Saturday, February 28, 2009

Breakfast: Chocolate and Bacon

For breakfast, I ate chocolate. And bacon. Together. Along with some Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

I'd heard great things about Mo's Bacon Bar, a chocolate bar from Vosges featuring uncured bacon and smoked salt chunks, so I finally broke down and tried it. It wasn't bad- chocolate and bacon really can't be bad- but I could do better. The bacon was not crispy, and the flavors just weren't quite blended enough. The smoked salt chunks were a little disruptive and strange.

The other big problem is the price point. I paid about $2/oz, which is still cheaper than I found it online (and also cheaper than the jamon iberico de bellota I've been lusting after at Central Market, and will never purchase, at $99/pound), but seriously. Considering I can find three or four other really excellent chocolate bars at Whole Foods for far less than $2/oz, the bacon bar had better be perfect. And it's not, at least not for me.

I appreciate the trailer-trash cachet of bacon and chocolate, but I'd rather snack on something else at that price, or make some at home and adjust the recipe for my own preferences. I prefer very crispy bacon, and I like to dip my bacon in maple syrup. I think I'd like homemade crispy bacon maple chocolate much better.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oishii, the Middle-Aged Bachelor of Sushi.

For dinner, I went to Oishii's happy hour. I had pork gyoza, five-piece spicy tuna roll, and some ikura and hamachi sashimi, with a Kirin beer.

This was my second foray into happy hour there. I don't quite know what to say. I like the decor? It actually reminds me of my favorite Jewish deli in Denver, before they renovated- 70s brown booths, paneling, kitsch.

The food is not very good, but sometimes that's ok. Particularly with sushi, I think it's important to have a cheap sushi option for those times when you want raw fish that won't kill you, but don't particularly want to spend a lot of money on it. My feast came in at about $10. So the ikura and hamachi don't seem really fresh, and the pork gyoza tastes a little like hotdog. That's ok sometimes. I ate at one of those conveyor-belt sushi restaurants in Japan, and the sushi was just as bad there. On the good side, Oishii offers a ton of choices, including uni, which is hard to find and expensive. Theirs is clearly not the highest grade (I looked it up- higher grade is distinguished by firmer texture and color), but if you just want a little uni flavor and creaminess, it's fine. They also get kudos for putting two of my favorite things- uni and ikura- into one roll.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mac n' Cheese

For dinner, I had macaroni and cheese, some bok choy, and a glass of red wine.

I was feeling supremely lazy, so this is not a tale of mornay sauce or hunting down cheap Emmenthaler (one major reason I have yet to make Bouchon's mac n' cheese). It is a tale of Easy Mac for yuppies:

At least the box is much cuter than Kraft's. There's probably something wrong with me describing my pasta purchase to Jon as "Annie's- the lady with the bunnies and shit". But I jest. I heart Annie's and her cute little bunny. Annie's Vermont white cheddar and shells is the pinnacle of pre-packaged cheesy goodness. However, the shells take forever to cook, so I decided to try their microwaveable version instead.

It's really good. By good, I mean that it tastes exactly like Kraft, minus the chalky, viscous tang of scary thickeners and colorants. All the ingredients were recognizable, if not entirely good for you- flour, cheese, whey, corn starch... I'm excited, because I occasionally have vicious mac n' cheese cravings, only to eat a bowl or two of Kraft and then get grossed out by all the weird things it contains. Annie's means I can enjoy my cheesy, starchy goodness again.

I was still just a little embarrassed by my craving for simple carbs. So I got some baby bok choy to pretend my meal was healthy. I ate it raw, because I was feeling lazy. It was strangely good with the mac n' cheese- the leaves taste a little like broccoli without being overpowering (I kind of hate raw broccoli), and the stems had a great crunchy, watery texture.

It also gave me a chance to test out my cheapskate salad spinner ($2.99 at Target). I just tried to find it online, and apparently it's too crappy to merit space on their website. The lid usually flies off mid-spin, and the crappy plastic is not dishwasher-safe, but it's cheap and mostly effective. Especially considering their next-cheapest is something like $20. My rice washer was a perfectly fine substitute (and it gets my vote for most versatile obscure cooking implement- I LOVE that thing), but I couldn't pass it up for under $3.

The wine was decent- it's from Lafite's vineyard in Chile, bottled specifically for Whole Foods. It was about $10, but I really wanted a decent Cab Sauv, so I splurged. It smells amazing- really full-bodied, lots of raspberry, very fruity- but it disappoints a bit on taste. The alcohol content (14%), while not high, comes through way more than it should. It's nowhere near as bad as heavily alcoholic California wines, but it really lacks body and substance compared with the way it smells. I'd drink it again, but there are better things out there- a nice Malbec or Tempranillo would be more substantial.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fromage a Quatre?

For dinner, I had beef and spinach ravioli with some leftover puttanesca sauce and bread with olive oil. And an intriguing dessert.

The ravioli was organic frozen ravioli from Whole Foods. Not too bad, especially since it was cooked correctly for once. I like my pasta on the chewy side of al dente, and Jon likes his on the smushy side of al dente, so pasta is a often a point of contention. It was beefy without being greasy; my only complaint was the relative paucity of filling, and the fact I couldn't taste the spinach much at all.

The puttanesca was left over from last week's orecchiete. It's Target's Archer Farms brand, which is generally good, and it's made in Italy, so I assumed it was a safe bet. But no. The sauce is atrocious. The first time we opened it, there was a good 1/2" of olive oil suspended on top of the sauce. Puttanesca (translation: whore sauce)does contain many oily, salty ingredients- olives, olive oil, anchovies- but that's no excuse. It contained enough salt to kill a large mammal, and it lacked the spiciness of a good puttanesca. It's incredibly easy to make at home, so next time I'll just do that.

For dessert, I had some cheese and wine. Neither is what you would expect.
The cheese was a leftover Valentine's Day splurge, something so weird I couldn't pass it up- chocolate, pecan, bourbon, and raisin flavored goat cheese. Called Fromage a Trois (the name is even more absurd when you count the flavors- but then, I am a humorless literalist), the cheese left me a little confused. It tastes good, it just doesn't taste anything like cheese. It tastes like very nice velvety-dark chocolate mousse, with mostly ineffectual chunks of pecan and raisin. I hate raisins, but I wouldn't have known what the mushy black things in my cheese were without checking the ingredient list. The bourbon flavor is basically non-existent. It's an interesting gimmick, but not one I expect to crave (particularly since I thought it was a splurge at $11, and then found this price list)

I had a glass of fino sherry with the cheese. A pretty sad pairing, considering the sweet "cheese", but it was still good. Fino sherry is the lightest and driest type of sherry- the drier the better in my book- and tastes like crisp apples, vanilla, and oak. It's great on a hot day after a huge meal, especially paella.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kofta at Home

For dinner, I had some kofta with rice and a glass of red wine.

Everything came from Phoenicia Market, aka the greatest place on earth. Or at least in Houston. My shopping trip also involved picking up their yummy Armenian-style vegetarian dolmades, fresh hummus, whole-wheat pita made by the bakery down the street, Sicilian olive oil, za'atar, and more of my beloved Palestinian-style fava beans.

The kofta was house-made. I wish it had an ingredient list, but no. I think it was just beef, chopped onion, and some spices. We pan-fried it in olive oil until it was nicely browned. It was a little salty, but otherwise much better than kofta I've had at restaurants, which is usually very bland.

The rice was covered in butter and some sumac. I also bought za'atar today, which is a Middle Eastern spice blend that generally contains thyme, sesame seeds, sumac, coriander, and a few other things. It's really good on pita bread (like, addictively good with some olive oil), so I broke down and bought it. I thought about trying it on the rice, but didn't. Maybe next time.

The wine was pretty good, a Marques de Caza tempranillo, under $7. Just a generic and tannic Spanish red table wine.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Brunch LOVE in Houston

For brunch, we went to Baby Barnaby's cafe in Montrose. I am in love. It's very stylish, in a laid-back artsy way. I've been wanting these lithographs (scroll down to the last collection) for months now- Barnaby's has the whole set hanging around their dining room. They have the BEST restaurant logo I've ever seen, and their food is delicious. More amazing, their food is cheap. Bonus? They have one of those cool fresh orange juice machines that you can watch efficiently slice and squeeze the oranges. Sorry. I get a little excited about orange juice machines.

The service was so efficient, it was a little scary. We had one of those amazing waiters who knows what you need before you do. I haven't had a waiter like that in a long time, and I wanted to give him a huge hug by the time brunch was over. Their menu is not terribly long, but I wanted to try almost everything on it. I ended up with the "Green Eggs"- a scramble with spinach, cheese, and artichoke hearts. And probably loads of cream. Oh my god, was it good. It tasted like the best spinach-artichoke dip you've ever had. It also came with awesome chicken-apple sausage that tasted suspiciously porky and syrupy sweet. I'm the weirdo who likes syrup on my sausage, so this was a good thing. The potato chunks that came with it were nicely fried, but needed flavor. I added some Tabasco, and they were better. If Barnaby's would just toss them with garlic or spices, they'd be perfect too.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Greek Yogurt with Pomegranate Syrup.

For breakfast, I had a bowl of Greek yogurt drizzled with pomegranate syrup. Greek yogurt is strained after it's made, resulting in a firmer texture. Imagine room-temperature cream cheese. It is available in a variety of milkfats and flavors, but I prefer the plain 2% fat. The fat-free variety is still way creamier than normal yogurt, but, well, I like fat. The pomegranate syrup has an acidic zing that's almost too much by itself (which still doesn't stop me from eating it by the spoonful...) but is balanced really well by the creamy yogurt. It also adds a little sweetness and flavor, but is more interesting than honey or fruit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Clafouti, Yum.

I made this a few days back for dinner, but I just uploaded photos, so I figured I'd share. I used this recipe to make the clafouti, subbing in strawberries and bourbon. It was a little eggy for my tastes, but much better with a drizzle of pomegranate syrup (my latest addiction).

Brunch at Home

I really hate breakfast, but I've been trying to eat huge ones because it's supposed to be good for you. We had some leftover smoked salmon from yesterday's bagel, and our eggs were about to go bad. Solution? Soft-scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a side of oatmeal.

I cracked the eggs into my skillet, added a little salt and cream cheese, and stirred. The salt stems from the Cooks' Illustrated recommendation that salting prior to cooking leads to more tender eggs. The cream cheese gives it a creamy texture, without thinning the egg and making it tougher, which is what added milk tends to do. I cooked over relatively low heat, which takes longer but supposedly keeps the eggs from getting rubbery. Toward the end, I added the smoked salmon in chunks. It was tasty, if a little salty between the lox, cream cheese, and added salt. Low blood pressure runs in the family, so it's probably not a bad thing.

I made oatmeal to go with the eggs. I don't really believe in cooking rolled oats (they get too mushy), so I just mixed it with some milk and toasted almonds and pretended it was museli. The breakfast was filling without being too big, and went well with my Dunkin' Donuts coffee.