Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chinese Chicken & Spinach Soup

It has been an average of 92º or higher since about May 20th and I am REALLY READY FOR THE HEAT WAVE TO GO HOME! Especially because I have been craving soup for the last solid week, but without arctic air conditioning options, *soup is rather out the window.

*Soup can be cold and still be delicious. However, the blush fell off that rose back in July... I want to cook vats of comfort food in my kitchen without losing 10lbs in water weight standing over the stove, which would lead to fainting which would lead to cracked skulls or worse, me a flambé. Generally not a good scenario.

But until it is cold out, this is a quicker cooking soup that you can probably pull off and enjoy while it is still excessively warm out... especially if you are craving Chinese take-out.
Have you ever ordered a soup from your local Chinese take-out joint, curled up to enjoy it on the couch, only to find an hour or two later that you feel achey and ill all over from all the MSG that they snuck in there?

It's just me?
Well... after that happened to me I decided to try and recreate the simple chicken and spinach soup that I had ordered and enjoyed up until the part where my body and stomach starting aching.

I have no idea how they make the broth pale and clear and yet so flavorful. Maybe it's the MSG. Maybe it's something they don't post in any of the ingredients when you do a search for "Chinese Chicken Soup" I don't know. I just know that my soup came out much darker.
But I'm ahead of myself already.

I started out by gently sautéing some boneless skinless chicken thighs (for more flavor than you'd find in a chicken breast...), seasoned with salt, in some garlic and olive oil. I would recommend making the chicken as flavorful as you can before adding it to the soup, as it can only enhance what you've got going on once in the pot.
Once that cooled I removed what fat I could and then sliced it into bite-sized strips.

For the broth of the soup I used a low-sodium organic chicken stock and added to it roughly 2 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce and half a teaspoon of sesame oil. I then added a little less than a tablespoon of grated ginger, and brought the whole thing up to a simmer.

Next I added the chicken back in, as well as a few heaping handfuls of fresh baby spinach (whole). Check for seasoning and add a little salt if needed. (Doubtful if you used regular soy sauce.)

Options at this point: you could add some minced chili or spicy aspect of choice. You could beat an egg and scramble it into your hot soup. You could also mince up some scallion and add that to the soup, or even garnish with fresh cilantro or Thai basil.

Really, whatever makes you happy. But there are many options.
I just went for the simplest version that I was trying to reproduce, and while it was not perfect, it was still quite tasty. And no MSG hangover later. Which is a BIG plus in my book.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stir-Fry Friday

So this past Friday I was faced with a common dilemma: 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts and zero inspiration for how to turn them into a tasty meal. I was in a rut.
Luckily, tho, my rut had a plethora of interesting fresh herbs either growing or in the fridge, including basil, cilantro, thyme, and mint. So really I could go in any geographic direction I chose.
And I chose Asian, leaning toward Thai. (I think.)
I had on hand carrots, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and pasta (since most of those are in my pantry or fridge at all times) as well as limes, because it is still Summer and one must always have fresh limes on hand for margaritas. Always.
I decided to pick up the following from the store: sugar snap peas, scallions, and a jalapeño pepper or two. Now I was set for a seriously tasty supper that was nowhere near what I usually serve up.
(Read: outside of comfort zone)

This will be some of the worst photography, as I kept forgetting to take pictures and then was too rushed to really focus properly...
I peeled and chopped about 6 carrots into some sort of stick, something between what you would snack on with a crudité platter and a matchstick. I wasn't being terribly precise. The mentality was that they would cook as quickly as the sugar snap peas.
I also used a microplane on two enormous cloves of garlic, about 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, and I minced about half a seeded jalapeño pepper. (Add more if you like your meals spicy. I was just aiming for a general warmth down the throat, and nailed it.)

In a couple tablespoons of peanut oil (or grape-seed oil, or vegetable oil) I sautéed the chicken until almost fully cooked through, and then added the garlic and ginger. 
Once that had cooked off a bit, I added the minced jalapeño, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, as well as 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice.
If there is not enough liquid in the pan for your liking (remember there will be pasta in there later soaking up the sauce) you can add another 1/4 cup of either chicken stock, or just water.

While all of that was happening I had a pot of water on the boil, and was blanching my carrots and sugar snap peas, ready to stir fry them in turn. 
Once they had cooked for about 5 minutes I took them out of the water, brought it all back up to a boil, and cooked my capellini for 2 and a half minutes.
(As I was cooking 3 chicken breasts, I made enough pasta to serve about 3 people.)

Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the pan of chicken, cook for an additional minute, and add about 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro and chopped scallion. Then either plate it up or just set it aside. I had to plate it up as I needed my frying pan for round 2.

In the same pan, without even washing it, I added another splash of oil, one clove of minced garlic, and about a teaspoon of fresh ginger I'd grated on the microplane. (Sound familiar? This is basically a quicker version of what I did to the chicken in smaller proportions and sans jalapeño.)
Once the garlic and ginger have become aromatic (about a minute) I added the vegetables,  another 1/4 cup or so of soy sauce, barely one teaspoon of sesame oil, and a spritz from a lime wedge.
Toss to combine, and top with another 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro.

I finished the dish with some black sesame seeds I found in my spice cabinet, extra cilantro and scallion, and a wedge of lime.
I chose to serve the vegetables on the side, but you could combine the whole thing like a proper stir-fry if you wanted to. Either way, this dish was packed with flavor and a really enjoyable change-up from my usual go-to dinner solutions. It also provided some tasty leftovers.
I urge any avid cooks out there to expand outside of their familiar recipe zone once a month or so. After you get a feel for ingredients that you use less often, you'll find yourself incorporating them more and more often with more confidence and turning your kitchen into your own Fusion Food Café.
I've been experimenting with jalapeños of late because I've never been one for spicy food. But now I'm finding ways to use them sparingly and (literally) spicing up some of my more traditional meals.
Go nuts!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

San Francisco: Day 3

At this point we were ceasing to be hungry when we woke up, and so held out for better meals later in the day.
But first, a little more sight-seeing.
First we rode the cable cars from Union Square to the Cable Car Museum.
(Note: we bought the City Pass on Day One so we did all these museums for "free" as well as riding the busses, trolley cars, and cable cars as often as we wanted without paying. I say "free" because the passes are about $64 a pop, but if you're going to see a lot of stuff, it does end up being a good deal. The passes are good for 8 or 9 days.)

Ain't we cute hanging off a moving vehicle and taking pictures at the same time?
Both of our coats and my scarf were purchased while in SF... we planned poorly for the weather.

These giant wheels are part of what makes the cable cars run.
I'm still hazy on how the intersections work...

Ye olde(r) cable car.

Enlarge to learn how it all works.

After learning about cable car, we hopped back on one and headed down to the wharf.

This cable car brought to you by Atari.
The hubs was quite excited.

We stopped at Ghirardelli Square for some hot chocolate and espresso (and a free piece of chocolate just for walking in!), and watched two pigeons go absolutely berserk devouring someone's abandoned ice cream and waffle cone.
Ever seen avian brain-freeze?
It's pretty funny.

By this point the grandparents had arrived (remember I was going to SF for my nephew's first birthday?) so the hubs and I went to Haight/Ashbury so his dad could add to his collection of Beatles T-shirts.
Along the way I passed a bookstore that basically had my childhood in their window.
Wonder Woman, The Dark Crystal, The Muppet Show, Muppets Take Manhattan, A Wrinkle in Time, The Princess Bride, Grover...

Fraggles, Bob Ross, The Never Ending Story, The Last Unicorn (cropped below this pic), Heathers, Labyrinth...
It was all I could do not to buy the Boober Fraggle puppet.

This photo stolen from some other blog I found, as I forgot to take a picture out front.
Since it's in the area, we had scheduled our trip to Nopalito for the day we knew we'd meet the in-laws in Haight/Ashbury. And much to my surprise, it was the first time my father-in-law had eaten Mexican food! (Apparently his opinion is that all those tortillas get in the way of the meat.)
This is a great place to go and share your dishes. I started with the squid and rock cod ceviche, which had a lime and tomatillo salsa verde for sauce and sliced avocado on top. Very tasty, very tender, but I have to say the chips that came with it were stale as can be. Don Pisto's totally spanked them on that front!
Next I had the Carnitas (again) because you really just cannot beat slow-roasted pork. 
These came as kind of build-your-own, with the tortillas on the side (which I ignored) and sliced cabbage on the edge of the plate. The real deal however was the meat. Two hunks of pork, a bit smaller than my fist each, wrapped in parchment paper and served in a little dish of their own. Juicy, flavorful, and fantastic. I pretty much just dug into those with my fork and ignored the rest.
They make a decent margarita as well ;)

The hubs had the Quesadilla Roja (I think he was sold as soon as he read "crispy pork belly" in the description), my mother-in-law had the Enchilada de Mole (another first for her), and my father-in-law stuck with the Gordita, as he was wary of the menu.
Tho he had no trouble finishing my leftover Carnitas.

This meal was followed by a nap from which we really had to struggle to wake from.
But we had reservations, and I wanted to keep them.

Which brings us to Contigo, which is a little Spanish restaurant WAY past the usual tourist joints. After taking a trolley all the way to the end of its line at Castro Street, we then hailed a cab to drive us about 4 avenues south, all of which were residential. We came down an enormous hill to find a strip of stores and restaurants, including ours.
We were seated in the back garden, complete with heaters, and it was a very romantic little spot.
Unfortunately we were still somewhat full from our late lunch at Nopalito, so we didn't really get to take advantage of the small plates on the menu.
We split oxtail croquetas, which were jam-packed with meat, if a bit bland, a slow-cooked pork dish that came with peppers and some sort of farro-type grain in the gravy, and the coca (basically a flat-bread pizza) which had caramelized onions, spinach, kalamata olives, and manchego cheese.
The coca smelled divine, but every inch of the thing was coated with the onions, so it became too strong very fast, so we had the leftovers wrapped.
I was so excited to eat at this restaurant, but in the end it was my least favorite of everywhere we went. Very disappointing, especially when it was so hard to get there! (Not the traveling part... the getting out of bed part.)
So, lessons to learn: trust the locals, and trust your instincts.
Be wary of food publications.*

*Obviously you can trust THIS food publication... is this a publication? Hmm...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

San Francisco: Day 2

We started off Day 2 breakfasting on a tip from a friend (thanks Sam!) and headed to Dottie's True Blue Café. This was some serious breakfasting, well worth the 45 minutes or so that we stood in line...
(But of course, we're from New York. This was not an unusual thing when it comes to Brunch lines.)
This may truly have been the best omelette that I have ever eaten. 
You know I'm not a big breakfast/brunch person, so when I tell you it was good, it has to be really good.
It was on the specials board, but I'm sure it's up there fairly frequently. It had lamb-fennel sausage, spinach, tomato, roasted garlic, and goat cheese, served with toast and potatoes. Brilliant breakfast.
The hubs had french toast made w/ pumpkin chocolate chip bread, another special.
There was none left.

With full bellies we ventured to the Legion of Honor museum/building, which had a lot of Renoir statues, as well as pieces on loan from the Musée d'Orsay for an exhibit on the Birth of Impressionism.
That exhibit was shared by the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

There is an observation deck at the de Young museum that is free to enter.

Nine storeys up you have a clear view (depending on the weather) of the whole city.

Do you remember my post about the Met and "Please Don't Eat the Pictures"???
The little dude has a brother!!! 
And no, it's not the same one on loan because if you compare their left hands, they are different. The one in NYC also seems to have earrings on little rounded ears and is holding what may be a rattle sideways, as well as wearing a skirt of sorts.
The one in SF has long bodhisattva-esque ears and has a vertical rattle.
How crazy that this little guy was made more than once!
If you read the page at the Met link it explains who the little guy is and why he was a common statue to find, albeit frequently only as a head. 
Ancient Mexican Dionysius!

After that excitement we went across the park to the California Academy of Science Museum.
Because they had penguins.

And lots and lots of sea life.
This fish was HUGE tho you can't tell from the picture. 
He could easily eat my arm.

And for the hubs, Sea Dragons.

For dinner that night we met up with more friends of the hubs and ate at Spork in the Mission Disctrict.
And  yes, it's named after the spoon-fork that KFC apparently invented, or at least highly utilized, because the restaurant is on an old KFC site.
However, getting there was an adventure.
First, we got on a trolley car... and just missed our stop. 
So at the next one the hubs goes to step out the back door, only there's a handicap railing in the way of the doors... so he hops over it. 
As soon as he does that, the doors shut, and I am whisked down 3 more blocks while he runs at top-speed after me as though I would get lost going in a straight line.
Isn't that sweet?
While running he didn't hear me calling his cell phone telling him I'd just walk back to meet him where he got off... oh well. At least I know he wasn't trying to ditch me.
We then walked the equivalent of six NY avenues into the Mission District to get to dinner because it was too cold to wait for yet another bus (which did not pass us until we were just about there).  
Plus, we were running late.
We were not cold by the time we arrived...
The hubs ordered two items they are famous for: Cauliflower & Calamari Unite! and the In-Side-Out Burger. I got to taste the first, and it was delicious. The hubs devoured his burger without so much as a crumb in my direction. Everyone at the table seemed quite pleased with their choices, tho I enjoyed mine less than I expected. Still, it was a good place to eat, and the wine list was surprisingly well-rounded for a place named after a plastic untensil. 
I very much enjoyed a bottle of Grenache from the Unti Vineyards we shared.
Methinks I shall try to find some now.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

San Francisco: Day 1

We started our day with a quick yet tasty couple of sandwiches from Café Venue (a chain, but it became the place we started most of our mornings because it was convenient and made to order) and then set off for the Golden Gate Bridge.
As you would expect, it was overcast over the bay. However, the last time I visited San Francisco it was so cloudy that you couldn't even see the bridge from the pier, so this was actually a vast improvement.

The sucker is TALL!

We walked across it, took a little break, and walked back through seriously windy conditions... only to have the sky turn (briefly) blue once we got back to the beginning.

The hubs still has not gotten to visit Alcatraz because apparently buying tickets 1 week in advance is not nearly far enough in advance. Myself, I don't see the draw.
Watching "The Rock" is about as close as I need to get.

Next we went around the corner (in a manner of speaking) to the Palace of Fine Arts.
Which was closed, fenced off, and had bulldozers inside it.
But the park bit was lovely, if a bit chilly.
(I'm fairly certain this is where they apprehended Sean Connery after the car-chase in "The Rock"... but as I could not get inside I can't be sure.)

At this point we got a message from a friend to meet at the Rogue Ale House on Union St. (the hubs grew up in Oregon, among other places, so this was a must) so we headed to the Little Italy part of North Beach. As we had time to kill, I suggested we stop for a late lunch and found a cute little place to eat.

At the time I thought it was just a quaint little place I found among all the other red-sauce joints. Little did I know that L'Osteria del forno has been written up in travel guides and is a legitimate neighborhood gem! But Go Me for spotting the good place to stop.
The hubs and I shared a leek & potato soup (to warm up!) that surprised me, as it appeared more like a regular vegetable soup w/ semi-clear broth, yet you could distinctly taste the leeks while enjoying the little bits of potato and carrot. It was even finished the proper Italian way with a little drizzle of good olive oil, which you could also vividly taste when you had a bite. 
It was a really good way to start off the meal and ward off the 55º chill. 
(Don't forget, it was 90º when we left NYC the day before. It was a big change for us!)

Next we split a thin crust vegetable pizza that had perfectly balanced tomato sauce, zucchini, mushrooms,  and unfortunately onions, which I had requested be left off, but oh well.
I also had two glasses of a lovely white wine from San Gimignano, so was happily toasty and full by the time we left. (Tho not yet toasted.)
Note: they only take traveler's cheques and cash! But prices are reasonable.

After 3 hours at the Rogue Ale House, I was hungry again (not to mention sober as I don't drink beer), and this time we made a REALLY fabulous discovery. Just 2 blocks away on Union Street we found Don Pisto's, a fantastic little Mexican place hiding in the middle of Little Italy, specializing in their take on Mexican Street Food. It may or may not have a sign, but as we found it at 9:30PM it was dark and the only way we spotted it were those 3 red lights over the window!
At that point we were only staving off late-night hunger before heading back to the hotel, so we only shared orders of Al Pastor and Carnitas, but they were sublime! I desperately wanted to go back there again, but there was no time on the rest of our trip. 
Most of the rustic tables seat either 2 or 6, so it is fine for groups. The food came out super quick, the tomatillo salsa had serious kick, and the corn chips are freshly made and some of the best we've ever eaten.
Upon leaving I begged them to open a sister restaurant in NYC!
UWS, naturally... the Villages don't need any more contestants.

Definitely a successful first day as a tourist.
But now I want Don Pisto's for dinner.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Potato Wedges: Even Better Day Two

I'm back from San Francisco!!! And it only took ten hours between getting on the Powell BART stop and walking in my UWS front door.  
Just 10 short hours!!! Ugh.
While I sift through all the photos I took and check my food notes from the trip and eventually get around to posting about it all, possibly in multiple posts, I shall give you a quickie post that should in fact come in handy on occasion. 

I have told you before a simple way to rejuvenate soggy french fries. Today I am taking it a step further.

Last night A while back the hubs ordered a burger that came with the kind of enormous french fries that I never see in New York anymore. They are actual potato wedges, rather than skinny little sticks. As such, there were just too many to eat last night, and I decided to create some crispy potatoes as a side dish to a dinner of lamb chops. 
(A moment to drool over the tastiness that is the lamb chop... mmmmmmm... ok.)
Once the lamb chops were flipped and finishing off in the oven, I took the giant potato wedges and sliced them into bite-size pieces.

When the lamb was done I moved it from the hot pan to their respective plates to rest, and added the potatoes to the combination of olive oil and rendered lamb fat, and cooked them over medium high heat.

I carefully flipped them so they would all have 2 crispy sides.
To finish them, I sprinkled them with Lavender Rosemary Sea Salt, so they would reflect the rosemary that I cooked the lamb chops with.

Can you say deliciousness???
I think so.
Repurpose your leftovers into awesomeness.
Go for it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It was Kismet

Greetings from San Francisco! Taking tons of food notes, but with three more days here that post will have to wait. First I must recap Kismet, NY.

Our trip to Fire Island was definitely a success, and you know it was a good time because other than coming home with more bruises, freckles, and double vision in one eye (a solid night's rest set that to rights tho), I only managed to take pictures on the first night we were there.

And it was a good night.
 Most of the night was spent dancing on the table.

Some strange fairy/ghost crashed the party pictures too...
  As well as dancing on futons and belting songs along with the stereo.
 The instigators of the Table Dancing, also the friends that invited us out there ;)

Proof I was actually there and these aren't stolen photos
 The house we stayed in happens to have the highest roof around, which is a deck, so the sunsets are quite excellent.

The end.

P.S. - There was also teriyaki steak, roasted potatoes, salads, "Bob rice", green beans, tomatoes, mangos, plums, flounder two ways, just about anything you could possibly want to snack on, and many many many many drinks.

P.P.S - We also spent three lovely days on the beach, but the effort of lifting a camera at that point was just too much. Had to conserve for nighttime shenanigans. See above.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Flowers In My Hair

It's summer time and the hubs is on vacation from teaching, and we're taking a trip to SF for our nephew's first birthday!
Hence there shall be a brief hiatus in my posts.
I'm sure you'll forgive me... I mean, how can you not? 
Look at those cheeks!!!
Happy Kid
We gave him the hat and an ACDC shirt that says, "For those about to walk, we salute you." We will make him awesome.

San Francisco Baby
 Spittin' image of his daddy. Genes are amazing things.

Also, spent the weekend in Fire Island with friends, made new ones, and ate a lot of food. Probably drank even more wine than we ate food, which is why I needed to sleep for 11 hrs last night.
Updates on that later as well.
But now to pack for mellower climes.
You have no idea how excited I am to wear jeans and a comfy shirt for a week. (Various clean ones each day, of course.) It's kind of sad, but I am really over the whole "It's so hot I can only wear this flimsy frock" weather. I welcome any weather that brings a light hoodie into the equation.
And now: to pack.