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Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup

Who doesn’t love chicken noodle soup?  Well, maybe not vegetarians.  This recipe can be amended easily: swap chicken for tofu, chicken broth for vegetable broth, and fish sauce for soy sauce.  It’s a noodle soup good for everyone… even those who think they don’t like coconut.  If someone you know doesn’t like coconut (like August), you might get them to like it at least in this soup (she does).

coconut chicken noodle soup

coconut chicken noodle soup

Makes 4

2 14-oz cans of coconut milk

3 cups of chicken broth

1 lb (or more) of udon noodles

3/4 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breast

1/4 cup of fish sauce

The juice of 1 lime

2 tbs. of peeled and grated lemon grass

2 tbs. of sriracha

1 tbs. of grated ginger

1 tbs. of peanut oil

1/2 tsp. of turmeric

Mung bean sprouts, minced cilantro, and lime wedges for garnish

2 coconuts halved for serving vessels, if you want to make it cute

Thin slices of Serrano peppers, if you want to make it spicy (not pictured)

Heat the oil in a large sauce pot over medium heat.  While the oil is heating, slice the chicken in thin strips width-wise.  Saute the chicken in the sauce pot for 3-4 minutes, until lightly golden brown – it doesn’t have to be fully cooked.

Add all the ingredients except the noodles and the garnishes.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the noodles and continue simmering for another 3 minutes.  Serve immediately, garnished with a large pinch of bean sprouts, a sprinkling of cilantro, and a lime wedge.

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Picante, Berkeley CA

Mondays are the toughest night to find a restaurant open for dinner.  It’s even tougher for those with special diets, like vegan or gluten-free.  Any diner, special diet or not, can rest easier knowing there is a delicious Mexican restaurant in the East Bay that caters to all clientele – AND it’s open on Monday nights!  Picante in Berkeley is open seven days a week with extended hours on the weekends for brunch, so you’re bienvenido no matter what day it is.

tostada salad with manchamanteles

tostada salad with manchamanteles

August was recently working with some of her students on compound words, and manchamanteles is one of them.  It’s a style of meat called “tablecloth stainer” because the sauce of the chicken will surely make the linens dingy.  The tostada salad can come meatless and even gluten-free if you request it without the tostadas, even though it would no longer be a tostada salad if you didn’t have the fried tortillas; without the meat and tostadas, though, it would be one of the healthiest, most nutrient-packed items on the menu.  We love our vegetarian friends, but for ourselves, we had to try the special manchamanteles.  The sauce is made with a grilled pineapple red mole, so there was a deep earthiness from the array of chiles used, plus a mild sweetness from the caramelization of the pineapple.  Chunky pico de gallo had its own tomato-based tangy acidity, and the cabbage also was faintly sweet.  All together, those three elements on the sweet side fooled the palate into thinking it was a lighter meal than it really was.  In reality, it was super filling and beyond satisfying.  Fresh, crunchy greens, locally made Mexican-style cheese, and stewed and lightly spiced black beans completed this salad.  There was enough going on that we didn’t need the dressing, but it added a delightfully fresh bite.

sopa de mariscos

sopa de mariscos

Ordering is done at the counter before you seat yourself, and we asked our cashier lady what she would recommend.  August had already been eying the sopa de mariscos, so when the cashier said it was good, that finalized our decision.  There was a little bit of heat, but it wasn’t uncomfortable (although it may be for the timid).  At least the heat didn’t travel past the mouth, making our faces flush or throats burn.  Beyond the heat, it was a very rich broth with intense seafood flavor, tangy tomato, and a slight buttery quality.  Hunks of tender rockfish swam with lots of clams, mussels, and prawns, and it was a pleasant surprise that all the shellfish was very clean as well as fresh – prepared well, there was no hidden sand to grind our teeth.  That would be an unwanted texture, while the carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes were cooked just right so that they retained a touch of their natural textures.  With the fog coating this part of the Bay tonight, it was a wonderful way to warm up.

pork chile verde

pork chile verde

While ordering at the counter, we chanced an encounter with the manager, who offered us samples of different meats.  They all tasted great, but the pork chile verde was one of the most impressive.  It must have been intuition that that was the third item we ordered, before trying the meat samples.  The pork was fork tender, almost to the point of melting in your mouth.  Its sauce was made with tomatillo and Anaheim chile, marrying the flavors with the perfect balance to enhance the meat without overtaking the plate.  On the side came rice cooked with tomato, garlic, onion, and mild spices, and Zach called it “spot on with flavors.”  The pinto beans were both salty and smoky; the flavors were basic, but extremely well done for what they were.  Between the beans, rice, and pork sauce, this dish required the use of tortillas for sopping.  One of Picante’s claims to fame is their corn tortillas – GMO-free corn is used daily to make masa for the restaurant’s housemade tortillas.

The GMO-free corn goes into the tortillas as well as chips and masa for other dishes, so eat those corn-based items without worry.  For diners who appreciate in-house, scratch cooking, this restaurant will meet or exceed your expectations.  If you really love the food, catering is available for your next fiesta.  Picante nos place and we bet you’ll be pleased, too.

Off the Grid, El Cerrito CA

For a city of less than 30,000 inhabitants, El Cerrito’s Off the Grid on Wednesdays is surprisingly as packed as if it were held in Oakland.  Good food brings people together, so when multiple food trucks with imaginative flavors converge, the crowds will follow.  Tonight we sampled from six trucks we had not tried before, and all that we tried was well worth the lines.

We had heard about The Melt for quite a while, and we finally found it here.  The Thanksgiving menu description immediately drew us in, with cheddar cheese, carved turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on sourdough.  Even though the sandwich came from a grilled cheese truck, it was not so cheesy as to overpower the other ingredients.  Just a touch of cranberry sauce was the ideal amount to offset the herbs and salt on the sourdough.  It works to pair with the turkey, and it is common knowledge that fruit goes with cheese, so cranberry, while sparse on this sandwich, was a necessary ingredient to complete the meal.  The stuffing had similar flavors to the herbed bread, but provided an alternative texture to contrast the grilled sourdough.  This tasty sandwich came with a serving of sweet corn tortilla soup, which is one of many vegetarian items The Melt offers.  Simple and sweet with substantial texture, the soup was enhanced with a bit of turmeric for flavor as well as color.

Seoul on Wheels showed lots of variety on its menu, and the Seoul fries encompassed a little bit of everything.  Crinkle cut fries were perfectly salted, forming a bed under spicy pork, rich and creamy mayonnaise, mildly spicy gochujang chili sauce, cilantro, and melted jack and cheddar cheeses.  The pork had a great mouthfeel to match its flavorful chili glaze with garlic notes.  A nice large handful of melted jack and cheddar tied the dish together, buffering the uncomplicated fries and the extravagant pork.  If you’re a fry lover, Zach highly recommends that you give these a try.

An the Go is part of the An Family Restaurants group, serving a combo of their famous garlic noodles with choice of a skewer.  We picked lemongrass chicken, which was sweet and tangy with hints of a flavor akin to teriyaki.  The tender noodles were cooked perfectly for the intention of this plate – the delightful garlic made us want to eat and keep eating, but we had to reign ourselves in and save room for other dishes.

Twister Mexican Grill “With a Twist” has one very obvious twist – the shape and style of the burrito.  We ordered the Twister Burrito Cone, which had the simplest fillings of the menu, so that we could see what the cone was all about.  Despite the incredible freshness of the faintly spicy black beans and tangy pico de gallo… even though the chicken was moist and cut into wonderfully manageable pieces… considering the hidden goldmine of jack cheese (white gold, that is)… and in the face of bold cilantro rice, it was definitely the cone that stole the show.  Like a crispy, flaky, and crunchy taco shell, it’s a very unconventional way to eat a burrito yet we understand the popularity.

Tacos typically aren’t associated with Vietnamese food, but Blue Saigon makes the concept work.  The three tacos all had the same white corn tortilla that was grilled nicely, but with three different fillings and their own condiments.  The chicken (left) was not too spicy but rather flavorful, the fish (center) was flaky with a crisp breading, and the pork (right) was tender and smoky, enriched by a spicy sauce.

Lexie’s was on hand to dole out desserts made with their local, handmade, organic frozen custard.  Still reeling from our bacon dinner party and all its extravagance, we wanted to try the maple walnut bacon sundae to compare.  Smooth maple frozen custard was garnished with toasted walnuts, bacon bits, chunks of waffle cone, and whipped cream.  The texture of the custard was like soft serve but creamier.  The waffle cone was crispy but almost melted in your mouth.  Deep sweet maple flavor naturally goes with walnuts, and the smoky salty bacon added the right amount of savory to bring the third harmony to the perfect fifth of maple and walnut.

Standing in line and ordering through a counter or a window does not mean you’re getting fast food.  The cost and time reflect gourmet eats, and the opportunity to feast on such variety is a privilege.  The ambiance with lights, music, and seating is courtesy of Off the Grid’s efforts, providing a venue for the trucks to congregate and please the masses.