Monthly Archives: February 2013

Kitchen Skills – Cutting an Onion

Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about one of the things I hate doing most in the kitchen – cutting an onion.  Cutting onions is a necessary evil.  They are the foundation to so many good recipes, it’s hard to avoid.  It doesn’t matter what variety of onion (white, yellow or red/purple), it doesn’t matter if the onion is kept at room temperature, or if it has been refrigerated or kept in the freezer briefly to minimize the fumes… onions always bring tears to my eyes.  I’ve thought about using protective eyewear, but I’m not keen on onion goggles.

My solution?

Option 1: Try to get someone else to cut/chop/dice the onion (when this option fails I move to option 2).

Option 2: Try to cut it as fast and safely as possible and move on to the rest of whatever dish I’m working on.

When someone showed me this trick… it changed my life. The onion still makes my eyes leak awesomeness, but at least I get it over with faster.

Broken down in to three sections of photographs.

Stage 1: Peeling the onion

  • Cut off the two ends
  • Lay onion on one of the fat edges, and cut through the center
  • Peel each halfDiptic-2

Stage 2:  Large dice 

  • Use your knife to make cuts almost all the way through the onion half, spacing them out in increments equal to how large you desire your dice
  • Once you make cuts across the half, turn it 90 degrees and run your blade through the onion.Diptic-3

Ta-Da! Diced onion.

Bonus pictures! – Example of a smaller diced onion.  As your making your cuts across the half of the onion, make them closer together to result in a smaller dice.Diptic-4

Hope this method is helpful to you if you also suffer from weepy-onion-eyes like I do.  How do you get through this undesirable task in the kitchen?  What tips can you share with me?

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Arepas de Venezuela

Hopefully you clicked on this blog title just to find out what exactly is an arepa.  It is a traditional Venezuelan food most commonly eaten at breakfast, dinner or as a “sober up” snack at the end of a GREAT fiesta.  It’s corn based “bread” formed into patties then baked or fried in either a savory or sweet variety.  From there… possibilities are endless.  You can fill them with black beans and cojita cheese known as a “domino”, shredded beef, shredded or sliced cheese, chicken avocado salad (aka La Reina Pepiada).DSC_0255

Since it’s not likely that I will travel to Venezuela any time soon to get the real thing, I implored my wonderful friend, Valentina, who grew up in Venezuela, and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cooking delicious foods.  She opened her home and shared with me the true Venezuelan tips on how to make delicious Arepas.

The beauty of this food is its simplicitybut variety at the same time.  The recipe below is only for the arepa itself.

Tip #1 learned from Valentina – there is no exact recipe. (WHAT!??!) Yes. It’s true.  You can estimate the amounts of water, PAN, and salt you need, but there are no hard and fast rules.  It’s all about the texture of the dough mixture.

Ingredients:DSC_0222
PAN
Warm water
Salt
*Anise (Tip #2 – add this to make sweet arepas)

Directions:
Grab a medium to large bowl with some depth.  Add about 1 in of warm water to the bottom of the bowl and a hearty pinch of salt.  Start slowly adding the pan and mixing forming it into dough.  The PAN will absorb the water.  The consistency you want from the dough is moist not dry.  If you begin forming patties and cracks appear, this means it is too dry.

ArepaDoughArepaMakingDSC_0233

If you’re a stickler for measurements, please refer to the back of the PAN bag.   Again, these directions are a recommendation.  It will vary based on the climate where you live.

Cooking Options: Bake or Fried

Baking Method:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place arepas on cookie sheet and cook for 20 minutes.  Flip halfway through.  They will be done when they appear to be golden brown and the “pop” when you spank them.   That’s right (Tip #3) give the arepa a lightly aggressive tap with your hand and if you hear a “hollow” sound, it’s done.

DSC_0244

Frying Method:  Put about 1 inch of canola oil in a small to medium pan and set the heat to medium on the stove.  Tip #4 – roll some PAN dough into a marble size ball and drop it in once the oil has had a chance to heat.  If it starts to fry immediately, you oil is ready.  Fry both sides of arepa until golden brown, remove and drain on paper towels.

DipticDiptic-1

* Anise is used for sweet arepas only.  Follow the same recipe, but add some anise to your desired taste.  When making these patties, they are much thinner than the savory arepas.  It’s recommended to poke a hole in the center during frying to avoid bubbles being formed.

Have you ever had an arepa before?  Share with me your favorite fillings or any other tips about cooking them perfectly.

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Breakfast Sandwich – Fast & Fit – comin’ at ya hot!

We all go through those phases when we really TRY to be healthy, and really TRY to eat well.  This is no easy task, eating healthy takes time, and well… let’s face it, when you’re rushing around in the morning trying to get ready to leave the house, thinking about breakfast isn’t always a priority.

This breakfast idea came about for me one day when I “just didn’t have time to make anything” yet I had time to stop by a local breakfast joint on my way to work to pick something up (because somehow in my mind, this takes less time). I order and begin to wait for my food to be made.  (So I have time to stand and wait for something…but not do it myself?)  I see this young lad cooking the egg for my breakfast sandwich in the microwave.  Microwaved egg!?!?! What!?!? Ick.  I was wrong. The breakfast sandwich was delicious (burp).

After devouring my breakfast, I had an “A-HA” moment.  Why don’t I just make my own breakfast sandwich with microwaved egg??  The egg is the seemingly most difficult part of the whole breakfast.  The microwaving really saves time and effort.

If you’re one of those people that MUST eat breakfast, but you’re crunched for time try out this nifty little breakfast sandwich that takes less than 5 min to prepare, and is less than 350 calories total.

Ingredients:
Whole wheat English muffin
1 Egg
Baby Spinach
Ham (lunchmeat ham, the lean kind)
Cheese (American, Cheddar, etc. your choice) or omit if you want to be super healthy

Items Needed:
Microwave
Microwave safe container
Non-stick spray (recommended)
Toaster (optional)

Directions: (In this order. Correct order makes this efficient)

  1. Grab your whole-wheat muffin; slice it in two; put it in the toaster (or skip the to
    aster and save even more time).
  2. Put a non-stick pan on the stove put some heat under it (medium should do) and throw in a piece of ham. (You could have it cold; I think it’s better hot.)
  3. Grab a microwavable safe dish with the circumference that matches the circumference of the muffin.  Spray with non-stick spray, crack your egg in, and poke the yoke with a fork to break it.  Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds, after the first 30 seconds; continue in 15-second intervals until cooked to desired doneness.  Eggs do explode in the microwave, so don’t just set it and forget it… it takes minor babysitting.

**DING**  Toaster is done toasting muffin!  Ham should be sizzling in pan.

4. Grab the muffin, put the ham on; microwaved egg should be done so just dump it right on top of the ham.  Add slice of cheese, and baby spinach.  Top with other half of muffin.

BAM! Breakfast sandwich done in under 5 minutes, and you’re ready to head out the door.

Can you think of some other yummy varieties for this fast and easy breakfast?

Breakfast Sandwich

Calories Carbs Fat Protein
Oroweat – Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat English Muffin 150 28 2 6
Oscar Mayer – Lean Ham Water Added, 1 slice 23 1 1 4
Eggs – (whole egg), 1 large 74 0 5 6
Kraft – Singles – American Cheese, 1 Slice 70 2 5 4
Organic Baby Spinach, 0.25 cups 3 0 0 0
Total 320 31 13 20

Egg Rolls – From My Kitchen to Yours

2013 Feb Cin Egg Rolls 0162013 Feb Cin Egg Rolls 015

What better way to kick off this Chinese New Year than by a posting from my very own family recipes?   Focus on food has been a long-standing tradition in my family.  My grandfather on my mother’s side came to this country on a boat from China when he was just 8 years old.  He grew up owning and working in restaurants in Durango, Colorado and Williams, Arizona.

Words cannot describe how terrific of a chef he was.  Sadly, while I’ve always loved to eat, my interest in cooking didn’t really emerge until after he passed away in 2005 so I was never able to personally draw from his wealth of knowledge.  Since his passing, my mother, sister and I have been trying to recreate all the fabulous food he would make in a way to honor his memory.  Recreating these recipes from memories is no easy task… and by “memory” I mean being 6 years old and being just able to peer over the counter to sneak samples of what he was fixing.   For each recipe we’ve attempted we’ve had major breakthroughs and also some shortcomings.  I will only be sharing the recipes that we have perfectly reverse-engineered.

This week I will share with you his version of egg rolls.  This version is unlike ANYTHING I have had in ANY Chinese restaurant EVER.  Insome senses, it’s not “traditional” however, since my grandfather who was a bona fide Chinaman made them, I deem them to be authentic.

Ingredients:2013 Feb Cin Egg Rolls 004

1 Package Egg Roll Wrappers

Bean Sprouts (12 oz.)

Ham – thinly sliced lunchmeat will do

White pepper (approx. 1 tsp.)

Soy Sauce (approx. 1 Tbsp.)

Sesame Oil (approx. 1 tsp.)

Bamboo Shoots (1 can, sliced)

1 egg (scrambled/uncooked) for sealing the egg rolls

Deep Fat Fryer with adequate amount of oil for frying

Directions:

hamFirst, pour the oil in your deep fryer and set the temp to 350 degrees.  Prepping the ingredients is next.  Cut the ham in to somewhat thin strips then into 1 in length pieces (see pic).  Next, make your already sliced bamboo approximately the same size.   Lastly, open up the bean sprouts and give them a rough chop so they’re approximately the same size as the ham and bamboo.  We’re aiming for consistency in size of fillings (this helps the rolling the egg rolls to go smoother).

2013 Feb Cin Egg Rolls 007 Next,preheat a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.  Pour in a bit of sesame oil (about the size of a quarter).  If you’re a stickler for measuring, this is approximately 1 tsp. of oil.  When the oil is hot, throw in the bean sprouts first (it will sizzle a bit).  Next, give it a spin of soy sauce (about 1 tbsp..) and white pepper to desired tasted (if you don’t like spicy, give it about 1 tsp.…. if you likey spicy, give it more). It’s all up to your own preference.

As the bean sprouts begin to wilt, add ham and bamboo shoots (they just need to warm through).  Remove from heat just when the bean sprouts begin to wilt.  You don’t want them COMPLETELY wilted because then your egg rolls won’t have any crunch.  There will be some liquid in the pan released from the bean sprouts so you will want to drain them (liquid inside egg roll = no good).  Now… it’s just roll, seal and fry.  Pictures below showing how to roll the egg roll, seal it with some egg.

Let me know how this recipe goes for you! Happy Rolling. photo

Cindy Elkins’ Blog – What can you expect? Food. Fitness. Travel. Simple.

For years I’ve been talking to my family and friends about how much I love food and travel. Travel and food go hand in hand for me. One of the things I love the most about travel is seeing new places, being exposed to different cultures and thus being exposed to their food.

Each place, culture and family has its own food that uniquely sets it apart. Over the past few years, I’ve had the wonderful experiences of getting to know several different cultures though travel and from friends from foreign countries. I have an unquenchable thirst for finding out more about where they’re from, what life is like there and (of course) what they LOVE to eat. In my fantasy world, I’d be able to quit my job and just travel around to all the amazing countries out there and to blog about my experiences.

Alas, I live in the real world and have to be an adult. If I’m lucky, I get to take maybe one fabulous trip per year to a new place I want to explore. Since this doesn’t even come close to satisfying the travel bug inside of me, I’ve decided I will learn as much as possible from the people right here in our community. If and when those fabulous travel opportunities present themselves, you can rest assure that I will be all over it LIKE WHITE ON RICE to tell you about it right here. (Yes, the name of my blog is a play on this saying, not a typo).

My interests don’t lie in food and travel alone. I also have a passion for fitness and healthy food. I love to share recipes that inspire full flavored tastes but not recipes ridden with lots of calories and fat (although I do love a good Paula Dean mayo-butter-cheese concoction from time to time as well). I love all food – I do not discriminate – but there are just some foods that I’m more partial to.

**DISCLAIMER** I’m by no means a chef, or any kind of “cooking-expert.” I’ve never been to culinary school I’m merely a student of all things food related and wish to share my findings and experiences with you. Any tips or tricks I share with you here are just things I’ve picked up by doing. Usually, it’s because I’m looking for a way to cut corners and save myself sometime, but not sacrifice quality.

What you can expect from my blog are insights into different cultures and their foods, ideas for delicious, healthy recipes and my experiences and lessons learned along the way.