Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taqueria los comales, again

I first ate at Taqueria los Comales back in June, when I came to Fort Collins for a weekend to scope out housing. After trying their chicken burrito, I was eager to try more items from their menu, especially when I got here and realized the place was only a few streets away from my apartment.

A mishap with laundry led me there again. I was midway through my wash when I realized I had miscalculated the number of quarters I had for the dryer, and it was too cold to hang my clothing on the line instead. Where to get change? So I called in a pick-up order for four carnitas tacos and one carne asada torta at Taqueria los Comales, and exchanged a fiver for a handful of quarters once I paid. Dinner and laundry: done.

I ate the tacos that night, topped with a variety of salsa and condiments that I had packed up from the salsa bar: chipotle salsa, salsa verde, salsa roja, pico de gallo, lime wedges, and charred, marinated jalapenos. They were good, but I was reminded of why I rarely eat tacos: too freaking messy! If my hands weren't drippy already, I would have switched to a knife and fork. Because I am a princess.
As for the torta, I had it for lunch the next day. The sandwich was huge, though mostly because of the bread diameter and not because it was packed high with ingredients. It was good once I flattened and heated it in a pan, as it should have been prepared in the first place (it had come without any grilling at all). I think there are better tortas out there but this one was still satisfying.

By the way, it seems that in the last half year prices have gone up. When I ate there in the summer, tacos were four for $6.00 and a torta was $5.50; now both items have gone up by a dollar. At $7.00 and $6.50 respectively, neither item has entered into "expensive" territory, but they're no longer super cheap, either.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The ultimate chew: Stir-fried Chinese rice cakes

It's something about the texture, I guess. The chewiness of items made from rice flour is different from that of typical bread or pasta; it's stretchier, smoother, bouncier; firmer than pasta but also something like gnocci…sort of. Whatever is it, there's a certain resilience to rice-flour products that I love, and with rice cakes (or "ovalettes"), this chewiness is taken to a very satisfying level.
I was excited to see the bag of rice cakes in one of the Asian groceries around here. Cooking with them is simple, but does take a little bit of foresight, as they need to be soaked in cold water for two hours beforehand. That's all it is, though: throw them in a bowl of water, leave them alone. When you're ready to cook with them, drain the water and simply add them to the pan along with your other cooked ingredients.

My usual recipe for rice cakes is to stir-fry them with fish cakes, shitake mushrooms, and napa cabbage, but here I decided to make them with Chinese sausage, onion, and red and green peppers, because that's what I had on hand. First I pan-fried the sliced sausages, then scooped them out and sauteed the onions and peppers in the traces of grease left in the pan. When they were nearly cooked through, I added the soaked rice cakes and a sauce of about three parts soy sauce, two parts oyster sauce, and one part sesame oil. It didn't take too long for the rice cakes to soften and for the sauce to coat the ingredients.
I liked how this dish came out, but I still like the flavors of my other recipe better, I think. The sausages were too sweet along with the peppers and onions; something like beef or chicken would have worked out better. Or maybe I just need to adjust proportions?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Advocating avocado maki

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I don't usually have so many avocados around, but they were selling for fifty cents apiece at Sunflower Farmer's Market (my favorite grocery store here, and a decent stand-in for Trader Joe's), so I couldn't resist buying a few. One went into tuna-avocado salad, but a person can only eat so much tuna. I was trying to figure out how I wanted to consume the other one when I realized I had nori in the pantry and some cooked rice in the fridge. Decision made: avocado maki.

I made just two small rolls. First, I cut a full sheet of nori in two. To make sushi rice, I added rice vinegar and a bit of sugar to about five ounces of heated short-grain rice, mixing until it cooled again. Then I sliced one half of a Hass avocado into thick wedges. That's pretty much all the preparation I did for the ingredients.

To make a roll, I spread half the sushi rice over the half-sheet of nori, lay out avocado in a strip across it, and used my fingers to press it all into a tube. I didn't have a rolling mat so they came out a little loose, but hey, no one was eating it but me. That's one of the great benefits of cooking and eating alone, you know—if you mess it up, no one has to know.

Except when I post my messes across the internet.
So they weren't the prettiest of specimens, but they tasted good. Let's just call them "rustic," hmmm?
I ate the other half of the avocado the next day, paired with swiss cheese and Branston Pickle on crusty (okay, slightly burnt) homemade bread. It was delicious, man!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Gas Station Chronicles: Caribbean Food Shack

This is the Caribbean Food Shack, but it ain't just any old shack. This shack happens to be located inside a gas station in Fort Collins, CO.
What's with the combo gas stations in this town?
(And why are so few gas stations in general open after 10pm?)
If the food weren't any good, it wouldn't matter where this shack was located. But judging from the "combo pie" I sampled, the Caribbean Food Shack is definitely a keeper. The seasoned mashed potato and ground beef came piping hot inside a crisp, freshly fried shell, and the Angela's "Trini Style" Hot Sauce and tamarind chutney that came with it were fine, flavorful additions.
Most days they seem to stop serving food around 7 pm, so for late-night cravings this is not your spot. For all other times, though, this is one of the more unique offerings in town. I'm definitely going back to try their other items, especially their much-touted BakeNShark sandwich: "Fried shark stuffed in tasty fried bake bread and filled with crispy Chow Slaw and covered in our fresh sweet Cocktail Sauce." Yes, please.

Giveaway! …which has nothing to do with food

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I suppose it's obvious from this blog that I'm pretty obsessed with food. What you may not know is that I'm also obsessed with making jewelry. I've been creating earrings, necklaces, and bracelets out of sterling silver and semi-precious stones and crystals for several years now, and though I took a break from it for a while, I have finally updated my Etsy store to highlight some of the items I make. So, this is just a little announcement (and plea) for you all to go check it out! Also, because this post really doesn't have anything to do with food and I feel I should make it mean something to you readers, I'm hosting a little giveaway for one (1) of the eight pairs of earrings pictured here.
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I have no idea who reads Salty/Savory/Sweet, and I'd love to get to know more of you. So to enter, comment on this post with how you came across this site and what keeps you reading—or what you'd like to see more of. Also, make sure to indicate which one of these eight earrings you'd like: Lipstick, Swirl, Creme de la Creme, Cherry Cocktail, Rock Candy, Perfect, Flamenco, Two Tonight. For more detail about each pair, click on its picture or name to go to the Etsy listing.

(I'm aware that the nature of this giveaway means I'll probably only get responses from female readers, but come on fellas, you all have a gal in your life that would appreciate some jewelry, right?)

One entry per person, please, and the contest will end Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 11 pm mountain time. I'll then choose a winner via a random number generator or some other clever method.

Good luck, and I hope to hear from you all!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Chinese Night" in The Fort

Like the previous "Sri Lankan Night," Apartment Life was hosting a "Chinese Night," and I dropped in to see what they had planned. At the food table, I pointed to various goodies, many of which I hadn't tasted in a while: braised pork belly, tea eggs, chicken stewed in soy sauce. I was glad to eat some Chinese home cooking from students, although I did giggle a bit when I got to the "fried rice" that was simply white rice with frozen peas and corn stirred in.

Does anyone have a recipe for the marinated potato dish above (the thin, white shreds located around 7 o'clock)? The tubers are slicked in oil and something vinegary, and are just barely cooked so still have a bit of crunch, sort of like the texture of water chestnut. I remember my mom making this, but it's been a long, long time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Apple clafouti, or "my oven hates me"

How sad, how burnt you are, apple clafouti. This dessert was meant to be a nice addition to the potluck table at a gathering for poet Linda Bierds and essayist Marybeth Holleman, both of whom were visiting campus as readers in the Changing Climates series, but my oven had a different plan in mind.

I had come up with the idea for clafouti, basically a batter cake with fruit sunk into it, because I had leftover half-and-half from the creamed succotash in the fridge and because my Honeycrisp apples were starting to get a little old. I decided to improvise using a combination of this recipe and pancake mix as a base, since the pan I borrowed from MC was huge and I didn't have enough half-and-half to make a double batch of proper batter.

Using flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and the cream I had left I mixed up the basic recipe for the batter, and also incorporated two cups of prepared pancake mix (with two extra eggs and half a stick of butter added). For the fruit topping, I peeled and diced about five large apples, which I sauteed in half a stick of melted butter and half a cup of sugar until they were mostly cooked through and a syrup had formed in the pan. After pouring the batter into the buttered glass pan, I spooned the cooked apples over the batter and drizzled the remaining syrup on top.

Then I stuck it into my preheated oven, whereupon the oven betrayed me.
See, my oven is old. Okay, my whole apartment is old and also '70s looking—not in the fun way—but that's not the point. My oven has no window in the front and is intent on burning everything I put in it. I've already discussed the difficulties I've been having with baking bread and chalked it up to altitude, but I'm gradually starting to realize that my oven also runs hot, or something, because everything I've been baking at regular times and temperatures has been coming out blackened. I set my oven at 400 degrees for this clafouti and checked it after fifteen minutes (ten to fifteen minutes shy of the specified baking time in the recipe) and found the top beginning to char. When I cut into it at the potluck a few hours later, I found that the bottom of the clafouti had turned to black rubber. Only one corner was relatively unscathed.

If you only ate the top the clafouti was fine, but what kind of dessert is that? Half the folks at the potluck thought it was noodle kugel or something, too; powdered sugar on top probably would have helped, but I didn't have any. People ate it…but not many. Sigh.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving: Creamed succotash, orange-cranberry sauce

Here are two things I made for a graduate teaching assistant Thanksgiving potluck—which took place two and a half weeks before actual Thanksgiving Day. Now you see how behind I am.

Because I had both corn and lima beans, I took a recipe for creamed corn and a recipe for lima beans in cream and mashed them together to make what I later realized was a creamed succotash. It turned out really well! Here's the recipe:

Take half an onion, minced, and cook it in half a stick of melted butter until it is translucent. Add the kernels from about six or seven ears of corn and a one-pound bag of frozen lima beans. Add half a cup of water, bring to a boil, and then lower heat and allow the vegetable to simmer for about ten or fifteen minutes to cook through. Add a cup of half-and-half (both recipes call for heavy cream, but I decided to lighten things up a little). Simmer over low heat until the lima beans plump up and the corn is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste; I had to add a bit of sugar too as the corn I used was not quite sweet enough on its own, but you may not have to.

This makes quite a large potful, somewhere between 2.5 and 3 quarts, I think.
I also made cranberrry sauce for the first time, following the directions for "Fresh Cranberry Sauce" on the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries I bought. Always one to gild the lily, though, I substituted a cup of orange juice for the cup of water, and cut back the sugar by a third to compensate for the sugar in the orange juice. Unfortunately, while the final result was good it didn't boast much orange flavor. Zest would definitely help next time.

I liked watching the berries pop as they simmered, gradually softening and releasing their juices until the sauce was a deep, rich crimson. Making cranberry sauce is fun.
At SON's house, the table was loaded with food: classics like turkey, stuffing, rolls, and mashed potatoes side by side with greek-style pasta and deviled eggs. Later, there was homemade pecan pie and vanilla ice cream to top it. Altogether a fine preview to the feasting in store later on.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Late-night Revolution Donuts

In Old Town, next to a bar my classmates and I often meet at, is Revolution Donuts, which keeps amusing hours. Monday through Thursday they are open from 7am to 12pm, but on weekends—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—they are open from 8:30pm to 2:30am. How brilliant to make a point of catering to drunken, late-night donut cravings! On nights out, I always pass by debating whether I should go get one.
On one such occasion I finally dropped in and picked up a coconut-covered chocolate donut before biking home. Back in my apartment, I ate half, savoring its moist, dense cake and sweet shreds of coconut.
The next morning I ate the other half with a cup of steaming black coffee, so you can be sure that you're getting a sober opinion: it was a pretty good donut. Haven't tried the others, but it's probable I will eventually.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Eats from around the globe at the World Unity Fair

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Had I arrived six minutes earlier, I would have made it to the computer lab before it closed. But I didn't.

With five or six things things to print out and my work at a standstill without them, I was mighty cranky. So I decided to make my trip onto campus worthwhile by going to the World Unity Fair being held in the student center.
Boy am I glad I did. For four dollars I received five tickets, which I could trade for several of the many entrees, desserts, and beverages prepared by student cultural groups across campus. Two tickets to the Libyan Students Association got me a sizable bowl of couscous, beef and potato curry, and pickled chilis. It was delicious.
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One ticket handed over to the Taiwanese Community Association got me a huge rectangle of baked sesame-covered mochi cake with red bean paste tucked in the middle, and another at the Czech Republic Students table got me two wedges of dense, moist yogurt cake, one with apricot and the other with sour cherry. I didn't mean to get two desserts, but I spotted the mochi cake after the yogurt cake and couldn't resist. I love that stuff!
With only one ticket left, I didn't have enough for another entree (which was a shame, because the Saudi Student House was serving up a kickass-looking chicken and rice dish) so I went with a cup of bubble tea from the Taiwanese Student Association. The sweet, milky tea and chewy tapioca balls really hit the spot. I was so full after the couscous and bubble tea that I took the desserts home, but I definitely enjoyed them the next day!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tuna and avocado, courtesy of dad

When I was a kid my dad would mix avocado into tuna salad and I always thought it was the weirdest thing ever. Probably because my dad was known for other odd concoctions, and I lumped this one in as another one of his creations, but it also didn't help that the avocado would oxidize after a while, giving the stuff an unpleasant dark hue.
Now, though, it makes so much sense: avocado's smooth texture and rich creaminess is actually a nice match with tuna. Paired with sweet corn, a minimal amount of mayonnaise, a bit of pickle relish, and lemon juice for brightness and to prevent the fruit's discoloration, my dad's tuna salad turns out to be a delight.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stars for Star of India

I get these little packs of coupons in the mail every once in a while, and every single one of them seems to contain a coupon for Star of India. NH had been talking about craving Indian food, and when several classmates and I went to see a university performance of Street Scene: An American Opera, we decided to hit up the restaurant beforehand and take advantage of the discount.

The menu is pretty extensive, with some dishes that I hadn't seen before. I stuck with my ol' standard though, lamb shahi korma: "Curry with coconut flakes and coconut milk, almonds, raisins, and cashews." It was rich and creamy and flavorful, and the lamb was tender.
I had a piece of NH's chicken tikka, which was alright. The breast meat was a little cottony and could have have more flavor, but it wasn't bad. And when I sampled a bunch of other people's dishes I found nearly everything tasty. They weren't light Indian curries, like the ones at Seva, but they were still really good. Everyone seemed happy with their choices.
Afterwards, at Street Scene: An American Opera, there was a whole song praising the joys of ice cream. Guess what I walked out of there craving?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thai Pepper: Oh, dear.

Look closely. What's wrong with this picture of pad see-ew?

Well okay. Maybe there's a lot to talk about here. The broccoli instead of jie lan (Chinese broccoli), the dry-looking noodles, the scallions scattered on top and the ramekin of vinegar on the side for—dipping? Who knows. What startled me the most, however, was the healthy scattering of coarse black pepper strewn all over the top of the noodles.

Inauthenticity doesn't usually ruin my meal as long as the final dish tastes good. Unfortunately, I might have to place this one, from Thai Pepper, at the top of my bad pad see-ew experiences. The black pepper gave everything an unpleasant, gritty texture. The egg, which is usually in nice, fried chunks, was more like a thin, bumpy coating over the noodles, like a curdled carbonara. The beef pieces were chewy and tough. I ate it, but seriously, the dish was like no pad see-ew I'd ever encountered. Take that as you will.

A bite of MC's pad thai proved to be much better, which made me wonder how there could be such a disparity in noodle-dish execution. I may go back to Thai Pepper for pad thai, but I won't be ordering the pad see-ew again.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Because cheese and fruit is awesome

And easy. Triple-cream brie, sliced Honeycrisp apple, homemade bread. Yay lunch.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Soggy bottom tacos, not boys, at La Luz

While we were out a bar one night, my fellow classmate RM, a native of Fort Collins, started ticking off a bunch of restaurants that he thought were the best in this city. He practically salivated at the mention of La Luz Mexican Grill, and I noted to myself that I would have to check it out.
With CH a few months later, I stopped in for lunch at the Old Town location (right next to Rasta Pasta) to have the fish tacos. The grilled fish came topped with "salsa blanca, cheese, spicy onions, shredded cabbage, salsa fresca, and lime," and I requested they come with flour tortillas instead of corn and with extra guacamole. Disappointingly, when they arrived the bottoms of my tacos were soaked through with liquid from the salsa, making them impossible to pick up. Once I tackled them with a knife and fork, though, the flavors and quality of the fish were quite good, despite the soggy tortillas. I spooned on some extra salsa and corn relish from the salsa bar and felt quite satisfied, but next time, I'll try a burrito.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sister's Pizza & Mussels (& Boulder Canyon chips)

Getting to downtown Loveland, CO from Fort Collins without a car is a bitch. It took me two transfers and a solid hour on the buses one way, and that was just the travel time alone. Consider that buses only run once per hour (luckily, the wait between transfers is minimal), miss one bus and you're screwed until the next hour. I might have done better biking.

I was in Loveland for an internship interview, and found myself leaving the building just after my bus was scheduled to pull away from the curb. Having already wandered most of the downtown area before the interview (I arrived an hour early so that I wouldn't be late), I gave myself the task of figuring out where to get something to eat. Just in front of the bus stop, Sister's Pizza & Mussels caught my eye.
A place focused on both mussels and pizza seemed an unlikely business model, but I was game. Inside, the place was empty and had the air of a takeout joint. Mussels were mainly featured as part of pasta dishes, and not wanting to tussle with a forkful of spaghetti while sitting outside at the bus stop, I opted for the classic portable meal, a plain slice.
It was surprisingly good. The bottom of the thin, chewy crust was crisp without being cracker-like, and the cheese, sauce, and dough all seemed well balanced.
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One slice is pretty slim, however, so I supplemented my meal with a bag of chips. I'd seen Boulder Canyon Natural Foods chips all over Colorado—it seems to be the local brand of choice—and I was eager to check out their Spinach & Artichoke flavor because I have a fascination with oddly flavored crispy snacks. These kettle-cooked chips were hearty, with good potato flavor and the perfect amount of salt. The added seasoning seemed to be a nod toward spinach and artichoke dip, which made the chips taste like a better version of sour cream and onion. Yum.