Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Egg Foo Yung in a Bird Bowl

Bird bowls have many uses. When, for instance, one tries to make Egg Foo Yung for the first time and and misreads the instructions and uses a cast iron skillet that is too big and then can’t find a plate big enough to tip the Egg Foo Yung out onto, a bird bowl is your best friend. Sure, your dinner make look a little silly and the sauce and garnishes may pool in the middle and your inner critic may mock you mercilessly, but you still win.

Not only do you discover that Egg Foo Yung is your soul mate (who is that dark-haired stranger sitting across the table? Wasn’t he here last night too?), when you’ve devoured much more than your fair share, you uncover that cheerful, wise little bird. And that is a most excellent way to end the day.

(I know, I’m obsessed. I promise no more posts about the bird bowl. I can’t make any promises about Egg Foo Yung, though. It rocked my world.)


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The Bird Bowl

A bird bowl followed me back home from Cozumel.

It is perfect for me in every way. I love it. I play with it almost every day. It’s wide, shallow, gently curving — it cradles everything from salads to Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs (fabulous recipe, highly recommended!) to Chicken Cutlets with Tomatoes Saute (quick and easy) to charred-to-death poblanos and overcooked steak. Who knew I’ve had a bird-bowl-sized hole in my kitchen equipment all this time?

The bowl came with a lesson too, as all the best bowls do.

I spotted it in a little shop off the main square and loved it right away, but then I started second-guessing myself. Another bowl, a more finely crafted, sophisticated bowl with delicate little brush strokes and no bird, rested on the next shelf down, and I began to think that I should buy the sophisticated bowl. The bird bowl was a little crude, a little silly. It did not say, “My owner is a connoisseur of fine earthenware, and it is an honor to be in her exquisitely curated collection.” I wavered, stalled, walked away.

But a special someone saw through my youthful idiocy, someone who appreciates about me what I often can’t appreciate about myself, and said in the sweetest voice, “But, Alison, the bird looks like you! The way he looks up out of the bowl, it’s like he’s saying, ‘Here I am! And what are you going to do about it?'”

So I bought it, and it became a little gift to myself. Not only is it perfect for looking at and perfect for using, that little bird peeks up at me at our dinner table to remind me that it’s okay to be a little playful at heart, and that I don’t need to cramp who I really am to be whoever it is I think I should be.

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Did you know that deciding on a color is the most difficult part of buying a Weber grill? Since it is also the most important, I offer these valuable tips:

Step 1. Narrow down your choice to 2 colors, then freak out because you really can’t choose your favorite.


Weber 1427001 Performer Charcoal Grill, Green

Or blue?
Weber 1428001 Performer Charcoal Grill, Dark Blue

(both images from Amazon; click on a photo to go to its source)

Step 2. Obsess. As you tuck in to your morning eggs, Green or blue? As you blast breakfast away with your WaterPik, Green or blue? As you subdue your hair, Green or blue? While you’re trying to meditate, Green or blue? In the middle of the Pilates 100s, Green or blue?

Step 3. Face it: you’re in over your head. It’s time to enlist help from someone who is even more interested in the color avidly devoted to your happiness than you are: the Husband. So call him at work.

You: I can’t decide on a color. Green or blue?

Him: Ummm…

You: No, really, what do you think? Which do you prefer?

Him: I, uh……I like both. Whatever you want. Green is nice. Blue is nice. We don’t have anything green, do we?

You: No, but we could. I think about buying green things a lot.

Him: Oh.

Step 4. Plan B: Realize that Weber grills resemble M&Ms. Now you’re getting somewhere! Do you like green or blue M&Ms better? When you’re strategically eating your M&Ms by color (everyone does this, right?), which do you leave for last?

Step 5. Armed with your brilliant M&M analogy, re-consult the husband. Now he’s bound to be helpful!

Or not.

Step 6. Visualization. Close your eyes. Picture yourself balancing a platter of steaks in one hand with tongs tightly clenched underneath, tripping out of your kitchen, out of your apartment, down the stairs, and outside to your beautiful, shiny grill. Set down your tray, wipe your hands, open the lid, throw on the steaks, close the lid, and dawdle. Do this with the green grill, then the blue grill. Then the green grill, then the blue grill.

Step 7. Fret.

Step 8. Order the blue grill already!

Step 9. Congratulate yourself on your ever-impeccable taste and come up with 101 reasons you’re really glad you picked the blue instead of the green. Share at least 50 of these reasons with the Husband; he’ll appreciate it.

Step 10. Invite family over for your inaugural grilling session, terribly overcook the steaks, char the poblano peppers into oblivion, have a great time anyway, and fall in love with that shiny blue M&M that offers so much smoky goodness.

P.S. Don’t forget to offer moral support during assembly. (Beer and kisses are a nice touch for superior service.)

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I’d say I have a love/hate relationship with baking, but mostly I just hate it. It’s so…precise…and prone to inexplicable error. Like the caramel sauce/black sugar goo episode over Christmas. Or when I attempted caramel sauce again last month and it was grainy for no apparent reason. Gah!

But today I’m celebrating a wild success. Behold:

It’s a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting — light, fluffy, dreamy peanut butter frosting.

I impressed myself. I’ve never tried to decorate a cake before.

There are less glamorous and triumphant parts of the story, like how I broke a bottle of stevia all over the floor and smeared peanut butter frosting on every surface in sight (including me) in the process, but the real point is that when it came to the finished product, I was pleased and J was pleased and even the neighbor was impressed, which never hurts. (Really, her effusions were most gratifying and enough to give any half-conscious Leo heart palpitations.)

Why the hearts? Since we were out of the country for Valentine’s Day, J and I celebrated this past weekend. I have fond memories of my childhood Valentine’s Days, with cards and little baskets of goodies from my mom, so I like to celebrate it now, but just the fun, light side of it. Last year I left candy trails around the apartment leading to small gifts for J. It was great! This year I planned a living room picnic complete with a fancy beer, Chuy’s takeout chips and salsa, Star Pizza delivered to the door, and the chocolate and peanut butter confection — most of J’s favorite food groups.

I also presented him with this gift, to hold his other favorite food group:

Good times.

Finally, one more shot of the cake for me to treasure and use for comfort the next time I stand alone amidst the wreckage of a baking disaster:

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What Caramel Shouldn’t Look Like

Generally, when one makes caramel, this is not the desired result:

Or this:

How I Have Come to Know This Enduring Truth in Only Eight Short Steps:

1. Tampered with my foolproof recipe.

2. Burned sugar. Badly.

3. Black sugar goo  hot enough to melt my face off.

4. Left black sugar goo to cool before disposing of it.

5. Black sugar goo hardened into a rock-solid, mirror-like surface in the bottom of my Le Creuset.

6. Wild stabbing failed.

7. Hot water failed.

8. Re-melting black sugar rock into black sugar goo, then rinsing pot out with hot water failed.

Thank goodness I did eventually free my pot from its contents by boiling water in it. The remaining sugar rock dissolved in the boiling water, so in short, all is well again.

The Moral of This Story: never tamper with foolproof recipes, especially those involving blazing hot sugar goo.

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Summer Salad Recipe

I’ve been experimenting with our salads in the past couple of weeks, based on several ideas I picked up in France. This is one of my husband’s and my favorites so far.

I started with a bed of whole organic romaine lettuce leaves, then added pan-fried potato slices. I am so excited about these potatoes because they are purple outside and inside!

How cool is that? I found them at my farmers’ market. They are gorgeous and taste so fresh and sweet. I was very pleased to find them again this year.

Then, I added a pile of fresh, raw corn from our farmers’ market. I ate a lot of fresh corn in my salads in France, in everything from riz Nicoise to tabbouleh to cobb salad.

For protein, I followed an idea I got on our first Versailles outing, when we took a bicycle tour. In the morning, our guides led us to a market in Versailles town to buy picnic lunch provisions. Along with blue and goat cheeses, I bought a fabulous tabbouleh salad (more about that another time) and a mayo-less tuna salad, made with only tuna, fresh tomatoes, maybe a light dressing, and some parsley. It was so refreshing! When I recreated it, I used equal parts canned tuna and farmers’ market tomatoes, added lots of fresh dill, and dressed it with lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper. Wow.

Finally, I drizzled a Basque-style dressing over the whole thing. I followed this recipe, adding some whole grain Dijon mustard to it. While it didn’t match my memory of the fabulous dressing at Chez Gladine, it was still delicious and brought all the salad’s flavors together nicely.

We love this salad. It’s beautiful to look at, easy to prepare, full of different textures, and tastes divine. More, please!

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After coming back from France, I’m obsessed with salads.  J and I loved them already, but our old standbys were getting boring. No longer! I found the French salads very exciting and started taking notes to help my culinary efforts at home.

This was one of my favorites:

I devoured this mound of deliciousness in Colmar, France (in the Alsace region), while I was traveling alone during the last week of the trip. I had very little information on the town — only two overviewish this-is-why-you-should-visit-Colmar guidebook pages — so I was on my own when it came to finding good restaurants and accommodations. I learned to follow my nose and happy dining noises. This restaurant, Jadis & Gourmande, was a grand success. (I later found it listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook, so I’m not the only one who thinks it’s great.)

This particular salad boasted farfalle, boiled egg, green and red leaf lettuces, English peas, sliced radishes, tomatoes, scrumptious basil chicken, small chunks of cooked carrot, raw fennel, cucumber, parsley, what I imagine were tiny chunks of liver, and a creamy, mustardy, vinegary dressing. Though my picture isn’t fabulous, my salivary glands kick into overdrive just thinking about the salad. I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs — minus the hole in my cheek, of course.

Here’s another salad I ate during my solo travel time, this one from Reims, home of the famous Reims cathedral, where I stopped for a night on my way from Paris to Colmar:

It features two of my new favorite salad toppings, fried eggs and fried potatoes. Yum, yum, yum! Who knew they could be so tasty on a salad? The salad above also had grilled apples, lightly steamed green beans, raw mushrooms, balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and what was translated as “white pudding” and “black pudding.” I was feeling bold that day — looking for a thrill. Here’s a close-up of the white pudding:

I may not have got the thrill, but I certainly shivered all the way down to my toes. It tasted and felt as bad as it looks. I gave both puddings a valiant effort but finally put down the fork. Whew. My couch surfing friend, Jasmin (more about her and couch surfing in a later post), later told me that the white pudding is liver sausage, and the black pudding is blood sausage. Oh my.

Moving on now, before I lose my appetite again.

I found my very favorite salad of all at Chez Gladine, a Basque restaurant in Paris highly recommended by our bicycle tour guides. This little place was a knockout! Nancy and I dutifully arrived early just as instructed, around 6:45 PM, to find the place empty. We wondered if we had been led astray. Less than 30 minutes later, though, very early indeed for Parisians, who seem to eat around 9:00 PM, the place was packed to the gills, and we found ourselves with another couple sharing our little table. Nancy and I ordered Chez Gladine’s Salade Complete, comprising a bed of whole romaine lettuce leaves, fried potato slices, squares of fabulous white cheese, prosciutto-type ham, a fried egg, and mustardy, garlicky dressing. I wish I had eaten it every day while I was there! I also wish I had nabbed a photo of it. Instead, enjoy this photo of our sangria, which was a little too good, if you know what I mean:

And a picture of Nancy’s sangria face:

And a shot of the magical disappearing waiter:

Really, the man rushed up to the bar, flipped open an invisible door, turned around, and backed down into what must have been the cellar. It was quite shocking. As you can see, the place was still empty when I took these photos, but the staff was rushing around like mad, slicing dozens of loaves of bread and setting tables for the imminent deluge.

If you’re in Paris, do check out Chez Gladine at 30 Rue des Cinq Diamants for great food, fun atmosphere, and very reasonable prices. It’s well worth the metro ride.

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