Sunday, July 15, 2012

13-Bean Crockpot Soup


Crockpot contents before adding 6 cups of water

Crockpot contents when first opening the lid


"I bought beans." "I know. I saw them but I didn't know what you were wanting to do with them." "You can make soup." "Hahaha... Oh, okay! I guess I'm making soup then."

For soaking
2 cups of 13 bean soup mix (We had Bob's Red Mill on hand.)
6 cups water

For soup
1 cup ham, cooked and diced (substitute 1/3 Hillshire Farm smoked sausage, chopped)
2 leeks, sliced (white part only)
2 garlic cloves, minced (I chopped'em - Who cares? It's all going into one pot anyways.)
2 carrots, chopped (or 8 baby carrots cut in thirds)
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 tsp basil (I used dry basil and dry thyme, not fresh.)
1 tsp thyme
2 Tblspn Worcestershire sauce (substituted equal part Asian black vinegar - I don't think the brand matters here, personally.)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 cups water (can partially substitute with broth)

1. Place beans in a colander and sort through them., picking out any rocks or debris. Rinse the beans with water and drain.

2. Place beans in water and add 6 cups of water. Cover with lid and soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. DO NOT turn on crockpot.

3. Pour beans and water into colander. Rinse, drain, and return beans to crockpot.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the crockpot and stir to combine.

5. Set crockpot on LOW for 3-5 hours or until beans and veggies are soft.

I love crockpot recipes. I love crockpots in general. Set it and forget it, man. That's also why I like baking. Cooking, to me, is the most arduous task because you have to be at the stovetop the entire time. Call me lazy!

Note: We purchased Bob's Red Mill beans at a discount at Big Lots! :oD

I found this recipe at food.com, and I'm not sponsored by Hillshire Farms. ;o) I substituted a couple of ingredients - I didn't want to purchase Worcestershire sauce just for this recipe, and I had to improvise with the ham when I couldn't find it in H-Mart. It all worked out in the end, of course. I set the crockpot for four hours knowing it would keep warm for a little while after that. The seasoning was perfect. The original suggests eating the soup with garlic bread, which is a good idea. I submit you could pair it with sourdough bread as well. I'm sure it'll taste fine with whatever you decide to eat it with. :oP

Lentils with Tomatoes

Pre-simmer look 


Mid/post-simmer 

Ta-da! 


I have lentils. I have tomatoes. Why not make something?

1 quart water (1 quart = 4 cups)
1 cup dry lentils
3 Tblspn olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (substituted one cucumber, chopped)
1 medium onion, chopped (I used white.)
2 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (substituted 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with reserve)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a pot, bring the water to boil. and stir in the lentils. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes; drain.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the green bell pepper (cucumber) and onion until tender. Mix in the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the lentils, reduce heat, and simmer 25 to 30 minutes until the lentils are tender.

I wonder what using a green bell pepper would have looked like. Hmm, I also wonder if I could have chopped the onion differently. I can't tell whether it's translucent when the cuts are so small. O.o Simmering everything together in step two required adding 1/2 cup of water (1/4 cup in two pours) to ensure the lentils were actually simmering and not burning in the tomato reserve. Perhaps I should have removed some of the tomato reserve from the equation, or maybe using real tomatoes would have a bigger (better?) impact. Hmm. Anyway, the total simmer time took me approximately 20 minutes.

I got this recipe from allrecipes.com. My family liked it. As this was the only dinner option at home at the time, I suppose there was no choice, haha. It's not something I would go out of my way to make again though. It's hard for me to imagine a lentil dish without soup or chili in the title! Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy? O.o

Thai Norcross

Note: The menu is not posted on their website, so prepare yourself for a lot of menu shots.









Beef Salad - Sliced beef with tomato, cucumber, mint leaves, lime juice, and chili. Served on Romaine lettuce.

Satay Famous Chicken Thai Kebob - Cooked over a grill and marinated in a mixture of Thai spices and coconut milk, served on wooden sticks with peanut sauce dip and cucumber salad

Green Chicken Curry - In a green curry paste with coconut milk, basil leaves, red and green bell pepper, Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, and rhizome

I've heard positive comments about Thai Norcross for some time now. I was surprised to find it's a small restaurant in an equally small shopping center! For some reason, I was expecting it to be a stand-alone restaurant. Rent's cheaper, I assume. The decor is kind of cheesy with "thatch" roofs and such. -____-" Moving on...

I met up with a friend who also had not been here before. We split all of these dishes. The menu prices are pretty reasonable, and the food is okay. I don't know what people are raving about exactly. It seems like regular Thai food to me. Perhaps I should ask a few of my Thai friends what's up with this place! The food did come at a relatively good clip though, and our waiter was very attentive. I guess I'm neutral about this place. At least you don't have to go into the city to get decent Thai food!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins







I had had those two Jiffy cornbread muffin mixes for a while, and one day I had an idea to make jalapeno cornbread muffins. Fortunately, there was an upcoming potluck. :o) I found it ironic that I wanted to make something spicy when the weather has been deathly hot and humid as of late.

2 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 can cream of corn
1/3 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (canned or fresh)
1/2 cup onion (optional) - I did not include onions.

1. Prepare Jiffy mix according to package directions. Add cheese, creamed corn, jalapeno and onion (optional). Mix well.

2. Pour into greased and floured 13x9-inch baking dish, or spoon into greased mini-muffin tin. [For easier consumption, I opted to use regular muffin tins which made 20 muffins with flat tops.]

3. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown on top and center is firm, about 30 minutes. [I used two regular muffin tins, which extended the baking time from 45 minutes to one hour.]

Credit for the recipe goes to: http://sheisdallas.com/jalapeno-cornbread/. I have no affiliation with this blog or blogger. This was by far the simplest recipe I found that included the Jiffy brand mix.

Maggiano's




Eggplant parmesan - Sliced eggplant, breaded and fried, layered with Provolone cheese and marinara sauce

Maggiano's for lunch? Don't mind if I do! There's a wonderful deal under Classic Pastas where you essentially get two pastas for the price of one - um, heck yes! I ordered the eggplant parmesan to eat in the restaurant (I opted for whole wheat pasta), and asked for Taylor Street baked ziti to-go. Unfortunately, you have to order the to-go pasta when you place your order for the eat-in pasta. I don't know why - restaurant's rules, I suppose. I vaguely remember having and enjoying the Taylor Street ziti before a few years ago, so I hoped I made the right decision. :o)

Taylor Street baked ziti - Italian sausage, pomodoro sauce and ziti topped with a layer of melted Provolone and Parmesan

The eggplant parmesan was delicious but too big a portion for me to finish in the restaurant. I suspect the whole wheat pasta was good filler. :o) I took the remainder home with me. I should have reheated the ziti according to Maggiano's directions but I simply did not have the time, so I microwaved it for lunch the next day. I'm certain it tastes better fresh. And I did make the right choice in selecting the ziti - it was good.

Holy Taco




Ecuadorian salsa - puree of san marzano tomato, serrano chile, scallions


Thick tortilla chips!

Left to right: 
Swordfish taco - Fried swordfish, mexican slaw, chipotle aioli (online menu lists tilapia)
Young goat taco - White oak farms young goat, sweet onion, guindilla peppers, mustard salad
Beef tongue - Roasted beef tongue, tomato cucumber salsa, ashland farms cilantro

Swordfish taco


Beef tongue taco

Young goat taco

Streetstall-style roasted organiz corn on the cob, spiced mayo, questo fresco

A friend of mine told me about Holy Taco a while ago, and I finally made it there! And OH MY G.... It was SO GOOD!!!!

After having the worst chips and salsa evah, I'm glad I tried the Ecuadorian salsa. The thick, greasy tortilla chips were not healthy but they tasted so freaking awesome. The salsa had a nice citrus kick of flavor to it, too. Best tortilla chips I've had in a long time.

Beef tongue! For me, a literal picture of a cow's tongue comes to mind. Fortunately, that was not the case when the taco arrived, haha. I would have tried it regardless, I think. ;o) As long as it's cooked right, right? Looking back on it, I think this one was my favorite of the three. The tomato cucumber salsa helped in that regard. It was a bit liquid-y, so you had to eat it kind of quickly. I was afraid it would soak through the soft taco shell and make the whole thing mushy. I can't remember the exact flavor of the beef tongue itself (so hungry --> scarfing down food), but the meat was extremely tender.

I already knew I was going to get the fish taco - that's the one dish I always have to try wherever it's offered. I've had mostly tilapia (yums) and salmon (not-so-yums), so swordfish peaked my curiosity. The texture was similar to fried tilapia to me. I could not distinguish any flavor from it though; the majority of that taco's flavor came from the Mexican slaw. I was slightly disappointed. Then again, I did have the Beef Tongue taco before that one. :o\

Goat! It sounded interesting, so I had to try it. The meat was also pretty tender and the flavor was a strangely sweet one, almost barbecue-like. I didn't take to this one as fast as the beef tongue or swordfish but I liked it nonetheless. I would have all three tacos again.


My friend ordered a side corn on the cob. They look like baby corns! There were a few that came out on a plate, and I waited until I finished my tacos to eat one. I'm sure it tastes significantly better while it's hot/warm. Nonetheless, the cheese on top is a yummy touch. :o)


For those who are wi-fi fanatics, Holy Taco has free, password-protected wifi (password is: eattacos). The service was so-so. Our waiter had a soft voice amid a semi-crowded restaurant (indoors) and I'm ever so slightly hard of hearing, so I had to strain to hear him from time to time. Otherwise, I think I ignored him. O__O The fact that I sat at the table for 15 minutes not ordering anything while waiting on my friends probably didn't help matters. Oh well.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK)

Moroccan chicken salad - Moroccan-spiced chicken, Romaine, roasted butternut squash, dates, avocado, toasted almonds, beets, chopped eggs, carrots, dried cranberries, and bell peppers with homemade champagne vinaigrette (on the side)
[Sorry, it's a bit blurry!]


The chicken is hiding underneath the lettuce. ^.^ 


I had lunch with a couple of friends at CPK recently. I know I don't normally frequent chain restaurants but the past few CPK experiences have been pretty good. 

The half-sized portion of the Morrocan chicken salad was sufficient! There was an adequate meat to salad ratio, and the vinaigrette dressing was good. I liked the combination of flavors and textures from the sweet (dates) to the crunchy (almonds, bell peppers) to the tender (chicken) to the soft (squash). It was a really healthy, filling salad. I highly recommend!

Uncle Julio's


 Combination enchiladas - chicken (left, with sour cream sauce) and beef (with salsa carne); served with rice, frijoles a la charra and warm tortillas


Beans

This was my first and last time at Uncle Julio's. I was forewarned about this chain restaurant but I decided to give it a try anyway. Oh man, this was a doozy!

As is customary, we had chips and salsa before our entrees arrived. This was quite possibly the most disgusting salsa I have ever had. There was a sort of mesquite flavor to it that tastes increasingly awful as you  eat. Unfortunately, I was starving so I consumed a lot of chips and salsa that evening. Just before our entrees arrived, someone had the brilliant notion to add hot sauce to the salsa mix. This made it taste MUCH better. Moreover, the tortilla chips are super thin. Do; I prefer thick tortilla chips because you can get more salsa on each chip. Plus, there's a good ratio of chip to salsa. I was crying on the inside.

Oh, and everything on the menu is overpriced. O____O"""" I thought chain restaurants had the scale to at least keep prices reasonable. I opted for the combination enchiladas because they were technically on the $ of the $$ end of the menu items. The enchiladas were eh. I've had better, cheaper enchiladas at Vallarta.

To top it all off, we had eight people at the table and the customer service was not great. I don't know whether the server was a new guy or whether he had tables in different sections of the restaurant, but he was truly inattentive. One guy's order was apparently lost in translation because the kitchen had to make it on the fly. [The waiter did not admit this; I've had many a restaurant experience (as employee and customer) to know that that's what happened.] This doesn't sound so bad until you find out that someone else at the table ordered the exact same dish. Two of the same dishes but only one guy got his order? It just doesn't make sense.

I normally have great things to say about restaurants and food but this place just makes me mad. Never again, Uncle Julio's.

Joli Kobe Bakery & Cafe



Crab Cake Burger - Homemade crab cake, lettuce, tomato, remoulade sauce on olive oil bun served with side green salad (raspberry vinaigrette dressing on the side)


Tokyo Burger with French Fries - 1/2 lb Meyers Natural Beef, lettuce, tomato, fried egg, onion, teriyaki sauce, mustard mayonnaise on olive oil bun 

Crab cake burger 

Tokyo burger 

Blueberry muffin 


I'd heard of Joli Kobe from a few friends, and I know they sell divine cakes. I didn't realize there was a "bistro" there, so I decided to give that part of the restaurant a try. I found out a lot of Yelp reviews only focused on the bakery - weird.

My friend and I met up here for dinner. We were looking at sandwiches/burgers from the get-go, so I got the crab cake burger and she got the Tokyo burger. Then, we halved our burgers to share with the other. Best of both worlds! :oD I liked that the crab cake burger had a side salad, but I definitely ate some of my friend's fries while I was at it. >.>

The crab cake burger was all right. The bun was ginormous, overtaking the crab cake for sure. I guess I was expecting a larger portion size of crab too but I was a bit underwhelmed. The remoulade sauce was there but I could have used more. Now that I think about it, I could have asked for more. Hmm. Eh... I wouldn't go out of my way to get it again. The raspberry vinaigrette dressing was nice and light; surprisingly, I used the entire ramekin.

The Tokyo burger was good - I expect the fried egg helped in that regard! I had a similar burger when I visited Australia last year, which was fantastic so I had to dial down my expectations for this one. I think the meat to bun to condiment ratio was just right, too. I don't recall adding anything else to the burger, i.e. ketchup. The fries were pretty tasty mostly because they were lightly salted and crispy but not too crispy. I don't prefer crunchy fries over soft ones or vice versa - I like'em all. What I care about is the amount of salt involved and whether it just tastes good.

Side story! When I was younger, I worked at a Chick-fil-a store. I had a few different bosses during this time, and one of them was new to the restaurant industry. I vividly recall a busy Saturday where I saw her helping out the "cooks" in the back - she was making sandwiches and shoveling fries into the respective fry packaging. (I have no idea if there's a certain term for this; if there isn't one, there should be one.) She was over-salting the fries in order to make people buy more drinks. Ethical much? Sure enough, people returned to the counter complaining about the super salty fries. All of these customers ended up getting a fresh order of unsalted fries in the process - for free. See? That's what you get!

My friend wanted to get espresso but, for some reason, Joli Kobe's espresso machine was out of order? Something strange like that, so she got coffee instead. We looked at the desserts on the bakery side of the restaurant - I'm so glad we did! The desserts on the menu sounded great but seeing them in the display case made me think twice about ordering them. They were overpriced, man! Tiny desserts for large dollars - that's not cool. I opted to get a blueberry muffin instead for about $2, and even then I thought to myself I can make this at home for less moola.

Bottom line? Overpriced. I won't go back, unless it's for a cake purchase.