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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Pei Wei Experience

Hello everyone!  Betcha thought that Chucky and Tiffany had fallen off the face of the Earth, didn't you?  Well... I am back and I can assure you that this is absolutely rumor.

What is Pei Wei Asian Diner?  Pronounced "Pay Way".  It's an "upscale fast food" subsidiary of the PF Chang's restaurant chain.  Dishes representative of five Asian countries:  Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine.

Tiffany and I have been wanting to try this restaurant chain and recently had an opportunity to do so.  We were quite pleasantly surprised.  Many vegan and vegetarian menu selections!  You can get tofu dishes as "regular" and "stock velveted".  "Regular" utilizing meat-based broth and "Stock velveted" utilizing vegetable-based broth.  What a pleasant concept, huh?

Dishes are diversified, tasty, generous, and each offers many choices (meats, tofu, neither, vegan and vegetarian).  Tiffany and I have several note worthy observations:
  • Most dishes are offered as 2-serving portions.
  • Real linen (cloth) napkins.
  • Optional brown rice available at no extra charge!
  • All dishes are served with real china and silverware.
  • You place your order, pay for it, take a seat, place a numbered place card on your table, and wait for the staff to bring it to you fresh, sizzling, hot and tasty.
  • Each table has a stack of small plates, stack of napkins, bottle of soy sauce and chopsticks.
  • The condiment/drink area offers fortune cookies, Chinese to-go take-out containers for your left-overs, bottles of Chinese hot mustard and Thai Sriracha sauce.
  • The food was freshly made, not over cooked, and quickly arrived to our table.
    Correction:  During my subsequent return visits I realize that they are not using linen napkins.  Instead, they are nice heavy high-quality paper napkins.

    Tiffany and I ordered:
    1. Spicy Korean Vegetables & Tofu with brown rice
    2. Thai Dynamite Vegetables & Tofu (stock velveted) with brown rice
    As with most Asian foods, you have to watch the calories but the Pei Wei website offers a full nutritional menu for the viewing.  Caution though!  The dishes are listed sans rice.  Take both the item and the rice choice into consideration when doing your calorie calculations.

    We were both quite impressed and pleased with our visit.  No waiting for the bill.  No waiting for take-out containers.  No tipping.  When you finish your meal, you are free to leave.  Both Tiffany and I give it five out of five Thai peppers!  

    Hi-dee hi-dee do-yourself-a-favor-and-give-Pei-Wei-a-try-ho my friends!

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Louisiana Swamp Scum

    Hi ya'll.  "Huh?"  "What is Louisiana Swamp Scum?"  It's a jalapeno-based hot sauce made by Mossy Bayou Foods.

    Louisiana Swamp Scum hot sauce

    It happens to be Chucky's favorite brand of hot sauce.  It occasionally finds itself available at my local Tijuana Flats restaurant.  Don't ask me why though but they seem to only get one small order of bottles a year.  And there are other Louisiana Swamp Scum affectionados out there who compete with me when the shipment arrives.  It's probably akin to finding that Willy Wonka Golden Ticket?

    I think of Steve Martin in the movie, The Jerk.  "The new phone book's here, the new phone book's here!"  I think of the Seinfeld "Mackinaw Peach" episode where Kramer proclaims, "It's like having a circus in my mouth."  'Cept I am like a 2-foot red-headed plastic misunderstood kid in a hot sauce candy store when the bottles arrive.

    Each week when I visit Tijuana Flats the first thing that I do before ordering is look behind the counter to see whether a shipment of Louisiana Swamp Scum has arrived.  With the exception of once or twice per year the answer is consistently "No."

    What is this most precious commodity?  My taste buds tell me of three primary ingredients:  jalapeno pepper, vinegar, and hickory smoke.

    So I asked myself, "Can I make something similar myself?"  Why... Yes, you can Chucky.  By no means as tasty as the original but quite a pleasant finished product if I may say so myself.  Tiffany tried it when she arrived home tonight and she loves it too.

    • 20 jalapeno peppers, sliced
    • 1 Tbsp granulated garlic (only because I did not have fresh garlic on-hand)
    • 1 medium white onion, minced
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    • 1 tsp reduced sodium salt
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
    • 2 Tbsp liquid smoke, hickory 
    1. In medium cast iron casserole pot combine oil, jalapeno slices, diced onion, garlic and salt.
    2. Cook over medium heat until onions become translucent.
    3. Add water and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
    5. Stir in liquid smoke.
    6. Transfer to food processor and puree until smooth.  I used my Blendtec.
    7. Slowly add vinegar while processing.
    8. Pour into sterilized jar(s) with tight lid and/or recycled hot sauce bottles.
    My batch filled up three recycled hot sauce bottles, one 1-quart Mason jar, and a skosh left over to enjoy with dinner tonight.

    Note:  For my next batch, as enhancement, I plan to roast the Step 1 ingredients on my grill instead of using the stove top. 

    Addendum 09Jan2011 - Duh!  Looked at the Louisiana Swamp Scum label this afternoon.  One key ingredient that my recipe lacks... molasses.  The bottle ingredient listing as follows:  Peppers, Vinegar, Salt, Molasses, Natural Flavoring, Caramel Color.  In my opinion, Natural Flavoring = liquid smoke.

    Hi-dee hi-dee if-your-eyes-don't-tear-it's-not-hot-enough-ho my friends!

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Thanks For Not Asking Me To Subsidize Carnivores

    Hello everyone.  It's been a few days and I really haven't had much to blog about or anything to report.  That is until last night when a thought popped into my little round plastic head.

    What do the following dining establishments have in common?
    Clue - it's a consumer positive action.

    Carrabba's Italian Grill (Pasta Sostanza)
    Mimi's Cafe (Mediterranean Chicken Fettuccine )
    The Elephant Bar (Bangkok Pad Thai with Vegetables)
    Olive Garden Italian Restaurant (Fettuccine Alfredo)

      I suppose it's somewhat subtle because I really never paid attention until a little thought bubble burst within the confines of my skull.  When I walk into a restaurant, make my vegetarian selection, enjoy it, pay for it and exit;  I never questioned whether I am over-charged.  Am I paying for meat that I did not order?  Am I being charged the same as that carnivore who sits at the adjoining table?  He and I have ordered the exact same dish except he wants shrimp.  His wife desires the grilled chicken.  I want neither.

      Note:  Although not specifically noted above, the Mimi's Cafe Mediterranean Chicken Fettuccine sans chicken is $2.50 less.

      I am delighted to report that so far the trend appears to favor consumer equity.  The carnivore is paying extra for his *ugh* meat and I am paying less for the same dish which omits it.  It's truly a win-win-win scenario.

      The carnivore gets his *ugh* meat, I get my vegetarian choice, and kudos to the restaurant for anticipating and accommodating the both of us.

      So ~ The next time you pay for your vegetarian selection why not thank the establishment for accommodating you dining preferences?  Express your appreciation that they offer vegan or vegetarian selections.  Let them know that you are likely to return.  A million little Chucky voices (hehe - I wish I had that many blog readers) can make a loud statement that vegans and vegetarians are out here and that our consumer dollars truly count!

      Hi-dee hi-dee thank-those-who-you-patronize-ho my friends!

      Tuesday, January 4, 2011

      Kung Pao Sandwich

      Salutations and general expressions of best wishes to each and everyone who is reading this!  I had promised to share the recipe so here 'tis.

      Kung Pao Sandwich

      Makes 8 servings.

      Credit:  Vegetarian Times, January/February 2011, Kung Pao Slider

      Recipe LinkKung Pao Slider

      My Modifications:   
      • The tofu which I purchase comes in four blocks per package.  I slice each in half (thickness) making eight peices.
      • I use Lee Kum Kee brand low-sodium soy sauce.  If you can find Lee Kum Kee brand, you will not be disappointed.
      • I use eight whole wheat buns from my local Publix supermarket bakery.
      • I substituted 1 package of pre-washed cole slaw mix for the zucchini and carrots.

          Per sandwich, based on my recipe modifications listed above.

          Hi-dee hi-dee yummy-4-the-tummy-ho my friends!

          Sunday, January 2, 2011

          Coconut Lentil Soup

          Hi ya'll.  This was something that I sorta whipped up on a whim and it came out rather delicious.  Simple, healthy and quite tasty.

          Makes approximately 4 servings.

          Coconut Lentil Soup

          • 1 can coconut water 
          • 1/2 cup water
            • Note:  I added enough water to make the sum of the coconut water and water equal to 2 cups total.
          • Vegetable bouillon cube(s)
            • Note:  The particular bouillon that I used was one cube per 2 cups water.
          • 3 or 4 small new potatoes, quartered
          • 1 cup kale
            • Note:  Or substitute collard green or baby spinach.
          • 1/4 cup lentils, rinsed

          Ingredients:  coconut water, bouillon, kale, potato and lentils.

          1. Bring coconut water, water and bouillon cube(s) to boil.
          2. Add potatoes, kale and dry lentils.
          3. Reduce to heat and simmer for 30-minutes.
          Nutrition per Serving

          Hi-dee hi-dee simple-can-be-tasty-and-healthy-ho my friends!

          Print Recipe

          Saturday, January 1, 2011

          New Year's Day Dining

          Hi everybody.  It's the day after a late evening concluded by some delicious Spanish Cava at midnight.  The holidays are fading, it's a New Year, and it's time to get back on a healthy track.  What are Tiffany & Chucky to do?  What's on the dining agenda today?

          Breakfast?  Let's keep it simple.  Biscuit made with HeartSmart Bisquick and fresh homemade almond milk.  Add a Morningstar vegetarian sausage patty, half slice of rice cheese and 1/4 cup of Kirkland Egg Starts and you've got yourself a relatively healthy way to begin the day.

          Chucky took Tiffany to the mall this morning to take advantage of Dillard's annual 50% off sales.  According to Tiffany, she hit pay-dirt today!  She was quite the pleased shopper.  Me?  Chucky sat on the mall benches reading his new food dehydrator book and learning away.

          It's lunchtime?  We're near downtown Orlando and where do we eat?  The Loving Hut?  Drunken Monkey?  SEA Thai restaurant?  Pei Wei?  Jason's Deli?  Ethos Vegan restaurant?

          The Drunken Monkey won today.  We ordered and split a breakfast wrap (egg, grilled onion and cheese on pressed spinach wrap) and Philly Cheese Panini (tempeh, grilled onion, grilled pepper, cheese and Vegenaise on ciabatta bread).  Tiffany ordered a cup of vegetable barley soup and I a cup of vegan chili.  Everything was stupendous, tasty and healthy.  Kudos to the fine folks at Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar!

          Dinner tonight?  We made Kung Pao Sandwiches (Asian flavored baked tofu on whole wheat buns topped with an Asian peanut slaw mix) and Coconut Lentil Soup (something I simply whipped together with a bit of this and a bit of that).  I'll share both recipes on subsequent blogs, okay?

          A truly delicious and nutritious way to begin a healthy 2011!

          Hi-dee hi-dee keeping-it-healthy-ho my friends!