Monday, March 29, 2010

My newest Trader Joe's snack addiction

The next time you’re at Trader Joe’s, keep an eye out for their Sesame Seaweed Rice Balls. I picked up a bag of these puffy little wonders a few days ago and they’re already gone. They’re salty and slightly sweet and super addictive, all at the same time. Only 99 cents for a bag of splendid snacking.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fried chicken at farmerbrown a little piece of heaven

I just can’t say no to fried chicken. I don’t eat it often, maybe once a year, but when I do I’m in seventh heaven.

While in the Bay Area this weekend, friend Lucy (fellow food lover) took me and the special man friend to Farmer Brown, which serves up farm-fresh soul food on the cusp of Union Square and the Tenderloin.

We sat at the bar and, while really only planning to order drinks and snacks, something on the menu caught my eye — fried chicken and a beer for $15.

This was no small plate — the dish came with two perfectly fried pieces of chicken, a breast and a drumstick that had a wonderfully seasoned, just-like-grandma-used-to-make flavor. Accompanying the chicken was some of the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had (so rich and sharp) and extremely flavorful, earthy, salty ham hock greens. Thanks to all that, and a glass (well, a jar) of Marin Brewing Company Mt. Tam Pale Ale, I left stuffed, sassy and satisfied. Their entire menu looked divine, but I’d order this again in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Doing a little jig for bangers and mash

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun one to celebrate, but I’m not the biggest fan of corned beef. Actually, it turns my stomach, to be quite honest.

So, for the sake of being festive, if not completely culturally accurate, I picked up some British-style bangers to make bangers and mash. The green potatoes and the Guinness gravy were my homage to the Emerald Isle, and everything tasted great paired with a Smithwick’s Irish Ale.

Bangers in Guinness Gravy
4 cooked bangers (I’d like to believe any sausage will do, but I used Saag’s British Style Bangers)
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup flat Guinness
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, stirring constantly, until softened, 5-10 minutes. Use fork to poke holes in bangers and add sausages, broth and Guinness to pan. Allow to cook, covered, over medium heat for a minimum of 10 minutes, at least long enough for the bangers to heat all the way through. Once bangers have simmered to your satisfaction, remove them from pan and place on a plate. In small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water to create slurry, which you’ll stir into onion sauce to thicken. Serve bangers with Green Potato Mash, applying gravy to bangers, mash or both.

Green Potato Mash
adapted from Eating Well
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges
1 large broccoli crown, chopped and slightly steamed
1 cup low-fat Irish cheddar, shredded
½ cup nonfat milk
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring potatoes to boil and cook until soft. When potatoes are close to done, heat milk in saucepan with butter over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat. Drain potatoes in colander and transfer to large bowl. Add broccoli, grated cheese and milk mixture and coarsely mash with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fresh asparagus makes me happy

Fresh, tender asparagus is one of my favorite signs of spring.

I’ve already seen it in the produce section of my local supermarkets, but the stalks have been pretty thick and somewhat reedy.

Imagine my delight when Carol Arnold, general manager of the Foothill Farmers Market Association, dropped by my office today — we run her “Locally Yours” food column in the Auburn Journal — and gave me two fresh, delicate bunches of asparagus.

“It was just picked Friday,” she told me.

I wanted to do something fast and simple for dinner in order to allow the asparagus to shine. This quick pasta dish did the trick. Next time I’ll throw in a couple dashes of red pepper flakes, because they make pretty much everything taste better.

Asparagus and Shrimp Spaghetti
1 pound spaghetti
1 bunch asparagus, washed and cut diagonally into one-inch pieces
½ pound medium cooked shrimp
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and continue boiling until spaghetti is al dente (cooked, but still firm).
While pasta is boiling, heat olive oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until fragrant. Add asparagus to pan and cook for 2-3 minutes before adding shrimp, stirring occasionally, until everything is thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.
Once pasta is done, remove from heat and strain in colander, reserving about 1 cup of cooking liquid.
Add pasta to frying pan and mix with shrimp and asparagus. Stir in Parmesan. Add cooking liquid until dish achieves desired moisture. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Note: I like to keep chicken bouillon cubes in my spice cabinet, and mixed a cube in with the cooking liquid for a little extra flavor.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fudging enchiladas with flour tortillas

I can’t roll an enchilada to save my life.
No matter what I do, I can’t seem to keep corn tortillas from splitting at some point in the rolling process. This results in lots of enchilada casserole for dinner, which still tastes great but it just doesn’t look as cool.

I subbed flour tortillas for the corn ones with my most recent batch of enchiladas. I recall one of my college roommates making some pretty solid enchiladas with flour tortillas, so why not give it a try for myself? I had much better luck rolling the flour tortillas. I couldn’t find small flour tortillas when I hit the store, and eight medium tortillas were all I needed to fill a 9-by-13 baking dish.

Everybody has a go-to cheese for their enchiladas, and I normally like to use either medium cheddar or Monterey jack. We recently found some chipotle cheddar at Winco, which added a nice flavor to this batch.

These enchiladas took less than an hour to make. Obviously nothing tops fresh, homemade ingredients, but there’s no shame in utilizing shortcuts, especially on weeknights!
I try to keep a bag of cooked shrimp in the freezer, as well as a bag of corn kernels. With that in mind, I’ve written the recipe from the point that all frozen ingredients have been thawed. I also use pre-made enchilada sauce.

Southwest Shrimp Enchiladas
½ pound medium cooked shrimp
8 medium flour tortillas
3 cups red enchilada sauce
2 cups grated cheese
1 cup corn
1 cup black beans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Warm enchilada sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. Ladle enough enchilada sauce to lightly coat the bottom of a 9-by-13 glass baking dish. For each enchilada, dip a tortilla in sauce and place in dish. Add shrimp (I planned for about 5 shrimp per enchilada), and a spoonful of beans, corn and some shredded cheese. Roll each enchilada so all eight sit snug in the baking dish. Pour remaining enchilada sauce on top, sprinkle with remaining cheese, cover dish with foil and place in the oven. Bake 20 minutes, or until cheese on top of enchiladas has melted.