Archive for September, 2009

Writing Under the Influence: Monsoon East Review (Bellevue, WA)

September 30, 2009

Blogging platforms should come with a warning:  Do not write reviews of tasty Vietnamese restaurants while under the influence of hunger!  My belly is telling me to get back in my car and drive to Monsoon East.  No, belly, no. 

Here’s the scene:  It’s lunchtime on one of the last sunny days for Western Washington.  After driving around the block four times looking for any parking spot, I find one right in front of the restaurant.  My baby, Rodger, and I stumble in and take a look around the swanky, contemporary restaurant.  No hostess, but smiling cooks behind the open-view kitchen. 

Finally the hostess appears from the back and seats us promptly with the menus and a high chair.  Ah, the menus.  Everything sounded so enticing, it took me forever to order.  Luckily I had a cheerful waitress who recommended the organic chicken in the vermicelli bowl.  Sounded good to me, but first a salad.   

The salad was Green Papaya with Grilled Prawns and Caramelized Pineapple.  It was tangy and bright with really well-balanced flavors, despite the sad looking pineapple.  Although, it couldn’t be too sad, because afterall, it was caramelized pineapple.  I think the prawns were good.  I’d love to be more descriptive, but Rodger only let me have one bite!

Then the vermicelli bowl came, filled to the brim with lemongrass chicken, crispy imperial roll, cucumber, mint, and a sauce that carried a real kick.  Wow, when the menu said “crispy” roll, I was expecting something along the lines of a deep-fried spring roll, but the Vietnamese apparently don’t use the word “crispy” lightly.  It had a serious crunch factor.  Delicious.  The only thing about the meal that left me wanting was the dry chicken.  Very unfortunate because if it weren’t for a little too long of a kiss on the grill this would be a gripe-less review. 

All of this came at a very reasonable price for such flavorful fare.  The vermicelli bowl was only 9.50 and if you don’t have a monkey stealing all your prawns and chicken, this would probably be more than enough for lunch, but I spent an extra 8.00 to get the salad too.  There were so many cool things on the menu I didn’t order, like Idaho catfish claypot, bo la lot beef and the raw bar.  I’m going to have to go back and try each of them! 

Tilth on Urbanspoon



Malissa’s Meal Plan – September 29th

September 29, 2009

It’s Malissa here again with my meal plan for the week. All right, I have to admit I modified my original plan. I had a lot of running around to do tonight due to a vehicle that’s getting fixed, so we ended up with takeout for dinner. I wish I’d had the foresight to put the crock pot meal on for tonight’s meal!

Tuesday – takeout

Wednesday – Coconut Curry Chicken and Baked Coconut Brown Rice

Thursday – Spaghetti and Gremolata Mealballs – We often use Costco’s frozen meatballs, which I think are tasty. But, I’m going to try making meatballs from scratch this week.

Friday – Hearty Lentil Soup with Smoked Sausage – Ooh, I think I’ll try Farmgirl Fare’s Beer Bread too!

Saturday – CrockPot Chicken Makhani and Rice

Sunday – Continuing with the success of breakfast for dinner and my love of all things pumpkin, Pumpkin Spice Muffins and omelets

Coconut Curry Chicken and Baked Coconut Brown Rice

September 28, 2009

This is my third successful installment of 3 Mondays of $5 Dinner Challenges.  This means, each Monday I’ve been cooking a meal for 2 adults and 2 children for around $5.  Here’s the real challenge, though:  I do it while maintaining my commitment to eat mostly local and organic vegetables and humanely raised meats.  For this final meal, I made Coconut Curry Chicken and Baked Brown Rice for $6.96.

This meal was really fun to do because we don’t often do curries in our house.  It is a super simple recipe for the new-to-curry crowd that will impress your family.  The sweet coconut milk is perfectly suited to these warm savory spices.  Baking the rice assures a perfect result every time that doesn’t stick to the pan and is done without a rice cooker.  I used leeks, but it would be even easier and just as tasty made with onions and you can throw them in with the rest of the vegetables instead of having to cook separately like I did with the leeks.  Here’s how made this fantastic meal for just under seven dollars:

Prices and Products

  • 1 tbsp. expeller pressed canola oil: $0.10
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) organic coconut milk: $0.50
  • 4 white mushrooms (0.15 lb.) : $0.47 (10% off)
  • 1/2 of an organic leek (0.275 lb.): $0.44
  • 1/2 of an organic carrot: $0.20 (10% off)
  • handful of organic snow peas: $0.45 (10% off)
  • small organic green bell pepper: $0.67 (10% off)
  • 2 tbsp. curry powder: $0.50
  • 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar: $0.01
  • 14.74 oz. organic, sustainably raised chicken: $2.81 (10% off)
  • 1 cup (uncooked) brown basmati:  $0.81
  • 1/2 tsp. salt: negligible

How I got these great deals:

  • The best deal of the day was the organic coconut milk which is normally more than two bucks a can.  Whole Foods was having a sale for $1.50 a can plus I had a dollar off coupon for any Thai Kitchen brand product (you can print this coupon from Yahoo Deals too – expires at the end of the year.)
  • I used my monthly 10% off coupon at PCC for all the groceries marked as “10% off” above.  It really does add up to some savings.  I would have done better on the veggies to go to the farmer’s market though.  Unfortunately there’s not time for that every week.


Coconut Curry Chicken and Vegetables

You will need:

  • 1/2 can coconut milk (about 7 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 lb skinless, boneless chicken thigh meat (about 15 ounces before skinning and deboning), cut into large bite-size pieces 
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 of a leek (lengthwise half), sliced crosswise every 1/2 inch
  • 2 1/2 cups bite-sized pieces of vegetables (ex. mushrooms, carrot, bell pepper, snow peas)
  • 2 tbsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh Thair basil (optional), rough chopped

Put it together:

  • Heat 1/2 tbsp. oil in wok (or large skillet) on medium heat.  When hot, add leeks and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Transfer leeks to bowl and set aside.
  • Add 1/2 tbsp. oil to wok, still on medium heat.  When hot, add chicken and cook until no longer pink in the middle, stirring occasionally.  Transfer chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  • Bring coconut milk and water to simmer in wok on medium heat
  • Add brown sugar and curry powder and stir until well blended.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes.
  • Add in chicken and all vegetables except for the leeks.  Cook about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender-crisp.  Toss in leeks and serve.  Optional:  garnish with Thai basil

Baked Coconut Rice (Serves 4). 

You will need:

  • 2 T oil (e.g. Canola)
  • 1/2 can coconut milk (about 7 ounces)
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup long grain brown rice (ex. basmati)

Put it together:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk, water, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil.
  • Wash rice. Lightly brown the rice in oil in a fry pan.  Transfer to a 1 1/2 quart ovenproof dish. 
  • Pour coconut milk mixture over the rice, take caution because this can create a lot of hot steam.
  • Bake covered for 50 to 60 minutes, until rice is tender and fluffy and moisture has been absorbed.

Minty Watermelon Sorbet

September 24, 2009

This sorbet is a true treat and my favorite frozen dessert so far. The yin and yang of mint and watermelon are churned and chilled  into a cheery concoction.  You can make it less sugary for a palate cleanser or as written below for a sweet sensation.

Mint Watermelon Sorbet brown backdrop in cup with mint leaves

Minty Watermelon Sorbet

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 oz. mint leaves, rough chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3 cups pureed watermelon (pulse 1/4 to 1/3 of a watermelon, cubed, in food processor 2 to 3 times for 2 to 3 seconds each time, leaving some texture)

Put it together:

  • Put water in a small saucepan
  • Add sugar
  • Turn on heat to medium to med-high and bring just to a boil, stir once, then add rough-chopped mint and turn down and simmer for 4-5 minutes.  You do not need to stir again.  The result is called simple syrup.
  • Cool in an ice water bath
  • Once simple syrup is cool, pour into a mixing bowl and add all other ingredients
  • Chill in freezer 20 minutes
  • Pour mixture into ice cream maker and follow manufacturers instructions for making
  • Freeze for 2 hours


  • Simple syrup can be kept in the refrigerator a couple of weeks (the higher sugar to water ratio, the longer it keeps).
  • To change the consistency for easier scooping, add 1-2 tablespoons alcohol, such as vodka or rum.  Alcohol raises the freezing temperature.

Malissa’s Meal Plan – September 22nd

September 22, 2009

 Guest Post: Here’s another week of my meal planning. Perhaps one of these weeks I’ll get my act together and have this done on Sunday night. Your week starts on Monday…mine starts on Tuesday. Tomato tomahto, right? 🙂

Tuesday – Chili and Cornbread

Wednesday – Sautéed Shrimp with Warm Tropical Fruit Salsa – You’ll probably see this on my menu plan frequently. This is a family favorite as it has lots of our favorite foods: my kids love mango and shrimp, my husband is a big fan of anything with coconut, and my love of mango is only surpassed by Rainier cherries!

Thursday – Herb and Chili Flake Buttered Chicken – Yes, this is on the menu again. It’s always a big hit and I found a good deal on whole chickens while at the grocery store.

Friday – Tacos – We’re having a big playgroup at our house, so I’ll have this on hand for lunch. I’m hoping there will be enough left for dinner.

Saturday – Dairy Free Biscuits and Gravy – It’s the ever popular breakfast for dinner! This recipe is from our latest episode. I seem to be using a lot of Kim’s great recipes this week. Do you think that means she’ll come cook them too?

Sunday – Cheeseburgers, strawberry smoothies, and Sweet Potato Fries

Grocery Store Wars

September 21, 2009

While I head out shopping for inspiration for my $5 dinner, please enjoy this entertaining video I found over at Good Food & Bad Food:

Skirt Steak, Layer by Layer

September 19, 2009

A bit of food porn to start your weekend off courtesy of my husband’s dinner:

Baby Arugula

Caramelized onion sautéed in lard

Young Mahon Cheese (Spanish cow’s milk cheese from island of Menorca; sharp, lemony, salty)

Skirt Steak pan seared with Tom Douglas Rub With Love (Steak Rub)

New Episode: Vegan White Sauce

September 18, 2009

In this episode of Building Blocks Show, I show you how to make two versions of Vegan White Sauce, one plain and one with onion and garlic.  This was a really fun episode for me to put together because I’ve learned so much about dairy free cooking over the past few years and was excited to put that knowledge into some creative dishes.

In the video you can see we paired these sauces with fresh ingredients to make Creemy Shroomy Veggies on Crusty Bread* and Phyllo Wrapped Cod.  I also created two other recipes with Vegan White Sauce included on the recipe page for this show:  Vegan Creemed Spinach and Dairy Free Biscuits and Gravy, which uses the dairy free biscuit recipe found in the Making Lard episode.

Vegan White Sauce Part I:

Vegan White Sauce Part II:

Below are the white sauce recipes and you can find the recipes for the rest of the dishes listed above on the Vegan White Sauce Episode Page.

Vegan White Sauce (Makes 1 cup)

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp. vegan margarine
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup rice milk
  • Salt, fresh ground white pepper
  • Spices (depending on final recipe)

Put it together:

  • Melt butter in small pot over medium heat
  • Whisk in flour
  • Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly until light brown (roux should come together)
  • Add rice milk a few tablespoons at a time, mixing in between additions until it starts to look creamy, then add in ¼ cup at a time. You can add more or less milk depending on how thick you need the sauce for your recipe.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Add spices

Wrapped in crispy phyllo, the cod in this dish comes out flaky and moist every time:

Vegan White Sauce with Onion (Makes 1 cup)

You will need:

  • 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tbsp. vegan margarine
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup rice milk
  • Salt, fresh ground white pepper
  • Spices (depending on final recipe)

Put it together:

  • Heat olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat
  • Sauté onion until soft
  • Add garlic to onion and sauté a couple of minutes
  • Melt margarine into onion
  • Add flour and stir to combiner
  • Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly until light brown (roux should come together)
  • Add rice milk a few tablespoons at a time, mixing in between additions until it starts to look creamy, then add in ¼ cup at a time. You can add more or less milk depending on how thick you need the sauce for your recipe.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Add spices

Versatile and summery Creemy Shroomy Veggies on Crusty Bread:

* No, this is not a misspelling, I’m told “creem” is the way vegans spell fake “cream.”

Time for Lunch

September 17, 2009

Do you remember school lunch?  I do.  Limp, green hot dogs.  Napoleon Dynamite-worthy tater tots.  It was not a pretty sight.

For many children in the United States, though, this meal provided through the National School Lunch Program is their only guaranteed meal of the day.  Schools struggle to provide balanced meals on $2.68 per student, relying on surplus agricultural stock and USDA “entitlement” foods (Source: USDA Fact Sheet).  To make matters worse, children avoid this lunch by purchasing sodas and junk through vending machines and in-house fast food joints.

Wouldn’t it be great if the food the children received in this program constituted a healthy and tasty meal full of fruits and vegetables and quality meats?  Well, there is a campaign right now to do just that and you can voice your opinion to make it happen.  Simply take a few minutes to read the Time for Lunch Platform (pdf).  Then take 30 more seconds to sign the petition for real food in schools.

Malissa’s Meal Planning – Sept 15th

September 15, 2009

Guest Post: I’m at it again! Last week’s meal plan was pretty successful, although I did stray from the plan slightly.

Tuesday: Soup and bread – I have a lot of veggies in my fridge, so it’ll be mystery soup consisting of those veggies, chicken stock and beans.

Wednesday: Whole wheat pumpkin pancakes, eggs and fruit – My kids’ picky eating habits always keep me guessing, but they love almost all breakfast foods. My favorite pumpkin spice lattes are back at Starbucks and they’ve inspired me to find a pumpkin pancake recipe.

Thursday: I’m looking for a Pork Tenderloin recipe and thinking I’ll try this one – Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin. If you have a good recipe, I’d love to hear about it. The only problem is my picky husband, who doesn’t care for bbq sauce, mustard, or onions! I’m actually not sure if it’s harder to cook for him or the kids. 🙂

Friday: Dining out!

Saturday: The kids love to make their own pizzas. We often get the Boboli pizza crusts and let the girls add their own toppings, but I’m going to try making everything from scratch using this recipe for the sauce and dough.

Sunday: Leftovers

On the baking front, I’d love to find a good granola bar recipe. Any suggestions? I’ve yet to find the sweet spot where my kids enjoy the granola bar and I think it’s healthy enough. They really like something with the texture of Quaker Chewy Granola Bars. I don’t mind putting chocolate chips in the bars, but would like to cut out the other sugars. I like that the Quaker ones don’t have high fructose corn syrup, but I want to start baking our own so we can avoid the partially hydrogenated oils and preservatives.