Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bread Pudding Memories

The other day, someone brought in bread pudding to work and shared a piece with me. When I first took a look at it, I was immediately reminded of my own mother's bread pudding recipe and how this one closely resembled my mom's in appearance. I loved my mom's bread pudding. It was dense in texture with lots of raisins and chunks of pineapple, with hints of nutmeg, cinammon and vanilla. It was pure comfort food for me as a child and as an adult. While my coworker's bread pudding didn't taste as fabulous as my mom's, it sure came close. I began thinking of making some bread pudding of my own and wouldn't you know it, we were planning yet another potluck for work. So, guess what I ended up bringing? Yup, bread pudding. Since I had an abundance of over-ripened bananas on my kitchen counter I decided to include bananas in the recipe. This is a recipe I adapted from Chef Frank Brigsten of Brigsten's Restaurant in New Orleans.
I incorporated several different types of bread, pretty much whatever I had stored in my freezer. I used a few slices of cinnamon raisin bread, some homemade white bread, and even some hot dog buns! I also added dried apricots, pecans, and shredded coconut for some extra yumminess. So how was the end result? Well, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak! My bread pudding was a hit with the co-workers. The nice thing about this pudding is it can be eaten either warm or at room temperature which makes it just perfect for those office potlucks.
Banana Apricot Bread Pudding
About 6 cups of bread, torn up (use whatever you have on hand--can be a mix of different kinds)
2 cups milk (I used non-fat)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 ripe bananas smashed
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place bread cubes in a greased 9x12x2 inch baking pan. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, banana, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Pour mixture over the bread and then fold in the apricots and pecans. Moisten the bread completely with the mixture and let this set for about 20 minutes. Top with small pieces of butter, and sprinkle with the coconut flakes.
Bake for 1 hour and then allow to cool to room temperature.
You can top this with ice cream, whip cream, or just eat it by itself. It's that good!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Good Eats In Alhambra

Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie is a bustling restaurant on busy Valley Blvd. in Alhambra. We stopped by for dinner on a recent Friday night and the place was certainly abuzz with patrons. It’s got a large and modern interior with a semi-industrial look and feel to it. The booths are quite comfortable, perfect to sink into while perusing the rather vast menu. Like many of the Chinese “coffee shops” you’ll find in the San Gabriel Valley, Baccali’s offers quite a diverse selection of food. Everything from a ham and cheese sandwich to Indonesian fried rice is on the menu. I decided to go with the rotisserie chicken. Afterall, it is called Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie, right? My boyfriend chose the Korean beef short ribs. Both dishes come with your choice of either spaghetti or rice (they’ll also substitute with french fries if you ask), and mixed vegetables. Within a few minutes of placing our orders, out came two very large plates of food. My half-chicken was lovely to look at—golden,crispy skin, juices flowing on the inside (I know you can't really see this from the photo I took so you'll just have to take my word for it)! The chicken was indeed tender and juicy but I thought it might have been over-salted just a tad. And though I liked the selection of mixed vegetables-zucchini and carrots-I thought they were a little too drenched in butter for my taste. The spaghetti might have been a tiny bit overcooked but I enjoyed the sweet tomato sauce that accompanied it. Despite these shortcomings, I managed to eat the entire half-chicken without any problem My boyfriend liked the short ribs which he ordered with fries but didn’t think they were terribly spectacular. He was impressed with the amount of meat on his plate though. As you can see from the photo, there’s quite a lot there.
If I had to rank Baccali’s on a scale from 1 to 10, I’d give it a 9 for value (my meal was $5.95 and my BF’s was a “whopping” $9.95), and a 7 for effort.
It’s definitely a place worth trying for some Asian style comfort food in a comfortable setting.
Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie
245 W. Valley Blvd.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pretty Pasta

This colorful concoction was created by my boyfriend the other night. It’s always a sweet treat when he cooks for me because for one thing, he doesn’t do it as often as he’d like, and for another, it’s my turn to get to sit back, relax, and watch him be creative in the kitchen (not to mention that he looks awfully cute in his apron with the kangaroo print)! He puts a lot of effort into the process of preparing his dishes and since he’s such a stickler for freshness, does most of his ingredient shopping just a few hours before the actual cooking. On this particular night he made a tri-color pasta dish with ground beef and loads of fresh vegetables, topped with tomato sauce and chunks of Fuji apples.
Isn’t it lovely?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Remembering Pop On Father's Day

I don’t have the good fortune of having my father with me anymore , but I’d like to dedicate this post to him today.
My father was someone who enjoyed life and good food. Though not an an avid cook, he did on more than one occasion make a pretty mean steak stir-fry when we were kids.
Nonetheless, my father was definitely a foodie in his own right. He enjoyed things like simply going to the grocery store, walking up and down each aisle, looking, browsing, becoming intrigued by the new and different products that would catch his attention. Setting his dietary restrictions aside, he especially loved it when stores had new food products to promote so he could try out the free samples (an activity I too enjoy doing, by the way)!
I started to think about which food I most associated my dad with. Peanuts kept flooding my brain. Sure he loved eating dishes from all sorts of cultures and was open to trying new things, but the one consistent staple item my father always seemed to be munching on was peanuts. Peanuts while watching TV, peanuts while reading the paper, peanuts while just sitting in his favorite chair and relaxing.
This easy to put together peanut snack is for all you peanut-adoring people out there. It's got a nice balance of spicy and sweet with a hint of tanginess from lime juice.
Feel free to adjust the spices according to your taste buds. I mixed a jar (about 3 and 1/2 cups), of roasted, unsalted peanuts (I used Planter's), with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon chili powder, and 2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl. Toss these together until the peanuts are evenly coated with the oil and spices, then spread the peanuts out on a cookie sheet, and place in a preheated 250 degree oven for around 30 minutes. Allow the peanuts to cool completely. You can store these in an airtight container once they have cooled.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Blueberry Banana Puffins

I've been baking muffins lately. Last week I baked a batch of pumpkin bran muffins that I've been munching on during my morning commute to work. These make the perfect simple breakfast plus they're packed with lots of healthy oatmeal and bran, and are very low in fat and sugar. This time around I added some beautiful Turkish dried apricots that I bought at the grocery store. Plump, sweet, and juicy, dried apricots are a great way to add some zing into baked goods like muffins and cookies.
On Sunday morning though I wanted to bake muffins that I thought my blueberry-loving-boyfriend might like. So, I baked him "healthy" banana and blueberry oat bran muffins and surprisingly, he liked them!
I only say surprisingly because I've tried out several muffin recipes in the past for my BF and so far, he wasn't impressed with any of them. Til now.
These muffins (recipe here) take only a few minutes to prepare and to bake. I thought I messed them up when I realized I forgot to add the baking powder and this was when I was already putting the batter into the muffin tin! So, I threw the batter that was in the tin back into the bowl, tossed in the baking powder, gave the mix a few stirs, and hoped for the best.
Though the muffins didn't rise as high as I hoped, as you can see from the picture, they didn't turn out half bad. I call them pancake-muffins or "puffins" because of their flat tops. Best of all, these puffins tasted delicious, were moist with a bit of chewiness in the texture, and with oat bran thrown in, are even good for you. Did I tell you my boyfriend ate two of them that morning?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Retro Rod's

We have a fondness for Rod's Grill in Arcadia. This place not only serves homey comfort food, but it also has great atmosphere, and history. My boyfriend and I had lunch there one recent Sunday and as usual, we had a good time. Feeling like having Thanksgiving in June, I ordered the turkey dinner plate which was BIG. I mean, I had to bring about 3/4 of the plate home with me because there was so much food. Thick slices of turkey breast with cornbread stuffing over mashed potatoes, gravy, a side of carrots and snow peas, and home made bread. Plus, a bowl of split pea soup (a personal favorite of mine). My BF ordered his usual steak and eggs breakfast with french fries. Though he liked the way the cook prepared the meat (medium rare), he thought the steak had a pre-frozen quality about it. Okay, so not a gourmet restaurant, right? Still though, he enjoyed his meal and both of us know we'll be coming back again.

Rod's Grill
41 West Huntington Dr.
Arcadia, CA.

Super Natural Soba

I was looking for a side dish to go with some panko crusted chicken the other night and decided to try out a recipe from Heidi Swanson's newest cookbook, "Super Natural Cooking." This is a delightful book in which the author emphasizes the use of "whole and natural" ingredients into one's lifestyle and cooking.
Heidi provides a nice synopsis and guide on what she considers "natural" and "whole" foods and how to incorporate such products into your day-to-day meals.
This simple recipe called OTSU includes both soba noodles and tofu and can be eaten either warm, at room temperature, or my favorite way, cold, right out of the fridge.
I found that the flavors of this dish improved after a day or two. It's light, flavorful, refreshing and perfect as a side or a main course.
Otsu (courtesy of Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson):
Ginger-Sesame Dressing-
grated zest of 1 lemon
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (I used regular sea salt)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown rice vinegar (I used regular rice vinegar)
1/3 cup shoyu sauce (soy sauce)
2 tabelspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

12 ounces dried soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm nigari tofu (I couldn't find the extra firm tofu so used firm tofu instead)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, sliced thinly
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Directions for the dressing:
combine the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, shoyu and pulse to combine. Drizzle in the oils while the machine is running.
Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water.
While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (1/2 inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the 1/4 cup cilantro, green onions, cucumber, and about 2/3 cup of the dressing and toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and toasted sesame seeds.
Serves 4 to 6

Friday, June 8, 2007

No June Gloom Here

I've been a bit under the weather with a lingering cough and cold so I haven't been able to post lately. I have been able to enjoy the beautiful purple blooms of the Jacaranda trees that line my street however. Isn't that a gorgeous view?
I'm eager to get back to blogging on PBJ ON RYE this coming weekend though so please stay tuned!