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Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

Friday, July 24, 2020

Peppery Skirt Steak with Asparagus

What's better than a photobombing cat? 


This is an incredibly easy way to prepare skirt steak. It takes a hair of planning, but so long as you get this meat in the marinade in the morning, you can grill by the evening.

Skirt Steak with Asparagus and Green Beans

  • 2 lb skirt steak
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp ground chili flakes
  • 1 tsp dried mint, crushed - or about 8 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
  • Kosher salt
  • Peppercorn mix: white, green, and black peppercorns, ground in the pepper mill
  • 1 lemon
  • Plenty of green beans
  • Asparagus
  • A few cippolini onions or some elephant garlic
  • Coconut Rice, for serving (my recommendation)
Start in the morning or the night before with your skirt steak. If you get your meat from a local provider, it will likely be in a long strip. Cut this in large pieces that can easily fit in a bowl, about five or six inches long, but don't slice into strips. You'll do this after it's cooked!

This recipe is about balancing flavors. This is not a new principle, as learning to balance flavors is part of becoming a great cook. Zest the lemon(fruity and fragrant) and add this to the olive oil(also fruity and mildly astringent), chili flakes(hot), and mint(cool-hot). You may notice that we're missing sweet. You can add a pinch of sugar or honey if you like, but I don't think it's necessary, as I served this with coconut rice which is a little sweet from the fattiness of the coconut milk. You'll also notice that we've left out bitter - this is because the vegetables we add are just a touch bitter.

Add your steaks to this olive oil mixture and season heavily with kosher salt and PLENTY of grinds of your peppercorn mix. A quick lesson on peppercorns:

You can head here for some more information
Peppercorns are berries from a flowering vine that are harvested and dried. They come in pink, green, black, and red, naturally. You get white peppercorns by soaking ripe pepper berries in water for about 10 days so they ferment, and then you dry them out. This is a similar process to processing cocoa beans to make them into proper nibs - this is quite exciting if you ask me! 

Your steak should marinate for at least 4 hours, to let the salt and fat do their work. Skirt steak comes from the 'plate' primal of the cow, which means that it's lean and full of rough muscle! It's nice to do low-and-slow, so if you have a sous vide machine at home, I highly recommend giving this a try! The trouble with it is that it's quite lean so therefore the low-and-slow cook method doesn't exactly do well since there's not a lot of fat there. This is why you must add some fat. 

You can grill this outside on an open flame, but the day I made this was incredibly stormy, so I opted to use my cast-iron griddle, that's happily parked on the two left burners of my gas stove. I love cast iron because it's virtually indestructible once you get it seasoned properly and care for it. I believe in buying things mindfully and investing in them, and I hope you'll give this train of thought a bit of consideration, too. 

Green beans are so prolific when grown en masse. It's an easy thing to grow - so please think about donating some if you grow too much!
Now it's time to think about our Victory Garden spoils! I've got quite a bit of them at this point, and I hope you do as well. This recipe includes green beans and asparagus because:

A.) I have a lot of both.
B.) They work with beef quite nicely.
C.) They are best when cooked quickly.

When you are ready to eat, remove your marinated steak from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature for about 20 minutes. Take your green beans and asparagus and prepare them. For the asparagus, cut off the hard woody root and chop into 2.5" pieces. Do the same for the green beans. If you have either cippolini onions or elephant garlic to add, slice them just as thin as you can manage to do so. Juice the lemon you had from earlier, and toss your vegetable mix with it, along with some more olive oil, salt, and pepper. Set this aside. 

Heat your griddle to high and brush with oil. Get this quite hot and turn on your vent, or open a window. It's going to get smoky! Sear your steaks on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side, and set them on a plate to rest. Don't you dare scrape off that delicious goodness that the steak left on the griddle! Instead, dump your chopped vegetables onto it and scrape it around as it cooks. Your veggies should be cooked fully within five minutes, and you'll have a delicious sear on them, along with all the flavor of the steak. When it's done cooking, you can remove from the griddle and set aside in a bowl. 

Turn off your griddle and pour some salt on it. Push the salt around with a little oil and a paper towel to clean it. Doing this immediately after cooking shows good habits and respect for your tools, so you may as well just go ahead and do it now. 

To serve, slice your now-rested steaks against the grain and toss with your sauteed vegetables. Serve on a nice big communal plate with coconut rice on the side and enjoy taking great photos before consuming! 

I love this recipe because it's easy to do, and utilizes what you (or, at least, I) have. It's a quick and simple recipe that takes minimal prep and doesn't skimp on the flavor profile. When it comes to good beef, you should show it respect and keep it relatively simple. There are many farmers that are willing to ship directly to you nowadays, and I highly recommend that you do some research and see who will ship to you and your area. The farmer is hurting just as much as the restaurant worker in this troubled time, so let's put our heads together and make sure we're putting our dollars in the right place. 

About half of the corn grown in the US is for animal feed; this is combined with a LOT of other goodies to make proper food for these cows that are both nutritious and delicious.
I've visited my fair share of beef farms in my day, and I can tell you this: they're actually quite a bit like you would hope to imagine them to be. What's better, out in Western Kansas, I've seen a good portion of beef farms double as wind farms; it's quite a sight to behold! Remember, the farmers in America don't often clear land through deforestation practices. Most of the farmers will buy and use land that's already rolling and hilly and difficult to cultivate, so they can just stick some animals on it and call it good. Quite ingenious, don't you think?

Through most of a beef steer's life, it's roaming around on a family farm, until it goes to a finishing yard where it basically gets to hang out in a smaller yard while it eats as much corn and grass and whatnot as it wants, until finally coming to a beef processing plant. Most of these animals, as far as I've seen, are treated well. Peace of mind is one of the many reasons that it's important to know where your beef comes from. An overwhelming 97% of all farms in America are family-owned, so you can at least feel decently good about consuming beef every so often. 

Remember, it's progress, not perfection! Switch to a locally-sourced protein versus the kind you get in the grocery store, which may come from out-of-state. Get a sampler box from a local farmer. Plant a garden. We don't need you to be pulling out your hair from the stressful attempt at doing everything perfectly. We just need everyone doing a few small good things collectively that'll push us in the right direction. Lead by example, and Godspeed! I assure you, it's going to be a load of fun. 

Enjoy that steak!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Veggie Frittata

Is the struggle real? It doesn't have to be. 
Keeping my promise, here's the recipe for the frittata, before the anecdote.

Here's how I made mine, enough for 2-4 people

Frittata

  • 5 large eggs from a local farmer
    • They're going for $4/dozen out here, but trust me, they're worth it
  • A heaping spoonful of mayonnaise
    • Use a soup spoon 
  • 1 tsp horseradish, ground
    • You can get these at most grocery stores that have a Jewish section
  • Half of a red bell pepper, left over from some other dish, diced fine
  • 3 scallions, sliced fine, all the way up to the greens
  • A good handful of diced up cheese
    • I used a vegan parmesan that I love - but you use whatever you have around
  • 1 Tbsp butter (or vegan solid fat) plus 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
    • Pro-tip: mix it up with your peppercorns! Use half black peppercorns and half sichuan peppercorns in your pepper mill. Trust me, you'll thank me later
  • Any fresh herbs you've manager to procure
    • I have a sage plant in the garden that I snagged a few leaves off of
Preheat your oven to 400. Yes, preheat. This is very important to the dish that it goes in to a hot oven, otherwise your frittata won't be right. Heat is a factor for maximum fluffiness, which is exactly what you want. 

Invest in some good metal chopsticks - especially good for cooking and carrying around with you to eat with! Seriously, you want to avoid using single-use plasticware as much as possible anyhow.

Beat your eggs using a pair of chopsticks. Add your mayo, horseradish, and season with salt and pepper. Dice and slice your veggies, cheese, and whatever else you've decided to put in there. Think of your dish as a song that you're writing, and make decisions as to where things should go. Would you stick an oboe next to an electric guitar? You might, but what would the point be? The idea of the frittata is to use what leftover veggie scraps you have lying around and to transform it into something great. Make good decisions, especially when considering the size of your knife cuts. Everything should be the same size, so that way it all cooks evenly.

Speaking of knife cuts, have you ever done a chiffonade of fresh herbs? It's easy! Just take flat-leaf herbs, such as basil, mint, or sage, stack them up atop one another and roll them, as if you were rolling a cigar. Slice across as thin as you can, et voila! There we have a beautiful chiffonade, ready for garnish. 

Fresh herbs are cheap, but growing your own is cheaper. Use an egg carton to grow some in your kitchen window!

If you do buy herbs, however, keep them in the fridge standing in a tall glass of water, like you would keep flowers in a vase. They'll last for days and days longer!

Heat your butter and oil in a nonstick or cast iron pan until sizzling hot. Add your veggies and season heavily. Cook these on a high heat until soft and the color has just dimmed, about 1 minute or so, and add your egg. Use a spatula to stir in the middle, just so, and scrape once around the edge. The idea is to equally distribute the veggies, but quickly. Turn off your flame and add the cheese all around. Pop in your very hot oven and cook for 15 minutes. 

Once it's all done, run your spatula around once again to loosen it and it should slight right on to your cutting board. Cut into wedges, garnish with herbs and the scallion greens, and serve with some toast. Want to know how to make your own bread from scratch? I've written a few pieces on it here.

Don't let your stale bread go to waste, either! Chop it up, douse it with olive oil, and roast them at 300 degrees F to make croutons, which are wonderfully shelf-stable.
I love a good frittata because it's a perfect meal for a family on a budget that's been stuck inside during a global pandemic and that need to make every scrap of everything last. You can put just about anything in a frittata and have it still come out. The biggest factor you should consider is moisture - as in, please control how much you put in. 

I wouldn't use a big heaping spoonful of marinara in my frittata, nor would I put dry pasta. I might, however, put in the last few bites of lo mein from my takeout, or some taco meat and veggies. The only thing I have to do is to saute it first until I'm sure that there's at least not sopping moisture in the item. You can put cheese, veggies, meats and fish into a frittata so long as you keep ratios right.

The best part about this dish is that you can very easily save it for later, as it reheats well enough. In fact, you can chop up a leftover frittata, fry it quickly in some oil or butter, and serve it as a warm crouton in a garden salad. May I suggest a raspberry vinaigrette? If you don't have any vinaigrette, but have some last bits of jam in a near-empty jam jar, simply dump in some vinegar and oil in a 1:3 ratio and shake briskly. Yes, straight in the jar! You have an instant vinaigrette that's fancy and will save for later.

I hope you're all keeping your spirits up and staying strong during this global pandemic. What you can do now, since many of you are likely working from home or gainfully unemployed is find some good side hustles. You can also use this time to write or call your representatives for your local government and tell them exactly how you think they're handling this health crisis in your area. There's also a wonderful app and website called NextDoor, and if you feel like helping, they have a feature where you can tag your home - in your own neighborhood - to help out your elderly neighbors. 

The world is watching us. It'd be a very classy move if we used our spare time to show each other that community is a priority and that we are going to be there for each other in times of crisis. I'd also like to remind you to please not hoard things, especially for your elderly neighbors that may not be able to get to the grocery store. Old people need things like toilet paper and soap as well.

Is there something you'd like to see covered? Do you want help live for a certain something you're just not sure of in the pantry? Is your cupboard looking like an episode of "Chopped"? DM me on Instagram! I do 5 mins for $5, which is all I need from you to help get your a meal going. I do live chats, facetime, etc., any way you need help for your problem, right now.

Thanks so much for spending some time with me. Make sure you get outside and walk around your block at least once per day. Remember that exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Let's not let this disease ruin us. 

Happy cooking and happy eating. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Wedding Soup - Vegan Pumpkin Curry Soup


Hey all!

Wow, oh wow, what a crazy last couple of months it's been. For those of you that are not following me on Instagram or Facebook (though you should be, it's updated daily, unlike this), I should give you this update: I just got married.


That's right! B and I tied the knot at long last and are now continuing our life together as husband and wife. But hey, you didn't come here for that, did you? You came for the delicious wedding soup recipe! Why wouldn't you want to know why a vegan pumpkin curry soup is called 'wedding' soup? Well, let me tell you...

We got married on October 21st at a glorious little venue, surrounded by friends, family, and the most glorious floral arrangements you could imagine. A part of our aesthetic were these beautiful Jarrahdale pumpkins, that are a ghostly greenish-gray. They are spooky and autumnal without being kitschy, and that's just what I wanted for my enchanting wedding. We had, of course, lots of pumpkins left over so I told my guests to take them home, as many as they wanted...so long as I got first pick.

B and I honeymooned in the Grand Canyon and came back to a mess of a house - but hey, that's how we left it. And the pumpkins? Why, they were perfectly happy to be right there in the garage. It's cool and dry down there, and the perfect place to store produce. A pumpkin will keep for months in the right conditions, so they really are an excellent crop to have growing in your garden.  Do I plan on growing these in my garden from now on? You'd better believe it. It's not every day you get to designate yourself your own wedding pumpkin, now is it?

This recipe was made a bit on the fly, so I just copied down what I did, as I did it. You must remember that a pumpkin is a living creature, so each one will taste a little different than the last. Some may be firmer, some may have more water - just remember to follow your own instincts and taste as you go, changing as you need and as you like ... just like in life! And just like in marriage! Oh, and like in marriage (or in any long term relationship you get yourself into), patience is required. This recipe takes two days!

Wedding Soup
yields quite a lot, serves 8 - 10 


  • 1 medium Jarrahdale pumpkin, roasted (see following)
  • 6 Tbsp vegan butter substitute or canola oil, divided
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped (never mind the peel)
  • 5 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small habanero pepper, minced (wear gloves, if you please!)
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 Tbsp hot curry powder
  • 2 Tbsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground mint
  • 2 Tbsp white miso
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Vegan sour cream, to serve

First thing's first - let's get that pumpkin roasting. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F and cut your pumpkin in half. Be careful because it's a rather thick pumpkin with a smooth skin. Take your time and cut it in half safely. Scoop out all the seeds and cut deep scores on the insides. Rub the insides of the pumpkin with either oil or your favorite vegan butter substitute, and don't be stingy with it. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 2 hours, or until the pumpkin is very soft indeed. In the meantime, prep all of your vegetables and wash and rinse the pulp to harvest your seeds. It won't matter what size you chop your vegetables to, so long as they're all the same size, as you're going to be pureeing all of this anyway. 

And, yes, I did label the jar "wedding seeds" in the cupboard. #JustWitchyThings
My pumpkin yielded a whole jar full, once rinsed and let dry! You can save them in an airtight container in a dark place, of course, for your garden next spring, or you can cook them. Roasted pumpkin seeds can be excellent snacks, and you can cook them into a lovely candy brittle, if you so choose. I'm saving mine for the garden, so I'll be keeping them in my cupboard until spring. 

Once it's roasted and very soft, I advise you to let it cool overnight in the fridge. This will make everything much easier and a bit safer to handle in the fridge. Besides, I only used half of the roasted pumpkin for my soup! It was too much for my Dutch oven to handle all of the pumpkin, so I took the other half and pureed it instead, and then popped it in the freezer for later use...probably to make pies or cakes later in the year as the holidays go!

Now that it's the next day, ideally early in the morning, and your pumpkin half is cool enough to be handled and scraped out, take all of the vegetables that you've already chopped and sweat them in 2 Tbsp of your favorite vegan butter substitute, with the lid on, until rather soft and aromatic, which should take 15 minutes on medium heat. Add in your scraped out pumpkin, two cans of full-fat coconut milk, and your 2 cups of vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes on low. It's at this point that you stir in your spices and miso, and then turn off the heat. Let it sit, covered, for 20 minutes, before you remove the cover, stir again, and then pop in your fridge to let cool all day (ideally overnight). But what the heck are you doing this for?

Well! 

Pumpkin has a delicate flavor, so you don't want to cook it for too long - after all, you've already roasted it - and the spices don't want to be murdered in the heat, but slowly allowed to seep in and dance with the other flavors that you're developing. Think of a tea! You're making a cold-brew soup. Right? Right!

When you come home from work  - either that same day or the next day - you're ready to finish the soup. Simply bring it up to a boil again, taste for salt and seasonings, add more or less miso depending on if it's too spicy for you, and then turn off the heat. Take out your vitamix (or whatever blender you have) and blend in batches. And dear GODS above, please start on the lowest setting possible. This is an absolute crucial thing to do when dealing with hot liquids, so please do be safe. 

You're blending the soup in batches, going from lowest to highest, blending for at least 1 minute per batch, to ensure that this is the smoothest and creamiest soup you ever did sup. Pop in a clean and warm serving kettle and retire your dutch oven to the sink, and serve tableside. You may finish with some tofu sour cream and some mint, if you like, or just have it with a grilled cheese (made from vegan cheeses, of course).  



I made enough for dinner for 8 people, so I gave some to our neighbors across the street - one of which is the fabulous @Mia Mercado, the author of "An Ode to Soup" (so you know I had to give her and her husband some). We froze some, as well, and are keeping the rest for lunch during the week.

This soup is a fabulous concoction, so smooth and creamy that you'd never know it was vegan. I encourage you to give this pumpkin soup a shot during fall, a.k.a. Soup Season. Thanks so much for reading, and wish me luck on married life! May your own love life leave you so satisfied with the taste of it that you end up scraping the dish. 


Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Easy Potato Latkes

You can practically hear the sizzle, can't you?
I go to the Brookside farmer's market every Saturday during market season and always get produce from my favorite vendors is Urbavore Urban Farms, run by Brooke Salvaggio, who has become a friend. In the early seasons she has plants as well as produce, but she always has something that I want to buy, usually the eggs from the heritage breed chickens. That being said, I'm a big fan of the later season, when potatoes come up.

While only 200 different varieties of the noble potato grows in Northern America(yes, I did say 'only'), over 4,000 different varieties grow in Bolivia. Potatoes, like tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados, coffee, and chocolate, are an American crop. Why? Because they originate in South/Central America!

Image result for hot tea
This tea is BOMB
Yes, yes, you hear about the miracle crop being tied to Ireland all the time, but a little digging in the world of culinary anthropology will tell you that potatoes originate right here in the Americas. Pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, coffee, and chocolate - yes, chocolate, are categorized under all-American treats. In fact, the only reason that Italy has tomatoes, and therefore marinara sauce, is because of its expeditions to the Americas.

I'm sure that there are some among us that would like to believe that America itself was cultivated from all over the world, but the truth is that they had their own culture and unique biodiversity before Europeans came to colonize and spread syphilis and smallpox and introduce slave labor to the indigenous peoples. But I digress, this blog is not about tea.

This is about potatoes, and specifically the brand/breed of potato called purple viking. Yes, potatoes have different breeds. We've established this, please keep up.

It kind of looks like a dinosaur egg, don't you think?
This is a purple viking potato. It can grow to be nice and large, and has a creamy white flesh. I love the color, of course, and am always a big fan of unusual things. Did you know that the best way to  be healthy is to have a diverse diet? This doesn't always mean entirely different things every day - sometimes it's just trying a different variety of a vegetable/root you already love! Do you love orange carrots? Try white ones, roasted. Try purple ones, steamed. Eat the entire rainbow without every changing around.

Generally, potatoes can be set into two categories: starchy and waxy. A starchy potato, such as a classic Idaho/baking potato, will have a thick skin and will go a sort of pinkish brown if peeled and left out. They're high in starch but quite low in moisture, and are rather fluffy when cooked.

The starchy potatoes are considered to be the best for making french fries and - by some schools - mashed potatoes. The trouble, though, is that from starch comes glue if over-agitated, which is why sometimes your mashed potatoes might go gloopy if you stir them too much. The skin on said starchy potatoes, as well, are best for doing twice-baked potatoes and, in general, being vessels for other things. They don't exactly hold their shape well, however, so it's best if you do not use them for gratins, casseroles, or potato salads. For some reason, however, they're considered to be a classic for latkes by many.

The waxy potato is it's thinned-skined brethren, which are very low in starch and generally hold their shape quite well when cooked. When it comes to nearly every application, I'll take a waxy over a starchy any day of the week. I think that they're much more versatile, and I can whip the ever-living bejeezus out of them when making mashed potatoes and they won't go gloopy unless I screw something up. They're suitable in gratins, fries, and - of course - latkes.

See? CREAMY white flesh!
There are many schools of thought when it comes to these classic Ashkenazi potato fritter, and some will swear that a starchy potato is the best. I assume that this is because it's the tradition, but I find that this isn't true.

When you grate the potatoes, you must soak and rinse them to get rid of as much starch as possible, otherwise the latke will go gloopy. Now, why in the world would I start with an already-starchy product that might not hold its shape so well were I to use a not-so-starchy product in its stead? I tell you, dear reader, that I wouldn't, especially because the purple viking potato only needs one good rinse to get rid of the starch versus the four or five that your standard Russett or Idaho might need.

Many say you can grate in lots of other flavors into the potato - and you can! You can grate in half an onion, some garlic, plenty of herbs, and more. This is your latke and you can decide what to do with it. Yes, it was created by the Ashkenazi peoples (or so I'm told) but everybody can agree that these are delicious and that deep-fried potatoes can and should be for everyone. I like to use a 2:1 ratio if I'm adding in white onion to the fritter. Say, I do two large purple viking potatoes and one medium white onion with just a touch of salt and pepper - delicious! But this is the basic recipe, so just do what you like after you've tried this one.

Nowadays, you would mostly eat this around Hanukkah and serve it with apple sauce and/or sour cream. I like them with breakfast, any day of the week. Sue me.

Easy Latkes
yields 6 fritters
  • 1 large Purple Viking potato
  • 1 egg
  • A touch of salt
  • Neutral oil to fry in, such as canola or grapeseed 
Grate the potatoes using the largest side of your box grater and pop them into a mesh strainer. Rinse them quite thoroughly until the water runs clear, and then ring out the water in small handfuls to get them as dry as you can. Pop these in a medium bowl and season generously. Crack in one fresh egg and mix well, breaking up the yolk and white and coating absolutely everything in that bowl. As mentioned previously, you can add fresh herbs to this - I like parsley and dill, personally, but that's me.

Heat a thick yet shallow skillet with about an inch of oil to medium-high heat. Test the heat by dropping in one or two shreds of the egg-potato mixture. If it floats and sizzles, you're good to go. 

Gently lay in heaping spoonfuls of the latke mixture into your oil and press gently down in the middle to create a flat pancake. Swirl it carefully to just make sure that it didn't stick to the bottom, and then add in another. I can fit up to three latkes at a time in my pan, but don't you overload your oil because it lowers the temperature. 


Protip: You want the oil to be rather hot because things only get greasy when the oil is too cold and the oil seeps in. If it's hot enough, the water on the inside of the item you're frying will turn to steam and create a barrier for the oil to not get into, kind of like it when the footballers of the sportsball team do that head-butt thing at the beginning of the plays. 

Flip them gently with a fork or a pair of chopsticks, taking care not to splash yourself wit hot oil, and cook on the other side. The entire process shouldn't take more than two minutes in total, and the finished latkes can hold in a warm oven while you cook the rest. 

Please also make sure that you save the fat in a jar or a metal can and allow to cool before disposing of. Please don't throw it outside as it's bad for your homestead/garden, and please don't dump it down the drain. You can strain it and reuse it once or twice, but you can just pitch it in your can safely in a garbage bag once it's all used up. 



Serve these with breakfast, lunch or dinner! Latkes are truly a diverse food item and I encourage you to try them using all potatoes. (Just maybe not all at once.) Please also be sure to make an effort to get down to the farmer's market! This is, of course, to get better food, but it's also to get to know your growers. I'm going to let you in on a little secret...

The people that are making an effort against big chain grocery stores and taking food back to basics are the people you want to have a conversation with. Ask them questions, have them tell you the story of that crop. Connection with your fellow human is what the world needs right now, and the fellowship over food is truly what can unite us, instead of divide us.

Here in America, we are dealing with political turmoil unlike any in recent memory. If I have any international readers, I want them to know that we all want this to end, and that we are not horrible bigots. We Americans are loving and welcoming and we believe that immigrants make America great. As someone who's worked in the culinary industry her entire professional life, you would be starving were it not for immigrants and migrant workers. They cook your food, they harvest your crops, they do all of the hard jobs that you don't want to do, often with a smile. I welcome the immigrants and I want them to know that I'm an ally. I am an American, and hatred has no home in my backyard.

Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Date Mint Scones



I'm currently in the middle of rebranding my Instagram to reflect my blog versus my business page. I've come into a different job that requires 100000% of my attention, so my farmer's market stall has taken a back seat. I'll still take orders, of course, but when one is called to service, one serves. That being said, pushing things more towards my blog allows me to do this at leisure, which will put me in an entirely different mentality; it's for fun! When things are done for fun, I'm far more motivated to keep up on the maintenance of it. (Piscean attention spans, amirite??)

On a personal note, I've been pushing away my "Yes Man" tendencies and practicing more realistic goals for myself. This means letting go of the farmer's markets so I can have my weekend off, to relax from work. This also means that I have much more time on my hands, and when I bake for fun instead of production, I get to goof around a little more without worrying about breaking even. Just yesterday I got the urge to bake, and so I did! I have, after all, a fully-stocked pantry of goodies to use...

B was going to his grandparent's new apartment to help them set up their new TV. I knew about it late Friday night, but since it was our gaming night, I didn't think to make something for them until that morning. What's quick, though? Why, quickbreads!

Quickbreads are categorized by the speed in which they can be thrown together, without the need for yeast to rise them. Muffins, scones, biscuits, etc., all count as quickbreads. I didn't feel like muffins, so I thought scones would be a nice thing for me, for them, and for later. I ended up making enough for B to take to his grandparents' place, for us to keep, and for me to take some to my friend's birthday party later that evening.

A scone is a wonderful vessel can be sweet or savory, and you can put virtually anything in them. Being the responsible wannabe-homesteader that I am, I wanted something to use up some of the stuff that I might have a little too much of, and when I saw the container of dried dates in my cabinet, I just couldn't resist.  Using what you have is not only being financially smart, but it makes you sometimes be a little more creative. Trying new things in the kitchen and figuring out if something works or not is a sort of exciting gamble that lets you eat your experiment. So what if it fails? You only lost a little flour and sugar; not your house.

I love peppermint!
Dates are a wonderful fruit that have a ridiculous amount of sugar. There's a wonderful company that I've worked with called The Date Lady which makes caramels, syrups, sugars, chocolate spreads, and more from dates! I simply adore their date syrup on pancakes, because it's just as sweet as maple syrup but has so much more depth...and I can feel a little better about it because it's made from fruit. Seriously, check them out!

What goes with dates? Why, mint, of course! Mint grows like a weed, and I've got an honestly ridiculous amount all around my garden, in various locations on my property, too, as I've planted it, forgotten about it, and then seen it pop up randomly the next spring. Mint is a perennial, which means it comes back every year. Mint flowers are also extremely popular among foraging honeybees, so you can definitely feel good about having it in your garden, be it for tea, for baking, for making oils, natural shampoos and air-fresheners...the list goes on and on. Anyway, time to bake!


Mmmm...Glaaaaaazee....

Date Mint Scones with Honey Glaze

yields 12 scones
Adapted from "The Afternoon Tea Collection"

Scones

  • 30 g coconut oil
  • 55 g honey(you can use date sugar, though!)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 375 g AP flour
  • 7 g baking powder
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • 115 g chopped dates(this is an estimate, as I just grabbed a handful)
  • 10 mint leaves(I used peppermint, but spearmint or apple mint would be fine)
If you can invest in a marble slab, do it. They keep doughs cool
when you need them to be (Hello pie dough) and you can even find them at reclaim stores.
Honey Glaze
  • 120 g powdered sugar
  • 15 g coconut oil, melted
  • 2 Tbsp honey

Combine your flour and baking powder in the bowl of a standing mixer and fix with a paddle attachment. Mix for about 30 seconds, just enough to make sure everything is combined. Add the honey and the coconut oil, and mix until the mixture looks just crumbly. Add in your chopped dates and fresh mint, then stir for about 10 turns, just to coat everything with flour. Add your coconut milk and that's it! This is an extremely quick recipe that produces a rather wet dough, but you can use a nice ice cream scoop or two large tablespoons to make dollops on a baking sheet, lined with parchment or a silpat mat. You can attempt to roll it out and just cut off pieces that you think you'll want for the size, but I didn't want to risk over-working it with a floured surface. Quickbreads should be just that: quick!

Bake at 425 for about 17 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and color on top is set. You can also give the tops a bit of an egg wash, but that's up to you. While everything is baking, clean up and make the glaze. If you're feeling a little crazy, you can even add some fresh mint in to the glaze, for some of that pretty color! Garnishing with candied mint leaves, as well, is a good way to use up that quick-growing mint.

All you do is combine everything with a whisk until it's smooth, and then set in the fridge to chill just enough to be pourable but not solid. Simply let your scones cool for about 10 minutes before you ice them, and you're good to go. 

I hope you've enjoyed the recipe! Follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and look for my tags, #wannabgourmande! Of course, you can get more info and more fun content on my Facebook page. Thanks for hanging out with me! Happy cooking and happy eating!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Smoked Pineapple Tart a la Mode


We here in Kansas City just love when things are smoked! So why shouldn't fruit get in an all of the fun? As an honorary citizen(transplant from Arizona, mind you) of the Midwest, I salute you, Kansas City, for your love of the hickory, the cherry, the apple woods. I salute you, Kansas City, for your rising smoke stacks and perfect barbecue rub recipes. And since I am wearing my Pastry Chef toque, time to have some fun!

Smoked Pineapple Tart

  • 1 medium-sized pineapple
  • Pie crust(either store bought or use your favorite recipe(or you can use mine))
    • 8 oz butter
    • 10.5 oz flour
    • 2 Tbsp sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 Tbsp vinegar
    • Enough water to bring it together
      • Pulse it all together in a food processor. Or just combine all of this stuff by cutting the butter into the flour and then adding the liquids and eggs until it comes together, then freezing it/chilling it for at least one hour
  • Spicy Pastry Cream
    • 5 egg yolks
    • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 Tbsp butter, cold
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper**
Break down your pineapple by cutting off the tip and bottom. Then lay it flat on its bottom and "peel" the pineapple's thick husk using a chef's knife, carefully, following the curves of the fruit. Cut the fruit into half, down the middle and then down the middle again. You now have four quarters. Cut the core out of those corners by making one long slit down the middle of the fruit and discarding the ick. Slice each quarter piece into thirds, lengthwise, and then arrange on a sheet pan in your smoker. Or on a rack. It's really whatever. 

Don't have a smoker? No problem!

Take three disposable aluminum pans, the kind you get at the grocery store in the 'kitchen tools' aisle, and perforate one of them with a knife or a nail. Light a combination of your favorite wood chip blend and get some smoke going in the bottom of the first pan. Place the perforated pan atop the smoky 'coals' and then line with wax or parchment paper. Place your pineapple on the paper and cover with the third and final pan. Secure with aluminum foil and set it into a warm oven(200 degrees is just fine) for about 30 minutes.Just...keep your window open. It'll get smoky in your house.

Create your custard by whisking the sugar, salt, cayenne, cornstarch, and egg yolks together until it forms a wonderful thick ribbon. Boil the cream and vanilla together, and splash the hot liquid into the yolks, stirring constantly. Place the combined liquid back into the pan and bring it slowly-slowly-slowly to a boil, or until it gets thick, whisking constantly. Remove immediately from the heat and add in the butter. Give it a strain, too, if you can.

Roll out your pie dough into a large circle, big enough to fit into your pie/tart tin and have some hanging over. If you're using a tin, go ahead and get the dough into it now and let the dough sit, draped over the tin and its edges, for about five minutes. This allows the dough to relax. Once your dough is relaxed, fill about 2/3 of the way up with your reserved pastry cream. Then arrange the pineapple slices atop the custard in a pattern, or just plain across it. Just make sure it's covered completely! You can now either fold the dough over the pineapple, or trim it off the edges. It's up to you. I trimmed, but there's no reason you can't fold it over into a lovely flower-like galette! Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and delicious. Let it cool completely before cutting. If you want to eat it warm, pop it in a hot oven for about five minutes before slicing and serving with ice cream!

Happy eating! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Citrus Curd Crepe Cake

Citrus curd crepe cake, macerated berries, vanilla ice cream 

I don't think I qualify as a Francophile, but I have a special place in my heart for the French, and how they cook. I mean, honestly, their blatant disregard for the dangers of butter in excess is mind-blowing, and I fully support that. Not to mention that most American culinary schools(at least that I know of) have a curriculum heavily rooted in classical French techniques. My school was no different.

Courtesy of Reddit-r dishesRdone
We learned some basic French terms in school--tournant, commis, chef de partie, beurre blanc, etc--and I think there was even a class where you could learn French as a second language. Or maybe it was just printed in the curriculum under 'electives' to look fancy. I don't know. As an Arizona girl, I thought it smarter to take Spanish instead of French. It's helped me greatly in cooking in professional kitchens, and I advise any who would care to join me in this career path to do the same and learn, at least, some basic Spanish. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The point is that we classically-trained Chefs owe a fair bit to the Frenchmen before us, in this writer's humble opinion. There are so many things that can be traced back to the French techniques. In Baking & Pastry, it was easier to name a dessert or technique that we used which was not French in origin. And I completely loved it. I fell in love with butter. So much butter. I owe my fabulous booty to butter. I dream of it. I think I'd bathe in it if society allowed. But they don't. Savages.

All of this is pointing to my love of French food, and my excitement when Bastille Day occurs. It's basically the French Independence Day. And they celebrate in Paris like no other. Everyone who has a musical instrument is out in the street playing it, and the Eiffel Tower is lit up like the Fourth of July! (Hey, I'm an American. I have to say such a thing!) There are fireworks and food...celebrations like no other. And every country should celebrate their independence in this way! It's only right, don't you think?

Courtesy of MarthaStewart.com
Here in Kansas City, we have our share of Francophiles. None beat out Cafe Provence, however, in the enthusiasm, though I will admit that Le Fou Frog is a very close second, and Le Fou Frog has a singing pastry Chef, as well as live performers on a regular basis. Their Facebook is full of pictures and promotions and news, and they have an excellent menu. Their kitchen is a machine, full of fine ingredients and Chefs who are committed--I should know, I briefly worked there. It was an amazing learning experience, to really get to know what it is to cook under such great chefs. Warm yet intimidating for a still-fairly-green cook, studying there was honestly one of the most-influential portions of my cooking career. I worked the pantry station and the meat station on Saturdays, and I loved the days that I got to make the pastry cream and vinaigrette. They have this awesome shop, now, in the Prairie Village shopping center called The French Market, which is a really cool place. A Chef friend of mine makes all of the pastries and whatnot for them, and she's pretty darn amazing. So, yeah, check her out.

I was luckily working on Bastille Day, so I decided to make a dessert special in honor or the occasion, and as a tribute to my education: a Crepe Cake. What is this contraption/confection, you ask? Why, it is a cake, made by painstakingly layering crepe upon crepe upon crepe atop one another, sandwiched (usually) with pastry cream or mousseline or something of the like. The result is a show-stopper, well worth the effort. It was Bastille Day, I had an extra moment...well, how could I resist?
I won't say that it was the best in the city, but I will say that it turned out pretty darn good, especially since it was made with a lighter, more summery lemon-orange curd versus the traditional pastry cream. The result was a bright, citrusy "cake" balanced out with the creaminess of ice cream. (Hey, it's summer, you need ice cream.) I hope the purists will bend a bit and try out my crepe cake recipe.

Citrus Curd Crepe Cake
For the curd

  • 1 cup ea. lemon juice and orange juice
  • 1 lb butter(not margarine, you peasant)
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
For the crepes
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 oz butter, melted and browned.

First, make the crepes. The easiest way, I've found, is to dump everything except the eggs and butter into a blender and let it go. While the blender is running, add in the eggs, one at a time, and then the butter in a slow stream. Let this mixture sit for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Using a ladel(ideally), make the crepes over medium heat using panspray as your lubricant. Use nonstick pans, if you have more than one, or crepe pans if you have them. But otherwise a nonstick will work in a pinch. I find it easier to have two burners and two pans going at once, with the ladle and mixture on one side of you and a plate to receive crepes on the other side to be the ideal. 

Once your crepes are all cooked and cooled, you can either use them right away, or use what you need and freeze the rest. Seriously, crepes freeze perfectly. You can use butcher paper, parchment paper, or even wax paper to separate them, but I just pop what I don't use in a freezer all at once, since there usually aren't that many left, anyway. 

To make the curd, boil the butter, citrus juice, and sugar together in a medium sauce pot. Whisk the egg yolks and eggs together in a bowl with a pinch of salt. You can add a 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract if you are so inclined, but I never saw the point, so I don't. Temper the egg mixture by pouring a splash of the hot liquid in and whisking. Then return the lemon juice mixture to the heat, and whisk in the tempered eggs in a thin stream, stirring/whisking constantly. Continue to beat over medium-high heat until it reaches a gorgeous thickness. Don't let it exceed 180 degrees F, though, or the eggs will scramble. Use a thermometer if you need to. Don't be ashamed. We all did at a point. 

Gotta put one more shot in! I love my new camera!
Once the curd has cooled, it will be delightfully thick and spreadable. Assemble the cake by alternating a tiny spread of the curd between crepes, stacking atop each other, gently. My cake took about 25 crepes, but you can stack as high as you want. Keep in mind, though, that citrus curd won't be as thick as pastry creams will be, so the higher you stack, the more unstable it can be. Chill thoroughly before slicing, so your curd can set. Remember, you don't need a lot of curd in between the layers. Just a teaspoon(if that) will do. And this curd can be replaced with nutella, buttercream, pastry cream, chocolate mousse, pretty much anything to suit your needs. The results are, like I said, a real crowd-pleaser, and you'll be thanked for your effort  and applauded, as well you should be, you Francophile-for-a-day, you!

Hope you guys had a great Bastille Day. Happy cooking!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Glimpse of (Pastry) Chef Life

I just got off of work. My hours for this work period were something along the lines of 81.33. So, an hour and a half of overtime. This isn't necessarily normal for me, but it's pretty normal for a lot of us.

Who is "us"?

Why, the cooks. The warriors. Them who feed you when you don't feel like feeding yourself. It's the faceless army that produces magic on a plate, be it that wonderfully grilled terrace major with asparagus and a sauce bordelaise, or that perfect drunk-food of pork belly tacos with an Asian slaw at your local gastropub. Do you ever think of where your food comes from? You might. If you're reading my blog, you probably do. So, good for you.

Why, yes, that is a cluster of caramel corn atop that creme brulee.
A typical day in a restaurant is usually not typical, but on average it will last about 8 to 10 hours. Every day brings a new challenge, and yet you're producing(usually) the same stuff you did yesterday. Still that gallon of pink peppercorn creme anglaise. What's that? Oh yeah. More chocolate mousse. Oh, and you have to portion some more cakes, and did I mention you have another party that needs about 40 cobblers before 5pm? Now, before you do that, translate some cleaning instructions for me to the new dishwasher. And don't forget about those 50-something creme brulees that are in the oven, which will curdle if they're in a second too long--so listen for that timer!

The life of the pastry chef is that of a 'Jacqueline-of-all-trades,' as it were. Not only are you producing your own stuff, you're training the pantry cooks over and over again, cleaning, organizing, keeping your chefs from having mental breakdowns... You're a part of the back of house, but you're not. You're kind of your own entity. You have an entire section of the restaurant to yourself. In a sense, that is. You can be part-time, full-time, mercenary, contracted...it's actually pretty darn rare that a restaurant will have a full-time pastry chef in-house. So if you're in culinary school, trying to decide on pastry versus savory, stick with savory and study pastry on the side. You never know when you'll need to jump on the line and help plate salads or make a few pizzas while your pantry chef is in the can. And if you can be versatile, you're valuable. Remember, anybody can replace you at any time. So be as valuable and irreplaceable as you can be.

Phew. Jogging is hard. 
Your feet will hurt, just like the line cooks and the chefs. Your back will be sore, as will the back of your neck. Learn to stand correctly. And stay hydrated. Do stretches at night. I do yoga before bed, and I jog with Howl in the morning. Staying in shape is really the kind of thing you want to do; not for the sake of vanity, mind you, but for the sake of not completely wrecking your body. If you stay strong, so does your battle.

I try to stay in shape by running where and when I can. I've gained weight since I made the switch from savory to pastry(#shocker), and I definitely don't want to get Diabetes as a result. After a very long day, you'll usually want to crawl into a hot shower and cry. Or perhaps you're the kind of cook that explodes on the line and threatens to kill everyone. You might even be the kind that gets into fights with the front of house, or the other line cooks, or even the Chef. You might be the kind who gets so frustrated you leave the line to go cry. I am not that kind.

I don't mind getting paid to pee. But when I'm on someone else's clock, I don't cry. When I clock-out, and get in the car, the tears will come. But I will always massage my sore neck, and my cracked hands and aching feet, thanking any God that's out there for giving me the opportunity to do something so meaningful with my life. I realize that it's not the most meaningful, if you were to really think about it. But I get to be a part of lives. Not just a life. But lives.

This year at Valentine's Day, a man proposed to his now-fiancee over one of my desserts. She'll always remember that flourless chocolate cake and cheesecake, artfully arranged on a platter, with a pile of rose petals cradling the ring box with her future in it. Today, I made a gender-reveal cake to tell a wonderful family that they'll soon be joined by a grandson. I got to be a part of that moment. I wasn't there, not really, but a tiny piece of me was in that dessert you just ate. I get to touch someone's life, and for a moment, they might just forget about what a crappy day that I had.

And that, to me, is why my job is meaningful.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pro-cooking and Potbellies

This blog is going to be a bit different from my other posts, and yet will not be.

You guys know how much I love food, right? Of course you do! You follow me on Twitter, you see my Tumblr posts, and all of these ones here. But America's gone into kind of a weird place with body image and body positivity and fat-shaming and fat-cceptance, and the internet has come into an even weirder place with it.

Since my transition from savory to pastry chef, I've gained about 10 lbs in about 8 months. Apparently, that's great. The odd thing was that my clothes, which are often quite body-conscious, feel terribly different, nor did I feel any different. The only difference is that I can lift heavy objects(i.e. 50lb bags of sugar) with ease, now, and I can balance screaming-hot sheet trays with one hand and my weak little wrist with considerably less discomfort. But I stepped on the bathroom scale in my friend's apartment and saw it:

162 lbs.

I had always teetered between 145 and 155. When I started my pastry chef job, I was around 150-153 lbs. But 162? I had never seen a number that had introduced so many confusing feelings all at once.

A knock came on the bathroom door.

"You okay in there?"

"Yeah, sorry. Just washing my hands." I hadn't realized that I had been in there for a long enough time to be concerned. I went home that night and looked at myself in the mirror, naked.

Okay, so I was a little softer, kinda flabbier...but wow, was it fun to touch. I was so soft and pliable, and I could roll it in my hands. I took the sharpie from my chef bag and drew eyes above my navel, and breathed in and out, pretending it was talking to me. I looked at my thighs, my butt--I actually had one, now! I never had a butt! It always looked like a frog stood up straight and put on a pair of skinny jeans. And my thighs were rounder, sure, but when I flexed, I noticed how much of it was just...muscle. I was muscular. My  belly wasn't, necessarily, but my arms and legs were much stronger. It then occurred to me that muscle weighs more than fat.

This complete breakfast has been brought to you by Room 39
I've struggled with loving and loathing my body throughout  my life. I used to be a lithe twenty-something that never crossed over the 140 mark on the scale, and if I did, I'd starve myself for a week. I always looked so great in a bikini, and my legs were always long and perfect, and my belly often quite flat. Not toned, necessarily, just flat. My arms were slender, delicate--never strong. I stood in my tiny bathroom, looking in my tiny bathroom mirror, flexing my now-muscular arms. I was impressed. Turns out, a diet of eggs and cheese and whatnot really did turn out to be great for building muscle!

Oh, sure, there was a layer of subcutaneous fat under my skin, but the point is I'd never really ever had any kind of muscle before. When I practiced martial arts, I could never bulk up. I used my speed to take down opponents, and now I can use my strength, too. I'm strong. I liked my new body so much I had completely forgotten about the dreaded number, 162.

And then I stepped on the scale again.

Still 162.

I started jogging in the morning with my dog, instead of walking. My dog was being dragged, basically, and it made me realize that my dog was out of shape, too. I figured then that it's good to do cardio...and if we ever need to outrun a zombie, we're maybe going to be picked off, first, unless we can improve.

I realized, throughout the week, that I wasn't really wanting to lose weight. I just wanted to be able to outrun zombies without dropping a lung. And I didn't want to look better in a dress, because I decided that my broad shoulders are more meant for punching out my enemies versus looking good in a tank top. I don't want to be a supermodel anymore. I want to be a superhero. And that was a pretty weird concept for me. For the first time in my life, I cared about and respected my body because it's not meant to look good. It's meant to move, and lift, and cook the ever-living-shit out of a pie crust or a panna cotta. My arms are meant to carry sheet trays of cookies, and legs are meant to help me lift three or four fifty-pound bags of flour and sugar on a daily basis.
Lifting a case of these is kind of like weight training!

I jog in the mornings with my dog, now, and I do yoga when I can, but I don't watch what I eat. Know why? I don't eat fast food, ever. And I always eat at work. It's not always pastries, sometimes it's some nice fresh pizza, or a salad that I can throw together quickly from the pantry station. I taste as I go, but I noticed that I just lightly snack throughout the day, and seldom eat actual meals, until it's after I've gotten home. And whenever I do eat, it's almost always something I cook. I know I eat well because quality is so much important than quantity. I never eat a lot all at once, mostly because good food will satisfy after only a few bites.

I was at the ACF meeting last month and a very esteemed French Chef I was acquainted with had a nice conversation that was all about how Americans didn't know how to eat. See, I agree with him. Your average American diner doesn't care about quality, not really--they care about convenience more often than not. It's definitely great that we have more and more awareness of Monsanto and GMOs and whatnot, but we--as a culture--really don't care as much as we should.

We're also ridiculously fat. Like. Oh my God. So fat.

And while I think accepting 'fat' as a valid body type without shaming them is all great, we still have to look at the greater issues here. We are destroying our bodies. I don't mind being a little soft and squishy. It's actually really nice to not have that feeling of pressure; I just decided I'd rather have my body be useful rather than pretty. I think obesity is a huge issue(no pun intended, I swear) not because we are 'ugly' as a society, but because we are killing ourselves, and nobody cares.

Okay, so, maybe eating caramel corn isn't the healthiest thing...but it's homemade, man!
I think, as Chefs, we accept that everyone's body is not as simple as "food goes in, energy comes out, you eat too much, you get fat," because it's really not. To tell you the truth, a lot of it is genetics. Sure, if you eat a ton of processed junk and you do it every day with no exercise, don't be shocked that you got fat. I know exactly what I put into my  body  because I eat what I want, and I make it myself. But if you just eat like a normal, healthy human being, and you're gaining/losing significant amounts weight, you should see a doctor.

And please, for the love of all that is holy, don't start a new fad diet because it's trendy. Not only will the people in the restaurants you frequent probably roll their eyes a little at you for taking us through every single stitch of how many calories are in a spoonful of peanut butter, but fad diets don't work. Sure, they'll help you look good for swimsuit season, but you'll probably gain all of that weight back within the next year or so. Don't look to your local Barnes & Noble for your latest. See your Doctor. That is literally what she's for--answering your questions about your body.

Too long, didn't read? You only get one body. Just take care of it. I like my pot belly. I like the body that cooking and food gave me. I accept that if I never exercise, I'll get fat. I can probably do things to improve my diet and body and lose a bunch of weight, but I choose to be passive about it because it's no longer on my priority list to be a supermodel.

Like I said, I don't want to be built like a supermodel. I'd rather be strong than skin and bones.