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Butternut Squash Soup

There is something about winter that calls for soup. Specifically, the rich, thick, stick-to-your-bones, keep-you-warm kind of soup that makes you feel like you’re curled up in front of the fireplace, even though your NYC apartment certainly does not have the proper permits for one. I know it’s not really winter yet– we still have many colder months to go– but the briskness in the air is starting to signal that it’s a soup time of year.

My first journey into soup territory was only six weeks ago. Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen the tomatillo soup I made in late September. Surprise! I had never even tried to make a soup before that. Since then, I’ve made a delicious and hearty stew, a quick and yet tasty French onion soup, and the star of tonight’s meal: butternut squash soup.

20131110 Butternut Squash Soup

Thanks to my parents’ decision to clean out their kitchen storage spaces, I am the proud new owner of a very nice immersion blender. I am so thankful, because without this little (well, big) gadget, I would never have been able to make this incredible meal. While it’s a bit time-consuming to roast everything, there are ways to cut the time down. If you hate wielding a knife against a large, difficult piece of squash just as much as I do, feel free to buy the pre-cut cubes of squash. It’ll save you a lot of time and will still taste incredible. 

This soup is hearty enough that it stands confidently on its own, and versatile enough that it would be wonderful paired with another dish. The sweetness of the squash roasted with brown sugar pairs well with the spiciness of the cumin, giving the soup a surprising depth. It’s rich, it’s deceptively filling, and it definitely creates that warm feeling inside you, like curling up in a blanket on a cold night. 

And now, without any further ado, please let me introduce you to this soup. I’m sure you two are going to be great friends.

Butternut Squash Soup 

2 lb butternut squash, in about 1-inch cubes
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth
3 large carrots, cut small enough for your blender to handle*
2 medium onions
Olive oil
A pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cumin**
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp cream per bowl (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay the butternut squash and carrot pieces on a baking sheet and coat with about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well so that all chunks are thoroughly coated with oil– this will prevent them from sticking and give them a nice color in the oven– then sprinkle with brown sugar and ground ginger. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until a fork can be easily inserted into squash and carrots, stirring the mixture at around 15 minutes. 

While the squash and carrots are roasting, chop the onions. In a heavy-bottom pot, heat about a tablespoon.5 of olive oil with the hot pepper flakes over medium-high heat. Add the onions when the oil is fragrant and shimmering. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow them to cook, stirring to avoid burning, to desired softness or until the squash and carrots are soft enough, then lower or turn off the heat on the pot.

When the squash and carrots are ready, add them to the pot with the onions. Even if the squash was thoroughly coated with oil, there may still be parts of it stuck to the baking sheet. While the baking sheet is still hot, add a bit of chicken broth to it and scrape the burned bits and leftover caramelized brown sugar from the pan, then carefully pour the liquid and chunks into the pot. Add the cinnamon and cumin to the pot and mix well. 

With the immersion blender I found it easiest to add all the liquid to the pot and completely submerge the head of the blender while letting it do its thing. If you are using another type of blender, it may be best to add the liquid in stages. It’s your call. Blend carrots and squash to a pleasant consistency– mine was smoothish but a bit chunky. 

Once blended, heat soup thoroughly. Serve immediately, stirring in 1-2 tablespoons of cream per bowl if desired. Finish with freshly ground pepper. 

*I cut the carrots in half lengthwise and again into three short sections, cross-wise, so that they would roast in about the same time as the squash pieces. My immersion blender didn’t end up liking this, though if you’re using a slightly larger blender it may not matter. If your blender is also a bit finnicky, roast the carrots at this size and then cut them into smaller pieces before adding to the pot. 

**We only have cumin seeds– not ground cumin– in our apartment, so the cumin I used was freshly ground. Pre-ground cumin may not have the same level of flavor, so you might need to adjust the amount of cumin to taste. 

Foodie Confession + Quiche Bliss

Okay, I have a very important confession to make to you all.

I know I bill myself as an adventurous eater. It’s true– I love food, and I will try almost anything at least once. But I feel like I would by lying to you all if I didn’t come one hundred percent squeaky clean:

There is one food that I absolutely cannot stand. It is my food nemesis. If this food were a villain, it would be the most evil of all villains and the thwarter of all my plans.

My food nemesis is eggs.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of weird reactions from people when I tell them this. “Eggs?? You don’t like eggs??” is the most usual one, but it’s ranged from incredulity all the way to unadulterated disgust. Most people just don’t understand it. I don’t eat them for breakfast, I don’t eat them for lunch, I don’t even eat them green with ham. Unlike the Dr Seuss character I have tried eggs before making up my mind; my mom tells me that when I was a kid I used to eat an egg sandwich every morning for breakfast. I was way too young to remember this, and sometime between then and my first memories some great change came over my body to make it rebel against all things eggy. I can’t eat french toast that has been soaking for too long because I can taste the egg in it. Breakfast sandwiches are off limits, and even egg drop soup is sometimes too much for me. Hell, I can’t even stand the smell of eggs cooking. It makes me want to hurl.

It might come as a huge surprise to you, then, that one of my favorite foods is quiche. That’s right. I can’t stand eggs but I love a food that’s essentially egg pie. In reality, though, quiche is so much more than that. It’s veggie-filled, cheese-gushing goodness that’s been poured into the mother of all baked things– a pie crust. There is so much deliciousness that radiates from quiche that not even eggs could taint it. Really, what more could you ask for from a food?

 

Seriously. Is it not the most delicious-looking thing you’ve ever seen?

 

I have been going absolutely crazy with my internship this summer (which finally ended yesterday, by the way, and while it was a great experience I’m also glad it’s over), but I did have time recently to have a fun cooking day. And– you’ve probably guessed it by now– I made a quiche.

The recipe I used was (highly) adapted from the McCall’s recipe for Quiche Lorraine, but considering I had a ton of spinach and onions in my fridge I decided to do something completely different from what the recipe said. I ended up putting so much filling into the quiche that I had  bunch of the extra egg/cream mixture left over (whoops), so the measurements that I used are in the recipe below with what I guess would be better measurements in parenthesis.

So, without further ado:

Spinach and Onion Quiche

(Crust secret: I had some time to be in the kitchen, but not a lot of time. So I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust. Shhh. I recommend Trader Joe’s but the Pillsbury ones are also good!)

6 eggs with 1 white separated (4 would probably be better)

3 cups light cream (I used a mixture of cream and skim milk, and 2 cups would probably be better)

1/2 lb gruyere, shredded

1 1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

dash of red pepper flakes

1 large onion

1lb spinach, washed and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Saute the spinach until wilted, then let it cool.

3. Slice the onions, then throw them in a pan with a little oil. When they’re close to being finished, add a little white wine and let it reduce.

4. Place your pie crust in a sprayed or buttered pie plate and brush the entire surface with the egg white. Throw the leftover egg white into the bowl in the next step.

5. Combine eggs and dry ingredients in a bowl, and beat together.

Ahh, my nemesis. You are so delicious when baked in a quiche.

6. Beat the cream in slowly until just combined– don’t let it get frothy.

7. Layer about half the cheese evenly onto the bottom of the pie crust.

8. Drain your spinach. Seriously, you want to get it really, really dry– I recommend actually wringing the water out with your hands. Get your spinach as dry as you can. Drain your onions, too!

9. Layer the veggies into the pie crust, then coat evenly with the rest of the cheese.

10. Pour the egg mixture in.

11. Cook for 50-55 minutes, or until the center of the quiche is firm.

12. Let sit for 10 minutes to set, then enjoy!

Bon appetit, everyone!

The Right Start to Summer

Hello, hello! I have been absent again for quite a while. Finals are done, friends have graduated, and I am officially a senior in college, hoping someone will find a way to stop time for a bit– I am not at all ready to leave this place, yet. But summer has started and it is going to be a challenging, rewarding, and hopefully relaxing few months.

I’m living at school this summer in an apartment and commuting to the city for work. I didn’t find out about my job until late so I couldn’t deal with housing until late, either, which means that I’m living in an apartment all by myself. It’s nice having so much space and I am definitely learning to be self-sufficient, but it’s gotten a bit lonely at points. I have lots of friends here over the summer, though, so I am not, by any means, alone.

Last night my friend Raymond came over for dinner and we made fajitas. Raymond says he can’t cook but did an excellent job of chopping everything (and an even more excellent job of doing the dishes… which was STELLAR). Before I talk about the food, though, I have to mention our cooking soundtrack: Onda Vaga. They’re an Argentine band that reminds me fully of summer and I would highly recommend getting their CDs, especially when it’s warm and happy out.

I was an idiot and forgot to take pictures of our fajitas (and the leftovers in my fridge don’t look nearly as pretty as my plate did), but the marinade on the chicken was delicious and I would most definitely use it again. You can find the basic recipe here, though I made some small changes. In the marinade, I used a bit more cumin than was called for and a lot more lime juice. The recipe also tells you to marinate the chicken already sliced, but I was worried that cooking it in slices would dry it out. Instead, I cut the breasts into thinner chunks– sort of like thin breast pieces (I  got about three out of each breast)– to cook in the pan, and sliced them afterwards.  We added some sauteed onions and peppers, homemade guacamole, and homemade pico de gallo to the mix and we were set. Yum!

We topped it all off with this lovely grapefruit, thyme, and gin soda (minus the gin because Raymond had to drive home afterwards). Shh, don’t tell anyone… but I cut a few corners and this beverage was super easy to pull together. Trader Joe’s has ruby red grapefruit juice without sugar added, so I used some of that instead of fresh grapefruit juice. I also am not too keen on juicing limes, so I used some of the bottled stuff from the supermarket. The thyme syrup is incredibly easy to make, though, and I am so happy that the recipe he provides for it makes much more than you need for this soda– I’m planning to use it in just about anything and everything. It is so tasty! The one thing I was disappointed about is that the club soda lost its carbonation almost immediately, but I also wasn’t storing it in an appropriate bottle and the drink was delicious un-carbonated, as well. Basically, I was so pleased with it that I am planning to make it all summer long! Maybe next time we’ll try it with the gin and report back.

I’m preparing now to head home for Memorial Day weekend. We’re supposed to have a doozy of a heatwave here at school this weekend, and nothing says Memorial Day like swimming in a nice, chilly pool. Have a wonderful holiday weekend, everyone! Catch you next week.

Holy Guacamole!

I don’t think I’ve written about it before, but my host mom Silvia loves guacamole. Seriously. She thinks it is dance-and- song worthy and has actually both sung and danced about it. During one of the first weeks of me being here, during a dinner when my family was both tired as anything and hitting the wine pretty hard, guacamole came up somehow in conversation and Silvia got up from the table. At first she just started shaking her hips and we were all pretty confused about what was going on, but soon after started  to sing-song chant “guacamole guacamole guacamole!” and dancing around the kitchen!

I sort of forgot about her obsession until we made Mexican food– when I told her the next day what we ended up making, her eyes lit up as soon as the first syllable of “guacamole” left my mouth. So today my first order of business was going down to the corner verdulería to buy the necessary vegetables so I could whip up a batch for the family. I ended up using 3 avocados– or paltas, as they’re called here, NOT aguacates like in Mexico– which yielded a fair amount of guacamole.

Silvia came home soon after I was done making it and was super excited when I told her what I’d made for her! She said she doesn’t normally eat lunch at midday, but we sat down and finished off a significant amount of it plus some tuna salad I put my extra avocado and a tomato into. It was a wonderful way to share lunch with her, and a great excuse to give her a break from working on things for her art exposition, which opens in only a month!

Much more delicious-looking than Paint art, no?

Guacamole is also spectacularly easy to make. Seriously. If you like it and haven’t tried it before, well… you should. And I’m posting my process below (plus some handy spanish vocab) so you have no excuse not to!

GUACAMOLE

For this batch, I used:

3 avocados (paltas)

1 medium tomato (tomate)

1 small onion (cebolla)

1 clove of garlie (ajo)

lemon and salt to taste, but you’re gonna want a good amount of lemon.

Cut the avocados in half and scoop out the meat with a spoon, removing the pit. My friend Rachel, the Guacamole Queen, likes to mash up her avocados first but I decided to chop them because I thought it was prettier. Throw them in a bowl, then chop the tomato and the onion and throw those in, as well. Crush the garlic with the flat of the knife and then mince it as finely as possible– it could probably use more garlic, in reality, so feel free to add some more. Then salt it and lemon it– I ended up using a white vinegar-lemon combo just because we ran out of lemon, but lemon by itself is definitely better.

Mix it all up (sort of gently so the avocado doesn’t turn into a squishy mess) and ta-da! Your very own guacamole! Whoo!

I also made a bit of a variation with my extra avocado, a tomato, an onion, and a can of tuna that also came out pretty well, but a shot of lemon would have made it even better.Corn chips don’t really exist in this country– the closest we could find last weekend was Doritos– so today we ate them with crackers. Though I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how to eat guacamole! Happy eating!

Week-Long Saga in Four Chapters: Parts III and IV

I have more things to update you on but first, as promised, Chapters III and IV of the Week-Long Saga in Four Parts! Plus… another paint drawing. Just what you all were waiting for!

CHAPTER 3 or Mexican Food and a Spice Craving Satisfied

So I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Argentine food is bland. Seriously. People have no spice tolerance here– sometimes it’s like living in a world with the relative spice-content of baby food. A few years ago, I would have loved it. Adored it, even. Because even though my family has always gone crazy for spiced-up foods that make your nose run and your eyes water, I only started appreciating it within probably the past six or so years.

Once I finally discovered how much I was missing out on by skipping the spice, I quickly built up my tolerance and pretty much took spice for granted as a common, delicious addition to food. Which, as this Argentine experience has taught me, it is not.

So last weekend (well, two weekends ago, now), a bunch of kids from my program and I got together and cooked up some spicy Mexican food. We had guacamole, salsa, chicken and beef fajitas plus all the fixins’. We even made some sangria (which isn’t Mexican, I know, but it is sure darn tasty).

The most satisfying parts of the meal? For one, the fact that we found legitimate hot chilis in one of the verdulerías (vegetable stores) nearby. We also found awesome spicy hot sauce in the grocery store!! Which was spicy enough to make all our noses run, a bit.

It was also just nice to get together with friends and all cook together. Miss Roomie and I did that all the time last year in our apartment– we were kind of queens of throwing dinner parties– and I seriously missed that. Friends and food? Instant fun. And overall, a smashing success!

CHAPTER 4 or Part of the Family

As you guys know, I live in an apartment with a mom, dad, abuelita, and two host brothers. In case you don’t remember, I also have two other host siblings who both have their own kids plus a host uncle who lives about an hour away, a host aunt who lives close-ish to us, and another abuela who lives about five minutes away plus a bunch of other parientes (extended family members).

It’s a wonderful, big family and reminds me a lot of my own… but somehow they manage to be less crazy! Haha, to all my actual family reading this– don’t worry, I love you. You have all prepared me to adjust easily to living with another family who thinks they are ridiculous and weird but are really just right. You could say they’re the perfect bowl of porridge to my Goldilocks. But whatever.

Anyway, (almost) every Sunday a significant portion of the family gets together for a big midday meal. It’s usually at my house– I’ve been to a few but feel kind of weird invading their space all the time, and Sunday afternoon is a perfect time to go exploring and sightseeing, so usually they invite me to come only if I don’t already have plans.

Last (two) weekends ago, I woke up to find my abuelita, Yolly, cleaning strawberries in the kitchen. She gave me some really red ones to eat while she told me about their plans to go to my host sister Paula’s house for lunch. I didn’t really have plans for the day, so I figured I would hop in the shower and then enjoy having the house to myself for a bit before going out and reading in the sun.

Almost as soon as I got out of the shower, though, and was walking around my room in my towel, my host mom knocked on my door to tell me that they were leaving, and that they would wait for me to get dressed so I could come with them! So I threw on some clothes while they got the car out of the garage.

Paula’s house is beautiful. She lives near the outskirts of the city in an area that’s not as built up as where we live. Out there a lot of the houses have patios as part of their property; Paula even has a little backyard with grass, a parilla (grill) and a little pool! The inside of her house is also wonderful– everything had a very clean aesthetic and was just gorgeous, which was especially surprising because she has two kids!

It was a really nice lunch. We grilled some meat and veggies on the parilla and sat outside enjoying the wonderful weather. It was the first time that I met my host dad’s mom, as well, so it was great to sit and chat with all these incredibly interesting people. It’s not that I haven’t felt welcome in the house. I love my host family like my actual family. But there was something about the atmosphere, the way we all sat down together at the table and chatted, that made me feel like I was actually their youngest daughter. They were so inclusive and so welcoming that I truly felt like I was a part of their family.

Oatmeal

There are certain foods I don’t like, don’t care about, and really could care less whether or not my tastes for them change. Eggs, for example, are a food I could definitely do without. The smell of them makes me want to vomit, which really doesn’t make me want to ever think about eating them.

Oatmeal, however, is not one of those foods. I have always really wanted to like oatmeal. In the bowl it always looks so delicious, so creamy and good for your soul. Once in a while I’ll have an urge to make a bowl to see if my tastes have changed, and I always end up with the same, disappointed feeling when oatmeal and I don’t get along.

So when I found a Heart Health Awareness Month series on the TasteSpotting blog for different ways to eat oatmeal, even though my brain told me that I should want nothing to do with oatmeal my mouth couldn’t help watering. Oatmeal with fruit and honey? With butternut squash? Mushroom risotto (Ris-oat-o)??? It all just sounded so good!

I found myself obsessed with one recipe in particular. It was very simple but sounded so delicious. The secret was to drizzle olive oil on the cooked oats, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Sounds wonderful, right?

Over spring break when I was home alone and lonely I ended up making it. The oatmeal smell wasn’t as incredible as I had hoped, but the olive oil, salt, and pepper were divine. The first few bites were heaven– the earthy oats complimented the toppings perfectly– but after that my love affair with my oatmeal began to sour. Oatmeal raisin cookies are one of my favorite types of cookies, so I really think my dislike for the dish is a texture thing. The oats I’ve had are always pretty mushy, so maybe the secret is finding someone who actually knows how to make proper oatmeal.

My oatmeal experience ended poorly over spring break. What started out as a terrific discovery ended up with half a bowl of oats uneaten and unloved. That’s not to say that oats lose their special place in my heart. I still really want to like oatmeal. Until I find someone to teach me to make it, though, I’ll just have to love it from afar.

Barbecue Sauce

Cooking in my family is sometimes hard. My dad abhors tamarind, while my mom likes almost nothing containing coriander or molasses. Any recipe I come across is instantly doctored to suit my family’s tastes. And in this case, it worked out for the better– I made this barbecue sauce recipe that I found on Annie’s Eats (she does have wonderful recipes), and the only thing I can say is mmmmm!

Let me back track a bit, and start by saying that my family only eats homemade barbecue sauce. Seriously. The homemade stuff packs a spice-filled tang with which the sickly sweet store-bought stuff can’t compete. The only problem is that we cheat a little, as I think do most people whose bbq sauce is “homemade”– my mom usually uses a ketchup base. So when I found this recipe that makes the sauce from scratch, I pounced.
That being said, I’ve changed the recipe a bit, and have ended up with a much different result that Annie’s. We both halved the recipe, but while she ended up with 2.5 Mason jars of it, I ended up with a little less than 3 cups, or enough to fill a Mason jar, coat 3 racks of ribs, and have a little bit extra.
I still think it’s missing a bit of something– next time I would add cayenne pepper as well as more cumin, chili powder, and a bit more molasses. Rather than using store-bought chili powder which packs a lot of extra salt, we make our own. If you’re interested, its recipe is below. Annie has the bbq sauce recipe she used posted at her website (the link is above), but because I’ve doctored it, here is my changed recipe* as well!
*you should all note that because I’ve doctored the halved recipe, that’s the one I’ll be posting. “Scant” means “not quite,” and for the spice measurements feel free to add a bit more than what’s called for.


Chili Powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Combine ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight container.

Barbecue Sauce
Scant 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp unsulfured molasses
Scant 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 can crushed tomatoes
3/8 cup cider vinegar (or halfway between 1/4 and 1/2 cup)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat with the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent and tender. Mix in kosher salt, chili powder, and cumin, then add the dark brown sugar and molasses. Mix well and boil for about a minute and a half, then stir in the tomatoes and cider vinegar.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for about an hour and a half, or until the sauce becomes thick and has darkened.
Above, the sauce before thickening. Below, after simmering for 1.5 hours.

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and ground black pepper. Add the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth (here, Annie adds water to ease the blending process and achieve a less viscous consistency, but I liked the consistency of the sauce without the extra water and had no trouble blending it. Feel free to add water, 1/4 cup at a time, if you are having trouble blending or if the sauce is too thick for your  tastes).
Happy barbecuing, everyone!

BOOM CRACKLE FIZZZZZZ

Happy 4th, everybody! I hope you’re all having a wonderful day outside with your friends and families and lighting crazy things on fire.

In honor of Independence Day I’m trying the barbecue sauce recipe I found on Annie’s Eats, though not actually today because my aunt and uncle are coming over with their munchkins, and I don’t want to serve anything when we don’t know what it tastes like. We do have a rack of ribs in the fridge, though, that has this barbecue sauce’s name on it, so I’ll keep you all posted as to how it turns out!

In other news, I’ve restarted my beret again. Third time’s the charm, eh?

>I Wish I Were a Chef.

>It’s partly why I am living in an apartment next year– I want to be off the meal plan so a) I can cook all the time and b) I don’t feel guilty about cooking all the time because I don’t have to be on the meal plan.
My school offers ExCo, or experimental college, courses, and I’m taking a cooking class with my boyfriend that’s being offered. The class is geared towards people who have never cooked before in their lives (which we didn’t know when we signed up for it) and I don’t agree with many of the things the instructor has told us– fresh vegetables, for example, are definitely NOT the same as frozen vegetables in texture or taste, as she’s claimed– but this coming Monday is our last class and we get to pair up and cook part of a meal for the rest of the class.

The boy and I decided we’d do an appetizer so all three pairs aren’t cooking entrees and just had the bright idea to do stuffed mushrooms. As a result, I’ve been browsing my favorite food blogs for the past hour-point-five and want nothing more than to have my own kitchen again.

Looking at food blogs is on my top 10 lists of favorite past-times, though every time I look at them I get the crazy urge to cook something immediately. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if I started browsing before dinner or lived somewhere with a kitchen. And since neither of those apply to me, especially at the moment, I’m left with my desire to cook overriding the lethargy caused by my icky cold.

Maybe if I continue to blank out on what my major should be I’ll end next year by declaring a major in the study of food blogs. Staring and drooling and cooking for the rest of my life wouldn’t be so bad, right?