March 2009 Archives

On Sandwiches
By Lydia on March 21, 2009 2:58 PM| | Comments (11)
Egad, can I just say how disappointed I am with my usual grocery stores? I made my second trip in two weeks yesterday out to the one of the Asian markets on S.Division, and I came back loaded.

For those of you familiar with the phenomenon that is a good ethnic market this may seem like well beaten ground, unworthy of repeated celebration, but I can't seem to get over it. The variety and freshness at many of these stores can be overwhelming if you are unused to seeing bags of shallots at $1.75, cilantro at a quarter, and whole shrimp at $3.99 a lb. Tofu, in a startlingly array of brands (or fresh from a bucket,) is half its normal price, as are sesame oil, sambal, and soy sauce. Fresh greens I have never seen before are perky and vibrant, and whole fresh duck may or may not be $10 each, depending on your Vietnamese literacy. Yesterday I filled a basket with produce, seafood, hot sauce, chili flakes, spring roll wraps, herbs, and more, and when I was done I got to step 3 yards out the door for one of the best deals on lunch in town.

I've written before of my love of pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup which sometimes includes such organ-meat delicacies as tripe and tendon, but have I told you about bahn mi??? Bahn mi is quite simply a wonderful sandwich, but so different from anything I've seen in restaurants and delis. To be honest it reminds me a bit of muffaletta. More on that later

Bahn mi is a sort of Asian/French lovechild that starts with a crusty kind of roll (baguette-ish) which gets smeared with pate and piled with marinated julienned vegetables like daikon and carrot, meats like roast chicken or meatball, and lovely fresh cilantro. It is a surprising mix of flavors and textures and it only costs $3!!!! 3 dollars out the door. This is insane and delicious news. They have, like 15 different kinds, and though I couldn't read the names as such, I think one of them was tofu.

Muffaletta, a New Orleans native, is similar in its double-meat/unconventional vegetable pairing, though it runs clearly less exotic and less variatous. The original muffaletta was born at Central Grocery in 1906 according to the Grocery and also Food Lover's Companion. Ted and I went there last month when we were in NOLA, and the damn sandwich was so good we had to go back about 4 times. The thing is kind of a behemoth too, made on a split roll a foot in diameter. The bread gets thick piles of ham, salami, and a house-made "olive salad" comprised of big chunks of green olives, pickled carrot and cauliflower, and good good olive oil. This oil makes other condiments, namely the mayonaisse that Creole cooking so loves, an unnecessary and unwelcome addition. Cut into quarters the 12 dollar sandwich serves 4. Or 2...

On a side note, I was really bored at work yesterday and started a loose opinion poll: What is your favorite sandwich? The answers were pretty interesting, and I got a few multiple times, which leads me to belive that the most popular sandwiches are French Dips, Reubens, and Grilled Cheeses. The thing is, this is completely contrary to everything I know as a waitress at a glorified sandwich joint. What  am I missing here? I hope its a large enough sample size, so I will ask again: What is your favorite sandwich?
Seitan, Smart Balance, and Sparks
By Lydia on March 1, 2009 10:55 AM| | Comments (2)
I am exhausted. I just spent the last month driving around the south with my boyfriend, staying at friend's houses, cooking them dinner, being shown sights and entertained. It sounds lovely and romantic, and yet I am so so pleased to be home again with unromantic things like kitties and tv and no obligation to talk to people. That said, it was a good trip, and I have a lot to tell you about. Numbered sections help me organize myself so we'll start with

1.) The phenomenon of people who are "health-conscious."  These people will talk a great deal about how sick it is to eat fast food like Popeye's and Chick-fil-A, they rarely eat meat, and they eat strange and confusing "health food." Sorry, guys, I do not understand eating Smart Balance instead of butter. Margarine products not only taste thin, chemically, and meager, they are in no way better for you than plain old butter. Trans-fats aside, they are purely chemical in makeup, and I cannot hold with such nonsense. Eat real food, and if you need so much butter its going to make you sick, perhaps you should cool it a little and have jam with your toast for a change. (Also, fried chicken is delicious, and if you have a 15 hour drive you owe yourself some good ole fashion torture-bred, oil clogged, good eatin' chikin and biscut.)

2.) Seitan: food of happiness. Staying in Athens, GA, we had the good fortune to have homemade seitan "cuban sandwiches." Some of you may know my dislike of what I call "willfully vegan" food. I cook a lot, most of what I cook happens to be vegan, but this doesnt mean I want faux-meat versions of favorite foods flying about. Vegan Philly Cheesesteak? Vegan Alfredo Sauce? I am silmultaneously shuddering and gagging while writing. Ashley's sandwiches though, were way too good to be called vegan cuban. The seitan was handmade by Ashley the day before, and seasoned with salt and pepper and spices. The bread was crusty and generous and together with tomato and lettuce they were so good I was picking up little bits of seitan with my fingers. Lovely on the whole.

3.) Savannah, GA. Pizza. After a day of driving, and a little too much driving about the city aimlessly, we got ourselves checked into a hostel and were soon on bikes, looking for food. What we found was some truly excellent pizza. This was crispy dough, fresh-tasting sauce, and fresh(!) mushrooms. And, no, this was not some hoity-toity boutique pizza for 20 bucks a medium; this was good, fresh, honest pizza, and I loved it. Where the hell is this pizza in GRapids? Are you people just not telling me?

4.) The True and Enduring Horror of Staying With Other People's Families. Florida, that 80degree wasteland of "Active Senior Trailer Retirement Communities" was a new level of hell for me, somewhere between watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" and the lecture portion of Drivers Ed. Ted and I did, however, become quite the connesieurs of Sparks brand energy/malt liquor, and we had some interesting meals. For the uninitiated, Sparks +/- is a lothesome beverage that tastes, depending on which "flavor" you get, more or less like rancid orange sweet tarts. I think all the "flavors" are orange, but one is orange orange and the other is black orange. Black orange is 7% alcohol instead of 6%, and tastes less like low-grade fermented sugar by-product.

Speaking of orange, the citrus groves were pretty neat, if boring in the manner of lovely fields of corn after the first excitement wore off. Ted and I stopped at the Orange Ring, and got a huge bag of oranges, grapefruits and tangerines for some incredibly cheap price, and ended up using some tangerine in a really nice sweet and sour pork. We fried up little niblets of pork in a pan and put it aside, then in the same pan sauteed some chopped onion, garlic and ginger, the de-pithed tangerine and some soy sauce. The pork went back into the pan to warm it up, and we served it with left-over peanut noodles. Yum.

I'll spare you the details of someone's crock pot chicken and condensed soup, and please stay tuned for the next installment, Lydia Goes to Mardi Gras and All She Drank Was Daquiri.