When I was contacted by a representative of Suji's Korean Cuisine to review their new line of prepared Korean meals, I was curious but hesitant. Living in Houston has afforded me the opportunity to eat a lot of very good Korean food and I knew anything pre-made and mass-produced could never approach the quality of fresh fare made in small batches.
But it sure came admirably close, and therefore receives my blessing as a terrific option when 1) You don't have time to go to Bon Ga (my favorite Korean restaurant in Houston) 2) Your Korean chef-in-residence (husband) is away on business and 3) HEB (which vends Suji's products) is more convenient.
I received four samples gratis and in Part I, I will share my thoughts on the Chicken Over Rice and Udon Noodles With Chicken.
Preparing both meals is a cinch: rip off (I mean, delicately remove the label) and microwave for 2 minutes. The portion sizes are modest and more suited to lunch rather than dinner (unless you're all fancy/European and eat your biggest meal of the day at noon).
The Chicken Over Rice boasted large, discernible chunks of carrots and green peppers as well as tender, near translucent slivers of yellow onion. I adored the almost risotto-like consistency, though technically most Korean rice dishes should have a less soupy, more glutinous texture. This dish gets major points for its strong notes of sesame and pepper imbued in the grains as well as bits of moist chicken.
Again, strangely, I was drawn to the very component of the Udon Noodles with Chicken that made them "inauthentic," the presence of udon noodles, which find their origins Japanese cuisine. This is not to say udon noodles are not commonly used in Korean cooking as naturally (or rather, unnaturally, in the case of the Japanese occupation Korea in World War II) styles tend to blend over the years through enhanced travel, trade, and communication. Ultimately, I preferred this dish over the Chicken Over Rice, not just because of the thick, chewy hearty noodles but also the wonderfully robust garlic flavor that contrasted well with a touch of sweetness from the soy sauce.
Look for Part II next week in which I review the Kimchi Rice and Spicy Chicken with Potatoes.
And, specifically Laphroaig. I have long been a whiskey fan and very loyal to Laphroaig due to its impeccable, consistent quality at a reasonable price point. Since the distillery in charming Islay has been in operation for over 200 years, I guess they know what they're doing by now. Their PR will not confirm that leprechauns count among the magical employees but I have my suspicions.
However, it has come to my attention over the years that some gals unfortunately are intimidated or put off by this spirit as they associate it with old boys' clubs, i.e., not-so-safe-spaces for women. This stereotype is certainly based on some degree of truth as many ROWDs (Rich Old White Dudes) who frequent private societies do display a particular predilection for single malts, but as a proud Irish woman I know whiskey is the people's drink! And, despite what this administration might have you believe, women are people, too. So, this February the 14th gift your female partner in crime a bottle of whiskey. Laphroaig Select is a terrific for the whiskey newbie due to its subtle sweetness and mild smoky notes. However, should your inamorata already be a whiskey lover, I recommend indulging in some Laphroaig 10 Year Old. Either way, enjoy the first round neat (Bridey's preferred preparation), then mix up some cocktails, like this terrific one created by Ivy Mix.
Pineapple of My Eye
1 & 1/2 parts Laphroaig 10 Year Old
1/2 part pineapple rum
3/4 part lime juice
3/4 part simple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with lime.
When I was initially approached with the opportunity to review Calm, a guide to daily mindfulness, I almost declined because I thought it sounded really cheesy and not in a good carbonara sort of way. Also, do I really need this book? I KNOW HOW TO CALM DOWN.
Oh, wait, no I don't. Thanks to genes that predispose me to anxiety and socially induced neuroticism due our current political climate, I'm on edge these days. So, yeah, maybe I could use this book.
The authors state in the introduction that Calm is a non-linear narrative; readers should feel free to frolic from one activity (i.e., "Sketch Your Own Tattoo", "Sketch Out Your Perfect Island") or section ("Nature", "Sleep", "Travel", etc.) to another. Naturally, I skipped straight to "Food" chapter to read about calming comestibles and how setting the table slowly can help you unwind. (Damn, it true. Except on Thanksgiving.)
I like this book. The premise is hippie-dippy but the content albeit a bit too cutesy at times, is generally fun and, most importantly, distracts you from ticker tape and reminds you of not just "what's important" but "what's important to you."
Buy the book. I promise it's more fun than Candy Crush.
A few weeks before Christmas the folks at Back to the Roots contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing their grow-your-own mushroom farm. In addition to offering healthful "Ready to Eat" products, the most interesting of which is organic purple corn flakes, Back to the Roots also vends a line of "Ready to Grow" kits, including the aforementioned mushroom farm, "garden in a jar," and a self-watering tomato planter.
Clearly these generous people don't know me too well. While my husband is extremely adept at cultivating all sorts of flora, I am famous for my ability to kill even the hardiest botanical species. Let's hope having a green thumb is a dominant trait or else there's little hope for our kids.
With the new year I was feeling emboldened about Trying Things I Historically Suck At and decided to give the kit a go. And, lo and behold, I surprised myself.
Starting the mushroom farm was easy: tear off the window, soak the bed in water for about 8-12 hours (I went for 24 just to be sure), place not in direct sunlight, and mist bed about twice day. I launched my farm on a Thursday and by Sunday saw some blossoming. One week out my oyster fungi had grown substantially. I expect to be able to harvest them by this coming Sunday.
I give this kit a solid "A" for its ability to generate fast results and enable this Texas gal to say, if only for a week, "I am a successful mushroom farmer."
What's next for the 'shrooms? I planning on using them in pasta, specifically this pappardelle recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart.
As I mentioned previously on other social media, my great friend Hadyn Kim, aka "The Bread Maiden," visited me recently, and to my great delight, gave me a lesson in bread-making. Hadyn knows more about bread-making than anyone I know. [End stop]
And while I could listen to her talk for hours about the scientific theories and culinary history behind all sorts of different bread genres, I didn't want to completely monopolize her visit with my fascination with baked carbohydrates. So, we confined our bread studies to a single topic: creating the perfect sourdough.
It should be noted that Professor Hadyn BROUGHT HER VERY OWN SOURDOUGH STARTER FROM HER HOME IN VIRGINIA. It should also be noted that she also had her adorable 15-month-year-old in tow. Seriously, she is sourdough supermama. #breadmakingbadass
Full video coverage of our lesson will be forthcoming, but for now please check out Hadyn's site for details how a simple 1-2-3 ratio can yield a wonderfully tangy, aromatic loaf.
Finally, if you happen to find yourself in the DC area, Hadyn regularly hosts bread camps as well as private tutorials in which she instructs folks on the finer points of kneading, ingredients, boules, and all that good stuff that goes into bread-making.
Let's be very clear: I am not a gluten-free gal. I do write this with a wee bit of disdain because I resent the fact that the gluten-free movement has co-opted attention away from people with real gluten sensitivities (e.g. those with celiac disease) and often present this style of eating as "obviously" healthier. It's not.
But I'm not here to deliver a philippic but rather praise for Russo's frozen pies, including their gluten-free varieties.
New Jersey native Anthony Russo is somewhat of a culinary hero for bring a distinct variant of East Coast pizza to H-town, which is now home to several locations of Russo's New York Pizzeria. (Incidentally, if you should find yourself craving NY pies in Dubai, Russo's has a branch there.)
Recently, Russo unveiled a line of frozen pizzas in the following six gluten-free flavors (New York-Style Cheese, Margherita, Pepperoni, Greek, Mulberry, Chicken Rustica) and three regular crust flavors (Prosciutto and Fig, Spicy Chicken Fajita, and Italian-Style Meat Lovers).
Of the three varieties I tried (New York-Style Cheese, Chicken Rustica, Prosciutto & Fig) all had different merits. The gluten-free flavors are distinguishable for their crust texture, which is more uniformly dense and not as fluffy and chewy as the regular kind. But that distinction didn't at all bother me with the Chicken Rustica pizza, for its toppings really stole the show. The combination of roma tomatoes, olive oil (certified Sicilian), and spinach provided a lovely botanical backdrop to the juicy grilled cheese and rich mozzarella and tangy feta cheeses.
Simpler but also satisfying, the New-York Style Cheese was a basic red sauce pie covered in shredded mozzarella and dusted with Italian seasoning. My grade for this pizza (B+) would easily move into "A" range if about a half-cup more cheesed was added in order to ensure a thicker fromage coating.
The fact that the Prosciutto & Fig turned out to be my favorite flavor is not just a function of its use of gluten (I promise!), but rather due to delightful contrast between fruity sweetness and porcine fat in combination with the rich dairy notes from the mozzarella and enervating, crunchy arugula. In the case of this pizza, sparse cheese was in order lest the the savory component be too overwhelming given the very large strips of cured ham.
All of the aforementioned pizzas are lower in sodium and carbohydrates than the majority of others on the market, which means consuming the whole damn delicious pie won't have you feeling bloated or chugging water in the middle of the night.
Samples were provided gratis; opinions are my own.
Today (October 4th) is National Vodka Day and if you're looking to raise a glass, consider this delicious recipe from Prairie Organic Spirits:
Roasted Grape Bounty
· 2 oz. Prairie Organic Vodka
· 1 oz. grape juice
· ½ vanilla bean, scraped
· Vanilla sugar rim
1. Place 2 oz. of Prairie Organic Vodka and 1 oz. of grape juice in a shaker. Mix vigorously.
2. Pour the mix into a tall glass rimmed with sugar previously.
3. Top with ice and the vanilla bean
I am not a child. I do not have children (yet).
BUT GODDAMNIT I AM GOING TO USE THESE BUMKINS DISNEY AND DR. SEUSS SNACK BAGS.
They're not only freakin' adorable, they're also reusable, which means now I can incorporate them into my nightly popcorn ritual* again and again and again and again...
Another appealing aspect of these bags is their small (kid) size, which makes portion control easier if you're the type of person who can easily eat an entire bag of Cheetos in one sitting. I mean, not that I am.
* Almost every night I make popcorn, watch some iteration of Real Housewives, and alternately wander around my living area playing with my kitties (and strewing kernels all over the place in the process).
There are some food products I will always enjoy no matter how many fancier/homemade versions I encounter. Case in point, Snack Pack pudding, one of the many forbidden fruits of my childhood thanks to a mom who did not allow me to take desserts regularly in my lunch box and made her own pudding (how dare her!?!) .
My two favorite flavors were chocolate and tapioca. One time I recall I even had the opportunity to mix them together at a sleepover at the home of a friend whose parents were far more permissive with processed snacks.
Now, since I'm a grownup (albeit not necessarily always mature) I can have Snack Pack pudding whenever I want. And while these days I'm inclined to make my own large pearl tapioca with fancy vanilla or whip out some high-grade gourmet dark chocolate for pudding, there are times when the sweet nostalgia that comes with Snack Pack is just what I crave.
When representatives of ConAgra Foods contacted me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing some new Healthy Choice products, I felt more than a little nostalgic.
There was definitely a period in my life, specifically junior and senior year in high school, in which I relied on Healthy Choice meals as terrific alternatives to the garbage vended by my high school cafeteria. I used the microwave in the Yearbook Room (yes, my school had an entire room devoted to yearbook) to reheat my meal of choice, which I would eat while cramming for whatever test or presentation I had that day.
Back in the day, the majority of the frozen pizzas, pasta, and noodle dishes I consumed from Healthy Choice may have been low in calories, sodium, and fat, but definitely contained some hard-to-pronounce ingredients and were very carb-heavy. Now, Healthy Choice offers some new options that are more balanced in their components and use nothing artificial, e.g. a Sweet & Spicy Asian Noodle Bowl and an "Unwrapped" Burrito Bowl, both of which I tested.
The Asian noodle bowl gets high marks for a sauce that doesn't rely on salt for flavor and for offering noodles that were tender yet vegetables (edamame, carrots) that weren't soggy. Try it for lunch on Meatless Mondays, or do as I did, and toss in some shrimp for a heartier weeknight dinner.
The burrito bowl was fine but bland, devoid of any discernible seasoning. I was tempted to dump a cup of queso on the steamed rice, legumes, peppers, and corn to liven up the dish; however, a ladle of fatty dairy is probably incongruous with the whole "healthy" theme. While this straightforward, no-frills meal is perfect is you're simply seeking fuel, those who live to eat rather than eat to live, may be disappointed.
Healthy Choice offers many more options than these and I have no doubt there is one to satisfy every palate.
Samples were abundant and we even had the opportunity to try a super-proof (but don't call it 'moonshine') white whiskey.
Yellow Rose also graciously gifted Bridey with her own bottle, which she has been using purely for research purposes. Most recently, her fieldwork experimentation yielded a novel drink she likes to call, "Peachy Keen Punch."
Peachy Keen Punch
2 ounces Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey
2 ounces peach juice
2 ounces Sparkling Ice Strawberry Watermelon
Fill a chilled mason jar with 2-3 ice cubes. Add Yellow Rose whiskey and peach juice, then top with Sparkling Ice Strawberry Watermelon. Garnish with strawberry slice. Sip as the sun goes down.
Like other stone fruit, peaches provide an even sweetness that wonderfully complements the rougher smoky undertones of the whiskey. Berry-flavored bubbles add effervescence as well as a more piquant sugary note, making for a punch that pulls a softer punch.
Earlier this week I posted about deploying some Hampton Creek "Awesomesauce" for Crab and Salmon Bruschetta, which I plan to serve on Memorial Day. Yesterday I was again inspired by a food show on the Travel Channel (specifically, Burgerland), and decided to make burgers for supper. Those that know me well know I am a creature of habit (actually, the understatement of the year), so while I was tempted to drown my patty in just more Awesomesauce, I resisted the urge to succumb to another albeit delicious consumption pattern in favor of trying something new. Specifically, Just Mayo's "Just Thousand (Island)" dressing. And because for me 1000 Island dressing is synonymous with Reuben sandwiches, I gave my burger a little deli inflection.
When I have a burger, I have a burger--you what I'm sayin'? That means no less than a half pound of ground chuck. I then season my little beef baby with salt, pepper, and (my favorite) minced garlic.
Since Bridey is a rare bird, she naturally likes her meat very rare; however, if pink flesh makes you squeamish by all means cook your burger longer. (If that means until it's a hockey puck, well, God forgive you.) After a good sear on both sides, I added some sliced corned beef.
Next, I added an ample amount of sauerkraut for tang and textural contrast.
Then comes swiss cheese, which should be melted by placing a cover briefly over the pan. . (Btw, see that puddle of beef and oil? It looks gross but tastes delicious.)
I removed my burger from the pan to bread it (if we can use "plate" as a verb, then I damn well am going to use "bread" in the same fashion) and add Just Thousand Island. However, I recommend returning your Reuben Burger back to the still hot pan and using a sandwich press to smoosh the finished sammie such that the bread absorbs the juices.
This past December I first tried Hampton Creek's Just Mayo, an eggless mayonnaise, which among other things, worked remarkably well as a base for tuna and egg salad (irony noted). The ever-enterprising chefs at Hampton Creek have continued on their creative streak and added three (relatively new) varieties to the line-up: "Awesomesauce," "Just Russian" dressing, and "Just Sweet Mustard." With Memorial Day fast-approaching, I was more than happy to engage in some experimentation with these condiments to refine my own personal contribution to our apartment complex's group cookout. That crazy cat lady from #10 has another thing coming if she thinks her potato salad gets all the props this year....HAH!
Now, Hampton Creek has quite an elaborate YouTube recipe channel, which leads you step by step through the preparation of diverse sweet and savory dishes featuring their products as ingredients. But after watching Andrew Zimmern eat his way through Baltimore during my early morning workout, I developed a hankering for some crab meat. So, I created my riff on bruschetta using this crustacean.
After toasting small slices of a French baguette, I added about a teaspoon of Just Mayo "Awesomesauce," which is basically an (eggless) mayonnaise infused with garlic and onions. It's tangy, just a little sweet, and perhaps not exactly what you should eat before a major smooch session, but A-okay if your inamorato is away for the evening. Because you can never have enough garlic, I added more minced garlic on top of the Awesomesauce.
Finally, I topped with jumbo lump crab meat and a small sprig of dill. Then, I repeated the process approximately 15 times and ate all the slices while watching The Real Housewives of New York.
If crab is not your thing, the above recipe can easily be modified with smoked salmon.
Prairie Organic specializes in small-batch, organic (duh) clear alcohols (gin, vodka, etc.), whose uniformly pure taste makes them scarily sippable and wonderful ingredients for cocktails.
Recently, POS and I had another rendezvous in preparation for the Austin Food & Wine Festival (later cancelled) and they were generous enough to provide me with a sample of their Cucumber Vodka for some home experimentation.
Thus far my research has yielded two more-than-quaffable creations:
Blackberry Ginger Cucumber Highball (pictured above)
- 1 1/2 ounces Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka
- 3 ounces ginger ale
- blackberries for garnish
Pour vodka and ginger ale into a chilled glass. Garnish with blackberries, which are best consumed after you have finished your drink so they have time to absorb the boozy juices.
C.G.C (Cherry-Grape-Cucumber) Martini
- 1 1/2 ounces Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka
- 2 ounces 100% pure grape juice
- fresh cherries
Pit approximately 4-5 cherries. Muddle at the bottom of a shaker; add grape juice, vodka, and ice. Shake vigorously, and strained into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a fresh cherry.
The Blackberry Ginger Highball's slightly spicy notes are mellowed out by the cucumber and I love the way the errant blackberries add the occasional punch of sweetness. Harder-hitting albeit just as refreshing is the C.G.C Martini, whose berry overtones almost mask the alcohol...which is why, 'whoopsy-daisy, did I just drink two in under 45 minutes?'
If there were a formal term for someone exceptionally well-versed in the world of zero- or low-calorie beverages (akin to sommelier for wine), I would hold that title. In fact, and again I write this with utmost humility, I might be among the world's best. For indeed I challenge you to find someone else who has spent as much time as I have surveying, evaluating, and testing artificially-sweetened libations.
Yes, my parents are very proud.
Since I associate BAI with post-workout refreshment, I hadn't considered using it as a mixer (sorry, folks, my recovery hydration drink ain't booze); however, when learned that EFFEN Vodka teamed up with BAI to create a line of low-calorie cocktails for the Tribeca Film Festival and Coachella, the wheels started turning. Here is my first creation:
Thyme Is On My Side Sparkler
Pour sparkling water into a chilled glass with 1 spring thyme. Muddle until thyme infuses water; strain out leaves. Add vodka and top with BAI. Garnish with sprig of fresh thyme.
Thyme Is On My Side is airy, crisp, and boasts salient botanical notes that balance well with the mild citrus flavor of the BAI. Sip slowly and pair with grapes, cheese, and crackers.
Another great BAI cocktail that makes wonderful use fresh herbs, though one not created by me, is the Pretty In Pink.
Pretty In Pink
- 3 ounces Bai Bubbles Gimbi Pink Grapefruit
- 3 ounces champagne
- Fresh sage
Pour ice-cold champagne into a chilled flute. Top with BAI and garnish with sage leaves. Drink while gossiping with your manicurist.
In the month or so since my conversation with David Noll, founder of Pacific Resources International, purveyor of fine sea salts and manuka honey, there's been a lot of cooking and eating going on. It's amazing how such a seemingly simple ingredient like salt can really enhance a dish by highlighting different flavors or providing a greater dimension of savoriness. I can't go so far as to say that salt can make or break your dinner, but a high-purity brand can certainly render your meal more memorable. Although I am still not done experimenting with PRI's diverse line of salts, I would like to report some notable successes. The flaky sea salt heightened the brine and piquancy of squid pan-seared in lemon olive oil.
And, if you're going to take the time to make your own soft pretzel, you sure as hell better garnish them with some salt.
When your in-laws from Up North come to visit, we served them lamb chops from Down Under seasoned with PRI fine Pacific Sea Salt to take the unctuous ovine cuts to the next level.
Spaghetti carbonara likewise benefited from a slight dusting of the fine salt, playing well with the (much heavier) dusting of parmigiano-reggiano and bacon.
What's next? Well, with summer fast approaching, I'm thinking margaritas rimmed with coarse salt, grilled meats prepped with mesquite salt, and ice cream drowned in (what else?) salted caramel sauce. Thanks to PRI, I can continue my culinary variations on a theme.
Lamb was something I ate regularly in my childhood. We always had it for special occasions and holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, when, according to Slovak-Catholic tradition, it was accompanied by an incredibly cute small lamb made out of butter with a peppercorn for an eye. I also have very fond memories of feasting on lamb chops adorned with gobs of mint jelly at my best friend Ashley Balaban's house.
While living in Massachusetts and Texas, my sheep consumption declined in favor seafood in the former state and beef in the latter. Thus when a representative of Aussie Beef & Lamb of Meat and Livestock Australia reached out with an invitation to review some of their offerings, I felt very nostalgic and very hungry. Samples (shoulder cut, chops, ground) arrived, I salivated, and then my significantly more gastronomically talented significant other took over.
After a simple dusting of sea salt and pepper, the lamb chops were grilled briefly, then pan-seared, and finished in the oven. The Chef didn't trim off the fat, thank God, and for this reason, the end product was an incredibly unctuous, juicy ovine lolly of sorts. Civilized people might have eaten it with a knife and fork but this gal tackled with abandon by hand in order to strip every last bit of delicious flesh from the ossified stick.
For the shoulder, we opted for a lengthier, "low and slow" preparation in the crock pot, and keeping in the spirit of British colonialism, we paired our Aussie lamb with Irish potatoes and a sauce made with Indian spices (cardamon, turmeric, chili, cumin).
Although I loved my lamb lollies for their fatty juiciness, the shoulder meat is probably my preferred cut for its more tender texture and its propensity for acting as terrific sponge for surrounding juices. Such a sheep supper requires multiple napkins and temporarily secluding pet cats looking to poach a bite.
Stay tuned for Part II, in which Bridey declines (perhaps foolishly) help from her kindly live-in Chef and utilizes the ground lamb in a Syrian dish.
Looking to try your hand at some lamb recipes? Aussie Lamb can be purchased at HEB, Whole Foods, and Costco.
In Part 1 of my review of Passover products, I focused on the more healthful stuff: beets and couscous, the latter of which I used as a carbohydrate base for a tofu scramble.
But sometimes you feel like a snack and just because you can't have any hametz on hand doesn't mean noshing isn't an option. I mean, c'mon, do ya expect me to nibble on parsley while watching House of Cards?
Cue the Gefen Kartofele, i.e., kosher for passover potato crisps that also happen to be gluten-free. The original flavor is mild, fairly addictive, and reminded me of a more buttery style of oyster cracker. Of course, this shiksa's first association upon tasting the crisps would be something entirely non-kosher like shellfish.
First prize, however, in the kosher snack category goes to Glick's Coconut Macaroons. I will admit I may be biased given my penchant for sweet over savory, but I nevertheless stick by ranking as the moist texture and pure, not over-sweet coconut flavor was just terrific. A generous layer of dark chocolate and the dusting of sea salt didn't hurt either. My one suggestion: make 'em bigger, Glick's!
My quick and dirty review: Is it possible to have an entire jacket made out of this stuff that I can nibble while I perambulate around my neighborhood at dusk?
When I first received a press release about chocolate "leather" from Kayco (aka Kedem Foods), I thought immediately, "Willy Wonka lives!...And, he's Jewish." Such sweet culinary innovation is usually only the stuff of Dahl literature, but in the case of chocolate leather, you don't have to settle for just imagining how it might taste as you salivate over some well-worn pages. (Okay, maybe that's not the most appetizing image.)
Moving on: Chocolate leather, available in Dark and Original flavors, is slightly chewier than a fruit roll-up, far less saccharine, and has these wonderful bits of crunchy rice ensconced in the cocoa surroundings. Both dark and original are made with non-GMO ingredients and certified kosher by the Original Orthodox Union. Those watching their calories will also appreciate that the former variety has 50 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.
חג פסח שמח and l'chaim to shokolad!