Monday, September 21, 2015

Kimchi Soup

It looks like winter outside today and it gave me a craving for a good soup. So I looked in my refrigerator and started piecing together ingredients. I didn't have much and I didn't see anything that would be quick.

Then I spotted the kimchi.

I had never made kimchi soup before, but I've eaten it. So I looked online at a few recipes and got the gist of it. Kimchi, noodles, soy sauce, ginger. Check, check, check. I had everything in the kitchen.

I was completely surprised about how good it turned out in the end. Forget chicken noodle soup, this is going to be my go-to soup of the fall and winter!

The picture below is a big serving for one and that's just from one Ramen noodle package. Since this is my first time, I imagine I'll add more ingredients or even change things up. But this first bowl was so perfect, I wanted to write it down before I forgot what making it looked like.

Here's my quick and easy version of kimchi Ramen soup:

  • 1 T. oil
  • 1/2 inch of fresh chopped ginger (or about the size of a gumball) 
  • 2 rounds of onion
  • 1/2 - 3/4 C. kimchi with some juice
  • 1 package of Ramen noodles with chicken flavoring
  • About half of the chicken flavoring in the Ramen soup package
  • 1-2 t. soy sauce to taste, add more soy sauce, not chicken flavor for more saltiness 
  • 1/2 t. turmeric powder
  • Water, enough to cover the noodles

Sautée onion and ginger in the oil and add the rest of the ingredients before onion and ginger start to brown. Boil until noodles are done. 15 minutes in the kitchen.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lament: Canned and Frozen Foods

I always dismiss canned and frozen meals because they're so ridiculous and gross-looking. I decided to put my money where my mouth was and actually eat a frozen dinner and a canned pasta.

I didn't grow up on any of these things, that's why I naturally think canned and frozen dinners, and pre-made dinners, are ridiculous. My parents always made sure to cook something every day. We couldn't afford these kinds of foods either. Growing up on the Navajo Nation reservation, you don't come by these things as often and when you do, they're much more expensive than what you would normally pay at grocery stores in urban areas. Plus we were poor, so we couldn't be wasting money on things that we could made for cheaper.

I decided to get Amy's Kitchen Indian palak paneer. As you can see, it really doesn't look like the picture and it didn't taste like any Indian food I ever had. The rice was watery, the paneer was very spicy (there were way too many spices in it for comfort) and it sort of took over the whole dish. The bland rice was actually a relief to offset the powerful spicy spinach. The beans on the side were OK. At least it had a balanced flavor and still tasted like beans. It took me four bites to finish everything and I had an unpleasant aftertaste all day. I would never eat one of these meals again. I can make this stuff without the gross aftertaste any day and I'm going to keep it that way.

If you've never had Indian food, do yourself a favor and don't start in the frozen aisle. Have real food made by a real person. Indian restaurants are always doing their lunch buffets.

I got a can of Chef Boyardee from my sister. They were cleaning their pantry and I volunteered to take a can off their hands. I have never had Chef Boyardee food in my life and as soon as I opened the can, I was horrified. I immediately made myself a small side salad because I knew nothing in this can was going to give me any nutrients. I don't believe the "2 full servings of vegetables" on the can for one second!

I scraped the mushy mass of ravioli into a pan and warmed it up on the stove. Some of the raviolis came apart while I stirred it and I winced at the brown beef goo on the inside. When it looked hot I slid the pasta onto a plate and I prepared myself for an adventure.

It was disgusting. The sauce tasted metallic like the inside of a tin can. The sauce couldn't resemble a pasta sauce even if we closed our eyes and wished for it to. I thought maybe it would taste like ketchup, but it wasn't close to that at all. It was a very bland, sweet nothing. And that's what the whole can of food tasted like: bland, sweet nothing with a metallic, processed finish. The pasta was extremely soft and needed no chewing. The beef filling was nothing more than a brown tasteless paste. I tried putting Parmesan cheese on it but it got lost in the underwhelming sauce.

That's one meal I will never get back. That's 20 shitty minutes of my life down the drain.

On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I noticed a very young couple (probably freshmen in college) with a full cart of Chef Boyardee and little frozen dinners. There were juice boxes and some cookies too. It's unbelievable that people buy this stuff on purpose. It's unbelievable to think that this is what they choose to live on.

They must not know how to cook. They must not know about food. They must have never tasted real homemade food. They must never go to restaurants. They must not value food and what they eat. Poor things.

These two meals made my heart sad. There was no life or real flavor in them. There was no soul. And it made me sad for the millions of people who eat like this. They must not fully enjoy life without fully enjoying food. There are whole aisles of canned and frozen foods in grocery stores. It made me realize that people don't care about food. No wonder people's diets are full of too much salt and cancer. And the Chef Boyardee meal made me mad because I know this is what people feed to their kids. They're turning their kids into eaters who are accustomed to the taste of machines and tin cans.

I am so thankful for my parents for always providing a homecooked meal every day. I'm glad I was never exposed to canned pasta and frozen Indian food.

I am thankful for being a born again eater, too. There was a time I didn't care about the quality of my food. But I've seen the light and I've changed my ways. I'm too far into the culinary gospel to turn back and partake in canned or frozen foods.

*knock-knock* Do you have time to talk about our Lord and savior, Good Food?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DC Adventure

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I got to try some really good restaurants in the Crystal City area — where our hotel was. We were there for the 2015 Native American Journalists Association conference. 

I flew in early and arrived early. I didn't have time for breakfast or lunch. As I checked into my hotel room, I asked the concierge where I could eat. He gave me a map of local restaurants and Kebab Palace drew my eye in. I had a mission when I learned it was a Middle Eastern restaurant. 

When I got to the restaurant, I noticed it was pretty small and a little dingy. I came to a sign on the red building saying "Entrance" so I went in. I found myself in a hallway with brooms and cleaning supplies. That didn't deter me. I walked in like I was a frequent customer. "It's OK, I come in the back door all the time."

It happened to be their lunch buffet time (at 2 p.m.). I did an inner squeal for joy as I looked down the buffet line and saw silver trays of basmati rice, qorma, biryani, kebabs, saag paneer and naan.  I filled up on those items, as you can see by the photo below:

For $14, this was the best thing I had in DC. I had double servings of the goat biryani, a stewed dish with spices. That was my favorite. The meat was a little fatty, but it was easy to separate the fat with my plastic spoon.

The naan bread was tough and kind of tasteless, though. I felt bad for throwing most of it away. My strategy was to sacrifice the bread so I can fit more tasty things. The rice was tasty and I think it was flavored with some kind of meat broth. That's fine, it was delicious. But with my Middle Eastern dishes I like a plain, tight basmati rice. This rice was not that tight, it was kind of soft. Middle Easterners know their rice. It's their science and magic. I've had some beautiful, delicious rice before and the rice at Kebab Palace was not at that level. It's OK, I can tell it was a different style and probably from a different country that I haven't tried before.

My sister and I headed out of Crystal City to Chinatown where every block was packed with Asian restaurants and good smells. At a random guess, we stopped at Tony Cheng's Seafood. This place looks like a Hollywood Chinese restaurant. I could imagine a gun fight breaking out at any moment or a bad drug deal going on in the back room. We tried the five-meat platter with vegetable fried rice, pictured below.

The five-meat platter included roast duck, shrimp, scallops, calamari, pork and chicken. Oh, that's 6 meats... It had a brown sauce that sort of got in the way of the meaty flavors. I loved it though. I was worried, at first, about all these meats being together and fighting over my taste buds, but they behaved themselves and were not cooked together.

I had the best steamed dumplings at Tony Cheng's. They're an appetizer that costs about $4 and you get six of them. Just try them.

We also had some Thai food at Urban Thai in Crystal City. Pictured in the forefront is the chicken and potato curry. The other dish is drunken noodles. Both were surprisingly refreshing. The curry was incredibly savory; a mix of sweet coconut milk and savory curry and Thai spices. I could eat that kind of curry for days. The fresh garnish of cucumber and red onion provided a welcome crunch and juiciness to the dish.

The drunken noodles were pleasantly spicy; very spicy. The noodles were very wide (I think they were cut up egg roll wrappers) and held a lot of spice and flavor from the chicken and stir-fried vegetables. There was a mix of smokey, grilled chicken flavor with sweet and salty tones from the spices. The basil leaves that were mixed in added a burst of basil flavor that soothed the high and low notes in this dish.

DC was an adventure and a tasty one. If you're out having an adventure in a different city, or obligated to attend a conference, go out and explore. Even if it's just one dish per day, make it something that you probably can't find at home. If you're near the sea, have some seafood, if you're in the desert, have some chile. When you go home, it's going to taste the same way it always did. (Then again, you're blessed if you live in a diverse city where the world is at the tip of your tongue.)

Burger King

I have eaten at a lot of restaurants since my love for food started about a decade ago. I've had cheap treasures, exotic ingredients, expensive cuts of meat and delicacies. I've eaten out of paper bags and on white table cloths. I crave for the tastes of certain parts of the world and I know how to satisfy myself in that way. I also know how to be adventurous and random.

I don't eat at fast food restaurants when I don't need to. I don't frequent chain restaurants if I can help it. I value a local experience at a table and on plates.

But there's one thing I keep returning to; one item that will always have a special place in my heart.

It's the Whopper from Burger King, and I'm not afraid to say it. I think every foodie has their favorite fast food item. They're probably ashamed of it, but they know they have those same cravings that I have for a good ole Whopper.  

You don't know how many times my boyfriend and I ended up at Burger King after 30 minutes of driving around town saying "I don't know what I'm hungry for. What do you want to eat?"

"I don't know. What do you want to eat?"

"Burger King."


The Whopper is my favorite burger. It's my go-to item when I can't pin down exactly what I want to eat for a late lunch or an early dinner. It's what I want when I'm "starving."

The thing I like best is the burger paddy itself. It's the element that's most pronounced (as it should be. Some burgers get too busy or they taste too much like grease and fat). There's no special sauces or special toppings to distract me. The charred flavor is addictive. The bun is not too sweet or bready and it allows the meat to have the glory. The simple toppings of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions (I take out the pickles from all sandwiches and burgers) works perfectly with mayo and ketchup (although I ask for extra mayo sometimes). Millions of burgers are made this way, but there's something about the Whopper that gets me. The onions always taste the same. The ketchup tastes the same. The paddy tastes the same all the time. And the smell outside of the restaurant is mouth-watering. The sesame seeds add just a little nuttiness when you happen to chew one up. 

I've seen a couple of versions of French fries paired with the No. 1 and I think I like these thick ones the best. They're not my favorite, but they are a good partner to the sandwich. 

Commercials, ads and billboards featuring Burger King's new creations never entice me to change my order because the Whopper is perfect the way it is. Adding bacon, avocado, hot sauce or pineapples is needless. 

So, I give it up to Burger King. If I ever get lost in the wilderness or sentenced to death. I'm pretty sure I'm going to order a Whopper when I come back and before I go. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Turkish Food and Craft Festival, April 18

The Turkish Food and Craft festival in Albuquerque is an annual thing. They should call it a food festival because there was definitely more of that going on. 

On the inside of the Raindrop Turkish House was several tables lined with food from the mother land. I was very excited for it all, but everything cost a dollar or two and it quickly added up. I had a nice, short culinary adventure here. 

The smell of Kebabs filled the air outside. 

Also the smell of gyro meat.

This was my first dolma. I thought it was tasty, but not my favorite thing. Because it's meant to feed a lot of people, the dolmas were small and heavy on the grape leaf. I forget what it was filled with.

And of course baklava. You can't go wrong when you finish with these.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Naughty list: Pecan Grill

I just back from a weekend trip to Las Cruces. I visited International Delights Mediterranean restaurant and Double Eagle brunch. Those were delightful as always. But I wanted to write about my trip to the Pecan Grill. I wasn't happy.

The menu was different from the last time I went there. It looked like it lost a few menu items and gained a few new ones.

I dined with a lactose intolerant person and they noticed the menu wasn't as friendly for his kind. But for me, I went strait for a small glass of Pecan Beer. I had a craving for it, even though I don't drink. It hit the spot magically. I loved it! I also loved the shrimp ceviche appetizer. It came with a heap of seasoned tortilla chips and saltine crackers. It was fresh and tasty with avocados, onions, cilantro and tomatoes. Even the leftover juice was good with the crackers. We could have used a little more than a small bowl of ceviche, though (about 1/2 cup of ceviche).

Then the main dishes. . .

I ordered the stuffed poblano with green chile risotto. The risotto was very bland except for the explosion of green chile that burned my tongue. The first thing I didn't like was the mesquite sauce drizzled over everything. It tasted like concentrated bacon sauce. Think: bacon multiplied by five. And I'm a person who doesn't like bacon. So having this sauce, that tastes like bacon grease, wasn't pleasant at all. The second thing I didn't like was the stuffing in the poblano; undercooked chopped vegetables and a very spicy-hot spice. My tongue was on fire and I was disappointed in the assembly of the stuffed pepper. Usually, when you stuff something, it sort of keeps it's shape and the stuffing is something sticky that stays put. Not this one. The stuffing fell out all over the plate into that gross bacon sauce.

I returned the dish (something I rarely do) and got the burger instead. It was OK. The garlic bun stole a lot of the show because of the strong garlic taste. The thick paddy and healthy serving of green chile was nice, though. It's supposed to be a stuffed "Lava" burger with cheese in the middle of the paddy, but there was nothing but a small spot of cheese half way through. Last time it was like lava with cheese running everywhere.

My dinner partner ordered a stuffed chicken breast. She enjoyed it except for the burning hot spicy green chile.

My other dinner partner had a plate of soggy sweet potato fries with greasy vegetables. The beer braised chicken was delicious, he said. It was made with that nice Pecan Beer, that's why! I love that beer.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, we had a whole glass of ice water spilled over our table and onto our laps by the waiter. He said sorry and that dessert was on him. We ordered a strawberry mousse cake and a pecan pie with a scoop of ice cream. The cake and the ice cream tasted like a dirty freezer. They were unimpressive and almost gross. If there's something I really dislike, it's the taste of a dirty freezer.

What happened, Pecan Grill?!?!? I paid $30 (for myself) to wait nearly 30 minutes for a very disappointing plate and an overpriced stuffed burger. We spent two hours there just looking at each other like "really?" And then we did the ice bucket challenge without warning.

Our earlier experiences were awesome. I lavished in the thick and dense chocolate cheesecake and creamy green chile macaroni and cheese. I nearly swooned at the lobster bisque. My dinner partners went crazy over the kale salad. But those are no longer on the menu. What happened? My green chile mac-n-cheese was more butter than cheese, it was watery!

I'm not angry, I'm sad. I was thoroughly disappointed. I don't write in this blog all the time, but this experience made me want to sit down and type.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A First Round in Albuquerque

Since I moved here July 2014, I have eaten at so many new places. Although Albuquerque was always a place we visited growing up, we never strayed from the usual handful of restaurants we always went to. Now that I live here and have all the freedom in the world to explore different restaurants, there's so much more to eat! Here are a few restaurants I visited.

Bob's Burgers is a favorite around here. It's nothing pretty but these sad-looking burgers are packed with greasy goodness. They have that tasty, slightly burnt crust with melty American cheese everywhere. Their green chile sauce is savory and spicy. Watch out, though. I heard it can be really hot. They have a burger taco.  It's weird and I couldn't imagine myself making a meal of them. The fries taste like McDonald's fries (Yum!).

Pueblo Harvest Cafe at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has a Native-fusion menu. I'm talking frybread, Pueblo bread, chilies and fried Kool-Aide pickles. I was able to go in the kitchen and get a look at their frybread-making skills and chat with the chefs as an associate producer with Native America Calling radio program. We tried three dishes, a breakfast Frito pie, Pueblo eggs Benedict and chakewe con huevos. My favorite was the Pueblo eggs Benedict because it's made with a foundation of Pueblo oven bread, turkey sausage, eggs and a homemade green chile hollandaise sauce. That sauce makes the dish. Hear more about Native American food in this show I produced for Native America Calling.

Samurai has a nice environment, but it's very  noisy once the chefs start clinging and clanging their spatulas on the teppanyaki grill in front of you and all around you. They offer a flawless and entertaining show. You can easily fill up here. In fact, you may be taking some friend rice and noodles home with you.

Yes! Albuquerque has a Pro's Ranch. This cafeteria-style taqueria is the business. Inside this grocery store, you will find the best street tacos you ever bothered to tilt our head at. Sometimes, the cooks look so careless and bothered in their jobs, but each time, the tacos are awesome. You get to add your own extra onions, cilantro and chips and salsa. 

San Pedro Market is a tiny Middle Eastern joint inside of a nonchalant gas station. If you're looking for environment, it's not here. You're stuffed in an odd, makeshift corner where shoppers come in and look confused until they see the rest of the store isles in the back. It has some good food though and it smells great. I had a dinner and tried tabouli for the first time. Although I learned that I don't like tabouli during this visit, I enjoyed the yellow rice and hummus. My lunch partner's gyro was so tasty, we took an extra one home. They make their own pocket pita bread here. 

Holy Cow is a ridiculously busy place at lunch time. There's a large burger menu — because that's their thing. I went straight for the green chile cheeseburger because when in Rome. It was OK. I didn't enjoy the pink in the middle of the burger. I think that's dangerous for your health but I didn't have a choice. A tiny sentence at the bottom of the menu says that all burgers are cooked with pink in the middle. As you can see in the picture, there's pink coming out of the burger. Ew.

My boyfriend and I were feeling a little romantic. We searched the Internet for nice date places to eat out and we came across this place. Trombino's has one of the best lasagnas, we've ever had. My boyfriend should know. He's like Garfield (but he still makes the best lasagna). And the price wasn't anything to complain about either. The only thing is it was full of a bunch of old people on a Saturday night. I don't have anything against old people, but gosh we felt like teenagers taking daddy's car and credit card out. I don't know if it's like that all the time, but that was just something we noticed right away.

Speaking of lasagna, Buca di Beppo! This is a hotspot for large families and volleyball teams celebrating anything. We waited for 40 minutes one Friday night but it was worth it. The next time we went, we made reservations and did our VIP walk right up to the front of the line. The portion sizes are huge and the environment is classy and homey Italian. I love it. The lasagna here is also on our top lasagna list. It's stacked high with a thick layer of ricotta cheese in the middle.  The complimentary bread is weak bread, don't waste the stomach space.

Steak in the Rough is a classic diner with a big menu. Their specialty is steak fingers and it's definitely something you want to try once. It's expensive for what you get, I thought. Three steak strips surrounded by cheap ingredients (potatoes, coleslaw and a dinner role) was about $11. But the burger was oh-so-good with that slight burnt crust from the flat grill and melted cheese stuck to the bun.

Rock & Brews kicks ass. If you start with the spicy Asian wings, you're in for a hell of a good meal. The burgers are hearty and huge. The music and art on the wall add spice to your experience. That's if you like good music. During our first visit, we were disappointed to see all the TVs playing sports channels. My boyfriend complained about that and said there should be more music. I think that's why 90 percent of all the TVs were playing rock-n-roll music videos the second time we visited. As it should be in a rockin' place with guitar door handles.

Anatolia's in downtown is a small place. It's plain and you can see the cooks in the back. I love it when restaurants are set up that way. I like it when you can hear the kitchen. When we visited, it just so happened to be belly dancer night. With a speaker the size of our table blaring ethnic music, pretty girls in front of us and a big plate of Turkish food on the table, we had a good time. That was until my taste buds were destroyed by a bite of lava-hot green chile. The spiced meat was delicious, but the rice on the bottom was very generic; a pilaf that I've tasted in many a hurried banquet meal.

We have many more places to visit. We plan out our meals every week and have an ever-growing list of Albuquerque restaurants to visit. Until next time!