Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yellow Magnolia Canteen

Our IDNYC membership at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is ending soon, so we spent some time last weekend visiting the garden, trying to see all the exhibitions we never got around to on other visits. One of the other things we never did on any of our other garden visits was try the Yellow Magnolia Canteen, the garden's quick service restaurant. We usually eat outside the garden, but the menu sounded interesting and eating on the premises would definitely save some time. We decided to get 2 sandwiches (both $13), which came with some lightly dressed mixed greens on the side.

The first sandwich we got was the sliced roast turkey, which came with bacon, green chile avocado spread, and pickled easter egg radishes on 7 grain bread. Between the two sandwiches, I liked this one a little more, at least once I ate all of the unexciting crusts of the bread, as the bread was a little sweet on its own. The turkey and radishes were fine, as was the bacon, although that could have been cooked a little longer. The best part of the sandwich was the green chile avocado spread, which was kind of like a spicy guacamole, and it had a nice zing to it. The menu didn't list it, but I think there was also pepper jack cheese, which was also a good match for the other ingredients.

Our second sandwich was the kimchi cheesesteak, which A liked better between the two. This sandwich wasn't at all what we were expecting. We thought it would be like most cheesesteak sandwiches we've had with chipped meat, which expectation was only reinforced when the menu called it bulgogi beef. Instead they were like soft burger patties with American cheese and kimchi on top. The bread was a hero, which I found a little too crusty. The kimchi mixed with the cheese was good, but the meat didn't have as much flavor as I thought it would and there wasn't enough kimchi to counteract that and all the flavorless bread.

The sandwiches we got at the canteen certainly aren't earning a spot on any of our "best of" lists, but they served their purpose. It was relatively quick to get the food once we ordered, we didn't have to leave the garden to get food, we got to sit outside in gorgeous 70 degree weather, and it took about 30 seconds to get to the conservatory once we were done. Just what we needed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chicken and Cheese Tamales

Product name: Chicken and cheese tamales

Price: $2.49 for 2 tamales

Quick review: Similar to the sweet corn tamales I reviewed before, these chicken and cheese tamales came in a package of two in the frozen section. One difference I did notice between the two was that the instructions on the package this time didn't require wet paper towels or plastic wrap to microwave them anymore, which was a welcome change. So much more convenient, but I don't know if it's a change TJ's made overall with the tamales or if it was just made to the chicken ones.

Back when we got the refrigerated chicken tamales, I mentioned that I couldn't remember how they compared to these frozen ones. They're pretty different. These frozen tamales were made with white meat chicken, corn, cheddar cheese, bell peppers, and seasonings, and didn't draw their flavor from a salsa verde base. Between the two, I probably liked the refrigerated ones more, partly because of the salsa verde flavor but also because the masa was softer. Not sure if TJ's makes a chicken and green chile frozen version too, but I guess I'll look next time. Although the refrigerated ones won for flavor and texture (and had a slight edge in price per tamale), the frozen ones were still pretty good, and they won as far as convenience (package of two versus six, and also lasts longer in the freezer).

Buy again? Yes, although I will probably try some of the other frozen tamales first so I can remember which ones I like better. Comparing these with the frozen sweet corn ones, both are good, but I prefer these.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Curried White Chicken Deli Salad

I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get this review up, but I'm pretty sure I saw this salad on the shelf during a recent TJ's visit, so it's still kind of relevant.

Product name: Curried white chicken deli salad

Price: $4.49 for 11 oz

Quick review: This chicken salad combined chicken breast with mayo, carrots, raisins, scallions, honey, toasted cashews, curry powder, and other seasonings. The result was a salad that was creamy and filled with flavor from all of the various seasonings and the curry powder. It definitely was not a bland chicken salad. It reminded me a bit of the biryani they used to sell in the frozen section (and which we miss), but in a salad form. There were probably some similar spices in the mix that contributed to that. I liked this salad a lot. It wasn't cheap, $4.49 for a little tub, but even paired with the greens, it was probably cheaper than most lunches I could buy outside.

Buy again? Maybe. It probably won't be a regular purchase since I can put together cheaper lunches at home, but it was tasty and I'd get it again every so often.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Apple Pie Cheddar Cheese

When we saw that the spotlight cheese at Trader Joe's this month was apple pie cheddar cheese, I was prepared to hate it. It sounded like it would be really sweet, and not only am I not a huge fan of mixing fruit in with more savory foods, but I haven't loved that many sweet cheeses in the past. But despite all of my bias against it, I wanted to try it, and it helped that A was pretty intrigued by it. It sounded interesting, and I figured that at least if I did hate it, I would know for sure in the future and never get it again.

As I sliced up the cheese, it smelled incredibly sweet, just like apple pie, and I was already disliking it. But once I tried the first piece of cheese, my opinion completely changed. It reminded me of eating slices of sweet apples with cheese cubes or slices from cheese plates (which I had obviously completely forgotten that I do). It was refreshing, not overly sweet, and lightly spiced. The cheddar cheese here was infused with apple cider, soaked dried apples, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, and the key, I think, was that the infusion was done with restraint. All the elements of apple pie - the comforting spices, the sweetness and tartness of apple - combined well with the cheddar cheese here, mostly because they weren't overpowering at all, but just an accent.

We ate this with the enchanting crackers from Trader Joe's, which, since they are also a little on the sweeter side, were a great fit. The suggestion on the sign at the store had been to melt it on a cheeseburger, and I'm still not sure whether I agree with that, but the cheese itself gets a rave from us.

Buy Again? Maybe. It'll only be around for a little longer (if they haven't already sold out) since it's the spotlight cheese, so we might already be out of luck.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Goddess and Grains

When we go to Panera, we usually get the You Pick Two combo, and we both usually get the Thai chicken salad. Although we've tried other salads from time to time, that's been our go-to for a long time. On a recent lunch visit, we both decided to try something new. We don't think these salads are brand new to Panera, but they were new to us.

M's review of the Green Goddess Cobb with Chicken:
I like traditional Cobb salads a lot, except for one component - blue cheese - so whenever I see some variation of a Cobb salad that doesn't include blue cheese, I jump at the chance to try it. The Panera version of the Cobb salad has no cheese at all, and instead mixes chicken with a bunch of different greens (arugula, romaine, kale, radicchio), tomatoes, pickled red onions, avocado, bacon, a hard boiled egg, and a green goddess dressing. The dressing was packed with herbs and really tasty (Panera's website tells me it's mostly tarragon, chives, parsley, and watercress), although I personally prefer some of the green dressings at places like Chop't a little more. I liked the salad, and there was a decent amount of both avocado and bacon, which was nice to see. My only constructive criticism would be more onions and more dressing, but otherwise, it was really good. I might mix things up on future visits and get this sometimes instead of the Thai chicken if it lasts through the fall.

A's review of the Ancient Grain and Arugula with Chicken:
M has a bit of an aversion to mixing fruit with her savory foods, but I don't have that much of an issue with it. This salad consisted of "chicken raised without antibiotics, arugula, ancient grain blend, red grapes, and fresh apple and cabbage slaw tossed with white sweet balsamic vinaigrette dressing and topped with roasted and salted pumpkin seeds." This was a really fresh and tasty salad. The grapes and apples weren't so sweet to overpower the rest of the salad, and the grain blend added a nice crunch to the mix. The chicken was a touch on the bland side, but it had enough seasoning to at least not be a complete bore. Overall the salad was tasty, but I don't know that I would consistently get it over the Thai chicken salad.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Week 38 - Acid

For the Week 38 acid challenge, I originally intended to do something with balsamic vinegar, but I just wasn't feeling very inspired so I started looking into recipes starring lemon. What I eventually found that I liked was this recipe from The Kitchn for a chickpea casserole with lemon, herbs, and shallots. I thought the lemon would be front and center since it was in the title, but while there was lemon flavor, it wasn't really a lemon-focused dish. One of the alternate interpretations of the acid theme was to use acid-forming foods, which would include most dairy products, so even if there wasn't enough lemon in this dish, it still fit the challenge using that basis.

I made a few deviations from the original recipe (as usual), and the ingredients I used were:

- 3 cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained ($2.25)
- 4 large shallots, finely chopped ($0.99)
- 2 large spoonfuls of crushed garlic ($0.25)
- 1 cup brown rice, cooked ($0.50)
- juice and zest of 1 large lemon ($0.49)
- about 5 hearts of palm stalks, finely chopped ($2.50)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- 2 large eggs, beaten ($0.20)
- 1 cup small curd cottage cheese ($0.90)
- 3/4 cup lowfat plain yogurt ($0.75)
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided ($2)
- 1/2 bunch of parsley, leaves finely chopped ($0.90)
- a couple tsp of dried rosemary ($0.10)
- Italian bread crumbs, about 1/2-2/3 cup ($0.50)
- olive oil for drizzling ($0.20)

The total for the dish was approximately $12.58 (although I'm not entirely sure on the cost of the hearts of palm as we bought the jar a very long time ago), which was enough for a filling dinner for two, quite a few spoonfuls of rice mixture to snack on while prepping, and some leftover pieces of casserole for another lunch.

This was a relatively simple dish to put together even if it took some time to get everything together. The basic steps were:

- start rice in rice cooker (so that it'll be done once the ingredients for the chickpea mixture are ready) and preheat oven to 375 degrees
- drain and rinse chickpeas, and add to large bowl
- prep produce: chop shallots, juice lemon, zest lemon, chop hearts of palm, chop parsley
- mix chickpeas with the chopped shallots, crushed garlic, brown rice, lemon juice, lemon zest, hearts of palm, and salt and pepper
- additional prep: beat eggs, grate parmesan cheese (could probably do all the prep together but we don't have enough counter space for all of that)
- mix beaten eggs and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese with the cottage cheese and yogurt, and stir until mixed well together
- add parsley, rosemary, and egg mixture to chickpea mixture, and combine well
- grease 9x13 baking dish and add combined mixture to baking dish in flat layer
- add remaining parmesan cheese and bread crumbs to the top, and then drizzle with olive oil
- bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, and then let stand for 5-10 minutes

We really liked this. I've never really made much with cottage cheese, but the combination of that with yogurt made this casserole feel so light and airy even though a small amount was pretty filling. I'm glad we added the hearts of palm which weren't in the original (some people had suggested artichokes, but we've had hearts of palm in the pantry for a long time), and I'm wondering what other vegetables I could add to this next time. The only other change I would make would probably be to ditch the fresh parsley. For the amount of added work with the washing and chopping, and the need to get fresh parsley in the first place, it really didn't add much parsley flavor to the end result. I think I'd rather substitute some dried parsley or just leave it out all together, since the rosemary combined with the Italian bread crumbs seemed to add enough flavor. This was a pretty successful casserole, and we definitely want to make it again.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


After filling our bellies with spaghetti, we loaded up our luggage and set out on foot for the Brugge train station. It was time to journey to the last city on our trip - Brussels. We were sad to leave Brugge, since we really loved our short time there, but at least we got one last walk through the narrow streets in on our way to the train.

Since we were pretty full, we didn't buy any food for our train journey, but that didn't mean we didn't eat any snacks. We broke out the Haribo Smurfs that we had bought in Antwerp, and got our first taste of that berry-flavored goodness. I've mentioned these Smurfs before in my favorite food memories from 2010, so you can probably tell how much we liked them (well, I especially did).

We really like Haribo gummy candy, especially the European versions since somehow they just taste better. After tasting these Smurfs, we looked for them in every shop we stopped into in Brussels but we didn't find any more bags to bring home. Now, 6 years later, you can get Haribo Smurfs here in the States, but they just don't taste exactly the same as the German versions. But it's better than nothing for one of our favorite candies!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Three years ago today, we had recently returned from our road trip through Pennsylvania (need to get back to recapping that...) and went out for dinner at our first Laotian (or as they describe it, Laotian-inspired Southeast Asian) restaurant, Khe-Yo in Tribeca. At the time, it had just recently opened, and we couldn't wait to try a cuisine that was mostly new to us. Usually, unless part of a trip recap, we would skip restaurant recaps that are this old, except: (a) it was three years ago today and it's nice to relive the experience, (b) this is one of only two Laotian restaurants we've ever been to, and (c) some of the same dishes are still on the menu so it isn't entirely out-of-date.

The meal started off with some complimentary snacks - some sticky rice along with bang bang sauce and some other sauce that we can't remember. We had read some reviews of Khe-Yo before going, so we already knew that the expectation was that you would pick up balls of sticky rice with your fingers and then dip them in bang bang sauce, which was exactly what we did. The first taste we had of the bang bang sauce was really exciting. It was a giant burst of flavor, a combination of spice from the Thai chiles, garlic, fish sauce, and citrus from lime, and maybe some other herbs. It reminded us of the hot sauce we get from the Isaan Thai restaurants, which makes complete geographic sense. We loved this, and it started off the meal on a very high note.

Back when we went to Khe-Yo, the menu started off with a salad section with three options for laap (chicken, duck, and fluke). (Currently only the duck remains on the menu.) We elected to try the chicken one, since that was often our baseline for evaluating various Thai restaurants, and we were curious to see how this one would differ. It arrived covered in what looked like cracklings with thick chunks of romaine hearts on the side.

The laap itself was really well-flavored and we liked it a lot. The addition of bean sprouts was different, but the crunch was welcome. The cracklings ended up being fried chicken skin which gave it a different, crunchy texture along with some additional saltiness.

We got two appetizers to continue our meal. The first, we had been eyeing ever since we first looked at the menu, and that was the crunchy coconut rice (nam khao), which came with spicy kaffir lime sausage and baby iceberg lettuce. Similar to everything else we had tried, everything here was packed with flavor. It was basically pieces of sausage and rice balls, which sounds simple, but it was really, really good. Not surprising that this one is still on the menu three years later.

We also got the pork belly and shrimp crispy rolls, "homestyle," which came with a lot of accompaniments. There was some vermicelli, various salad ingredients and lettuce for wrapping, and a sauce on the side with carrot in it. One of the really nice things about the accompaniments was that they included perilla, which added such a unique flavor and was perfect to go with the rolls, making them seem so fresh and clean despite being fried. As for the rolls themselves, we remember them being on par with good spring rolls from Thai restaurants, but unfortunately, it's been too long to remember any specific elements of the flavors.

One of the more interesting dishes we got, and one which certainly seemed more Laotian-inspired than traditional, was the chili prawns (goong phet) with ginger scallion toast and Thai basil. The prawns were huge, and there were enough there for both of us to have two, as well as a slice of toast each. The toast was thick like Texas toast, and soaked up all of the curry flavor. It was just such an interesting dish, and we liked it. This is still on the menu, so I guess other people liked the flavor as much as we did.

Although everything we had at Khe-Yo was good, our favorites were probably the laap and the sticky rice with the bang bang sauce. What we loved most of all were that the flavors were so vibrant and nuanced. We've always intended to return, but with all the restaurants in the city, just haven't gotten back there yet. We did have another Laotian food adventure in DC this year that we'll recap at some point (hopefully soon), and hopefully we'll also make it back to Khe-Yo at some point.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Farewell Spaghetti

On our last day in Brugge, we stopped by L'Estaminet for lunch before preparing to leave for our next destination. We don't usually return to the same restaurant 2 days in a row when we have limited time in an area, but after our experience the day before, we really wanted to return to try the spaghetti that everyone else there was eating.

I decided to go for Leffe beer this time, and A got a Stella Artois. We loved how everywhere you went in Belgium, they made sure to give you specific glasses to match the beer you were drinking, which isn't always the case at home.

We both got the spaghetti, which arrived piping hot and in a very generous portion. The bowl was filled with pasta, topped with sauce, and then finished off with a layer of melted cheese on top. After snapping some pictures, we mixed it all up and dug in.

The spaghetti was really good, and the sauce had so much flavor. It was no surprise why so many people (including people who looked like locals) would get this. The dishes we got the day before were good, but the spaghetti was better. It was hearty and comforting and perfect for ending our time in bolognese-filled Brugge.

Monday, September 19, 2016

De Vlaamsche Pot

After our wafel, we wandered around Brugge some more, looking for dinner. Nothing really caught our eye on the streets we were on, so we made our way back to Cambrinus, the place we had gone for dinner the night before. They had such a large menu, and we had tried so little of it, so we were sure we could find some new and delicious food there. Unfortunately, they told us they were reserved for the rest of the night, so we had to go somewhere new. We looked through our Rick Steves guidebook, and he suggested a Flemish spot called De Vlaamsche Pot so we headed over there. Luckily, they were still open and not booked for the night, but we did have a short wait for a table. We had no idea Brugge would be so packed at dinnertime!

The restaurant was located in a narrow townhouse with lots of cute decor. It was dimly lit, with lots of red tablecloths and checkered napkins. When we sat down, they gave us large leatherbound menus, and we couldn't wait to figure out what we were going to order.

To start the meal, we both got beers. A got a Chimay tripel, and M went for the Westmalle tripel. Even though both of these beers are fairly easily found in the US, this was, as mentioned, back in the years prior to the major craft beer explosion in the US. Because of that, we both opted for a "locally" brewed beer. Both beers were very crisp and refreshing, and they were good to pair with the meals that we each chose.

We both chose to go with one of the set menus. (We can't remember whether the menus had lots of a la carte options, but the 3 course set menus seemed like a fair deal for the price and covered exactly the dishes we wanted to eat, so we went with them.) M chose the Noordzee menu (literally "North Sea"), €31 at the time, which was focused on seafood. The appetizer course on that menu was the tomato with shrimps. In addition to a lightly dressed lettuce-based salad on the side, the appetizer came with a large pile of tiny shrimp, topped with dressing and some chunks of tomato. This was really good and tasted really fresh, and it was fun eating so many small shrimp. We don't really want to think about all the work that went into preparing such tiny shrimp, but that probably made it worth the price.

A got the Vlaamsche menu (literally "Flemish"), €28 at the time, which started off with farmer's pate. The pate came with a side of lingonberry jam/sauce and salad, as well as a bag of pumpernickel bread. The pate was wonderfully rich and creamy. When spread over the slightly sweet pumpernickel and layered with a little bit of the sweet and tart lingonberry jam, it was very delicious. The salad was refreshing and definitely necessary to help balance the heavy, rich flavors of the pate.

The main course for the Noordzee menu was waterzooi met zeevis (with sea fish). Waterzooi is a classic Flemish dish, and it's basically a creamy stew traditionally filled with potatoes and seafood (although these days it's available with chicken too). According to Wikipedia, waterzooi originated in Ghent, a Belgian town we passed through on the train on our way to Brugge, so we definitely wanted to try this local specialty. 

Inside the creamy stew, M found a giant boiled potato along with a piece of fish and what looked like a large langoustine. Although it didn't look like there was a ton of stuff in the stew at first glance, the waterzooi was incredibly filling. M regretted a little bit getting the wafel earlier when she was hungry, but only because the waterzooi was that filling. From what we remember, the flavors of the waterzooi were really good. It was very rich and creamy and filling and heavy though, and we hadn't really prepared for that.

The main course for A's menu was carbonades a la Flamande (apparently stoofvlees op z'n Vlaams, in Flemish), or Flemish beef stew. Similar to waterzooi, carbonades was a Flemish dish we had heard a lot about. The beef stew came with a side of applesauce. A's big reason for picking this was because it is such a well-known Flemish delicacy. It was an extremely rich and meaty stew, but it was also so full of flavor. He doesn't remember much about the applesauce unfortunately, so he can't really comment on that aspect.

For anyone getting carbonades, they came around with a giant metal bowl of fries to fill up your plate, and would gladly refill them if you asked. The fries didn't seem like the double-fried fries like what you get in Amsterdam with the sauces, but they were still good. They were thicker cut so they were more potatoey. The outsides were stiff but not fully crisp. They soaked up the carbonade gravy very well.

The third course for both of our menus was dessert. For M, it was supposed to be homemade vanilla ice cream, and for A, an unspecified "Brugs Room dessert." We were both so full though after our appetizers, entrees, and all that bread and fries that we couldn't imagine eating dessert too. Lucky for us, they let us substitute tea for dessert. They probably made out better on that deal, but our stomachs were thankful.

Every table got some Dumon chocolates to end the meal, which seemed fitting as they were the main chocolatier that we found in Brugge with multiple outlets, and we were really happy to round out our very Flemish meal with them.

De Vlaamsche Pot was a very solid restaurant that specialized in classic, Belgian cuisine. The food was incredibly filling but also very flavorful. In fact, the carbonades were so good that it inspired M to make her own version, and A thinks that the stoemp she made with them was better as a side than the fries served here. We would recommend De Vlaamsche Pot to anyone who wants to try some traditional Flemish food. We're glad we had the chance to try these very classic dishes.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Plenty of Potatoes

I've been going to Costco since I was a kid (although it was Price Club way back then), and it's one of my favorite stores. One thing I've heard sometimes though is people wondering what people with small households do with all the bulk items. It makes sense that if you live in a tiny closet of an apartment in the city that you might not want to buy 36 rolls of toilet paper or 9 boxes of tissues or 12 cans of corn at a time (although we do), but I think, space aside, people wonder more about perishable food. We recently bought a 20 pound sack of potatoes there for $9.99, and I thought it would be interesting to track how a family of 2 people could use up 20 pounds of potatoes before they all rotted.

Our 20 pound bag of potatoes came with 23 potatoes. Here's what happened to them:

- Loaded baked potato salad, same recipe as the picnic challenge, for Labor Day weekend BBQ: 7 potatoes (this was actually what prompted the purchase in the first place)

- Sugar browned potatoes for the Nordic challenge: 2 potatoes

- Soup, made in the same style as the caldo verde from the Portuguese challenge, with kale and kiolbassa (half for dinner and half to be eaten at some later date): 5 potatoes

- Kiolbassa vegetable saute: 2 potatoes

- Soy chorizo tacos (like these): 1 potato

- Buttermilk mashed potatoes (frozen to be eaten at some later date): 2 potatoes

- Garbage: 4 potatoes (3 were wet or moldy when we took them out of the bag on day 1, and 1 got too soft before we could use it on our last day of cooking them)

For us, the key was really finding some uses for the potatoes that could then be frozen and eaten later. If we hadn't had to throw out those 4 potatoes, we probably would have made a lot more mashed potatoes and put that in the freezer, or maybe a second day of soy chorizo tacos. Even if you divided out the price for only usable potatoes, it comes out to about $0.53 per potato, which is slightly cheaper (currently) than buying that many potatoes by the piece at Trader Joe's. We would normally just pick up a potato or two at a time, but since we needed them for the baked potato salad, this just made sense.

That said, even taking out all the potatoes we froze and brought to the BBQ, it still felt like all we had eaten for a couple of weeks was potato. This is only the second time we've bought the giant bag, and while it's doable with a lot of meal planning and prepping for the future, it's definitely not easy to go through that many potatoes before they go bad if you're a small household and not solely meat and potatoes eaters. So interesting keeping track of this though!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Week 37 - Mystery Ingredients

For the mystery ingredients challenge, someone else was supposed to go shopping for you, and then you were supposed to make a meal with what they got. We decided to model the challenge after Chopped (meaning I would have to use specific ingredients but was free to use whatever else I wanted), and on our last Trader Joe's visit, A went around the store choosing 3 random items. Since we don't have a fully stocked pantry at home like they do at Chopped, I then picked up whatever else I would need on the same trip to supplement our pantry.

The ingredients A chose were:

- 3 portabello mushroom caps ($2.49)
- 2 ears of corn ($0.98)
- 1 package (4 sausages) of weisswurst ($5.99)

The other ingredients I used, some of which I picked up on that visit and some of which we already had at home, were:

- olive oil ($0.20)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.79)
- about a cup of shelled edamame ($0.90)
- 1/2 batch of scallions ($0.65)
- lemon juice ($0.05)
- freshly ground black pepper ($0.05)
- garlic powder ($0.05)
- dried sage ($0.15)
- a couple tsp of chopped fresh parsley ($0.45)

The total for the meal was about $12.75, a little more than we would normally spend for something like this, but quality weisswurst didn't come cheap. At least the bulk of the price was from the "starring" mystery ingredients and not what I used to supplement it.

My plan was to make a saute out of the corn and sausage with some other vegetables, and then top that with some grilled mushroom caps. I wasn't sure exactly what else I would end up using, since I wasn't sure what the weisswurst tasted like, so I picked relatively mild vegetables to start with. The prep took more time than I was expecting, but there was a lot to wash and chop - mushrooms, onions, sausage, corn, scallions, and parsley. I also boiled some water and let the frozen edamame sit in the hot water while I prepped other stuff.

For the mushroom caps, I just added some olive oil to our grill pan, added the mushrooms, and brushed them with olive oil. I grilled them over medium heat for a while, and then switched it to low while I waited for the saute to finish. I figured some extra time over heat would only make them softer (or at least that was what I hoped would happen). They were on the grill pan probably for at least 20 minutes.

For the saute, I started with the onions, then added the (already fully cooked) sausage to brown, followed by the edamame and corn, and finally the scallions. After some of the sausage had warmed in the pan, I tried it to see what seasonings I should add. The main ingredients in the weisswurst were pork, veal, heavy cream, parsley, with some other seasonings including salt, white pepper, and ginger. The sausage itself was really mild in flavor but what I did notice was a very lemony aftertaste to it, much more than I was expecting. The package had advertised it as a "traditional German holiday sausage with lemon and parsley," and the lemon definitely stood out.

Although it was the predominant flavor, it got more muted once the vegetables were mixed in, so I added some more lemon juice, along with black pepper and garlic powder. I tried it, but I still didn't think it had enough flavor, so I added sage, one of my go-to spices. Had I thought of it earlier before I put in the sage, I think I might have gone with herbs de provence. I added what I thought was a little too much sage, as more shook out of the jar than I planned, but I think it ended up being the right amount. To finish off the dish, I added some fresh chopped parsley after taking the saute off the heat.

This saute was relatively simple but it came out well. I was lucky that A was nice to me, and didn't throw in some completely random ingredient like mango cereal bars or gummy candy. Part of the reason was that he knew that we'd both have to eat whatever I ended up making, so it was in both of our best interests that it not be a complete cooking experiment fail. I actually really enjoyed this challenge for making me try to think more creatively on the fly. I don't usually go into cooking for the night having no idea what flavor profile I'm using, so this was good for getting out of the box.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Week 36 - Famous Dishes

When the theme for Week 36 came up as famous dishes, it sounded a lot like last year's signature dishes challenge. Iconic restaurant dishes seemed to fit this theme though, so I decided to make something I've been wanting to make for a long time - imitation cheddar bay biscuits, based on the ones they serve at Red Lobster. Those were easily the highlights of most of our past meals at Red Lobster, so I thought for dinner we would have our own Red Lobster night.

Cheddar Biscuits

I started off with this recipe on Damn Delicious for the biscuits, which I had printed way back in 2014 but had just never gotten around to making. I made a couple of changes, but mostly stuck with it to try to get the flavor just right.

The ingredients for the biscuits were:

- 2 cups all purpose flour ($0.25)
- 1 tbsp sugar ($0.10)
- 1 tbsp baking powder ($0.25)
- a little more than 1 tbsp garlic powder ($0.10)
- a few grinds of salt ($0.05)
- a pinch of cayenne pepper ($0.05)
- 1 cup buttermilk ($0.95)
- 1/2 cup butter, melted ($0.50)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese ($1.75)
for the topping:
- 6 tbsp butter, melted ($0.40)
- a couple tbsp chopped parsley leaves ($0.45)
- 1 tbsp garlic powder ($0.10)

The process of making the biscuits was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Using this recipe, it was so fast! I hadn't realized how quick it would be, or I would have done a lot of the prep before I started mixing the biscuit ingredients because the baking time was definitely not enough time to get all of the other parts of dinner done, like I thought it would be. The steps were:

- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour, sugar, baking powder, garlic powder, salt, cayenne).
- Melt the 1/2 cup of butter in a medium bowl and then add buttermilk, and mix together.
- Add butter/buttermilk to dry ingredients and mix together until batter forms. (I followed her advice and used a rubber spatula to mix everything.)
- Add cheese and fold in until relatively well spread throughout the batter.
- On baking sheet lined with parchment paper, scoop out mixture in 1/4 cup measuring cup. (I was amazed that it made exactly 10 biscuits. Nothing ever comes out that even when I make it!)
- Bake for 12 minutes. (I probably left them in a minute or so too long.)
- While biscuits are baking, melt the 6 tbsp of butter and chop the parsley, and mix both together with the garlic powder.
- After biscuits are done, brush with the parsley butter mixture.

Really easy and so quick! If I knew it was that easy to whip up a bunch of cheddar bay biscuits, I would have done this ages ago.

Overall, the biscuits were pretty good. They weren't exactly like the ones at Red Lobster, because I think those are a little softer and more buttery, but they were definitely good (and better than waiting for 2 hours to eat at Red Lobster). I was thinking I could get even closer to those if in the future, I made these changes:

- bake for 12 minutes and not longer.

- allow the buttermilk to warm up to room temperature before mixing with the butter.

- brush with the butter mixture immediately after pulling out of the oven. When the biscuits were done, I was still chopping the parsley. Once I added it to the 3 tbsp of melted butter from the recipe, we quickly realized it was impossible to brush them with how much parsley was in there. (I thought it was 1 tbsp when I was chopping it, but it was probably more like 2.) So then we had to melt another 3 tbsp of butter and mix it all together. All that time was time that would have been better spent with the butter soaking into the hot biscuits, but hopefully that will be the case next time. Even with 1 tbsp of parsley, I'm not sure the 3 tbsp of butter would have been enough, but I'm glad we did it our way because I liked adding more parsley.

- more garlic powder in the batter, more garlic powder in the topping.

That said, they were good as they were, but they would probably have been even better with those tweaks. I decided to test my theory later in the week since we still had more buttermilk to use up (after using it in both pancakes and mashed potatoes, and there was still some left after those), and make another round of biscuits. But this time, since we were just eating biscuits without anything else, I also added some corn and bacon. They had to bake longer because of the different ingredients, and it made for 12 (well, 11.5) biscuits instead of 10, and we didn't have parsley at all so I just used the 3 tbsp of butter for the topping, but otherwise they came out about the same. They were fluffier, more buttery tasting, and texture-wise, a little better than the first set earlier in the week. Still not as garlicky as we would have preferred or thought it would be from the amount of garlic powder, but pretty good.

Soy Ginger Cod

Originally, I thought about making shrimp scampi to go with the cheddar bay biscuits, but changed my mind and made the rest of dinner a little healthier to offset all the butter and starch in the biscuits. Most meals at Red Lobster consist of seafood + sides + biscuits, so fish and vegetables seemed like a good match. I had picked up some pre-marinated soy ginger cod on a recent Trader Joe's visit, so we made that.

The main ingredients in the marinade were soy sauce, sugar, olive oil, miso paste, ginger, garlic, and rice vinegar, pretty much what you would expect from the advertised flavor profile. I followed the instructions on the package for cooking - 2 minutes on each side in a covered skillet, and then a minute or so uncovered with the marinade added. The fish came out perfectly. It was flaky and soft, and not overdone at all. The marinade was a little salty, probably more salty than if I made it myself, but it was so convenient not having to do that step for dinner. We would get this again.

Quick Sesame Snow Peas

I bought some snow peas to make alongside the soy ginger cod since we happened to be at the store the day before the challenge and I could get them fresh. I didn't really have a plan for them, figuring that maybe I'd just saute them in some olive oil with garlic, but decided to survey some snow pea recipes online to see if there were other ideas that might fit better. I decided to go with these quick sesame snow peas I found on The Kitchn, as it seemed pretty easy and like it would go well with soy ginger cod.

The ingredients were:

- 9 oz snow peas ($2.29)
- 1 tbsp sesame oil ($0.20)
- lemon juice (not sure exactly how much, I just added until it seemed right, which I know is unhelpful) ($0.20)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- sesame seeds ($0.10)

A did most of the work on the snow peas since I was preoccupied with the butter topping for the biscuits and needed to get the snow peas done simultaneously to clear the burner for the fish (the problem with having limited counter space). Basically, you just heat the sesame oil, add the snow peas, cook them for a couple of minutes stirring constantly until "tender crisp," add the lemon juice, remove from heat and cover, let stand for at least 5 minutes (ours sat until the fish was done), add salt, pepper, and sesame seeds, and mix everything together. Very quick, very easy, and fit right into the timeline as we could let it sit while the fish was cooking. This was a pretty basic snow pea preparation, and I could see us making it again sometime if it fit what we were eating.

Red Lobster Night

The total for our entire Red Lobster-esque meal was about $14.08 ($4.95 for the biscuits, $6.29 for the cod, and $2.84 for the snow peas). That's not too bad for a meal with so many components, including one being fish, and likely cheaper than eating for one at Red Lobster. We even had a couple of biscuits left over (although they were not as good refrigerated as they were fresh). It was a pretty nice dinner and the biscuits were almost as addictive as they were in the restaurant. We had to stop ourselves from eating all of them that night, which is usually what happens there too. Would definitely do this again.