Caramel in a Pinch

Caramel in a glass jar.

Quick & Easy Caramel Sauce

If you find you’re in need of caramel and don’t want to go through the full spiel, read on.

Caramel elevates most everything it’s added to, and to have a decent caramel sauce available with little notice and a reduced chance of being maimed by sugar cooked above 230 deg F. — which is what you do to make it the “real” way — is heaven.

This quick recipe is more milky than traditionally-made caramel, which, in a nutshell, involves cooking sugar to a high temperature and then cutting it with butter and/or heavy cream.

To make it the quick way you cook a little butter and sugar and then add a can of sweetened condensed milk and continue to cook it.  The whole thing takes about 30 minutes, give or take.

Let’s start with something even easier, though.

Can of sweetened condensed milk

Dulce de Leche

If you use only sweetened condensed milk, you’ll be making dulce de leche, a caramelized milk and sugar confection.

Some people boil a can of sweetened condensed milk for several hours, but it’s dangerous. If you don’t keep it completely submerged the whole time it can explode, and you don’t want any part of that.

I generally just cook the sweetened condensed milk down slowly in a saucepan.

I sometimes put it in little canning jars, place them in my slow cooker, completely submerge them under water, and cook on low for 7 hours or so — making sure the jars remain completely submerged.  If you try this, be sure to take them out carefully when done, like with jar lifters, and allow them to cool down some before you open anything. Whatever you do, don’t put hot jars on a cold surface or they’ll crack!  I got the slow cooker/canning jar idea here.

Quick Caramel with Butter

If you want a buttery-milky faux caramel, use the recipe I’ve included at the end of this posting.

You’ll need only a little white sugar (it’ll work better than organic sugar), a little butter and sweetened condensed milk.

Leftover caramel in blue bowl with spoon

Because I assume you need a topping for that quart of ice cream burning a hole in your freezer and not because you’re producing artisanal candies, I think you’ll be happy with the result.

If it’s thick, you can thin it with milk or cream.

If it’s grainy, you can sieve it.

Just don’t burn the caramel.  If you burn it, it is not salvageable, and you will be unhappy.

Quick Caramel Sauce
 
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If you have a little butter and a little sugar and a can of sweetened condensed milk on hand, you can make a respectable caramel sauce.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar (organic or brown sugar can sometimes cause graininess)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • Milk or cream to thin, if needed

Method
  1. Cook sugar and butter in small saucepan over moderate heat until sugar has melted
  2. Add sweetened condensed milk and combine well with sugar/butter mixture
  3. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with heat-proof spatula
  4. Cook until you get the color and consistency you want. DO NOT BURN!
  5. If too thick, CAREFULLY thin with heavy cream or milk while still in the saucepan and combine well. The mass will be VERY HOT and it may bubble up when you add the milk or cream!
  6. If grainy, just press through a sieve

 

 

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The CSA Experience: Part 6

Leeks cut into edible and broth parts

I’m not telling you to “Eat Broth.” I’m showing the parts of a leek that you eat and the parts that are so tough you should use them for broth. Unless you’re a goat.

Remember when I made the leek and feta scramble in installment 2 of this series?  I was then left with tough leek ends.

I used those ends today to make a soup with potatoes and ham.

Not so sexy, I know.

I promised I’d keep you informed about how I incorporate my biweekly CSA box from Albert & Eve into my life.  I think it’s helpful to have the whole story, not just cherry-picked recipes and photos of the beautiful stuff.  For every lovely dish of rainbow carrots or braised artichokes you put out out you’re going to have to figure out what to do with a whole mess of green onions.  Or trimmings.

While not every dish can be mind-blowing, they can all be tasty, even when they’re frugal,
and frugality is a must with a CSA box or you’ll wind up with some of it in the recycle bin.

The possibly of that makes me nuts.

Take the artichokes, for example.

I’m constantly thinking about them — even though I have a master plan.  They’ve been sitting in the fridge for over a week now, wrapped in damp paper towels to keep them lively.

Pending some kind of major problem, I’ll be getting another three artichokes in my next box.  I want to make all of them at the same time rather than just the three I received in my first box.  You see, I have four people.  There will be a general outcry if I come out with less than one per head.

Back to the leek ends and leek broth.

Leek broth is great for soups that benefit from mild oniony flavor.  Potato soup works especially well.

If you have a bunch of leek ends, a few big potatoes and some leftover ham or pork you’re in business. You won’t end up with a pretty, fancy-pants soup, but it’ll be plenty comforting.

This is why I’m always throwing odd little bags of leftover meat in the freezer and why you should, too.  Raw or cooked — doesn’t matter.

Potato soup with leek stock and roast pork

OK, so it’s not the most attractive soup, but it’s wonderful tasting and comforting

The soup in the photo has some green flecks in it because I tossed in the leftover bohr kale tapenade from installment 5.  Why not?  The tapenade has a complementary flavor profile, and leek and kale go very well together.

Here, then, are the instructions for this frugal soup.

Potato & Pork Soup with Leek Broth
 
Use the dark green parts of your leeks to make a broth for a highly-customizable potato-pork soup.
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American

Ingredients
  • Dark green ends of 7 or 8 leeks, rinsed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 cups water
  • 3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Leftover cooked roast pork, cubed, shredded or sliced, as desired. You can use ham, if that’s what you have, or even chicken. Leftover chicken thigh meat works very well. Keep the pieces small so they heat through fairly quickly.

Method
  1. Place leeks in pot large enough to make soup and cover with the water.
  2. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. Strain broth and return to pot, discarding leek pieces.
  4. Add potatoes.
  5. Remove enough broth so that the potatoes are just covered. If you don’t have enough broth, add a little water. It all depends upon the size of the potatoes you used.
  6. Add salt & pepper. If the pork you are using for this dish is salty, then keep that in mind when you add salt at this step.
  7. Bring to a boil.
  8. Simmer until potatoes are just about done.
  9. Add pork and bring back to a simmer.
  10. Cook until potatoes are done.
  11. Stamp potatoes with a potato masher, or end of a wire whisk, so that you wind up with a thick, chunky soup.
  12. Adjust seasonings.

 

 

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The CSA Experience: Part 5

red bohr kale in a glass jar

The red flecks in this jar of garlicky kale tapenade come from the red stems of the kale itself. This is served warm with chèvre and fresh crusty bread.

Albert & Eve included two beautiful bunches of red bohr kale in my first CSA box.

Normally I would braise the kale with kimchi and extra garlic, but I was out of luck in the kimchi department so I had to think of something else.  Something really different. Especially since I served some of the other stuff in the box pretty conservatively, like the rainbow carrots in installment 4 of this series.

I had a large Acme sourdough round on my hands and a big log of basic chèvre – fresh goat cheese.  Not the $40 a pound precious stuff, but the wonderful Laura Chenel that put US-produced chèvre on the map back in the day.

The wheels turned.

Why not make a warm tapenade to serve on top of thick slices of the bread slathered with the cheese?  Chèvre is tangy, light and dry-creamy and goes well with opposite flavors and textures.  Sturdy, curly-leaved red bohr, AKA “purple,” kale packs a pungent, bitter punch.  It could work, I figured.

red bohr kale bunches

I washed and cut my kale into short strips, stems and all.  No problem including the stems because the kale would be braised and processed.

Kale saute mix

I used butter and oil in my saute mix.  Why not?  The tapenade would be eaten warm, so butter would work well, but you don’t have to use it.  I tell you as much in the recipe at the end of this post.

Kale saute mix blended

I sauteed the kale in the seasoned butter/oil mix, braised, processed and then pressed it into a pretty canning jar.  Serving it in a glass jar was a nice little bonus that the family appreciated.  They get the whole “eating with your eyes” thing around here.

bohr kale tapenade on bread

We toasted thickly-sliced bread, layed on goat cheese, and then topped with the warm kale spread.

I hope you give this a try as an altenative to your usual kale preparation.  Even folks who don’t like it may in this disguise.  After all, you have to find some way to get this nutrient-packed veggie into the people you feed.

Garlicky Red Bohr Kale Tapenade
 
Warm tapenade made with red bohr kale. Serve it in a canning jar for extra flair! Spoon onto crusty bread spread with chèvre.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer, Brunch
Cuisine: American

Ingredients
  • 2 bunches red bohr kale, washed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil (you can use all oil and no butter, if you like)
  • 3 tablespoons crushed fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper powder or flakes (to taste)
  • Whatever else you like. A little chopped onion, for example. Chopped scallions. I sometimes use gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes — the kind used in kimchi) and a drop of fish or anchovy sauce. Make it to your taste with logical seasoning combinations and alter the instructions below appropriately).
  • Kosher salt to taste (amount dependent upon what you use)
  • ¾ cup water

Method
  1. Mix softened butter, oil, garlic and pepper into a paste and add to saute pan
  2. Heat mixture over medium flame until just bubbly and then add kale
  3. Saute kale for about 3 mins
  4. Add a little salt, if needed
  5. Add ¾ cup water
  6. Bring to a boil, cover and turn flame to low
  7. Allow to braise for 5 to 8 mins
  8. Strain kale mixture, reserving liquid for another use, like soup, or to drink later. Be sure to press liquid out of kale mixture very well
  9. Add kale mixture to food processor and pulse until fine — but not too fine!
  10. Taste and adjust seasonings
  11. Move to attractive bowl or press into small canning jar
  12. Serve warm. Base recipe can be spooned onto fresh crusty bread layered with chèvre. If you make the kale Asian-style, you can serve it with steamed buns and plum sauce, for example

 

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The CSA Experience: Part 4

Rainbow carrots from my CSA box

Rainbow carrots from my CSA box

In an effort to use everything that arrived in my CSA box while in its prime, today I made the rainbow carrots.  There wasn’t much to them, and I didn’t want them to get soft.
The look large in the photo above, but look at them here.

By the way, if you want to know what I did with the favas, check out the previous entry in this series.

Rainbow carrots taste like really good young orange carrots, by the way.  Serving your crew one side of rainbow carrots apiece will give them a good hit of phytonutrients in addition to the big players like Vitamin A, which the body is able to metabolize from carotenes.  Apparently each color offers a specific extra benefit.  Yellow carrots, for example, are said to contain lutein — good for your peepers.

If you want to learn massive amounts about heirloom rainbow carrots, check out this Mother Earth News story.

So what to do with the carrots?

I wanted a simple side that would allow the sweetness of the little carrots to shine, to retain a good amount of texture and nutrients, and to capitalize on their simple beauty.

To be honest with you I was pressed for time.

sauteed rainbow carrots

I trimmed, peeled, quartered or halved them lengthwise and sauteed gently in seasoned butter. I finished with a little hazelnut oil and sea salt.

They were perfect.  We all wanted more.

Rainbow Carrots with Hazelnut Oil & Sea Salt
 
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Rainbow carrots sauteed in seasoned butter and finished with hazelnut oil and sea salt.
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Vegetable
Serves: 4

Ingredients
  • 2 bunches (about 14) rainbow carrots, trimmed, peeled and sliced (halved or quartered, depending upon thickness)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Sea salt, as desired, for finishing
  • Toasted hazelnut oil, as desired, for finishing

Method
  1. Heat butter and oil in a saute pan
  2. Add carrots and saute over low-medium heat for a moment
  3. Add onion powder, Kosher salt and pepper
  4. Saute until tender-crisp
  5. Remove to a serving bowl and drizzle with a little hazelnut oil and sprinkle with a little sea salt
  6. Serve warm

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The CSA Experience: Part 3

A fresh fava pod showing the beans

What it looks like inside a fresh fava pod

I never tangled with fresh favas at home.  Always bought dried.

They showed up in my CSA box last Thursday, so I had to deal, and this is the day I penciled this veg in.

I heard that they had to be not only wrestled out of their pods, which would have to be destrung prior, but also that each bean needed to be liberated from its leathery cover after blanching and an ice water bath.

I don’t think so.  No time due to a birthday and Mother’s Day.

One of my blogger friends makes fava pods in the style of edamame – the salty little soybean pods that you pop open as a snack.  She pointed me to a recipe in the San Francisco Chronicle for roasting the pods that render the skins of the beans edible, for sure, and maybe even the pod covering — if the pods are young enough.

My fava pods do not look young to me, but what the hey.  I washed and trimmed them, rubbed them with oil and salt and spread them out on a sheet pan.  Blasted them in a very hot oven, per the recipe provided.

Want to see the finished pods?

Whole roasted fava pods

My son, husband and Mother had them as a snack — with lemon wedges — while watching TV.  They ate pods and all.  A bit messy, but good.

I did not serve them with a nice chianti.

Whole Roasted Fava Pods
 
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Whole roasted fava pods in the style of edamame
Author:
Recipe type: Snack or side
Serves: Depends

Ingredients
  • Whole fava pods, washed and trimmed (and destrung, if you like)
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Pepper

Method
  1. Arrange favas on sheet pan and add some oil
  2. Coat favas with the oil (mix with your hands)
  3. Sprinkle with salt
  4. Roast at 425 deg. F for about 25 mins — until golden and tender
  5. Add more salt to taste
  6. Add some pepper

 

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The CSA Experience: Part 2

Whole leeks

These are the leeks that came with my CSA box last week

The first installment of my CSA series covered quite a bit of ground about what the CSA concept is all about, and a bit about the company I chose for my own home-delivered organic produce:  Albert & Eve.

Let me now tell you what and how much was in my first box, which arrived last Thursday. There’s a photo of the contents here.

1 huge romaine lettuce
2 bunches of rainbow carrots
1 large broccoli
5 massive leeks — so long I had trouble fitting them in the fridge
2 bunches red bohr kale
1 bag fresh fava beans (about 15)
3 medium artichokes

It all came in minimal packaging: a paper bag with the odd inner bag or two, one plastic.
Everything was fresh as can be and looked and smelled great.

Now, here’s where you have to plan a little based on shelf life.  Artichokes and broccoli can hang around for a good week.  The lettuce was already slated for a family-sized Mexican entree salad for that same night — and a lunch salad the next day for my son — so I had to think about leeks, kale, carrots and favas.

The favas and carrots were in quantities fit for one side or one snack each for the four of us. The kale could make a meal if I used both bunches, or two sides, if I used one at a time. The tremendous leeks would serve as the base for two meals:  one using the tender parts, another using the tougher end greens.

First up on the chopping block:  leeks.  If you haven’t hung with many leeks in your life, they’re related to onions and garlic, but are much milder.  They look like really big scallions.  Only the white and light green parts are eaten and the rest is used for stock.

They’re popular in the UK — especially Wales, and often show up in soups.

I decided on a leek and feta scramble.  With preserved lemon, which I always have in spades because my lemon trees are good to me.

A little sumac, too.  Sumac is a tart spice made from dried berries — very popular in the Middle East.  It’s generally sprinkled on top of finished dishes.

Feta, sumac and preserved lemon on wooden board

Feta shards, sumac and chopped preserved lemon for the scramble

A recipe accompanies this post, but the idea is to chop the tender part of the leeks, saute until soft, add whisked eggs and cook so that you have large, soft curds, adding the feta and seasonings at various stages.

Please purchase blocks of sheep’s milk, or sheep’s/goat’s milk feta — in brine, if you can — and not the cheap, tasteless, pre-crumbled stuff so popular these days.  Good feta should be salty and tangy with real mouthfeel.  If you buy fat-free feta, well, you’re going to be sorry.  When dishes have only a few ingredients, you need them to be the best they can be. Just sayin’ — don’t mean to be preachy, but better to have a little real feta in there rather than lots of the cardboard kind.

Pastured eggs would be a good choice here, too.  They taste like eggs used to taste, because the hens producing them roam around and eat bugs and worms and whatever else they like to peck at in addition to their feed.  If you can’t afford them for general use, spring for them when you’re making a scramble or some fried eggs.  You’ll really enjoy the taste of their deep yellow yolks.

Leeks cut in half

OK, leek prep.

Once you trim and liberate the tender from the tough, as in the photo above, store the latter back in the crisper.

Then clean the leeks by cutting them lengthwise all the way through from about a half-inch from the bottom.  Then make a similar cut between your original cut, which will ribbon the leaks, allowing you to clean nooks and crannies as you flagellate them in a sink full of water.

Then you can dry them off and chop away.

cut leeks

Then saute slowly until soft.

sauteed leeks

Then add everything else in stages.  I sometimes add the cheese along with the seasonings, as I did here, but generally I add it as indicated in the recipe — right at the end.  This time around the cheese was on the dry side, so no worries about it releasing too much brine during extended cooking.

Leek and feta scramble being cooked in a large cast iron panWe were so happy about the soft, mildly-oniony scramble that I neglected to photograph the finished product — which we consumed with a side of good toasted bread, which is all you need.  The addition of the sumac and lemon added a whisper of citrusy tartness to the salty, creamy, funky feta backbone.

Trust me, it looked good, too.

Tune in next time for favas.

Leek, Feta & Preserved Lemon Scramble
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Soft scrambled eggs with leek, feta, preserved lemon and sumac.
Author:
Recipe type: Brunch
Serves: 5

Ingredients
  • 4 to 5 leeks, chopped (the white and very pale green parts only)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, or more, if your leeks are large
  • 2 tablespoons butter, or more, if your leeks are large
  • 10 eggs
  • ½ pound feta cheese, broken into medium shards
  • 2 tablespoons preserved lemon, finely chopped (If you can’t find jarred Morrocan preserved lemon, just chop a quarter of a lemon finely, mix with a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, and store in fridge overnight)
  • ½ teaspoon sumac
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper

Method
  1. Add canola oil and butter to a large, heavy skillet over medium flame
  2. When hot, add leeks and turn flame down to low
  3. Add a little salt
  4. Saute leeks until nice and soft
  5. Whisk eggs with a little water (water will help soften them), the lemon and the ground pepper
  6. Add egg mixture to pan over leeks
  7. At short intervals, pull eggs from the bottom of the pan with a spatula to form large curds
  8. When eggs are still quite runny, gently mix in feta
  9. Keep pulling up the eggs gently until the feta is very soft
  10. Remove scramble to serving platter and sprinkle with sumac
  11. Serve with good toasted bread

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The CSA Experience: Part 1

IMG_2783

First Essential Organic Veg box from Albert & Eve

I finally bit the bullet and ordered a semi-weekly home-delivered organic produce box.  AKA a “CSA box,” with the CSA referring to community-supported, or community-shared, agriculture.

Not only will this encourage the fam to eat more veggies, it will almost ensure that we do.  No way I’m going to throw food out.

It will also serve as the muse for a multi-part series here, which may be helpful to readers who want real life information about CSAs before taking the plunge.

Choosing a first CSA in the SF Bay Area is no easy task.  Ask 20 people, get 20 opinions. Look on the Web, get another 20,000.

I went with Albert & Eve.  After considerable research.  They have a loyal client base and support local, small-scale farms.  They also offer home delivery.  Not all CSA entities do.  With some you have to select a local pick-up point.

I just want stuff to show up on my porch — no car, no parking, no schlepping.

How does a CSA actually work?

I’ll get to the nitty-gritty of CSAs as I write this series but, in a nutshell, one can subscribe to single-farm CSAs or co-ops, or get their produce from a middleman-type organization, which either partners with farms or purchases fruit and veg outright for distribution to subscribers.  There are numerous types of arrangements.

I was looking for a small operation offering local organic produce (we’ll get into what “local” means in the next installment, but know that this term can be a slippery-slope) with  solid agricultural values.  Albert & Eve fits the bill.  The company (it’s not a farm, but a distributor, though the term doesn’t do justice) partners with Agricultural & Land Based Association (ALBA), really does source locally, and offers eggs and a few other select goodies.

They also allow you to choose what you want from among what they believe they will have available.  Because this is seasonal eating, it doesn’t mean you can ask for peaches instead of apples in January, but it does mean you can tell them “enough, already!” with the leeks and to send you more fennel instead.  Provided they have it.  Again, this is not stuff cranked out in a factory.  You have to be flexible.

There are some huge, corporate-type CSAs around here.  I didn’t want that.  I like the personal touch.  I want to know the people behind the operation.  I want to count to them.

Organics and cost

Now, organic produce ain’t cheap no matter how you buy it.  A CSA subscription, however, allows you to get the freshest local organic produce delivered to your door — or a drop-off point — at a very reasonable price.  Depending upon the CSA, you’re looking at about $20 to $35 per box in the SF Bay Area, which provides 3 or 4 people with vegetables and fruit for a week.  If you take just veggies, as I have, you’ll be able to throw in a couple vegetable main courses along with sides.

I’m paying $33.20 per box, which arrives in a paper bag, in fact, so there is no dealing with boxes.  The price includes the cost of their Essential Organic Veg Box, and the surcharge for feeding more people, which means they give you extra of each item.  The box officially contains 6 types of vegetables, but I got 7 this time.

Many CSAs offer small and large boxes, so you can choose based on your needs.  Some offer more flexibility that others.  Do your research.

If you buy cheap conventional produce at Safeway, CSA subscription prices may bring on sticker-shock.  Perhaps you’ll realize, by and by, that it’s worth the extra. Organic produce involves no chemicals or synthetics.  It’s not genetically modified. Sure there are studies claiming that conventional produce is “just as safe” as organic.  For me, though,  it’s about common sense.  If you offer me an artichoke from a plant treated with Supracide 25 WP, and one from an organically-grown plant, I’ll take the one without the chemicals, please.  Wouldn’t you?

Tips and things to think about if you go CSA

Make sure you have a salad spinner on stand-by.  A good one.  Why?  Now and then the leafy greens that arrive may contain harmless critters, and the only way to get them off is a good bath.  That’s where the spinner comes is.  You’ll need to get the water off very well, and nothing does it better.

The other things you’ll need on stand-by are creativity and a sense of humor.

You can’t boil every turnip.  You wouldn’t steam every artichoke.  You shouldn’t bury all your kale under braised pork shoulder.  I do that now and again, but I have a pescatarian in the house, so mostly I can’t.

I’ll be developing new and interesting vegetable recipes to deal with items that might otherwise wear out their welcome — and still may, for all I know.  I guess I’ll find out how many leeks my brood can handle in one season.

In the next installment I’ll tell you all about this week’s box, pictured above, and my evil plans for it.

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Curry fish balls: A Hong Kong snack on the run

 

Curry fish balls and coconut juice from Hong Kong Snack House in Richmond CA

Curry fish balls and coconut juice from Hong Kong Snack House

 If you find yourself running around in the El Cerrito area and are in need of a substantial snack, hop on over to Hong Kong Snack House in Pacific East Mall (3288 Pierce).  The mall is in that section of Richmond that juts into the Albany side of ‘Cerrito to the west by the bay. 

Pretend you’re going to Costco and head west on Central, only turn left onto Pierce at the intersection from hell — by the two gas stations.  The mall will be to your left as you travel south on Pierce.

This little stall shop carries lots of good eats, and the propietors are nice as can be.  There are pandan leaf waffles, egg puffs, Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì), crepes, shumai, spring rolls, fish balls, rice rolls and all kinds of tropical drinks.

I always get the curry fish balls and fresh coconut juice.  You get 5 big curry fish balls on a stick for $1.95.  Buy 3 and you get 1 free, which is what I do.  I eat two skewers in the car and give Matthew the other 2. 

The fresh coconut juice is to die for — especially in the summer, when it’s particularly cooling and refreshing.  It’s not cheap, running upwards of $4, but worth it. 

I don’t know how the coconut juice at Hong Kong Snack House is concocted.  It’s a little thick and very creamy with just the right amount of sweetness.

It’s not coconut milk, which comes from grated coconut.  It’s not coconut water, the liquid inside a young coconut.  It’s not coconut cream, which is more or less a thicker coconut milk, and it’s not cream of coconut, the sweetened stuff one uses for a piña colada. 

It’s as if the best of all of these coconut products were whipped together in a blender.   

If you don’t want to have your snack in your car, park yourself on one of the benches in the mall.  Hong Kong Snack House has only one or two tables, and they’re often full.

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Mushy Peas, Please!

Mushy peas side dish in red earthenware saucepan
Mushy peas, a British standard, is overlooked here in the US.

Comforting and easy to make, the dish works well as a side to something crispy, like fish & chips (surprise!) or fried chicken.

While the authentic version is made from marrowfat peas — mature and field-dried – this one uses plain old frozen peas, offers savory oomph via chicken stock and white onion, and is easily altered to suit your liking.

You’ll be sorry if you use canned peas.  While this dish is no misnomer, you’ll want some texture.

Mushy Peas
2 pounds frozen peas (not the little fancy ones)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup roughly chopped white onion, rinsed (this removes some of the sharpness)
1 tablespoon sugar
Couple dashes white pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt (depending upon saltiness of stock)
5 young mint leaves — no stems!!!
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or a few fine gratings of whole nutmeg)

1).  Simmer all except butter, cream, nutmeg and mint shreds over low heat, covered, until peas are soft.
2).  Drain liquids into cup and drink later.  Why waste?
3).  Blend butter and cream into peas using an immersion blender, but leave peas reasonably chunky.
4).  Heat through over low heat, if needed.
5).  Check seasoning.
6).  Serve topped with a few mint shreds.

Note:  If you want to serve this as pea soup, leave the liquids in.  You may need to add a little more stock to thin out the soup.  See how it goes.  RPWXM2H8ZUF7

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Grocery Outlet: A must for the serious cook

Three bottles of La Tourangelle Roasted Hazelnut Oil from Grocery Outlet in Berkeley.

Some of my friends laugh when I tell them about Grocery Outlet (2001 Fourth Street, Berkeley).  They think it’s downmarket. Fine with me, because that gives me, and other serious food people, less competition for the all the high-end and otherwise wonderful products a person can find there.

Case in point:  La Tourangelle Roasted Hazelnut Oil for $3.99 a bottle last Tuesday.  I kid you not.  This stuff is upwards of $15 a bottle elsewhere.

They had about 15 bottles, total, and I took 3.  I wanted to take more but I didn’t want to be greedy.  I later saw two yuppies with 3 bottles each, and then a couple of people in line behind me saw the oil in my cart, asked where I got it, and then made a mad dash and brought back 3 bottles apiece.  That pretty much took care of the stock on that product.

Now, I have gotten many serious bargains at Grocery Outlet, but this was the best I ever did.

If you know your products you cannot go wrong.  Look at everything in every aisle to get an idea of the place, and then come back at regular intervals so you know what they tend to have and what’s fleeting.

They carry store brands from around the US, and numerous Canadian and European products, too, like Sandstede Westphalian ham from Deutschland that’s sold under the bizarre name of “Black Forest Prosciutto” on our shores.  Prosciutto is cured only.  American-style Black Forest ham is more like pedestrian deli ham than anything they’d be eating in the Black Forest.  Westphalian schinken (ham), on the other hand,  is both cured and lightly smoked.  Kind of an assertive, dry, slightly-smoky prosciutto.   It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing and not so easy to find.  When it’s $1.99 here (for 3.5 ounces) I and the other Germans in the ‘hood clean them out.

You may see huge bags of grated cheese of middling quality next to a small carton of 4-year-old Cheddar or Vintage Gouda.

I’m not gonna tell you anything else.

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