Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuna Noodle Casserole

DISCLAIMER: When I categorize dishes "Vegetarian", I standardize it on the absence of poultry and meat such as chicken, duck, turkey, beef, or pork. I don't consider ingredients such as eggs which come from poultry or seafood vegetarian because I know many vegetarians who eat these ingredients without complaint.

I must admit that I didn't particularly like this recipe. I found the tuna to be dry and the flavor was bland and slightly tough. Perhaps it was the brand I used, but I was under the impression that Chicken Under the Sea is a favorable brand. Maybe I'm just not a fan of canned tuna. I used to be, but it has been a long time. And this was cooked in the oven. I still think this recipe is worth listing especially for tuna lovers. I wouldn't mind remaking this by substituting tuna with chicken or something like that. I can be a huge fan of casseroles, but I am new to them. So I'm not making an informed decision as I say this, but I think that with more exposure, this will probably not be on my top list. I'm mostly attracted to it because of its simplicity. Ingredients are commonly found in most kitchens. Since a lot of people find difficulty coming up with recipes, simple go-to dishes like these are ideal.

1 can of tuna, drained
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can peas
8 or 9 oz. of noodles
3/4 cup milk

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. In a casserole dish, mix in tuna, cream of mushroom, and milk. Add the noodles and carefully stir in the peas. Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees F for 25 minutes.

As I typed out the instructions for this recipe, I started to remember the flavors more. Even through the photo, you can tell that the pasta looks a little dried out in some areas. Well, that was my mistake. I should have naturally gone for flatter noodles or, at the very least, stay away from choices that expand so much. In the future, if I use large pastas like that, I'll use less noodles, substitute with chicken, maybe add more soup, and introduce new ingredients such as broccoli and mushrooms. That sounds good.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ritz Mint without the Mint

This simple but contrasting flavor makes it a different treat. If you prefer simplicity over the unnecessary complexities in a dish and you want no-bullshit, to the point food, try this. There are only two ingredients: Ritz crackers (yes crackers) and Wilton chocolate chips. You simply melt the chocolate in a double broiler or simmer water in a pot and place a heatproof bowl over it and melt the chocolate. Then coat the crackers in the chocolate. Let it sit and dry on parchment paper for 20 to 30 minutes. The saltiness of the cracker really comes out. My boyfriend didn't really like the flavor, but he enjoyed the contrast in flavors. I think it's great because it's a new twist to regular crackers, and the perfect ingredients to have on hand. It quickly transforms into a snack.

2 sleeves of Ritz crackers
1 (14 ounce) package of Wilton chocolate chips

Follow the directions above.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Roasted Vegetables

DISCLAIMER: When I categorize dishes "Vegetarian", I standardize it on the absence of poultry and meat such as chicken, duck, turkey, beef, or pork. I don't consider ingredients such as eggs which come from poultry or seafood vegetarian because I know many vegetarians who eat these ingredients without complaint.

I love roasted vegetables! They're so juicy, flavorful, vibrant in color, and easy to make. They're also one of my favorite comfort foods. As Alton Brown put it, "Dry heat intensifies flavor by driving off excess moisture, while concentrating and breaking down sugars into other chemicals that just happen to taste really, really good." I couldn't have said it better myself. Roasted vegetables just have an enhanced flavor quality than in its raw form or lightly cooked versions. They're also a great way to use up vegetables past its prime. I have a tendency to buy fresh produce and use them in the beginning for salads until my usage for them wanes. That's when roasted vegetables are in order. One of my guilty pleasures is to have roasted vegetables as a midnight "snack." While I don't recommend consuming them as frequently as I do, I highly recommend this recipe. It's a modified version from the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. I have incorporated my choice of vegetables and leave the seasoning of salt and pepper until after it comes out of the oven.

Enough extra-virgin olive oil to generously coat vegetables but not enough that the vegetables are soaked
2-3 medium carrots, cut chunky or a bunch of baby carrots
3-5 Russet potatoes, cubed chunky
1-3 zucchinis, cut chunky but a little thinner than the carrots
5-8 garlic cloves with the skin left on

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Place cut vegetables in a large baking dish or cookie sheet. (Cut all the vegetables as evenly and similarly shaped to one another, so they can cook evenly). Drizzle a generous about of extra-virgin olive, so they're coated but not so much that the veggies are drenched. Toss well and add fresh sprigs of thyme or dried thyme will do, as well. Alternatively, you can add other dried herbs such as basil and oregano, a great combination for this dish. Spread the vegetables evenly and place in the middle rack for 40 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and vegetables. I highly recommend Maldon sea salt and freshly cracked black peppercorns.

While there are so many choices for salt varieties, when they're cooked, the chemical compound ends up the same. So, in order to enjoy the flavor of Maldon sea salt, I wait until the last minute so the flavor isn't chemically-altered. When the carrots are lightly browned, the flavor mellows and the texture becomes softer. The potatoes get starchy, so I lose interest in them out of all the vegetables first. Zucchinis are the juiciest and my favorite out of the three. I feel like I never add enough, but that has more to do with availability than anything. I always seem to have less zucchinis on hand than say potatoes.

This dish is so good, though. It even tastes good cold, so feel free to make a large batch and enjoy the next day. I like making these for my friends when they come over because some of them are inconsiderate and show up unexpected and, more times than not, much, much later than agreed upon. I selected these vegetables as they're the most common in my kitchen, as I imagine it is for many others. It's an excellent side dish for virtually any American meal. I certainly wouldn't recommend it for a traditional Japanese meal with rice, natto, sashimi slices, and miso soup. But served as a dish for pasta, grilled chicken, roast chicken, or any kind of chicken is well-complimented.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Poached Eggs with Chunky Tomato Sauce

My first time trying to poach eggs were completely unsuccessful. I read all about how the egg whites spiral away, and I guess I anticipated that havoc. After reading several criticisms about the flaws in poaching eggs, I came across a full-proof method. But that'll be for another post. Since then, I've managed to successful poach eggs. So, although, I no longer have the same concerns, I believe that anyone struggling to make poached eggs will find this recipe surprisingly achievable. Please do not hesitate to make this recipe because you can't make poached eggs. You'll never learn without practice, and this recipe is, in fact, most ideal for candidates struggling with poached eggs. It's a way to enjoy eggs for people who can't otherwise do so.

I love how few ingredients are required and how all of them are usually available in any well-stocked refrigerators and pantries. Because of how common the ingredients are and how simple it is to make, I think everyone, including people who don't cook, should have this recipe on hand. It's also ideal for light meals. I find it pointless to spend more time in the kitchen slaving away when you want a light meal. I have a tendency to list the benefits of a recipe, but this one in particular has abundant reasons. It's ideal for health-conscious individuals and a preferable recipe to go to for moms who cook for their large families.

This seemingly simple recipe comes with many advantageous factors. The heart health benefits is the most prevalent. Many people are concerned about eating eggs because of the cholesterol present. But there's a difference between good and bad cholesterol. Eggs contain HDL (good cholesterol), but some new studies suggest that eating three or more eggs a day produces both HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). That's a little troublesome but worry not!

Tomatoes generously contain a phytochemical called lycopene, responsible for reversing oxidative stress that's suspected in cancer and heart disease fighting results. Interesting enough and conveniently, might I add, lycopene are more effectively absorbed into the body when it's cooked through, as the raw form of the nutrient is too large to be sufficiently absorbed. Are you starting to see the benefits? Simple recipe with heart-health benefits, a rare combination, as fast foods have become our society's source of simple meals but for a high price, our health. I hate the idea of sacrificing our health for a simple meal. I usually don't cook when I'm not feeling very well, so those are times when I should be eating healthier than normal. With this recipe, I can. This is also a favorable recipe for college students or the financially-challenged. It's also ideal recipe for beginners.

1 can (28 ounces) whole plum tomatoes
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
4 slices of bread
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional
Fresh or dried herbs to add zest to the tomatoes (I recommend basil and oregano)

Put tomatoes in a blender or food processor until it's chopped slightly chunky. You could also transfer the tomatoes and juices into a large bowl and coarse chop them with kitchen shears. In a small skillet, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and juices into the skillet. Bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Gently crack eggs into the tomato mixture and, cover, cook for 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Place each egg over toast. Spoon over sauce, garnish with cheese, and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

I actually found that following this recipe made the yolk much harder than I prefer. Although I think that suits the tomato flavor. For a more runny yolk, I recommend cook the eggs for 3 minutes and letting it sit for about 2 minutes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fugetsu-Do Sweet Shop

The intrinsic beauty that can enhance a truly pleasurable dessert experience has not gone lost at this long-time sweet shop in Little Tokyo. Rather than the overdone American candy in their tacky wraps or boringly common cookies and desserts that make us reminisce of the predictable flavors, these Japanese treats are a beautiful and refreshing twist to the ordinary. The usage of bright and vibrant but soft colors put you in a whimsical mood. I grew up eating mochi, but I didn't appreciate its aesthetics until later in life. For one thing, they're weren't as lovely as these, but even people who are weirded out by new things become curious and entranced by its simplicity and attraction. Something about how it's presentation is undeniably appealing that people gravitate towards it.

Fugetsu-Do's signature desserts are mochi. They're Japanese sweet sticky rice cakes, chewy and decadent. They're soft and often times filled with sweetened beans, also known as adzuki beans. People who don't like tapioca pearls because of their soft texture may not appreciate mochi, but they're so beautiful. I think they're such a great treat especially to give as gifts. It's beautiful, affordable, and an ideal gift for someone you don't know very well and prefer not to spend a lot of money on who's curious and open to new things. It's also a great non-committal gift, so giving it to someone you just meant is a thoughtful and considerate gesture. On the other hand, it's also appropriate for a friend who has everything. This isn't high school anymore. It's not about how much money is spent. It's about what you can afford, what you can offer, and being a gracious gift receiver. I love grabbing these before meeting up with a group of friends I haven't seen in a while. These are also great "I'm thinking of you," or "feel better" gifts. The store also carries a generous selection of authentic packaged Japanese candies. They're not the run-of-the-mill Pocky sticks found at your local Von's or Ralphs. Then again, you can probably find quite a bit of these candies at an Asian grocery store. Nonetheless, the selection is suitable for this kind of shop and abundant. I highly recommend anyone in the area to check this store out. You can choose between a six, eight, ten, or twelve pack selection of mochi. You pick the flavors, and they're beautifully packaged and wrapped, free gift of charge. Stop by a tea shop, pick up some green tea, invite some friends other, present the treats, and you now have an affordable but unique tea time or late night snacks.

315 E. First St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 625-8585