Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Joshua Tree, 127 Seconds & The Flying Burrito - Video

Just in time for the Oscars, The 99 Cent Chef throws his whisk into the competition for Best Short Film with his latest video. Set in Joshua Tree, California, my video showcases epic desert scenery, a 127 Hours movie spoof, and an Oscar-worthy special effects scene featuring a flying breakfast burrito!

The Chef and his missus took the hour-and-a-half drive to Joshua Tree to ring in the 2011 New Year. Joshua Tree is a mystical place were outsiders go to commune with nature. It's a small desert town with a big spirit.

We stayed in room 8 of the storied Joshua Tree Inn, notoriously known as the room where cosmic cowboy and alt-rock musician Gram Parsons OD'd.

If you have never heard of Gram, you have certainly heard his influence all over the radio. In the 1960's he combined country and rock into an intoxicating moonshine mix that many musicians, including The Rolling Stones, Eagles, Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams drink from.

He has an international following, and the hotel room has a guest book to leave a personal message. If you stay there as we have, be hospitable when other guests ask to see the posters and other memorabilia, including an inscribed Tanya Tucker trucker hat!

Gram Parsons was a member of the Byrds and the The Flying Burrito Brothers. Just click here to see Wikipedia bio. He checked out forever at 26, but his influence lives on. Hit the play button below for a video of Gram Parsons in action.

Flying Burrito Brothers Video - Gram is on the left.

 Many locals and out-of-towners go to Joshua Tree National Park on New Years Eve night and perch on a boulder to take in the wide starry sky. This year it was bitterly cold, so after taking in a concert by country-rock band I See Hawks In L.A. at the venerable Pappy & Harriet's roadhouse (free admission and $2 beer), we holed up in Room 8 and toasted the New Year with tequila, wine, salami, and cheese while serenading and shaking maracas and tambourine, as a friend strummed her guitar.

The next day we went exploring in Joshua Tree National Park. The majestic Joshua trees are twisted exclamation points strewn throughout the landscape, while all manner of rocks and boulders create wild structures calling out to be climbed.  

And explore we did, as you will see in my 127 Hours movie spoof  (official movie trailer here.) While it took the main character 127 hours to get out of his scrape, it takes The 99 Cent Chef only 127 seconds!  After all, I have hacked many a whole chicken.  But you are more likely to guffaw than faint - this is nowhere near as grisly as the movie. And you know what a cut-up The 99 Cent Chef is!

And finally, break bread with The Chef as he tries to dine on a Flying Breakfast Burrito!  This isn't easy to eat, but it's worth every hard-earned tasty bite.

So gather your family and friends around the computer screen to view my Oscar-worthy travelogue:

Joshua Tree, 127 Seconds & The Flying Burrito - Video
Play it here. The video runs 5 minutes, 7 seconds.

Here is Amy's guestbook entry, from an earlier visit (click on the image for a larger view):

And click on red type for links.

Click here to link or embed from Youtube.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lola's First Bite - Video

How cute is too cute? Just watch The Chef's adorable video to find out!

 My neighbors Bob and Lori have a recent addition to their family and her name is Lola. In my newest video series, I will track her First Bites. Almost a year old, Lola is getting her baby teeth in and she is ready to chow down! I plan on filming her first culinary experiences.

First up are red potatoes, avocado and organic plain yogurt. I've never seen so many reactions to a simple bite of bland boiled red potato, or realized the difficulty in eating slippery sliced avocado. And be sure to hang around to watch the funny expressions when Lola reacts to a healthy taste of plain, but sour, yogurt.

Now I can't say the food items were bought at our local dollar store, but I've easily found all three for less than a dollar each or per pound.

I've put Lori and Bob on notice to contact me when peanut butter, lemons and spaghetti are on her menu for the first time. You'll not see a cuter video anytime soon -- until my next Lola's First Bite video! So do check back.

Lola's First Bite - Video

Play it here. The video runs 2 minutes, 9 seconds.

To view or embed from Youtube, click here.
99 thanks to Lori, Bob & Lola.

More Lola!  First Bite 2.0 & First Bite 3.0 (1st Birthday Party) - just click on a name to see them!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beet & Tangerine Salad

I like canned beets. And this violet vegetable pairs perfectly with bottled sweet tangerine slices. My Beet & Tangerine Salad is another 99 Cent Chef classic pantry recipe.

I always have whole, sliced or juilenned beets in my pantry to add color and a meaty heft to any salad (see my 2 Minute Salad video recipe featuring beets, click here). Canned is not as complex in flavor -- I miss the crunch and slight horseradish heat from farmers market fresh (baked fresh beet recipe is here). I  also added a few thin slices of onion to my Beet & Tangerine Salad for that missing crunch and heat.

And the tiny tangerine slices from a can or bottle look so cool and cute -- they add a delicate citrus sweetness to any salad.

Canned beets and tangerines are always carried in my local 99c only Stores. A simply cheap marinade of tangerine juice, oil and vinegar completes the recipe.

The 99 Cent Chef's Beet & Tangerine Salad is easily assembled as a colorful last-minute party salad; or store it in your office cubicle for a light midday lunch break. 

Ingredients (2 servings)
  • 1 can sliced beets - 15 ounce, drained. Okay to use whole or julienned beets.
  • 1 small jar tangerines - about 8 ounces. Reserve juice from jar (or can).
  • 3 thin slices of onion - optional.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil - or any vegetable oil.
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar - any type, I used white vinegar.
  • 2 tablespoons of juice from canned (or bottled) tangerines.

Drain beets and add to a serving bowl or plate. Drain tangerines and reserve a few tablespoons of juice. Thinly slice some onion. Mix veggies and fruit together. To keep the salad sweeter, it's okay to leave out onions.

Whisk Marinade ingredients together for a minute. Drizzle over Beet and Tangerine Salad. Okay to serve chilled or at room temperature.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Saag Paneer - Curried Spinach with Cottage Cheese

My favorite veggie to order in an India restaurant is Saag Paneer, a rich creamy spinach and cheese dish. I've had it served several ways: sometimes the paneer (cheese) is presented in deep fried cubes floating in slow cooked spinach; or it's incorporated as a cheesy cream spinach sauce. I prefer the latter.

Unfortunately, it's not a light dish when served in your local India lunch buffet line. Clarified butter and deep fried cheese adds too many calories for this weight-watching kitchen commando.

Plus, it is not easy to find paneer -- but upon doing a little research, I found out it tastes similar to cottage cheese. Just imagine all the liquid squeezed out and the curds formed into cheese blocks. So I put two and two together and came up with a budget-busting, calorie-skimping entree anyone can make.

 The main spice is curry powder. I just use cumin - open a jar and smell -- it makes up 75% of your typical curry powder. And cumin is much easier to find on any grocery store spice shelf; plus it's much cheaper than curry powder.  Pick up an onion to saute, as this will add a bit of caramelized sweetness.

For an extra boost of cheesiness crumble-in half a disc of Mexican cheese called Queso Fresco, that comes cheaply from 99c only Stores and Latin markets (It's showing up in regular groceries, too.) It is a hard cheese that softens to gooey deliciousness, making my Saag Paneer recipe extra rich.

Slow cooking the spinach and cottage cheese with cumin creates a lush dish that is low in calories, especially if you use low fat cottage cheese. So give my delish, India-inspired, 99 Cent Chef Saag Paneer a try -- all it takes is a little spinach chopping and some slow cooking.

 Ingredients (2 -3 servings)
  • 2 bunches of spinach - or about two 6 ounce packages.
  • 1 whole onion - chopped
  • Small 8 ounce container of cottage cheese.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin - if you have curry powder, use that.
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons of milk - optional during final cooking stage.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Queso Fresco cheese -  optional. I used half a 4 ounce package, that is broken into bite sized pieces.

Heat oil in medium sized pan or pot. Add chopped onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes over a medium heat.

While onions are cooking, start cleaning and chopping spinach. Chop off long stems of spinach bunches. No need to chop all spinach at once. You will add it in batches - as one batch cooks down you chop another to add.

Mix in cumin and saute for a couple of minutes. Add cottage cheese and mix well.

Start adding chopped spinach. It will cook down in a minute or so. Continue chopping spinach and adding it to pot or pan until it is well blended into cottage cheese/onion mixture. (For extra richness add Queso Fresco cheese when spinach cooks down.)

Once all the spinach is added, season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low and cover to cook for 20 - 30 minutes.

Check spinach mixture from time to time to make sure liquid does not completely cook out. Stir periodically.

As spinach cooks down it adds a lot of liquid. The object is to cook spinach until very soft and cream-like. Some of the cottage cheese will dissolve into the sauce. Add a couple of spoonfuls of milk if it starts to dry out.

 This would make a delicious pairing with my African Spiced Water Buffalo Wings or Coconut Rice.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Italian Antipasto Salad

No cooking, but some assembly is required, for The Chef's latest recipe. This can-opener cuisine is perfect for cleaning out your pantry.

My Italian Antipasto Salad uses canned, bottled, marinated and precooked veggies. All that this dollar store shelved produce needs is a sweet and tart vinaigrette to pull it all together.

Antipasto Salad is versatile. You can keep it vegan, or you can add some cheap salami -- even baloney (okay, Mortabella then.)

I've had it from my local deli as a mixed salad, or colorfully separated and artfully laid out on a party tray. For more crunch, you can also throw in raw sliced red onion and tomato, and serve it on a few leaves of lettuce.

When I run across bottled eggplant or zucchini in olive oil, on sale at my local 99c only Store, I always grab a couple of jars. Artichoke hearts are usually canned in water, but I've also brought it home bottled in an herb-infused vinegar.

A simple vinaigrette of olive oil, sugar and red wine vinegar completes the recipe. Save the bottled marinade if it is olive oil or vinegar. This can be the base of your vinaigrette -- plus it's free!

This Italian Antipasto Salad would go perfectly with my Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Bacon Bits; or at your next party, lay it out on a platter with toothpicks as an appetizer. 

Ingredients (serves 2 - 4, depending on size of jars and cans)
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts - about 14 ounces.
  • 1 can of black olives - drained. Or any favorite olives, including green.
  • 1 - 2 jars of marinated veggies - including zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, asparagus, etc.
  • 4 to 8 ounces of sliced or whole salami - optional. Or any favorite deli meat. Slice into bite sized pieces.

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar - okay to use any vinegar you have on hand, or any vinegar marinade from your bottled veggies.
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil - or oil from any jarred veggies.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar - or sugar substitute. Add a little at a time to taste.
  • Pepper to taste - optional. I find that canned or jarred veggies have plenty of salt.

Marinade Directions
Drain bottled and canned veggies of water, marinade and olive oil -- reserve olive oil and vinaigrette. Mix 1/4 cup each of red wine vinegar (or reserved vinaigrette) and olive oil (or reserved oil). Whisk together. Add a little sugar (I used 1/2 pack of Sweet 'N Low) and black pepper to taste. No salt needed as I find canned and jarred veggies have plenty.

Whisk again just before you pour it over the Antipasto Salad.

You can just mix all the drained veggies and salami together in a large bowl, or lay it out on a party platter with tooth picks.

Whisk marinade just before serving and mix it into salad, or drizzle it over the party tray. Okay to serve cold or at room temperature. Keep refrigerated if you are not serving for half hour or more.

Nix the salami for a vegetarian version. And for more fresh crunch, mix sliced red onion, tomato, or any raw veggie you have on hand into my Antipasto Salad. You can also serve on lettuce leaves.
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