Trader Meal

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DSCF2558ONCE AGAIN WE ARE TOO tired to write this week’s installment of ALB.  Procrastination is the order of the afternoon.  With a little nibble, as it turns out.

Water into the Nuke-u-lator for a cup of Trader Joe’s Mint Tea.  Within  three minutes, my Tuscan Pane is toasted and cut.  A bowl has been filled with olives (two kinds), cheese,  and baby carrots.  So far, everything is from Trader.

A few imported pepperoncini for luck.  Jars back in the fridge.  I’m seated, images uploaded, and typing before the 3 minute timer goes off.  Ding!  Tea’s done!

Fantastic!  Trader Joe’s has again saved me from malnutrition!  Did not even need the Trader apples and pickles!  Will I be hungry after this “meal”? Maybe a little.  Well, not really.  80% full.  A glass of water makes it complete. DSCF2559


Lucques Olives • Trader Jacques

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LucquesOlivesJarOFTEN CRITICIZED FOR MY EATING habits,  the unhealthiness evidently extends to regular meals of bread, olives, peppers, cheese, and pickles.  A perfect meal before long bike rides or a day in the trenches.  Keeps me innards happy and me tummy flat.

Jarred olives with the pit seems to be the best value.  A couple bucks keeps me in pits for a week.  Sometimes I’ll spring for a better olive, sometimes not.  A recent trip to the grocer found $2 shelves bare, but there resided on a $4 shelf an olive unfamiliar to me.

Bought once, then again and again.  The rest is history.  Among my choices are now always to be found a Trader Joe’s import, Lucques Olives.  Tasty, firm, nutty.  And call me nuts, but I find they have a nuance of chocolate.  Pairs nicely with more olives, peppers, cheese, bread (sourdough), and a pouring of cold water in a clean clear glass.

We’ve come a long way from Hunter-Gather.  I still consume standing up, when I’m hungry, small meals.  Back to my Neanderthal roots, when a handful of olives made every meal a happy occasion.

Ted’s Charcoal Broiled ◊ Tempe AZ

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Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 10.15.16 AMHunger knocks upon the stomach!  Charbroiled hot dogs and hamburgers are America’s perennial answer to this age-old dilemma!  Who’s got the goods?  Ted has the goods! 

My favorite?  Can’t decide!  Sometimes the Foot-Long with mustard, relish, onions.  A boysenberry shake and excellent fries top off an already stellar meal.

Or sometimes the burger is preferred.  Always fresh, always charbroiled.  Same toppings as the dog.  Just as good or better.

Driving by Ted’s,  one is enticed by odors puffing from the restaurant:  grilled meat!  Trust your instincts.  A fantastic choice whether you are hungry or not!

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Yogurt & Granola

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A SIMPLE BREAKFAST FOR A SIMPLE MAN.  Usually a piece of cheese with morning coffee.  Occasionally, especially when press time knocketh, I stretch my imagination.  This time, a real treat blooms forth.

We speak of my weekly breakfast desert treat.  Yogurt with granola, maple syrup, and cinnamon sugar.

Directions to make:  Start with a scoop of yogurt in a clean clear glass bowl.  Lately, it has been Trader Joe’s Plain Greek Yogurt.  Firm, consistent, and always fresh.  Next a sprinkling as desired of granola.  Bear Naked is the brand of choice.  Today we choose SeaSalt Caramel Apple.  Yum!  A dribble of pure maple syrup and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar completes the dish.

Tasty, healthy, sweet.  It’s got everything.  In the words of J.W. Jackson, Delish!

bear naked granola

Ncounter • Tempe AZ

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ncounter tempe  exterior bI’ve been eating more frozen yogurt.  And favor the self-serve shops.  The kind with 20 flavors, toppings, get what you want, throw it on the scale, pay, and enjoy.  And I notice this breakfast/lunch place with outdoor seating next to my fav yogurt joint.  Lots of college kids, busy, plenty of staff, so I figure, why not?  Wow, it turns out,  what a hip place!

paul at mojo tempeOne positive sign in a restaurant: smells good.  Another?  Busy, with plenty of staff.  The second might mean more to me, in case I have a cold.  It means their cash flow is good;  they are not cutting staff, cutting portions, pushing the expiration date of plated product.

After a second foray into Ncounter, I got facts.  Grudgingly, with suspicion, Danny the manager came to our table.  Interview and camera shy, he nevertheless filled in some gaps.  Dan-Dan started as a busboy with the family 15 years ago, and has worked every position in the place.  They attract the BIG THREE.  College kids, locals, and area workers.  The food has always been good, they buy local, they start with quality.  Good business plan.

Tempe is a super-hip college town with big business within walking distance of a vibrant Main Street . . . Mill Avenue, it’s called, if you are into accuracy and stuff.  Ncounter’s founders have been in the food business for decades, and it shows.  Fair portions, excellent quality, and even more important, healthy and tasty.  And great  quality.  Which is worth mentioning twice, because restaurants usually make their buck off filling you up without regard for sodium and fats.  Here, you’ll feel good leaving the table.  Hours later, you won’t have “diner indigestion”, for sure!

ncounter tempe menu    ncounter tempe interior

Rosa Blanca • Philadelphia

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Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.43.18 PMIN THE mid-50s, men still wore suspenders. One man with vision, thinking belt sales would eventually far exceed those of suspenders, had just sold his suspenders company and was walking along Chestnut Street near 8th, thinking. He was in the heart of Philadelphia’s vibrant Financial District, and he had a pocket full of money.

He’s offered a business deal in a chance encounter with an acquaintance, the purchase of a cable company in Tupelo, Mississippi. Knowing nothing about cable TV, he nevertheless purchased the company. His name is Ralph Roberts and his company became Comcast.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.44.11 PMThe Financial District is long gone, along with it’s NewYork-style diners. Change comes to everything, however. Renaissance is striking even this area of Philly.  We are graced with a new eatery which makes an authentic Cubano Sandwich for nine bucks [comes with plantain chips]. Clean and shiny,  visiting Rosa Blanca @ 707 Chestnut will be a pleasant and memorable experience.

Something a little more hearty? Try the Masitas de Puerco, a bowl of fried pork shoulder and other very tasty stuff.  The side salad is strongly recommended. Fantastic blending of flavors!

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.44.28 PMDesert? How about a fruity shake? Morir Sonando Batido is an Orange-Vanilla smoothie well worth five bucks.

It will be very east to over-order in this place. On a date? Stick with one entry and one sandwich and share.  You may still need a take-away box.

Sal & Theresa’s Mexican Restaurant • Payson AZ

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DSCF1528DRIVING NORTH INTO PAYSON, coming down the hill, you speed right past.  Even doing the limit, it’s easy to miss Sal & Theresa’s.  On my last trip I was determined to ease off the pedal, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the local flavor.

Great idea, it turns out.  Sal & Theresa were celebrating their new breakfast menu with 25% off.  Although on the road only two hours, a discount in a great-smelling restaurant is a good omen.  Trust fate!

Going with the manager’s suggestion, I ordered a breakfast burrito DSCF1530smothered in green enchilada sauce.  Perfect!   Heaven!  After eating, Dan-Dan clued me into the secrets of this restaurant.  Authentic cooking with the right seasonings.  Simple enough, but not easy!

Fourty-one years ago Sal & Theresa came to the area to work for a local restaurant owner.  In time, they had their own restaurants.  The American Dream, to put it simply.  But working and creating are two different things.  What sets this restaurant apart is the authenticity of the food.  It’s the real deal.  An honest plate.  Fair prices, too!  Next time you’re driving along The Beeline, keep your eyes peeled for a small restaurant on the east side, up a little rise.  Wheel on in, and park yourself for a spell South-of-the-Border.




Cracker Barrel Asiago

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AsiagoREADING TERMINAL MARKET Philadelphia boasts a few fantastic vendors.  Regularly I saddle up to a short counter for a bowl each of rice & steamed greens with scallions and oyster sauce.  Then maybe to the Amish deli case, where you can still lay a dollar on the counter and get a dollar’s meat.  Don’t forget the donut maker.  Hundreds, nay, thousands, boiled daily in vats of fresh oil.  Mmmmmmm donuts.

Today the Health Angel whispered from my shoulder.  No donuts.  After rice and greens, I happened past a cheese counter the better part of a city block long.  If cheese you want, this is the place.

A few weeks ago, the local grocer’s featured a seasonal Cracker Barrel offering, Asiago.  A very interesting flavor.  Cracker Barrel will sell you a chunk for a fifth of the cheese counter’s price.  It is a decent offering.  Pairs nicely with olives, pepperoncini, maybe a few crackers.

Pepperoncini PepperIf you see Cracker Barrel on sale, stock up!  Be sure to grab a 7 oz package of chunk Asiago.  Later, join me at RTM.  We’ll splurge on the real stuff at five times the price.  A little comparative munching.  Both are worth it.  Both are great values.

What happened at the RTM cheese counter?  I sampled.  Much stronger then Cracker Barrel.  “This is real cheese, son”.  Well worth $12.99 a pound.  $9.99 if over a pound.  They happened to have a single ½ pound piece already cut from the wheel.  I did them the favor of buying for a fiver laid on the counter.

Morton Salt

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morton-full-size CONTINUITY IS A GOOD thing.  Visiting the supermarket, finding the same brands one sees as a kid, ties past with present.  Your parents trusted it, you trust it, your kids will (maybe?) trust it.  I always reach for the Morton.  When it rains, it pours refers to the anti-caking formula Morton uses.   Modern climate-controlled homes may have made the motto obsolete.  But I always reach for the blue cardboard cylinder when it’s time to fill the shaker or add that all-important ½ teaspoon to the muffin recipe.

47384-roasted-unsalted-sunflower-seedsIn a pinch, when I require salt immediately for ice removal on the front stoop, there is the store brand.  Which I’ve used in muffins with no ill-effects.  But the blue cardboard container of Morton is always my first choice for chili and muffins.  Salt is essential to open up flavors in both savory and sweet dishes.  But have Americans been led astray?  Taught that excessive salt itself it a good flavor?  You can spot these brainwashed Spawn of Advertisements.  They salt without first tasting their food.  And are usually overweight.

It’s easier than you think to reduce salt.  Just cut back.  Add other flavors instead.  Buy unsalted nuts on your next trip to Trader Joe, pour some in a jar, and add a pinch of salt.  After a few tries, you’ll notice a better-tasting snack.  And you’ll be on the road to better health.

chicken soup from scratch (almost)

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EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW HOW TO make chicken soup from scratch before leaving the nest.  But in a world of instant gratification and  pop-top Campbell’s Soup, has “cooking” become more about following directions on a box or can?  A meal “prepared” according to corporate chemists clad in Tyvek jumpsuits within bright sterile labs of stainless tables and humming machines?

making chicken brothIt’s not that hard.  Really.  Buy a store-cooked chicken.  Clean off the easy-to-strip chicken.  Throw the skin, bones, and anything else you leave on the carcass into a pot.  Add enough water to cover the bones.  I usually snap the backbone and rip any dangling parts off so it can spread out.  Put it on the stove, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.  Simmer means just barely bubbling.  Keep an eye on it, that it does not start to boil, or else the bones begin to cook, and the taste will be *off*.  It’s already cooked once.

After 30 or 45 minutes, the broth will get a healthy color to it.  You may have skimmed some froth off the top a few times.  Time to remove from the heat;  set the pot on a cool burner (I use a butcher DSCF1699block;  the scorch marks add character).  Oh, the bones and what not?  Strain the broth into a second pot (I do it while hot).  Keep the broth.  Discard the rest.  After the pot is cool to the touch, cover and gently transfer to the back of the fridge.  

Remove the broth two days later; the fat will have nicely congealed at the top.  Skim and discard the fat.

Chop an onion along with a  handful of carrots and celery.  Throw a DSCF1696little oil in a pot, medium heat, and the veggies.  A bay leaf and some thyme are not a bad idea.  Stir, or more accurately, turn over the veggies, every 90 seconds or so.  You want these to cook slowly, so medium may be too hot.  In under ten minutes, they should be getting “there”.  This is where I add the broth I made, and maybe some water.  You can always add more water, so take it easy on the first pour!

Bring to a boil, and add a nice handful of egg noodles or maybe a second if you have small hands.  Reduce to simmer.  After five minutes, throw in chicken (shredded beforehand).  Two more minutes, and voila!  It’s done!  Remove from the heat or it will keep cooking!

I add a little cumin before the noodles go in; you go ahead and add your favorite seasoning if you want.  Just before the boil is a good time for that.  Salt and pepper to taste at the end.  This freezes really well!