Monday, July 20, 2009

Oodles of Noodles - quick post

This past Friday, I went to another one of Whole Foods Culinary Center's cooking classes. This one was not a Lunch Express as mentioned in a past post, but rather was a dinner menu with four courses and some wine (a step up from the iced tea at lunch).

Chef Corinne Trang took us on a tour of different noodle styles, and the food was amazing. She has a very interesting culinary history from Southeast Asia to Paris to NYC and a wonderfully informative, yet casual style when demonstrating for a class.

She currently lives in NYC, so for those of you who live there or live nearby, she's frequently referencing her favorite restaurants and dishes from around the city.

She's got a great range of books, and I encourage you all to check them out. (Family, if looking for a gift idea, I'd love her Essentials of Asian Cuisine book - it's almost like a reference book, less cookbook.) And, of course, she's got a blog. She is now in my right hand Food Blog list and can be found at:

Lemony Schnitzel

Okay, let me start by saying, I am a British Isles Mutt. I am not of Austrian extraction. So my version of weiner schnitzel would likely offend the purists out there. With the disclaimers out of the way, on we go.

As part of my "grand plans" purchases yesterday, I bought some thinly-sliced pork cutlets and a big package of baby spinach. After having had amazing schnitzel in Fredericksburg, I had been wanting to give it a try. Tonight my original plan was to make my Melting Pot Soup, but without the orzo or the sufficient chicken stock that plan was thwarted. One lemon left....schnitzel it is.

For those of you who might wonder did the breading puff up, the answer is no. I used bread crumbs. For my set up, I had a plate of two eggs (probably could have stuck with one) scrambled and another plate of breadcrumbs.

In the pan I used a little butter and a little canola oil (so the butter won't burn). Unfortunately, the fire was a little too high for the first two pieces, as you can see in the picture. I turned the heat down for the next two batches, and they came out perfectly golden and crispy. In between each batch I added just a tad more oil and a tiny sliver of butter to make sure there was enough to pan fry in.

As I had the cutlets out of the pan and on the drying rack (so they could drip any excess oil they might have), I decided to make a pan sauce. I deglazed the pan with the juice of one lemon and a little more butter to make the sauce shine. It smelled amazing. I probably could have added some herbs, but I didn't have any on hand.

In retrospect, there was a bit too much butter and too much lemon. Had I had white wine on hand (which I never have because I don't like it), I should have deglazed with a bit of that, thrown in some shallots, and then done about half a lemon.

I got to thinking that I need to probably also have some green. I decided that a big pile of baby spinach sprinkled with a bit of "House Dressing" with a couple cutlets on top. A little drizzle of sauce on top.

I think this will make for some very tasty leftovers too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grand Plans - A quick post

Today I went by the grocery store just to get some pickles (I had to make tuna salad), and it was one of those situations where you end up buying a heck of a lot more than you plan. (Oddly, it was not because I was hungry.) BUT, I had specific recipes in mind. I've been wanting to oven roast some leeks (just thought it's worth a try), so I bought a bunch of leeks ($2.99). I thought about making my Melting Pot Soup, so I bought bok choy ($1.38) and chicken, spinach, and feta sausage ($3.17). In thinking back to my fantastic trip to Fredericksburg, I also decided to get some thin-cut pork chops to try out a wiener schnitzel recipe ($1.99). I purchased some avocados at Costco last week, and I've been dying to make some guacamole, so I bought an onion ($0.23), some garlic ($1.00), and some jalapenos ($0.19). In addition to some other items, I got a pretty full 4 bags for just around $35.

One thing I'm trying to focus on is not letting my food spoil before I get to use it. That's a hard thing for me because I always have such grand plans, but I'm hoping this time will be different because I do have grand plans.

A Lunch Person

When I was three, I attended a half-day session at the school down the block from where I lived. Being the "older than my time" girl from an early age, I was bothered by the fact that there were other kids (some 4 years old, some 3) who were staying there for the entire day. I wanted to be a "Lunch Person" like those who stayed until the afternoon. My mother, wanting to support her youngin's desires, would pack me a lunchbox that I could bring to school, even though I didn't eat it there. I was a Lunch Person.

I am again a Lunch Person. I have begun bringing my lunchbox to work. Yes, you read that right. I'm in my 30s, and I bring a lunchbox to work. Think a modern bento box, less disposable packaging, healthier meals, and downright cuteness. My lunch box is made by Oots. I am in love with it. It has all these cool little containers inside, and if you get the "Deluxe" version, it comes with one large and four small plastic containers that fit inside. (You can also buy it without the inserts.) I was lucky enough to receive one of these beauties from my sister and brother-in-law as a birthday present back in the beginning of May (everyone...mark your calendars for next year...). But it took me a couple months to get in the swing of actually using it as intended. There have been a couple days I've trotted along with a frozen meal inside, but that's not nearly as exciting.

So I gave myself an assignment. Go to the farmers' market (see my previous post called The Prodigal Daughter), buy some tasty vittles, and make sure to eat healthily with the help of my Oots Lunchbox. I started with some fruit. I cut my orange in the "Chinese restaurant" style way, as my mother calls it - in half from pole to pole then slice parallel to the equator. It's the best way to eat an orange. You can just rip the flesh out with your teeth and you barely get any pith.

Next came blueberries. A ton of blueberries in another small bin. They are so easy to snack on throughout the day. I love the way they pop in the mouth.

I also packed one of these little squares with cheese and crackers. It was some delicious Colby that I got at the farmers' market (my dog also likes it...he likes cheese). The Colby was firm, but not oppressively so - it didn't hurt my gums when I chomped down on a big cube. The crackers I used were, brace yourself, good ol' Premium Original Saltines. I know that this Colby could have stood up to a Carr's cracked pepper of a similarly spiced cracker, but there's just something about those Premium Saltines. I love them. One thing I didn't really think about, though, was that the moisture from the cheese made the crackers a little less than desirable in texture. But don't get me wrong, I still ate them. You can't beat the perfect amount of salt on those things.

Lastly, as mentioned in my last post, I had done up some zucchini and and steak in the same grill pan. I had some leftovers in the longer of the plastic bins. Boy were they tasty.

Tomorrow I'm taking another meal. Dark sweet cherries and green grapes in two small bins. Another small bin has some tuna salad (tuna, light mayo, celery, dill pickles, celery seed, salt, and pepper), and the fourth has some more dill pickle spears and some more celery. The big bin has two pieces of Nature's Pride Double Fiber bread (remarkably tasty for how much fiber is in them, and I can toast them at work and make my tuna sandwich) and a handful of Marcona almonds (that are absolutely irresistible).

I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Prodigal Daughter

After a fairly long hiatus, I returned to the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market this morning. I love that place. In an effort to be more financially responsible, I have made a conscious decision to not buy a ton of produce that will just go bad in my fridge. So while I spent a nice chunk of money, I did not overbuy in terms of amount.

I limited myself to the following items:
  • One cantaloupe
  • Two Sharlyn melons
  • Two zucchini
  • Two yellow squash
  • Two cucumbers
  • A skirt steak
  • 1 lb. Black Bean & Queso Fresco Ravioli in Cilantro Pasta
  • Some green beans
  • Four mid-sized tomatoes
  • A dozen farm-fresh eggs

Some explanations...

Sharlyn Melon I found this definition online: "This melon tastes like a cantaloupe and honeydew combined. Sharlyn melons are sweet with netted outer layer, greenish-orange rind, and white flesh. The availability varies, so check your local supermarkets and farmer’s market." It's funny because to me it smelled a bit like a mix of a peach and a cantaloupe.
The first one I ate didn't have nearly as intense a flavor as it did a fragrance. It was good, but a bit of a let down. The flesh was perfectly ripe, though, and I was able to just sit there and carve out bites with my spoon. The second one, however, had a more developed flavor, and it was rather tasty.

Skirt Steak
At about 9:30pm two nights ago, I realized that I had not prepared lunches for the rest of the week (as was my intention). So I figured that since the skirt steak was pretty thin, it wouldn't take too terribly long to cook it. I was right. I didn't put anything but salt and pepper on it and threw it on my grill pan. About 2-3 minutes each side, resting about 10 minutes (while I cooked the zucchini), and it was perfectly pink in the middle. Delicious.

Zucchini I cut a zucchini in half and then in small half moons. I tossed them with a tad of salt, pepper, and some herbs de provence. I then threw them in my grill pan so they could also soak up some of the beef yumminess that was left on the pan. Definitely turned out as well as I could have expected.

The only thing that went wrong at the Farmer's Market this time around was that I brought my pooch with me. He was wonderfully behaved, but there was a lot to smell, say hello to, and so on. He isn't particularly food motivated, so I didn't have to worry about him jumping up after some food or people. It was just hard to maneuver a leash (while trying not to trip people) and trying to remember not to drop the eggs or smoosh the blueberries or the tomatoes.

As of yet I haven't used the tomatoes, yellow squash, cantaloupe, green beans, and cucumbers. But check my next post to see more about the ravioli and the blueberries.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Airport Food

Traditionally, airports are full of a variety of fast food chains. One example of that is certainly DFW - that behemoth of an airport the size of a small Malaysian principality. The options in the food court that I've seen there range from the insipid Wok on Roll (which I might add does fill the desperate need for something resembling General Tso's) to the ubiquitous McDonald's and Burger King.

Austin Bergstrom International Airport (affectionately referred to as ABIA) seems to be different. I'm sure many of the smaller regional airports across the country have a similar aesthetic, but as a Brooklynite, I really haven't spent much prolonged time in smaller airports. All of that is to say, I don't propose that ABIA is different from other smaller regional airports, but rather that it is certainly a different breed from the larger hubs.

This is my second time living in Austin, but in the 6 years in between, I visited annually. Each time I went in or out of ABIA, I stopped by two of the eateries - Amy's Ice Cream and Salt Lick BBQ. (Not normally in that order...but yes, sometimes....I keep telling any kid who will listen, one benefit of being an adult is that you can have dessert first or as the whole meal...but I digress.)

Amy's Ice Cream is local fare much like Cold Stone Creamery. Not having been to CSC more than once, my next statement might be inaccurate, but I'm throwing caution to the wind. Amy's has a ton of more quirky personality than CSC could ever have. Part of that, of course, may be a function of Austin's "weirdity," but it's a company that not only tolerates the counter culture personalities, but also embraces and encourages it. Amy's is where seemingly all of the pierced tattooed young punks/hippies/hipsters work. And it's not all about the folks behind the counter - the ice cream itself has a quirky personality.

There are about 20 flavors that can be used as a base - some are your typical flavors (Coffee being my favorite) while some are more exciting like Mexican Vanilla or Pumpkin Pie. And then there are the "crushins." They have all manner of cookies, gummies, and fruit, not to mention sauces and sprinkles. One of my friends recently sang the praises of Mexican Vanilla with Nutter Butters Crushed in. Almost exclusively I gravitate towards the slightly more pedestrian (and yet ethereal) Coffee ice cream with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups crushed in.

The other local delicacy that I could not pass up whether arriving into or departing from ABIA is the Salt Lick BBQ. The main Salt Lick restaurant is out in Hays County about 20-30 minutes Southwest of Downtown Austin (only about 15-20 minutes from my place, thankfully.) Because Hays is a dry county it's BYOB. People show up with coolers full of beer. If the wait is long, there's a huge outdoor area where you can dive into that cooler, sit and listen to live music, and in cooler weather, sit by a fire pit.

Inside, you can eat with some other people at a community table - everyone just packed in together at a picnic table. Or you can get your own picnic table. The BBQ pit is right there in the building so you can't help but smell like seared flesh when you leave; it's a glorious thing.

At the airport, however, you can buy beer with your, say, brisket sandwich. In some ways it's a better experience. What the airport clearly lacks is ambiance (there's nothing like barbecue off of plastic plates while seated at picnic tables). But the ability to pair your meal with a beer then take about 10 steps to the right and follow that brisket up with some Amy's.

Salt Lick + Amy's = perfect together.