Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Restaurant Review: Mary Chung

Mary Chung's Restaurant 464 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02139-4132 (617) 864-1991 CASH ONLY When I used to live in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was a full-time student with minimal funds and a huge college tuition bill. Yes, I was the cliché starving student who created miracles with ramen noodles and tortilla chips! As a "low income" student I became frugal with my money and I was a bargain hunter. No only did I tend to find good deals, I was also gifted in finding great food bargains. One of my favorite bargain restaurants EVER is Mary Chung's. It's a medium-sized Mandarin-Szechuan restaurant in the middle of eclectic Central Square. I have to admit Mary Chung was my life-source for a couple of semesters. Take note: her food is not for the feint of heart. The food is very spicy and is always brought to your table steaming hot. It's no wonder that each table has it's own large pitcher of water! Apparently the restaurant is a favorite among MIT students, but as I recall many Harvard and BU students, as well as locals, frequent the restaurant too. The place is usually busy during the weekday lunch time hours and on the weekends during Dim Sum. Mary Chung has some good lunch specials, but her most famous dish, the Suan la Chow Show appetizer ($3.35), is what I recommend. This is a Mary Chung staple made of exquisitely plump pork wontons, fried and served on top of a bed of bean sprouts. What makes this dish so yummy is the sauce it is served with. I don't know what's in the sauce but its very flavorful and VERY spicy. Other dishes I've had there that have been superb were the Mongolian Beef ($9.50), juicy steak and scallions with mild Mongolian sauce served on a sizzling hot platter, General Gau's Chicken ($7.50), cubes of chicken coated with water chestnut flour and eggs, deep fried until crispy and cooked with hot ginger sauce, and the Orange Sauce Chicken ($7.50), battered chicken breasts set on top of orange slices and accompanied with a tangy orange sauce. On the weekends the restaurant gets a bit crowded but it's worth the wait to get their dim sum: Scallion Pie, Fried Bean Curd in Dun Dun Sauce, Peking Raviolis, Small Steamer Buns, and of course the Suan La Chow Show. Mary Chung's has many other great dishes and her menu is quite generous. So if you are ever in Cambridge or live there but have never visited Mary Chung's, I beg of thee to go try it. It's delicious and it's cheap!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Jambalaya for the lot-of-ya

It saddens me the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused yesterday in Louisiana. The state, and specially New Orleans, holds a very special place in my heart. Not only did I visit the scandalous city during Mardi Gras when I was 21, but I was actually in the Mardi Gras parade. My best friend from Junior High School, Monica, was working for Oscar Meyer at the time. Her job: to drive the Winnie Mobile! She drove all over the United States and on one of her stops she took me (along with her co-workers) to 'Nawlins. I have to admit that trip was the most fun and most memorable ever and whatever happens in Nawlins stays in Nawlins. Needless to say, I had very memorable food and cocktails in the city of Laissez les bontemps rouler! I remember I had an incredible oyster po' boy at Mother's and mouth-watering and very fiery jambalaya at some hole on the wall on Canal Street. Unfortunately, I must have been so intoxicated that I forgot the name of the restaurant. Since I was thinking about New Orleans, I decided to make jambalaya last night. There is a jambalaya recipe in my new Cuisine at Home magazine and, wow, did it come out good. As usual, I tweaked the original recipe but it was pretty darn good. The first thing I did when I got home from work was to make the rice. I have a handy-dandy rice cooker which does all the work for me. I just put one cup of rice and two cups of water, pushed the switch and that's it. Next, I started the jambalaya. I am very anal about preparing food and I always prepare my ingredients first. Here I have 1 cup diced onions, about 4 cups diced yellow, green and red bell peppers, 1 cup diced celery, 3/4 cup fresh diced tomatoes and one 14oz. can of no salt added diced tomatoes. Not pictured is an 8oz kielbasa sausage which I sliced up, 1 pound of fresh shrimp, cleaned and deveined, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. On the side I also have kosher salt, pepper, paprika, dried oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and shirasa chili sauce (optional). First I sautéed the kielbasa in a large sauce pan in the olive oil for about 5 minutes until it was browned on both sides. I removed the kielbasa with a slotted spoon then, in the same pan, I added the onion, peppers and celery and sautéed them for about 8 minutes, or until the onions become translucent. Add about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, a dash or two of dried thyme, red pepper flakes, dash of paprika and the shirasa chili sauce. I added 1 tablespoon of this chili sauce, which made the jambalaya spicy in flavor but not in heat. Next, I added the minced garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes. I added the kielbasa back to the pan along with the fresh and canned tomatoes, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce and a couple of dashes of Tabasco sauce. Make sure you taste the jambalaya for salt. You may need to add more salt and pepper. Finally, add the shrimp last and let it cook for about 5 to 7 minutes more or until shrimp is cooked through -- DON'T OVERCOOK THE SHRIMP! The original recipe said to add the rice to the jambalaya, but I prefer to serve it on the side. I then snipped some scallions on top of the rice to make it look pretty and, as you can see, the dish was substantial and quite good. I think this will serve 4 very hungry people!! We paired our food with lemonade. Believe me, on hot days here in Southern California lemonade is your best friend! Bon Apetit! Click here to donate to the American Red Cross. Recipe adapted from the October, 2005 issue of Cuisine At Home.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Chicken Kabobs a la Blaha

Grilling food is one of my all time favorite methods of cooking. It's fun, it's easy and it's really a great way to enjoy summer (although I do know of some Bostonians who like to grill during snow season!). Last night Matthew grilled some exquisite chicken kabobs. The meat was juicy and not dry and the veggies were cooked just right. The trick to grilling chicken kabobs--as Matthew told me--is to use the indirect grilling method. This is the best technique for grilling foods such as beef roasts, pork roasts, whole turkeys, and whole or thicker cuts of chicken. Any main course that is greater than 2 inches thick should be grilled using the Indirect grilling method. Matthew placed the kabobs on the second level grill grates. He grilled the chicken for about 40 minutes, so make sure you have a cocktail with you when you're doing this.

  • 2 packages of chicken tenders
  • 1 bottle of Lawry's Teriaky Marinade (or any marinade you prefer)
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1" bite size pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1" bite size pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1" bit size pieces
  • 1 package mushrooms, cleaned
  • 1 package of grape tomatoes
  • Metal skewers or bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for 30 minutes
  1. Place chicken tenders and marinade in a large zip-lock bag. Let it marinade for 30 minutes or more.
  2. 15 Minutes before grilling, turn on the grill (gas or charcoal) and let it get to about 350 degrees.
  3. Prepare kabobs: Start by inserting a piece onion, then a peice of chicken tender, folded up in two's or threes, depending on length. Then insert a piece of pepper or mushroom, or tomato, etc. Keep alternating with veggies and chicken. You should get 7 to 8 kabobs.
  4. Place kabobs on the top level of the grill grates or, if you don't have a two level grill, on one side of the grill with heat very low while the heat on the other side is set to med-high.
  5. Grill for about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve kabobs with Spinach Couscous (see below).
  • 1 can of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup frozen spinach
  • 3/4 Cup + 1 Tblsp. plain couscous
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Dash cumin
  • Dash Allspice
  • Dash Cinammon
  • 1 tblsp. fresh or bottled lemon juice
  1. Heat the chicken broth and spinach in a large pot on high heat until it begins to boil.
  2. Immediately add the rest of the ingredients and gently mix.
  3. Turn off heat and remove pot from heat. Let the couscous stand for about 5 minutes to absorb all flavors. Before serving, fluff with fork and serve.
Chicken Kabobs with Spinach Couscous

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Tuesday Night is SOLE Right!

My husband of exactly one month got me a subscription to a Cuisine at Home magazine that has all my creative juices going. I also have various other cooking magazine in my "office" that I love to read over and over. So, I came up with the following recipe for our Tuesday Night Sole Right!, which is a combination of various recipes I've read. **We're trying to incorporate more fish into our diet and since Dover Sole was on sale at Ralphs, I decided to give it a try. I hope you like husband and I both loved it.** 15 Minute Pasta Sauce Adapted from a recipe in Fine Cooking magazine
  • 2 Tblsp. Olive Oil
  • 3 Minced garlic cloves
  • 2 containers of cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
  • 1 Tsp. Kosher salt, or to taste
  • A couple of dashes of red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • A dash of sugar
  • 1 loose cup of finely julienned Basil

1. In a 10 or 11 inch shallow pan, heat the olive oil in med-low heat. Add the garlic and gently cook for about 5 minutes (don't let it brown or burn).

2. Add the cherry tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper and sugar. Gently toss to coat. 3. Turn heat to medium-high until it starts to simmer. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, until tomatoes turn into a thick, pulpy sauce. Add the basil last and serve immediately. You can toss your favorite pasta with this sauce or top off your pan fried fish with it. It's delightful! I've never cooked or had DOVER SOLE before. I Googled recipes for the fish and there were way too many complicated recipes out there. The simplest one I found only needed 5 ingredients, including the Sole. I slightly modified the recipe with the fresh squeezed lemon juice (see below) but it came out fabulous. The fish is not "fishy" at all and it turns out to be a very delightful, white flaky fish.

  • 4 to 6 Dover Sole fillets (about 1/4" thick each)
  • 1 cup flour
  • Butter
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Half of a lemon
    1. In a large, shallow plate add the flour about a tsp. of Kosher salt and pepper. Mix with your fingers. 2. Clean fish by running them over cold water then pat them dry. Squeeze a bit of the lemon juice on both sides of each fillet. 3. Heat a large shallow non-stick pan. In medium-high heat, add about a tablespoon of butter. 4. Coat each fillet in the flour mixture and shake off any excess flour. Cook fillets in batches (about two at a time) for about 3 minutes on each side. Keep adding butter to each batch. The big finale! I plated a couple of fillets per plate and topped it with about two tablespoons of the pasta suauce and added fresh julienned basil to it. I then tossed the 15 Minute Pasta Sauce with tortellini and topped off the pasta with fresh, cubed mozzarella. You have to try this recipe because it's really delicious. ENJOY!

    We paired our meal with a glass of St. Pepin wine.

    St. Pepin Crisp flavors with a hint of pineapple, apple, and pear aromas, off-dry with a medium body; similar to Sauvignon Blanc. Grapes: St. Pepin - a Minnesota grape grown in our vineyard $16