Food Talk Friday: Mexican Food in Sanger, California

sangerI’ve traveled to the small valley town of Sanger several times in the last month or so. Once was for a wedding. Twice was for work. All three times, I had Mexican food. Since Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines, I was a happy girl every time I was in Sanger.

First up was Cristal’s, part restaurant, part bakery. You can get delicious cheese enchilada’s to eat there and some Mexican pastries to go. The enchiladas were full of gooey cheese and the rice and beans were delicious. The beans were firm, not mushy, always a good thing. Look up “casual ambiance,” and you’ll find a picture of the Cristal dining area. Formica tables with attached chairs in a room lined with shelves full of pan dulce. Lunch was delicious and I had a place to recommend in Sanger.

Two weeks later we attended a wedding just outside of Sanger that was catered by a Mexican restaurant/taco truck. Ocampos provided the food. The owner is Felipe and he was warm and attentive to everyone in the line. The carne asada was roasted, then carved, then seared on the grill. The tacos were soft and the toppings plentiful. Cabbage, lime, peppers, pico de gallo, guacamole. All available and fresh and delicious. The wait staff was personable and seemed to be having as much fun as the wedding guests.

Earlier this week I traveled to Sanger again and this time my guide took me to Velasco’s. Slightly (very slightly) less casual than Cristal’s (they boast booths as well as tables with moveable chairs,) Velasco’s served excellent food. The first time I try a new Mexican place, I usually order an enchilada and a taco. The taco was a bit greasy, but it had a good crunch without shattering at the first bite. The enchilada sauce was excellent, no metallic after-taste like I sometimes get. The service was attentive and I thought the prices were good. Lunch for three (two drinks) was under $25. Under $30, with the tip.

I’ve talked in the past about my very favorite Mexican place, Javier’s. None of these three will edge Javier’s out just yet. But I’m willing to go back and let them try.

Do you have a favorite cuisine? Where do you go when you need a fix?

Food Talk Friday: Tommy Bahama

Yes, you read that right. This is Food Talk Friday and I’m talking about Tommy Bahama.

Until 2009, I didn’t know that some Tommy Bahama stores also have a restaurant attached. Two girlfriends and I stumbled on the Tommy Bahama restaurant in Wailea one afternoon while killing time waiting for our men to finish golf so we could go to dinner.

Tommy Bahama restaurant, Wailea, Maui
Tommy Bahama restaurant, Wailea, Maui

We were done spa-ing and shopping, and they had a vacant booth so we slipped in, shared a few appetizers, had a mai tai and then were in a good frame of mind for our delayed dinner.

Then, in 2012, we received a gift certificate to Tommy Bahama from one of the other couples, with the caveat that we use it in the Wailea restaurant. We visited the island in 2013, but couldn’t make it over there. We tried a couple of times, but circumstances (timing, no reservation, long wait for a table) prevented us.

We tried again last month, and finally — success!

I had learned my lesson, so this time we had a reservation. We were led immediately to a table on the lanai, by the musician. At first I was skeptical about being so close to him, but the volume was fine and the music was excellent. I’m sorry, I didn’t get his name.

We shared the grilled artichoke appetizer and it was amazing! It was char-grilled but what caught our eye (and taste buds) was that it had a Herbes de Provence marinade. And since Stud Muffin recently did a culinary exchange (“I’ll give you two Herbes de Provence for two Five Spice. And I’ll see you–never mind.”) It also came with a lemon-tarragon aioli. The whole thing was scrumptious.

For dinner, Stud Muffin had the Jerk Pork Tenderloin. There was no skimping on this portion. Five or six slices of pork tenderloin on a sweet potato mofongo with a pineapple rum sauce and mango salsa. The pork was tender and not over-cooked. Stud Muffin had an Argyle Pinot Noir with it and it paired so perfectly, he ordered a second glass (something he never does when we’re out — and no worries, we walked to dinner from our condo).

I had the crab stuffed shrimp. The stuffing was sweet with crab, but not cloying. I ordered it because a) I love seafood and especially shrimp and b) it reminded me of a special date when Stud Muffin and I were newly engaged. We went to a seafood restaurant and I had stuffed shrimp that were amazing and I wanted to see if these would hold up to the comparison. They … held their own. The first stuffed shrimp was thirty-eight years ago, so I’m sure nothing would hold up to my memory, but if any stuffed shrimp could come close, it was Tommy Bahama’s.

We enjoyed our dinner so much that Stud Muffin asked if the chef could come out so we could talk to him. A few minutes later, a harried and stained young man made his way to our table. I’m sure he didn’t want to take time to talk to a couple of tourists, but when he saw that we “got” the food, he slowed down and chatted for a minute. He was gratified to hear the Argyle went so well with the pork tenderloin.

Like last week’s post about Monkeypod Kitchen, this dinner wasn’t cheap.

Unlike last week’s post about Monkeypod Kitchen, dinner at Tommy Bahama was worth every penny.

If we’re fortunate enough to visit Maui again, we will be returning to Tommy Bahama.

Word to the wise though: RESERVATIONS!

Food Talk Friday: Monkeypod Kitchen

Another Maui restaurant. I had great hopes for this one. The menu was fun and different. It looked like the perfect lunch place for a couple of California foodies.

The lanai at Monkeypod Kitchen
The lanai at Monkeypod Kitchen, Wailea

The food was good. Just not … exceptional.

The prices were high.

The service was acceptable.

The ambience was a bit self-consciously hip, but nice.

I had fish taco which were actually very good. I ate two, and took the third home to a daughter who hadn’t had a fish taco on the island yet and I knew she wanted one. They weren’t overly generous, because I was still hungry after the first two and Daughter is lucky the third make it back to her. I had their Mai Tai which was excellent. They boast about their handcrafted cocktails and with good reason. It was full of light juice flavors and rum and was topped with a lilikoi foam.

Stud Muffin had the saimin noodles with kalua pork and veggies. It was good and plentiful. The pork didn’t have anything distinctively “kalua” about it. It was just shredded pork, to my palate. Stud Muffin enjoyed it. He had the Maui Brewing Company Coconut Porter and even I, of the limited palate, could taste the coconut.

I’m glad we went, but I doubt that we’ll seek it out again, if we’re lucky enough to return to Maui. The food wasn’t fabulous enough to justify the prices. And if you think I’m overly picky, come back next week for Food Talk Friday on April 10th for a place that was pricey and worth every penny.

How’s that for a cliffhanger?

Food Talk Friday: Zippy’s on Maui

I thought we were going to Da Kitchen as soon as we landed in Maui, but instead we ended up at Zippy’s.

Zippys in Kahului
Zippys in Kahului

We found Zippy’s on our last trip. It’s kind of like a Denny’s on the mainland. Part diner. But there’s also a counter service to get food to go. And a bakery (malasadas, anyone?).

It’s near the airport. It has a large menu. American dishes. Asian food. Hawaiian favorites. You name it, you can probably get it at Zippys.

I had fried chicken which Stud Muffin denigrated, saying I could get that at home at any KFC. But the chicken was nicely seasoned and just the right amount of crispiness. A couple of our party got Loco Mocos, the rice, hamburger, egg, and gravy dish. A new arrival to the island ordered the turkey club sandwich and swooned as she ate it.

The food isn’t fancy. It isn’t gourmet. It’s plain, unadorned, filling, generous, and tasty.

In other words, just as we like it.

Food Talk Friday: Javier’s

Fresno and the Central Valley is full of great Mexican food. You can’t swing a stuffed tamale without hitting a taco truck, fast food Mexican, or a sit down restaurant.

Javier's, from Yelp.com
Javier’s, from Yelp.com

Stud Muffin first took me to Javier’s years ago when he worked in Fresno. I loved it from the first bite. I don’t get there very often because it’s as far from me as it can be and still be in Fresno.

Last week we went to lunch and I requested Javier’s. Stud Muffin knows I love it, but he didn’t feel as strongly about their food as I did. Until yesterday. He kept saying, “This is better than I remember.” I kept sighing and eating.

The chips are light and crispy, thinner than any other tortilla chips I’ve had. The salsa isn’t hot but it has spice and flavor and is delicious. The tacos were amazing. The tortilla is thicker than what the chips are made out of, so it stands up to each bite and doesn’t fall apart. The ground beef enchiladas tasted rich and beefy. Stud Muffin said they tasted like they were made with shredded beef instead of ground.

Yes, it’s “Americanized” Mexican food. Stud Muffin’s standard is if there is lingua on the menu. And there’s not. But he enjoyed his food anyway, so that’s a ringing endorsement.

I’m so glad that he loved last week’s lunch. Maybe I’ll get to go back more often than every two to three years.

Food Talk Friday: Da Kitchen

I’m writing this several days before we leave for Maui. We’re planning on landing, picking up the rental car, and heading here

Da Kitchen in Kahului
Da Kitchen in Kahului

for lunch. It’s one of our favorite spots on Maui. There’s a restaurant in Kahului, near the airport, and a more casual, order-at-the-counter place, Da Kitchen Express, in Kihei, near where we’re staying.

A family favorite is the Loco Moco, an island specialty.

Loco Moco
Loco Moco

White rice, topped with a hamburger patty, then an egg, then brown gravy. Stud Muffin sometimes makes this at home when he needs a heavy breakfast that will stick with him through a morning of work.

I often get the Chicken Katsu.

Chicken Katsu
Chicken Katsu

All the food is delicious. We used to get off the plane and head to a little Mexican place nearby, but I’ve been told we need a new first meal and Da Kitchen is the unanimous choice.

Da Kitchen! Love you!

Food Talk Friday: Signature Dishes

I blogged here about my cousin Lori’s Lemon Artichoke Pasta recipe. I don’t know if it was really her “signature dish” but in my mind, it is.

My daughters both make exceptional deviled eggs and I think of those as their signature dishes. Mine is probably Chicken Divan. (I’ll try to post that recipe next week.)

IMG_1516
Stuffed rolled flank steak, Caprese salad, roasted vegetable

Stud Muffin’s is his Stuffed Rolled Flank Steak. It is not for the faint of heart. He has lots of steps and he won’t compromise on any of them.

Enjoy, if you dare.

BAR-B-QUED FLANK STEAK (2 day recipe!) (STUFFED AND ROLLED)

  • 1 Flank steak (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1 10 oz. package Frozen spinach
  • 3  large shallots
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 package Schillings’ marinade

1 package Lawry’s marinade (If you can’t find both brands, it is acceptable to substitute what you can find or have. But SHHHHH, don’t tell Dave I said that!)

 The day before, place flank steak on a hard surface and pound both sides until the steak grows about twice its size. Place Lawry’s Marinade (following package instructions) inside a large plastic bag with the steak and place in the refrigerator.

 The next day: Thaw spinach and squeeze out extra water and set aside. Chop shallots and sauté in a skillet with mushrooms and olive oil. Drain and set aside.

In a large bowl combine spinach, shallots, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese. Using both hands, work it through well. Place mixture on a greased (sprayed) cookie sheet and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

 Take out flank steak and place on plastic wrap over cutting board; it will be messy. Place spinach mixture onto the flank steak and roll up. Fasten meat together with bamboo skewers. Fold ends up and hold in place with skewers.

Prepare the Schilling’s marinade and baste the flank steak and place it on a hot grill. Continue to baste during the 35 to 40 minute cooking time. Take off and let stand for 5 minutes. Slice it into ½ inch thick portions and serve.

Food Talk Friday: Ravioli

We made homemade ravioli last week.

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Filling the Ravioliera

We’d made our own pasta a few times in the last year or so, but we avoided ravioli for several reasons:

The filling — what to put in it?

The work — we’ve been told by others that they are extremely labor intensive

The unknown — we didn’t know what we didn’t know about making ravioli from scratch.

But we have a secret weapon. A family member who’s made thousands of them in her lifetime. Or at least been a helper. She knew what we didn’t know.

So we made a trip and combined her family recipe with our new pasta roller attachment.  I failed to get many pictures of the process and the finished product but we did bring some home, so I’ll do better when we eat the next batch.

raviolera
The Ravioliera

The old family recipe made 1000 raviolis. We cut that by 75% and aimed for 250. We ended up with just under 200. Our mentor had her old family roller. But since we weren’t doing 1000, we tried to use this new-fangled Raviolera. It’s a metal form. In theory, you lay your pasta sheet on the form, fill the divots, top with another layer and then use a small rolling pin to fasten the whole thing together. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I don’t know if it’s a design flaw or a production flaw, but the ridged edges are not high enough to cut through the ravioli. Instead, we had to pry each ravioli out, one at a time, after running a knife along the edges to be sure we had a clean cut. We tried it a couple of times, with the tray dry, with it oiled and with floured and oiled. The flour and oil yielded the squares a bit more easily, but not enough to make that process worthwhile. That thing is going back to the store.

cutter
The square cutter

Then we used an individual cutter: This one looks like it should have taken a long time, since we were stamping twice, once on the first layer, then again after placing a bit of filling on the dough. But it ended up being much quicker than having to pry the others out of that contraption.

We used a filling of chicken and pork. Stud Muffin seared the meat, then they were pulsed together in a food processor. Seasonings, spinach, cream and butter were added. A dollop of the filling was placed on each square. We brushed a little water along the edges, to be sure and get a good seal. Then we cut out the squares.

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The Perfect Pairing
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So good. Too bad I forgot to take a picture before the plate was empty.

The raviolis then went in the freezer. Once frozen, we put them in bags and then back into the freezer for storage. Except for that night’s dinner. We boiled them for a few minutes and served them with red sauce and parmesan cheese. We even found an Italian red wine to go with the dinner.

A little bread, a little salad, a little wine, a little pasta.

Maybe the perfect meal.

Food Talk Friday: Cheese

I once heard someone say if they couldn’t eat mayonnaise anymore, life would be hard. My husband can’t live without peanut butter and popcorn.

cheeseMy must-have is cheese. Hard, soft, semi-soft. Grated, sliced, spooned. I don’t care. I love it. I want it.

On pizza. In lasagna. On enchiladas. On crackers. By itself. On a bagel. On a burger. I’ve never had a cheese I didn’t like. I’ve never had a meal that included cheese that I didn’t like.

Smoked gouda. Havarti with dill. Stilton with caramelized onion. Pesto cream cheese. Dry jack. Feta. Cotija. Cheddar. Swiss.

You name it.

Really, I mean it. What’s your favorite?

Food Talk Friday: My Most Requested Recipe

Lemon Artichoke Chicken over Pasta.

I got this one from my cousin Lori. She passed away a few years ago unexpectedly, so it’s particularly dear now. She said she learned it during a visit to Tuscany. She served it on top of a quick pasta in a cream sauce, but I’ve just served it with pasta tossed with a little olive oil. My preferred pasta is a Spinach and Chive linguine from Trader Joe’s. Their lemon pappardelle pasta is also good with it.

Lemons and Artichokes
Lemons and Artichokes

I often make this for friends who need a meal; new moms, patients, new hospital releases. Without fail, they ask for the recipe.

So, here it goes:

All ingredients are approximate. Don’t stress if you have more or less of anything.

2-4 chicken breasts cut into bitesize chunks.

2 cans artichoke hearts, quartered, if you can find them.

2 jars marinated artichoke hearts, quartered or pieces. Reserve marinating oil from one jar.

2-4 fresh lemons

Flour for dusting

2 T Olive oil — give or take

1 package pasta. I prefer Trader Joe’s Spinach & Chive pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet or electric wok.

Coat the chicken in flour and drop it in the hot lil. Sear the chicken, then cook and stir until it’s done.

Add the artichokes and reserved liquid. If the artichokes were whole or in large pieces, give them a rough chop.

Squeeze the lemons and add the juice. This is the most uncertain step. If the lemons are really super juicy, I only use about one and half lemons. But I’ve occasionally used four lemons because they just weren’t that juicy.

Cook the pasta.

Let the chicken simmer a few minutes. Let the juices boil down just a bit.

Serve the chicken and artichokes over the pasta.

Enjoy!