Welcome to the adventures of a Culinary explorer...

Welcome to the adventures of a Culinary explorer...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cooking classes

With high school finished, and college barely a week and a half away, I wanted to set my mind to something so I would still be the holder of my sanity. My friend, Rebecca Stark, and I decided to set out on a summer shopping spree (slash job hunting for her. The two tasks work harmoniously with one another). After rampaging through the first story of the mall, we headed to the next, where we set foot into Williams-Sonoma Grande Cuisine, a.k.a foodie heaven. Ooing and ahhing at every highly priced kitchen-ware appliance, our eyes set on a poster that read, "Free cooking sessions for the passionate. Sign-up to reserve a spot today!" And there you have it. The poster crowned a halo, angels sang, and my summer finally seemed to have direction.   
The first class was about grilling on sticks and skewers. The lady at Sonoma showed off a plethora of grills, rubs, sauces, and skewers. I did end up buying a can of "Spicy Chipotle" rub for grilling some meat back home (actually, the lady at Sonoma was a pretty good sales person. And my brother urged me on tasting the rub, which means me falling in love, and thus obtaining the rub).
Back home, my mother and I went to Publix and got some skinless, boneless chicken thighs. I washed them properly, then prepared the marinade. I took about 6 tablespoons of Danon's plain yogurt and stirred in about 2 tablespoons of of the rub. Then on a sheet of aluminum foil, I kept marinating the chicken and placing them in neat rows for soaking. Here's a trick my mother taught me: with a fork, poke holes on the surface of both sides of the chicken. This way, the marinade soaks in through the meat as well. After all the pieces were marinated, I set them in the refrigerator for about 3-4 hours. Simple, right? 
In this process, I had two chicken thighs left over because I ran out of the marinade. So I sauteed some onions in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, threw in the chicken, and let that crisp. When everything was a golden brown, I topped it all with some BBQ sauce. This was a little snack for my brother and I while we waited for the real deal. 
Let me tell you, when I am on a roll in the kitchen, I am on a roll. I wasn't tired, and I was still a little hungry (yes, small people can eat a lot too). My mother and aunt had gone out shopping, so I thought I'd surprise them with a little brie dish. 
I got a fresh loaf of French bread, cut the middle to make a bread boat of a sort. I then layered the bottom of the bread with brown sugar. After cutting the brie in slices (I like to keep the rind), I covered the cheese in brown sugar as well, and placed the slices in the bread boat. The oven set to 350 degrees broil, spit out a crispy bread base, with sugary brie melted in the middle. I added some walnuts for crunch. Brie, French bread, brown sugar, and walnuts are truly a match made in heaven. The French have so many things right... We all enjoyed the boat bread with some hot tea. 
Soon, dinner time rolled around. Too lazy to grill (Yup, I was tired now), we decided to bake the chicken instead. At 400 degrees, the marinated chicken baked beautifully for about 45 minutes-an hour. I sliced a sweet onion and a couple of tomatoes in fours, and set them on the grill. Dad was back from work just in time for when the house was enveloped in this delicious spicy scent. The grill sent sweet vegetable aromas around the kitchen, and I was awake again. I dressed the chicken with the grilled vegetables, squeezed lemon on top, and voila! Sweet and spicy success. The smoky flavor of the vegetables worked great with the baked chicken.
I saw my family bundled around the TV in our living room, laughing and talking over dinner plates. My vegetarian mother and aunt enjoyed their own late night snacking. I am always amazed at how taste can bring all of us just a little more closer. The mellow lights mixed in with good food, reminded me of why I even cook in the first place. This is my attempt to experience the world, travel a bit with every bite. 
Everybody enjoyed dinner that night.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Truffe au Chocolat

At the end of my senior year in high school (Class of 2010!), my French teacher decided that we have a full blown French cuisine pot-luck party on 19th of May, the day of my birthday. (The picture on the right is a cake bouquet my family surprised me with. Not much relevant to the story but it's so cute!) Incredibly flattered that she’d decided to organize a French party on this day of all days, I grinned and let my classmates make a list of things to cook. Only five minutes later I found out that I had to cook too, something French, and the food would count for part of my final exam grade. Happy Birthday to moi… Eh?

I signed up for “chocolate covered petite madeleines, topped with a layer of nuts”. Sounds extravagant, doesn’t it? What I was planning on doing was running to Publix, grabbing a box of petite madeleine cakes (if you haven’t tried them, try them now. Your life without madeleines is like lemonade without the lemons, skydiving without the parachute, shoe stores without the clearance racks. My point: try them), some pre-made fondue chocolate, and a bag of nuts. The idea was to melt the chocolate on the cakes and just sprinkle chopped nuts on top, then refrigerate. Easy, and also basically cheating because I wouldn’t make the cakes nor the fondue from scratch.

Has it ever happened to you when your guilt takes the form of Gandhi and beats you over the head with a stick? Ok, good, I’m not too different then. And of course you’ve got your mothers who always guilt trip you into taking “the road less travelled by”. After some contemplation, I decided to make home-made chocolate truffles, better known as “Truffe au Chocolat”.

Since I’d never made any form of chocolate at home before, I chose a basic French truffle recipe from http://frenchfood.about.com/od/desserts/r/basictruffles.htm. However, the preparation pictures are my own.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes


• 2/3 cup heavy cream

• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into very small pieces

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1/3 cup premium cocoa


In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Remove from the heat immediately. Add the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract and stir until the mixture – ganache - is completely smooth.

Chill the ganache until it is hard enough to roll into balls. Measuring out a heaping teaspoon, quickly roll the ganache into a ball. Roll the ball in the cocoa powder and chill.

Makes 16 servings.

I doubled this recipe and took truffles as a treat to all of my classes. Result? I had no idea I was living a life without the lemons, parachute, and clearance rack. Truffe au Chocolat turned out wonderfully rich. They’re not like your average Hershey’s bar; instead they explode into a silky wave when bitten. They are best enjoyed when eaten in nibbles. Dark chocolate lovers, like myself, try extra cacao percent in your chocolate. I coated my truffles with French vanilla cocoa powder, there are lots more flavors you can pick from. Nuts, dried fruit, jam, anything that makes your mouth water, can be mixed into the truffle batter.

In case you were wondering, I got a 100 on my French final.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Yoplait Whips, heaven in a cup

Walking down the dairy product aisle, I see golden light. An opera gathers in the back of my head, singing in an angelic tone, “Key Lime Pie, Cherry Chiffon, Peaches 'n Cream, just for you.” I push my cart towards the light and reach for the yogurt cups with tiny halos perched on top. “Raspberry Mousse, too,” my head sings.

The Yoplait Whips have changed the yogurt industry by exceeding in taste, texture, price, and health benefits.

First launched in 2001 with six flavors, current Whips portfolio now offers nine flavors nationally and internationally, including the launch of Vanilla Crème last July.

Apart from the incredible taste and fun airy texture, the yogurts come packed with Vitamin A and D, protein, and calcium. Yoplait combines the two nutrients to bring the only leading yogurt with vitamin D, which our bodies need to absorb calcium. And guess what? They’re cheaper than other yogurts, too.

Yoplait Whips come tagged at a mere cost of fifty cents per cup. They are conveniently sold individually so that we can mix and match flavors, maybe even purchase a different flavor for each day of the week. I pack one for my school lunch every day, and they do not go bad or lose their texture by lunch time.

“We’ve received overall incredibly positive feedback from our consumers,” said Zoe Schwartz, marketing associate for Yoplait Whips. “It’s these comments and value we bring to the consumer that keeps us going and gets us excited about our work every day.”

Makers of Whips have made these yogurts easy to enjoy in a number ways, including as an ice cream from the freezer. Recipes made from the yogurts have emerged to broaden the platter of Yoplait. Try this Key Lime Yogurt Pie recipe from www.yoplait.com. Who knew yogurt could make a full blown dessert?

Key Lime Yogurt Pie

Key lime yogurt, fresh lime peel and juice give a refreshing tangy taste to a cool pie that’s only 170 calories a serving.

Makes: 8 servings

2 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin

4 oz (half 8-oz package) fat-free cream cheese, softened

3 containers (6 oz each) Yoplait® Light Thick & Creamy Key lime pie yogurt

½ cup frozen (thawed) reduced-fat whipped topping

2 teaspoons grated lime peel

1 reduced-fat graham cracker crumb crust (6 oz)

1. In 1-quart saucepan, mix water and lime juice; sprinkle gelatin on lime juice mixture; let stand 1 minute. Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved. Cool slightly, about 2 minutes.

2. In medium bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add yogurt and lime juice mixture; beat on low speed until well blended.

3. Fold in whipped topping and lime peel. Pour into crust. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

For more yogurt recipes, visit www.yoplait.com. Share your experience with Yoplait Yogurts on www.theskilletda.blogspot.com, or email questions/suggestions to theskilletda@yahoo.com.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shahi Paneer Bliss

For my dad's birthday dinner, we made Shahi Paneer-- Indian cottage cheese in a creamy curry. Mom taught me how to make this dish. WARNING: Like many great tasting things, this is a FATTY dish, and very worth it. Enjoy!

-Take two large white onions, peel and boil them in water until they are tender and soft.
-Put them in a blender and mash to make onion paste.
-Warm the pan and melt have a stick of butter. When melted, add the onion paste.
-Stir to avoid burning the onion-butter paste until the paste is brown. Approx. 15 minutes.
-Add one teaspoon of paprika.
-Now for the tomato paste. You can either be lazy and use tomato puree, or take four tomatoes, boil them, and mash, just like the onions. Add the paste/puree. Approx. 6-7 tablespoons.
-Keep stirring. Now add salt to taste, and Shahi Paneer Masala (available at any Indian store). Stir.
-Cut the block of Paneer (also available at any Indian store) into cubes, and add to the sizzling curry.
-Mix carefully trying not to break the cubes. Add a cup of water to the pan and let it simmer.
-When the paneer cubes are well covered with the curry, add about two tablespoons of creme to make a silky curry. Turn off stove before adding creme.
-Garnish with fresh cilantro and devour!

Here's what the dish looked like:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Comfort Food

This morning, I lay in bed till 10:30 am, and woke up from the smell of fresh biscuits and poached eggs. Breakfast came in bed (Indian mothers pamper like none other), followed by freshly squeezed juice. The eggs tasted great, everything did. Something wasn't quite right, not with the food, but with me. I dragged my robe cased body around the house like a zombie, didn't even care for my precious morning tea. Mom and dad left at 11 o'clock soon after to do the regular weekend grocery shopping. I usually go with mom (and get distracted by the bread aisle), but I had absolutely zero motivation. I bopped around the house, scavenging for ways to get my mind off of crappy high school drama. (Dear lovely little chilluns who imagine high school similar to "High School Musical", let me pop your bubbles now. Disney lied.)

I layed on my bed, on the couch, my brother's bed, and nothing seemed to work. My brother, Aakash, cannot hold a conversation if he's on the computer, which occurs most of the time, including now. I closed my eyes with Aakash's computer humming and the clock tick-tocking in the background. The two sounds fused together into a hypnotic chant, and I found myself drifting to the buzzing lullaby. And before you know it, the doorbell breaks the spell. Aakash got the door, and my dad came barging in and commanding for us to get the groceries inside and put away while mom and him ran another errand. Dizzy from half sleep, I staggered to get the bags inside (this was my first purpose of the day).

Bags of grocery are very similar to the little treasure chests in Zelda that play an exciting tune when opened. One by one I opened these bags (Zelda treasure chest music playing in the background) and collected the edible treasure. Cheese buns, chibata, mushrooms, Kashi dishes, banana peppers, cheese, more cheese, tea snacks, cookies, Tusconi, honey almonds, an assortment of yogurts, and oh so much more. (Reader, have you tried the new Yoplait lite flavored yogurts yet? They come in flavors like key lime pie, chocolate mousse, pineapple upside down cake, and many more. I tried my first today--a chocolate mousse. DIVINE. Who knew yogurt could be fluffy, chocolaty, AND have good portions of Vitamins A and D, and protein? Must try.)

For lunch, mom called to ask if I could slice some onions and start sautéing. After putting all the treasures away, Aakash and I got to the onions. The pan hot with melted butter lay agape to be fed. Onions simmering in a pan with butter sing to me. This time they sang, "It's OK Henna, don't worry. We'll always be there for you, golden brown and ever divine." (I guess that'd be somewhat of a rap. You get to figure out the beat.) I stood there with my spatula, stirring the onions around, their fumes intoxicating me with more purpose. "We got you girl, food will never let you down. We love you."
The singing got louder. The bell peppers, tomatoes, cottage cheese, and spices combined to form a plethora of pep talk operas. And before you know it, my family was huddled around the sizzling butter scented kitchen like a pack of hungry, happy bears. Their laughter seemed to fuse together with the food singing in my head. The beat became hypnotic, echoing with only one repetitive chorus.

"We love you."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Christopher's Seafood

Christopher's Seafood, the home of the original Maryland crab cake, opened only a few months ago at the Atlantic and Kernan intersection. This ocean-bay themed restaurant greets all hunger with magnificent food.

The restaurant welcomes customers with a cheerful staff and a relaxing atmosphere. During the day, the lights emit a soothing dim, and tropical music echoes through the walls. The place smells of butter sauce and fresh lemons.

The array of choices on the lunch menu seemed over-whelming, so I accepted the waiter’s recommendation of the Ahi-tuna, and Ahi-tuna it was.

The waiter brought a small loaf of bread with honey butter. The first bite tasted of silky honey, garlic, and a hint of something entirely unidentifiable, yet so good. Kahn Vongdara, Executive Chef, revealed that the batter included special ingredients of sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. The combination— divine.

Ahi-tuna, medium rare, rosy pink on the inside, covered with a layer of sesame seeds, arrived steaming shortly after. Scoops of garlic mashed potatoes, fresh salad, and lemon accompanied the fish. The arrangement of food on the plate promised excellence. The crispy sesame seeds complemented the tuna’s smooth texture.

The great culinary experience convinced me to send compliments to the chef. Chef Vongdara, eager to talk about his new restaurant, joined me at the table and made me his best seller dish, the Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass.

Chef Vongdara said that at age 18, he began dreaming of owning a restaurant. By 21, Vongdara owned his first restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, where he practiced his passion for cooking seafood. He is now owner of several seafood restaurants in the United States, including his latest Christopher's Seafood.

Vongdara named the restaurant and many of the dishes after his son: Christopher Combo Cocktail, Oyster Christopher, and Christopher Special Shrimp Skewered Salad are only a few examples.

The bass came dripping in tomato garlic butter sauce, layered with juicy scallops, and was served with a scoop of mashed potatoes, asparagus, and a cloth-wrapped lemon. The arrangement came alive with a purple flower perched delicately on top.

The butter made the bass melt in the mouth, and the garlic added the lasting umph factor.

At sunset, all the tables in the restaurant were candlelit.

The entrées at Christopher's Seafood range from about $10 to $30. In addition to seafood, the place also specializes in poultry, pork, steak, and dessert. If you are looking for fine dining, generous portions and moderate prices, give this place a try and say The Skillet sent you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finished Julie and Julia

Like I had promised on Xmas day, I would tell about the food books I finish reading from the truck load of a stash I received under the tree.

The night of 18th January, 2010, I finished reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.
The reason I was even interested in picking up the book was because of the movie. I know, I know. Bash me down, book lovers. Movies don't portray the story like a book can, Harry Potter a major example, yada yada yada. But that is exactly why I picked up the book; I wanted to know more, the tiny details the director doesn't feel are worthy enough for the big screen, the personal voice of Julie.
After finishing the book, I was shocked to find that the movie is barely inspired by the book. Julie and Julia the movie may seem like a Cinderella Disney movie with fluff and fantasy and France. Julie and Julia the book is hardcore reality baby. Julie Powell's voice is nothing like what Amy Adams is made to act out. Wild cussing, major (and I mean major) melt-downs, totally out of text anecdotes, Texans, I guess weren't permitted in a 2 hour PG-13 movie.
I remember watching the movie with my brother in the theatre and walking out dazed and warm, giddy with "joy" (yeah Julie, you're not the only one using this word). Julia Child's image was now an enlarged Meryl Streep rather than an enlarged not-an-Oscar-winner old lady. I went home and lay in bed wanting more, wanting to cook and visiting France (well that's been my dream since forever).

With the book, well I had a love and hate relationship with the book. I'd find myself mumbling to Julie Powell to get over her whiney self and snap back into the kitchen. I'd find myself grossed out by her imagery of maggots, cat hair, "goo", and sweat. The anecdotes about her psychotic friends' love lives drove me on the brink of insanity. And I guess that's the trait of a good writer after all, to make the reader feel... well, pretty insane.
I have two different relationships with the book and movie, since they were oh so different. I enjoyed Julia Child's side of the story in the movie which was barely depicted in the book. Julia meeting with her sister, her sister's marriage, Paul's issue with the government, and most importantly, the making of the book by Julia and her two friends, is only shown in the movie. Similarities in the two: You always feel pity for Eric in both, and the essence of it all in the end. The book and the movie made me feel the same way in the last scene, as well as the last page. I dragged the last four pages of the book for a week by reading awfully slow. I didn't want the story to "end". And as Julie Powell would agree, there wasn't an end. The story is living on in my head. I still imagine Julie Powell cooking madly while impersonating Julia Child, cussing her head off, and even finally having a baby girl (I've always imagined them with a baby girl).
I love the movie and book both. I highly recommend them to you. I don't know if Julie is ever going to fall upon this blog (yeah right...), but if you're reading Julie, all I want to say is... Eric is my favorite! Treat him right! Haha and also (watch, I bet you've heard this a baaaaajillion times), you made me believe in my food line all the more. Thank you. =]
For Julie Powell's real blog, visit http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/