Author Archives: marga

Denali’s Toast – Recipe

My oldest daughter came up with this loaded toast and liked it so much that she made it again. Denali, the cat, was not very amused, maybe because she knew my daughter wasn’t planning to share. Here is the recipe for anyone in search of inspiration.

Denali’s Toast

Layer in order

  • Sliced bread, toasted
  • Hummus
  • Avocado
  • Sliced or smashed fresh tomatoes
  • Fried egg
  • Season with dill, onion powder, paprika, turmeric and black pepper

Pasquier Macarons – Ooh La la

I’ve finally found a brand of macarons worth the hype

My oldest daughter loves macarons – which really the only reason I ever buy them, or eat them. I’ve tried a few here and there: frozen and fresh ones from the supermarket or specialty stores, gourmet ones from French bakeries, both in the US and in Paris, and I’ve even made them myself – but I never have really gotten the point of them. They usually consist of a too-dry-cookie with an underwhelming filling. I’ve never been impressed, until now.

I’m pleased to say that Pasquier makes the best macarons that I’ve ever had and that they are easily available and not too expensive (as far as macarons go, these are very expensive pastries to begin with). The cookies are moist while still having a bit of crunch, and the flavors of both the cookie and the filling are explosive. They are just delicious.

The macarons come in six flavors: vanilla, pistachio, caramel, raspberry, lemon and chocolate, and I can’t say I have a favorite (OK, maybe pistachio, but maybe lemon). They all hit the right spot, albeit with a tiny bit too much sweetness. They are tiny, I’d say the size of a silver dollar if I remembered just how big those were. But if you can resist not emptying the box, you do get a lot of flavor for your buck. They are made in France, they are refrigerated and you must consume them within 2 days of opening the box. I don’t think you’ll have trouble.


I found them at Grocery Outlet for $5 for a box of 12 (5.6 oz total), but they also seem to be available at Sprouts and Good Eggs for $7-8 and at Target for $11.

Roasted Tri-Tip with Mexican Chorizo stuffing

A recipe

Stuffed Tri-tip, cut about half way through.

Tri-tip is a very Californian cut of meat, it comes from the “bottom sirloin sub primal” and it has a very distinctive triangular shape. It’s a very lean cut of meat, but quite tender, and can be grilled, roasted, slow cooked with bbq sauce or even thinly sliced for everything from bulgogi, to beef Stroganoff to stir fries. In California, you can usually buy either trimmed – with the otherwise thick layer of fat surrounding it removed – or untrimmed. The untrimmed version often goes on sale at my local Safeway, which makes it a very tempting cut to get during these times when meat prices are through the roof.

I’ve been cooking tri-tip for over twenty years, but it never occurred to me to check whether this cut was used in Argentinian cuisine. So it was only last week that I found out that tri-tip is colita de cuadril, which in Argentina is usually stuffed and then grilled. I don’t think my father ever made it, I don’t have any childhood memories of stuffed meat, beyond matambre, which is actually thin flank steak rolled around the stuffing. Of course, as soon as I ran across these Argentinian colita de cuadril recipes I wanted to ask my dad about it, but he passed away a couple of years ago. Alas, I did write about it on Facebook and tagged him – and a couple of his friends responded telling me about it. That was very sweet, and I’m writing it down here so I can remember how nice it felt.

In any case, I had bought a twin pack of tri-tip roasts on sale and had used one to make Floribbean Tri-tip Roast with Chimichurri Verde, so I had another one already trimmed and ready to be stuffed. There are many ideas for stuffings online, and this one sounded particularly good. I did adapt it considerably to account for my taste and ingredients available in California (in other words, I did not use blood sausage).

I roasted the tri-tip rather than grilling it, and I overcooked it (you might want to cook it for 30 minutes total and check to see if it’s done), but overall it was a very tasty dish and I would make it again – though what I really want to do is experiment with different stuffings, so if tri-tip continues to be on sale this summer, you can expect more recipes.

The hardest part of making stuffed tri-tip is cutting the tri-tip. You want to cut as wide and deep a hole as you can without opening up any sides. I found that cutting a couple of inches deep at a time worked best. But I also found that I didn’t have a knife long enough to go all the way to the end, and my hand was too big to get inside it. I think I might invest in a long knife for future tri-tips.

Ingredients

  • 1 tri-tip roast
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 large leek, trimmed and white and stalk thinly sliced in semi-circles
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 1 9oz Mexican chorizo
  • 4 – 6 oz fresh Mozzarella, cut into big chunks.

Directions

Preheat oven or grill to 300°F.

Trim excess fat from both sides of the tri-tip. Make a wide incision on the center of the larger end of the tri-tip and cut across the wide side, being careful to not pierce the sides. Continue cutting deeper and deeper, as wide as you can without piercing the sides and as far as you can get. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Heat oil over medium heat in a sauté pan. Add the bacon bits and cook until the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften. Add the leek and cook for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the apple and cook for a couple more minutes. Remove the chorizo from its casing and add to the sauté pan. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the chorizo is cooked through.

Stuff the tri-tip alternating between Mozzarella chunks and stuffing, going as deep into the tri-tip as possible and filling it up as much as you can. If you are grilling it, tie the roast shut with kitchen string.

Transfer roast to a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes per side. Alternatively, place on the grill over indirect heat and cook for about an hour, turning half way.

Malabar Restaurant Review – Santa Cruz

My first visit to a Sri Lankan restaurant.

We were in Santa Cruz visiting our college-student, and I decided to check out Malabar for the simple reason that I couldn’t ever recall having had Sri Lankan food. That turned out to not be true, I did cook Ceylonese food a couple of decades ago as part of my international food project, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an actual Sri Lankan restaurant.

Malabar’s menu is pretty short – though that may be as a result of the COVID pandemic and the current labor shortage (they’re hiring, btw) -, and features a few dishes from India and Malaysia/Singapore, in addition to Sri Lankan ones. Mains tend to average about $20. The restaurant seems to have a nice, if generic, dining room but also has a couple of tables on the sidewalk, and that’s where we ate.

We started by sharing an appetizer of vegetable roti ($9.50). This was similar to a stuffed dosa, with a filling made from leeks, potatoes and cabbage. It was pretty tasty, even if the curry sauce it came with was not as delicious as the yellow curries you often get with rotis at Thai restaurants. It also came with a spicy tomato sauce that carried a lot of heat.

For our mains, my daughter had the mixed vegetable curry (“Mixed vegetables in a Sri Lankan style coconut curry”, $17.50) and I had the Sri Lankan Yellow Curry ($19.50). Both dishes turned out to be the same yellow curry. While my daughter’s was served with large pieces of broccoli, carrots, peppers, cabbage and kale, mine had a snapper filet as the base (you can substitute for chicken or salmon at an extra cost). Unlike other curries I’ve had in the US, the filet was served whole, rather than in chunks. The curry itself was very thin (a feature it shared with the Ceylonese curry I made myself), with a pretty mild flavor. It was tasty but it lacked both the consistency and layers of flavor you get in a Thai curry, for example. Perhaps it’s best to see it as a curry soup. I’m not 100% sure that it worked that well with the snapper, but it was a pleasant enough dish to eat, even if not one I’d rush to order again. My daughter felt pretty much the same. Both dishes were served with rice, which seemed like a medium grain type, a little on the sticky side. I don’t know that I loved it.

My husband ordered the Devil Lanka with snapper ($21.50), a dish consisting of fish cooked with “cardamom, cinnamon, clove, Anaheim papers, cucumber, pineapple, curry leaves, carrots, tomato, red onion” and “served in a sweet sour and spicy tomato sauce”. He was quite happy with his dish. It wasn’t like anything he’d had before, and he liked the flavors.

Service was very good, our servers were very attentive and friendly. They do ask you to use your phone to scan a QR code to look at the menu (which is also posted outside), but when I mentioned that I didn’t have a smart phone, they brought us a paper menu. My daughter who did have a smart phone with her felt looking at the menu on the small phone screen was very difficult, so she used the paper one instead.

In all we had a very nice time, the street wasn’t very busy (though there was a fair amount of people coming in and out of the restaurant, it’s obviously popular for take out) and we felt safe eating there.

I didn't take any pictures, however (that lack of smart phone and all).

Malabar Restaurant
514 Front St
Santa Cruz, CA
(831) 201 4438
T-Th 5pm - 9:00 pm, F 5pm - 9:30 pm, Sa-Su 12 pm - 2:30 pm and  5pm - 9:30 pm



Safeway Sub Sandwich Review

It’s a great deal when it’s on sale

The Safeway sub, with a bread knife and fork for size comparison.

Every Friday, Safeway supermarket has a bunch of items on sale for $5. Usually this includes a couple of items from their deli, and more often than not, it includes their “Signature Cafe All American Sub,” which is normally $10. This 14″+, 2lb sandwich includes ham, cured turkey, white American cheese and romaine lettuce. The ingredient list says it also has beef, mayo and mustard, but these never seem to make an appearance in my sandwiches. Adding the latter two improves the experience. The sandwich could probably also used more cheese, there really isn’t enough to cover all the meat.

Despite these shortcomings, it’s a damn good sandwich. For $5, it’s an excellent sandwich. It provides enough food for easily 3-4 meals and it actually keeps fairly well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

The bread is usually on the hard side, but the sub I got today was in a soft roll, which I prefer.

All in all, this is one of the best deals at Safeway. Look for it on Fridays.

Tacos Los Amigos – Oakland

I finally get the taco obsession

Carne Asada Tacos

I’ve eaten tacos for years, decades really. Not too many tacos, though, because I never quite got the point of them. Often, I wasn’t fond of the toppings, or the taco sauce and the tortilla-to-meat ratio never seemed to make sense to me. Plus I’m not a huge fan of corn tortillas in the first place. So, for me, it’s been all about burritos. Until a few nights ago, that is, when my daughter had a taco hankering herself and decided to drive to Tacos Los Amigos in East Oakland to get some. I asked her to bring a single beef taco and boy!, it was love at first bite. I finally get tacos.

I can’t tell you what it actually is, but the combination of beef, diced onion, cilantro and whatever else was on those tiny tortillas just did it for me. I don’think it was the sauce because when I got them again, they had a white sauce (it was a more orange one that first night). But both sauces worked. The tacos just tasted fresh and authentic (though I think I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten tacos in Mexico, my travel adventures there are limited to the Yucatan, the land of salbutes and panuchos, which are delicious, but not really tacos). I actually appreciated, for once, the flavor of the corn tortilla. They were tiny, mind you, but they were gooood.

Al Pastor Tacos

I was just as happy with the two al pastor tacos I got during my second visit (or rather, the second time I sent my daughter to get them). The slightly sweet pork was tasty and went very well with the other standard toppings. I might have even liked them more than the carne asada ones.

There are several problems with Los Amigos, however. One is that as it’s located in East Oakland, I don’t feel very safe sending my teen daughter to get me some (though she does), plus the truck is not really close to my house. Second, they are not cheap – at around $3.50 for pretty small tacos (think 4 tacos for a normal dinner). Third, Los Amigos seems to have eclectic hours – they weren’t there last Sunday evening when I sent my daughter to get more tacos (but they were Monday night). But the biggest problem is that I’ve been left wanting more tacos now.

Los Amigos Taco Truck
5401 International Blvd
Oakland, CA
(510) 379-0846
Uncertain hours

Kirkland Signature Chicken Street Tacos Review

Surprisingly tasty dinner is not the best deal in town

In the last couple of years, I’ve tried a few of Costco’s ready-to-heat meals and I have generally been pleased enough with them. I don’t remember exactly what tempted me to get this particular kit, but it got fairly good reviews online, it wasn’t as carb-heavy as Costco’s pastas and I probably had no other plans for dinner that night. In all, I was fairly happy with it but I found it to be overpriced at the $19 instacart price, so unless I’m actually at Costco and it’s significantly cheaper, I don’t think I’d get it again.

The kit consists of moderately spiced cooked chicken, shredded cabbage, shredded Mexican cheese, a quartered lime, pots of salsa and cilantro lime crema and 12 small flour tortillas. The chicken had a pretty good flavor and it was fairly moist. To warm it up I simply heated up some oil on a skillet and cooked it, stirring often, for a few minutes. It didn’t dry out but it did acquire a nice charred flavor on some parts. The salsa was pretty standard and also a tad spicy – I would have preferred pico de gallo myself, but then again, I often do. The cilantro lime crema was OK, but I also would have preferred plain old sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Now, I understand the difficulty of including cilantro in a kit like this, but the crema was really not a good substitute. Finally, I did miss the kit not including guacamole.

Altogether, the ingredients put together on a tortilla made very tasty tacos. Perhaps not as good as those from my corner’s Mexican restaurant, but still tastier than I had expected.

The main problem with the kit is that it’s just not very large. I’d say it feed 2 hungry people or 3 if you use up all the cabbage and tortillas. Now, that’s not bad for $19, but not great either, in particular when compared to the just-cooked and ready-to-eat fiesta packs from El Torito – which cost twice as much but give you more than twice the food, plus which you don’t need to heat up.

 85°C Bakery Cafe Sells my Favorite Pastries

Review of the San Leandro location

Since 85°C Bakery Cafe opened in San Leandro Plaza, I’ve been a devotee. This Taiwanese bakery chain has over a thousand locations worldwide, with 75 of them in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Texas. I’m sure they’ll continue expanding. They offer Chinese inspired pastries with global flavors. The pastries tend to be light and airy with cream fillings, and they usually range from good to delicious. This will be an ongoing review, where I add new pastries as I try them, for my own future reference of what I liked a lot and what I liked less. As we shouldn’t be eating too many carbs, we only get pastries from 85°C Bakery for special occasions – but that makes it even more important that we choose the right ones.

85°C also serves drinks, from flavored coffee and tea drinks to smoothies, slushies and boba (if you always wanted to try a boba latter, this is the place to have one), but I have yet to have one there. Next time. They do have tables to eat inside (but no outdoor sitting), but due to the pandemic we’re avoiding all indoor dining.

Our last visit to 85°C Bakery was on the fourth day of my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM). I had told my daughter how I preferred the pastries from 85°C Bakery to those we’d had the day from As Kneaded Bakery, and she wanted to try them. I sent Mike to get them – but I had mistakenly texted the list of what we wanted to a friend – so Mike got to chose what he brought home.

85°C Bakery has a huge variety of pastries, cakes and other desserts. Many are serve yourself, but more delicate ones – or ones needing refrigeration – are behind the counter. Pastries are individually wrapped, which is not environmentally friendly but it’s safer from a food handling perspective. While they concentrate on sweet pastries, they also offer some savory ones.

Aussie Meat Pie (vegetarian)

This is a light bun with impossible ground “beef” sautéed with peppers.

Ham & Cheese

This is a light bun filled with ham and American cheese. It’s quite tasty, and I liked it as much as the ham & cheese croissants I get at Main Street Bagel.

White Chocolate Strawberry

This bun is filled with a very light white chocolate and strawberry custard. It’s a tad too sweet for my taste, and maybe not one of my favorites, but it’s quite good.

NOT PICTURED

Mango Custard Bun

This bun is filled with a creamy mango custard. It’s quite tasty and light.

85°C Bakery Cafe
San Leandro Plaza
1299 Washington Ave. C-1
San Leandro, California
510-483-8585
M-Th 7 AM - 7 PM, F-Sa 7 AM - 7:30 PM, Su 8 AM - 7 PM 

Taco Bell Review

Yes, Taco Bell

Kauai enjoying the Baja Blast straw.

I started my Birthday Weekend Extravaganza (TM) last Thursday by getting Taco Bell for dinner. Yes, Taco Bell. No, I’m not kidding and yes, I think it’s worth blogging about it. Defensive much? (I ask myself, of course).

Despite living in California for over 40 years now, I don’t think I’ve had Taco Bell before. It’s not like I’m against fast food, I’ve tried all the burger chains (or almost), but Taco Bell just never appealed to me. I’m not a fan of crunch, and their crunchy tacos always seemed unwieldy. Plus, really, their meat looked nasty (and then there was the whole scandal about whether it was even meat) and their tacos seemed to be mostly lettuce anyway. So I’ve never been tempted to try them.

Until Thursday night. My daughter was home from college, none of us could figure out what we wanted for dinner, and then she suddenly mentioned she wanted to try Taco Bell’s Black Bean Crunchwrap. I had no idea of what that was, but ordering Taco Bell solved the problem of what to get for dinner, so I jumped at the idea – much to my husband’s surprise (“Taco Bell? Really?”).

For my first incursion into Taco Bell cuisine, I ordered a Steak White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito with extra guacamole ($4.4) and a Steak Quesadilla also with extra guacamole ($6.2). Neither were as bad as I feared. For one, by ordering “steak” items, I was able to avoid the dreaded “seasoned beef”, and while the steak was just low quality meat, it wasn’t actually offensive. Indeed, the steak quesadilla tasted like something I would make at home (which, btw, is why I don’t make quesadillas at home, and instead get them from Taquería Los Pericos). It wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad, it just was. But it wasn’t was a particular great value. At that price, I might as well get one from Los Pericos. The burrito was pretty similar except that it had french fries inside. I had french fries in souvlaky pitas in Greece in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of french fries in a burrito. Alas, I’d forgotten that I no longer like french fries and I didn’t like them inside a burrito either. Still, it was perfectly acceptable. Both items were too much for a single meal – I didn’t have a good sense of how big they would be -, one will be enough next time.

I also ordered the cinnabon delights (12 for $5), which are cinnamon roll balls filled with glaze cream. They are deadly. Super, super sweet and I’m surprised I didn’t die of a diabetic coma. But they were very tasty and one goes a long away.

My daughter tried the black bean crunchwrap supreme ($4.4). This is supposed to be a crunchy tostada wrapped in a flour tortilla but it lacked the promised crunch. Instead it was soggy and yet it tasted dry and would have benefitted from a sauce. She wouldn’t order it again. She also didn’t like the spicy potato soft taco. This was just potato, cheese and lettuce in a tortilla, with no sauce or anything to bring it together. IT’s just $1, but not worth the calories. Fortunately, she did like her veggie White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito ($3.3), so at least she didn’t go hungry. The Cinnabon twists ($1) were also good, but not as good as the delights.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised that Taco Bell didn’t suck, which is good to know for road trips and if I’m ever hungry and with nothing to eat at 2 AM – which has yet to happen.

Update: my daughter wanted to stop at Taco Bell for a breakfast burrito today so I had her get me a chicken quesadilla ($5.4). As we were in the drive through I didn’t customize it, but I was actually quite satisfied with the results. It had plenty of gooey cheese and it was slightly spicy. It wasn’t particularly big but works for a snack. My daughter got the Sausage Hash Brown Toasted Breakfast Burrito ($2.6) and she was quite happy with it. She’s liked other breakfast burritos before but this one became an instant favorite.

Taco Bell
At 797 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA
Dine In M-Su 7 AM - 10 PM
Drive Through Su-Th 7 AM - 3 AM, F-Sa 7 AM - 4 AM


Finca Helechal Ibérico Sampler: Review

Expensive but Delicious

I wouldn’t have paid $20 for 4 oz of Ibérico cold cuts if it wasn’t my birthday. But it was, so when I saw this tapas sampler at Cost Plus I threw caution to the wind and put it in my cart. I’m glad I did. While ridiculously expensive (but, Ibérico ham is ridiculously expensive in Spain too – though a sampler like this would cost about half to a third as much), it was absolutely delicious. As good as any pork product I’ve had in Spain, at stores or restaurants. Even as good as the Ibérico ham my friend’s mother – a butcher – would send from Extremadura to her house in Madrid.

The sampler comes with one ounce (28g) each of jamón ibérico, ibérico pork loin, ibérico salchichón and ibérico chorizo. I had meant to eat these with bread or crackers, but I ended up eating them all on their own. The paper thin slices of each were so good that I couldn’t bear to add other flavors to it. I really can’t say which was my favorite,

“Finca Helechal” is a brand of Ibérico pork products producer “Embutidos Fermín“, a small family company based on La Alberca, Salamanca. They have different levels of products, the top ones made from pigs fed acorns. These ones are made from grain-fed free range pigs that are only 50% Iberian. Unless you are tasting the two products side by side, I don’t think you’ll notice.

I’ll definitely buy this again. And maybe next time, I’ll share it.