Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Lentil Soup, Now with Heavy Cream

Remember how much I loved the lentil soup with bacon from JoyI made a few weeks ago? I found another soup lentil soup recipe to love: the Cream of Lentil soup from the Daily Soupcookbook. I might even like this soup better, as a good creamy soup on a cold winter's day (well, as cold as it gets in Phoenix - I went running yesterday in shorts and a tank top) ranks way up there on the comfort list. The soup doesn't involve any complicated cooking procedures and is really quite easy; even the fact that I was short a full cup of heavy cream (due to an awesome inability to fully read recipes sometimes) didn't detract from the soup's goodness (and might be a useful thing to know if you're trying to watch your weight).

Why all the lentils lately? They're cheap - a pound of normal lentils will never run you more than a dollar, even at Whole Foods (I think...). I'm frugal. They're really easy to cook in that they don't require any soaking, and cook in less than an hour. They're good for you with plenty of protein and no fat and are high in fiber (as the package of lentils I got from Fresh & Easy boldly proclaimed). They have a long shelf life. They don't make me fart. They might not make you fart. Lentils are good!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Heads Up: New Recipe Search Engine

Thanks to a tip from The Simple Dollar, I discovered my new favorite food site, which is simply a very well-designed (yes, it has a lot of Web 2.0 Ajaxy goodness) recipe search engine: supercook. You could probably figure out how to use it in the time it would take me to write a description, which I'm about to do anyway so you actually click the link and try it: it lets you list everything in your pantry, refrigerator, storage cabinets, larders (I just like that word), etc in a box. Then it polls a bunch of recipe repositories like allrecipes, epicurious, and recipezaar and links to a bunch of recipes you can make with what you already have at home, or what you can make with a select few extra ingredients. This is fantastic for when you're too lazy to go out to the store or just need to find something to whip up quickly. My favorite use for it is having it figure out what I can make with vegetables or meat that's about to expire. It's kind of like the webtender except with food instead of alcohol... and an interface that was built in this century.

I wish supercook had a feature where I could tell it to exclude recipes from certain websites (well, basically almost everything but epicurious), since I have something of a weird complex where I don't trust user-posted recipes from most big repository sites (this mostly has to do with being unable to check them off on a list, which I'll blog about later - yes, weird. mostly just OCD and a bad case of completism), even though they have multitudes of positive reviews.

The other night, supercook pointed me over to a Salmon Fillet with Soy Glaze recipe that I made since it was so mind-bogglingly easy. I simmered equal parts soy sauce and maple syrup (and tossed in some minced garlic and cayenne pepper for good measure), brushed it onto some salmon I got at Trader Joe's a while ago (finally a use for those pastry brushes I picked up for $2 at Target months ago), let it sit for five minutes, brushed it again, and stuck it in the oven for 12 minutes. I nuked a side of Trader Joe's soycatash that had been in my freezer since who knows when, dropped some butter in it. Dinner was done, and it was good.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fast Food Review: Burger King's Firecracker Tendercrisp

I'll say it right now: I have a soft spot for fast food in all of its greasy, salty, meat-and-vegetable byproduct glory. I know full well that it's not for good me, the environment, the cows, my wallet, the chickens, etc. I make no apologies for eating it when a craving strikes, mostly because I'll down a giant box of chicken nuggets or a quadruple burger or something and then realize I'm hungry half an hour later because there was no actual nutritive value to what I was eating, then feel massively ripped off and avoid doing it again for a month or two, until I smell that awesomely alluring greasiness from a gas station parking lot and go do it again.

That said, Z and I were coming back from a weekend of skiing (well, he was skiing and I was faceplanting down the mountain with a snowboard attached to my feet) at Sunrise and we were hungry. Donger Needed Food because that $3.25 hot dog from the lodge was exactly how you'd expect a $3.25 hot dog from a ski lodge to be - a pathetic little weiner on a bun that couldn't even hold itself together for a pathetic little weiner (I'll go for the Indian fry bread next time - caaaarbs!). Aside from the rather good Fiesta Mexicana, the Show Low area doesn't have any food that we've found to be worth stopping for, and at 4pm we weren't in the mood for a full-blown sit-down meal anyway. Hence: fast food.

We stopped at a Burger King since Z likes to get a Whopper every now and then. The Burger King in Show Low had the words WE HAVE FIRECRACKER TENDERCRISP on its signboard, and not being someone who watches much television or pays attention to fast food advertising, I was completely confused and amused because it's got such a ridiculous ring to it (in part because of the grammatical awkwardness of the statement), spurring a "WTF? Is it food?" reaction. Sure enough, the drive-thru signs clarified to me that it was basically a spicy, breaded chicken sandwich. Cool, I like those. Wendy's is pretty decent. I got one, in value meal form.

Sidenote: I think I like Burger King's fries better than all the other fast food fries. Important main part of this review and blog post: the Firecracker Tendercrisp is really, really fucking spicy. Not just spicy for fast food, but spicy on the level of spicy Thai food (which I eat all the time, with no problems, and I can qualify the fact that it is actually spicy because I am Asian and they give me Asian-person spicy when I want spicy food). I don't know if the sauce is premixed or if the folks at the Burger King in Show Low like freaking their customers out, but this was actually a really great chicken sandwich. The sauce is like ranch dressing with a massive thai red curry-esque kick to it, and the chicken is breaded white meat and actually holds the sauce well. I actually got some good crunchy lettuce on it, and the bun didn't fall apart, and everything melded together really well. And the kicker: I wasn't hungry for a whole three hours after I ate it, which is how long a normal good meal tides the Donger over.

I want to try another one to see if the sandwich was a fluke, but I haven't craved it (possibly because I am still terrified at how spicy it was) and will thus avoid stepping foot into a Burger King for the greater good of chickens everywhere. For now.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gingersnaps for Tracy

Traveling was always an ordeal for my younger sister Tracy in our prepubescent days. Car rides were pure treachery for all of us: would she puke? Would she get out of the car in time? Could we get to our destination before we had to stop so she could run out of the car and vomit on the side of the road? Oh shit, a bump! She doesn't look so good.

At some point, my parents, either too cheap or too skeptical for the dramamine and other drugs, decided the best way to calm Tracy's stomach was by force-feeding her gingersnaps. Ginger is well-known to be good for stomach ailments, and the only way they could get it into the kid's system was via cookies. From then on, travel days began with a box of gingersnaps on the kitchen table, and we couldn't leave until she'd eaten about a quarter of the box. The rest were toted along as puke insurance of sorts, and the moment she started looking queasy Mom would start stuffing them down Tracy's throat while she sat there with one eye closed (another "trick" for helping motion sickness). I don't know if it actually helped or not - you'll have to ask her, but she's off cavorting around eastern Europe right now.

I'd have been happy to never eat or see gingersnaps again, but there I was, all ready to make chocolate chip cookies, when I realized I had no chocolate chips. There's a deterrent if I ever had one. I started poking through Joyand realized I had everything I needed to make gingersnaps; given Tracy was leaving for Prague the next day, I figured I'd make some in her honor. They turned out a bit cakier than I'd have liked, but I still ate them for breakfast for the next few days.

Monday, February 11, 2008

There's 2.5 Pounds of Fungus Among Us

I love mushrooms. I love mushrooms so much that, as alluded to in my introductory post, my perfect meal at a previous point in my life would have included a bowl of cream of mushroom soup. Hell, it still might, but it probably wouldn't be that Campbell's slop I ate all the time as a kid. There's just something awesome about how they can sop up all the flavors around them and retain their own meaty earthiness. I'm also entertained by how some people I know are completely terrified by them since they grow in the dark! I guess mushrooms growing from some forgotten spilled beer in a closet would give me the heebie-jeebies too though. Maybe.

The Mushroom Barley Soup recipe from the Daily Soup Cookbookcalls for 2.5 lbs of mixed wild mushrooms. The thought of buying that much shroomage seemed a bit daunting to me, but I went off to Whole Foods and stood in front of their mushroom section for an inordinately long time, trying to decide what would be the most tasty and cost-effective mushroom combination, since I'm a cheap bastard who is now in debt again with a car loan (we'll talk finances another day). I ended up with a pound of regular white button mushrooms, about 3/4 lb criminis, and then a few oyster mushrooms and two portabellas, which I guess don't properly fall into the wild mushroom category for some reason but hell, I like 'em.

Hacking off the stems and then slicing all the mushrooms took a fair amount of time. The stems went to making mushroom stock, and then the rest of the recipe was pretty basic - the usual mirepoix and aromatics, then dump everything in the pot and let it hang out for a while for Maximum Flavor Infusion. The pearl barley kind of scared me since I've never used it before, and they were tiny, but after about an hour or so they became the fluffy barley things I'm used to, and they lended a nice grainy flavor to the soup.

Overall, it was pretty good but I think I'd not use the portabellas again - they were a bit too meaty for me in the soup. Also, using lots of parsley makes for some nice green colors in pictures but doesn't actually taste that great. Woops. I thought the soup could have been a little richer than it was - maybe a touch of butter at the end might help, or maybe adding... something to the mushroom stock. Maybe I should just take out the barley and dump heavy cream in it, which seems to always make things better if I'm going to eat something. I'll have to think about that one.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Real Coffee, Please

A sample packet of On the Go Sugar Free Vanilla Lattemysteriously showed up with my last order from amazon. Now, normally they throw in a few crappy ad flyers and nothing more (save for that plastic mailer to send an old cellphone to the troops, which I might actually do), so this was a new thing. I like coffee, and I like free things, so my curiousity was peaked. I do not, however, generally enjoy substitutions for things that are perfectly good and relatively harmless in their normal form, like sugar, and this little packet proudly proclaimed itself sugar-free. The latte mix was especially suspect because it contained all manners of artificial-sounding components, and I generally try to avoid that stuff because it's just creepy ingesting things you can't pronounce.

I wanted to trash the thing, but I figured that would be wasteful, so I kept it and decided to try it. I am a sucker for free samples and I have trouble throwing anything useable away. I probably should have tried to give it away to someone, but then I wouldn't have been able to give you this awesome review of it.

I poured the packet into a hot cup of water at work. I'm not sure if this was the correct order of events (was I supposed to put boiling water on the mix?), as there were no instructions on the packet (I suppose instant drink-mix making is supposedly idiot-proof, but they didn't account for me), but it made this wickedly odd crackling noise as the surface erupted into a thick foam. My cube was filled with this sickly sweet coffee-esque smell. I took a sip and instantaneously thought about how angry my dentist was going to be when I walked in with a mouthful of new cavities, but then remembered it was sugar-free and that I was just going to end up with cancer instead from whatever awesome chemical they used instead of sugar. I drank the whole thing. It was sort of like hot melted coffee ice cream... not horrible, not coffee.

I spent a lot of time in the bathroom for the rest of the day. I'm just going to keep drinking my coffee black... like my soooouuuul.