Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Year's Resolution


I didn't have ideas for resolutions for the new year. I can't stick to them, usually, and they end up disappointing me, especially when they involve my weight and diets. 

But after a week into the year, and after a good meal at a new restaurant, it came to me...

I resolve to not eat at chain restaurants and fast food restaurants for a year. 

It's an easy enough goal to achieve because I try to eat at local places as much as I can. 

So I'm going to try this out for an entire year. So far, I've been good about it. I've eaten at a small taco joint (Mexican grocery store) with a new friend. The local Indian buffet with my family. I called in an order for a delicious gyro from the Kasbah for a quick dinner. 

This could be easy. 

...A week later... February...

I already experienced a dilemma. Last Tuesday, I didn't eat dinner. I finished work late (7 p.m.) and I thought I'd pick up a quick lengua torta from the Mexican place next door and I'll head over to theater rehearsal at 7:30 p.m. No. It didn't work out like that. The Mexican place was closed and I drove up and down Central Avenue for 15 minutes wasting time. 

As I drove around, I dismissed restaurants because they didn't seem fast enough, I wasn't in the mood for it or it was closed. In that time, I realized I'm a picky eater sometimes. That frustrated me and I was furious as I bought a bag of peanut M&Ms at a CVS. I had my heart set on that lengua taco and nothing else mattered. I was also furious that I turned down El Taco Tote. I ate there a while back and it was delicious! I love the taco bar, salsa and numerous meats on the menu. But it's a chain! Or is it?

I looked at El Taco Tote's website and they have 20 locations; mostly in El Paso. Is that a chain? What qualifies as a chain? I think Blake's Lotaburger is a local New Mexico joint, but they have 68 locations in New Mexico with two in El Paso and two in Tucson. Why did I consider El Taco Tote a chain restaurant and Lotaburger a local restaurant? Well part of it is because Lotaburger is a staple of The Land of Enchantment. El Taco Tote? From El Paso.

I mean, a restaurant can be successful, right? And success can be local, right? Lotaburger was once a tiny thing, but it grew to be New Mexico's favorite. El Taco Tote seems to be the same. It started as a tiny taco joint in El Paso. So maybe I can eat at El Taco Tote next time... I think I will. 

It's a dilemma, alright. But I'll be forcing myself to try new restaurants and explore a little "harder." 

Now, Taco Cabana, is definitely a chain restaurant. It's part of Fiesta Restaurant Group, an investment company. Damn... I liked their tacos and their tortillas. I guess I won't be visiting Taco Cabana (or Pollo Tropical) this year. I'll have to find tacos and tortillas elsewhere. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Food Review: Jan. 24

Tonight's kitchen was messy with a few dirty dishes spread across the kitchen. I didn't feel like looking at the mess so I took a seat at the dining table, which was a little cluttered from the day's shopping bags and new items (food and nonfood). A mix of dance rock from the Eagles of Death Metal played from the kitchen and gave my brain more energy than my body actually had. It was kind of exhausting at 10 p.m. on Sunday. 

Tonight's menu: green chile cheese enchiladas with calabacitas. 

Each enchilada was small and rolled tight, which helped smooth out the sharp cheddar in the middle. The sauce was a little bit salty, but full of warm and spicy green chile goodness. It tasted very familiar, or, like a mix of all green chile sauces I tasted before. Some sauces are very good and some are OK. 

Let me tell you about the bad sauces I had; the bad sauces have loads of heat and chile with no substantial flavor. The good ones have all the chile flavor with varying heat. This sauce was leaning on that really good side where none of the ingredients conflicted or stood out too much, but they complemented the green chile and put it on a pedestal. Even though it was kind of salty, it added a salt to the tortilla and cheese. Imagine if there was some chicken or beef in there! 

The calabacitas, on the other hand, was a simple mix of squash, red bell peppers, onions, corn and black beans. There was nothing special about them, in fact, I ate them first go get them out of the way so I can focus on the enchilada. It needed something like a spice or a sauce; maybe more time on the cast iron to caramelize. Maybe I don't like the taste of bell peppers anymore. I'm still on the fence with that one. Sometimes I appreciate some peppers and other times, like tonight, it's lackluster, out of place and almost off putting.  

The cheesy enchiladas carried the weight of the dish tonight. But we have to have our veggies, right?

Out of boredom and necessity, I cook a lot of food on Sundays. I usually take out all the stops or try new dishes. In the Sunday Food Review, I review my own Sunday cooking.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Eating: We do it every day

I recently introduced my dad to a kale salad. It was premade from Sam's Club and I pared it with some caramelized Brussels sprouts and roast chicken. He had a good time and said he would like to buy more of that kale salad.

Slowly, but surely, I'm introducing my parents to more foods and new ingredients.   

My parents (and I) are from the Navajo Nation reservation and they live in a small town called Crownpoint, New Mexico. Unlike a lot of Navajos on the reservation, my parents have access to good food. They live less than a mile from the grocery store, which carries a wide variety of foods. Even though fresh things can be expensive, the store has a nice little produce section. 

As a family, we started eating healthier about 5 or 6 years ago. We lost weight together and gained weight together. It's a challenge but we always try to keep to that healthy goal. 

The thing for my parents, though, is that they sometimes get stuck in a rut when it comes to variety and flavor. They get bored (even though they're both very good in the kitchen). I believe, you can give people healthy foods and tell them to eat healthy foods, but do they know how to cook them? Variety and spice is key to never getting bored with your food. 

If your food doesn't excite you, why would you keep eating it? 

I'm trying to bring variety and flavor to my family because I'm a foodie whose tasted variety and flavors from all over the world and I make it a personal hobby to try new things and cook new things whenever I get the chance. 

My family now has a passion for food and it blossomed since my sister and I "left the nest." My parents have more money and time to themselves now and they sometimes use it to explore foods. My sister and I have more money and time to explore food too. And every time we get together or talk on the phone, we talk about food and new things we tried and liked and didn't like. These are some of the most lively conversations we have because the passion is there.
We're exploring together and it's a fantastic journey that leads to healthier choices and more passion for the food we buy, cook and eat. 

There was a time I didn't have this much passion for food and flavor. But I realized: eating is something we do every day and we do it for as long as we're alive. Food is the most important part of life. We should have a passion and respect for it. We should be excited about food and it should be a good experience.  

Like I said before, flavor and variety is key to never getting bored but that comes with either a lot of take-out or from cooking. One of them is definitely harder than the other, but it's necessary. For something we do every single day, we should know how to cook. 

I learned to cook through years of observing, listening, reading and trying. And I'm still no expert. I get bored sometimes and I end up eating something premade that's much saltier and greasier than what I would normally cook for myself. I can't imagine what's it's like for people who can't cook. They probably eat a lot of take-out, fast food and premade salty things. 

I'm a big advocate for cooking in the home. If you're just beginning, keep at it! If you don't know how, please try. At the end of a great meal that you've made yourself (after 30 minutes or 3 hours in the kitchen), there's an uplifting, almost spiritual experience that ignites that passion and excitement. It's a great feeling. That's what keeps me in the kitchen. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Food Review: Dec. 13

Around 10 p.m. on Sundays one can smell all sorts of spices coming from the apartment. That's because after 10 p.m. is when two or three dishes come together and it's time for an intimate taste test. Small plates, small portions; very exclusive. Actually no one is invited. You stand in the kitchen because the table is a mess of ingredients, utensils, empty shopping bags and a ravaged UPS package.

The kitchen, though, was spotless and clean. I didn't worry about staining my clothes while leaning on the sink.

Tonight's menu? Seasoned salmon with fried Brussels sprouts, toasted almonds and onions.

While cutting into a piece of salmon, it was obvious that it was cooked perfectly because it flaked beautifully. The salmon was seasoned lightly with garlic, salt and pepper and it was delicious. (The less you use on meats, especially fish, the better. You don't want to hide meat flavors, it doesn't do justice to the animal.). I did a little dance in the kitchen to the heavy sounds of Queens of the Stone Age playing from a small speaker on the counter. There's usually some sort of rock 'n' roll or rockabilly in the kitchen on Sunday nights.

The fried mix of Brussels sprouts, purple onion and toasted almonds were a perfect partner for the salmon. Some parts of the sprouts were caramelized but still had some green and a little bitterness to them. The onions were sweet and the almonds added a little nuttiness and a crunch. The butter used to cook this side dish added a little flavor which I'm not sure went well with these ingredients. Maybe olive oil or some fat more subtle might have been better. It was an exciting mouthful none the less.

Out of boredom and necessity, I cook a lot of food for the next couple of days on Sundays. I usually take out all the stops or try new dishes. In the Sunday Food Review, I review my own Sunday cooking creations.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving Food Photos

This year's feast was a pretty one. Check it out!

My plate was filled with mostly vegetables. Wild rice, roast root vegetables, mashed potatoes, bread dressing, green bean casserole and some turkey with cranberry sauce. Everything was tasty. The turkey my grandma baked was on point and juicy, so was her turkey gravy.  

My aunt's family made some gingerbread and sugar cookies. This was a cute spread. The cookies were in the shape of leaves, squirrels and acorns. 

No special Murphy dinner is complete without chips and salsa. My dad usually makes the salsa and this year it was especially tasty with lots of cilantro. Spicy goodness!

My mom usually makes the pumpkin pies for our Thanksgiving dinner. She makes these pies all night and works with a huge plastic bowl when making the filling. The house smells like pumpkin pies for three days. 

My mom also makes the yeast rolls every year. This year's rolls were perfect! They were a little sweet, yeasty, fluffy and fresh.

For the last few years, I've been making the cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. This year, we didn't have any orange juice, so I improvised and used apple juice. It was tasty!

I also spent all night peeling, seeding and chopping all these vegetables. I have a small bruise on my hand from all the rough knife work. The finished product was OK. I think the parsnip took over the dish because it was a little bitter and odd. I covered it up with some brown sugar which made the sweet potatoes pop.

I also brought some Brussels sprouts to the party.

I made roast Brussels sprouts with baby purple onions and walnuts. I halfway steamed the sprouts and onions and finished them in a cast iron pan with some bacon grease. This was tasty and I'm surprised that many members of my family said they loved Brussels sprouts. I spent nearly an hour peeling those damned onions! How do you peel them faster?

This, I thought was one of the best things I've made (without a recipe) in a long time. It's wild rice with cranberries, toasted walnuts and Portabella mushrooms. I cooked the wild rice in half water and chicken stock, sauteed the mushrooms and added the two together. I added the cranberries and toasted walnuts when the butter melted into the rice. I was so satisfied and excited to share with this everyone. I think they liked it. Not all of them are open to new foods.
I ordered the wild rice from an acquaintance on the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota.

Talking About Food

In a whole different way, food brings people together without food actually being present.

On a lazy and gray weekend my parents and I met with my uncles. We haven't seen them in a long while and outside our regular greetings and "how are you"s, there was not much to talk about. We stood around in a circle and looked out to the horizon and pretended to be interested in what was going on in that horizon. It was kind of awkward for me so I smiled and looked from one family member to the other. Then my dad said "I'm hungry" and everyone's ears perked up.

"We're going to go into town, where should we eat?" my dad asked.

My uncles came alive and we had a good conversation about food, restaurants, portions and prices. That's when I saw another positive aspect of food.

One of the best things about being a foodie is the great conversations you can have with anyone. Because everyone eats food they have something to say about it. Talking about food is so easy and for me, it can turn into an hours-long conversation if something or someone doesn't stop me.

In a whole different way, food brings people together without food actually being present.

I like some sports (in small doses), but I cannot talk about it. I certainly didn't have the vocabulary to talk to some of my coworkers about sports -- some of whom were sports reporters. There was a lot of sports chatter at my former workplace and I felt a little left out. But every once in a while, they would talk about food and they would talk to me about food. Some folks I never really talked to, but I did have one or two conversations about food with them.

In my current workplace, we have daily, sometimes multiple, conversations about food (I think on my job interview, the interview was taken over by a conversation about food!). And as the new girl last year, food talk broke the ice for me. When I mentioned food, an easy conversation was started and it lead to a couple of friendships.

But lately, I noticed some snootiness coming from myself when I'm talking about food. If they mention restaurants or foods I don't like, I can be judgey. And I don't like that. I realize I'm a more advanced eater than a lot of people because I have this blog, I take food photos, I read food magazines, articles and listen to food podcasts. And sometimes I get annoyed by some people and it shows a little bit. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Limit Meat Consumption With Variety And Cooking

I first heard about the World Health Organization study early Monday morning. That's the one that said red and processed meats increases our risk of cancer.

When I'm in my grave, I'll stop eating bacon! is what I imagined all Americans said that day.

I didn't pay the media frenzy too much attention because I've seen so many studies and headlines about cancer-causing foods. And then I see them contradicted a month later. 

I listened to On Point with Tom Ashbrook on the topic and the specialists they had on the show put the study in perspective. The message behind all this? We need to cut down on our meat consumption.  

I agree. Scientists and health experts have been telling us to cut down on our meat consumption for a long time. We have too much meat and it's killing us. 

When you look around at any gas station, convenience store or office supplies store, there's a large stock of beef jerky, turkey jerky and pork jerky. There's meat everywhere and it's in everything. The last time I had a side of potato salad at a restaurant, it had bacon in it. When I ordered macaroni and cheese at a pub/grill, it had bacon in it. The gluttonous amount of meat we have here is more evident to me the more I look around and eat. 

But God forbid we have a dinner without a steak. Hell upon us without bacon. Death to our future without ground beef.

We're addicted. We don't know what a good meal is without meat. That's what I see. And I see a whole lot of people who can't cook and don't have imagination in the kitchen. Meat may be the best thing they can bring to their dinner table and without it, they have nothing. And so there's panic if we're told we have to limit our meat consumption. What are we going to put in the spaghetti? What do we roll in a tortilla? What do I eat for breakfast?!?!

I also see a whole lot of unadventurous people with limited palates. What we really need is variety. We need to taste kale in 10 different ways. We need have a variety of legumes in the pantry. We need to have a cupboard full of spices. We need to taste the world and its edible (plant) bounty to become more imaginative and skilled in the kitchen. 

With cooking knowledge, a wide palate and a little bit of an adventurous attitude, we don't need to depend on meat to be in our every meal. We wouldn't notice the meat missing if we had a delicious butternut squash curry in front of us, or a savory kale pasta, or some kimchi fried rice. 

I can make my way around the kitchen well enough. I've even heard I'm very good at cooking certain things. And I eat. I eat at all kinds of restaurants and I try different dishes and ingredients all the time. I also don't eat that much meat. I'm not a vegetarian (although I would like to be. That's something I struggle with), but half of the time, I go meatless. It's because I can cook, I have a wide palate and I'm not afraid to buy and cook new things.

So eat more variety. Try new things. Learn to appreciate how versatile vegetables can be. Learn how spices can make five different dishes out of one butternut squash. You'd be surprised and pleasantly fulfilled.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kimchi Soup

It looks like winter outside today and it gave me a craving for a good soup. So I looked in my refrigerator and started piecing together ingredients. I didn't have much and I didn't see anything that would be quick.

Then I spotted the kimchi.

I had never made kimchi soup before, but I've eaten it. So I looked online at a few recipes and got the gist of it. Kimchi, noodles, soy sauce, ginger. Check, check, check. I had everything in the kitchen.

I was completely surprised about how good it turned out in the end. Forget chicken noodle soup, this is going to be my go-to soup of the fall and winter!

The picture below is a big serving for one and that's just from one Ramen noodle package. Since this is my first time, I imagine I'll add more ingredients or even change things up. But this first bowl was so perfect, I wanted to write it down before I forgot what making it looked like.

Here's my quick and easy version of kimchi Ramen soup:

  • 1 T. oil
  • 1/2 inch of fresh chopped ginger (or about the size of a gumball) 
  • 2 rounds of onion
  • 1/2 - 3/4 C. kimchi with some juice
  • 1 package of Ramen noodles with chicken flavoring
  • About half of the chicken flavoring in the Ramen soup package
  • 1-2 t. soy sauce to taste, add more soy sauce, not chicken flavor for more saltiness 
  • 1/2 t. turmeric powder
  • Water, enough to cover the noodles

Sautée onion and ginger in the oil and add the rest of the ingredients before onion and ginger start to brown. Boil until noodles are done. 15 minutes in the kitchen.