Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nine pieces of cake

I celebrated my birthday last week on March 14 and, boy, was it a delicious couple of days. 
I started with some pho at the new Vietnamese restaurant, Pho A Dong. I ordered a Vietnamese pizza and shared some of my boyfriend's chicken fried rice. He had never had pho before so I brought him around to be a pho lover. Also that fish sauce with the pizza is fantastic on anything.

My boyfriend and I skipped breakfast and worked hard at the gym to have loads of stir-fried veggies, rice and noodles at Katana Grill. We love the $10 lunch buffet there and the fried rice is one of my favorite rices because it's peppery, savory and not weighed down with any spices or vegetables; it just tastes like rice.
My family drove into town to help celebrate my birthday and we decided on pizza at Dion's for dinner. I like Dion's because they have the best Ranch dressing and their pizza is very good. I like that the pizza is not as spicy or salty as they can be elsewhere.
My family got so complicated all of a sudden. They are on this no-carb diet (they cheated a little bit during my birthday week), one can't eat pork and another can't eat gluten or dairy. It was never like that before and eating with them became annoying. Four different pizzas came to our table of six people and the restaurant still got our order wrong.

My mom and dad came to my apartment with a bag of vegetables and eggs. My dad made an awesome omelet with spinach, peas, peppers, mushrooms and cheese. It didn't have carbs and it was great. I also had a giant box of salad that I needed to get rid of so we also had a sweet, apple, pecan and blueberry salad. We ate al fresco in my tiny back yard, which was really nice.
My dad, my boyfriend and I then took off to El Paso to pick up a new table set for our kitchen. We stayed there late enough to run into the lunch hour so we stopped for lunch. I don't know anything about El Paso restaurants, so we decided on something quick. It was my first time at Taco Cabana and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had street tacos because I'm a fiend for street tacos. $20 filled all three of us up pretty good.
Then we all took off to Mescalero to the Inn of Mountain Gods. It was not what I expected. Everyone was saying "camping! camping!" but we ended up at an RV park that looked like someone's drive way. I slept outside, in the cold, in a small leaky tent with my boyfriend on a bunch of gravel. I thought it would be a camping area in the woods, but we "camped" out right under a neon sign on the side of the road. I didn't like that. And I didn't like the very late dinner we made in the RV. Meat, with meat and more meat on the side.
From my previous posts, you can see that I am an aspiring vegetarian who doesn't eat that much meat in the first place. When my family took us camping they made chicken, steaks, hot dogs and turkey chili. No carbs; no buns, no macaroni salad, no potato salad, no chips. It was kind of gross to look at the amount of animal flesh everywhere but the carnivore in me told me to eat as they do. So I did and I had serious gas for the rest of the night.
Cake No. 1: Simple white cake with real frosting.With a cold cake like that I enjoy a sweet and heavy icing like that. It turned all our teeth red.

I had a surprisingly good night's sleep in that tent on the gravel. I got up quick, washed my hair and helped pack up because we had plans to eat at the casino.
When our family is together and we do something like this together, it takes a long time to get ready. It's usually me and my parents all ready and waiting for the others. I don't like that.
So close to noon, we arrived at the Inn of the Mountain Gods buffet. It was fantastic. I started with a bit of breakfast; eggs, enchiladas, scrumptious salsa and a sweet pecan cinnamon bun that made me melt. I had a wonderful, creamy seafood roll, a piece of a calzone, garlic bread with pesto and a few other things I can't remember now. I saved a lot of room for dessert and got a plate full of cakes for all of us to share.
Cake No. 2: Pineapple cake with an intricate design and purple chocolate art on top.
Cake No. 3: Lime cake with a clean white frosting.
Cake No. 4: German chocolate cake with chocolate shavings.
Cake No. 5: Chocolate rum cake with a thick, dark chocolate finish. I liked this one better than the German because it was richer in chocolate and wasn't so sweet.
Cake No. 6: Carrot cake as tall as my spread fingers.

When we arrived back in Cruces, we had about two hours to get ready for my big prize. Back up: last year I won the Ticket to Taste Dining Passport contest in Las Cruces. My sister and I ate at 20 local restaurants and got our passport stamped at each one. My prize was a dinner for eight with Kelley Coffeen, local cookbook author and food guru.
Her house is beautiful and if I had the space and money, my house would look like that too. It was colorful and spacy in that homey Mexican/Southwest way.
We started with chips, salsa, seafood guacamole and a cheese ball. We also had virgin bloody Marys and mango smoothies.
Our second course was a fish taco with a refreshing white, jalapeno sauce, cabbage and cilantro. It was good, but it was messy.
Our third and main course was a chicken taco with a number of toppings to choose from; salsa, that white jalapeno sauce, cilantro, onions, lettuce and cheese. It came with rice and beans and I thought the rice was amazing (can you tell I love rice?) because it tasted like rice. Usually rice is so bogged down with spices and oils that you can't really taste the actual rice itself. I loved the grainy taste of this particular grain. The tacos were amazing as well. They were so simple, too.
For dessert Coffeen made a:
Cake No. 7: A beautiful homemade two-decker chocolate birthday cake surrounded with chocolate covered strawberries and topped with whipped almond frosting.

Cake No. 8: Coffeen also made a strawberry cheesecake over a simple white cake drizzled in strawberry syrup and served in a martini glass.

She also made a biscochito in an almond pudding, which, I thought, was very delicious.
I had an amazing dinner at Coffeen's house. There was roaring wind outside, but from her dining room we saw a full moon rise over the Organs as we finished up a great meal.

My dad made another egg omelet and we had left over pizza for breakfast.
For lunch we ate at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The fries were my favorite part. I thought the burger was small for the amount of money we paid for it. I definitely wasn't anywhere near my top burgers list.
My family left Las Cruces.

St. Patrick's Day!. It was just my boyfriend and I in our messy apartment. I worked and came home from lunch to a festive, green, two-person St. Patrick's Day party. My boyfriend is cute like that. He'll go all out with balloons and streamers for holidays like St. Paddy's even though we're two grown adults.
Cake No. 9: He made a beautiful, tall and round green cake with green frosting and green sprinkles.
I didn't know he had it in him, but he pulled off a pretty vibrant green cake.

My birthday week was quite delicious. It didn't quite go as planned, but I had a relaxing time. I totally support my parents on their no-carb diet. Together they have lost a lot of weight and have really cleaned up how they eat. They're doing it for their health and it really seems to be working for them. I would like to try no-carb or low-carb, but it's actually very difficult. As I said, I love rice and I love cake. My goal this year is to clean up my diet and get healthier.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My romantic dinner plans

I put together a list of five most romantic restaurants in the area because Valentine's Day is on Friday. You can see it here

As I was writing about these restaurants and taking photos for the feature. I remembered the time my boyfriend and I did a fancy dinner like that three years ago. It was a packed house full of young and cheesy couples, our order was backed up and service was slow. Maybe we went to the wrong place (without reservations, of course), but we didn't feel like going out for Valentine's Day dinner after that first crazy experience. Maybe another time and we'll make reservations. 

This year I plan on cooking my heart out and being in the kitchen with him.

Tonight I'm cleaning the heck out of the kitchen and going grocery shopping after work. 

For starters I'll make a quick apple and berry salad with almonds, feta cheese and balsamic salad dressing.

Also for starters I'll have warm and fresh ciabatta bread with olive oil and vinegar. I'll make the dough tonight because it takes 18 hours to rise. Here's the ciabatta bread recipe I use.

For entrees we'll either take the homemade lasagna out of the freezer that he made two weeks ago (he makes the best lasagna). Or we'll make herb-butter salmon with garlic creamy mashed potatoes and some kind of steamed vegetable. Or we'll make Mediterranean chicken with a tangy cucumber sauce and dirty rice. I'm thinking the ciabatta bread goes more with the Italian lasagna. 

For dessert we'll have mini cheesecakes because we don't want to be forced to eat a whole one in one night. I'll make these tonight. I was also talking to him about making chocolate covered strawberries but we never worked with chocolate so we might just stick to the cheesecakes we know and love.

Here's the recipe to my cheesecake. I featured it in the Sun-News holiday recipes from local chefs. The list includes lobster bisque, sopiapilla bread pudding and ginger bread scones.

Everything will be homemade and from scratch. That's how it should be, especially on holidays like these.  

Creating a meal together in our small kitchen is a special thing because we both love cooking. It's not like some cheesy romantic comedy where we make a cute mess with the flour and he stands behind me and massages dough with me. We're very good in the kitchen — although I don't like how he sometimes uses the wrong knives for the wrong foods. We do this all the time, only, on Valentine's Day we'll take out all the stops. And it's nearly free because we keep the kitchen well stocked all the time.

If you're cooking for, or with, your sweetheart, what are you making tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I try to eat healthy. Most days it's pretty easy to do that. I'll have a salad and a bowl of chili beans. Or a salad with some baked chicken (lately salad has been on sale). Or boiled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast. But then there are days, like today, where I see a pizza sitting in the breakroom and it calls to me. After I eat it, I feel guilty and mad at myself for doing it. I wasn't hungry, my stomach was still a little upset from lunch and the pizza was cold. But I ate it anyways because it was there; the last one in the box. I could have stopped at the dry crust or after all the cheese slipped off. But I didn't. And now I'm full sitting at my desk writing about how full I am.

It's addict behavior. I know it's bad for me, it does nothing for me and it takes me two steps backwards after I had taken one forward. And I'm not just talking about the one pizza I had today. It's the extra fist fulls of potato chips after the sandwich is gone, the extra cheese on top of the chili beans and the sugary cereal late at night.

It is very hard to control sometimes because food is everywhere all the time. No one is in control over how much I eat except me and I sometimes give in to my cravings and what tastes good. I've struggled with this forever but I feel I have more discipline than I did years ago. You should see what I could eat at the buffet when I was in high school. I used to have Ramen noodles as a snack after school before dinner.

I have changed my ways because I know more about food and calories than I care to admit. I changed my ways because I don't have to eat like my parents and I am completely free to try new things and I can afford the healthy stuff now. I'm not saying my parents made "skeddy" all the time, they mostly prepared meat-and-potato dishes with a side of canned veggies. We had a poor man's diet because we were poor. Now we're not poor and we definitely eat a lot healthier because of it. No joke, there are salads, nuts and quinoa at my parent's house. They changed their ways too.

Scarfing down that cold pizza made me think about how I used to be long time ago and how far I've come on my journey to wellness. If you're on your journey to wellness, a word of advice: there will be days like this and it takes time to change the way you eat because the way you eat is part of your lifestyle.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year in food photos

In 2013 I have eaten at so many places in Las Cruces and taken so many food photos as a food writer for the Sun-News. I have perfected taking photo porn and am producing mouth-watering photos every week.
Here are my top 10 most beautiful food photos of the year (get hungry!):


Guacamole burger from Guacamole's.


Ahi tuna from MFive.


Flautas at Los Tios.


 The Monster Burger from the Welcome In Cafe.


Spicy Ramen from Kim-Chi House.


Cheesecake from the Third Floor Bistro.


Baked Brie at Double Eagle.


Creme brulee from Cafe A Go Go.


Lobster bisque from De La Vega's Pecan Grill & Brewery.


Pulled pork Ruben sandwich from the Third Floor Bistro.

All photos by Andi Murphy

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The weather outside is frightful

As trees shake off the last of their leaves and clouds release snow flakes and rain over Las Cruces, I can't help but crave a good soup that warms and satisfies. I've eaten at a lot of places in town and looked at a lot of menus, so I know of a soup or two that I can call my favorites.

1. I hate to let you down after I announce this soup as my No. 1 best soup in town, but Spicy Ramen soup from Kim-Chi House is to die for. Kim-Chi House closed on Solano Drive, but the owners are in motion to merge with Pho Saigon on El Paseo. I talked to Mama Suki of Kim-Chi House at Pho Saigon lately and she said as soon as she gets the hang of cooking Vietnamese food she will roll out Korean favorites and I hope Spicy Ramen soup is one of them. It's a large bowl of Ramen noodles mixed with spices, beef broth, eggs and a few vegetables. I believe it has kimchi in it, that's why it's so delicious.  It was a total surprise when I ordered this. I can't wait until they start making Korean food at Pho Saigon. I'll let you know as soon as this happens.

The magic of Ramen noodles! Spicy Ramen at Kim-Chi House.

2. Pho is pretty much the best soup in the world. It's always listed on the best foods of the world lists somewhere at the top. Billions of people can't be wrong about pho and I'm glad Las Cruces now has two Vietnamese restaurants (Pho Saigon on El Paseo and A Dong on Lohman Avenue) where pho is being served seven days a week. Pho starts out as a bowl of noodles and raw and thin slices of onion and beef. Once the boiling hot beef broth is poured over it the noodles become soft, the onions release their flavors and the thin cuts of beef are cooked all the way through. The broth has a mixture of Asian spices and it's addictive. It's typically served with fresh lime, jalapeƱos, cilantro and bean sprouts. It's very filling and satisfying.

This is the Pho Saigon special. It has tripe, tendon and thin-cut beef.

3. Lobster bisque at De La Vega's Pecan Grill was a nice surprise for me. I had asked chef Alfredo Vargas to submit a holiday recipe for Pulse and he submitted one for lobster bisque. He also made it for me so that I could take a photo for the hard copy of Pulse entertainment magazine. And after I took some gorgeous magazine shots, I ate it, bowl and all. It has a very pleasant seafood smell and an even better seafood taste. It's creamy without being too thick or hearty and the bread bowl is just an awesome feature.

Lobster bisque from Pecan Grill.

4.  Green chile wonton soup from Boba Cafe is a hot bowl of pure goodness. I don't know if it's like this all the time, but when I had a bowl of this stuff last time it was extremely hot, like, chile-hot. Now, I don't usually like overly spicy things like that but the flavor was so good I kept going in for more. The soft carrots and juicy wontons were delectable and savory. The fiery chile made my eyes water and nose drip, but it was good. I think I'll go there again today for wonton soup and ask for a little less chile. There is also green chile wonton soup at Cafe A Go Go on north Telshore by Sam's Club, if you're on that side of town.

The green chile chicken wonton soup from Boba Cafe is made fresh and served with a handful of spinach.

5. Chicken waterzooi at Bite of Belgium. They don't make this all the time so you have to call them, 575-527-2483, or like them on Facebook to find out their soup specials of the day. Waterzooi is my favorite because it has a sensuous and strong chicken flavor. It's a little bit creamy, smooth and has a few vegetables and potatoes in the mix. I would say "clean chicken flavor" because the vegetables don't really have a presence until you bit into them. It's extremely warming and comforting.

6. Menudo at just about any Mexican restaurant in town. The picture below is from Old Town Restaurant and this bowl of menudo is pretty delicious. I rarely order menudo — and this was actually my mom's bowl — but I think this was pretty great. I know everyone has their favorite and I'm not trying to change anyone's mind because I'm no expert in menudo. I just really enjoyed this bowl and it's the only photo I have of menudo in my archive. Also, the albogdegas is great at Chachi's. I think anything that comes with a heap of cilantro is the greatest!

 All-you-can-eat menudo (Saturday and Sunday) at Old Town Restaurant is pretty great.

 Albondigas at Chachi's comes with tortillas and a heap of cilantro.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Better than fast food (And it just so happens to be National Food Day. Fitting.)

It's National Food Day (Oct. 24)! It's a celebration of healthy, affordable and sustainable foods. Take some time to think about where all your food comes from and how you can get better at cooking healthy, fresh and by using local ingredients. Food is very important to many aspects of life and you should really learn to appreciate it and not waste it.

I had a sandwich from Schlotzsky's for dinner last night and then a Schlotzsky's salad for lunch. I had coupons so dinner and lunch only cost me $4. As much as I enjoy the ease of picking up dinner quickly and paying so little, I hate times like this when I'm all out of ideas, I don't feel like cooking and I'm too busy and tired to sit at the dinner table. I don't like to see fast food bags in the trash can. I sort of feel like a lazy slob when this happens and it also makes me feel guilty about all the fat and salt I've eaten and taken into my body.

I put together the Fast Food Fast Facts in the monthly Healthy U magazine and it's surprising how many calories and salt fast food has. Most times, single entree items have 60 to 100 percent of your daily sodium allowance, which is around 2,000 milligrams. Schlotzsky's, by far, has the saltiest sandwiches I've ever seen. But when I do Fast Food Fast Facts I often times pair one of the most fattiest items that has the most calories with other items that are much healthier. After doing this for almost two years every month I've finally taken heed and started ordering smart when I do go to fast food restaurants.

(But then there are times when I just want a full Whopper and large fries with a tall Diet Coke. Don't hold it against me, but the Whopper is my favorite burger; not just favorite fast food burger, but my all-time favorite burger from any place, ever. I don't know why, I've had many great burgers from all over the place, but I still crave that Whopper every now and then. Like Tony Stark, if I were held prisoner in a desert and in foreign country for a couple of years, I would like to be greeted with a sack of Whoppers when I get off the plane.)

I'm in a rut; in a place where I have dishes piled to the ceiling, no tasty ideas and no time to make a good meal. I think not being in the mood for anything is the worst. A look in my fridge and cupboards yields no ideas. That's why I end up going to fast food joints. And I don't really hold a grudge against fast food restaurants. They're so convenient and they are everywhere. But I make sure not to get in the habit of regularly visiting them. They're so bad and I can see how burgers and fried chicken can become addicting. Fast food is full of much more sugar and salt that you would normally put in your own food.

I recently watched "600 Pound Dad" and this father was on his way down from 800 to 500 pounds. He had just gotten gastric bypass surgery and was ready to go home. The film crew went to his house and the family was sitting around a meal of cheeseburgers and fries from Wendy's. That was a regular meal for them and the father was going to return to that. It was disgusting and disappointing to see.

I come from the Navajo reservation and a place where the nearest fast food restaurant is one or two hours away. We cooked every meal we ate. If we went into town on the weekend, we would eat some fast food, but that was like a treat for us. And to see normal, American families regularly order fast food pizzas, burgers and fries is kind of mind blowing. They claim it's less expensive, but really, it's not. Growing up poor, McDonald's was a treat for us, not a way to save money. You save money and calories by cooking at home.

Growing up on the reservation, I learned to live without a lot of things. We always made our own because it was either too expensive at the local grocery store or it just wasn't available.

I'm a big advocate for cooking at home and making things from scratch. When I grew up, we didn't bake cookies or bread that came from the tube. Tube pastries were unfathomable. My mom is an excellent cook and she taught me everything I know. She cooked meals for the family every day and when she didn't' cook, my dad would get in the kitchen and turn out something equally delicious.

To me, premade foods were only for rich people who didn't' know how to cook. Fast foods were for rich people who didn't have the time to sit at table. I never developed a taste for premade foods either. They're so salty and rich and not personal at all.

Now that I'm on my own, and I live very close to many fast food restaurants, I make sure to maintain a balance (as in 10 times more home meals than quick, premade, fast food meals). Sometimes I fall off the horse and into these ruts where I have no time and desire to cook. But then I always think back to when I lived on the reservation and we were poor. Cooking with mom was the best and eating a home cooked meal at the table with the family was so warm. I prefer to control my own ingredients, make something personal, put a little love in it and share it with someone who is totally grateful for all your hard work. It's also a lot sexier to see a man in the kitchen, than to have him whip out his credit card to pay for something he didn't make ;)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eid Celebration

I recently wrote a story on Eid, which took place on Tuesday. It's a Muslim holiday celebrated all over the world, and like Christmas, it includes lots of celebration and food. After talking to local Muslims for my story I was invited to the festivities that took place on Tuesday at the Islamic Center of Las Cruces.

I was excited for this because I heard the foreigners were going to bring special dishes for the occasion. When I say foreigners, I mean people from the Middle East and Asia, which are most of the people who make up the Muslim community in Las Cruces. I also learned that the Eid feast usually consists of pastries and sweet treats, so I knew I had to make a special something . 

I made my special banana bread the night before. I would say the secret is to let the bread sit in the cooling oven for at least an hour after the timer goes off and you turn the oven off. Also, to make it less fattening, I substitute apple sauce for butter.

Once I got to the mosque, or masjid, I was met with a house full of people dressed in their holiday best. I was dressed in nice jeans, a nice sparkly shirt and a cardigan. I immediately felt out of place because my head was not wrapped in a hajib and I was the only one wearing jeans. 
It was not like this when I visited the week before, but since that day was a special day, everyone was dressed in their traditional clothes from their different cultures. I saw men wearing long white robes and I saw women wearing beautiful dresses and their hands painted with henna. This is how I explained it to my mom, "Just like when we have a special holiday or occasion on the reservation, sometimes we wear our traditional Navajo outfits and jewelry. It was like that here. Since it was a special holiday, they wore their traditional outfits." And the kids were wearing these things too. They were so cute, I almost cried. And this is coming from a person who usually feels uneasy around children and tries to stay away from them.

I was on the women's side of the mosque and it was full of chatter, laughing and lots of hugs and kisses. Overhead, through the intercom, a man read a prayer and said some stuff in Arabic, but the room was still full of chatter and noise. When the prayer was done, a women I knew shook my hand and gave me a hug. Everyone did the same and that meant it was time to eat. 

I somehow ended up at the front of the line and had first pick of all the wonderful food that was on the tables. The woman I knew, she had black eyebrows, painted hands and black eyeliner, she led me through the line of food and with a heavy accent told me what everything was. She even pointed at a bag of tortillas and told me they were tortillas. She was a sweet woman. I wish I knew her name and said more, but there was a language barrier there. 

Hummus, falafels, baklava, fried rice, sandwich triangles filled with a savory mixture of potatoes and herbs, hard boiled eggs and mini Snickers every where. Every kind of morning pastry was laid on the table including my banana bread. There were a few things I had never seen before so I scooped them up and tried them. I tried some fluffy, green egg casserol thing that was very good. I tried scrambled eggs with some kind of reddish sauce in it. I had a mushroom stir fry that, when combined with the eggs, was bordering on magical. I had a flat fried bread and some chili beans.

I ate my plate of goodies next to another woman I knew from the article I wrote. We talked about the story and how the last time she was interviewed by a reporter, the story brought about some very nasty comments about her being Muslim and Islam. She said she was a little afraid to talk to me for my story, but she happened to be in the right place at the right time and she turned out to be a great addition to the article. I also told her that I was surprised that there weren't as many negative and hateful comments posted to my story. That's a good thing really.

I also told her the reason why I wanted to do such a story. It's because the only time I read the words "Islam" and "Muslim" in the newspaper is when it's a negative story about bombs and casualties. Many Americans don't know anything about Islam and about who Muslims really are. I see that the same way I see Native Americans in the news. Native issues are under reported and the stories that are written about us are almost always negative. So I know what that feels like to pick up the paper and read an article that's only about the negative aspects of your community. I know that that's not the whole story and there's so much more to us that's never given any ink. And the Muslim community is much bigger than the Native community in the United States, and people still don't understand anything about them. Just like they don't understand anything about Natives. So I wanted to write this story because Natives and Muslims are the same. 

All this at 8:30 in the morning. Around 9, the children were getting antsy and excited. When someone called for the children to meet in the main room on the men's side, they ran, and they were met with balloons and candy. The mothers and women looked on through a one-way mirror and cheered as their sons and daughters received their gift. A door joining the main room and the women's room swung open and closed as excited little ones carried large and small gifts back to their mothers. "Mom! Look what I got!"

Children getting their gifts. There's also a reflection of two women talking in the middle of the picture.


Eid was a great experience. When I have the chance to go out in to a different community and learn about people, their passions, their hobbies and their way of life, I feel good inside. In that respect, I'm very lucky that I'm a features reporter.