Category Archives: Paul wrote

California Rolls, They’re Unforgettable (Also Goodbye For Now)

Alas, I fear the time has come here at Cramped Kitchen to step away from the blog for the time being.  While I have immensely enjoyed opening my culinary world and sharing with you my many mishaps and occasional accidental successes, I find myself needing to take a prolonged break.  As my AmeriCorps term comes to a close in late August, it is time once again to begin job hunting, and when you add that on top of the 60 hour weeks I am currently doing at the Boys and Girls Club, I find myself with not a lot of free time.  It was a long and arduous decision, but in the end common sense and George Washington’s face helped me realize that those precious few free minutes every day should be spent with Jess rather than working on the blog (stupid heads, I should have known tails never fails).  Jess will continue to post here, and I hope to return in the fall when I find myself a full-time job.  I have had such a great time cooking and writing this for you, and I appreciate those of you who took the time to read it.  Even if you only read it once.  Or stumbled upon it by accident.  Or had to read it because I am your son and you are required to love me.  Regardless, thanks, and I hope you have enjoyed it.

Being that this is the last post for a while, I thought I would wait for something good to post about, and tonight is definitely the night.  We love cooking Asian-style food, and tonight we made chicken fried rice and homemade sushi rolls.  Now some of the people I went to college with are sushi snobs and would probably turn up their nose to our efforts, but I thought it was amazing.  We went with simple California rolls, which is crab, avocado, and cucumber rolled up with rice in seaweed.  It is actually a lot easier than you might think.  The key is spending the time to get the rice right.  We started with sushi rice, which we were able to buy in bulk for very cheap.  We used about 3 cups of dry rice, and ended up with 5 rolls.  The first step is to wash the rice thoroughly, rinsing until the water is no longer cloudy.  We then boiled it, as we do not have a rice cooker.  While the rice was cooking we heated some salt and sugar in rice vinegar until completely dissolved.  This mixture was mixed in with the rice after it had finished cooking and was set aside to cool.  Now I am not a big rice person, it was always too bland for me, but this simple addition added so much great flavor to the rice that I would have eaten it by itself.  Once the rice was done it was simply a matter of putting everything together.  Thin slices of avocado, cucumber, and imitation crab were placed on a bed of rice and rolled up in a sheet of seaweed.  It really was not a lot of work, and the taste was fantastic.  And considering it cost us less than $2 per roll to make, we will be trying this again very soon.  Maybe next time we will be more creative and try a more difficult roll.

The other part of our meal was a simple chicken fried rice, something I have been craving since I have been away from Appleton and separated from my baby.  This too was a simple dish.  We started with about 2 cups of rice, (we actually just made 1 big pot of rice for the sushi and the fried rice), and then stir fried it in our wok with mushrooms, carrots, peas, chicken, garlic, ginger, and some red pepper.  Once again, after cooking the rice, it is simply a matter of minutes to throw this dish together.  It was the perfect meal to go out on (temporarily).  It was so easy that I could make it, and it was so delicious I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.  And just like restaurant style Asian food, I ate half a plate and was full for about an hour, at which point I found myself starving again.

Check out more pictures here.


Cooking With Kids: Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Probably the most difficult aspect of my cooking club at the Crestmont Boys and Girls is balancing between meals that are simple enough for young children to be able to do, yet complex enough that there is enough things for the kids to do to keep them busy.  It is a very fine line to walk.  The whole purpose of my cooking club is to be able to provide them with easy recipes they can duplicate on their own at home when they are left to fend for themselves for dinner.  However, if they are too simple they get restless while we are cooking, and then I have to deal with bored kids running around the kitchen while I am showing one person how to cut onions and another how to saute chicken.

Today for cooking club we made chicken salad sandwiches.  This was a good type of recipe to do with a big group of young kids because it involved a lot of chopping vegetables into tiny pieces, which they dove into full steam.  One thing I have found out about adolescent boys is they love to use knives, and as long as you supervise adequately you can keep them focused for a pretty good amount of time.  I was also lucky today because one of the older kids came in to help, so he cooked the chicken and worked with some of the younger kids so I barely had to watch them and could focus my attention on my 7 year-old trouble makers.

All in all it was a very simple recipe, pretty much your standard chicken salad sandwich.  And the kids really seemed to like it, which is great in a recipe like this that has so many vegetables.

Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution

So this post is a little different than usual.  I just watched the premiere of “Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution” on ABC and it left me with a weird feeling.  For those of you who don’t know, the premise of the show is that Jaime Oliver is in Huntington, West Virgina, which is apparently the most overweight city in America, and is trying to change eating habits by focusing on the schools.  He visits an area elementary school and takes out the high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods that compose most of the school breakfasts and lunches, and replaces it with meals made from fresh ingredients that attempt to also be kid-friendly.  I thought the premise of the show is incredibly interesting, and it correlates so well with what I am doing with my AmeriCorps position.  The whole basis for my Cooking Club at the Crestmont Boys and Girls Club is to show the kids how to make food that is easy, inexpensive, and delicious.

The pessimist in me wonders if these kinds of widespread changes Jaime is looking for are possible.  For instance, the meals he prepared in his first week came in at twice the available budget for school food.  That’s a big difference, not one that will be magically solved by finding cheaper fresh food or a bigger budget.  I also can see how convenience foods may seem like the best option at times.  As someone who grew up in a family with five people who usually were doing five different things every evening, I understand that sometimes there is not enough time or energy to make a home-cooked meal with fresh ingredients.  However, the family whose home he went into ate nothing but these processed foods.  Their freezer was stuffed with cheap frozen pizza, and even when he bought them a weeks worth of fresh produce they hardly used it.  Even when they had fresh ingredients, it was hard to break away from the familiar, comfortable routine.

The biggest thing that stuck out to me, perhaps especially now because I working with kids, is that these kids really don’t have a choice in what they eat, and when they do have a choice they may not make the best choice for them because they don’t know any better.  Most of their breakfasts and lunches come from school, and as the tv show explained, those are generally not healthy options.  Additionally, kids will generally eat whatever their parents provide them with for dinner.  And if the parents work a 50 hour week, or do not know how to cook, or are feeding their kids fatty processed food for whatever reason, the child is likely going to grow up obese.   I think that sucks, and even though the child is not completely absolved, it doesn’t seem right that this can and does happen.  I don’t want to get too preachy here at this blog, but I hope people who read this remember that kids usually need help to do the right thing, and if you are in a position to help you should do so.

Eggplant Parmesan

Its been a while since I have done this.  I hope blogging is something like riding a bike, in that its something you don’t forget how to do.  Then again, I don’t particularly like riding bikes, though I don’t remember why.  I think I crashed once.  It probably hurt.  Anyways, it is enough to have kept me off a bike for the last 10 plus years.  But back to why we are here.  Jess has been on me for a long time to get something posted, but truth be told I am incredibly lazy and had trouble getting myself to do it.  But then Jess went home for Spring Break, and I ate frozen pizza and leftovers for a week straight.  After that, I am so excited to be eating fresh delicious food that I will gladly write about it here.

Today’s dinner put a serious hole in my “I don’t get full on a vegetarian diet” argument.  We decided to make eggplant parmesan, and it was fantastic.  We started with a tomato sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, a red onion, some red wine, and fresh herbs from Jess’ hydroponic AeroGarden.  We let these simmer all afternoon in our slow-cooker until we had a nice homemade sauce.  For the eggplant, we sliced them into 1 inch thick pieces and quickly browned both sides in a skillet with some oil.  It was then covered with a mixture of breadcrumbs, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese, and placed in a bed of our tomato sauce to bake in the oven.  When it came out is was a beautiful golden brown, a lot more appetizing than the frozen leftovers I had grown accustomed to.  We served it over pasta, with a side of rainbow chard with some garlic, onion, and spicy peppers.

Now, when Jess and I discuss what meals we are having the following week, I always try to tell her I need a significant helping of meat to make sure I get full.  Unfortunately for a couple living off of loans and an AmeriCorps living allowance, meat doesn’t always fit into the budget.  So it is good finding vegetarian meals that bring me into food coma territory.  And this was definitely one of them.  One plate and I was stuffed, which is great because it means leftovers, and during my week of eating freezer food I had finished all of my lunch options, and was getting sick of peanut butter.

P.S. I will try to not let it get to be a whole month (maybe even more) before I post again.  and I wanted to thank whoever it was that periodically checked our blog for updates.  I hope it was worth the wait.

Cramped Kitchen: the lighter side

It’s been awhile since I have made a post here.  Part of the reason for this was that Jess and I got to go home, both to Appleton and St. Paul over Winter Break.  Even though we have only been in Bloomington for four months it was great to get home, relax, and spend time with our families.  We got to visit with some old friends, celebrate the holidays, and even saw a comedy show.  But the best part about this two-week vacation (and pretty much my favorite part of the holidays) was the amazing food.  Both Jess’ and my parents served us meal after meal of delicious food.  We had lamb, roast beef, and mounds of potatoes.  It was fantastic, but as an unfortunate side effect I was consuming like 4000 calories every day.  Definitely a food coma every day.

That was all great, but when we returned to Bloomington we decided we needed some lighter meals before we went all Augustus Gloop.  I personally wouldn’t have minded, I mean who wouldn’t love to die in a chocolate waterfall, but Jess thought we should take it easy for a bit.  With this in mind we planned a couple of dinners that would help me fit back into my pants.

The first was french onion soup with a chicken Caesar salad.  I know my sister loves french onion soup and she would probably have been jealous if she hadn’t spent the whole day in the sun at Disneyland.  While I was at work.  In the cold.  I hate pretending to be an adult.  Anyways, she would have been proud of the effort we put forth.  We started by simmering the onions in beef broth and red cooking wine.  We seasoned it with just a bit of salt, pepper, and thyme, and just let it sit all afternoon on low heat.  Right before we were ready to serve we topped with some nice bread and fresh shredded mozzarella.  A quick broil in the oven and we had restaurant quality french onion soup.

We also decided to do a Cobb salad.  I had never had a Cobb salad, but I thought it would be fun and tasty.  I also like the fact that every website I looked at had a different origin history for the Cobb salad.  It’s like Stonehenge, but you can eat it.  Anyways, we had hard-boiled eggs, chicken, avocados, tomatoes, blue cheese, and bacon on a bed of romaine lettuce, served with bread and humus.

It’s not that complicated, so not much to write about, but it was delicious and easy on the waistline.  After this week I was able to get back in my pants.  In fact, not only could I get in them, but they fit like this (I had to fit this in somewhere).

Snacking in a Winter Wonderland

There are a lot of things I love about the winter and holiday season.  For instance that first real snow, the one that completely covers the streets and the trees, can be so picturesque, making you feel like you live in a postcard.  And it will be even better this year in Indiana when I know it wont be 6 months before I see grass again, like in Minny-soda there, don’cha know.  And of course any time you can get presents it’s a good day.  There’s also the potentiality of great food.  And that will go double for me this year, as we will be spending time with Jess’ family as well as mine this holiday season.  But one of my absolute favorite parts about the holiday season is the abundance of sweets and goodies around the house.  It’s like, since it is Christmas, it is ok to eat candy for breakfast.  I loves it.

Anyways, I bought a bunch of candy this year, and I think just looking at it all made Jess sick.  So I decided to do something productive and aesthetically pleasing with it.  That’s right, I’m talking about a gingerbread house.  Now of course I am not actually going to make gingerbread, that would cut into my candy munching time, so I went back to my elementary school days and used graham crackers for my walls.  Here are some pictures of how it turned out.

I used about a tub of frosting, and only about half of the candy I started with actually made it to the house, but I am happy with the way it turned out.  I am especially proud of the wreathe on the roof and “HOME” that is written on the doormat with chocolate syrup.  I went with a simple design, and I decorated with m&m’s, hershey kisses, candy canes, peppermints, gum balls, pretzels, and shredded coconut for snow.  I also did this with some of the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, although on a smaller scale, and they loved it.  They came up with some wacky designs, and it is a fun holiday thing that kids can easily make.  As for me, now that I am finished with it, I can’t wait to begin snacking.  (And Jess thinks I am going to Diabetes, ha!)

Childhood memories

Updated: Scroll down for a picture of Paul’s delicious chicken!

Everyone has a list of food they absolutely loved when they were a child.  Maybe it is a simple classic that their mom made them everyday for lunch.  Or maybe it is a special treat they wanted on important days like birthdays.  Whatever they are, these foods conjure up warm happy feelings inside the individual, remembering how much they loved to eat that food.

For me, chicken and peanut sauce was NOT one of those things.  In fact, I always hated when we had it.  I don’t know if that is because I didn’t really like peanut butter until I got to college, or if it was because we ate it with angel hair pasta which I did not like, or if it was because it was my sister’s favorite meal.  Yeah, I’m weird about food like that. For instance, if I go to a restaurant I can’t order the same thing someone else at the table is getting.  It’s one of my rare faults. Anyways, I never really got into chicken and peanut sauce, but the other day Jess was commenting on how I don’t really cook anything exciting anymore, as shown by my lack of blog posts recently.  So I tried to come up with something I could make her for Wednesday night when she had her lab and would be home late.  I was thinking of memorable dishes from my childhood and I came to this one.  I figured that now that I like peanut butter it would be ok, especially since it would be with spaghetti and not angel hair.

I couldn’t really find a recipe online that I really liked so I ended up combining 3 or 4 of them.  Prolly not the best idea, but it worked out ok. It took a little longer than I would have liked, but that might have just been me being slow.  In the end it tasted great, with just a little hint of spicy to pick it up.  My sister would have been proud.

Paul’s Chicken with Peanut Sauce

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup water
minced garlic
1/2 onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 can chicken broth
ground cayenne red pepper
red pepper flakes
coconut milk (optional)

Saute chicken in pan with 2 tbsp oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside. Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, and water in a small bowl.  Mix until all chunks are removed and you have a smooth consistency throughout. In a separate saute pan heat garlic, onions, and green pepper in 2 tbsp olive oil for 5 minutes.  Then add chicken broth and simmer until it has reduced by about half. Add the peanut butter mixture.  Stir thoroughly.  Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the sauce.  If necessary add coconut milk to get the right consistency. Add cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you want it. Serve over your choice of pasta.