Category Archives: favorite foods

Pho sure!

Is there anything more satisfying than a humongous bowl of pho?
Maybe there is, to you, but I sure love sinking into this fragrant soup filled with amazing aromas, crunchy bean sprouts and fiery chilies.

2010-08-22 11.02.32I was first introduced to pho at a little hole in the wall Vietnamese place here in Florida. This place is authentic (and people do swear by its magical powers and great, cheap food) with Buddhas strategically placed and Vietnamese TV on in the background.

I had the vegetarian pho, and what struck me especially was the little side dish of condiments – basil, bean sprouts, chili peppers, lime) that signaled you to place them gently atop the finished soup, creating a masterpiece. It’s almost too pretty to eat!

When I get a hankering, I make my own at home (see above pic). It’s not hard. I love my river rice noodles, so those are very important. You can add anise, black pepper, garlic, and what not to a good veggie based broth. Add tofu (or leave it out), green onions, sliced mushrooms, gently simmer. Then you can begin adding your pretty condiments. Pho is adaptable to whatever you have on hand – it’s a lovely, gentle, forgiving soup. 🙂

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I’m back!

Hi. Again, I am so sorry I’ve been neglectful here. When I signed in I realized the last post was from ….AUGUST! Yikes! Well, welcome back you all, thank you to my new followers, and I promise to try and post once a week!

Happy new year – 2014 is off to a roaring start. I’ve been doing research on raw foods, something I would like to try and eat more this year! There’s a fantastic raw vegan cafĂ© out on St Pete Beach (for you vegan vacationers that ever make it this way) called Vida de CafĂ©. It’s chic, a little funky, super clean and welcoming, and they have an impressive menu of raw creations. I’ve been there a handful of times, and I LOVE their raw tacos. (I’ve even made a version of theirs at home!) Their ‘sushi’ is wonderful, too. The menu is small and simple and I think that’s great, so they can concentrate on making excellent the few things they have.

Anyhoo…more raw food for me this year, yes, please!

Another new obsession in my life: spaghetti squash. HOW HAVE I NEVER HAD THIS BEFORE? Me, being the noodleholic and squash lover…two things combined into one faboo meal? Zing! I made mine cheesy with vegan cream cheese and some nooch…oh, my. I was surprised at how filling it is, too!


baked-spaghetti-squash-garlic-butter-4564

Ok. I’ll be back soon, I promise, with more musings! Tell me, what are your food plans for 2014?

Something’s fishy

…or is it? One of the last things I gave up before going vegetarian was seafood. Ever since I was a kid, seafood was always preferable to me over beef, chicken,or pork. Really, there was no kind of seafood I didn’t really like – I even dabbled a few times in raw oysters! But now, I think, eww.

Yet it isn’t really me ‘missing’ seafood so much that prompted me to bread tofu in seafood breading. After a quick (nostalgic?) perusal in  the ‘breadings section’ of the supermarket recently, I pondered the possibility of dredging tofu and frying it up as if it were fish. photo(2)Couldn’t be half bad, could it?

Lo, the experiment turned out okay. I drained firm tofu and pressed it to get most of the moisture out. Then I prepared a plate for the seafood breading. Now, here is where some vegan recipes say to add powdered kelp or kombu to the mix to give it that fishy taste, but I skipped that step. It wasn’t so much the fishy flavor I needed as much as the illusion that I was consuming seafood.

I wanted a fish stick effect – so I sliced the firm tofu into ‘fingers’ (as they call ’em in the UK). Rolled and rolled them in the coating, then pan-fried them in vegetable oil. After draining them on a paper towel, but while still hot, I dipped the fingers in both ketchup and malt vinegar (but not at the same time!). And you know what? It was pretty good. Not so much like fried seafood that you would be fooled, but decent enough to give hardcore tofu haters a run for their money.

Would I make it again? Yes, and I think next time I’ll try a breading with Old Bay Seasoning in it just to give it a little oomph.

The five foods I can’t live without

You’ve seen the “desert island” lists before, those fantasy lists detailing the top five books/records/people/etc that, were you stranded on a deserted island, rank the top 5 you couldn’t live without. But what about food? What if I had no fantastical desire to be stranded on an island (as sexy as it may sound), but rather just needed to compile a list of my five most coveted foodstuffs?

As much as I love food, the answers were surprisingly easy to come by. Here they are, in no particular order, for I love and crave them all equally:

Avocado. Six year-old me wouldn’t have touched an avocado if it were the last food available on Earth. Now, grown-up me cannot get enough. Avocado sushi? Yes please. Guacamole? I could eat it with a spoon. In paninis, salads, even on pasta? Avocado has a place there, too. I’ve been known to become fanatical about the fluctuating cost of these fleshy green beauties (see my Twitter feed) and have taken to frequenting local farmer’s markets for the best possible bargain on my favorite fruit.

Pita bread. Versatile, healthful, what more could you ask for in a bread? I use mine as a base for quick veggie pizza, slice them up and toast as pita chips, or use it to make breakfast fruit pockets (see previous post). Thankfully, there are a few companies in Tampa that produce excellent pita bread, and the best are sold at local health food stores.

Noodles. I never met a noodle I didn’t like. Soba, somen, vermicelli, bean thread, spaghettini, ramen; noodles made from spinach, noodles made from rice. Doesn’t matter. If it’s noodly, I’m addicted to it and have been since I was a toddler. You’ll find me trawling the local Asian markets’ noodle aisle like some kind of stalker. Don’t mind me; I’m just setting up for my next fix. (I still have yet to try shirataki noodles – I’m a little wary because someone once told me they ‘smell weird.’)

Hummus. I’m always in search of the perfect hummus. I’ve even tried making my own, and while the taste was okay, I couldn’t get the texture just right. I’m particular to garlic hummus, but have had some smashing ones from local restaurants and even Trader Joe’s (a jalapeno/cilantro hummus? Yes please!). I find it hard to live without hummus because I love snacky-type things, and hummus has quickly replaced bean dip as my go-to guy, whether I want to dunk chips or a carrot stick (or the aforementioned pita chips).

Sushi. You may argue with me on this one, but is there anything more sublime than sushi? Perfect little pockets of (usually) healthy goodness, dipped tenderly in a heady soy sauce, daubed with a smidge of fiery wasabi, and edible in one bite? The perfect finger and party food, sushi is something I would grandly weep over if it disappeared. You’ve got your sushi connoisseurs, your purists, and your simple “hey, let’s grab sushi” once-in-a-whilers; I’m somewhere in between. I’ve had fabulous sushi and horrid sushi. You know which is which once you take one bite. Lucky for me, it’s become so commonplace that even my local supermarket carries in in ready to go lunch packs; no waiting involved. My perfect roll: brown sticky rice, nori on the inside, avocado, carrot, asparagus, and topped with a spicy sauce. Were I stranded on an island and had only this to eat, I would be a very happy girl indeed.

Appealing to my senses

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I love tofu. No, really, I do love it. It’s not as if, as a vegetarian, I am obligated to like it. I know a few vegetarians who positively dislike tofu – its texture, taste (or lack of it, in most cases), and general association with bland hippie fare. Yes, I know how maligned tofu has been through the decades, but I keep telling folks if they just had it prepared properly, flavorfully, they might learn to enjoy it (or at least tolerate it).

Sweet, spicy, salty, garlicky...perfect.


Here’s a dish I discovered that appeals to my appreciation of tofu as well as my favorite cuisine: Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce. I came across the recipe in, of all places, Gourmet magazine’s Web site, while looking for Korean vegetarian food. (We have no Korean restaurants in my town; so one must make do on their own.)
It elevates that scary cube of tofu from ghostly white tasteless hunk to a savory, satisfying, super-easy dish. The “spicy garlic sauce” really is none other than a very basic Asian blend of sweet, spicy, salty, garlicky goodness that personally sings to my heart. It’s lip-smackingly delicious, and tofu never has dressed up so simply, so good.

I prepared this dish with brown rice. The rice soaks up the leftover sauce, and the whole affair ends up satisfyingly healthful. (You can use low-sodium soy sauce here if the salt content makes you nervous. I used my favorite Vietnamese full-on soy sauce, but that’s me.) I snipped green onions from my garden, and doubled the garlic. The sauce would go great on soba or somen noodles, too. Make up a small batch to keep on hand, because if you are an ‘Asian craver’ like me, you’ll be thinking about this at 2 in the morning (dip spring rolls in it, too!).

Guac this way

Guacamole and I have a steamy relationship. If I could have a torrid love affair with one food product, it would very likely be guac. Why, you ask? Good guacamole – the kind I custom-make at home – has all the sensual elements required of a secret food love: creaminess; garlic bite; smooth, cool, spreadability; versatility when I need it…

I want you. I want you so bad.


Okay, enough of the sexy talk. Guacamole – when made properly – and its main component, avocado – provides a good dose of healthy fats to your diet. I like to keep mine simple as possible. Not only do I dip blue corn tortilla chips in my guac, but it’s great as a sandwich or wrap spread, on a burger, and even dolloped on a salad. That’s why when avocados are at their cheapest, I buy two or three and go on a guac spree.

Two soft Hass avocados, the softer the better
Red onion, chopped finely, about 1/3 cup
Chopped cilantro, about 2 Tb
Extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tb
Red hot pepper flakes, 1 tsp
Sea salt, 1/2 Tb
Lemon, for squeezing

Combine all ingredients except lemon in a bowl and mash the avocados well. Squeeze fresh lemon on top to keep the guac from browning. Stir again. Chill for about 10 minutes. See how long you can stay away from it.

Grilled Cheese to the Rescue!

What could be more comforting—and more American—than the good-old grilled cheese sandwich? For nearly a century, grilled cheese has been a mainstay of schoolchildren and those in need of an ooey, gooey haven in which to disappear. Often teamed up with a bowl of tomato soup, the grilled cheese has been elevated to a spot near the top of the comfort food chart. Yet grilled cheese has also suffered disrespect from those in the gourmet community. Too mushy. Greasy. Too fattening. Flaccid bread, and flavorless cheese. And oh, if you cook it wrong, if you don’t have the timing involved, it becomes a charred, ruined mess at the bottom of your skillet.

WOOHOO! CHEESE!

True, a perfectly turned-out grilled cheese sandwich requires a quick wrist and savvy timing in order to coincide perfectly melted-all-the-way-through cheese, and golden, not black, toast. But recently, grilled cheese has grown up. It’s shunned the need for its tomato soup sidekick and emboldened itself.

The Woodstock Farmers’ Market in Vermont offers a version of grilled cheese that has been hailed by some as the as the best grilled cheese sandwich in New England.

Called the “Quechee Gorge,” it is comprised of fresh ingredients found at the market, which combines a store and restaurant. Here are the ingredients for assembling this amazing three-cheese sandwich, named for the river gorge located 10 miles east of Woodstock.

Quechee Gorge Grilled Cheese

  • 2 slices parrano cheese
  • 2 slices Italian provolone
  • 2 slices Vermont cheddar, or any sharp cheddar
  • 1 Tb. coarse grain mustard (preferably with honey)
  • 2 slices hothouse tomatoes (room temperature)
  • 2 slices focaccia
  • 3 Tb. butter (not margarine)

Preparation:
Assemble sandwich first by spreading both slices of focaccia with the mustard. Place one slice of tomato on the inside of the bread slice. Place cheese slices on bread,  alternating between kinds of cheese,  finishing up with last slice of tomato. Top with remaining focaccia slice.

Heat a skillet, preferably cast iron, and add butter. Do not let butter burn. Maintain steady heat and make sure skillet is properly coated with melted butter.  Place sandwich in pan, and press down with spatula to fry bread. Keep the skillet hot but not at burning point. Continue to apply pressure with spatula until bottom layers of cheese begin to melt. Flip sandwich over and repeat until all cheese has melted. Be sure to not let focaccia burn, but make sure it has a nice, golden toastiness. Serve immediately.

“Our kitchen staff takes loving care of that sandwich, ” Woodstock Market proprietor Patrick Crowl says. “The secret is enough time on the grill—and plenty of butter.”

For those in search of a more traditional version of the good-old American grilled cheese, Pickle Packers International in Washington, D.C. shared a recipe that doesn’t stray far from the familiar—yet it includes their condiment of choice: pickles. They recommend cutting the sandwiches into triangles to up the “fun” factor.

Dilled Grilled Cheese Sandwich

  • 8 slices whole wheat bread
  • 8 slices low-fat American cheese product
  • 12 sliced-lengthwise sandwich pickles

Preparation:

Using four slices of bread, layer each with a slice of cheese, three long pickle slices, and another slice of cheese. Top each with remaining bread slices. Cook over medium heat in non-stick skillet or griddle 1 to 2 minutes until bread is toasted on both sides and cheese is melted. Serves 4.