Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quick Food Tour of LA and San Diego

I had a conference to attend in San Diego this past week and decided to extend my West Coast visit to visit my brother-in-law and sister-in-law in Los Angeles. We had a pretty low key weekend before I headed down the coast - but managed to take in some great cuisine! Here's a quick recap of my food tour of LA and San Diego.

One reason my brother-in-law was excited for my visit (besides catching up) was the opportunity to go out for sushi. We got a little excited and ordered way too much! But it was delicious. We went to Oishi Sushi - according to one review I read, it is the "least sceney spots in Beverly Hills". I agree - but the rolls were big and delicious. Whenever I'm out in California I try to order fish that we don't always see here in Boston. We had some great albacore.

For our Saturday night adventure, we trekked over to Hollywood to witness the excitement that is Thai Elvis. This man has been impersonating Elvis for 30+ years - and the food was great too! We had some pad see ew, chicken green curry, and veggie pad Thai. The Thai Iced teas were like slushies and perfect for cooling off after the spice.

After a fun weekend in LA, I hopped on the Pacific Surfliner and headed down the coast to San Diego. I never have high expectations for conference food, so I made sure to get some restaurant recommendations before I left for CA. I'm glad I did! I had three great dinners and a delicious lunch. It's fun to be solo diner sometimes - you can strike up conversations with strangers and get great recommendations from the bartenders!

I didn't get pictures from my first dinner at the Princess Pub. I had the 'best fish and chips in San Diego' at this English pub in the Little Italy neighborhood. Had a great California brew - an award winning Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA (delicious). The next night I was starving after the conference function - so I headed out into the Gaslamp Quarter looking for a place to grab some dinner. I decided on sushi - more albacore and Hawaiian yellowtail. And another local California brew.

I had almost a full day for site-seeing before getting on the red-eye flight back to the East Coast. I asked the hotel concierge for a tip on a good Mexican place that he would eat at (not a tourist destination). I knew he was pointing me in the right direction when he told me to "go to Maria's, she should be open now". I got a fish taco (when in San Diego...) and was very happy!

After spending the afternoon touring the USS Midway, I headed back to the Gaslamp Quarter for a tapas dinner at Cafe Sevilla, a recommendation from a well-travelled college friend. I pulled up a seat at the bar and found out I made it in time for half-price martinis and tapas. The bartender, Ray, recommended some albodingas in a sherry garlic sauce and I also ordered the spicy potatoes. To wash it down, I had a margarita-tini. I had never heard of Licor 43 before, but now I'm a fan! Of course no meal is complete with a cheese course, and this was no exception. I tried a creamy tronchon tres leches that was served with almonds, chutney, and preserves. A great end to my West Coast swing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Catching up - A Budget Friendly Get Together

I'm seriously behind in posting from the last few weeks. These next few posts will be out of chronological order, but no less delicious.

My sorority alumnae chapter is active and each month a different member hosts a get together of their choosing. My month was October and I decided to host a Sunday afternoon board game party. The party started just after the 1 p.m. football games ended and ended before the Sunday night sitcoms came on. With about 8 people scheduled to attend I got to work planning the menu! On the game menu: Apples to Apples, Scattegories, and a Uno themed Jenga. We had a blast!

I decided to challenge myself to make this a budget friendly party using mainly items from the pantry (with a few twists). Game playing calls for finger foods and dishes that can sit out for a few hours (no mayo!). My menu brainstorming session resulted in chips, dips, veggies, some pasta salad, and desserts. Nice and simple and easy to prepare - almost no cooking involved! Another bonus, most of the dishes were 'not bad for you' (healthy might be a stretch when they all are eaten with chips).

The non-pantry items for the party were the chips - old favorites tortilla and pita chips - and store bought salsa. I also picked up a bag of the new Ming Tsai sesame rice chips.

The star of the non-pantry items was a kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) that I picked up from the weekly farmer's market.

When the hubby and I were in Vancouver on our honeymoon we had an unbelievable kabocha squash puree with a sweet whipped cream. When I saw the squash at the market I knew I had to try it! I treated in like a potato for the cooking method and pureed it with some butter and maple syrup. More butter would have made it a little richer, but I forgot to restock my butter supply at the store. I served it chilled as a dip with the pita chips. It would also be great thinned with some broth and served as a soup. I also cleaned up the seeds and toasted them with maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and salt. Great for snacking while making the rest of the meal!

Maple Kabocha Squash Dip (puree)
1 kabocha squash
1/3 (ish) cup of maple syrup (I used grade B)
1-3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Water for cooking

Start by cutting the squash into halves or quarters
Scoop out the seeds and set aside for roasting
With a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the squash pieces
Cut into 1 inch pieces
Fill a large pasta pot with about 2 inches of water
Add the squash (it will not be covered by the water)
Sprinkle the salt over the top
Bring to a boil and then reduce immediately and simmer for 10-12 minutes (until squash is tender)
Drain and put the squash into a bowl
With an immersion blender, blend the squash until it is a smooth consistency
Stir in desired amount of butter and maple syrup
Chill and serve

Next up on the menu - white bean, garlic and parsley dip. This was gone by the end of the party. Simple ingredients - great taste. All you need is 2 cans of cannellini beans, 2 cloves of fresh garlic, a handful of parsley, and some olive oil. Throw it all in the food processor with some salt and pepper and that's it!

The pasta salad was easy - tri-colored rotini, pesto from the freezer, chopped fresh basil from my basil plant, frozen peas, and olive oil.

The only thing left untouched at the end of the party was the store bought salsa. I'd consider the party a success! Counting the pantry items as $0 + chips, salsa, and the squash, the grand total for the party was around $20 for a party of 8. The guests brought the drinks and left feeling full!

Looking forward to the next get together!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When He Fends for Himself - "The Snack Dinner"

Welcome back to the latest and greatest edition of "When he fends for himself." Today's edition introduces the world to a favorite of mine. It's a meal that is looked down upon, that is thought to be a lazy and unhealthy way to eat, dine, and live. However, all of that can not be further from the truth. In actuality the meal I will describe is a guilty pleasure that we all turn to from time to time.

Presented here is "The Snack Dinner"

I came home to an empty house with all the intention to grill up some bison medallions the wife got for me at Whole Foods. I really like bison meat, but the wife is a little cool to it, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make it for myself. However, once I got home, checked my e-mail, and sat on the couch to see what was on TV, my motivation escaped me and I needed to change to Plan B.

That meant that a formal dinner was out the window. Instead I opened the fridge, checked the pantry, and started to scrounge for food. I've been dining on the snack dinner for years and have realized that it is very important to start with your go-to snack. For me, it's a chewy peanut butter granola bar from Kashi. I go through about a box a week. If I'm on the run, on the golf course, or on the prowl for food, it usually hits the spot.

After my appetizer I turned on the TV and checked to see what was on for a couple of minutes. Then, it was time for round 2. Every time we go to BJs we end up by a 6 pack of canned olives. When the wife is making dinner, she likes to open one up for an appetizer for us to munch on. Since we are usually well stocked, I end up having a full can to myself from time to time.

Now, eating a can of olives in one sitting sounds disgusting and even to me, not appetizing. Because of this, I spread out the olive consumption over the period of an hour. I grab a few from the kitchen, eat them in front of the TV, and at the next commercial break I go back for more. It really spreads out the snack dinner and makes it a full evening of enjoyment!

After the olives, I was in a little bit of a bind. There wasn't anything quick and easy I could munch on. Available to me were chips without salsa, plenty of spreads with no bread, and some dry goods, like pasta. The snacks on hand didn't have their complements and the pasta was out because the purpose of the snack dinner is to do absolutely no cooking.

So I was forced to go the healthy route. At a last resort, I opened the fruit and veggie drawer in the refrigerator and and found my next snack: grapes. The problem I have with grapes is, once I start I can't stop. I can pick at grapes all day and won't stop until they are all gone. And that's what happened.

About 10 minutes later, I was mildly full and looking for another course. Since it was getting late I started to think of dessert. Luckily, the wife had whipped up a batch of the apple kugel muffins that were waiting for me on our counter. I took one (OK, maybe 2) and quickly finished off my meal.

About an hour and a half after I started, I was finished with my 4 course dinner and full. Not only that, I didn't do any food prep, cooking, or cleaning. It's not textbook, but on this night, it worked for me.

I hope I've been inspired others to try this every once in awhile. It's not endorsed by the wife, but it gets the job done. And desperate times call for desperate measures when you're fending for yourself.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Night Dinner - Time to Catch Up

Friday night dinners are pretty low-key here at the Good Cook Doris house. We usually have something quick and easy, or if we're feeling especially lazy we'll go out for Indian or sushi. Last week's Friday night was the former.

We picked up some bagels, cream cheese and lox at the store. We had eggs and some parsley in the fridge for omelets. I thinly sliced up some red onion and cucumber to complete the lox platter. On the side was our typical Thursday and Friday reading - US Weekly, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and ESPN Magazine. By the end of dinner our heads were filled with a lot of useless pop-culture and sports information, and the knowledge that some people just wear it better than others (you US weekly fans will understand).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When He Fends for Himself - Breakfast Edition

One of my favorite things about the weekend is that the hubby likes to make breakfast. His specialty is pancakes and French toast. He purchased an egg beater (two beaters with the hand crank) and enjoys mixing up the batter. I've had these photos of recent breakfasts and haven't had a chance to post them yet.

Since he's started experimenting more in the kitchen, he feels more confident in coming up with new flavors and twists on the standard pancake batter and egg-mixture for the french toast.

For the pancakes, he mixed in some vanilla extract for the twist. The pancakes were well done on the outside, but still nice and fluffy on the inside. A great breakfast served with warm maple syrup, a cup of coffee, and the Sunday comics.

The French toast was delicious. I had recently stopped into a local Brazilian bakery and bought something that looked like challah. It had a sugar glaze on top and we decided it would make great French toast. With the eggs, the hubby mixed in some vanilla and almond extracts and soy milk to give it a "nutty" (his words) flavor. The result was a sweet, almondy, well-cooked breakfast treat! We'll be adding this to the regular breakfast rotation.


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