Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PF Chang's

Following our recent appreciation of chain restaurants we headed over to P F Chang's last night with our neighbors. We had often flirted with a trip to P F chang's but for whatever reason had never quite made it. To be honest I didn't really kno what to expect. I certainly wasn't ready for the extremely elegant dining room, and the numerous guests dressed in thier fanciest clothes. I had also thought it just sold cheap Chinese food.
I hadn't had Chinese food for a very long time- there is one main reason for this: my wife. It's not that she doesn't like Chinese Food, but simply that of all the cuisines in the world Chinese probably does the worst job of accomodating vegetarians. No actually scratch that- Brazil was worse, but still Chinese can be pretty terrible. I am reminded in particualr of a trip to a vegetarain Dim Sum restaurant in Vancouver B.C.- which was one of the most disgusting meals I have ever been served.
We had checked the menu before and found that P F Chang's had a whole range of vegetarian items. The reason for this is really due to the fact that the restaurant is not strictly speaking Chinese, but more of a general Asian food place with a Chinese focus.
We decided to order seperae dishes and then just get tastes of each other's food. I was very quick in choosing the Mongolian Beef, my wife got a Coconut vegetable curry and the others the Spicey fish and a Chinese Chicken dish. To start we had some crab wontons.
The food was all excellent, I was so impressed. The wontons seemed to hae much more filling and to be softer and more appertising than any wontons I had eaten before. The Mongolian Beef was cooked really well, and everyone elses dishes were just great. Im not realy a fan of fish, but was assured that the spicey fish was a really top notch dish- repeatedly ordered on every visit.

So- another chain restaurant, another success.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

International Food Fair

We went down to the international food fair in Balboa Park today. I'd been quite looking forward to it, having thoroughly enjoyed December nights in Balboa Park when all the different International Cottages sold a wonderful array of their cuisines.

Perhaps it was the weather... meatballs, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, meat pies, and rich curries all seem fabulous on a chilly winter's eve- but the bright sunshine of today led to food that was less substantial, and nothing quite as appealing. The other main issue was that we arrived far too late- by 3pm many of the food trays were empty leaving us no chance to sample the Salade Nicoise or the Indian Samosas.

We will try harder next time, and arrive at the festival much earlier. I think the idea of the fair, and indeed the International Cottages themselves are a wonderful idea- reminding us of the massive diversity within San Diego. But I do think they could perhaps showcase their cuisine a little better. More chances need to be taken to give the food samplers the opportunity to taste something really unique, and not just serve up the precise dishes that are expected from a certain country.

Friday, May 26, 2006

You've gotta love the Linkery

I just received my e-mail update from The Linkery, and I am just so impressed with everything they are doing. I love the way they run their business, genuinely seeming to care about the local community and most importantly with the quality of the product that they offer.

Two great things that they have announced-

1, They will start serving breakfast on Monday nights! This is genius and I love it. They just couldn't handle the big crowds for breakfast before, and wanting to maintain a high level of service just stopped serving it. Now there will be breakfast instead between 9.00-11.00pm on Mondays- We'll definitely be hitting it up for the famous biscuits and gravy.

2, They are showing all the world cup matches (that's soccer to all who aren't in the know). We had been planning to head down the Shakespeare Pub for all the big matches. I guess we still might for the England matches, should be a good atmosphere. But The Linkery will be much more fun- a great international eclectic crowd- plus we won't have to cough up for the massively over priced fish and chips. (The Shakespeare should be ashamed of themselves!).

Anyway, I encourage you all to sign up for The Linkery Newsletter, and of course to get down there ASAP

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Asaragus and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

Quick pasta recipe today. We're pretty busy tonight so I thought I would get this made and ready early. Its a very easy dish if you have a weel stocked fridge/ larder.


8 oz Wholewheat pasta (cooked al dente)
2 tbsp Olive oil (extra virgen of course!)
8 thick asparagus spears - chopped into 2 inch pieces
1/2 onion- chopped
2 roasted red peppers (roast in the oven, then paper bag to cool, and peel)
3 tbsp pesto (I made my own, but you don't have to!)
1/4 jar sundried tomatoes, julienne style
1 tsp chili flakes
2 tsp dried oregano

1, Oil the wok, and when hot enough add the onion and asparagus. Cook for 8-10 mins until asparagus is almost tender.

2, Through in the al dente pasta, red peppers, pesto and tomatoes, stir fry for 1 minute.

3, Stir in the chili flakes and oregano, adding more olive oil if you feel it is required.

I will probably serve with some freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, and a some shredded mozzarella.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Quorn and Spinach Curry with Fennel Seeds

I was looking today for a recipe for a Chicken and Spinach curry, which I planned to convert into a Quorn and Spinach curry. Whilst searching I became aware that I wasn't finding the correct recipe as I had something very specific in mind, and it occurred to me that I should simply devise my own recipe. I wanted something that had a variety of fragrant and "spicy" flavors, and something that used yoghurt to thicken the curry.

Here is what I created:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion -diced
3 cloves garlic - chopped
1 inch ginger - finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp Fennel Seeds
1 tbsp turmeric
2 tsp chili flakes
1 tbsp ground coriander
6 cardamom pods- bruised
1 bag quorn pieces
1 16 oz bag spinach
1/4 pint vegetable stock
Handful cashew nuts
1/2 pint yogurt
1 handful coriander

1, Heat up the wok and add the olive oil. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and fry until soft. Add the spices and stir fry a further 2 minutes.

2, Add in the quorn and cook until defrosted. Add in the spinach, stock, cashew nuts and yoghurt. Cook for a further 20 minutes until the flavors are well combined and most of the liquid has evaporated.

3, Serve with freshly chopped coriander, and maybe a dash of lime juice.

I served it alongside a salad of tomatoes and onions, some freshly made red lentil Dahl and some cottage cheese.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Uno Chicago Grill

Well we don't usually eat at the mall, but my wife is a fan of the South Beach options offered at Uno Chicago Grill at Fashion Valley, so being in the area and in need of a break we headed over there. We had thought that 3.30pm would not be too much of a busy time for lunch, even on a Saturday. We were mistaken however and greeted with a 15 minute wait then entering the restaurant. This was okay and we sat at the bar and had a pre-lunch drink. Initially I was kind of surprised to see the long line of men propping up the bar - it seemed a strange choice of establishment for an overpriced pint of beer. It then struck me of course that this was the ultimate market- bored husbands whose wives are there picking out new outfits take refuge in this bar- presumably drowning their sorrows and trying to forget how much their credit card is being maxed out. (I don't wish to post tired stereotypes but this really did seem to be the case).
To drink I had a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale, a beer that bizarrely appears much more popular over here than in it's native England- I am certainly a fan. My wife chose the specialty of the restaurant a Pomegranate Mojito. She was not so pleased with this sweet artificial tasting beverage that was not even presented with a sprig of mint.
We were seated after not too long- our waiter was extremely amusing, quirky, not wasting our time, ad definitely out to please. Upon guessing that my wife was not enjoying her Mojito he divide an elaborate scheme to serve with a shot of well tequila- explaining that if we were "caught" by the manager we had to state we had asked I don't quite know what. It was all rather strange, but we appreciated the gesture just the same.
Eating wise my wife immediately went for the goat cheese and vegetable wrap (whole-wheat tortilla), with some smashed cauliflower. (Very good South Beach options), Dr. Agatson would have been impressed). I went for the less healthy steak and cheese sandwich with a side of fries. (Come on- it’s the weekend!). The food arrived after a short interval- (during which we surreptitiously downed our free tequila). Everything was actually really good- my steak and cheese sandwich reminded me that sometimes it is the simple fare that tastes the best. The fries were some of the best I have had in San Diego, and my wife’s dish was just as great as she had hoped, the smashed cauliflower being particuarly nicely prepared.
The good thing about these mainstream eateries is that they never have the pretentious price tags that we find in North Park and Hillcrest- their food might not be quite so exotic but it sure tastes good.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Three color salad

This is a simple recipe we invented with some friends when out camping one time in France. It is a bit different from the Italian Tricolor salad- with yellow instead of white being shown against green and red. Perhaps it should be the Mexican tricolor- it certainly has Mexican ingredients. We whipped it up today now that the price of avocadoes is not too horrific.
Three Color Salad

8 firm tomatoes (diced)
2 tins sweetcorn
3 ripe avocados (diced)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp extra virgen olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Grated cheddar cheese


1, Place the tomatoes, sweetcorn and avocado in a bowl. Gently mix them so they are distributed evenly in the bowl

2, Combine the mustard with the vinegar. Gradually add olive oil to the mixture of mustard and vinegar. Whisk up into a vinaigrette, and drizzle over the salad.

3, Season to taste, and add a little sprinkling of cheddar cheese over the top.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mushroom Pasta Dish

Tried out another great internet recipe today - unfortunately it all got socffed down before I could take any photos. But I wanted to advise it as one to try. We used wholewheat pasta and used a lot less butter than they advised, and the result was delicious and nicely healthy.
Recipe came from Care 2 . Make sure you use nice thin fresh asparugus and don't overcook. We threw in a whole bunch of fresh herbs at the end which made it fab- and of course a pasta dish is never the same without some parmesan cheese.

Monday, May 15, 2006


We checked out Apertivo last night- we had walked past it a fair few times and decided to give our local North Park tapas restaurant a try. University and 30th is a funny area, on the whole it looks rather shabby, however it contains a number of nicer eating places- Ranchos Cocina, Heaven Sent Desserts and Apertivo to name a few. Once we stepped inside the restaurant however shabbiness was abandoned, and we could just have easily downtown in the Gaslamp such was the chic decor.
Apertivo is an Italian tapas restaurant- the menu is not exactly groundbreaking, but does have a great selection of all your favorite Italian dishes (in miniature of course). Each item on the menu goes for $3-$7 and invites the diners to choose a wide selection of little plates to share. This is a nice way of eating- variety always being key to me for any good meal. And indeed this is usually one of the problems I have with Italian food, even at the nicest of restaurants the $20 entree consists of a bowl of pasta, or a risotto, or a pizza no variety at all but just a great deal of the same thing.
We decided to start with 4 tapas dishes, one for each of us and settled on the French green beans, the chicken sausage, the red pepper pasta and an arugula salad. We also chose a nice bottle of Chardonnay after the waitress had been kind enough to provide us with a few tastes of the different bottles on offer. I have to say we were a little disappointed with our first round of food- the arugula salad was pretty good but the pasta was bland, the chicken sausage certainly not loved by all and the green beans just okay. The wine was a hit however- especially at $18 a bottle.
Our party being pretty hungry we decided on a second full round of tapas hoping that this time we would chose better. This time we picked some chorizo wrapped shrimp, a gorgonzola pasta, eggplant rollotini and a meat and cheese platter. This fortunately proved much more satisfactory- everyone's favorite was the gorgonzola pasta which was spectacular, the eggplant dish was also really great as were the shrimp and of course meat and cheese platters are always good!
The nicest thing about the dinner was its length and relaxing approach, we sat for several hours chatting and munching away, sipping on our wine and indeed were some of the last customers to leave the restaurant. We had a very pleasant experience and although the food was not the best we have had recently it was great value for the cheap paycheck it accompanied.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Spinach and Garbanzo Curry

Still in our Indian mood we cooked up this delicious Spinach and Garbanzo curry last night, served alongside some great Dahl, a couple of different raitas and some mango chutney.
The recipe I cannot take credit for (expect for it's selection). It came from an internet search for Garbanzo Curry , or as we call them in this house hold- chickpeas.
The recipe came from Waitrose, a pretty fancy supermarket in the UK, and is interested in its use of ground almonds to thicken the curry.
I would highly recommend you to try the recipe- here is a link-

And a photo of the result:

Friday, May 12, 2006

Quorn Tikka Massala

In an Indian mood right now, so we are gonna cook up our vegetarian version of chicken Tikka Massala, it's much better than those you get from the take out (probably because of its liberal use of cream :-)

The quorn should really be marinated the day before and left over night- you can replace quorn for chicken if you prefer.

Tikka Marinade: 6 oz natural yoghurt
1 tbsp ginger (grated)
4 garlic cloves (crushed)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 packets Quorn pieces (defrosted)
Massala Sauce: 4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions (thinly sliced)
1 inch ginger (finely chopped)
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
6 cardamoms (bruised)
2 tsp garam massala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chili powder
½ pint double cream
2 tsp tomato puree
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar

1, Combine the marinade ingredients. Marinate the quorn overnight.

2, Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions, ginger and garlic, fry until soft.

3,Add the spices and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the cream, tomato puree, 4 tbsp hot water, the salt and the sugar. Simmer for 10-15 mins.

4, Fry the quorn in a wok, until browned all over. Tip the quorn into the massala sauce and serve straight away with rice.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


So I don't normally review Chain Restaurants, for the simple reason that we don't usually go to many. However we met our friends today who had spent the whole day packing up a truck to move to Phoenix, and we needed to go somewhere easy, and of mutual distance between our two houses- Chilli''s seemed to fit the bill.
We arrived early, and were shocked to find the La Mesa Chili's had a line all out the door (on a Wednesday night?). However due to the ingenious invention of the buzzer system we could hapily wait at the bar until our table was ready (35 mins later).

The staff of course were wonderully friendly as you wuld expect in a restaurant such a chillis, and the atmosphere was fun. We sat down and ordered some sort of standard fare- Fajitas, burgers, fries, that sort of thing. As the more considerate chains do these days any burger could be made vegetarian with a bean pattie, which bumped up the veggie options quite a bit. Always good for keeping the peace!

The food came, it was all good, above average for a chain restaurant- of course nothing really groundbreaking, but tasty, satisfying and filling.

Next time we are on a road trip we certainly will give Chilli's another go. It's right up there with Red Robin

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

Planning Cinco de Mayo celebrations earlier than the evening of seemed like it might have been a very sensible idea at 7 pm last night as we frantically called round every Mexican Restaurant to see if we could possibly get a reservation. After quite a search we found that Ranchos Cocina had only a 10 minute wait for walk ins and headed over there. It is our local neighborhood Mexican restaurant after all. When it came to it the wait was probably more like 30 mins (for a party of 5), but we sat outside and it was a fun sort of atmosphere so no harm done.
Inside, Ranchos Cocina (which specializes in Vegetarian Mexican Cuisine), was buzzing with Cinco de Mayo revelers. We were seated at something that looked more like a narrow piece of wood than anything else- and certainly served to pack the restaurant to the max. We squeezed in well enough however and settled down to a pitcher of margaritas, chips, salsa, and guacamole which seemed to be nothing more than a squished up avocado. We ordered our food and a good half hour later it arrived. Opinions were mixed as to its quality- the Lobster Burrito got a big thumbs up, as did the fish tacos and cheese and bean enchiladas. Less positive response were alluded from the tofu and ole sauce enchilada and the whole-wheat chicken burrito. Perhaps Mexican food just isn't made to be healthy. Everything was fine and jolly until the check arrived, we were about to pay what seemed like a rather extensive sum, when we realized we had been charged for 3 entrees we had not eaten. I will take a positive stance and assume that this wasn't purposefully done, although my dinner companions were less convinced.
About half way through the meal one of our party had declared a craving for chocolate, I lost track of what ensued but all of sudden we had a reservation at the Melting Pot for later that evening. It seems that planning Cinco de Mayo early is sensible but random on the spot decisions much more fun.
We arrived at the Melting Pot around 9.30. The ladies got started on some chocolate Martinis (complete with a Hershey's Kiss), whilst the men opted for port and coffee. Still distinctly stuffed from the Mexican food we start around the fun circular table for a couple of hours, drinking, chatting and enjoying each other's company. After letter our dinner digest we ordered two of the melting pot's small fondues- Smores and the Flaming Turtle. Each fondue came with strawberries, pineapple, banana cheesecake, brownies, and marshmallows for dipping. They were both absolutely exquisite; my favorite was dipping the fresh banana pieces into the Flaming Turtle, a wonderful velvety chocolate sauce.
So a very successful evening out- arriving home 5 hours after heading out! A massive thumbs up to the Melting Point- which is somewhere all San Diegans should pay a visit. I will reserve judgment on Ranchos Cocina and perhaps pay them a visit on a slightly less busy occasion. Perhaps Mexican Restaurants are NOT the place to be on this holiday!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Vegetarain Burritos

In honor of Cinco de Mayo here is our well worn vegetarain Burrito recipe- nothing too flash. We dress it up and down depending on the audience. This was orginally created for the British side of our family- who unfamilar with Mexican food quickly becamse obsessed! If you are not vegetarian you can easily replace the quorn with the meat of your choice.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion (sliced)
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 red pepper (thinly sliced)
½ packet of quorn pieces (defrosted)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 inches of salt
1 tin re-fried beans
½ tin sweetcorn
4 oz grated cheddar cheese
4 large flour tortillas
3 tomatoes, finely chopped


1, Heat the oil in a large wok. Add the onions and garlic, fry for 3 mins and add the peppers. Fry until the vegetables are tender.

2, Add the quorn, the cumin, chili powder and salt and fry until the quorn/chicken is cooked right through. (do not over cook, the quorn/chicken).

3, Add in the refried beans. Stir in until they become thoroughly combined with the other ingredients.

4, Stir in the sweetcorn and cheese. Cook for 5-10 mins, stirring often.

5, Remove the mixture from the heat. Take one of the tortillas and place in a well oiled frying pan. Place a large dollop of the mixture on one side of the tortilla. Sprinkle some fresh tomatoes over the top. Fold up the tortilla over to cover the mixture. Fry on both sides and serve.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

OB people's food co-op

We had to head over the ocean beach tonight anyhow, and seeing as we were there we finally made it to the Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Market. We had heard rave reviews about the co-op and had been meaning to head over there for several weeks.
The co-op is of course owned by its members with a 10% added cost to the shopping bills of non-members. All the food is organic and vegetarian, some of it of course being vegan. The produce is fresh and wholesome looking, and you can pick up items such as tahini which I sometimes have trouble finding even at Whole Foods (does no one make their own hummus anymore?). I was impressed by the Co-op, they are the only community owned grocery outlet in San Diego, and they stay loyal to their cause, making profit only to support the running of the store. I was a little disappointed in their ethos- all thoughts seems to flow towards being organic and GM free. In my mind issues such as food miles are much more important- locally grown food being not only better for the environment but generally more tasty also.
Upstairs at the Co-op there is a little deli were you can sit and eat vegan and vegetarian entrees. We chose some cashew carrot salad, a baby bean salad, some sesame tofu and a massala rice dish. they were all fantastic, as was the "goddess dressing" which took its base from avocadoes.
Unfortunately we do not live too near Ocean Beach, but if we did we would certainly sign up for membership right away.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Asian Bistro

Time for another restaurant review-
After glowing reviews from our friends we picked the newly opened Asian Bistro on 5th and University for tonight's dinner. As we walked up to the restaurant we noticed a car alarm going off- we exchanged remarks to the extent that we hoped it stopped soon as it seemed to be parked pretty close to our destination. It was, it was parked exactly opposite the restaurant, and unfortunately, no it did not stop anytime soon. The alarm went on for another 30 minutes or so, and such was the efficiency at the Asian Bistro that we had finished our entree before the time the owner returned back to his car. By this time, I, and apparently several other people had notified the police, and the streets were lined with angry people. I have to say I was impressed that no one quite got angry enough to come out with a sledge hammer.
Anyway back to the Asian Bistro. It is a great little restaurant- open until 3 am for those of you who need such services. The decor inside was pleasant and I am sure would have been calming if it were not for the irritating alarm. The wait staff were very friendly and courteous, and the kitchen staff obviously very quick as I mentioned previously. My wife was impressed to see all vegetarian dishes were prepared in separate cookware to meat dishes, and made with vegetable stocks and sauces. The menu is a collection of the multitude of Asian cuisines, and had a lot to offer. We had a difficult time choosing but settled on the Drunken Noodles, and a Chinese Eggplant dish. The food excellent, very nicely presented without being over the top $15 a plate attractive. Everything tasted good- fairly simple fare, no surprises, but good tasty food. Our one regret was having ordered no appetizers- normally I get so full up at Asian restaurants with the family sized portions, however the portions here were moderately sized and the selection of appetizers enticing. We shall definitely go back- hopefully for a more peaceful dinner.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Brocolli and Stilton Soup

We had a great bowl of soup at Gulf Coast Grill the other night during happy hour- Cream of Brocolli. It was delicious and only about $3 a bowl at that time. The memory of it stuck in my head and inspired me to cook our own version tonight. This is more of a British take on the dish, using delicious creamy Stilton cheese- you can substitute any blue cheese if you can't find Stilton, although Trader Joes usually stocks it. Just make sure you get the blue version, and not the White Stilton with the apricots!

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

2 oz Butter
1 Small Red Onion (chopped)
1 lb Broccoli (roughly chopped)
3 Tbsp Wholewheat Flour
2 pints Vegetable Stock
5-6 Spinach leaves
1½ oz Stilton Cheese (crumbled)
1 Glass white wine
250 ml milk
Black Pepper


1, Heat the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion. Soften for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2, Add the broccoli and cook for a further 5 minutes until it is tender

3 Sprinkle on the flour and toss until fully combined. Add the stock, stirring all the time.

4, Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is completely soft. Stir in the spinach for the final 2 minutes.

5, Puree the soup in a blender, then return to heat. Add the milk and wine and heat through for 10 minutes. Stir in the cheese until it melts, season and serve.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Cajun dinner

We went round to our neighbors house last night for dinner. They have family round from New Orleans right now and cooked us up a cajun feast- well some of it cajun, some of it less so! Its a type of cuisine I love and really should start cooking more of- such interesting flavors. I will try to get the recipe for the shrimp dish, it was delicious- apparantly you aren't supposed to really eat the sauce, just dip bread in.
This version was made with a third of the butter usually used, so I guess its a cuisine that we shouldn't eat too much!