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JennyUptown

eG Foodblog: JennyUptown - Fun with food

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This is not the blog of a gourmand. Or one by a witty American living abroad who has somehow managed to master the cuisine of her new. I don't come up with interesting foods with which to feed a classroom full of kids with short attention spans. Still, this week I will try to come up with some way of keeping you interested, entertained and coming back for more. If I must resort to discussing the old standards - sex, drugs, rock & roll - I will not hesitate to do so. I am shameless!

My DC-area compadres know me a bit, so will some of the kind NYC folks. For the rest of you, feel free to check out my bio for some background. You are most welcome to post random questions, as well as comments related to my postings.

In this blog, you'll find random musings on the role of food in my life as well as descriptions of meals in the restaurants of DC, my attempts at cooking and an ever-growing list of why I find it so difficult to cook well and with frequency. Lately I've been trying to add new dishes to my repertoire. Before Christmas, I mentioned this to a family member or two and as a result, I received several cooking-related gifts including a large set of Henckel knives, a food processor and some cookbooks. Pretty cool. I have only sliced myself once so far. :shock:

My inspiration? I have a boyfriend who cooks. He, who shall be known from here forward as PLM (short for Privacy Loving Man; I also contemplated using PITA for Pain in the Ass, but I was feeling nice as I typed), is a fantastic, inventive cook and has marveled/teased/harassed me about my inability or unwillingness to cook. The message only took a year and a half or so to sink in, but recently I've had this weird desire to try to cook!

I've always enjoyed baking, making desserts and sweets, however unless I'm working from a recipe, every non-dessert dish I make ends up tasting the same. I guess I tend to rely on the same spices w/o a recipe and as such, it doesn't matter if it's pork or chicken, same overall flavor...not very exciting. I'm not sure why I've steered clear of recipes (duh!), for the most part, until recently. People had always suggested that but I guess I embraced my status as a non-cook rather than making the effort and finding out that I was simply a bad cook.

My other excuses (and these are just the tip of the iceberg):

Reason #1 Ingredients spoil quickly when you're a single girl.

Reason #2 I really enjoy eating in restaurants/ordering takout. Previously when people would ask me if I liked to cook, my stock response was "No, but I'm excellent at dialing the phone."

Reason #3 I'm a creature of habit. I can (and have) eat the same dish every damn day without caring. For years, this has meant "pasta and peas." Every roommate I've had since college has known about pasta and peas. The recipe (it's not one I suggest you follow, but I'm sharing anyway):

Boil pasta. Preferred shapes include cavatelli (frozen, if available) or tortellini. Next would be penne. Macaroni doesn't hold enough sauce.

Defrost some of Mom's spaghetti sauce in the microwave. When she and my father visit from PA, I can always count on a fresh supply, delivered frozen in small tupperware containers carried in a refrigerated bag looking like an organ for transplant.

Add peas.

Toss cooked pasta with a bit of butter or olive oil, adding salt (seasoned, if available) and pepper (red pepper flakes work), some milk or cream (to create that imitation vodka sauce taste) and finally, the warmed up spaghetti sauce. When it's all mixed and hot, it's done. Add fresh parmesan or romano to taste.

That dish got me through many weeks and years! But I know I can do better so it's time for change...

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Of late I have been enjoying an interesting Sunday night dinner arrangement. PLM comes over, cooks for me and then leaves for his intramural sports league. I eat a little to hold me over until he returns around 9 and then we eat together.

Yesterday's dish was a homemade version of General Tso's Chicken. Delicious in that it wasn't heavily fried like the dish you get from your local Chinese restaurant. He used the sesame oil he bought during a recent trip to an Asian grocery in Rockville (MD) and was pretty excited about it. I ate it over a little plain white rice (I'm trying to escape my carb addiction - not because it's trendy to do so, but because they easily amount to 60% of my diet).

i2125.jpg

i2124.jpg

Although I enjoyed the chicken, last week's dish made me go "Ohhhhhh, this is GOOD." Inspired by something he saw on Food TV, PLM did a fruit-stuffed pork loin. Raisins, apples, brown sugar, etc. processed the new Cuisinart. It was incredible.

I had to laugh as I ate it, though, because I have a friend who objects to what she calls "sweet meat." She mistakenly thinks any kind of barbecue tastes sweet. Would never eat pork chops with apples. That sort of thing. I called her while PLM and I were eating to describe the goodness she was missing. She wasn't swayed.

For dessert last night, I did my part and made an apple-pear crisp which we ate warm with ice cream. It was a very simple recipe with very few ingredients: cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar, butter, flour, the fruit...that's pretty much it.

Today I had my usual breakfast: half a poppyseed bagel with melted cheddar cheese and a gigante iced latte from Cosi. It's funny. I usually don't specify a size when I order my coffee. The employees at Cosi kind of look at me and gauge whether it's a day when I need a lot of caffeine (gigante) or if I'm holding up ok (grande will do). I guess I looked tired today.

On weekends, we eat better breakfasts. Sometimes is an egg casserole with sausage, but not often because I like eggs more than PLM does. He prefers something sweet, even if it's a frozen waffle or those Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, with sausage or bacon on the side. He handles dinner almost all of the time and says breakfast is my responsibility. I guess he has a point there!

Lunch today will be leftover pasta alfredo with peas (again!) and bits of proscuitto I sauteed in EVOO before adding it to the sauce of heavy cream, butter and parmesan cheese.

It's amazing I don't weigh a ton because I have a weakness for rich foods. Part of it, I think, is portion size. I generally don't eat a lot of any one thing in a sitting and like hillvalley, I am satisfied with just a taste of something sweet. After a meal at home when I haven't made a special dessert, a Hershey Kiss or two is enough to end the meal.


Edited by JennyUptown (log)

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Reason #1 Ingredients spoil quickly when you're a single girl.

As a single guy, I find ingredients last weeks, sometimes months! I have a head of lettuce that has been in my fridge since November.


peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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What's my excuse? I have a family of four to feed and I still find lettuce that has seen better days in the back of the fridge. The vegetables spoil almost as fast as the children do around here.

I love fruited pork tenderloin too. Looks good so far, blog on! I'm with ya.


What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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I never really used to think about the contents of my refrigerator and my pantry was generally filled with pasta, corn chips, flour, sugar and a few random cans that had been around for a long, long time. But lately...my on-hand items have become a source of embarassment.

The conversation tends to go like this:

Him: Got any chicken stock? I need some to make dinner.

Me: Sure, check the fridge.

Him: Uh, it's dated October somethingth.

Me: :blush:

Not good. But like I said, I have been content for so long to eat and repeat the same meal or two and they don't require many ingredients.

More embarassing admissions:

* Until recently, I had never purchased fresh garlic and up until about two years ago, I hadn't even bought jarred minced garlic either. My seasonings of choice? Garlic salt or garlic pepper. Eek, I apologize to all of those I have horrified by typing this.

* Until a year and a half ago, I had never, EVER allowed a bit of seafood to cross these lips. Seriously. My parents, seafood lovers, had always encouraged me to try stuff, but I was stubborn. No fish. No shrimp. No lobster. Nothing.

Finally, after lots and lots of champagne at a wedding, I tasted crab and in my stupor, I seemed to like it (and miracle of miracles, I remembered liking it too). I have since enjoyed crab here and there, however I'm still very sensitive about smells, textures, etc. One whiff of fishy-ness is enough to make me say "thanks, I'm done."

I'm only batting .500 with seafood. Shrimp did NOT go as well as crab. Way too chewy although the flavor was ok. When PLM and I first started dating, he chased me around my apartment with some sushi he had ordered. Spicy eel is NOT on my list of seafoods to try next.

The problem, I think, comes down to squeamishness. Few things make me queasy - not medical programs on tv showing blood and guts, really not anything. Just fish. Weird, I know.

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Jenny, thanks for blogging!

You should really try some eel. I love it. It's always cooked. (Or nearly always? Someone else will know the answer.) It has a nice meaty taste-- not very fishy at all.

In sushi restaurants (in the U.S.A., anyway) you'll often see it paired with avocado. Yum.


"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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The caterpillar roll at sushi restaurants is a decent first introduction to eel. The eels is usually 'barbecued' which means it is cooked with a sweet sauce. The avocado is often (always?) on the outside of the roll. When I get one, it is usually the last of the evening because the sweetness competes with the flavors of the more delicate items.

After that, keep moving through the sushi selections until you make it to uni. I'm sure you'll never look back.


Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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This is a MUCH different response than I had anticipated. In all of my egullet posts, I was very careful not to mention that seafood isn't my thing for fear of being judged (that sounds dumb when I type it, but it's a legit feeling). Thanks for the gentle encouragement!

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Jenny-- you've shattered all my illusions of you :sad:

Gotta work on that seafood aversion. You've never had halibut? Rockfish? Lobster? Salmon? Tuna? :blink:

Say it isn't so! :raz:


peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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Well, the first step is admitting you have a problem. :wink:

Outta curiosity, how do you like your steak cooked?


peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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Jenny, if you ever get interested enough in fish that you decide you're ready to learn how to cook it, let me know. I'd be glad to give you a few lessons.

Thanks for blogging, your posts are reminding me of my downtown days when I ate out a lot more often. :smile:

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Don't feel bad about the seafood aversion, Jenny. I was out with a Japanese friend yesterday who likes fish but dislikes all varieties of seafood. I said "So you don't eat uni or anything like that," and you could see her look of disgust. She says lots of her friends say she isn't really Japanese, but the bottom line is that she just doesn't like the stuff.

Your writing style is engaging, and I think this blog will be fun to read. :smile:


Michael aka "Pan

 

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Outta curiosity, how do you like your steak cooked?

Medium. I'm in recovery in that regard. I grew up in a family where roast beef was served grey. My mother won't touch meat that's not well done and my father (or should I say "long-suffering father") just goes along with it because she's the boss of the house. :biggrin: When in a restaurant, he goes medium as well.

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Outta curiosity, how do you like your steak cooked?

Medium. I'm in recovery in that regard. I grew up in a family where roast beef was served grey. My mother won't touch meat that's not well done and my father (or should I say "long-suffering father") just goes along with it because she's the boss of the house. :biggrin: When in a restaurant, he goes medium as well.

Sounds like you're getting there...


peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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Sounds like you're getting there...

One could say I have potential. :biggrin:

Your writing style is engaging, and I think this blog will be fun to read. 

Pan, this is the greatest compliment you could give me. My secret ambition is to be a writer and I recently got my act together and took a class online through Gotham Writer's Workshop. Loved it! Now I just need to focus and query and hopefully... eventually... get published.

Jenny, if you ever get interested enough in fish that you decide you're ready to learn how to cook it, let me know. I'd be glad to give you a few lessons.

This is a great offer and I may take you up on it. One of PLM's quirks is that he will not allow me in the kitchen while he is cooking. At first I was suspicious that his creations might be in the terrible "semi-homemade" vein. Ha, ha! Have since confirmed otherwise. Reconnaissance...


Edited by JennyUptown (log)

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I don't like fish or seafood either. I will occassionally eat tuna salad in the summer. I will eat crabcakes, and have made them at home. I made fish cakes once with cod. But that's about it.

Just Saturday night, The Mister ordered paella. I was curious about the mussels. So I tried one after interrogating him on the taste and texture. Popped it in, chewed ever so gently, so far so good, then, SQUISH that icky seafoody taste. Shudder, swallow, rinse with iced tea. Do not repeat.

You are not alone. :smile:

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Since we're outing ourselves, I don't eat seafood either! I've been trying to be more adventurous, though, and can now eat/cook with anchovies as an ingredient, and can do crabcakes.

Part of my aversion is that I had a couple of quite severe reactions as a child to some fish/seafood, and have stayed away from it ever since. Since I wasn't ever wild about the flavor, and didn't care to repeat those experiences, I've always just avoided it altogether. I wonder if it's worth getting scratch-tested for reactions to particular kinds of seafood -- if that's even possible? Anyone know?

Great blog so far, Jenny!

Cheers,

Squeat

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My seafood fears have been covered pretty well by my fellow fish-fearing friends.

Bad tastes. Gagging in public. No thank you.

Allergic reactions resulting in slow painful death.

I used to lean on the latter excuse a LOT, however now that I've tasted two types of shellfish (among the most common allergic-reaction producers), I can't really go there anymore.

Now I'm focusing on that whole farm-raised salmon/toxins thing. :rolleyes:

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More foods that make me squeamish:

Pigs' knuckles

My grandmother *loved* them and would cook them once or twice a year. I couldn't believe that kind of smell could come from the same pig that produced the bacon I loved so much.

Halupki (aka halushki)

Pennsylvania has a lot of Eastern European cultures represented. My father's family is Polish. My mother's side of the family is Welsh and German - strangely enough, it was my maternal grandmother who liked most of what I considered to be the weird foods. I hated it when Nana would make these meat and rice-filled cabbage rolls. Again, it was primarily the smell and they would usually convince me to eat some of the filling (never the cabbage shell though - bleechh).

Tongue

No, no, no. Mom's sister, my dear Aunt Mar, loved it (and loved grossing me out even more).

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Jenny,

No need to fear outing yourself on the seafood distaste. I'm in the exact same boat. Until I was about 25 the only fish I would eat was tuna out of a can (which, if you think about it doesn't really count) I'm slowly trying different fishies, but only a couple months ago had to run from the table as a reaction to some grilled salmon I made (which my wife liked). What worked for me was to start with the most red-meat like fish out there - tuna steaks and swordfish steaks. I'm slowly working my way into some others - bass, snapper, etc. -- but it'll be a long time before I try salmon again.

I definately understand PLM's protectiveness in the kitchen when cooking. Mrs. JPW is similarly banned when I'm making dinner.

Growing up in Pittsburgh led me to experience most of the Polish delicacies. Never liked anything that came with cabbage.


If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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More foods that make me squeamish:

Pigs' knuckles

My grandmother *loved* them and would cook them once or twice a year. I couldn't believe that kind of smell could come from the same pig that produced the bacon I loved so much.

Tongue

No, no, no. Mom's sister, my dear Aunt Mar, loved it (and loved grossing me out even more).

are pigs' knuckles the front 2 feet?

i love them stewed.

pig tongue is good too.

i'm glad you're slowly wading into the deep pool of edible seafood.

it's got some good stuff.

i'm the total opposite, because it's all about the texture for me.

therefore, i'll eat anything at least once.


Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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are pigs' knuckles the front 2 feet?

i love them stewed.

pig tongue is good too.

i'm glad you're slowly wading into the deep pool of edible seafood.

it's got some good stuff.

i'm the total opposite, because it's all about the texture for me.

therefore, i'll eat anything at least once.

<<stunned, alarmed silence>>

(edited to include "alarmed")


Edited by JennyUptown (log)

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To avoid grossing myself out more by talking about things that make me squeamish, I'm changing the subject completely.

Something that would encourage me to cook more regularly: A music source in the kitchen. My living room tv is the closest noisemaker so most often, I put on whatever program catches my interest and turn up the volume (sorry next door neighbor!). The problem is that all too frequently, it catches my attention TOO much and I end up running in and out of the kitchen to catch a bit of the program or I take whatever I'm working on - peeling apples, making a spice rub, etc. - out into the living room and I stare at the tv, only giving the foodstuff 25% or so of my attention. Not good.

What I'm listening to these days:

* Hip-hop is my genre of choice. <I expect eye rolling here> It's kind of a cultural thing, working in sports as I do. It would be very hard to be a country music lover (like Mom - eek; she loves George Bush too) in my present career. Jay-Z, Biggie, Tupac, Dre, The Roots, Tribe, I'm all over the place.

* Elliott Smith/XO. I discovered his stuff posthumously which is sad. I'm trying not to get too attached as I doubt much new stuff is forthcoming. Hey, it could happen. Look at 'Pac. PLM makes fun of me when he gets in the car and I have on "Waltz #2" for the 1000th time. When Jeff Buckley died, I put his CDs away for awhile.

* Soul. I bought Aretha Franklin's four disc set, The Atlantic Recordings, through BMG (I had to buy something from them sooner or later - the mail was taking on a threatening tone) and it's FANtastic. She's so cool. :cool:

I have a meeting at 4pm ET so I should focus now...

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