Institutional Food #2 – The Rehab Facility

So I was discharged from the hospital at 11:00 am and got to the Rehab Facility around 11:30. Got checked in and installed in my room by 12:30 pm. I know someone asked me if I had eaten and something was brought to me but that is lost in the mists. Probably because dinner that evening was very memorable, a Pizza Burger.

Now before I go any farther I have to explain the meal situation at this place. It is an  Assisted Living and Rehabilitation Facility. That means there are short-timers in rehab, like me, and there are long-timers or people who actually live here. We are separated into two wings but we can intermingle. I could have gone over to the other side for Bingo and a Packer Party on Sunday but I passed. Long-timers are mostly elderly seniors (Hey! who you looking at?) and as a group they mostly want their noon meal to be the main meal (what I call dinner) and their evening meal light ( what I would call lunch). They outnumber us so that’s how the meals are served. This will all make sense later.

Now, the Pizza Burger. As in the hospital you get a little menu ticket. On it are usually two choices for a main and then a bunch of sides. You can circle everything if you want. I think one of the choices that night was fish so I went with the Pizza Burger, on my Certified Nursing Assistant’s (CNA) recommendation. Later, I had to remind myself that I really didn’t know anything about their taste in food so recommendations were a crap shoot.

Pizza Burger

Pizza Burger

My dinner included a very soft bun, a beef patty covered in Marinara sauce and a few bits of cheese, a bag of chips and yellow jello w/ cool whip top. But that’s not all that made this a PIZZA burger. When I bit into it, surprise! it was stuffed with mozzarella. The cole slaw was good.

After getting pancake/sausage bites one morning for breakfast, I decided to stick with cereal, raisin bran, because I needed to stay ‘regular’. However this place is the same as the hospital, that is, make sure you ask for everything. If you don’t circle milk, you’ll eat your cereal dry. And the raisins are usually dumped in a pile in the middle. So I would break up the clump and get some milk and it was a good breakfast.

Sausage/pancake bites are soggy pancakes around breakfast sausage with some syrup for dip. A three year old would love them.

Sausage/pancake bites are soggy pancakes around breakfast sausage with some syrup for dip. A three-year old would love them.

Remember my explanation of lunch vs dinner servings? This is what I mean.

Meatloaf, Turkey and Swedish Meatballs

Meatloaf, Turkey and Swedish Meatballs

These were usually pretty good but whoa, that’s a lot of food for lunch. Each had a dessert and beverage as well. Veggies could have been crisper but I don’t think they were from a can. Then there was dinner.

Billed as chicken salad (left) and potpie on a bisquit (right)

Billed as chicken salad (left) and potpie on a biscuit (right)

On the menu it said chicken salad on tomato slices. I love chicken salad but an ice cream scoop of salad on one little tomato slice was pretty disappointing. Potpie on a biscuit was also a controlled serving. More like chicken a la king. It was fine but I wanted more! And come on folks! It was September. Our garden and our local Farmer’s Market still had really good tomatoes coming in. So did the grocery stores. Where are the people at this facility forced to shop? Here’s what I mean. One night a BLT was on the menu. Well can anyone resist a bacon sandwich, with a red ripe tomato and crispy lettuce on toasted bread? Sorry. This just didn’t come close.bbllttFortunately when I got home my Sweetie made me a BLT worthy of the name.

Finally, did you recall that tossed salad I praised in my hospital food post? When I saw tossed salad on my Rehab menu I thought oh yes! that will make up for any sins of limp bread, pink tomatoes or fruit cocktail. However, one tossed salad is not like another.

1. Actually different items to toss 2. iceberg lettuce.

1. Actually different items to toss (hospital) 2. Iceberg lettuce (rehab)

Oh well. I don’t mean to diss the food service at rehab too badly. The food came pretty promptly, I had choices and except for a few missteps, it was all edible, sometimes pretty tasty. However the whole time I was there I kept clicking my heels and repeating, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

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Picadillo Alfredo

Warning! This is an experiment.

The NY Times recently published a recipe by Sam Sifton for Picadillo which he calls the ultimate Cuban comfort food.  Picadillo is a sort of sloppy-Joe kind of stew made from ground meat (picadillo means mince), tomatoes, raisins, olives and liberally seasoned with cinnamon, cumin and other warm spices.  To my taste, it sounds like a Persian inflected dish (who often combine meat, fruit and spices) via Spain (remember, that Arabs held sway in the Iberian peninsula for nearly 700 years).  Mr. Sifton suggests serving it with rice.  OK, but I couldn’t quite get my head around picadillo as a stew.

Recently Jeanne made spinach enchiladas which were quite tasty.  Her enchiladas prompted me to think of picadillo as a stand in for the filling of an enchilada-like presentation.  Of course, I couldn’t follow the typical enchilada routine by covering the filled tortillas with a tomato and chili sauce as the picadillo has plenty of tomatoes in it already.  So, why not invert the order of things?  Enchiladas often have cheese in the filling so why not put the cheese on the outside.  But I didn’t want to just bury the tortillas in shredded cheese.  How about something creamier?  I’ve got it – Alfredo sauce!  I know, it’s not Cuban.  It’s not even Latino.  But it creamy cheesy good.  And you can buy it in a jar, ready to go.

For the picadillo I followed the NY Times recipe to a “T”, just cutting it in half to accommodate our more limited table (and so as to not have too much left over in case my experiment was a bust).

Ingredients.1

Ingredients (see NY Times recipe for complete list)

Minced garlic, diced Chorizo and chopped onion

Minced garlic, diced chorizo and chopped onion

Beef, tomatoes, onions, chorizo, garlic and seasonings saute away

Beef, tomatoes, onions, chorizo, garlic, raisins, olives and seasonings saute away

Fill tortillas with a geneous 1/4 cup of picadillo mixture

Fill tortillas with a geneous 1/4 cup of picadillo mixture

Put rolled, filled tortillas in a baking dish with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce underneath and a generous layer over the top

Put rolled, filled tortillas in a baking dish with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce underneath and a generous layer over the top

Sprinkle a light layer of grated cheese (I used a Mexican blend but cheddar would be fine).  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350˚ F. for about 30 minutes or untll the Alfredo sauce is bubbly and lightly browned.

Not pretty but pretty tasty. A little garnish would have been in order but I forgot to take this picture until I was on my second Picadillo Alfredo.

Not pretty but pretty tasty. A little garnish would have been in order but I forgot to take this picture until I was on my second Picadillo Alfredo.

Not much to look at but pretty yummy.  I think the picadillo mixture could serve other purposes – maybe an Cuban sloppy-joe?

Oysters on Chuckanut

view3Oysters on Chuckanut?  Is that a variation on the famous hors-d’oeuvre, Angels on Horseback?  Or, maybe some obscure British pub savory like Toad in the Hole.  Or, possibly a dessert even more obscure than Spotted Dick?

More precisely, it’s The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive in Bow, Washington where we had more great food, more great views and more time with friends. But first, a bit about The Oyster Bar because I did a little homework.

During the Great Depression, the Rockpoint Oyster Company built an oyster shack between a cliff and Washington State’s first scenic highway, Chuckanut Drive. Here, oysters were sold by the plant manager, Mr. Maekawa, to the travelers that passed by. The little stand did so well a lunch counter was added and the Rockpoint Oyster Restaurant was born. But Maekawa’s family was interned during World War II and the restaurant sat empty from 1942-1946.

When Otto Amos bought the restaurant in 1946 his wife renamed it the Oyster Bar and they coined the slogan “The oysters that we serve today slept last night in Samish Bay.” The menu consisted of deep fried oysters and a ham dish. It was sold in 1954, major renovations were made, and the menu now included prawns, scallops, fish and chips and clam chowder.oldoyster barSince 1970 it has been bought and sold a couple of times and given a makeover in structure, the menu and the wine selections.

The Oyster Bar (2015)

The Oyster Bar (2015)

We were introduced to The Oyster Bar about 5 years ago when we were visiting our friends, Pam and Kenn, in Bellingham. As an afternoon diversion with our Green Bay foodie friends, Barb and Micheal, they suggested that we take a drive down Chuckanut Drive and have lunch at The Oyster Bar.  Well, the drive was spectacular, in part because of the view of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands; in part, because of the breath-taking, sometimes white knuckle, curving road; and, in part, because of the precipitous, densely forested rise on the inland side and an equally precipitous and attention getting drop-off on the Bay side of the road.  About halfway between Fairhaven and Bow, The Oyster Bar is delicately perched on a steep cliff at a wide spot in the road with barely enough room to park a car between the roadway and the restaurant.

On this trip, because it is one of her favorite restaurants, Pam made reservations for all of us to go there for dinner. Once inside the restaurant you feel like you’re dining in a tree house because the view out the windows is nothing but trees and bay.  Here is a peek of the view from our table, that’s our friend Kenn in the corner enjoying the evening.

View from The Oyster Bar

View from The Oyster Bar

Once we pulled ourselves away from the view, we concentrated on the menu. Our waiter was very knowledgeable and steered us to a nice German Reisling to start things off. Not to dry, not too sweet. Something for every taste at the table.

A German Reisling

This was followed by appetizers all around.

row 1: crab cakes, gravlax row 2: raw oysters, mixed seasonal greens

row 1: crab cakes, gravlax
row 2: raw oysters, mixed seasonal greens

Curt, of course, had the oysters which he thoroughly enjoyed.  The high point of the oyster presentation was that little cup of a hard cider mignonette granita.  It was so refreshing and unexpected that, even though he normally takes his shellfish au naturale, he actually added some of the mignonette to his oysters this time.  I thought the salad, a combination of greens, toasted walnuts, blue cheese, red onions, gala apples, red grapes and a maple cider viniagrette, was fabulous. The gravlax disappointed. The salmon was very good but there was just too much goat cheese which overpowered the fish and most of which went uneaten. More on the crab cakes later.

After much laughter and talk and more wine being ordering, our entrees arrived. First up, Fresh Alaskan Halibut.

Halibut

Halibut

Pam and Barbara ordered this dish and found it delicate and perfectly cooked. The braised rhubarb and rosemary gastrique on top was a special addition. Going around the table, Kenn was next with Steak and Maine Lobster Tail.

Surf & Turf a la The Oyster Bar

Surf & Turf a la The Oyster Bar

I thought the presentation was interesting. This little tower didn’t last long once Kenn started to eat. I am not sure of the topping. From the picture it looks like pine nuts and maybe onion?

Michael ordered the special, Rockfish.

Rockfish

Rockfish

He described it as a very firm fleshed fish. As you can see by this picture and others, the vegetable of the evening was small new potatoes, steamed carrot, brussel sprouts and squash. Each entree also came with a starter of watermelon sorbet and a cheese souffle, see it up there above the rockfish?

Curt was next with, what else…the Fresh Local Oyster Fry!fried oysters?Not as pretty as the other dishes but he said they were great. They had a crispy parmesan breadcrumb crust and the dipping sauce was a creamy sour apple aoili.

Lastly, I had the Oyster Bar Crab Cakes ( from the entree menu). crabcakesPretty much the same as the appetizer, but a little bigger: Dungeness crab, Jonah crab, celery and onion cakes with a mango chutney. The chutney was a nice sweet addition along with the curried aoili.  And of course the vegetables of the day.

So if you are in Washington State, up near Bellingham, and someone says, “Let’s have oysters on Chuckanut”, run, don’t walk, to The Oyster Bar. Make sure you have good friends with you.

Uncovering a Hidden Gem: The Creamery

We think we have found a gem.  A little cafe that is becoming a favorite.  A restaurant that offers a limited but interesting, even ambitious, menu.

The local restaurant I refer to is The Creamery, a breakfast/lunch only cafe, which is kind of hidden in the outskirts of De Pere, Wisconsin.

The Creamery, 2200 Dickinson Rd., DePere, WI 54115

The Creamery, 2200 Dickinson Rd., De Pere, WI 54115

I originally discovered it from the restaurant column in our local newspaper. It sounded interesting and since I had a doctor’s appointment one morning, very nearby, I thought I would drop in for breakfast. Inside I found about 4 -5 tables for four, a row of small tables for two in mini-booth like seating and a counter. Above the counter on the back wall was a blackboard with the special of the day and other information.insidecreamThe menu has an interesting combination of breakfast and lunch offerings but no restrictions on when you order either one. There is also a nice list of coffees and teas. I ordered a BPFT, Bread Pudding French Toast. It came with toasted hazelnut cream and organic honey.  It was very different and really good but since this was my first visit I wasn’t thinking of blogging so sorry, no picture.  But I came back with Curt for lunch twice and then twice again with friends. Finally on the 2nd visit with our friends I took pictures and here are some of the highlights. We arrived around 10:30 am so it was a brunch for us. Michael had the special called Saddle Up. They do have some cute titles for a few of their dishes like Mac Daddy Cheese and Kluckin’ Russian. However the Saddle Up wasn’t cute at all, it was quite fine.

Saddle Up

Saddle Up

Served in a cast iron frying pan, it was composed of lamb chops (choice of one or two), asparagus, an egg cooked to your choice, Oregon herb toast and a side salad of spinach, tomato and red onion. A vinaigrette dressing on the side. Michael cleaned his plate.

Barbara chose the Potato Omelet: prosciutto, Swiss, Parmesan, hash browns and whole wheat toast. It was huge, beautiful and enough for two. The hash browns were wrapped around the eggs with the cheese inside. If you want to share, this is the perfect dish or, take half home for your dinner. Barbara had to get a carry-out container.

Potato Omelet

Potato Omelet

I had the Blueberry Blintzes (filled with ricotta and topped with blueberries and blueberry syrup). Three were one too many for me (however I ate all three) and they were good but not as good as the Bread Pudding French Toast I had the first time.These would make a delightful dessert.

Blueberry Blintzes

Blueberry Blintzes

Curt has a few favorites but the restaurant rotates new items in and retires ones that maybe aren’t selling well or are very seasonal. His favorites seem to be the ones rotated out so since one of his favs was not available he went with a new choice, Pomme Frites Carne. I’ll let him tell you about it.

Pomme Frites Carne

Pomme Frites Carne

I have to admit that when my order arrived, I was a bit disappointed.  I had miss-read the menu and did not realize I would get french fries – yes, I know what pomme frites are, but I had something else in my head given that the menu description says julienned potatoes. And, frankly, the carne part looked a bit like dog’s lunch.  It’s actually chunks of bulk sausage and bacon in a “creamy gravy”.  Again, the description didn’t quite match the plate.  But, and here’s the best part,

IT WAS ALL DELICIOUS!

The fries were great.  The spinach was an unexpected but very welcome addition.  The pale looking glop of meat and gravy was actually generous chunks of savory sausage and nice sized pieces of Nueske’s bacon in a cream sauce. Based on appearance I had expected something more like the pasty Southern-style gravy usually served with sausage and biscuits but this was a much lighter and tastier true cream sauce. Yummy!

Will we return? Definitely. The owners have announced that they will be opening another location in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin which will also have dinner selections. We can’t wait.

Eating while Katy Perry Sings

wings2Well yesterday was the big game, the whole enchilada, the big Lebowski….yes, the Superbowl. Up here in Green Bay, we weren’t too excited about the actual game. How could we choose between the evil empire from New England or the ospreys from Seattle (who, by the way, beat our team in the playoffs)?  But the Superbowl is also a big reason to eat some good food and we didn’t want to skip that part of the day. So we reminded ourselves that the Superbowl wasn’t just a game, it had, hopefully, new and interesting commercials and a musical halftime, which turned out to be worthy of the opening of the Olympics. Certainly enough entertainment to eat along with.

We started early with a fine lunch. There was leftover chicken from Saturday so after making some broth from the carcass Curt put together a couple of bowls of noodle soup.

Noodle soup a la Curt

Noodle soup a la Curt

Chinese egg noodles, green onions, chicken, radishes, cilantro sprouts and a dollop of fermented soybean paste on the top. It was great. So let’s call this our nod to the West coast team. This looks more like a Seattle dish than a Boston dish.

About two hours after lunch was done chili preparation commenced.

chilispMeat needed to be cut up and spices gathered: cumin, ancho chili pepper, paprika, Mexican oregano, cayenne pepper, guajillo. Once all of those ingredients and the beans and the onions were in the pot it was time for the chicken wings. We have a deep fryer but frankly it is kind of a mess and a big deal to use it for just two people. Also the less deep fat frying in our diet, the better. These wings were oven baked.

Wings right out of the oven

Wings right out of the oven

A day ahead, they were prepped. For every pound of wings mix together 3/4 tsp of baking powder and 3/4 tsp of salt. Put the wings into this dry mix and toss till they are thoroughly coated. Lay them on a rack on a cookie sheet, uncovered, and refrigerate overnight.  To get a crispy skin you want the wing’s skin to dry out.

About an hour before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Bake the wings for 20 minutes.

Turn the wings and bake for an additional 15 – 25 minutes depending on the size of the wings.

Take out and toss with your favorite coating. We divided ours in half. Half plain, half coated with a mixture of Kikkoman Thai Chili Paste, vinegar, Major Grey’s Chutney and Frank’s Original hot cayenne pepper sauce.

These turned out great and around 5:30pm they were ready. Oh yes, and kickoff happened at 5:30pm too. While the game proceeded we filled up our plates, then sat down to eat during the first bunch of commercials. The Brady Bunch/Snickers ad was the best of that group. Back to football…time to get more wings and wine. This was the pattern till all the wings were gone.

Around halftime Curt heated up the chili that was prepared earlier. This would be our nod to Boston. While Katy Perry rode in on a tiger puppet we filled our bowls, topped them with a tablespoon of sour cream and added a corn cookie on the side. By the time Katy was in her beach togs dancing with sharks we were ready to eat. chiliAfter chili we watched some football till the next episode of Downton Abbey started on another channel. Bye football. Mellowing out with another glass of wine (Curt had a beer), we watched our favorite English upper class family. Once it was done we even had time to see the final interception of the big game. Yes, the evil empire won but seeing the shocked expressions on the osprey’s faces made it all worth it.

Au Port du Salut

I am taking you back to Paris today. Frankly I haven’t talked enough about food so the next couple of posts are going to make you want to book the next flight to France and start eating as soon as you get off the plane.

On Sunday, May 18, after attending mass at Notre Dame (of the six of us, two are lapsed Catholics, the others are not Catholic or non-church goers but we went because it was advertised as a Gregorian chanted mass), we decided to stroll over to the Pantheon and then on to the Luxembourg Gardens. On the way we figured we would stumble upon a sandwich shop for lunch. Events turned out much better than we ever imagined. At first, it seemed that Sunday afternoon and sandwich shops or cafes wasn’t going to happen. Or maybe it was just the streets we were choosing but nothing looked open or appealing. We passed a place called Au Port du Salut that had six seats outside but it looked a bit fancy for our purposes so we continued to walk.  After passing on several others less interesting establishments, Au Port du Salut (Port of Salvation) started to look like our port for lunch so back we went.

au Port du Salut

Au Port du Salut

There were a few people eating outside and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. But, the six seats outside were now taken.  Inside we go where we were seated at a long table with a banquette on one side and chairs on the other. Some excellent jazz was playing in the background and as we looked around we noticed a definite jazz theme with signed photographs of musicians and artists and entertainers on the walls.port-du-salutOur waiter brought us menus and we started by ordering wine for the guys and Kir for the ladies. Kir is a white wine with an added liqueur. I had apricot, Barbara’s was peach and Patricia got the classic with creme de cassis. Very refreshing.

center: Kir au cassis

center: Kir au cassis

As is the custom, it was a long time between drinks and ordering food and the arrival of food. But the French are a casual lot and we didn’t have to be anywhere so why the hurrry? Choices of entree (appetizer), plat (main dish) and dessert are on the menu. And you can order ala carte or choose from the various du jour combinations that comprise the specials of the day. This being lunch, we weren’t prepared for a huge meal, so three had the entree, a broiled mackerel, and everyone had a plat. Curt said he was happy to try the mackeral but he wouldn’t go out of his way for it a second time.

For the main plat, I had the pork with potatoes. The pork was perfectly roasted and the potato wedges with an aoilli sauce were firm on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside. I think I licked my plate clean.pork and potatoesTwo of our party had the Vegetarian plate. Once again, an unexpected delight. First of all the presentation was wonderful, secondly, the vegetables were a mixture of white and wild asparagus, eggplant and spinach. Yes that golden strip on the top of the plate is a grilled white asparagus spear.

asparagus port salutCurt ordered the cod. This came on a bed of sauted greens with white asparagus on top. On the side was shot glass of Hollandaise sauce that was downright sinful.

cod white asparagusWith more wine and a basket of french bread we must have spent two hours there just enjoying the food and the atmosphere.

Now here’s the kicker! After returning home we looked up the Au Port du Salut, just because all the photos and Dave Brubeck in the background made us think there was more here than met the eye.

We discovered that this building was an inn originally built in the 15th C. and renovated in the 18th C. It was a popular cabaret and jazz club between 1955 and 1982. Many French artists, actors and musicians debuted here. It has been designated a Historical Monument because of its early beginnings. They still have live music here in the evenings and their menu is based on what is market fresh. Truly an amazing find.

Dinner is almost served

Two days plus change till guests arrive for our turn to cook dinner for the Foodie Group. We’ve been testing recipes, buying cookbooks, debating side dishes and appetizers and now it’s the home stretch. I thought things were pretty settled till my Sweetie, the main chef of this duo, questioned the starch side to the main entrée’. I should have expected this because he inevitably second guesses the menu and then we have to discuss the merits of the chosen dish over the merits of the suggested replacement. Rice dish versus potato dish, ended up with, I think, a compromise of a seasoned rice but he may call an audible on Thursday. In which case I will be panicking, thinking that everything is going to taste and look the same. But I think he’s convinced, for now.

Our overall cuisine choice was settled on when Curt discovered Yotam Ottolenghi and his cookbooks, Jerusalem and Plenty, which he co-authored with Sami Tamimi. (see post from 1/15/2014) “Ottolenghi’s cooking style is rooted in, but not confined to, his Middle Eastern upbringing: ‘a distinctive mix of Middle Eastern flavours – Syrian, Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian, Israeli and Armenian – with a western twist’. His “particular skill is in marrying the food of his native Israel with a wider range of incredible textures and flavours from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia.” He now lives in London (he also has British and Italian roots) and we are from the US with roots in Germany so once we combine all that, dinner may resemble this map from 1581.

Stylized world map by Henry Bunting, 1581

Stylized world map by Henry Bunting, 1581

It’s not a food map but it could be interpreted to read as a confluence of cuisines centered in Jerusalem. Okay, okay, too romantic or esoteric for you? It’s a cool map and we used it on our invitations.

So like I said, cookbooks have been consulted. Lists made.

ckbk

This veggie dish is on the menu

Shopping will be completed tomorrow.

I hope we can get watercress in the middle of February.

I hope we can get watercress in the middle of February.

Tableware, decorations and napkins have been selected. Hey, you thought this was just dinner? Our foodies all try to create not only good food but a special atmosphere. And it gives us a chance to use some dishware and linens that normally would be stashed somewhere till a holiday might require their presence.

Red tablecloth/blue napkins

Red tablecloth/blue napkins

I have already done some cleaning but soon the madness will begin and God help you if you get in the way of Chef Curt once his plan of action is in place. I will have to insert myself into the kitchen at some point since I am the dessert woman for the evening and it is one I have never tried. I think I have some emergency gelato in the freezer in case of failure.

So, ready, set……oh crap!  The “Chef” is wondering is we have enough appetizers. Excuse me while I go slap him.

Jo-o-o-o-ok, glorious jook

Jook, glorious jook,
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day,
Our favorite diet.
– from “Oliver, the Musical”
(with apologies to Lionel Bart)

Jook, detail

A phrase my friends have heard me utter more than once is, “I’d eat that for breakfast”. It usually is in reference to things most people wouldn’t think once, let alone twice, about eating for breakfast.

I like savory over sweet. For breakfast, I like things that have some complexity, texture and assertive flavors. I also like leftovers – cold pizza, cold fish fry, cold stir fry – you get the idea.

Jook (also called congee) is an Asian rice gruel that I love for breakfast. I know it mostly from Chinese cuisine but it appears in various forms throughout most of Asia and Southeast Asia. It manages to cover all my bases. It uses leftover rice, usually from last evening’s dinner. It accommodates additions of many other leftovers or orphan items too small to be turned into something more major, like dinner, but that are welcome in the jook pool.

Jook for breakfast

Jook for breakfast

Jook

1 C. cooked rice, cold leftovers are fine
2 C. chicken broth or water
1 piece fresh ginger the size of a quarter
2 mushrooms, any kind but shiitake are the meatiest
2 scallions, including the greens, cut in the bias into 1/2″ lengths
1/4 C. kimchi, drained and coarsely chopped
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 Tbs. soy sauce or oyster sauce
2 Tbs. cilantro leaves
1 Tbs. peanuts
1 egg, raw or hard boiled
Black pepper
Country style bread, toasted or fried in olive oil

Put the rice, broth and ginger slice into a sauce pan and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the individual rice grains “explode”.  Add the mushrooms, scallion, kimchi, vinegar and soy or oyster sauce.  Continue cooking another 10 minutes.  Add the raw egg, stir gently to break it up a bit and continue cooking until the egg is set.  If using hard boiled egg add it to the top of the Jook just before serving.  Add the cilantro, peanuts, a few grindings of black pepper and serve immediately with a few slices of a country style bread, toasted or fried in olive oil.

Extras:  Small amounts of leftover cooked vegetables, some shredded lettuce or some meat picked from a roast or leftover fish would certainly be welcome in jook, in which case you could leave out the egg.  If you have access to Chinese preserved duck eggs, they would be an authentic addition.

On our trip to China, I was in heaven. Each hotel had a Congee (Jook) counter with all the fixin’s.  I don’t think they used the leftovers from the previous day’s dinner but you never know.  The better (more Western) hotels had more than one kind of jook; plain and red bean (the same as plain with a few small red beans added) were the most common.  The “fixin’s” were interesting; always a chili paste or oil, several selections of pickled some or another vegetable (burdock was my favorite – weirdly soft and crunchy at the same time), some form of fermented soybeans, sometimes green onions and peanuts, and often some inscrutable but tasty extra.

Three tureens of Jook

Three tureens of Jook

The fixins'

The fixin’s

Now, I’d eat that for breakfast!  And I do.

What do the Chinese call Chinese food?

We recently returned from a two week, organized tour of China.  The cultural icons, Bejing, Xian (the terra cotta army), Guilin, Chongqin, a short cruise on the Li river and a longer cruise on the Yang-tse river and lastly, Shanghai.  Before, during and after our trip, friends, knowing our interest in food, asked about what exotic, luxurious or funky foods we would/are/had eaten.  The truth be told, most of the food on the trip was OK but not exotic, not luxurious and mostly not funky.

RestSign

Healthy, Tasty, Happy and Secure.  What more could you ask for?

What dictated most of our food experiences was the necessity of feeding 27 people in short order and on a budget.  Imagine that you were responsible for feeding 27 mostly retired people, from widely different backgrounds, three times a day, on a budget.  Where would you take them?  Not some cute little bistro.  Not some funky roadside eatery.  Not some haute cuisine, white table cloth restaurant.  You’d probably end up in a place equipped and practiced at feeding people en masse.

Without fail, when we arrived wherever we’d be having lunch or dinner (breakfast was always a buffet at the hotel we were staying at – more about breakfast in another post) we’d be ushered to three large round tables each with seating for 9.

Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan

In the center would be a large (3-4 feet in diameter) glass Lazy Susan.

A typical place setting, although indistinguishable from that of any other restaurant we ate at

A typical place setting, although indistinguishable from that of any other restaurant we ate at.

The places would be set with a small plate (what we’d probably call a side plate in the US), a small bowl (think of something suitable for ice cream or fruit salad), a porcelain Chinese-style spoon, a china tea-cup, a small (6  to 8 oz. or so) glass and a pair of chop sticks.  There might be a fork in deference to our assumed Western clumsiness with chop sticks, or not.  Napkins would be in a single package similar to those packages of Kleenex you might carry in a purse.  The napkins were small and thin.

One of the wait staff would appear and ask if you wanted water, soda (usually Sprite but sometimes cola) or beer.  You would only get one glass of beer with the meal – additional beer would cost 21 yuan (about $3.50) for a 600 ml bottle.

Then the food would start to appear.  The waitress would deliver a plate of something and place it on the Lazy Susan.  Shortly another dish or maybe two would appear.  There would be little ceremony or announcement – the plates would just be placed on the turn table.

Rice Noodles with Pork

Rice Noodles with Pork (the small pile of shred on top of the noodles).  Often the meat was a seasoning rather than the main event.

There were rarely serving spoons.  Mostly we used the china spoon from our place setting to serve ourselves.  Eventually we would end up with 8 – 11 different dishes on the Lazy Susan.  Somewhere in the sequence, usually 3 or 4 dishes into the meal, a large bowl of soup (with or without a ladle) would appear.  Somewhere in the sequence a large bowl of rice would appear (with a serving utensil).  Sometimes the rice came early in the sequence.  At least once it came very near the end.  Eventually, without fail, a plate of watermelon slices would be presented, signaling the arrival of “dessert” and the end of the meal.  By this time there were more dishes on the Lazy Susan than there was room to accommodate them without piling them on each other.

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From a Peking Duck dinner.  Stacked plates to make room for more dishes.  Dishes include (clockwise from L to R) Scrambled Eggs with Broccoli, Fried Potato slices with a sprinkling of sugar, Rice Noodles with Pork, Rice, White Fungus Soup, Watermelon (behind teapot), Tea, Braised Turnips, Cucumber and Scallions (garnish for Duck), Hoisin Sauce (for Duck) Chicken and Vegetables, Beef and Vegetables, Peking Duck (slices).

And what was on these dishes? There was always some chicken stir fried with some vegetable.  There was often  some beef and/or pork dish.  Sometimes the dish was generously meaty.  Sometimes the meat was a seasoning for the vegetables that made up the bulk of the dish. Sometimes there was a shrimp dish. Tofu appeared at almost every meal, sometimes in multiple forms.  There were always some ostensibly vegetarian dish.  The soups tended to be light broths with something floating in the broth – they were always fairly simple and had a minimum of ingredients.  With the exception of a Peking Duck dinner, no dish had a name or at least not one we’d recognize from a Chinese/American restaurant menu.  They might have had names that placed them inside of some standard Chinese culinary structure but we never heard them.  Very few ingredients were identified.  Some could be divined from their appearance or taste but some were mysteries.  Asking our guide, Zhang, would usually reveal that the little football-shaped things were turnips or the beige sheets were bean curd skins.  Occasionally the answer would be “I don’t know”.  At one meal which featured 18 different kinds of dumplings at least 4 were identified by the waitress as pork, one as ham, one as fish, one as shrimp, one as chicken and one as vegetable but no description beyond the main protein ingredient.  The others are lost to memory or weren’t identified.

For at least two meals we went to a “Wedding Center”.  It makes sense.  A wedding center can accommodate large groups at one sitting.  Wherever we ate, wedding center or restaurant, the establishment was able to accommodate our group without pushing tables together.  They were equipped and ready to seat us in large groups.  Actually, that’s the way most of the Chinese eating in those same restaurants ate.  I don’t think I ever saw a table with just two people.  It was always groups of at least 5 or 6 and they often included children.  Again, it makes sense.  The Chinese restaurant isn’t set up to serve individual portions and the Chinese people, from what we saw, eat family style.  There are no “courses” in the Western format of salad, soup, entrée and dessert.  The “dishes” seem to appear as they are finished in the kitchen and which everyone eats from communally.

Was what we ate authentic?  Yes, I guess so, in the way a Wisconsin church-hall wedding reception of broasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread dressing with poultry seasoning and white sheet cake is authentic American.  What we ate, for the most part, represented a narrow slice of Chinese cuisine.  Was it the best of Chinese cuisine?  No, but it wasn’t presented in that way.  It was food – lunch or dinner – quickly served to hungry people on the move.  The food was always filling and tasty and there was always more than we could eat – not to say we didn’t finish one or two of the dishes while barely touching others.

All that being said, there were some noteworthy dishes amongst the sameness of the meals which I’ll visit in another post.

In answer to my earlier questions –

What do the Chinese call Chinese food?  I think they call it food.

Was it what I expected?  Yes, No, Not really.  With a few exceptions, it seemed kind of generic.

Was it authentic?  Yes.  I saw Chinese people eating it every day.

The watermelon has arrived.  The meal must be over.

The watermelon has arrived. The meal must be over.

Why did the Imam faint?

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a variety of eggplant

Imam Bayildi is a famous Turkish dish that translates into English as “the Imam swooned” or more commonly as “the Imam fainted”.  But why did he faint?

The most common explanation for the Imam’s vapors is that he fainted when he heard how much expensive olive oil his wive had used in the dish.

An alternate story has the Imam’s wife coming with a dowry of 12 jars of olive oil.  As a new wife, she wanted to impress and please her husband and so used an entire jar of oil in preparing her first meal for him.  He was so pleased that he demanded that she cook like that every evening.  After twelve days, however, she had used all of her dowry and so on the thirteenth day the Imam fainted when she told him that she was out of oil.

In my version of the dish, I think the Imam would find a rather parsimonious use of olive oil; rather, he might have fainted over the liberties I have taken with the dish named in his honor.

In casting about the internet I found that most versions of this dish are pretty tame, merely eggplants stuffed with a modest stew of onions, garlic and tomatoes (some have little or nothing else).  Probably tasty enough but not very adventuresome or complex.   Some versions include meat; either minced lamb or beef.  Some versions include a bit of herb or spice but again, often quite modestly.  In my mind though food of the Middle East, particularly that of Turkey or Iran, should be richly spiced, complex, with a balance of sweet and tart flavors.  The best sounding version I found was at azélia’s kitchen, a food blog by a Portuguese/British woman who is also working on a book about sourdough baking.  What I liked about her version of Imam Bayildi was her decision to add allspice just because she thought allspice is an underused spice.

My version follows Azélia’s fairly closely but with some diversions of my own including some basil to add an herbaceous note, more spices to add warmth and zip, some pomegranate molasses for a richer sweetness and some lemon juice for balance.  I’ll refer you to her excellent post which includes great detailed photos of the entire process and just simply list my ingredients here.  Photos included here are of my version.

A plate of Imam Bayildi

Imam Bayildi

Imam Bayildi 

(adapted from azélia’s kitchen)

2 medium eggplant, calyx trimmed, cut in half length-wise
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 pound ground lamb or beef
6 -7 small ripe tomatoes or equivalent in larger tomatoes (about equal to one 14 oz. can)
1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. red wine
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seed
1/4 tsp. Vietnamese cinnamon
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
1 Tbs. Heinz Chili sauce or good quality ketchup
1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
Parsley for garnish

Hollow out the eggplant halves, reserve the eggplant pulp for the stuffing.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.  Salt the onion and saute in 3 Tbs. olive oil until softened.  Add the garlic and cumin seed and saute for a few more minutes.  Add the allspice, cinnamon, basil, Aleppo pepper, black pepper, reserved eggplant pulp, chili sauce and pomegranate molasses.  Saute until the eggplant starts to soften and add the ground lamb.  Continue sauteing until the meat loses its pink color; reduce heat and continue cooking until the mixture will mound up in a spoon.  Watch carefully and stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Mix 1/2 C. of the stuffing with an equal amount of water and cover the bottom of a baking dish just large enough to hold the eggplant halves.  Fill each eggplant half with 1/4 of the stuffing mix, mounding slightly.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Add 1/4 red wine to the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil;  bake an additional 30 minutes or until the eggplant halves are tender.

Garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve hot/warm as an entree for two or at room temperature as a first course.

Thank Azélia as you eat and try to keep from fainting.