Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Whole Wheat Soft Pretzel Recipe

Because I just can't leave well enough alone, I made a few variations of my basic pretzel recipe.  This first variation is a Whole Wheat Soft Pretzel.

Lisa's Whole Wheat Pretzel Recipe
3/4 Cup Warm Water
1/2 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
3/4 Cup Bread Flour
3/4 Whole Wheat Flour

Boiling Solution (This is for use later)
7 cups Water
1/3 cup Baking Soda

Mix water and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle yeast on top and allow it to rest until it becomes "foamy" (depending on the ambient temperature this takes about 8-15 minutes).

Slowly add the flours and mix well.  As the dough gets more difficult to mix, you can begin to knead the dough on the countertop while continuing to add more flour.  Keep adding flour until the dough loses its stickiness and takes on a pliable but non-gooey texture.  In the past, I have had to add as much as 1/2 cup of extra flour to get the right consistency.  The recipe is very forgiving.  Don't panic about accidentally adding too much flour.  Just keep adding the flour slowly and you'll get a feel for it.

Allow the dough to rise in a large bowl which has been sprayed with cooking spray and covered with a dish towel (20-40 minutes).

Divide the dough into 8 pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a foot long rope and twist these ropes into pretzel shapes.  Allow these doughy proto-pretzels to double in size one more time.  This is a good time to preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare your boiling solution.

Put your 7 cups of water and 1/3 cup of baking soda into a large saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil.  Boil each pretzel in the solution for 30 seconds, flipping half way through.

Bake the pretzels at 450 degrees for 8-12 minutes on a lightly greased baking sheet.  I like my pretzels to be extra dark.  Adjust your baking time according to your own taste.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Vegan Curry Cookie Recipe

Earlier today, I was sitting in my apartment thinking about two things: curry and cookies.  My mind Frankensteined the two ideas together and came up with the following recipe.

The initial flavor of the cookie is sweet until a touch of cinnamon and ginger begins to shine through, and just when you think it is over, the spicy curry flavor hits.  The flavors are complex and build upon each other in an intriguing way. 

I may experiment with the recipe a little bit.  I think 2 tsp of vanilla would nicely accentuate the almond and curry flavors.  I think I would also like to try a version with coconut instead of currants. 

3/4 cup softened vegan margarine
1 cup demerara sugar (or regular sugar)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups whole wheat (or all-purpose) flour
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp fresh ginger
4 or 5 tsp curry powder (I used a hot curry blend)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins (optional)
1/2 cup roughly chopped almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the flour and combine.  Add the water, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon.  Incorporate 4 tsp of curry powder.  Taste the batter to check your spice levels (there are no eggs, so you can taste the batter without threat of salmonella).  If desired, add another tsp of curry powder.

Add the currants and almonds into the mixture.

Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly. 

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes.

 Makes approximately 45 cookies.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Corn and Black Bean Salad Recipe

Last night I was feeling a little lazy but still wanted something warm for dinner, so I threw together this recipe with ingredients from my kitchen.

2/3 cup corn (fresh, frozen, or canned)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/8 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup diced bell pepper
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp chili powder (more if desired)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
A touch of your favorite hot sauce (optional)

Spray a non-stick saute pan with cooking spray and allow it to heat up. Add corn to the pan and lightly brown the corn on both sides. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté them slightly. Add the beans, lime juice, salt, pepper, and chili powder to the pan and heat through.

Douse with a healthy dose of hot sauce.

It can be served hot or cold as a salsa or as a side salad.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blueberry Wheat Bran Muffin Recipe

This recipe is the fraternal twin of my Cranberry-Orange Wheat Bran Muffins.  It is equally delicious but slightly different from its twin.

1 Egg
1 cup Rice Milk (or skim milk)
1 cup Untoasted Wheat Germ
1/2 cup Honey
4 tsp Baking Powder
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Lemon Zest
1Tbsp Cinnamon (I always add a bit more)
1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)

Mix egg, rice milk, wheat germ, honey, and baking soda together in a mixer, then slowly add the wheat flour.  Slowly incorporate the salt, oil, zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  When all of the other ingredients have been incorporated together, mix in the blueberries.

Spoon the batter into a muffin pan which has been lined with paper cups.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.  Makes 12 standard muffins.

The texture of these muffins is dense, but they are light enough for a quick breakfast or snack during the day.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Plantain Cafe - Review

I have been walking past the Plantain Cafe at least twice a week since moving to Columbus.  It is a cute, brightly colored cafe offering "authentic Cuban food", and it was voted one of Columbus Monthly's top restaurants for 2010.

In December, after living here for four months, I finally visited the cafe with my brother when he came to see the Penguins thrash the Blue Jackets.  Because I was elbow deep in final projects, and I had lost an evening of work by going to the aforementioned hockey game, we picked up the food to take back to my apartment.  We didn't get the full Plantain Cafe experience, nonetheless, the service was friendly, the food was ready when they said that it would be, and the food was delicious.

When my mom, dad, and brother came to visit this past weekend, my brother insisted that we go back for the full experience.  We were not disappointed.

My first meal from the Plantain Cafe was the vegetarian platter.  The platter consisted of three plantain sides - mariquitas (plantain chips), tostones (smashed and fried green plantains), and maduros (sweet plantains) - and a side of rice and beans.  The platter also came with a deliciously tart garlic and lime mojo.  Everything tasted great on its own, but a touch of the mojo made everything  better (except the maduros - they're perfect on their own).  The rice and beans were perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned.

The menu at the restaurant is limited.  They offer six sandwiches, six entrees, and six side dishes.  This means that everything has to be perfect in order for the restaurant to be successful.  It also means that there are very few vegetarian options.  For my second visit, I wanted to try something new, so I chose the Pan con Pescado (Fish Sandwich).  The sandwich was made with two lightly breaded and fried tilapia fillets which were topped with carmelized onions, tomatoes, and mustard.  The assembled sandwich was then toasted and pressed. 

I was a late comer to enjoying mustard.  I still hate French's mustard, and I only like Dijon or Coleman's mustard if it is thinly spread in a toasted sandwich.  Needless to say, I'm quite picky when it comes to mustard.  The mustard in the Pan con Pescado was tangy but did not overpower the sandwich.  It was served with mariquitas and their delicious mojo (seriously, I could bathe in that mojo).

The service was friendly and efficient.  The server joked with the customers and kept our beverage glasses full.  She even took it in stride when my brother ordered his Cubano sandwich without mustard and pickles and laughed when I joked that it was no longer a Cubano sandwich without those two ingredients.

They offer two soups: Sopa de Frijoles Negro (Black Bean Soup) and Sopa de Platano (Plantain Soup).  I hope that they are vegetarian.  They sound delicious and I would love to further broaden my Cuban food experience.

The meal for the four of us consisted of three sandwiches and two sides, and it came out to only $37.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lazy Iced Tea

I like iced tea, but often can't be bothered with all of the boiling, steeping, and icing that making iced tea entails, so I started making what I call "lazy iced tea".

Fill an appropriate container with 2 quarts of cold water.

Drop in 5-7 tea bags.

Cover the container and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight.

When you wake up, you will have delicious iced tea.  There's no need to remove the tea bags: because the tea is never heated, it doesn't get bitter.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Corn Dog Muffins and Honey Cornbread Muffins - Two Recipes

This first recipe was inspired by a conversation with my mom.  We were talking about making cornbread and the conversation drifted to the obscene quantity of veggie dogs that I have in my freezer.  We finished talking and hung up, but apparently her brain was still working.  She called me back and said just two words: "corn dogs".  Confused, I asked her to explain.  She thought that it would be a great idea to make corn dogs with the left over veggie dogs since I would have leftover cornmeal after I finished making my cornbread.  We continued talking and decided that it would be a great idea to bake the veggie dogs into cornbread muffins.  I suggested adding cheese and the following recipe was born.

Corn Dog Muffins

1 cup cornmeal (regular, fine, or coarse grind)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup Milk (I used goat milk)
1/2 stick of softened butter (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup shredded cheese
4 veggie dogs (any brand)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder.  Add egg, milk, and butter.  Beat until smooth (about 1 minute - do not overbeat).  Gently mix in cheese.

Portion out into a standard muffin pan which has been lined with paper cups.  Cut each veggie dog into thirds and place 1/3 of a veggie dog in each muffin.  Cover the veggie dog with batter.  (For smaller veggie dogs, you may be able to fit 1/2 of a veggie dog into each muffin).

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned.  Makes about 12 muffins.

This recipe feels like something that would be served at a 1950's barbecue, and they are fun to eat.  They would be great served with mustard and/or ketchup.

I used Veggie Patch veggie dogs, but I wish I had used one of the brands with a more substantial flavor.  

Honey Cornbread Muffins

1 1/2 cup cornmeal (regular, fine, or coarse grind)
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I used goat milk)
1/2 stick of softened butter (1/4 cup)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add honey, eggs, milk, and butter.  Beat until smooth (about 1 minute - do not overbeat).

Portion out into a standard muffin pan which has been lined with paper cups.  These muffins do not rise a lot, so you can fill the cups more than other muffin recipes.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Makes approximately 12 muffins.

I developed this recipe by combining a couple of recipes.  I like my cornbread to be slightly sweet, so I created a recipe with a good bit of honey.  They turned out perfectly sweet with a soft texture.

If you would like a muffin that is less sweet, use only 1 Tbsp of honey and eliminate one of the eggs.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coconut Milk Ice Cream


A couple of weeks ago I was in my local Trader Joe's and saw coconut milk ice cream for the first time.  The idea makes perfect sense.  Coconut milk has a mellow flavor and it goes great with chocolate.  Unfortunately, I didn't buy it, and the next time I was there, they didn't have it.

Fast forward to today.  I found myself in Whole Foods looking for the fixings for cornbread, and I came across a rather large selection of coconut milk ice creams from So Delicious.  These ice-creams are dairy-free and come in a wide range of flavors, including chocolate, chocolate mint, turtle trails, coconut, cookie dough, green tea, pomegranate chip, and others.  Since pomegranate is my favorite fruit, I chose pomegranate chip. 

Calorie-wise, the pomegranate chip coconut milk ice cream has about 130 calories per 1/2 cup serving (about half of what you'd find in Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia).  When I lifted the first spoonful to my mouth, I didn't quite know what to expect.  Was it going to be very coconutty or would the chocolate and pomegranate overwhelm the taste of the coconut?  Is coconut and pomegranate a gross combination?  Will I be stuck with a whole pint of something disgusting?

Well, when I took my first bite, I was pleasantly surprised.  The coconut taste was there, but it was very mellow.  It was also the first flavor that hit my tongue, but the flavor did not linger as it was soon replaced by a well balanced pomegranate flavor.  The final flavor to join the trifecta was chocolate which sang a beautiful harmony with the two accompanying flavors.  As I continued to eat, the coconut flavor sunk to the background.  It was still there, but it definitely was no longer the lead singer. 

I have tried a number of vegan ice creams, as I have mentioned before.  Rice milk ice cream was very icy and left an odd freezer burn aftertaste.  Soy milk ice cream (aside from the kind that I had at Oh Yeah! in Pittsburgh) left an unpleasant film in my mouth and had a weird fatty aftertaste.  Both tasted processed.  This was the first carton of non-dairy ice cream that I have eaten that tasted completely natural. 

I am eager to try other flavors from the aptly named "So Delicious" company but I fear for my waistline, so that will have to wait for another time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Baked Mujadara (an untested) Recipe

Sometimes I randomly get ideas for recipes.  When it happens, it is like one of those mythical "eureka" moments. I sit bolt upright and think, "yes, that might actually work!"  Most of the time, I just don't have the ingredients and the thought just passes.

Today, while reading a novel in my spacious living room/dining room/bedroom, I came up with an idea for a recipe.  I have been trying to come up with a yummy vegetarian recipe that I could eat at holiday meals.  I think this might be perfect.  It's kind of a baked mujadara.

Unfortunately, this brainstorm occurred after I had gone shopping, so I don't have the necessary ingredients.  I'll probably go shopping again in a few days; hopefully, I'll be able to try the recipe some time next week.

By the time I test and tweak the recipe, it might actually be something kind of special, but here's the rough draft.

1 cup of brown rice (cook according to directions)
2 cups of brown lentils (either precooked or cooked according to manufacturers directions)
1 can of black beans (pureed)
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Sauté the onion with 2 Tbsp of olive oil (reserve 2 Tbsp for later).  When the onion starts to caramelize add the garlic.  When the garlic is lightly browned, mix in the brown rice and lentils.  Add the cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper to the mixture.  Combine 2 Tbsp with the pureed black beans and combine the puree with the lentil and rice mixture (in lieu of using eggs, the puree is the binder).  Finally add most of the pine nuts to the mixture.

Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and put the mixture into the muffin cups.  Unlike with traditional muffins, this recipe will not rise, so you can fill them to the top.  Because I have never made this recipe, I have no clue how much it will make.  I imagine it might fill 6 cups or it might fill 12.  Sprinkle some pine nuts on top of each "muffin".

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the tops are browned.

I imagine that this recipe could also be a great way to use leftover rice.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mad Mex: *sigh* A Bad Review

Mad Mex can best be described as American-Mexican fusion.  They have a wide variety of vegetarian options (The Angry Hippie Burrito, Chickpea Chili, and Pennsyltucky Fried Tofu being my favorites).  Their margaritas are potent and they have a great selection of beer.  It isn't Mexican food per-say, but it has beans, rice, tortillas, and spices.  They also like to source some of their ingredients locally which is definitely a practice that should be adopted by more restaurants.

I have been to three of the Mad Mex locations and each one has their own little eccentricities.  The one in Robinson Town Center is more mild than the other ones.  The service is fast and the restaurant is very open. 

While the one is Oakland is a little more spicy, the restaurant is also cramped beyond belief.  By cramped, I mean that the tables are literally three inches apart in some places.  I have had to pass food to other tables because the server couldn't get through.  The service in Oakland is also generally bad, but that's part of the charm of the place.  "Will I get a refill on my drink?" Probably not. "Wait, didn't I ask for guacamole with this?"  Yes, but good luck finding a server.  I think it has something to do with the place being so cramped.  The waiters really don't want to be in the dining room.  Nonetheless, I can generally forgive bad service when the food is good. 

The Mad Mex in Columbus has been good since I got here.  It is kind of a hybrid of the Mad Mex is Oakland and the one in Robinson.  The food is spicier than the one in Robinson, and the service is better than the one in Oakland.  The restaurant is generally cleaner and definitely more spacious than the one is Oakland.  Aside from some sluggish service, I have been pretty happy with my time at Columbus's Mad Mex.

That is, until Wednesday.  I had just turned in my Evolutionary Theory final and I wanted a treat, so I went to one of my favorite restaurants, Mad Mex.  I walked in just behind some other gentleman and waited at the hostess stand.  And waited... and waited... it was a good five minutes before the hostess finally wandered from the back.  She took care of the gentlemen before me, then returned promptly.  Upon being seated at my table, I perused the menu (even though I pretty much know it by heart), and chose the Angry Hippie burrito and a bowl of chick pea chili.  The server arrived with minimal delay to take my order, and it took about 15 minutes for my chickpea chili to arrive.  Not bad time-wise, but flavor-wise it tasted a bit off.  I didn't taste rancid and it wasn't exactly bad-tasting, it just tasted a little old.  It was as if the chili had been reheated a couple of times.  I finished my chili and waited for my entrée.  And waited.... and waited...  I got a refill of my water during the time lag, but no food. 

Now in their defense, this was a Wednesday afternoon at about 1:00.  The restaurant wasn't full, but it was after the lunch rush and a table of nine had arrived just before I did.  This probably put a bit of stress on the kitchen.  I get that, so I just sat there and read my book.  A half-hour after finishing my first course, my Angry Hippie arrived!  YAY!  I plunged into it, enjoying the way that the soft flour tortilla absorbed the juice from the spinach and portabellos.... and then I hit something abnormally spicy.  I don't mind spicy, so I kept eating.  Then I noticed that there was a huge patch of uncooked chili flakes and seeds nestled in my burrito... about 1/8 cup of them.  Not fun.  They are really hard to chew and ended up stuck in my teeth.  I was going to complain, but the server was nowhere to be found.  I ended up picking around the chili flakes and eating it because I was hungry, but it just wasn't pleasant. 

Eventually, about 15 minutes after I finished eating, my server finally returned and handed me the bill.  Ten minutes later he returned to take it from me.  He then mixed a few drinks in between cashing out a stack of five bills (mine included).  Ten more minutes passed before he returned with my receipt.

In all, I was there for about an hour and forty-five minutes.  I was hesitant to complain because usually the food is really good, but I wish I had complained.  If it doesn't happen again, this experience won't stop me from returning.... and the service was still leaps and bounds better than it is in Oakland.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Great Hot Dog Taste Test, Part 1

I'm a huge fan of Franktuary and all of their yummy hot dog combinations.  I haven't yet visited the Columbus equivalent, Dirty Frank's, but I'm hoping to visit soon.  In the meanwhile, I decided to do my own taste test of the vegetarian hot dogs out on the market.

There are a number of different brands of veggie dogs on the market, but my local Giant Eagle only carries two.  I hope to continue the taste test over the next few months as supplies and finances allow.

Earlier this week, I bought Veggie Dogs from Veggie Patch.  Veggie Patch (VP) makes a variety of different products, but they are probably most known for their "Bites" which is a range of cheese and vegetable breaded snacks.  I have seen their products in stores, but I have never tried any before today.

I also purchased The Good Dog from Yves.  I have used Yves products previously, and mostly because they seem to have better market penetration than some of the other companies that make meat analogues.  This may be due to their longevity; Yves has been in business since 1985, a full decade longer than VP.

Longevity is not the only realm where Yves has a leg up over VP, but first a quick run down of the stats.

Veggie Patch has 85 calories per dog, whereas Yves's Good Dog was only 50 calories.  Yves also has less calories from fat with only 10 calories per dog while VP has 50 calories of fat per dog.  Yves is also vegan whereas VP's Veggie Dogs do contain egg whites.  After a cursory glance at the nutrition facts, it seems that Yves also has more of the basic vitamins and minerals including iron and vitamin B12 (both of which are of concern to vegetarians); however, Yves also has more sodium than the VP alternative.

I selected one veggie dog from each package and cooked them on my George Foreman grill.  When I checked on them a few minutes later, the fat content in the VP dogs became obvious - the grill plate under the VP dog had taken on a greasy sheen while the area of plate under the Yves dog was fairly clean.
Top: Yves; Bottom: Veggie Patch

The color of the dogs was also much different.  VP's dogs are much paler (an almost unappealing yellow color), whereas Yves is colored much more like a traditional pork dog.

Before plating the dogs - and adulterating their flavor with my choice of condiments - I cut a small slice from each dog.  The VP dog was very soft, while the Yves dog had a little more tooth.  Flavor wise they were also much different.  VP had a subtler, more vegetable taste, but not a lot of flavor.  Yves's dog was much better seasoned and had a distinct - but not overwhelming - taste of onion. 

For the plated potion of the tasting, I put the two dogs on their own whole wheat hot dog buns and dressed them with diced onion and ketchup.  As a side-dish, I prepared some pan-roasted yellow cauliflower.

My early assessment of the flavor did not change upon consumption of the whole dogs.  The Yves dog was much better.  Overall, the flavor was more substantial and the texture was much more like a "real" hot dog.  The VP dog also had the same odd aftertaste that a lot of meat analogues have.  It's a flavor that can be best described as the taste of "morning breath". The texture of the VP dog was a bit mushy as well.  It wasn't unpleasantly mushy, but just not quite what one would expect from a hot dog. 

I definitely preferred The Good Dog from Yves.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Vegan Black Metal Chef

I had a disappointing Mad Mex experience today, and that makes me sad because I love Mad Mex.  I don't feel like being sad right now, so I'm putting off my review until a later date. 

Here, have some Vegan Black Metal Chef instead.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cranberry-Orange Wheat Bran Muffins

This is perhaps one of the best recipes that I have made in the recent past.  It is ultra-healthy and uber-delicious.

1 Egg
1 cup Rice Milk (or skim milk)
1 cup Untoasted Wheat Germ
3/4 cup Honey
4 tsp Baking Powder
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Orange Zest
1Tbsp Cinnamon (I always add a bit more)
1 pinch Nutmeg
1 cup sliced cranberries (frozen or fresh)

Mix egg, rice milk, wheat germ, honey, and baking soda together in a mixer, then slowly add the wheat flour.  Slowly incorporate the salt, oil, zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  When all of the other ingredients have been incorporated together, mix in the cranberries.

Spoon the batter into a muffin pan which has been lined with paper cups.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.  Makes 12 standard muffins.

The texture of these muffins is dense, but they are light enough for a quick breakfast or snack during the day.  The flavor of the wheat germ base reminds me a lot of oatmeal with which the tangy cranberries provides a great contrast.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Weekend in Pittsburgh: Three Culinary Adventures

While in Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Horror Fest and Convention, I was treated to three wonderful culinary experiences.  Thank you to Rachel, Rachel, Josh, Matt, and Danelle for sharing them with me.

Udipi Cafe
The first place I visited was Udipi Cafe in Monroeville.  Udipi offers a fully vegetarian menu filled with South Indian Cuisine.  My dining companion and I ordered a Dosai, Aloo Matar, and Matar Paneer.  Dosa are fermented lentil and rice flour crepes which may be filled with vegetables or meat.  Ours was filled with lightly spiced potatoes and vegetables.  It was served aside a spicy chutney and sambar.  I had never had dosa before, but I was quite delighted by the experience.  The crepe was slightly crunchy and provided a nice texture contrast to the soft potatoes. 

By far, one of my favorite Indian treats is Aloo Matar.  It combines two vegetables, potatoes and peas, which are perfect with Indian spices.  At Udipi, it was slightly spicy and not overly greasy.  The Matar Paneer, peas with soft Indian cheese cubes, was equally delightful.  Both dishes were a little salty for my taste, but I have found that this is common for a lot of Indian restaurants.

I absolutely loved the restaurant, and even as I type this review, I am craving a taste of dosa again.  Although I'm sure it won't be a good, don't be surprised if I'm writing a review of Columbus's own Dosa Corner sometime in the near future.

Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Company
My next culinary adventure took me to Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Company in Pittsburgh's Shadyside.  Recommended by this day's companions, I was assured that we would find some great dairy-free ice cream there.

Because of my horrifying intolerance dairy, I haven't had my favorite flavor of ice cream since 2006, so I was overjoyed to find that Oh Yeah! had soy mint chocolate chip ice cream.  It was everything I could have hoped for.  It was sweet and minty with just the perfect amount of chocolate.  The soy ice cream base did not leave a greasy film in my mouth like so many soy ice creams I have tried in the past.  Sadly, I was so excited to finally indulge in my favorite flavor, I opted out of getting any of their multitude of mix-ins.  This is an oversight that I will rectify upon my next visit. 

Big Jim's in the Run
Another day, another neighborhood, another great eatery. 

Although I lived only a few minutes away for the better part of four years, I did not visit Big Jim's until it gained national prominence in 2009 after being featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  I have since been there multiple times and every time I love it. 

Big Jim's is a dive, but it is not a typical dive.  First, the servers and clientèle are friendly and don't glare holes into your skull until you sheepishly walk out.  Second, they actually offer substantial vegetarian meals.  Almost every time I go, I get the Veggie Hoagie.  I'm sure I've had other meals at Big Jim's, but the Veggie Hoagie has eclipsed all of my other experiences.  The veggies - a mixture of carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers - are crispy and pair well with the tomato, lettuce, onion, and toasted provolone cheese which tops the overfilled sandwich.  Like most of the food at Big Jim's, it is simple yet delicious. 

I am also fond of their shoestring fries, but I don't know why.  I'm one of those people who prefer nearly burned, thick-cut fries.  The fries at Big Jim's are the opposite of everything I look for in a fry: they are thin, only slightly browned, and a bit limp, but somehow they are still perfect.  I am not fully convinced that the cooks have not laced them with some sort of delicious-making drug (maybe crack.... does crack make things delicious?).  For those who miss Kazansky's Deli and have never been to Big Jim's, this place can help to fill the void.

The food at Big Jim's is both ample and cheap.  If you live in Pittsburgh and haven't visited it, you are missing something wonderful.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sorbet and Edy's Fruit Bars

There are two facts about me that you may or may not know which are relevant to today's blog.
1) I can't eat much dairy.
2) I love ice cream.

Throughout my life I have struggled to deal with a problem called lactose intolerance.  It has gotten much, much worse over the past decade, and one of the things that I struggled with throughout this process was my love of ice cream.  I love frozen desserts.  And this doesn't just apply to desserts which are meant to be eaten frozen.  I will happily gnaw on frozen cakes, cupcakes, pies, chocolate, or just plain fruit; however, ice cream has always been my first frozen love.

As my digestive issues became more severe, I persevered and continued to eat ice cream until the pain just got too bad.  That was when I realized that I needed to find a replacement.  I was in England when I first started experimenting with sorbets.  It started as an attempt to reduce my calorie intake.  I stood there in Sainsbury's with a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia in one hand and a pint of mango sorbet in the other.  The serving sizes were the same 1/2 cup, but the calorie count was much different.  Cherry Garcia has a whopping 240 calories per serving while the mango sorbet had only 80.  I did some quick calculations and realized that I could 3/4 of the container of mango sorbet for the same number of calories as one serving of Cherry Garcia! (Gluttony, thy name is Lu). At this point, an obsession was born.  Gone were the stomach cramps and intestinal upset, and here to stay was a fruity new dessert.  I started to make delicious sorbet floats and sorbet-shakes.  It was great!

Not everywhere has sorbet though, and not all sorbets are created equal.  Some brands are sickly sweet and others are just flavorless.

I have never had a bad experience with Ciao Bella sorbets, and their flavors are creative and substantial enough that I never feel as if I'm being deprived.  Whole Fruit on the other hand is far too sweet and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.  Every once and a while, when there are no other sorbets at the grocery story, I'll pick up a carton of Whole Fruit while hoping that I was remembering it as worse than it was.  That night, I'll eat one scoop and then forget about it in the freezer as it becomes an iceberg of snowy crystals.

The first time I tried one of Edy's Fruit Bars I proclaimed that it was like sorbet without the bent spoons and sticky fingers.  Wrapped in a convenient package, these fruit-filled popsicles reminded me of the joy that food on a stick can provide.  Their selection of flavors has broadened in the past few years and now includes pineapple, açaí blueberry, tangerine, lime, and pomegranate.

I bought a box of the pomegranate a few months ago at a Chinese grocery store, and it made me rethink what it means to be alive.  It was absolute bliss.  I probably would have formed a severe dependency, but thankfully my local grocery store didn't carry them... until this week.  Fortunately, this guilty pleasure doesn't impart too much guilt.  At 70 calories, it is possible to eat nearly the whole box and still say that you are watching your weight. 

I tried the pineapple last night and nearly had an out of body experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


About four times a year I attempt to make paella.  Until last week, I always failed miserably.  Somehow my rice always end up overcooked/undercooked or I end up with a pilaf instead of a paella or it just ends up tasting awful.  One time I put in too much soy chorizo, and it was so salty that I had to serve this rice dish with a side of rice just to keep from shriveling up like a slug.

Finally, after years of attempts, I have finally made a delicious paella that was only improved by being slightly burnt (a common problem in my cooking).

1/8 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
6 oz Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo (remove outer casing and crumble)
4 Slices Morningstar "Bacon"cut into small strips
1/2 of a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 cup liquid from the can of diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 cup rice
1/2 cup green peas (frozen or fresh is preferred)
1/2 cup corn (frozen or fresh is preferred)
Black Pepper (to taste)
Lemon slices

(At this point, I ran out of ingredients in my refrigerator, but you can add peppers, artichoke hearts, or anything else that you wish)

Heat the olive oil in a paella pan (or a cast iron skillet) and sauté the onion until is slightly browned.  Add the garlic and sauté it briefly before adding the ersatz meat products.  Allow the bacon and chorizo to brown.  At the same time, heat the tomato juice and water in a separate saucepan until simmering.

Pour the rice into the paella pan and sauté for about 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.

Add the simmering tomato liquid to the paella pan and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes or until the rice is almost tender and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.  Stir in the peas and corn.

Continue cooking until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.  At this point, I noticed that the rice on the bottom of the pan was beginning to burn slightly while the rice on top was still undercooked, so I put a lid on the pan to help cook the rice on top.

Sprinkle with some lemon juice before serving (don't skip this step, it really makes a huge difference).

In spite of the burnt rice at the bottom, this was the most successful paella that I have ever made.  Paella is supposed to have a crispy bottom, but because of my inaccurate burners, it was very hard to get a good medium temperature.  Hopefully you will have more luck than I did.  Fortunately, the burnt rice was not the disaster that many would assume it would be.  I was careful not to scrape the bottom when serving, but the few blackened grains that ended up in the final product added a nice textural and flavor contrast to the sweet grains in the soft paella.