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Tuesday
May112010

Mama's Day Mangia

Super 88 Food CourtMy hubby offered to treat me for eats on Mother's Day. Admittedly Mother's Day meals stress me out! Boston restaurants are too crowded and special Mother's Day buffets are insanely overpriced ($40-$90 per person). So I chose the Super 88 Food Court: inexpensive and understated yet great tasting Asian food. If you haven't visited, Super 88 supermarkets offer otherwise overpriced (if bought at mainstream supermarkets) Asian food ingredients super-cheap. I stock up on seaweed wraps and rice vinegar for sushi, sometimes paying less than half the price. Their attached food court in Allston is grunge city but offers hundreds of food choices, many tasting as good as Chinatown without the traffic mayhem.

I was excited to try the trendy bánh mì, a Vietnamese-style sub that's won raves in NYC and Boston. Served on toasty bread and filled with flavorful grilled meats and crunchy vegetables, the only thing better is the price, ranging from $3-$5. Bánh mì traditionally consists of strips of crispy daikon radish, pickled carrots, cucumbers, chili peppers and cilantro. Cured pork or other rich meats and a slathering of pâté and mayonnaise add extra flavor and moisture. Yelpers raved about the bánh mì from Pho Viet's nestled in this food court, so off we went. 

Tofu Bánh Mì with Summer Rolls and Lemongrass Grilled Chicken Vermicelli in the backgroundPho Viet's sandwich choices include grilled beef, pork, or chicken; shredded pork; ham; or tofu. Ok, I'm a party pooper but I went with the tofu because it's challenging to make taste great, and to be consistent with my healthy eating quest. Besides, it cost less than an appetizer at $3.25 so I couldn't lose. At first glance it looked truly boring: strips of plain carrots, green bell pepper, two cucumber coins, cilantro, and a few logs of tofu. So I was surprised by the pleasant flavor and texture at first bite. The 8-inch baguette was satisfyingly crackly on the outside (Vietnamese sub bread is partly made with rice flour, which gives it this light crunch; gluten-free breads are also often made with rice flour). The light tangy mayo added sweetness and complemented the tofu, curiously of which some were fried (as revealed by the brown outer skin) and some were plain and uncooked. Overall it was filling without being heavy. I don't think it was an amazing bánh mì with authentic ingredients that would have popped the flavor but it was decent; if I lived closer I'd order it for lunch take-out.

Creamed Corn with Egg and Minced Pork and a side of Whole Grain DumplingsI must mention that my hubby was sorely disappointed with his meal of Lemongrass Chicken Vermicelli with desiccated rice noodles and even drier chicken that no peanut sauce could salvage. I've read great reviews on this dish from Yelpers so I'm guessing we just had a grumpy cook. To make up for his meal, I wandered around the corner to get take-out from a favorite, Kantin. Their menu is written in Chinese characters, and roasted whole chicken and ducks hang from a front display. The food reminds me of childhood Asian meals. I ordered minced pork with creamed corn and scrambled eggs over rice for $5.95 and a side of steamed whole grain chicken dumplings (how impressed was I with whole grain dough!) for $4.95. As my photo shows, the meal looks like slop but it was pure yummy comfort food. The dumplings were flavorful even without sauce and had a slightly nutty texture from the whole grains. I loved that it was completely nourishing and not the least bit greasy. My hubby and Jake adored both dishes.

For more appetizing info on bánh mì, check out:

Battle of the Bánh Mì

NYT: Building on Layers of Tradition

Tuesday
May042010

Dark Chocolate My Way

Have you noticed how a drizzle of chocolate on almost any dessert makes it better? Well how about dribbling a few things into chocolate to make it better? I was recently inspired by Lake Champlain's new Granola Five Star Bar — a sumptuous block of dark chocolate, oats, almonds and cranberries. No surprise it was yummy perfection but I also wondered why not mix up my own chocolate creation? Great news that a little dark chocolate a day can keep the doctor away. It contains powerful disease-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols. In fact, a small square of dark chocolate contains as much polyphenol activity as a cup of green tea and double the amount in a glass of red wine. Look for dark chocolate that contains at least 40-70% cocoa mass. Since it's high in fat and calories, limit your indulgence to about 1.5 ounces (about a few squares) a day for good health. 

To blend your own chocolate concoction, break into pieces your favorite dark chocolate bar (about 4-5 ounces) and microwave at medium power in 30 second intervals. Stir until completely melted and then add favorite ingredients. Pour mixture into a shallow pan or baking sheet covered with waxed paper, cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces. You can alter the nutrition content to your liking. For example, if you want to cut calories, just add in some fat free cereal like Rice Krispies, Chex, or oats, which will reduce the overall calories per serving. To add minerals (iron, potassium) and fiber as well as extra antioxidants, sprinkle in dried fruit and nuts. This is a super nutrient-rich snack that will satisfy any craving, but it's also super caloric so stick to a small portion a day that replaces other high calorie, low nutrient snacks.

For me, I wanted a nutrient-packed chocolate with protein and even more fiber so I added chopped almonds, dried blueberries, Fiber One cereal, and a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed. You don't have to worry about exact measurements, just sprinkle in however much you want of each additional ingredient. The flavor: unbelievable. Life doesn't get better than this!  

Tuesday
Apr272010

Do the Zoo

Since my son Jake came along, my hubby and I have been immersed in kid stuff we never realized existed, like the baby-mecca Atrium Mall for strolling and kid-friendly eateries, BJs for diapers, Children's Orchard for used kid clothing and toys, and searches for Lightening McQueen kids beds. Jake is also why, even though we've been in Boston for over 10 years, we finally decided to visit Franklin Park Zoo. Plus we wanted to appreciate Earth Day last week (and I happened to nab free zoo tickets from my workplace!). This place is an inner-city gem. I've been to big national zoos where I had a front row view of chubby panda bears gnawing on bamboo and emperor penguins lined up in a row, so I wasn't expecting much from this smaller zoo. But I was really impressed with the comfortable tree-lined walking paths and animals that actually looked well-fed and not bored to death. Most of the animals sauntered close to the observation glass or even roamed freely along our walking paths, as if posing for the endless camera flashbulbs: 

 

 

I was even impressed by their Giddy-Up Grill that served healthful kid-friendly snacks like Yoplait yogurt, fruit cups, pudding, plain milk, string cheese and granola bars. For myself, I found a vegetable spinach wrap stuffed full with roasted eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, red pepper, hummus and tomato for only $6.50. A basic sandwich but with very fresh vegetables and overall tasting so good that the clerk surprised me when she said the wraps were made in their own kitchen. Not something I'd expect from a high-volume park.    

 Yummy zoo food: roasted veggie wrap

If you happen to fall in love with one of the numerous fuzzy (or slimy!) cuties here, consider "Zoodopting" an animal to help with the high cost of their food and care. You get a certificate of adoption, a stuffed toy of your adopted animal, and a fact sheet. It's a great learning experience for kids and helps increase their awareness of the larger world around them. Visit Zoodoption for info.