Entries from August 26th, 2010

Flippin’ Omelettes

5

26.8.10

Breakfast — how I love thee.  But my bed fools me into loving slumber more.  I hit the snooze button about ten times every morning.  Getting to an office less than a mile from my house by 9 AM shouldn’t be that much of a challenge, but it truly is.

I know I say this fairly frequently, but my life has been hectic lately.  I just started a new job, joined a kickball league, and I’m about to start Arabic classes two nights a week on top of half-marathon training.  Oh, and I’m currently sitting at Reagan National airport awaiting a flight for a quick rendezvous in Bogota.  So naturally, I haven’t had ample time to draw together a good post for this blog.  Not to mention, I’m supposed to start blogging on my office’s international development blog amidst this.  My social life will be reduced to kickball.  Which could be good or bad, I guess.  Anyway, point being, I barely have time to sleep — let alone wake up early enough to really do breakfast right.

This morning was different.  Last night was rough.  Between kickball, packing, and all the excitement that you go through in anticipation that comes with traveling to a part of the world you’ve never been to before, saying that I didn’t get much sleep is an extravagant exaggeration.  And despite, or possibly because of, the fear and anxiety I felt last night at the thought of not waking up in time for my flight, I woke up early.  And I made breakfast with the food in my kitchen that would have rotted in my absence if I didn’t make use of it soon enough.

Omelette flipping is a skill I take pride in.  It’s something that is always fun — my stepmom actually taught me how to flip them after I moved home for a year of college.  Omelettes are actually one of the first things I learned to cook, thanks to her.  So these days, I try to pass on the omelette lessons.  It’s all in the flick of the wrist.  And even when you get good, there’s still probably a 30 percent chance that you’ll end up with a scramble instead.  But when it works, it’s beautiful.
I had this omelette photo stored on my computer from a brunch with my favorite sous chef, Rachel, who frequents my bed after a night of bar hopping or a bottle of wine on my balcony.  She got it on her first try!  I can always trust my Bruin friends to learn quickly.  Most of them, anyway.

WHAT YOU NEED:
For each omelette:
2 eggs
Vegetables and filling of your choice.  My favorites are:
Plum tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes
Onions
Mushrooms
Feta cheese

A good non-stick omelette pan, usually about 7 inches in diameter.  They come pretty cheap; I got one for about ten bucks.

I scramble the eggs in a mug, and set aside.  If you choose to go with onions and mushrooms, toss them in the pan and sauté lightly.  Mix your tomatoes in the mug with the eggs.  Use olive oil or some non-stick spray to grease the pan, and then throw in the eggs and tomatoes.  On a high flame, let the omelette cook until it’s opaque, at which point you should take a small silicone spatula to lift the sides, letting the raw egg slide under the already cooked eggs.  When it seems solid enough, loosen the sides of the omelette with your spatula, and flip.  Don’t be scared; it’s deceptively easy.

Right after you flip it, put your fillings on top.  After about a minute, it should be done cooking.  Slide it onto a plate and serve with a fork on a beautiful balcony :)

What I Can’t Live Without: Za’atar and Haloumi Cheese

5

02.8.10

It has taken me ten months, but I’ve finally stumbled upon a market that carries Haloumi cheese. Yes. Ten. Months.

I’ve written about my slight integration into Arab culture before. It started with the language classes, deepened with friendships, and snowballed into a giant cultural chasm when I was sucked into a Lebanese dance performance and then guilted into designing publications for the Lebanese social events. Yes, I was the honorary Arab. After transferring to UCLA, my Santa Barbara Lebanese club friends would come to Los Angeles to visit every once in a while. They would lie to the members who did not know me, telling them that I was Lebanese. When I told them that their friends were playing jokes on them, they wouldn’t believe me. I’ve been condemned to forever speaking Arabic with a Lebanese accent. That’s what I get for overexposure to Lebanese people.

Even in Washington, I sat down to a dinner with an Egyptian non-profit worker. We exchanged a few words. And then she asked me what part of Lebanon I learned Arabic in. Years later, I try to integrate myself into a generic form of Arabic culture – and I find that I’m once again Lebanese. Maybe I always was Lebanese and always will be; I’ll never really know.  I guess I’m just racially ambiguous.

Anyway, two of my favorite parts of Arab food are Haloumi cheese and za’atar. Za’atar. I can’t quite explain the correct pronunciation with English letters – it uses the sexy, emphatic, back-of-the-throat “short A,” which is essentially a mix between the American short vowel “a” and long vowel “a.” Zaaa’tar.

Za’atar itself is actually an herb on its own, without any real translation into English. Some people think it is what we know as thyme or oregano, but some basic research proved its independence from both. It’s a shrub plant, similar to oregano, with little fuzzy leaves, which grows naturally in parts of Israel and throughout the Arab Levant. It’s actually illegal to pick za’atar in Israel, to avoid overharvesting the herb. The fine for picking za’atar is the equivalent to $135. Naturally, it’s difficult to find the legitimate form of the za’atar plant here in the US. So we make do. We Google za’atar, we call our Arab friends, who call their mothers and grandmothers, and we learn that every Arab grandmother has her own version of za’atar, that is most likely a family secret. But we make do. And we make our own. In this case, I made the half-Irish-half-Filipino version of a traditional Arab spice mixture. And it has no influence from the Irish side or the Filipino side, but since every family has their own version of za’atar, this is mine.

Za’atar is an amazingly versatile spice to keep in your kitchen. Toss it in a salad, dress a chicken with it, or mix it with olive oil to dip any type of bread in. It will have your guests drooling, and asking for more. More often than not, I end up sending my deprived friends home with a jar of my spice mixture.

Haloumi cheese in itself was impossible to find, until a week or so ago. I’ve been to so many specialty stores in the Washington area, and no one carried it. Until the new Safeway reopened in Georgetown. And there, the heavens broke through the clouds, shining light on my little (expensive) box of that unbelievably salty cheese that brings me back to Isla Vista brunches. This cheese — this orgasmic, heavenly cheese – can be eaten cold, or grilled. Yes, grilled. I like to slice it up, and throw it on one of my nonstick frying pans until the edges crisp into a nice, golden brown. You know it’s perfect when you bite into a slice and the outside is perfectly crisp and sizzling hot, while the inside is not as hot and soft, almost to the point of gooey. As my friend at The Spinning Plate would say: it’s “better than sex… maybe.”  But let’s be honest. There’s an end point to sex. I could literally eat Haloumi cheese nonstop, for the rest of my life. Until I died of salt intake and high cholesterol as a result of eating too much cheese.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup ground sumac
4 tablespoons thyme
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons marjoram
4 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

If the sesame seeds are raw and not toasted, heat a dry, non-stick pan over your stove.  Pour the seeds into the pan, and use your wrist to shake and shift them over the heat, until they are all a golden brown — you’ll know when they’re ready by the aroma.  Sesame is one of the strongest flavors out there.

Once cooled, toss the seeds into your food processor and pulse grind a couple of times, just to get some different sizes and textures in there.  Then, add the remaining ingredients and pulse grind again, until evenly mixed.

Blueberry Muffins

5

02.8.10

Hello, world. It’s been a while, for which I apologize. Life has been hot, humid, and busy. I’m leaving my job at the federal government! It has occupied almost a year of my life, and the vast majority of my post-undergraduate career. And I’m moving into the non-profit sector, for an international development organization that I am very excited to be a part of. Plus, I mentioned this blog in my first interview, and then received some good reviews in my second interview. Working with foodies is becoming a priority in my life; I can sense it. Anyway, between my running schedule and frantically tying loose ends at my government job, cooking has fallen short of blogging. Of course I have been cooking – I just haven’t had the time to photograph and consciously think about the recipes that would benefit you all as the sous chefs you will all become at some point in your lifes. Rather, I have my friends over for dinners in my microscopic kitchen, and I give them lessons on how to properly chop onions, or how to brown chicken, and we all come up with get-rich-quick schemes to market my love of food. And then I decide against it, because I’m terrified of turning my passion into work and money. My entire life, the people I love have cooked for me, and taught me to cook for myself. I could only return the favor by cooking for those I love, and teaching them to cook for themselves. It’s only fair, and it’s one of the many things I love to do.

I know the focus of this blog was originally intended for sweet, confectionary foods, but let’s be honest. Who wants to turn their oven on in this heinous Mid-Atlantic heat/humidity wave? Not this blogger. No, sir. Not me. But my colleagues at work and my friends have been pestering me for an update. I’m sorry – it has been too hot to cook. I have literally lived off of raw vegetables for the past month or so. I’m very happy for that, since it is literally too hot to run. Until this past weekend. Well, it was still to hot to run this weekend, but I started my new half marathon training session this morning – let’s see how long it will take to get used to waking up at 6:30 to run and shower before work! I’ll keep you guys updated.

Anyway, I spent this morning running around the National Mall to jump start my metabolism from all of the blueberry muffins I ate yesterday. It was Sunday, and we had blueberries galore, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of making blueberry muffins. It’s such a family-like food to me, since my mom made them on the weekends when I was a little girl. The boxed mixes, of course. Now, I’m definitely not the person who condemns boxed mixes of any sort. I actually started cooking with them through college, because it was so easy. And then I added to them, and messed around with the ingredients, and then I reached an epiphany: boxed mixes are expensive. So I advise you to do this, if you are looking to cut back on your food spending. When baking, keep your kitchen stocked with flour, sugar, baking powder, and butter. Most baking recipes include some variation in the measurements of those ingredients. I don’t remember the last time I spent three bucks on mediocre muffin mix.

WHAT YOU NEED:

2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 to 3 cups fresh blueberries

WHAT TO DO:

First, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.  Then, in a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter together with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Then, add the eggs and milk, mixing until smooth.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture until the batter is lava-like and thick.  Fold in the blueberries.  Divide into baking cups in a muffin pan — it should make about twelve.  Then, bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

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