28 August 2015

Minty Fresh Peas

I was making this side back in May when I had my first crop of fresh peas in the garden.  Now that it's August, the next round is starting to appear and I'm almost ready to pretend those first tender days of summer vacation are upon us. You can do this with frozen peas that have been thawed, too, or you might be able to find some fresh locals at your area farmer's market.

This is a very simple, light side or snack, which goes well with some glasses of dry Riesling and grilled tofu or salmon.  If you wanted it to be the main event, you could easily toss it with some fresh cooked jasmine rice (in which case I would amp up the amount and variety of herbs) and top with some slivered almonds.

Minty Fresh Peas

Serves 4 as a side

2 lbs. fresh peas (already removed from pods)
2 radishes, quartered and thinly sliced
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small frying pan, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the radishes along with a sprinkle of salt and sauté, stirring constantly, until radishes become tender and the red outer edge turns more pink.  Toss in the peas and continue stirring, just until barely heated.

Remove pan from heat and add the juice and lemon zest, chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle with a little extra olive oil if desired and serve.

25 August 2015

Ways with Chimichurri Sauce, or how to use all that parsley your neighbor gave you

Chimichurri sauce is delicious!  When you get sick of pesto (really, at some point you will), try this Argentian cousin, which is not only herby and garlicky, but pleasingly citric and spicy, as well. My favorite recipe is below, but I encourage you to experiment with different herb combinations and sour components (swapping the vinegar for lime juice, for instance, is also really nice).

This sauce is traditionally applied to steak in Argentina, but it's so good, you'll want to put it on and in everything.  Some of my favorite uses are below.

Basic Chimichurri Sauce

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate for up to three weeks in an airtight container, or pour into an ice cube tray and freeze individual portions as flavor bombs for soups and pasta.  

Uses for Chimichurri Sauce

  • Spread over grilled steak, chicken, or white fish
  • Mix with mayo (or not) as a sandwich spread
  • Toss with pasta and fresh steamed vegetables
  • Mix generously into hamburger or salmon patties
  • Saute with vegetables and beans and serve over rice
  • Add a bit to scrambled eggs
  • Stir into red sauce for pasta
  • Spread on a bagel with cream cheese and top with thinly sliced onion and tomato
  • Add to soups
  • Stir into mashed potatoes
  • Use as a taco sauce
  • Toss with black beans for a side dish
  • Stir into plain Greek style yogurt as a dip for crackers
  • Use as a pizza sauce and top with tomatoes and cheese

21 August 2015

Thoughts on travelling with ease

My view of D.C. at NFA.

I went to D.C. over the weekend, but I barely got to see any of the city at all. Don't worry, you don't need my advice on what to see--just Google it.  We're so super proud of our Abe Lincoln statues here in America. And I hear the zoo is good, but zoos make me sad. 

I was attending the National Flute Association's annual convention, which involves long days of sitting in over-air conditioned hotels with crappy acoustics and rashly paying too much for coffee in the lobby when you run into friends between concerts. The only tour of the city I got was on the Metro between my (much cheaper) hotel and the Rockefeller-style hotel hosting the convention, and the best meal I ate was at a long lost friend's apartment the night before I caught my flight home.

While I always try to carve out a little "tourist" time when travelling for work (like I managed to do recently before my concert in L.A.), sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and then the adventure comes in the form of the journey itself. And there is a sport to travelling, no matter how you plan to fill your time when you get there. So I thought I'd spend this blog post sharing the habits I always try to live by when preparing to travel. 

Pack your meals for the plane. You can see evidence of my sandwich-making, above. There are several reasons to pack your food like a cheap Midwesterner, among them include being able to eat when you want (even if the plane is still sitting on the tarmac), eating what you want (instead of pretending those honey-roasted peanuts are hitting the spot again), and of course, saving some money.  Those $14 sandwiches in the airport are never very tasty, which merely adds insult to injury.

  • Breakfast: a bagel with cream cheese and some thinly sliced fruit or veggies smacked together like a sandwich.
  • Lunch/dinner: a sandwich or wrap filled with hummus or guacamole and copious veggies, or spring rolls made with leftovers and drizzled inside with a little hoisin sauce + handful of nuts.

Pack snacks for when your sandwiches run out. It's going to happen, and you can't keep cream cheese cold for that long. In a pinch, nuts, dried fruits, granola-ish bars (I like Kind STRONG--the roasted jalapeno is amazing--and Larabars, personally), and some tea bags and instant coffee (I appreciate Starbucks most when all I have at my disposal is those Via pouches) will keep you caffeinated, proteinated, and full enough to make it to the next ramen shop.  You can easily make instant oatmeal with a coffee pot in your hotel room if there's no breakfast provided, so throw some of those in, too. Why pig out on a boring, huge breakfast when you could save room for an amazing chi-chi dinner later?

Make plans to use public transportation whenever possible. This is still not possible across most of the U.S., but if you are headed to a city with some kind of Metro system, Google it, map out your trips, and get comfortable with it before you head to the airport.  It's a cheap, environmentally friendly way to see a city, and it might be the most comprehensive tour you'll get.  Ride the bus through neighborhoods you'd never find out existed in travel guides; sail past the city and take in every building of the skyline on the train without ever having to look away to avoid hitting a car; study all the details about the people who live in the city, from neighborhood to neighborhood, like average age of the passengers, friendliness level, standard costumes, etc. You'll also contribute to ridership stats, which is how cities continue to receive funding to keep those amazing services going, and isn't figuring out a train timetable less stressful than navigating rush hour traffic in uncharted territory?

Utilize your smart phone. Your phone is your GPS, your directory, your television, and so much more when you're on the road. Make sure you've got as many charging options as possible--car charger if you're driving, wall charger, and solar charger or external battery pack for times when you are nowhere near an outlet. Bookmark sites pertaining to the place you'll be visiting on your browser, like a city's official visitor information or restaurants you know you want to visit. There are also great apps that I regularly use when I'm away from home; my top picks are:

  • Southwest/United/whatever airline you are flying.  So much easier to check in and get updated info about your flight. 
  • Hotels.com / Air Bnb / whatever you are using for housing. 
  • Gas Buddy helps me search for the cheapest gas in the my area wherever I am, if I'm stuck driving. 
  • Yelp is my favorite review site for finding out about local restaurants.
  • Open Table allows you to make reservations, read menus, and read reviews from diners.  It's not as comprehensive as Yelp, but once you've found a place on Yelp that looks interesting, it's worth checking to see if you can make a reservation on Open Table, as you'll collect reward points that will eventually lead to a gift certificate. l
  • The Metro app for the city you're visiting will be perfect for getting to know the system quickly, and you can just remove it wen you're home. 
  • Google Wallet, which I'm just getting into, really is a handy way to avoid carrying cash or cards that can get stolen, dropped, etc.
  • Tourist Eye by Lonely Planet (I know, how very 90s of me) allows you to find out what's in the area and it somehow magically works offline. 
  • Google maps isn't even an app, is it?  I have to use this constantly, as I have no sense of direction. 
  • Kindle, because I like to read before bed.

PS--Here's a cute little news segment on the flute dorkfest (I say this lovingly) that brought me to D.C.

18 August 2015

Recipe review: making General Tso's Chickpeas

I came across this recipe on good ol' Pinterest, of all the places, and I thought it sounded genius.  We like General Tso's sauce in this household, but pouring it over a vat of fried chicken and the requisite three pieces of broccoli does tend to turn it into a gut bomb, in my humble opinion. I was most interested in the sauce, because I figured if I liked it, I could just add it to my rotation of veggie stir-fry sauces (which is all this recipe basically is, anyway).

It is a tasty sauce, though if you compare my version, below, to the original, you'll see I made mine a whole lot spicier and a bit less sweet.  For a milder version, you might want to try following the directions like a good kid at Yep, It's Vegan and test that one first.

General Tso's Chickpeas (based on Yep, It's Vegan's recipe)

Serves 4

For marinating the chickpeas:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (I used sweet vermouth)
1 and 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (equal to 1 15-oz. can), rinsed and drained

For the sauce:
1/4 cup + 2  tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon peanut butter
1  tablespoon soy sauce
1  tablespoon rice vinegar
1  tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons sriracha or other chili sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon. freshly ground black pepper 

For the General Tso's chickpeas stir-fry:
1  tablespoon neutral oil (I used canola)
1/4 of a large onion, thinly sliced
1 large broccoli crown, cut into florets
4 oz. mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 carrot, cut into thin slices on the bias
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
General Tso's sauce (above)
marinated chickpeas (above)
green onions and sesame seeds for serving
1 cup cooked rice, for serving

Stir together the soy sauce and mirin in a bowl and add the chickpeas. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, stirring continuously. Continuing to stir, add the broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, ginger, and garlic.

Stir in the General Tso's sauce. Drain the chickpeas and stir them in too. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, continuing to stir frequently, or until the mixture is hot throughout and the sauce has coated the chickpeas and vegetables. Add more soy sauce or chili sauce to taste.

Serve over rice and garnish as desired with green onions and sesame seeds.

14 August 2015

Eating Right Coast Pizza in Greeley

Greeley, Colorado has slowly been trying to become a real, grown-up town.  We've got a population of about 100,000, a gang problem, and crappy schools--how much more urban can you get?  The Downtown Development Authority has also been trying to fill all of those charming brick storefronts that have remained empty for so many years.  Enter a new brewery (WeldWerks, the only place to go for local brew), a tap house sporting 60 taps of Colorado proud beer (Brix), and now, Right Coast Pizza.

The downtown Greeley location is Right Coast's second, following their flagship restaurant in Wheat Ridge, in suburban Denver.  They specialize in New Jersey style pizza, which seems to be exactly the same as New York Style--thin, floppy crust that's best eaten folded.  When I went to the grand opening a few weeks ago, they were giving out free Tivoli lager (better than free Coke!), but an hour after the party was supposed to start, they had already run out of pizza crust, so there was nothing to eat.  Rookie mistake, except it's their second store.  Perhaps they underestimated Greeley folks' capacity for free pizza and beer. 

So, I was happy to see the place already starting to fill up at 5:30pm a couple of weeks ago.  Service was very attentive (more on that later) and pizza came out promptly.  There was some confusion about who had ordered which beer when they came to the table, which the waitress explained by confessing she "wasn't a beer person" (that was also her explanation for her ignorance over the item on the menu titled "hopped coffee", which I'd still love to see, but they were out). But the pizza came out very quickly, and it was hot and crisp.  

We got an Elmer, which is a white pizza with spinach, bacon, and tomato slices. It was good.  The crust was lightly charred on the underside, blonde but perfectly crisp above. It was really garlicky, tomatoes and spinach were fresh, and the finely chopped bacon was crisp and plentiful.  There was just enough grease to seem like proper pizza.  At $15 for a 14" (medium), it wasn't exactly grungy college food, either. 

Let's talk about the service, because I find it to be a constant, and very puzzling, problem in Greeley.  It's almost like there's some kind of central training office for wait staff in this town being run by a clown. Literally a clown.  There were way too many people working on a Thursday late afternoon, and so they were all hovering pathetically, looking for things to do.  That's a problem with management's decisions, though I have no idea who that would have been, because every staff person in sight could have all been members of the same sorority.

It was a little bit awkward when the hostess walked us so very slowly to our table while trying to make inaudible small talk over our shoulder and asking us how our day was going.  She later came over repeatedly to make sure there weren't any spare beer menus laying around, which she seemed very eager to collect immediately after the first order was placed.  (PS--this is a bad business move!  Wouldn't you sell more beer if we could see your fabulous, long list of taps all night?)

Then came our sweet, though unapologetically ignorant, server.  She couldn't answer any questions about the drinks, but she was certainly chatty.  After we had ordered our pizza and were working on our beers, she actually came over to ask what we had done all day (Again with this? Why does everyone ask me this now? Starbucks has not been a good influence on the service industry.). When I (not) jokingly said that was pretty personal, she proceeded to tell us about the four fillings she got at the dentist that day, including describing the effects of the novocaine as it wore off. It went on and on, and I think it's fair to say we were all avoiding her eye contact by the end, but she continued unperturbed.  When she brought the pizza after her speech, she complained that it was her favorite pizza and that now she was hungry from having to bringing it to us. 

This is a trend I have noticed, particularly in the downtown area--young, socially awkward girls who don't know much about the products they are serving try to make up for their lack of expertise by chatting us up, far too long and too in-depth, in order to make a personal connection.  I don't know how my fellow patrons feel about this; perhaps they find it delightful.  I can handle a little chit-chat, but at some point I feel obligated to entertain them, and that's too much pressure.  Either Greeley restaurants need to start hanging "extroverts only" signs on their doors, or they need to monitor their young, inexperienced wait staff more and tell them when to cool it on the BSing with the customers. 

This is the big problem right now with Right Coast, and if they can correct it, it'll be a great restaurant downtown.  They seem to know what they're doing in the kitchen, but more oversight and thorough training in the front of the house is definitely needed right now. I'm not sure if the owners are dividing their time evenly enough between their established Wheat Ridge location and their fledgling Greeley spot, but if not, it would be worth the investment to hang out a little more up here for a while. 

But I will repeat, the pizza was good. 

11 August 2015

Spicy Sweet and Sour Beets

We called them "Sweet and Sour" in the Midwest, but they're basically the same thing as Harvard Beets. The typical recipe isn't too hard, but boiling together a cornstarchy dressing is still too much of a pain on a hot summer day for my taste.  So, I came up with the laziest thing you can possibly do. You're welcome.

Spicy Sweet and Sour Beets

Serves 1 (me)-5 (people who don't like beets much and therefore shouldn't be trusted)

1 lb. beets, scrubbed and greens removed
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 tablespoon horseradish
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
Salt and black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except beets in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil.  Cook the beets, skins on and cut into similar shapes, until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cold water; the skins should skip right off (if not, help them along the way with your paring knife).  Cut the cooked beets into small cubes and add to the dressing.  Stir thoroughly until butter is melted, and chill or serve at room temperature. Season with more salt and pepper if desired.

07 August 2015

36 hours in L.A.

I had a quick stay in L.A. last week for a gig, and I decided to see what I could pull off car-free. I stayed in the Financial District next to downtown (in a sweet, crazy-cheap studio apt., thanks to Air Bnb) and between rehearsal and the concert, I visited Little Tokyo, Venice, and hung out a little downtown.  If I could go back, I'd hit Koreatown for the food, and Echo Park, which I rode past on the way to my friend's place in Silver Lake, because the crowded pond filled with paddle boats looked super fun. What I learned from L.A.:

The food is good.

They really do put a lot of fresh vegetables in/on everything.

Stuff doesn't necessarily stay open very late, and many things (bars and restaurants) are closed on Sundays.

The locals aren't keeping up to date with their public transportation options, which are pretty new but pretty good!

Why don't people wear shoes?  It would be safer if you all wore shoes downtown, people.  I'm only thinking about your health here. 

This is one of only 3 "Japan towns" in the U.S., and all 3 of them are in Cali. 

Mexi-terranean taco from Kabob Express Fusion truck outside
our apartment, because tacos + fusion = L.A., right?

The poke at Poke-Poke was probably my favorite meal.

The iconic walk along Venice Beach.
We're ready to move!  This canal property in Venice is only $6500/day to rent!

PS--These canals are just there because some rich guy put them in at the turn of the 20th Century.

Striking the proper self-satisfied pose before we sign our lease.

Sticky Rice at GCM  had beautiful
BBQ chicken & yellow curry,
and the best Boba.

Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. is a food paradise.

Union Station is old-school luxe

04 August 2015

Exploring SoBo in Denver

SoBo, or South Broadway, is the home of Antique Row just South of the capitol area in downtown Denver. (Psst--if you've got some semi-precious heirlooms to unload, as I did, Antique Exchange is the most efficient way to peddle your wares to multiple dealers at once, and they'll even show you funny You Tube videos on their phones while you're waiting for them to look up prices).  If you're not into Hummel figurines, you'll also find funky boutiques and coffee shops, nouveau cuisine, and FREE on-street PARKING (whaaa?!) for two hours in all locations.  It's the city, but kinder and gentler.

As you can imagine, I wasn't going to drive all the way down from Northern Colorado just to sell some glass and then hop back in the car and go home.  Here's what I tried:

Uno Mas Taqueria Y Cantina, 1585 S Pearl Street, Denver

Order tacos ala carte on a menu reminiscent of ordering sushi (see below),

and enjoy delicious cocktails that are a modern twist on classics like the margarita, paloma, and michelada. They boast local ingredients, and the meats for the tacos are perfectly marinated, seasoned, and grilled.  I had smoked chicken, pineapple-marinated pork, and the zestiest, most surprisingly delicious mushrooms I've ever eaten.

Strange Grounds, 1417 S Broadway, Denver
This coffee shop is famed for their homemade chai, and it really is fantastic.  Coming from a non-chai drinker, that's something.  Order it sweet, spicy, or dirty (my choice), and get ready to sift through the heavy bits of grit at the bottom, 'cuz it's loaded with fresh ginger chunks and a big old cinnamon stick.  This place also hosts lots of local live music at night, and with parking being so cheap and easy, it'd probably be worth the stop down in the evening sometime. 

Capital Tea, 1450 s Broadway, Denver
I was too stuffed after my tacos to try the lapsang souchong egg salad sandwich with smoked salmon, but it looked amazing (and popular).  The tea varieties will make your head spin, and you can order from afar through their website, too.