Eating in Egypt

Published January 20, 2017 by microncat

So, yesterday I got a post in my Facebook feed, telling about the upcoming NoshUp at Koshary in a couple of weeks.  I’ve been looking at the place as I’ve driven by there recently, and looking forward to checking it out, so I suggested it as our date night dinner.

Ginny and I got there about 5:15pm, and tonight is a Thursday.  There was one table of three guys seated, and no staff in sight.  After being there and ignored for a few minutes, we decided to take a seat.  The decor is pleasant, with what appear to be hooked rugs featuring the images of some Egyptian gods (see one of them above the men in the picture on the left.)  The ceiling is painted sky blue, with silver clouds.  It was quiet, with just the one other table at the time, and there was no muzak.

Service was fairly slow.  We were seated a few minutes before the one and only wait staff came out from the back.  He futzed around behind the register for a couple more minutes before he came to bring menus and take the drink order.  One downside to this waiter:  He had cologne you could smell from a mile away – so strong that even Ginny, who does not usually comment on such things, said something about it.  It wasn’t a horrible scent, but I stand by what I said last week, to wit:  your personal scent choices should be between you and your lover – nobody else needs to be able to smell it.

After perusing the menu, we decided to get two apps and a small entree.  We ordered the stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki sauce (although they don’t call it that; it’s the same thing), Baba Ghanouj with pita points, and the dish for which the place is named, Koshary, with a skewer each of lamb and beef.

The Baba Ghanouj was outstanding, with just a slight bitterness, and what I think was smoked paprika.  The pita points were, ahem, “on point” – soft, and hot.  This was my favorite thing on the table.

The stuffed grape leaves are the best I have ever eaten.  I’m not usually a fan, because they’re usually (a) sour, and (b) cold, and (c) dry.  These were none of the above.  They WERE, of course, a little tangy, because pickled grape leaves.  They were served warm, and they weren’t just white rice inside.  There was rice and some other ingredients I can’t identify, and they were absolutely delicious.

Disappointment arrived with the Koshary and kebabs.  In the picture above left, the top skewer is the lamb, and the bottom skewer is the beef filet.  The waiter didn’t indicate which was which, and I had to smell them to figure it out, because Ginny does not eat lamb.  The meat was grilled, but not seasoned AT ALL.  Not even a marinade.  I had a bite of the beef as well as my lamb, and frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference in taste between them.  The lamb was not of a tender cut, either.  As much as I love lamb, I only managed to eat (most of) one of the chunks, because of all the connective tissue involved.  Yech.

Underneath the kebabs in the picture is the Koshary, and thank GOD we just ordered the small portion, because it was NOT good.  This is a mixture of lentils, rice, chickpeas, and for some weird reason, elbow macaroni, covered with what appeared to be crushed tomatoes straight from a can, and topped with crispy fried onion ribbons – basically, a big bowl o’ carbs.  I could not detect any salt at all, and the tomatoes were very acidic.  As you can see from the picture on the right, it looked like a dog’s breakfast.  (Maggie would not have objected, I promise you!)

I would go back for the apps, but would definitely get some other entree.  As always, your mileage may vary, so try it out, if only for the apps.

 

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Dinner in Germany

Published January 12, 2017 by microncat

Since my foray into Vietnam didn’t go as planned, I decided to go to Germany, instead.  I know, what a leap, right?  Did you know there’s a German restaurant in Greensboro?  I didn’t know until about 8 months ago, when I met one of the owners of Old Europe German Restaurant, which is located beside Hamrick’s on Bridford Parkway.

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Normally, I wouldn’t say I’m into German food.  I have been to exactly ONE German place that had food fit to eat, and it was up in Philly, where a lot of Germans settled when they came from the Motherland, so they know how to cook German.  I had turtle soup.  It was amazing.  Every other German restaurant I have ever been in absolutely sucked, and the ONLY reason I went to this one is that it is owned by my friend Jann.

The menu is two pages, and the first page is all about the beer and wine. (Who’s surprised?  LOL)  The second page has all the food.  It’s not a huge menu, but it IS interesting.  I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few things I’d like to try.  I ordered the Jaegerschnitzel (there’s supposed to be an umlaut over the A there), which consists of a pork steak with mushrooms and brown gravy, which they refer to as a “demi”.  This was served with spaetzle, which are small dumplings (and which is not pronounced like it’s spelled,) red cabbage, and carrots.  It also included my choice of house salad or the soup of the day, which was white bean.

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First came bread and a slab o’ butter.  The bread tasted really good – it is apparently a type of rye bread – but it was cold <insert sad face here>.  On the upside, cold bread was my only complaint!

 

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Next came the white bean soup.  It smells and tastes much like Brunswick stew, but without the meat.  Yum!

 

 

 

 

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The only thing I didn’t like on this plate was the carrots, and that’s only because I do NOT like cooked carrots.  If you do, then you’ll be fine. 🙂  The red cabbage had a very light, kraut-like flavor, but not super sour like one would think sauerkraut would be.  It was also warm.  (The only food not served at appropriate temperature was the aforementioned cold bread.)

On the left in the above photo, those little lumps are the spaetzle.  They are little balls of dough about the size of the first section of your pinky finger, and it appears that they have been boiled first, and then maybe sauteed, (although I don’t know the first damn thing about cooking German, so I may be way off base on that.)  They don’t have much flavor of their own, but are really good with the gravy (demi) over the pork.

Here are a few shots of the interior, including the bar, seating area, and one of many different nutcrackers that are used to decorate many of the horizontal surfaces.  These are really cute – some female ones in what appear to be traditional German costumes, and some male ones, and each carrying something in its hand.  If you go, you will also see some nice cuckoo clocks, which remind me of my Grandma’s house – she and Granddaddy went to Germany when I was little, and she still has the cuckoo clock they bought on that trip.  That sucker makes some kind of noise every 15 minutes, CUCKOOS on the hour, and has little dancing people, and will wake you up in the middle of the night, and….but I digress.  Here’s the pix:

I would definitely try this place again – many of the dishes on the menu sound quite good!

 

Restaurant Ruination!

Published January 12, 2017 by microncat

So Thursday night is “date night” at our house.  Basically, that means it’s the night we almost always go out for dinner.  Tonight, since I was over on that side of town, we decided on our favorite Vietnamese place, Pho Hien Vuong.

Pho Hien Vuong has been in the same place, and we’ve been eating there, for over 20 years.  They’re in this little sideways shopping strip on Spring Garden near Market St.  The strip has three spaces, and over the years, they’ve expanded to fill the whole building.  The food has always been excellent, with great service.  It’s not a fancy place, but the food is the point.

Today when I went in the door, I was almost knocked over by the smell.  Usually when you go in a restaurant, if you smell anything at all, it’s the food.  This was not food.  Nor was it the incense from the altar by the register.  This was a chemically produced cross between some really bad floral scent and and the outside edge of hell.

As I trailed the waitress to the table, I asked her what the smell was.  She said, “Oh, it’s the food.”  I said, “No, it’s like floral cleaning stuff.”  She indicated that they had installed automatic air “freshener” squirters in the dining room.  There was one right beside the booth where she was trying to seat me; there was one at the door where I came in.  (These two spots are less than 50 feet apart, by the way.)  I asked to NOT sit there, and she took me to a booth on the other side of the restaurant, just past the altar with its incense.  The incense is nice, but not when paired with industrial strength poop-smell-cover.

These automatic air “freshener” sprayers are NORMALLY found in public restrooms.  They are designed with a timer, and they periodically squirt a burst of scent designed to cover up other, less pleasant, smells.  Unfortunately, the scent that’s being used at Pho Hien Vuong is apparently designed to knock out an entire battalion of port-a-potties, and they’re using a L O T of it.  A LOT.  The scent is so pungent, I could taste it.  I lasted less than five minutes before I had to go outside to escape, so, no Vietnamese for me tonight!

Here’s the thing about air “fresheners”.  They don’t freshen ANYTHING.  People who, like me, get migraines, people who have asthma, or chemical sensitivity, or other respiratory issues, can quite literally be put down for the count by breathing these artificial chemical pollutants spritzed into the air (not to mention that (1) the sense of smell is closely tied to the sense of taste, and thus the taste of the food would be altered, and (2) the spritzing is happening directly over somebody’s food.)

And while I’m at it, lemme just say that I include perfumes, colognes, hand lotions, body sprays, personal care products, and scented detergents in the ‘artificial chemical pollutant’ category.  If I’m not close enough to kiss you, but I can smell your chosen scent, YOU’RE WEARING TOO DAMN MUCH!!!  That stuff should be between you and your lover – nobody else needs to know you have it on.

So now my favorite Vietnamese place is ruined.  Finding a new one could be fun!

 

 

Chicken and Mushroom Saute

Published January 11, 2017 by microncat

Well, Ginny’s second pick from the “Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery” cookbook was ‘Chicken and Mushroom Saute’.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  This is very similar to a recipe I have for Tarragon Chicken, but since there’s no cream, it has waaaaay less fat.

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Ceramic bowl by Charlie Tefft; Enamel dishes by Lisa P. Skeen.

Here we have all the ingredients (except for the chicken):  2cups sliced mushrooms*, 1T minced shallot**, 1T chopped fresh tarragon, 1/2c plain yogurt***, 3/4c chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/2c white wine (Chardonnay).

So, the first thing to do is, cut 1 pound of chicken into chunks.  Spray the pan with Olive Oil cooking spray.  (I would say AKA: PAM, but I don’t buy PAM…)  When the pan is hot, put the chicken in and saute until “golden brown”, whatever that means to you.  (“Gold” and “brown” are two different colors, IMO.)

 

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Golden brown = done, but not cooked to death

Remove the chicken to a plate and set that aside.  Next, spray more olive oil and toss in the mushrooms and scallions.  Here’s where I added a little salt and pepper, to help sweat the water out of the veg.  When they have started to wilt down, add the wine.  Stir a bit to deglaze the pan, then add the chicken stock.  It’ll look like this:

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Yes, those are Zucchini in there with the mushrooms.  I didn’t have a full two cups of ‘shrooms available, and I had half a zucchini left over from the stir fry over the weekend, so I threw that in.

Raise the temperature under the pan and reduce by at least half before adding in the yogurt, tarragon, and salt/pepper to taste.  The yogurt is supposed to thicken the sauce, but it never worked for me, so guess what?  I cheated, again, and ended up whisking in a pinch of cornstarch.

Et voila!  Chicken Mushroom Saute.  Flavor was good, and we both liked it well enough to make again later.

 

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* I didn’t have the full 2 cups of mushrooms, so I subbed in half a zucchini, and that worked well.  Added color, too.

** I don’t buy shallots.  I know all the fancy chef folks would disagree, but to me, a cooked member of the onion family is a cooked member of the onion family, and there are only a couple exceptions to that.  I used green onions.

*** Only had 1/4c of yogurt, so I rounded it out with sour cream.

If I made this again, I would dial back the wine and stock by 1/4c each, just so I didn’t have to reduce so much.

Singapore Shrimp Dumplings

Published January 7, 2017 by microncat

So I gave the “Eating Well…” book to Ginny so she could pick the next thing to make, and she chose, ‘Singapore Shrimp Dumplings’.  The ingredients are pretty simple – shrimp, spinach, chili-garlic sauce, sherry, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and scallions, all wrapped in cabbage leaves.

First, ya gotta steam some cabbage leaves until they’re really soft, and then cut out the spine part, because it’s too thick to fold around a filling.

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I think I steamed this first batch about 15 minutes.  When I cut out the spines, I made a new discovery:  Maggie likes cooked cabbage!

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This is Maggie at the Beach.  She hadn’t had any cabbage at this point…

While the cabbage was steaming, I cheated, again.  I was SUPPOSED to chop a pound of shrimp to paste in the food processor, and then add the rest of the stuff.  Instead, I put it all in there:  1/2 cup scallions, 2t grated ginger, 1t sesame oil, a 10oz package of chopped spinach (squeezed dry), 2t chili-garlic paste, 2 packets of Splenda**, 2t dry sherry***, and 2t light soy sauce.  (**I used a pinch of sugar instead.  ***I used 2t of Chardonnay.)

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So, I cut the spines out of the cabbage leaves, and this is where Maggie comes in.  She came begging while I was doing this, so I offered her a steamed cabbage spine, thinking she would sniff and walk away.  Noooo!  She took the cabbage spine to her rug, chomped it down, and came back for more.  And more.  And more.  She ate all the cabbage spines.  If she doesn’t end up with horrific gas, I’m gonna have to get cabbage and steam it for her treats, LOL.

Ok, so I started wrapping dumplings.  Here’s the first one.

It took a few minutes, but I finished the first batch of leaves that I had steamed and here’s the steamer basket full of dumplings, ready to go.

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They were steamed for 15 minutes in the bottom tray of the steamer.  I put more leaves in the top tray, to be ready for the next run.  Here they are!

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There is a dipping sauce that goes with the recipe, consisting of 3/4c soy sauce, 1/4c rice vinegar, 1t sesame oil, 1 packet brown sugar substitute*, and 2t red pepper flakes.  This wasn’t bad, but the vinegar should have been lime juice instead.

OK, the verdict:  I wouldn’t make this again.  There is, once again, no salt in the recipe, and the filling is just wayyyy too bland.  Bleh.  I decided to try frying some dumplings, to see if that made a difference, but it didn’t.  The only thing that did make a difference was, I added a little sprinkle of salt to the filling before closing up the wrapper on a couple of them, and that made them much better.

Warning:  If you try this at home, be aware that this recipe makes a metric butt-ton of filling.  The suggested portion for WLS folks is 2 dumplings, and you’ll be eating dumplings for a week if you make this recipe as written.

 

Cooking my way through a new book

Published January 4, 2017 by microncat

For the new year, I have started cooking my way through a new cookbook called, “Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery” (Levine, Patt, and Michele Bontempo-Saray. New York: Marlowe, 2004.)  I have had this book for at least 6 years, but haven’t done much with it other than scan through the recipes.  It’s a paperback, and the spine had never been cracked until I started cooking dinner tonight, LOL.

The recipes in the book are designed for folks who have had weight loss surgery, such as Lap Band placement, gastric bypass, and the like.  Each recipe has serving information for Lap Band, Bypass, and one other type of surgery I never heard of, and are designed to be tasty whether they’re pureed for weeks 1-3 post surgery, or eaten whole later on in the process.

The recipes are all designed to be low-fat and sugar free, but if you know me at all, you know I don’t DO fake food.  Artificial sweeteners, egg substitutes, any form of artificial fat (margarine), reduced-fat or fat-free stuff like sour cream or skim milk – they’re all represented in this cookbook, and I refuse to use them for several reasons:  (1)  Artificial sweeteners are gross.  I have yet to find one of any kind, even the so-called “natural” ones, like Stevia and Splenda, that doesn’t have a disgusting aftertaste.  (2)  IMO, they’re not good for your health.  Here’s just one of many articles about that.  (3) When “they” take something out of a food (think reduced fat sour cream), they replace it with something else, which can add carbs and other crap you don’t need.  (Carboxymethylcellulose, anyone?)  Bleh.  (4)  Fat free cheese does not melt.  So just know, where a recipe calls for something fake, I used the real thing.

For my ‘maiden voyage’, so to speak, I decided on a beef main, “Soy Mustard Glazed Beef”, and “Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Cheddar Casserole” for the side dish.  Since the casserole had to cook longest, I started it first.

 

Ok, this recipe is so easy my cat could make it, if she had thumbs.  Steam the cauliflower, mix it in a bowl with the cheese, mushrooms, and two cloves of mashed roasted garlic (the recipe called for FIVE.  Just, no.  Rather than heat the oven to roast a couple cloves, I put them in the steamer with the cauliflower.)  Spray a casserole dish with olive oil, pour the mixture in, then top with two tablespoons of the seeds and a spritz of olive oil.  Throw it in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, and boom!, it comes out looking like this:

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Note:  The original recipe calls for crushed soy nuts as a topping.  I used the watermelon and pumpkin seed combo because (a) that’s what I had, and (b) soy products have phytoestrogens, which I try to avoid.  When I make this again, I’ll either leave out the seeds, or switch to something else, because the watermelon seeds are more chewy than crunchy in a cooked application.

When the casserole came out, it was time for the beef to go in.  The original recipe called for top round steak, which is a low-fat cut of beef.  Unfortunately, I think if one used round steak for this, one would have a chunk of shoe leather after the broiling was done, so I opted for a Denver cut, which has a LITTLE more marbling.  It turned out not to be super tender, either, but it had good flavor.

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1/3 cup soy sauce, 2T stone ground mustard*, 1.5t grated ginger, 1 garlic clove*, 1T lemon juice, and 1/2t each, black pepper, thyme, and rosemary*

Ok, so all the stuff in this picture goes in the mini-food processor to get whizzed into what the authors call a “glaze”.  Where you see a “*”, I deviated from the recipe, as follows:  Subbed for Dijon mustard, FIVE cloves of garlic, and what appears in the picture is fresh rosemary and thyme – the recipe calls for dried.

Take 2T of the glaze and mix it in a bowl with 1/2c low-fat sour cream, 2t of something called “concentrated beef broth” (I used chicken stock), and 1/4t sesame oil.  This is the sauce for topping the steak when it comes out of the oven.

OK, here’s where I tell you I’m a cheater.  The recipe calls for the steaks to be put in the pan and the glaze to be spooned over.  I decided that since I got the glaze done before the casserole came out, I would marinate the steaks in the glaze while we waited.

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Ok, so here’s the steaks, marinating in the glaze.  I put them in the pan under the broiler for 4 minutes each side, while simultaneously steaming a few asparagus, et voila!  img_20170104_181456

These are WLS-appropriate portions, as recommended in the recipe:  3-4oz. steak with 2T sauce, 1/2c cauliflower casserole, and just a few asparagus (which weren’t part of the recipe, but I wanted a green veg, so…), all served on a 7.25″ plate thrown by a Greensboro-area potter whose name I can’t remember.  (Other pottery pieces in this post thrown by me.)

My wife and I both liked the steak and the casserole.  You may notice that neither recipe has added salt (not counting what is in the soy sauce and mustard in the steak, and in the cheese in the cauliflower casserole.)  IMO, the casserole needed some added salt, which I did add at the table.  Otherwise, no other seasoning was added.  Ginny had seconds on the casserole.  Both these recipes are winners, and I’ll be making them again (only with a filet next time!)

 

EveryDay Cooking: Amaranth Cookies

Published October 19, 2016 by microncat

 

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Amaranth grain

What the heck is Amaranth?  I had no idea, but the cookies in the photos of Amaranth Cookies in EveryDay Cook looked delicious, so I had to go find out.

Amaranth, it turns out, is a grain.  The picture I posted here is of Amaranth that I got at EarthFare last week, and it is some really interesting stuff.  First of all, the seeds are T. I. N. Y.  It would take at least two amaranth seeds to make the same size as one mustard seed.  I think even Kosher salt grains may be larger than amaranth.

This is definitely the weirdest cookie recipe I’ve ever made.  The first thing you have to do is make candied orange peel (assuming you don’t keep that around on general principal).  Alton Brown includes instructions for this, and it takes a while, so I did the first part two days ago and finished it up this morning.  Here’s a word of advice.  If you ever make candied orange peels, DO NOT pour it out onto waxed paper, unless you use at least two layers.  <sigh>

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Candied orange peel

The ingredient list calls for  75g (aka: 2.64oz, or about a half-cup) of amaranth, which then gets popped, like popcorn.  [I made a video, which I couldn’t post to my page here, but I put it up on YouTube HERE.]  When I saw that in the directions, I thought it would just pop and snap and jump around like mustard seeds do when they’re on a frying pan, and it does, but it also literally pops like popcorn.

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Popped amaranth

 

The volume of amaranth, once popped, is closer to 2.5 cups.  If you’re old enough to remember Sugar Smacks cereal, the popped amaranth has about the same texture and consistency.

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Cookie “dough”

The recipe has a very small amount of fat (butter), and only one egg and a half teaspoon of vanilla are the only liquids included, so the “dough”, and I use that term VERY loosely, does not hold together very well.  Amaranth is naturally gluten-free, so that doesn’t help.  I had to really pack the stuff into a small ice cream scoop to get it to stay together.

The finished cookies are kind of fragile, at least on the edges.  There are lots of crumbs, because there wasn’t much in the way of a binder in the recipe, which are gonna be delicious on ice cream later…  The flavor is not super-sweet, which I like quite a bit, and very nutty.  They have a lot of texture, and are very crunchy.  I’m definitely gonna play with this one a bit!

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Nomnomnom…  Those orange chunks are candied orange peel.

 

 

 

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