Archive for ‘salad’

October 11th, 2011

Reasons to eat salad (not a lecture to eat healthy)

Eating salad isn’t always about health.  Actually, to be honest, sometimes it’s about the complete opposite of health.  No, I’m not talking about one of those ‘salads‘ loaded with cheese and bacon masquerading as health food…After a nice lunch at our new favorite cafe, Natas Pastries, we brought home this delectable dessert.  It has a really nice flaky shortbread-like crust with a tasty custard AND whipped cream inside.  You’d think from looking at it, that it would be on the sweet side, but it wasn’t overly sugared at all and its big plus: it tasted fresh!  Have you ever noticed that some pastry shops have great looking stuff, but after one bite, all you taste is the refrigerator that it was stored in?  That’s one of my biggest pet peeves, and sadly, there’s almost no way to predict its occurrence when trying a new place.  When my husband first surprised me with something sweet from Nata’s, I was worried about the potential for ‘fridge contamination’.  After my first bite, I didn’t care that I was wrong…all I could concentrate on was, ‘mmmmmmm’.  Somehow, the pastries at Natas’ always taste as if they were just made an hour ago.  It’s some sort of restaurant ‘magic’ that they can consistently produce that fresh taste, considering that Nata’s is a small cafe with a large pastry case!  Could you pass a place like that without picking up a couple of treats?  If you can, you’re better than I am!

When you know you’re going to eat sweets, you have to plan ahead.  So, I ordered Delicias do Mar, a seafood salad for lunch.  I consider this ‘spending calories consciously’.  Save a few by eating a salad, and then you can splurge those savings on dessert! The Delicias do Mar salad comes with big shrimp and includes crab salad.  Unfortunately, the “Crab” in “Crab salad” should have been spelled “Krab”, but the big shrimp and fresh and crispy romaine lettuce made up for it.

My second reason for ordering a salad?  If I save my calories, I can also splurge on sampling my husband’s typically heartier selection.  I’m not alone on this, as I know women around the world fool themselves into thinking they’re eating healthy by ordering salad and then stealing half their dinner companion’s fries.  Men probably fear hearing “Can I have a fry?” as much as they dread a conversation that begins with, “We need to talk.” On this day, my husband too, lost his manly battle as the French panini with brie and caramelized onions just looked too good to resist.  My husband actually lost two battles that day, as my ‘taste’ of his sandwich, that I’m now obsessed with, turned out to be half of his portion, AND, his chance to have the favor returned by sharing my dish was canceled out by the fact that he hates seafood.  Sounds like I planned it out in advance, doesn’t it?  Shhhh…maybe he won’t figure it out!

 

August 2nd, 2011

Breakfast

As long as I can remember, I’ve never been a morning person.  Don’t get me wrong, I have seen 6AM before, but usually because I’m still up from the night before. My husband is the complete opposite.  I’ve seen him go to bed before 9PM, and like clockwork, he’ll wake up at 4:30AM and hit the gym before work.  Before I even realize it, it’s 7AM, and he’s done with breakfast and enjoying his third cup of coffee before he’s out the door.  One of his biggest complaints though, is having to rush out the door to work without having the chance to linger over his favorite meal, breakfast.  If he could, he’d probably eat eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, and every other breakfast classic, for lunch and dinner.  So when I got married, I had to make a few changes in not only my cooking style, but in my life style as well.

Americans, in general, seem to enjoy big breakfasts.  In fact, it’s pretty tough to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve some combination of eggs, toast, potatoes, and bacon.  Japan, though, is another story.  There, you’ll find pretty much everything BUT a decent breakfast place.  When I was little, other than the fancy hotels, the only place we could go for a Sunday brunch was Denny’s or McDonald’s.  I remember my father driving my brother and me to McDonald’s for a pancake and potato breakfast.  To me, that trip was a fun and delicious treat!  These days, it takes a lot for me to go to McDonald’s, like an 8 hour layover in an airport, for example, but I do still adore the idea of going out for breakfast (providing it’s NOT 6AM).  There’s just something luxurious about sitting at an outside table in the shade, enjoying the crispness of the morning while someone brings you cup after cup of coffee.  It’s always fun to watch my husband read the menu for twenty minutes, only to order the same egg plate every time.  The only impact I’ve had on his favorite meal, was to suggest that he order his eggs poached, so he can save some of his grease and oil allotment for the day for the bacon and potatoes.  Being new to ‘breakfast culture,’ I must look strange as I ask the waitress what kind of salad they serve, but you would understand if you’ve ever had breakfast in Japan.

If eggs and pancakes are typical American breakfast fare, what makes up a typical Japanese breakfast?  If you walk into a Tokyo Denny’s, you’re bound to see this on
the sample menu: Thick toast, an egg and salad.  What’s the catch?  That’s the Western style breakfast.  For some reason, they didn’t get the memo that Westerners don’t typically eat salad for breakfast, (unless you count the sprig of parsley on the side, as salad).  But things are different in Japan.  I never thought it was peculiar until my husband pointed it out. Another oddity to him was having soup with breakfast.  His argument was that breakfast should lay a foundation in your stomach for the day, and watery soup is no kind of foundation.  Of course, he says this as he downs his fifth coffee refill.  When I say soup, though, most Americans picture chicken noodle or clam chowder, but in Japan, we typically eat miso, which my husband jokingly refers to as ‘swamp water’.  Besides swamp water, I remember my brother fueling up for the day with the same cup of corn soup each day.

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One of our favorite breakfast places around L.A. is Alcove.  The last time we were there, I took advantage of their ‘anything on the menu, any time of the day’ policy and ordered a cobb salad, which shouldn’t seem too strange considering it does have bacon and eggs in it, right?  My husband, of course, stuck to his traditional choice with a side of pancakes.  That you are not limited to ‘breakfast food’ during breakfast hours makes the Alcove a perfect morning meal restaurant.

While I’m guessing that my Japanese friends won’t be joining me for a cobb salad in the morning, (for their tastes, it’s too big and too ‘blue cheesy’), I know for a fact, that they’d find pancakes, eggs and bacon on the same plate to be a little strange.  Why?  They’d watch in horror as the syrup from the pancakes oozes its way towards the savory bacon and eggs.  While they’ve mastered technology, they haven’t quite figured out a way to enjoy that odd flavor combination of sweet and savory.  I guess I won’t be inviting them over for turkey with cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving.

 

July 27th, 2011

Egg salad

The egg salad sandwich was my favorite lunch to take on a field trip when I was an elementary school student in Japan.  My mother had a special technique for creating this amazing meal.  She’d cut the crust off and freeze it the night before.  Why?  Because a kid walking around with mayo based food all morning would most likely result in a bad tummy all afternoon.  But a frozen egg salad sandwich in the morning, thaws out quite nicely by lunchtime.Egg salad sounds like a typical all-American food, but is it really? I’ve seen oeufs mayonaise, a simple appetizer of boiled egg with mayonnaise at many restaurants in Paris.  Also, considering that mayo was introduced to America by the French, it’s probably really a French dish…  By definition, my husband should love egg salad.  He loves eggs, sandwiches, and even Paris, (France, not Hilton) yet for some reason, the combination doesn’t work for him. His explanation?  “I like my eggs with runny yolks so I can scoop them up with bread.”  When I counter with, “But you like omelettes,” he brings cholesterol into the argument, stating, “If I’m already eating eggs, why should I make them even worse by adding mayonnaise?”  This leads us to the mayo discussion. If you ask him to elaborate on it, he’ll tell you it just tastes fatty and disgusting and that the only mayonnaise he’s ever enjoyed, came on the Burger King breaded chicken sandwich.  For all these reasons, he doesn’t want tuna salad, pasta salad or potato salad.  To me, it just sounds like a bunch of excuses, but having lived around his peculiar eating habits for a few years now, I guess it’s starting to make sense.  Besides, I enjoyed that Burger King chicken sandwich too.

My husband’s philosophy on mayonnaise suddenly changed when I introduced him to the Japanese mayonnaise, Kewpie.  Kewpie is to the Japanese household what Heinz ketchup is to the American household. It has a slightly sweeter and lighter taste than it’s American counterpart, and it comes in a plastic tube with a tiny opening so you won’t overuse it.  With a cute kewpie doll logo on the label, it’s aesthetically pleasing too.  Is it hard to find in the U.S.?  Much like anything else, these days, you can buy it through Amazon with a marked up price, or, if you’re more adventurous, you can go explore your local Asian grocer.  If there’s none in your area, I suggest venturing into that foreign food aisle at your local supermarket you usually skip, where they hide the the Asian food and kosher stuff.  Take it from me, once you try Kewpie on a BLT, you’ll wonder what the ‘miracle’ was in that ‘whip’ you used to eat.

Did the addition of Kewpie convert my husband into an egg salad eater?  Unfortunately, no.  If it’s offered, he’ll still say, what’s the point? To him, his love of the runny yolk is the whole reason to eat anything with eggs.  To illustrate the point, he’ll throw a perfectly good egg away if he breaks the yolk when preparing it over-easy.  To him, it’s like decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer.  Why ingest something that lacks the key ingredient that you enjoy?  Luckily, that same argument doesn’t hold true for tuna salad, which he now likes.  As for me, sometimes I miss those old days of field trips and delicious sandwiches, so every so often, I’ll make my own egg salad with chopped cucumbers, parsley, a bit of Kewpie and tiny bit of sea salt.  It’s great as a sandwich or with green salad.  But if you are feeling a bit adventurous, try it on warm rice with tiny bit of soy sauce and sriracha–It’s the poor man’s spicy tuna over rice…

PS: That delicious creamy taste you can’t quite identify at your favorite sushi joint–Kewpie!  Don’t tell them I told you.

PPS: I wonder if that Burger King chicken sandwich is as good as we remember?

July 21st, 2011

What makes “Asian” dish Asian?

Happy National Junk Food Day!  To celebrate this joyous occasion, let’s talk about McDonald’s.  The other day, on the way back from the gym, my husband lifted up his tired arm and pointed at a huge billboard ahead of us for McDonald’s new Asian salad.  His question, “What do you have to put in there before you can call it Asian?”My husband always jokes that he doesn’t like ‘Asian seasonings’.  He’s usually laughing when he says it, but we both know he’s serious.  He says there’s something in there that he can’t quite identify, but can always taste.  There are a few ingredients that I know for sure that he won’t like it.  The prime suspect is Japanese dashi, fish stock.  Add soy sauce, salt, and sugar to the fish stock, and it’ll make a great soup for udon and soba.  It’s also the base for miso soup.  I guess growing up with it, I never thought miso soup smelled, but apparently, according to my selective husband, it does.  Luckily, these dashi based dishes are mostly Japanese, and not that conventionally ‘Asian’, so it’s unlikely that the McDonald’s “Asian Salad” will contain dashi.  Of course we’d still have to buy the salad to find out, but before that, our fun guessing game began.

My husband guessed the Asian salad would contain edamame, a food he first tried at my grandmother’s house in Japan.  (Looking back, maybe we should have told him that you’re only supposed to eat the inside?)  When it was my turn to guess what McDonald’s thinks is ‘Asian’,  I chose canned Mandarin orange.  Why?  Just think back to every Chinese chicken salad you’ve ever eaten.  Aren’t Mandarin oranges always in there?

Were we right?  Well, I went to McDonald’s and placed my order.   I was impressed with the wide variety of Asian culture on display as the cashier presented me with two options: “grilled” or “crispy” chicken.  ‘Crispy’ being the code word for fried.

Being a fan of Asian culture, I ordered both.  Just like they served in ancient Tokyo, my salad came with a packet of Newman’s Own Low Fat Sesame dressing.  To add even more Asian-ness to the mix, a packet of sliced almonds was included.  The salad was much better than I expected, but basically it’s just orange or sesame chicken on a bed of green salad.

But to answer the big question: were our guesses right?  Yes! There were both edamame and mandarin orange slices in it.  Add ginger dressing and you may have that ‘Asian seasoning’ my husband is always complaining about.  I suspect these two items plus ginger dressing are the answer to my husband’s question.

With the mystery solved, only one question remains: would I order this again?  Actually…yes.  It was a pretty good deal for 270 calories. Tasty and filling (Crispy: 420 cal).  I guess my husband will just have to stick with his Happy Meal!

July 2nd, 2011

Wedge “salad”

Before we met, the vegetable intake in my husband life was limited to tiny bit of celery in the tuna salad he bought at Gelson’s supermarket along with the cabbage found drenched in mayonnaise in their creamy coleslaw (which is pretty good, by the way).  Vegetables played a much bigger role in my life, growing up in Japan, where vegetables most often referred to strange root vegetables.  Like every girl on the planet, I love salad, but I find my definition of what makes up a salad is much different than my American husband’s.  When I say ‘salad’, I’m referring to the dish made of actual vegetables, as opposed to the caloric concoctions that are labelled salad, but could feed a tiny village for a week.So does my husband really think his favorite salad, The “Wedge of iceberg lettuce” from Stefan’s L.A. Farm in Santa Monica is a health food?  Probably, as Stefan’s staff does give you a healthy amount of bacon and blue cheese.  How can you miss with mountains of crispy bacon and blue cheese crumbled on a bed of iceberg lettuce?   Crunchy and refreshing, and did I mention bacony?  Yes, my husband IS Jewish, but he has the utmost respect for the traditions and meat of all cultures.

One of the biggest shockers when I moved to the U.S. was seeing raw spinach being the basis for a salad.  We NEVER ate spinach raw in Japan.  Instead, the lettuce in a salad was usually iceberg.  At my parents’ house, the foundation of lettuce was usually topped with some kind of seafood or ham plus cucumbers, tomatoes, and asparagus or broccoli (never raw).  It’s probably not a surprise for you to hear that Japanese portions are smaller than those in America, with a regular Japanese salad being about a size of side salad here.  Now, from this frame of reference, imagine my joy and confusion when I saw Stefan’s iceberg wedge for the first time.  It’s huge.  Almost half a head of lettuce, and enough bacon to satisfy a lumberjack.  The lettuce is more like a garnish than anything resembling a salad.  On top of that, a creamy dressing.  But before you head for your cholesterol medicine, remember, it’s a salad, and by definition, salads are healthy, right?  Marketing genius!

I found an early Wedge Salad recipe from early 20th century, and through this research, I found out, unfortunately for my husband, that the ingredient that gives a wedge salad its identity is NOT the bacon.  It’s actually the creamy dressing with other toppings being optional–such as diced tomatoes, onions or some nuts and even a boiled egg.   The dressing must be blue cheese mainly roquefort.  But throw away the rulebook, because for us, bacon makes or breaks this salad.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask the poor waitress at a well known Hawaiian restaurant chain who had the nerve of bringing my husband a piece of lettuce sprinckled with Bacos, after the menu promised a wedge salad covered in crispy bacon.