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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interpretation Needed for Plum Chicken Sculpture

We saw this "sculpture" in a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant the other day and quickly decided that we were unable to interpret it.

The saying underneath, "Plum Chicken ... More Than a State of Mind" is probably simple enough: The Plum Chicken on the menu is so wonderful that it will take your taste buds and your brain to places they've never been. Or something along those lines.

But then the sculpture above the words left us wondering. A flying rubber chicken tied with string to the finger of a hand — all encased in a wire screen dome.


If any of you can offer an explanation, please add a comment.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Try These Wines, But Don't Whine

As every semi-serious wine drinker knows, the place where the grapes are grown has more to do with the quality of the wine than probably anything else — even the grapes. That's why Napa, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Sonoma, Mendoza and Rhone wines are famous.

Part of the place is the land itself, and in a way the tougher the dirt, the better the wine. No pain, no gain. The vines suffer for great wine. The other part of terroir — the place — is the weather. To oversimplify, hot days and cool nights make great wine.

But every place seems to have some local winemaking these days. So, it was not a total surprise on our recent visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota that we found some local wineries. (Our friend Sandy included an Eastern South Dakota wine, Schade, in her post on how to host a wine tasting.)

Finding wineries in the Black Hills is even less surprising when you realize that tourism — think Deadwood, Custer, Mount Rushmore, Indians, gold mines, Dances with Wolves, Crazy Horse, snow skiing and Reptile Gardens — is the lifeblood of the Hills.

But if this land will ever become a great grape-growing region, it will take some more time. The results tend to be sweet and sharp. On the other hand, put two aging Baby Boomers in a car on a long road trip and you can count on many of them pulling into a wine-tasting room with some regularity.

Our first winery billboard outside Hill City, SD, and only a few miles from Mount Rushmore, alerted us to the Stone Faces winery on US Highway 385. Across the road and not far north was the Prairie Berry Winery. Prairie Berry's signature wine is Red Ass Rhubarb.

Prairie Berry is one of 15 wineries in the Black Hills, all producing a total of 300,000 bottles of wine a year. Prairie Berry specializes in fruit and honey wine. The Prairie Berry parking lot was full, and much busier than Stone Faces', because in the land of tourists, a gimmick is worth a pan of gold.

Omelet in a Bag: Great for Large Groups

Depending on how seriously you take your omelet-making, it is either fairly easy or really difficult. But there's one thing about omelets that is always difficult: making them for a lot of people so that everyone can eat at the same time.

On our recent trip to a wedding in South Dakota, all of the family members of the bride and groom were invited to breakfast the following morning at the couple's newly expanded house. On the menu? Omelet-in-a-bag.

Some were skeptical, but we were all game, because it meant that no chef had to stand over a hot burner and we could all sit down to eat at one time — all 12 of us. And every omelet is unique and made-to-order.

It starts with a one-quart freezer bag, like a Zip-Loc. (They have to be freezer bags; the lighter sandwich bags won't hold up.) Break two or three eggs into the bag and squish them around until the yolks and whites are mixed. Then have a table full of omelet ingredients such as chopped mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers and onions — along with shredded cheese and cooked ground sausage and chopped ham.

Each diner selects the specific ingredients and exact amounts of what they want in their omelet. Merely throw it in the bag for the omelet of your choice.

Next comes a pot or two of boiling water. The pot should be big, like a stock pot, and the water should be boiling rapidly. You just drop in the bags and wait a short while for breakfast to be served.

Here's the part you have to remember: No more than six bags in each pot at a time; and leave them in the boiling water for 13 minutes. When the timer alerts you, pull each one out with a long set of tongs — or use your fingers if you have construction hands.

(One of our bags opened up during the cooking, but the omelet stayed inside and was perfectly delicious.)

We rolled the omelets out of the bag onto a plate, where they looked almost as good as any we would have made in a skillet. Then we each added salsa and fruit to our plates and gathered around the table at the same time for a fine post-wedding breakfast.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is It Cheaper to Be a Meat Eater or a Vegetarian?

We think it's probably cheaper to be a vegetarian—depending, of course, on what and where you eat. This site lays out one scenario and concludes that vegans eat most cheaply, but this post raises valid questions about how they calculated it. In any case, it's worth checking out and thinking about.

Friday, May 20, 2011

EWEC Named One of Best Cheap-Eats Blogs!

We are delighted to report that Eat Well, Eat Cheap has been named one of the 50 Best Cheap Eats Blogs by the Culinary Arts Degree website. Their list includes a lot of great-sounding blogs we didn't know, so we'll have fun exploring them, and maybe picking up some good ideas!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Evodia 2009 Old Vines Garnacha

If you see the label pictured next to this write-up, buy it. In fact, buy several. Spanish red wines are a great bargain, and this one stands out. We could not believe we were drinking a $9 bottle of wine. It tasted like $20 easily, and that's not bad for a freshly bottled 2009 vintage.

The International Wine Cellar (we're not sure what that is, to be perfectly honest) gave this wine a 90, so it was on that basis and the cost that we bought four bottles. We wished we had bought a case.

IWC called this wine "sexy" and we agree. This has the taste of berries without being jammy, so it's a great food wine. Deep color, great finish in your mouth, and the aroma of preserves and flowers.

We wish we could find more, but every place we look, it's sold out. If you find any, let us know. We always write about bargains. This one is in the top 5 percent of values.

Buying in Bulk

As you know, we're devoted Costco shoppers, to the point that we can't imagine anyone not being a Costco shopper. But often people will say to us, "There are only two of us, so it doesn't make sense to buy in bulk." That's probably true for things like gallons of milk and crates of mangoes, but some things last nearly forever, so why not buy them in bulk, provided you have the storage space? Not only do you save money, but you have a ready supply of cooking ingredients.

Rice falls into this category; we buy it by the 20-pound bag. Also, cinnamon, which we use for granola and muffins; Costco sells an 11-ounce jar that lasts a good long while. Ditto for peppercorns and canned tomatoes.

And capers. Now, to some people, it may seem ridiculous to buy capers by the quart; they only use them a tablespoon at a time, and not all that often. And we don't use capers all that often—say, a few tablespoons a month. But it's great to know that they are always there when we need them, pickled in brine, waiting to be turned into sauces and tapenade.

A while back, after emptying a quart jar of capers that we'd owned for years, we bought an eight-ounce jar that seemed to disappear overnight. That just seemed wrong, so we went back to Costco and bought another megajar of capers. Now we're set
. . .

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Light Cilantro Pesto

We cooked adzuki beans for the first time the other day, with no idea what we would do with them. They look like small red beans and have a flavor partway between a red and a black bean. Anyway, we ended up with about four cups of them, so we decided to eat some of them last night for dinner . . . but how?

We could have thrown them into a soup, paired them with rice and salsa, or used them as part of a salad. But in the spirit of trying new things, we turned to our beloved Mark Bittman's cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. His recipe for Bean Croquettes caught our eye, partly because he promised it was fast and easy. (We realize that "bean croquettes" sounds like something served in a bad hippie café, but we always trust Mark Bittman.)

Spiked with onion, barbecue sauce, and chipotle, the croquettes tasted great, but Bittman suggested pairing them with a light cilantro pesto. Because he provided the pesto recipe and because we had a bunch of cilantro and because we were still savoring the spirit of adventure, we tried it. It was wonderful—light as promised, with a shot of lime, it provided a tangy contrast that elevated the adzuki croquettes to another level.

Often we buy a bunch of cilantro, use a couple of tablespoons, and lose the rest—it's pretty perishable stuff. This sauce is a good, easy way to use it up and grab yourself some quick, easy flavor while you're at it.

Light Cilantro Pesto

1 bunch cilantro, washed but not stemmed
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 T. peanut oil
1/4 t. salt (you might want more, but start with this)
about 3/4 T. lime juice (again, you might want more)

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, whir until combined.

This would be excellent on grilled vegetables or fish.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Feast

If you are scratching your head for something to make in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, We've got a few suggestions. Viva la Mexico!

(By the way, May 5 is not Mexican Independence Day. It was the day an outnumbered Mexican army defeated a double-sized French army, and it came 40 years after the revolution.)

For hors d'oeuvres, make your own chips and salsa. Make the Baked Tortilla Chips from those partial packages of corn tortillas that are languishing in your fridge. And no salsa is more fresh tasting than the kind you make yourself. We suggest Chuck's Surprising Salsa. Also consider a meatier appetizer, Fried Cheese or Queso Fresco.  

For a pre-entre warmup, make some Red Mole Black Bean Soup, or if you're loose enough to consider celebrating New Mexico on Cinco de Mayo, make one of our favorite soups, New Mexico Green Chile.

If you are feeding an army, as the Mexican government was doing on the original Cinco de Mayo, try RoAnn's Chicken EnchiladasMexican Rice and Beans, or Salsa Casserole.   

If it's more an intimate dinner you're preparing, you can't beat our own Fish in Adobo Sauce, modeled on a great dish Tim had in Mexico.

If you want to play really loose with the history, stretch Cinco de Mayo all the way to Argentina and make Chimichurri, a hearty crowd-pleaser.

And with all of the above, it wouldn't be Cinco de Mayo without Cornbread and your favorite beer. You know that we lean toward wine here at Eat Well, Eat Cheap, but we haven't found a Mexican wine that we can recommend. In Mexico, most of the restaurants serve wine wine from Chile, which we recommend often here. But for our money, with the spicy cuisine of Mexico, you can't beat a great white Sauvignon Blanc or, if you prefer red, a snappy Zinfandel.

Happy Cinco de Mayo from the Mexican food fans at Eat Well, Eat Cheap.  

Bargain Wine of the Week: Emiliana Eco Balance Carmenere 2009

We've often said that we've never had a bad wine from the Colchagua Valley of Chile. It might be luck, but we think this little valley that produces relatively little wine is always a winner for our Eat Well, Eat Cheap bargain-wine palates.

And we've said once or twice that the long-forgotten, historically significant, little known Carmenere grape produces great wine that others have called "Cabernet Sauvignon in silk pajamas." Sounds good, right?

We hit the jackpot the other day when one of our regular wine eLetters offered Emiliana Vineyard's Eco Balance Carmenere 2009 for $8.99. Two extra bonuses: the price and the fact that if not totally organic, the grapes are farmed with environmentally friendly, integrated-vineyard management practices.

When Ruth served her bridge-playing neighbors this wine the other night, they raved. It's a pretty tight little wine for a $9 bottle. Strawberry smells waft out of the glass. Smokey flavors from the oak barrels land on the tongue, and the velvety tannins of the Carmenere grapes cut the dry edge that gets in the way when you're drinking wine with light hors d'oeuvres.

If you've never tried a Carmenere from Chile, especially one from the Colchagua Valley, pick one up at your wine store. You might discover a new favorite.