As I noted in Part I of this series, I was contacted by a representative of Suji's Korean Cuisine to review their new line of prepared Korean meals. My above-average experience with Suji's Chicken Over Rice and Udon Noodles With Chicken made me excited to try the other two samples, the Kimchi Rice with Uncured Bacon and Spicy Chicken and Potatoes. Unfortunately, I was sidelined but briefly (fortunately!) with a head cold and needed to postpone my taste-testing.
I was particularly curious about the inclusion of potatoes as an ingredient because I don't usually associate this vegetable-cum-starch with Korean cuisine, with the exception being the requisite cup of potato salad often included in banchan. I knew this 'exception' was due to the happy confluence of potatoes being assimilated as a crop in Asia several hundred years ago and mayonnaise becoming more popular due to the influx of foreigners during WWII; as a result, Korea as well as Japan then developed their own regionally-inflected potato salads. But further research revealed spuds, while not as prevalent as rice or noodles in Korean cuisine, do work their way into a number side dishes, often in stir-fried sweet potato form, hence what I assumed was the inspiration this dish.
The Kimchi Rice with Uncured Bacon had me with "kimchi" and "bacon." Even though I have virtually unlimited access to the former thanks to a huge vat made by my husband who excels at producing his own homemade version of Korea's national condiment. And speaking of my significant other, "That smells really good," was the first thing he said when I peeled the plastic off the package hot from the microwave. The delightful fragrance happily matched the strong fatty pork flavors and fermented tang of the kimchi, both of which imbued the softened grains of short rice. I could have easily eaten a triple portion, and for the adventurous, I suggest dropping in a raw egg, stirring, and then letting it cook in the juices.
At some point in my life, specifically, when I was working India, I could stand a high level of spice. Distance from that experience has significantly lowered my tolerance, so I braced myself for potential heat from the Spicy Chicken with Potatoes. However, not unsurprisingly, Suji didn't run the risk of alienating mainstream American palates by turning it up too much, and I detected only very low notes of black and red pepper. Unfortunately, that meant in the absence of other strong herbs, the dish was lacking any flavor other than just generic soy. This dish does get points for well-cooked chicken and the sprinkling of sesame seeds (just add more!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.