Category Archives: product review

Taking corn soup beyond the package

It’s easy to prettify a 32 oz package of soup. The Pacific Natural Foods Buttery Sweet Corn soup was only $1.00 at some food outlet.

Minced two stalks of celery. Had some sauteed onions in the fridge, so threw in 1/2 cup of that. Found a stray sweet potato. Wrapped it in some cling film and nuked it for about 6 minutes. Chopped up that sweet potato – kept the skin on because it adds a nice color. Served the soup piping hot, and encouraged diners to drop a little square of Tillamook Cheddar in the soup. Many happy eaters! The additions here help dilute the serious sweetness of the soup.


The Pressure Cooker Gourmet, by Victoria Wise (mini-review)

Last year, I purchased “The Pressure Cooker Gourmet.” Long before I had a pressure cooker to call my own, I was apprehensive about fending off kitchen explosions and the psk-psk sound – is the noise inspiring or anxiety-provoking?

Ms. Victoria Wise reveals that these formidable tools are quite easy and safe to handle. More importantly, she employs the rare skill of explaining how the food actually works. The relevance of connective tissue in a roast. That sort of thing. All the recipes seem to have a manageable number of ingredients – most have no greater than ten. She is ultimately practical about technique/preparation, which I appreciate. For example, she encourages the reader to take advantage of the extra time the pressure cooker affords with “embellishments and finishing touches,” such as garnishes or other little delights that move a meal from basic to sublime.

This book was the tipping factor that helped me decide to add my beloved 6-quart, stainless steel Presto to my culinary life. Oh the romance!

Run, don’t walk, to Fairway and get Gata Hurdes olive oil

Either that, or, bribe any New Yorker you can get your hands on. One of my friends made the mistake of letting me try some Gata Hurdes olive oil. It’s Spanish. Beautiful green. Amazing flavor: smooth, fruity (perhaps even a teensy grassy), and a nod in the direction of pepperiness with a final destination of almost sweet. He then offered to get me some more of it from New York City’s fine food retailer, Fairway Market. Well, I accepted – got two bottles, intending for my parents to try it. They fell, head over heels in love with it – accompanied only by some Safeway “artisanal” baguette. I don’t know who else besides Fairway carries this, but, I might have to hassle my friend again when my supplies run low!!! It is this oil (a mere $14.99 for a liter!) that lets me believe that Athena handily won the hearts of the Greeks, by giving them the olive tree.

Gata Hurdes

When the stars make you drool just like Pasta Fazool, that’s Amore…(about $.50 per serving)

Sometimes slow cookers can help you become magical – in two places at once. Yes, you can be hard at work in the kitchen and relaxing elsewhere, at the very same time. (mea culpa, no pix for this post.)

Pasta Fazool (Pasta e Fagioli)

  • 3lbs of Swanson’s Lower Sodium chicken stock ($2.75);
  • 1 lb dry kidney beans, soaked overnight, yielding 3lbs ($1.29);
  • 1 lb of fresh Polish Sausage, containing chili flakes ($3.88);
  • 2 peeled carrots (can’t remember! less than $1.00);
  • 1 large onion, broadly chopped (likely about $.50);
  • 1 head of garlic, smashed and peeled (pennies);
  • 26 oz of Hunt’s Spaghetti Sauce with Italian Sausage ($1.00);
  • 5 bay leaves (pennies);
  • 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary leaves (pennies); and
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper (pennies).

This is about 2 gallons, or, 24 1-cup servings for less than $12.00. That’s about fifty cents per serving! I just threw everything in the slow cooker and left it alone. If I had to do this over again, I’d pressure cooker the beans separately, and then just throw them in the last 30 minutes. The fresh sausage and vegetables probably do not require more than three hours in the slow cooker. Otherwise, the beans will need SEVEN hours in the slow cooker!!!! And, warning, 1 cup might not sound like a lot of food, but, remember, this is laden with beans. Extremely filling! Serve over your favorite pasta. I have another pasta e fagioli recipe imbued with the magic of red wine here.

If you are coming to this post from My Open Wallet, you might be interested in my other posts about one dollar meals.

And most of those posts have PHOTOS of the food, unlike this one…!!! I promise I will photo this dish the next time I make it :-)!

So Delicious: yes, it is. Chocolate Obsession? Yes, indeed.

If you don’t know already, Turtle Mountain makes a dairy-free frozen dessert called So Delicious Chocolate Obsession. See, how clever – they left off the “y” in soy. Not only laced with ribbons of chocolate sauce, inexplicably delicious crunchy flakes of chocolate torment you with utter irresistibility. Oh, buy it. From what I can tell, it is free of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sporting dehydrated cane juice, beet sugar, and potato sugar instead. I didn’t get a sugar high after consuming a majority of a container, nor any other common post-dessert effects. It’s definitely pricey, (I think mine was over four dollars!) but a great choice for a sweet.


HFCS has its own foreign trade, health and culinary controversies! (and here’s a link to a previous DWTS reference to HFCS)

Whole Foods 365 Brand: no-salt canned beans ==>express lunch

Whole Foods carries no-salt beans for a very decent $.69/can. When you are feeling extremely lazy, I recommend the following for a very filling, nutritious, fibrous, inexpensive and delicious lunch:

  • 1/2 can of no-salt red kidney beans
  • 1/2 can of no-salt cannellini beans
  • 1/2 can of no-salt garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup of olive-oil based salad dressing (I used Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar).

Open the cans and drain the beans. Put the salad dressing in your tupperware. Add the drained beans. Done. Eat with multigrain crackers. The bean salad is also quite pretty. Sometimes when you are working, you just can’t leave your environs (meetings, annoying people, etc.) – but you should not go hungry. Eat this and prosper!

ain’t your mama’s Toor Dal: recipe & notes

(repost b/c of accidental deletion; first posted on 1/31/07)

One of my friends cooked me his toor dal. I was concerned that he simply stuck in some veggies into the toor dal without saute-ing or blanching those first, causing some texture issues. He told me it wasn’t as good as his mom’s, and he was just a bachelor, but, I thought it was divine all the same.

Mine of course, can’t be half as good as his mama’s, but, still manages to be quite tasty. Unlike my friend’s dish, there’s a good dose of chicken (his version was vegan – sans ngouc mam and chicken). If you are going to substitute anything, do not chance it on the toor dal – these yellow peas have quite a distinct and sweetish flavor with a lovely, granular texture. They are worth the additional expense.


  • 1 dry cup of toor dal (also spelled “tur dal”) (soaked overnight, turning into several cups) {mine were SWAD brand, available from Cub Foods);
  • 1/2 lb yellow onion;
  • 10 chicken thighs;
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of sambar curry powder;
  • 2 tablespoons of ngouc mam;
  • 1 can of tomatoes, 16 oz; and
  • vegetable oil.

Drain the toor dal, and set aside. Heat a large skillet or wok to medium. Chop the yellow onion into pieces no smaller than 1/4″. Wash the chicken thighs in cold, salted water. Remove the skin, then slice each thigh into 2 or 3 pieces, lengthwise. By now, the skillet should be hot. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. In go the onions. Once the onions have sweated a little bit, add the sambar – don’t stop stirring!!! Otherwise, the curry will burn. When the onions are nice and golden, set aside the onion/curry sauté.

Clean the skillet. At this time, plug in your slow cooker – set it to the highest temperature – keep an eye on it to make sure it does not start burning anything. If it gets too hot, add a little water.

Heat the skillet again. When it’s hot enough, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add several pieces of chicken at a time, to brown it. Watch constantly. Once all the pieces are browned, add the onion/curry sauté to the browned chicken – this may lower the pan temperature a little. Once the pan temperature is raised again, add the diced tomatoes. The pan should steam at this point! Again the pan temperature will drop. Once the mixture is boiling, add at least 2 tablespoons of ngouc mam. (alternatively, you could use one chicken or beef broth bouillon cube). Mix well. Slowly add the drained yellow peas, approx. ½ cup at a time. The temperature of your wok/pan/etc. will definitely drop. Constantly stir, and watch! The goal is to get the mixture boiling again. Once the mixture is simmering, transfer to slow cooker. Allow to cook for 2 ½ or 3 hours, or less – if you would like the toor dal to be grittier.

Serve over white rice, with lima beans and spinach to add color and flavor contrast.

P.S. Caveat to readers: let me say here that adding meat of any kind is not traditional – AT ALL. As in, the addition of meat to toor dal may be akin to listening to fingernails on the chalkboard for those raised eating it.