Friday, April 30, 2010

good mood food

Things are lookin’ up. I will share the details soon, but I was in the mood for a celebr(eakfast)ation!

Thus, some gorgey french toast.


TJ’s spelt drenched in egg, milk, cinnamon and vanilla.

Toppings of peanut butter, blueberry syrup, and *caramelized banana* (ideally all of my celebrations involve caramelized banana). Just popped it straight on the griddle next to the toast. Absolutely smashing!


Off to entertain the Asia family! Expecting a beautiful day shopping and strolling in Old Town.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

signature sandwich


Were some trendy cafe to name a sandwich after me (which I strongly urge they do), I’d probably want it to be this.

Your life will be better if you get a fruity-cheese-melt in it.


The Lele:


Apple slices.

Cheddar cheese.



Okay, I could give you a few more details: if you are awesome like me, you made brown soda bread from the March issue of Cooking Light, linked to on Favorite Recipes.

Also, I like this sandwich open faced because you can really taste every component; the flavors are balanced (the bread is on the hearty side). For mess reduction purposes, keep your apple and cheese slices thinnn or you’ll get overflow mess.

Had it with a salad (greens, tuna, carrots, fennel fronds, leftover roasted green beans, balsamic) and cafe au lait on a rainy day.


A sunnier day incarnation today: with pear! This sandwich is great cause it has the comfortingness of grilled cheese for a gloomy day and the freshness of the fruit for a sunny day. It is a sandwich for all seasons.


TJ’s spelt. Pear slices. More cheddar. Toasted. I missed my homemade bread- I can make super-thin slices of it and the TJ’s had a touch of freezer burn :( My fault, not Trader Joe’s.

With carrots and hummus and more pear.

Seriously, there are no words:


Except yum!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


No one communicates quite like my father.

Voicemail: “Hello, Ileana. It’s your dad. We have a house full of Asian relatives. Give me a call back!”

Yes, despite having heard nothing about this when hanging out at my dad’s last week, apparently my step-aunt, cousins, and grandmother (who does not speak a WORD of English) decided somewhat on a whim to fly 10,000 miles and stay with us for a month!

So mere days after I was at a restaurant wistfully reminiscing about the delicious eats of Taiwan, I was eating a home-cooked Taiwanese FEAST:


This is apparently a totally standard meal for seven people (!). Clockwise from your 10:00, that is steamed crabs, sweet and sour fish, bok choy, beef and green peppers, pork stew and, in the center, radish soup.

Sitting and watching Moony (Sally, my stepmother’s, sister), and Sally’s mother in the kitchen was seriously awe-inspiring. I AM going to learn how to cook real Chinese food. So exciting.

Sally’s mom whacked up the crabs with a cleaver, then stirred and steamed them with chopsticks- very simple seasoning, just ginger, garlic, chilies, and soy sauce.

DSCF4285 DSCF4287

You can see she has the bok choy soaking on the left. I told her (through Sally translating) that it was the best bok choy I’d ever had and she said the secret was soaking it an hour before cooking it, because that helped leach out the bitterness. She also cooked it with garlic (which I also do) but instead of mincing it super finely she did it in thin slices and then cooked the bok choy in oil and water so the garlic steamed instead of browned.

Moony made the beef and green peppers (also just garlic, ginger, chilies, and oil along with the meat- London broil- and vegetables).


On the left that’s Moony preparing the sweet and sour fish. The sauce contained garlic, ginger, oil, orange juice, salt, and that oh-so-traditional time-tested Taiwanese ingredient of… Heinz ketchup.

I was like “When did ketchup get to Taiwan?!” and Moony was like “… 1940?”. So about as long as here hahahah.

The sweet and sour fish was ridiculously delicious, topped with cilantro and green onion picked in my dad and Sally’s garden:


The crab was delicious, though I forgot what a hot mess whole crabs are! So fun, though. Can’t remember the last time I ate crabs. I was able to eat these despite having seen them before they got broken down- they still had EYES. (Though the eyes were totally clear, meaning they were exceedingly fresh!)


The beef and green peppers:


And my plate:


Imagine more veg, slightly less rice, and only a taste of the soup (apparently a clear soup is a traditional component of a Taiwanese meal but it’s more of a palate cleanser- this didn’t taste like much other than broth).

And of course, as usual, Sally’s family brought a gazillion edible goodies you can only get in Taiwan. I wanted to try these bad boys:


They look just like the package:


And taste like a twiggier, crunchier rice krispie treat.

So here’s The Situation: I feel hugely indebted to my Asia family for the unbelievable hospitality they showed me when I was in Taiwan. My dad, unfortunately, not so much with the manners. I feel responsible.

To that end, I’m definitely planning lots of fun outings in DC (museums, art, monuments), and VA (Great Falls, OldTown), but Moony also mentioned that they had never eaten Greek food (!) so I want to make them an authentic Greek meal.

The thing is, I am kind of enmeshed in my own culture, so am not sure what to make? If you were to give someone a class in Greek Food 101, what would you serve? I was thinking about hummus, roasted lamb or maybe souvlaki, spanikopita, baklava if I’m feeling ambitious: what do you think? What are your favorites, or what was the first Greek food you ever tried?

Monday, April 26, 2010

grillin’ season

At last at last! My love and I were reunited on Friday night.  I actually wrote this post (am writing this post? And sending it to the future! Oooh) on Friday.

The eats since then have been leftover Taiwanese. It’s been glorious :D

Anyway, the love to which I refer:


I continue to be absurdly proud of myself for mastering a charcoal grill. Pfft gas grills. WHATEVER. My barbecued food (and, er, my self) smell like SMOKE, baby!

So what was this manly stuff I was grillin’ up?


Hahaha vegetables and tofu. Specifically, Tandoori tofu, from the latest issue of Eating Well magazine. We had airline miles expiring and used them to subscribe to a gazillion magazines and I am way in love with Eating Well!

The key to grilling is just to have everything you need at your fingertips.


‘Fu, green peppers on skewers, tongs for flippin’, sauce to brush on tofu, Pam I used to spritz the rack, matches to light the charcoal… and just for good measures, a margarita :D Friday was Saint George’s Day! It’s a big Greek holiday, because Greek people have sons and name them either George, Andrew, or Nicholas (respectively my grandfather, uncle, and cousin). It is the law.

Tofu and vegetables are so much easier than grilling meat! You don’t have fears and stress about contamination! Oh meat. What a complicated relationship we have at the mo.

Anyway, I both cooked and ate al fresco, which was lovely.

Admiring the pansies, which are blooming their little brains out


The table set all gorgeously…


The placemat is from my dad’s mom, who got it in Micronesia, and the plate is from my mom’s mom. I love that!

And the eats, obviously.


In my opinion, the tofu got HIGHLY respectable grill marks (oh my God, I typed “earmarks” the first time. You can take the girl out of the poli sci department…)


The tofu was highly, HIGHLY enhanced by the sauce you make by mixing the remainder of the spicy tofu marinade with plain yogurt.


Garlicky, smoky, and delicious. Seriously, I could bathe in it. My mom helped me make everything and due to some poor communication it ended up with double the paprika, due to us both adding it at different times, yet it was perfect? So if you make this recipe, double the paprika!

And what of a (vaguely?) Indian meal without basmati rice.


My first (of multiple) plates.


One word of caution: to all you hyper-vigilant, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist food blogger cooks out there (also known as people like me): don’t monitor the grill too closely. It’ll do its thing. Patience is a virtue. And I did it and it made my lungs hurt.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

playing hookey

SUCH a fun evening.

Background: Bridezillas are stock character enough to inspire their own show. For the past SEVERAL weeks, we’ve been in touch with their bizarre relative: the father-of-the-groom-zilla. His perfectionism is, understandably, not on the dress, but rather on the CHOIR QUALITY. So we had many, many, MANY practices, and there was much, much, much angst.

Me (soprano, with a voice that now sounded like a chain smoker of thirty years) and my mom (alto) decided to go ahead and skip the reception :D

Our church is in Potomac, which means we were already most of the way to Rockville, home to…


Bob’s Noodle 66! Doesn’t the charm and whimsy of that name just give you the sense you’ll be transported somewhere amazing?

Bob’s Noodle 66 serves TAIWANESE! And hey hey guess what I’ve already BEEN to TAIWAN! Naturally, I had to go remind my belly of the great happiness it experienced there. Plus Bob’s has been one of my favorite restaurants for a long time- so warm and friendly, always full of cute families, and fabulous fabulous food for a great deal. We were talking and realized that the last time we’d been there had been my 17th birthday (!)

My Asia family introduced me to the “order-so-much-food-the-table-is-on-the-verge-of-collapsing-and-eat-the-leftovers-for-breakfast”, which translated nicely stateside. Observe:


Let’s break this down.

Oyster pancake:


An eggy batter with fresh oysters atop a bed of dark leafy greens with an unbelievably delicious tomatoey sweet and tangy sauce (it would not surprise me if the Americanized version had incorporated some ketchup). We always got this at Bob’s, even before I knew it was the real deal!

Beef noodle soup:


Like the national dish of Taiwan. Beef, super thick and chewy udon noodles, and dark greens in a crazy delicious broth. Obviously I am a pho lover, and while delicious like pho the flavor profile is totally different in this beefy noodle soup of deliciousness. Dark, rich, and intense, it definitely skews a bit sweet? And there’s star anise involved, I suspect. I think I’ll interrogate my Taiwanese stepmother the next time I see her to ask her about it!

A bit camera shy:


One pancake is just… not enough! This one was the radish and egg pancake. I actually was thinking about a radish cake I ate at this meal in Taiwan, and this was different but nonetheless delicious.

Okay, so we knew we wanted to order those dishes but (clearly underestimating their volume! In part due to their very reasonable prices) we wanted to get one more thing and asked our waitress for a recommendation. She suggested the night’s special, a “double delight”.


Wowza. On the right is black pepper shrimp which was splendid. On the left was “crispy flounder”, which I honestly blanched at cause you know the diet police say avoid anything called “crispy” blah blah blah.

WELL. Not only was the flounder insanely pristinely fresh and delicious, it was PERFECTLY fried so it was absolutely ethereal; positively lighter than air; crispy and melt in your mouth delicious. The sauce on it, meanwhile, while I have no clue what it contained (we spent a few mostly silent, contemplative moments occasionally going “… garlic”… “… vinegar”…) it was… bliss.

And again, it’s just a fun restaurant. The couple next to us spent most of their dinner speaking Mandarin but then leaned over to tell us that it was cash only (the only slight drawback of Bob’s) and then just struck up a conversation with us because they’d heard me speaking about Taiwan and they were Taiwanese and people from Taiwan are the friendliest people on earth. So we had a nice little chatsie!

So yeah, that was more, more than enough food. We have leftovers for a week. Yesss.

However, at this point we were just at a fun outing, delighted to be skipping a reception (me in particular- every well-meaning old church friend likes to ask me if I have a job yet. NO. I DON’T. YES I KNOW THE ECONOMY IS BAD THANK YOU FOR POINTING OUT THAT VERY HELPFUL INFORMATION), and wanting to do more.

So Yelp had raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaved about Carmen's. Like, I’d really never seen anything like it- I don’t think anyone gave it anything other than five stars! Carmen’s has soft serve, fro yo, and plain Italian ice, but their specialty (and what everyone said to order) is the gelati: frozen custard layered with Italian ice.

So we arrived, and the place looked like a carnival. We had stumbled on both Carmen’s ninth anniversary and the grand opening of a pizza place next door and just… insane quantities of merriment. Dude playing the guitar. Sweepstakes to enter. Exciting people selling and sampling things outside (more on that in a sec). The place was packed with happy families, and totally adorable.


Please note that the thing on the right was a TOPPINGS BAR (or rather half of one- that was all fruit and there was also another section with scads of nuts, candies, mochi, and general blissfulness that my appetite was just not strong enough to do justice).

We both went for the gelati:


I was sort of kicking myself for getting the small, since it turned out that the small and medium were the same anniversary special deal price of $1. But it was better… my poor tummy can only handle so much (my mom got the medium and took like half of it home with a lid… so actually I ended up eating more hahahaha).

So hers on the right was mango ice with vanilla frozen custard (nummy) and mine, on the left, also vanilla custard, was cherry ice and was AMAZING! It had cherry chunks in it. Took me back to my childhood when I just wanted cherry-flavored anything all day every day :D

Right outside Carmen’s were these adorable ladies, the creators and bakers of Flutterby Cupcakes.


They were so nice and friendly, and I told them about the blog so hi if you’re reading!

Yes, those are samples! I tried the chocolate with peanut butter frosting which was so insanely delicious that I (as I’m sure anyone who tastes it) immediately tried to find out how they did it. And they said it was a trade secret. Sad.

So, yknow, we bought one. Plus a red velvet for good measure. Which maybe we’ll eat in a WEEK, when we might have an appetite again!

Fab, fab night.

Friday, April 23, 2010

muesli and mezze

Fabulous new oats mix this morning!


Last night:
1/2 of another strawberry-banana Yo Plus (I made another bowl for my mom, so we split it)
1 T cranberry-ginger Chia Goodness (it’s growing on me! This one has dried cranberries, ginger, pepitas- delicious things! I dig!)
1/3 c. oats
1 T water
1/4 large apple, chopped

1 T oats (it just looked too scrawny!)
2 T milk (it just looked too dry!)
1 T walnuts
1 gorgey strawberry :D


Beyond delish.

Lunch was a real treat- I had plans to do serious damage at the Gap outlet in Old Town Alexandria (one of my favorite neighborhoods- a fun mix of cute boutiques, yummy restaurants, riverside strolls, and Places George Washington Was) and my aunt Dena lives quite close to Old Town so I suggested a joint shopping trip and perhaps coffee or lunch.

We had a lovely ramble around and ended up picking a new (to us) place for lunch: Layla's Lebanese Restaurant. I wonder if the name is from Leila and Majnoun, one of the poems in The Conference of the Birds, which was definitely one of my favorite things I read in college. I know the Eric Clapton song of the same name (another of my great loves) is!

Dena was a good sport and let me take my blog pictures (fortunately she likes the blog!) I was apprehensive when I saw only a few people eating there, but it was great so now I’m trying to give them mad good publicity!

The inside is totally cute:


We sat by the window, and looked at the trees and people and cars going by. Well, the trees stayed still. I took this picture after the two gentlemen sitting next to us, who based on their conversation were raaaaaging alcoholics, blessedly left.


Fortunately my whole family is of the “sharing is fun!” mindset (plus we all just have a hard time deciding which thing sounds most delicious) so we decided to split a bunch of mezze. EXCELLENT choice. We got the special appetizer platter:


Clockwise from the top right, there was tabbouleh, falafel (sooooooo goooooood- it reminded me that my little experiments with lentils and whatnot might taste good but are nothing in comparison to the real deep-fried crispy deal), falafel sauce, hummus, baba ghanoush (why is the Lebanese version of baba ghanoush SO INSANELY DELICIOUS? Isn’t it just more awesomely smoky?! I want to recreate it! Any ideas?), spinach pies, and stuffed grape leaves (I cannot eat the stuff from the can but man oh man the real deal is so unbelievably good).

We also got something I’ve never had before but was amazing- makdous, which is stuffed pickled baby eggplants.


They said they were stuffed with walnuts, garlic, and olive oil but based on my little dissection there appeared to also be olives and red pepper.


Anyway, they were awesome.

Pita bread, of course:


Not homemade, unforch, but still good.

It was a really really delicious meal and the perfect amount of food for two. I recommend!

We concluded with “Lebanese coffee”- so silly, they call it Lebanese, we call it Greek, the Turks call it Turkish: it’s all the same coffee! Thin grounds, a little sweet, wicked caffeinated. How I love it.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

crazy’d up sandwiches

A sandwich, fruit, and veg is a fairly normal lunch, but my sandwiches are always sort of weird.


I made tofu salad again! 4 oz-ish of firm tofu, cubed up, tossed with plain yogurt, capers, and dill. I sprinkled some paprika on top, which added to both its beauty and deliciousness. It was also, of course, on top of some of my awesome homemade brown soda bread. Mmm.


Do other people really really like raw green beans? I do! The apple was the other half of a new (to me) kind I tried for breakfast: Pacific Rose. SO SWEET! And a beautiful red. Like if Red Deliciouses weren’t disgusting (overbreeding, vair tragic).

For dinner I had a “burger”, “fries”, and “slaw”.


“Slaw” was the last of the green papaya salad.

“Burger” was a black-eyed pea burger! I hadn’t made one of these for awhile and I’d forgotten how delicious they were! For two burgers I drained and rinsed one cup of blackeyed peas. I microwaved to soften, then added bread crumbs, garlic powder, cumin, and a dash of hot sauce. Then I mashed them, let them cool down and set up a little, and made them into patties which I broiled for four minutes a side.

Atop some Romaine with a pickle! No, I haven’t gone all Atkins on you. I had just already eaten so friggin’ much bread that day!

Finally “fries” were sweet potato fries. I need advice- how does one get crispy sweet potato fries? I have tried the Cooking Light potato oven fries technique (450 degrees) and they browned up too quickly without cooking in the middle, so this time I tried the Hungry Girl butternut fries technique at 375 and while they were delicious and sweet, they were not crisp! Any tried-and-true sweet potato fries methodologies out there?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

warm, comforting, and blurry

April showers bring crummy  natural light. I do my best.

An ideal rainy meal is grilled cheese and tomato soup. OBVIOUSLY. I classed mine up, per usual.


The tomato soup is homemade. It’s a recipe from Barbara Lynch, a Boston chef and restaurateur extraordinaire, and her cookbook. I made it with that boy that time but have subsequently parted ways both with him and his cookbooks (guess which I miss more x_x). But anyway, I did the sketchy-but-legal move of clicking on the “Search Inside” on its Amazon page and found the recipe I wanted :D


Sooooooo simple, soooooo good. I love love love that it uses canned tomatoes- so-called “ripe tomatoes” this time of year (tomatoes picked 10,000 miles away when they were green and left to “ripen” in some godforsaken warehouse) taste terrible. Canned tomatoes are preserved at their freshest and best!

The sandwich was also soooooo good.


I accidentally bought oil- instead of water-packed tuna, but I’m considering it a serendipitous mistake. Turns out the oil (in my opinion) does a better job of preserving both the tuna’s flavor and texture. And since I drained most of it off anyway (and whatever is left is probably the equivalent of the oil I typically add to my tuna salad), the caloric difference is negligible.

I tossed it with some red onion and minced carrot and topped it with some Harry and David cheddar (man oh man, Harry and David are my great loves). A

nd if that weren’t enough delicious, I put it on some of my homemade brown soda bread (in Favorite Recipes under favorite loaf bread).

This bread is so ridiculously delicious and moist and buttery (despite containing none) and awesome. And even if you don’t bake, you can bake this. No yeast, no kneading. You dump a bunch of things in a bowl and dump them in a pan and then go take a nice hot bath or something while it bakes for an hour. SO EASY!

More comfort food for breakfast, in the form of apple-cinnamon oats.


I added some of my apple-cinnamon chia cereal thinking it would go, but I was not a fan. It made the oats taste blander (?) and dried out. Experiments will continue.

The star of last night’s comforty dinner was one of my favorite signs of spring:


Leeks! Another from The Philosopher’s Kitchen, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. You cook up the leeks in olive oil, then add garlic, savory, chicken broth, and wine, to make a rockin’ sauce. Then you poach some pre-seared chicken breasts in that.


Not the most beautiful of final products, alas…


Plus I ended up having to microwave it a ton because despite the juices running clear I managed to cook some medium-rare chicken. I swear, not only do I have ethical issues with factory farming of chicken (this was already purchased and in the freezer- I don’t intend to buy  more) it’s also just a pain in the ass to prepare and ensure that it will be safe.

The side dishes made me feel better:


If they look familiar, it’s because they are the exact same ones I made with the cod the other day. I slightly amended the barley by cooking it in chicken stock (it was already open for the leek sauce) and it was even DELICIOUSER. So I recommend.