Friday, December 21, 2007

Are you fat yet?


I've put on three pounds this week. The holidays, have yet again smacked me upside the thigh and I find myself piling in little bits of chocolate, nuts, strudel, ham, beer, spreadable cheese, and lots of maple syrup. Hmmm... In responce to this, I went to the farmer's market and bought veggies, thinking this might help my puggy dilema. Instead, I used them for a carbo-enduced dilerium on Monday night. And it was worth every calorie. Try this one out for size:

Aloo Gobi
(Cauliflower and Potatoes)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 bunch fresh cilantro, separated into stalks and leaves and roughly chopped
2 small green chilies, chopped into small pieces
1 large cauliflower, leaves removed and cut evenly into eighths
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into even pieces
2 cans diced tomatoes
fresh ginger, peeled and grated
fresh garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons garam masala

Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onion and one teaspoon of cumin seeds to the oil. Stir together and cook until onions become creamy, golden, and translucent. Add chopped coriander stalks, two teaspoons of turmeric, and one teaspoon of salt. Add chopped chiles (according to taste) Stir tomatoes into onion mixture. Add ginger and garlic; mix thoroughly. Add potatoes and cauliflower to the sauce plus a few tablespoons of water (ensuring that the mixture doesn't stick to the saucepan). Ensure that the potatoes and cauliflower are coated with the curry sauce. Cover and allow to simmer for twenty minutes (or until potatoes are cooked). Add two teaspoons of garam masala and stir. Sprinkle chopped coriander leaves on top of the curry.

Holiday Vices


The day before Halloween something happened to me that will seriously impact my life over the next two months. It will bring me both joy and sorrow and rush back all the bittersweet memories of the years past… I did not see it coming while milling around the back of a Rite Aid, but there it was, perched upon the refrigerated shelf: a bottle of eggnog. Ahhh eggnog (or as they call it south of the border, rompope) my personal madeline for holiday cheer. I am happy to admit, (though I may be the only one born after 1940 who does so) that I love the stuff and drink it down all season long.

I have learned over the years the skills to purchase eggnog. First off, don’t be fooled by fancy brands. My personal favorite is Berkeley Farms, followed in a close second with the regular old Save Mart brand. Makers like Bud’s of San Francisco or Straus Creamery usually lack depth or are too sweet. Torn between two options? Compare the amount sugar listed on the nutrition facts and go with the lesser of two evils… it’s more eggnogier.

By mid December, you may be struck by the downside of eggnog. Peering at your back in the mirror you may notice little lumps of fat sitting perched atop your rump. My white gold packs a serious punch: a single cup (and it’s impossible to drink that measly amount) has 350 calories and 20 grams of fat. Yipes! Having said that, never be fooled into buying the low fat version! That brackish water they call eggnog bears no resemblance to the real McCoy. You are wasting calories on slimy spiced, grayish water… Don’t go there. Instead, try drinking eggnog as a meal replacement. Like a freaky Christmas Slim-Fast.

By now you must be on the edge of your seat to bring out the big guns: booze. My personal favorite addition is Crown Royal. The white and gold seem to marry in the cup to form a fusion of beauty and grace. Don’t be afraid to mix it with the expensive stuff… It’s worth it. I also enjoy plain old E&J Brandy (produced locally at Ernest and Julio!) and spiced or Meyers rum. Don’t let your lazy ass buy the pre-mixed with So Co. That’s just nasty. Finally, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you love! I have unabashedly muled in my own carton of eggnog and demanded that a bartender (at Fibber McGee’s mind you) mix me drinks all night with the stuff.

It’s a sad time for me when January rolls around and I start to see my friend being pulled off the shelf. But I know it is time and absence will only make my heart grow fonder.

Bao for Now


“I don’t do Chinese.”  This is my standard response when the suggestion for Chinese food is made.  In reality, I do Chinese, but I would much rather spend my calories on something wickedly good, rather than artificially flavored orange chicken or a bland, greasy chow mein (which I have come to realize is what most people want when they suggest a Chinese joint). 
 
Good Chinese on the other hand, is rich, fresh, and wonderfully traditional. So, I was skeptical when someone suggested “Bakery Delight” for a quick Chinese snack. But set one foot inside of this place and you’ll know they mean business.  No sweet and sour sauce or celery in sight… just a simple glass case full of egg-washed pastry, scissor-snipped dumplings, and sesame-topped dough balls.  A whirr of activity comes from behind the counter-- women rapidly rolling, chopping, and pinching together perfect little pies. 
 
I ordered lunch from a curt woman and paid $1.50 for bao and a pastry. I would have been satisfied with almost anything that filled me up for this price, but I got so much more.  The pork inside the bao was rich and satisfying, leaving a little pink bleed of sauce into the white pillow of dough.  Next the pastry, a petite golden oval formed of the flakiest of shells. It crumbled instantly into my mouth, leaving me to chew on the little layers until they magically dissolved.  I sat trying to figure how this trick was performed. Then it came to me: lard!  Ah, natures answer to the world’s best pastry.  Does it really matter at this point that this was stuffed with a sweet red bean paste and dusted in sesame seeds?  Delicious.

I have since come to discover the sesame balls, a dessert like no other-- gummy and chewy like a Chinese doughnut hole. Look for savory brioche, rolled in scallions with fried meat the texture of ratted angel hair. The shrimp dumplings are earthy with chunks of bamboo shoots, wrapped in a gossamer rice noodle package. But what will keep me coming back are the mini egg tarts… the most subtly sweetened golden custard, shrouded in the perfect pie crust. The contrast between the flaky and the smooth, the creamy egg and rich tooth of the flour crust (and don’t forget the lard!) makes me tip my head back with each bite, carefully ensuring no morsel will fall onto the table.

I have not yet dabbled into the roasted duck, fried pork ribs, or other meaty delights. (The word on the street is you can order a whole roasted pig for special occasions).

Get over bad Chinese and go have a little dim sum (and then some!). Each bite is indeed a delight.

Bakery Delight
6749 N Cedar Ave, Fresno

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Grossed Out


Really... what is in these things?! I just downed a peanut butter chocolate and it was just plain creepy. The foamy interior loaded with pungent chocolate flavor (all nature, I am sure!) left me with little blackened fingers from the sandwich exterior.

And look at this on the back of the label "* Sensitive individuals may experience a laxative effect from excess consumption of this ingredient." Sick... there are more stabilizers and Splenda® in those things than Tori Spelling. So sick...

For 130 calories, I should have had an apple.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Tower Chow


Thanks to the Undercurrent who published my most recent rambling! www.fresnoundercurrent.net

I live in a city laden with taquerias, Starbucks, and deal-busting grocery stores. Food is prolific and for the most part pretty cheap. When the pendulum swings in Fresno, it tends to be towards high-end “fusion”, disguising yet another steak house and $12 martini format. In Rousseau I’ve found the middle ground I crave.

The first night I wandered up to the wine bar (now with full liquor privileges) and dined on pâté served with gherkin, Dijon mustard, and grilled crostini. Round two was an ultra simple, perfectly dressed Cesar salad (equipped with the necessary funk of garlic and anchovy) and finally a bowl of onion soup. Cliché? Maybe… But it’s hard to improve upon a ramekin filled with hot beef broth, onions, soggy bread, and smothered in Gruyère cheese. The food at Rousseau is prepared keeping in mind the French countryside tradition of comfort and simplicity.

The stuffed mushrooms are a perfect primer for dinner, with spinach and nibs of bacon nestled in brown caps. The sautéed spinach has a home-cooked edge to it, wilted in a light olive oil, perfectly salted, with a faint puddle of green juice on the plate. The ragout of pork loin is a lovely dish of peasant food, smothered in a beautifully browned sauce with mushrooms over potatoes. Veal cannelloni are simple, fresh and floated in an uncomplicated pool of bright tomato sauce.

It’s usually about the time your entrée arrives that you are enveloped with periodic whiffs of browning sugar coming off the made to order crème brule. This scent will prime you for the large selection of deserts, one of which I cannot get out of my head, the chocolate pot de crème. Creamy, firm, with a deep brooding, toe curling, chocolate that sticks to your spoon. Unbeatable.

Rousseau is not haute cuisine, nor cutting edge French, but this was the place I wanted to go for my birthday dinner. It’s intimate, casual, and for a moment, if I blur my eyes a bit and have another glass of wine, I can escape into a little corner restaurant somewhere in my imaginary France.

Rousseau
568 E Olive Ave., Fresno

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ice Queen


I have had some bad Mexican ice cream. Atop a pasty cone sits a heap of soupy, boxed milk goop, flavored with sno cone syrup. It’s raunchy and liable to make you ill. If this has been your experience, it’s time to do something for society… Get off your bike and make some life changing choices! There’s a new ice cream name in town that’s shattering stereotypes of south-of-the-border dairy; an ice cream lady to be reckoned with on Belmont: La Reina de Michoacan.

Banking on a truly exceptional product, La Reina had the balls to open its doors to the public in a seemingly ungodly time of year: November. The unveiling ceremony was complete with mini paleta samples and a giant pink popsicle mascot- a bite out of one corner of its head and a cockeyed crown on the other. She was the queen no doubt, standing outside a transformed Belmont storefront, her name spanning the top, “La Reina de Michoacan” in perfect shadowed script. Windows painted with large mangos, coconuts, iced drinks and popsicles. A list of flavors, “Nescafe, Coco, Mamey, Fresas…” lettered neatly on the exterior.

Upon entry you are greeted by a sparking clean interior, reminiscent of some distant, Latino, Willy Wonka fantasy. It smells like an ice cream store should- waffle cones, a hint of bubble gum, and a little Soilent Green. On any given day there are over thirty choices of ice cream and paleta flavors gleaming under plate glass freezers.

Owners Gabriel and Amalia Alvarez have brought something truly exceptional to Fresno: the Michoacan style of ice cream making. The state of Michoacan in Mexico is famous for its paletas and creamy, soft ice cream made with top quality, fresh ingredients. Michoacan ice cream is made in small batches on site, so quality is exceptional, flavors seasonal, and cost minimal.

La Reina boasts a menu of all natural ice creams, paletas, augua frescas, sundaes, and fruits to entice. You’ll find classics like strawberry, peach, and pistachio along with new innovations like walnut, coconut, corn and dried fruit. For $1.75 try a generous scoop of cajeta: goat’s milk that has been sweetened and caramelized to a soft brown. Cookies and cream is faintly sweetened, reminiscent of dipping a cookie in a glass of cold milk. The avocado ice cream is smooth and nutty, with diced green fruit in sweetened cream. A personal favorite, chongos zamoranos, is a custard similar to cheesecake that is flavored with cinnamon. La Reina’s cappuccino is almost bitter at first taste, rich and full-bodied. Tropical fruit flavors such as mamey, guanabana, and arrallan, are also featured on the menu. All fruit, non-dairy paletas set you back 75 cents and range from kiwi to guava, cucumber to pineapple. If this were not enough, you can scoop up a glass of fresh made auga fresca in flavors that vary daily. Get royal and go have some ice cream at La Reina de Michoacan.

Open daily from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. 720 E. Belmont 559-485-3013

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Still Life


Sometimes I am just to full to write about ingesting something... So why not gather a little beauty from the morsels we put in our mouths? Props to the artists who spend their time capturing it (and I love the theory behind one-a-day artists).

Check out www.justinspaintings.com

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thai Time


“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”
~ Buddha (563 BC - 483 BC)

I had two lady friends who recently came back from original stomping ground for Buddha. What they brought back for me was not a typical tchotchke - no a snow-globe of Thailand or an Angkor Wat diorama. Packed in their suitcase was a little baggie of green curry paste and recipes. They brought me back a meal.

They showed up at my doorstep with bags of groceries and started in. Green papaya salad with pummeled raw green beans and chunky peanuts. Rich and decedent curry with tight green eggplant and kaffir lime leaves. Sticky rice with sweet and salty coconut milk and mango. Pure delight.

This was by far one of the best gifts I have ever received. Consider this next time you travel to a far off place… or even your grandmother’s house.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Aye Chilorio!


This canned Mexican pork product was once reserved for the most reverent of occasion… for Chilorio was a food that had to traverse a great and treacherous journey to get to the tables of select homes in California (I know a guy who is a produce broker who used to mule it across the border for me from Sinoloa).

But today is a new day and we are free to eat Chilorio whenever our hearts desire! It’s stocked on the shelves of our local Fiesta Foods (Tulare and First). Chata is the brand and it is amazing. Open the can and let it fry for about 10 minutes in its own fat to get lots of crispy bits. Then eat. I recommend for breakfast with a fried egg on top (something about when more than one animal fat comes together is like heaven) or simple street tacos with steamed corn tortillas, cilantro, onion, chile, and lime (I did this for a potluck today… I looked like a Goddess).

Make friends. Let people think you slow cooked all day. Support Chata. Eat Chilorio.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Spicy Goodness


Sticky, sweet, cheesy, hot… sauce? Dip? Who cares. This is delicious. I had it for lunch today with day old bread chucks and sliced tomatoes on the side. I hear it’s like sex over tamales. Go for it. Make it your own.

1 lb poblano peppers (jalapenos okay too)
14 oz can sweet condensed milk
1lb jack cheese
salt to taste

Fire roast peppers. Discard skins, stems, and seeds. Blend with condensed milk. Put mixture in a sauce pan over low heat. Add in cheese and until fully melted. Salt to taste.

*Note: if you can cook, I suggest finding the correct quantities of each ingredient instinctually based on how hot your peppers are and how sweet you need it to be.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Besos y Balas


There is a great exhibit at Arte Americas in downtown Fresno… Detailed photos of farm workers (and let’s face it, this is an intimate part of the food we eat) and some brilliant man who paints on big, beautiful resin tortillas. The artist, Bravo, incorporates the blackened bits, jagged edges, and smooth white planes of this surface to create bright and beautiful works of art. Go see it. It’s ironic, moving, and might make you want to get a bite to eat afterwards.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ry Krisp


Let’s face it. There’s not really a popular food movement towards northern European cuisine. You don’t often see a fusion restaurant working in spatzle or a garnish of pickled herring. Unfortunate in my book, but I’ll get my NorEuro where I can.

Try these. They are delicious, nutritious, and the new flavor (California Onion Dill) is packed with punch! My man-friend likes to smear these with a soft cheese like ricotta, topped with two or three arugula leaves and a little black pepper. Wow! Where do I find these guys?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Cochinito Contento


Vallarta ( Butler and Chestnut) is new arch nemesis to Fiesta Foods (Tulare and First). I highly recommend checking them both out, as they are immaculate, inspiring, and stocked with all sorts of wild things from south of the border. Of note yesterday morning was this gingerbread pig. I grew up eating these delicious little things, but they are surprisingly hard to find and the quality varies quite a bit.

This one was good. Just as they should be: crumbly, but not dry, with big flecks of Mexican cinnamon (these leave you with little chewy shards to gnaw on after your first swallow… quite nice really). They’re made with baking soda, so they’ve got a nice salty bite at the end. Delicious!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Indian Obsession


I came across this article in SF Chron a couple of weeks ago all about pairing wine with Indian food and some accompanying recipes. I’ve been a little obsessed with Indian food lately, and this was no help (I think it was reading too many stores by Jhumpa Lahiri?). Nonetheless, I made these this morning and they are delicious. For those of you who have never had cardamom (shame, such a shame) this spice is the jam. And don’t think rice flour is all fancy… you can get this crap at the Fiesta Foods if you need to.

Cardamom Nankaties

Makes approximately 30 cookies. This buttery, shortbread cookie from Ruta Kahate relies on a single spice: cardamom. Depending on how you measure the dry ingredients, you may need a few additional tablespoons of softened butter to make the dough come together. Pairs with: Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d'Asti (whatever that is).

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350°. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir the flours, almonds, cardamom and salt together, and add to the creamed butter. Mix just until the dough starts to clump together. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Pinch off a tablespoon-size portion of the dough and roll in your palms to form a round ball. Flatten slightly and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough, placing the cookies on the sheet 2 inches apart. Bake in the middle of the oven until the edges of the cookies turn a very pale brown, 15 to 18 minutes.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Dry Sac


Sometimes when I am at Whole Foods, and the general milling around of aisles in disbelief is not enough for me, I like to play a little game. All you need is a friend and a basic understanding of the Price is Right. Walk in and pick a category, such as bar soap* or bagged lettuce. Then you each pick a price point of what the most expensive item in this category will be... a $7 bar of soap? $10 say you?! All bets are off.

To further the fun of this, take advantage of a little policy they have at Whole Foods where any customer at any time can demand that you break open some outrageously expensive item for a "taste test". No need to purchase... and in fact, usually the sap that opened it for you will partake in the inevitable shit-talking that follows.

Yesterday I tried a soda from a company called "DRY". They sell 4 of these little guys for $7. Nice... I tried lavender (oooh, aaahh), though I could have gone for rhubarb, lemongrass, or kumquat. Nonetheless, it tasted like shit and was indeed as promised, dry. Kinda soapy. Not worth it, but a noble experience.

So now, armed with this info, get out there and try a $5 chocolate bar, $7 ice cream, or a bottle of Kombucha!

*When I played this game with recently, the most expensive bar of soap was $16. Fucking soap. Seriously...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Why did I finish it?



Of note yesterday was a major faux pas on my part… I ate a Starbuck’s pastry. I was desperate for something to go with a cup of coffee, and it was the 4th of July and not much was open… so I did the deed and bought a bear claw from behind the glass case. I’m a sucker for a good pastry, and I love gooey fillings and almond topping, so I thought, how bad can it be? Well…

It was chewy. This is not the best descriptor for a pastry in my book. The middle was fairly soft with muddled brown filling (what is in a bear claw anyways?) but the edges were downright rubbery, like the edges of a pizza crust that have been in the microwave and then allowed to cool. Not good. There was little semblance of flake in the thing, instead layers were able to peel off the top like a string cheese. Not good. And, of most importance, it had a hint of banana... which in the world of sweet foods is as bad as detecting a "hint of fishiness" in savory foods. Not good.

Nonetheless, I ate the whole damn thing… I really wanted something sweet with my coffee (insert picture of hammering square peg in round hole). Good Lord why do I do these things?

* Sources tell me that Starbuck's pastries are able to keep for weeks at a time. So slap that image of some idiot in a green apron and an e-z bake oven in the back of the place (ala Subway sandwich bread) whipping you up something fresh from the oven.