Sunday, August 24, 2008

Casual Italian Lunch at Roma Imports

The other day I was perusing the Chow section from the Tucson Weekly site and came across this review of a place called Roma Imports. I'll let the review stand on its own, as I cannot write a better or more complete one. By the time I finished reading it, though, I had decided we'd go for lunch the next day (Saturday). And we did.

Lucky for us there were map directions included in the article, because, being newcomers to Tucson, we'd never have found it. It truly is off the beaten path in a semi-industrial neighborhood. We knew we were close when I saw the Italian flag flying over some nearby trees and buildings.

Eddie had the Ultimate Roma sandwich (capocolla, Genoa salami, Mortadella, tomato, lettuce, red onion, vinaigrette) for $6.50. I had the chicken Parmesan sub (whole grilled chicken breasts and marinara sauce, Parmesan cheese and Provolone melt) for $6.99. Both came on their delicious French baguette bread. We didn't talk much during lunch; we were too busy enjoying the food. Truly, we could have shared a sandwich, and next time we will, but we both devoured the whole thing and loved every bit.

While waiting for the order to come out, we chatted with Lillian, the owner. Born in Calcutta, schooled in Israel and after a brief stint in Scotland where she met her husband, she settled in Tucson and built up this fantastic following for her homemade Italian and Mediterranean foods.
We asked to be put on the e-mail list for the next big banquet she throws, which will be in October. This one is going to be totally different: German foods in honor of Oktoberfest time. Can't wait!

After lunch, we took a moment to look through the deli, which includes coolers and freezers full of prepared foods to take home, such as lots of varieties of raviolis and gnocchi, lasagne, canneloni, sauces and pizza dough, just as examples. We bought a baguette, some sliced pancetta, some hot salami and Spanish chorizo.

Roma Imports was a real find for us and we'll be going back often to sample lots of their other menu items. It's located at 627 S. Vine in Tucson, AZ. Phone is 520.792.3137. Click here for a map and directions.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Closet Cooking's Blueberry Blintzes

Here's a great big thank you to Kevin of Closet Cooking for inspiring me with his recent post on blueberry blintzes. I've made blintzes before, but not for quite some time. So when I saw his recipe, and then saw a beautiful basket of blueberries at Costco the next day, I just had to make a batch. I've got this pan that is perfect for the crepes. It has a gently sloped side and is only about 8 inches across, the perfect size for a blintz. Kevin's recipe yielded 4, but I wanted extra for the freezer, so I doubled the crepes ingredients and left the other proportions as written. A small amount of butter in the hot pan, a scant 1/4 cup of batter and a quick swirl of the wrist is all it took to cover the bottom of the pan perfectly. Left alone for a couple of minutes and they were ready to turn out on the counter. I cut squares of parchment paper, enough for a double batch, and as the crepe was cooked, it was turned out onto the paper to cool, then to stack for later filling and frying. The cottage cheese - cream cheese filling was delicious. Not too sweet. I drained a heaping cup of cottage cheese in a yogurt strainer for about an hour to remove some of the excess moisture. Also not too sweet was the star of the show: the blueberry sauce. Made with a Grade B syrup, it had just enough sweet to balance the tartness of the berries. After filling and frying up eight of the twelve, I placed them on a sheet pan, popped them in the freezer, and when firm, placed them into Zip bags for future reheating in the oven. At dinnertime, I fried up the remaining four blintzes, reheated the sauce, and then Eddie and I just dove into the most delicious light dinner we've had in a while. Halfway through, we just looked at each other with smiles on our faces. This is a definite recipe to be repeated in the future.

Blueberry Blintzes

1/2 cup flour (1 cup)
1 egg (2 eggs)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk (1 ¼ cups)
1/8 teaspoon salt (1/4 t)
1 tablespoon butter (melted) (2 T)

1. Mix the flour and egg in a large bowl.
2. Slowly stir in the milk.
3. Add the salt and butter and beat until smooth. (chill for at least 30 minutes)
4. Pour scant 1/4 of the mixture into a lightly oiled pan heated at medium.
5. Tilt the pan and turn so that the mixture evenly coats the entire bottom of the pan.
6. Cook the crepe until golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. (Here I removed the crepes from the pan without cooking the second side.)
7. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown.

cheese filling
blueberry sauce

butter for frying

1. Place 1/4 cup of the cheese filling into a crepe an wrap it like a burrito.
2. Melt the butter in a pan.
3. Add the blintzes, seem side down, and cook until golden brown on top and bottom turning once.
4. Serve the blintzes with blueberry sauce on top.

Cheese Filling

1 cup cottage cheese (drained in yogurt strainer. Look for farmer cheese for drier mixture.)
1 4 ounce package cream cheese (softened)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1. Mix everything.

Blueberry Sauce

1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1. Mix the cornstarch into the water.
2. Simmer everything in a sauce pan for 5 minutes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Perfect Parmesan Popovers

This recipe was inspired by one I've had in my files for a while. It's a Barefoot Contessa recipe, and I usually trust those. I added about a quarter cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese, but otherwise stuck to her directions. I'm not sure how Ina measured her ingredients, but there's no way this recipe would yield 12 popovers. I got nine, and next time I'd fill the cups even more to get eight larger ones (like the picture above). But that's my only criticism because they were delicious! Can't wait to make another batch. I'm lucky enough to have two six-cup popover pans, but these can be made in muffin tins or custard cups. They can be varied depending on the cheese used or even fresh herbs added. Or even adding some pureed garlic. Ohhh, I can taste that one now.

Copyright 2001, Barefoot Contessa Parties!
Yield: 12 popovers (I got 9)

Ina says: There are 3 secrets to great popovers: Make sure the pan is hot before you pour in the batter, fill each section not more than half full, and no peeking while they’re in the oven!

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter for greasing pans
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
(added about ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Generously grease aluminum popover pans or Pyrex custard cups with softened butter. You’ll need enough pans to make 12 popovers. (Only enough batter for 9) Place the pans in the oven for exactly 2 minutes to preheat. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, milk, and melted butter (and cheese) until smooth. The batter will be thin. Fill the popover pans less than half full and bake for exactly 30 minutes. Do not peek.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Salmon Burgers

I can't take credit for these, but the Trident brand salmon burgers, available at Costco, are fantastic! We bought a bag today and I had them for lunch. They're quickly prepared on the stove. All I did was toast up a croissant, spread a bit of mayo and mustard, and topped it with the salmon. I could have eaten two, but restrained myself. Eddie hates salmon, but took a taste and admitted even he'd eat one. So that's saying a lot. So now I can get a good serving of salmon a couple times a week. Yeah!

Not food related: Here are a few pictures I took the other evening of the incredible sunset out back.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pluot, Avocado, Tomato & Corn Salsa

I came across a recipe this morning on a site called Foodbuzz, specifically from a contributor named TiffyC from Tulsa. This was another case of using what I had on hand, modifying the original recipe and making it work. The recipe called for peaches (used four different varieties of pluots), sweet corn (used frozen), cilantro (used regular parsley), cider vinegar (used tarragon) and jalapeño (used pasilla).

This is called a salsa, but I chunked the vegetables and fruit large, so I'd call this a salad, and that's how I served it for lunch, alongside a nice slice of leftover pizza. Yummy!

Just a word of caution: just because the pasilla chile is less potent than the jalapeño does not mean you can rub your eye after working with it. YOU CAN'T!!! Take it from me, it hurts.

Thanks, TiffyC, for the inspiration. This one goes in the repeat file.

Peach and Avocado Salsa with Corn

Adapted from a recipe by TiffyC.

3 medium fresh peaches, diced (used 4 kinds of pluots)
2 medium ripe avocado, diced
1 t lime juice (to taste, more like half a large lime)
2 c. tomato, diced
1/2 c. fresh sweet corn (frozen, more like 1 cup)
1/2 diced onion (red onion and scallions, about 1 cup)
2 t minced fresh cilantro (used regular parsley)
1 T cider vinegar (used tarragon vinegar)
1 t chopped jalapeño pepper (used pasilla chile, one whole diced large)
1 garlic clove, minced (don’t like raw garlic, so I blanched it, then smashed)
1/4 t sea salt
Fresh ground pepper

In a bowl, combine fruit, avocado and lime juice. Add the remaining ingredients. (Here I drizzled in some olive oil.) LIGHTLY toss until combined. Refrigerate for 1 hour. (I let it sit at room temp for an hour; the fuit tastes better when not chilled.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vanilla Bean Apple Crisp

Well before we moved to Tucson, I'd bought two hefty packages of vanilla beans. They're well-wrapped, so they should be okay for a good while, but I wanted to continue using them up. This recipe for vanilla bean apple crisp comes from Epicurious, and I made it a couple of weeks ago. Fabulous flavors going on -- buttery topping to cut through, not too much vanilla flavor but what's there is pronounced, and the apples (and I throw in a chunked pear just to use up what's around). This is not like a nonbaker's apple pie, although if you don't bake this is a great recipe to add to your nonbaking repertoire. It's easy to throw together, and the ingredients are usually on hand. If vanilla beans aren't available, try substituting a teaspoon or so of extract, the real stuff, not the fake. As I only had limes in the house, that's what I used instead of the lemon juice called for in the recipe. I adjusted the baking times upward to get nicely browned edges on the apples before adding the crisp topping. Also, I finished the whole thing with five minutes on convection bake to get a nice evenly browned crust. The first time I made this, we had one caramel-chocolate Drumstick in the freezer, and that broken over the apple crisp was incredible. Tonight, we'll have to settle for plain ol' French vanilla, but it will still be memorable.

Vanilla Bean Apple Crisp
Bon Appétit March 2002

Makes 8 servings.

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (save pod for vanilla sugar)
2 1/4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/2-inch thick
(I used Fuji and a peeled pear)
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I only had lime juice on hand)
Pinch of ground nutmeg (Ooops! Forgot it this time, but first time used freshly grated)
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place sugar in large bowl. Using small sharp knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into sugar. Rub mixture with fingertips to distribute seeds. Add next 4 ingredients; toss well. Transfer to 8-inch square glass baking dish. Place dish on prepared baking sheet. Bake until apples are tender and beginning to turn golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven; stir apples.
Blend flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle crumbs over apples, spreading evenly. Bake crisp until topping is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool crisp 10 minutes.

Here are the apples and pear as they went into the oven for the intial browning for 40 minutes or so.

Just before processing the crisp topping ingredients. I waited to do this until the apples came out of the oven so that the butter in the flour would stay cold.

The finished apple crisp, bubbling hot straight out of the oven. Yummmm! Just imagine vanilla ice cream melting over the edges of a bowlful of this.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Great Chinese Buffet, Zero Atmosphere

If you want a Chinese buffet for lunch with atmosphere, don't go to the New China Buffet on North Wilmot in Tucson. If you want a Chinese buffet with very tasty food for little money, go to the New China Buffet on North Wilmot in Tucson.

We are often in this area of town (it's sort of kitty-corner from Beyond Bread) and have eaten here probably five times now, and since we've only lived here a month, I'd say that's a lot. Lunch for two was just pennies over $15, so the price is very reasonable. Dinner is a few bucks more. Everything is really good, but we seem to really go for the appetizers, especially the small butterflied fried shrimp, the pot stickers, fried chicken and egg rolls. Eddie skips it, but I usually get a small bowl of the hot and sour soup. Entrees include the usually fare such as General Tsao chicken, lemon chicken, broccoli beef, seafood stir fry, to name a few, but the list is quite long. For anyone so inclined, there's a nice salad bar with lots of fresh fruit. If there's any room left, we'll sample the desserts (just to clear the palate).

I suppose this will be one of our regular places, as we know what to expect and how much we'll pay for it. It's definitely not fancy, but the food makes up for lack of decor and atmosphere. The wait staff is efficient, but a bit reserved. A smile goes a long way.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

El Sur Mexican Restaurant on E. 22nd Street

After running our errands this morning in town, we headed over to El Sur Mexican Restaurant for lunch. Mike, the technician from ADT Security who installed our system, recommended the place with lots of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, we arrived five minutes past noon, and the place was totally filled with a waiting list. We only had to sit for 10 minutes before a table opened up (notwithstanding the two guys who jumped the line and helped themselves to a table). Delicious chips and two salsas, hot and mild, were brought to the table promptly, and soon thereafter our orders were taken. Eddie had the special , chicken mole, and I had one of the everday lunch items, the two green corn tamales and ground beef taco. The wait was very short, maybe five minutes or so. A second server came to the table and offered sauteed onions and roasted jalapenos, which I had never seen before.

This was the first time for Eddie and the mole, and he loved it. At my suggestion, he spooned some of the shredded chicken and mole sauce into a grilled flour tortilla and topped it with the onions. He loved that a lot. My green corn tamales were incredible -- savory and sweet at the same time. Delicious. And the taco was good too, perfectly seasoned and just the right amount of lettuce, tomato and cheese. Honestly, mine was just too much food, and I didn't even touch the foil-wrapped flour tortillas.

So with the tip, it came to under $16. What a deal! And now we don't have to worry about dinner, because we'll still be too full from lunch to think about it.

Highly recommeded, and we'll go back lots of times. only not at noon. Good food, good prices and friendly servers. It's located at 5602 E. 22nd Street, just east of Craycroft in Tucson.

Monday, August 04, 2008

One Fantastic Bakery, but Only Two Locations

Beyond Bread is a local Tucson bakery we found while staying here a few years ago. At the time we were house hunting and just came across it one morning. They're celebrating ten years of business, and I can certainly understand why they're so successful. The bread is fantastic. That's all I can say. When you walk in, there's usually a line of customers waiting to place orders for breads or something from the menu, which includes breakfast items, sandwiches, soup and salads. While waiting, you can sample all the bread and butter you want. I must admit we've joked about getting cups of their delicious coffee and some of the sample breads and calling that a meal. Yes, it's that good. I'm especially fond of the multi-grain bread. We've tried several of the sandwiches, but we really enjoy the curry chicken salad inside whole-wheat pita bread. There's way more than enough for two, so we just split it and we never walk out hungry. There are two locations, one at the Monterey Shopping Center at Wilmot and Speedway and another on Campbell Avenue. Haven't been to Campbell yet, but when in the neighborhood we'll stop by. We only hope they'll open another store down our way in Vail, but that's not too likely. That's okay because it's usually near something we're doing in town anyway.