Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tortellini at Home

For dinner, I had some pesto tortellini with bolognese sauce, chicken meatballs, and a glass of malbec to drink.

I was very skeptical of the tortellini, but it was pretty tasty in the end. Jon found it at TJ's, on the dry pasta aisle. I had never had a dry stuffed pasta before (the concept scares me), but they rehydrated really well. The texture was as good as fresh tortellini, and the pesto was refreshing and pungent. The meatballs were likewise good. Even more surprising, the sauce was also good. I have trouble remembering which pasta sauces I like at TJ's, and I haven't been impressed with very many of them (and I generally dislike bolognese), but theirs was well-balanced and fruity. Maybe the tiniest bit sweet, but it was still very good.

The malbec, 2009 La Finca, was likewise decent. It was young, and could have used more air (or aging), but not bad. It was a good pasta/pizza red.

In other news, my cider experiment is quickly going south....

I saw this blog post awhile ago, and finally got around to trying to ferment cider. It sounds so darn easy. And maybe it will turn around yet. Basically, all you need is yeast (champagne or beer; I used champagne because it was cheaper; bread yeast will work, too, but apparently makes your alcohol taste like boozy bread), juice, a stopper, and an airlock.

Less than $2 at the beer supply store, plus the juice, and I was in business. It's been sitting around for eight days now, so I decided it was time to sample. It sucks. It's definitely drier than it was before, and carbonated, so it's clearly fermenting. But it lacks dimension, and hasn't been bubbling vigorously. This is completely a learning experience for me, and I had low expectations anyway. Based on nothing more than a tiny bit of chemistry/biology knowledge and my proclivities for wild cooking experimentation, I added more yeast to the mixture this evening, based on the theory that maybe I didn't let the yeast bloom enough before adding it to the juice initially. We will see.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

TJ's Win

For lunch, I had some "multigrain pilaf" from TJ's, along with a huge mug of tea.

I don't like the vaccuum-packed Indian meals as much as Jon does. I'll eat them, but I get sick of them quickly, whereas he could eat them for months on end. Happily.

So I was skeptical about this, which is basically a grainier version of those. But I couldn't pass up the uber-healthy ingredient list: two kinds of millet, cracked wheat, and soybeans, with some tomato, onion, and spices. Huge amounts of fiber and protein.

Given the caveat that I love whole grains, it is AWESOME. I'd heard talk of TJ's Harvest Grain mix a few weeks back, but balked on buying it because it's actually not that healthy (Israeli couscous= white flour; orzo= white flour); this is much healthier, and much easier because it's already prepared. Win. It tastes just like a generic Indian vaccuum-pack meal (tomato+onion+turmeric+garlic), but with better texture and substance. It's slightly more expensive than the Harvest mix per serving, but that's okay- it's still under $3 for two generous, filling servings, and it's hassle-free. It would be a great vegetarian main course.

The tea was also nice. The dog and I walked to our favorite coffee shop in the rain to buy more beans, about 3mi round-trip 4.6 miles...I knew I was tired (with a nice little detour into Forest Park), so the tea helped me defrost.

Celestial Seasoning's Tension Tamer is perfect- spearmint, catnip, and eluthero, mostly. It really does help with stress, and I know a number of professionals who are addicted to it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Restaurant Roundup

I was going to make a not-entirely-eating-related post about urban gardening. And then I noticed all the random restaurant photos I had floating around. So, here's some restaurant opinions, then the gardening...

Blueberry Hill. Good, cheap food. Great burgers. Chuck Berry plays there once a month. And the place is full of kitschy collections.

This is the lucha libre-themed Mexican bar we went to a few weeks ago. It could be the set of a Quentin Tarantino film. And their margaritas weren't bad, either.

I have no idea what it's called. I thought it was something like "Bar Mexico City", but it's not very Googleable. We just ended up there. Wander down Washington Avenue, and you'll find it.

Then there's the hookah bar:

Petra, on South Grand. Doesn't look like much, but it's the best. Very laid-back, with yummy appetizers and good prices on hookah. They also have BUBBLES! Smoke-filled bubbles are awesome and fun.

On to the gardening...

I used to think gardening was intimidating, but it's actually really easy. I haven't had a yard since I started a few years ago, so it's all about well-drained pots- the cheaper, the better- and some dirt.

This year, I found some cool windowbox-style planters that hang off the deck nicely and conserve space, along with strawberry rootlets, at Wal-Mart. I also bought some summer squash and chive seeds, to go with the bush bean and dwarf cucumber left over from last summer.

Today, I planted a few of everything in these little red cups left over from our Superbowl party. In a few weeks, I'll transfer whatever's thriving into my planters. Pretty low-stress.

The strawberry rootlet was weird. It was a random impulse purchase, and I was expecting lots of little roots. No, it was a giant clump of roots and shoots. So I planted it. Presumably it will turn out okay.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mi Ranchito en St. Louis

For dinner, I had mole ranchero from Mi Ranchito, with some chips and salsa.

No me gusta. This was our second visit to the little ranch, and I recalled not liking it last time, but I couldn't remember why. Instead of ordering something else, I ordered the same thing I'd gotten last time. Oops. To be fair, I really can't resist mole, and the rest of their menu looked boring. Except for their taco plates, which DID look delicious, but I refuse to order on principle- almost $11 for three little tacos and no sides is not cool.

On the good side, their salsa is pretty nice- it has a bit of a garlic-onion glow that wakes me up without off-flavors or sourness. Also on the good side is that their website is somewhat in Spanish. I have a mostly worthless degree in Latin American Studies, so things like that make me happy...

But the mole? So sad. It's not the worst I've ever had (that would be grainy, oily mole sauce from the grocery store), and I think it's homemade, but it's too sweet, really thin, and not very complex. Oddly, it also has that cornstarch shine I associate with Chinese sauces, though does not taste of cornstarch (thank god).

Even worse, they have a bad habit of never asking about tortillas. I strongly prefer corn, and they always bring flour ones. I just forget to request corn, but it's a little annoying they never ask. As flour tortillas go, they weren't bad.

The big cooking project I've put off for far too long is making a mole from scratch. I have Rick Bayless' recipes for it, but the thirty or so different spices and chiles each kind call for have scared me a little. It looks about as involved as Indian from scratch (which I have done, and which is rightfully delicious). I'll hopefully have a lot of spare time in the next few weeks, so maybe I'll try making a mole and post about it. Maybe it will give me a new respect for homemade moles, crappy or not.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tom Yum Laziness

For dinner, I had a "Trader Ming's Tasty Thai Meal" and a glass of nero d'avola.

My TJ's infatuation is beginning to fade- they just make it too easy to be lazy. At the same time, it's impossible to stop going there- when I go somewhere else, to buy "real" groceries (like, you know, produce), I invariably find something I want, grab it, look at the price, and *damn*. It's twenty cents cheaper at TJ's. I know my compulsion to not buy them, then go to TJ's directly afterward to save twenty cents each on three or four things is neurotic and insane, but I really can't help myself.

In any case, we went to TJ's today, and found ourselves stocking up on all the lazy prepared foods we shouldn't buy (and never used to buy), but somehow got lulled into buying because TJ's is so darn charming.

Come dinnertime, it was lazy, scary prepared food, or spend more than an hour roasting sweet potatoes and defrosting frozen salmon. Scary food won. It was pretty scary: tom yum sauce with rice and those pickled mini-corn things. They were apparently going for Thai. Not awful, but overwhelmingly salty, and not nearly spicy or flavorful enough. The topmost layer, which I apparently didn't mix with the rice effectively, had very strong sour flavors, like Indian lime pickle. I was also getting strong undertones of cheesiness throughout the dish. With the carby rice, it could have been some strange midwestern take on mac n' cheese, a la Minnesota's hotdishes. Not a repeat TJ's purchase on my part, but maybe Jon will like it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Carnitas at Home

For dinner, I had beans, rice, and carnitas. With another bad beer.

This was a lazy meal- the only thing I had to cook was rice. And I have a rice cooker, so that doesn't really even count. Don't worry, to make up for this laziness, I made cookies after dinner.

The black beans came from my freezer- I pre-cooked a ton last month to facilitate packing lunches. I hate boring sandwiches, but also hate salty/pricey/weirdly gelatinous canned beans.

I heated the beans, added some rice, a little salt, butter, and Marie Sharp's, and topped the whole thing with some carnitas from TJ's. TJ's seems to have discontinued their delicious garlicky carnitas. These came packed differently and were less tasty- really dry, not as flavorful. Why does TJ's have to discontinue everything tasty?

In other news, I discovered these today at TJ's.

Dried hibiscus flowers. I bought them to eat, but, upon further examination, discovered their true use- art!

They're not very tasty. Too dry. Kind of like a dry cranberry. BUT- they're gorgeous. Translucent, in really nice deep red shades. Some are very structured, like this one, while others resemble little octopi or grassy fronds. They brought back memories of my panicked freshman-year art class final, in which I had to come up with a still life and draw it. Being an inveterate procrastinator, I waited until the night before it was due, only to discover the only thing still-life-ey I had around were some extremely grim and dessicated calmyrna figs. Needless to say, I didn't do very well. But maybe if I'd had some of these, I would have.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fuul at Home

For dinner, I had fava beans and a few slices of Ryvita, with a Bud Light to drink.

It should be noted I haven't grocery shopped in weeks, and was feeling too lazy to go tonight. Hence the obscure pantry foods.

The canned favas were another item we picked up at the ethnic market a few weeks ago. They're always really tasty, so we get them a lot. Just watch out for some of the flavors- they're obliquely named, so it's hard to know what it will taste like- unless you're an expert on Middle Eastern cuisine, which I am not. I like Palestinian-style, but once we bought Egyptian-style and they tasted (and smelled) like vomit. I could barely stand being in the house while they were being heated, much less eat them.

The flavors also seem to vary by brand. Tonight's wasn't even labeled with a "style", just "foule medames" (which I presume might mean it's Egyptian-style, because that's mostly their dish). It was way spicier than any other canned favas I've had, but the spiciness was great.

The Ryvita was also good. I love Ryvita, and was somewhat blind to the fact that everyone thinks they're gross (also didn't realize they're the British dieter's equivalent of rice cakes. Thanks, Wikipedia, for making me feel even more freakish about my snacking habits), until I broke them out at our Superbowl party and got a lot of confused glares. Yes, they're bland and dry, but they're really good for you and make a nice base for sweet or savory toppings (after which they're still dry, but at least tastier).

And the crappy beer? Also left over from the Superbowl party. A case of it has actually been living on our back porch since then, forgotten, but it's been so cold out the beer's fine- at least as fine as Bud Light can be.