Recommendation for vendors at the Atlanta Ice Cream Festival

Sell sizes other than “huge”.

Seriously.

There are a ton of vendors at this thing. And it’s a festival about ice cream. Wouldn’t you want people to be able to try as many different options as possible?

Offer inexpensive “tasting” sizes so people can sample more of your flavors.

Sure, you can continue to serve up enormous mounds of ice cream in giant cups for people who want that. But give those of us who want to try more than one thing an option too. Please?

Almond chicken

Almond chicken detailSean and I have had trouble finding a go-to Chinese restaurant since we moved to the Atlanta area. He’s very particular about his almond chicken: he wants it to have thick gravy, and he also likes the chicken to be breaded and fried as a whole breast and then sliced afterward.

One of the restaurant managers I talked to said most restaurants here do a thin soy sauce because their customers are concerned about fat content. We have found one Chinese place near us that does the thick gravy, but they fry small pieces of chicken individually, and the quality of their food isn’t great overall.

I finally decided I would try to create the dish at home and see if I could satisfy my picky husband. Since in terms of cooking I’m a relative n00b, I searched around online awhile for tips. The first recipe I found that involved thick gravy was actually from a vegan blog: Crispy Fried Almond “Chicken” with Gravy (Soo Guy). Using that blog entry as a reference, here’s how I made dinner.

First, I started a cup of white rice in my rice cooker. The thing takes forever to cook rice, but always with delicious results.

Next I started cooking two frozen chicken breasts on my George Foreman grill, 13 minutes on each side. I decided against trying to fry the chicken, especially since I didn’t have time to thaw it, and I knew the chicken would come out nice and tender on my grill.

Then I toasted the almonds. I had a bag of snack pack almonds, so I just used one of those packs. I hammered the pack with a meat tenderizer until the almonds were broken up, then seared them in my wok-like pan. Unfortunately I let them toast for too long, so I had to be careful to pick out unburned almonds when I was finished.

Next I made chicken broth. I boiled some leftover chicken for 3 minutes, then scooped the chicken out of the water and added the soy sauce and butter. (I actually messed up the first time by putting in way too much soy sauce; I started over with the amount listed on the vegan blog and it worked great.)

Making chicken broth   Adding soy sauce and butter

In a larger saucepan I combined cornstarch and water, then slowly added the broth/soy mixture over medium heat, continually stirring until the gravy formed.

Cornstarch   Adding soy sauce mixture

Thickening sauceNext was simply plating: I put down a foundation of white rice, cut up the grilled chicken and laid it across, drizzled the whole thing with gravy, and then sprinkled roasted almonds on top.

It turned out that I hadn’t made quite enough chicken, but Sean loved the gravy. He loved the entire meal. Apparently frying isn’t necessary; he just likes the nice tender chicken combined with the thick sauce. When he was done with his plate he went back for the leftover rice and as much gravy as he could put on it.

Cooking for me is always such an iffy prospect, especially when it’s something new. I’m really glad this turned out well. It is always so satisfying to score a win in the kitchen.

I think next time I’ll cook more meat, and I’ll also make a side of steamed or stir-fried vegetables.

Almond Chicken

Yay for my George Foreman electric grill

My George Foreman electric grillFor my birthday this year, my parents sent me what has become an absolute staple in my kitchen: a George Foreman electric grill. In the months since, I’ve used it practically every day for chicken, burgers, fish, or hot dogs. It is really simple to use, grills meats to wonderful tenderness, and cleans up easily.

The book that came with the grill gives cooking guidelines for pretty much anything I want to make. I just turn the dial to the proper setting and grill to the recommended time. As I’ve used the grill so often, I’ve learned how much to adjust cook times for food thickness.

I eat a lot of chicken, and the George Foreman grills frozen chicken breasts moist and juicy every time, something that’s been difficult for me to do consistently on the stovetop or in the oven. Fish comes off the grill flaky and delicious, and burgers grill up pretty much as they would on a normal grill. I’ve also grilled vegetables, though I want to do more experimentation there.

I rarely flavor the meats before cooking. I’ve tried marinades a couple of times, but for the most part I use frozen meat (without thawing) and let the grill bring out the natural tastes.

Time and time again, I laugh at myself for favoring this grill over my stovetop or oven. It just feels so easy. I like that I can “set it and forget it”, something I can’t do when cooking on the stove. Food takes about the same amount of time to cook as it would in the oven, but I don’t have to get out baking dishes and racks or use aluminum foil–I just throw the meat on the grill.

Having this grill has really helped me keep my protein intake up in a healthy way. As a duodenal switch weight loss surgery patient, it’s vital that I get enough protein, but without a convenient way to cook meat, I can imagine I’d be grabbing a lot more fast food than I should be. Actually, while on my way home from the farmers market today, I thought about stopping to get a chicken sandwich somewhere…but instead I came home and made one myself. This means I know exactly what went into the sandwich I had for lunch!

I used to have one of the original countertop George Foremans, but I didn’t use it a lot because I found it awkward to clean. This new grill comes apart for easy scrubbing down in the sink. I’m sort of surprised at how willing I’ve been to clean this grill daily. It’s become part of my regular routine.

In all, I am really happy my parents gave me this wonderful grill. I like it so much I even called a hotel once to ask whether they allow people to have grills in the rooms. (Unfortunately, but predictably, they don’t!) I foresee myself using my George Foreman until it falls apart ;)

Cooking hamburgersGrilling tilapiaGrilled chickenBurgersPork chops

My first attempt at Mexican food

In an attempt to save money and eat more healthily, I have started cooking more at home. Up until now this has mostly consisted of making a handful of stock dishes: grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, sausage, or fish, with a Knorr packaged noodle side and some sort of steamed vegetable. While this routine isn’t bad in terms of variation, after awhile it can get boring to cook the same way over and over. I’ve also been craving various types of food that I usually go out for, like Chinese or Mexican. Today I decided to plan ahead and make a Mexican-style meal.

I chose the following recipes from AllRecipes.com:

I also decided that instead of purchasing the salsa to be used for baking the chicken, I would make some from scratch. I chose this recipe:

Prep

The first thing I did was get two frozen chicken breasts out and put them into a dish in the refrigerator to thaw. I went ahead and put the spices from the Quick and Easy Mexican Chicken recipe into the dish and on top of the chicken.

My next step was to go to the store and grab some supplies–I needed the cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and lime juice for the salsa, the shredded cheese for the chicken (I chose a 4-cheese Mexican blend instead of cheddar), and the chicken broth for the rice. I already had tomatoes, onions, and cloves of garlic from the Marietta Square Farmers Market, and I keep frozen chicken breasts, brown rice, and various spices on hand.

I went ahead and did my shopping in the morning so I could prepare the salsa in advance, giving it time to sit in the fridge. It took me about half an hour to chop and mix everything. As I also spent time this morning on some freelance work, a personal training appointment, the grocery shopping, and of course my random desire to scrub my bathtub, it wasn’t until after noon that I started making the salsa.

The tomato, onion, garlic, and jalapeno were easy to chop, of course. The cilantro was technically easy too, I suppose, but I’ve always disliked chopping cilantro…it takes forever. Once I had everything mixed, I had to agree with one recipe reviewer that the end result seemed more like pico de gallo than salsa. Still, I figured it would be nice and fresh and good for the cooking. Though I scaled down the salsa recipe to one serving, it resulted in more than the half-cup needed for the chicken recipe. I put the rest of it out as a garnish alongside the sour cream, but neither of us ended up using it.

Cooking

I started to actually make dinner at around 7 o’clock. I began with the rice, since it had the longest cooking time. After the rice had been cooking for about 15 minutes, I got the chicken out of the fridge to brown it in the skillet as per the recipe. Unfortunately, the breasts weren’t quite thawed, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Instead of cooking in the skillet until there was no pink left, I simply browned as much as I could of the chicken, removing it from the heat before the outside could get chewy. I transferred the chicken to the baking dish, topped it off with the homemade salsa and shredded cheese, then put it all in the oven. I ended up having to cook both the chicken and the rice longer than expected, finally getting them both done around 8:30.

Meanwhile, I warmed the refried black beans in a pan on the stove and three wheat tortillas in an aluminum foil pouch in the oven.

Time Analysis

With the shopping, morning prep, and evening cooking time, this meal took about two and a half hours from my day.

Cost Analysis

Here’s what I spent on necessities for the recipes ($6.68 total):

  • Cilantro: $0.50
  • Jalapeno pepper: $0.05
  • Kroger brand canned tomatoes: $0.67
  • Kroger brand chicken broth: $1.99
  • Kroger brand lime juice (bottle): $1.79
  • Kroger brand shredded Mexican-style cheese: $1.68

Here’s what I spent on extras to go with the meal ($4.28 total):

  • Bush’s refried black beans: $1.29
  • Daisy sour cream: $1.00
  • Wheat tortillas (8): $1.99

Together, that’s $10.96, or $5.48 per person.

It’s a little harder to add in the cost of the ingredients I already had. Unfortunately I don’t have the receipt for the frozen chicken breasts, which came from a 5-pound bag of frozen, boneless, skinless breasts from Walmart. I want to say that bag costs around $10, but I’m not sure. I’m also not sure how many breasts were originally in the bag, but I think it was at least 10. If so, that would add just $1 per person. As for the vegetables from the farmers market, I know I got four tomatoes for $3, so the one I used in this recipe adds $0.75 total, or $0.38 per person. I don’t remember how much the onions cost or how many I got. I have a feeling I had a basket of five or six originally, and that wouldn’t have cost more than a few dollars. If we pretend each onion cost as much as a tomato, that would put the total cost per person up to $0.75. The head of garlic is negligible; it contained many cloves.

A rough total including the frozen chicken and farmers market vegetables would therefore be $7.23 per person. This is an overestimate, as the chicken broth, lime, cheese, and tortillas were not all used today.

The Yum Factor

I was fairly happy with this meal. The main weakness, I’d say, was the pico de gallo “salsa”. It was all right, but not really my cup of tea. The rice was delicious, though, and so were the refried beans. The beans were actually Sean’s favorite part of the meal, which is kind of sad considering I had nothing to do with their flavor. Indeed, the part of the meal I spent the most time on was the least memorable, while the part I spent the least time on was the most.

Despite the weakness of the “salsa”, the chicken came out moist and tender, and I wish there had been a bit more of it–the breasts were rather small. I ate a tortilla with my meal, but Sean didn’t have any tortillas at all, so I may as well not have bought them. We did, however, both use sour cream.

Conclusions

Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d say this meal was worth the effort. If I try it again, I’ll probably buy the salsa instead of making it myself. I do think the price was good, though.

I may eschew the oven baking entirely and grill the chicken next time, then add a sauce when it’s done. Grilling is very easy with the George Foreman electric grill my parents got me for my birthday this year, and there’s no thawing required. :)

Curry chicken and peas

The other night Sean and I went to our favorite Japanese restaurant and had a new-to-us dish, a combination meal for two consisting of teriyaki beef, chicken, and salmon; shrimp and vegetable tempura; a California roll and a shrimp tempura roll; and a bowl of fancily-sliced fruit. It was all delicious, but as you can imagine, we had plenty of leftovers.

I managed to eat half the remaining chicken yesterday, but I found it to be very dry. Today I wanted to get rid of the rest of it, and I asked Mom on AIM if there was any way to infuse dry chicken with moisture. “No,” she said, “but you can add a sauce.”

I decided to try making a curry sauce with yogurt and adding some steamed peas for extra flavor and moisture. First I checked allrecipes.com to see if they had any tips. I found this and noted all the advice in the comments about not simmering the yogurt. I mixed 1/4 cup Chobani plain Greek yogurt in a bowl with as much curry powder as I thought I wanted (tasting to check the flavor), then set that mixture aside to come to room temperature. In the meantime, I boiled some frozen peas for roughly 8 minutes. Once the peas were done, I cut up the chicken and dropped the pieces in with the peas to let them warm up and hopefully absorb some water (though I don’t think the latter goal was achieved). Finally I drained the peas and chicken and mixed them into the yogurt.

The result was pretty good. The chicken was still dry, but the peas were nice little pockets of juice, and the curry yogurt flavor was lovely. Every part of the meal was a good source of protein, too, which is important for me. I’ll have to try this again sometime–but instead of using someone else’s dry chicken, I’ll grill my own to achieve soft, succulent deliciousness.

Chicken and peas with yogurt curry

Sayonara, unajuu

One of the strangest things for me about weight loss surgery has been the change in my reactions to food. Some foods I used to adore are now too bland for me; some foods I didn’t really care much about have gained extreme importance. Of course, there are foods I’m supposed to be avoiding, but even when I cheat and let myself have a small bite, I often discover that I don’t like it enough to warrant the cheating.

One example of how things have changed: I am very picky about meat products now. Most ground beef dishes, like burgers and meatloaf, are too dry for me. I tend to find them flavorless and unpleasant. I have also grown tired of eggs, no matter how they’re cooked; I’ll eat them if they’re what’s available and I know I need the protein, but they no longer give me any satisfaction. (Part of me wonders if I might find farm fresh eggs more palatable. I’ll have to give it a try sometime.) Ham doesn’t thrill me, but it gets the job done…but I love a good pork chop. And of course, steak is marvelous. I eat them rarer than I used to, because that way they’re nice and juicy and soft. We’ve started going to Ted’s here in Atlanta, and I’m addicted to bison steak. Fish also makes me happy. I love a good grilled or broiled salmon fillet, and I’d eat sashimi every day if I could–but it has to be good sashimi. If it’s possible, I’m even pickier about sashimi now than I was before.

I still enjoy cottage cheese, but I have become even pickier about brands. There was once a time when I could eat a non-favorite brand and be okay with it, but now, unless it’s Walmart brand, I can’t stand the stuff. I don’t know what it is about how Walmart makes their cottage cheese versus the way the other companies make theirs, but something is different to my now overly sensitive palate.

Then there’s sweets. I always had a sweet tooth before. Cookies, pastries, brownies, cakes, chocolate candy, anything chocolate really…I’d gobble it all up without heeding quality or quantity. Now, of course, I’m almost completely off sugar, except in cases when it’s unavoidable. There are times when I let myself have some sugary snack–usually when traveling, because I don’t keep that sort of thing in the house–but when I do, it never meets my expectations. It always feels pointless. The taste doesn’t do anything for me. I can vividly remember how eating sweets used to make me feel, but now, after having weight loss surgery, eating them will never make me feel that way again. It is such a strange feeling…almost a feeling of loss, until I remember that this change is what has allowed me to drop 100 pounds.

That brings me to unagi.

In 2001, I went to Japan for the first time. It was an amazing trip that changed my life. While I was there, I had unagidon, barbecued eel over a bowl of rice, for the first time. I promptly dubbed it my favorite dish in the world and sought it out thereafter as much as possible. Towards the end of my homestay in Yatsushiro, my host mother, noting how much I adored unagidon, made me a huge bowl with a double helping. I ate it all.

Since then I’ve found unagidon and its sister dish unagijuu (also called unadon and unajuu, respectively) in various restaurants in the US, including my former favorite Augusta Japanese restaurant (which unfortunately seems to have gone downhill in recent years). Here’s some delicious unadon I had there in 2008, complete with onions.

unadon

You're supposed to eat unadon on Eel Day to build stamina for the summer heat.

I hadn’t had unadon or unajuu since the surgery, until the other night at Haru Ichiban in Duluth. I was trying to go for something with plenty of protein, since it’s easy to mess up and maximize carbs in a Japanese restaurant. I didn’t even think about sugar. Here’s the unajuu:

My last box of unajuu.

My last box of unajuu.

Look at that sauce. Unlike the unadon above, this unajuu is saturated. Apart from sopping it all up with a napkin (which I didn’t think of until just now), there really was no way to avoid the sauce. And, unfortunately for me, that sauce is sweet.

I mentioned that when I eat sweets like candy or cookies they don’t really do much for me. Because of this, I usually don’t continue eating them. On the rare occasions that I do, though, I get this really nasty feeling in my chest, between my neck and my stomach. It’s this weird gurgling feeling, highly unpleasant. And it only happens when I eat sugar in high concentration.

Let me tell you, that unajuu made me miserable after just a few bites.

I stopped, ordered some salmon sashimi to get my protein, and spent the rest of the evening trying not to throw up. I was successful, yay! But that put the nail in the coffin of my once passionate affair with unajuu…and perhaps unadon as well, if it’s made with that same concentration of sauce.

Goodbye, unajuu. I loved you once, and somewhere inside I love you still, but it’s no longer meant to be.