Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lactuca Sativa

I harvested the last of my garden's lettuce the other night, thankful that the mild Bay Area could bring me crispy salad in the middle of winter. Not that it makes a load of difference in my ghetto garden, but according to some sources California is the lettuce capital of the United States. I have a hunch that it's also the artichoke/garlic/take you pick of fruits and vegetables capital of the U.S. The lactuca part of its Latin namesake refers to the milky substance that you sometimes find in the crunchy parts of the veggie. This milky stuff is also what makes the lettuce a little bitter. And, just a hunch, may also be related to why the ancient Egyptians thought lettuce was a symbol of male virility.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thai Noodles

Magazine subscribers always have a magazine that they REALLY look forward to getting, and mine happens to be Fine Cooking. Making its arrival even sweeter is that it only comes every other month. What I love about this mag is how they unpack the mysteries of cooking; they have an explicit approach that makes everything from the roasted chicken feast to the nuances of tomato sauce approachable and fun. It's a little bit Alton Brown food science, a bit 30-minutes meals (without that annoying Rachael Ray!), and a bit Follow that Food (for the way they will create 5 recipes on one ingredient).

The March 06 edition has a section on Rice Noodle Stir-Fries, and I pulled this simple recipe out cuz the ingredients looked tasty and I'm always interested in tackling my restaurant favorites. The basic idea behind these stir-fries (think Pad Thai) is that while you are soaking the noodles in warm water, you will begin to cook the topping. After a brief soak, noodles are added to the sauce, a few other things are added, and voila-Thai Noodles.
Stir-Fried Noodles with Tofu, Scallions & Peanuts
Serves two (with leftovers)

4 oz. dried wide (pad thai) rice noodles
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. unsulphured molasses
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. ketchup (seems weird, but it works)
1 tbsp.. minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. minced garlic
8 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 c. bean sprouts
2 scallions, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1-inch lengths
1 large egg
2 tbsp. crushed unsalted peanuts
3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 line, cut into wedges for serving
*Soak the dried noodles in warm (110 F) water until pliable but still rather firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the rest of the ingredients.
*In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce with molasses, rice vinegar, ketchup, ginger, salt, and cayenne.
*Once noodles are drained, heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add the garlic, stir, and then immediately add the soy sauce-molasses mixture. When the mixture is bubbling, add the tofu and stir briefly to combine. Add the noodles and cook, stirring and tossing until the noodles are tender and the liquid is absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. If the noodles aren't tender and the liquid is gone, add 1 or 2 tbsp. of water. Add the bean sprouts and scallions, stirring gently, until the bean sprouts begin to turn limp, about 1 minute.
*Push the noodles to one side of the skillet and add the remaining 1 tbsp. of oil. Crack the egg into the oil and scramble it lightly until almost cooked, breaking it up as you go (about 30 seconds). Fold the noodles back over the egg, add the peanuts, and stirfry, stirring gently, until the egg is completely cooked. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Melting Pot

Scott and I were in San Jose for a night of improv at ComedySportz (good, stupid fun-comedy in the same vein as "Whose Line is it Anyway?"). When the show let out at 10, we set out to find a good place to eat. We were thinking divey, unique, charming, cheap, a hideaway. But when most of a city's restaurants close before 10 (who knew!!), one's list of qualifiers begins to shrink fast. After wandering the streets of downtown for a bit, we happened upon The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant that has the big service feel of the Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory. We didn't know it at the time, but our big find happens to be part of a chain that started in Florida 30 years ago. Oh well.

It was late, so we decided to share the Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue ($12.00)--a combination of Swiss cheeses, white wine, Kirshwasser, lemon, garlic, and nutmeg served with a variety of breads, apples, and raw veggies. Our server--an affable, if not overly-talkative guy--prepared the fondue tableside and let us know he was happy to refill our bowls of dipping stuffs when we finished them. How wonderfully American! The service was painfully slow, but we were tucked in the back of the restaurant in a cozy booth designed for two, where-as I'm sure you've guessed- we were engaged in deep, meaningful conversation. This place must clean house on Valentine's Day!

Cheese Fondue originated in Switzerland many moons ago, when folks there would run out of fresh foods to eat during the cold, long winters. By winter, the cheeses created during the summer became hard and stale. The smart, resourceful peasants melted the cheese down in a communal pot, added liquor and spices to make it more palatable, and invented fondue (French for "to melt").

If you're in San Jose late at night and can see the fun in cookie-cutter fondue, give this place a try. Just be warned: word has it that drinking water with melted cheese can turn the cheese into a big congealed ball in your belly, leaving you feeling mighty sick and weary of fondue for a good, long time.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reporter on assignment

Foodstorm is still Bay Area-based, but every now and then we find good reason to segue into other geographical territories. That's my little brother, the Marine, about to enjoy an Iraqi naan-like bread.

Note from the field: Me testing out a fine eatery for your blog site!

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Gourmet Hamburger Place

We recently ventured to San Francisco's trendy Hayes Valley for haircuts, and happily stumbled upon Flipper's for a pre-cut lunch. It was a glorious, rain-free January day, and we were thrilled to find an outdoor patio to enjoy the winter sun while sinking our teeth into some hearty food. I ordered a tuna melt, which came with curly seasoned fries AND a tasty mixed greens salad. I was further happy that the heaping serving left me with a late afternoon snack (later enjoyed in Golden Gate Park-what a day!). With its art galleries, hip furniture shops, coffee houses, and an absinthe bar, it's hard to imagine Hayes Valley was once a haven for ladies of the night. Part of this change is due to the 1989 earthquake, which took down the Central Freeway that divided Hayes Valley. With the freeway gone (and not to be rebuilt), Hayes Valley has reestablished itself as an energetic, artistic community worth visiting. And Flipper's sunny patio aint bad either.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Never too late for Latkes

My mom throws a great latke party every Chanukah, but I was so busy cooking (and mostly eating) at this year's bash that I forgot to take photos. My mom really does make the best latkes--they've got texture, a good potato to onion ratio, and a perfect balance between a crispy outside and soft inside. Knowing that my latkes will never be as good as mom's, I've created a sweet potato latke that borrows from her great recipe while trying to earn its own sweet reputation.
Sweet Potato Latkes
Serves 3
2 sweet potatoes or yams-grated
2 small yellow onions-thinly sliced
3/4 c. flour
2 eggs-whisked
nutmeg-a dash
salt and pepper, to taste
Canola Oil
Mix potatoes and onions. Add flour and toss to mix evenly. Add eggs to the mixture and toss. Stir in nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Coat the bottom of heavy pan with oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Drop large dollops of latke batter onto the hot oil. Turn latkes when bottom is golden brown. Cook other side to a golden brown and remove from the pan. To remove excess oil from latkes, drain them on paper grocery bags. Add more oil to pan as needed. Enjoy year round.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Nittany Lions take the Orange Bowl

My father-in-law, a Penn State alum and the biggest PSU fan you'll meet, invited us to his hotel on January 4 to watch the Orange Bowl. For some, nothing marks the new year like a bowl game, and for many, bowl games are primarily about the chips and beer. For this game, Budweiser, Guiness, and Sam Adams just wouldn't do. Notice we're drinking Rolling Rock, brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, just a few miles from Penn State.

While passing time in front of a football game isn't my favorite activity, the game was a true nail biter. Both teams kept missing field goals (four altogether!) and the game went into triple overtime. Fortunately for us, Penn State came out on top and we can feel confident that all will be well as we enter the new year.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Happy New Year

Since our current abode is in Palo Alto (Spanish for "tall tree") and the tree symbolizes growth, this seems an appropriate icon to bring us into the new year. The tree also happens to be one of only two cookie cutters that sit in my catch-all of kitchen gadgets drawer. I own a whole slew of cutters, but Scott only sanctioned the journey of two (the other being a flower) until we move into bigger digs. Very smart boy.

The real Palo Alto is a Coastal Redwood (Sequoia Sempervirens) that's about 1000 years old. Check out the picture from the early 1900's, when it was a mere 900 years old. Hmph. We enjoyed the visit of Scott's family for the holidays, and further enjoyed a tasty batch of his mom's favorite gingerbread cookies with a buttercream frosting. Wishing all a very happy 2006!