Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Fajitas de Pollo

So many days, it is so tempting to just pull up a delivery app, place an order, and breathe while we wait for dinner to arrive. After putting baby B to bed, sometimes we're just spent, and the idea of going into the kitchen to make something, even something easy, feels daunting. It's also usually late, like 9:30 or 10 pm, which isn't great for ordering delivery either, but sometimes exhaustion and convenience just win. We're trying to be better about it though by planning ahead more, trying to stay disciplined, finding easier and quicker things to make, and also picking up some ready-to-make/eat products at Costco and Trader Joe's to keep things simple.

One thing we picked up on a recent Costco visit was a package of fajitas de pollo by Del Real. They were $12.99*, which felt like a lot for a single packaged meal when shopping at Costco, but compared to the price of ordering something similar for delivery or the time cost of making it yourself, it really isn't so bad. Note though that it doesn't come with any of the usual restaurant fajita accompaniments, like tortillas or rice or beans or toppings, so tack on another dollar or so for those if you're pricing it out. Inside the box, there's a packet of chicken, one with vegetables, and a third with sauce (which they mark optional in the instructions, probably because it has a fair bit of spice thanks to serrano peppers and chipotle peppers in adobo). You can cook it on the stovetop (the recommended option) or in the microwave, and both take about the same amount of time, around 10 minutes.

* I wrote the majority of this post after we tried the fajitas the first time, and since then, we've made two other visits to Costco, buying three more boxes of fajitas. Part of the reason we picked up two on our last visit though was because they were only $7.97, which is good because less expensive, but bad because the 97 cents plus the star on the price tag meant they were being discontinued. The last visit wasn't at our usual Costco, so we are hoping, hoping, hoping that they are not being discontinued everywhere and only at that Costco.

We weren't sure how we would feel about this ready-to-cook fajita kit, but we were really happy with the results. Sometimes when you get pre-made food like this, it tastes highly processed, but this didn't. This tasted like you made it from scratch in your own kitchen, probably because there isn't a whole lot of excess stuff added in. It's one of those products that passes the "you can recognize and pronounce all the ingredients" test. The chicken is just strips of grilled chicken breast in a marinade that includes pineapple juice, chipotle adobado, orange juice, brown sugar, key lime juice, garlic, and spices, the vegetables (onions and green and red bell peppers) are just seasoned with salt, garlic, and some spices, and the sauce is just roasted tomatoes, serrano peppers, more chipotle adobado, green onions, onions, cilantro, and garlic. Would take some time to put together from scratch at home, but these pre-mixed packets completely worked to deliver the same result. It also didn't taste as buttery or greasy as restaurant fajitas sometimes can.

Comparing the finished product to the picture on the box, it looked pretty similar other than the fact that the box picture had grill marks on the chicken. Not such a big deal in terms of taste. We were pretty impressed by the quality of the product here and would definitely do this again (for as long as Costco's inventory will allow us to!). They don't expire immediately or within a week after purchase either (at least ours didn't), so it's an easy thing to toss into the fridge for a day when you really don't feel like cooking and don't want to spend a lot on yet another delivery order. Del Real also made a carnitas kit that I tried during the Cinco de Mayo sampling, but it wasn't nearly as good as this fajitas kit in my opinion. (Kind of hard to believe they came from the same company, to be honest.) Hoping we can make fajitas for a while!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Chicken Chips

We were on a Whole Foods trip a while back looking at snacks and happened upon something we had never seen before but sounded interesting -- chicken chips. Something like cracklings came to mind, but we weren't really sure how chicken would turn into the somewhat more uniform and traditional looking chips in the package photo. They were supposed to be chicken mixed with tapioca flour and crisped in coconut oil, which sounded good but we weren't sure how they would taste. They weren't cheap snacks, but they were on sale if we remember correctly, so we figured why not give them a try? A pretty much eats anything and has a list that he can count on one hand of foods he really dislikes and won't choose to eat again, so trying new things is usually not an issue from a potential food waste perspective.

We got the barbecue flavor because that's one of my favorite chip flavors, and then promptly added the bag to our pantry where it sat until its recent best by date. We opened it up, noted that the chips were far from uniform in shape, much thinner in texture than we expected (sort of like a really light and airy Lay's potato chip), and then each grabbed a few to try them out. I don't know how to describe exactly what our expressions were, but we did not like these at all. The taste of the barbecue flavoring was fine, and it tasted like the barbecue seasoning on many other chips, but there was something about the chip itself that was a bit off-putting. There was some really funky and weird aftertaste that in taste form reminded me of the smell of a certain cleaning solution that usually makes me want to vomit. I wasn't expecting this at all, because there are so many reviews talking about how delicious these chips are. Is this like the people who think cilantro tastes like soap, and maybe only some of us get the odd aftertaste? Would they taste different or better if we had eaten them earlier? (Maybe they would be fresher, but they really should have lasted until their best by date.) What was wrong with our bag of chips that all the people raving about deliciousness didn't get?

We tried to eat more of the chips so our money wouldn't go to waste. We really did. I made it through three chips before tossing the rest of my handful, and A put in a valiant effort, eating much more than I did, but in the end, we just could not finish it. I don't doubt that some people genuinely like these though based on the reviews, so it may be that it's just not for us. Since it does seem to have a "unique" flavor, perhaps the best option is to try them from a place with a Trader Joe's-like return policy of taking back things you don't like, just in case you're like us and not like all the other reviewers who were very happy with them. I'd love to figure out what about them caused this reaction in us (so we can make smarter snack decisions in the future), but with so many snacks competing for our attention, we're not going to experiment some more.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach

It's been ages since we've made a new recipe from scratch, between the dietary restrictions of pregnancy and my difficulty in moving around the kitchen, and then adjusting to hectic life with a newborn and schedules and exhaustion levels that aren't always conducive to cooking. I'm not saying that we didn't cook at home at all, but I'm not counting easy dishes with interchangeable ingredients like scrambles, pasta, sandwiches, stir-frying vegetables, or throwing things into a simmer sauce, or the Korean braised tofu that we always make. The only other things we've made since the beginning of this calendar year are the scallion pancakes that A made from his mom's recipe. I have to go all the way back to Thanksgiving when I made stuffing to find something I've made from scratch that isn't one of the "usual" dishes, and I don't even know how far back I'd have to go to find an experiment with a new recipe.

My focus now is a little more on recipes that are quick, easy, and nutritious as opposed to more complicated cooking projects, but a dish doesn't need to be difficult or time-consuming to expand my cooking horizons. There were many weeks when I wasn't even meal planning or looking for new recipes, so it felt really good to be back to even thinking about trying new things recently.

I've been cleaning out piles of old magazines recently (way too much clutter at home), and found an easy-sounding recipe in an issue of Real Simple from March 2007. (No, that's not a typo. The magazine was over a decade old.) We were heading to the grocery store over the weekend (don't go nearly as much as we used to since we were typically night shoppers), and gnocchi with sausage and spinach seemed like an easy thing to shop for and make. We already had Italian pork sausage in the freezer, and since we're trying to do a better job of eating the food we have in a timely manner, that made this recipe even more appealing.

The ingredients for the dish were minimal and included:

- 1 17-oz package of shelf-stable gnocchi ($1.69)
- olive oil ($0.25)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.79)
- 1 package of Italian pork sausage, about 1.5 lb, casings removed ($4)
- 1 heaping spoonful of minced garlic ($0.15)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- 1 bag of baby spinach ($1.99)
- grated parmesan cheese, about 1/2 cup mixed in plus more to garnish ($0.50) *

* I don't know exactly how much the cheese cost since my parents picked it up for us when they got some groceries after B arrived, but that's about what it would cost with the usual price of parmesan.

Just under $10 for a filling dinner for two was so much better than ordering yet another dinner from Seamless.

The steps for making the dish were pretty simple:

1. Cook gnocchi according to package. In our case, that was boil water, drop in gnocchi, and cook for about 3 minutes. (So quick!) Once gnocchi is cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of cooking liquid and then drain.
2. Heat olive oil over medium heat, and cook onion until soft.
3. Add sausage and crumble while cooking until browned.
4. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted.
5. Add drained gnocchi, reserved cooking liquid, and grated cheese. Toss well.
6. Serve with additional cheese on top.

I really liked this dish, not just because it was simple, and not just because it was the first new thing I'd made in a while. The Italian pork sausage gave the dish so much flavor, like it does in just about everything it's added to, and it was nice to have the spinach to balance out the heavier sausage and gnocchi. The gnocchi soaked up all of the sausage flavor, and the cheese pulled it all together (even though I often forgot to garnish the bowls with more cheese). I think it would probably be better with straight parmesan cheese, but we used a shredded parmigiano reggiano stravecchio because that's what my parents picked up that time, which has a slightly different flavor. Nice and quick, we would definitely make this again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Striped Garganelli

It's almost the end of January, and neither of us has written up our top 10 food memories from last year (actually not sure either of us has nailed down a top 10 list either), but in order to get back into the practice of writing, we're diving back into our Trader Joe's reviews.

TJ's came out with this striped garganelli pasta, part of their organic Italian artisan pasta line, back in December, featuring pink and white striped tube-shaped pasta for the holidays. We'd had good luck with some other pasta in the artisan line, so we were hoping that these festive-looking shapes would continue the trend. Colored pasta is also just really fun to eat! Here, the pink color came from beet root powder, and the only other ingredients in the pasta were the organic durum wheat semolina (sourced from Puglia, Italy) and water, very simple with nothing unnecessary added.

The package said to boil the pasta for 14-15 minutes, which seemed kind of long for us, so we just tried to cook it until it seemed al dente. (Don't remember exactly how long that was.) Unfortunately, this one seemed to cook unevenly, reminding us of our experience with the winter snowflake pasta, except in this case, the issue was with each individual piece. The folded-over part of the pasta and the rest of the tube shape didn't match in texture the way we were hoping they would, with the folded-over part a little too chewy when the rest was al dente, or the folded-over part being just right with the rest of the piece being too soft, but apparently that was the intention. Reading the TJ's blog after we made it (probably should have checked before), they talked about how the folded-over center would be al dente while the ends would be soft like that was a feature of this pasta shape. Maybe we would have felt differently about the texture if we had had those expectations, but hard to determine in retrospect. It was definitely edible, but not the uniform al dente texture that we were hoping for.

We mixed the pasta with some garlic marinara sauce, meatballs, and mushrooms, and when spooning it into the bowl, you couldn't see the stripes at all. Removing the sauce, they were still there but much lighter and less pink, so if color is important, a non-tomato-based sauce would probably be a better fit. The pink stripes were a nice novelty for the holidays, but just that. The pasta served its purpose as a good vehicle for the sauce, but in the end, it didn't live up to some of the other pasta shapes we've tried before from TJ's.

Buy again? Probably not, since texture is important to us, and we've had better luck with other pasta shapes before.