Foodie Friday: One week, three restaurants!

On average, we eat out once a month or less, so going out to dinner three times in one week is a pretty big deal.  There was no particular reason for this restaurant extravaganza — not a crazy-busy week, no guests in town, nothing!

Kitchen Kulture
We kicked this spurt off with a Tuesday date night at Kitchen Kulture’s pop-up dinner series (at Local Harvest Café).  The menu is small, especially once you rule out the meat and fish options, but sometimes it’s nice to have decisions made for you.  On this particular night, the veg options were a green tea soba noodle dish and okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake), so we ordered one of each.

The soba noodle dish came out first, and it was delicious.  I make some pretty good soba noodle dishes (toasted sesame oil is the key ingredient), but I particularly enjoyed the crunchy freshness of the bean sprouts and shredded red cabbage in Kitchen Kulture’s version.

The okonomiyaki was . . . interesting.  The menu listed “bonito” and “nori” as ingredients in the dish.  I know that nori is a type of seaweed, and, at a quick glance at the menu, I categorized bonito as a type of seaweed, also.  The dish arrived smelling very fishy, but I rationalized that seaweed can smell and taste fishy.  After I few bites, something clicked, and I realized that, no, bonito is a kind of fish, and our okonomiyaki was topped with dried fish flakes.

Anyhow, maybe this dish is an acquired taste, but neither Matthew nor I were big fans.  At that point, we were pretty full from the soba dish anyway, so we ate about half of the pancake and brought the rest home, not entirely sure we’d eat it, but hating to waste food.  (Once home, I scraped off most of the bonito flakes.)  The next day I offered some to G and was rather surprised when he was totally into it!  Kids — weird!

Pi
Unless you were under a rock somewhere, you probably heard that last Saturday (3/14/15) was Pi Day, and not just any Pi Day, but SUPER Pi Day (3.1415…).  To celebrate the eponymous holiday, local pizza chain Pi had specials all week last week.

Thursday’s special was buy one large pizza, get the second large for just $3.14, so we met up with some friends for a pizza party!  One Shenandoah (which I wrote about here) and one half-Berkeley, half-Western Addition.

Gabriel joined us for this meal, and, once the pizza arrived (he didn’t know why it took sooooo long), was quite content.  Afterward, we enjoyed a bike ride home on a lovely evening.

Sen Thai
On Monday night, we wrapped up our restaurant whirlwind at Sen Thai.  This was our New Year’s Eve date destination, and after a very yummy meal and good dining experience, we wanted to return and share the goodness with Gabriel.

Gabriel was on spring break this week, and our dinner was preceded by a special father-son outing.

IMG_7061
View from the top
IMG_7107
And from outside

Gabriel has been asking to visit The Arch for quite awhile now, and Matthew finally made it happen (at what was apparently the most inconvenient time to visit The Arch, EVER, given current construction work).  I happily sat out for this portion of the day (claustrophobic much?) and just joined them for the food.

We tried one repeat dish (Cashew Nut Noodles) and one new dish (Pad Eggplant).  Both were delicious (and came out very quickly, which is great when dining with kids) — it’s always nice when you try something new and it works out well!  I particularly enjoyed the flavors of the eggplant dish, and, early in the meal, I commented, “The eggplant is a winner” (referring to the dish as a whole).

Gabriel grabbed on to the phrase and spent the rest of the meal chowing down on Thai food and proclaiming, “This broccoli is a winner!”  “This tofu is a winner!”  Sometimes at a restaurant appropriate volume and sometimes not, but pretty darn cute!

 

Foodie Friday: Eating in and making our own

This was going to be one single Foodie Friday post, but it started getting long, so today’s a two-for-one day!

Eating In

For this portion of the post, I thought I’d share a few fun things we’ve played with recently.  Before I reveal the identity of this super purple soup, any guesses???

IMG_6736

First, pink waffles.  I don’t know where he got the idea, but a couple of weeks ago, G requested pink waffles.  I had some powdered beet on hand, purchased over the summer to help intensify the color of his strawberry birthday cake (I ended up using fresh, pureed beet for the cake, since we had some on hand).  In honor of Valentine’s Day, we whipped up a batch of pink waffles this week.  I used our standard recipe with about a teaspoon (?) of powdered beet.  Similar to our green pancakes, the batter has much more color than the finished product.  The powdered beet was a bit clumpy, even after sifting, but that led to some nice pink flecks inside the cooked waffles.

Okay, are you ready for the soup reveal?  I made the purple sweet potato soup with roasted [purple] sweet potatoes, coconut milk, a bit of water, a bit of salt, and a dash of powdered ginger.  This soup followed a more traditionally colored sweet potato soup I made earlier in the week.  The soup from the orange-fleshed potatoes was a bit sweeter, but both were quite tasty (and Gabriel approved!).

Over the past several months, we’ve had a couple of really delicious quiches, including ones at Ken’s Bakery (in Portland, OR) and, locally, at Sweet Art.  We tried to make our own with middling success, and then I saw this recipe in Feast Magazine.  This comes from none other than Pint Size Bakery (just mentioned in my Eating Out post).  We hadn’t actually tried their quiche, but we knew they made delicious baked goods.  We were excited to try this recipe, and it didn’t disappoint!

My personal pastry chef followed the crust recipe, but used our standard whole wheat pastry flour with good results.  I think I used sauteed leeks and a bit of kale in our first quiche.  After that, Matthew made a couple more crusts, which we froze for later use.  Those crusts later became a caramelized onion, asparagus, and sun-dried tomato quiche and a roasted pepper and sun-dried tomato quiche with smoked Gouda.

Making our own . . .

I’ve been making soy milk with the blender method since the beginning of January (I returned the borrowed soy milk maker just before Christmas).  While it’s not quite Silk, I have a pretty good recipe (it’s technically soy-cashew milk), and I’m enjoying not having the packaging waste that comes with store-bought soy milk.  That said, making the last several batches has felt like a chore.  I used up all of the soy beans that I bought back in November for this purpose (as well as all of the old soy beans that I bought when I’d previously intended to make soy milk), and I’m going to take a bit of a break.  If I decide to go back to making it, I think I’ll invest in a machine.

Speaking of reducing packaging waste, I’ve started making peanut butter.   This activity was spurred by the purchase of thirty pounds of peanuts from a food buying co-op to which we belong.  At less than $4 per pound for organic peanuts (they were on sale), I can now make [organic] peanut butter cheaper than I can buy it, and it doesn’t use a new glass or plastic jar every time.

Foodie Friday: Eating out

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked food around here.

We don’t eat out all that much.  In fact, only one item on this list actually involves eating a meal at a restaurant.  We do love our bakery runs, though!  Here are three highlights from the past few weeks.

The salted caramel croissant at Pint Size Bakery.  This delicacy is only available on Saturday mornings, and it doesn’t come out of the oven until 9:30am.  During most of the year, Matthew is well into gardening by that time.  We took advantage of the gardening down-season, and a couple of unseasonably warm Saturdays, to bike over and get our first taste of this treat.  Worth the wait!  We also got to enjoy a couple of their other Saturday-only items: the [savory] hand pie and the brioche cinnamon roll.  It’s probably a good thing that the garden limits our visits.

Dinner at Lulu’s Local Eatery.  The owners of the food truck opened this brick and mortar location last year.  Until last week, our only Lulu’s experience was the food truck, specifically, the food truck on Food Truck Friday.  After the ridiculously long lines and swarming crowds of that event, it was so nice to walk right up to the counter, order from a full menu, and have our food brought out to the table.  We enjoyed the buffalo cauliflower, tater tots, and sweet potato falafel.  After a couple of recent experiences with hovering waiters, I also appreciated the waiter-less, fast-casual dining — no interrupting my meal every three minutes to tell someone that yes, the food was fine, and no, I didn’t need anything.

The Shenandoah Pizza at Pi.  Matthew brought the leftovers of a lunch with his dad home a few weeks ago, and this pizza, a special from the CWE location, totally rocked!  (We reheat pizza in a cast iron pan in our toaster oven, for an almost-as-good-as-fresh taste.)  From their website, the Shenandoah is, “The first in our series of frittata pizzas:
caramelized sweet potatoes, goat cheese, red chiles, baby spinach, agave and eggs.”  The combination is spot on, though beware the red chiles mean that there are some zippy bites.  I don’t think they have this on the menu every day, so I’d call ahead.

 

 

Kitchen exhaust fan

Last week I mentioned the kitchen exhaust fan project.  In our previous apartment, we had a working, old-school, built-in exhaust fan in the kitchen.  While probably not quite as effective as a true hood, it was situated right by the [gas] range/oven, and was certainly better than nothing when it came to improving air quality.

While I highly prefer gas ranges to electric, they do have some downsides when it comes to indoor air quality (good paper here).   This might not be a big deal for people who rarely set foot in the kitchen, but we cook and bake A LOT.  After two-plus years of living here with no exhaust fan in the kitchen, we decided we really needed to do something.

The kitchen in our current building HAD a built-in exhaust fan, but it was painted shut when we moved in, and not situated all that well with respect to the stove.  We toyed around with the idea of opening it to see if it worked, but never got around to it.

Back in November, after some particularly fume-y baking sessions, we broached the subject of adding an externally vented exhaust fan with our landlord, J.  He preferred an internal vent hood (which filters the air before recirculating it, but doesn’t remove it), but agreed to look into external venting.  We offered to share part of the cost of the project of getting it vented externally, but he never took us up on that.

In the end, we settled on an over-the-range microwave (J wanted to put in a microwave; we had previously been using our own) with an exhaust fan that could either be internally or externally vented, with plans to hook up the external venting.

Step 1: More power for the kitchen.  For the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve lived with everything in our kitchen (other than the lights) being on one circuit: refrigerator, dishwasher, and all the outlets (that power microwave, toaster oven, and toaster).  The result of this arrangement was that we couldn’t use two high-power draw appliances simultaneously, or we’d trip the breaker.  For example, if the dishwasher was running, we couldn’t use the microwave.  Or if I was heating something in the microwave, I couldn’t toast a piece of bread.

If we’d discovered this before we moved in, we would have made our tenancy conditional on it being fixed, but no.  We didn’t discover it until we moved in, and, at that point, J didn’t seem terribly interested in upgrading things.  I didn’t feel like pushing the issue because within two weeks of our move-in, the refrigerator died.  After J replaced that, I wanted to lay low for awhile, so as not to be that tenant.

While somewhat annoying, we’d adapted to the kitchen power situation fairly quickly, with a strict “one appliance at a time” policy.  Given J’s earlier response, I was rather surprised when, at the beginning of this project, he brought up that the first step would be getting more power to the kitchen.  I don’t know that the exhaust fan draws all that much power, and thereby wasn’t sure why we suddenly needed to change things now, but I wasn’t going to argue.  Most of the work happened when we were out of town at Christmas, with a bit of additional work later.

Step 2: Acquire and install the microwave.  The model J selected was back ordered, but the delay gave him time to do the wiring.  The microwave arrived in mid-January.  J bumped up the over-the-range cabinets to make room for the microwave underneath.  The space the microwave now occupies used to be bare, light-colored wall, so this darkens things up a bit, but that’s a trade-off we can live with.

IMG_6697

Step 3: Duct work for external venting.  This required that we lose a little bit of actual cabinet storage space, as well as the above-cabinet space that we’d been using to store some larger kitchen items.  Storage space in the kitchen is a premium, but this was worth the trade.

IMG_6698

J removed the old exhaust fan and used that space as the outlet for the duct work for the new fan.  As you can see, the project isn’t quite finished, but we have a functional externally vented, over-the-range hood, which is huge!

Having power to actually run multiple kitchen appliances at the same time is also huge.  It took me a couple of weeks to adjust to the idea that I could, in fact, toast toast a piece of bread and heat something in the microwave at the same time.  After a month to adjust, it sometimes feels a little odd, like I’m doing something forbidden when I use the microwave while the dishwasher is running.

We haven’t really put the exhaust fan to the test yet.  Of course, many of the pollutants it will remove are of the colorless, odorless variety, but there should be some improvements we notice.  I don’t know if it was real, or just in my head, but there have definitely been some times when I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen with the oven on and seemed to notice some effects on my lungs and breathing.  Now that it’s done, I only wish we’d done it sooner!

Making soy milk — Part 3 (Is it worth it?)

Three blogs posts out of making soy milk — I guess I’m really milking this topic!

Health effects
I was “carrageenan-free” for four weeks (somewhat ironically, I broke my carrageenan fast not with soy milk, but with heavy cream).  Aaaaannnnnnddd . . . for better or worse (better = I guess it’s okay for me to consume some carrageenan; worse = less incentive to keep making soy milk), I have seen no difference whatsoever.  Not terribly surprising, given that I wasn’t having any [known] GI problems going into this.

Could regular, low-level consumption of carrageenan have a negative, long-term (and as yet unseen) impact on my health?  Sure, but the reality is that we all consume, or are otherwise exposed to, many things that could fit in the “unknown long-term effects” category.  Life is one big long-term unknown.  So unless more research comes out, health concerns about carrageenan will not be a major motivating factor in continuing to make my own soy milk.

Saving money???

Let’s start with some cost comparisons:

  • Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk: I currently pay $3.30-$3.50 per half gallon.
  • Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic Soy Milk (aseptic package): $1.70 per quart, if memory serves
  • Homemade, using just water and soy beans: $0.44 per quart (price based on bulk organic soy beans at $2/lb and 3.5oz [dry weight] soy beans per quart batch)

At first glance, the savings are significant, about $1.20/quart of milk.  I’d say we average a half gallon a week, so over the course of a year, that’s $125 saved.  Coincidentally (or not???) that  is almost exactly the price of a brand new soy milk maker.

Of course, that forty-four cents per quart price starts creeping up if you want a tastier product.  As I mentioned in my last post, my favorite version thus far involves using a combination of soy beans and cashews, along with small quantities of sea salt, sugar, and vanilla.  I haven’t crunched the numbers on this; I’m guessing it’s still under one dollar per quart, but it does start cutting into the savings of making your own.

Labor: Hulling and Clean-up
I discovered that hulled soy beans led to better tasting soy milk.  My searches for organic, hulled soy beans (essentially, split soy beans, because the beans split in half once the hull is removed) came up empty.   While hulling the beans is relatively easy, it does add extra work to the process.

If you use a soy milk maker, hulling the beans and clean-up constitute most of the hands-on time.  Clean-up works best if you plan to do it right away, before things cool and solidify.  The metal grinding chamber/strainer is the trickiest thing to clean.

Clean-up for the blender plus nut-milk bag method was actually easier than cleaning the parts of the soy milk machine.  However, the non-machine method requires more hands-on time for the blending, straining, and stove-top cooking.

IMG_6117

Start to finish, I would estimate 35-40-minutes, total, for the machine method.  That includes the 20 minutes for the machine to grind the beans and cook the milk (hands-off time), plus 15 minutes for clean-up.  For the non-machine method, I would estimate closer to an hour.  That is almost all hands-on time, but you can multi-task in the kitchen during the 15-20 minutes of stove-top cooking.  If I’m not in a time-crunch, I enjoy the process of making soy milk, but at other times, it feels like one more things on an already too long to-do list.

By-products: Using okara
The solids that are left over (strained out) in the soy milk making process are known as “okara.”  Commercial soy milk makers likely sell most of their okara for livestock feed, but this nutrient-dense by-product can be used in cooking.

In reality, most of the okara I’ve created is feeding the garden (via compost), rather than us, for a couple of reasons:

  • Most of the recipes for using okara involve relatively small amounts of okara.  Even just making 2 quarts of soy milk per week, I quickly had more than I could use.
  • I’m not really trying to increase the amount of soy in my diet.  I’m fine with my level of soy milk consumption, and we occasionally enjoy tofu and tempeh, but that’s enough for me.

In the end, I don’t feel too bad about composting [most of] the okara.  Adding it to the compost will be good for the garden, and I don’t use the okara when buying commercial soy milk.  I did enjoy this recipe for bean and rice croquettes with okara, and I wouldn’t mind experimenting with adding small amounts of okara to pancake or quick bread recipes.

If I were interested in cooking with more of the okara, I would freeze it in small, recipe-appropriate amounts (¼ to ½ cup).

Final verdict
I returned the borrowed soy milk maker to my friend.  I plan to try to continue mostly making my own (blender + stove top method), allowing myself a free, no-guilt pass to use the store-bought stuff when life gets crazy.

I’m not ready to plunk down the money for a new soy milk maker, but I’m going to keep my eye out for a used model.  The machine does make the process easier and faster, even if I don’t like the final product quite as well.