Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pork and Pancakes for Christmas

I know most food blogs post lots of recipes over the holidays for the benefit of their readers.

With baby Rachel: check out those aunt-ing skillz

Well this blog is for me, and I was busy. This is not to say you should not read my entires. In fact, I welcome it, and it truly encourages me. However, if I thought about this blog as a responsibility, it would never have lasted as long as it has. When I get busy, the blog takes a backseat. When I am bored, it keeps my occupied. The most important part of all is it keeps me cooking, and maybe...just maybe it gets you to cook too. Like this:

I usually stay pretty busy when I come to Florida for the holidays. I try to spend some quality time with my friends and family that I rarely get to see during the year. This Christmas, I got to see my whole Puerto-Rican Style family for Christmas Eve and then my brother's family for Christmas Day. I even got to spend some time with my boyfriend's family the day after. Nothing made me happier than to see so many people I love in the short time I have here. A highlight included my aunt Janet's new fluffy black dog, Diva. See if you can spot her sandwiched between our dark curly hair in the pictures below:

My Aunt Janet makes flavorful, tender Puerto-Rican style pork every year for Christmas Eve dinner, but this year was absolutely, by far THE. BEST. PORK. I. HAVE. EVER. HAD. I couldn't stop eating it. I wish I could pass along her wisdom with a simple recipe and a little story, but this is something that comes with years of practice, trial, error and patience.

We had another pork the next night for Christmas night which we shared with my sister-in-law's wonderful family. Then it was time for dessertland.


Now, I have never bothered to includes ads on my blog because I don't know that I have all that many readers. However, I am going to go ahead and personally endorse my first product.

Without this product's knowledge or approval I am going to crown it the official pancake accessory of Bite Me Food Blog. It was gift for my sister-in-law who makes pancakes about 100% more than I ever do. The pancake pen jumped out at me when I was skimming through a magazine one day months ago. It worked far better than I ever imagined it would, and it was a blast to use to amuse my 4-year-old niece:

Check out the cutie presenting the plates with her sister's name on them. Poor Charlotte's name is too long so she just got a "C".

She was super impressed up until the point where I could not be precise enough to give Minnie Mouse a bow between her ears; she had to settle for a blue berry bow after being plated.

I am not going to supply you with a fantastic pancake recipe here because to be honest, I cared very little about the taste of the pancakes and more about the fun we would have making them. I used the "just add water kind" and attempted to cover it up with an array of toppings and mix-ins. I call it "pancake bar": chocolate chips, blueberries, bananas, pecans and any combo you can think of. I ended up with a choco-banana-nut pancake, and I must say the letter "A" (or whatever letter I had) never tasted so good.

I don't really have a recipe for you, just a couple tips. Consider them a late Christmas present: #1 buy the pancake pen if you or someone you know have kids who could get a kick out of it and #2 make the lost of your left overs.

Number 2 might hit home specifically to my brother and sister-in-law who like us, must have at least 4 to 5 pounds of pork left over from Christmas dinner. Of course, you don't want to get stuck eating the same thing every night just to avoid the guilt of throwing something perfectly good away later. It is important to get creative with leftovers, especially when you have a ton of the same thing (this might be a familiar Thanksgiving situation including turkey instead of pork). This year, I decided to use some of the pork leftovers to make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

It was simple to shred the meaty pieces into smaller ones and reheat with plenty of brown sugar BBQ sauce, slap it on a bun, and call it a good ole' American meal. Another use of the pork was just as part of a salad that included dried cranberries, feta cheese, apple slices and walnuts. Considering we originally enjoyed the pork as an authentic Puerto-Rican style dish, the variations so far have been different enough to keep the meal "fresh" in my mind. What's next? Pork enchiladas? sweet and sour pork? Pork Pancakes?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Card UpDATES: Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Dates

I love "family update" Christmas cards. I really really do.

I want to be clear that while it may sound like it, this is not a sarcastic "love". I truly look forward to updates each year through photos and funny stories on anyone from families I am close to families I haven't seen in years and would not recognize them if they passed by on the sidewalk if it were not for their annual Christmas card updates. I suppose we will all always be curious about the people we know or even used to know and what they have been up to and what has become important to them over the years. I have consolidated my need to update anyone in my life by having a blog. I do also send out life updates to friends and family via email from time to time. However, this year, I have decided to put together my own version of a "family-update" Christmas card right here where it belongs.

Greetings friends and family! What's up with you? Feel free to send your responses via a family-update Christmas card to my home address (anytime of year). In case you were wondering about me at all over the past year, let me unsolicitedly update you.

Family: That's going pretty well. I now have three nieces as Rachel Marie was born October 19th. Zach and I adopted an addition into our little LA family, Stanley Weissmilian, back in the early spring. While it took him quite a while to adjust to his couch-potato lifestyle, he seems to have accepted that he will have to happily live out his days in his "retirement home".

Zach and I have been doing a pretty good job waddling through the responsibilities of adulthood, job, bills, Christmas card updates. This may actually be the first holiday season I can announce that we are both very happy with our jobs at the same time. While each of us have like past positions, we are finally both pretty satisfied this year. These jobs afford us the glamourous lifestyle of watching a lot of TV or Netflix instant (through our sweet Roku hookup) while eating gummy bears on the couch Stanley so generously shares with us. We also enjoy:
*going to the gym (increasingly less this year)
*complaining about the Ralph's grocery store down the street and how they never have anything I need, but it is just so close that I wouldn't consider going somewhere else
*getting to know our neighborhood chinese takeout workers
*traveling to far off places (see blog post about local travel)
*fighting about politics...not usually with each other but with people in/on the news (again with the TV)

Television shows we have liked this year include (in no particular order):
Mad Men (AMC)
Glee (Fox)
The Office (NBC)
Dexter (Showtime)
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Entourage (HBO)
Big Love (HBO)
Penn and Teller's Bull$h*t! (Showtime)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Parenthood (NBC)
In Treatment (HBO)
Jersey Shore (MTV)
Damages (FX)

Movies we have liked his year (in no particular order):
The Kids are Alright
City Island
Black Swan
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Star Trek
The Fighter
Hot Tub Time Machine
Please Give
Tillman Story
A Single Man
The Switch
Never Let Me Go
The Social Network

New Years resolutions:
None, they don't work.

I just changed my mind about not having a New Years resolution; I hear by commit to convincing my dear friends Case and Becky to move to Southern California. Starting now:

Dilemmas I foresee coming up in the next year:
*Should we keep or cancel the Costco membership when we only go about 3 times a year?
*Should we celebrate out 5 year anniversary jointly with Stanley's adoption anniversary? This will set a precedent for years to come.
*Will I finally spring for a proper umbrella before the next time it rains in LA, or will I stick with the mini-umbrella we struggled with during the great week of constant rain in early December of this year?
*Will I stop cooking things I have already made on this blog over and over again so I can have finally some new material to share?
*How long will it take my hair to grow out of this between stage it is in where it is not short enough and not long enough?

Lastly, I worry I may spend quite a deal of time in the coming year wishing I were a part of this random family I photographed on the beach in La Jolla because then I could submit some great pics to Awkward Family Photos. Yes they are wearing neon matching Disneyland t-shirts.

There you have it. Maybe while you are at it, you should have these too.

These little gems are great for a Christmas appetizer. I wish you all a Merry Merry Christmas and a Happy Happy New Year...Thanks for reading my blog!

Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Dates

(recipe from Cooking Light Magazine)

3/4 cup (6 ounces) goat cheese
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
24 whole pitted dates
6 thin slices prosciutto

Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a fork. Slice dates lengthwise, cutting to, but not through, other side. Open dates; place 1 rounded teaspoon cheese mixture into each date. Cut 1 prosciutto slice in half lengthwise and then crosswise to make 4 equal pieces. Repeat procedure with remaining prosciutto to form 24 pieces. Wrap each date with 1 prosciutto piece; place dates on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 8 minutes or until filling is thoroughly heated. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

THE Cookie

It's the season for milk n' cookies.

I'll have to admit I thought my milk n' cookies and pizza party days were behind me. But I am glad to report that adults have pizza parties too. And grown ups besides Santa Cause can enjoy milk and cookies.

My boss had the wonderfully retro idea of having an office pizza party to celebrate the holidays. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to get back on the wagon and try my hand at baking again. You see, I have been failing miserably lately, and I thought that if I ended up botching yet another cookie recipe, at least there would be pizza around to comfort any disappointed individuals.

I refuse to be one of those "I-am terrible-at-baking" people. A wise friend of mine once expressed his disdain for this sort of complacent, self-aware-of-my-faults attitude. Of course, his disdain lies more in character flaws like "I-am-selfish-so-sue-me" or "I-am-always-late-so-just-learn-to-expect-it-people" and less in things like "I-have-no-patience-for-baking" or "I-use-too-many-hyphens-when-I-write-blogs".

However, as an exploratory recipe-blogger I feel a sense of responsibility to try things with which I may be uncomfortable, particularly because I may demand you do the same at times. This "we're all in it together" mentality is the message of this blog.

I have wanted to try the NY Times recipe for a while now (which was all the craze a few years ago). However, that recipe requires you to refrigerate the dough at least 24 hours. I hardly have the patience for baking; waiting at least 24 hours to bake the dough is out of the question. I found a recipe that claimed to be the "last chocolate chip cookie recipe you will ever need" and did not require the 24 hour chilling period. The recipe comes from Ashley Rodriguez of the popular food blog, Not Without Salt . I decided to give it a try and follow the recipe exactly as is. The only thing I changed was to use already chunked chocolate (high quality) instead of chopping my own. Ashley explains in her post that chocolate chips have a waxy texture that makes them cute and pretty, but does not do so well in the taste department. The chunks really were better than chips, and I bet a great quality chocolate bar broken up would be even BETTER! The tiny pinch of sea salt on each cookie was such a great touch too. I truly have found the last chocolate chip cookie recipe I will ever need.

I know that if I can make great cookies, anyone can. It seems this is a fool-proof recipe if I ever saw one. Just follow the directions exactly. The cookies turned out perfectly. They were thick with just the right texture: soft/chewy on the inside with a nice soft crusty outside. I do not like the flat greasy/chewy kind of chocolate chip cookie because the cookie does not absorb the milk the way these could. Sometimes it pays off to take risks and attack your flaws full force.

The party was a success as well! A great group showed up, and it was really nice to just relax and spend time with the people I work with or at least along side of every day. I am including a couple pictures of the office here. It is such a great space, and my boss has it decorated so nicely. My camera doesn't work very well without tons of natural light so these pictures don't even do it justice; most pictures of the attendees were just too blurry to post.

Main room:

My desk:

PTP (Personal Trainer Patrick) judging all the cookie and pizza eaters as he offers a tangerine instead:

The guardians of the pizza:

THE Chocolate Chip Cookie

(recipe from Not Without Salt, a food blog)

2 sticks butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup Turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)
1 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cup All Purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 lb. chocolate (use the best quality chocolate you can afford. With a serrated knife cut chocolate chunks roughly 1/2 inch)

Cream the butter and the sugars until light. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Continue mixing while adding the eggs one at time. Make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Combine the flour, soda and salt in another bowl. With a whisk, stir to combine. With the machine on low, slowly add the flour. Mix until just combined, taking care not to over mix. With a spatula fold in the chocolate.
If you so choose, and I do recommend that you do, sprinkle a very fine dusting of good quality sea salt. Fleur de Sel or Murray River Pink Salt are my recommendations.
Bake at 360* for 12 minutes. They should be lightly golden on the outside but still look gooey on the inside.

PS - I made my trusty Cakie recipe as well. This time, I tried Red Velvet cake mix and added white chocolate chips. You just need to follow the original recipe and use white chocolate chips instead of regular chocolate chips or M&M's. It was fantastic (aside from the stains it left on my hands). I failed to get a great picture, but you get the idea here.