Sunday, December 5, 2010

Success & Failure: Adventures in dutch oven cooking!

My lovely parents gave me a dutch oven as an early Christmas present over Thanksgiving this year (thanks!) and I was very excited to experiment with it. As the title of this post would imply, I have taken this bad boy for a couple of spins and one resulted in a great success and the other in a great failure.

Let's start with success!

I love soups when it's cold out and it's been REALLY cold out. I took the dutch oven for it's inaugural test drive by cooking an interesting Shrimp Chowder from Williams Sonoma. To make it extra hearty I added some frozen corn and whole wheat orzo pasta. On the whole, the recipe was surprisingly easy...while you chop the veggies you roast the asparagus and shrimp in the oven and then just add them in at the end.

It's also relatively healthy because it's jam packed with veggies, has the lean protein from shrimp and gets it's creaminess from just a cup of nonfat evaporated milk.

All in all, this is a great recipe that I will make again. It was definitely hearty enough as a main course for dinner and the leftovers made a nice lunch the next day. I would actually recommend this recipe to even a novice cook...seriously, this is SUPER easy, FULL of flavor and is actually quite "impressive" looking at the end. Also, the dutch oven worked beautifully for this dish! It heated the soup evenly, was a snap to clean (whoever invented that enabled finish is my hero!), and the pot is heavy enough that it doesn't shift on the stove as you stir.

Annnnnd on to the failure.

I'm more of a cook than a baker, but I have definitely baked my share of bread in my time. I have been reading about Mark Bittman's "quick bread recipe" for the last year and always wanted to give it a try. The catch was that I never had a dutch oven so this was my first opportunity! In short, this recipe was a disaster. I'll spare you the play by play, but, just like in life, there are NO SHORTCUTS IN BREAD.

Looking ok if not a little flat. 

"Turn the loaf out onto a rack and let cool". 
Why does my "loaf" more closely resemble a cow-pie?


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why grocery shopping doesn't have to be a pain in the ass

Grocery shopping can really suck. Especially if you're like me and tend to frequent Trader Joes and Whole Foods. I once asked a Whole Foods employee how he doesn't have a panic attack every time he comes to work. His response was, "Well, I just try to be mellow and calm...for the most part people are cool and will move out of my way when I need to get through...but there are a lot of douchebags."

Yes Whole Foods man...there certainly are a lot of douchebags at the grocery store. And on top of the classic douches there are screaming children, carts left in the middle of the aisles, old people who never hear you say excuse me, and the crowds. OH the crowds. Unfortunately, we need to eat and thus we need to grocery shop.

Personally, I am a weirdo and I love to grocery shop. I think it's because I learned at an early age to never go into a grocery store without a battle plan. In college I was a personal assistant for a family in Beverly Hills and I had to do all their grocery shopping as part of my job. A week's worth of groceries for a family of 5 (plus a  housekeeper). That's a lot of food, trust me. The woman I worked for was actually a pretty good cook and she planned out all her family's meals for the week. She would write everything out: "6 tomatoes, on the vine, highest quality available", "2 lbs premium ground beef, lowest fat content", "6 french cornish hens, ask the butcher to slice down the middle and package for you", "1 package fruit roll ups" (surely her son's request), "1 jar kosher dill spears, highest quality/most expensive". She would then give me an envelope full of hundreds and send me on my way. 

My first trip to the store was a disaster. It took me forever to get through the list in the time see I only had 45 minutes to get through the store and drop off the groceries before picking her son up from soccer practice. I didn't know where to find anything in the store and I didn't know the difference between a shallot and a scallion. (Note: shallots = small brown onions, often sold in little net packages, and scallions = long green onions often sold in bunches) 

Over time, however, I learned how to navigate a big grocery store with ease. I learned how to pick the best veggies and how to order from the meat counter. I even made friends with the store manager who let me cut the lines! In the end, I learned to love grocery shopping...something I am forever grateful for. 

This brings me to my theory: grocery shopping doesn't have to suck, people just see grocery shopping as a real pain in the ass because they don't know what they are doing. 

Take it from an ex-professional grocery shopper: The first step to grocery shopping inner peace is to go in with a plan

Now I'm not saying that you need to plan out every meal you're going to make through the entire week, or write out the exact number of tomatoes you need per week, but having a few recipes in mind certainly doesn't hurt. More importantly, you should stop for a second and ask yourself which ingredients go together? For example..."Gee, I want to make that amazing Williams Sonoma shrimp dish that calls for feta cheese...I'll probably have some feta leftover so maybe I should pick up some tomatoes and cucumbers and throw together a Greek salad later in the week." This is critical when you're buying unusual ingredients or else you'll end up having a lot of food go to waste. That's not good for the earth (even if you compost) or for your wallet. So just take a moment to think before you go to the store. 

If you aren't shopping for multiple days then that's fine, just buy exactly what you need for for dinner that night...DO NOT...I repeat, DO NOT just starting picking food off the shelves at random as a way to buy a week's worth of food. You'll end up with a full refrigerator and I guarantee most will go to waste. 

In short: figure out what you want to cook, what you need, and then write a list. Write your list according to grocery store department. This way you aren't making laps around the store. You can see my example above. It's not pretty...but it got the job done. It's not the most complete list I ever made, it's not a week's worth of groceries, but I wanted to include a real list not something I drafted up for the blog.

Well, I hope this is helpful. This is also reminding me that I have some people coming over for dinner and I'm not sure what to cook....any ideas?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

In the spirit of "back to basics" I thought I would begin by ripping off The Kitchn. These are my top 10 favorite kitchen items. I guess they are actually my top 9 favorite because the two pans are really similar and I haven't decided which I like best. 
These are the items I cannot live without and why you might want them too:

A. Martha Stewart "Green Pan" 12" nonstick Wok (Macy's)
I bought this pan in the summer of 2008, before Teflon alternatives were readily available. This pan is made with "thermolon" which is supposedly safer than Teflon. If I recall, it is safe well over 500 degrees and is nontoxic even when chipped. All in all, I've been very pleased with this pan, even though it's a little worse for wear these days. I use it ALL. THE. TIME. It's great for a classic stir fry, making pasta sauce, etc etc.

B. Ruffoni copper and tin lined "risotto" pan (Williams-Sonoma)
I got this pan from my mother last year for Christmas. It's marketed as a "risotto pan" and it really is perfect for risotto. I've never had the pleasure of owning a copper pot before, but I can tell you that what they say about how evenly they distribute the heat is absolutely true. This pan is quickly becoming my favorite (Sorry Martha). I use it for much more than the wok, it's great for sauces, stir fries, curries etc. Aside from the fact that this pan cooks foods ridiculously well and is a snap to clean, it is GORGEOUS. (see below) Sadly, the handle is really uncomfortable and sometimes can get really hot. 

C. Pyrex pie plate (Target)
As some of you might know, I make a mean pie. Apple, strawberry, pumpkin you name it. I love pie. These are the best pie plates hands down. They are cheap, they are hard to break, you can freeze them, you can microwave them. Amazing. I use these plates all the time. They are great for roasting vegetables, make-shift lasagnas for two, poaching fish...the list goes on and on. I really do find these plates to be unusually versatile. 

D. metal pizza pan (my Mom's kitchen...Thanks!)
I use this pan all the time. It's great for roasting vegetables or baking cookies. I don't have a microwave, so I use this frequently to defrost bread and/or to make garlic bread or crostini. I also am in my 20s and therefore appreciate a good frozen pizza once and awhile. 

Now for a close-up of the smaller tools:

E. salt and pepper grinder (Sur La Table)
A compact device that serves two purposes thus reducing kitchen clutter? Sign me up. Basically, you turn the top one direction and it grinds salt and when you turn it the other way it grinds pepper. If you aren't using freshly ground pepper in your recipes...please look into it. Trader Joe's sells self-grinding containers of pepper for $2.99 or something. It's worth it!

F. Corkscrew (Target)
Like any young cook, I appreciate a glass of wine (or three) and therefore this tool gets a lot of use in my kitchen. It also serves as a beer bottle opener (duh). This last Christmas my entire family accidentally bought each other corkscrews (don't ask) so I have had the chance to experiment with a variety of designs. This is the best type of corkscrew hands down and I don't care that the waiters in fancy restaurants use a different type. 

G. Bamboo slanted spoon (the Pampered Chef)
I literally use this every day often multiple times a day. I prefer this shape because it's easier to scrape the sides of the pan and you can also use it for flipping etc. Wooden spoons won't scratch your nonstick cookware so they are definitely good to have around. 

H. Garlic press (Target)
I have met many a twentysomething who either don't know what a garlic press IS or don't know why they should have one. I cannot live with out this! I am a huge garlic fan (I automatically double the garlic in uh...keep that in mind when reading this blog!) and I just love my garlic press. Yes, it's a pain in the butt to clean, but it's worth it. There is nothing like fresh garlic bread...mmm. 

I. Wusthof santoku knife (Williams-Sonoma)
Dear reader, are you like most twentysomethings who went to Ikea on moving day and bought a $50 block of knives? Do you find that those knives really suck? Have you learned that a "sharp knife is safer than a dull knife" the hard way? Yea...thought so. Good knives are expensive and they are worth EVERY PENNY. This knife cost over $100. Yikes, I know. But I use it every day. And I will use it every day for the next 50 years. Here's the deal, you don't need a block of knives. I only have 4 knives. Two for regular chopping: the Wusthof is my most-used because it is smaller and lighter and then I have a big Henckels knife for cutting into squashes or melons and such. Then I have a small 2 inch paring knife and a serrated bread knife. That's it! Trust me, it's better to have fewer nice knives than a huge block of useless knives. 

I prefer the santoku blade because it makes chopping veggies a very easy task. It's particularly great for mincing because you are able to rock the knife back and forth. 

And one last knife tip. I'd highly recommend buying your knives individually and from a nice retailer like Williams-Sonoma. At W-S you can experiment with each knife. They let you hold them and use them on a cutting board so you can get a feel for the weight and the handle shape etc. They also do complimentary professional sharpening a couple times a year! 

And not put nice knives in the dishwasher. 

J. wooden cutting board (Target? Ikea?)
I prefer wooden cutting boards to plastic and I think they are considered more sanitary but I'm not really sure I buy that. Plastic cutting boards are probably fine if you are lucky enough to have a dishwasher. 

I don't care if the handle gets's so purdy. 

A final note, I am a quasi vegetarian (I eat fish) and mostly cook veggie meals. My list of tools obviously reflect my taste. If I ate meat, I would probably include the George Forman grill and/or other tools on my list! 

What are YOUR top 10? 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Let's do it...again.

I started this blog over a year ago and though I started it with gusto, I managed to let it fall by the wayside. 

I am officially announcing the relaunch of Domeschtik. 

This time around I will refrain from the random posts about my camping trips or vacations etc. If it isn't related to domesticity it will not be here. This time around I will be sticking to the original mission: my attempt to impart my basic culinary knowledge to the twentysomethings who are lost in the kitchen and afraid of answering the question "What's for dinner?". This will be writing about cooking in a way that I hope will be appealing to young adults. I will tell you now that there will be an emphasis on healthy cooking and most of the recipes will be vegetarian.

The next few entries will be what I call "back to basics". Discussions about how to read a recipe, how to plan what you're going to eat for the week, how to grocery shop without taking 3 hours or without making you want to stab the hipster blocking the aisle at Whole Foods. We will also discuss why you need to spend money on good knives and why you simply can't have red cups at your parties anymore. (Seriously.) 

What it really comes down to is outlined in my first entry, but for now, I will leave you with this quote from an NYT review of Mark Bittman's book Food Matters:

Of all the challenges confronting the "Food Matters" plan for "responsible eating" -- agribusiness lobbying and marketing, the low price of subsidized junk food, even evolutionary factors that attract us to high-calorie foods -- probably the single most obdurate is the fact that so many contemporary Americans simply don't know how to cook. By "cook," I don't mean being able to concoct an impressive dinner the one night a month you have guests over while otherwise subsisting on nuked Lean Cuisine. Real home cooking means having a good repertoire of reliable, quick, uncomplicated recipes and understanding enough of the underlying principles to improvise when needed. It means knowing how to stock a pantry and plan your menus so that you shop for groceries only once a week. It's a set of skills manifested as an attitude, something you can acquire only through regular practice, and it's the one thing that can make a person truly at ease in a kitchen. (An example of this everyday expertise is Bittman's suggestion that, when determining how long to steam a vegetable, you "try bending or breaking whatever it is you're planning to cook; the more pliable the pieces are, the more quickly they will become tender.")

In short, this is home economics -- although when I was taught that subject in high school, our time was largely wasted on learning how to bake perfect biscuits, a special-occasion food if I ever heard of one. Like writing, driving, touch typing and balancing a checkbook, basic cooking is a life skill (not an art or hobby) that everybody needs, and it ought to be taught in public schools as a matter of course. The fact that cooking can also be a craft, featuring a certain amount of self-expression, or that contemporary star chefs have been exalted to a degree far exceeding their actual cultural worth, shouldn't be allowed to obscure that humbler truth.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

stay tuned...

Oh hi there,

I'm working hard to give this blog a major face lift. I'm not talking about just a little botox. So please stay tuned...I'm probably moving to Wordpress which will hopefully result in MORE POSTS and more photos and a new layout and MORE POSTS.

More to come...

Monday, February 15, 2010


Hi. So's been awhile.

How are you? I've been incredibly busy with work and life and ironically COOKING.

Aren't soups awesome? I love soup. Or should I say, I love to eat soup. Soups are kind of the world's perfect food. I mean they are healthy, comforting, portable, cheap...blah blah. The interesting thing is that I NEVER make my own soup. I have always been more of a TJ's $1.99/can kind of girl. The catch is that TJ's only makes 3 types of vegetarian soups and after eating about 3 cans a week...let's just say I want to throw up when I look at a can of their vegan split pea.

So this is the beginning of an adventure with soups. I bought the above cookbook while shopping with a friend at my favorite little independent book store near my office: Alexander Book Company. She bought her other friend this cookbook as a birthday gift. The book was SO incredible I just had to order another copy for myself as the store only had one in stock. It is so hard to find vegetarian soup recipes! Everything always uses chicken stock and tend to be bland if you just sub veg broth.

I currently have a curried red lentil soup on the stove right now and it smells amazing! Can't wait to chow down...both tonight and tomorrow at work.

On another note, if this soup kick continues I might be able to justify buying one of Le Creuset's gorgeous new dutch ovens in Cassis...

LE SIGH. So beautiful, yet sooooooo expensive.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mt. Talapia...I mean Tamalpais.

hello hello!

This weekend C and I took a "staycation" and did a day-trip up to Marin to hike in Mt. Tamalpais park. It was gorgeous! We brought a nice picnic lunch in our backpack of sourdough bread, cheese, nectarines and a couple of those fiber muffins. I didn't do any cooking this weekend (hence the "staycation") so there aren't any recipes to post. We did check out some new restaurants in the city which were awesome. We went to this great little Italian place in Russian Hill on Friday night. I was very pleased to hear the waitress recommend the exact same meal/wine combo I ordered to the table next to us. I guess I'm getting better at my wine pairings! We also checked out this new French/Japanese fusion place called Swell. The food was AMAZING. We both agreed we had never had such inventive cuisine in our lives. The only catch is that the food is very light so don't go there after a day of hiking looking for a heavy carb-laden meal.

Here are a few photos from our hike:

We happened upon a Greek-style amphitheather. They actually do performances of plays here in the summer...not sure what is playing this season!

A clearing with a giant rock...

There were lots of beautiful redwood trees.

The trail.

The trail ran right along a creek which continued to build up and eventually there were bridges and waterfalls etc. It was amazing!


View from the trail...

A recently fallen redwood...straight into the creek.


After the hike we decided to drive to the top of the mountain. It was quite a drive considering I hadn't driven in months...I almost had a heart attack when a bicyclist passed me on the right flying down the hill at over 30mph.

We were way above the fog-line!