My First Roast Chicken

Who knew cooking a small bird could induce such anxiety? Making my first roast chicken was a little nerve racking and I spent large chunks of last Sunday with my face pressed up against the oven window, but it turned out great and I learned a few things worth sharing.

1. Roasting at 420 degrees for the first 20 minutes makes a nice brown skin
2. All ovens are different, but a 3.5 pound chicken should cook in 45-60 minutes
3.The chicken is done when the skin around the legs becomes taunt and the juices run clear from the cavity. This was crucial to me because my biggest fear was a dry bird.

Living in a Latin neighborhood, I drew inspiration from my environment and mixed up a citrusy marinade made with orange juice, orange zest, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey and Adobo. I threw a couple of garlic cloves in the cavity and a half lemon. Then I sprinkled the skin with too little adobo after I gave it an olive oil rubdown. The peppers I put in the bottom of the pan were too soft and drowned in chicken juice by the time the roasting process was over which leads me to believe that I should double the amount and add something sturdier like potatoes next time.

Give the sauté pans a rest and let the roasting paralysis go because it’s really not the hard.

Musubi: A Sushi Iteration

America is a wonderful place and I have to thank Alex Russel and his guest post for introducing me to an American snack original: musubi. Hawaii is known for mixing and melding multiple cultures to create something that is uniquely Hawaiian and Spam musubi is a crown jewel in this tradition. Made with spam, the ubiquitous canned ham brought to the islands by World War II soldiers, musubi proves to be a hearty snack worthy of the President of the United States. You can take Obama out of Hawaii, but…

but anyway the snack’s Japanese influence comes out in its giant sushi shape and seaweed wrapping. About the size of an average black berry, musubi has the same mobility and convenience as an onigiri. To be honest, had I known of musubi’s existence when I visited Hawaii, I wouldn’t have eaten it because cold canned meat doesn’t appeal, but I’m wondering has anyone out there had one?

Spam (R)- a Guest Post by Alex Russell

What do Puerto Rico and Hawaii have in common? Not only are they tropical-island extensions of our country, but they have an odd fascination with Spam(R). Yes, Spam(R), that can of questionable meat that people glaze by when strolling down supermarket aisles. The one "meat" that rings memories of my dad saying, "your grandfather loves it. That's all they had during the war"....
So, I ask myself, why the fascination? This lead to my personal investigation of a completely un-Alex topic, "low-quality meat". Armed with my Puerto Rican boyfriend, Ilvin, and my good friend from Hawaii of Japanese descent, Lance, I started my investigation with why? YES, WHY SPAM(R)? and why Hawaii and Puerto Rico, where they call Spam(R) and it's variants, Jamonilla.

Being the scientist, I hypothesized that tropical islands may have quite an extensive seafood selection, but perhaps distribution of fresh beef, pork and other so called livestock meats may perhaps have had its limitations. After all, in the past, did ships have adequate refrigeration to transport fresh products from the mainland? Makes sense, doesn't it? Well let's just go with it....

Spam evokes laughter and childhood memories within Ilvin and Lance. Ilvin recalls school outings where everyone had jamonilla and cheez whiz blended sandwiches and competitions amongst mother's recipes were FIERCE. Now that's what I call a double whammy. Canned meat AND cheese? How nutritious for those growing kids! Furthermore, as I understand it, blended jamonilla can also be quite the cracker toppings as hors d’oeuvers for many a social occasions, especially big family get-togethers.

Nevertheless, inspite of the familiar and run-of-the-mill whipped-up Spam creations in Puerto Rico, there does exist the incidental chef who delves into culinary creations with a jamonilla base. Such is the case where renowned Puerto Rican chef , Wilo Benet, revisits his mother's Jamonilla Guidada (stewed Spam(R)) in his book, Puerto Rico True Flavors.

Hawaii, on the other hand, has developed an Asian spin to most Spam(R)-related dishes. The most common and most well-known, as a result of CNN's focus on Obama's favorite childhood snacks is the Spam(R) musubi. A musubi, similar to sushi, is a ball of rice (non-vinegared as in the case of sushi) topped with a slice of Spam(R). In such cases mechanical technique is important, but most households within the 50th state do carry a musubi mold in most kitchens to facilitate preparation.

Nevertheless, as a Spam(R) novice myself, I can suggest and advise on another common asian-inspired Hawaiian Spam(R) dish, Spam(R) Fried Rice. It was only two weeks ago that Lance and I, in one of our drunken 2am munchie crazes decided to pull out my wok, pop open a can of Spam(R) and whip up in no time a masterpiece. See as follows:

6 cups of cooked rice
2 eggs scrambled
1/2 can of SPAM(R) cubed
2 tbs veg. oil
1 tbs butter
2 shallots chopped
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs oyster sauce
1 tbs guilin hot sauce (optional for spiciness)
1/2 tbs sesame oil
Heat the oil and fry the SPAM(R) cubes, when charred, add the shallots and after a couple stirs, add the cooked rice. After well mixing the SPAM(R), you can add the scrambled egg and blend in and allow to cook for a few minutes. To make true hawaiian fried rice, one always adds butter to the cooking rice. Seriously, who doesn't love butter? As a last step, add the sauces, mix well, drizzle the sesame oil and voila. A true SPAM(R) masterpiece.

ENJOY and welcome to unlikely, but enjoyable taste of the Islands!

Rice Spoon: An Alternate Use For Those Who Don’t Have Mixers

Call me jealous because I am. I do not have a mixer. I have neither the counter space nor an extra $300 for one of those beautiful KitchenAid mixers that comes in so many lovely shades. The only good thing about being mixer-less, is that I get to be really self-righteous when it comes recipes that call for mixers, but could easily be done by hand. For those of you who suffer from this same affliction, there is a nice consolation prize.

Living in Japan I baked a lot, but the only big spoon I had in my miniature apartment was my rice scooping spoon. It only took a couple of batches of peanut butter cookies for me to realize that I had found some hidden potential. The spoon is very wide and round, so through some physics I cannot explain, it takes 2/3 less time to blend batter and provides a nice whipped effect. It takes slightly less effort than the average spoon for way above average results.

You can get a rice spoon of your own at your local Asian market for less than a dollar.

One of the recipes I like for this is the Chocoalte Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries recipe a friend passed along from Cook’s Magazine. They suggest using a mixer; I do not. I also leave out the pecans and dry cherries and they are always a big hit.

Changed up Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
1 ¼ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¾ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (chopped fine)
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl mix oats and chocolate. In a third larger bowl, cream your butter then add sugar, egg and vanilla. Add flour and oat mixture to the larger bowl, alternating between the two, beginning with flour and ending with oats. Roll dough into 2” balls and place them on a cookie sheet. Using the palm of your hand smash balls into ¾” rounds. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.
I like these cookies to be large and crisp. For plumper soft cookies, ease up on the smashing and bake 2 or 3 minutes less.

The Winter Tomato

In this month’s issue of bon appétit there was a quick article addressing the tomato-less months of winter. Yeah, there are tomatoes in the store, but if I have another crunchy, tasteless fruit with seeds…yuck. So the article suggests a few pestos and pastes to tide us all over, but I don’t want to smear tomato paste into my salads. Sure, the true gourmand will stick to canned San Marzano’s until after the thaw, but what’s out there for those of us who want to cheat?

Grape tomatoes, while far from prefect in frigid months, have a nice tang reminiscent of sunnier days to come. For $2.49 at the elbows flying roller derby of a Trader Joe’s here in New York’s Union square, I can get an 8oz box that lasts about a week in a half. I put them in salads, quesadillas and even bruschetta. Not bad for 20 degree weather.

Growing Pains: Dealing with Criticism

For about a year, I was holed up in my apartment writing articles I would never allow people to read. I only shared my work in large anonymous or protected forums like writing contests or classes. My work needed to be out there, but I wasn’t ready to stand behind it.

But now it’s time for me to take a step out into public as a writer and I feel like I’m stepping in front of a batting machine. On the first anniversary of my writing career, I am jello soft and unprepared for the inevitable criticism that lies ahead. People are actually reading my blog and I write two regular columns accessible to anyone with internet access. On the web, everything is open for comment and I fear the next snide remark or disagreement with my opinions will break me.

I need some quick advice about building backbone from some of you veterans out there because the balls are flying and I can only bob and weave for so long. To all seasoned writers, bloggers, authors and artists did this happen to you and how did you deal with it?

A Rant from the Heart about Low Sugar Oatmeal

You’ve got to be a scientist to figure out what you’re eating half the time. The other day I pick up a box of Low Sugar Quaker Instant Oatmeal. Woohoo! less sugar. The moment the first glob of cinnamon and spice touched my tongue, a vision of white cancerous lab rats skidded across my mind. I can taste artificial sweetener a mile off and this stuff was oozing with it. I thought I had learned all the warning phrases (Low Calorie, Non-Fat, Sugar Free, Light) Why can’t Low Sugar just mean less sugar? A closer examination of the package revealed the inclusion of sucralose, which looks like sucrose, but is actually Splenda. Googling unearthed the appropriate propaganda that says this stuff is completely harmless, but they forgot to mention that it taste like something one might use to clean bathroom tiles. In conclusion, convenience foods are bear traps littered at our ankles; step lightly my friends…step lightly.

How to Make Popcorn On the Stove and Pop Every Kernel

Remember about a year ago when the whole microwave popcorn=cancer thing broke out? After years of eating a snack that smelled like hot plastic and left a slight tingle on my tongue I came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to put the packets away and return to the old fashioned method. So over this past year I’ve pretty much perfected the process and a recent blog post by famed food writer Michael Rhulman inspired me to share because while his method is good, mine is better.

Start with a lidded pot. I use a small sauce pan for one serving, a medium for two... Put in just enough regular old vegetable oil to cover the bottom with a bit of swiveling and swirling. Add your kernels to the pot, but only put enough to create a single layer. Cover the pot and then, and only then, place it over medium high heat. Now the next part I learned from my microwave popcorn days. Like it says on step #2 on the back of the greasy envelope you need to listen. Once the popping begins stand over the pot ‘cause it will all be over in a few minutes. When it sounds like the popcorn is half popped, reduce to medium heat. When you hear that first kernel breach the lid, turn the heat off completely and wait. It will take around 45 seconds to a minute for the last kernel to pop, so be patient.

I like to melt my butter in the same pan to keep the dish count down and sometimes I add a little Franks hot sauce to spice it up. The rest I leave to you and your tastes.