Saturday, January 31, 2015

Caramel Washed Gouda

The January spotlight cheese at Trader Joe's was the caramel washed gouda. We love Dutch cheese and gouda in particular, so we definitely wanted to try this one. 

According to the Trader Joe's site, this cheese was made from the milk of cows that roamed the Twente region of the Netherlands and then it was hand-washed in caramel and left to mature for 5 months. We have never been to that region and don't know if that makes this cheese distinctive, but we were intrigued by the caramel washing in particular and wondered if that would give this cheese a special flavor.

Although we liked this, there was nothing special about this gouda. Don't get us wrong, it was tasty, but we didn't really notice any caramel hints or anything. It just tasted like gouda. We like gouda, but at the end of the day we like smoked gouda more.

We paired the cheese with some more Trader Joe's goods, their "Some Enchanted Cracker" multigrain crackers. These look and taste a lot like crackers we've gotten previously from Costco, and our guess is that they're made by the same manufacturer and just branded for TJ's. We like these crackers because they're soft enough to be broken up by hand into small enough pieces to use for eating the cheese pieces, and they taste good as well. On top of that, they're multigrain, so they're good for you!

Buy Again? For the cheese, we probably wouldn't buy this again. We would just go for smoked gouda instead. For the crackers, definitely. We've already gone through more than one box!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Week 5 - Native Australian

The theme for Week 5 was Native Australian, but judging from what 90% of people seem to be doing (including me), they should have just named it macadamia nut week. Native Australian was a tough theme. We're literally on the opposite side of the world from Australia (remember the antipodes discussion?) and getting ingredients that are native to Australia, other than macadamia nuts, is quite difficult (if not impossible) and/or very expensive here in the States. I was fairly sure I was going to do something with macadamia nuts pretty early in my search, but that didn't stop me from looking at lots of other recipes and learning about all sorts of ingredients I had never heard of, including bush tomato, paperbark, muntries, wattleseed, lemon myrtle, and Tasmanian pepperberries. The best part about my choice to use macadamia nuts was that the macadamias I got from Trader Joe's were actually a product of Australia! 

Most of the macadamia nut recipes that I found fell into 2 categories - dessert or using mac nuts as a crust for protein like chicken or fish. I didn't want to do either of those so it took me a while to find recipe inspiration that was different. Finally I found this recipe for mango and macadamia chicken, and decided to go with that as a starting point. Mangoes aren't native to Australia, but the dish only really needed to have the macadamia nuts to make it count in my book. 

I didn't want to just make chicken, so I also researched what greens were native to Australia. I came across warrigal greens, which we can't get here but apparently are very similar to spinach. That became an easy choice - sauteed spinach with garlic and macadamia nuts. Along with the mango and macadamia chicken and the sauteed spinach, we finished off an open bag of harvest grains blend, which included couscous, quinoa, orzo, and garbanzos. I don't think any of those are native to Australia, but at least the grains would be topped with 2 dishes that had macadamia nuts!

The ingredients we used for the mango and macadamia chicken were:

- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($2)
- soy sauce, about 2 tsp ($0.05)
- cornstarch for marinade, about 2 tsp ($0.07)
- 1/3 cup chicken broth ($0.05)
- 3 tsp lemon juice ($0.20)
- 2 tsp sesame oil ($0.15)
- 2 tsp mirin ($0.15)
- 1 tsp sugar ($0.05)
- canola oil for stir-frying ($0.10)
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced ($0.05)
- pinches of red pepper flakes, to taste ($0.05)
- cornstarch for sauce thickening ($0.05)
- chopped mango equivalent to 1 mango ($1.50)
- handful of macadamia nuts, chopped ($2.25)

The chicken portion cost about $6.72. For the spinach, I just used a bag of spinach, about 4 cloves of garlic (minced), and another handful of chopped macadamia nuts, so that came out to about $5. Adding in the harvest grains blend, it came out to a grand total of approximately $13.20. We ate most of it at dinner with only a little bit leftover for another meal, so it wasn't a really cheap dinner. Macadamia nuts (like most nuts) can be expensive!

The first thing to do for the chicken was all the prep work. Mix the soy sauce and cornstarch for the marinade. Chop up the chicken breasts and soak in the marinade for at least 10 minutes (but preferably longer). Make the sauce by mixing together the chicken broth, lemon juice, mirin, sesame oil, and sugar. Mince the garlic, chop the macadamia nuts, and chop the mango. Set aside a small amount of cornstarch (about 1 tsp) in a small bowl for later. I suppose you could do some of the prep work while cooking if you're really fast, but I'm not and I also find with stir-frying that it's so much easier to have everything already prepped because it can go very quickly.

For the stir-fry part, you heat up the wok, add the canola oil, and then when hot, add the chicken. Once cooked, it's time for the garlic and red pepper flakes, and then the sauce. Once everything is mixed into the sauce, add a little water into the bowl with the cornstarch, mix it around, and add to the sauce to get it to thicken. Once it's mostly thickened, you add the mango and then the macadamia nuts. It was a nice thick sauce by the end, perfect for eating over grains.

Making the spinach was pretty easy too. In a separate pan, heat up canola oil, add the garlic, and after a quick saute, add the spinach with some salt, allowing it to wilt. Once it's done, sprinkle it with the macadamia nuts. I used about the same amount of macadamia nuts here as in the chicken dish, but you can barely see them in the chicken dish. They blend into the sauce there but stand out much more here. The spinach was good, but A would have added a little more salt.

In both dishes, we found the macadamia nuts interesting but not really very necessary. They added a crunchy texture to both dishes, but we're quite happy eating stir-fried chicken or sauteed spinach without any crunch. In the end, the very thing I used to make these dishes "Native Australian" was the very ingredient that we felt like we didn't really need. It was a fun experiment though and we liked the flavor of the mango chicken quite a bit. (We eat sauteed spinach with garlic all the time so it was nothing new for us.)

We're glad that we tried this macadamia nut experiment (and we still have a third to a half of a bag of nuts left), but we didn't have a ton of options when it came to making something affordable for Native Australian week. We would love to try some of those other spices and ingredients that are native to Australia, but it's just not really feasible to do for a challenge like this. Hopefully someday we'll make it to Australia and maybe we can taste these native ingredients there!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Korean Inspired Spicy Chicken Sausage

One of our favorite chicken sausages from Trader Joe's is this Korean kalbi BBQ-inspired spicy chicken sausage ($3.99). Pre-cooked chicken sausages are a great thing to have in the fridge for a quick everyday meal, since you can just add them to vegetables and grains and have a nice, balanced dinner. Kind of wishing we had stocked up on another package before the blizzard warning came into existence.

One of our favorite ways to use chicken sausages like these isn't to heat them whole, but to chop them up with some vegetables in a low heat saute. We love combining this one with kale or spinach, mushrooms, and onions. We also mixed it with small white beans one time which worked out pretty nicely.

These sausages may have been inspired by kalbi recipes, but we wouldn't say they really taste that much like Korean BBQ, or that they're very spicy, like the name would suggest. They do have an Asian flavor and a small amount of mild heat, but there's also a nice sweetness to the recipe. The flavor seems to be mostly based on soy sauce, garlic, and ginger with sesame seeds, onion, scallions, red pepper flakes, and some other spices. They mention gochujang on the TJ's site, but we didn't really taste anything resembling gochujang with these sausages. They may not taste that much like kalbi or Korean BBQ to us, but we like them.

Buy Again? Yes, definitely!

Our TJ's Sausage Rankings:
1. Korean inspired spicy chicken sausage
2. Turkey cranberry apple sausage
3. Sweet Italian style chicken sausage

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Disappointing Icon

Since the Quantum doesn't have a main dining room like every other cruise we've been on, they open up one of the restaurants, American Icon Grill, as the breakfast and lunch "restaurant" option. On other cruises, we would eat lunch in the main dining room every day, so we had some concerns here as the breakfast and lunch menus would not change for the entire cruise, but we went in with open minds.

As you know from our day 2 breakfast post, we were still trying to recover from our pre-vacation exhaustion so we didn't get up early enough to go to American Icon for breakfast. Instead, we opted to visit for lunch as we figured a calm and relaxed lunch would help us with our recovery. The lunch menu, with 5 appetizers and 8 entrees, also sounded pretty good, and had some options not on the regular American Icon dinner menu, which were the things we wanted to focus on. We were excited to try their take on the sandwiches especially. 

The first thing to arrive at our lunch table was a bread basket. We weren't expecting that, so it was a nice surprise. There were 2 types of bread - corn bread and what looked like a triangular shaped dinner roll topped with cheese. M immediately went for the cheese-topped bread as she would at any other restaurant, but sadly found the roll not very flavorful. She liked the texture, which was like a soft dinner roll, but it didn't have any of the cheesy flavor she was hoping for.

A opted to try both bread options so that he would know which to eat in the future. He agreed with M's assessment of the roll being very soft but not cheesy at all. The bread came with what was described as a honey butter, but there was no honey flavor to speak of. The corn muffins were okay, but A makes his own corn muffins at home, and they're, in our opinion, much better than these.

We ordered 2 appetizers to split. For his appetizer choice, A got the Reuben turnover (spelled "Rueben" on menu), which was puff pastry stuffed with pastrami and sauerkraut, and served with a Thousand Island dressing.

This was one of the items that we were both really interested in trying when we first read the menu online, as A especially loves Reuben sandwiches. Overall we thought that this was a pretty good appetizer, but A was a touch disappointed as the corned beef (it didn't taste like pastrami) didn't have as much flavor as he was expecting. The Thousand Island dressing blob under the turnover seemed a bit heavy-handed, but if you wiped enough of it off it wasn't overpowering. In the end, this was a little heavier than we thought it would be, but the flavors were mostly on target.

M chose the roasted beets and goat cheese salad with Michigan cherry preserves, arugula, roasted red pepper, and toasted walnuts. She had been expecting chopped up pieces of beets, but this was so much better. The sliced beets were light and refreshing, and were a great match for the creamy goat cheese. Compared to the turnover, this salad felt and tasted so healthy. All the flavors were balanced, and each component worked well. This was one of the best dishes we had had on the ship up to that point, and we would definitely eat that again.

After our appetizers, we waited quite a bit for our entrees to arrive. We knew the food was taking a while and the servers had mysteriously disappeared, but it wasn't so bad since we were chatting with the couple at the table next to us about the cruise (and about life). It's nice meeting new people on cruises, and these were some wonderful people that we would randomly run into every single day after that. 4,000 people on board and we managed to see them every day without any planning whatsoever. Small world.

Anyway, back to the service. At some point, their entrees arrived (even though we had ordered first) but ours were still MIA. The servers came over with some clam chowders and were very confused when we said we didn't order soup. We had no idea what was going on in the kitchen, but it was an extremely long wait and when the food actually showed up, it wasn't even ours. They took the soup back, but then there was another long wait before the entrees finally arrived. Sadly, they were not worth the wait. Maybe we should have taken the chowder.

For our main courses, we tried to focus on the dishes that were unique to the American Icon lunch menu. A lot of the menu overlapped with the dinner choices, but we wanted to try some of the few that didn't. M ordered the Alabama smoked chicken sandwich on a brioche bun with horseradish mayonnaise and dill pickles, which came with a side of fries. She had been picturing a pulled chicken sandwich, full of smoky and barbecue flavor, with some spicy mayo and fresh vegetables. That's not exactly what arrived.

The chicken tasted like a plain poached chicken. There was nothing smoked about it. We didn't get one hint of smoked flavor at all. Not what we were expecting or hoping for, but not fatal to a sandwich if you can get flavor from other components. The mayo was overwhelming. In M's notes from lunch, the first thing she wrote was, "Basically a mayo sandwich with a side of chicken." Eventually, M had to take the sandwich components off the bread and wipe off the excess mayo before she could eat any more of it. Way too much mayo, and on top of the quantity, it tasted like plain, regular mayo, not horseradish mayonnaise. We have a container of wasabi mayo in the fridge. Horseradish mayo can pack a punch. This was nothing like that, no heat, no zing whatsoever. The pickles and tomato were welcome to try to break up some of the boring mayo and chicken, but the sandwich overall was really not very good. We decided we were never getting this again.

A ordered the shrimp po boy sandwich on toasted baguette with creole mustard, which also came with fries.

The shrimp they used for this po boy were so small that they were lost in the fried breading. You couldn't taste anything but the oil and flavor of fried food. They also oddly chose to use mustard when most traditional po boys use mayonnaise. While we both like mustard, it added a vinegar-y note that didn't match up to the rest of the sandwich. The baguette was also really crusty and hard to bite through. A's sure that after eating this he had multiple small cuts in his mouth from the crust. This was really a disaster of a sandwich, and one we knew we would never order again.

After our very disappointing main courses, incredibly slow service, and 2 hours of sitting at our lunch table without moving (we were there so long that M's legs got fatigued and she had trouble walking at first after we stood up!), they brought over a dessert menu but we could not bear to be there any longer. The entire lunch just seemed to drag and after the horrible sandwiches, we really wanted to leave. We were full, but it wasn't that happy, satisfied, content fullness. If we could do it again, we would not be ordering those sandwiches.

Although we really hated those sandwiches, we did enjoy the appetizers. The Reuben turnover was a little heavy to eat every day, but it was tasty at least, and the beet and goat cheese salad was wonderful. Since those were good, we thought we would give American Icon another chance for lunch on a sea day later on in the trip. At the very least, we could both get beet salads and Reuben turnovers and be happy. Unfortunately (for reasons that will become clear later on), we never made it back for another lunch at that point in the trip, but we don't really regret missing it since other than beet salad, nothing was really that amazing.

Las Cazuelas

Our first meal on our Vegas trip (one year ago today) was at Las Cazuelas, a Mexican restaurant in Henderson. We were going for a bit of a later lunch after trading in our rental car (really didn't want to drive a minivan (our only choice when we arrived) around the whole time) and before driving out to Hoover Dam. Henderson seemed like the perfect stopping point for us to grab some Mexican food.

Las Cazuelas is a small and cozy family-run restaurant - only a few tables indoors but more outside. We ordered at the counter and then they brought the food out to us as it was ready. We loved how informal, friendly and casual it was, and the people running it were so nice. They specialize in food from Puebla. We can get some of that at home, but haven't found most of the things we got at this lunch, so it was wonderful to explore.

The first thing to arrive at our table was complimentary chips and salsa. The salsa was pretty good, and this was a good snack as we waited for them to prepare our other dishes.

We got a bunch of dishes to share, focusing mostly on things that were new to us or that were difficult to find back in NYC. We ordered:

Enchiladas de mole poblano (shredded chicken rolled in corn tortillas, covered with mole poblano and topped with cotija cheese, white onion and roasted sesame seeds):

How could we go to a restaurant specializing in food from Puebla and not get mole poblano? Although this wasn't our favorite mole preparation ever, we enjoyed it and it was really tasty. You could taste the chocolate and cinnamon in the mole, and there was a definite sweetness. Our favorite is still probably the mole we got in Los Angeles, but this was quite good. We really liked the sweet and complex flavors.

Chanclas (sliced roll bread, stuffed with shredded chicken, avocados and onions, and a mild spicy chorizo sauce drizzled over the top):

These were interesting and not at all what we were expecting. We figured they would just be sliders with some sauce on top like the menu said. Instead they were soaking in the chorizo sauce, which made this a very messy dish. We did like the flavor of the sauce though and it was probably the best part of the dish. It tasted tomato-based and we would eat that sauce over pasta or another starch any day. A didn't get a huge amount of chorizo flavor, though.

As for the rest of the sandwich, A found the chicken to be very moist, while the chicken M got was a little bit stringy. The avocado added texture but not much flavor, since the sauce was pretty dominant. This was a really interesting choice and we were glad we tried it.

Pelonas (2 fried rolls with a touch of olive oil, stuffed with shredded beef and refried beans, cream and spicy mild sauce):

We had never had pelonas before but they looked just like sliders and the "dry" counterpart to chanclas. These were good, but not amazing. The sliders tasted buttery from the griddled rolls. The meat was shredded beef, but you couldn't really tell from the flavor. It just tasted like meat. M found the meat to be a little chewy; it probably was supposed to be that texture but that's why she doesn't eat that much shredded beef. The slaw on it was pretty good and the creamy mayo-like sauce was good too.

Frijoles charros (pinto beans stewed with onion, bacon, chili peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, ham, sausage and chorizo), which unexpectedly (in a good way) came as a side dish to the pelonas:

This bean preparation was interesting and something that neither of us had seen in a Mexican restaurant before. It was on the watery side, but very tasty and one of our favorite things that we ate at lunch. You could taste a strong bacon flavor and there were also some hot dog-like sausage pieces mixed in. The beans tasted like they had been stewed for a while with lots of herbs, and they just had so much flavor. This was a really great surprise.

Taco arabe (seasoned pork meat with onions and parsley on a flour tortilla, served with special hot spicy sauce):

The single taco arabe that we ordered was our favorite part of our lunch and if we hadn't ordered so much other food, we might have gone back up to get another one. Tacos arabes (literally, Arab tacos) have an interesting history and can trace their lineage back to Lebanese and/or Iraqi (depending on who you ask) immigrants to Puebla back in the 1930s. As a result, the spice combinations used to make tacos arabes are really complex and so different from so much other Mexican food, and the tacos pick up some great aspects of both cuisines.

The chicken was really juicy and was covered in a zesty spicy sauce. This was just an intense blast of seasoning and we really loved it. There are a couple of places here in Queens that do have tacos arabes, and we loved this one so much that we want to go see how those measure up.

Overall we had a good lunch at Las Cazuelas. It was a bit out of the way from where we were staying, so we're glad we had the opportunity to try it on our way out to the dam. Great start to our Las Vegas eats!

Las Cazuelas is located at 9711 S. Eastern Ave near Target.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Week 4 - Offal

I think I let out an audible groan when I saw the Week 4 theme was offal. I don't completely avoid offal, although it's not really my thing. I like lengua tacos and liverwurst and sometimes blood sausage and pâté. But, for the most part, I have zero desire to cook any offal in our kitchen. (The morcilla for the cigrons and liverwurst sandwiches are the only exceptions I can think of at the moment.) 

A eats everything and quite likes offal. We went for lunch at a Colombian restaurant last year and he was so excited as he kept finding more and more chicken hearts in the soup. He loves tripe and all the things I won't really touch at dim sum. I knew he would probably eat any offal I chose to make, but I didn't want to gross myself out too much during the challenge, so I played it safe and went with liverwurst (actually, Braunschweiger, which adds bacon to the pork liver-based liverwurst). No point in making something for the challenge that I don't actually want to eat, since then I'd have to make a second dinner for myself.

I decided to go with liverwurst and provolone grilled sandwiches. Whenever we get liverwurst, it's usually in sandwich form mixed with provolone, but this was the first time I've made it like a grilled cheese. For sandwiches for 2, I used:

- 4 slices of white bread (free - they were "hand-me-downs" from my parents)
- 2 tbsp of softened butter ($0.50)
- a few small spoonfuls of whole grain dijon mustard ($0.21)
- thinly sliced red onion ($0.20)
- 4 slices of provolone cheese ($1.60)
- 4 slices of Braunschweiger / liverwurst ($1.75)

Although I wrote 4 slices for the recipe, the cost I'm counting for each is 5 since while prepping, we split a slice of each. The total for the sandwiches was about $4.26, and that's without the cost of bread and also not packing the sandwiches with as much meat and cheese as we would have if we didn't have a side dish. I don't know why people always talk about college students or people on a budget eating sandwiches. Cold cuts and sandwich meats and cheese are expensive! It's so much cheaper eating lentils and beans and that type of stuff, not to mention healthier, especially in the sodium department.

The sandwiches were relatively simple to put together. First, butter the bread like you would for any grilled cheese, making sure to butter all the way to the edges. Then flip the slices over and spread the whole grain mustard on the opposite side of each slice. Add the red onions.

Next add the provolone and then the liverwurst. I suppose I could have just put the full slices of cheese on without tearing them up, but I was trying to make the sandwiches neat so that the cheese would extend just to the end of the bread. They always slide when flipping anyway, so I'm not sure why I bother!

Cook the sandwiches just like any other grilled cheese sandwich. Place in a heated (but not oiled) nonstick pan. Cook for a few minutes and flip (based on desired amount of browning).

The sandwich was pretty good, but not amazing. I think I like the liverwurst from the deli counter better than the packaged Braunschweiger stuff, but the deli counter at our closest grocery store is pretty tiny and sad, and I wasn't even sure they carried it. It was pretty salty (as we expected it would be), so I wanted to make sure we had a side that could balance out both the richness and saltiness. My original plan was a fresh arugula and tomato salad, but that fell through. I don't know what's going on with the arugula distributor in our region for Trader Joe's, but there hasn't been arugula in weeks. I decided to go with plan B and roast some brussels sprouts.

This bag of frozen "true Belgian Brussels sprouts" was another hand-me-down from my parents (so I won't price this part out since I don't even know how much it cost). I thawed them a little bit in the fridge and then dumped them into a greased baking dish with chopped red onion (the remainder of the onion after cutting the slivers for the sandwiches), olive oil, salt, and ground black pepper. Tossed it all around a bit and then stuck it in a 400 degree oven.

The package said to roast them for 20-25 minutes, or until they were starting to brown, but that didn't sound like enough to me. After 20 minutes, I stirred them. They were fine then but not brown, and I prefer Brussels sprouts and onions to caramelize when I roast them. They get so soft and sweet. I stirred it a couple more times after that, but I think I let it go for at least another 20 minutes. I wasn't paying that much attention to the time, but pretty much just left them in the oven until I was done with the grilled sandwiches. If I had to estimate though, I'd say the total roasting time was probably close to 40-45 minutes.

Once I pulled the dish out of the oven, I drizzled on some balsamic vinegar and mixed it all together some more. The vegetables were so nice and sweet, helped along by the finishing of balsamic, and worked well with the salty sandwich, helping to balance it out quite a bit. The Brussels sprouts themselves were like mini sprouts, much smaller than the ones I normally see in the Costco bags. I like the small bite-size nature of these sprouts, and would definitely consider buying this on another visit. Really easy to keep in the freezer and then use on any night that we don't really have a plan, but want something healthy and nutritious.

Overall, we had a good dinner, even if it didn't feel all that "challenging" since liverwurst is an ingredient I know and have eaten before, and in the same (sandwich) form that we had it this time. But it fits the offal challenge and was within the limits of what I wanted to buy and cook and eat. The next challenge is going to be hard enough to figure out what to do, so I was glad to have the break from pondering recipe choices!

Monday, January 19, 2015

India from the Microwave

Yesterday's weather was the type of gloomy winter weather - cold, unending rain - that makes one not want to leave the house. Instead of ordering delivery, we decided to make dinner out of the growing stack of Indian convenience meals in our pantry. Unfortunately, since we've been pretty bad about keeping track of the pantry, most of what we had was past its best by date, but we hoped that they would still be tasty (or, at the very least, edible).

The one thing we made that hadn't yet passed its best by date (although the date was coming up at the end of this month) was this box of Punjab eggplant that we got from Trader Joe's. On the box it was described as "braised eggplant cooked in a distinctively flavored sauce." The phrase "distinctively flavored" doesn't really clue you in to what this would taste like, but the back of the box says that Punjab eggplant is a traditional recipe that should have a barbecue or smoky flavor from grilling the eggplant over open flames before combining it with spices. We've had stuff like this from Indian restaurants before, which was part of the reason I picked it.

The other reason I chose it was because I could recognize all the ingredients - eggplant, tomatoes, onions, sunflower oil, pumpkin, garlic, salt, coriander, chilies, cumin, ginger, turmeric, and cloves. All natural, all things I could buy if I wanted to make this from scratch. It was a great feeling being able to read a box and know everything in it. It was also super easy to make - empty the contents into a microwave safe bowl, cover it (I didn't do that and it went all over the microwave; don't follow my example), and microwave on high for 2 minutes.

We really liked this eggplant dish. It didn't really taste very smoky, at least not like smoky grilled eggplant we've had in the past, but it had a nice flavor overall. You could definitely tell that it was made of "whole foods" as there were bits of eggplant and onion and tomato that were easily recognizable. It's not spicy, if that's a concern to anyone, but the spices used were very balanced. We would get this again.

The second dish we tried was gongura dal ("tempting sorrel leaves lentils") made by Kohinoor that we had bought on a whim from a South Asian grocery store last May. I neglected to check the best by date while we were in the store (I was mostly consumed by a search for asafoetida), and didn't realize until a couple of weeks or months ago that the best by date was back in July. Usually when you buy these types of sealed convenience packages, they give you more than 2 months to make them, so I was really surprised. But that date was less than 6 months ago, so I figured that, while it might not be as fresh as it would have been earlier, it shouldn't be too bad. I was mostly interested in this one because I don't think I've ever had sorrel leaves before and I love trying new flavors. A has had Caribbean sorrel leaves drinks before, so he's much more familiar with the flavor than I am.

The Kohinoor brand advertised itself as providing "healthy authentic Indian delicacies" because they used olive oil instead of ghee or butter. I was excited for that, but when I opened the package, it seemed a little watery to me. I couldn't imagine that using olive oil would be the cause of that, but hoped that maybe it would thicken up when microwaving. After all, the ingredient list - water, pigeon pea, spinach paste, olive oil, salt, chopped green chili, chopped onion, chopped garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, red chili powder, turmeric, sambhar powder, tamarind paste, whole red chili, lemon powder, cumin powder, gongura leaves, and maize starch - seemed like it should have some sort of body and texture and not just be colored water, as it appeared to be when I poured it into the bowl.

Nope. It was almost completely liquid when it went in, and it wasn't any better once it was microwaved for 2 minutes. The box said this was supposed to be "yellow lentils flavored with tamarind and Indian spices" but we saw no lentils. Even if this was 6 months past its best by date, the lentils shouldn't have disintegrated into water in 6 months. I have a hard time believing this would have been any better 6 months ago. We decided to try it anyway even though we were suspicious about the texture and the consistency, and it didn't taste good to either of us so we poured it down the sink. It was so liquidy that it went straight down the drain with nothing left behind. And it's not like gongura dal is supposed to be that watery. I looked up pics and recipes after dinner, and it was nothing like this yellow oily water. Oh well. That was a waste of $2.

The last package (which we ended up making 2 of, thanks to the sorrel leaves disaster) was Tasty Bite channa masala. We buy this on and off at Costco but it always ends up in the back of the pantry and we forget to make it, although we do enjoy it. The best by date on these was back in December 2013, and while we know they taste better when fresher, they were still pretty tasty and way better than that gongura dal water.

The channa masala was chickpeas that had been slow-simmered with onions, tomatoes, and traditional Indian spices. Similar to the Trader Joe's one, the ingredient list here reads like a list of whole foods - onions, water, chickpeas, tomatoes, sunflower oil, coriander, salt, spices, chilies, bay leaf, and turmeric. The chickpeas had a nice texture, even a year after we should have eaten them, and the spices were good. Also, one of the best parts of the Tasty Bite pouches is that you can stick them in the microwave without even having to get a microwave safe bowl. You cook it right in the pouch for 90 seconds and they're done. 

Overall, dinner was pretty good, at least our dinner of chickpeas and eggplant. It's nice having these packages in the pantry for days when we need a quick and nutritious meal that has lots of flavor and that also feels like you're eating "real food." We don't have too many left, so we'll probably need to stock up soon, but first I'm going to check to make sure we haven't missed any more in the back of the closet!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Week 3 - Alcohol

I pondered a number of different options for the Week 3 alcohol challenge. Should I use vodka? I did a couple of beer dishes last year for the challenge (there was a beer week!), but with so many types of beer, should I just do a different beer? Should I find something that would use the big bottle of dark rum in the closet from last year's Jamaica challenge? What about using sample size bottles of guavaberry liqueur as a nod to our recent visit to St. Maarten? In the end, I decided to just go with beer, because it was easy and I really enjoyed the flavors that came out from beer braising chicken last year. For the challenge recipes last year, I used an oatmeal stout and a light Corona-like beer, so this time I wanted to do something different. I found a recipe for BBQ chicken sliders that recommended using a porter, so I chose that, and also picked out a slaw to accompany it.


The first thing I made on "alcohol night" was the slaw to give it time to rest and meld. I based the slaw on this recipe for an Asian style slaw by Dave Lieberman. I was making the slaw as the accompaniment to the chicken sliders that had the alcohol component to dinner, but it occurred to me a few hours after dinner that if I had just used rice wine vinegar in place of white vinegar, perhaps this could have counted for alcohol week too!

Since the original recipe called for 32 oz of cabbage and I was only planning to use one 10 oz bag, I had to make some adjustments to the original recipe. I also decided to add some cilantro leaves, since cilantro is always a great addition to an Asian salad. The ingredients I used were:

- 10 oz bag of shredded cabbage ($1.69)
- 6 scallions ($0.65)
- 1/2 red onion ($0.69 - should have been half that but the rest had to go to waste)
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro ($0.50)
- 2.5 tbsp soy sauce ($0.20)
- 2.5 tbsp lemon juice ($0.25)
- 2.5 tbsp canola oil ($0.25)
- 1 tbsp minced ginger ($0.25)
- 1.5 tbsp white vinegar ($0.15)
- 1.5 tbsp brown sugar ($0.10)
- 1.5 tbsp sesame oil ($0.60)
- 1 tsp sesame seeds ($0.05)
- salt to taste (about 5 grinds) ($0.03)
- black pepper to taste (about 20 grinds) ($0.05)

The slaw total was about $5.50. It made quite a bit of slaw, although we did eat all of it that night.

The process of making the slaw was:

1. Slice red onion into thin slivers. Cut scallions thinly on a diagonal. Tear cilantro leaves from stems. Mix onions, scallions, and cilantro with the shredded cabbage in a large bowl.

2. Prepare dressing in a small bowl - mix soy sauce, lemon juice, canola oil, ginger, white vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper.

3. Pour dressing over vegetables and stir until well mixed. You can eat it right away or chill it for a bit (we chilled it in the fridge for an hour or more and it was fine, not "wilty and sad" like the original recipe said). 

We really liked this slaw and it's great to have a slaw recipe in our repertoire now that doesn't require the use of lots of mayo. I couldn't stop eating it while prepping it, as it was so light and refreshing (and it was during the week where all I wanted was salad). I'm not sure we would change anything or that it required any improvements to the recipe. What a great slaw.


When searching for recipes that had beer braised chicken, I found this recipe from The Beeroness for beer braised chicken sliders with hoisin beer barbecue sauce, and was really intrigued by it. I'm not a beer expert so I went with that recommendation for a porter and picked up 2 bottles from Trader Joe's (we drank the ~4 oz of beer that was leftover from cooking).

The ingredients needed for the recipe, slightly adapted, were:

BBQ sauce:

- 2 tbsp olive oil ($0.40)
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced ($0.08)
- 2/3 cup of hoisin sauce ($1.80)
- 1 tsp chili powder ($0.05)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce ($0.35)
- 1 cup beer ($0.73)

Chicken sliders:

- 2 tbsp canola oil ($0.20)
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($3)
- salt and pepper ($0.08)
- 1.5 cups beer ($1.09)
- 1/2 cup chicken broth ($0.10)
- 6 whole wheat dinner rolls ($1.40)

The chicken portion cost about $9.30, so together with the slaw, this wasn't a very inexpensive meal. It did make a lot of food, but with all the components, it wasn't as affordable as I thought it would be.

To make the sliders, here's what we did:

1. In one pot, heat up canola oil. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and then add to the pot. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the other side of chicken while it is browning. Flip. Once browned, remove to plate and drain excess oil (if too much). 

2. Add the beer and chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes.

3. While chicken is cooking, make BBQ sauce. In another pot, heat olive oil, then add garlic and saute. Add beer, hoisin sauce, chili powder, and soy sauce. Cook at least 15 minutes so it gets a little thicker.

4. Once chicken is cooked, shred chicken and then add to the BBQ sauce. Stir well.

4. Add shredded chicken to rolls to make sliders.

The sliders were tasty, although they had way too much sodium for our tastes. I had even cut the original recipe's 1 cup of hoisin sauce down to 2/3 cup, but probably should have used even less. I love hoisin sauce, but it was so, so salty. We were really glad we had the slaw to counteract some of the sodium. The salt-filled hoisin was the overwhelming flavor of the dish and we didn't really get that much beer flavor coming through. Maybe it was the porter we used or maybe it was just the power of the hoisin, we're not sure. The chicken, before mixed with the sauce, didn't have a tremendously strong beer flavor either, even after braising in it for over 20 minutes, so it might have been the beer choice. I did like the idea of eating shredded chicken sliders, but the sauce was just a bit too much.

Overall, we had a nice summery meal in the middle of January for alcohol night. The sliders in theory were good, but the sauce, for our tastes, would need some more tweaking to make it less salty. The slaw was fantastic. We'll definitely make that again!