The Eternal Dilemma – what do I want for dinner?

As I pondered that great question, I realized it was simply too big to handle on my own. Sometimes, we must give in and ask for help. In this case, I reached into the great knowledge-abyss, Google, and asked, “What do I want for dinner?”
Now, this is not the first time I’ve asked wise and all-knowing Google this question, but this is the first time I received a useful (albeit slightly profane) answer. Here is what the almighty said:

What the F*** Should I Make for Dinner?

Whoa, yeah… Sorry for the colorful language, Mom and Dad!

Despite the initial shock from the prolific use of America’s favorite adjective… um, adverb… wait… noun… Oh, and verb… um, well, let’s say “all purpose word”, this site actually offers really great recipes (and clever insults)! Firstly, you can tell the system that you’re a vegetarian, which is rarely the case with these meal-idea-generators. Secondly, it also gives drink recipes for when you’re struggling to decide which beverage you’d like to drown your sorrows in tonight. The thing I probably love most about this site is its simplicity. It’s design is simple and the questions are simple. No “what ethnicity are you in the mood for?” or “how long do you have to cook?” or “will your slave be preparing this for you?”. Just 1 simple button. Boom. Dinner recipe. Obviously, if you don’t like the first suggestion, you can tell it so and get another. You can keep getting suggestions until you’ve seen so many that you’re not even hungry anymore. Of course, that would never actually happen to me… I digress. For those that prefer a more PC version of this database, you can go directly to the site from which all of these recipes are derived: cookstr.com. No profanity here. Just yummy, beautiful recipes to satisfy the indecisive. All one must do is click the “surprise me” button, and away we go.

I made this last night. Very yummy. Very easy. I loves it.

So, what do you do when you cannot decide what to eat?

Lee Lee International Supermarket

Rating:

Veggie:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Lee Lee has everything you could ever want from an Asian market! They have a fantastic selection of vegetables, fruits, noodles, rice, alcohol, spices, dry goods and many specialty items. They sort the dry goods by country, which is really neat (and convenient). Their produce is always very fresh and reasonably priced. They literally have a thousand different kinds of noodles… It’s crazy. And awesome.

Lee Lee also smells significantly less repugnant than Grantstone Asian Supermarket… Ok, let’s be honest, the morgue smells better than Grantstone.

Lee Lee Supermarket
1990 W. Orange Grove Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85704
520-638-8328

Grantstone Asian Supermarket

Looking for lychee? Craving coconut? Grasping for galanga? Okay, I’ll stop. You get the point. Grantstone has so many specialty items that cannot be found elsewhere (sometimes they even carry things that Lee Lee doesn’t). The trouble is that it smells like they’re hiding dead bodies under the floor. Or maybe they’re in the ceiling. I don’t really know where they are keeping the cadavers, I just know that they are not very well preserved… It’s especially evident on a hot Tucson day. Phew. Bring a gas mask. They also don’t mop the floor or clean… anything, really. However, if you can stomach the stench, this shop is a gem. They have hundreds of different types of noodles, sauces, vegetables, canned goods and cool Asian snackies. This is literally the only place that regularly carries kaffir lime leaves – which I need to make Tom Kha Gai (the most amazingly soup on the planet). Just give it a try, already, and tell me what you think!

Grantstone Market
8 W Grant Rd, Tucson, AZ 85705
(520) 628-7445

Salt

What’s your favorite kind of salt?

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a small obsession with salt. White, gray, pink, orange, black, I love them all. Each with their unique flavors and attributes. Each with their special place in my culinary-heart.

I have a huge stash of this seasoning – I will need years to get through it all. In fact, I just bought a gorgeous, 1 kg bag of gray sea salt from France (which you can procure at World Market for only $4.99!) I haven’t opened it yet (because I still haven’t put a dent in my large cache of pink, Himalayan salt or the black, Hawaiian sea salt with activated charcoal), but it looks so amazing – still a little wet from being scooped out of the sea, it’s not washed or processed in any way, just pure salt with all of the naturally occurring trace minerals. I also have to admit that I’ve been a bit of a francophile since returning from Paris a couple of weeks ago, so its French origin also has appeal.

I adore the richness of these more naturally-derived and un- to less-processed salts. They are more intensely salty, if that makes sense. Richer, fuller, deeper. Sure, the differences are subtle, but they are noticeable and noteworthy, nonetheless. I also appreciate the trace minerals and elements. Our bodies need these to function, albeit in small amounts, and this is a simple way to insure you’re getting them.

Another variety I’m interested in is smoked salt. Have you tried this? I’ve heard that it adds a wonderful warmth and fullness to certain savory dishes. I haven’t gone for it yet because I’m not sure what I would actually put it on… So, I’m open to suggestions!

By the way, if you’re interested in purchasing salt online (bulk or retail), check out Salt Works – they have almost every kind of salt imaginable (and often free shipping)!

The most heavenly dish known to mankind – yellow squash

Okay, I know you’re thinking “this doesn’t sound like something Fatty would say”. You’re probably also thinking “I’m not reading a blog called Fatty McFatfat to hear about gourds.” Both of these statements are valid, however, just hear me out. Some of the most amazing foods are the simplest: ripe avocado tossed in lemon juice with salt & pepper (thanks, Mom!), juicy red tomatoes sprinkled with salt and drizzled in balsamic vinegar & olive oil, and refreshing, cold slices of watermelon. So, let’s just keep an open mind and see where it takes us!
Obviously, the best squash comes from someone’s garden. rather than huge, industrial farms. They’re sweeter, richer and brighter. So, growing your own (not terribly easy in Tucson) or buying some from the farmer’s market is ideal, but, to be perfectly honest, yellow squash is good no matter where it came from. So, if you need to, just run down to the nearest grocery store and pick some up. Buy more than you think you’ll need – it cooks down to about 2/3 of the original volume. Another great tip, from my lovely mother, is to pick the smallest, most brightly colored squash you can find; these will be more flavorful than the larger ones.

Servings: 2-4
1 medium-large sweet onion, chopped or sliced (or another onion of your choice – but sweet onions really add to this dish… and to everything, in general. Basically, they are amazing.)
6-8 small-medium yellow squash, thinly sliced
~2 Tbsp butter or oil of your choice (the amount is variable, just add enough so that the veggies don’t stick or burn)
Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions:
Heat butter/oil in large skillet over medium heat. Once warm, add onions and sauté until the onions are slightly translucent. Next, add the squash and cover. Stir every few minutes, bringing the bits on the bottom to the top, to prevent burning. The squash will become somewhat translucent and floppy; at this point, you can remove the lid and turn up the heat to medium-high (or high, depending on your stove – mine gets ridiculously hot… I mean, unnecessarily hot. Who needs to melt a pan whilst cooking? No one.) and add salt & pepper. During this stage, you’re going to caramelize the squash and onions – you’ll want to watch it a little more closely and stir it more frequently. The squash will get really squishy and almost turn in to a mash – then you’ll know it’s done. Remove from heat and let it sit for a few minutes (the flavor becomes richer as it cools). Check to see if it needs more salt (I LOVE salt. I would marry salt, if it would have me) and serve. The last step is to bask in the glory of this magnificent dish. So, go bask.

Bodego Kitchen & Wine

This was a night of highs and lows… I noticed Bodego during my visit to the farmer’s market and thought the outdoor area was so gorgeous that it was worth a try. So, we ventured out with high hopes. Firstly, the ambiance was great. Gorgeous outdoor fireplace with a Mediterranean feel, cozy little niches, heaters for warmth and plush seating inside. The hostess instructed us to just sit where we’d like, so we grabbed some drinks from the bar as we made our way. No, we could not wait until we sat down to have our drinks… And, no, that doesn’t make me an alcoholic… I swear. No, really! Anyway, enough of your judgement, the house lager is nice and so is the pear cocktail (great prices at happy hour). After sitting at our table for 20 minutes, watching other people get served, we finally went to the hostess to ask if we’d been forgotten. Sure enough, we had. There was definitely a serious lack of communication as the same thing occurred to 2 of the 3 tables sitting near us. No problem, they’d only been open for 9 days and we were not in a rush. The hostess ended up serving us and was really good. She was friendly and helpful – things were looking up. After making it clear that I was a vegetarian and my companion, a pescetarian, we ordered the tomato bisque, vegetable barley soup, vegetable parve and the fideo (seafood pasta). The presentation of everything was gorgeous and the bread was nice. The tomato bisque was excellent – I mean, really exceptional. It was served with a thin piece of toasted bread, which was the perfect accoutrement. However, the vegetable parve was a little flat. It certainly needed salt (of which there was none available on the tables – mighty presumptuous!), perhaps that would’ve been enough to make it good, but as it was served, it was lackluster. The fideo was also unremarkable. In addition to the fact this it was just okay, it seemed like there was beef or pork crumbles on top of it (not on the menu and the server swore that it was some type of seafood or panko)… It was definitely not panko, but it was so heavily seasoned that one could be convinced that it was scallops or something of that nature. However, it really had the look, taste and feel of some type of meat – not very appetizing for those who do not eat red meat (like my dining counterpart to whom this dish belonged). Lastly, we tried the “vegetable barley soup”, which was touted as being completely vegan. Whoa. It reminded me of something from my childhood: my mother’s potato & ham soup… This was probably because it was potato and ham soup. An item not on the menu or even mentioned during the specials. We thought we were imaging the distinct pork flavor and lack of barley, but, alas, my bite of bacon solidified my suspicions. Unfortunately, since it was so dark outside, we literally couldn’t see what we were eating. So, needless to say, after not having consumed any meat whatsoever for 4.5 years, I was left in a nauseated state for the rest of the evening. Was this psychosomatic? Maybe. But bacon is one of those foods that really stick with you, not to mention that the thought of munching on Wilbur doesn’t sit very well with me. The server was very apologetic about this mistake (it was not her fault – another server brought out the dish, but this is a testament to the communication problems they are clearly having) and took the soup off of the tab. We also had an americano (to eradicate the swine from our taste buds), which was okay – very mild, which I like, but perhaps a little too watered down.
There is promise and it seems like their heart is in the right place, but they’re going to have to work on making sure that the vegetarian and vegan dishes actually are such. Especially when they go on about accommodating dietary restrictions and providing wholesome, minimal ingredient dishes.  We may be back, since the tomato bisque, drinks and ambiance were so nice, but we’re still on the fence.

Bodego Kitchen & Wine

St. Philips Plaza
4340 N Campbell Ave
Suite 164
Tucson, AZ 85718
(520) 395-1025

China Szechwan

Very accommodating of vegetarians! They made vegetarian egg drop soup on request (it’s usually made with chicken broth) and it was fantastic. I have been obsessed with egg drop soup since I was 9 months old, so I know a good one when I taste it! We had take-out and there was a slight hiccup in that they forgot to put something on, so our order took a little longer than expected, but they were very apologetic and got it ready as quickly as possible. This happened during a busy dinner service, so it was understandable. We had veggie fried rice, singapore noodles (veg and spicy, by request), egg drop soup (veg, by request) and veggie egg rolls. The noodles, egg rolls and soup were really good. The fried rice was not great – it was a little soggy and had an odd sort of sweet/chocolate flavor that we didn’t care for.
So, I will definitely be back for more soup and will certainly try other items from the menu.

China Szechwan
1800 E Fort Lowell Rd
Tucson, AZ 85719
(520) 795-0888

Frost – A Gelato Shoppe

There are few things in this world that I love more than gelato. My family,
adorable baby goats and… well, that’s it. In Italy, I ate gelato almost everyday. I found this wonderful place in Florence, right next to the gorgeous duomo, where they offered the best tiramisu and menta (mint chocolate chip) gelato on the face of the planet. I went back to this shop 4 times during my stay! The tiramisu flavor literally had pieces of real tiramisu. I mean, you could taste the espresso-soaked lady fingers and feel the texture of the mascarpone mixed in with the smooth ice cream. Oh, man. Enjoying this delectable treat while admiring the mind-blowing architecture of the cathedral was quite an experience. However, I must say the best gelato I’ve had was in Monterosso al Mare. In Italy, Figs are abundant and you can find many dishes featuring them, but Monterosso was the only locale that had fig gelato. I love figs! My parents once had a huge fig tree in their back yard – I would pick them endlessly to make jams, pies, topping for ice cream (a real crowd-pleaser), or as salad accoutrement (my personal favorite – fresh fruit on a salad is fantastic). So, needless to say, I was quite enamored with this variety of gelato – I had it at least 4 times (and I was only staying there for 2 days…)
Now, that I have you dreaming of far-off places (don’t bother, aside from the gelato and architecture, you’re not missing anything), let’s talk about the next best thing in the gelato-world: Frost.
You may find it hard to believe, but their gelato is really on-par with the best gelato in Italy. Their chef was trained in Italy and it’s quite obvious that he knows what he’s doing! The texture is perfect – smooth and creamy. The flavors are mouth-watering (I love any of their nut varieties, pistachio or hazelnut, particularly when paired with their dark chocolate). The service and facilities are always pleasant – and they encourage you to try as many flavors as you want (all of them, if you’re up for it!) They even offer a huge selection of fruit sorbet (dairy-free) and a couple no-sugar-added options, which are just as good as their full-sugar counterparts. They make milkshakes, espresso + gelato drinks, chocolate-covered ice cream bites, gorgeous gelato cakes for special occasions (such as: sitting at home craving ice cream. This is the special-est of occasions.) and you can also purchase their gelato buy the pint or quart. Everyone I’ve ever taken here has instantly fallen in love – amaretto, roasted almond, mint chocolate chip, sea salt caramel, cappuccino, hazelnut, dark chocolate, nocciolato… and the list goes on. Their varieties are constantly changing and they offer seasonal options (peppermint, pumpkin, eggnog, etc.)
Trust me, there is something for everyone and everyone will fall in amore!

Frost – A Gelato Shoppe

Casas Adobes
7131 N Oracle Rd
Tucson, AZ 85704
Phone number (520) 797-0188

Eastside
7301 E Tanque Verde Rd
Tucson, AZ 85715
Phone number (520) 886-0354

Catalina Foothills
2905 E Skyline Dr
Tucson, AZ 85718
Phone number (520) 615-9490

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I had a fantastic meal at Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill in Las Vegas. I’m a huge fan of Chef Ramsay (Kitchen Nightmares, Junior Master Chef, Ramsay’s Best Restaurant), so I had very high hopes – and I was not disappointed! Great service, fantastic drinks, mouth-watering entrees and… dessert… Oh, dessert! Sticky Toffee Pudding is what we decided on – I loved it so much that I decided to try to duplicate the dish. This effort was surprisingly successful! The toffee sauce is really what makes the dish – it’s incredibly simple, but incredibly delicious.

I couldn’t find Gordon’s recipe, so I adapted one from BBC Good Food.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 4 dates, chopped
  • 6 tbsp butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 1/4 cup light brown soft sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the sauce:

  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup light brown soft sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter

Finishing touch:

  • Vanilla Ice Cream

Preparation

  1. Put the dates in a small saucepan and pour over 1/3 cup water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3-4 mins until the dates are mushy and have absorbed the water. Gently stir to blend.
  2. Heat the oven to 350 ºF. Grease and line the bases of 4 x 150ml pudding molds. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and vanilla, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Mix in the blended date purée and divide between the molds. Transfer to a roasting tin and pour enough boiling water in to reach halfway up the molds. Cover the tin with foil and cook for 25 mins until risen and firm to the touch.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Pour half the cream and all the sugar and butter into a small, heavy-bottomed pan. Heat gently until sugar has dissolved, stirring often. Turn up the heat and boil for 3-4 mins until the sauce is glossy and thick, then stir in the remaining cream.
  4. Re-heat the sauce when the puddings are cooked and serve poured on top along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

*Note – My puddings didn’t cook properly… They took much longer (35-40 mins) and then collapsed once I took them out of the oven. I removed them from the water bath and put them back in the oven for 5-10 minutes. While they were a little flatter than ideal, they turned out pretty well.

Sushi on Oracle

Great service, clean restaurant and nice food. I’ve only been here once, but I was really pleased with the quality and selection of vegetarian options. I will definitely be back. And I’ll actually take pictures then… I’m so bad about forgetting to do that! As soon as my food arrives, I gobble it up!

Sushi on Oracle
6449 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85704
(520) 297-3615