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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lament: Canned and Frozen Foods

I always dismiss canned and frozen meals because they're so ridiculous and gross-looking. I decided to put my money where my mouth was and actually eat a frozen dinner and a canned pasta.

I didn't grow up on any of these things, that's why I naturally think canned and frozen dinners, and pre-made dinners, are ridiculous. My parents always made sure to cook something every day. We couldn't afford these kinds of foods either. Growing up on the Navajo Nation reservation, you don't come by these things as often and when you do, they're much more expensive than what you would normally pay at grocery stores in urban areas. Plus we were poor, so we couldn't be wasting money on things that we could made for cheaper.

I decided to get Amy's Kitchen Indian palak paneer. As you can see, it really doesn't look like the picture and it didn't taste like any Indian food I ever had. The rice was watery, the paneer was very spicy (there were way too many spices in it for comfort) and it sort of took over the whole dish. The bland rice was actually a relief to offset the powerful spicy spinach. The beans on the side were OK. At least it had a balanced flavor and still tasted like beans. It took me four bites to finish everything and I had an unpleasant aftertaste all day. I would never eat one of these meals again. I can make this stuff without the gross aftertaste any day and I'm going to keep it that way.

If you've never had Indian food, do yourself a favor and don't start in the frozen aisle. Have real food made by a real person. Indian restaurants are always doing their lunch buffets.

I got a can of Chef Boyardee from my sister. They were cleaning their pantry and I volunteered to take a can off their hands. I have never had Chef Boyardee food in my life and as soon as I opened the can, I was horrified. I immediately made myself a small side salad because I knew nothing in this can was going to give me any nutrients. I don't believe the "2 full servings of vegetables" on the can for one second!

I scraped the mushy mass of ravioli into a pan and warmed it up on the stove. Some of the raviolis came apart while I stirred it and I winced at the brown beef goo on the inside. When it looked hot I slid the pasta onto a plate and I prepared myself for an adventure.

It was disgusting. The sauce tasted metallic like the inside of a tin can. The sauce couldn't resemble a pasta sauce even if we closed our eyes and wished for it to. I thought maybe it would taste like ketchup, but it wasn't close to that at all. It was a very bland, sweet nothing. And that's what the whole can of food tasted like: bland, sweet nothing with a metallic, processed finish. The pasta was extremely soft and needed no chewing. The beef filling was nothing more than a brown tasteless paste. I tried putting Parmesan cheese on it but it got lost in the underwhelming sauce.

That's one meal I will never get back. That's 20 shitty minutes of my life down the drain.

On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I noticed a very young couple (probably freshmen in college) with a full cart of Chef Boyardee and little frozen dinners. There were juice boxes and some cookies too. It's unbelievable that people buy this stuff on purpose. It's unbelievable to think that this is what they choose to live on.

They must not know how to cook. They must not know about food. They must have never tasted real homemade food. They must never go to restaurants. They must not value food and what they eat. Poor things.

These two meals made my heart sad. There was no life or real flavor in them. There was no soul. And it made me sad for the millions of people who eat like this. They must not fully enjoy life without fully enjoying food. There are whole aisles of canned and frozen foods in grocery stores. It made me realize that people don't care about food. No wonder people's diets are full of too much salt and cancer. And the Chef Boyardee meal made me mad because I know this is what people feed to their kids. They're turning their kids into eaters who are accustomed to the taste of machines and tin cans.

I am so thankful for my parents for always providing a homecooked meal every day. I'm glad I was never exposed to canned pasta and frozen Indian food.

I am thankful for being a born again eater, too. There was a time I didn't care about the quality of my food. But I've seen the light and I've changed my ways. I'm too far into the culinary gospel to turn back and partake in canned or frozen foods.

*knock-knock* Do you have time to talk about our Lord and savior, Good Food?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DC Adventure

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I got to try some really good restaurants in the Crystal City area — where our hotel was. We were there for the 2015 Native American Journalists Association conference. 

I flew in early and arrived early. I didn't have time for breakfast or lunch. As I checked into my hotel room, I asked the concierge where I could eat. He gave me a map of local restaurants and Kebab Palace drew my eye in. I had a mission when I learned it was a Middle Eastern restaurant. 

When I got to the restaurant, I noticed it was pretty small and a little dingy. I came to a sign on the red building saying "Entrance" so I went in. I found myself in a hallway with brooms and cleaning supplies. That didn't deter me. I walked in like I was a frequent customer. "It's OK, I come in the back door all the time."

It happened to be their lunch buffet time (at 2 p.m.). I did an inner squeal for joy as I looked down the buffet line and saw silver trays of basmati rice, qorma, biryani, kebabs, saag paneer and naan.  I filled up on those items, as you can see by the photo below:

For $14, this was the best thing I had in DC. I had double servings of the goat biryani, a stewed dish with spices. That was my favorite. The meat was a little fatty, but it was easy to separate the fat with my plastic spoon.

The naan bread was tough and kind of tasteless, though. I felt bad for throwing most of it away. My strategy was to sacrifice the bread so I can fit more tasty things. The rice was tasty and I think it was flavored with some kind of meat broth. That's fine, it was delicious. But with my Middle Eastern dishes I like a plain, tight basmati rice. This rice was not that tight, it was kind of soft. Middle Easterners know their rice. It's their science and magic. I've had some beautiful, delicious rice before and the rice at Kebab Palace was not at that level. It's OK, I can tell it was a different style and probably from a different country that I haven't tried before.

My sister and I headed out of Crystal City to Chinatown where every block was packed with Asian restaurants and good smells. At a random guess, we stopped at Tony Cheng's Seafood. This place looks like a Hollywood Chinese restaurant. I could imagine a gun fight breaking out at any moment or a bad drug deal going on in the back room. We tried the five-meat platter with vegetable fried rice, pictured below.

The five-meat platter included roast duck, shrimp, scallops, calamari, pork and chicken. Oh, that's 6 meats... It had a brown sauce that sort of got in the way of the meaty flavors. I loved it though. I was worried, at first, about all these meats being together and fighting over my taste buds, but they behaved themselves and were not cooked together.

I had the best steamed dumplings at Tony Cheng's. They're an appetizer that costs about $4 and you get six of them. Just try them.

We also had some Thai food at Urban Thai in Crystal City. Pictured in the forefront is the chicken and potato curry. The other dish is drunken noodles. Both were surprisingly refreshing. The curry was incredibly savory; a mix of sweet coconut milk and savory curry and Thai spices. I could eat that kind of curry for days. The fresh garnish of cucumber and red onion provided a welcome crunch and juiciness to the dish.

The drunken noodles were pleasantly spicy; very spicy. The noodles were very wide (I think they were cut up egg roll wrappers) and held a lot of spice and flavor from the chicken and stir-fried vegetables. There was a mix of smokey, grilled chicken flavor with sweet and salty tones from the spices. The basil leaves that were mixed in added a burst of basil flavor that soothed the high and low notes in this dish.

DC was an adventure and a tasty one. If you're out having an adventure in a different city, or obligated to attend a conference, go out and explore. Even if it's just one dish per day, make it something that you probably can't find at home. If you're near the sea, have some seafood, if you're in the desert, have some chile. When you go home, it's going to taste the same way it always did. (Then again, you're blessed if you live in a diverse city where the world is at the tip of your tongue.)

Burger King

I have eaten at a lot of restaurants since my love for food started about a decade ago. I've had cheap treasures, exotic ingredients, expensive cuts of meat and delicacies. I've eaten out of paper bags and on white table cloths. I crave for the tastes of certain parts of the world and I know how to satisfy myself in that way. I also know how to be adventurous and random.

I don't eat at fast food restaurants when I don't need to. I don't frequent chain restaurants if I can help it. I value a local experience at a table and on plates.

But there's one thing I keep returning to; one item that will always have a special place in my heart.

It's the Whopper from Burger King, and I'm not afraid to say it. I think every foodie has their favorite fast food item. They're probably ashamed of it, but they know they have those same cravings that I have for a good ole Whopper.  

You don't know how many times my boyfriend and I ended up at Burger King after 30 minutes of driving around town saying "I don't know what I'm hungry for. What do you want to eat?"

"I don't know. What do you want to eat?"

"Burger King."


The Whopper is my favorite burger. It's my go-to item when I can't pin down exactly what I want to eat for a late lunch or an early dinner. It's what I want when I'm "starving."

The thing I like best is the burger paddy itself. It's the element that's most pronounced (as it should be. Some burgers get too busy or they taste too much like grease and fat). There's no special sauces or special toppings to distract me. The charred flavor is addictive. The bun is not too sweet or bready and it allows the meat to have the glory. The simple toppings of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions (I take out the pickles from all sandwiches and burgers) works perfectly with mayo and ketchup (although I ask for extra mayo sometimes). Millions of burgers are made this way, but there's something about the Whopper that gets me. The onions always taste the same. The ketchup tastes the same. The paddy tastes the same all the time. And the smell outside of the restaurant is mouth-watering. The sesame seeds add just a little nuttiness when you happen to chew one up. 

I've seen a couple of versions of French fries paired with the No. 1 and I think I like these thick ones the best. They're not my favorite, but they are a good partner to the sandwich. 

Commercials, ads and billboards featuring Burger King's new creations never entice me to change my order because the Whopper is perfect the way it is. Adding bacon, avocado, hot sauce or pineapples is needless. 

So, I give it up to Burger King. If I ever get lost in the wilderness or sentenced to death. I'm pretty sure I'm going to order a Whopper when I come back and before I go.