Chinese food for breakfast

Until yesterday my idea of Chinese food for breakfast was cold leftovers eaten with chopsticks out of a paper box, usually while standing in front of an open refrigerator.

This doesn’t mean I thought that’s what people in China ate for breakfast, but never having been there myself nor spotted any foods labeled as breakfast-appropriate on any Chinese restaurant menu I’ve ever seen, I must admit to not having given it much thought. I had no idea what I was missing.

Turns out jian bing, a savory, street food crêpe, has quite a following of both locals and Westerners, even earning the English nickname “Egg McMao.”  Julie, our May cookbook club host, has lived in China and spoke so fondly of this dish I couldn’t wait to try it even though I couldn’t quite imagine it. Jian bing is a crepe topped with an egg, cilantro and scallions, flipped over and spread with two sauces–a chile and a bean–pickled veggies of some sort, then wrapped around a fried wonton.

Salty, spicy, chewy, crispy, and delicious. I woke up this morning wishing I had another one.

(photos from the lovely fiveforefun who also made some killer cinnamon and orange rolls)

Eating our way through Puerto Vallarta

Eighty degrees and 80% humidity seems even farther away than the 2000 miles it is from the dry 22 degrees outside my door tonight, and three weeks ago feels more like months. It’s a good thing we took some photos or I might have a hard time even remembering what we ate.

Our first meal was at a Pollo Feliz, chosen because we were starving and deliriously tired after a super-early flight out of Redmond meant we had started our day at least 12 hours earlier. Rather than happy chicken though, we chose arrachera, quesadillas, and cerveza. Despite its obvious fast-food leanings Pollo Feliz has good food, including some of the best tortillas we had all week. LordyOur strength restored, we braved Gutierrez Rizo, the grocery store, where we picked up the staples: tostados, stuff for guacamole and pico de gallo, jicama, limes, a pineapple, Squirt, beer and tequila, some coffee and some whole milk to go in it, and some yogurt. Some really, really good yogurt. Lordy indeed.

SDC10149The next day we wandered around old Vallarta and then sat on the Playa de los Muertos, slowly drinking beers in the sun until we decided it was time for margaritas. We made our way back to the Burros Bar, a favorite of Jeff’s parents, beach vendors, and loud tourists. Also, home of very large margaritas. Jeff wants everyone to know that mine is the one in the front. What can I say, it was hot (also, stronger than I expected.) We took the bus back to our hotel and, after spending all day in town, decided to eat in the restaurant there rather than venture back out. Apparently a captive audience doesn’t make for much of a dining experience. It was a mistake we didn’t make again.

The next few days are kind of a blur of street food and groceries. We managed to find the birria stand we’d stumbled upon on our last trip to PV, ate elote con todo on the Malecon, and bussed it up to Soriana (where I managed to buy parsley instead of cilantro, something I’m careful to avoid at home.)
street food

huitlacocheMonday night we tried El Brujo, a place that people love to recommend. Jeff went with the fajitas, no doubt their best seller. I was excited to find huitlacoche on the menu, a corn fungus that I’d read about and was curious to try. It was mixed in a cream sauce served over some kind of shrimp-stuffed fish, so rich I barely put a dent in it. I took it home, but I’m sure our waiter thought I didn’t like it which wasn’t the case. It is weird-looking stuff, I won’t deny it, but it had an earthy, mushroomy taste that I really liked. I’m sure I would have finished it later in the week, if my stomach hadn’t taken a turn for the worse…

BuceriasYes, that’s right, my adventurous eating caught up with me on this trip. I’m still not sure what the culprit was, though I suspect it might have been the shrimp tostado I let myself get talked into at this slightly shady beach bar we hit in Bucerias. Hard to know since Jeff ate from the same plate of food and suffered no ill effects. Could have been the chicken we picked up on the way home (this time we went for pollo at Pollo Feliz,) but again, Jeff was eating the same thing. At any rate I woke up feeling like I’d been doing sit-ups. Uh oh. I made it, fueled only by crackers, water, and a can of Coke, through a day of buses, water taxis, and a hike up a burro trail to a waterfall. I thought I’d dodged a bullet. And then we went out for the best dinner of our entire trip and my stomach staged a full-scale revolt.
Casa NaranjoI’d noticed Casa Naranjo on our first trip to PV, but it wasn’t in our budget. This time we had money set aside for a nice dinner out and I was looking forward to a celebratory last night in Mexico. Our waiter, Mario, was fantastic, bringing us a smoked marlin appetizer and recommending a perfect glass of wine (and he complimented my Spanish, *blush*.) I knew as soon as I read the description of the crab bisque with pumpkin, tequila, and a spinach flan that I had to try it and it was as delicious as it sounds. It was also very rich which, in retrospect, might have made it a poor decision. By the time our entrees arrived I knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat much of my seafood linguine. I kept drinking more and more water, had a bite of Jeff’s giant, magnificent pork chop, and swirled my pasta around in the bowl. Mario boxed up our leftovers (that pork chop was so big that Jeff couldn’t even finish it) and brought us the dessert menu. I thought maybe some mild sweet thing might help settle my stomach and considered sorbet, but settled on a cup of camomile tea. Apparently this was the last straw. I drank some of it and realized I had to go outside. Now.

I’ll end my story there; thankfully, I recovered quickly and was feeling pretty ok by the time we got back to our room (this was the only time the whole week we took a cab. The cab driver also complimented my Spanish, though I realized later I didn’t actually say anything to him in Spanish. Hmmm.) I want to stress that Casa Naranjo’s food was not to blame–I even managed to eat my leftover pasta, mussels and all, for lunch the next day!

By the time we came home we wanted to eat anything but Mexican food, but even that wore off pretty quickly. Now we’re back to dreaming of ripe, red tomatoes, Negro Modelo, tortillas hot off the comal, and lime and chile on everything. Oh, and Lordy yogurt. That was some damn fine yogurt.

More pictures of our trip on Flickr.

*** Huge thanks to Joe and Joan, Jeff’s parents, who gave us this trip as an incredibly generous wedding gift.***

Gingerbread Pigs

I’ve done almost no baking this year. There have been years I’ve used four, five, even seven pounds of butter making sugar cookies, molasses crinkles, toffee bars, almond crescents, and a whole list of other Christmas favorites. This year I tried some new recipes like the grasshopper brownies I found over at the Smitten Kitchen, and some gingerbread caramels from Martha Stewart, and I made a batch of candied walnuts, and so far that’s been it.

(On a related note, I remembered why I usually make cookies instead of candy. The caramels, some sprinkled with pink Hawaiian sea salt, are delicious but too hard to cut (and tough to chew!) The walnuts, normally foolproof, came out sticky. I blame the weather.)

The one cookie I don’t think we can do Christmas without is gingerbread. The recipe I have is old, maybe three generations. It doesn’t just say gingerbread at the top, but gingerbread pigs.

Gingerbread Pigs

1 c. soft butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. dark molasses
1 egg yolk
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cardamom
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. salt (I’m sure I add at least 1/2 t. plus I use salted butter)
1/4 t. ginger (I definitely use more ginger…more like 1 t. or so, freshly grated)
1/8 t. black pepper
3 c. sifted flour

Cream together butter and sugar. Stir in remaining ingredients except the flour and mix until smooth. Stir in flour to make a stiff dough, shape into a ball, and chill an hour. Roll to 1/4″ thickness, cut with a pig-shaped cookie cutter, and bake at 350° for 10 minutes.

Why pigs? Well, I didn’t find a good explanation for the gingerbread pigs specifically, but my Finnish friend Henri told us they were a Finnish tradition, and Rachel Ray apparently heard that somewhere too. Pigs do make many appearances in Christmas traditions including marzipan pigs, peppermint pigs, and even a tradition of slaughtering a pig on Christmas in Romania. Most explanations attribute this porcine focus to a sense of abundance or prosperity associated with having a pig, though Snopes mentions the tradition of eating pork on New Year’s Day is attributed to the pigs’ habit of rooting forward (unlike chickens or other poultry which move backwards as they scratch for bugs) symbolizing forward motion in the new year.

The recipe turns out equally good if you cut out ginger people, hearts, or even mooses (we gave out Christmoose cookies in lieu of cards a few years ago, back before it was a political statement) but I always enjoy the stacks of spicy piggies, whatever they symbolize.

Menu & Grocery List for 12/7-12/13

I’m focusing on vegetables this week, I think we’ve been a little short on them in our diet lately.

Veselka’s Cabbage Soup: it’s funny Veselka’s should show up again–I mentioned it offhandedly in my post about beets, and then I noticed today this recipe was featured at the Smitten Kitchen, and just when I was really wanting to make something with cabbage too. Veselka’s is a Ukrainian restaurant that was close to my dorm at NYU. I think I ordered pirogies and/or borscht every time we went though, so I never tried this soup.

Multi-grain Pasta with Sicilian Salsa Verde, Cabbage, and Haricots Verts

Stir-fried Cauliflower with Ginger and Oyster Sauce (from How to Cook Everything): we’ll add tofu to this and eat it over rice, of course.

Swiss Chard Gratin: this kind of seems like it will need something else with it, but I’m not sure what.

Corn & potato chowder: no recipe here, just a basic potato soup with some corn we have in the freezer

Grocery list:
1/2 & 1/2 (will use for heavy cream)

pork (will probably substitute ground for the pork butt)

savoy cabbage
Swiss chard
green beans
parsley, other herbs?

whole wheat pasta
bread (enough to make bread crumbs too)


Pantry Items: potatoes, carrots, celery, green onions, corn, ginger, stock, anchovies (!), rice, butter, spices

Yam intervention

I’m sure this conversation takes place in kitchens around the country at this time of year as it did in ours today:

my dad: “These [sweet potatoes] look good. I usually like yams better”

me, sounding like Lisa Simpson: “Well you know, the yams we get are really just a different kind of sweet potatoes.”

Discussion ensues.

me: “I think you can only get *real* yams in Africa.”

Jeff: “I thought they brought them from Polynesia.”

Turns out I was wrong about the Africa thing–according to the Wikipedia article about yams they are commonly available in most of the rest of the world though African countries, particularly Nigeria, are some of the largest producers of yams. They are definitely eaten in Polynesia too, though it sounds like sweet potatoes are popular there as well.

Should you need to educate others about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams you might find the sweet potato awareness flyer(.pdf) from useful. Next year I will be prepared.

Tools I Use: our Xtreme cooler

Today we were on the road. The turkey got its own seat in the back, right next to the cooler. I know, you’d think it should be in the cooler but, well, it wouldn’t fit. It’s safely back in the refrigerator now.

It’s ok though, the cooler held other important stuff like the filling for the chocolate cream pie and the green beans, and the whipping cream. It didn’t have to hold it for all that long today, but should we have been waylaid, the chocolate cream pie filling and the green beans and the whipping cream would have been just fine because our cooler keeps stuff cold for 3-5 days. It’s pretty amazing, actually.

I almost left this fine cooler on the store shelf for the dumb name alone; as if there weren’t enough missing “e”s out there in internet land,  now there’s one living in my basement as well. The other reason I almost did not buy my favorite cooler is because it seemed way, way too expensive, but I’m here to tell you it has been totally worth it.

natural white noise

me, sleeping soundly with the knowledge my coffee will have real cream when I wake up

When we go on vacation it often involves car camping, or sometimes boat camping if we’re lucky. We not only travel with snacks, we travel with bacon and cheese and cucumbers and with 1/2 & 1/2 for our coffee. Other, cheaper coolers meant we were constantly looking for ice, draining water, and trying to revive soggy cheese. The Coleman Xtreme coolers have extra insulation (including in the lid) so a block of ice will keep the contents cool for 3 to 5 days depending on how hot it is outside and how frequently you open it (in other words, you might want to keep your current cooler for the beer.)

This isn’t a paid testimonial or anything, I really do just love my cooler that much. My only regret is that I didn’t get the next size larger because that extra insulation does result in less space inside.

I smell like turkey

Yeah, gross. Vegetarians can just stop reading now.

I must admit, much as I like cooking in general and as much as I like eating Thanksgiving turkey, it’s still a little hard to manage that much raw poultry. Nobody likes to be elbow-deep in carcass. A good smoked turkey can save a lot of bird wrangling (just heat and eat!), but this year we’re trying Martha’s Dry-Brined Turkey so this afternoon I found myself rinsing and patting dry 22 naked pounds of the stuff.

I’ve done the surgical-style scrub to the elbows with hot water and soap to no avail. I think I’m going to have to shower to get the smell off.