Author Archives: marga

Christmas Eve Dinner 2021: Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen + Luke’s Grill

A wonderful Christmas Eve Dinner with some help from Luke’s Grill

This year, probably for the third time in two decades, I didn’t cook Christmas Eve dinner. I’m going through one of my anti-cooking spells, and the thought of making course after course of food I’d barely have time to eat before getting up to prepare the next one just wasn’t appealing. Plus, after the fiasco that was Thanksgiving Dinner, I wasn’t eager for a repeat. Moreover, with another COVID wave hitting us, we had decided that once again it would only be us having dinner.

So, I decided on take out – but what? This shouldn’t have been that hard a question, but I wanted something “special”. That meant something that we didn’t usually get for take out, something that I wouldn’t be able to make easily, something that could be eaten family style and something that would satisfy all our individual food issues. Deciding on a specific cuisine, much less a restaurant, was hard.

Ultimately, I decided upon Greek because it’s homey, it’s somewhat Christmasy and it can be served family style. We actually have two pretty good Greek restaurants in town, and rather than decide between them, we tried them both.

Items from the Zeus Platter from Luke’s Grill.

We ordered the Zeus Platter ($20) from Luke’s Grill. This appetizer combo came with Greek sausage, meatballs, tiropita, spanakopita, dolmades, tzaziki and abundant pieces of pita. Though it was a bit cold by the time we started eating it, I was quite pleased with both the sausages and the meatballs. The tiropita, phyllo dough cooked with herbed cheese, was also quite delicious, and I enjoyed the pita with the tzaziki. Unfortunately, my vegetarian daughter wasn’t in the mood for dolmades or spanakopita, so those went uneaten.

We got all our mains from Moussaka. I particularly enjoyed the Hunkar Beyendi or Sultan’s Favorite ($28), apparently an Ottoman specialty. The dish consists of a smoked eggplant and mozzarella puree topped with braised lamb and tomato sauce. It’s served with a rice/orzo combination. By the time I transferred it to a serving dish, the whole thing was mixed together but that’s how you are supposed to eat it anyway. It was delicious. I’m not a particular fan of eggplant, but it provided an amazing smokiness to the dish. The lamb was tender and flavorful and the whole dish just came together with homey umami. And it was just perfect for Christmas: it has too many elements for me to easily replicate and it’s too expensive for a regular take out meal, and thus provided the “specialness” I wanted from a Christmas Eve meal.

Manti

I was far more disappointed in the manti ($18), pasta filled with spiced beef and supposedly served with a garlic yogurt sauce, brown butter and fresh mint. The little dumplings were tasty, but they were very lightly sauced, and therefore way too dry to really enjoy. They quickly became monotonous. I wouldn’t order them from here again.

Two portions of the combo kebap (one kofta already eaten)

In order to get a good sampling of their offerings, we ordered the combo kebap ($29), which came with a meat skewer, a chicken skewer, a single kofte, a mixture of beef/lamb gyro meat, rice and a salad. The meat skewer was listed as a lamb skewer, but it was actually beef. It was very tender, very nicely spiced and just delicious – often times kebabs are dry, but this was not the case even when the leftovers were reheated.

The same cannot be said for the chicken kebaps. They were very tasty, but dry. Fortunately, the kofta was delicious.

Beef/lamb gyro meat

I’m totally in love with the beef/lamb gyro meat. I couldn’t tell a difference between each slice of meat, so I’m going to guess it was all lamb, but whatever it was was delicious. Also very tender and not dry, and perfectly seasoned.

Chicken shawarma

A dish of chicken shawarma ($20), also served with rice and salad, was equally delicious. Again, they seasoned it perfectly and managed to not make it dry.

Finally, I ordered a felafel wrap ($13) for my vegetarian daughter, and she was happy enough, though wouldn’t elaborate about it.

In all, it was a great meal and I’d order from here again for a special occasion meal.

Gateau Basque, perspective from above

We had two desserts, though we were too full to eat more than one that night, and then well after the meal. Early in my meal planning, when I still thought I’d actually cook Christmas Eve dinner, I had proposed making Gâteau Basque for dessert. My first trip with Mike after we got married was to Spain, where we spent several days in the Basque country. We had enjoyed an amazing gâteau basque at a restaurant in Aoiz, my great-grandparents’ hometown and the memory has lingered with Mike ever since. However, in the decades since, we’ve been unable to find a cake that matched those memories, either at a restaurant or at home. It’d been many years since our last try, so I was game to do it again.

This time I decided on a well reviewed recipe that I found on the internet. I was quite pleased with the flavor, both of the cake and the pastry filling, but I felt that the dough needed more flour – my daughter preferred the soft texture, however. In all, it was good but not as sublime as our memories of that cake in Aoiz.

I also bought a Tres Leches cake from Safeway, a favorite of all of us. I was lucky to get to eat a slice the next day.

Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen
599 Dutton Ave, San Leandro
‭(510) 850-5020
Closed Mondays

Luke’s Grill
1509 East 14th St, San Leandro
510-614-1010
Closed Sundays

Early Xmas Dinner 2021: Canelones!

For many years, my father and my sister used to come to spend Christmas with us and they’d partake on my multi-course meals. Once my sister got married, however, she started spending Christmas with her in-laws, but still missed my cooking. So for the last few years we’ve been going down south after Christmas and I’d end up making a New Year’s Eve dinner for the whole family. This got disrupted in 2019 when we went abroad that holiday season, and while we had a belated dinner in February 2020 – the last one with my father – I didn’t record it. Then the pandemic came and we stayed home in 2020 but armed with vaccines and home tests, we decided to give it a new try in 2021. Alas, my sister had a trip planned for New Years, so we had our family Christmas dinner early in December. Unlike my disastrous Thanksgiving dinner, this was an overall success.

It wasn’t easy to come up with a menu. My mother has never eaten poultry and is now disgusted by beef. She also says that vegetables make her feel bad – so she mostly just eats pasta. Now, I love pasta as much as the next person, but there is nothing particularly “special” about pasta. Unless, of course, it’s the sort of pasta you never make because it’s too much work. Enter, cannelloni.

I loved cannelloni – canelones, in Spanish – as a child. It was one of the dishes I most often ordered at restaurants. I preferred beef cannelloni, but would accept spinach and cheese cannelloni as well, even though I otherwise would not eat any vegetables. I didn’t even realize there were other types of cannelloni until one meal during a trip to Brazil and Paraguay, back in ’80, when I was 11. For some reason we were having lunch at the restaurant of the Stroessner airport in, I’m assuming, Asunción. Ours was a road trip, so I’m not sure why we ended up in that airport, but we did. I ordered cannelloni, they were ham and cheese. I hated ham – and most other foods, apparently – so I threw a tantrum (maybe a quiet one, I was too shy to make a scene back then) and didn’t eat them. I’m not sure if anyone did. But I did pose pretending them to eat them for the picture. Who knows? Without the picture I might now have remembered the incident – though what made that meal also memorable is that the then-President of Paraguay, the same Alfredo Stroessner for whom the airport had been named, was also having dinner at the restaurant, just a couple of tables over. I knew nothing of politics or the brutality of dictatorships at the time, which is probably a good thing.

My family I at the Stroessner Airport in Paraguay, 1980



As much as I loved cannelloni as a child, I’d only once tried to make them as an adult, over two decades ago. The problem, of course, was the dough. Cannelloni are stuffed pasta rolls which really require fresh pasta. I’ve never made pasta in my life, and I really don’t mind if I die without making it. My memories of making ravioli with my grandmother Zuni are all I need as far as pasta making goes. During my first attempt at making cannelloni, I used lasagna sheets. But these proved too short, and the frilly ending made the cannelloni visually unappealing. It’s a hack, but one that I didn’t thing was worth making.

My idea this time was to actually make them with crepes, another common hack. However my oldest daughter wasn’t keen on the idea. She didn’t think they would be actual cannelloni, and I thought she had a point. That’s when I thought of the Pasta Shop. I had seen their fresh pasta at the Market Hall in Oakland for years and years, and it occurred to me that they might sell pasta sheets as well. A quick online search proved that they did! Indeed, they listed pasta in a huge variety of flavors – when I finally went to buy it they only had egg pasta and spinach, which was fine – I don’t think you can actually taste the pasta when you have both fillings and sauce.

It was particularly difficult figuring out how many canelones I needed to make for my whole family, and how many I could get from a sheet. It turned out that a 6″ x 13″ sheet could be easily cut in 4. The sheets pretty much doubled in size when cooked (boil for 4 minutes for the perfect texture), but the size was good to roll them about 2-3 times over the filling.

Calculate between 2 and 6 cannelloni per person. People who ate soup and appetizer ended up eating 2 or 3, a couple of the guys who skipped everything else ended up eating 5-6. Next time around, I’ll probably just make 4 per person and then add another few just in case.

Note that making cannelloni is a slow process. When I tried to hurry and boil more than 5-6 cut cannelloni sheet at the time, or left them to rest together for too long, they stuck to each other and were ruined when I tried to separate them. The best process is to first cut all the sheets into fourths, and then drop 5-6 sheets into a pot of boiling water one at the time. Boil them for 4 minutes and then transfer them into a bowl of cold water, so they stop cooking. Again, do this one at the time so they don’t stick to each other. Transfer them from this bowl to kitchen towels to dry. You can make each batch one after the other, but make sure you have lots of towels to keep them separate.

At first, I was very ambitious and I thought I’d make a bunch of different fillings and sauces to go with them, but soon after I was daunted by the task and briefly considered just buying ravioli – but given how non-special that would be, I settled back on more streamlined cannelloni. The fillings I ended up making were my traditional ground beef/picadillo filling (the same one I use in empanadas or, with more pasta sauce, as a beef pasta sauce), ham & cheese (a slice of ham and some chunks of fresh mozarella) and spinach & cheese (fresh baby spinach leaves, fresh mozarella or goat cheese and chopped almonds). I made some with just Monterey Jack cheese, as i had some cannelloni sheets left over, but these were not as popular. The other ones were well received, though everyone had different preferences. My brother, for example, loved the ham & cheese ones, and my daughter was not at all fond of the goat cheese ones.

I made some with regular pasta sauce (from a jar) and others with a cheese sauce (bechamel sauce mixed to saturation with grated Parmesan cheese) and, of course, sprinkled parmesan before baking (20 minutes at 400F).

Now that I’ve made them once and I know how well the pasta sheets work, I’m tempted to make them again in the future, probably for a special family meal. Unlike other types of pasta, cannellonis are heavier on filling than pasta, which makes them more acceptable for the diabetics among us.

Anyway, my final menu consisted of:

Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

I actually was too tired to prepare this, so my sister in law took over and added some twists of her own.

Mushroom Soup

A favorite frequently included in our holiday menus, a special request from my sister.

Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tart

Another request from my sister which everyone loved, though my oldest daughter would prefer it with a different cheese. I may try it with fresh mozzarella for her next time around.

Canelones!

See above.

Tiramisu

I followed the NYT recipe, which was simple enough but does call for uncooked eggs. I used Argentine ladyfingers, called vainillas, which are easily available at Argentinian and Latin market in LA, but harder to find elsewhere. They were the perfect texture. This was probably the best tiramisu I had in my life, I’m guessing because I was able to control the amount of coffee I used (I used regular coffee, not espresso).

See also: Party & Holiday Recipes

Thanksgiving 2021: A dinner failure

This year, we stayed home for Thanksgiving. That meant that I would be making dinner, and I was just not at all inspired this time around. It took me forever to come up with a menu – I finally settled on a seasonal French-inspired menu – and then I completely failed in its execution. There wasn’t anything wrong with the recipes, several of which I’d cooked before, but my timing was off, dishes were unbalanced and I just couldn’t deliver. Still, I do like to know what I’ve done in previous years, so here is what I cooked.

1 – Canapés

  • Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese on Crackers
  • Tri-Tip and White Cheddar with Horseradish Cream Crostini
  • Baked Camembert with Honey and Rosemary with crackers

I decided near the last minute to serve a few canapes, as I had invited my friends Lola and Iggy for dinner rather early and I wanted them to have something to eat while I prepared the dinner in the kitchen. I chose things that didn’t require much effort to put together, and they all worked wonderfully.

For the salmon canapés, I simply spread cream cheese on crackers and topped these with slices of refrigerated smoked salmon I got at Safeway. I don’t eat salmon, but everyone liked them. I was inspired by Panera’s steak and white cheddar sandwich for the tri-tip canapé. I had previously toasted some tri-tip in the oven, and I simply made thin slices, which I topped with a slice of white cheddar. I don’t remember what recipe for horseradish cream sauce I used, but there are lots of online and I know I chose one of the simplest ones. It was delicious, and I will be sure to make more of these in the form of sandwiches next time I can get tri-tip on sale. Finally, the baked camembert was just delicious.

2- Roquefort Pear Salad

This turned out to be OK to good. I had made the dressing the day before and I didn’t like it at all, perhaps because I put too much garlic – but it was OK on the salad. My guests did enjoy the pears in particular.

3 – Vegetarian French Onion Soup

This is where things started to go sour. Rather than make a French Onion soup and simply used vegetable broth instead of beef broth, I went with a recipe that enhanced the flavor of the broth with tamari and other seasonings. The results were not tasty. The soup was very intense – though I solved this by adding extra water when I reheated it – and just not that good. Next time, I’ll stick to the traditional recipe or simply serve a different soup altogether.

4- Bourbonnais Chicken with Mustard Sauce

I had made this recipe before and it had been delicious, but this time it just didn’t work. I’d doubled the sauce and vegetables but there were just too many vegetables and they weren’t well integrated with the sauce. I’d made an effort to get organic, free range chicken and somehow it was dryer than the chicken I usually buy. I don’t know, it was fine but not great. I did enjoy the leftovers, however.

Vegan mushroom bourguignon pot pie

I made this for my vegetarian daughter, but it was too alcoholic tasting for her, and the flavors were really not well balanced. Another failure.

Sage Stuffing

I also don’t remember what recipe I used, but it was a pretty standard vegetarian one. It was actually not bad, but I did overcook it so it was dry. Still, my vegetarian daughter liked it

Mashed Potatoes


I’m sad to report that, together with the canapes, the mashed potatoes were everyone’s favorite part of the meal. I’m sad because these were just plain mashed potatoes: yukon gold potatoes boiled and mashed and then mixed with a ton of butter and whipping cream.

5- Tarte Normande

This is a French apple tart with a custard topping. My daughter actually put this together for me while I was taking a nap. The top was very good, but I had messed up the dough when I’d made it and it was way too tough.

See also: Party & Holiday Recipes

CookUnity Review

Great Tasting Ready-to-warm Single-Serve Meals

CookUnity is a new-to-me service that sends you ready-to-warm prepared meals, in single-serving trays. The meals can be warmed by microwaving them for 2-3 minutes or heating them in a pre-heated oven for 8-15 minutes. They are basically a competitor to Freshly, which I’ve reviewed before. They are, however, far superior in quality, flavor and variety. The meals taste very much like the leftovers from a high-quality, perhaps adventures, home meal. Indeed, despite the fact that they come pre-cooked and all in one tray, I’d say they rival the best meal kits.

Single-serve meals do serve a very niche clientele. They don’t really work for us as a family, now that our vegan daughter has gone away to college, though I might try it again when she comes home for winter break. They would also make a good choice for when/if we go back to working from an office.

The Food

CookUnity’s main selling point is the wide selection of prepared meals they offer. I counted 110 choices of dishes, more than any subscription meal kit or supermarket that I know. They run the gamut of proteins and cuisines, from the exotic to the mundane, from the high caloric, to the diet minded. There are ample choices for vegetarians, vegans and those who keep special diets.

The second selling point in the taste and quality. Everything we tasted ranged from good to very good. The meals included special ingredients, such as hand-made sausages and forbidden rice, and mostly offered a balance of meats to vegetables to carbs. All the nutritional values are listed so you can choose when you order.

We mostly got high-caloric meals and all of them were large enough to satisfy a big appetite for dinner. We even had leftovers a couple of times.

We tried both microwaving and heating them in the oven, and there wasn’t a huge difference in results – though the oven is better for flank steak.

The meals come with an expiration date of either 5 or 7 days, so if you are getting for the whole week you probably should look at the dates when you get them and prioritize the ones that will expire first.

As far as I can tell, CookUnity contracts with professional restaurant chefs in major cities where CookUnity has commercial kitchens, and the chefs conceive of the meals and prepare them. In addition to providing chefs with the kitchens, CookUnity also buys the ingredients, packages and ships the meals and is in charge of marketing and sales. All the chefs need to do is cook.

The Plans

CookUnity’s meals cost between $11 and $13.50 each depending on how many you ordered, I ordered 8 and paid $11.50 each (minus a coupon). The cost is competitive with meal kits and take out. The meals were definitely large enough to satisfy – but pay attention to calories. Shipping is free but they do charge taxes – albeit, judged by the amount, it doesn’t seem they included city taxes.

It is easy to skip meals, and you can even suspend your account for up to 2 months. Unsubscribing is simple as well.

The Packaging

CookUnity meals come in microwave and oven-save tray made out of paper waste product with a plastic seal. They are not compostable, but CookUnity claims they are recyclable. However, while they have the recycle symbol on them, they don’t have a number. I am thus guessing it is not recyclable at all. It’s a pity, because if they used wax instead of plastic, they probably could be composted and would eliminate a lot of waste.


The meals trays are covered by a plastic film that you throw away, and come with a paper sleeve listing the ingredients and nutrition facts, as well as cooking instructions and date of expiration, which can be recycled. Some meals have sauces or vegetables in removable plastic containers within the trays. You are supposed to remove these before you cook them. These containers are usually recyclable, or you can was them and use them yourself.

CookUnity ships their meals inside an insulated bag, with 3 small freezer packs in the bottom and 3 in the top. They say that the bag and freezer packs will be collected and re-used when you get your next set of meals (I’ve only done one week so far). This may be different in other areas.


The Shipping & Delivery

When I first ordered CookUnity they were shipping to my area through UPS. They were shipping on a Monday for Wednesday deliver. UPS was delayed with my first order, and they just sent it back. I got credit for the meals I didn’t get, which I used to order mostly the same meals a couple of weeks later.

Since then, they’ve changed deliveries in my area and now they apparently deliver the same day the food is prepared. I had no problems getting my meals the second time. Some of the bottom freezer packages had started to melt, and one of them came perforated and had started to leak fluid, but the meals were cold and nothing was damaged.

The Meals

These are the meals we tried, I’d have most of them again.

Handmade Merguez Sausage in Moroccan Couscous Stew with Harissa: A

by French chef Cedric Nicolas, former sous chef at Belle Vie Food & Wine in LA (now closed)

This was a very tasty dish. The merguez sausages were delicious, if much smaller than those shown, and the whole dish tasted very home made. Definitely a winner.

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs: B

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

My husband had this dish for lunch one day. He can’t remember eating it at all, so it wasn’t memorable. My own recollection is that he liked it but wasn’t enthusiastic.

Lamb Kebab with Turmeric Hummus and Roasted Sweet Potatoes: A-

by Kentucky born chef Akhtar Nawab, owner of Alta Calidad in New York, Otra Vez in New Orleans, and Prather’s on the Alley in Washington, DC

These were kofta-like rather than kebabs per se, as the lamb was ground and mixed with spices, but it was very tasty nonetheless. Kofta tend to be dry, and this was no exception, but it was no drier than pretty much every other one I’ve ever made or encountered. They came with a cumin spiced hummus, which tasted lightly of curry and was also very tasty. It worked as a dip for both the sweet potatoes and lamb. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potatoes, but these were quite good.

Braised Lamb Sabzi with Cumin Seed Rice: A

by Israeli chef Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta in NYC.

This dish tasted exactly what I expect lamb sabzi to taste. It’s a dish of Persian origin, tangy and fragrant with Middle Eastern spices.

Filipino Adobo Pork Ribs and Jasmine Rice: A

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

The ribs were very tasty, moist and tender. I also liked the rice quite a bit. It came with bok choy which I don’t like, but my dog does.

Gochujang Baby Back Ribs: B+

by Korean-American chef Esther Choi, chef-owner of Mokbar and Ms.Yoo in New York City

I liked these tangy and tender ribs and really enjoyed the sweet corn. The rice was just OK.

Hanger Steak and Coconut Forbidden Rice: A-

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

This was my favorite of the two hanger steak dishes we had. It’s also one we warmed in the oven. As you can see, it wasn’t cooked medium-rare as on the picture in the website, but the beef was tender and flavorful, and I could still taste the beef flavor. The forbidden rice was tasty and fun. The broccolini, however, didn’t work. It was chewy.

Garlic Hanger Steak with Roasted Vegetables and Avocado-Cilantro Lime Sauce: C

by NYC chef Andres Mendez

This was probably my least favorite dish of the bunch. The steak wasn’t very flavorful, and it was completely overwhelmed by the spicy sauce. The vegetables where OK, but one-dimensional. I wouldn’t order it again.

Herb Marinated Steak with Ratatouille and Rice Pilaf: C-

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

This is another strike-out by Dustin Taylor (who fortunately redeems himself with the next dish). I liked the texture of the beef, tender but somewhat chewy/tough, but it had practically no seasoning and it was almost tasteless. What is worse, the smell and flavor it did have was somewhat fishy. I don’t have any fish in the fridge, so it couldn’t have acquired it from something else. The pilaf was nice enough, but the ratatouille was mostly eggplant and zucchini, with little in the way of onions or peppers. It’s winter, so I understand the latter, but still! This is not a dish I’d order again.


Grilled Tagliata Steak with Arugula, Parmesan and Lemon: D

by NYC chef John DeLucie, chef at Bedford&co , Ainslie, and Empire Diner, The Lion, and The Waverly Inn

This is the 3rd subpar steak dish I get from CookUnity, and this helps to cement my opinion that steak just does not lend itself to being cooked in advance and re-heated. This steak was tough, a little chewy and not all flavorful. I did like that it came with a fresh side salad, but it also lacked flavor. I don’t complain often that a meal has too much steak and too little salad, but that was the case here. In all, I would not order it again. Note that your millage may vary, the one CookUnity steak we liked is one that we warmed in the oven rather than the microwave.

Braised Beef and Polenta: B+

by Filipina chef Stacy Bareng, chef-owner of Tagalog Takeover pop up in LA

On the one hand, there is nothing I can fault this dish for. It tasted exactly like what I expected it to taste. On the other hand, there are more delicious ways to braise beef, some wine and caramelized onions would have done wonders. Still, a satisfying meal.

Chicken Tagine: A-

by Israeli chef Einat Admony, chef-owner of Balaboosta in NYC.

This was a pretty good rendition of chicken tagine with couscous. The chicken was a little tough, but it was flavorful and the couscous was quite good when mixed with the vegetables.

Update: I got a coupon for CookUnity which arrived pretty much at the same time that I was tired of cooking, so I re-subscribed. These are the meals I’ve tried since the original review (more will be added):

Spiced Chicken With Pork Chorizo Roasted Peppers: A

by chef Dustin Taylor, last at AC Hotel in LA

This was a hearty and very satisfying dish. The chicken was nicely spiced, moist and tender. The rice was flavorful on its own and went well with the hearty chorizo/pepper mix. I’d definitely re-order it.

This post contains an affiliate link that gives you a discount and, if I’m subscribed at the point when you claim such discount, might give me one as well for future purchases. As always, look to see if there are better discount deals elsewhere.

International Food Project Update: Done with the J’s

For the last 21 years – yes, 21 years, you read that right – I’ve been on-and-off trying to cook international food alphabetically. I started with Afghanistan long ago, and I’ve now just finished cuisines that start with the letter “J”.

At first, my list of cuisines only included major national cuisines – but as I gathered more regional cuisine cookbooks, I added those too. With time, they’ve multiplied to the point that national cuisines are now the exception. In all, in these 21 years, I’ve visited 215 different cuisines and cooked 690 different dishes for this project.

When I first started, I’d do a menu for a cuisine, including an appetizer, a main and dessert, and invite friends over. Later, when I had kids, I could not manage dinner parties except in the most special occasions, so I started exploring these cuisines as every night dinners. Accommodating my children’s changing tastes and diet preferences wasn’t always easy, but we managed. Still, it’s been a very slow process. If I want to finish it – something I never thought possible -, I’m going to have to speed things up.

So as I start 2022 and tackle “K” cuisines, with just one child at home (but still a picky eater), I’m going to try something different. Whenever possible, I’m going explore national cuisines for Sunday dinners, doing full menus. Not every cuisine lends itself to an appetizer-entree-dessert format – indeed, my first K cuisine, Kenya, does not – so in those cases, I’ll just explore different dishes on different nights. Otherwise, I will leave regional and ethnic cuisines for weekday nights but limit my exploration of them to just one or two dishes. We’ll see how that works.

Meanwhile, here are the J cuisines I explored, as well as the A-I cuisines I discovered and explored (usually for just one dish) in the last year:

Jakartan: Indonesian food rocks so I was happy to explore the food of the capital. The dishes I made included chicken sate, a beef & noodle soup and a great cake for dessert

Jalisciense: I didn’t make Jalisco’s most famous dish, birria, but I fell in love with their tortas ahogadas

Jamaican: there were so many good choices for this island cuisine, and I finally figured out how to make a good jerk pork.

Japanese: I didn’t try my hand at sushi, but learned I couldn’t make a vegetarian miso soup anyone liked. Other dishes, however, were great.

Javanese: coconut beef, coconut chicken and coconut balls. If you like coconut, Javanese cuisine has lots to offer.

Jerezana: this Spanish city offered tasty dish after tasty dish, from braised oxtails to their own version of chicken cordon bleu

Jewish American: a roasted chicken was a failure, but their cheese blintzes and apple cake rocked

Jiangsu: I only made one dish, ribs, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Jiangxi: we enjoyed the fish and chicken from this Chinese regional cuisine, but the steamed pork with rice powder was a disappointment.

Jordanian: This was the only “J” cuisine from a country I had visited. I think my dishes were better than anything I ate there.

And these are the regional and ethnic cuisines I briefly explored, mostly for just one dish:

Chicken with Papaya

A’chik Mande / Garo: I enjoyed cooking an unusual dish of chicken with papayas from a tribal group in the Indian highlands.

Banana and Peanut Fritters width=530 ><br clear=



Acholi: While I only made one dish, peanut & banana pancakes, it was great to learn about these Luo people from northern Uganda.

Khachapuri

Adjarian: bread with cheese and an egg, hard to believe it but it works!

Hot and Sour Fish

Ambonese: unfortunately, the one dish I cooked from the Indonesian spice islands, was a failure


Balochi: I made the most famous grilled chicken dish from these southern Pakistani cuisine

Bukharian Jewish: The single dish I made from these people from Uzbekistan was a complete mess, but it was fun to try a new cooking technique.

Cornish: I tried my hand at traditional cornish pasties and failed terribly. No wonder they’ve improved on the recipe in the last century or two!

Manja

Gagauz: the culinary traditions of this Muslim people from Moldova may not be particularly exotic, but I did enjoy their chicken with a paprika gravy.

Gobble Meal Kit Review: Butter Chicken With Basmati Rice & Naan Bread

8/10

I absolutely love Indian food, but I’m cursed with not being able to successfully replicate my favorite dishes – of which butter chicken ranks at the top. I’ve tried making it, and while the results weren’t bad, they were not nearly as good as those of my local Indian restaurants. I’ve also tried a number of commercial sauces, none of which can compare to restaurant-make. That’s why I was particularly impressed that Gobbled managed a very good butter chicken sauce, that rivals that at any of our local restaurants.

The kit was fairly easy to make: you cooked the pre-cubed chicken for a few minutes, then added the prepared butter sauce and cooked it for a few more. Pre-made rice was heated in the microwave and a single naan bread was supposed to be baked in the oven. I hate preheating a whole oven just for that, so I put it in the air fryer for 4 minutes. It was a bit crispy, but very good.

Finally, the kit came with a cucumber & tomato salad with a pre-made salad dressing. I don’t like cucumber and my husband doesn’t like tomatoes, so we ate our vegetables separately. The dressing was OK, but didn’t really have much to do with the rest of the meal.

In all, another very good Gobble meal.

All About Calamansi fruit

Yesterday I was introduced to a completely new ingredient to me: calamansi fruit. These tiny citrus fruits are also known as kalamansi, calamondin and Philippines limes or lemons. They are extremely sour, and their juice is used instead of lemon or lime juice in Filipino and other southeast Asian cuisines. They do have a more orangy taste profile than lime, and a common substitute for their juice is a mixture of equal ratios of orange juice and lemon or lime juice (though I imagine the result will be less sour). Calamansi start out green, and turn orange when they are ripe. I don’t know that their taste changes much, however, the ones I got were mostly orange (see picture) but they were extremely sour.

Sun Tropics Chilled Calamansi Lime Nectar - 64 Fl. Oz. - Safeway

I came across them in a recipe for Ambonese fish, which called for their juice. I was excited to see that calamansi juice was available at my local big-chain supermarket, but disappointed when I got my order and found out that what they sell is actually calamansi nectar, a drink whose first and second ingredients are water and sugar. Basically, it’s a lemonade made with calamansi fruit instead. As a drink, it’s rather good. I liked it much better than lemonade though les than limeade. It did feel the particular brand I bought was rather watery, but perhaps in my old age I just need more intense flavors (I don’t have a problem with commercial limeade, however).

As much as I enjoyed the drink, I still needed to find calamansi which, fortunately, was an easy task in California. Not only do we have a large Filipino population which consume these fruits, but it seems that we have a good climate for growing them. I found several ads on Facebook Marketplace for people who had trees in their backyards and sold them for $4/lb.

However, I ended up buying these at a local Asian supermarket with a large Filipino selection. A 1/2 lb bag was $2.25 and it produced 1/3 cup of juice. So it is definitely more expensive than lime/lemon/orange juice. I think there might be commercial brands selling calamansi juice, but I didn’t think it was worth my time seeking them out at the local Asian markets.

Juicing the calamansi turned out to be very easy if a bit time consuming. You basically cut off the side with the stem and then squeeze them by hand into a strainer – they are full of seeds. Alternatively you could just squeeze them into a bowl and then strain the whole thing, I imagine. At least when they are ripe, they are very soft and very easy to squeeze.

I’m actually looking forward to find another dish that calls for these little fruit, they are that cute and fun to cook with. Meanwhile, I’ll just drink the calamansi-ade.

Gobble Kit Review: Braised Beef Stroganoff with Fresh Gigli Pasta

8/10

I learned my lesson in my last Gobble box: order meals that include sauces and items that I cannot easily replicate myself. Otherwise, Gobble is not that much of a convenience. While it seems fewer of Gobble meals meet both this requirement and my personal meal preferences, this kit did both. It was quick and easy to make and very tasty. What it was not is beef stroganoff.

The kit required minimal preparation, all I had to do was slice some onions and mince some garlic, probably just so I felt I did something. Beyond that, I had to boil some fresh pasta, and prepare the beef from pre-made ingredients. I mixed the braising liquid from the beef with a prepared demi-glace sauce and some beef stock in a bowl and then heated the beef in a pan. I added the sliced mushrooms, cooked for a few minutes, and then added the sauce I’d mixed and pre-cut carrots and peas. After a couple of minutes I added the cooked pasta as well as some pre-made herbed butter. After plating it, I finished it with sour cream and parsley.

Both my husband and I were happy with the meal, it tasted homey and like something I’d make (just not like stroganoff), and the portion was adequate.

Restaurant Review: Awazi Kitchen – Oakland

Gored Gored

My daughter was home for the weekend from college and she wanted Ethiopian for dinner. I decided to give Awazi Kitchen a try because it was rather new and got great reviews on Yelp. It was fine, though not special enough to make me eager to come back.

The restaurant is located in downtown Oakland, next to what used to be Le Cheval. It has a large square room, with socially distanced tables. It was completely empty at 5 PM on a Saturday. This would be a good place to go with a crowd, as it has the space and at least at that time, you wouldn’t have to worry about sharing air with customers outside your group (I’m writing this review during the pandemic).

Their menu is pretty straightforward and serves the usual Ethiopian dishes you can get at most Ethiopian restaurants. You can order online and you can specify how you want your dishes made – I asked for two to be made mild and they complied.

Kik Alicha

We ordered the Kik Alicha (yellow split peas in a mild sauce, $13.3), the Gored Gored (beef cubes in sauce – $16.6) and the Meat Combo ($18), which included Doro Wot, Yebeg Alicha & Beef Wot. All the meals came with cooked vegetable sides and plenty of injera. I’d bought another portion of injera just in case, but it was completely unnecessary.

Both my husband and daughter were happy enough with their dishes – which tasted pretty much like you would expect. The wots were far less spicy than at other Ethiopian restaurants, however. The portions were generous and they both had leftovers.

I was less happy with my gored gored. Now, this is usually a raw meat dish, but in the menu description at Awazi Kitchen it said you could have it rare or medium-rare. I chose medium-rare but what I got was raw meat. I don’t necessarily have a problem with raw meat, but the beef cubes were too tough and chewy to be able to be eaten raw. If you are going to do a raw dish, you really need to use very tender meat – this wasn’t it. Fortunately, I was able to solve this problem by transferring the meat to a pot, adding some water and simmering it for about 10 minutes. It was pretty good then, but I would not order this dish again at Awazi Kitchen.

Awazi Kitchen
1009 Clay St
Oakland
(510) 817-4155
https://awazi-kitchen.business.site/

HelloFresh Review: Italian Beef Melts

8/10

My final HelloFresh kit this week was Italian Beef Melts with Onion, Green Pepper, Mozarella & Roasted Potato Wedges. Once again, I was impressed at how tasty this dish was. HelloFresh has given me a new appreciation for how good simple American cuisine can be.

To make the sandwiches, you slice and sautée the onions and peppers, you cook the ground beef with Italian seasoning and beef base and then mix them together. The kit has you make garlic aioli by mixing mayo with garlic powder and garlic butter by mixing your own butter with that same garlic powder. Instead of the garlic powder, I minced some of my own garlic cloves and used that. The buns are toasted with the garlic butter and mozzarella cheese, you spread the mayo and then add the beef filling. They were filling and very tasty.

The side dish was HelloFresh ubiquitous oven baked potatoes – they were plain this time, but I added some Italian seasoning to make them tastier. I feel, however, that HelloFresh should have chosen a different vegetable. This dish was very carb heavy to begin with and very light in vegetables. Maybe zucchini chips would have been a better choice? I did like the potatoes, however.

Kit for four servings

I made this dish five days after receiving it and everything was still fresh.

This post contains a referral link, if you sign up you get a discount and I get a $10 credit if I’m subscribed to HF when you subscribe, which I probably won’t be.