Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cheeseburger pasta was a no-go

My Dad and I were hard pressed for dinner last night.

We both got home from work, Mom went out to dinner with some friends, and my brother was at (yet another) party. Numbly, we started trying to think of something to eat, halfheartedly tossing out suggestions like the vultures from the Jungle Book: "What do you want to do?" I dunno, what do you want to do?", until I noticed our newest edition of Healthy Cooking sitting on the table and observed the dish featured on the cover, a cheeseburger pasta. It looked relatively normal, with tomatoes, cheese, and ground beef, so I pressured my Dad into letting me make it for supper.

However, what may sound good in theory is not always what you get as an end result. I had skimmed over the list of ingredients and not seeing anything outlandish, proceeded to chop up some onion, brown some beef and boil some water. It wasn't until I started progressing farther down the list that I paused and thought Really? That doesn't sound like it would end well..., but I tried to open my mind and trust some random mother who claimed it was a "family favorite" in her house.

Now, when I think cheeseburger pasta, I think of that fabulous kind that Hamburger Helper makes. I figured this would be similar, only with tomatoes. Harmless, right?


This recipe had normal ingredients up until I saw dill pickle relish. And ketchup and mustard. Plus steak seasoning. Oh, dear.

I understand that it's cheeseburger pasta, but this was going all out. It pretty much replaced the bun with penne and the patty with ground beef. It was with great hesitation that I added 2 tbsp of each of those ingredients and a tsp of the seasoning, all the while stirring it and telling myself it was going to be ok.

This pasta, when finished, was one of those dishes that isn't horrendous enough to avoid eating altogether, but if you have nothing else, like we had, and you're tired and just want to eat something, will suffice for a one time ordeal.

The ketchup, mustard and relish were very off-putting. Only on a hamburger can this trifecta of condiments reside happily together, because just slopping them into what otherwise was something perfectly delicious but simple (pasta, onion, tomatoes, and beef) completely took it to a lower level. The last ingredient was shredded cheddar, which I piled on like crazy to hide the repulsive flavor of the condiments even though it was from a Healthy Cooking magazine and required a mere 3/4 cup.

This would be a great recipe for someone who is low on time and doesn't feel like making anything that requires more than minimal effort, but there is a far better recipe that I got from my Mom, which utilizes most of the same ingredients with the addition of a few others, is low cost, not time consuming, and requires little effort. It's a throw everything in the pot and wait kind of dish, called Texas Hash. I'll be posting it soon along with pictures and the article I got the recipe from.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sake it to me baby!

So I haven't actually started school yet, but I figured if I tried anything new over the summer I would give short blurbs on it and what I thought.

I finally had sake for the first time recently, and it was delicious. My boyfriend, his sister and I went to a Japanese market in Edgewater, NJ named Mitsuwa, which was one of the largest and most extensive markets I've been to. Inside it was split into an ample food court and grocery store, offering a huge variety. I couldn't read most of the packaging, but I recognized the majority of what was on the shelves. There was frozen whole unagi with sauce, and lots of packaging with brightly colored cartoon characters on them all smiling intently at me (some of which were a little scary looking), pushing me to buy cheese puffs, candy, and God knows what else.

We ate dinner there, and at last I was able to eat real ramen, not that air packaged stuff that so often composes the diet of college students. Based on how incredibly delicious this was, I don't know if I can go back to my usual ramen w/ egg routine. It would be an insult to my stomach.

There were main three options at the stand to choose from for ramen: salty, miso, and soy. His sister and I ordered salty pork ramen, while he ordered the miso. I have tried to like miso in the past, but it just never grew on me. I put it on the list of Asian foods that I'm not a fan of along with the only other dish I haven't liked so far, which is Halo Halo, a Filipino dish with jackfruit, ice, beans and a number of other things. At least the list is short.

The pork was marbled and delicious, served in quarter-inch slices on a bed of noodles and scallions with naruto and seaweed to garnish. Naruto is a type of Kamaboko, or steamed processed surimi (white fish), which is cooked as a loaf then sliced thin and often made to look like a certain object. This particular type, called naruto, is named for the sea strait between Shikoku and Awaji Island in Naruto City, in Tokushima where whirlpools (red swirly lines) can be seen. It didn't have much taste, but it looked decorative in the soup. The broth was very rich, and when they said salty, they weren't kidding. It wasn't too salty, however, to be off-putting or unappetizing. Just be prepared to drink a lot of water when you eat it.

I was unable to finish the bowl, which made my stomach cry out "Noooooooo!" in a manner similar to the Darth Vader scenario at the end of Episode III, or Kirk yelling "Khaaaaan!" in STWoK if Khan had stolen his ramen. The drama was necessary because the ramen was incredibly delicious and I had no idea when I would be able to eat it again, since the market is four hours away from my house in PA. Sadly, I was forced to exit the food area in a defeated but contented attitude, still cursing my stomach's pitiful capacity, as we headed over to the store to buy the sake.

There were various types of sake, but I wanted to try plum (ume) sake since that's known to be much sweeter than just plain sake. We got a small bottle for $10, which wasn't too bad. When we got home we heated small glasses of it in the microwave for 10-20 seconds, and then tried it out.

The result was a warming, comforting sweet sensation that was very calming. Not that it was ridiculously strong at that amount or anything, but it seemed like the perfect drink to have at the end of the day, in the wintertime especially. You couldn't taste too much alcohol in it, despite the fact it was around 14%. It had just enough of a burning sensation to remind you that it was alcoholic, but mostly it was fruity and sweet. I had been warned of this by a friend-you have to be careful when you drink it because you forget that you're drinking alcohol. I can see what she meant.

So that was the extent of my epic culinary adventure in Northern Jersey this weekend. That area has some of the best restaurants and markets that I've been introduced to, since the area has so much culture and is so close to New York City. Even though Harrisburg has nowhere near that level of diversity in markets and restaurants etc., we do have some that are wonderful that I've visited so far.

Broad Street Market (FYI-I had amazing Vietnamese noodle soup here. Check out Golden Gate)
St. Thomas Village Store and Oriental Market-a very small but well-supplied Filipino store I've started going to. It's small and out of the way but definitely worth it if you've been hard pressed for Filipino fare since we don't have any other stores of this kind in the area as far as I know.

And here is a list of several ethnic stores in the Central PA area. I haven't been to most of them yet, but I plan to eventually.