Saturday, July 31, 2010

qdoba mexican grill

beth and i met up for lunch at qdoba mexcian grill in colerain. in full disclosure we had received 2 free mango chicken salads from qdoba. the salads had two options 1. bowl 2. taco shell. we ordered one of each. i was surpised (pleasantly) that we were able to add to the salads. this one is chicken plus sour cream and cheese.

mango salad without the tortilla bowl...and with.

so i nibbled off krissy's shell, but i wasn't thrilled and secretly glad that i had the bowl. i admit i was a little apprehensive about the mango part of the salad. i was also pleasantly surprised how much i enjoyed it. it was filling, tasty, not too sweet and an overall great salad. i would honestly considering ordering this salad again. the tough part would be not ordering any extras, despite knowing that it's filling without any of the fun stuff without the cheese, sour cream, guacamole, etc.

yeah, the tortilla bowl was nothing to write home about. it didn't really add to the salad anything but calories. i agree with beth that overall the salad was an agreeable meld of flavors, from the mango to the cilantro-lime dressing. i will say there wasn't much depth; the dish was fairly straightforward, but i don't find that to be a problem with lunch, especially something that i consider in the category of fast food.

if you're dieting or watching what you eat this is a great salad to order (w/o the taco shell and extras) because this is filling and calorie conscious. i think the biggest thing that appealed to me about the salads is that without any of the "extras" is that it is only 355 calories. seriously? only 355? that's a dream for me. let's be honest, i eat far more than i should and to eat this salad, feel filled and only eat 355 is a DREAM!!.

since we thought we should try more than just the salads we also ordered a combo meal (the craft 2) that had 1/2 a quesadilla and 2 tacos. we ordered chicken quesadila and 1/2 pulled pork tacos.

the quesadilla was good. as with the salad, i liked the chicken. it was well cooked and savory. i did not care as much for the pulled pork, and i think beth thought the same. it was a little mushy and not as tasty as the chicken. i read on qdoba's website that the pork is roasted on premise for 6 hours, which i applaud, but the outcome is somewhat mediocre. agreed. we may have been spoiled recently by eric's smoking (meat) endeavors lately....i really enjoyed the quesadilla and would probably order that again. as for the tacos i might try the steak or chicken instead.

we also tried two of the salsas. i should say, beth tried two of the salsas. we had the corn and the medium -- the medium had some kick to it and a smokey flavor. the corn was heavy on the corn and little other flavor.

one thing that we noted was that at lunchtime, we were the only females there eating. the rest of the tables were occupied with men sitting alone, presumably on lunchbreaks from the surrounding strip mall merchants. it was borderline surreal. i want to say at one point there we were with 8 males eating lunch by themselves. kinda funny.

Monday, July 26, 2010

i skin a chicken and live to tell the tale

touching raw meat kind of makes me unhappy. it reminds me that i am preparing to eat an actual animal, not just "meat". using a whole chicken also invokes feelings of displeasure, as it is not much of a stretch to add a head and feathers. the body just feels so solid...

despite my misgivings regarding interactions with whole animals, cooking light's recipe for root beer can chicken proved too intriguing and i decided to give it the old college try.

problem one was that i could not find a 6-pack of root beer in 12 oz cans, only the mini 8 oz cans. emptied a can of la croix we have had hanging around since christmas (who drinks that anyway?) down the sink and replaced it with root beer. problem solved. this is the quick thinking that earned me a doctorate, people.

problem two. preparation of my little chicken involved skinning it. blecht. i got to it, sliding the knife along between the muscle and the rubbery, cold skin. fun fact concerning poultry skin: when a person withdraws from opiates, the erector pili muscles contract causing piloerection, also known as goosebumps. hence the term "quitting cold turkey". these are the things i think about, which is probably why butchering type activities provide me with no joy.


yeah, i know i didn't do a very thorough job and there is still some skin clinging to the extremities. frankly, i was tired of the whole process and had no desire to touch the bird more than absolutely necessary.
then i dressed him up to sit on the grill, rubbing him with the paprika mixture and inserting the root beer containing la croix can.
the whole can-in-the-cavity thing is a little appalling and looks indecent. brian's statement was "it looks like the chicken is taking a shit on our grill". i, on the other hand, was not so much of a gutter dweller. i'm seeing this:

but thinking this:

after the appropriate time on the grill and basting with reduced root beer periodically, the root beer can chicken was fully realized. it was actually quite delicious and very juicy. i had expected the rub to be more spicy, but if i make it again i can kick it up a notch. the suggested pairing with broccoli slaw and potatoes made the meal complete.i say "if" i make this recipe again, but brian definitely expressed his desire to see root beer can chicken on the table more often. i think he ate half the chicken. maybe next time he can handle the skinning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

green papaya, otherwise entitled bubble tea rocks

a bunch of us got together for lunch at one of my favorite spots, green papaya. i haven't had many cravings during my pregnancy; only vanilla pudding and oddly a PB&J sandwich, which I probably haven't had since i was 4. anyway, for some reason i started craving green papaya salad. so off to green papaya we go.

green papaya salad. tangy and delicious.

the real highlight of any meal at green papaya is the bubble tea. i *heart* bubble tea. it's like a milkshake, only better. my favorite is taro.

bubble tea gets its name from the tea being shaken (not stirred) with a fruit flavor, which forms bubbles, and from the tapioca pearls (resembling blueberries) that are submerged in the drink. (read more here) tapioca pearls are an interesting commodity, not recommended (by me) to be eaten alone. they don't have much flavor and are kind of gummy. but they are a unique addition of texture to the bubble tea experience, meant to be suctioned up through the extra large straw.

it is fabulous. if you go to green papaya, give it a try.

that's really all i have to say. for completeness sake, here is everyone else's food, no complaints anywhere.

Green Papaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

pork + fruit

the best thing about summer, in my humble opinion, is the abundance of delicious fresh fruits available. when i saw cooking light's recipe section on fruity summer recipes, i couldn't resist test driving a couple. i decided to try two recipes that paired fruit with pork, a meat i revere above all others and is good for grilling. the integration of fruit into a main dish was similar in both recipes.

the first was grilled pork chops with two-melon salsa.
1 cup chopped seedless watermelon
1 cup chopped honeydew melon
3 tbsp finely chopped sweet onion (i used vidalia)
1 tbsp finely chopped jalapeno pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp saltthe pork chops were brushed with a mix of olive oil, chili powder, minced garlic, salt, and black pepper (i don't really measure these things) and grilled.
i considered this the more successful of the two recipes. the marriage of melon and meat was satisfying, with the cool juciness of the melon complementing the pork. the salsa could also stand on its own.
the second was brined pork tenderloin with plum and jicama relish. the tenderloin was brined for 1 hour prior to grilling in 1/2 cup kosher salt dissolved in 8 cups cold water. it was only sprinkled with pepper post-brine.
black pepper
1&1/2 cups diced plums
3/4 cups finely chopped jicama
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tsp grated lime rind
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp honey
kosher salt
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
very pretty, but without substance
this combination was less delightful, although as fruit goes i prefer plums to melon. the best part of this dish was the brined pork tenderloin, which was very tender and had a great flavor. as for the relish, i felt the textures of the jicama and plum were at odds with each other. and this is my fault (because of course i didn't measure), but the jicama to plum ratio was too large. rather than this being a cohesive entree, it seemed cacophonous.
important to note, neither salsa nor relish was very tasty the next day after a night of marinating in the fridge. the flavors became too tart.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

i make a good thing

i have a love-hate relationship with martha (you know which martha i mean). i oscillate between my ambition to emulate her homemade goodness and my desire to throttle her for lowering my self-esteem through impossibly concocted recipes and crafts like constructing a wreath from marshmellows and apple cores. she's like the f-ing macgyver of the domestic world.

i would like to reassure you that this is entirely one-sided. martha does not know me and there are no existing restraining orders.

her recipes are what really get me. complicated and demanding, yet described and executed with the grace of asking someone to sit down for tea. i'm sure she doesn't even break a sweat while constantly whisking egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof mixing bowl nestled on a pot of simmering water. i do, however. i know this because i attempted, for a holiday picnic, to make not one, but two types of martha cupcakes: roasted banana with honey-cinnamon frosting and strawberry with strawberry meringue buttercream. the whole venture required 8(!) sticks of butter and 11 eggs.
the roasted banana were the more difficult of the two cupcakes, but had the easier frosting.
1) preheat oven to 400. place 3 unpeeled bananas on a baking sheet and roast 15 minutes. the peels turn dark brown and they are HOT. they are supposed to cool before peeling and adding them to the batter, but mine were still a little steamy. reduce oven to 350 after roasting bananas.
2) combine 2 cups cake flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 3/4 tsp salt. set aside.
3) cream 1 stick butter and 3/4 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. while creaming (for some reason, this always seems to take forever), separate 3 eggs. add yolks one at a time to butter and sugar.
4) scrape down sides of bowl as needed. add roasted bananas and beat to combine. add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with addition of total 1/2 cup sour cream. beat in 1 tsp vanilla extract.
5) in another mixing bowl with mixer on medium speed, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. fold egg whites into batter in three additions.
6) fill lined muffin tins 3/4 full. bake at 350 for about 20min until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. transfer t0 wire racks to cool completely.
7) frosting: beat 2&1/2 cups powdered sugar, 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp, 2 tbsp honey, and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon until smooth.
since the strawberry cupcake recipe is available online, i will just include the pain-in-the-ass-yet-delicious strawberry meringue buttercream frosting.
1) puree 8 ounces (1&1/2cups) coarsely chopped strawberries (hulled).
2) combine 4 egg whites and 1&1/4 cups sugar in heatproof bowl of electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to touch and sugar has dissolved. mixture will feel smooth when rubbed between your finger tips. (this is where the sweating began. my kitchen is freaking hot. and i was starting to get kind of pissed at this point.)
3) attach the bowl to the mixer and whisk at gradually increasing speed until stiff peaks form. continue mixing until mixture is fluffy, glossy, and completely cool (test by touching bottom of bowl). this takes about 10min.
4) with mixer on medium-low speed, add 3 sticks (1&1/2 cups) of butter a few tbsp at a time, mixing well after each addition. once all the butter has been added, scrape down sides of bowl with spatula and switch to paddle attachment. continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 min. add pureed strawberries and beat until combined. the result will be pretty, frothy pink frosting.
now, as a bonus fourth of july ohh-ahh, i actually went to michael's and purchased decorating tips and bags to pipe the icing onto the cupcakes rather than just slathering it on with an old pharmacy spatula like i normally do. i have never piped icing onto a cupcake before. the results were mixed (see below), and of course in no way resembled martha's masterpieces. but whatever.

behold! the mighty cupcake!

it seemed like everyone at the picnic enjoyed the cupcakes. it's important food be visually appealing, but let's face it, taste is what counts, right?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

summer pasta

pasta is one of my favorite foods because it is quick, easy, and versatile. it can be served with vegetables, meat, or just plain with a splash of olive oil. in the summer, though, i've found a lot of traditional pasta pairings are just too heavy. red sauce and meatballs are not harmonious with humid evenings on the patio and teary glasses of iced tea.

when i came across a recipe from mario batali, "pennette with summer squash and ricotta", it sounded like the perfect way to enjoy pasta in the summertime. i've prepared similar dishes before, but what really intrigued me about this was the addition of mint.

1) cook 1 pound pennette rigate in water salted with kosher salt (i used whole grain penne from barilla)
2) whisk together 1 cup fresh ricotta and 3 tbsp olive oil. add 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (i used pecorino romano because i do not have mario batali's cheese budget) and whisk till combined. whisk in 2 tbsp warm water, then another tbsp if necessary to loosen the consistency. i also added a splash of lemon juice to give it a little citrus kick.
3) slice 1 pound summer squash or zucchini, or combination, into 1/3" thick half moons (i did not feel it was necessary to get out the ruler. mine were probably all different thicknesses). heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook squash until just tender. season with maldon salt. um, i didn't really know what maldon salt was so i used lemon sea salt flakes that i had in my cabinet.
4) drain the pasta and reserve 1/3 cup pasta water.
5) add the pasta and reserved water to the squash, mix well. cover and steam over low heat for about 2 minutes.
6) stir in 6 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh mint, season with maldon salt and pepper, and transfer to serving bowl.
garnish with dollops of whipped ricotta with additional grated parmigiano on the side. the photo in the magazine had this really creamy looking ricotta sauce. mine looked lumpy like cottage cheese, but tasted fine.
the mint gave the dish a unique twist and an invigorating tanginess. perfect for a hot summer night on the patio.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

adventures in meat: skirt steak

i am a lazy american. yes, i shop at kroger. weekly. granted, my shopping pattern probably befuddles the marketing analysis on the kroger plus card - hardly any processed or pre-packaged foods and a careless disregard for sales, coupons, and little yellow tags.

what does this have to do with skirt steak?

well, i've noticed a lot of recipes call for skirt steak. because the kroger co has to trim the number of cuts available in the meat department to make room in the store for frog-shaped watering cans and tiki torches, i have never been able to locate a skirt steak at the local kroger. i've asked meat department employees, and they have directed me to flank steak.

which i now know is not the same thing.

i decided this week to stop being lazy and actually go to a butcher. wassler meats to be precise. wassler had been recommended to me in the past for breakfast sausage (thanks, john!) so this week i bought all my meat there.

a google search told me skirt steak comes from the "plate" (see below) and is actually the diaphragm muscle. apparently it has a tendency towards toughness but has a good flavor. often it is used in fajitas.

the skirt steak i got was frozen. when it was thawed and unwrapped, what i beheld surprised me. i wasn't really expecting such a long strip of meat, displayed here by my mom.

i understand the use as fajita meat. my recipe was not for fajitas, however, but thai grilled skirt steak from the april 2010 food and wine. i marinated the steaks for nearly 24 hrs in the following mixture:

1/4 cup seasame oil

1/4 cup soy sauce (tamari)

2 tablespoons each of finely chopped ginger, garlic, cilantro, and salted roasted peanuts

2 scallions, minced (i used green onions)

1 tablespoon each of light brown sugar, lime juice, and chile oil (i used mongolian fire oil, which is a little different)

half of the marinade is reserved for the sauce and the other half coats the meat. to complete the sauce, add 1/4 cup chicken stock to the reserved marinade.

after marinating, the steaks were grilled for about 2 1/2 minutes on each side to keep them rare and prevent toughness from setting in. a light sprinkle of salt and pepper and the skirt steak was ready.

the quick time on the grill was well rewarded - the meat was very tender and flavorful. skirt steak is also a reasonably priced cut, so the ratio of enjoyment to price was favorable.

i paired it with red curry peanut noodles from a 2008 food and wine, using udon noodles instead of the spaghetti the recipe called for. the noodles were good and could stand alone. if i make them again, however, i will probably add more chicken stock and lime juice to the sauce. the peanut butter made it a little thick and sticky. i would rate the skirt steak experience a success.