Category Archives: cooking

Chocolate Bark with Almonds (makes you look like a genius)

Bitterweet Chocolate Almond Bark

I made something like last winter to give away for the holidays but thought I’d tweak it into something less sweet, and more ingredient-centric. Some people really really LOVE it. But it’s not going to be your cup of tea if you like stuff really sweet. Because it’s not. Rather, it’s just sweet. (you can use “regular” chocolate if you want it sweeter).  And that is what drives the people crazy. Here goes! (oh and a Warning – many of the recipes on this blog are designed with an eye towards frugality – but this is not one of them).

Ingredients:

1 lb dark chocolate; (I used the 72% from Trader Joe’s, it’s $5.00 for 17 oz);
3/4 lb toasted unsalted almonds; ($3.00 of a $4.00 bag from Trader Joe’s);
1/2 cup of dried sweetened cranberries; (about 1/2 of a $$4.00 bag from Trader Joe’s);
1 cup of chopped dried unsweetened apricots; (about 1/2 bag from Trader Joe’s)*

Tools:

sauce pot;
very clean stainless steel bowl;
fork;
parchment paper;
water.

Fill a broad sauce pot (10″ radius or greater) until the water level is a few inches from the top. Simmer. Do NOT boil. Place the stainless steel bowl in the pot and make sure that the water makes good contact with the bowl. The bowl should float.  Break the chocolate into chunks, then drop them into the stainless steel bowl.

Tear off enough parchment paper to cover a cookie sheet.  Let the chocolate melt. Mix the almonds and dried fruits. Pour everything onto the paper. Allow to cool for a few hours and eventually, cover it with parchment paper. Move chocolate bark from the cookie sheet to a cutting board. Cut. ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ALTERNATE ENDING: for those of you who enjoy white chocolate, use that! Might want to use salted almonds to balance out the sweetness usually associated with white chocolate.

*I have also purchased the Mariani dried apricots from Costco, for about $3.50 for 2 lbs…they are VERY sweet and wonderful for this bark too!

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Chicken for 77 Cents per Pound…nostalgia and inspiration!

chicken and kimchee lettuce cup

Chicken at Safeway this week is 77 cents per pound – seems like Safeway changes the chicken price to this level from time to time. I remembered that long, long, LONG ago, I bought a whole chicken and froze it. I figured that I should use it…nearly a year later?

chicken price sticker

So I defrosted it overnight, and then brined it. Didn’t follow a recipe for the brine – just threw everything (for just a few hours, with salt, sugar, and apple cider) into a large stockpot, stuck it in the fridge for about 4 hours. I figured the apple cider vinegar would help liven up the taste if the chicken had fallen victim to freezer burn.

Someone had given me many bags of veggies, including a wealth of root veggies: fingerling and purple potatoes, as well as carrots. I decided that they would form a bed for a roast chicken. While the chicken marinated, I soaked the root veggies which were a tad dried out.

potatoes

carrots

bed of root veggies

After quickly rubbing it with some chilic powder I got for $1.00 at the dollar store, I put the 4 lb chicken on a bed of root veggies into the 450 degree oven. About 75 minutes later, it was all quite roasted. The feedback on the chicken? No one knew it was previously frozen!!! I could have roasted a (previously frozen) woolly mammoth if I brined it first!!! Brining is truly magical.

roasted chicken on a bed of root veggies

Roasted chicken was part of one day’s meal (yesterday’s). And what about the second day of roasted chicken? Why not make lettuce cups? That’s right, slather that chicken with kim chee and roll it up in some lettuce. And call it a day. So so easy.

chicken and kim chee lettuce cups

I can see doing something similar with cold, drained, firm tofu. Hm…maybe I’ll have to try that.

Thanks for still reading my blog, despite my inattention! Here’s a totally gratuitous photo of some California goodness.

sunset

The Foodie Handbook Book Reading (with Queen Pim)

My friend said we should go to a book reading, since it was by a food blogger.  I actually didn’t know who Pim Techamuanvivit was but I thought it sounded fun. So off we went!

We chose our seats and thumbed through her book for a while, trading laughs and funny quotes from her book, “The Foodie Handbook: The (Almost) Definitive Guide to Gastronomy.”  Reading the book was a good time.  Her storytelling is effortless. It seemed like the book’s mission is to deflate some of the stuffiness associated with foodie-ism.  OK, so I didn’t buy a copy but my enjoyment was genuine.* I could totally understand why Pim is a star.

About ten minutes before the reading, a bookstore employee announced that three of the bookstore’s employees kindly prepared recipes from the book: roasted vegetables with dates; alfajores; and bread soup. The small crowd lined up. All of the food was so, so delicious. I loved the soup especially.

She read a few excerpts from the book and spent a generous amount of time answering our questions. At one point, she was telling us about visiting a farmer’s market in New York with a famous French chef (I can’t remember his name)  to buy some snap peas. He apparently picked each pea pod individually and was pleased with his purchase. Until he visited another stall, with slightly better peas. Which prompted him to try to return the first set. Ah, not high maintenance at all!

Anyways, she charmed everybody. I think my friend was a little smitten with her.  He kept saying, “Oh, that was really cute! You can take me to these food things if they are cute!”

*In an attempt to save money and cut down on clutter, I try not to buy books anymore. My tendency now is to check books out from the library. If I pine away for a book for a LONG time, then I might consider buying. Sort of like dating the book instead of marrying it right away.

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I’ve put three post-like things about food/money (including most of the “show me the money, part i: finding low-cost recipes” post on their own page “show me the money” instead of publishing three posts.

fyi, I think I’m the last person to learn of Cake Wrecks, but, if not – check it out!

Extremely Easy Salmon Salad with Sweet Potatoes

I’m kinda like a cat. I love fish. When I was a vegetarian for a few years, I resisted burgers, hot dogs, steaks and even pork chops without any trouble.  But fish? I remember pining away for albacore sashimi, when everyone else in my family enjoyed platters of it, on gorgeous beds of freshly-picked chiso.

I’m not a vegetarian now, so, I don’t have to resist eating fish. Sigh of relief! Recently, one of my friends gave me a can of wild Alaskan salmon. And I have been roasting sweet potatoes in the toaster oven like there is no tomorrow. Naturally, these must come together in a salad.

Salmon Salad  with Sweet Potatoes

  • 1/4  cup of canned salmon; (1/4 of $2.69* = = $.67);
  • 1/2 of a roasted** sweet potato, sliced broadly (half of a 2/3 lb potato x $1.99/lb = = $.66);
  • dab of mayo;
  • dab of grainy mustard;
  • greens/herbs to garnish.

Probably no-salt canned chickpeas would be a great addition to this salad. For visual interest, I added a stem of yu choy, chiffonade-d, fresh from the farmer’s market. By the way, Trader Joe’s canned salmon is great. Bay Beauty (a.k.a., Ocean Beauty) brand, which I used in this recipe, is decent quality.*** FYI, I googled around and found that warm potato/salmon salad is pretty common. So, feel free to change out the sweet potatoes for plain ones. I happen to love it cold, straight out of the fridge.

P.S. It’s a really lovely mix of sweet and savory. Kinda reminds me of Japanese food!

Also – I would love to try making a bean pie, but I want a recipe that someone can recommend personally. If you have one, please share!

*I think that is the cost of the Trader Joe’s wild Alaskan salmon. There are definitely cheaper brands.

**I usually roast a few sweet potatoes at 450 F for 1 hour in the toaster oven.

*** These opinions are not the result of fees/gifts.

Shiitake Stuffing for a Minnesota Holiday Potluck

Zojirushi

Once upon a time, I attended a potluck, with a savory bread pudding in tow. It was much, much loved. And my hopes of eating the leftovers were not to be – it was entirely demolished! I was so proud of myself because I thought I had completely invented the recipe, and it was the first time I made it (not something I recommend when cooking for others – my backup plan was to buy something if it didn’t turn out). But now I realize – the dish reminds me a little bit of the chawanmushi my grandmother would make. Everything “new” is actually old.

Shiitake Stuffing

Ingredients: (I don’t remember the exact measurements…these are very approximate)

  • 1/2 loaf of decent quality San Francisco style sweet Italian bread – the kind with sesame seeds on the crust;
  • 2 cups of dried shiitakes;
  • 3 medium yellow onions or 2 large yellow onions;
  • soy sauce;
  • 3 eggs;
  • 1 24 oz can of chicken stock;
  • milk? (I can’t remember if I used milk or not…*)
  • dashes of white wine;
  • dashes of ngouc mam;
  • dash of sugar;
  • cooking oil/butter.

1. Soaking

The mushrooms were the stars of this show. I soaked them in warm water for a few hours before I cooked. Usually, I soak them in a deep, narrow container with a small dish that fits inside the container mouth to keep the mushrooms submerged nicely.

2. Chopping

The onions and mushrooms needed chopping/slicing. Each went into their own bowls, waiting their turn. I wanted to show off the beautiful shape of the shiitake, so, I sliced them (sans stem of course) from the top to the gills in 1/8″ wide pieces.

3. Bread Frying

This was the longest part – frying 8-10 pieces of bread on each side, to get some slight browning.** After frying, I chopped each slice into four strips. I think I chose against cubes, in the hopes that the pudding would be more textural.

4. Sweating the veggies + deglazing

To a hot, hot skillet, I added the onions, then the mushrooms. They sweated for a good few minutes, without burning. Then, I poured the chicken stock to deglaze and quickly scraped all the veggie fond from the bottom of the skillet. Now, I can’t quite remember how much white wine, soy sauce, ngouc mam, and sugar I added, but, they went into the mix during the deglazing. Everything simmered and smelled amazing as it all reduced a little bit.

5. Cooling the mushroom mix/Preheating oven

I knew I would need to add egg to make the stuffing, and did not want scrambled eggs, so, I let the mixture cool down a bit. Very important! I think I separated the liquids and stored them in the fridge or freezer for a little bit. This is probably when I preheated the oven (likely to 400).

6. Egg mixture

I beat the three eggs and incorporated the cooled liquids (and possibly the milk, if I used it!). The egg mixture was not watery in consistency – when I was mixing, likely with some chopsticks, the mixture was a little bit resistant/elastic.

7. Baking

I think the glass baking dish was 9″ x 13″ or so. Well, I buttered it. Then, loosely arranged the bread and the mushroom mix. Then poured the egg mixture, which almost covered the bread/mushroom mix. A few pieces stuck up here and there, for textural interest. Into the oven it all went, for about 1 hour at (probably) 350 Fahrenheit.

8. Costs

Most of the ingredients were pretty cheap, but the shiitakes usually aren’t.  The shiitakes came from a package I got from Costco, a really great deal – I think it was like 1/2 lb for $10.00 or so. Probably used less than 2 dollars’ worth or so. The quantity of onions might be 2 dollars. The bread expense…hm…maybe 2 dollars? Half a loaf, for four dollars or less (two dollars’ worth). Three eggs…roughly 50 cents – 75 cents, depending on how fancy the eggs were. That’s seven dollars so far, not counting the dashes of this and that. Using store-bought chicken stock brings up the cost to ten dollars. It serves more than ten, so, it’s probably less than a dollar per serving.

How did it taste? Oh, I remember it well! First, the nearly custard-like bread/egg foundation is rich and savory. Then a bite of the shiitakes makes the brain so very happy. Shiitakes are pure umami to me.***

*I usually use milk when making stuffing…so…I probably used it for this recipe…

**I don’t remember why I fried the bread, it’s been such a long time since I’ve made any kind of stuffing/pudding , but I’m pretty sure I’ve always done that for bread stuffings.

***Science journalist Robert Krulwich has a charming 8 minute story about Kikunae Ikeda and Escoffier discovering umami contemporaneously. One as a chemist, the other as a chef.

Kotonk Chow Fan // Spam Fried Rice

Beware of Hawaiians. They will laugh at your “mainlander” accent. They thought I talked funny because I am a kotonk. I speak native Californian! Meanwhile, they spoke pidgin. Who’s right? Ah, when in Rome…do as the Romans do. And in Hawaii, that means, fall in love with Spam. From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

Hawaii residents consume nearly 7 million cans of Spam a year, an average of about six cans for every man, woman and child.

Not a fan of spam musubi (mandatory for Hawaiian residency). But, I do love it in my fried rice, as do many Hawaiians. Putting spam in your fried rice is a modern nod to the more traditional char siu. Plus – spam costs a lot less!

Kotonk Fried Rice

  • 3 cups of cooked, refrigerated Japanese rice;
  • 1/4 of a full container of Spam (thanks mapgirl!) ham / other savory meat-like thing;
  • 4 green onions, sliced moderately thin;
  • 2 eggs, beaten like they owe you money;
  • salt and pepper – be generous!

Use your favorite skillet – for this, I used a cast iron pan. I like to start off by frying the Spam. Then, add the rice – use your spatula vigorously! Add vegetable oil whenever necessary. Ideally, you would scramble the eggs separately, but, let’s not get too crazy here. Add the green onions when the rice is hot and the eggs are scrambled. These will wilt in a matter of seconds. You are done! Season with plenty of salt and pepper!

(My mis en place…well…minus the rice, salt, pepper and vegetable oil for frying…)

(action shot of beating the eggs)

(plated, just for you!)

P.S. I’m going to have to do the price calculations later. But, I think this is quite inexpensive to prepare! I think 1/4 of a container of Spam is going to work out to less than $1.00.

My Mom’s Kohi Kanten – Coffee Pudding (Vegan – and about $.10 per serving!)

Kanten…so many reasons I love it:

  1. it’s a naturally ZERO calorie food. That’s right. I said, ZERO!
  2. it’s filling and yet not wiggly-jiggly (unlike gelatin);
  3. even the laziest prep yields yummilicious results; and
  4. I grew up eating it!

Below is a picture of agar agar in stick form.

At any Asian market you can find premixed packets of almond kanten for less than 2 or 3 dollars – really tasty with even the least interesting fruit cocktail. Growing up, we had that all the time. Perfect summertime dessert. Nice and cool! But avoid buying agar agar at Whole Foods. I have seen the Eden versions for almost 6 dollars!!! You should be able to buy the stick agar agar for $2.00 or less per 10 grams (.35 oz). the urban vegan recommends buying the stick format and sticking the sticks into the food processor to make flakes.* I’m used to the stick forms, but, I think this is a great tip for people accustomed to the flake format. Also, people can get quite glamorous with agar agar (also known as kanten in Japanese). I am stockpiling ideas for what do with it. And coffee kanten is a classic (kohi = coffee in Japanese). So here it is!

Mom’s Kohi Kanten

  • 2 cups of boiling coffee – sweeten to taste (pennies);
  • 5 grams of powdered agar agar (about 1/2 of a stick of agar agar – about $.50 worth); and
  • coconut milk – this is optional (about 10 teaspoons – roughly 1/4th of a 13 oz can – $1.59 = $.40 cents worth).

Dissolve the agar agar in the boiling hot coffee in a saucepot. Mix mix mix. Add your sweetener. Mix. Pour the piping hot mixture into a pie plate. Alright, just cover and chill it for about 2 hours. Done. It’s traditional to cut it into squares (as you see above). Splash on a teaspoon of coconut milk per serving. If you have them around, put a roasted coffee bean on top. Makes eight~ ten servings, depending on the size (less than $.10 per serving – half of that if you do not use the coconut milk of course). Be sure to have this with some lovely tea!

(you can also cool it into cute little cups for individual servings)

* the urban vegan’s post is actually VERY helpful for gaining a good understanding of agar agar. Read it and let the erudition flow!

P.S. I don’t really follow diet news, so, maybe someone can tell me if there are any standards for what is “low-carb”? My very casual research shows me that the FDA hasn’t made a decision yet, but, I’m guessing that might not be the latest info.

Update: VegCookingBlog, thanks for linking to this post! My stats are blowing up 🙂 !!!! I’ve also written a post on making Mango Kanten.

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Housekeeping notes:

(1) I’ve added a “Tips” page to the blog to park handy things I learn about (and/or blog about). For example, last week, limes went on sale – 10 for a dollar. So…I’m not going to use ten in a given week…and they don’t last forever…but they can last longer if you slice them and freeze them. Like so:

Might be better to peel skin off – haven’t tried it that way yet. Works grrrrreat in iced tea. (This is a tip contributed by my mom.)

(2) Not sure why, but Feedburner sent off an old post (from April ’07) on May 10. It wasn’t my doing! I’ll try to find out why that happened.