Friday, October 31, 2008

Striving for tortilla de patatas

Tortilla de patatas—Spanish potato omelette—is one of those things I try to make all the time but never get exactly right. Oh, I come up with something good enough to satisfy myself (and occasionally others), but it's never anything like the comforting wedges of rich, soft-textured omelette that I remember eating in Barcelona and Valencia. Not as good as the ones made by my brother's co-worker for their office parties, either.

Nonetheless, when I have the ingredients on hand I give it a shot. I dutifully slice the potatoes and onions, saute them in olive oil until they're cooked through and not brown, and then pour the beaten egg, seasoned with some salt, over the onion and potatoes in the pan. I let the combination sit until the bottom is firm. I cover the pan with a large plate, invert the pan so the omelette falls onto the plate, and then slide the uncooked side back into the bottom of the pan. I let the new side cook. Then I tip the omelette out, let it cool, and cut myself a wedge.
It's never as good as I want it to be: the potatoes are either not soft and creamy enough or the textures aren't melded. I assume either wrong potato variety or improper technique, usually; here, I've clearly not sliced the tubers fine enough. Yet it never tastes bad, because eggs and potatoes and onions are a magical combination. When placed between two halves of a lightly toasted roll, even my botched omelette is close enough so that I'm reminded of how the bocadillos tasted in Spain. One day, I'll get it right.

Enter the giveaway!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

India's Rice 'n' Spice

IMG_8512 IMG_8509
IMG_8511 IMG_8510
Around my parents' way there are a ton of Indian grocery stores, and where I lived in Astoria, Queens there were several small markets around too. In Fort Collins, it seems there's only one—it's a good thing I happened to bike past it.
India's Rice 'n' Spice is a pretty good size, and if it carried fresh produce and sold homemade samosas at the register it would be pretty much exactly what I'm used to. I came home with two packets of frozen paratha, a bag of potato/gram flour snack mix, a roll of "nutty" cookies, and a roll of pistachio-cardamom cookies.
I pan-fried one of the paratha that night; it was flecked with mint (pudina) and was good as a midnight snack.
The next day, I cracked an egg over the paratha after the first side was toasted, and then rolled it up into a makeshift kati roll. I didn't have anything else to throw in there but some sriracha hot sauce, so it ended up being something like an Indian-flavored Chinese egg pancake. Mmm.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween + cupcake = party

The fabulously moist and flavorful pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting that WP whipped up for KS and WP's combination birthday/housewarming/halloween/new puppy party; I was tempted to have more than one. I'll try to get the recipe—the sprinkles of candied ginger on top made for an extra-special touch.

I could argue that the multiple jeweled rings and dark red polish on my fingers made for an extra-special touch on my lame "witch doctor" costume that night (think pointy hat + stethoscope), but that would just be pushing it.

Prepping pepitas for pigging out

Behold: my creation from KH's pumpkin carving party. A bunch of us gathered in her living room a few weeks before Halloween armed with knives, scoops, and paint, ready to turn innocent pumpkins into wicked-faced lanterns. I, for one, opted to go for something more cheerful—but let's not discuss how a cute little baby pumpkin face can become a sunken maw of horror when you neglect to throw it out, because that might make me cry. Let's just stick to talking about guts instead. And seeds. And pepitas.
IMG_9027 IMG_9030
IMG_9031 IMG_9048
At the party RBM and I took it upon ourselves to rescue the load of seeds hidden inside the enormous mound of discarded pulp on the carving table. As I obsessed over picking out every last one, RBM took charge as Head Pepita Chef, washing the slime and pulp away from each seed and spreading them out over a baking sheet to dry. After coating them with olive oil and salt, they went into the oven at 350 degrees to roast.
While we waited, we drank beer—pumpkin beer, of course.

Um, we also set off the smoke detector.
Sorry, KH.
No matter! By then the pepitas were charred and RBM proclaimed the pumpkin seeds roasted. So we turned off the oven, rescued them from the pan, and chowed down.
Excellent: there was plenty for everyone. Including these fellas.

This sh*t is bananas: Rasta Pasta

What makes a pasta Caribbean? From the looks of Rasta Pasta's menu, it's names like Spaghetti Trench Town, The Natural Mystic, and Dreadlock Ravioli, as well as ingredients like pineapples, jerk chicken, and bananas. Throw in some reggae music and it's definitely time to pass the doobie.
IMG_8678 IMG_8679
I joined MC and her pal for dinner at the Fort Collins location one night (there's also one in Breckenridge). Each dish came with a fresh side salad, accompanied by house-made sundried tomato vinaigrette, and a piece of toasty garlic bread. And the servers were accommodating about our request for a dish of simply pasta with butter, which MC's pal happily scarfed down as her entree.
Of course, I'm never one to go for simple when I can order "Chicken Montego Bay," penne in a light cream sauce with pineapple chunks, pieces of jerk chicken, and an assortment of fresh vegetables like cauliflower, tomatoes, broccoli, and carrots. I didn't taste much jerk on the chicken, but it hardly mattered—the dish was delicious. Huge, too; I only ate about a third before packing the rest up to take home. Next time I get the munchies I'll check out the "Tortellini Jamaica Mon," with its bananas, pineapples, grapes, and "secret spices"….

Eggplant, meet Ramyun

My once shiny, deep purple eggplant had started to look rather pathetic at the bottom of my crisper drawer. So armed with this recipe for pan-fried eggplant spiced with ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, black pepper, garam masala, and dried red chili flakes, I decided to bite the bullet and cook the damn thing already.

But as usual, I was forced to improvise. I didn't have any of the spices named in the recipe except black pepper (and that pretty much makes up my entire "spice rack"). I thought just salt and pepper would be okay, though, because of Kindelsperger's description:

But it's the eggplant, not the spices, that is extraordinary. When done, the outside becomes crispy and crunchy while the insides turn luscious and velvety. It's my new favorite way to cook eggplant. The key is to use just a little oil and cook it for a long time—about 30 minutes in a pan over medium heat. It may sound crazy, but you can't argue with results like this.

Still, minus the Indian spices the recipe seemed terribly plain. I wanted to figure out how to add some bigger punch of flavor…and that's when I spotted the Shin Ramyun. Not the noodles, which I'd already eaten in soup, but the leftover packet of MSG-laden kimchi-ness that makes the ramen world go 'round.

I really probably shouldn't admit to these things.
But I did it. I followed the directions for preparing the eggplant, and substituted sprinkles of ramen flavoring for the spice mix specified in the recipe. And you know what, it was damn tasty, enough so that I quickly went back to the pan for more. The eggplant fried up as described, and though my pieces weren't all that crispy, the insides were definitely "luscious and velvety." Over a bowl of rice, all that kimchi-MSG'd eggplant disappeared in a flash.

I was pretty thirsty afterward….

Enter the giveaway!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Oyako" sushi/roll

I had an onion on the counter; eggs, half a chicken breast, and cooked rice in my refrigerator. I got the brilliant brainwave to make oyakodon. Another brainwave, and I decided to mix the rice with a bit of rice vinegar and sugar, and to make the eggs, onion, and chicken into a flat omelette with some soba tsuyu stirred into it (I figured soba tsuyu has dashi, mirin, and soy sauce, so made a nice shortcut for normal oyakodon ingredients). From there, I cut up nori, layered a bit of the sushi rice into each rectangle, and then tucked in a strip of omelette.

Maybe it's a hybrid of oyakodon and sushi; maybe it's a sloppy, artless handroll. Maybe it's simply an abomination. However you want to explain this one, it made for a happy dinner.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fort Collins Downtown Farmer's Market

IMG_8687 IMG_8542
IMG_8686 IMG_8538
I love farmer's markets. In NYC, one of my standard amusements during the workweek was to stroll the Union Square Greenmarket at lunchtime, checking out what produce was in season and occasionally picking up flowers, local honey, cheddar-scallion scones, or a pack of cider donuts. I never could keep the plants I brought back to my office alive, but just seeing all the cheery leaves and flowers in their pots was enough to make me want to try again, every time.

So one Saturday, I woke up early to bike over to the Downtown Farmer's Market in Fort Collins, hoping to catch a little of that fresh produce magic.
The market is small, but no less satisfying. I walked around for a while and was delighted to come across the Pope Farms stand, where different varieties of fresh peppers were being roasted on the spot.
IMG_8556 IMG_8557
Though I had no idea what to do with them, I couldn't resist buying a half-bag of roasted Poblano peppers. I figured $2.50 was a small enough price for an experiment. Anyone have suggestions for what I can make?
I also bought some "imperfect" Honeycrisp apples from Ela Family Farms, a variety that JL had raved about last year on FoodMayhem. They tend to be more expensive, but I weighed my medium-sized bag at home later and was satisfied that for five bucks I had gotten about four pounds. They really are terrific apples—crisp, a little tart, with beautiful pale flesh and slightly mottled red skin.
IMG_8547 IMG_8553
An hour or two later, I walked away from the market with roasted Poblanos, a bag of apples, a bundle of Tuscan/lacinato kale, a bundle of regular kale, and three large beets with the greens attached.
It was kind of an interesting ride home.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Toy's Thai, toying with my desires

After the pad thai at Lulu's Asian Bistro, I thought it was about time to try out an actual Thai restaurant. I hadn't heard anything in particular about Toy's Thai, even though it was right next to campus, but since from the outside it sort of looked down-home and similar to the joints I was used to in Jackson Heights or Astoria in NYC, I nurtured secret hopes that the food would be awesome.

I think you know where this is going.
Here's my order of Thai iced tea, pad thai, and pad see ew. Might as well try all the standards at once, no? The odd thing was, I had specified beef for the pad see ew and chicken for the pad thai, but it wasn't until they prepared my order and handed it to me that I was informed, "No beef. Chicken pad see ew." I didn't really mind, but it would have been nice to be told beforehand.
IMG_8499 IMG_8500
Anyway. You can probably tell from appearance alone that these were imposter noodles. In the pad see ew: broccoli and carrots instead of Chinese broccoli; too much veg; too much sugar; no complex smokiness. In the pad thai: pale, dry noodles without any depth, and where are the bean sprouts, maaan? Since I love noodles no matter what, after squeezing lime all over it I wasn't unhappy eating it, but really this was like ketchup-flavored street fair pad thai than anything else. I ate some from each container, washed it down with the too-sweet iced tea, and then stuck the rest in my refrigerator: I had gotten my fill of disappointment for the day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gib's (not really) NY Bagels

Sorry, but no.
These two bagels I got from Gib's NY Bagels—sesame and egg—were underbaked and lacked the chewy, resilient texture, crunchy crust, and malty taste of the bagels I craved.
Toasting one up with salted butter and sprinkling it with some fresh pepper meant I ate some pretty good buttery toast, but it still wasn't a proper bagel. It may very well be the best version in Fort Collins—as they and others claim—but this New Yorker just can't call it the real deal.

I dug the Yankees looking logo, though (see sticker at top of door). Not that I am partial to either one of NY's home teams; it was just amusing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Make-do mapo

Its name might not have the prettiest of origins, but mapo tofu is easy to make and delicious…as long as you're not a stickler for authenticity. I had a limited amount of ingredients to work with—basically a pack of tofu, a pack of ground turkey, and spicy bean paste—but I threw these all together in a pan and came up with a meat 'n' tofu dish close enough to call itself a variation of the classic. FeistyFoodie has thorough directions and ingredient measurements for a much more respectable mapo tofu—we use the same brand of hot bean sauce, and her addition of green peas sounds perfect even though not standard—so I urge you to go there if you want a precise recipe. But if you want the basics for a lazy, one-pan version:

Slice a few cloves of garlic into thin pieces and fry until golden in some oil. Add ground turkey (or whatever ground meat you prefer) and brown it in the pan; then add in several spoonfuls of spicy bean paste, some oyster sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil, a drizzle of soy sauce, and a bit of sugar. If you have scallions on hand, throw those in too (chopped). Then add the tofu cubes. Cook until everything's heated through and serve over rice.

I eat this with steamed bok choy on the side when I have some, but like I said—I had a limited options!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fill 'er up: Oriental Grocery Store

Yo, Soops.

You write a food blog. What's with the gas station?

Hmm, well, there's the food.
Asian too, judging from that giant bag of Kokuho.

But I still don't get it.
Wait a minute…
Oriental Grocery Store—and "Air"?
Well, I'll be damned. It's an Asian grocery inside of a gas station.
Nice find.
Now go cook me some noodles!
(We'll ignore that they're still using the term "Oriental" around here.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sampling Great Harvest Bread Co.

Now that's the kind of sign I like to see.
This is the shtick of Great Harvest Bread Co., I think: all of the locations I've seen offer slices of free fresh bread. And by slice they mean full, thick, wedges, with even butter to spread on them. I passed by one of their stores and had a piece of "Dakota," a hearty bread with millet, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds. It was chewy and pretty darn delicious, but with loaves hovering around six bucks each I decided against purchasing anything, especially when I can bake my own.