Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Passover Chicken and Soup - Delicious and Fun to Make

Making Passover dinner takes a bit of planning, but it doesn't have to be a chore. If you're cooking for a big group, hand out assignments so you don't do all the work. If your kitchen is large enough, invite people over to help. Cooking the dinner with friends and family can be as much a part of a celebration as the meal itself.

Everyone wants to save money these days. But keeping an eye on food costs shouldn't mean cutting corners on quality and flavor. Avoid buying packaged or frozen meals and you'll be way ahead of the game. Besides saving money, you'll be eating healthier food.

On Passover, I practice what I preach by using one chicken to make three dishes. My Jewish mother would be very proud.

For me it's not Passover without matzo ball soup. But soup is only as good as the stock. Canned and packaged chicken broth are very high in salt content and, in my opinion, have an unpleasant flavor. It's much better to make your own.

The broth can be made days ahead, kept in the refrigerator or even frozen. Also, when you buy the chicken, buy a whole one, preferably a free range or organic chicken, and cut it up yourself. Whole chickens cost under $2.00/pound, while chicken parts range from $3.50-$8.00/pound.

Cutting up a Chicken

If you haven't done it before, cutting apart a whole chicken is easier than you think. Having a sharp boning or chef's knife is essential.

To remove the wings, thighs, and legs, slice through the meat and separate at the joints. Cut the wings apart, reserving the tips for the stock. To debone the breasts, glide the knife along the side of the breast bone. As you cut, pull back the breast meat, continuing to slide the knife against the ribs.

For health reasons, I remove the skin and fat from the breasts, legs and thighs. Add the skin and fat to the stock. If you're going to debone the legs and thighs, add those bones to the stock as well.

Drizzle olive oil on the breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. Put them into an air tight container and refrigerate. If you want to freeze them, put the pieces into a Ziploc style plastic bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and freeze.

Here's another tip about freezing the chicken. When you put the pieces into the plastic bag, make sure they don't touch one another. That way, if you need only one piece, say a breast, you can leave the other pieces frozen until you need them.

Chicken Stock

When my mother and grandmother made chicken stock, they added onions, celery, and carrots to the water. I don't because I want the stock to taste of chicken. If I want other flavors, I add them later.

Yield: 2 quarts

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

Skin, wing tips, carcass, and bones from one 4 1/2 pound chicken
4 quarts water

Method

Put the wing tips, skin, carcass, and bones into a large pot with the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 60 minutes. Skim off and discard the foam. The volume will reduce by half.

Strain the stock. Pick off any meat from the carcass and reserve for later use in a salad or a chicken-vegetable soup. Discard the bones and skin.

Refrigerate overnight to easily remove the fat solids. If you're rushed for time and need the stock right away, float a slice of bread on top of the stock to absorb the fat.

The stock can be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for a day or two or in the freezer for months.

Matzo Ball Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 30 minutes

For the matzo balls, we use a mix, but if you want to make them from scratch, Mark Bittman has a very good recipe.

Ingredients

1 box matzo ball mix (no soup), Manischewitz, Rokeach, or Streit's
Other ingredients per the directions on the packaged mix
2 quarts chicken stock

Method

Prepare the matzo balls per the directions on the box. Make them large or small as you like. Remember that the size of the matzo ball will double as it cooks in the salted water. 1 box of mix will make 24 small matzo balls or 12 large ones.

Put the chicken stock into a large pot. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the matzo balls from the salted water to the stock. Heat over a medium flame. Because the matzo balls are delicate, don't let the stock boil.

Garlic-Parsley Chicken Breasts

On any other day but Passover, serve the sliced chicken on top of buttered pasta.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, washed, and dried
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the saute pan. Dredge the chicken breasts in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper

Put the breasts in the heated pan, top with parsley and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Slice the breasts and plate. Use a rubber spatula to remove the drippings, garlic, and parsley and spoon onto the slices before serving.

Mushroom-Vegetable Chicken Ragout

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 chicken legs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken thighs, skin removed, deboned, roughly chopped
2 chicken wings, tips removed, cut apart at the joint
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed, stems removed, finely chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, washed, cut into chunks
4 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, season with sea salt and pepper, saute the chicken until lightly browned. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels, set aside.

Saute the garlic, shallots, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, and potatoes until lightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender. There should be 1 cup of broth.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue simmering another 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed spinach or broccoli.

Variations

Instead of using potatoes, serve over rice

Add spinach leaves

Add cut up celery

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Using Credit Cards to Send You Around the World on Trips

You might ask, why is a food blogger writing about credit cards? The answer is pretty simple. I love to eat. I love to travel. I love to eat when I travel and I especially love getting to travel and eat for free. When I was a kid, my mom frequented stores that gave her S& H Green Stamps with each purchase. She dutifully pasted the stamps in a book. When the books were filled, she could redeem them for products. A toaster. Hair products. All sorts of things. With the wide adoption of credit cards, this simple idea grew exponentially into a billion dollar business. I couldn't be happier.

With the summer travel season approaching, now is a good time to look through the credit cards you currently have. Are the terms as good as the credit card offers you're receiving in the mail?  Maybe it's time to switch. Every week unsolicited credit card offers arrive in the mail.  I don't need any more credit cards, but it's good to check out the offers.

NOT ALL CREDIT CARDS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Not all credit cards have benefits. Many are just "credit" cards.  In the simplest terms, with these cards, the bank advances you money. You are expected to pay the money back at the end of the month. If you don't repay all the money, you pay interest on the balance. That's pretty straight forward.

But since there are credit cards out there that not only loan you money but also give you a goodie bag of benefits, why not have those cards?  Banks want your business. That means you can have credit and goodies too.  And that is a very good thing.

Over the last month, I received offers from Barclay, Citi, American Express, Bank of America and Chase asking me to apply for one of their credit cards. The banks will pay me to use their money.

They'll pay me in the sense that they are offering cash back
or miles to be used to buy airline tickets, hotel stays and other purchases. The devil's bargain is simple. All I have to do is use my credit card as often as possible. Merchants pay the bank when I use my credit card. The bank hopes I will spend a lot of money, carry an outstanding balance and occasionally miss a due date so I have to pay late fees. My plan is to pay my monthly balances on time so I get the miles without having to pay fees.

GETTING A CREDIT CARD IS LIKE GETTING MARRIED
As in any marriage, it is important to get to know your prospective mate before you tie the knot. The bank's agreement is a prenup. You should read those terms very carefully.

1. BENEFITS: Carefully read the terms of the agreement. Since there are many different types of benefit programs, compare and evaluate which credit cards give you what you need. Some cards give money back bonuses. Others focus on miles that can be converted into free airline travel while some are designed for travelers who want free hotel nights.  For sites that compare different credit card offers, see the list at the end of the article.
I use credit cards to accumulate miles toward airline travel, so I want a credit card that accrues miles on a 1:1 basis, or better.  Which means when I spend $1.00, I get 1 mile or point credited to my account.  One of our Master Card accounts did not charge us an annual fee. The miles were accumulated on the basis of 2:1. $2.00 spent for 1 mile credited. When our use of the card was low, that made sense, but in time we used the card more and more, so the advantage of no annual fee was not worth the miles we lost.

With some cards you accrue miles on a basis of 1:2 ($1.00 spent for 2 miles credited). That is the case with some Bank of America plans when the card is used to purchase groceries and gasoline products. With some American Airlines plans, purchasing American's products will add more bonus points to your account. Some plans give cash back instead of miles. Other plans sweet the pot by crediting back a percentage of the miles you spend to purchase travel, as does American Airlines with its more expensive cards. Spend 25,000 miles to purchase a round trip ticket and the card credits 5,000 miles to your account.
Notice how many times I have to say "some plans." It's worth your while to read the fine print and pick the best card for you.

2. ANNUAL FEE: Typically, when you sign up for a credit card, the first year's fee is waived. This isn't always true, but it can be true, so check. Annual fees typically range between $50.00  and $100.00, with premium cards charging quite a bit more. High end cards charge high annual fees, as much as $450.00, but in return the benefits are highly prized by travelers--entry into airport lounges, free baggage allowance, discounted prices on airline products, bonus points, special offers, no foreign transaction fees, concierge services and much more.
3. AIRLINE VS BANK CARDS: Many credit cards are affiliated with specific airlines. Use a VISA card issued by American Airlines and the miles accrue for flights on American Airlines. There are many cards which accumulate points and miles that can be used on any airline. Those cards proudly tout their non-affiliation as an advantage because you can pick and choose airlines for the best deals. Personally, I have not used this type of card. I have cards which are tied to airlines: American, Southwest and United. These are airlines that fly where I tend to travel. As with any card, carefully read the fine print to see if your purchasing and travel needs are best served by a particular card's agreement.

4. SIGNING BONUSES: Many credit cards--well actually most these days in the push to sign up more customers--offer a signing bonus. The annual fee may be waived for the first year as part of the signing bonus. Typically a new user is also credited miles as a bonus. The number of miles can be an insignificant 10,000 miles or a very meaningful 75,000 miles.

Accruing those miles to your mileage account is often linked to your spending a certain amount during a specified period of time, say $3,000.00 spent in the first three months after the card is activated. Once you spend the $3,000.00, the bonus miles will be credited to your account.
Usually the best deals go to consumers who have the best credit history and who also have good paying, long term employment. This may strike some as unfair--why should one person get more than another person--but this issue is important. When you use your credit card, the bank has money you want to use. The bank wants guarantees that they will get their money back. Good credit history and current employment tell them you are more likely to give them back their money when asked, so they'll be nicer to you. Which brings up the next issue.

5. INTEREST RATES: What is APR? APR is an abbreviation for Annual Percentage Rate. That's the rate the bank will charge you for keeping their money longer than one month (or 28 days or 27 days or 30 days, depending on their definitions -- always remember to read the fine print).

If you pay your credit card balances before the DUE DATE. You have won the jackpot. The bank gave you their money. You spent it. But you paid it back before the due date, so the bank gets no money from you. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Which means you don't care what the APR is because you are the smartest person on the planet.  Even though the bank didn't get any money from you for all those transactions during the month, the businesses who sold you the goods and services did have to the pay the bank. So the credit card companies are making money, just not from you.
If you don't pay all of the credit card balance on time, then you will pay for the money the bank let you use.  In which case, the APR is really really important. And you should look carefully at how much interest you will pay and all the other terms that come with keeping the bank's money past that first month.

As part of the signing bonus for some cards, you are allowed without fee to transfer existing credit card balances from other credit cards. This can be a very handy way of starting over again, especially if you have racked up fees, which is the next topic to discuss.

6. MINIMUM MONTHLY PAYMENT: Minimum monthly payment is a really scary idea. The bank helpfully tells you the smallest amount you need to pay on the monthly bill. The problem is that paying the minimum amount maximizes the bank's profits. It might seem really cool and friendly to only pay $32.18 on a monthly balance of $3517.23, but the bank is hoping you'll take the easy way out, pay the minimum legally required so that they can levy their very exorbitant APR.
7. FEES: Late fees and every other fee you are liable for if you don't pay all of your monthly bill each billing cycle on time and in full are the Devil's wager you make for using credit cards. Miss a due date and you will be hit with a fee in addition to the APR costs. And those fees will themselves accrue APR charges if you don't pay off all of the outstanding balance. When people talk about slipping into a downward spiral of debt because of credit card use, this is how it happens. Many banks make their profits on the frailties of the human condition. Late fees are an important profit center. So that's the bad news.

8. CREDIT CARDS PROTECT YOU FROM FRAUD: The good news is using a credit card protects you from fraud. Buy a faulty product that the seller won't repair or replace, the credit card company will go to bat for you and challenge the seller. Someone hacks your account and uses your credit card to take a trip to Rio and stay in a 5-Star hotel for ten days. Not your problem. If you didn't use the card, you are not liable for the charges. When you use a debit card, things get complicated because the money comes directly out of YOUR account, not the bank's. With a credit card, the thief sticks a straw into the BANK's account, not yours. That is the law and the law, in this regard, favors the consumer and that is YOU.
9. WEB SITES THAT EVALUATE CREDIT CARDS: There are many more benefits and limitations that are found in credit card offers. Since they are specific to different credit cards, I've listed below some very good analyses that compare credit cards. Here are several I like.

Tasha Lockyer looks at the "Top Seven Credit Card Offers." Her analysis focuses on consumers who have the best credit. The better your credit, the better the deal.

The editors at NextAdvisor list the best credit cards, broken down by features: lowest APR, best for travel, best transfer rates from another card, best rewards, best cash back, best student, best business and best card to rebuild your credit.

Value Penguin evaluates financial opportunities--health insurance, auto insurance, mortgage rates and credit cards. They throw a very wide net, comparing thirty-three credit cards across eleven value points including annual fee, APR, signing bonus and valuations of each card based on how many points or miles you receive relative to the cost of the card (which would include the annual fee). I know that sounds like a lot of comparison points, but Value Penguin has a very cool graphic that creates a visual comparison to help guide you through the advantages of each card.

Ben Schlappig writes a blog and subscription email called One Mile at a Time  with a monthly evaluation of the ten best credit card deals. His March evaluation is posted now. Because he updates his lists every month, I find it well worth my while to subscribe to his emails, which detail his personal experiences traveling around the world.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Anchovies and Chicken Livers Make a Home with Pasta

Surf and turf with penne pasta with caramelized chicken livers and anchovies. Credit: David Latt
For Zester Daily, I wrote about two ingredients I love: anchovies and chicken livers.  Not every one likes both (or either, for that matter). As with so many foods in our lives, dishes served when we are young put strong imprints on our adult palates. Most nights when my father came home from work, he would settle into his leather recliner and watch wrestling on TV. While my sister and I set the table, my mother would serve him an appetizer plate and his favorite cocktail, a 7&7 (Seagrams & 7-Up). His favorite appetizers reflected his Russian Jewish background. There would be plates of pickled herring with sour cream, chopped chicken liver, pickled beets and onions, anchovy fillets and pumpernickel bread that he ordered from a mail-order outlet in New York. 
Wanting a father-son moment with my father, who was decidedly old school and not much into father-son moments, I would sit next to him and share the appetizers (and steal a sip of his 7&7 when he wasn't looking). I definitely developed a taste for the anchovies and chicken livers but not for the pickled herring with sour cream! 
One day, with very little in the refrigerator, I wanted a lunch with a lot of flavor that wouldn't take much effort to create. With a box of pasta, a couple of chicken livers, a tin of anchovies, an assortment of aromatics and a few other ingredients, I put two and two together and made a dish that was light and delicious.  I wonder if my dad would have liked it?
In many Italian, Spanish and French dishes, anchovy filets supply a deeply nuanced umami that turns the ordinary into the passionately delicious. Italian puttanesca, Tuscan chicken liver paté and French tapenade are but a few examples that come to mind. Without anchovies they are good. With anchovies they are delicious. Combine skinless anchovy filets with caramelized chicken livers, toss with pasta and dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and surf dances with turf in the most beautiful way.
Pasta is wonderful and infinitely variable. Pasta can be complex or simple. For many cooks, the best pasta dish is one that allows the ingredients to shine through with a minimum of sauce. Toss penne with fresh English peas, a bit of oil and garlic, a dusting of cayenne and a fresh grating of Romano and all that is necessary to complete the meal is a crisp Fumè Blanc, a farm-fresh green salad and a dessert of fresh fruit with a nice selection of cheeses.
Chicken livers and anchovies are as different as can be. When cooked properly with a charred exterior and an interior still moist and pink, chicken livers are creamy and earthy with a hint of sweetness.
Anchovies on the other hand have a sharper impact on the palate — salty, raspy and tangy. Combined, they bring out the best in one another.
As with any simple recipe, this dish is only as good as the quality of the ingredients. Whenever possible, buy organic chicken livers to avoid the chemicals and antibiotics that can accumulate in birds that are raised in industrial coops. Skinless anchovies packed in olive oil are not overly salty. Because the fish are caught all over the world, experimenting with different brands will lead you to the one you like the best.
Spanish and Italian anchovies are especially good, whether packed in glass jars or in tins. The price can vary from an affordable $2 a tin to well over $15 for a glass jar of the same weight.

Pasta with Chicken Livers and Anchovies

Before using chicken livers, wash and pat dry. Using a sharp paring knife, cut away any fat, sinews or veins and discard. Separate the two lobes. Cut each lobe in half, making bite-sized pieces to facilitate even cooking of the livers.
Serves 4
Ingredients
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¾ to 1 pound pasta (penne, ziti, spaghetti or angel hair)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, washed, stemmed and skin removed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only, washed
4 to 8 anchovy filets (the number depends on how much you enjoy anchovies)
1 pound chicken livers, washed, lobes separated, each lobe cut in half
¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only, washed
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
⅛ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
¼ cup cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered (optional)
Directions
1. In a 2-gallon pot, fill with water to within 3 inches of the top. Add kosher salt and bring to a boil. Put in pasta and stir well. Allow to boil 10 minutes, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Taste and when al dente, place a small heat-proof cup in the sink next to a colander and drain the pasta, capturing 1 cup of pasta water in the process. Return the pasta to the warm pot and set aside.
3. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Sauté onions, garlic and Italian parsley until lightly browned. Using a fork, add the anchovies, dragging them along the bottom so they break apart. Stir well with the aromatics.
4. Add the chicken livers to the pan, using a large spoon to move them around the pan so they lightly brown all over. Be careful not to overcook and dry out the livers.
5. At this point you have some options. You can season with cayenne for heat, add chopped olives for another layer of flavor, stir in quartered cherry tomatoes to contribute liquid and a bit of acid to the sauce and sweet butter for creaminess.
6. Or keep it simple and do one, some or none of the above. In any case, add ¼ cup of pasta water to the frying pan and stir well.
7. Just before serving, add cooked pasta to the frying pan over a medium flame and toss well until heated. Top with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pho Ga, Lemon Grass Chicken, Vermicelli with Barbecue Pork and So Much More in Orange County's Little Saigon

Certain foods cause people to become rhapsodic. Proust had his madeleines. I have pho ga. At Pho Vinh Ky, the large bowl of chicken soup and rice noodles arrives with a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
Traditionally, the herbs and vegetables are added to the broth. Rau ram, ngo gai, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, purple perilla, a lime wedge and thick slices of serrano peppers add brightness to the flavors. I love the dipping sauce, nuoc cham gung, a mix of lime juice, dried pepper flakes, finely chopped fresh ginger and fish sauce. Everyone has their own way to eat pho. Mine is to eat the noodles first. Each spoonful flavored by the pungent, hot, salty dipping sauce.
If you haven't eaten Vietnamese food, you have missed out on one of the great Asian cuisines. Known primarily for their noodle soups, plates of barbecued meats piled high on mounds of broken rice or served in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and stir fries spiced with lemon grass, Vietnamese food has spread into the wider culinary community because of the popularity of pho (hot beef and chicken soups with noodles) and banh mi (crusty baguettes with spicy meats and pickled vegetables).With several large Vietnamese communities around the country, we are lucky to live close to Little Saigon in Orange County. 

A trip to Little Saigon begins at Pho Vinh Ky with a large bowl of pho ga (chicken soup with noodles), only dark meat, and a Vietnamese coffee with milk. Arriving early in the morning, the restaurant is cold and mostly empty. The large window faces a small parking lot bordering busy Westminister Boulevard. A dozen Vietnamese men and women are also eating pho. Their heads bent low over the steaming bowls, chop sticks in one hand, a Chinese soup spoon in the other, they eat the more familiar, beef version of pho. 
Because we live an hour away from Garden Grove and Westminster, the epicenter of Orange County's Vietnamese community, instead of eating several dishes at one restaurant, I'll eat one dish at each of my favorite restaurants, taking home what I don’t finish and moving on to the next one. If you hadn’t guessed, that means I bring freezer packs and a small cooler for take-away because the left overs are delicious for next day-breakfast and lunch.

In between meals, I'll hunt out the best bargains at the local supermarkets. 

Here is the list of places I love going to in Little Saigon. Hope you have an afternoon to explore the area. A few weeks ago, I brought home two live Dungeness crabs from ABC (see below: a supermarket on Bolsa at Magnolia) for $5.99/lb. The shiitake mushrooms were also a bargain at $4.79/lb.

RESTAURANTS:

Many of the restaurants only take cash.  Most of them open for breakfast and stay open until late (which can mean 7:30am - 11:00pm; but often it means 10am - 10pm).

Pho Vinh Ky
8512 Westminster Blvd, Suite F, Westminister 92683 (714/894-9309). Opens 7:30am.
Next to the Stater Brothers’ Market, west of Magnolia, east of Beach (Beach Blvd Exit on the Garden Grove/22 Fwy). 
Pho Ga: dark meat only (large)
#1Spring Rolls, shrimp
#35: Vermicelli, BBQ pork
#36:Vermicelli, shrimp
#40: Broken rice, pork chop (fried egg on top)

Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant
9550 Bolsa Aven (Suite 11E-1), Westminister 714/531-7788; Sun-Thurs 10am-11pm; Fri-Sat 10am-Midnight
Really good egg noodles with chicken and/or tofu
#5, #13 chix #10 lemon grass, & # 18 veggie
The portions are small but the lemon grass chicken is spicy, crispy and delicious.
A dozen other restaurants share the parking lot including a Chinese dim sum take out restaurant Dim Sum, Giai Phat Food Co. 9550 Bolsa Ave. #123, 124, Westminster, CA 92683. Very inexpensive and well-made.

Dong Khanh
10451 Bolsa Avenue, Westminister (92683) 949/839-1014
Weekdays they have great lunch specials. Delicious lemon grass chicken, fried shrimp (head on, in the shell) with pickled cabbage and carrots, crispy noodles, lots of good things. Very good iced Vietnamese coffee with milk.
Hanoi
9082 Bolsa Avenue
Westminister CA 92683
Delicious sizzling catfish (deboned) with fresh dill and caramelized onions; also great vermicelli with barbecue pork; fried shrimp with sweet potato fries is a signature dish; pork chops with broken rice are also very good.

Sharing the parking lot are a number of other restaurants and a French-Vietnamese bakery/restaurant called Le Croissant Dore with good Vietnamese style French pastries and a bœuf bourguignon that’s spicy with heat served with a baguette.
9122 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683 (714) 895-3070

MARKETS

There are a great many supermarkets in Little Saigon as well as Korean Markets in Garden Grove. Each one is different although they all carry many of the same products. The prices are also pretty much the same, but there are notable differences between them.

MOM Supermarket, 5111 W. Edinger Avenue (the entrance is on Euclid) Santa Ana 92704. 714/839-3939; I usually go here first because their shiitake mushrooms can be cheaper; they have a good fish market but while they have live seafood, the prices are better at ABC; they have a fantastic dried and fresh noodle area and great selection of Asian sauces.
ABC Supermarket
8970 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster 92683 (714/379-6161), at Magnolia
Great for live lobsters (usually $6.99-$7.99/lb) they sell out fast; and live Dungeness crab ($3.99-5.99/lb), shiitake mushrooms, fresh produce, onions, garlic; fresh chicken and pork, canned goods and dried (and fresh) noodles.

Sharing the parking lot with ABC are a dozen other businesses, some restaurants, some bakeries. Bolsa BBQ has great whole pig and duck bbq and yummy bao with hardboiled egg & pork. 

Dalat Supermarket (13075 Euclid Street, Garden Grove 92843, 714/638-9900) at the intersection of Garden Grove Blvd & the 22
Good prices on meat & poultry & lychees. The majority of dried noodles sold in Asian markets use lye. One of the few companies to avoid using lye in their noodles is found at Dalat: Twin Rabbit Vegetarian Noodles (Mi Chay Soi Lon) Product of Vietnam - dried wheat noodles: $1.19.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eggsellent – A One-Egg Omelet That’s All About Flavor

For Zesterdaily last January, I wrote about beginning the new year with an easy-to-make, good tasting dish that is healthy and all about flavor. After making the omelets through out last year, I think it's a great way to begin 2014.


A new year with new resolves for personal improvement is the best of times and the worst of times. At the top of many people’s resolutions is eating sensibly with an asterisk to give up everything that tastes good. To eat well doesn’t mean denying yourself pleasures. In fact, consider the gastronomic advantages of a one-egg omelet.


Three, two, one

A neighborhood restaurant we frequented for many years proudly publicized their three-egg omelet. The omelet was a plump 2-inches thick and settled on the plate like a seal sunning itself on a wave-washed rock.
After eating their three-egg omelet, I always felt like going back to bed.
Having consumed many omelets over many years, the realization hit me that what I like about an omelet isn’t the eggs. What I like is the filling.
At home I experimented. What I was looking for was a ratio of bulk: flavor that pleased my palate and wasn’t overly filling. Three eggs were never considered, and eventually two eggs gave way to one. Another significant milestone was switching from a stainless steel pan to the more forgiving qualities of a nonstick pan.

Thin one-egg omelet is a reminder of delicate crêpes

One egg creates texture not bulk and places the emphasis solidly on the filling. Just about anything sautéed, roasted or grilled can find itself tucked into the confines of an eggy bed.
Whatever the mix of ingredients, the key to a good omelet is creating a warm creaminess of melted cheese.
The combinations are limited only by your palate preferences. The salty-sweetness of sautéed ham, Comte cheese, spinach, shallots and shiitake mushrooms complement the pliancy of the egg. Grilledasparagus and Parmesan cheese, dusted with finely chopped Italian parsley leaves makes an elegant omelet perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Shredded lobster, Manchego cheese, cilantro, raw red onions, a dusting of cayenne and a small amount of finely chopped ripe tomatoes transform an ordinary egg into a culinary adventure.
Adding country-fried potatoes, buttered toast with jam and crisp bacon, a tossed green salad or a bowl of fresh fruit to fill out the plate and the one-egg omelet creates an enviable meal, heavy on flavor and careful about calories.

One-Egg Omelet With Spinach, Comte Cheese, Shallots and Shiitake Mushrooms

Use any cheese of your liking. I prefer a cheese that plays well with others. Strong cheeses, such as blue cheese, will dominate the other flavors in the filling. Mild cheddar, Comte, Manchego and soft goat cheese work well.
The recipe is for one, because making each omelet individually will result in the best looking dish. If you are serving more than one, multiply the number of diners times the ingredient quantities for the filling to create the correct amount needed to make all the omelets.
Use a 9-inch nonstick pan, understanding that nonstick pans are designed to be used on low heat. Because an excessive amount of fat is not required to prevent the egg from sticking to the pan, the butter is used for flavoring. Could the omelet cook on a nonstick pan without the butter? Yes, perhaps as serviceably, but that little bit of butter adds a lot of flavor.
Serves 1
Ingredients
2 teaspoons sweet butter
2 cups spinach leaves and stems, washed, pat dried, chopped
1 shallot, washed, ends and skin removed, finely chopped
½ cup or 2-3 shiitake mushrooms, washed, root ends trimmed, finely sliced longwise
1 farm-fresh egg, large or extra large
1 tablespoon cream, half and half, whole milk or nonfat milk
⅓ cup freshly grated cheese, preferably white cheddar, Comte, Manchego or goat
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Directions
1. In the nonstick pan, melt 1 teaspoon butter and sauté together the spinach, shallot and shiitake mushrooms until wilted and lightly browned. Season to taste with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Use a high-heat or Silpat spatula to remove the sauté from the pan and set aside.
2. Beat together the 1 egg and milk until frothy.
3. On a medium-low flame, heat the nonstick pan, melt the remaining teaspoon butter and pour in the egg-milk mixture using the spatula to get every drop into the pan.
4. Swirl the egg mixture around to coat the bottom of the pan so it looks like a full moon.
5. Gently sprinkle the cheese on one half of the omelet — the half moon with the filling –and spoon on the sauté to cover the cheese.
6. When the cheese has melted and the egg is cooked the way you like, use the Silpat spatula to gently flip the empty side of the half moon on top of the filling.
7. Use the Silpat spatula to help slide the omelet onto the plate and serve hot.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Big Game Snacks - Stephen Colbert Said Don't Call Them "Super Bowl Sunday" Snacks

Last night Stephen Colbert warned that anyone writing about Super Bowl Sunday should beware the wrath of the NFL. His workaround for a week-long series of specials devoted to Super Bowl Sunday was to call it "The Big Game."


I'll take Colbert's lead anytime, so here are my suggestions for snacks to enjoy during The Big Game on this coming Sunday.

The easiest snacks are store bought. No one has to stay in the kitchen to serve the pizza, dips and chips, beer and sodas. But fast food doesn't make you feel good. There are easy ways to make food for friends that only require a bit of time in the kitchen and here are some suggestions.

All these dishes can be made the day ahead, so on Sunday, you can spend the morning lounging in  front of the TV watching the pundits analyze the upcoming game.

Roasted Beet Salad

Requiring little to no effort, the beets do all the work.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large beets, washed
3 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 scallion (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Sea salt
Black Pepper

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet.

Leaving the skins on the beets allows them to cook in their sweet juices. No need to wrap them in aluminum foil and definitely don't peel them. Place them on the lined baking sheet, Drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in the oven.

Depending on the size of the beets, the cooking time is anywhere from 30-90 minutes. For even cooking, turn the beets every half hour. Use a pairing knife to test for doneness. Don't let them overly cook. They are best cooked al dente, so there is a firmness.

In a small saucepan, reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame until the 1 tablespoon is reduced on 1 teaspoon. Set aside.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the beets to cool.

For the salad, the beets should be peeled, the top and root end removed. To avoid staining your hands, use plastic gloves. The skin should come off easily. Don't cut away any of the flesh.

Cut the beets into any shape you like--wedge, diced, sliced or julienned. Season with the olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Optionally, finish the beets with a finely sliced scallion. Also, optional, dust with cayenne to add a bit of heat.

Kimchi Chicken Wings

Much more effort is required to make Kimchi Chicken Wings. The result is so delicious, they are definitely worth the extra effort. The wings can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated, then reheated before the game. The wings are delicious served hot or at room temperature.

Servies 4

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, washed, pat dried
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup kimchi, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kimchi water from the bottle
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, washed, peeled, sliced thin
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions

Dissolve the brown sugar in the kimchi water, olive oil, and soy sauce. Add the kimchi, onion slices, and chicken wings. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with tin foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on the tray and arrange the wings on the rack. Drizzle the wings with olive oil. Put into the oven and bake 30 minutes. Turn over with tongs. 

Bake another 30 minutes. The wings should be tender and golden brown. If not, turn the wings over and continue baking another 10 minutes. Check again and continue baking at 10 minute intervals, turning the wings each time, until they are done.

In a small saucepan on a low flame, reduce the marinade by a third. Reserve.

Pour the heated, reduced marinade over the wings. Place in a leak proof container. 

Make sure everyone has plenty of napkins and a chilled drink of choice.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon julienned garlic and 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley to the marinade
Just before serving, top with 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

Serves 6-8 (makes 1 quart)

Ingredients

8 large carrots (preferably farmers market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Directions

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions.

Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Add chopped capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds

Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney and Roasted Almonds

The salad can be eaten on small romaine lettuce leaves, crackers, bread or heated tortillas. The dish has a flavor pleasing mix of savory (chicken), sweet (mango), crunchy (almonds) and heat (cayenne). The dish can be made with either white or dark meat. Personally, I think the dark meat has more flavor.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, washed, pat dried
1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
2 tablespoons or 1/4 cup mango chutney (amount depends on taste), finely chop the fruit
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably Heilman's or Best Foods)
1 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, pat dried, root end trimmed, green and white parts finely chopped (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Sea salt and black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place whole chicken breast side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet. Season with sea salt and black pepper. After 30 minutes, remove and turn over the chicken.

Season the breast side with sea salt and black pepper. Return to the oven. After 30 minutes, check for doneness by moving one of the legs. The chicken is fully cooked once the leg moves easily. Continue cooking until done. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Because it is criminal to waste food, make stock with the skin and bones by covering them with water in a large pot. Simmer 60 minutes, strain, remove the bones and skin, reserving any bits of meat for soup. Refrigerate the stock, skim and discard the fat. The stock can be refrigerated for 2-3 days or kept frozen for several months.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and mango chutney. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces. Place the cut up chicken, parsley, scallion (optional), cayenne into the bowl with the dressing. Toss well. At this point the chicken salad can be refrigerated in an air-tight container.

Toaste the whole almonds in a toaster oven heated to 300 F for 5 minutes. Turn the almonds and continue toasting for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Roughly chop and reserve.

To keep the almonds crisp, sprinkle them on the chicken salad just before serving.

Variations

Substitute cilantro for Italian parsley.

Add 1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped.

Substitute finely chopped yellow onion for the scallion (optional).

Sauté 1/4 teaspoon cumin and turmeric in 1 teaspoon olive oil until nut brown. Add to the mayonnaise-mango chutney dressing. 


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Perfect Valentine's Day Gift, Handmade Chocolate Truffles

One of the things I love about travel is discovering new culinary ideas. In the fall I spent three weeks in Switzerland. Traveling around Lake Geneva, part of the focus for the research trip was chocolate. We visited dozens of artisans whose passion for chocolate led them to create their own unique, handmade confections.
Sharing an insistence on using quality ingredients, all their chocolates were different, reflecting the personality and palate of the individual chocolatier.

Last year I created mini-bars that riffed on classic American candy bars. This year I combined the lessons from Switzerland with my desire to reach back into my memory for flavors and textures I loved as a child.
The result is a deliciously unique chocolate, a truffle with layers of flavor and the sweet crunch of caramelized almonds.

For Valentine's Day, I would love to make you my handmade chocolates.

$18.00 a dozen in a gift box, available in one and two dozen sizes. They can be sent anywhere in the United States for an additional charge.

Please email me so we can talk about what you want to order. Looking forward to hearing from you.