Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A California Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, mainly because it is centered around cooking and eating with loved ones. It's a great reminder of how much I have to be grateful for and also give back. This year, I went home to San Francisco, California to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  Every year, my mom, sister and I spend the day cooking together in the kitchen. Each of us is in charge of a few dishes while my dad is in charge of beverages and is the self- proclaimed official taste tester. Since it was just the four of us this year, we kept things simple. But just because there were four of us doesn't mean we skimped on flavor!

Before we started cooking, we set the table. Since we weren't entertaining any guests, my mom wanted to keep the table simple to make cleaning up easier. She picked the flowers from our garden and bought festive place settings. It looked beautiful!

My mom is usually in charge of making the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. We got a beautiful fourteen pound bird from our favorite butcher and simply rubbed the inside and outside of the bird with olive oil and herbs de provence. For the stuffing, my mom has always bought a box of Williams Sonoma foccacia stuffing. My mom adds her own twists to the recipe like adding dried cranberries for color and sweetness, but it is super easy to make!  We stuffed the bird and threw it in the oven for the day. We used a baster to coat the turkey in its own juices every now and then to keep it moist which really makes a difference when you carve it.

The cranberry sauce is also a recipe my mother has used for years and it is DELICIOUS. She doubled the recipe and we barely had leftovers! Her recipe calls for diced apples and oranges, as well as lots of clove and cinnamon. It is the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness and is addicting. We ended up making more the next day to accompany our left overs!

I was in charge of two side dishes this year, both of which we had never made or had before. I love sweet potatos and wanted to somehow incorporate them into our meal. At first I wanted to do a sweet potato mash but then decided that a mash was too boring. I stumbled upon an asiago sweet potato dish that sounded and looked delicious. It was similar to a lasagna, with layers of thinly sliced sweet potato, onion and a handful of asiago. You repeated those three steps until you reached the top where it was finished with olive oil and thyme. It came out of the oven with the cheese still bubbling and smelled amazing! It was definitely a success.

The other new side dish I made was sweet and sour cipollini onions. My dad was reading the Wall Street Journal and came across this dish. We all agreed we had to make it and I am so glad we did. The onions were sweet but had a hint of tartness thanks to the vinegar in the recipe. This recipe is a keeper.

My sister was in charge of making a side dish and dessert. She wanted to make brussel sprouts with bacon. My mom rarely allows pork in the house but she made an exception this year and let us cook with bacon! None of us had ever worked with it before. It was incredible (and a little gross) to see how much fat it had. When we put it in the sautee pan, we didn't even need to add oil-there was enough fat in the meat for it to produce it's own oils! The brussel sprouts turned out great, except they were a little too sweet for my taste. The recipe called for brown sugar which I felt over-powered the dish.

My plate (round 1)!!

As if that wasn't enough food, Thanksgiving isn't complete without dessert. We waited an hour to digest before we dug into my sisters apple and pomegranate crisp. She usually makes a scrumptious pumpkin cheesecake, but we all agreed it was time to mix things up. The crisp turned out great and wasn't too heavy either. The apples were cooked through nicely and the pomegranate seeds added a nice crunch to the dish along with the oat topping. I was in a complete state of delirium (thanks tryptophan) and fullness that I forgot to take a picture of the crisp! 

What did you do for your Thanksgiving? Are there any traditions you and your family participate in? Did you try new recipes or stick with tradition? No matter how you celebrated, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with your loved ones! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Trend Alert: Instagramming Food

Today's world is all about sharing. Thanks to social media, we can share where we are, what we're doing and who we're with in a matter of seconds. And this idea of sharing does not exclude what we eat. Thanks to apps like Instagram, a photo application that allows you to place different filters on photographs, the trend of sharing pictures of food has rapidly grown into a cult. Everyone is sharing what they ate and where they ate it. I must admit, I am guilty of giving in to this trend myself. There are even some Instagram accounts devoted to only posting pictures of food, such as "deliciousdelicious" and "thebestfood." So, why do we do it? Do we do it to get a lot of "likes" on our pictures? Do we do it to make people jealous?

Some restaurants love the geotag feature of Instagram where the user can "tag" where they ate that dish. It's free advertising for the restaurant. If someone posts a mouthwateringly delicious looking dish and geotags the restaurant, one of their followers could immediately go to that restaurant and order that dish. That restaurant just gained a new customer without having to pay any money in advertising. Some restaurants like Comodo in New York have really embraced this trend, while some restaurants have actually banned Instagramming.

While some see this as a positive trend for the food industry, others are vehemently opposed to it. Some claim it is a distraction in the restaurant, especially for other diners, and that it ruins special moments. It's pretty rude to whip out your cell phone and take a photo of what's on your plate rather than enjoying good conversation uninterrupted by technology.

I believe this trend reinforces the notion that people care more about food and what they are eating than they did twenty years ago. As a self- proclaimed foodie, I think it is awesome that people want to share what they are eating and where they are eating it. You don't have to be a foodie to appreciate a good meal but the fact that people care enough about the food they're eating to share it with the rest of the world says something. 

What do you think about this new trend? Do you take pictures of your food and share it via social media? What platform do you use? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Semester Abroad: Barcelona, Spain

Next semester, I will be studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain for four months. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and is located on the northeastern coast facing the Mediterranean Sea. I've been to Spain once and immediately fell in love with the country.  What I loved most about my time there was the amazing food! Everything I ate was so fresh and delicious and I never had a bad meal. The Spanish food you find in the United States is nothing compared to what you find in Spain. I will also be taking a Spanish Food, Wine and Culture class while I'm abroad so I will really get to know authentic Spanish cuisine. Spain is known for their tapas and tapas bars can be found all over the region where you can stop in for a quick bite to eat. Tapas are small appetizers or snacks that are served cold or hot. Below are a few of my favorites that I can't wait to eat more of and even learn how to make for myself!

Paella is a rice based dish that is cooked with a medley of fish, meats and vegetables. Chorzio, spicy Spanish sausage, is often incorporated to give the dish a kick as well as saffron, a rare and often expensive Spanish spice. It is similar to risotto, but not as creamy and contains much more ingredients than a risotto typically has. Check out this paella recipe!

Tortilla Española is also a popular tapa and does not involve any tortillas despite the name. It is a thick omelette made with eggs and potatoes that is fried in oil. Again, there are many variations as some recipes add vegetables or meats. Think of it as our version of a frittata! Try this simple tortilla Española recipe!

Croquetas are another common tapa that is essentially a fried ball of deliciousness. The outside is crispy while the inside is filled with a gooey bechamel sauce. Many variations include the addition of meats, like ham or chicken.

Spanish dishes usually involve a lot of meat, especially ham. They are famous for their jamón (ham) Serrano which typically comes from the Landrace breed of white pigs. It usually takes about six- eighteen months for the hame to cure depending on the size of the pig. The ham is usually sliced extremely thin and served cold as an appetizer. The saltiness and texture of the meat is comparable to prosciutto.

While abroad, I will be living in an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen. Hopefully I will master the art of Spanish cooking using the freshest ingredients available from the incredible array of outdoor markets. 

Have you been to Spain before? What was your favorite Spanish tapa? Do you know of any good tapas bars in Barcelona? I'd love to hear from you!