Friday, December 21, 2007

Too busy to eat?

A friend mentioned the lack of posts on my blog saying, "Wow, you must be losing a ton of weight. You're too busy to eat!"

No, just too busy to write about it. I type with the baby on my lap trying tp eat the keyboard. One handed typing goes slowly.

We're eating a lot of chicken, steamed bveggies (like brocolli and snow peas) and whole grains or brown rice. This is in anticipation of the feasting that will begin with tonight, our Winter Solstice celebration.

The Bug and I have fallen in love with Saigon #1--the boy enjoying Bun, no imperial rolls, and me munching on the "small" pho. In fact, we'll probably hit it today to celebrate a GREAT report card.

The 26-pound Coconut has now hit too many keys--must publish or perish.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Black Bean Stew

I love black bean soup. And I love a thick stew. I got to thinking about bean and pea soups, and how much I love them, but that one of my friends never has even tried them because she doesn't eat pork...and almost all bean and pea soups are built around ham of some sort.

So how could I get the same rich flavor, I wondered, without using pork? Vegetarian black bean soup is really flat and dull (to my taste), and since beans aren't normally roasted, the same depth of flavor can't be built. I perused the meats in my local market, finally deciding, with a sigh, that I wasn't going to find a good replacement--at least not at the price I wanted to pay. So over I marched to the ham hocks.

And there, right next to them, was something I'd never noticed before: smoked turkey parts. Wings or drumsticks, vacuum-packed in pairs, with the drums about $6 for two. Was this the solution I was looking for? I rushed home to try it out. And here is the glorious result.

Black Bean Stew

1 pound black beans (usually one bag), picked over, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 smoked turkey drumsticks
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
water to cover--if you have chlorinated water go ahead an buy a big 2.5 gallon bottle of spring water for best flavor
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon vinegar or juice of one lime

Serving garnish: Sour cream, minced scallion, chopped cilantro, diced avocado, and/or a little shredded cheese.

Place beans, turkey drumsticks, bay leaves, oregano and baking soda in large pot, add water to cover (about 6 cups) with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; skim scum as it rises to surface. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer briskly until beans are tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (if necessary, add another 1 cup water and continue to simmer until beans are tender); do not drain beans. Discard bay leaves. Remove turkey, cut into shreds or cubes, and set aside.

Now, heat oil in a soup or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrot, celery, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, bean cooking liquid, and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Blend until half blended with an immersion or traditional blender. If necessary, thicken with water/cornstarch. Add lime juice or vinegar to brighten the flavor, and then add the turkey meat and black pepper. Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.

Our Little Coconut

The Bug just said, "The Baby is like a coconut: after he eats, if you shake him you can hear the milk inside!"

Friday, November 09, 2007

Food fiascos and other tales

Have to type fast as the Baby has just decided to wake up and get crabby.

Had leftover crusty bread and some tart apples. Made french toast with apples--had some fancy name. Looked and smelled great, but it really needed something else. Caramel? The apples should have been crisper maybe. The french toast itself was nice. I baked the whole thing in the oven and baking the toast seemed to work really well.

Made Pastitsio, which is like Greek Lasagna. Usually I do really well with it and it's a pot-luck favorite. Of course, this time I was cooking for both my In-Laws and my Parents, and somehow I overcooked it. The macaroni on top was crispy and hard and the cheese was far from melty--it was that hard, crispy overcooked cheese. Not nice. But everyone was positively lovely about it, even my father in-law, who was silent as he took the hard bits that he didn't want to eat out of his mouth.

Went to a place called Henry's in Berkeley. It's in the Hotel Durant, and I guess it's really a college bar and grill. It was pleasant and old and reeked of Cal (which is UC Berkeley). I got braised short ribs served on a bed of red beans and rice. I don't count the four asparagus spears as "Seasonal Vegetables" but "GARNISH." The food could have been seasoned better with salt and pepper, but the beef was tender and the beans and rice were cooked to perfect doneness. I wasn't impressed with what my co-diner got, but she seemed happy with her "cheap steak", so I'll go back again, given the right opportunity.

Making Steamed Clams tonight. If it goes right, I'll blog it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Searching for Seafood in SF

Yesterday I met Kiwi blogger Pixie, who I've known for about 11 years over email. Here's a quick accounting of how simple finding good seafood in SF wasn't.

We first went to the Golden Gate Bridge, walking halfway across in the chilly, gray wind. I staved off my Vertigo and managed not to babble too much about old movies that were filmed around the bridge and SF (like Vertigo...).

Then we drove through the rich-rich neighborhood of Seacliff where Robin Williams lives, past the nudie beach, past Seal Rock, and looked in vain for parking. Pixie said our Pacific Ocean and beach look somewhat like hers.

We went off in search of a place for good seafood and crab. I took her to the Inner Sunset (where I used to live) to PJs Oyster Bed. It isn't open at lunchtime.

So we drove on, through the Haight (where I also used to live), down a great steep SF hill, and into the "snazzy area" of Polk Gulch. Lots of local color (and gay adult video stores) there. We went to Swans Oyster Depot...where there are only about 9 seats and I forgot it's just counter service and the three guys slinging crab behind the counter looked at my red-faced baby in the stroller and got wild-eyed and nervous.

So we drove on, down Bush Street, through the TenderNob (in between Nob Hill and the Tenderloin...where I also used to live) and decided to spend the afternoon PARKED in Union Square. And I took her to Farallon, my absolute favorite seafood restaurant, where it looks like you're under the sea and the light fixtures all look like blown glass jelly fish. We grabbed hold of the large brass door handles shaped like salmon and pullled....they were locked. The place was closed for a private event. Pixie laughed and laughed and laughed.

It was 2pm, we were starving, I was mortified. We ended up atop Macy's, looking out at the skyline of Union Square, eating fish tacos (Pixie) and a cuban pork sandwich (me) at the Cheesecake Factory. We tried hard to finish our cheesecake and tiramisu but just couldn't. Then, down we went to window shop for nearly two hours.

Pixie is absolutely lovely and I'm crushed that I had such a short time with her. Lucky New Zealand!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Apple Salad

Oh, I'm so tired. The baby is gianourmous--15 pounds at eight weeks. He wants to eat and be held constantly. The Bug needs extra help with school (the teachers all say, "He'd do so well if he just focused and did his work. He has so much potential.) Juiceboy wants grown-up attention after tending to the kids all day; it's hard work being a full-time parent! And October is my busiest month at work; I'll put in close to 55 hours this week.

When I cook I'm trying hard to focus on healthy, fast and cheap. Tonight I made panko breaded pork chops, sauted spinach, and apple salad for dinner. My favorite was the apple salad--it's basically a Waldorf Salad. It goes nicely with pork chops and is a quick and healthy autumn side.

Apple Salad

Two Granny Smith apples, cored and diced (peel left on)
One tablespoon fresh lime juice (toss with apples to prevent browning)
One cup raisins
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup light mayo

Mix all together. Some people like a little salt to bring out the sweetness of the apples. Let sit for 15 minutes for flavors to meld.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Faux Pho

The Bug and I had a craving for Pho and Bun. Who doesn't love noodle soups? I didn't have any rice noodles in the house, and sure didn't have any scrumptious spring rolls. But I did have some good odds and ends, and ended up making a darned good Faux Pho.

Faux Pho
1/2 Yellow Onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
One tablespoon olive oil
One tablespoon sesame oil
About one teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamon
3-4 alspice seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
Fresh or dried ginger, to taste
Chicken broth
Angel hair/vermicelli pasta
Thinly sliced beef, pork, or chicken (I used leftover steak)

For garnish--use what you have around:
Minced scallions
Mint leaves or cilantro
Sliced jalepenos
Lime wedge
Hot sauce
Bean Sprouts

In a large, deep saucier pan/pot, saute onion and garlic in oils until soft and fragrant. Add spices and cook about 30 seconds, or till fragrant. Add the chicken broth--I've left amounts of the broth and noodles up to you. Some like it soupier, some want to make pho for four, some for one. Heat to boiling and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer about five to ten minutes (this is a good time to prep all your garnishes). Use a hand-held strainer, like a tea strainer, to remove alspice and fennel seeds. If you can't get them all, don't sweat it.

Bring broth back to a boil and add pasta. Cook according to directions, stirring frequently. You should have a lot of pasta in relation to your broth, but remember, it will continue to suck up the broth as it sits in the pot, so not too much pasta!

Add sliced meat about one minute before serving. Serve in a deep bowl with garnishes on a plate on the side.

For a bonus, I threw in a couple of Ling Ling's potstickers--it was a wierd combo dish of pho and potsticker bun.

The Bug said it was as good as the pho we get when we're at pho places. I take that as a big compliment, since he's become a pho expert!

Bits and Pieces

I'm playing catch-up. I'm back to work (started right after Labor Day), working from home two days a week, and running around like mad the rest of the time. The baby is fat--today is the last day for his 0-3 months onsies, even though he's just two months. I think he'll weigh in at about 14.5 pounds at his appointment with the doctor. It's all that good, healthy mothers milk. Everytime I think I'm done with the breastfeeding/pumping routine, I remind myself that this kid is doing good on it.

And *I'm* still losing weight, though not working hard to do so. I'm down 22.5 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. Hooray! I had a baby two months ago and have lost a total of 39.5 pounds!

So here's some of what's going on:

1) I can cook rice again. And ooohhhh, is it good!
2) I have a good recipe for Faux Pho. I'll post it in the next day. No pictures though, sorry.
3) The heirloom tomatos at our local farm, Parker Farms, are beautiful and delicious. But even better is the yellow watermellon. It is sweet and unbelievably juicy. I asked the ladies at the stand what kind of watermellon it was, and they looked at me funny and said, "....yellow?"
4) Buying local and fresh is the way to go. I made a tomato salad that looked delicious. I layered tomatoes, cucumbers and "fresh" mozzarella (not the rubbery stuff but the more expensive kind packed in water). I seasoned with salt and pepper. I drizzled olive oil on it. It looked great but had absolutely no flavor. Why? Because the vegetables HAD NO FLAVOR. I bought them at Safeway. They were probably two weeks old by the time we got them on our plate. Blech.
5) We saved money on Juiceboy's birthday. Instead of going out to a steakhouse, I turned our house into one. I bought NY Strip Steaks from Costco (I've never paid $30 for three steaks...unless I'm at a steak house, and then I'm paying that much for one). I was very careful in how I cooked them, and they came out perfectly (I'll post the recipe here later). And with these gigantic brontosaurus steaks we had big baked potatoes and steamed cauliflower. Of course, there was bacon and chives and (light) sour cream for the potatoes. For desert? Ghirradeli brownies. We're not big cake people....

Must dash. The baby is about to do this:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Man Dies from Popcorn Lung??!!

An item in today's news warns that not only workers in buttery-flavored microwave popcorn plants can be injured from exposure to the fumes of fake butter. Consumers can too:

"...the ailing patient... consumed "several bags of extra butter flavored microwave popcorn" every day for several years.

He described progressively worsening respiratory symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath. Tests found his ability to exhale was deteriorating ...although his condition seemed to stabilize after he quit using microwave popcorn."

Huh. The piggie consumed several bags of extra butter flavored microwave popcorn EVERY DAY FOR SEVERAL YEARS--and his doctor is worried about his shortness of breath? Doesn't she know that when you weigh 87 Trillion Pounds you might have a slight problem breathing?

Maybe when he quit "using" microwave popcorn he started using carrots and apples instead.

Yeah, right.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Curried Pork Salad

"Curried Pork Salad"??? What kind of name is that for a hearty, low-fat, Moroccan-inspired salad? Good lord, you'd think someone with a degree in creative writing could come up with something better than "Curried Pork Salad". But I can't.

This is low-fat and a hit with 10-year old and 36-year old boys.

Curried Pork Salad

2 cups low-fat plain yogurt
2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon honey
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and black pepper
optional: fresh mint or cilantro, chopped

Whisk marinade, taste and adjust accordingly. Reserve one cup for dressing.

Four boneless pork loin chops, marinated in yogurt marinade for one to four hours.
Your favorite leaf lettuce (I like Costco's Organic Spring Mix)
One cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
One bell pepper, cored and chopped
Half a red or white onion, thinly sliced
One box of your favorite couscous, prepared
About two cups cooked lentils, warmed

Broil or grill the pork chops until cooked through. Assemble lettuce and vegetables in a large bowl, toss with salt & pepper. Place salad on individual plates, top with one cup warm couscous. Top that with 1/2 cup lentils. Drizzle with 1/3 cup dressing (DO NOT USE the marinade--that should be thrown away!). Slice one chop into thin slices and place on top of lentils. For garnish: diced red bell pepper. Makes four servings.

The Truth about Starbucks

I love my Starbucks. It's a guilty, guilty pleasure. I know I have to give it up, once and for all. I know this because it's disgustingly expensive. But more so because the drinks that I like are LOADED with sugar. I might as well pour my coffee over ice cream and call it a coffee sundae!

My daily coffee--a Venti Non-Fat, No-Whip Caramel Mocha. Yes, it has calcium. But it also has 375 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. And it costs $4.20 a day now that the price has gone up again.

Sigh. This morning's was my last.

(Have I mentioned that I'm down 15 pounds from pre-baby weight?)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Birthday Wishes

My birthday is coming up and I can't decide on what to do. It needs to be:

  1. something all three or four of us can enjoy (if I can't palm the baby off on family)
  2. not more than $100
  3. not crowded--Juiceboy hates a crowd
  4. no more than 50 minutes driving, so SF is in but Tahoe is out
  5. something where food or eating is involved...I think.
Some things I've been thinking about include a cheap lunch of sandwiches in a park and sending Fleagirl to a cooking class; a nice lunch in SF or Napa; finding someplace neat like Cowgirl Creamery to take a tour; a dinner in a dive after a movie.

I don't really want any presents this year--I need to buy new shoes and get my hair done before I go back to work in September, so I basically will buy myself my b-day present.

Anyone have good ideas for a good family b-day activity?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

True Confessions: Bagged Salad

I have a confession to make. I've been buying pre-made bagged salads for the past month. It goes against everything I strive to achieve. It's cheap produce that's expensive simply because it's washed and put in a bagged "kit" for me. On sale, a bag costs about $3.50. For that much, couldn't I shred some fresh carrots, chop some romaine and red cabbage, throw in a handful of sugar snap peas, won ton strips, and ten dried cherries? Well, yes, probably. Dressing would be a problem (we all like the dressing in the Asian Supreme bag very much) but I'm sure I could work it out.

So why don't I go to the local farmstand and buy fresh and local? Why do I spend so much for salad that only has flavor because of the dressing?

Because of the convenience. Now, Deborah of Play with Food might argue with me about how convenient this food is. But I can honestly say that in the past three weeks, there's no way salad was going to be made by anyone unless it was super easy. Today I used the last of my bags--and with it made a promise to the local farmers that I'll be by this week.

Notice on my shopping list I *don't* have "Salad Bags"!

(If you do succumb to the lure of the bagged salad, forego the Salsa variety of the Fresh Express brand. We all thought it tasted quite odd--there was too much dressing, the tortilla strips seem almost meaty, and the dressing is too much like a thick thousand island sour cream.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Breastfeeding: What Not to Eat

There's lots of tips on what you should eat and drink when you're breastfeeding. But not a lot out there on what *not* to eat so that your baby isn't gassy and cranky all night long.

Here's the start of what I hope is a SHORT list:

What Not to Eat When Breastfeeding
Sauerkraut (made him incredibly gassy)

11/10/07: I've discovered that the Baby is generally gassy and cranky. In the first two months I all but cut from my diet:

and of course, sauerkraut.

Eventually, his dad found that he was better on formula--but only slightly better, and it has to be soy-based.

Now, this Baby is thriving. At 3.5 months, he's about 27 inches and 19.5 pounds. HUGE. He's in 9 month clothing. I've started thinking about feeding him rice cereal, as he's drinking us out of house and home!

Friday, August 10, 2007

What's on Your Grocery List?

Our grocery list is growing. Even though my mother-in-law was really kind and brought us a ton of ham, frozen chicken, and pasta sauce, I still have a rapidly growing grocery list.

Grocery list as of 8/10:

tortilla bread (Oroweat Outlet)
milk (Costco)
Special K w/berries (Costco)
Mini-Wheats (Costco)
boullion cubes
olive oil
tortilla chips
dried cranberries
chicken broth
tinned tomatoes
peanut butter (Costco)
tomato sauce
tom. paste
shredded carrot
clothes pins (Target)
red onion
frozen fruit (Trader Joes or Costco)
cocoa powder
honey (Costco)
AA batteries (Costco)
eggs (Costco)
nectarines or peaches
toothbrushes (Target)
draino (Target)
jemima paper
decent vinegar
green chiles
school lunch stuff

It's such a huge list that I'm going to wait till payday--I haven't even gone through and *made* a list yet. This is just stuff we've run out of in the past two and a half weeks. I meant to go shopping before the baby came. Hahahahaaaa.

Monday, August 06, 2007

About the Baby

Thanks for all your kind emails. Here's the scoop on this little burrito.

Dylan was born two weeks ago and weighed 8lbs 9oz and was 21.5 inches. He weighed in last week at just over 9lbs (good boy!) and has been enjoying a milk diet. I have lost a total of 30 pounds in just two weeks and am pretty much exhausted.

Food these days is a bowl of frosted mini-wheats with 1% milk for breakfast, a peanut butter & honey sandwich for lunch, and whatever is put in front of me for dinner. Tonight I think I actually have to cook, since I said today would be good for kielbasa & pierogies (it's about 57 degrees here in sunny Northern California). Though what I really want is a big guacamole burger from Carl's Jr. Or a bowl of soup.

I'm off to take a nap before the little blighter wakes up.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How to Lose 26 Pounds in One Week

How to Lose 26 Pounds in One Week:


Friday, July 13, 2007

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies

The Bug flipped over his handlebars last month and broke his two front teeth. Now he has to eat soft food and nothing he has to bite into. It's been a challenge, but we've found a few things that he really enjoys.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies

One banana
Two to three tablespoons smooth peanut butter (depending on your taste)
Two tablespoons chocolate syrup
Approximately 1 cup ice
One cup milk

Add all ingrediants to a blender and blend on high until smooth and frothy. This is a thin smoothie--add more milk if it's thick. Drink with a straw and enjoy!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Our Pho Field Trip

The Bug and I are doing field trips every Saturday. One weekend we went to Oakland's famous Chicken 'N Waffles (like Roscoe's, but not) as part of our "EXPLORE Oakland" field trip. We saw Jack London's little Alaskan shack, we looked at a lighthouse boat, we drove through West Oakland and looked at the folks working on their yards and corner gardens, and we spent some time in the giant, beautiful cemetary.

Last weekend we went to the Benicia Camel Barns. No eating involved with that one.

This weekend I had lots of shopping to do and didn't have time for a historic field trip. Instead, we went to Saigon #1 on North Texas Street in Fairfield and tried out some Vietnamese food. I'm no stranger to Bun and Pho, but I knew the Bug was and figured he'd enjoy it. I was right.

We arrived at 2pm to an empty, clean strip-mall hole-in-the-wall. It seemed to be staffed by 14-year old boys. We ordered a small Pho with brisket ($4.95) for the Bug (no tendon, thank you very much) and Bun with grilled pork and fried roll ($6.50) for me.

Oh. Guess I should mention that my kid had a bike accident a few days ago and bashed apart his two front teeth, doing himself some pretty nasty damage. No biting into foods and no hard food for at least 6 weeks. So I figured nice soft rice noodles and soothing broth would be a comfort.

I wasn't impressed with the veggies that came with the Pho. A lot of crunchy bean sprouts, one sad sprig of mint, three slices of jalepeno, and a tiny wedge of lime. No cilantro at all. But then again, I thought my kid would really only touch the lime, so I didn't say anything.

We also got one summer shrimp roll and one fried pork roll. Both were a hit with the kid...I objected to the substitution of lettuce for mint in the summer roll.

The grilled pork in the Bun was GREAT. Really flavorful, a little crispy, and perfectly cooked. The broth in the Pho was pretty good too. The only thing we didn't like was the watermellon smoothie, no pearls ($2.47) which was so fake and powdery tasting neither of us drank it. Imagine...a kid not liking a cold shake that tastes like Watermellon Bubbalicious!

The Bug ended up falling in love with bean sprouts. He wrapped up a package of them in a large lettuce leaf and munched on them in the car on the way to Costco. Very happy kid. We'll go back.

Saigon #1
1972 N. Texas Street
Fairfield, CA

Grilled Chicken Marinade

I'm getting closer and closer to having this kid. The due date is July 19th, so I'm almost "within the zone." Of course, the Bug was two weeks late. Though I don't think this one will do that to us, considering I've been having some serious Braxton Hicks (painless contractions) the past two days.

Anyway, with the mother of all barbeque holidays coming up, I thought I'd post my marinade for grilled chicken. This is good all year round and is quick and easy. It's MUCH better to make your own marinade than to open a bottle. Why? You control what goes into it. No monosodium diglutamate or polyunsacharide disorbatine.

With this one you won't get deep color on the grill (no sugar) and if you use more lemon juice your chicken will be whiter than normal. But it will taste sooooo good and juicy!

Grilled Chicken Marinade

1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C good white wine
1/3 C warm water
2 to 4 crushed garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Put in a blender or food processor and blend until well mixed. If you don't have one, just mince your garlic well and gently julienne your basil.

Pour over four to six chicken breasts. I use skinless chicken breasts, and seal it all up tightly in a freezer bag. Marinate for at least 30 minutes--but an hour in the fridge is better.

Save some of the marinade for using on the chicken after it's cooked--don't use raw chicken marinade.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Koryo Wooden Charcoal Barbecue

Yesterday I lunched at Oakland's Koryo Wooden Charcoal Barbecue, hoping to find those buns that Bon Vivant has on her blog. Alas, no buns. (The cheapest appetiser was about nine bucks--and I think it was fried shrimp).

I arrived around 2:30, after running work errands. It was a Friday and I trolled Telegraph Avenue trying to figure out what the best Korean place would be for a late lunch. Koryo is hidden in the corner of a little Korean strip mall, and has some parking, for the very lucky. I was lucky.

They take plastic, so in I went. The waitress seemed surprised when I asked if they were still open. How was I to know? It was pretty late for lunch and the place was empty except for staff. She seated me at a table for six, facing a large, dirty aquarium. I noticed later that the aquarium had water, rocks, etc., but no fish. But there was a large can of fish food next to it. Hmmmmm.

I had lots to read with me, so didn't fret when the waitress ignored me to do her prep work at other tables. I ordered Bulgogi for $5.95 and a diet soda. The soda came quickly, as did some water.
Eventually, out she came with a large tray. She plopped down about nine little bowls of stuff, a small metal bowl of rice, a larger metal bowl of what looked to be hot pond water, and a sizzling metal and wood tray of beef. No individual plate. Here's your spoon, here's your chopsticks. Goodbye.

She left me to contend with the array of food in front of me. I recognized the rice, cucumber, and kim chee. There were two kinds of cold sprouts: one with large beans and one that was fatter and grey. As I'm pregnant and can't remember the warnings about sprouts, I ate them sparingly. There was some chunked vegetable in a kimchee type arrangement, and another crunchy green type of vegetable also fermented. I liked the pickled, shredded something. Daikon? The pond water tasted like pond water and I wondered if the aquarium served a purpose. There was a cold potato, fried (tempura'd?), and plunked in honey that was interesting.
The one thing I really, really hated looked like fat string beans but tasted like it had been scraped off the inside of said aquarium. After reading other reviews, I wonder if this was some sort of reconstituted fish product? Ieewwwww. (I'm not an adventurous eater. Really, I'm not.)
The beef itself was good and plentiful, though a bit bland. I would have liked more kimchee to go with it, but was reluctant to ask. There were no sauces on the table.

As I was finishing up a party of three came in. They were college students, and appeared to be Asian. The waitress was no ruder or more polite to them than she was to me. With a tip and tax, I paid $10.65 for my very filling lunch.

I'd like to go back to experience the bibimbap and the grilling. And as I passed the kitchen staff sitting together for their own lunch, an older man joyfully yelled through a mouthful of rice, "THANK YOU!"

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

For the Food Network, Memorial Day signifies the beginning of grilling/bbq season. I blissed out on barbeque shows last weekend, making myself crave barbeque with a vengence. It's rare that I rue the day we left San Francisco, but last weekend I did--because we used to be so close to Memphis Minnie's. Memphis Minnie's does 'que the way I like it: dry rubs with flavorful sauces on the table for *you* to add.

I skipped out to the store and found a lovely cheap shoulder blade pork roast for only $4.50 (which is unheard of in the Bay Area). I cooked it slowly and lovingly and it gave us great pulled pork sandwiches for days afterwards.

Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork Sandwiches
1 pork shoulder blade roast (4-5 pounds)
4T ground cumin
1/4C packed brown sugar
4 T paprika (I used sweet)
1/4 C chili powder
2T red pepper flakes
liberal amount of salt and fresh pepper
2T vegetable oil
1 C Apple juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim excess fat off roast. Mix all the dry ingrediants in a bowl, adjusting for taste and amount (if you have a large roast you'll need more rub). Rub meat with seasonings. At this point, you can let the roast sit up to a day--wrapped and refrigerated--but I'm impatient and last minute, so I get going with the cooking.

Heat a large, heavy, ovenproof pot at medium. Add the oil. Once heated, brown the meat on all sides. When sufficiently browned, cover pot with aluminum foil and an oven-proof lid. Cook in oven at 325 for about 3 hours (until pork is at 170-175 degrees and tender tender tender). Halfway through the cooking process baste meat with apple juice.

Remove from oven and pot, and let juices settle. Skim the fat from pan juices and set those juices aside. When the meat is cool enough to handle, shred with two forks:

Mix in with the pan juices (watch out--don't add too much liquid!).

At this point you can add in your favorite barbeque sauce. Some people will only make their own. I like Emeril's Sweet N Easy Molasses BBQ sauce.

The result:

Juiceboy and I both like our Pulled Pork Sandwiches to be topped with a vinegary, crispy coleslaw. The Bug likes just the meat, of course. And I only use those terrible, fluffy sandwich buns for this sloppy sandwich. No Kaiser Rolls to get in the way of my chomping down!

Typical American Serving Suggestions: Boston Baked Beans (we like Bush's Honey Beans); corn on the cob, garden salad.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Amsterdam Special

A few years ago I was fortunate to be sent to Amsterdam for work. Mornings I got up and wandered the city on foot before I headed off to work. One of the nicest mornings--and breakfasts--I had was along one of the canals in a sleepy little residential neighborhood. I'd popped into a shop and purchased a little sandwich and enjoyed it as the city started to rise.

I've craved that sandwich ever since and recreated it to the best of my ability on Saturday.

The Amsterdam Special
One sourdough baguette, cut into three or four sections
Softened, salted butter
Ripe tomatoes, sliced
Havarti cheese, sliced thin
Salt and pepper

Cut the bread to make a sandwich, and butter liberally. Cover with salted & peppered tomatoes; add at least two slices of cheese to each sandwich. Enjoy with a cold beer outside!

Cocktail Bits and Pieces

The '50's Cocktail Party ended up not being a 50's cocktail party at all. Sure, that was the purported theme, but I really didn't see anything there that said 50s cocktail party. It wasn't really clear on the invites and people showed up wearing all sorts of clothes (my awful maternity top was decidedly modern, though it does show a lot of boob).

The instructions I was given was to bring two cold and two hot appetizers, finger-only food. The hots were to come out 90 minutes after the party began; since I live two doors down this wasn't a problem. I did, however, want to be sure I didn't go over my budget ($100 for all the appetizers, for 40 people) and didn't bite off more than I could chew in terms of energy. As the others were doing a lot of items straight from the Costco freezer section, I decided I didn't have to be super fancy.

My menu resulted in a mix of vegetarian, cold and hot, crunchy/chewy/spicy and smooth:

Parmesan Crisps
Crudite with three dips (green goddess; cucumber feta; hummus)
Honey Ginger Chicken Bites
Pigs in a Blanket with three mustards
Oh sooooo fancy!

For the veggies I had pre-washed baggies of snow peas, broccoli, carrots, etc. and just arranged them around a pretty trio of dips. I made the green goddess and bought the others.

Pigs in a Blanket turned out to be the party favorite--I had a dog chasing me down the street and then people jumping on me before I even got in the door.

The honey ginger chicken bites were a Cooking Light recipe made with boneless skinless chicken thighs, marinated, cooked, and then broiled in a glaze. Pretty good over all--but ugly on the plate even with bits of parsley and fancy frilly toothpicks.

The Parmesan Crisps were really my favorite. They should have been placed on the bar for all the folks hanging out getting sloshed. They were a great nibbly thing, just perfect with beer or red wine.

Parmesan Crisps

One sourdough baguette
1/2 pound butter
1/2 to 1 cup grated (not shredded) Parmesan cheese
Julienned basil

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the bread into 1/4" slices. Melt the butter and pour into flat tray or pan. Put cheese in second tray or pan. Dip bread into butter on both sides, taking care not to soak up all the butter. Then coat both sides of bread with cheese. Place all slices on a cookie tray. Bake for nine minutes, then turn over all slices and cook for another four minutes. Sprinkle with basil and allow to cool.

Time is Flying!

Thanks everyone for all the kind notes. May has been a busy month for me, and I seem to want to do nothing but sleep. My goal for today is to stay awake all day and stay up until 9:30 tonight. What a goal, huh?

Actually, I have a number of things I want to do, including baking some bread (we're completely out), get my oil changed, pick up paint chips for the Bug's room (we're switching rooms in anticipation of a squalling kid mid-July), and cooking a very inexpensive roast--pork, of course.

I also intend to write up some of the bits and pieces I've successfully thrown together this month. It hasn't been much, that's for sure.

Now that spring is here, what are you craving? What are you enjoying? Strawberries are unusually sweet and juicy this year. I'm hoping to stop by the U-Pick cherry stand today--but I only have $4 allotted. I wonder how many I can pick for that little?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Steak Salad with Green Godess Dressing

We had leftover london broil in the fridge yesterday and I had seen a snippet of The Barefoot Contessa making a salad with Green Godess dressing. I thought, why not make a steak salad with Green Godess dressing? So I did, and oh boy, was it good. No pictures though--we ate it up too fast!

Steak Salad
Thinly sliced steak--like leftover London Broil
One to two heads butter lettuce, washed and dried
Two ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
Steamed broccoli (I had it leftover)
Yukon gold potatoes, cut in quarters and roasted (again, I had leftovers)
Green Godess Dressing

Toss all the ingredients and serve immediately with crusty sourdough. I like the simplicity of the ingredients, but again, it was what I had in the fridge. What's in yours?

Green Godess Dressing
1 Cup Lowfat Mayo
3/4 Cup light/low fat sour cream
2-3 garlic cloves
3-5 scallions
Juice of one plump lemon
1.5 cups fresh basil
1 teaspoon (or to taste) anchovy paste
Freshly ground pepper

Mix everything in a food processor until smooth and blended. Adjust consistency as needed. This is great as a sandwich spread as well!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bad food is worse than bad sex

My co-worker and I were talking about a recently opened bad Chinese place in Oakland (Emperor Chinese Gourmet: Americanized, bland, flavorless, boring, pedantic, blah and odd). We both tried it because it's near the office and promised cheap eats.

As my pregnancy progresses I've wanted more and more spicy and flavorful food--which I didn't get at Emperor Chinese Gourmet. But I was super hungry so I filled up. Back in the office I realized I was full, but seriously unsatisfied. I rooted around in my desk for an old fireball, some Red Hots, or even a peppermint. I ended up eating peppermint Tums just to get the flavor.

My co-worker said, "Bad food is like bad sex. If you're unsatisfied you end up having to go and make do on your own."

So...don't go to Emperor Chinese Gourmet in Oakland, or you'll be breaking out your vibrator in the middle of the afternoon.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Not a 50s Cocktail Party!

I have to come up with appetizers for an early 1950s cocktail party. Something that says elegant yet retro. Swank yet edible. My old cookbooks are filled with things like rumaki and tomato aspic. Stuff I really, really don't want to make. Last time I had to cook for this type of cocktail party I included "Angels on Horseback" which is a take on rumaki: smoked oysters wrapped in bacon & broiled.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The New York Times published an article today about the perfect Bacon Butty. That's pronounced "boo-tee" or "bood-tee" not "butt-ee".

The first time I had a butty it was on Thanksgiving at the Mayflower in San Rafael. I was surrounded by sweaty, grown men who'd woken up early to go play soccer on a damp field. They were muddy, tired, getting drunk, and very happy. Football--the real kind with the ball that rolls on the ground--was on the telly and some old guy was about to sing pub songs. I felt like the only non-Brit in the place. Which I probably was.

Just when I thought we'd all be blitzed by noon, out came a cherub-faced lady with a platter of sandwiches. They were passed around and I sunk my choppers into it, expecting turkey (it *was* Thanksgiving, afterall).

Instead, it was a dry, dry sandwich. Drrrryyyyyyy. Half-stale white bread, a thin spread of butter, and some really thick steak fries. It needed salt, mayo, pepper, ham, tomato and lettuce to make it palatable. All I had was half a pint of Newcastle. I was starving, so I downed it as I ate.

And wouldn't you know it, by the bottom of that pint, the Chip Butty became the best thing in the world. I wanted to chase that lady down for more. And I look forward to the powder-dry Chip Butty now every year.

In my current pregnant state, a bacon butty sounds even better. Or a bacon sarnie, perfectly made with just the right bread. Focaccia? Dutch crunch? Sourdough!
Of course, there's no place around here that will grill me up a bacon butty for lunch. I wonder if anyone in the office would mind if I cooked me up some bacon in our kitchen?

Monday, April 09, 2007

5.5 Months Pregnant and How Many Pounds?

Have I mentioned that I'm 5 and a half months pregnant and haven't gained any weight yet? I'm thinking if I keep up the healthy living I'll actually be able to get in shape and be in BETTER shape after the squirt is born!

Don't worry folks, I'm not dieting. Just making better choices.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Miso Sour Soup: A Happy Surprise

Last night I made a happy mistake. I was going for hot and sour soup, but ended up with something that tasted like Miso Sour Soup. I added the egg after the broth had cooled some what, so it all broke up and wasn't stringy. The soup looked murky, but when ladeled into bowls it settled down instantly, like Miso Soup does. And the addition of a smoky ham really added that curious flavor that miso has. new mock miso soup:

Miso Sour Soup
3 Cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 T minced ginger
3 T cider vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1/4 Cup bamboo shoots, thinly sliced (julliened if you can)
5 oz firm tofu, cubed
4 oz thinly sliced black forest ham, or other smoked ham, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
3 scallions, cut into one inch lengths

Heat chicken broth in medium to large pot. Add ginger. Bring to a boil and add vinegar and soy sauce, lower heat to medium-low. Add bamboo shoots and tofu, simmer for 10 minutes, or lower to low and let cook while you're making the rest of your meal. When you're ready to eat, add the ham, stirring to separate. Increase heat to medium, add beaten eggs and whisk vigorously. Add the scallions and serve.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ravioli at Il Fornaio

Far be it from me to turn up my nose at a free meal. But the more I think about this one, the more my nose goes up.

I dined at Il Fornaio in Sacramento recently, a business dinner. There were 10 of us there and we were offered a fixed price dinner menu. I don't like mushrooms, so I didn't pick the lasagna. And in the past I've been known for my pasta/chicken/sun-dried tomato dishes, so I wasn't picking that. I really wanted fresh pasta with a flavorful ragu, or something with wonderful fat prawns. But there was none of that, so I went with Ravioli alla Lucana

Housemade ravioli filled with Italian sausage, ricotta, parmesan and fennel;
fresh tomato sauce with imported peperoncino pecorino pepato cheese and fresh basil.

When it arrived it looked good. I was the only one to order it, and there were some long looks in my direction. The raviolis were big and the sauce was bright. But the rave reviews ended there.

The pasta itself was hard, as though it had been left on the counter for a number of hours. The parts that were buried in sauce were soft enough, but a diner shouldn't have to be pushing sauce around to avoid mouthfuls of cardboard pasta.

The filling was incrediably strange. The sausage was hard and crumbly, and the taste was akin to bad college food. It seemed to have been put through a fine food mill, dried out, and not reconstituted. There was no sign of a soft ricotta or fennel--dried or fresh.

The tomato sauce was good. But it's a good thing this pregnant girl has been craving spicy. With my first I couldn't have anything with *any* heat, whatsoever. This sauce was SPICY. I sniffled and snuffled my way through the dinner. Luckily my companions had all found their dishes extremely salty and they were downing the wine so fast no one noticed my runny nose.

But I wonder, if someone who didn't like spicy food had ordered that, what would they have said? Certainly there's nothing in the description that says dried red pepper.

I'd try Il Fornaio again just for the bread (but skip the bread STICKS). And I wouldn't mind moving off the catering menus. I guess that's what you get when you go to a chain...?

Pasta Primavera Salad

Juiceboy got all his favorite veggies this week...and forgot all about them. Last night I made a big pasta salad in celebration of spring. Cheese and salami can be omitted, but it's really tasty with them in!

Pasta Primavera Salad

One package penne or rotelli pasta, cooked, drained and cooled
3 ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 large English or regular cucumber, seeded and diced
1/2 to 1 cup shredded or julliened carrots
Asparagus, blanched and sliced to size of pasta
1/2 cup frozen petite peas, cooked and cooled
1 cup brocolli florets, cut into little pieces
(any other favorite veggies work here too, like red or green pepper)
1/2 cup shredded romano/parmesan cheese
Genoa salami, sliced (amount to your preference, but I used about 1/8 pound)

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar to taste (I add it in little bits until it's at the tartness I like)
Fresh or dried basil
salt and pepper

Mix the dressing in a small jar or liquid measure, testing for flavor. I like mine garlicky and pretty strong on the vinegar. Put pasta in a large bowl and toss with dressing. When fully coated, add all other ingrediants, and toss. Let flavors mingle for about 30 minutes. Can be made ahead of time and refridgerated, but note that the vinegar will make pasta brownish and peas and asparagus will lose their lovely bright green hue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fiasco #87: Quiche

Who in the world can mess up quiche when you use a ready-made crust? Oh look, there's Fleagirl, jumping up and down with her hand raised, shouting "Me! Me!"

Yes, another pregnancy-related kitchen fiasco. I decided to use up two slices of bacon and half an onion that was getting a little old. I had a Pillsbury crust and a couple of eggs. Very nice Sunday brunch. Until I decided I wanted to pre-bake that crust.

I made pre-baking mistakes in my past, with homemade crust, by not weighing it down. I don't have pie weights, so I decided to use rice. Simple enough.

Except I couldn't get the rice out of the baked crust when it was done. Yes folks, I was a dodo head and didn't line the crust with foil first. Just poured that rice in and it baked nicely into the bottom. And the corners. And the folded parts where the crust slid down the STRAIGHT-SIDED pan I decided to use.

At this point I was having crust in my quiche one way or another. So I broke it all apart, dug out the rice, and reformed a rough approximation of a crust. Of course, as soon as I poured the egg into the crust it flowed around, behind and under all that lovely riced crust.

In the end, it looked AWFUL. But it tasted no worse than a lot of quiches I've had in cafes and salad shops.

Lesson learned: Line the stupid crusts with foil before pouring rice into them.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday Bagels

I love bagels. I'm a Long Island girl, so I have to love bagels. I love to have bagels plain with a little schmear of butter or cream cheese. But those pictured above are pure heaven.

Sunday Bagels
Everything bagel, or variety of your choice
Neufchatel cheese (half the fat of cream cheese)
Good smoked ham, sliced medium
Juicy, red, ripe tomato, sliced thick
Pepper and garlic salt

I prefer these bagels untoasted. Smear a little cheese (not too much) on each side of your cut bagel. Fold on a slice or two of ham on each half, then a whole juicy slice of tomato. Sprinkle judiciously with fresh cracked pepper and garlic salt. Try not to gobble it down before you get to the table.


Pre-pregnancy I was a caffeine addict. One Venti Caramel Mocha from Starbucks every day, followed up by multiple cans of Diet Pepsi. I tried hard to get a couple of glasses of water in me daily as well, but if I had two, I was doing great.

I was also a big-time meat eater. And I ate vegetables, but fruit didn't get down my gullet too often.

Now, I'm drinking 10 to 12 glasses of water daily, no caffeine unless it's a super emergency and then it's very small and usually not finished. I was drinking a lot of V-8 and orange juice early on, but now I'm pretty much doing just water. My skin's better, and I'm sure peeing a lot.

Juiceboy also is in a vegetarian phase. I'm eating very little meat, and not missing it at all like I did in the past. We're not vegan, and meat definitely does play a part of my diet--my sandwiches at lunch for work are often delicious ham & pepperoncini hoagies.

The result? I'm 19+ weeks pregnant (that's about halfway) and I've lost five pounds. Figures it takes a pregnancy to get me eating right!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fogo de Chao

The Bug and I were recently in Washington D.C. in an area known for business travellers, Smithsonians, and politicos. Good, mid-range restaurants is not something the area is known for. We had a great, enormous burger at Fuddruckers the first night. The second night was a horrendous meal at Capital City Brewery. Our third night we gave up and had room service (our hotel shut down its dinner restaurant nine months ago). And on the fourth night we went to Fogo de Chao.

It was recommended as a fun place to take a kid. It's a one-price, no-menu travelling buffet. First, one goes to the interesting salad buffet. Prosciutto, cured meats, hard parmesan, bright green asparagus, fresh mozzarella, butter lettuce...a wonderful salad bar.

Each diner is given a coaster that tells the MEAT WAITERS when to start bringing over the main course. These are men who rush all over the restaurant with skewers of meat and sharp knives. They approach your table at a full-tilt run and sputter out what kind of meat it is. Their impatience is unnerving. "Beef Ancho?" "Picanha?" "Filet Mignon?"

On the table for each person are tongs--use these to catch the meat as it's being sliced. The waiters didn't tell us this and it wasn't until a waiter chastised me that I realized that I was supposed to take the meat.

Meat is sliced at each person's side until the coaster is turned to the red "STOP" side. When you're ready for more, flip it to the green side.

Served with the meat are wonderful little puffs of cheese bread, tasty mashed potatoes, baked bananas (this *is* supposed to be Brazilian-style food), and fried polenta. Many of the beef selections are overly salty--or were to my pregnant palate.

Sadly, I never had a chance to try the bacon-wrapped chicken or linguica, two of my favorite types of meat. The Bug was having an off night and didn't enjoy anything until desert, when he selected a giant goblet of strawberry ice cream.

All-in-all, I'd try it again, with friends who enjoy meat. It runs $50 per person before tax, tip and drinks.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kitchen Fiascos #87 & 88

Juiceboy has gone veggie on me again, a full three months earlier in the year than normal. I'm okay with it though, as I can get meat at lunchtime and it's not a bad thing for me to be cooking healthier meals.

For dinner last night I was going to use up some of the 25 cups of brown rice I'd brought home from work (leftovers from an event). Since I've been having problems cooking rice, I was quite glad to take the white and brown stuff off their hands.

On the menu was absolute peasant food: cabbage soup and hot and soup broccoli. The soup was fine, though dull. I'll noodle out the recipe some more and when I perfect it, I'll post it.

For the broccoli, I was to get oil in the pan smoking hot, then brown a slice of ginger, which I did. Then I was to add cider vinegar, soy sauce, chicken broth, cayenne, etc. I started with the vinegar.


Uh, duh.

Never put vinegar into a pan of hot oil. First, mix all the ingrediants called for, and add them in a large quantity, and maybe, just maybe, let the oil COOL DOWN before adding it.

I'm just lucky I don't have a gas stove. I only had minor burn spatters on me, though the surrounding area of the stove sure got a good covering of grease.

After all was said and done, the broccoli was pretty bad, any way. Too much cayenne, which I don't like as a result of trying that ridiculous colon-cleansing recipe. Cayenne lemonade, indeed!

Tonight was much more successful: a variation on the Barefoot Contessa's Crunchy Noodle Salad and fried rice. I'll post these throughout the week.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cooking Mishaps

Yes, it's true. I'm a little bit pregnant. I'm just finally over being nauseous 14-hours a day. I'm starving almost ALL the time, which was especially annoying when I was naseous. I'm trying to eat well--my crazy, fat, holistic, Kaiser Permanente medical professional has told me she only wants me to gain 10 pounds. (Which from everything I've read is way, WAY underweight, but hey, maybe she sees a big fat woman and knows I'm not going to stay an a lowly 10 pounds.)

She's given me some directives:

  1. No sugar.
  2. Nothing with sugar or sweeteners.
  3. Nothing processed.
  4. Nothing that's white.
Yes, folks, that's right. I'm not supposed to eat anything that's white. No white bread, white flour, white tortillas, white rice, pasta, cream-based anything, butter, etc.

I've been trying to cook healthy or healthier foods, but my mojo is completely off. Here are some recent disasters:

Brown rice and stir-fry: I normally love brown rice. I had a mouthful of this and almost yaked. Mushy? Bland? Plasticy? I don't know. I kept trying but finally gave up.

Black bean soup: I was looking forward to trying the America's Test Kitchen Black Bean Soup, which seemed pretty easy and healthy. I didn't use "processed" canned beans. I soaked my beans overnight, then cooked them for 3 hours. The next night I made the soup. We finally had it on the third night because the beans were still CRUNCHY the second night. I just had the last of it for lunch today, and it was still pretty al dente. Which beans shouldn't be.

Florentine Pasta: Tonight I made a Florentine Pasta, which was about three pounds of organic spinach, onions, garlic in a saffron bechamel sauce (with saffron it was golden, not white!). Well, somehow I messed up the sauce and it was totally thin, so I tempered two egg yolks and added them. Perfect. Except five minutes later the sauce was broken, and we ended up with this wierd dish with a scrambled egg sauce. Tasted okay, but it sure wasn't what I'd planned. And I ended up adding a bunch of parmesan cheese (WHITE!!!!) to help pull it all together.

So, do I give up trying to cook at all for the next few months? Is it just mum-dum? Or an offshoot symptom?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why I'm Not Cooking

I haven't been cooking lately. Nor have I been going to fantastic restaurants. Here's some clues as to why:

1) I'm taking new vitamins
2) I'm drinking a lot more OJ and water than I normally do
3) I've been very, very tired lately
4) Certain smells just put me off.

Any ideas...?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Does Spinach...?

Why does spinach make my teeth feel chalky? No matter if I eat it cooked or raw, I always get this odd coating sensation after I have it.

Well, according to Alex Tangren of Chez Panisse, "Agricultural scientists say that this comes from the leaves' high concentration of oxalic acid."

Ever have a glass of milk with some rhubarb pie? Oxalic acid combined with the calcium in milk creates Calcium Oxalate.

And too much calcium oxalate causes kidney stones. So, watch your intake of oxalic acid. There's more info at Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pasta e Fagioli

Fast, cheap and satisfying...Pasta e Fagioli is a perfect soup/stew for those dreary days of January. This dish was a hit with the whole family--The Bug had thirds!

It's a rustic dish, so don't worry about perfect sizes on the vegetables. Also, while it seems like a lot of ingrediants, it's really a "what's in the fridge that needs to be used" dish. Add and subtract items as you wish. I like to make this when I have some leftover crusty bread to throw in. Total cooking time should take no more than an hour. This is a fresh, fast dinner. (To make it vegetarian, skip the chicken and make with your favorite veggie stock.)

Pasta e Fagioli

2 Tablespoons olive oil
Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use the flash-frozen kind, so they're fairly big)
1/2 large yellow or white onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 head of celery, including center stalks, diced
1 large carrot, sliced or diced
1 head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 large can chicken broth
1 large can skinned, diced tomatoes
1 can white or black beans, with some liquid drained
1/2 cup small pasta, like tubetini or alphabets (if you do a mixture like me, watch cooking times)
8 oz frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup romano cheese, shredded
crushed red pepper, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
day old sourdough bread, torn into bite-sized pieces (optional)
fresh herbs (basil, thyme, or parsley work well)

Heat olive oil in large stock pot on medium high; add whole chicken breasts. After they have browned on both sides, add onion, garlic, celery and carrot. Lower heat immediately to medium/medium low, saute until fragrant. Add chicken broth, turn to high heat and bring to a boil, then turn down to med/med-low again. Add cauliflower and tomatoes. Cook for about 3 minutes, then add pasta. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the pot.

Halfway in the pasta cooking time, add beans; stir well. Remove chicken breasts and slice into bite-sized pieces, return to pot with any juices that have collected in the cutting process.

When pasta is cooked, add frozen spinach. After about 3 minutes, add the bread, red and black pepper, and cheese. Check for seasonings.

Ladle into bowls and top with chopped fresh herbs.