Archive for September, 2008

Sunday Night Dinner: Mandarin Restaurant

Posted on September 25, 2008. Filed under: hodgepodge, review, travel |

My family used to always go out for Sunday dinner when I was a kid.  One of our favorites was to get Chinese food at Mandarin.  It’s located in a large plaza in New City, New York.  You’d never find it if you didn’t know it was there.

When I visit New York these days, one of my culinary priorities is to rent a zipcar and drive 45 minutes to New City.  It might seem crazy to some, for me, there’s no doubt about it.  I have to have my Mandarin.  Sure, there are many that would argue that there are ‘better’ Chinese restaurants, but I would be hard pressed to agree.  Give me a this hole in the wall joint, serving Americanized style Chinese food any time.  So what if they haven’t redecorated since I was 5.

My meal started with wonton soup.  Glorious, flavorful broth, spiked with green onions.  The thick, east coast style wontons are stuffed with a simple pork mix.  Thin matchsticks of roast pork are the only other additions to the soup.  I think there might have been some spinach in there when I was a kid (I remember taking it out and putting it on the side!), but nothing else now.  Wonton soup the way I like it, simple and tasty.  You can keep your West Coast, loaded with 543 ingredients soup for yourself, brother. (Literally, brother.  We moved to CA when he was young enough to form his palate in a much more west coast style.  He prefers the western, more traditional Chinese food, to the eastern, more Americanized version.  Poor brother.)

Next, roasted spare ribs.  Notice there isn’t a picture above.  I was so excited by the glistening pork goodness that I forgot to take out my camera.  By the time I remembered, all that was left were a bunch of stripped bones, and a fat & greasy me!  The ribs are roasted to perfection.  They’re unglazed, allowing the natural sweetness of the pork rib to shine.  Simply fantastic.

My main course was chicken & broccoli.  In my youth, the sauce was white.  Once day, they switched to a brown sauce, and I was very sad.  Since then, I’ve gotten over it, and then some.  This is the dish I dream about, the dish that propels me up the Palisades Parkway. Pure happiness on a plate.

The meal was finished with a fortune cookie (good things are coming my way!) and a nice cup of Chinese tea, smokey and strong.

Good thing I brought a bunch back with me, writing this made me crave more! 

Edit:  Mmmmmm, leftovers.  
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Delay!

Posted on September 23, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Things have been crazy on the set of Stuck.  New entries coming soon.  In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of a delightful Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup.  Totally fantastic.

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Eat Local (New York): Ronnybrook Farms

Posted on September 12, 2008. Filed under: hodgepodge, local, travel |

I visited the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan on Wednesday, and purchased some milk & yogart from Ronnybrook Farm.  What a joy!  Rich and creamy, the farm produces dairy products that taste like dairy should.

The dairy and creamery are located in New York’s Hudson Valley, one of the most beautiful places on the east coast.  Milk is made in small batches from hormone-free cows.  Ronnybrook was founded in 1941 by the Osofsky family, and is still family owned and run.

The milk is not homogenized, which allows it to be pasteurized at a lower temperature than homogenized milk.  The drinkable yogurt is made with 8 live & active cultures.  Compare that to your high fructose corn syrup ‘yogurt’ drink!  It’s marvelous.  Four of the cultures are buttermilk cultures, resulting in a flavor more tart than you might be used to.  By the end of the drink, though, you’ll come to appreciate the rich contrast between the buttermilk tartness and the sweet dairy cream.  Wonderful.

Supporting producers like Ronnybrook Farm is a fine example of a way you can easily transfer your eating/shopping habits back to local, non-industrialized food.  They can be found at several farmers’ markets, in many groceries in the Tri-State area, and at their own store in the Chelsea Market. 

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New York City

Posted on September 10, 2008. Filed under: hodgepodge, travel |

I’m in New York City to work on a pretty nifty film called, Stuck.  Due to jet lag and the need to reorganize my apartment, I haven’t had much time to cook/write.  Don’t worry, exciting new things coming soon.

I will say this about food, though.  I’ve eaten an insane amount in the last 48 hours.  45 pizzas, 13 servings of Chinese food, 72 egg sandwiches, and, look for me to eat about 150lbs. of corned beef and pastrami tonight.
Seriously, there are some places in the world where all you can do is eat.  Then there’s New York City, where all you can do is eat, and then somehow find time to eat more.  Did I dream about bagels last night?  Yes, yes I did.
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Peach Chutney / Peach Salsa

Posted on September 8, 2008. Filed under: chutney, fruit, recipe, salsa, vegetable |

A few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed by tomatoes.  From that came cold tomato soup.  Today, I find myself overwhelmed by peaches.  I love peaches.  It’s been a summer filled with exploring heirloom varieties.  As the season end, though, I’m ready for something new.  Thus, a special new condiment has been born.  Not quite chutney, not quite salsa, but all kinds of tasty.

2 Cups Peaches, cut into big chunks
1 Small Onion, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 Serrano Pepper, finely chopped
One Clove Garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
6 Tablespoons Apple Juice
1/4 Cup Mint, chopped
1/4 Cup Cilantro, chopped
Salt & Sugar as needed
Add onion, peppers, vinegar, garlic, a pinch of salt, and juice to a sauce pan.  Cook over low heat 5 minutes, then add peaches and cook another 5 minutes.  Add mint & cilantro.  If desired, pulse once or twice with a hand blender.  This will add depth of flavor and change the texture a little bit.  Don’t overdo it, this is a chunky condiment!  
Allow to rest at least one hour, longer if you want.  Taste, and add salt/sugar as necessary for a balanced flavor.  You want a sweet/savory/tangy all to come out.  You can serve with a variety of dishes- I like it on a hot turkey & cheese sandwich.  It’s nice with pork chops, too!
Keeps for about a week in the fridge.
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Market Comparison #2: Vons Hollywood

Posted on September 5, 2008. Filed under: grocery, hodgepodge |

We’ve moved on to the second closest grocery to my apartment, Vons Hollywood. Not sure why they name themselves ‘Hollywood’, as the store is in Los Feliz. I guess everyone wants to be a star.

Like the Albertsons reviewed last week, this Vons has undergone a recent face lift. Hey, maybe it is Hollywood, then! They sure are trying to fit in. Face lifts for all! Seriously, they did a good job on this one. The store is clean, current, and very inviting.

MEAT & POULTRY



Once again, we find ourselves lost in industrial meat and poultry land. Tasty, environmentally conscious eating animals are nowhere to be found.

The poultry section is given largely to Foster Farms. Despite they’re clever TV commercials, it’s big industry meat. Pollution filled, and not very kind to the chickens. This, of course, affects their health & flavor, which is not good for us. A better option is the O Organics chicken. The store-label organic brand is available in all cuts, including whole birds. Boneless, skinless breasts go for $8.99/lb.

It’s downhill from here. The best looking beef is under the Rancher’s Reserve label. I’m not really sure what that means, as no information on quality of cut or location of beef farm is listed. Safe to assume that this is an average choice, at best. New York strips are priced at $11.99/lb and rib eyes sell for $11.49. Not too expensive, but I imagine you’re getting what you’re paying for. There is a large variety of cuts on sale, which is nice. Also, Coleman’s organic ground beef sells for $6.59/lb. That’s expensive, and it comes pre-packaged & delivered, which I’m not very keen on. Ground beef is best ground the same day.

Pork fairs no better. The meat is a pale pink, with no marbling. Selection is mediocre. However, they do sell pork fat, so that’s nice! No info on source of pork.

Grade: C-. The organic chicken & pork fat are nice. After that, there really isn’t much worth buying here.

CEREAL


Like most large grocery stores, the cereal selection here is massive. You’ll be able to find any major label cereal here. Sadly, prominent display is given to many high sugar cereals. These are a treat from time to time, but, as much as I love some Cinnamon Toast Crunch (!), a treat is still a treat. There are a few organic options by O Organics and Kashi. Honey Nut Cheerios sell for $4.99, and Organic Kashi Go Lean! (no Kashi Autumn Wheat- bastards!) is $4.59.

Grade: B. Standard selection with not a lot of upside.

SPICES


Vons Hollywood has a decent spice section. Very similar to the display at Albertsons. You’ll find whatever you need here. O Organics has a limited line of organic selections on display. No mention of fair trade. McCormick Gourmet (no Spice Islands to compare) garlic powder sells for $7.59, and McCormick Gourmet vanilla beans for $12.99

Grade: B+. You’ll find what you need plus a little bit better.

DAIRY & EGGS


Once again, we find failure in the dairy case. Perhaps we ought to bring back the milk man.

Egg selection is OK. O Organics, Horizon, and Land ‘O Lakes supply organic eggs by the dozen. No local / small farm brands available, which is sad. O Organics sell cheapest at $4.49 per dozen.

Things stay pretty industrial in the milk case. Land ‘O Lakes drops out (they still do butter!), leaving O Organics and Horizon as our organic choices. Since we know Horizon is industrial, best to stick to the O brand, which (bonus!) is not ultra-pasteurized. It might or might not be local, too. You can pick up a half gallon for $4.39. There is also Broguiere’s, a local dairy, which by all accounts takes great care of its cows. A quart sells for $3.29.

The yogurt selection pretty much sucks. O Organics has a few organic choices on display. After that, it’s all mass-marketed, high fructose corn syrup junk.

Grade: C+. The O Organics yogurt/milk/eggs and the Broguiere milk keep if from slipping lower on the bell curve.

DELI


Not too shabby. They have a large selection of sliced meats, and make a pretty decent sandwich. Nothing too fancy, mostly the Primo Taglio store brand. I imagine it won’t be too long before O Organics finds their way behind the deli case, too. Sliced Black Forest ham is $7.49/lb and swiss cheese is $7.99.

Decent selection of fancy cheeses, too. You’ll be able to make a pretty good cheese plate if you wanted to. Parmigiano Reggiano sells for an fairly expensive $19.99/lb.

Grade: B+. A little more in the organic department would be nice. Overall, though, it’s good stuff.

PRODUCE


For a large chain, Vons Hollywood has a pretty good produce section. The recent remodelling is best noticed here. Wood floors, great smells, you could almost be lulled into thinking you were buying straight from the farm. The produce looks really nice, too. Organic selection is pretty large. You won’t be able to find everything, but you’ll find a lot. However, you’ll pay for it. Organic peaches sell for $3.49/lb., a dollar more than farmers’ market prices. Organic raspberries go for $4.99 per package, $2 more than I payed the other day at the same farmers’ market. Some locations of origin are labeled.

Grade: B. The looks, smell, and variety are great. I’d like to see lower prices and locations of where my produce comes from.

BREAD


No angry face today. Still, I can’t help thinking that the expression “The best thing since sliced bread” may be an insult these days. Sliced bread just isn’t that good. Milton’s has a prominent display and sells for $4.29 per loaf. There are a few other choices without lots of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup, if you’re willing to spend a minute and read the labels.

Vons also has a fresh bakery, where you can get rolls, whole loafs, and a few other things. It’s not amazing, not terrible.

Grade: C+. They should have better options. At least it’s not all crap, though.

OTHER OPTIONS

They have free wi-fi. That’s nice. I’m not sure why I would need it, other than to look up a previous grocery review to compare notes, but, hey, everyone loves free wi-fi!

Good selection of wine & spirits. Beer selection is fair.

Beware the Eating Right line. The packages are very nice, but they’re not really that good for you. You’re never eating right with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives!

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Vons Hollywood is part of a large chain of stores that include Vons, Safeway, and Pavillion’s.

For being part of a large chain grocery, Vons Hollywood does a pretty good job. Sure, the store is filled mostly with junk. It seems to be slowly changing for the better, though, and that’s a very good thing indeed. I’d like more organic choices, but at least the store brand O Organics covers most areas.

However, all Vons are not alike. This is one of the better ones.

Final Grade: B

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Passion Fruit

Posted on September 3, 2008. Filed under: fruit, healthy, hodgepodge |


Looking for a new fruit to enjoy?  Check out the passion fruit.
The passion fruit is native to South America, and is now grown in sub-tropical climates around the world.  In the United States, passion fruit is grown in Hawaii, Southern California, and Florida.  So, you’re probably not going to be eating locally on this one.  That’s OK, if you eat locally most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with a special treat now and again.  That being said, I was lucky enough to pick some up from the punk rock exotic fruit dude at the Larchmont Village farmers’ market.
The passion fruit comes in two varieties, yellow and purple.  The larger yellow ones are traditionally used for juice.  The purple ones are the type you’re more likely to find in the market.  Look for ugly, deeply wrinkled fruits.  Those are the ripe ones.  Ugly fruit!
The passion fruit is nature’s sweet tart.  It’s flavor is naturally concentrated, so you can eat it (seeds and all) straight for an intense taste experience, or dilute it in juice, water, or booze for something more subtle.  Any way you enjoy it, the passion fruit will leave you craving more.  
Passion fruit is high in Vitamin A, potassium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin C.
A word of warning: you probably won’t eat the flavorless purple skin, but, if you’re tempted, better not to.  It contains cyanide.  That’s not tasty.  That’s poison!
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Whole Grain Tabouli

Posted on September 1, 2008. Filed under: easy, healthy, in advance, recipe, vegetable |

I didn’t realize it then, but this recipe started several months ago when I bought a ‘Sweet Pea’ tomato seedling.  The other day, as I pondered what to do with hundreds of pea sized tomatoes, the idea came to fruition.  It’s a wonderful, healthy summer side dish.
1/3 Cup Dry:
Brown Rice, Quinoa, Bulgar
1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Mint
1/2 Cup Chopped Italian Parsley
3/4 Cup Diced Fresh Tomatoes 
Or, if you happen to have tiny ones, use them whole for bursts of flavor!
1 Cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
Juice of One Lemon
1/2 Cup Apple Juice
Salt & Pepper
Cook grains as directed.  I cooked the quinoa & bulgar together to save time and dish doing.  Once grains are cooked, rinse with cold water and place in large bowl.  Add everything else.  Mix.  Let sit at least one hour, longer is better.  Can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week.
Here are the tiny tomatoes.  Yup, that’s three of them on a dime.
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