FREEKEH WITH FARFALLE AND MUSHROOMS

September is National Whole Grains Month — a great time to sample new grains and cook with old favorites.  So when Freekehlicious offered to send me some freekeh to try, I gladly accepted.

According to information Freekehlicious provided, freekeh is an ancient grain, with a lot of healthful qualities.  The roasted wheat is harvested while it’s young and green, then parched, roasted, and dried.  “Freekeh” means “to rub” in Aramaic, which refers to the method by which freekeh is made.

Nutritionally, freekeh is low on the glycemic index, and high in fiber, protein, and calcium.  It cooks much like rice, but is lower in carbs than brown rice.  A serving of freekeh (42 grams) provides, among other things, 150 calories, 6 grams of dietary fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 25 milligrams of calcium.  An added bonus is that it has prebiotic properties, which aid in digestion.

Freekeh is available two ways — whole grain and cracked:

I chose to try the cracked freekeh first:

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I followed the package directions, cooking 1/2 cup of freekeh in 1-1/2 cups of water for 20 minutes.  The freekeh cooked up plump and fluffy:

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I used the cooked freekeh to make Freekeh with Farfalle and Mushrooms, which is a riff on Kasha Varnishkes, a dish my parents used to make using kasha, also known as buckwheat groats.  With the addition of the sautéed onions and mushrooms, the freekeh was a filling and toothsome side dish, an excellent accompaniment to the grilled sausages we had that night.

This month, why not let your freekeh flag fly!

FREEKEH WITH FARFALLE AND MUSHROOMS
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Ingredients
  • ½ cup cracked freekeh
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup cooked mini farfalle
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Place freekeh and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 20 minutes, until water is absorbed and freekeh is tender.
  2. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until golden. Add mushrooms, and continue cooking until mushrooms are tender. Stir in cooked freekeh, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

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ROOSTAR VIETNAMESE GRILL

I’ve heard a lot about Roostar Vietnamese Grill lately, and after visiting the restaurant recently, I can see what all the fuss is about.roostar

Roostar is located at 1411 Gessner Road — a part of Spring Branch sometimes referred to as Koreatown — in a small retail center that also houses Flower Piggy Korean BBQ and La Michoacana Meat Market.  (Roostar is opening a second location soon, near the Galleria area.)

Roostar’s logo was designed to reflect the French influence on Vietnam, and the owners’ love for Texas — the rooster is the unofficial symbol of France, and the star that is the rooster’s comb is a nod to the Lone Star State.  The rooster “is drawn in flame-like strokes and colored with burning reds, symbolizing the passion and energy” that goes into each of Roostar’s dishes.

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The first thing you will notice upon entering the tidy little restaurant is Linda, who owns and operates Roostar with her husband Ronnie.  And the next thing you will notice is how pretty Linda is, like movie-star pretty:

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And the next thing you’ll notice is how hard Linda works to make sure that each customer is treated respectfully and thoughtfully — whether explaining the menu, offering a sample, filling glasses, or rearranging chairs to accomodate diners.  You’ll also see a lot of activity going on behind her, as employees hustle to fill orders:

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The menu is simple, with lots of options to customize your meal:

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One of Roostar’s most popular offerings is its banh mi, frequently referred to as the best in Houston (Roostar won the 2015 People’s Choice Award during Houston’s The Great Banh Mi Cook-Off, and will be defending its title this fall).  The sandwich, which is on a French baguette, has its origins in the  period when France occupied Vietnam,  There are several grilled meats to choose from, along with smoked ham, avocado, fried egg, and smoked salmon.  They’re made with traditional ingredients that include house-made garlic aioli, pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapenos, cucumbers, and soy sauce.  You can add avocado, egg, pate, or extra meat to any sandwich for a modest charge.  We tried a grilled pork banh mi.  The quality of the meat (not too fatty, smoky, slightly sweet) and the homemade aioli really made this sandwich a standout:

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We also tried a box.  The concept of the boxes reminded me of Chipotle’s ordering system, and is very user-friendly, especially for people not familiar with Vietnamese noodle and rice bowls.  First you select a meat (grilled pork, grilled chicken, tofu, chopped ribeye, or wings).  Next, choose your base (noodles, salad, white or fried rice).  All boxes come with a spring roll, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, green onions, cilantro, fried garlic, and vinaigrette dressing.  You can add avocado, egg, extra meat, or additional eggrolls for a modest charge.  We went with the vermicelli with grilled pork:

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The vermicelli box was fresh and filling, a delicious and satisfying lunch, particularly on a hot day like we’ve been having here.

Last, but not least, we tried the Beef Alphabet soup.  This was unlike any soup I’ve ever had before, and it’s garnered raves from everyone who has tried it.  It’s a salty, savory, umami-loaded bowl with finely chopped beef, alphabet pasta, cilantro, and secret spices. It’s served with house-made chili oil — be sure to add some.  This soup was out of this world.  If Roostar was closer to my home, I’d probably be having this soup at least 3 times a week.

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Photo courtesy of Cuc Lam

While you’re there, treat yourself to a thai tea, milk tea, or iced coffee — they’re all great, rich with sweetened condensed milk, but so worth the calories.

We all loved Roostar Vietnamese Grill.  I have no doubt you will too!

FORTUNE TERIYAKI YAKISOBA NOODLE DISHES

From time to time, I get inspired to enter a recipe contest.  I’ve been entering them, as time and interest permit, for close to 20 years.  Sometimes I even win, and we’ve enjoyed some fun prizes over the years including a trip to Napa Valley with a cooking class at the CIA and chaffeur-driven winery tour, a year’s worth of ice cream, $$$, cookware, and products.  In addition to providing inspiration to get creative in the kitchen, I’ve also discovered some products along the way that I might not otherwise have tried.  For example, did you know that Betty Crocker’s cookie mixes are really quite good?  Or that Maple Leaf Farms sells fully cooked pulled duck leg meat, ready to use in salads, tacos, etc.?  I discovered these products and many others through recipe contesting.

My latest recipe contest find that will become a staple in our refrigerator is Fortune Yakisoba Stir Fry Noodles.  JSL Foods is sponsoring the Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge, in which bloggers were selected to create a recipe with a variety of either Fortune’s Yakisoba or Udon noodles.  You can purchase JSL Foods products at Albertson’s, Lucky’s, Von’s, Paviliions, WinCo, and Target, and you can learn more about JSL Foods by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

I chose the Teriyaki Yakisoba noodles, and the company sent me 3 packages to use in creating either a stir fry or cold salad recipe:

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Inside the package are yakisoba noodles and a seasoning packet:

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I chose the cold salad category because I live in Houston and summer is here — need I say more?  For my twist on a cold salad using the Teriyaki Yakisoba, I made Polynesian Summer Salad Noodle Rolls — grilled pork and pineapple, wrapped up with noodles, lettuce, and carrots, with a spicy peanut dipping sauce.  This was an easy and delicious fusion of tropical and asian flavors, great for a light summer meal.

To make the rolls, you’ll need spring roll wrappers — these can be found in the asian aisle of most large grocery stores (don’t confuse them with refrigerated egg roll wrappers):

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And here they are — Polynesian Summer Salad Noodle Rolls :

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The recipe isn’t difficult, although if you haven’t made spring rolls before, it might take you a try or two to get the hang of how much filling to use and how tight to roll them — have a few extra wrappers on hand, and above all, have fun!

POLYNESIAN SUMMER SALAD NOODLE ROLLS
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Ingredients
  • 1 package Fortune Teriyaki Yakisoba Stir Fry Noodles
  • 6 ounces pork tenderloin, pounded thin
  • ½ pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup julienned or grated carrots
  • 8 spring roll wrappers
  • 3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
Instructions
  1. Heat the noodles in the microwave according to package directions, and set aside to cool.
  2. Place pork in a plastic ziplock bag. Mix the seasoning packet with ½ cup water. Reserve 3 tablespoons for use in peanut sauce, and pour the rest over the pork. Allow pork to marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. Cut pineapple into long thin strips.
  4. Remove pork from marinade. Grill pork and pineapple, or alternatively, cook in a skillet over medium high heat, until pork is cooked through, and pork and pineapple have begun to caramelize and brown. Set aside to cool. Cut pork and pineapple into ½" wide strips.
  5. Have a shallow bowl of warm water ready to dip spring roll wrappers in. Dip 1 wrapper in water, making sure all surfaces are wet, and transfer to a cutting board. When sufficiently pliable (approximately 30-60 seconds), place a strip or two of pork and 1 strip of pineapple (cut pork and pineapple to fit in roll, if necessary) approximately 1" from edge of wrapper. Top with ⅛ of noodles, then top with some shredded lettuce and carrots. (Don't overstuff, or it will be difficult to roll.) To roll, bring the bottom up over the filing. Fold in sides, and continue rolling, keeping roll tight and neat, but taking care not to tear wrapper. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  6. To prepare dipping sauce, mix together reserved teriyaki sauce, peanut butter, and sriracha in a small bowl. If necessary, add a teaspoon or two of water to thin to desired consistency. Serve rolls with dipping sauce.

But wait — there’s more!  My son took one look at those noodle packages in the refrigerator and asked if I’d make them for him.  We came up with what we call Fried Rice Style Yakisoba Noodles, and he loved them so much that we made them again a few nights later.

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Because they were so tasty and took just a few minutes to put together, I’m sharing this “bonus” stir fry recipe as well.  Enjoy!

FRIED RICE STYLE YAKISOBA NOODLES
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Ingredients
  • 1 package Fortune Teriyaki Yakisoba Noodles
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • ¼ cup cooked beef (can substitute chicken, pork, or shrimp)
  • ½ cup frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 teaspoon prepared black bean sauce
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
Instructions
  1. Heat noodles in microwave according to package directions. Set aside until ready to use.
  2. Mix seasoning packet with ¼ cup water.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add egg and cook for 1 minute on each side. Remove to cutting board, coarsely chop, and set aside.
  4. Add garlic skillet and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly and taking care not to let garlic burn. Add noodles, teriyaki seasoning, beef, peas and carrots, black bean sauce, and sesame oil. Continue cooking until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and heated through. Stir in egg. Serve hot.

 

 

SOUTHERN POTLUCK BAKED BEANS

I found this funny little vase at an estate sale:

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It was made by Fitz & Floyd in MCMLXXVII (too lazy to figure it out myself, I discovered an online site — of course — that will convert Roman numerals to Arabic numerals, which said it’s 1977):IMG_7606

This little guy looks like my dogs feel on the 4th of July when the fireworks start:

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How are you celebrating the 4th of July?  Food, fun, family, fireworks — the 4 best f-words around, right?  I saw lots of patriotic efforts around town, big and small.  There were small little flags tucked into gardens:

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And big flags waving proudly in yards:

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What did one flag say to the other?  Nothing, it just waved.

Trees were lit up in red, white, and blue at this downtown office building:

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And the big red cock at BRC Restaurant (I know, I hate the name too), was painted with stars and stripes.

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I found a few new treats for this patriotic holiday, including red, white, and blue Rice Krispies (I’d love to show you the Rice Krispie Treats I made with them, but they disappeared too quickly, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  Like Spongebob):

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Trader Joe’s had this White House cookie kit (maybe for the next presidential election — not feeling it for this one):

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And these Shooting Stars Cookies, which are made with pop rocks, and according to the Trader Joe’s staff, are quite a party all by themselves:

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Walmart had bouquets of red, white, and blue flowers (dog not included):

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I wouldn’t normally buy dyed flowers, but they looked kinda desperate to go home with someone — anyone — so I broke down and bought a bunch.  Not only were these dyed, but they were sprayed with glitter, as well.  Shaking my head.

Inspired by the cannon vase and thoughts of Independence Day, I’m sharing a recipe for Southern Potluck Baked Beans, adapted from the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Quick Southern-Style Baked Beans, and a great side dish for your 4th of July barbecue. I think every Southern cook has some version of this in her repertoire, or at least in her Junior League cookbooks.  There was a time when I might have scoffed at the idea of making baked beans by starting with cans of baked beans — seems kind of redundant.  But the amped-up flavor from the additional ingredients and thick texture that comes from baking for two hours make these a special side dish to bring to any potluck, especially one where grilling is involved.

SOUTHERN POTLUCK BAKED BEANS
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Recipe type: Vegetable
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 slices bacon, cut in half
  • 3 28-ounce cans pork 'n beans
  • ¾ cup barbecue sauce (I used this one, and recommend you do too)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until bacon is partially cooked and has rendered some of the fat. Remove bacon to paper-towel lined plate, and reserve 1 tablespoon of drippings. Place beans in a large bowl. Add barbecue sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, and 1 tablespoon bacon drippings, and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer beans to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Arrange bacon over top. Bake until sauce is thick and syrupy, approximately 2 hours. Remove from oven and allow to stand approximately 15 minutes before serving.

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Ready for a two-hour stint in the oven

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Smoky, syrupy, sweet, tangy — baked beans will never be the same

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Have a blast this 4th of July!

 

HIMALAYA RESTAURANT AND SUBHLAXMI GROCERS

At the intersection of Hillcroft Ave and U.S. 59, is a small shopping center housing several of Houston’s ethnic treasures.  This center is located at the edge of the Mahatma Gandhi District, officially named in 2010.  The area is filled with Indian and Pakistani establishments — mainly clothing and jewelry stores, restaurants and bakeries, and grocers.

Recently, we’ve made several visits to Himalaya Restaurant, which features some of the best Indian and Pakistani cuisine in Houston (Anthony Bourdain dined there on his visit to Houston this month).

IMG_7463Inside, the restaurant is modest and tidy, its walls filled with glowing articles about the restaurant:

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Chef/owner Kaiser Lashkari is usually visible, chatting with diners, offering menu suggestions, and boasting (rightfully) about his food:

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Our favorite dishes at Himalaya are rich and complex, full of spice and heat.  Among those we enjoyed are Aloo Chana Masala (chickpeas and potatoes simmered in curry sauce):

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Paneer Hara Masala (the restaurant’s “signature vegetarian dish”):

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The Chicken Kabab Platter, which has 2 skewers of Chicken Seekh Kebab and 4 pieces of Chicken Tikka Boti Kebab (our favorite of the two):

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And the Spicy Rocket Nan (be prepared to fight over the last piece of this):

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Other dishes we liked included Chicken Tikka Masala (my son’s favorite):

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Chicken Biryani:

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An appetizer of Vegetable Samosas:

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And Baigan Bharta, a vegetarian dish made with eggplant:

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We also tried the popular Hunter’s Beef, a Pakistani-style beef pastrami, which was chopped, sauteed in butter and spices, and served with chopped tomatoes and magic mustard sauce, which was interesting:

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In addition to the great food, another plus is that the restaurant is BYOB (provided each diner orders an entree and a nan).

On a recent visit, we waddled out of the restaurant, bellies full and mouths on fire, over to Subhlaxmi Grocers, located in the same center.

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I’d been wanting to go there for some time to see if they had the Indian or Persian basmati rice I’ve been searching for, which of course, they did:

This is unlike the basmati rice commonly available at grocery stores.  Indian and Pakistani basmati rice, I’ve learned, is aged at least a year.  The aging process dehydrates the rice, and when the rice is cooked, it expands much more than rice that hasn’t been aged.  If you’ve eaten in Persian or Indian restaurants, you’ve no doubt noticed the extra-long rice (like in the Chicken Biryani pictured above).

The store was filled with all kinds of things — produce, spices, beans, condiments, sweets — many of which I’d never seen before, such as:

I came home with lots of bottles and packages of new things to try — white poppy seeds, dried limes, pickled cut mango — and stocked up on spices, and that aged Basmati rice.  My mind is racing thinking of the Indian and Pakistani specialties I can try my hand at, although I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about Anthony Bourdain dropping in for dinner.  I’m looking forward to exploring other establishments in the Mahatma Gandhi District, especially some of the bakeries.

EXPRESS ROLLS

Express Rolls, a fast, casual dining concept new to the Houston area, invited me to visit and try some of their items, providing me with a $50 gift card as an incentive to accept their invitation.  I hadn’t previously heard of Express Rolls, and was curious, so I gladly accepted.

Express Rolls currently has 7 locations (with 3 more slated to open by September) — 5 in Houston, 1 in Pearland, and 1 in Katy.  I visited the newly-opened one in Shepherd Square, at 2055 Westheimer Rd.

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The modest interior was colorful, clean, and bright:

Express Rolls offers a variety of prepackaged Japanese and Vietnamese items, with an emphasis on fresh and healthy.  The items are prepared and packaged at a central location, and delivered twice daily to each location to ensure freshness.  Whether dining in, or grabbing a few items to take for lunch, Express Rolls provides a lighter, healthier alternative to most of the fast food options around.

Towards the back of the restaurant are refrigerated shelves, where you’ll pick out your items.  If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time choosing from the many options:

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Although some of the items may look like what you can find at your local grocery store, the difference in freshness is noticeable.  For example, Express Rolls’ sushi has soft sticky rice, unlike the rice in the grocery store version, which is usually drier and harder.  Same thing for the dumplings — Express Rolls’ gyoza wrappers are soft and pliable, unlike the drier, leather-like ones of the grocery store version.

Among the offerings are sushi assortments:

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Individually-wrapped sushi items:

Fresh salads with miso, wasabi, or sesame vinegar dressing (no slimy lettuce found!)

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Gyoza (pork or vegetarian) with a soy dipping sauce:

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Traditional or spicy garlic edamame:

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A variety of summer rolls — I loved the Perfect Pair combo, which came with two grilled pork rolls and two Hawaiian beef rolls (the grilled pineapple was something different, and went really well with the beef):

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And several different vermicelli bowls and rice bowls.  You select the bowl from the case, and when you check out you’re given a separate package of vegetables to add to your bowl:

IMG_3490This is just a sampling of what you’ll find — there are also soups (miso, wonton, Vietnamese chicken noodle), kids’ meals, bento boxes, and more.

At the register, you’ll be given any sauces that go with your items, and if you’d like, they’ll heat your soups, dumplings, etc.

I was happy to have discovered Express Rolls, and in fact, grabbed a few things for lunch on my way to work today.  Express Rolls is a welcome (and healthier) option for a quick, fresh meal.

THAI BEEF SALAD

Salad season is upon us.  I’m happy any time I can make a main dish salad and avoid heating up the kitchen.  Heating up the grill, however, is a not a problem.  My husband grilled a beef tenderloin the other night, and with the leftovers we made Thai Beef Salad (flank steak works well too).

If you don’t have lemongrass for the dressing, you can omit it.  I usually have some growing in a pot, and it’s very easy to propagate (I’ve done this before with lemongrass purchased at the grocery store).  My biggest problem is keeping my dogs away from it — they chew it, I think, to help with digestion.  I keep moving it higher, and they keep seeking it out:

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Jasper munching on some lemongrass

But don’t omit the fish sauce!  I keep a bottle of Three Crab fish sauce on hand.  It’s available in asian markets and most large grocery stores, and was recommended to me by a Vietnamese chef:

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Adjust the heat of the dressing to your liking by altering the amount of crushed red pepper. The vegetables for the salad are suggestions — use whatever you like in whatever quantity you desire (I like the cool crunch that cucumbers provide, but didn’t have any on hand when I made it this time).

THAI BEEF SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad, Beef
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the dressing:
  • 4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced lemongrass stalk*
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • For the salad:
  • Thinly sliced grilled beef
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Thinly sliced shallot
  • Thinly sliced serrano peppers or thai chiles
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix together until brown sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well combined. Add the sliced beef and allow to sit in dressing while preparing the rest of the salad.
  2. Place chopped lettuce in a large shallow bowl or platter. Using tongs, remove beef from dressing and mound in center of lettuce. Pour dressing over lettuce around beef. Arrange tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers (or whatever vegetables you are using) decoratively around beef. Scatter shallots and chiles over salad. Garnish with mint. Serve at room temperature.
  3. *To mince the lemongrass, use the woody stalk, peeling off the outer layer. Mash the stalk by whacking it with the flat side of a knife, then finely mince.

thai beef salad

A great warm weather meal

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Grilled tenderloin is the star of this salad

Special thanks to my friend Tori for the exotic wood salad servers she brought me as a souvenir from her recent trip to Thailand:

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