Hazelnuts and Pomegranate: Ingredients for Life

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I recently found a great winter salad that has a great point value for Weight Watchers. It’s called a “Rainbow Chopped Salad” and it’s filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables. I learned a couple of things while making it. I learned how not to roast hazelnuts and I think I mastered how to seed a pomegranate.

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I’ll first talk about what not to do when roasting hazelnuts. Do not place shelled hazelnuts in the oven like I did. You are supposed to unshelled them first or buy them already unshelled. After roasting them for about 10-15 minutes, the skin would crack. Wiping them with a kitchen towel would easily remove the skin. I ended up roasting them a little longer than needed and had a heck of a time getting the shells off. I ended up having lots of broken hazelnuts, but that didn’t ruin my salad. Next time I will buy the unshelled hazelnuts. I still like the idea of roasting them myself.

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Pomegranates are a beautiful fruit. I remember eating them as a kid. My mom would give me a quarter of the fruit which I would just bite into. I would suck out the juices of the seeds and then spit them out.

These days you can buy pomegranate seeds, but now that I have seeded one, I will never buy pomegranate seeds and I hope you won’t either.

First, you take a knife and cut around the fruit partway. Once you have a cut, you can use your hands to pry it open. Now rip the halves into further sections.

Fill a deep bowl with water. Take a section of the pomegranate at a time and underwater, carefully using both hands, remove the seeds from the membrane. Doing it underwater avoids stains.

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The seeds will sink and the majority of the membrane will float. I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of seeds that actually came out of the fruit. It took less than ten minutes.

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You can find the recipe for rainbow chopped salad from epicurious.com. I skipped the Asian pear and blue cheese and used extra virgin olive oil.

I’ve made this salad two weekends in a row now and have had great reviews. It’s definitely a healthy choice especially when surrounded by holiday feasts.

Sol Food: Good for the Soul

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It’s been several hours and I’m still thinking about the food I ate and the restaurant I ate at for lunch today. Although the restaurant is located in San Rafael, it reminds me of Puerto Rico. You can’t miss Sol Food with the bright lime green exterior. There’s a story there in itself. I’ll leave it for the end of the blog.

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My friend visiting from New York was a great sport and went to boot camp with me this morning. I’ll call him my Visiting Food Companion (VFC.) After a two hour work out, we were ready to eat. We actually were on our way to a Mexican restaurant when I was almost blinded by Sol Food. I recalled my colleague mentioning this Puerto Rican restaurant several months ago. She’s Puerto Rican, so I made a U turn and changed our destination.

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At Sol Food, you grab a menu, order at the counter, take a seat, and your food gets delivered to you. The rotisserie pork rib plate caught my eye and it came with rice, beans, organic salad, fried plantains, and garlic bread. There was an option of black or pink beans. I went with pink which are kidney beans cooked with kalamata olives. I took a bite off the rib and was in heaven. The pork was crispy, juicy, tender, a little bit of fat, and a whole lot of flavor. I loved the white rice which was fluffy and has flavor not seen in Asian rice. The pink beans were good too. I was happy to have a salad to balance off everything else on my plate. I remember eating the type of plantain served here in Puerto Rico. The plantains are fried, smashed, and refried. It was great and hardly oily. Everything was delicious including the simplest thing as garlic bread.

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My VFC ordered the chicken sandwich. It was free range baked chicken with ham, cheese, sautéed onions, tomato, lettuce, and cilantro-lime mayo. He enjoyed the savory combination of ingredients.

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To drink, I had the orange mango ice tea. It was delicious like there was fresh mango and oranges in it.

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My VFC decided to end the meal with a cafe con leche which he thought was “heavenly”.

I was very happy I made the U turn to Sol Food and I can’t wait to go back to San Rafael with a group of friends to try more of the quality authentic Puerto Rican food at Sol Food.

Earlier I mentioned the lime green paint. I thought I would end the blog with a photo of a letter that is posted in front of the restaurant.

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The opinion expressed in the letter definitely doesn’t reflect the views of this blogger.

Crab Season = Crab Roll

It’s one of my favorite times of year, dungeness crab season. We had a little bit of a late start this year because the fisherman and the distributors couldn’t agree on a price. The fisherman were asking for $2.50 per lb while the distributors were only willing to pay $2 per lb. After two weeks passed by including the Thanksgiving holiday, both parties gave in at $2.25 per lb. What a relief to restaurants that wanted it on their menu. What a relief to those that love dungeness crab like me.

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Yesterday I had lunch at Southie on College Avenue in Oakland. Southie opened earlier this year and is a fancy sandwich shop. Their big sister restaurant is Wood Tavern right next door. It’s a very small place with counter seating and small tables for parties of two. My sister, my friend, and I were lucky to be seated at the counter. It was the best seats as you get to see all the preparation happen.

Both my sister and I are currently on Weight Watchers so we agreed to share a sandwich and a salad. Although there were many interesting sandwiches on the menu, today they offered the dungeness crab roll which we couldn’t resist. Neither did my friend. She was having the full sandwich all to herself.

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Butter was spread on the rolls and smashed under the panini grill for several minutes. This technique gave it the form of a pocket and a generous crab filling was stuffed in it. As I mentioned, you get to see everything sitting at the counter. The crab roll came with Cape Cod potato chips. Yum! Sharing was definitely a good decision as the crab was plentiful. I love crab season.

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The salad we ordered was the truffled bacon and poached egg salad which came with frisée, romaine, couscous, radishes, scallions, and truffle vinaigrette. This was a hearty and delicious salad. I watched the prep cook mix the salad really well. But I also noticed that my poached egg didn’t get an extra toss of black pepper and olive oil like the others made. No harm no foul because I asked him to fix it and he did. I think he was surprised and embarrassed. I wouldn’t have even known the topping was missing if I sat elsewhere.

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I didn’t mention that before lunch the three of us walked around Lake Merritt and earned some activity points. We shared one lemon panna cotta with huckleberry comport and shortbread to share. It was a nice small treat to end our meal.

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Counter seating is a really great marketing strategy for Southie. I want to come back and try the fried pork belly sandwich for sure.

Nopalito: Fresh Mexican Comfort

I really like the restaurant Nopa in San Francisco and have been wanting to try Nopalito, their sister restaurant serving Mexican fare. Nopalito is special, it is “a Mexican kitchen, celebrating the traditional cookery of Mexico and utilizing the philosophy of purchasing local, organic and sustainable ingredients.”

I had lunch at Nopalito recently with a friend. I started with ice tea which came in a jug and with a little bottle of agave nectar. It was really nice. My friend had the ginger lemonade. All their beverages are made in house. Our waitress also brought out some spicy roasted garbanzo beans. They were a delicious snack while we reviewed the menu.

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With just two of us, we decided to share a few items so we could try more things. We ordered the taquitos de camote. These crispy rolled tacos were especially great as they were plated with a very generous amount of fresh accoutrements – guacamole, queso fresco, and salsa.

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The ensalada de betabeles y naranja came out next which is a delicious salad of beets, oranges, pickled onion, queso fresco, chili, and lime. This was a unique take on beet salad and I think the flavors are a great match.

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We shared the taco de pescado al pastor. We thought this might be a hard dish to share, but we were able to cut this fish taco in half. It was not a hard taco shell or deep fried fish. It was a healthier dish, but still very good.

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The last thing that came out was actually the first thing that caught my eye, the caldo tialpeno. This Mexican chicken soup came out in a big bowl. It had carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, avocado, garbanzos, chunks of queso fresco and a chipotle chili. Our waitress told us the more we stirred the chili, the more spicier it would get. This soup was pure comfort.

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My only complaint is that Nopalito only serves one dessert- house made popsicles. Since we ended our meal with soup, popsicles weren’t going to suit our palette. Flan would’ve been a perfect pairing.

Nopalito reminds me a lot of Tamarindo in Oakland. For those that can’t get enough of Nopalito, they plan to open a second Nopalito on 9th Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Although it was shooting to open the end of this year, it appears it’s been delayed until March of 2012. I hear the restaurant will be much larger as well.