Monday, September 15, 2008

Caprese sandwich

This past weekend, I went with a few friends to the Italian Market, in south Philadelphia. It's purportedly Philly's oldest open air market. I was mainly attracted by the promise of super-cheap produce and the famous DiBruno Bros. cheese shop.

Establishing shot of 9th Street:


It's not the nicest area, I have to tell you. But you come to expect that in Philly -- everything is just ever-so-slightly.... grungy. But! All of the outdoor produce stands were, as promised, super cheap. For only about $3, I got 1 pound of green grapes, 2 peaches, and 3 plum tomatoes.

Can't say that the cheap feature holds true at DiBruno Bros., though...

Nanda, mugging for the camera so that the cheese mongers don't think I'm a crazy person who is trying to take pictures of the cheese (except I am...):


It's a smallish shop, but it was packed. Evidently popular. I've been to their shop in Center City, which is newer and bigger -- more like a high-end grocery store. I have to say I like this Italian Market shop better, because the focus here is definitely the cheese. I got a ball of fresh mozzarella ($8) and a small chunk of parmigiano reggiano ($5).

My haul from the Italian Market, at the end of the day:


What to do with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes? Make a delicious Caprese sandwich, of course.

Caprese means "from Capri," an island in Italy. A Caprese salad is made of mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil (and salt). The Caprese sandwich sticks that combination between two slices of bread. I didn't have any fresh basil, alas, so basil pesto would have to do.

I love ciabatta bread. It's great for sandwiches (particularly panini-style sandwiches), because the interior is soft, but the crust is hard enough to stand up against any threat of sogginess. It also has that sourdough tang that I really love.

A small roll of ciabatta, sliced:


I spread basil pesto on the bottom, then layered on slices of mozzarella and plum tomato. I also seasoned the thing with a bit of salt. (I suppose pepper would be ok if you want it, but I think it strikes out the basil flavor too much.)


Sliced up and ready to eat:


Yummy! I love food.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

General Tso's Eggplant

You all know General Tso's. I believe that this dish (primarily, the spicy sweet sauce) is not actually Chinese. I think it's about as Chinese as chop suey, if you get my drift. In fact, I know it is, because my dad (who cooks in Chinese restaurants) tells me that it's probably named after some dude who created the sauce by accident, and people ended up liking it a lot.

And the sauce has a LOT of sugar, if you didn't already guess that. But it probably contains even more than you think.

Despite all that, I really like the sauce. I do. It's probably all the sugar.

I made this recipe because I like the General Tso's taste. But all I've got is a rice cooker. So while I cooked some rice, I steamed all the vegetables in the steamer tray and tossed them in the sauce. (Don't microwave vegetables, even in a steamer bag. Microwaves zap out the nutrients, which defeats the whole purpose of eating fresh vegetables, doesn't it?) I microwaved the sauce, though, because there aren't that many nutrients in the sauce to begin with...

Cutting up the broccoli head:


Steaming the broccoli:


I had to do it separately, since my steamer basket is too small to handle too many vegetables. :( After the broccoli cooked, I set it aside in a bowl.

Cutting the eggplant:


Steaming the eggplant:


While the eggplant and the rice finished up cooking, I made the sauce.

Mincing the ginger and garlic for the sauce (I use the "attack it until it looks small enough" approach):


Whisking together all the sauce ingredients:


Since the sauce has cornstarch, all you have to do is get the mixture to the right temperature (around the boiling point) to get the sauce to thicken. I microwaved the mix (in a bowl, covered with plastic) for about 2 minutes. I popped it out, gave it a stir, and microwaved it again for another 2 minutes.

At the end, the sauce should turn sorta translucent, and it'll look like this:


Scoop out the eggplant, toss the vegetables in the sauce, and serve with rice. (I like the short grain brown rice.) Yaaay.


Admittedly, the sauce doesn't stick that well to eggplant, because it's... slick. It would work better if the eggplant had been breaded and fried, but I don't have the convenience of a stove. :( Regardless, the taste is all there. What more can you ask for, really?

I wrote up the recipe here. Put the sauce on whatever you like -- I particularly enjoy it on tofu.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Corn (an ode)

You know what I love?


Indeed, indeed. Not that frozen stuff, but the real honest corn on the cob. Maize has a weird evolutionary history in which the disproportionately huge ear became the dominant cultivar purely because humans chose to domesticate that particular mutation. But that's a story for another day. Point is, we are here, and corn is here, and it is delicious.

Corn is under-appreciated, I feel. Boiled to the point of perfection (hot, but still crisp, and not mushy), it's like... good-for-you candy. Truly.

That pictured above is an ear of sweet corn that I got from a farmer's market that shows up every week nary a block away from where I live. I bought 2 ears for 50 cents each: one white, and one "popcorn" colored one.


So I can basically roll out of bed and get farm fresh fruits and vegetables (and jam and cake and pie). Jealous much?

This one in particular is part of the Farm to City initiative here in Philly. My exploration of this farmer's market is how I came to meet some Amish folks for the first time. True story. (No Amish are in that photo above though, sorry.)

Little known fact is that a rice cooker doesn't just cook rice. (Which I have proved to you before, and will continue to prove.) Boiling the corn in my rice cooker:


Mmm. Fresh corn on the cob, with butter and salt.


Go get some corn on your plate! It's the season for it right now, so shoo, shoo.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Real Le Ahn Chinese Food Truck - Singapore noodles

I'm labeling this post under the heading of "restaurants" very loosely - of this I am aware.

So, I'm in Philadelphia now. The things that you don't know about Philadelphians (particularly the students) that you will find out quickly once you start living here is: 1) they love this game called Quizzo and 2) they love food trucks.

I didn't get it. See, in DC, food trucks are to be regarded with skepticism and you are not to buy anything that is not prepackaged. Not so in Philly. Here, food trucks are one of the essential sources of sustenance for a student on a budget. They're all over campus, and we even have a map of the approved food trucks in the area. They're cheap, and apparently, most of them are pretty good.

There are clusters of them in certain areas. This is the south side of Spruce Street, between 36th and 37th, I believe.


We went to the Real Le Ahn Chinese Food truck. (Why "Real"? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that there's a truck called the Original Le Ahn on the other side of the street...)


Yes, people stand in line to eat at the food trucks. Again, don't really get it. Yet.

The menu has lots of vegetarian options! Made me happy.


I got the Singapore rice noodles with tofu.


On the whole, pretty decent for only $4.25. Huge portion, fresh vegetables, egg, and tofu. I am accustomed to a drier noodle with a stronger curry flavor, but I really couldn't complain. I had plenty left to save for dinner.

And you know what this means? I will be trying more food trucks in the future...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Benkyou bento (11)

"Benkyou" is Japanese for "study," hahaha.

Anyway, if you all are curious as to what I eat for lunch these days, or what I bring with me to the library when I study... (You probably aren't, but I'll share anyway.)

It looks something like this:


In the morning, I make myself a vegetable and cheese wrap, and I cut it up into pieces to fit in the bento box. Then I cut up some sort of fruit (usually an apple, but peaches are in season now...), toss in some potato chips, and I'm good to go! It's enough to keep me going through a long study session...

The wrap is very easy -- I really never understood why people pay other people to put wraps together, especially vegetable ones. No cooking required!

I like a whole wheat wrap (you can find them near the pita bread in the bread section of the grocery store), baby spinach, cucumber, carrots, tomato, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, and a little mayo and mustard.


Oh, and don't forget the salt and pepper! They are essential. Can you see the pepper below?


Then, roll it up, hold it together with toothpicks, and enjoy. Really, really easy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wheat Berry Waldorf Salad

This salad recipe comes from Whole Foods Market. It's my favorite thing to buy in their salad/take-away section, so I was pleased to find a copy of the recipe online.

Wheat berries are a mysterious food to me. (To many, I suppose.) But they are delicious, so I will let them continue to live in enigma so long as I can keep eating them. They are essentially the entire wheat kernel (kind of like a kernel of corn), minus the hull.

When you buy them raw at your local natural foods store, they look something like this:


I suppose that you normally boil them, but seeing as how I don't have a stove, I find that a rice cooker works wonderfully, too.

This is where the mystery comes in, for me. Wheat berries start out looking like brown rice, but then, after cooking, they become these shiny, plump little... berries.


I can't really describe what they taste like, but they taste just how you think they would, based on appearances. (And who says you can't judge a book by its cover?) Toothy, slightly chewy -- making them great in salad.

The Waldorf salad has its own little history, but this version of it includes apples, raisins, and walnuts.

Cutting up the apple:


Then, after all the seasonings and such are mixed in:


Ta-da! It's super easy to make, and it keeps for a decent amount of time. It's a good alternative to oatmeal in the morning, because I find that it keeps me reasonably satiated until lunch time.

You can find the recipe here, which I uploaded with my adaptations for dorm room purposes.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Caprino bento (10)

Another one from the archives (that I never posted). I call this one "Caprino" because the sandwich has goat's milk cheese, and Caprino is an Italian goat cheese.


On the left, we have roasted red pepper hummus, sprinkled with paprika, and carrot sticks. In the middle -- a sandwich of fresh tomatoes, baby spinach, sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, and salt and pepper, on wheat bread. (If I were to make that one again, I would add fresh mozzarella, because it was lacking in... substance? If you get my drift.) On the right, pieces of an apple, and some small pieces of my blueberry lemon yogurt cake.

I also had a side container filled with Greek yogurt, honey, and blueberries. I tried to arrange the blueberries to look like a fish. (Can you tell?)


Man, I could really go for some of that cake right now....