four-point egg on toast

I obsessively collect cookbooks, and lately, I’ve been obsessively reading food blogs. I can’t help it. I’m trying to eat healthy stuff, so I’m living vicariously through others. I came upon Cook Sister and saw that she is hosting a a very serious and somber event: End of the Month Egg on Toast Extravaganza!

It just so happens that I devour quite a bit of a particular egg on toast creation, and I felt it only proper, in the interest of sharing with all of mankind, that I participate in this momentous occasion.

It’s without shame that I admit that I love McDonald’s sausage mcmuffins with egg. Yes, I’ve seen Supersize Me and I know the Weight Watchers points (11), but I can’t help it. They’re really good. However, 11 points is half the total points I get in a day if I’m sticking with the WW plan, so I can’t exactly go through the McDonald’s drive-through every day and expect to be ready to wear a bikini when we go to Mexico in May.

So, I’ve found a substitution that, while not the same as the McDonald’s version, is very tasty and satisfying. And while you may recoil in horror at my preparation method (primarily involving a microwave), it’s just so quick and easy in the mornings, and I don’t find it detracts at all from the taste. But then, my morning alternative tends to be a little granola and fat-free plain yogurt, so maybe it’s all a matter of context.

In any case, I give you the four-point egg and sausage muffin:

english muffin
Morningstar (fake) sausage patty
1/4 cup Egg Beaters

Step 1: put the english muffin in the toaster.
Step 2: put the sausage patty on a plate and microwave for 1 minute.
Step 3: pour the egg beaters into a small bowl (or the As Seen On TV Egg Wave, which P. so thoughtfully bought for my birthday)
Step 4: when the sausage is done, put the egg beaters in the microwave for 1 minute.
Step 5. Pop out the english muffin, add a little ketchup, then add the sausage and egg (and a bit of salt and pepper).

Done!

I know. Fake sausage? Fake eggs? Eggs cooked in the microwave? No butter, no cheese? I’m telling you, it’s really really good. And you don’t get that bogged down, greasy, guilty feeling after, either. I might have to go make one right now.

white sauce, remade

I love white sauce. I love all its many incarnations: white gravy on biscuits, cheese sauce on cauliflower, and especially, alfredo sauce on pasta. Last week, when I was at the Olive Garden, I remembered why that place is so dangerous. Their food may be simply adequate, and their wines from aluminum cans, but I could eat the bread sticks dipped in their alfredo sauce all night. I don’t need to order a meal, just bring me more sauce and bread!

I enjoy alredo sauce that’s brought to me infinitely more than sauce I’ve made beacause I can feign ignorance about the ingredients. I can pretend that I don’t know that I’m eating a stick of butter, a cup of cream, and a chunk of parmesan cheese. When I made goat cheese ravioli for our wine and cheese party, every bite came with a memory of the two sticks of butter, heavy cream, pancetta, and cheese I had used in the sauce.

In the most basic sense, white sauce is just butter and flour and milk, so I decided to try and make a low-fat version that wouldn’t make me feel so guilty. I was hoping to come up with a nice base that I could then add to, depending on what I was putting it on, or dipping in it, or you know, if I was drinking it straight.

I diced a shallot and a couple of garlic cloves and sautéed them in a teaspoon or so of low-fat butter (I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light). After a few minutes, I added another tablespoon or so of butter, and when it was melted, I added maybe a 1/4 cup of flour. I stirred that for a while until it was all dissolved or whatever it is that flour does in butter and then added 3 cups of 1% milk. Then I added a couple of cloves, a bay leaf, a teeny bit of nutmeg, freshly ground pepper, and some kosher salt. I let that simmer for maybe 10 minutes until it thickened up a bit, then I removed the bay leaf. So far so good. I added some grated parmesan for good measure.

Then I thought I’d try it out on some pasta. I cooked up some angel hair and gave it a taste. So boring. No flavor. Huh. I wanted to add bacon, but that wouldn’t help the calorie count. I added a bit more parmesan, some Maldon sea salt, a little more pepper, and half a chopped tomato. Heaven. Amazing what a little sea salt can do.

I think this base would also work well for vegetable cheese sauce. Just add a bit of 2% sharp cheddar. You could add a little monterey jack and some chopped green chiles and maybe some fat-free sour cream for an enchilada sauce (and with low-fat tortillas and shredded chicken breast, that would make for a great, low-fat meal). You could add mushrooms and herbs for a different kind of pasta sauce.

I admit though, I am sort of craving that goat cheese ravioli. Just make it for me and don’t tell me what’s in it.

Bis On Main

We decided to try Bis On Main in downtown Bellevue after reading about it at Seattle Bon Vivant. It’s true that the restaurant selection is slim on the Eastside, and we’re always looking for new places.

Overall, we enjoyed it very much, and I’m sure we’ll try it again. Bis On Main is just west of Bellevue Square in the the more charming portion of downtown. We got there just before our reservation time and it took several minutes for anyone to notice us, possibly because there were at least six other people waiting in the foyer area (who had already been helped, they weren’t all waiting out there abandoned or anything). Someone came over and brusquely told us that it would be a few minutes before our table was ready and then hurried off. It was fine. I got the impression that he was busy, not rude, but still, it made for an odd beginning.

The service was very prompt and attentive throughout the meal, but the brusqueness continued. This was probably magnified by the fact that the couple seated at the table next to us apparently knew the staff and various employees kept dropping by their table, offering things, laughing and talking, and it was quite a stark contrast to the demeanor presented to us. In any case, we were soon seated. Although the tables are fairly close together, they do a good job of making each table seem intimate. Unfortunately, P.’s chair was situated in a rather high-traffic area, so after waiters squeezed past him several times, he moved his chair a little closer to me (not that I complained about that).

The art on the walls made for a nice atmosphere, as long as you didn’t look too closely. I’ve noticed that several restaurants around town have similar art. It’s not quite abstract, not exactly representational. The distorted shapes are in bright, primary colors, and seem to be of cheerful scenes. Until you look closely and notice, for instance, that the plump blue dog has two human heads growing out of his back.

We were offered a bread basket, and the bread was very flavorful, with a crunchy crust and soft middle. We contemplated the wine list. It’s certainly a very large list, but unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a wide variety of whites to choose from. The whites are primarily Chardonnays, with a few Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios thrown in. (Their variety of reds is much better.) I had looked at their wine list on their Web site beforehand and had done a bit of research to figure out what we might choose. I was hoping to try the Pinot Grigio “Collio”, Attems. Unfortunately, this wine was no longer on the list at the restaurant. We went with Macon-Villages, Joseph Drouhin instead, which we enjoyed very much.

I had also scoured the online menu before we went. I don’t like seafood and am mostly trying to avoid red meat on the advice of my nutritionist, and sometimes that doesn’t leave much of a selection. I had eyed the heirloom tomato and summer squash gratin appetizer, but when we arrived, it too was missing from the menu. I’m not surprised, as I’m sure it’s seasonal, but they didn’t seem to have a winter-appropriate seasonal replacement, at least one that wasn’t seafood-centric. So, we skipped the appetizer and went straight to the salad.

I got the house salad with bleu cheese and P. went with the ceasar. Both were excellent and we ate every last bite.

Next, P. had dungeness crabcakes with corn fritters and a creamy saffron vinaigrette. P. said the crabcakes were excellent. I kept sneaking bites of the corn fritters, which were crunchy on the outside and sweet and soft on the inside. They were perfect with the sauce. I went with the butternut squash risotto with dried cranberries, which was creamy and light. The dried fruit gave the dish a hint of tartness that balanced the squash nicely.

In deference to my attempts to not completely blow my diet, we skipped dessert.

The food was definitely better than most places we’ve tried in Bellevue and the atmosphere is relaxing and intimate. The wine list provides more options if you’re in the mood for a red and the staff was either a little busy (which can certainly be the case at 8pm on a Friday night) or wasn’t quite sure if they liked us. Maybe they’ll like us better once they get to know us. We’ll have to go back and find out.

2002 Macon-Villages, Joseph Drouhin

I know absolutely nothing about wine. And the more I learn, the less I know. Luckily for me, the best way to learn about wine is to drink it.

I’ve been wanting to try a Joseph Drouhin wine ever since we had the Domaine Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay Arthur at the Herbfarm a few weeks ago. When you’re at the Herbfarm, the owners and chef come out and tell you a little about the food and wine you’ll be served. They mentioned that Robert Drouhin, of Joseph Drouhin in France, became interested in Oregon grapes way back when and long story short, his daughter now runs the Oregon site. She names the wines after her children.

We drink a lot of white wine, but rarely Chardonnay. We tend to equate it with drinking a glass of burnt butter. So we were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked Arthur (the wine, not the son; we’ve never actually met him). It didn’t taste like a typical Chardonnay to us, but what do we know about Chardonnay? We liked it so much, we ordered a couple of bottles from our wine shop the next week.

Last night, when I saw Macon-Villages, Joseph Drouhin on the wine list at Bis On Main, I thought this was a great chance to try it out.

I admit, we are much more comfortable choosing New World wines. After all, we understand what Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling mean. The grape is right there on the label so we at least have a sense of what we’re getting into. European wines? No clue. Macon-Villages? Is that a vineyard, and appellation, a town, the wine name?

However, it was listed right in the middle of the wine list’s impressive grouping of Chardonnays, so we assumed that was the grape we were talking about.

But then we tasted it. It was very good, fruity but not sweet, a little acidic but not overpoweringly so, bright with an aromatic nose and a long finish. No hint of butter. No oak. It didn’t taste at all like a Chardonnay. We decided that probably it wasn’t a Chardonnay after all, but rather some other white, but what do we know about French wine anyway. We like it, and that’s all that matters.

However, looking at the Joseph Drouhin Web site, I find that it is a Chardonnay:

Mâcon is a large area located in the Southern part of Burgundy, next to Pouilly-Fuissé. The clay and limestone soil of the Jurassic era found in this region is well suited for the Chardonnay grape variety. The grape juice ferments in stainless-steel fermenters at a rather low temperature. Bottling is done early in the Spring following the harvest. Mâcon-Villages is a flowery, fruity wine with a clear and brilliant hue. It has a crisp, medium body and a clean, lean acidity. Very pleasant finish. It is a perfect accompaniment to full flavoured fish dishes and charcuterie. Try it also alone as an aperitif. As with other white wines, Mâcon-Villages should be served chilled but not cold. It is meant to be enjoyed when young, the wine being at its best after one or two years of ageing.

Huh.

But where was the butter? The oak? I had to figure this out. And then I found this:

Though Chardonnay is a great grape, its greatness is not at all obvious to the millions of casual consumers whose only encounters with Chardonnay have been with the ubiquitous buttery renditions, and who are now getting sick of the stuff.

The writer of the piece recounts how he was choosing wine for a friend who told him to pick anything but Chardonnay. He completely ignored his friend’s request and had him blind taste a few Chardonnays, which the friend “judged “terrific,” “delicious” and “fantastic” within 10 minutes. ”

He says of Macon,

The climate in the Maconnais sits right next to these places on the cooler end of the Chardonnay-growing continuum, so the wines are almost always leaner and crisper than the global norm, with fruit more likely to recall apples than mangoes or pineapples. Macon’s vineyards are also rich in the limestone that imparts the telltale mineral notes that mark all white Burgundies, and since lean wines featuring subtle mineral notes cannot support a heavy overlay of oak without capsizing, Macon’s winemakers tend overwhelmingly to go easy on the wood.

Of Macon-Villages in particular, he says:

Negociant Houses: The big Burgundy shippers also sell lots of Macon-Villages, and whereas their bottlings of Pouilly-Fuisse taste a lot alike, their Macon-Villages taste identical. Thanks again to the excellent 2002 vintage, these bottlings are much better than usual, so try Bouchard, Drouhin, Duboeuf and Jadot.

Chardonnay without the overbearing butter and oak? Who knew? It tastes like a completely different wine. Now I’m off to bring the list from this article down to my local wine shop to see if I can try a few more. You know, for the education of it. It’s entirely for science.

chinese food, weight watchers style

I’ve been trying out a lot of Weight Watchers recipes, and although some, like the chicken chowder, have been very successful, others have been… less good. OK, they’ve been disasters. I made several vegetable-based dishes that I ended up throwing away, rather than have them take up precious room in my refrigerator. And I need to document those, as a reminder to myself of what not to do (after all, isn’t that at least half the point of experimentation in cooking?), but not today. Today, I’d rather document last night’s success.

I was a little hesitant about how things were going to turn out last night since the dishes were vegetable-heavy: the cause of my downfall in the dishes that ended up in the garbage disposal. But they turned out wonderfully, as good as Chinese take-out. They weren’t exactly the same as Chinese take-out, of course, but they weren’t a pale, flavorless imitation either.

I made three dishes: fried rice, moo shu chicken, and beef with broccoli. Each was based on a Weight Watcher’s recipe, but I made my typical modifications. The results were spicier than what the originals intended, but also lower in points. How cool is it when you modify a dish and it gets more healthful! That almost never happens.

I gathered up all my ingredients and made this at P.’s house. His kitchen is big and clean and has lots of countertop space. It took a good hour and a half to get everything chopped and cooked.

Fried Rice
Fried rice is best made with cold, cooked rice. I didn’t have any, so I cooked some brown rice first, and then made the marinade for the chicken and beef for the other two dishes. Once, the rice was cooked, I put it in a container in the freezer and left it there while I made everything else. By that time, the rice was nice and cold, so I finished it up. I’ll describe what I did all at once though, rather than the crazy way I actually did things.

1 1/2 cups cold brown rice
1/4 cup beef broth (chicken or veggie would work too)
1 Tbl soy sauce
1 tsp hot chili oil
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp sesame oil
1 egg + 1/4 cup egg beaters, lightly beaten
2 shredded carrots
6 sliced green onions
1/2 cup frozen green peas, partially thawed

First, I combined the broth, soy sauce, chili oil, and ginger in a bowl. I heated a tsp of the sesame oil in a non-stick pan and stir-fried the eggs until they were cooked, but still moist. I added the eggs to the sauce. Then, I heated the second tsp of oil and stir-fried the carrots and green onions. After about five minutes, I added the rice and the peas and stir-fried them about 10 minutes, until the rice started to brown. Finally, I added the sauce and cooked several more minutes until all the liquid was absorbed/evaporated.

Moo Shu Chicken
The trouble with these was with the pancakes. They actually tasted pretty good, so I guess I just needed to have faith. And a rolling pin.

4 Tbl soy sauce
4 minced garlic cloves
3/4 pound chicken breast, cut into strips
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cups shredded napa cabbage
2 cups shredded bok choy
1 shredded carrot
1/2 cup canned straw mushrooms
4 chopped green onions
1 tsp hot chili oil

I made the marinade of 2 Tbl soy sauce and 2 minced garlic cloves and added the chicken (in a ziplock bag) and refrigerated that while I got to chopping. All was fine until I got to the boy choy. I don’t recall ever preparing bok choy before. Did I shred the leaves? The stalks? Both?

As always, I turned to the Internet and found that both are edible, but the stalks take longer to cook. They have somewhat of a creamy texture, while the leaves are somewhat like swiss chard. Well, my recipe had me add everything at once, and didn’t mention differing cooking times, so I thought I’d made it easy on myself and just shred the leaves. I saved the stalks for later.

I’d never used canned straw mushrooms either. The recipe said to thinly slice them, but they’re really soft. I just sort of chopped them up. I worried they’d be really mushy in the finished dish, but I barely noticed them.

I used cooking spray, and stir fried the chicken until cooked, then set it aside. I then stir-fried all the vegetables until the cabbage wilted, about five minutes. I added back the chicken and a sauce made of 2 Tbl soy sauce, 2 minced garlic cloves, and 1 tsp hot chili oil.

Then, I made the pancakes. I forgot that P. doesn’t have a rolling pin. The dough was easy enough. I combined 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour with 6 Tbl of cold water and mixed it until it formed a dough. Then, I made 8 little dough balls.

I had to roll each ball out into a very thin pancake. But with no rolling pin, I turned to Ste. Chapelle Ice Wine Riesling.

It worked out OK, but I’d still recommend going with a rolling pin. Once I had flat pancakes, I placed them one by one in a hot pan and flipped them back and forth until they were starting to brown.

(The original recipe recommends serving the moo shu chicken with a bit of hoisin sauce as well.)

Broccoli with Beef

2 Tbl dry sherry
2 Tbl soy sauce
1 Tbl grated gingerroot
6 minced garlic cloves
2 tsp sesame oil
several dried red peppers
1/2 lb beef tenderloin, cut into strips
1 tsp cornstarch
4 cups broccoli florets
3 sliced green onions

I made the marinade in a ziplock bag with the sherry, soy sauce, gingerroot, garlic, 1 tsp of the sesame oil, and the dried red peppers (I took a handful and crushed them). I added the beef and got everything else ready.

The recipe says to drain 1/3 cup of the marinade into a bowl and add the cornstarch and whisk to make the sauce. Mine ended up pretty dry at the end, so you might double the marinade and use all of it for the sauce.

I heated 1 tsp sesame oil in a non-stick pan and added the beef. Actually, it might be better to use an oil that can get hotter (vegetable oil maybe) and use really high heat. The beef could have been crispier. After a couple of minutes, I removed the beef and stir-fried the broccoli for a couple of minutes, then covered it for another minute to steam it. Then, I added the beef back in, along with the sauce, and tossed everything around. Then, I sprinkled the green onions over everything.

Finally
It was all really good. Much better than I expected. P. liked it too: “This is low-fat?” I know when he asks that, I’ve done OK. (As you might imagine, it’s much better than “This is low fat, isn’t it.”)The points tally? 4 points per serving for each dish. 1 point additional for each pancake.