Saturday, May 31, 2008

recipe recovery: undercooked rice

i tested the limits of my rice cooker's capacity and ended up with seepage of liquid out of the top, which meant the rice would be less done than i would prefer.

so, to make this work in the most practical way, i braised these greens from shadowbrook in more lemon tarragon dressing and a cup of water. when the greens were almost done-- when the stems were close to having good bite-- i stirred in the rice, let the pan come back to a simmer, and then turned off the heat and let the rice absorb the liquid in the pan, which took about five minutes. it turned out to have a texture amazingly close to risotto. i might undercook my rice more often, just to finish it ths way again.

Friday, May 30, 2008

what happened milk in the fridge

i feel like a traitor to both sides by drinking soymilk at home, but the choice made itself.

sure, i believe in the sheer enjoyment and judicious use of cheese and sour cream and butter... but i am not served by the lack of freshness of cow's milk five days after first opening and properly storing in the refrigerator... and i pretty much only use milk on cereal.

and then the fiscal conservatism: the last time i compared prices at hy-vee, both the quarts of milk or silk (the best soymilk) are between 1.90 and 2.00. i can also get the same size of a perfectly decent (and extremely shelf-stable, so i have one on hand at all times), aseptically-packaged house brand organic soymilk from hy-vee for 1.49 each-- unfortunately not 1.25 as they were the first time i wrote about them.

take-out review: vung tau's spring rolls

these are the best spring rolls i've had in years. i mean it. and those last ones that i had that were this good... well, they were at a place with fabric tablecloths, real flowers on the table, and a view of the bay bridge... so they weren't 3.75 for two of them.

vung tau, on y street at 27th, might not have tablecloths at all, but it's oddly pleasant inside and outside. two walls of the restaurant are completely lined with picture windows. the building itself is white-painted brick and boxy, and stands out on y street. the interior is simple, and there are about a dozen tables, with plenty of space inbetween.

the storefront had caught my eye several times, so i stopped in to get a sandwich (i'll write about the banh mi soon). there was an ljs review on the wall, to which i would like to link but can't find on their site, that mentioned the spring rolls.

they're wonderful. the shrimp has flavor and it's perfectly cooked, and there's a thin layer of pork wrapped up in there as well. the rice noodles aren't gummy and neither is the wrap. the mint is very fresh, as you can see in this picture... one roll split on the way home, but i blame that on a yellow light.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

a reality tv show you've never heard of

it's called "pho fect" and it's all about making the best noodle soup...

no, it's called top chef, and recently one "top judge" decided to deride a contestant more about her combination of tomato and peanut butter in a sauce than her apparent inability to cook (or delegate the cooking of) couscous correctly.

you know what? tomato and peanut butter are fabulous together. i've had to explain it more than once when ordering a bagel with those toppings. "it's like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but not as sweet." it's also a lot of nutrients for the money in the bagel-ordering line. and it's tasty. i made this peanut butter and tomato sandwich-- on bread from le quartier-- with bacon as well, but feel free to take it one step at a time.

re-using produce containers

i bought some fancy tomatoes in this plastic awhile ago, and it's come in handy the last couple of weeks at the farmers' market. it has a locking lid, which you can't see here because the glare was painful. when it's closed, though, i end up with these tomatoes safely near the bottom of my bag. if there's anything better than a good tomato for a quarter, it's getting that same tomato home and hale.

purple people eater chicken, potatoes

first i got the dressing: lemon tarragon, still on sale at ideal.

then (yesterday only, sorry) they had local huge and purple asparagus for 1.99#. then i went to hy-vee and my favorite cut of chicken-- boneless but not skinless

thighs-- was marked down, and since it worked with my dinner plans, i bought it. add one onion and a 1.5 lb bag of dutch yellow potatoes, and you get this delicious and simple dutch oven full of dinner.

i marinated the chicken in the dressing for an hour, in the dutch oven i'd later bake it in. then i grilled it just enough to make it pretty. meanwhile, into the dutch oven i threw one chopped onion, one bag of the dutch yellow potatoes (washed but not peeled) (these cost as much as the rest of the ingredients combined, so feel free to substitute quartered red potatoes), and one pound of the velociraptorial asparagus snapped into chunks. i tossed all that with some more dressing and some white wine, placed the browned chicken on top, and baked, covered, at 350 for half an hour.

Friday, May 23, 2008

hy-vee: new concept store in uni place

there's an article in today's ljs about hy-vee's new "concept" store in uni place. they have a link to some blueprints of the new plan.

the idea of a new concept store for hy-vee that relies heavily on their own brand sounds a lot like trader joe's to me. that's probably wishful interpretation on my part, but think about it. trader joe's has no locations anywhere near this area of the country, and they're smart enough to consolidate their distribution, making a location in lincoln (or even omaha) highly unlikely for the next five years.

but if some other chain, with excellent distribution already existing in the region, wanted to use the trader joe's business model to open a specialty grocery store in a location surrounded by two universities-- wouldn't that make sense?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

first half of first sign of asoycalypse:

store brand? organic? soy milk? 2.35? i like the first 3 acts.

shrimp, andouille and young greens

i got the greens and egg noodles at the farmers' market, the shrimp

from midwest seafood, and the correctly-spelled andouille from ideal.

i browned the sausage with a chopped onion and some ginger mandarin dressing until it was safe-- and smelled too good. then i added the young greens, and after a few minutes, the shrimp. (after making sure the sausage was well enough done, my next concern was not over-cooking the shrimp. the shrimp were so large that i had to slice them up to make them fit on a fork. after deveining, of course.)

i tossed the egg noodles, which i had boiled while tending this pan, into the pan before serving. the noodles had broken up more than i'd expected while boiling, so this seemed like the most attractive presentation.

the shrimp, always good from midwest, was fantastic with the spicy sausage. the greens, noodles and dressing were a very respectable backup.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

cucumber salad with gomasio and even more, bigger seaweed

making it for vegans, i left out the fish sauce. instead, i soaked some dried wakame in water for ten minutes before adding to the cucumbers and dressing.
and next time when i'm making it for people who aren't vegans, i'll use both.

east campus dairy store as grocery option

when hy-vee moved its store in uni place further east, to 84th & holdrege, the original neighborhood took a serious hit as far as grocery shopping went. there was an ljs article about this ages ago.

so, if you live or work in the area, you should keep in mind that the dairy store at east campus has milk, eggs, cheese, and local honey for sale, as well as the ice cream. you can even view (through glass, of course) the room where the cheese and ice cream is produced.

and if you wanted to buy some cheese and meat to eat while relaxing in the nearby arboretum: these smaller cheeses are around a dollar fifty each-- you could get two of them and a sausage for five bucks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

more shadowbrook braising greens

aren't they pretty? i love young greens. i used to buy them at a whole foods for a while, but they weren't regularly stocked. (i have a guess reported sales looked terrible-- because they kept getting rung in as salad greens. i haven't kept the receipts that bolster the strength of that theory, however.)

the line at shawdowbrook's stand was long this weekend, and very worth it. i think most people were there for the asparagus, which i also bought, of course. but these are why i stood in line.

young greens are perfect for braising, and cook much faster than the more mature leaves. and the nutritional content is in direct relation to how much they ebb in size after cooking! in other words: a pound of greens fills a regular transparent produce bag, but works itself down to a cup or two of volume.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

andouille? maybe. tasty? and how!

the butcher at ideal sells what they call andouille sausage for 2.99 a

pound. i thought this sausage was drier and chewier (and in links!)-- read more here, but remember what they say about sausages and law.

anyway, whatever this sausage is called, it tastes great and packs a nice spice. here it's with red peppers and asparagus, served over saffron rice-- sort of a poor girl's paella. next i'd like to try the sausage with shrimp, over pasta.

salad dressing sale at ideal

ideal has brianna's salad dressings on sale, two for five bucks. that's a good price for these, and i'm picky about salad dressings. i chose the "new american" flavor-- a creamy balsamic vinaigrette-- and the ginger mandarin, which i'll probably use as a glaze on chicken or pork.
on sale through friday.

review: apples from japan

i've seen these at russ' and super saver in the last week, so i picked one up. at five bucks a pound, it had better be good, right?
and they are good. not so good that i'd get kicked out of the garden of eden for one, but they have a good flavor and an excellent aroma. the peel is thicker than i expected, but not tough to chew. and it's not waxy like way too many supermarket apples. they are large and have a storybook-perfect appearance.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

smoked meats and sporting events

i ran to sunmart to get something else i'd forgotten for sports watching snacks, and saw the little jalapeno smokies for 99c. i cooked them at medium heat, in a heavy pan with a good lid, in the sauce i made up on the spot--quarter cup maple syrup, quarter cup ketchup. for about an hour.
they were tasty and perfect for the occasion.

baking chicken, onions in orange juice

this is a lighter baked chicken that's still moist and flavorful.

brown the chicken before baking to improve the texture and appearance. then bake your chicken pieces in a heavy dish which they can occupy with one or two quartered onions. snug but not over-crowded, with about a half-inch of orange juice (and ground pepper or whatever hot sauce you like) in the bottom of the pan. bake at 350 until safe to eat.

the bubbling orange juice keeps even the whitest meat from drying. the juice left in the pan, along with the baked onions, is delicious over a side of rice.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

so you've got these sunflower sprouts

sunflower sprouts are too delicate to cook. my favorite way of getting them into a dish is to marinate them in a dressing overnight-- which lets the oil and vinegar of that dressing macerate the texture slightly, without losing the freshness that made you buy them in the first place.

this is one mashed package of tofu and two cups of sunflower sprouts marinating in a ginger sesame dressing. the next day, the tofu had better flavor and the sprouts had better texture.

don't stir the scrambled eggs

or, don't stir them too much.

in the beginning of cooking scrambled eggs, you

see all this liquidity in a pan, and you feel the urge to mess with it and stir it around, like it was a soup or a pasta sauce or something. don't do it! too much stirring of the eggs breaks up the structure that you're trying to achieve.

these are free range eggs from common good farm, with shredded cheddar cheese and chives along inside.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

lilac and morel, together again

m: where were you last year?
l: [icily] there was that late freeze.
m: it made things pretty quiet for me.
l: you shouldn't think about
things so much.

the moral of the story is: if you see lilac at the farmers' market, look for morels there, too.

and another favorite candy

these gummy berries are randomly available at walgreens across the

country. even if sold at a location near you, they might not be stocked at half the locations within a quarter-mile of that one.

i really like them. they're made by the same company that makes the bears (which we've all seen, and eaten, and decided we would never eat again, and then eaten), which are sold at every walgreens in the universe-- and lots of other places, too.

i'd guessed from the name of the company, haribo, that they were from japan. (the little sugar beads on the candy berries do resemble ikura or tobiko, don't they?)

guess what, though. german. kids and grown-ups love it so!

hello, farmers' market season

as of next weekend, all the farmers' markets that i know of in town are at their

regular summer schedules. both haymarket and piedmont on saturdays, just old cheney (at 56th) on sundays, and then havelock on wednesday nights--i haven't tried that one yet.

the bad thing about the early part of the farmers' market season is the cool weather. oh wait-- that's the best part. what's the worst part again? no good fresh produce yet, just stuff in jars-- and all the starters i would need to grow fresh produce myself?

well, it's not that either, i guess; going from my morning at old cheney. look at these beautiful chives from bluestem herb farms. and shadowbrook farms has the sense to offer excellent vegetables that you want to buy and cook, even if they're not traditional vegetables for summer-- i chose the braising greens and sunflower sprouts; but they had other interesting options, such as baby turnips still on the green-- the size of radishes.

baking bread in a dutch oven will give you a better crust and better cooling

my fondness for my dutch oven (it's always on the top right, under my favorite hot pad), a recent issue of cook's illustrated (by far the best cooking magazine), and a free box of bread mix combined to become this.

i added shredded cheese and cooked chopped bacon to the mix recipe, and followed the magazine's instructions of preheating the dutch oven along with the oven itself. i transferred the dough into the hot pan in a parchment paper sling, again following the magazine's instructions; baking with the lid on for half an hour and then with the lid off until the crust was browned as you see here.

the best thing about this baking approach is a fabulous crust, better than i'm used to producing. (again, the magazine goes into wonderful detail about the factual reasons for that-- much better than i can do here.)

the second best thing is getting the bread out of the oven and onto a rack to cool-- all you do is lift it, still in its bread sling, onto the cooling rack. (then, of course, remove the paper to allow the bread to cool properly. i took a picture first.)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

vegetables on pizza

this is pizza using the crusts from le quartier, which i heartily recommend.

you can use vegetables on pizza if you make sure that, before serving the slice, the vegetables have lost their crispness but kept their firmness.
just remember that as soon as the parts hit the pizza, they need to be bite-friendly (and ecumenically bite-friendly to the other parts on the slice) within twelve minutes of baking.

so, in order to make them an ideal texture for eventual eating, i grilled these peppers and stalks of asparagus with the accompanying sausage for ten minutes, over medium heat, before assembling the pizza.

leftover pasta sauce? dark meat.

any jar of pasta sauce i buy is way more than i need for any one meal. i usually end up with a third of a jar left over.

so, the day after making pizza is a good day to find chicken thighs or drumsticks on sale, to use up the rest of the sauce.
at any moment in time, one of the big chains in town (links to all on the top right) will have them on sale for 99c a pound. and you have an easy snack for the next couple of days, to bake up with little preparation.

preheat oven to 350. coat the chicken with leftover tomato sauce, sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese (say, perhaps, some was also leftover from making the pizza) and bake for half an hour or so. (when you cook poultry, obey the rules for your own good!)

review: cetak's spicy cheese bratwurst

if you'd asked me before i tried them, i would have said that cheese

inside of bratwurst sounds more than a little unnecessary.

but cetak's had them on sale so i bought them, and like everything else i've tried from there, they were fantastic.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

breakfast of champions: salad mornings

breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but moments of morning are precious... especially if you're trying to get out the door to go to work. i've found the fastest breakfast worth eating consists of whole grain cereal with fortified milk or soymilk, and a piece of citrus fruit, with green tea and plenty of water.

(my favorite cereals, by the way, are arrowhead mills' amaranth flakes, kashi's heart to heart, and nature's path's heritage flakes. my favorite citrus fruit is the best quality i can find at a good price that week.)

so what to do one morning when i had cereal (the amaranth flakes), but no milkishness and no citrus? i tossed the flakes with some spring mix and some cottage cheese. it might sound awful, but this was pretty good. it was nancy's cottage cheese, which has an actual flavor and live culture.

when saturday gives you sunshine...

make sun tea.
i got these bigelow quart sized teabags at leon's.

i threw one in a pyrex juice container with a tight-fitting lid, filled the carafe with cold water, and set it outside this afternoon. this tea blend has a nice sweet floral taste and doesn't need added sugar. generally, i prefer using herbal tea or green tea for iced tea.

i don't like traditional sun tea dispenser containers. those little spouts are nearly impossible to clean. i'd suggest using any large glass container (with a tightly fitting lid) instead.

chocolate strawberry balsamic and goat cheese tarts

i kept hearing about the taste sensation of balsamic vinegar over fresh strawberries, so i thought i'd try to make a dessert with both to take to dinner with friends. i had a backup plan if these didn't work-- but they were tasty. i'll make them again, with a change or two that i'll detail here.

it's a good rule to buy strawberries only when you can smell them when you're walking up to them in the grocery store. (that smell also means you should prepare them within a couple days of buying them.) i bought a pint at hy-vee and took it home and sliced the berries into quarters. i covered the chopped berries with a mix of two parts balsamic vinegar to one part moscato. i marinated these overnight, and while i liked the effect--next time i'll aim for a four-hour soak.

i bought little tart shells at leon's, and they were perfect but spendy. next time i'll just buy a box of shortbread cookies small enough to eat to eat in one bite and then top with these same fillings.

i processed some chocolate wafers into a powder (look for them in the baking aisle at leon's or ideal) and dredged half the marinated strawberries through that. i placed one piece of marinated strawberry, one piece of marinated and coated strawberry, and one dollop of pepper goat cheese on each tart and refrigerated till ready to go.