Thursday, October 30, 2014

ANYTIME IS NOODLE-TIME

YES, THEY ARE packed with carbs and calories, and pack enough salt for an entire day, but instant noodles are such a quick, cheap go-to meal that they are worth having on hand -- if you promise a few things.
1. Don't eat them too often, as the dehydration process used to make the noodles cook fast uses a petroleum product that's not good for you.
2. Throw out half the flavor packet.
3. Always add lean protein and vegetables.
4. DO NOT settle for the cheapest ones you can find. Here are details on some of the best and worst intant noodles I taste-tested for a recent Taste-Off column published in the San Jose Mercury News and it's sister newspapers.
Menraku Japanese Ramen Miso: A hefty tablespoon of red miso stirred in just before serving adds great flavor to this authentic version of delicate, yet chewy Japanese ramen noodles.A 90-gram container has 390 calories, 18 grams fat, 2,240 mg. sodium, 8 grams protein. $1.99 at Marina Market. (4 stars)
JML Instant Noodle Artificial Spicy Beef: This brothy noodle bowl made by Nissin is spicy hot, packed with flavor and includes a spoonful of dehydrated cabbage and greens. The noodles are more dense and flavorful than most. A 119-gram container has 551 calories, 24 grams fat, 2,352 mg. sodium, 10 grams protein. $1.19 at Marina Market. (4 stars)
Kim Ve Wong Vegetarian Instant Noodles Mixed Flavor: Tangy broth and a generous packet of cooked Asian veggies in sauce that are added just before serving make for a fresh, slightly more nutritious bowl. A 540-mg. container has 547 calories, 33 grams fat, 1,872 mg. sodium, 12 grams protein. $2.59 at Marina Market. (3½ stars)
Nongshim Bowl Noodle Soup Hot & Spicy: These Japanese-style noodles lack vegetables or herbs, but the broth has deep flavor and the noodles have nice chew. An 86-gram bowl has 380 calories, 14 grams fat, 1,740 mg. sodium, 8 grams protein. 99 cents at Safeway. (3 stars)

Paldo Fun and Yum Bowl Noodle Hot and Spicy: The flavor on this mildly spicy bowl from Korea is good, but the ultra-white noodles are flabby and have little flavor. An 86-gram container has 392 calories, 16 grams fat, 2160 mg. sodium, 8 grams protein. 89 cents at Marina Market (and by the case at some Costco stores.) (2½ stars)
Unif Bowl Instant Noodles – Artificial Spicy Beef Flavor: Balanced flavor and just a touch of hot oil make these slightly soft, Chinese-style noodles pleasant, but not standout. A 110-gram container has 500 calories, 25 grams fat, 2,330 mg. sodium, 9 grams protein. $1.99 at Marina Market. (2 stars)
NOODLES TO AVOID: Hao Hao Sate Onion Flavor, Little Cook Instant Noodles, Dr. McDougall's Vegan Ramen.
 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

HOLIDAYS ARE KNOCKING




JUST IN CASE you are one of those who likes to give and give again at this time of year... and you like to get prepared in advance, I am at-the-ready with some fresh ideas for the foodies on your list. I won't dump them on you all at once -- but I figured it is time to get started.
  • Pampered Chef Microwave Chip Maker: These silicone trays turn kale  -- or anything else thinly sliced -- into chips in minutes. Veggie chips are great to munch, or to finish a plate of pasta, a soup, or to crumble into just about anything that needs an extra kick of nutrition and flavor. A set of two is $22.50. www.pamperedchef.com 
     
  • Chef''s Choice WafflePro: Wow, talk about an upgrade. If you know a family that's still dealing with an old waffle maker, The Chef's Choice International Classic is a perfect gift. It cooks waffles fast, evenly and at any thickness or texture you like. And yes, it's non-stick, making it easy to clean even if you added blueberries to the mix. It's $99. (If you get this, the perfect companion is Dan Shumski's "Will It Waffle," a collection of seriously inspired waffle recipes.) www.chefschoice.com
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  • Gunter Wilhelm 5PLY Fry Pan: The reality is that just about anyone who cooks needs to throw out most of their non-stick pans and replace them with some of the new, safer non-stick offerings, as new federal regulations are banning them for safety reasons. I have stumbled upon a few new pans I like, but this is the most beautiful. It has a great shiny surface, and the lid is inspired, as it sits upright on the counter due to its handle design. Note that moving away from Teflon isn't simple. It requires a bit more attention to your heat source. This pan, for example, must be very hot before adding food to avoid serious sticking issues.  www.gunterwilhelm.com
 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

BUY THE BOOK

THE INTERNET IS a great resource for recipes on the fly, but when you're looking for inspiration -- and want to be sure it's a recipe that works -- a trusted cookbook by an author who has a great track record for recipes is in order.
This fall, a stack of great new titles are contending for attention. Here are details on a few inspiring  cookbooks that any foodie would welcome into their kitchen (whether they actually follow the recipes or not.)
French Regional Food ($40, Quarto Publishing) by Joel Robuchon and Loic Bienassis.
Julia Child would swoon over this one. It's an intense book packed with pictures and descriptions of foods served in the various regions of France. A true work of art, this book would be perfect for anyone considering a long trip through France -- as a preview of what they should eat where. Recipes are a bit sophisticated --  there's a to-die-for cassoulet from the Lauragais corridor near the Pyrenees that requires goose fat and Toulouse sausage -- but some, such as an onion soup gratin from the outskirts of Paris that requires a simple Gruyere are entirely do-able.
Cook's Illustrated Meat Book ($40, America's Test Kitchen)
If you didn't bond with the "Steaks, Ribs, Chops and Roasts" volume due to the lack of photography, here's the book for you. It has everything you could ever want to know about cooking meat, plus lots of color pictures.
Blue Chair Cooks With Jam and Marmalade ($45, Andrews McMeel) by Rachel Saunders.
This book sports a compelling collection of recipes that pack on flavor with great ingredients, fun techniques -- and jam. Beet salad with walnuts and kumquat marmalade, banana fig cake and strawberry sangria are just a few of the homey recipes in the mix. Note that recipes for the jams and marmalades are also included.
Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms ($35, Andrews McMeel) by Becky Selengut.
Getting your hands on the right mushrooms to make the dishes in this book might be tricky, but that doesn't diminish the incredible diversity of recipes and wealth of information on mushrooms it contains.
Wines of California ($24.95, Sterling Epicure) by Mike Desimone and Jeff Jensen
This book is a gift to every fan of California wines. It has all of the information you need to take an armchair tour of the state's wine regions. Even better, take the book along on a road trip. The book has info on personalities, varietals, even labels. This is the kind of book to keep on hand for easy access.
Cook's Illustrated How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook ($26.95)
Anyone who needs to eat gluten-free or cook for someone on that diet will fall hard for this book, which has lots of pictures and easy-to-follow recipes for all of the foods on the "bad" list for those who go gluten-free. It's basically the gluten-free bible.

Friday, October 24, 2014

8 for $9 'til 10

IF YOU CAN COUNT, you want to keep the newest Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar meal deal in mind. It's called "8 for $9 'til 10." Similar to the super-popular happy hour offer, "5 for $6 'til 7," this deal features a selection of drinks and dishes that are $9 each between 8 and 10 p.m.
 
If you're thinking "$9 isn't cheap. What's the big deal?" that's because you haven't been to Fleming's. The steakhouse serves up incredibly awesome sides along with some of the best steaks you'll ever eat. Even better, they serve 100 wines by the glass, thanks to a unique bottle-closing system that enables them to keep wines fresh from the first to the last glass.Last week, Chef Jay Cruz invited a few people in eat through the menus -- from bar food to main dishes. Yikes!! The spread included fresh seafood, empanadas with a ridiculously delicious poblano sauce, savory ahi tuna tacos topped with jicama slaw, lobster lettuce wraps and flatbread topped with filet mignon. What's worth mentioning is that every dish was packed with memorable flavors.
 To make sure every bite was enjoyed, a glass of the new Fleming's signature wine was shared; an incredibly rich, dense and grape-forward 46 Diamonds Cabernet Sauvignon from the highly esteemed Howell Mountain AVA in Napa Valley. The wine is a 2009 Cabernet blend created at Ladera Vineyards. It's not on the special menu, but it's a wine worth checking out. It's $20 a glass; $80 per bottle. www.flemingssteakhouse.com

 
 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

HUMMUS IN THE HAND

 
Photo by Jolene Thym

I LOVE HOMEMADE hummus. I like deli-made hummus. And I'm OK with this ridiculously convenient new hummus made by Pacific. While it lacks the creamy texture of a homemade hummus, it's OK -- and it's something you can keep on hand in the pantry at all times.
Now, I have to admit that I was a little tweaked about the idea of hummus in a box. But once I got over the box issue and actually tasted this stuff, I was surprised at the authentic flavor, and also at the success of the various hummus flavors in the lineup. There's a roasted garlic, My favorite is this red pepper hummus, which even has bits of roasted red pepper in it.
Honestly, his hummus would be perfect if you put it in a blender and added a touch of oil and a splash of water. www.pacificfoods.com
 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

MORE BETTER FUN

Photo by Jolne Thym 
WHEN IT COMES to kids, fun is key. This fall, companies have rolled out more than a few new products that are healthier, more natural versions of traditional lunchbox items. Drazil Kids Tea is a bright-flavored drink that is made from herbal tea blends and fruit juice. It has half the calories of traditional juice boxes but all the flavor, thanks to the bright essence of herbals such as hibiscus, rose hips and rooibos tea. $4.99-$5.99 for a pack of 8 at Berkeley Bowl, Andronico's, Draegers, and other markets. Raley's is expected to add them to the shelf soon.
Hoping to replace the typical yogurt-stick are the new Lifeway Organic Probugs, pouches of yogurt-like kefir -- think milk-drink -- that has more probiotics, less sugar and none of the oddball stabilizers and artifical colors of mainstream yogurt sticks. The 4-ounce pouches are like yogurt, but with much thinner consistency. They have100 calories each. I love that they come in fun flavors like "Orange Creamy Crawler" and "Goo-Berry Pie." Find these at just about every market you can think of.