Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lockhart Link

For one week only during SXSW, Shake Shack offered a burger that will only be available at their Austin, TX branch once it opens. The Lockhart Link was a standard Shackburger topped with a griddled Kreuz Market jalapeño cheese sausage link, ShackSauce, and pickles. It was had for the reasonable price of $7.49 and was only at the Midtown East branch. M met A for lunch on the Friday it was being offered since the branch was closer to his office. We both got one since it sounded so good, and we didn't want to get just one and like it so much that we had buyer's remorse for not starting with two.

Kreuz Market is a very famous Texas BBQ joint, and they make great sausages. We've had them before as they also supply the sausages to Hill Country, and that's one of M's favorite things to get from the meat counter there. They're ultra juicy, and in this one, the jalapeño added a nice kick. Placed on top of one of Shake Shack's burgers, this was a revelation. The juicy, spicy sausage was paired up with the perfectly cooked cheeseburger and then finished with pickles, Shack sauce, and the buttered bun to create an amazing array of flavors. We never would have thought to pair the sausage with the burger before, but the flavor combination was perfect. The snap of the sausage skin and crunch of the pickles also gave the burger extra texture as well.

This was a really delicious burger, and we're both really disappointed that it was just a limited time offer here in NYC. We don't often go to Shake Shack when we travel because we can get most of their offerings here in the city already, but we may have to consider heading there in Austin for another one of these.

Charleston Crab

I tried the Charleston Crab soup from Hale and Hearty last week, but unfortunately haven't been able to get around to writing about it until now. The funny thing is that today, of all days, is a day that they're offering it again. Odd how that all works out. The soup is described as "A cross between a chowder and a bisque. Rich and creamy, sweetened with blue crab and sherry, you'll understand why Charleston is famous for it."

My first impression of the soup was when I lifted the lid. I was immediately hit with the scents from the sweetness of the cream and a mild alcohol hit from the sherry. What I did see/taste in my initial spoonfuls was celery, potato, and loads of real crab meat. I'm pretty sure I also saw onion and leek mixed in as well, but that could very easily have been more pieces of celery and scallion. The soup itself is very rich and very comforting. There's a bit of a spice kick to it, but with all of the flavors going on, the crab itself, which should be the star, gets a little lost.

Overall this is a very good soup to have on really cold days. It's thick and rich, and it's that richness that helps the warmth of the soup seep into your bones. I'm not sure I like this more than their chowders or bisque separately, but it's a tasty soup at the end of the day.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Milano's Cousin

On a recent visit to Trader Joe's, we spotted these crispy cookies filled with Belgian chocolate ($2.79). We thought they looked interesting and the Belgian chocolate at Trader Joe's is usually pretty good, so we figured we'd try them. After taking a closer look, we realized they were basically the TJ's version of Milano cookies. A is a big fan of Milanos, so they had a tough bar to surpass.

M's thoughts: I've only had Milano cookies a couple of times. I don't feel very strongly about them either way. The TJ's version was just okay in my opinion. For me, the best part was the chocolate filling. It was rich and full of chocolate flavor and had a bit of a creamy texture. I really liked the filling but I did not like the cookie part very much. It felt dry to me and it was on the crunchy side, but it also just didn't have much flavor on its own. The cookies in the cookie butter sandwich cookies were much better, in my opinion, and I didn't even love those on their own. Overall for me, these were okay and the price seemed fair, but I don't need to have them again.
Buy Again? Probably not for me. If they took that chocolate filling and put it between different cookies, then maybe I'd go for that.

A's thoughts: I really liked these. As mentioned above, I like Milano cookies. The cookies aren't quite as soft as regular Milanos, but the chocolate is on a completely different level. The Belgian chocolate is much richer and has a much better quality of flavor. As for the cookies, even though they aren't as soft, they're still plenty soft enough to melt under gentle pressure. It's a great cookie, and I loved eating them.
Buy Again? Assuming the price is comparable or better than regular Milanos then of course.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Week 12 - Hangover Cures

I'm no expert on hangovers, but for Week 12 of the challenge, during which we were supposed to cook some hangover cures, I had some idea of what to make. Something heavy, greasy, and starchy. With St. Patrick's Day falling during the challenge week and Trader Joe's advertising their special limited edition Irish bangers, it seemed like the perfect time to do bangers and colcannon (basically the Irish version of sausage and mashed potatoes).

The Trader Joe's Irish bangers are a "seasonal" item (I guess they are only around during March) and are made with a special pork sausage recipe. In addition to the spices/seasoning (the package listed salt, white pepper, mace, ginger, and sage), they also contain 5% rusk, which TJ's describes as "a sort of twice-baked crouton that adds texture to the meat." I wasn't sure if we had even eaten traditional Irish bangers before, so I was excited to try them for our St. Patrick's Day dinner.

For this meal, I used:

- 1 lb package of TJ's Irish bangers ($4.49)
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large blocks ($0.98)
- 10 oz bag of shaved Brussels sprouts ($2.79)
- 1/2 bunch of scallions, chopped ($0.65)
- 2 tbsp butter ($0.40)
- 1/2 cup of milk ($0.14)
- salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste ($0.10)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.55)

The total for all those ingredients came out to about $10.10, with the majority, of course, being the Irish bangers. Although we had no leftovers, we had a pretty filling and complete meal, absolutely worth the price.

Making the bangers was pretty easy. Just stick them in a skillet until they are fully cooked and brown, moving them around a bit. They smelled pretty good while they were cooking.

To make the colcannon, it's basically just like making any other kind of mashed potatoes in which you mix vegetables (remember stoemp?). Peel and chop the potatoes into chunks, put potatoes in pot of salted water, bring to boil, boil until potatoes are tender and then drain. In the same pot, melt some butter and then add the vegetables (here it's the shaved Brussels sprouts and the chopped green onions).

Once those are all cooked and a bit softened, add the potatoes, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher (something I've loved to do since I was a child). Mix it all together well, adjusting seasonings and ingredients as needed. Simple! I love mashed potatoes and I love them even more with vegetables mixed in. 

While the mashed potatoes were cooking, I decided to make an onion "gravy." Not a conventional gravy with a lot of liquid, but just something tasty and flavorful to put on top of the potatoes. I thought it would be fun to add some crumbled sausage in this gravy, so I set aside 2 of the bangers for that purpose. The first thing I did was place the sliced onions (with no oil) in the same skillet that the bangers had been cooking in, and cooked them until they were softened. Once they started getting softer, I added in the bangers (without their casings) and broke them down into small pieces with a spoon. I let it all cook together (mmm, pork fat onions) and then when they looked pretty done, added some water to deglaze the pan. Once all the water was burned off and everything looked like it was starting to get caramelized, the gravy was done. I personally prefer caramelizing onions a little more, but it was really late so a "quick gravy" would have to do.

The entire dish together was quite good. The bangers were tasty, although A thought they could have been browned for longer. I found them a little different from regular sausages, a little softer and juicier. The colcannon was great and it was perfect with the gravy. Our favorite part was the sausage and caramelized onion gravy. The sausage there imparted so much flavor to the onions, and it was a good match for the colcannon. Perhaps next time using the bangers I would crumble all of it and use it that way instead of as actual bangers. It was really good that way and for some reason much easier to crumble than sausages like that usually are.

By the way, if you're getting a sense of deja vu when you're reading this post about bangers and colcannon, I did too. I couldn't figure out why at first. I knew I had made colcannon before. I knew I had made a quick caramelized onion gravy before too and I had this gnawing feeling that I'd written about it before. So once we started eating dinner, I set off to figure out why I had that feeling and I came across my post from Week 40 of last year's challenge about screw-ups revisited. What did I revisit? Bubble and squeak, which I made with some Italian sausages (and remarked that bangers would be better) and some quick caramelized onions for gravy. I usually try not to do the same challenge dish again, but it didn't even occur to me how similar this was until after the fact. They're not exactly the same (potatoes made differently, a twist on the other "gravy"), but they were close enough to give me that eerie deja vu feeling. I guess I just really like sausage with potatoes and onion gravy. And this should be, without a doubt, a hangover cure, so that works for me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hunan Style Chow Mein

Today I opted for something a little different from Hunan Manor. Instead of one of their many lunch special options, I opted for some noodles. At right around the same price point I chose the Chow Mein, Hunan Style. From appearances I wasn't sure what made this "Hunan Style" as the dish itself looked very similar to most other chow mein orders I've seen from other places.

The menu notes that the noodles are "hot and spicy", but I got nothing of that. It's not a bad thing, but I was a bit confused about the description. Regardless, this was a really nice dish. The noodles were mixed with napa cabbage, scallion, carrot, onion, green chili, red pepper, dried bean curd, and pork. There was also a piece of chicken, but it was the only one so I think that might have fallen in by accident. The dish wasn't an explosion of flavor, and it certainly wasn't hot and spicy.

It was a really nice, solid bowl of noodles, though. The noodles had a hint of salt to them, but that was it. It allowed the flavors of the other ingredients to shine. The red peppers were nice and sweet, there was a subtle heat from the green chili, and the pork added richness to the dish. The dish was simple, but it was tasty. It had great, fresh flavors, and it was also a massive pile of noodles. I think maybe it could have used a touch more salt and maybe some white pepper, but I'd certainly consider getting this again.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mast Brothers Chocolate Mint

We've never had Mast Brothers chocolate before, but we've heard of them and we know they're based out of Brooklyn. (They've also been in the news lately because other chocolatiers seem to think they're too hipster and the chocolate isn't that great, but we don't really have an opinion on that.) We were interested to see how this custard would match up with other chocolate mint custards and ice creams we'd had before, so we definitely wanted to try it.

M's thoughts:
This custard had the pretty tough task of following up on chocolate hazelnut and for me, it didn't really come close. One of the reasons why chocolate hazelnut is my favorite Shake Shack custard flavor is because it's such a rich, vibrant, and deep flavor, and no matter how much I eat it, I still want more. That is admittedly a high bar to reach, but I just didn't like this one that much. The chocolate flavor tasted pretty natural, on the bitter side like real chocolate is, but the mint part wasn't really that minty. Although I'm glad we tried it, I don't need to get it again.

A's thoughts:
I was excited about this flavor since chocolate and mint go very well together, and Shake Shack has always seemed to do well with chocolate-based flavors. In the end, this was really disappointing. The chocolate was very muted, especially in comparison to the chocolate hazelnut that was there the previous week. It was more "pure" chocolate so it had a slightly bitter taste to it, but the mint was nearly nonexistent so it didn't do anything to temper the bitterness. I don't know if that's what the Mast Brothers chocolate is supposed to taste like, but it makes me not want to get a bar. I wouldn't get this again if it was offered unless they made note of a reformulated taste.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Mint
A's rating: 5/10
M's rating: 6/10

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Drunk on Drunken Noodles

It's not the best test of how good a Thai kitchen is, but M and I are big fans of Pad Kee Mao, also often known as Drunken Noodle. For a lot of new Thai restaurants that I go to, I like to order it as a gauge. Again, it's not the best test, and it also really depends on the style/type of Thai restaurant, but I rarely ever turn down a chance at getting this dish. I tested it out recently from two of the more local Thai places near my office, and I came away with some interesting impressions on both. First was Rhong-Tiam. I had come here once before, and I figured I'd try out the noodles this time around.

My first impression wasn't a great one. Rhong-Tiam doesn't bill itself as a lunch special type of Thai restaurant. Their price point, for the most part, is more indicative of a sit down Thai restaurant that you'd go to for dinner. That being said, it's supposed to be a healthier option for Thai food as it's billed as gluten free and organic. I can excuse the elevated cost point for the health benefits in most cases. Unfortunately, the drunken noodle itself just wasn't that good. It lacked a distinct flavor other than the normal heat you'd get from any other drunken noodle. I get that it's healthier, and the vegetables were certainly fresh and delicious, but there was a distinct lack of seasoning with the dish. I was disappointed with how this was overall.

My second drunken noodle venture came on St. Patrick's Day where I figured it'd be amusing to have drunken noodle on what is, quite possibly, the most drunken day of the year in the city. This time I got a lunch special from Lan Larb, a restaurant that M and I had tried during our walkabout to scope out food options here near my new job.

Lan Larb is a sister restaurant to Larb Ubol, another Thai restaurant near where we live. It's an Issan style Thai restaurant, and one we've been to several times. I got their drunken noodle lunch special and chose the chicken larb as my appetizer. This drunken noodle was also rather disappointing. I didn't expect this to be the best drunken noodle as you don't go to an Issan restaurant for that type of Thai food, but I thought it would still be better than what it was. Lan Larb's offering had the same lack of seasoning that Rhong-Tiam's did, but it was still a little better. The biggest difference between the two is that Lan Larb is a lunch special so I got an appetizer with it.

Chicken Larb (larb gai) is something that both M and I really like. It's basically a ground chicken salad with mint, basil, red onion, spices, fish sauce, and lime juice on a bed of chopped up lettuce. Lunch special larb gai often has the issue of being a little less spicy as they need to make sure to cater to the general public for a more "mass produced" product. While that's always mildly disappointing, the overall flavors are still there, and this is still a delightful and fresh tasting side dish/appetizer.

Overall, both Rhong-Tiam and Lan Larb had disappointing pad kee mao dishes. They both lacked overall seasoning outside of spiciness. The biggest difference between the two is that Rhong-Tiam is more expensive while also not coming with the additional appetizer. For the price point and general disappointment, that's going to cause me to not go back to Rhong-Tiam. I'll still go back to Lan Larb for lunch, but clearly I'll just get something other than their pad kee mao.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Macaron Mania

In honor of today being Macaron Day, here's a post about macarons that was pretty much written in May 2014. We were supposed to look up the price of the box and then proof and post, but that clearly never happened. Since we have no idea if the price of the macaron variety pack (which we still do see occasionally at the store) is still the same, we might as well post this before another year goes by. There will be a post on the actual Macaron Day crawl soon, now that we have actually tried all of the macarons M picked up, but for now, here's some other macarons. Happy Macaron Day!

We love macarons. The only frozen macarons at our local Trader Joe's for the longest time were packs of chocolate and vanilla ones (and occasionally seasonal ones), but on Instagram, M kept seeing a box of 6 different flavors pop up. This one didn't show up in the store for a while for us, but once we saw it, we knew we had to try it.

The six flavors were fig, lemon, apricot, coconut, pistachio, and salted caramel. Before trying them, M thought her favorite would be coconut or apricot, and A thought his would be pistachio or apricot. Although our rankings after eating them weren't exactly the same, we both agreed that pistachio was by far the best, followed by the coconut and lemon macarons, with the bottom half of the table being apricot, salted caramel, and fig. 

To quickly sum up our thoughts on the flavors:
  • The pistachio (the green one) had a good nutty flavor and was really creamy. 
  • The coconut one reminded M of their coconut oil, if you were to eat it right out of the jar. It was very rich and very full of coconut flavor. 
  • The lemon was refreshing and tart, but still sweet. 
  • The apricot was also sweet, but for M it seemed a little too artificially sweet and kind of like a jelly bean flavor. 
  • The salted caramel had a good caramel flavor, but wasn't one of our favorites. 
  • The fig had a pretty color (it was the pink one) but it sadly didn't have very much flavor at all, and didn't taste much like fig or a fig newton.

Considering that these macarons started out frozen, they were actually pretty good as far as texture. All we did was defrost them for a bit before eating them. The cookie part was really soft and delicate despite being frozen for so long. If we hadn't actually known where they came from, we weren't sure we could tell them apart from a macaron you could buy fresh from a patisserie. They're probably not the best macarons in the world, but they were surprisingly good for something that came out of the freezer.

Buy Again? Maybe. It wasn't a cheap treat, but it was a pretty good price for macarons. If they came out with a box of pistachio macarons, we would definitely consider it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Beer Battered Sweet Onion Rings

For the past few months, I've been heading to the frozen aisle at Trader Joe's on every visit, hoping and hoping to see bags of their beer battered sweet onion rings, only to find nothing. This was a frequent buy for me last year around this time, but then I stopped buying them for a bit, only to start craving them again once winter rolled around. (Did you guess this was an old unwritten post in the drafts list? If so, you were right.) When I first started looking again, the product tag was still in the freezer case, so I thought they were just out of stock when I showed up, but since then, the tag's been gone and it's just fries and tater tots and mozzarella sticks. Where are the onion rings?!

Why do I miss these so much? They were great onion rings. The rings were a good size, the onions were sweet, the batter was thin and light, and the onion rings crisped up so well in the oven. They were the perfect snack for someone who loves onion rings. They also tasted healthier and lighter and more natural than some other onion rings you can buy or get at restaurants.

I keep hoping they'll return, but what do I get if they don't? Burger King? I don't have enough onions in the fridge right now to make my own, not to mention the time and effort that would be involved when I just want a quick snack of a few rings. I guess I might have to branch out and try frozen onion rings from other places, but these were just so good. I really hope they're not discontinued forever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Seaside Grill

It was our last day in Cancun but there were a lot of firsts. It was the first time we left the resort to go shopping at the nearby malls (not that exciting). It was the first time that we took a long walk along the beach by other hotels and resorts, letting our feet sink into the soft white sand and allowing the warm waves of the Caribbean to wash over us. And it was the first time, finally, that it didn't rain at lunch, which meant it was the first time we were able to go to the resort's open-air Seaside Grill, situated on the beach, for lunch. We were so excited. The view was incredible and sitting outside to eat within steps of the sea was exactly what we had been hoping for the entire trip.

Dreaming of this view during this awful winter

The meal started off well when they dropped off some chips and salsa. Both were fine, but not remarkable enough to remember any details about them 3 years later.

We decided to order 2 appetizers and 2 main courses. The first appetizer was the ensalada de mariscos, aderezada con lima, aceite de oliva, y aguacate (seafood salad with avocado, seasoned with lime juice, olive oil). What arrived seemed a bit like a seafood ceviche, although we were not expecting the mussels to come in shells. From what we remember, this was tasty and way better than any of the lunch items we'd been eating at the buffet.

The other appetizer was the martini caribeño, cebiche de camarón, pulpo, y callo de hacha servido con salsa coctél (Caribbean martini of shrimp, octopus, and sea scallops cebiche, served with avocado and cocktail sauce). For starters, we thought this would come in a martini glass since it was called martini caribeño. Martini name aside, this was another seafood salad/ceviche similar to the first appetizer, but with more of a tangy sauce. This was also good and tasted very fresh and light.

For the main course, I ordered the dedos de pescado rebosados con salsa valentina y aderezo aurora de guarnición (orly fish finger served with traditional "spicy" Mexican sauce "Valentina" and aurora dressing). These, literally translated, were "fish fingers" and were basically pieces of fried fish. They were tasty, but I don't remember that much about the flavor or the sauces, since they were overshadowed by the other main course.

A ordered the tacos de rib-eye, acompañados con cebolla, cilantro, frijoles refritos, y guacamole (rib-eye tacos, served with onion, coriander, refried beans and guacamole). Although all the food at Seaside Grill was generally good (and better than the buffet), this was the standout dish among them all. I remember that after we tasted it, we were so upset that it was our last day and we wouldn't be able to come back for another lunch to get more tacos. This was the type of Mexican lunch we had been looking forward to for this trip and we didn't get to try it until the end! What a shame! Stupid rain.

The tacos were relatively standard - beef wrapped in flour tortillas. They weren't the best tacos we had ever had, but the whole experience - eating tacos, sitting by the beach, under the warm sun in Mexico - was exactly what we were looking for. The tacos were quite tasty, and the accompaniments of onions, refried beans, and guacamole made them even better.

The one thing all the food was lacking though was heat, so we asked for some hot sauce. This was before our trip to Catalunya later that year so I was still freezing up a lot when trying to speak Spanish (so out of practice, like double digit years out of practice). I completely blanked on the word picante and after much silence ended up asking for salsa caliente. I realized it after the server left and was completely mortified, but they ended up bringing us a bowl of hot sauce and not some type of heated sauce so I guess they understood. This hot sauce was hot. We barely used more than a dab of it each time since it was so incredibly hot. There was so much left over at the end that we felt a little bad about how much was being wasted, but it was too hot to use more than that!

After our delicious tacos and seafood, we didn't end up getting dessert. I don't remember if that was because we were full or because the dessert didn't appeal to us, but we didn't have any.

Overall, the most memorable dish for us from this meal was the tacos (and based on what I remember 3 years later, I guess the hot sauce too). If only it hadn't been raining every day at lunch, then we could have tried Seaside Grill earlier and been able to return another day to try even more stuff. But we were glad we could at least try it once!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pizza Al Pollo Asado

Considering that the pizza al pollo asado is one of my most regularly purchased products at Trader Joe's over the past couple of years, it's a bit surprising that I've still never posted about it. It's a great lunch for only $2.29 (I remember when it was under $2, but it's still a good price now) and it's one of the simplest lunches to make - take it out of the package, put it on a plate, and pop it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes.

This pizza isn't your "typical" pizza, mostly because it has a corn masa base for the pizza. On top of the masa, you can find refried pinto beans, chicken, monterey jack cheese, tomatillo salsa (although I never knew this was there until I read the ingredients), roasted green chiles, fresh jalapeño chiles, and cilantro (only a hint of that here and there, so not really a big thing if you're a cilantro-averse person (which I am not)).

Made in the microwave, this isn't really the type of pizza that you can just pick up and eat like a slice. The outer edges of the pizza can sometimes be sturdy and crusty, but the middle is usually still pretty soft. I like the middle like that though, because the cheese is super melty and combines really well with the creamy beans and soft masa. Texturally in the middle part it feels a little more like a soft tamale to me, but I personally love that. The chicken has really good seasoning and for the most part is good quality (every so often there's a little bit of skin or cartilage that seems to come through, but it's mostly okay). Together, all the flavors work really well.

Buy Again? Huge yes. As I mentioned from the start, this is one of the things I purchase most regularly on my Trader Joe's visits. A filling and tasty lunch for a little over $2? Hard to beat that.

Week 11 - Bananas

When I first saw the theme for Week 11, bananas, I immediately thought about Masterchef Junior. We had recently watched an episode where the kids had to make dishes with bananas, and I remembered a good looking banana curry. Looking back at recaps of the show, it seems like a few made curry type sauces, but I didn't see a curry with bananas as the main ingredient. I don't know why it stuck in my head, but my mind was made up from the minute I saw the theme that I was going to do banana curry. After searching around a bit, I found this recipe for a vegan Southeast Asian banana curry and decided to use that as my starting point.

We're not a vegan household so the one big change I made to the inspiration recipe to save time was to just use the bottle of fish sauce in the fridge instead of making my own vegetarian fish sauce. As usual, I didn't measure anything so spice amounts are estimates and to taste. For our adaptation of the recipe, I used:

- a few spoonfuls of coconut oil ($0.40)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced ($0.08)
- 1 yellow onion, chopped ($0.55)
- Madras curry powder, a few tsp ($0.10)
- 4 ripe bananas, sliced ($0.76)
- ground ginger, about 1 tsp ($0.05)
- about 1/2 cup of water ($0)
- 1 small spoonful of vegetable bouillon ($0.15)
- fish sauce, a couple of tsp ($0.10)

This was half of our Southeast Asian dinner that night and the total came out to around $2.19. Bananas can be pretty filling and with more bananas and onions, this could be a really affordable solo main dish. I love discovering budget-friendly healthy and filling recipes!

The steps for making this curry are really simple. First, melt the coconut oil in a skillet and then add the garlic and onions. Once those have softened up a little, add the curry powder and cook some more. I definitely sauteed these for longer than the 2 minutes in the initial recipe. I wanted to make sure they had plenty of time to soften and soak up the delicious curry powder.

Once the onions are softened, add the bananas and mix them in along with the ginger, vegetable broth (bouillon and water), and fish sauce. After I mixed it all together, I just let it simmer for a little bit, then tasted it, and added some more curry powder to taste. We love curry and I wanted to make sure the dish had enough curry flavor to it.

I suppose the curry could have been done at that point, but I let it keep simmering as I worked on cooking the other half of dinner. Every time I looked over, the curry skillet had more and more liquid in it. I'm guessing it was the bananas releasing water. As it simmered longer, the bananas also broke down a little bit, creating a really thick curry sauce. Cooking the curry for that long (I'm guessing it was about 10-15 minutes) wasn't intentional, but it produced such a flavorful thick gravy that I was so glad that I did.

I wasn't sure if we would like this banana curry but it was great. When I first tried it early in the simmering process, it just tasted okay, but the finished product was so much better and had so much more curry flavoring. We were very pleasantly surprised with how this turned out. (And it also would have made a much better dish for the one color challenge than what I actually did!) The sweet banana flavor matched up so well with the curry, and the soft sweet curry onions were also really good. I would definitely make this again. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Late Night Line Cook Shift Meal

Today was the start of the final soup offering in the Hale and Hearty Chef's Series soups. You can read my past reviews here, here, and here for their previous three offerings. Today I will talk about Chef Gabrielle Hamilton's Late Night Line Cook Shift Meal. It's described as: "From acclaimed Chef Gabrielle Hamilton comes this Asian-inspired soup. Delicately sauteed shrimp and ground pork are combined with lemongrass, ginger and kaffir lime leaves to create this fragrant soul warming soup. Served over tender rice noodles, nothing else is needed except for maybe some sleep."

Wow. This was an amazing soup. There is a clear Thai influence on this soup. I could taste something similar to green curry along with the lemongrass and kaffir lime soaking in the chicken stock. The soup also has celery, onion, rice, ground pork, shrimp, rice noodles, and green herbs. What, to me, tastes of green curry offers a really nice kick of heat to go with the flavor, and the ground pork adds a great richness to the soup. The rice and rice noodles give the soup a little bit of body as well as giving the soup a filling feeling. My only gripes are that the shrimp were a touch rubbery, and the soup was a touch on the salty side.

Overall, I'm having a difficult time picking my favorite of the series between this soup and Chef Bloomfield's Ribollita. Where that had a great freshness to the soup, this was an explosion of flavor. At the end of the day I think I have to give the nod to this soup. Despite the small drawbacks, the depth and boldness of the flavors give it that slight edge. I'll be sure to get this again.

Irish Fries Are Smiling

To celebrate the holiday, Shake Shack was running a St. Patrick's Day special this weekend (available until Tuesday) called When Irish Fries Are Smiling ($4.50). They took their usual crinkle cut fries and topped them with horseradish cream, scallions, and crispy applewood smoked bacon.

We generally like Shake Shack's fries (with and without cheese sauce), but these Irish fries are just playing at another level altogether. Combining rich and salty bacon, light and crisp scallions, and a cool and zingy horseradish cream, those toppings were a perfect combo to put on top of fries. We wish we could get these year-round because they are truly fantastic. We liked them so much that we went up for a second order as soon as we finished our lunch. A little over a day left - go get the Irish fries!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Week 10 - Book Inspired

Most of the books I read these days are cookbooks or books about food or travel, so when I saw the Week 10 challenge, book inspired, all I could think of was Harry Potter. None of the recipes I found online really sparked my interest so I had to look further. In book 3 of Harry Potter, they eat roast turkey and roasted potatoes at the Christmas feast. A holiday meal inspired by their roast turkey and roasted potatoes sounded like a good dinner plan to me!

Instead of roasting a turkey, I decided to make herb-crusted turkey tenderloins based on this recipe. There was only one problem - turkey tenderloins were actually pretty hard to find around here! We went to Trader Joe's but they were out, we went to the butcher shop but they didn't sell them, we went to Whole Foods but in the entire store they only had 1 gigantic package, way more than we needed. So, since it just needed to be inspired by the food in the book, I made herb-crusted chicken breasts instead.

For the herb-crusted chicken, the ingredients were:

- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($2)
- dijon mustard ($0.15)
- honey ($0.10)
- lemon juice ($0.10)
- rosemary ($0.50)
- oregano ($0.05)
- lemon pepper blend ($0.08)

At just under $3 (approximately), that was pretty simple and affordable for the chicken portion. I didn't really measure anything, but just adjusted it for taste. 

The steps for making the chicken were:

1. Make the spice blend. I used equal parts fresh rosemary, dried oregano, and ground lemon pepper blend (lemon zest, salt, pepper), maybe about a tbsp of each. (The recipe actually called for dried rosemary, one of the few spices we didn't have in our cabinet, but I forgot and picked up fresh rosemary for this and the potatoes.)

2. Make the honey mustard. We didn't have honey mustard at home, so I mixed together equal parts dijon mustard and honey, maybe a couple of tsp of each, with a few spritzes of lemon juice.

3. Coat the chicken breasts with the honey mustard mixture and make sure they are fully covered. Sprinkle the rosemary spice blend on top of the chicken (and pick up any remainder on the bottom of the chicken).

4. Bake at 400 degrees until chicken is done. I baked it for 20 minutes, which was slightly too much, but for the most part, it wasn't too dry and actually came out well. After pulling it out of the oven, I sliced it up to try to make it look more like a carved roast since it was supposed to be inspired by roasted turkey.

Overall, the chicken was good, tasty and flavorful, and still pretty juicy. I could see us making this in the future for an easy chicken recipe. Just coat it in mustard and then use whatever spices we want on the outside (and all dried spices should be fine), bake for 15 minutes or so. Simple!

The more time-consuming part of the dinner was the stuffins. A and I have been wanting to make stuffins for a while. First, we've been wanting stuffing ever since we started eating that turkey holiday sausage last fall in our Thanksgiving-like meals. Second, A had so much fun piping on the frosting for cupcakes that he made for my birthday that he was really looking forward to piping some mashed potatoes onto stuffins. It might be over 2 months after Christmas, but we finally got around to having our holiday stuffing!

For the stuffing, which I based on the stuffing my mom makes for Thanksgiving, the ingredients were:

- 1 package of herb seasoned classic stuffing ($2.99)
- 1/2 lb of chicken breakfast sausage ($2.72)
- 8 oz of white button mushrooms, chopped ($1.99)
- 1 yellow onion, chopped ($0.55)
- olive oil, about 1-2 tsp ($0.30)
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped (leaves only) ($0.50)
- 2 cups of chicken broth ($0.60)
- water ($0)
- sage ($0.05)

That came out to about $9.70 for the stuffing portion. It did make a lot of stuffing though, considering I ate almost a whole bowl of stuffing while "tasting" it and had another small bowl leftover for breakfast for another day. I love stuffing.

For the mashed potato "frosting," the ingredients were:

- 3 russet potatoes ($1.47)
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced ($0.10)
- minced rosemary, about 1 tbsp ($0.50)
- milk, about 1/2 cup ($0.35)
- butter, about 1-2 tbsp ($0.40)
- salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste ($0.10)

The potato portion of the meal came out to about $2.92. Mashed potatoes are so budget-friendly. That amount of potato made enough for all the frosting plus a big bowl of leftover potatoes. That makes the total for the "frosted" stuffins about $12.62 and the grand total for the whole meal approximately $15.60. 

Ideally, we would have made both the stuffing and mashed potatoes simultaneously on the stove, but a serious lack of counter space in our apartment and the need to also prep the chicken made the entire process not so seamless. Anyway, the steps were:

1. Cook the chicken sausages (without casings) and crumble as they cook. 

2. Add onions, mushrooms, and olive oil. Saute until both are softened.

3. Add cilantro and mix together.

4. Add some of the bread crumbs for the stuffing and mix together. Add chicken broth to moisten. Continue to alternate adding the bread crumbs and the broth. If you run out of broth, use water for the rest of it (to make sure it's not too salty).

5. Mix together until it reaches desired consistency (smooth and moist). Adjust seasonings (I added some sage).

6. Grease muffin pan and use 1/4 cup scoop to fill the muffin cups with stuffing. Flatten into each muffin cup.

7. Bake at 400 degrees until it has browned a bit. I baked them for way too long (30 or so minutes), but we were trying to get all the other components done, and the potatoes weren't ready and the chicken wasn't ready when it was supposed to be, and there was nowhere to put the stuffins, so yeah, the stuffins were a bit overdone.

8. While the stuffins are baking, make the mashed potatoes. Boil the potatoes in salted water until very tender, mash the potatoes, add all the other ingredients, and mix until smooth and melded together.

9. Pipe the mashed potato frosting onto the stuffins (that was all A). (Be careful - it's hot!) Add some little sprigs of rosemary as a garnish (that was me).

10. Bake for another 5 minutes or so and then serve.

I was a little disappointed in the stuffins, mostly because I baked them for way too long. I imagine they are supposed to have a bit of a browned crust to them, but this was too much. It was a little hard to bite with how overdone they were and that took away some of the great flavor of the stuffing (since we ate it in regular, non-stuffin form as well). That said, they weren't terrible, the mashed potatoes were good, and they were pretty fun as a way of eating 2 holiday staples. Despite the cooking mistake, I'm happy we tried making them. This may not be exactly what they ate during the Harry Potter feast, but it was definitely inspired by their holiday meals!