Sunday, August 31, 2014

Week 30 - Clean Eating

I was looking forward to Week 30 of the 52 week challenge with its theme of clean eating. Ideally, everything I cook at home would fall into the clean eating category, since I truly believe eating unprocessed foods is the healthiest way to eat. I do think clean eating can include some canned or packaged food (like chicken broth or tomato paste), but for the challenge, I wanted to take clean eating to its purest form - all whole and unprocessed foods other than olive oil and spices. After hunting around for a while for the recipe that I thought would perfectly fit this philosophy, I was inspired by this healthy recipe for halibut and vegetables, and adapted it for our dinner, substituting cod for halibut.

For our roasted cod and vegetable dinner, I used:

- 2 russet potatoes ($0.98)
- 1 red bell pepper ($0.99)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.89)
- olive oil ($0.40)
- salt and pepper ($0.10)
- 1 lb (or so) of cod fillets ($6.08)
- 2/3 bunch of parsley ($1.19)
- zest of 1 lemon ($0.40)
- 1 tsp (or so) of dried oregano ($0.03)
- 3 garlic cloves ($0.08)

For a relatively filling fish dinner for 2, $11 isn't too bad at all. The majority of the cost is the fish. If we had fillets from Costco, it's possible the cost might drop more, but the quality of this wild Alaskan cod was pretty good. We were happy with it.

This is a really easy dish to make and even better, the prep was relatively quick!

1. Chop onion and pepper into thin slices and potatoes into small wedges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add olive oil, and mix with your hands until everything is well-coated.

2. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or so (until potatoes are tender).

3. While vegetables are baking, make the gremolata. Finely chop parsley, zest lemon, mince garlic, and add oregano. Mix them all together.

4. Add salt and pepper to the fish.

5. When vegetables have roasted, move them to the sides of the pan. Add fish to the middle of the pan, and then sprinkle most of the gremolata over the top (reserve a little bit). Move vegetables around so that the fish is nestled within the vegetables (and the vegetables are also on top of it).

6. Bake for another 15 minutes, until fish is opaque in the center and done.

7. Plate the fish fillets. Add the remaining gremolata to the vegetables and stir them around to combine. Plate vegetables.

This dish was exactly what I was looking for as clean eating. Nothing about it was processed or artificial. The vegetables were great, although there were a couple pieces of potato that weren't as soft and tender as I would have liked (I think it was one section of one of the potatoes that needed more time). I think next time I would roast the vegetables for longer or at a higher temperature before adding the fish. Can't go wrong with some extra roasting. Tender roasted vegetables are some of my favorite ways to eat vegetables. All around, the flavors here were good, the gremolata was the perfect compliment to the cod, and we felt so good having eaten such a clean dinner. We would definitely make this again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sweet Chili Chevre

The August spotlight cheese from Trader Joe's, the sweet chili chevre ($2.99), might be one of our favorite cheeses ever. We love goat cheese and the mildly sweet flavor of the peppers just added another layer of deliciousness.

The goat cheese is coated on the outside with red bell peppers and has piri piri peppers mixed inside it. It's not that spicy despite all the peppers, but really picks up on the sweet taste from them. A got a touch of tartness from it as well, but he's not sure what that came from. We tried a small log of this, eating it all in one sitting with some grain crackers, and immediately wanted to fill the fridge with it. It was that good.

Buy Again? Yes, definitely. We already picked up more (and ate it) and want to go back to get even more before it's gone! We really enjoy this cheese.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Week 28 - 'Murica

When the 'Murica theme week came up on the challenge list, the dishes that immediately popped into my mind were Southern dishes. There is so much variety in American cuisine, but I couldn't resist trying my hand at something so uniquely American and something you can't really find elsewhere in the world. Southern food, soul food, all of that is just so American to me. For our Southern dinner, I decided on Hoppin' John and collard greens!

The first part of dinner was Hoppin' John. I've been wanting to make Hoppin' John since New Year's (you know, when you're supposed to eat Hoppin' John for good luck), but never got around to it until now. I decided to go with the Pioneer Woman's recipe and followed it pretty closely with only a few adaptations.

I didn't want to go get a smoked ham hock or deal with dried beans (still avoiding them a bit after my last failed experiment with those), so the ingredients I used were:

- 2 tbsp butter ($0.50)
- 1 large onion, diced ($0.79)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced ($0.10)
- 1 green bell pepper, diced ($0.79)
- 1/2 bunch of celery, chopped ($0.40)
- 2 cans of black-eyed peas ($2)
- 5 cups of chicken broth (see note 4 below) ($2)
- 7 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces ($4.30)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- cayenne pepper to taste ($0.05)
- 2 tbsp white vinegar ($0.10)
- 1 tbsp corn starch ($0.05)

The steps to make Hoppin' John were:

1. Melt butter in large pot over medium high heat.

2. Add onion, garlic, green pepper, and celery, and stir. Cook for a few minutes until they are translucent and softening. [Normally the celery is added with the other vegetables, but I added it a few minutes later since I had frozen the celery months ago and it was already pretty softened when it thawed out.]

3. Add the bacon. Continue to stir and cook for a few minutes. Add black-eyed peas.

4. Add chicken broth, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper. [Note: I used too much broth since I used canned beans. I think next time I will do one cup less broth.]

5. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low, simmer (covered) for 30 minutes.

6. Cook without lid for another 15 minutes or so if it's too watery. After that, if it's still too watery, add cornstarch (mixed with water). [The wateriness was my fault for not reading the directions that carefully about using a little less broth if using canned beans].

7. Add vinegar and adjust seasonings. Allow flavors to meld for a few minutes and then spoon over rice and start eating. (After smelling bacon for an hour, we were so hungry.)

The Hoppin' John was good. I think it might have been better with diced ham, but I wanted to use the same meat for the Hoppin' John and the greens so I went with bacon, which does seem to be acceptable in certain parts of the South. This was really good, but I was expecting it to be more dominated by the beans. Maybe I didn't use enough. As A said, it pretty much tasted like bacon and butter. It was bacon and butter with plenty of vegetables and beans mixed in to make it a little bit more healthy. We would make this again.

The second part of the meal was the Southern Greens. Hoppin' John is often eaten with collard greens, but since the collard greens at Trader Joe's come in a blend of Southern greens, I did that instead. They're Southern greens, after all, so they should work just fine in our very Southern dinner.

I started with this recipe for Kickin' Collard Greens and then made a couple of adaptations, largely from suggestions found in the comments. In the end, I wound up using:

- 6 slices of bacon ($3.69)
- 1 large onion, chopped ($0.79)
- 4 small cloves of garlic, minced ($0.10)
- salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp each) ($0.10)
- 3 cups chicken broth ($1.20)
- pinch of red pepper flakes ($0.05)
- 1 lb of Southern greens ($3.49)
- 1 tbsp brown sugar ($0.05)
- 1.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar ($0.20)

Making the greens was really easy. It just takes a long time to simmer for the greens to be tender. The steps were:

1. Cook bacon until crisp. [Since it's going to cook more, you can stop cooking it whenever, in my opinion.] Move to separate plate to cool and then crumble or cut into small pieces.

2. Add onion to the pot with the bacon grease (don't need to add oil). Cook for a few minutes until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the greens and allow to cook until they begin to wilt.

4. Add chicken broth. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar.

5. After boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until greens are tender (about an hour).

Oh. My. Goodness. When I first tried the greens to test for tenderness, I couldn't believe they could be this tasty. (It was way better than my last Southern greens experiment.) These were some of the best collard greens we've ever eaten, and I certainly didn't expect them to be made in our kitchen. The texture was perfect. The stem pieces were nice and tender, the leaves weren't tough, and none of it was chewy or hard to eat. The bacon gave it a rich, smoky flavor, and there was a little bit of a zing from the red pepper flakes. The sugar and the vinegar mellowed the bitter and peppery flavor that sometimes accompanies these greens, which was nice. In short, this was amazing and so much better than I had been expecting.

As for the cost of our complete dinner, it was about $11.13 for the Hoppin' John, $9.67 for the greens, and maybe $1 for the rice. A total of $21.80 is higher than our usual everyday cooking projects (and more than, say, dinner at Chipotle), but a higher price is probably to be expected when the bacon cost $8 and we used the entire package. But for the amount of food we got (with leftovers), it wasn't a terrible value. After all, we don't eat like this every night (and some nights are much cheaper like the night before's $5 chorizo taco dinner).

Overall, we were really satisfied with this 'Murica challenge dinner. Since eating an entire pack of bacon in one night isn't exactly healthy, I don't think we'll be eating this that regularly (at least not together), but we would definitely make these again. Especially the collard greens. Wow. Those were good.

Halfway There

I've now gotten halfway (and a little more) through the 52 week challenge (a bit late, but better late than never), and it's been interesting looking back on a half year of new cooking experiments. I've definitely learned a lot and come away with new ideas and inspiration.

The second quarter of challenges were:

Week 14 - Belgian (beer and onion braised chicken carbonnade and stoemp)
Week 15 - knifework (lots of prep work)
Week 16 - 80s (French bread pizza)
Week 17 - soy (Mediterranean baked tofu and sweet and sour tofu)
Week 18 - Peruvian (ensalada de choclo)
Week 19 - caramelization (mujadara and caramelized carrots)
Week 20 - diner/drive-in food (grilled cheese and corned beef hash breakfast plate)
Week 21 - beer (spicy beer braised lime chicken enchiladas)
Week 22 - Turkish (nohut salatasi, mercimek koftesi, beet salad)
Week 23 - confit (spicy red pepper and eggplant confit)
Week 24 - historic foods (turkey meatloaf)
Week 25 - stone fruits (peach salsa)
Week 26 - Philippines (chicken adobo with mushroom and bamboo shoot rice)

(The first quarter of challenges are listed here.)

Looking back on 26 weeks of challenges has also allowed me time to reflect. I didn't cook a lot before last year since the schedule at my previous job was unpredictable and I never knew when I would be home for dinner, much less have time to cook one. That meant that, when the start of the 52 week challenge rolled around in January, I was still a relative novice. Over the past half year or so, I've cooked a bunch of different international cuisines for the first time and tried so many new things. I'm proud of the challenge dishes that have come out of the kitchen so far this year. There's a lot more to learn and I'm by no means a master, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what's ahead in the upcoming challenges!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Week 26 - Philippines

We've had the Memories of Philippine Kitchens book on our shelf for some time now, ever since I got a complimentary copy at a work event. I've always wanted to investigate the recipes in that book, as we're not that familiar with Filipino cuisine, but never got around to it. When the theme for Week 26 was announced - the Philippines - I knew that I wouldn't have to go searching around the internet for recipes. I had the perfect book at home already!


Adobo is one of the most famous dishes in Filipino cuisine. We've never had it before, so it seemed like the most logical choice for the challenge. It was also one of the few dishes in the book that I was confident that I had the materials and ingredients to make. Surveying a bunch of adobo recipes, this seems like a fairly standard combination, other than the coconut milk, which sounds like a regional variation. We were happy to be able to try a traditional version for our first time.

The marinade for the adobo consisted of:

- 1.5 cups rice vinegar ($1.50)
- 1 cup coconut milk ($0.50)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce ($0.35)
- 1 head of garlic (plus a couple extra cloves), crushed ($0.20)
- 3 bay leaves ($0.10)
- 1.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper ($0.10)

Once the marinade was mixed together, I cut up and added 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts and 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about $4, bringing the chicken side of this to about $6.75) to the bowl. I refrigerated it for about 5-6 hours. I was hoping to marinate the meat overnight but some of the chicken was still frozen and I didn't want to be up until 2 am waiting for it to thaw. When we were ready to start cooking, I just transferred the marinade and chicken into a Dutch oven and turned the heat up to high.

After the mixture starts boiling, you reduce the heat to a simmer, and let the chicken cook, stirring every so often to make sure the chicken stays covered. After about 20 minutes, the chicken should be cooked and tender. At that point, transfer the chicken to a separate bowl or plate, and turn the heat up to medium high to allow the sauce to reduce. I let it go for quite a while until it was very thick. 

Once the sauce was the thickness I was looking for, I put the chicken back into the pot and coated it with the sauce, waiting for the rice to be done. The way I had timed everything, I thought both the chicken and the rice would be done at the same time, but I was wrong.

Cooking chicken adobo is basically braising it in a vinegar-based sauce. I really like braising as a cooking technique, so this was right up my alley. We liked the chicken adobo, but the vinegar was definitely very heavy. We like vinegar, but this was a ton of vinegar! That said, this recipe felt like a success. The only thing that was weird was that the garlic was still a little hard and crunchy after all that braising. I was expecting it to be soft like roasted garlic, but it wasn't at all. Is that how it should be?


According to the book's authors, they serve their chicken adobo with this mushroom and bamboo shoot rice. Well, if they do that, why shouldn't I do the same? I had all the ingredients already, since I bought a can of bamboo shoots ages ago and stocked up on shiitake mushrooms in Chicago, so it was a great idea for an accompaniment. I changed it up a little bit by using brown rice instead of jasmine rice, but otherwise only made small adaptations. Since there were only 2 of us, we probably shouldn't have made the full 3 cups of rice since we still have some leftovers, but lesson for next time.

For the rice, we used:

- 3 cups brown rice ($2)
- 2 spoonfuls of coconut oil for sauteing ($0.30)
- 1 onion, finely chopped ($0.60)
- 2 small carrots, small dice ($0.40)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced ($0.10)
- a few handfuls of dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, stemmed and thinly sliced ($1.25)
- 1 can (10 oz drained) of bamboo shoots, chopped ($1)
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric ($0.12)
- 6.5 cups of water (including water from rehydrating the mushrooms) ($0)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.10)

The rice portion came out to about $5.87, which meant the total for dinner was about $12.62. Not terrible considering we had rice for days and days, so much that we still haven't finished it and I'm not sure if it's any good anymore.

According to the recipe, the rice should have taken 30-35 minutes to cook. I'm not sure if it's because we used brown rice instead of jasmine, but in order for it to fully cook through, it took us closer to an hour and I had to add more water halfway through. The basic steps were:

1. Heat coconut oil in large saucepan.
2. Add onion and carrot. Cook over medium high heat until softened.
3. Add garlic. Cook another minute.
4. Add mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and turmeric. Cook until mushrooms give off liquid. (I forgot the turmeric here but added it in the next step instead. Not sure if that makes a difference.)

5. Add (washed) rice and water (4.5 cups). Add salt and pepper, and bring to boil over high heat.
6. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed.
7. If rice still needs to cook longer, add more water and continue to simmer until liquid is absorbed.
8. Take pan off heat and fluff rice. Cover and let stand. Adjust seasonings if necessary (I should have added more salt and pepper.)

The rice was okay. It was really good with the adobo, but on its own, it was a bit boring. It was nice having rice with vegetables in it and the texture was okay, but it wasn't that flavorful on its own.


This was my first time cooking Filipino cuisine and I think it went well. We enjoyed the adobo with its thick tangy sauce on top of the rice, but didn't love the rice on its own because of the lack of seasoning. Overall, it was good though.

Would we make this again? Maybe. We liked it but when it comes to braising chicken, we preferred the carbonnade from Belgian week a bit more since the chicken wasn't drowning in vinegar and probably would make that again first. I'd like to try cooking more Filipino dishes, maybe some pancit or lumpia. It's definitely a cuisine I want to learn more about.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our Glory Adventure

Three years ago today, we set off on vacation (really a long weekend) on a cruise up to Canada. It was a family trip, and it was great to get to spend some time with family on the sea and away from home. As we've been recapping our other adventures, it occurred to me that, while the Glory is the one (and only) trip we've fully recapped, we never wrote a summary post about our adventures. On the third anniversary of our trip, what better time to do it than now?

Our cruise on the Carnival Glory left in the afternoon from the west side of Manhattan, which meant we didn't do much that day other than sail out, have our first dinner in the dining room, get acquainted with the ship, and end the night with some late night snacks at the grill. The Glory was your pretty basic, traditional cruise ship, in that it had a main dining room with traditional seating times (unlike the trend to have more and more smaller restaurants and reservations at all different times), a large buffet, and other snack areas. It was a smaller ship but a comfortable size for a short cruise. It had more amenities than another ship that A and I previously sailed on.

We spent the second day of the trip at sea, where we mostly relaxed as far as we can remember. I have no idea what we did other than maybe go to the gym. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the dining room. It was formal night which meant we got dressed up and took lots of photos, which was fun.

On the morning of day 3, we docked in Saint John, New Brunswick. I had been there once before on a different cruise but it was A's first time visiting the small Canadian town. We didn't take any special excursions, but just wandered around town for a bit and searched out some Canadian dishes. We started the day with breakfast on board the ship before taking the short walk into town, where we stopped at a food court for some poutine and window-shopped at fast food restaurants. We closed out our stay with a local blueberry ale, a lobster roll, and a bowl of chowder at Billy's Seafood Company, which we were quite happy with. 

After getting back on board, we stopped by the burrito station in the buffet area for a snack. We ended the night on the ship with dinner and the midnight Mexican buffet, which I was quite excited about. When do I not want tacos? (As a side note, how much do our stomachs expand on trips that we can eat all that food in one day and not feel utterly sick?! I'm a bit horrified at how much we ate that day. Sure, I went over 19,000 steps that day, but I'm not sure that justifies it.)

Our last full day of the trip was another day at sea as we made our way back to NYC. We had our usual breakfast in the dining room, and then headed up to the Lido deck at lunchtime where they were having a chocolate buffet. We also grabbed some other snacks that were left over from the previous night's Mexican buffet and A investigated the Mongolian wok and some other buffet stations. A ate a bigger lunch at the Lido deck, but I only had some tacos so I ate more when we went down to lunch in the dining room. (Yes, technically 2 lunches.) We ended another day of relaxing, gym-going, and hanging out with our final dining room dinner.

After a stormy night (watching lightning on the water is simultaneously scary and amazing), we were docked back at the pier in Manhattan and it was time to bid vacation goodbye - but not before grabbing one last breakfast at the buffet (the only thing open). From there it was time to say goodbye to family, take a tedious walk through customs, and then head over to the office (yes, we went to work straight from the ship). Vacation over.

Would we take this trip again? Maybe. If the trip were just a quick getaway with a main goal of relaxation, and the price were right, then we would definitely consider it. There's something nice about being out at sea, endless blue water in every direction, that is just so calming. Add to that that there is little cell reception and you're kind of forced to relax (in a good way). The port stop was okay and the ship was fine, but they wouldn't be the main motivators to go back. It would be nice to take a cruise up to New England and Canada sometime during fall foliage season, but unlike this cruise, that would be more about the ports and less about just getting away. This may have been a very short trip, but it was a great summer break!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blueberry Lemon Ricotta

We finally lucked out with trying a new flavor today at Shake Shack - the Friday flavor of blueberry lemon ricotta. We were hoping it would be good. After all, we are very fond of a previous August blueberry flavor (blueberry coffee cake).

M's thoughts:
My first thought was that this custard had a remarkable lack of color for a blueberry based custard. Eventually we did find a swirl of blue in the middle, but that was it. I didn't taste blueberry and I didn't taste lemon (not sure ricotta has a strong flavor). It pretty much just tasted like a vanilla custard, with slightly less strong of a vanilla flavor. A bit disappointing since I thought it would be full of fruit flavor.

A's thoughts:
Eh. That's about my thought on this one. There was barely any discernible flavor to this other than a hint of ricotta. The blueberry stripe was fairly flavorless, but I bit into a couple blueberry seed-like things so I guess there were real blueberries. I got no lemon flavor, though. All in all it was very vanilla.

Blueberry Lemon Ricotta
A's rating: 5/10
M's rating: 5.5/10

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dark Chocolate Honey Mints

The last time we were at Trader Joe's, they had 2 trays of samples out. One was a whole wheat wrap filled with avocado, tomato, and cucumber, which we couldn't stop eating. The other had these dark chocolate honey mints which I'd never seen before on previous trips, although I will admit that I don't spend a ton of time perusing the chocolate section.

The packaging for these mints make a big deal of the fact that they contain just 3 ingredients: chocolate, honey, and mint. The taste was like a subdued, slightly sweet mint flavor. The mint wasn't very strong but it also didn't taste a whole lot like honey. It was like combining them all together just dulled all the flavors a little bit. We're much more partial to the York peppermint patties and were hoping for some slightly sweet form of that, which would still be pretty minty. The chocolate shell was also a little harder than the softer chocolate coating of the York patties, which is more what we were expecting.

Buy? Probably not. Interesting idea, but we didn't love them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Week 24 - Historical Foods

I puzzled for months over what to make for the historical foods week of the 52 week challenge (which caused a bit of a challenge bottleneck).  I looked up recipes from ancient times, which I really should have had some clue about already, considering I took a course on the foods of ancient Greece and Rome in college. I considered medieval recipes and colonial recipes and more, but nothing really caught my eye. I worked my way through the various decades until it finally hit me - meatloaf! I associate that more with historical eras than the present, so maybe meatloaf would work? As I researched, I found this post chronicling meatloaf through the ages, even as far back as ancient Rome. I love meatloaf and I was so glad to finally come up with a satisfying answer to the challenge.

I looked around for a good turkey meatloaf recipe since I couldn't remember which one I made last time (years ago). I found this one titled "Unbelievably Moist Turkey Meatloaf," which sounded perfect. I made a couple of adaptations to the ingredients list, but used:

- 8 oz cremini mushrooms, very finely chopped ($1.75)
- 1 large onion, finely chopped ($0.60)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced ($0.08)
- 1 tbsp olive oil ($0.20)
- salt and pepper ($0.08)
- sprigs of fresh thyme ($0.15)
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce ($0.15)
- 7 tbsp ketchup, divided ($0.28)
- 1 cup Italian style bread crumbs ($0.30)
- 1/3 cup of milk ($0.30)
- 2 large eggs, beaten ($0.30)
- 1 lb (or so) ground turkey ($4.50)

The meatloaf cost about $8.50 and the vegetable side dish was another $3. Not bad for a satisfying and filling meal.

I followed the recipe pretty closely in terms of process, but the steps were basically:

1. Saute onions until softened. Add garlic. One minute later, add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms are soft and liquid has all evaporated.

2. Move onions and mushrooms to a large bowl, add 3 tbsp of ketchup and 1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce. Let cool while you mix bread crumbs and milk in another bowl, and beat the eggs in yet another.

3. Combine the onion-mushroom mixture, bread crumb-milk mixture, and eggs in a bowl. Add turkey and mix well with hands. (The recipe also said to add salt and pepper with the turkey but I forgot. I think it was okay without it.)

4. Line a baking sheet with foil and then oil the foil. Put meatloaf mixture onto baking sheet and form into a loaf shape in the middle. Spread 4 tbsp ketchup on the outside of the loaf. 

5. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes (until meatloaf is at least 170 degrees).

After 40 minutes, our meatloaf was way over 170 degrees, so it was definitely done. I cut it up into slices and we ate it with a spinach and mushroom saute. Originally I thought this would make enough for an entire leftover meal, but we ate the whole meatloaf that night. I don't know if that means we were really hungry or it was just the right amount for dinner for 2 people.

This meatloaf was really good. The recipe was really straightforward and easy, and true to its title, the meatloaf was incredibly moist. We were really happy with this and would definitely make it again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The first stop on our Cuban WorldEats tour (even if it's not the first spot we've written about) was Margon, which is kind of like an old school lunch counter. M used to work around the corner from Margon, but never actually went to get lunch there because the place was always so packed. We made our first Margon visit on the weekend instead when it was far less crowded. We thought this would be a good first stop since it was really close by.

A got the fried king fish. It came with a green-ish sauce that was very oil and garlic based as opposed to the spicier, creamier green sauce that most Latin American restaurants offer. The fish was basically prepared with just a touch of salt to flavor everything and a lemon wedge. The sauce was very garlicky and added a nice sharpness as well. The only issue was that the boniness of the fish made it a little harder to eat and a bit of an annoyance.

The fish came with sides of rice and peas, black beans, and plantains. The rice and peas were rich and flavorful. The black beans were also fairly rich for black beans so possibly not vegetarian. The plantains were good and starchy and had the subtle sweetness that one comes to expect.

M opted for the baked chicken sandwich, something she has gotten often at Sophie's for work lunches (see here, here, here, and here). She thought it would be a good point of comparison.

The baked chicken sandwich at Margon was pretty much torn baked chicken with some sauce and maybe a little mayo (don't quite remember) on crispy bread. They didn't add that onion mix that Sophie's does that M loves so much, so the sandwich had much less flavor. The chicken was fine, but a little bit dry. Overall, M liked the sandwich at Sophie's better. This one also didn't come with any green sauce, which was sad. Maybe she should have gotten the Cuban sandwich instead.

Lunch at Margon was fine. It's one of the few authentic Cuban spots in Midtown (that isn't part of a chain), so it's definitely special for that reason. The food was good, but we weren't in love with it. Maybe next time we'll just go back for some Cuban sandwiches instead. Those are supposedly awesome.

Margon, 136 W. 46th Street, in Midtown Manhattan.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Huevos Rancheros

One thing we've really tried to commit to this year is to waste less food. It took some time to get into the groove of meal planning and figuring out exactly how much food we would eat in a week to make sure we don't buy too much, and we're still working on it. Not doing a good job of tracking "best by" dates while running around this summer meant we ended up with a Costco-sized package of queso fresco in the fridge that we had a little over a week to use. Oops.

So I went on a mission to figure out what I could throw queso fresco into other than variations on the ensalada de choclo or just topping tacos with it. When looking around, I stumbled on this recipe for huevos rancheros. We had all the ingredients already (another pantry meal!), so adapting that seemed like the perfect choice.

To make this variation of huevos rancheros, we used:

- 10 oz can diced tomatoes with jalapeƱos, undrained ($0.68)
- 10 oz can red enchilada sauce ($0.70)
- 1/3 bunch of cilantro, chopped ($0.40)
- 1 tbsp lime juice ($0.10)
- 16 oz can black refried beans ($0.75)
- 3 green onions ($0.30)
- cooking spray ($0.05)
- 4 large eggs ($0.80)
- 3 tortillas ($0.75)
- 1 cup crumbled queso fresco ($2)

For about $6.50 total, we each got 2 plates of huevos rancheros (my second one was sans tortilla, but that's because I ate that at a previous lunch and forgot to buy more) and there was still extra stuff left. I was pretty stuffed after that meal. Lots of food.

Each component of dinner was easy to make on its own, but I'm still trying to get better at juggling four or five different things at once and prepping during the cooking process. I liked how straightforward this was. It made for a good weeknight meal.

The first step is to start the sauce since that takes the longest. Combine the canned tomatoes and the enchilada sauce in a saucepan, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer it until thick. The recipe said 5 minutes, but I definitely let it go much longer than that. 

Once the sauce is as thick as you want it, remove from the heat and add the cilantro and lime juice.

While the sauce is in progress, there's a bunch of other steps to take care of. Chopping scallions and cilantro for garnish (in addition to the cilantro for the sauce). Crumbling the queso fresco. Heating up the refried beans.

Also heating up the tortillas and frying the eggs. Most of those steps were easy and not that labor intensive, other than chopping garnish and frying the eggs, but still another thing to check off the list. 

Then, after the sauce and eggs are ready (whichever finishes last), it's time to assemble. Tortilla, topped with the refried beans spread like a paste, egg, sauce, crumbled queso fresco, garnishes.

We really liked this dish and would definitely make this for dinner again. The sauce by itself had quite a bit of kick to it and was a little acidic, but combined with the beans, cheese, and egg, it was nicely balanced out. The original recipe I followed didn't include scallions, but I thought they would make a good garnish and they definitely did. I was also quite proud that (other than the one egg where I clearly broke the yolk) I greatly improved on my fried egg performance from last time, since it proves I've learned things from these challenges. Overall, we were pretty happy with this and would definitely do this again.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Week 29 - From Your Pantry

I prefer doing the 52 week challenge in order, but I've been so far behind that I started skipping around based on what fit best within our schedule. After we returned from our Chicago trip, most of the food we had in the house was either in the freezer or the pantry. It seemed like the perfect time to skip ahead to the Week 29 challenge with the theme, "From Your Pantry." I've been trying to embrace cooking out of the pantry all year, but unlike other meals where I can supplement with an ingredient or two, I made this entire meal without buying anything new.

I was inspired by a sauteed corn and tomatoes recipe that had stuck in my memory since I saw it on Budget Bytes earlier in the summer, so I decided to make a healthy dinner with baked panko chicken tenders, a corn and tomato saute, and black rice.

For the main ingredients, I used (prices approximated since we bought everything a while ago):

- 1.5 cups black rice ($1)
- 4 panko chicken tenders ($4)
- 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with garlic and onions ($0.75)
- 14.5 oz can of corn ($0.75)
- 1/2 head of garlic ($0.10)
- 1 tsbp olive oil ($0.20)

I also raided the spice cabinet. I didn't use the smoke seasoning in the end and didn't measure anything, since I think spices here really just should be to taste or to your liking. I probably used about 1 tsp each of basil, oregano, parsley, and chopped onion, 1/2 tsp of salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder, and a dash of crushed red pepper (approximately $0.50 total). Dinner cost about $7-8 total, although probably less since I'm not sure the chicken should be so much (but don't remember how many pieces were in the package).

The recipe was pretty easy to make. (Didn't have a lot of phone memory space after our trip, so I skipped most of the step-by-step photos this time.) The best part is that the rice and chicken took very little continuing effort once started, so I could concentrate on the saute. The basic steps for the saute were:

1. Heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
2. Add can of diced tomatoes (with juices).
3. Add the spices and seasonings (except parsley). Keep stirring so everything mixes together well.
4. Add corn. Stir more.
5. Lower the heat to medium low and let the mixture simmer until everything else is ready. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

The corn and tomato saute was easy and relatively quick. There was so little prep - just chopping up some garlic and opening cans. It's definitely a good recipe for a weeknight dinner when you don't have as much time. This was a really tasty and healthy recipe, and we would definitely do it again.

Although we did a little bit of grocery shopping over the following week, most of what we ended up making were also primarily pantry meals. I do feel like I'm in a little bit of a cooking rut now though after all that pantry cooking, so I think it's time to complete the other challenges I'm behind on and do something new. But at least we are making progress on our pantry!