Thursday, August 31, 2006

Vietnamese Shrimp Rolls

Had to work late tonight so I picked up some shrimp rolls from the Vietnamese restaurant down the street. Normally they are cut in half, at an angle, but maybe they saw I like my food and figured I'd eat the whole thing in one bite.

Shrimp rolls are a big favorite of mine. They are served cold, and are made mostly with rice paper and rice noodles or rice sticks. The shrimp are sliced in half so they lay flat against a mix of mint and lettuce leaves. Bean sprouts give extra crunch, and sometimes julienned smoked pork or carrot sticks are added.

They are almost always served with nuoc cham, which is a dipping sauce with a fish sauce base. Anyone who knows me knows that Fleas hate fish sauce, which is why I love that this place adds peanut butter to theirs, which cuts the rotten fish taste.

Since they aren't fried or loaded with fat, these are a good option at restaurants for anyone watching their weight.

Beans, Beans, They’re Good for Your Heart

I love a good black bean burrito. The cheaper the better. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Please don’t add rice. A little cheese, a good dose of piping hot black beans…at most some onions, maybe some cilantro. Yum.

A place down the road from the FleaJuice House (aka home) serves a lovely bean burrito for only $3.95. They serve it mojado, which means it’s wet. Making a burrito mojado usually entails enchilada sauce and a smattering of cheese, but this place is smart and uses delicious tomatillo sauce, also known as salsa verde, which is green and garlicky and just the slightest bit sweet. Then they smother it with cheese (hey, I didn’t get to be fat from skipping the cheese). A kick-ass burrito, as big as my head, for under five bucks. Man. I’m making myself hungry.

I had a black bean burrito for lunch today, as pictured, and the man I was with stopped mid-sentence and blurted out, “What are you eating?” I thought it was funny because we are in the SF/Bay Area, and I’d have thought he’d have seen a black bean burrito before. Maybe the fact that he’s 66 years old makes a difference.

The Red-Headed Stepchild of the Buffet

Tonight at work we had food delivered from Pasta Pomodoro (we have a dinner party for 50-100 people once a month). One of the dishes was "Healthy Chicken Pasta." I knew just by looking at it that we'd have tons of it left over. And we did.

It was penne pasta with what seemed to be a very dry tomato sauce, and not much of the sauce. There was big chunks of zuchinni (and we all know I hate zuch.) and little bits of chicken. There were some green bits--but were they spinach? Basil? Watercress? I couldn't tell by aroma--there wasn't any.

I know this was dubbed a "Healthy" dish, but couldn't it have been made to look yummy, too? The "healthy" salmon looked good, as did the fagioli (white beans) and the insalata caprese. And the unhealthy shells with gorgonzola sauce was perfecto!

So, what I want to know the tomato-based pasta dish the red-headed stepchild of the buffet? What do you pass up or avoid altogether?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chips and Beer (I'm so classy)

I’m on my Capital Corridor Amtrak train going home. It’s my last evening in the 35-and-Under demographic (like how I keep stretching my demo?) and I’m celebrating by enjoying a beer and chips. From the instant the dining car conductor cracked the Dos Equis and squeezed the lime my mouth has been watering. There’s something about essence of lime that’s just delicious. And when it hits hops and barley? Mmmmmmm.

My chips are Cheddar Beer Kettle Chips. They’re new—the ones in the yellow bag. As Michelle, our conductor agreed, “Yum! They’re cheesey and beery and good.” And they are thick and tangy and crunchy. And cover your fingertips in a nice rich coating of oil, so you know they aren’t good for you at all. In fact, one bag has 18 fat grams, but I’m not counting today.

What is it about chips and beer that satisfies me so? Everything is right this afternoon. We’re trucking through Pinole—the gray-green San Francisco Bay to my left, the creeks and eddies and million-dollar swamp grounds of Northern California to my right. There goes the Contra Costa jail, and some small but tidy homes with amazing bay views. Wild life areas and a boarded-up elementary school. Teenagers in red and white striped shirts huddle at the side of the tracks, startling me. They’ve probably started school and are embarking on thrilling and dangerous flirtations.

The Dos Equis wraps around my nerves and relaxes them. I’ve swapped the Hives and the Strokes for Death Cab for Cutie. And it blends perfectly with my respite. Farther east now, I think we’ve hit Hercules, where new houses have popped up like mushrooms grown too close. Old houses and buildings on the edge of town are strangely boarded up. I don’t know why.

All would be perfect if this beer was a Negra Modelo. Oh, how I love my Negra. The flavor is rich and deep and is better without a lime than with. I fell in love with it at Las Mesas, a great little taqueria in the Lower Haight that closed less than a year after it opened, the owner deciding there was more profit in bagels than burritos. Pretty Elizabeth would bring me my Negra Modelo, smiling shyly, knowing before I ordered that I’d ask for it. I’d enjoy it while I waited for our to-go burritos—mine almost always a chicken mole burrito, no chicken, and Juiceboy’s a veggie burrito—they had an amazing number of grilled veggies in their vegetarian items. The Bug tried everything, but loved the shrimp the most.

Las Mesas, this beer’s for you.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Harvesting the Tomatoes

It's the end of August. The kids are back in school and nights are cooler. Radish seeds are planted and the strawberries are making one last heroic push. And my tomato plants, which are the wildest, scariest thicket of bushes you've ever seen, are finally putting out.

Not many toms, as you can see, considering I have six plants. Those wrinkly ones are quite interesting. I can't remember what they're called (yes, I should have saved the little plastic thingy that they stick in the soil), but the flesh tastes quite meaty. I'm not sure if I like them or not. The darker ones are called black beauties, and end up looking like they've gone bad, because they're all tinged with dark green, but they are really quite good.

They're a strange group of fruits, they are. I'll have to make a sauce and freeze it. We're almost tomato'd out!

Food blogs

Jeez. Do you know how many food blogs are out there? 87 trillion. Yes. And most of them take themselves incrediably seriously. Please. We are what we eat and all that crap.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The Bug, who is nine and not always the easiest to please, announced "We should have this every night!"

This is a good use of leftover chicken when whole chickens are on sale. I bought two, and was able to have two dinners of roasted chicken, a couple of lunches of chicken sandwiches, and then this yummy, stewy soup. And I REFUSE to go the Rachael Ray way by calling it "stoup"!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • Make a broth with the meaty bones of two roast chickens. (I like to reserve the meat from one and add it at the very end before the soup is served.)
  • How to make a broth: take the chicken bones/meat, at least one onion, one or two large carrots, celery hearts with leaves, a handful of smashed garlic cloves, and a handful of peppercorns. If you want to saute the veggies to bring out the flavor, do! Then, cover with fresh, cold water. Simmer for a number of hours until reduced to about 50%.
  • Strain the solids from the broth, reserving any good meat and carrots. But for lord's sake, throw out the skin! Allow broth to cool, then skim any fat.
  • Saute in butter or olive oil one chopped onion, two carrots, two-to-three ribs of celery, until fragrant.
  • Add back the broth and meat, bring to a slow boil.
  • Add one 16oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes, with liquids.
  • Add one can black beans, with liquids.
  • Add one cup frozen corn.
  • Add chili powder and cumin, to taste.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of small pasta, such as orzo. I like a star shape. The smaller, the better, because pasta absorbs a lot of liquid as the soup sits. Don't add too much or you'll have pasta stew.
  • Taste for seasoning (salt, pepper, spiciness)
  • Crush tortilla chips into the bottom of each bowl, add soup. Then top with chopped green onion, cilantro and about a tablespoon of shredded mexican blend or colby jack cheese. Cheese is, of course, optional.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Breakfast at Any Time is Good

Last night Juiceboy was scheduled to make Stir-fried veggies and rice. The only problem was he didn't realize it was brown rice and would take much longer than he had planned. We were all starving at 6:30pm and didn't want to be eating at 7:30 or 8pm, so we started thinking about what to have or do.

I was trying to convince him that it would take that long to cut up all the veggies and get them going, but he wasn't having it. What to do? Make breakfast for dinner!

To start:

Homemade Pancakes
I think pancakes made from scratch are nicer than those out of a box. You can adjust the mix to suit your taste (fluffier? more baking powder. Thinner? More eggs and milk. Etc.)

Sift all dry ingrediants:
1.5 Cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Then mix separately:
1 to 2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 C milk (I use 1%)
3 Tablespoons melted butter
dash of vanilla

Mix wet into dry until just mixed. Let the lumps sit. This is one of those times you don't overmix, like muffin baking. And then walk away. Cut up your fruit for toppings, etc. After ten to fifteen minutes (if you have the time, let the batter sit longer in the fridge!), prep your pan.

I like an iron skillet. They hold the heat evenly. Juiceboy likes a well-buttered pan, I like a lightly Pam-sprayed pan. If you're buttering, keep the heat lower and cook the pancakes slowly.

Cook the pancakes as you normally would. Serve with sliced strawberries and fresh blueberries, organic maple syrup (or 100% maple syrup, none of that fake artificially-flavored sugar water!). One of our favorite toppings is a strawberry syrup sold by Safeway, warmed up and over the fruit. Yum.

Ham and Eggs
Food Network just ran a repeat of Rachel Ray's Green Eggs & Ham. However our Ham & Eggs is absolutely nuthin fancy.

One ham steak--like a $1.29 Farmer John ham steak. Throw it in a pan with a little oil or butter (Juiceboy skipped that part and it just made cleanup a little harder). Heat on low till it's carmelized a bit.

Sunnyside up eggs: Two eggs per person. Butter/oil your iron skillet, heat on medium. Get all the eggs cracked in there, salt and pepper them, and then cover the pan with a lid. At this point I lower the heat to medium low and go set the table.

After about four or five minutes the whites on the top of the egg should be set. Slide onto the plate with the ham (that has been sliced into three or four pieces, one per person). And then enjoy with the pancakes and fruit!

Breakfast is great at any time of the day!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Chopped Salad and Cobb Salad

Two of my favorite salads are chopped salad and Cobb Salad. Chopped salads are easy to make and easy to eat (you literally chop everything into bite-sized pieces); Cobb salads are robust entree salads that has something for everybody.

The following is a mix of the two. Make the salad yours--add and subtract what you like!

Chopped Cobb Salad

One-to-two heads romaine lettuce, chopped into one-to-two inch pieces. Or, if you've got some organic spring mix, that's very nice. Of course, you won't chop it...
One large grilled chicken breast, chopped into one-inch cubes.
One to two ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped.
One to two ripe avocados, chopped to small cubes. Spritz with lemon juice to
keep from browning.
Three or four eggs, hard-boiled, cooled, and...chopped.
Bacon or ham, about one cup, chopped. Substitute turkey if you prefer.
1/2 cup Red onion, chopped, or green scallions if you prefer.
Small cubed cheese, flavorful and light in color. I like blue cheese/gorgonzola. Feta would be good, as would a nice havarti. (Cheese is optional, esp. for you waist watchers)
Red, yellow and orange peppers; cored, seeded and chopped to one-inch

Salad dressing. With all these flavors I prefer to simply toss with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper, and some snipped fresh herbs like basil or dill. If you prefer bottled, I recommend Paul Newman's "Newman's Own Caesar"

Remember, this dish is all about presentation at the table.
Spread lettuce on a large, flat tray. Then, alternating colors, spread other ingredients in lines across the lettuce. Have more egg than onion? Put the onions on the ends where the lines should be shorter, and the egg in the middle.
Alternate meat/veggie/dairy as well as colors.

If you don't have an ingredient, simply replace it with something else.
Marinated new red potatoes would be nice. Celery adds good crunch. Even sesame
seeds would be an interesting addition.

Serves four as an entree; serve with good, crusty bread.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bread Machine Recipes

I recently received a second-hand bread machine from my mother-in-law (thank you!). I've figured out what buttons to push to make it go--it didn't come with an instruction booklet. Because I've made the one white bread recipe printed on the side of the machine so many times now that I'm bored with it, I went looking for other recipes.

Here are some good sites that offer a variety of Bread Machine Recipes: