Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's Better Than Ramen?

Like many students, I survived my college days by stocking up on ramen noodles ($$ I saved meant more $$ for drinking!) I would gussie up a bowl of ramen by adding eggs, veggies and whatever meat I could find for a well-balanced meal. Rachel Ray has that travel show called $40 a Day, well I could've hosted $5 a Day! However, I wouldn't be going on such exotic adventures. It would just be me digging through the cupboards and leftovers for ingredients to add to my ramen. Not as exciting.
Last time I went grocery shopping, I got a value pack of chicken thighs, napa cabbage, spinach, fish balls, shrimp balls, and package of dried scallop egg noodles (the thin kind). With the exception of the vegetables, everything could be stored either in the freezer or cupboards for a quick and easy noodle bowl.

Ghetto Fab Noodle Bowl (enough for 2 bowls of noodles)
1 chicken thigh ($0.50 from the family value pack that was on sale)
4 fish or shrimp balls (about $0.30)
napa cabbage or spinach (about $0.10)
2 bunches dried scallop egg noodles (about $0.40)
fish sauce or salt to taste (have on hand)

Boil chicken thigh and fish/shrimp balls until chicken is cooked all the way through. It helps to make cuts on the fish/shrimp balls to speed up the process. The chicken water will be the base for your broth. Add napa cabbage/spinach and noodles when the chicken is done cooking. Stir a little to loosen up the noodles. Shred the chicken and divide between two bowls. Season the broth with either fish sauce or salt. I personally prefer fish sauce, it adds more depth to the broth. I have Squid brand fish sauce, which is MSG free and all natural. Divide everything up between the two bowls. Not bad for $0.65 a meal, eh? A smidgen more than a pack of ramen, but ya gotta class it up and treat yourself once in a while.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Westgate Hotel

Sorry about the text only post. I was at a training seminar which took place at the Westgate hotel in the Gaslamp District this past week. The interior decor of this place was very Victorian and elegant. Doormen were posted by the front door, wood baby grand piano in the lobby, chandeliers, mellow lighting. A very romantic setting, which made it very hard for me to stay awake during the training.
There was a spread of coffee, Tazo tea, juice, muffins, croissants, bagels (next to a toaster!), yogurt and fresh fruit set up outside of the conference room where the training took place. Though nothing fancy, the quality and presentation was top notch. That in itself made it feel like a luxurious spread.
As soon as I got to the conference room, one of my coworkers leaned over to me and told me that the coffee and muffins are to-die-for. I had quit drinking coffee, so I just got some orange juice and a muffin. Now, she has always been very much a tea guru and I was surprised to see her drinking coffee. It must have been very good because she had several cups of it. She was right, the muffin was deeelish. It was rather petite. The muffin top had a very nice crumbly texture in my mouth with out falling apart in my hands. It was very moist and light. I still dream of those muffins. One of my other coworkers was eating a flaky pastry that looked like a croissant with fruit filling. She was pleasantly surprised to find cream cheese in the filling.
The next day, I was blurry eyed and not quite awake and decided to have a croissant and fresh fruit with cranberry juice. After I poured the juice, I thought the color was a little off. A closer look at my glass, I discovered that it was tomato juice! I hate tomato juice. Don't like V8 or bloody Marys. But since I had already poured it out, I might as well suck it up and finish it. I took a little sip and to my surprise, it was really good! It wasn't too thick and tasted like fresh ripe tomatoes. I got up and refilled several times. The croissant had been lightly toasted and was nice and flaky. The fruit was extremely fresh and ripe. I couldn't get over how sweet the watermelon was.
During one of our lunch breaks, we wondered past a tea party! There was even a lady playing the harp.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Live Uni - Sushi Lover's Envy

Everyone knows that when it comes to seafood, the fresher the better...
Just alive yesterday: I used to work for a subcontractor and one of the guys there would always go out on fishing trips on the weekends. He would always pack an extra large lunch to share after his fishing excursions. Sometimes, vendors would rent out those big fishing boats and take our project managers out on a day long fishing excursion off the coast of Baja or even Alaska! There would always be a company BBQ when those guys came back with a bounty of fish caught and frozen just the day before (catches from fishing boats are all thrown into the gigantic freezer on the boat as soon as the fish comes out of the water). Besides grilled fish, there would also be the occasional dish of sashimi set aside for the few sushi lovers there.

Iron Chef Michiba once presented the King of Indonesia with the written word "Fresh" ...
Never frozen: At another previous job, I worked with a guy who grew up in Hawaii. He used to tell me about catching fish straight from the ocean and cutting it into sashimi right there on the beach.

Still kickin'
All the above sounds like a sushi lover's paradise, right? How's about uni that is still moving as you're eating it? Last night, discovered a place that offered the option having your sea urchin served live or made into a bisque. Guess which one I went for?

Our server made a comment about how much she loves the fact that it is still moving when she set the bowl down in front of me. I looked down and sure enough, the spikes were moving and continued to do so even as I was spooning the roe into my mouth.
How does it taste? The texture is smooth and light. Similar to custard. The only way I can think of to describe the flavor is for you to close your eyes and picture yourself being out in the middle of the open sea (it has to be the open sea, not the beach). Imagine taking in a deep breath as a cool ocean breeze washes over your senses. That's what it tastes like.
If that's still to vague, well, you're just gonna have to try it for yourself. All I can say is that all the uni that I've ever had at sushi restaurants cannot hold a flame to this one. Where did I go to sample this euphoria for my taste buds? I'll give you a hint: It is NOT a sushi restaurant.
Give up? Here's another hint

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cafe 2121

I love poached eggs. Mmm...golden liquid yolk encased in a pillowy cloud of whites. I think this may be my favorite sandwich of all time. "This" is the Presto Pesto Eggs Sandwich from the kitchen of Cafe 2121 on Adams Avenue. Two soft poached eggs sitting on top of fresh spring greens sprinkled with crumbled feta. Pesto sauce was lightly drizzled over this lovely concoction. All this laid between a lightly buttered and toasted french roll. Very messy to eat, but it was heavenly. The pesto sauce was light and did not overwhelm the eggs, which were the star of this sandwich.
Van and I have been waiting to try this place out. I was ecstatic to find this offering on the menu. I was practically drooling when the owner took our order.
This little cafe had a very nice and cozy atmosphere. Though small, I did not feel cramped at all. In the middle of our order, a little boy from the table nearby came running over to the owner and wouldn't leave his side. He kept saying that he wanted to see the baby. The little boy stayed to witness our orders.
Van ordered the Normal Heights Stacker, which looked and smell absolutely delicious. She really enjoyed it. The sandwiches came with a choice of soup or salad. We both went with the soup. It was yummy goodness. A crock of garbanzo beans, beef, herbs and vegetables in a rich beef broth. It was so filling that I was worried I wouldn't be able to finish my sandwich. Van didn't enjoy the garbanzo beans as much as I did. I also ordered an apple flavored iced tea. It came to the table freshly brewed in a french tea press with a glass of ice. The owner was nice enough to demonstrate how it works. When the tea press is sitting on top of the glass, the tea will pour out leaving the tea leaves behind. Once the tea press is taken off the glass, the bottom of the tea press will be sealed off and can be set aside without worry about it leaking. I have seen this contraption before at a friend's house. It was fun to see my iced tea being "made." The tea was unsweetened, which I prefer. But there were also packets of sugar available at the table. The tea was delicious. Had a nice apple aroma and was very refreshing.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ingrid rocks!

Chipotle Turkey Chili
I love office potlucks. There is always a huge variety of food and you don't have to think about what to do for lunch! Luckily, I work at a place where most people share my enthusiasm for potlucks. I once had 3 potlucks in a 2 week period to go to. My position there happens to be intermixed with a couple different departments, so multiple potlucks are one of the benefits :O)
My only problem when I started that job was that I didn't know how to cook a whole lot of dishes that were good enough to feed to others. I could just go to the store and buy something from the deli, but where's the fun in that? Then I remembered the Chipotle Tamale Pie recipe from Food Network that my former supervisor had showed me. It was tasty and easy. I deconstructed the recipe so that I could cook it in the crockpot instead of the oven. I'd add chopped black olives and corn to the mix. I'd also add the adobo sauce and leave out the chipotle chili pepper, since not everyone in the office has a high heat tolerance. Being lazy, I would often skip the cornbread. My famous "chili" has been a big hit at the office and goes well with a big scoop of mexican-style sour cream.
What are your favorite potluck recipes?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Homemade Guacamole is the best...with crabmeat is even better

Since the 2007 Firestorm, avocado prices have climbed. Lucky for me, someone at work has an avocado tree. Beautiful and luscious avocados. Even better looking and bigger than the ones at the grocery store.
I waited patiently for them to ripen...and I made guacamole. As I was going through my kitchen cabinet for spices, I noticed a can of crabmeat. With some blue corn tortilla chips from Henry's, this is what I created...

I didn't take exact measurements, just tasted as I mixed things together (I must be turning into my mother). Here's the list of ingredients:
1 large ripe avocado
1 can crab meat
mayo (just enough to make guac creamy)
cayenne pepper
onion powder
splash of raspberry vinegar (didn't have lime)
dried tarragon

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chinese Wedding Banquet...survival of the fittest

Went back to Sacto last month for a friend's wedding. Luv asian weddings. The reception was held at the Rice Bowl, I think they tried for Happy Garden but it was already booked. Anywho...got some photogs to share. There was the traditional Jellyfish and Cold Pork appetizer, Shark Fin and Crab Soup, Honey Walnute Shrimp, Kwai Fei Chicken, Deep-Fried Pheasant, Assorted Sauteed Veggies w/ Shrimp, Fried Rice, Deep Fried Lemon Chicken, Mini Sesame Balls, Mini Pineapple Buns, Braised Red Snapper, Mango Pudding (molded into the shape of a Koi fish) w/ Condensed Milk, and two or three other dishes that I probably left out. I can't wait for another wedding :o)
Sorry, didn't get shots of all the dishes. My whole family was invited and at that table, food disappears pretty fast. There is a Chinese saying that describes meal times w/ my family that loosely translates to: "Fast hands = got. Slow hand = nada." I found out that my sister's boyfriend even put us in a paper that he wrote about competition, after the first couple of times eating w/ my family. In a family of six, you gotta learn to fight for your food. I feel sorry for the family of 3 who were seated at our table...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mom's Chicken Broth Recipe

A couple weeks ago, it seemed that everyone around me was getting sick. I depleted my supply of Airborne and still got the sniffles. So I called up my mommy and got the recipe for her homemade chicken broth. This simple broth is the most effective way to "chase" away a cold.

Mom's Chicken Broth Recipe
1 pound chicken (wings, thighs, drumsticks, or leftover roast chicken w/ bones)
1/8 cup Shaoxing wine
1 big thing of ginger, peeled (about the size of 3 thumbs)
2 stalks green onion, green parts minced and white parts left whole
salt to taste
1 bay leaf

Macaroni Chicken Soup with Mom's Chicken Broth
In a large pot/crockpot, combine the chicken parts, Shaoxing wine, white parts of the green onions and bay leaf. Slightly char the ginger over an open flame (matches, lighter, stovetop...). Throw the ginger into the pot. Add enough water to cover the ingredients. If not using a crockpot, prop the lid up w/ chopsticks so that the pot is not completely sealed off. Simmer on low for at least 2 hours.
I generally make a big batch and freeze them so that I'd always have chicken broth in stock.

Whenever I'm feeling sick (or starting to), I like to make Macaroni Chicken Soup. It's filling and nutritious comfort food.

Macaroni Chicken Soup
2 1/2 cups Mom's Homemade Chicken Broth
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup cooked macaroni (or any other shell-type/hollow-shaped pasta)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup cubed or shredded cooked chicken

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Throw in spinach. Lower heat. Slowly drizzle beaten egg into
broth, much like how you would make Egg-Drop Soup. Add everything else. Ladle into big soup bowls. Consume.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Linguine w/ spicy seafood

Pasta and rice have always been staples in my kitchen. I hate that I can't finish a loaf of bread before it expires, so I rarely buy it. I like my bread to be soft with that slight fluffiness that is lost when kept in the refrigerator. Could anyone tell me where they sell half loaves of bread? Anywho, I love carbs. As much as I like meat, I thought the Atkins diet was absurd. Give up pasta, bread and rice? I'm not saying that you won't lose weight on the Atkins, I've known people who have lost a lot of inches on that diet in a short amount of time. I just never thought it was a particularly healthy option, especially for your colon. Is getting there faster really worth the sacrifice on your health?
I've noticed that most diets that are becoming more popular these days (i.e. Weight Watchers, South Beach diet) are more geared towards eating healthy while losing weight. I commend those of you who are paying more attention to you overall health than the scale, for doing it the right way and not taking short cuts with fad diets.
I may not be on a diet, but I do recognize that healthier alternatives are just as great tasting. This post will also include a healthier version of my Linguine w/ Spicy Seafood recipe.

Healthy version (nutritional info from here):
1 tsp olive oil (44 calories)
1/8 box of Barilla linguine (200 calories)
1 clove garlic, minced (5 calories)
1/2 small onion, chopped (15 calories)
3 tbsp dried parsley (11 calories)
3 cups Fresh Express Organic Baby Spinach (35 calories)
3 oz Surimi or imitation crab meat, chopped (84 calories)
8 oz Organic Low Sodium chicken broth (15 calories)
4 tbsp crushed red peppers (0 calories)
salt & pepper to taste

Boil linguine in chicken broth. If needed, add just enough water to cover pasta. Stir occasionally. While pasta is cooking, saute onions and garlic in olive oil over low heat. When onions are translucent, add crushed red peppers, parsley and spinach. Add a bit of the chicken broth from the pasta water to the spinach mixture. Cook spinach until wilted. Turn off heat. Toss pasta, surimi and spinach mixture together. Add just enough chicken broth/pasta water to coat the linguine. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2.

Original version:
2 tsp olive oil (80 calories)
3 tbsp butter (306 calories)
1/8 box of Barilla linguine (200 calories)
Water to boil pasta
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (22 calories)
1 clove garlic, minced (4 calories)
1/2 small onion, chopped (14 calories)
3 cups Fresh Express Organic Baby Spinach (35 calories)
3 oz Surimi or imitation crab meat, chopped (84 calories)
4 tbsp crushed red peppers (0 calories)
4 tbsp grated parmesan (88 calories)

Boil pasta. Stir occasionally. While pasta is cooking, saute onions and garlic in olive oil and butter over low heat. When onions are translucent, add crushed red peppers, parsley and spinach. Cook spinach until wilted. Turn off heat. Toss pasta, surimi and spinach mixture together. Sprinkle parmesan on top. Serves 2.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Presto Pesto!

I love pesto. It's one of the easiest things for me to make since the sauce does not require cooking. It is basically a bunch of fresh herb, nuts, and olive oil in a blender. Doesn't that just make it a liquid version of an herb salad? Though I did boil the linguine and make some turkey meatballs from scratch, so some cooking was involved. I had some leftover Asagio cheese spread that I decided to throw in. So I hit all four food groups with this one dish, that's always a plus.

Zesty Parsley-Walnut Pesto
1 bunch of fresh parsley
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
5 tbsp Asagio cheese spread
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp roasted garlic
zest of 1 lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt 'n Pepper to taste

Dump everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Also freezes beautifully. I divided up the pesto into individual portions and froze them in plastic containers, along w/ the turkey meatballs and some slightly under cooked linguine. Talk about creating your own TV dinners.

Turkey Meatballs
1 pound of ground turkey
1/4 cup fine bread/cracker crumbs
3 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 egg
2 tbsp olive oil

Blend the crumbs, garlic powder, dried parsley, salt and pepper in your handy dandy blender. In a med sized bowl, mix the turkey, egg, olive oil and crumb mixture together. Preheat oven to 350. Form meatballs and place on baking sheet. Bake for about 20 min, depending on how big you make your meatballs.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Other than Pho???

Have you ever been hit with a double craving? It's hard for me to go to a pho place and order something other than pho. I'd go in craving something else on the menu, but as soon as I follow my nose thru that door, I'm also craving pho. I know that the true foodies out there understand my angst.
Well, one night, I was hit with a craving for Vermicelli w/ Grilled Pork and Fried Spring Rolls. It is a cold vermicelli salad with marinated grilled pork, shredded veggies, roasted peanuts, and cut up pieces of egg rolls (the good kind with meat, none of that fake cabbage-filled stuff). Oh, and the vinegar and nuoc mam based dressing. So I head over to Cao Dao for an order to go. As soon as I smelled the delicious aroma of the pho broth and saw everone in the restaurant slurping on their soups, I got hit with an instant craving for pho. But my craving for the vermicelli was still as strong as ever. There was no way I would be able to eat both. Each of these dishes are enough to fill me up.
The nice guy at the counter waited very patiently while I was sorting out my dilemma. I went back and forth and it went something like this:
...I have pho almost everytime I'm here, I should get my vermicelli.
...Everyone looks so happy with their soups, it smells sooo good
...mmm...grilled pork
...crispy, yummy spring rolls

...you can get pho next time you're here...
...if you don't get the vermicelli now, you'll be craving it for the next 2 weeks

So I ended up getting the vermicelli. The nice server even offered me a seat at one of the few empty tables and brought me a glass of ice water w/ a slice of lime while I waited for my to-go order.
As soon as I got home, I tore into the takeout box and mixed up everything except for the spring rolls. The pork coulda used more charring, but was tender and savory. The lightness of the vermicelli, shredded veggies, and vinegar dressing balanced out the strong flavors of the pork. Roasted peanuts added a nice crunchy texture. The fried spring rolls/egg rolls were crispy and had a good amount of meat filling. It wasn't like mom's, but it satisfied my craving.

Green Eggs and Ham: Century Egg Lean Pork Jook

I remember when I first moved out of my parent's house, the first thing my mom asked me was if I wanted a rice cooker. I've compared notes with some of my friends and it seems that most Asian mothers feel that the rice cooker is the ultimate kitchen appliance, especially for their kids who don't know squat about cooking a decent meal. Of course, when I moved into the dorms, there was barely enough room for my printer. Since I learned how to make rice in the microwave, I told my mommy that I was doing fine without a rice cooker. It wasn't until I moved into an apartment and stole a small rice cooker from my parents pantry that I discovered how wrong I was to reject my mother's advice (yes, I bow my head in shame). I discovered that I could use it as a steamer and cook whole meals in it. I don't know how I could have lived so long without one of my own (though I also discovered that using the rice cooker for slow cooker recipes can be disasterous).
Today, I did my momma proud by making Century Egg and Lean Pork Porridge in the rice cooker. The flavor of the eggs are too overwhelming by itself, but the smooth consistency of the porridge mellows it out just perfectly. After a night of drinking, this hits the spot better than anything on the taco shop menu.

I like my porridge to have a "loose" soupy consistency, so I added boiling water to my bowl of porridge just before serving. Took me many trials and finally a call to my mommy helped me discover this secret: Don't add more water to the whole batch, the rice will just soak it all up and expand.

The "whites" of the preserved egg is a dark amber color, whilst the yolk is a greenish-gray (or grayish-green). I wonder if Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham were inspired by this traditional chinese dish. Hehehe. Here is the recipe for one of my all-time favorite breakfasts as a kid.

Century Egg Lean Pork Jook
1/3 cup uncooked rice
3 cups water
1/4 cup lean ground pork
2 century eggs, diced
boiling water or chicken broth (optional)
sesame oil (optional)
nuoc mam or salt to taste
white pepper (optional)

ginger, thinly sliced into matchsticks
minced scallions
yao ja gwa

Cook the rice and 3 cups of water in the rice cooker, leaving the lid propped up just a little. Let cook 15 minutes.
*You can also use a slow cooker, set on low.  The slow cooker will take longer to cook the rice.  Add 3 hours to cooking time if using a slow cooker.
Break up the ground pork and stir into the rice. Once rice is done cooking and pork is no longer pink, carefully fold the diced preserved eggs into the rice.  Scoop the porridge into a bowl, only filling the bowl up halfway. Add boiling water to the bowl of porridge until it has reached your desired consistency. Add fish sauce or salt to taste. Add a few drops of sesame oil and dashes of white pepper (black pepper is also fine, just doesn't look as pretty). Garnish with ginger and scallions. Serve with yao ja gwa.