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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ba Le Banh Mi in El Cerrito

I went up San Pablo Avenue to the El Cerrito Lighting store today to get bulbs. They were closed. But I salvaged the trip by swinging by Ba Le Banh Mi, which I had noticed on my trips up there before, but which had been heartily recommended by that meat-lovin' phool and all-around great guy, Biggles of MeatHenge. This is in the "Peppermint Tree" strip mall, on San Pablo, slightly north of Central Avenue (east side of the street).

I had the #9 (barbequed chicken) and #5 (meatball). Both were outstandingly tasty. (Indeed, so tasty that I pigged out on the second one after eating the first.) The chicken was spicy and the meatballs were like meatball crumbs flavored in Vietnamese style.

The genius of banh mi (which just means "sandwich") is the whole East-Meets-West flavor thing - a lot of the stuff is Vietnamese riff on French charcuterie, with a bunch of vietnamese veggies stuffed in the roll, which is a light french roll, and then given a shot of mayo.

It's good, and at this place, it's like about $2.25 a pop. Next time I'm getting only one sandwich, but I'm going to get one of their papaya salads to go with it, and maybe a Vietnamese coffee. Which I should have gotten because I needed a nap after two sammiches! I'll definitely be back when I'm in the area.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Shepherd's Pie for 120

On one of the hottest days of the month (this past Saturday).

With an absolutely minimal supply of volunteers - most people were wisely avoiding campus area on graduation days (hey, we charged $10 for "event parking" in the church garage for non-volunteers), and otherwise enjoying the lovely day.

We did it. Fortunately Shepherd's Pie is easy to put together, after you have peeled, boiled, and mashed 45# of potatoes, that is! I should take a picture of our potato mashing setup; a gentleman from the church made a monster masher and attached it to a broom handle for just this sort of volume cooking.

And if there is any breeze at all, it comes in through the kitchen windows on the second floor.

So, dinner was shepherd's pie (meat, tomatoes, onion, spices with potato topping), cooked snap peas (a food bank score), and salad. No garlic bread, as the Bread Workshop had given away all the bread by the time we got there because they hadn't gotten our message. But I didn't hear complaints.

If you are driving distance from Berkeley and can help us out on the afternoons of June 18, July 16, or August 20 (or, for that matter, any third Saturday of the month ... November (19) and December (17) might be light), let me know via email or comment and I'll give you further information. Plenty of things for non-cooks to do, so if you have some high schoolers looking for a public service project, we can put them to work.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Middle Eastern Chopped Salad

Since I plugged Ranee's hummus on this blog, I have learned that she has set up her own food blog, Tales from the Kitchen, so that her food posts don't take over her knitting-and-other-stuff blog.

I'm going to attempt pita bread from her recipe again soon (the first time turned out well, but it was a lot of work), but to go with the hummus (and, sadly, store-bought pita) for lunches/dinners this week, I made some of her Middle Eastern chopped salad (she calls it ME "salsa cruda"). This made a large dish worth, so I will be eating off it for most of the week and it is nice and light.

Middle Eastern Chopped Salad
from Ranee Mueller

1-2 regular cucumbers (peeled and seeded) or 1 small English cuke (peeled, seeding optional)
3-4 roma tomatoes
1 sweet bell pepper (I like yellow for color contrast but red is ok)
About 1/2 pound feta cheese
About 1/2 pound drained weight good quality pitted Kalamata olives
Chopped Italian parsley - at least 1/2 cup volume
Juice of one lemon

Chop veggies into usefully small bits (no larger than thumbnail is good) and toss in a bowl. Chop olives roughly and crumble cheese. Toss crumbled cheese, olives, and parsley in. Add salt/pepper/lemon to taste. If you hold this salad it will throw off liquid, but it keeps for a while in the fridge.

A great way to eat this is:

Open a pita
Load with salad
Spoon in some hummus on top of this


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Leila's Hummus

Well, after Leila's visit to L&C (just before she got in the paper for one of her non-foodie activities - whoohoo!), I had to make HER hummus when I finally started getting over the cold.

I appreciated its lemony freshness, although I probably could have done with one lemon because I was using one off my tree and it was huge.

Leila's Hummous
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas (garbanzos)
2 - 3 tablespoons tahini
2+ lemons, juiced and strained
2 - 3 cloves garlic, pressed or crushed (use fresh - no substitutes!)
Olive oil
Paprika for garnish
Olive for garnish

Drain the chickpeas, reserving some of the liquid. You may also reserve a few whole chickpeas for garnish. Some like to rinse away the taste of the can with fresh water.

If you are committed to "slow" food, and if the taste of freshly cooked chickpeas is important to you, soak a cup of dry chickpeas overnight, drain, then cover generously with water and simmer until tender. Depending on the age of the legume, this could take two or three hours. Reserve some of the cooking water.

If you want to be extremely meticulous, rub the outer skins off all the chickpeas, using your fingers. This lends an incredibly smooth, creamy texture. Most hummous today is made with the skins still on! I usually skip this step.

Combine chickpeas, garlic, tahini in a food processor and blend; add lemon juice gradually. The mixture should become smooth and spreadable, like a thick cake batter. Proportions of tahini and lemon juice depend upon taste and feel. Add bean liquid if it seems too "dry" and pasty.

Be sure to blend until all chickpeas are utterly pulverized. Salt sparingly if using canned - chickpeas may already be salted.

Turn out into a shallow bowl. Serve at room temperature, sprinkle with paprika, garnish with an olive or a few reserved whole chickpeas, and drizzle with best quality olive oil. Serve pita bread cut into triangles, sliced baguettes, or raw vegetables for dipping.

April 26, 2004 in Food and Drink | Permalink

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Welcome Visitor

In checking my food blog after this last grim week, I was extremely pleased to see that Leila of Dove's Eye View had stopped by. She waggled her finger at me slightly for plugging Ranee's hummus instead of hers in my recent post. (Which is only a data point in my contention that there are about as many variants as cooks.)

Well, of course, that means that, as soon as I stop coughing, I have to make her version. Especially since it's double the lemon and usually I think that Double Lemon is a Good Thing.

I will be sure to refer back to Leila's site (the work and family weirdness has cut down on my reading time) for future Feeding the Multitudes tasks. I loved the story about gathering grape leaves at Lake Merritt.

Leila, if you're out there, the foccacia works fine with all purpose flour, and it's really not a lot of active prep time. I am now officially shocked at how much it costs in the stores, but getting a small piece when you get a hankering is still not a bad plan. Re the brownies, it's not quite the same as La Hepburn's recipe, but it's pretty close; it's got more flour but specifies cake flour - so it actually may be similar weights - and more vanilla.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Goodbye Maya

I haven't been cooking a lot this past week. I had a lot of supplies at the beginning of the week - the Cursed White Bean Soup, frozen sausage and English muffins for breakfast, and meat and veggies from Trader Joe's. In the middle of the week, I came down with a cold, which means that my diet was tea, toast, scrambled eggs, hot and sour soup (usually I make my own, but I got it take out), and chicken potstickers (from the Chinese take-out, or frozen from TJ's).

In the middle of which cold, my beloved cat died fairly suddenly of congestive heart failure. (First symptom: she started wheezing a bit and spitting up her food.) The crying certainly did not help my throat.

So I'm still surviving on the above, and was glad I picked up not one but two rotisserie chickens when I was at the Bowl. I was well enough to go to the knife skills class recommended by my pal Biggles and learn a Couple of Things (like, I don't know how to rock a knife). I will be thinking of Maya as I feed the kitten the scraps off the chicken carcass. She was always Very Interested when I opened a tuna can or had a chicken around.

The next Mourning Maya task will be to clear all the partially-eaten jars of baby food chicken out of the fridge and start with a new supply for kitten training (rewards for scratching on the post, not on the furniture). I will, of course, have a wake for my faithful and beloved companion, and I'm working out what to serve (salmon, a favorite of human and cat, is an early favorite in the running).

Re food blogging, I wish I'd gotten a pic of Maya with her "milk mustache" when I gave her the yogurt after the last time she got out of the vet's. Imagine this cat as a "Got Milk?" poster:


I probably have a metric boatload of film pics of Maya looking oh-so-cute against the green kitchen floor, but not all that much in the digital line. (Long term project: sort out all my film.) But here is one of Maya and Maggie reaching an early truce (it was taken in January, shortly after Maggie joined the household) at the food dish:

Chowing down

Monday, May 09, 2005

Hummus for a crowd

I normally don't miss the Evensong (with organ recital, and reception afterwards) at my church unless I'm really, really tired. I have recently, no surprise, gravitated into the role of one of the people who helps make the party possible. I enjoy this even though I am "working" as I really like the Usual Suspects, it feels like an important hospitality gig (people come for the organ music, who would not normally attend services, and there is actually a certain reputation to uphold), and I also get the quite gratifying feedback of having my efforts devoured almost instantly.

This past Sunday was, however, Mother's Day, and I wanted to see mine. I wasn't sure if I would make it back from Tomatoland in time for church, but, on the other hand, I like to see that people are fed. As I was planning to attend early service before I headed on up, I volunteered to bring some items that could be made ahead and left. I felt compulsive and silly to be providing food for a party that I didn't know I would make it for, but at this point I can almost do some things by reflex, so on Saturday night I got busy and had it all containerized, wrapped up, and ready to go for Sunday morning. As I found out when I arrived Sunday night (going straight to the church and not stopping at home) this compulsiveness on my part turned out to be useful, as the usual organizer is juggling grad school and full-time employment and had a paper due the next day, so had not done much herself.

I made my pal Barb's prize-winning brownies (which are developing quite a following at the church) and some rosemary foccacia. As I had energy left and had found the tahini in the fridge and left it out to get to room temp (upside down so the oils reintegrated), I also made a double batch of my Saudi-American foodie pal Ranee's hummus. I first had Ranee's hummus at a RFC event she hosted and I almost broke a cardinal rule for RFC events and filled up on it before all the wonderous food arrived because it was SO FREAKIN' GOOD. With homemade pita (see her page!) and her "Middle Eastern Chopped Salad" (which I hope to make in a couple of days ... I bought a cucumber specially), this is the Food of the Gods. And a double, or more, batch is great for Feeding the Multitudes.

There was some hummus left, which was somewhat surprising given our vultures, erm, guests (we had no pita, or it would have gone). One of the Usual Kitchen Helpers praised it in my hearing without knowing I had made it, so I sent the leftovers home with him.

With the food processor, this goes together quicker than quick, but my stick blender "Kitchen Vibratorrrrrr" worked just fine before I had the FP (and does so in the serving bowl, hooray). Ranee uses hers to make this and I had never thought of that before I saw it.

Hummus bi Tahini
Ranee Mueller

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained (reserve about 1 TBS liquid, and 4 beans for garnish, if desired)
4 cloves garlic, chopped or smooshed
3 tablespoons tahini (bringing it to room temp really helps ... clb)
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin (I left this out to no ill effect)
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional if beans are unsalted)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
olive oil for garnish
paprika and/or parsley for garnish

In a blender, food processor, or in a bowl with a hand-held blender, combine all ingredients except reserved beans and garnish. Blend until smooth. (Note from CLB: If your blender is wimpy, definitely mash the beans a bit first.)

Place in shallow bowl and garnish with reserved garbanzo beans, olive oil and paprika/parsley sprinkled on top. Serve with warm pita bread or crudites.

And all I have to say to that is that if canned beans and a stick blender are good enough for a gen-yoo-wine Saudi-American, they are plenty good enough for me.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Cherry Ripe

Well, not yet. Even the sweet cherries aren't in the shops in much quantity. But I am hopeful that despite the strong recent rain, these lovely blossoms, photo taken a couple of weeks ago, are portents of sour cherry baked delights to come:

loveliest of trees

The white of Eastertide (c.f. Housman's poem) is little in evidence as the tree leafs out and the little green cherry fruits appear.

In other food related news, I signed up for a knife skills class (which I really intended to do before I sliced my finger, honest), the Cursed Soup isn't bad, my finger is healing nicely, I had dinner at Picante with Elaine last night, am eating lunch with my parents tomorrow, and I cleaned out my fridge.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Not a good day in the kitchen!

Not only did I slice my finger (including nail) somewhat when I was cutting an onion for the white bean soup, my gas match ended up catching on fire during the final simmer when the full point boiled and caused the burner to flare up.

I was not in the kitchen at the time. Good thing I went back there to take a break from usenet!

No harm done, I think; the finger is bandaged and does not hurt (much) and I was able to blow the fire out. Had to trash the gas match but glad no further harm was done.

What's next? Dropping my lunch, or the soup when I containerize it, on the floor?

I think it's time for a wee snort. This white bean soup seems cursed.