Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Christmas in May



Yes, I'm suffering from Facebook envy. Some of the more popular people have gone on fabulous family-oriented trips out of town. They've posted pictures and exclamatory status updates of their fabulous adventures, while I sit at home with a lingering sinus headache and sleep deprivation from eight days of terrible sleep.

We stayed home. But our plan was to grill up some *steaks, eat them however each one of us likes. I like my steak with rice and one vegetable, maybe asparagus. My husband likes his with Caesar salad and a baked potato. Our son like his steak cut up in pieces, not bloody, not too well done, and, on a separate plate, corn on the cob with butter and salt.

Somehow, my husband went from simple steak to fancy steak with sauteed onions and mushrooms in a Merlot sauce, with cucumber salad, Caesar salad and corn on the cob. I'm surprised he didn't flambe Bananas Foster.

He was inspired by the produce stands in and around our neighborhood. I didn't mind. I ate way too much, enjoying every carnivorous morsel. It's back to normal, restrained, healthier eating tomorrow of course. But tonight, I may also have a Hershey bar.

*My husband's recipe for steak is to combine the use of Hawaiian salt, the pink stuff, with a searing in butter method on a screaming hot cast iron skillet a friend of his uses.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Picolinos



I liked the name. It promised a quiet, soothing time.

When we walked into Ristorante Picolinos in Ballard, we walked into understated ambience, fragrant Italian food, a hidden garden out back, a bakery to the right, and an open expanse of tables and chairs, with clean, starched-white linens, white plates, wine and water glasses, small vases of backyard flowers, candles, and just a sense of calm.

I can imagine coming here regularly when life gets me bogged down. Alone. With my family. Drag my friend over after a stressful day for some wine, a few antipasti, maybe salad and pasta. We had all that at a musician friend's 60th birthday party.

I was starving to death, having only eaten one zucchini muffin in the morning. Good thing they served us early arrivers lots of clean, fresh, Italian appetizers. These were good enough for a full meal. Add a salad and call it a night.

And oh the appetizers the management picked out for the occasion! We had trays upon trays arriving at our long table laden with bruschettas -- olive tapenade, tomato, smoked salmon and capers, cheeses -- bleu, triple cream Brie, salami, pickled artichoke hearts, olives, grilled zucchini rolled up with sweet creamy mascarpone inside, Caprese salad on toothpicks, finger slices of bread served with parsley oil... Usually we have to wait for the main party to show up and subsist on water.

But this was a special day.

They then served everybody two kinds of salads, all you can eat: a tangy Caesar and a tangier Mixed Green with cucumbers, sliced baby tomatoes, shaved Parmesan.



Pastas! Penne with tomato sauce, perfectly seasoned... Penne with Chicken, asparagus spears, eggplant, maybe green beans, mushrooms, in a kind of creamy Alfredo sauce... Huge goat cheese Ravioli in brown butter tomato sauce.

I died and went to Italian heaven.

I thought we weren't highbrow Italian types. More East Coast, basic spaghetti and meatballs fare. But this is a different animal altogether. It's somewhere in between. It's accessible, not snobby, it's the kind of mezzo food you crave when you've found yourself parked on a grassy knoll at sunset overlooking the water, small bites out of a quaint picnic basket, wine and cheese, fresh bread and olives, a perfect slice of tomato with the best olive oil.

It's home.

I'm already plotting ways to return.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chicken Lumpia


What always happens. Before...


...After. Where'd they go??


For little blue girl:

Lumpia

25-30 lumpia wrappers
2 tbsp. oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground chicken and a little ground shrimp
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, shredded/grated
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
2 cup bean sprouts (optional)
1/2 tsp. pepper
*3 cups oil for deep frying




Heat frying pan and add oil. Add garlic, onion, and ground chicken/ground shrimp, cooking until done. Add carrots and cabbage. Add remaining ingredients and cook until combined. Allow mixture to cool. Wrap in lumpia wrappers following instructions on package. Deep fry at 350 degrees until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a bottle of sweet chili sauce for dipping, or make your own lumpia sauce (recipe from Cooks.com below).



From Cooks.com
3 gloves of minced garlic
1 tsp. flour
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. vinegar
1/2 c. orange juice
Salt and pepper

Mix in a pot the garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat. Add flour, stirring until sauce boils and thickens. Can be used with the Fried Lumpia Shanghai.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Banana (Espresso Chocolate Chip) Bread again for teacher



I had a bunch of organic bananas sitting there. Only one eaten. But then I ran out of All Bran.

I had nobody to make Sweet Pea's Kitchen's Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Bread for, so made up a reason for someone. My son's teacher was absent the last day of Staff Appreciation Week. I had to quickly fish out her banana bread (from another recipe) and give it to the office staff.

Well, here we go.

I just had to pick up whole milk, which I never have because my family prefers non-fat/skim and I prefer soy. And forego the stand mixer. Otherwise, I went with it. I didn't even over-bake based on the mildly liquidy crack in the middle. I trusted the 10 minutes cooling in the pan and completely cooling out of the pan. Sure enough, the crack disappeared, no liquid. It's supposed to be a fulfilling, quick breakfast on-the-go, "I swear this bread only gets better as the days go by. The flavors mingle together and it stays incredibly moist."

I hope Mrs. Matsumoto likes it. Even though it's not store-bought.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

All for the crispy green beans


"Lady, we ALL want PF Changs!" -Teletubby

As I took forever writing my soap opera columns last night, I veered from one food craving to another while not really feeling either 100 percent. At first, I was all about Pagliacci Pizza and their Pagliaccio Salad. Then P.F. Chang's crispy green beans dropped in uninvited.

P.F. Chang's won out. I'm still not entirely sure I really wanted the green beans. I just knew I was a little sick of the broiled chicken, rice and steamed vegetables routine for the past five days, but still wasn't out of the Asian kick. I wanted rice, with something.

I wasn't able to make it to P.F. Chang's last night. I finished my columns way too late for that. So tonight, I went to pick up those crispy green beans and Ma Po Tofu--their vegetarian item.

I've had and love mabo tofu with ground pork that you sometimes see in Hawaii's fast food Asian joints, with the soft tofu cubes and the mildly spicy, meaty sauce. So good with rice.

Maybe this Ma Po Tofu was the same deal. Here's hoping.

Not quite.



The tofu cubes were flash-fried or something, not soft and silken. Then, I realized mabo tofu can be Japanese. Yet, I've had mabo tofu at Panda Express in Honolulu! I think it can be both. In China, it's a Szechuan dish. There are variations of it in Japan and Korea, with flavors adjusted for the regions there. Maybe Mabo/Ma Po is like noodles in Asia. Noodles (or tofu) are the same, it's just how you prepare them.

P.F. Chang's does its Ma Po Tofu with the tofu blocks cooked up on the exterior, so that the feel is a little hard, textured. I prefer silken soft. Although I don't mind the gently flavorful sauce or the steamed broccoli that's still crunchy to the bite.

Next time, I'll try something different. I've usually just stuck to the same four dishes: crispy green beans, lettuce wraps, Singapore Street Noodles, and pan-fried shrimp dumplings. Maybe Chang's Spicy Chicken, Lo Mein Combo, Green Tea Noodles... Maybe even this Happy Hour I've heard so much about, with new items not found on the main menu. There's an Asian Pear Mojito, Lemongrass Chicken Dim Sum, and Spicy Shrimp Asian Street Taco with my name on it.

Don't ever order the Philip's Better Lemon Chicken, not if you've had better in Hawaii. P.F. Chang's "lightly dusted and quick-fried chicken served with broccoli in a tart, sweet citrus" is flavorless in the chicken and bland in the sauce.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Banana Bread thank-you for Staff Appreciation Week



Driving home yesterday from something or another, it hit me that we only had one more day left of this year's lame Staff Appreciation Week. Lame, because the PTSA didn't schedule anything for us parent volunteers other than helping with vases and flowers on Monday. What happened to the baked goods to feed the teachers? Nothing.

I took it upon myself to bake a banana bread at the last minute last night. I had a lot of other things to do, but this was important. I had three frozen overripe bananas. Only had to thaw those; doesn't take long. Room temperature eggs, microwave-soften butter, then we were on our way.

Oh, and find a recipe to retrofit a limited amount of ingredients.

Martha Stewart to the rescue. Her simple banana bread recipe is really just that. Best of all, I didn't need four bananas, which is one more that I didn't have. Amazingly, I had every ingredient listed, even the sour cream which is usually all gone or one of us forgot to get more. My husband bought a huge Costco tub of it last week. I put it to good use here.

Sour cream is always a good sign in recipes. Like buttermilk, it makes everything more creamy and rich. I'd been searching for a more luscious banana bread. In Hawaii, where I lived before I settled in the NW, offering banana bread to someone is the ultimate in hospitality.

It's just too bad my son's third grade teacher wasn't in today. I ran back after James told me, grinning, and asked the substitute teacher to leave the bag of other Hawaii goodies (the stuff that could last a weekend) for Mrs. Matsumoto, took out my homemade banana bread (with chocolate chips instead of nuts... you never know), and gave that to the office staff.

A staff worker was on the phone when I motioned and whispered to my banana bread for everyone, sitting next to a gigantoid basket of homemade chocolate chip cookies. She looked like she was about to burst--or throw up from overload.

Thank you, Serene Lake Elementary staff!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not hungry at Olive Garden



Happy Mother's Day! I know it's not Mother's Day today, but who cares what you think?! Have you seen the crowds on Mother's Day Sunday? Then, you'll understand why me and my son went out to celebrate at an Olive Garden a few days early.

James has been bugging me to go ever since he went for the first time last week with his friend and tried their pasta shells in a creamy cheese sauce, aka the next best thing since Kraft mac 'n cheese. Both me and his father were surprised he'd even try something new. He usually grills the servers to make sure his mac 'n cheese is the familiar Kraft version. But he tried it, liked it, and now can't get enough.

At first I thought about making a reservation for Sunday. I know, I know. I'm insane. Some Olive Gardens accept reservations. The one I called did not. The Olive Garden worker on the other line discouraged me from coming by making a huge deal of the crowds that hit them from the moment they open until the moment they close. I guess if a restaurant is super-busy all the time they don't really need my business, right? I mean, they can get by on their own without my extra money. Stupid.

Anyway, I then went creative. Who says we had to celebrate Mother's Day when the whole world does? I'm not caught up in the whole following thing. So there we were earlier today, around 4:45-5 p.m., just me and my son at an Olive Garden farther up north, where a lot of people don't go for some reason (maybe they don't know it exists).



Sure enough, NOBODY was there. We had an excellent server who took really good care of us. An excellent server can make up for the worst of food. She was extremely attentive, repeatedly came back to refill our chocolate milk and colas, and basically made it so I never had to ask for a thing. And, she was kind. Not the fake I want your money in big tips kind, but genuinely kind and engaging. She singlehandedly encouraged me--by her outstanding service alone--to return again and again.

It's just too bad I wasn't very hungry. I hadn't eaten anything other than a zucchini muffin. So it was strange. I gamely had a bowl of minestrone (awesome and vegetarian, according to the menu) with two bread sticks, which were already seasoned well. I seriously think I could just live on these bread sticks (aren't they never-ending?), the salad and this bowl of soup, and call it good.

While James dove into his precious creamy shells 'n cheese like a man in a desert oasis, I took a few bites of my Chicken Marsala--something I'd picked out from the restaurant chain's online menu from the night before. There weren't enough mushrooms to suit my taste and the marsala made it a tad too sweet (I've had savory Chicken Marsala before). Still, even though it was odd to not have pasta in an Italian restaurant with my main course, the potatoes were decently crisped up, if not in need of some seasoning.



The piece de resistance was the Zeppoli, Italian donuts served here with a small container of warm chocolate sauce. The donuts were dense so they definitely needed the added sweet oomph of the chocolate. They looked like New Orleans beignets, but weren't as crisp or as light as I would've liked. But they were the first time I had Zeppoli, and I wasn't about to let that opportunity go passing me by.

All in all, this was the kind of Mother's Day I prefer. A quiet day with the love of my life, talking about the day, laughing about dad's tendency to forget things, and seeing my son's eyes light up as the plates of food lit up on the table.

I'm not much for the Olive Garden/Red Lobster phenomenon. The chains tend to serve food that's a little generic and Americanized for my liking. But they're consistent, they're filling, and they're not that bad flavor-wise. Plus, my son loves them. Good enough for me.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Green Chicken Enchilada--in a casserole



I don't care that the Picky Palate! is a part of the McCormick Real Gourmet Blogger Program and got paid for using its roasted gourmet cumin seasoning in this simple, basic Chicken and Black Bean Green Enchilada Rice Bake.

This is a good recipe to keep in the family. It's good because it's simple to put together, it uses ingredients you can easily find in the fridge and pantry that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and it's a great launching board to experiment with adjustments and additions.

I wasn't sure whether they meant 2 cups of cooked rice or 2 cups of uncooked rice. I did 2 cups of cooked rice, which wasn't enough really. But then I used the larger Pampered Chef stone bakeware. Regardless, in future events, I will load up on the long-grain rice because I love the concept of rice (an Asian approach) underneath this cheesy, gooey, chicken casserole with a Mexican flair. Even if you don't use enough rice in the bake, you can always add more afterwards, which is what I'm doing now for my late dinner.

I was almost going to use regular ole cumin, until I saw that roasted ground cumin really did exist and at Albertson's the other day, it was on sale!

Definitely keep this recipe. You can make it healthier too. Go for it. Every time I'm in need of homemade comfort or a handy casserole dish for a generic potluck, this is the one to make.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Little Philly



Have you bookmarked Philly's recipe page yet? Call me a late bloomer, but I just discovered the website tonight. I even applied one of its cooking techniques to leftover Arrabbiata sauce, leftover cheddar, Fontina, and Mozzarella, and some freshly boiled linguine.

One of my favorite spaghetti recipes through the years is baked spaghetti. It never occurred to me or my parents growing up to bake spaghetti. My high school boyfriend's mom made me baked spaghetti once when I was over, and I've been hooked ever since. It's economical too. You can bake any kind of pasta with leftover vegetables and cheeses, and call it a legitimate dinner for the family.

That's what I did tonight. I was staring at this gigantic container of Arrabbiata sauce and wasn't in the mood for mushy angel hair. So I tossed cooked linguine with some sauce and cheeses, then poured it into a loaf pan, topped it with more cheese, then afterwards, plopped on a few spoonfuls of Philly cream cheese. It reminded me of that awesome Puttanesca I had in a sports bar in downtown Honolulu back in 1989. I could never figure out what the magic silky cheesy touch was until later. Cream cheese.

There's so much to do with cream cheese that I'm only now discovering thanks to their website. Good thing, 'cause my husband bought up a jumbo-size of the stuff. One can only eat so many bagels, you know.

free McDonald's coffee



"That'll be zero dollars and ... uh ... zero cents." -McDonald's clerk, May 1, 2011


Facebook is powerful stuff. I saw a friend's picture of a bottle of Coca-Cola one minute, and the next, it was all I could do not to run to the nearest grocery store to buy up all the bottles. I did, however, run down to the nearest McDonald's to pick up a small cup of the fizzy elixir of my dreams. Oh, it so hit the spot. I'm trying to resist another hit tonight.

Another fabulous McDonald's -- they're doing better than all the rest of us in this recession-turned-inflation -- perk is their current free small coffee. Even the cream and sugars are free. Whenever possible, even if inconveniently late at night, I've made a run to pick up my fair share. Even better, McDonald's coffee around here is made by SBC, the creamiest coffee around. As much as I love Starbucks, its roast can be bitter and way too strong.

McDonald's free coffee comes in handy for when I need to write a quick column on the fly during an off-time on the weekend. Or I've missed my morning coffee, because of two days of sleep deprivation.