Thursday, December 31, 2009

99.99% Organic in 2009

These are a few of my favorite things - that is, 99.99 cent organic things! Just because you are cheap like me does not mean you have to eat unhealthy.

Fresh produce, jars of organic carrots, beets and chopped garlic from 99c only Stores have been loaded into my shopping basket this year. While not stocked for every visit, I frequently find organic canned beans and cartons of organic chicken, vegetable or beef broth for cooking and soup stock. I have picked up fresh mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, oranges, onions and berries of all types including: strawberry, blackberry, blueberry and raspberry.

I also visit local farmers markets for fresh produce and herbs. Keep a lookout at your regular market for seasonal veggies and fruit - this is when they are priced lower. This Chef recommends keeping a window box with fresh herbs; they are easy to grow, and if you have a patio or yard, plant a few favorite veggies. My thumb is not green; more of my plants wilt or are unproductive - my beefsteak tomatoes grow to look more like cherry tomatoes, but sometimes one bush will make up for all my gardening shortcomings. Don't be discouraged -- it's good to get your hands dirty.

So here is a photo roundup capturing some of my fresh organic finds this year.






Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas & New Year Recipes - Compilation

Your holiday present from The 99 Cent Chef is this post, where I compile my various videos, appetizers, entrees and desserts you can use over the next week of Christmas and New Year's Day festivities. Just watch the embedded videos or click on underlined, bold-lettered recipes to see my culinary penny-pinching holiday party ideas. And don't worry, I can keep a secret -- I won't tell any of your revelers that they are dining on cheap, but tasty, 99 Cent Chef cuisine!

Let's start with appetizers. Nothing gets a gathering off to the right start like creative finger food.
Roasted Asparagus Wrapped in Genoa Salami is a decadent and delicious kickoff. Want to go even cheaper? Try toasting some sliced French rolls and chop a can of drained black olives for Black Olive Tapenade with Crostinis. Carrots are the cheapest vegetable and Orange Honey Glazed Carrots are toothpick-ready. Party healthy and ethnic with my Armenian and Thai Salad; or get your controversy on and serve The Chef's politically charged Cesar Chavez Salad. Devilish Deviled Eggs are spicy and a platter of Mini-Banana Puddings sweet, along with Cranberry, Orange & Coconut Cookies.

Ever cook in a wig? This may be your last chance in 2009 to don one for a sure-fire flammable party hit - Crepes Suzette. OK, you may be too shy, and your Julia Child accent weak -- well, then just gather your friends around the computer screen and bathe in the warm glow of my Julia Child Crepes Suzette Video - where this bejeweled and coiffed Chef channels the original Top Chef, Julia Child. Another festive holiday favorite of note is my Egg Nog Recipe & Tipsy Tree Trimming Video. I take you step-by-step through the making of a homemade egg nog; then join in as I attempt to trim the tree after one egg nog too many! Another party beverage is my revolutionary rum drink video for a 99 Cent Mojito.

Egg Nog Recipe and A Tipsy Tree Trimming - Video

Play it here. The video runs 5 minutes 12 seconds.

Let's get substantial.
A hearty and colorful Roasted Pumpkin With Pasta is a great way to take advantage of seasonal squash sales. Leftover turkey? How about serving it as a topping for my Pita Pizza Party recipe (pairs well with a beshamel cream sauce). My Stuffing Cupcakes With Cranberry Frosting served with gravy will give your guests plenty to talk about. This week whole chicken, is on sale, and my Pollo en Mente Chicken (mint chicken) recipe is an unusually fragrant spin on typical holiday roasted poultry fare; or sex-up your bird with my Russ Meyer Lemon Chicken recipe. And Swedish Meatballs are tiny, scrumptious, and warmly inviting in a group gathering.

The 99 Cent Chef wishes all his visitors a great holiday & New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Cranberry, Orange & Coconut Cookies

This is one addictive holiday cookie! This basic cookie dough is flavored with orange, cranberries (or raisins) and coconut flake, all budget items this time of year. Dried cranberries are cheap at our local Trader Joe's; 99c only Stores carry coconut flake and cheaper raisins; and oranges are inexpensive anywhere.

Bake them for five minutes and they will be chewy, or bake for 10 minutes for a crispy version. The cookies can be made small, so you can have enough to hand-out as holiday treats to all your neighbors -- you will be fielding calls of thanks later. 99 thanks to Amy for this recipe idea. She made them, I loved them, and so did our neighbors!

Ingredients (about 3-4 dozen)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries - OK to substitute raisins
1 cup of sweetened coconut flake
1 cup of soften butter or margarine
1 tbsp. grated orange zest - the grated peel of one large orange.
Juice of one large orange
2 tsps vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions
In a large bowl add softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix well with a mixer or potato masher and spoon. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to bowl, including flour, baking powder and salt. This will form a typical soft cookie dough when mixed for 5 - 10 minutes by hand or with a mixer. Add juice squeezed from the orange for additional flavor, and to moisten the dough so it 'makes.' Finally, fold in cranberries (or raisins) and coconut flake.

(For a plumper cranberry or raisin, soak the dried fruit in hot water for 1/2 hour prior to starting recipe).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease cookie sheet. Form cookie dough into 1 inch balls and arrange on the cookie sheet - leave an inch or two separation between each cookie. Bake for 6 minutes for a soft cookie or about 10 minutes for a crunchy one. (These cookies don't turn brown except along the outside edges). Allow to cool for a few minutes; you can also serve them warm.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Coconut Rice

A sweet and savory side, Coconut Rice takes typical boring rice to a whole new level of flavors. You can make this recipe with white, brown rice or a combination of both. Just follow your normal rice cooking directions, substituting flavorful coconut cream for half of the water.


I find coconut cream or milk on sale all the time and rice is just plain cheap anywhere. Coconut juice or water is more subtle and may not be enough to flavor the rice, so stay with cream or milk. One can is enough for cooking with 2 cups of rice.

This recipe makes a lot, but you can freeze cooked rice for later. I also found some shredded coconut on sale and mixed in a cup (reserving a couple of tablespoons to sprinkle on the plate) - this is optional.

So get out your favorite stir-fry recipe, or use one of mine, or serve my festive Coconut Rice with your holiday roasted bird - it will please your guests and family.


Ingredients (serves 4-6)
  • 2 cup of rice - OK to cut all ingredients in half for a smaller recipe.
  • 1 can of coconut milk or cream (about 13 ounces)
  • 1 cup of shredded coconut - optional and reserve 2 tbsp. for garnishing.
  • 1 cup of water
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley - optional, it's just for a colorful serving.


Directions
Follow rice cooking directions. Just add water, coconut cream and shredded coconut (reserve some of the shredded to sprinkle onto cooked rice before serving) to rice. 

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook another 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to set for about 5 minutes. 

Brown rice takes longer, about a 1/2 hour to 45 minutes total, again follow rice bag directions. Instant rice is the quickest and coconut cream blends in well. Optional to garnish with shredded coconut and fresh cilantro.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The 99 Cent Chef Cooks in Seattle - Video Diaries

The 99 Cent Chef will travel for food. I was invited to shoot a segment for Public Televisions' KCTS in Seattle, Washington last week.

Emmy-awarded journalist Jenny Cunningham was our kind host and responsible for the visit. I was to prepare appetizers for her book group to be filmed from start to finish. Was it a disaster? Or a success? Either way you will enjoy the next five days as I assemble a video diary of my fun time in cool Seattle -- and post it here. I don't know how many short videos are on the way, but come back and you will know about as much as I do.

Over the next 5 days the videos will include: "Breakfast in Seattle", "Dining in Ballard at King's," "Throwing Salmon at Pike Place Fish Market," "Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition," and "KCTS Cooking Show."
Seattle Diary - Part 1

Play it here -- 43 seconds.

To view or embed from youtube, click here.

The internal monologue from Queens' Bohemian Rhapsody becomes a comedic, angst-ridden song delivered by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition.

The Chef, his wife, and hosts Jenny and Kevin mingled with carolers competing on Pine Street in downtown Seattle. The real winners are the 10,000 or so scarfed revelers wearing floppy-horned reindeer and Santa hats who get to hear multiple caroling groups on every corner singing and performing Christmas classics - some performed straight, others tongue-in-cheek. The Chef had his camera to record this once-a-year festive street party and is happy to share it with you.
Figgy Pudding Caroling - Seattle Diary Part 2

Play it here -- I minute, 48 seconds.

To view or embed from youtube, click here.

My Seattle video diary continues with brew pubs, blue-cheese burgers and furry hats! The Chef gives you a two-minute tour of Ballard, a waterfront community just Northwest of downtown Seattle. It's bohemian - similar to L.A.'s Silverlake neighborhood, and I liked it immediately.

Jenny and Kevin keep things moving; it was a grab-a-pint/burger-and-go tour. We landed in King's, a dark pub with a long bar serving Hamms on tap for $2.50 a pint, and a rustic dining room that extended outdoors. I ordered a B & B Burger, it comes with blue cheese and bacon, a great combination on a chilly day. Also, I ordered sweet potato fries - I think I am over it; you can't eat these fries with ketchup, so I'll stay with regular potato from now on. Hale's Creme Stout was my local beer of choice. It's served with a creamy head and the flavor is thick, sweet and bitter. Delicious. Ballard Ave is a great street to browse.
Ballard Ave. - Seattle Diary Part 3

Play it here -- 2 minutes, 11 seconds.

To view or embed from youtube, click here.

Fresh from the oven of Seattle Public TV's KCTS is their video of my holiday recipe, Stuffing Cupcakes with Cranberry Frosting! I got it from their website and here it is.
Seattle Diary - Recipe

Play it here -- 3 minutes, 9 seconds.

To view or embed from KCTS website, go here.

Bears are not the only mammal that can snag a flying slippery salmon -- just watch The Chef display his catching skills in Seattle's famed Pike Place Fish Market, where salmon tossing is a lively tradition.

Located on Elliot Bay, Pike Place Public Markets' colorful food stalls hold bins stacked with every variety of Washington apple: from Aurora and Jazz, to Pink Ladies and Honeycrisp. This is the place to get locally grown, gold-hued Chanterelle mushrooms, black truffles and of course, all manner of seafood, especially salmon. My wife wisely selected a tasty variety of Washington apples for our holidays -- all I got was this video! I hope you enjoy it.
Throwing Salmon - Seattle Diary Part 4

Play it here -- 2 minutes, 12 seconds.

To view or embed from Youtube, click here.

A strong cup of Seattle coffee gets conversations going at Jenny and Kevins' breakfast table located in Seattle's historic Queen Anne neighborhood. Listen in on my latest video diary entry.
Breakfast in Seattle - Diary Part 5

Play it here -- 1 minute, 6 seconds.

To view or embed from youtube, click here.

The KCTS show, About The Money features The Chef's segment called "Gourmet For Less" which aired Friday night. I'm featured in a book club party atmosphere -- cooking 4 recipes behind the scenes in the kitchen: Roasted Red Pepper Hummus Martinis, Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches, Stuffing Cupcakes With Cranberry Frosting and Mini-Banana Puddings. Host Jenny came up with the theme and we managed to pull it off. The first five minutes are our party, and the last 4 minutes feature more holiday budget ideas that Jenny shares with another host, Josephine Cheng.
Gourmet For Less - TV Segment

Play it here -- First 5 minutes.

To view or embed from Youtube, click here.

Lights, camera, makeup, and cue laughter! In this last Video Diary from Seattle I take you behind the scenes of shooting my cooking segment for Public TV's KCTS, Channel 9. Our intrepid problem-solving, and new 99 Cent Players, producer/hosts Jenny and Kevin helped in-and-outside of the kitchen to make the shoot entertaining and fun. They deserve a heartfelt 99 thanks. More thanks to the cameramen and crew at KCTS for making this Chef look good. And final thanks to my wife Amy for the companionship and sous chef kitchen duty!

KCTS Backstage Footage - Diary Part 6

Play it here -- 6 minutes, 12 seconds.

To view or embed from Youtube, click here.

Also, I'm featured on the foodie site Good Bite with my feature "Shop Like A 99 Cent Chef", click here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thai Cucumber Salad

This light, sweet salad has plenty of crunch. You can make it in a minute and serve it with your favorite stir fry recipe, or click here for a 99 Cent Chef recipe fave. The Chef's Thai salad also adds a healthy course to dorm room ramen dining.

Slice one large cucumber and a quarter of an onion, then marinate in rice vinegar and sugar - that's it. Sometimes simple is best. If you want more heft to your salad add a few wedges of tomato. You can use a sugar substitute, honey, or whisk in any organic sweetener into the rice vinegar dressing. These ingredients fit well into this cheap Chef's budget profile, so there is no excuse not eat your veggies.


Ingredients
  • 1 large cucumber - sliced and half-peeled. I like to leave some skin on for color. Any bitterness is reduced by the sweet dressing.
  • 1/4 onion - thinly sliced; minimizes strong onion taste some people find unpleasant.
  • 1 medium tomato - optional, cut into wedges
  • Cilantro - optional, a handful, chopped.
  • 1/4 cup of rice vinegar - any vinegar will do.
  • 1 tsp. of sugar or any sweet substitute - add a little at a time and taste dressing for desired sweetness.
  • 1 pinch of salt

Directions
Mix vinegar and sugar in a medium salad bowl. Adjust sugar amout to desired sweetness. Partially peel and slice and cucumber. Thinly slice onion. Cut tomato into wedges. Mix veggies into bowl with dressing and serve.

Monday, November 30, 2009

2nd Year Anniversary! - Video

The 99 Cent Chef is celebrating his 2nd year of food blogging today. It's all good fun -- wielding a whisk in one hand and a camera in the other. Food is one way I explore this great metropolis, Los Angeles. I have the best of both worlds: brainstorming in the kitchen, coming up with (hopefully) tasty, budget cuisine -- then bolting out of the condo and hitting the streets to track thrifty dining trends.

Video highlights from this vlogging year - one year reduced to 6 1/2 minutes.

Play it here.

Number one, I would like to give a hearty thanks to my discerning readers for all the generous comments! You are the only way I know if a recipe really works.

99 thanks to all of the 99 Cent Players, in front of and behind the video camera. These include: neighbor Pete, Bob McGinness, Nuno Pinheira, Dan & Diana Kohne, Jay Cotton, Bob "the ump", Drew Redford, my sisters Brenda and Denise, and her husband Dale, my Mom, and especially, the number one taste-tester, my wife Amy. This food blog would be undercooked without their creative contributions.

I've picked up the pace in my reviews of budget eateries and tips on how to dine on a dime in L.A. 99 thanks to Soe at Jasmine Market & Deli for allowing me to video behind the counter in his tandoori oven kitchen; Mary Sue Milliken, Dino, Vanessa and Anthony of the Border Grill Truck for letting me climb aboard; Chef Roy Choi of Kogi Korean BBQ Truck; the cooks of Nom Nom Truck, including owners Misa Chien and David Stankunas, for showing me the inside of a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich; and finally to Chef Marilyn of Soul Food Express for a fun interview, and all her kind customers who chatted with me.

This year alone I've come up with 23 videos often marinated in comedy: for example, I donned a wig and pearls to play Julian Child, nephew of Julia Child, while I whipped up buttery Crepes Suzettes; and created an out-there video series on "moveable feasting" in some of the tastiest food trucks on the L.A. scene - videoing day and night along back streets from Manhattan Beach to Koreatown, and Venice Beach to East L.A.

This Chef does not live by recipes alone; some of my videos are just an excuse to play with food -- ever tried to dribble an onion or slam dunk a banana on the basketball court? I cried real tears in my video "Shooting Produce" - a collaboration with funnyman and neighbor Pete. Eating and driving? Don't! Just watch my Public Service Announcement cautionary tale. And watch the Chef chew the scenery, in green spandex, as "The Wrestler," (children, please cover your eyes) in his annual Oscar Special Video.

Since last November 30th, I've written about 50 budget recipes. Who would think my Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Recipe would be pushing 20,000 viewer hits on YouTube! Living in L.A., I'm exposed to a mixed stew of international neighborhoods, all of which inspire my recipes: eatables like Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches, French Onion Soup, Indian Almost Tandoori Chicken, and south-of-the-border Pollo en Mente (mint chicken).

Keep checking back, this chintzy chef has a lot more cheap recipes, restaurant reviews, yummy photos, and out-there videos in store for you. And now it's time to recharge the camera batteries and clean up the kitchen for another blogging year!

Click here to view or embed 2nd. Anniversary Video on youtube.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Stuffing Cupcakes With Cranberry Frosting - Video

Hey, if you can put bacon on cupcakes, why not Stuffing Cupcakes with sausage and cranberry frosting? This is the good stuff(ing) -- just ask my skeptical wife; and she has patiently been the recipient of some of my more outlandish culinary creations, like Pita Pizzas topped with Clams and Artichoke Hearts.

This is a fun party appetizer. Too much stuffing for the big bird? Make a few cupcakes with the extra and bring a bowlful to the Thanksgiving or Christmas table.


Doesn't that look delicious? Stuffing Cupcakes need just a little binder - one egg and 1/4 cup of flour to hold it all together. The frosting is regular canned cranberry sauce heated until soft like jelly.

Make your favorite chicken or turkey gravy for a dipping sauce (I found a jar of turkey gravy at The 99c Only Store), or, more formally, serve each cupcake in a pool of gravy.

You can use your favorite holiday stuffing recipe; I used 99 cent packaged cornbread stuffing mix. And you can add anything to stuffing: from sausage to chestnuts and dried fruit, or saute aromatics like onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and any fresh herbs you have in your garden.


My recipe is adaptable for my vegetarian friends.

What's nice about stuffing as a cupcake is you get more crunchy crust than with typical stuffing from a turkey, and you still get a moist, soft center.

Why have cranberry sauce on the side, when you can slather it on the cupcake like jam? As for gravy, it makes a great dipping sauce.

All my ingredients come cheap this time of year. Bags of stuffing, cranberry sauce and breakfast sausage are on sale. Your kids may balk at a Stuffing Cupcake, but the adults will like it. Hey, pile on enough cranberry frosting and the kids may come around. Pull this recipe out for Christmas, too!


This Bonus Video is by Seattle Public TV's KCTS. Producer Jenny Cunningham put my recipe on video for you, and here it is! (Although, the addition of cooked sausage links are left out?!!)


Also go here to embed or view from the KCTS website.

Ingredients (about 6 cupcakes)
  • 3 cups of stuffing from package (about 6 oz.) - cornbread or your favorite.
  • 1/4 cup of flour - white or wheat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 4 breakfast sausage links, or 1/4 pound ground sausage - optional
  • 1/4 bell pepper chopped
  • 1/4 onion chopped
  • 1/4 celery stalk chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried or fresh chopped herbs - parsley, sage oregano; your favorites
  • 8 oz. of cranberry sauce, from the can, for frosting. Whole cranberry sauce works well.
 
Directions for Frosting
Heat cranberry sauce in a pot for 5-10 minutes. Break it apart as it heats - it will become like soft jelly. Remove from heat, allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Directions for Stuffing Cupcakes
Prepare 3 cups of stuffing according to package directions. Usually add one cup of hot water to stuffing in a large bowl. Mix until stuffing is spongy and soft. Saute 4 sausage links and break them into small slices or chunks. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until veggies are soft, about 5 minutes. Add meat, vegggies, and a 1/4 cup of flour to stuffing. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of milk and one egg. Add it to stuffing and mix well.

Grease your cupcake pan with butter or oil spray. Scoup in enough dressing to fill each one. Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for about 45 minutes. When cupcakes are done, you may need a knife to cut around the top edge of each cupcake, to keep them from tearing when removing.

While cupcakes cook, make your favorite chicken or turkey gravy (it's okay to use packaged or from jar). I have a few gravy recipes, including a delicious mushroom gravy recipe, just click here.

Top  cupcakes with cranberry frosting, and warm gravy underneath (or, gravy on the side as a dipping sauce.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Yam Fries

Bright orange and tasty to boot, the 99 Cent Chef's Yam Fries are a nice change of pace from typical spud fried fare. You can add a cookie sheet full on the oven bottom rack as the Thanksgiving turkey if finishing up. It's a nice change of pace from a casserole of mushy marshmallow-topped baked sweet potatoes.

Yams are often on sale at most markets, and especially ethnic ones like my local Latin market -- anywhere from 4 to 2 lbs. per dollar. I've fried them in oil like regular russet potatoes, but they usually come out somewhat soggy and limp. A surfire method that is lighter is to simply slice, season, sprinkle with olive oil and bake on a cookie sheet. Yams have a lower sugar content than Sweet Potatoes so they are less likey to burn. Of course you can use sweet potatoes, but watch carefully, and you may need to reduce cooking time by a few minutes.

Ingredients (serves 1-2)
  • 1 large yam or sweet potato
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel yam and slice into 1/2 inch wide and an 2 inch long spears. Yam are sometimes difficult to slice, so don't worry if "fries" are uneven and broken. Spread out yam fries on a metal cookie sheet, ok if they touch, the heat will shrink them. Sprinkle with cumin, salt and pepper. Lastly drizzle with oil and cook for about 45 minutes. Turn once about half way through to brown fries on both sides. Sweet potatoes have more sugar so cooking time may be shorter; watch them carefully to prevent from burning black.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Subway Ride to Squash Blossom Quesadillas - Video Review

Ride the Squash Blossom Quesadilla Special from Little Tokyo to Mariachi Plaza with The 99 Cent Chef as your culinary guide.

East L.A. Subway & La Cabanas Restaurant - Video

Play it here. The video runs 6 minutes.

The Chef and his wife rode the rails on opening day, Sunday, for the Gold Line subway extension into East L.A. We got to the train yard on 1st and Alvarado by 10am and easily boarded the gleaming train cars for a ride to the end of the line.

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina was at the East L.A. Civic Center for a ribbon cutting, and right up the hill in the same park was the East L.A. Farmers Market in full swing, alongside a row of white tented food stalls with maddening aromas, and tempting free samples including: fresh roasted peanuts and skewers of Korean BBQ chicken and beef.

After a few samples, the Chef and his wife were ready for a real meal, and we headed to Mariachi Plaza Station on East 1st Street -- it's a Latin restaurant row. We passed bandstands teeming with horn, violin and guitar players belting out passionate Mexican ballads, stalls ladling sweet cups of horchata, and local artisans selling Mexican skull and beer cap boxes along with life-sized skeletons. Quite an eye and earful.

The L.A. Times published a great subway stop restaurant listing in its Wednesday Food Section, so we had a lot to choose from. You can see the listing online here. Goat stew at Birriera Jalisco? No way the Chef's wife would go for that; that's a future solo trip. Upscale classic Mexican cuisine at La Serenata de Garibaldi? Too expensive for this chintzy chef. Squash blossom quesadillas and sheep tacos at hole-in-the-wall Taqueria Las Cabanas? Bingo!

Located two blocks away from Mariachi Plaza at 1908 3/4 E. 1st Street, Taqueria Las Cabanas Restaurant is a small red room with about 10 tables, and no menu was offered. On the wall are food entree pictures and a list of their specialties, including quesadillas served in handmade fresh pressed corn tortillas. These tender yellow-hued corn discs are thicker and larger than store bought, but somehow taste lighter. The fresh grilled flavor is subtle, like tamale masa.

The Times article recommended squash blossom quesadillas and we bit. Boy, were they fantastic, and well worth $3 apiece. The delicate squash blossoms paired perfectly with melty cheese and soft fresh corn tortillas. Squash is not subtle -- the blossoms are. Our waitress, Maria, says her family has a garden and picks them fresh.

Along with the quesadillas, we ordered Sheep Tacos for $1.75. The rich, earthy meat is shredded but still chunky, slow-cooked tender, and almost sweet -- simply delicious to this mutton-loving Chef. The taco is topped with chopped onion and cilantro; spicy red and green chile sauce is set out on the tables. Maria and her mother, Juana, were kind enough to allow the Chef into their kitchen to see the tortillas rolled, pressed and grilled -- Juana makes quick work of it -- and the kitchen is filled with intoxicating smells of grilling meat and simmering soups. This Chef will soon return for more.

The Chef and his wife have been to all the free subway/train first day rides on each opening day. Underground from Hollywood to Downtown L.A. in 1999; above ground from Union Station, through Chinatown, to Pasadena in 2003; and now underground and above, from Little Tokyo to East L.A., this past Sunday. The future of our great metropolis depends on all manner of mass transit. (And for a peak into the past, here is a great pictorial of L.A.'s first subway station built in 1925! Just click here to see it.)

Was it too expensive to build, yes; is it clean, quick and comfortable, yes -- does it disrupt neighborhoods and fall short, yes; does it allow for convenient connectivity to disparate communities, yes -- and finally, to this citywide-neighborhood-exploring Chef, is it the right thing to do? It is. I can't wait until the Downtown to Culver City Metro Line, with a stop just 5 city blocks from my front step, is completed; you can be sure we will be riding it on opening day, and that I'll be prepping a personal 99 Cent Chef Neighborhood Dining Guide for the occasion!

Taqueria Las Cabanas Restaurant
1908 3/4 E. 1st St.
Boyle Heights, CA.
Squash Blossom Quesadilla: $3
Sheep Taco: $1.75

Al & Bea's Mexican Food is nearby serving cheap old school burritos: 
2025 East 1st Street
Boyle Heights, CA. 90038
(323) 267-8810
Video review, click here

Click here to view or embed from youtube.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deal of the Day - Lean Cuisine Swedish Meatballs

It's semi-truth in advertising. They got the pasta right, and the meatballs with cream gravy, too. But where's that 'Swedish' flavoring? This dish must have been kitchen committee- tested to death, because there are no discernible seasonings except salt. I think I tasted a smidgen of Worcestershire sauce and some onion powder, but that is about it. Normally, you get minced onion and nutmeg-permeated meatballs -- I know this because I made "Ingmar Bergman Swedish Meatballs" last April and have eaten enough times in Ikea's cafeteria to be familiar with them.


This Lean Cuisine entree is still a good Deal of the Day: the serving is substantial, compared to the usual minuscule portions, and I like the substitution of pasta for typical boiled red potatoes. You do get five filling small meatballs, the pasta is tender, and the cream gravy is rich tasting. It's just a little bland for 'Swedish' meatballs -- if you are going to call it that, then try to get the flavor right.


I am a fan of Lean Cuisine because this Chef has to watch his figure, when he makes his appearances on the small computer screen. This frozen entree microwaves more evenly than normal, and there is enough gravy to coat all of the pasta. Plus, this dish is bland enough to appeal to the pickiest meatball-loving kid.


On The 99 Cent Chef's scale of 0 to 9, 9 being best, I give Lean Cuisine's Swedish Meatballs With Pasta a 5 !

I picked some up at this 99c only Store and tweeted about it Monday. I have the feeling they may linger in the frozen deli case until their expiration date.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Black Olive Tapenade with Crostinis - Appetizer

OK, it's just canned, drained and chopped black olives with oil on toast. A French appetizer, tapenade is typically made with capers, black olives, anchovies and olive oil. Just put it all in a food processor until it's the consistency of hot dog pickle relish.

Crostini
is Italian for "little toast" made with olive oil, salt and pepper. The Chef's latest recipe is sophisticated and simple, like a black evening dress -- a perfect party starter.

Black Olive Tapenade
is a quick budget appetizer that you can make your own. There are many variations that the Mediterranean region has adapted -- so feel free to do the same. If you have sun-dried tomatoes in oil, add it; don't like anchovies, leave them out; capers too expensive, add a little chopped garlic instead; got some window-box herbs, add a few sprigs.

This versatile appetizer can be served on your favorite cracker or cut pita triangle as a canape. It even goes well as an extra topping on The 99 Cent Chef's Pita Pizzas.
Black olives are a favorite budget item this black-tie-avoiding Chef never tires of.


Ingredients for Tapenade (serves 4)
1 15oz. can of pitted black olives - drained
1/3 cup of olive oil*
Pepper to taste

All the following ingredients are optional -- use any or all.

3 large sun dried tomato halves with oil
1 tsp. chopped garlic - jar or fresh
1 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs - including parsley, sage or oregano
1 tbsp. capers - drained
1 whole anchovy from can
1 tbsp. of Dijon mustard


Crostini
2 French rolls - 6 inch size or just 1/2 loaf - sliced.
2 - 4 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle bread slices with olive oil and salt and pepper. Toast in oven or toaster oven for about 7 minutes at 350 degrees until lightly browned.

Directions for Tapenade

Simple, just combine all the ingredients you have on hand and blender, or food process, until finely chopped. Ready to serve on Crostini toast, crackers or pita triangles. You can prepare way ahead and store in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
*Ok to use less olive oil, too.

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