Monday, December 20, 2010

Mo' Betta with Butta?

As of late, I have really been craving to try out some new recipes; push the limits of what I know how to do and add some tricks to the bag. So last night I thought that I would dabble in some Indian cuisine and try making Murgh Makhani, also know as Butter Chicken. Now there are about a hundred different versions of this dish and how you can prepare it. I choose a recipe that didn't involve a trip to Peshawar and wouldn't take three days to make. (I was short on time, and dinner hits the table at 6pm in our house.)

As usual, I did have to tweak the preparation of it. The original recipe technique for cooking the chicken would have dried it out in my opinion and I also wanted more of a puree of the "gravy" versus a chunky stew that this recipe called for.
I have to say that it was a success, because Ian had fourths and now there's barely any leftovers. I would like to try this dish again, tweaking it a bit more. Alot of the online recipes called for fenugreek, which this recipe did not call for, and garam masala which after an hour in the grocery store with a three year old telling me he needed donuts and pudding, I had no more patience to look for.
So please try it, enjoy it and tweak it as you like!

For Marinated:

800 grams of chicken cut into pieces (preferably boneless)
1 tablespoon slightly sour yogurt
1 tablespoon(s) vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon(s) each of coriander, cumin and red chili powders
1 onion finely chopped
2 teaspoon(s) each of ginger, garlic pastes or finely chopped ginger and garlic
salt to taste

For the Gravy
4 large tomatoes chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh cream
1 teaspoon(s) each of coriander, cumin, red chili and black pepper powders
2 teaspoon(s) each of finely chopped ginger and green chillies
salt and sugar to taste
melted butter, fresh cream and finely chopped cilantro leaves for garnishing

Heat half the butter and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or olive oil on medium-high in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the chicken along with the marinade. Par cook chicken so that the outside is browned, but the interior is still raw. Pull the chicken from the pan and set aside. (Make sure that the dish that you put your chicken in has high sides. You want to retain the juices from the chicken to add to the gravy later.)
There should still be some remaining marinade in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining butter in a saucepan and add the red chili, coriander, cumin and black pepper. Fry for a few seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt and cook uncovered for about 7 minutes till the puree thickens and the fat separates. Pull the mixture off of the heat and carefully pour into a blender. I suggest that you wait a couple of minutes to let the mixture cool. IMPORTANT: Most blenders have a removable plastic cap that can be used to add ingredients to the blender while blending with out having to remove the entire lid. When blending hot items, I suggest removing this cap and using a kitchen towel to cover the opening and slowly pureeing the ingredients as not to splash yourself with hot gravy. After you get a smooth puree, return the gravy to the saucepan. Stir in the cream and reduce the heat to low.
Add the chicken and chicken juices, chopped ginger and green chillies to the simmering gravy. Sprinkle salt to taste if needed. Mix well. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes or till the curry and chicken is thoroughly heated through.
Just before serving pour melted butter over the curry. Garnish with a swirl of fresh cream and finely chopped cilantro leaves. Serve with Jasmine rice and Naan.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Robots and Ravioli

When your doctor puts you on bed rest starting at month 5 of your pregnancy, by the time you get to month 7 you start to go a little crazy. Hormones coupled with wanting to get the hell out of house start to get at you and you start thinking of crazy scenarios, which by the way is driving my husband crazy. So the latest "Girl Interrupted" delusion that I had was, "Does Ian still love me?" I could slap myself for even typing it, but I went there.
So for the past week I have been acting like a damn fool, trying to get a response out of my man that reinforces his passion and love for me after 8 years of being together. I will give you an example...
Crazy Ass Act #102: Dancing in front of Ian, while he's trying to watch TV, wearing my son's Transformers' helmet, half naked and talking sexy through the helmet's microphone so that I sound like Optimus Prime.
My Reasoning: He's a Sci-Fi geek. He's gettin' two great taste that taste great together. Hot wife and super sick Sci-Fi hero.
The Reality: He laughed his ass off, didn't think it was hot and pleaded with me,"N'Gina Saran Kavookjian go sit down somewhere, anywhere and PLEASE take the helmet off!"

Ok ok ok, failed attempt. Now I know that that kind of behavior would only really be tolerated and or appreciated by some dude at Comic Con, or with a man that likes to play W.O.W or Dungeons and Dragons. So I changed my game plan...
Non-Crazy Ass Act #702: Home-made Pumpkin and Butternut Squash Ravioli with Braised Chicken Thigh Meat for dinner.
My Reasoning: The boy likes to eat
The Reality: He loved it. Complimented me a thousand times, gave me the biggest kiss and said," THAT is why I married you!!!"
Eureka!!!! I followed it up the next night with some home-made meatballs and tomato puree on top of spaghetti. Got the same reaction times 10!!!
So ladies when you're feeling low and that your man isn't giving you the attention that you need, or you're friggin crazy like me and he is spoiling you with attention, but all the blood in your body has gone to your growing baby and not your brain...cook him dinner and put lots of love in it. It's alot more practical than dancing around with a robot helmet on your head.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quick Credit

With my pregnant brain in overdrive I forgot to credit the photo from Erin L. from Yelp.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ah Sweet Fried Goodness!

I don't think that I have ever written a restaurant review on this blog. I tend to think that most critics are asses and would rather base my experience off of actually going to the restaurant and making a decision for myself. So I won't call this a review, but a compliment to some people doing a damn good job at cooking the BEST soul food in Sacramento; and when I say the BEST, I do mean it!
So this past Thursday, while hunting for bathroom tile, my husband and I were looking for a place to get something to eat. On the way to the tile store, off of Folsom Blvd, I had noticed a new restaurant called Mama Sue's Kitchen Chicken and Waffles. Out front was a very bored, ghetto fabulous young lady shakin' a sign trying in all her apathy to get people to come inside. I told Ian that we should check it out and got a, "Oh hell yea!" in response.

After slapping Ian for looking at Miss Ghetto Fabulous's ample backside, we walked inside and took a seat. It was clean, roomy, smelled like grandma's house and had the old school jams on the radio. A very personable waitress approached us and gave us menus that we quickly scoured over. They had all the basics that you would expect on a soul food menu. Ian selected the Deep Fried Catfish with Greens and Mac n' Cheese and I ordered the Fried Chicken Breast and Waffle.
Food hit the table not 15 minutes after we ordered, it was steamy hot and the plates were busting over with Southern goodness. We jumped in and started to partake in the ecstasy that was Soul Food. I peeled back the crust on the chicken and immediately knew these people were not playin' around. The key to GREAT fried chicken is to always season the meat as well as your flour. Many places in Sac neglect to do this, so after the crunchy crust falls off your chicken, you're left with bland meat to dig into. At Mama Sue's you could see the seasoning on the meat and I knew that this was going to be good.
I went to take a bite of the chicken and was quickly scolded by Ian that I had to take a bite of everything together with the syrup. Ian likes to remind me that he, in his red beard, freckled, Irish glory is more black than me. So I did as I was told and I think a small tear spilled out of my eye. Vanglorious!!! The chicken was well seasoned and very balanced, the waffle was buttery and fluffy, and the syrup was not over the top sweet. On their own, everything on the plate was great and together they were only better.
Ian's Catfish was delicately breaded and so moist on the inside. The greens were perfectly savory and full of meaty pork bits. Now the Mac n' Cheese was not all that, but I've been spoiled by Esquire Grill's Mac n' Cheese. Once you have a four cheese Mac with a Bechamel base you can never really go back to Mac n' Cheese made with processed powdered cheese substitute.
We surprising ate every last drop. We were full until 7pm that night. We sat there completely satisfied.
I broke off the last piece of fried chicken skin and looked at Ian and said,
"Do you know what this is?"
"This is Chicharones for Black people!"
"You're stupid N'Gina"
We did the full people's laugh, which is like two "huh huh's" and then paid and thanked our waitress.
So if you are hankerin' for some seriously good soul food, you need to go to Mama Sue's. The prices are super reasonable, the food is fabulous, service warm and inviting and did I mention they have all you can eat Fried Chicken on Sunday's! Whaaaaaaaat!

Mama Sue's Soul Food Kitchen
10113 Folsom Boulevard
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
(916) 363-3977

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's My Anniversary...But I'm Not Drinkin' Champagne...But I Wish I Was!

It has been a full year that I have been writing my blog. I tried to think of some really creative post about my year in retrospect, but I've been there and done that in previous posts. So I am re-posting the original post that started it all. It's actually my favorite post that I have written. Thank you to everyone that has read and continues to read my blog. The next year has alot in store, with a new baby on the way, catering business really picking up, and the seeds that we sowed this past year coming to harvest in the upcoming months. Life is good and getting better.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The I Do's and Don'ts

For us at Eight, the fall is the beginning of our wedding season. The weddings that we are catering this season absolutely run the spectrum of style and size. From a traditional big Italian fete to a modern art gallery cocktail party. With my own anniversary this past week, it got me thinking about the things that brides and grooms do right and wrong in the planning of their big day. This will be a short list, but here are my top 3 things that you shouldn't and should do to ensure a memorable and fabulous day.

1. Leave the peanut gallery at home: The average wedding cost between 10K to 30K. That's the cost of a car! It's a big and personal financial commitment. Would you bring your whole family and all your friends to help you buy a house? Then why would you bring them to a cake tasting, dress fitting or food tasting and let them make the decisions? The day is about you and your partner, not about what your best friend, mom, little brother wished they could have at their wedding. PLEEEEEASE couples allow yourselves to make a deep personal decision that is just for you. Not your guest or your family. (Even if they are paying. Because a monetary gift is just that a GIFT! You don't tell people what to do with a gift.)

2. Plan ahead: If you are having a shot gun wedding, more power to you. No really. For those that are not having one, please don't act like you are. Plan, plan, plan. So much goes into planning the big day. Get help and get help early. Find a friend that is in the industry and ask them for advice. They will be able to steer you in a proper, money and time saving direction to help plan out the big day. Friends in the industry will turn you on to insider tips on how to get the most bang for your buck.

3. The entire West Coast doesn't need to be invited: This is the one piece of advice I give out to everybody I know who is getting married. Nobody ever listens and after they get married they always say, "Wow you were right." No shit! Having a rave for a wedding will exhaust you. Unless you are a raver. We had 50 people at our wedding and it felt like a night of 50 unfinished conversations. The guest that you invite took the time to buy you an expensive gift, travel across the country to be there and sit through your ceremony. They deserve more than 30 seconds of, "Thank you for coming." Our rule was if we hadn't had dinner with you in a year, then you weren't invited. Harsh rule, but it kept the numbers low and the cost down. It made it intimate. My sister got married a year ago and she had 500 people at her wedding reception. It was a par-tay, but that many people in a dark warehouse with booming music scared the shit out of my son and after being there for 20 minutes I had to leave. Missing everything about my sister's wedding reception. Very disappointing and not very intimate. Something that she regretted later.

So take the time to figure out what you want and how to get it. Let the conversation be between just the two of you and remember you(hopefully)only get married once. Though you may renew your vows, the next time around some loved ones might not be there to enjoy it, so just do it right the first time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ready for a Change of Seasons

So today was a cool 84 degrees in Sacramento, but throughout the day we had a beautifully cool breeze that made it feel like the beginning of Fall. It got me aching for Fall so badly. Fall has always been a time of restart for me. In younger years, I would usually move around this time, start a new job, begin school. Fall has a smell that is so unique and I caught a glimpse of that today. Wood burning pizza ovens, sweet pipe tobacco, pencil shavings and cool air. Going to Apple Hill with Danielle and Clint Hostetler, new leather boots and of course, the Renaissance Fair....YEAH I USED TO GO...I AIN'T EMBARRASSED...AND I USED TO DRESS UP TOO!

As of late food has been a cold, evil mistress for me, so for this post I will be referring to my favorite Fall drink. Chili Pepper Hot Chocolate. Ah Jesus, Mary, Joseph how I love a good cup of spicy hot chocolate. The only way that I drink it is with a dried red chili cooked into the milk. The heat hits you on the back of the throat in such a lovely subtle way. So when the weather gets a little more chilly in a month or so, I highly suggest making a cup and snuggling up on the couch with a good Law and Order marathon. You know I will be.

Spicy Hot Chocolate
2 cups milk
3 0z dark chocolate or 2 tbsp dark cocoa powder
1-2 dried red chili pepper

In a small saucepan heat milk, but do not bring milk to a boil. Slowly stir milk. Crack the dried red chili pepper into milk and continue to warm milk. If using cocoa powder, add to milk and slowly whisk to incorporate ingredients. If using chocolate bars, pre-melt chocolate. Short cut, melt chocolate in the microwave starting at 30 seconds. Remove and stir chocolate, if not fully melted, place in microwave and at 10second intervals continue to heat and stir until melted. Pour melted chocolate into your desired mug and then slowly incorporate the milk, stirring until all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It Ain't Your Snoopy SnoCones...

This week we are catering the California Fish and Game graduation dinner in Chico. When we were trying to come up with an idea for dessert, we wanted to do something cool and refreshing because cake wasn't going to work. Have you ever been to Chico in the summer? It's hotter than a black cow in a field with no trees. Fish grease is cooler. So we decided on sno-cones! Hells yea! (The sound of me patting myself on the back).
So I decided, after being invited by my friend Nanc to go blackberry picking along Lake Natoma, to do a blackberry vanilla syrup as one of the options. I've got about four more syrup combinations to create and my hope is to try some really crazy flavors that people will be like, "What the...?" But when the eat them they'll be like, "Can you put a nipple on that syrup bottle for me and I'll finish drinking the rest!" So I will update you on how that goes, but for now here is the recipe for the blackberry vanilla sno-cone syrup.

Blackberry Vanilla Sno-Cone Syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups blackberries

Take blackberries and place them in a blender with tablespoon of vanilla. Blend the mixture until berries liquefy. Over a bowl, strain the blackberry mixture so that all you have in the bowl is the juice of the berries. Discard the pulp, then set the juice aside. Add 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar to a pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Make sure you stir as it comes to a boil, and then boil for a minute. Remove the pan from the stove and allow the water and sugar mixture to cool. Stir in the fruit juice. Pour the blackberry vanilla syrup over your snow cone. If you have any left over, store in the plastic containers with a lid and put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for about a week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

To My Cheerleader

Recently a very good friend of mine, Nanc, asked if I had read the July 2nd post on Orangette. She recommended that I take a read of the post and tell her what I thought. I popped over to the blog and took a read and instantly felt like I was reading pages out of my own diary. Lately I have had a major drain of my mojo and inspiration. Must be contagious because my sister spoke of the same ailment taking her over a couple of weeks ago on her own blog.

This whole journey of trying to open a restaurant and secure funds and having very little support emotionally from those that we really want it from has taken such a major drain on my spirit. The commercial development game is a lot like playing "Sorry" and getting your ass bumped back to the beginning over and over again. To the point that in a highly hormonal moment last week I just cried and said, "I don't want to do this anymore. Fuck this!" After my raging pregnancy hormones quelled, I was quite embarrassed that I had even uttered such nonsense. Even still my mojo tank was on empty and ideas on how to reinvent this process to obtain our dream had me at a loss.
In this life I truly believe that there are people placed into your life that will always feed you what you need, even if you may not realize it at that time. That food might be love, discipline, hard reality or inspiration. And after an hour long phone conversation with Nanc the other day I realized that she is my spiritual personal chef. When I walk through door beat up and ready to quit, she always offers up a hot plate of inspiration and positive energy for me to dig my fork into. She's got a great compass that points me into the right direction to pull ideas and get me off my ass. Not saying that I'm lazy, but making your dreams come to fruition is the hardest thing that you can do in this life, because sometime poeple don't understand nor support your passions.
That said, after reading the Orangette post I realized that I don't have to be a slave to always posting recipes, that sometime a great idea can get too big and that downsizing that great idea is not the loss of the original inspiration. And though officially 11 weeks knocked up, I can handle everything that is put in front of me.
So where do we go from here? Well in the next week I will be posting a link to our "Kickstarter" page. Kickstater is a website that allows entrepreneurs to post their ideas for funding. These projects range from art, films, book publishing and even help with starting a bistro. You can pledge a $1 or $1000. So since the banks won't help and the investors want my kidney and our new baby as part of the deal, we are going grassroots and doing it ourselves.
In closing, I wanted to thank every client that has helped our catering business grow, every friend and family member that said we unquestionably believe in you and know that you will reach your goal and a special thank you to Nanc Brennen, you are my soul sister and an invaluable friend in my life. I just hope that I give you back everything that you give to me.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dinner for One

Today is Memorial Day and it has been pretty sucky so far. My husband went boating all day and then off to a BBQ, while I stayed home with the boy and cleaned the house with a pending case of bronchitis. Seriously, I feel like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio from "The Abyss" when she purposely drowned herself and Ed Harris brought her back to life. Lungs full of liquid, burning chest. If that fine ass Ed Harris was here it might make me feel a little better. Lord a Mercy that man was fine! But to digress, with the boys out of the house at the BBQ, I got to do something that I have not done in a long time. I made dinner for myself.
It was fabulous. I made whole wheat rotini with lemon cream sauce, roasted chicken, pancetta and asparagus. Had a big ol' glass of wine (which I'm sure doesn't help the bronchitis) and was able to eat my entire dinner SLOWLY. No getting up five hundred times to get a refill of orange juice, a napkin, a nothin'. It was vanglorious! So I am going to let you enjoy my dinner as well, try it at home and I ask that you sit down by yourself and enjoy dinner for one.

Rotini with Roasted Chicken, Pancetta and Lemon Cream Sauce
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tbsp chopped shallots
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 5 slices pancetta
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1/4 cup sliced yellow onion
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • 2 cups whole wheat rotini
Preheat oven on broil setting. Lay slices of pancetta on a prepared sheet pan. Place pancetta in the oven and cook until crispy. Once crispy, lay pancetta slices on a paper towel and allow them to cool. Once cooled, crumble slices into small pieces and set aside.
Take chicken breast and salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breast. On either a hot pan or cast iron griddle add a little olive oil and sear both sides of the chicken breast. If in a pan add yellow onion, thyme and chicken stock. If on a griddle transfer chicken to a pan and add the previous ingredients. Place a lid on the pan and reduce heat. Roast until chicken is cooked through and then let chicken rest for 5 min before pulling chicken apart. Set shredded chicken aside for later.
Begin boiling water for rotini. Once water comes to a boil add rotini. In a medium sized sauce pan, add olive oil and bring to medium heat. Add shallots and cook until shallots become soft. Add garlic, salt and pepper. Once garlic becomes fragrant add heavy cream and reduce heat to medium/low heat. Slowly incorporate Parmesan and stir until Parmesan is melted into cream. Add butter and zest to sauce. Take a ladle full of pasta water from rotini and add to sauce. This will thicken the sauce.
Drain pasta once al dente and add to sauce along with chicken and asparagus. Cook until the ingredients are coated with sauce. Place in a serving bowl and top with pancetta and more shredded Parmesan.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Universe Trust Fall

So I again I will start this blog with the usual apologies for staying away so long. Sorry! It has been a very demanding month. To say that recent events don't have me scared out of my mind would be a bold lie. My friends tell me that when you take risk you should be scared. But being scared is very uncomfortable for me and talking about it, puts me in a place of vulnerability that I have never been comfortable being in.
In 10 days we close escrow on a building that will be the home of our first restaurant. It's an amazing two story building that will house "Eight American Bistro" on the bottom floor and live/work lofts on the second. The later phase will be a penthouse on the third floor. The whole project will be a "green" project. Over 40% of the build will be with recycled products and the other 60% sustainable products. Everybody that is working on the project is soooo excited. It stands to be a catalyst for "green" urban infill in Sacramento. There is just one little problem. Though we have heavy investor interest to back the project once we own the building we still have not been able to rally all the funding towards the down payment to buy the building.
We had investors that were interested before we went into escrow to fund the entire project and entered into escrow based on initial meetings, but disagreements on the details of the deal led to a parting of ways.
So now here we are with the building of our dreams, and more than 165K short of making those dreams come to fruition. I'm trying to find a more poetic way of saying, "This fuckin' sucks!" But lack of sleep is depriving me of such eloquence at this time. The thing that scares me the most really is not that we may lose this building, it's everyone that is so excited about working on this project. From project contractors and consultants to future chefs and serving staff. This whole thing is bigger than Ian and I having the restaurant that we always wanted, it's the community that we have the opportunity to build. The new jobs that will be created, the shift in the way we construct buildings, how we responsibly tackle urban infill and how we take control of the food we eat and make, to ensure we live healthier longer lives....I'm scared to lose all that. It's bigger than just a fabulous location, though it is an amazing location, it's a year and a half of wanting something better for my community and fearing that it could all be gone because of 165 thousand stupid dollars. It keeps me up at night, it makes me cry in the shower so that no one can see, it has me praying to a God that I haven't had a relationship with in three years. It has me scared.
An advisor told me two months ago that I need to move forward with everything that I am doing to make this dream come true. That there will be times of uncertainty, but I had to trust in the Universe. That sometimes people hesitate to make moves because they feel they might not have all their ducks in a row. He said, "Make moves like you do have all your ducks in a row and the Universe will catch you."
And so far it has.
But I get more scared as we near this deadline and attempts to acquire the rest of the down payment just keep not working out. Maybe this is the part of the journey were I need to turn around, cross my arms over my chest, close my eyes and just fall.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Search for Authenticity

It's terrible that I have neglected the blog for so long. I treat it like a houseplant, hence the reason I don't have any live house plants...BUT I'm back and have so much to write about. This month has been the epitome of CRAZY. I went and saw this psychic in Folsom that said, "the next two months, you are going to be so busy it's going to feel like your life is falling apart." He was NOT joking! I'm so stressed out that for three days in a row I forgot to eat breakfast and lunch. That's busy!
So here is the scoop, we found a building that we want to open our restaurant in and are currently in a counter offer bidding war. We have potential investors, but they are from overseas and we don't know if they are legit, we are getting our backyard transformed into a organic vegetable garden for free and on national television, and this week alone I've been working on five caterings, been on the morning news and started working with my new partner for the launch of our online store at the end of this month! CRAZY!!!
And did I mention that 50% of my friends and family are born in the month of March, so it was like birthday party central up in this biotch for four weeks straight. Plus I had two weddings to attend, one in Sacramento and the other in New Orleans. And with that, it will be a wonderful segue into today's blog.
New Orleans, it's my birthplace, the home of amazing people and I was told even more amazing food. Well they lied! I went to New Orleans with my head in the clouds, expecting remarkable food on every corner. I thought that it would be dreamy and intoxicating, with heavy moss covered Live Oaks lining the streets and the smell of gumbo in the air. Southern hospitality at it's finest. I thought that someone would pass me by on the street and take one look into my hazel eyes and say, "Aww gurl, you is Creole fo' sho" and give me a spontaneous voodoo reading about my past lives in the South and my French ancestry. Jesus, what a wake up call I got.
The last time I was in New Orleans I was two years old. So it was my bad for imagining such a fantasy. The first couple of days were disappointing to say the least. It was no different from the super touristy jook joints that you would find in any city. My search for authentic southern food went unanswered for the entire time that we were there; we took local recommendations, magazines reviews, hotel concierge suggestions. All the restaurants, just one disappointing meal after another. I was heartbroken and hungry.
The best meal that we ended up having, was at a small diner called Clover's in the gay district of the French Quarter. We had just left a bar and we were starving. Through the rain, we ran four blocks down a filthy puddle filled street. Left our Bud Lights at the front door and stepped into gay nirvana. Drenched, we sat at the counter and after 10 minutes, were greeted by a soft bodied, overly pale, mid 40's order taker. After scribbling down our order, he posted the tag behind him on the cooks spindle. Our cook was long, lean and had the straightest hot comb pressed hair I have ever seen on a Black man. He had at least 20 different orders going the entire time. He moved from the fryer to the grill to the cold station with the grace of an ice skater. Lip syncing to "Single Ladies" while perfectly assembling my greasy spoon cheeseburger and talking shit to the slow, soft bodied order taker. "Girl, you better move a little faster! I ain't got time fo' yo' shit tonight!"
I, for the 30 minutes that we were there, was in heaven. Then Beyonce's coworker came around the corner. Eyeliner, size 0 Dereon jeans, and mad jewelry on his wrist. He danced around the diner which was no bigger than my living room, bussing tables and also talking shit to the soft bodied order taker. "If you was sick then WHY did you come to work?!" I told him that it wasn't fair that he, a man, could fit into size 0 Dereon jeans and I, a woman, could not. He snapped his hips back and forth and retorted, "It ain't my fault baby, lose some weight and I'll give you these jeans!" My reply, "Ewwww bitch!" It was all in fun and I tell ya it made the burgers and milkshakes taste even better.
On the plane ride home, my husband and I discussed how disheartening it was that we didn't get that Southern meal that we wanted of New Orleans. In our conversation, we realized that we had had an absolutely wonderful meal. It was at my Aunt Fran's house near Biloxi. We had stopped into Biloxi for two days to visit family and she had hosted a party while we were there. She made her traditional Southern favorites and it was authentic, memorable and satisfying. We had been so stuck on finding real food in a restaurant, that we neglected to realized that "real" Southern food is not available in restaurants, but in the recipes that family pass down from generation to generation. Thank you Aunt Fran, you gave me what I was looking for and now I know that real Southern fare is no further than my own family's cookbook.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And The Winner Is ...

The winner of the Spring Basket from "Mouth Full of Food" is Connie Thompson! Congratulations Connie. Three runners up will recieve mini baskets for their efforts, so congratulations to Abi Robinson, Rachel Wallace and Stacey Ball. Thank you to all that entered, we will have more contests in the future with oppotunities to win excellent culinary prizes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

As I Said, "Above Average, Potential Classic"

Check out this blog write up on a very deserving young, female talent here in Sacramento. I have worked with her before,( post Oct.23 "It WAS Finger Lickin' Good") and she is an amazing chef.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

You Wanna Gnocchi, You Got It

By request I am posting the gnocchi recipe. As I said it's four ingredients. Super simple but, make sure you have a large work surface to prepare the gnocchi on.

  • 2 large potatoes
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of kosher salt
Peel potatoes and chop into large cubes. Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water and bring the water up to a boil. Your potatoes will cook more evenly when placed in cold water and brought up to temperature. Boil until potatoes are cooked through, but still firm. Do not overcook. Drain potatoes and place in a bowl and mash them into a smooth consistency. Let the potatoes cool to room temperature. This allows the majority of the moisture to exit your potatoes . You do not want any excess water in your gnocchi dough. It will also allow you to work the dough with bare hands without burning your tender fingers. Once cooled, in a separate bowl, take one cup of the mashed potatoes and add your flour, egg and salt. Using your hands incorporate all the ingredients together.
On a floured surface, take the gnocchi dough ball and cut into quarters. Working with a quarter at a time, roll the dough into a ball and lay it on the floured work surface. Lightly roll the ball into a long cylindrical shape, like the shape of a snake. Make sure that you have a very even cord. Once you have a cord of dough with even thickness throughout, cut the dough into about 1 inch portions. Set aside on a floured surface. Continue to roll the remaining dough into cords, cutting the dough into the 1 inch dumplings.
After you have finished, take each dumpling and roll them over the back of a fork. This will create little wells that help to hold onto the sauce that you may dress them with after cooking. If you have a gnocchi roller, then go ahead and use it, if not the back of a fork will do. You can also skip this step all together. Often when I am lazy I don't do this last step. They taste the same, rolled or not.
Bring a pot of water to a gentle boil, I like to add a little olive oil to my water. I lightly flour my gnocchi one last time before I add them to the water. Place the gnocchi in the water and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Or until the gnocchi float to the top. Don't crowd your pot with lots of gnocchi, as they will stick together and not cook evenly. Instead work in small batches. Take your cooked gnocchi and dress with whatever your favorite sauce may be. The options are endless, from browned butter to spicy tomato basil. Eat and Enjoy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Non e Facile Guadagnarsi Il Pane

So this post is dedicated to my husband. Lately he has been working really hard so that I can have the time to run our catering business and try to open our restaurant. For about a year, he has let me have the freedom of getting our restaurateur future together and just recently he picked a second job.
Like a Jamaican, he's gone most of the day at work and as the title of his post reads, "It ain't easy bringing home the bacon." So the other night I made a dish that we have not had since before Isaac was born. Gnocchi! I forgot how simple gnocchi is too make. It's 4 ingredients and whammo you have these beautiful little dumplings. Ian assisted me in the kitchen, which again, has been rare since the birth of our son. We used to cook every night together in our tiny apartment that we had on I St. in downtown Sacramento. The apartment was so small that we had no dining room. We used to put the food in one big serving dish and sit on the bed and eat

it out of the bowl together. At the time I felt like we were a couple of poor asses, with no extra room or furniture, but when I think of it, that was romantic dammit! It's so Lady and the Tramp. I miss subtle romance like that. Ian made the pesto for the gnocchi and he went old school too. Instead of just placing all the ingredients in the food processor, he ground everything together with a mortar and pestle. Hats off to you babe! It was really good. The flavors, as he explained, would be more intense and they were. As the dish came together and I got ready to plate the gnocchi I asked him, "Hey, do yo want to eat this old school?" He replied, "Hell ya, let's do it." I took the big bowl of gnocchi and plopped down next to Ian on the couch, and as we tried to watch TV through our son's afro, we enjoyed our dinner. (Side note: It may time to cut that boy's hair.)
With Valentine's Day on the horizon, sometimes the big flashy displays of love aren't the most genuine or satisfying. Regardless of what Zales and The Diamond Store may try to say, sometimes I just need subtle romance and sitting on the couch next to the love of my life, sharing a bowl of gnocchi and watching our son do "The Stanky Leg" dance while blocking the TV is enough for me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

I am hosting my first contest! Yeaaaa. The prize is a handmade "Happy Spring" Basket from me. (I'd call it an Easter Basket, but it's for adults) The basket will include some handmade chocolates and candies, various culinary gifts ranging from cooking tools to pantry items and a small piece of artwork from me. (Didn't know I could draw did ya?) So here is how it works: First you must register as a follower of "Mouth Full of Food" if you are not one already. Next, answer the trivia question below.

What did Smirnoff Vodka promise Americans of alleviating in 1948?

Email your answer to Remember to include your contact info so that I can send your gift basket to you. Those with the correct answer will be entered into a drawing for the culinary gift basket. The winner will be announced on March 6, 2010. Good Luck to all that enter!

Contest Guidelines:
Contest begins Febuary 5, 2010 at 12:00 am PST and ends March 5, 2010 at 11:59 PST, when all entries must be recieved. One entry per person/email address. Contestants must be 21 years of age at time of entry and be legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. No substitutions of prize except from the Sponser, in which a prize of equal or greater value will be substituted.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Top 10

So a while back the Sac Bee had an article about the top items a baker needed to have in their pantry. That got my juices a flowin' the other day when I was making my grocery list about the essentials that I always need in my own pantry. So here are my "Top 10" essentials that I think that every home chef should have in their pantry.

1. Cumin: This is my favorite spice in the whole world. My husband actually banned me from placing additional cumin in our food for 2010. I have to sneak it in our food now. You should have seen his face when I brought home a 1 pound bag that I got at the Mexican grocery store. Oooh he was heated. I put cumin in everything, spaghetti sauce, curry, it's part of my fried chicken spice combo. The smoky earthy flavor that it adds to dishes is incredible. I'd wear it as perfume if I could figure out how to make it.

2. Curry Powder: Now I specifically use Whole Foods Muchi Yellow Curry. I find that alot of curry powders have a overwhelming sweetness to them, that I am not a fan of. I prefer a bit of umami in my curries. I have been using this specific curry powder for over 5 years and it has never done me wrong.

3. Dark and White Chocolate: I only use dark chocolate and if it ain't dark then it's white. Chocolate isn't just for baking, when you take a journey into some of the great Mexican and South American fare, chocolate is used in a lot of the savory dishes. My husband likes to sneak into my stash, so very often I have to hide my chocolate in crazy places that I end forgetting where I put them. It is a staple in my pantry because you never know when you might want to make some Oatmeal, Almond, Dark Chocolate and Flaxseed Cookies or just a Mole for the enchiladas.

4.Chicken Stock: I'm not going to elaborate on this one because this is kind of a gimme. You should always have chicken stock in the pantry and if you don't then you should have the ingredients to make it. I am a big fan of making your own stock and storing it. Every Thanksgiving I make a turkey stock. Taking the entire leftover carcass of the turkey and simmering it down with a mirepoix and herbs for hours.

5. "Good" Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Beans: I would say most people have this item in their pantry, but most don't have good vanilla extract. The typical extracts that are on the shelves are "imitation" vanilla extract and offer a really weak flavor to baked goods. I stress that buying real vanilla extract will make an extreme difference in flavor for your baking needs. As well, I always have vanilla beans in the pantry. I made homemade ice cream for some friends and they complemented me on how it was the best vanilla ice cream they ever had. Well, I chalk that up to the vanilla beans that I scraped into the ice cream. Such an amazing flavor. I love to cook with vanilla whenever I have the opportunity and add it to recipes that don't call for it.

6.Arborio Rice: Now for me this is my "I don't know what to cook for dinner, so we are going to have risotto" go to. Some might feel that risotto is too labor intensive, but for me it's not. Adding hot stock every couple of minutes and letting it do it's thing allows me to have a couple of sips of wine while I talked to Ian or Isaac or pour through a magazine. With multiple ingredient combinations, you can make a great risotto with whatever veggies you have in the frig or garden.

7. Chili Flakes and Peppers: I'm Southern, so I like the heat. Especially in my food. Chilies are another staple that, like cumin, I try to add to everything. I never drink hot cocoa with out it. Try it. Take one dried red chili and crack into simmering milk. Add your dark chocolate pieces or cocoa powder and stir. It is an amazing pop of heat on the back of your throat that just lingers so slightly. Paired with the creaminess of the dark chocolate....don't even get me started.

8. Brown Sugar: Simple staple that most of us have, but again has so many applications outside of baking (from cocktail sauce to Caribbean soups) that I always have a three bags of some form of brown sugar in the pantry. Dark Brown, Golden Brown and the infamous Panocha...for those that speak Spanish this one always makes me laugh. I don't know how they get away with it at the grocery store.

9. Herbs De Provance: This is a new one to my pantry. I am still learning it's many applications. I recently used it in a shrimp stock for a catering and people went nuts over it. So I get braver each time to use it in more and more recipes that I create. When shopping I like to look for jars that have a heavier mix of lavender in them, which tend to be more expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion.

10.Onions and Garlic: In my kitchen there might not be milk, or coffee because of my laziness to go to the store, but there will always be onions. They are universal. Those that cook understand. They are the foundation for 90% of the dishes that I create. It's like salt to pork, onions and garlic to N'Gina.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Belated New Year!!

So I know it's a week late, but Happy New Year. I know you all are at the edge of your seats on baited breathe wondering, "What did N'Gina do for New Year's?" I hate to tell ya and disappoint all that thought I might hit the grid and get "hyphy", break a bottle of Jamesons over a cops head after he scolded me for peeing in the street and then spend the night in the gray bar hotel, but I didn't. Instead I had a very adult evening, sipping on Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey Manhattans at Hawks. Followed by making a curry chicken dinner for my husband and friends. Real quick...we are going to go back to Hawks. I love Hawks...BUT I hate poor service. And that night our bartender was ridiculous. As our group entered the bar I notice three women in the lounge with empty glasses and paid check at the edge of the lounge table they sat at. The bar was completely empty. We strolled up and took seats at the bar and our bartender, 5 minutes later, asked us for our drink order. He started with me, got my order and then slowly made it. He continued to go down the line taking our drink orders one at a time and again, slowly making them. I have watched honey pour out of a jar faster than the way he was making drinks. Questions ran through my head, "Why is he taking one order at a time instead of grabbing all of our orders and making them?" "Why is taking so long to pour my husband's scotch on the' scotch and ice!" And "Why is he making sweat cocktails?" (The last term is what my husband and I refer to someone that is profusely sweating into a beverages that someone will later consume. It started with me putting a chef that I worked with on front street for making "sweat pizzas" and the term has just evolved.)

The bartender was visibly frazzled, and having been a manager of many a restaurant, I looked for reasons why before I started to talk shit. Upon my scan of the restaurant there were no reasons. The dining room floor was slow, the bar was slow. I can only deduce that he heard one of those ads on the radio that go, "Hey are you making $300 a night?...Well if you're not you need to be attending The Bartending College of Sacramento!" He said,"Hell I can be a bartender!" Hey buddy no you can't! Bartending is a underrated skill that, I am sorry my friend, not EVERYBODY can do. When my husband asked him for some bread (because they were not serving appetizers at the bar) he retorted, "I'll have to ask my manager." WHAAAT. For bread? We should have brought our own. My grandma does it and I used to think she was hella crazy for doing so, but I see now that she was just a very sage woman.
Anywho after we left the bar and returned to our home, our friend Clint suggested that we change into PJ's ...what a great idea! They were staying the night and to be in PJ pants instead of high heels just sounded delicious. So we finished our night with a magnum of champagne and wine, my famous curry chicken and alot of laughs.It was one of the best New Year's that I have had in a long time. I told Clint that I would post my curry recipe on my next post, but I just can't. Somethings you have to keep a secret. So I'll just show a picture of it's goodness, and it was good. Since I am not going to post the recipe I will make a promise to anyone that can make it to my house, I will make them my famous chicken curry with all the fixins. Make your reservations now people! Seats are gonna fill up fast. Send me an email or post a comment with a request and I will make you dinner. Happy 2010.