Posts Tagged ‘organic’

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



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.

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:

The White House Garden Video

September 12, 2009

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s footage of the White House garden and First Lady Michelle Obama on teaching the next generation the importance of fresh, home-made family meals.  Chef Sam Kass discusses some of the history behind the White House garden.  I don’t care if it is propaganda, I enjoyed it and am glad to see this message coming out of the White House.

$5 Dinner Challenge: Australian Zucchini Slice

September 7, 2009

This is my second 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, although this week’s dish will serve 4 to 6.  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 second meal, I made Australian Zucchini Slice for $6.25.

My husband learned to cook this dish in home ec. class in Australia and when he moved to the states he wrote home for it.  I’m so glad he did because it is a great go-to recipe for brunches or anytime you need a hearty one-dish meal.  Fresh local eggs give this all-around family favorite a lovely rise.  This is one of the few egg dishes that I add the onions to still raw.  This recipe bakes long enough to soften and sweeten them, but still leaving a garden flavor.  A scoop of organic flour makes for a perfectly soft texture throughout.  Of course no recipe of my husband’s would be complete without smokey bacon, but I’ve made it vegetarian before and that’s great too!

I’ve included both the original Australian recipe and the converted American recipe, so hopefully no matter which side of the globe you’re on you’ll find it accessible.  The American version calls for whole wheat pastry flour, since that’s what we use in our household, but the original is white flour.  I’ve also noticed that I usually have to increase cooking times when making Aussie dishes, so the American one’s cooking time is longer.  (My guess is the difference in humidity causes this.)

Here’s how I made this fantastic meal for just over six bucks:

Prices and Products

  • 13 oz. local, certified organic zucchini from farmer’s market:  $0.75
  • 1 large local, certified organic onion from farmer’s market: $0.65
  • 3 rashers bacon (no animal byproducts or antibiotics in the animal’s feed or added hormones): $1.40
  • 4 oz. local, co-op owned, non-BGH cheddar (Tillamook): $1.00
  • 1 cup organic whole wheat pastry flour: $0.34
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder: $0.05
  • 1/2 cup expeller pressed canola oil: $0.81
  • 5 eggs from my friend’s happy backyard chickens: $1.25
  • Couple dashes of salt and pepper:  negligible

How I got these great deals:

  • I chose this dish because I knew zucchini and onions were in abundance locally right now, so was able to get excellent prices at the farmer’s market.  The onions were originally 75 cents each, but I only had 65 cents on me and the farmer had onions coming out her ears and was happy to take it.
  • I looked on the websites for my local grocery stores for specials on Tillamook cheese.  This brand is so popular here that usually someone has a sale.  Sure enough, in my local QFC’s online sale flyer, it was $3.99 for 1 lb.  You can get even better deals if you buy a larger brick, but we’d never go through it all.  It’s not a great deal if you throw half away!
  • My friend Angie is super into gardening and raising chickens naturally.  She sells the eggs of these “happy backyard chickens” for $3.00 a dozen.  This is a great way to get truly free-range eggs at a discount price.  Don’t think you have to live out in the sticks to do this either.  We’re in a suburb right outside of Seattle and it’s quite common for people to raise chickens.  Just ask around.  I bet you’ll find someone.


Zucchini Slice (American recipe) Serves 4 to 6.

You will need:

  • 13 oz (0.83 lb) zucchini
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 rashers (slices) bacon
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 5 eggs
  • salt, pepper

Put it together:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Grate unpeeled zucchini coarsely, fine chop onion and bacon.
  • Fry bacon over medium heat until lightly browned on both sides.
  • Sift together flour, 1 1/2 tsp. salt and baking powder.
  • Combine zucchini, onion, bacon, cheese, sifted flour, oil and lightly beaten eggs.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour into well-greased 2-quart casserole dish.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes or until browned.

Before Oven:

After Oven:

Zucchini Slice (original recipe)

  • 375 g zucchini
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 rashers bacon
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 5 eggs
  • salt, pepper

Grate unpeeled zucchini coarsely, fine chop onion and bacon.  Combine zucchini, onion, bacon, cheese, sifted flour, oil and lightly beaten eggs, season with salt and pepper.  Pour into well-greased lamington tin (base measure 16 cm x 26 cm), bake in moderate oven 30 to 40 minutes or until browned.  Serves 4 to 6.

Local Sustainable Farming at its Best

September 4, 2009

Last Sunday was packed full of fun and learning as I attended the Skagit River Ranch Farm Day. Here’s a recap in pictures that were taken with 10 month old Rodger strapped to my chest – a unique challenge. Unfortunately this means I wasn’t able to check photos out after taking them and an entire set of pics of the burger cook-off were over-exposed beyond repair.  : (   </excuses>

Skagit River Ranch has about 850 acres, so what you see the cows grazing on here is just a fraction of their grassland. Slaughter is done at the edge of this field in a mobile unit owned by their slaughtering co-op, the first of its kind. They believe this to be the cleanest, most humane and low-stress environment for food production.  Feedlot cows are not allowed in this custom-made stainless steel unit in order to reduce E. coli contamination.

Turkeys at Skagit River Ranch (SRR) run wild in the yard eating insects, grass and seeds, but their diet is also supplemented with spelt and other nutritious grains. Broiler chickens here are sent to market at 16 weeks old, as opposed to the typical grocery store bird which is slaughtered at 5 weeks. This makes for a more flavorful bird. SRR also grows Poussin (Rock Cornish Game Hen) specially for Tilth Restaurant.

Offal and manure at this farm are composted with wood chips from the city’s roadside cleanup. Farmer George demonstrates here his certainty that the compost is a natural inoculum of microbes.

Here are the Vojkovich family pets. “Sheepie” was hand raised in their home in Pampers with a hole cut out for her tail!

Is there anything cuter than chickies?

According to Farmer George, the biggest boon of organic vegetables is the trace minerals, particularly selenium.

The organic green bean seeds from which these plants came from were three years old when planted.

Some other facts about running the farm:  SRR has been making all of its fuel for the farm from local restaurant vegetable oil for one year now.  George has two guys help him on a daily basis and his wife Eiko has one and a half girls.

Randy and Jan are the grass farmers for SRR. In the first few months they worked with SRR, George came to their grass farm and mineralized the soil for them, so that it would meet his standards of nutrition for his cows. He and Eiko also helped them get their organic certification. Here are Eiko and Randy:

We ate burgers and snags from the ranch with lettuce grown in the family garden.  You could taste the nutrient richness of the soil in the lettuce.

Fresh buns from the Breadfarm:

Haggis Brothers perform:

The guest chefs participated in a sustainability panel with Farmer George as well as a burger cook-off.  George says sustainable means that when you write a check, there’s money in the account to cover it.  That’s a great analogy.  See commentary below for what the chefs had to say about sustainability.

Chef Greg Atkinson, cookbook author and teacher, quoted Michael Pollan in saying that Americans used to spend 20% of their income on food and 10% on medical care and that has now reversed, so we spend 10% food and 20% medical care.  He thinks it’s more fun to go eat at Tilth than see the doctor.  I’m with him.  (No offense Dr. Aeshliman!)

Me and Greg with the book he signed for me. Can’t wait to try out some recipes!  Rodger is not nearly as impressed with meeting local chefs as I am.

Greg’s burger for the cook-off:

Chef Craig Hetherington of TASTE Restaurant believes “schools are the place to start.” Educating the community is the key to bringing sustainability to our food system.

I won one of Craig’s burgers in the raffle – pureed caramelized Walla Walla sweet onions in the patty and Samish Bay cumin Gouda cheese and Pleasant Valley relish on top.  Yum!

Chef Maria Hines of Tilth, one of my favorite Seattle restaurants, says we should be moving away from calorie dense foods and towards nutrient dense foods. Luckily these are the tasty ones!

Maria won the cook-off. The prize was a Flintstones-sized rack of beef ribs. Congratulations!

Rumors on Twitter (@edibleseattle) say she may have won due to the adorable fingerling potato chips.

Judging is serious business:

Nancy Leson, Seattle Times Food Writer

“Oyster Bill” Whitbeck of Taylor Shellfish who totally schooled me on some camera points.  Don’t you hate it when you don’t realize who you’re talking to and they turn out to be a legend?  At least he was more pleasant than when this happened with Dave Winer!  Sorry Bill!

Carol Haven of Slow Food Skagit and Jill Lightner of Edible Seattle magazine

Carol Havens has a motto, “More food growing near more people.” I couldn’t put it better myself.  Thanks to everyone for a wonderful day, putting up with my nosy photography and questions and of course to George and Eiko for providing us with food that nourishes the body, environment and community.


Support Building Blocks Show and purchase one of Greg Atkinson’s books:

In Season: Culinary Adventures of a San Juan Island Chef
The Northwest Essentials Cookbook: Cooking With the Ingredients That Define a Regional Cuisine
Entertaining in the Northwest Style: A Menu Cookbook
West Coast Cooking
Recipes from the San Juan Islands

Or Oyster Bill’s:

The Joy of Oysters

$5 Dinner Challenge: Olive Oil & Rosemary Chicken with Pearled Barley & Green Beans

August 31, 2009


“We are a one income family living in a two income world!” Erin, $5 Dinners

That quote really resonated with me and so I decided to challenge myself to three Mondays of $5 Dinner Challenges.  This means, each Monday I will cook a meal for 2 adults and 2 children for around $5.  Here’s the real challenge, though:  I will do it while maintaining my commitment to eat mostly local and organic vegetables and humanely raised meats.  For my inaugural meal, I made Olive Oil & Rosemary Chicken with Pearled Barley & Green Beans for $5.61.

The great thing about this meal is that it is one of the tastiest I’ve made lately.  The chicken was crispy and not over seasoned with a hint of rosemary.  The green beans were flavorful and crisp and since the barley was simmered in chicken stock, it complemented the meal perfectly.  Here’s how made this fantastic meal for just over five bucks:

Prices and Products

  • 1 tsp. finely chopped rosemary from my garden:  free
  • 1/2 tbsp. organic, cold pressed, Extra Virgin Olive Oil: $0.10
  • 1.09 lbs. chicken thighs (no animal byproducts or antibiotics in the animal’s feed or added hormones): $2.99
  • 1 cup dry organic pearled barley (each serving has 30% of your daily dietary fiber requirement): $0.69
  • 1 cup home-made organic, free range chicken stock with local veggies, good wine and home-grown herbs $0.76
  • 0.75 lb. local, pesticide-free green beans from farmer’s market: $1.07
  • Couple dashes of salt and pepper:  negligible

How I got these great deals:

  • I’d heard from my friend Elisa that the end of the day at the farmer’s market is a good time to bargain with the farmers, so I went ten minutes to closing and talked the farmer down from $2/lb to $1/lb on the green beans.
  • I told the butcher at Whole Foods about this really cool dinner challenge I was doing and he helped me pick out the pieces of chicken that were the best value and (don’t tell anyone!) did a little rounding down on the price.
  • I made the chicken stock from the left over carcass and offal from last week’s roast chicken, tasty wine that hubby found a great deal on, left over veggies from last week and herbs from my garden.


Rosemary and Olive Oil Chicken Thighs

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Combine 1/2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary and a dash each of sea salt and fresh ground pepper in a small bowl.
  • Wash and pat dry 1 lb bone-in, skin on chicken thighs.
  • Rub thighs with olive oil mix
  • Bake at 400 for about 45 minutes (until skin is golden brown and temp. is 165)

Barley Cooked in Chicken Stock

  • Cook 1 cup pearled barley according to instructions on package, replacing 1 cup of water with 1 cup of chicken stock (usually 1 cup dried barley for 3 cups liquid, simmer, covered for 1 hr 15 min.)

Steamed Green Beans

  • Cook 3/4 lb. green beans in steamer basket over one inch of water in covered pot on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until desired tenderness is reached, but color is still bright green.