Maggi(cal) Seasoning Sauce!

Food Life

After hearing some feedback on our previous posts, I realized I have taken for granted having grown up in the very large Vietnamese enclave in Garden Grove and Westminster of Orange County, so I thought I’d write a short post with some info and fun facts about the magical (maggi-cal!) Maggi Seasoning Sauce as a follow-up to our previous post regarding com do.

All varieties of Maggi (even the tiny and large sizes) have the same shaped bottle.

What is Maggi?

Maggi Seasoning Sauce is a product from Europe, one of many Nestle products ubiquitous the world over. I (and many Maggi-users I know) pronounce it with a zh sound (mah-zhee), probably stemming from the French j sound (zh is the best I could think of to transliterate the sound, but think of the j in bonjour and that’s what I’m trying to capture). However, the German pronunciation would yield a more g-like sound; think of the nickname for the girl’s name Margaret. Whichever way you choose to pronounce it, it’s a delicious condiment!

It resembles soy sauce but with a deeper flavor and less of the saltiness. According to Wiki, it is “a dark, hydrolysed vegetable protein based sauce which is very similar to East Asian soy sauce without actually containing soy.” It is popular in Asian cuisines, particularly Vietnamese as a result of the French colonization period (from which banh mi is another culinary by-product). The flavor is difficult to describe, but there are definitely French-Vietnamese dishes that would not be the same without it.

Keep your eyes peeled for this Maggi label!

Where to Find Maggi?

Your best bet would be a Vietnamese or Chinese supermarket. For people in So Cal, you’re set if you live within driving distance of either the San Gabriel Valley or Westminster/Orange County. I believe some Korean and Japanese markets may carry it too, but individual store inventory will vary. If you feel daring, you can even try the “Asian Goods” section of a national chain store (Ralphs, Albertons, etc.).  I even found Maggi on Amazon.com but you would definitely be paying a premium if you go that route. I personally prefer the one from Germany. Maggi is produced in many countries worldwide, but there are subtle differences among them when it comes to flavor and quality. For us, buying a 6.75 oz bottle of the German import off the shelf at a grocery store would run us about $4. It also comes in large 120 mL bottles, small 3 oz bottles, and even teeny tiny single serve bottles (I’ll have to track these down and take pictures to post here!).

Look for the tiny text that says “Product of Germany”!

How to Use Maggi?

Now that you’ve tracked down the goods, what the heck do you do with it? When I was growing up, enjoying Maggi was as simple as sprinkling over my plain white rice during dinner. I remember my mother would always drizzle a bit of Maggi on the insides of baguettes when making homemade banh mi for me. If you’re looking to venture into French-Vietnamese cuisine, Maggi will be a staple ingredient. While I mentioned using Maggi at the table, there are also dishes that benefit from some Maggi during the cooking process – com do for one. The main tip I have to offer is that Maggi is not as salty as it looks. Maggi is naturally darker than soy sauce, so if you use color as a guide for seasoning like I do, don’t panic if it seems your food is turning too dark (and thus salty) too quickly. (Personally, my bowls of rice + Maggi end up a pretty mocha color when I eat!)

Definitely drizzled Maggi on that Vietnamese tomato red rice!

Definitely drizzled Maggi on that Vietnamese tomato red rice!

** NOTE: Maggi Seasoning Sauce is not particularly healthy. If you’ll note on the photo above of the side label, the ingredients include, among other things, MSG. Please take caution if you are on a restricted or low sodium diet. Everything in moderation (but consult your doctor or dietician if you are unsure).

I hope this blog entry helps those of you who are wondering about Maggi Seasoning Sauce. As always, we welcome your feedback and questions and love to hear from you!

‘Tis the Season at Trader Joe’s

Food Life

It’s that time of year, when stores pack away the Halloween orange and black goodies and start setting out the winter holiday wares. Snowflakes, snowmen, Santa Clauses galore. What I had hoped to be a quick trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up some ginger chews turned out to be an exciting kid-in-a-candy-store feeling with all of the holiday items back on the shelves.

My spoils of war after battling the after-work crowd at Trader Joes!

My favorite by far: Dark Chocolate Stars. Shortbread cookies dipped in dark chocolate and covered with white sprinkles. Think of those pink and white frosted Circus Animal cookies from your childhood… this is the grown-up version. I probably go through 3 or 4 boxes before the end of the season. (I daresay, I get even more excited about these than Girl Scout cookies!) A one-pound box sells for only $4.99!

I hear they also make great cupcake/cake decorations!

I also picked up a remnant of fall before they all get shoved aside to make room for winter: Pumpkin Butter. It comes in an adorable little jar and has the texture of a marmalade. Delicious on English muffins and all sorts of creative ideas listed on the jar such as “…pastry filling, poultry glaze, ice cream topping, on toast or mixed with fat free cream cheese for a unique spread.” $2.99 for a 10 oz jar.

I once had a teacher who loved the expression “the best thing since apple butter”. I think he’d approve if I substituted this pumpkin butter instead. :)

What I found out from my friendly cashier Colleen was that Whole Grain Rye Mini Toasts are also on the holiday list! She likes them on their own, but when I saw them, I immediately thought of making my own Chex Mix the way it should be – none of those darn pretzels or bread sticks that end up abandoned at the bottom of the bag. Just lots of rye chips and cereal, with extra zesty seasoning. Recipe to come! I’ll be stocking up on these before the season ends. $1.99 for a 6 oz bag.

You’re my favorite part of Chex Mix, but shh.. don’t tell the cereal!

Another winter staple is Peppermint Bark! Martin and I have a fondness for the squares from Ghiradelli, which don’t really resemble peppermint bark very much at all but are delicious nonetheless. I thought it would be a nice treat to welcome the dreary winter season with some festive peppermint bark in an adorable metal tin. The tin holds one pound of peppermint bark and goes for $9.99.

What an adorable little tin!

The last item I bought, ginger chews aside, was a Milk Chocolate Orange. Yes, my friends, those interactive spheres of chocolate that you WHACK against a hard surface to break into orange-like sections. Trader Joe’s has their own and we are very excited to try them! And at $2.49 apiece, it’s a steal!

Can’t wait to take this out of the wrapper and *whack*!

There are lots of other winter treats on the shelves this year as well. Even more than previous years, it seems to me. And of course since it’s Trader Joe’s, everything is very affordable and many of the items are organic. (I noticed on the label for the rye chips that they’re Kosher!) With shelves stocked full of gift boxes of truffles, peppermint coated pretzels, candy cane cookies, sparkling ciders in many flavors… ’tis the season!

Olive Oil Tasting in Los Olivos

Central Coast, Food Adventures, Food Life

On our recent road trip along the California coastline, we stopped by Los Olivos in hopes of finding a place that offered olive oil tasting. The city’s name did not disappoint and a quick Yelp search led us to a quaint little shop just off the 154 called Global Gardens.

What an adorable little store!

For just $5 per person, the friendly storekeeper guides a small group of enthusiasts through a sampling of the many varieties of olive oils and vinegars they have in the store. Each of us was given a mini loaf of ciabatta and a plastic palette numbered 1-12.

So many varieties!

I’ll try to describe the different oils as best I can, but honestly I’m not much of a connoisseur and many of them tasted similar to me. The first one (the Greek Kalamata) is the standard olive oil you could find in any grocery store, but you could really taste the higher quality of the one sold here. The manzanilla blend (from the root manzana for “apple”) had a (surprise, surprise) apple aftertaste. The one that stood out the most to me was definitely the meyer lemon oil. We ended up bringing home a bottle of this. I couldn’t try the walnut oil thanks to my mild walnut allergy, but Martin said it was really nice and subtle in flavor.

The tasting also included other products sold at Global Gardens including a hoisin-based Asian glaze, a Mediterranean seasoning spice blend, and Mediterranean spiced roasted almonds (sorry, the almonds were too delicious and were devoured too quickly to be captured on film). All were delicious and really captured the cuisines for which they were named.

Then came my favorite part — the vinegars! The first one turned out to be our favorite of them all: a peach cinnamon balsamic vinegar. It was tart and light and fruity, plus it comes in the most adorable bottle. We discovered that it paired well with the meyer lemon oil, so we brought home a bottle of this as well. Moving along, the blood orange balsamic was extra tart, and the blueberry balsamic seemed like it would make a really great salad dressing. The black currant and fig vinegars were good and the fruit infusions added a great depth of flavor to the balsamic. Last was a generous drizzle of balsamic reduction, which tasted incredible!

The store itself is adorable, although you’ll be able to cover all of the products on the shelves after about 10-15 minutes of browsing. In addition to the edible products, they also sell olive oil soaps, lotion, and woven baskets perfect for gifting. We enjoyed our little detour at Global Gardens and will definitely be back the next time we’re in the neighborhood.

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Check out Global Gardens: www.globalgardensonline.com

2477 Alamo Pintado Ave
Los Olivos, CA 93441

See their Yelp reviews here.

They are located just off the 154 freeway. Stop by and join the Olive Revolution!

Fresh Pasta: A Real Eye-talian Treat

Food Life, Main Dishes, Recipes

When it comes to pasta, a lot of people, myself included, would rather go for the quick and easy 5-minute Barilla capellini from the supermarket. On the off-chance you have an hour or two to make dinner, you should really consider making fresh pasta. It takes a little bit of time and effort but isn’t very difficult at all and tastes so much better than store-bought pasta. Once you get the basics of making fresh pasta, you can start experimenting like herb pasta, pumpkin pasta, spinach pasta, squid ink pasta, you name it! Let’s take a step back and start with the basics first.

Ingredients:

5 oz. All-purpose flour (approx. 1.13 dry cups) *
5 oz Semolina flour (approx. 0.85 dry cups) *
2 Extra Large Eggs
Pinch of salt
Dry herbs (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil

* the conversion comes out a bit funny, so for simplicity you could also use 1-1/4 cup AP flour and 3/4 cup of semolina. Rule of thumb is one egg per one cup of dry flour, so we’re looking for 2 cups total between the AP flour and semolina.

** UPDATE: if you do have a food scale, you may need a third egg to have enough moisture to turn the 10 ounces of dry ingredients into a silky dough

There’s a few ways you could do this but we’ll explain the “well” method here. If you have a stand mixer you could throw all the ingredients in and voila! Using a food processor would require some more attention to make sure the dough doesn’t get too dry and cause it to smoke up like ours did. We learned the well method from a cooking demo with the New School of Cooking at Eat Real Fest, and it works best for us.

First mix the semolina and all-purpose flour together in a large bowl. For this next step you could choose to use a cutting board but we like using the bowl because we tend to make a mess of things. Form a well with the flour mixture using the bottom of the dry measuring cup you used for the flour.

The Well

Crack both eggs and put them into the well along with a pinch of salt, drizzle of olive oil, and, if you’d like, some basil or other dry herbs. We used extra large eggs but if you use smaller eggs or larger eggs remember to adjust accordingly because 2 extra large eggs was just the right amount of moisture for the amount of dough we wanted to make.

Add Eggs

With a fork, break the yolks and begin mixing the ingredients in the well while slowly incorporating the flour mixture in a circular motion. Try to maintain the integrity and shape of the well to avoid mixing in too much flour all at once. It’s easier to use mix in less flour and add more if it turns out sticky than to need to add water or olive oil later if it became too dry. Continue mixing the ingredients together until you get a nice lump of dough.

Whisk together in a circular motion

When the dough is no longer sticky, jump in with both hands and begin kneading the dough with your palms on a cutting board sprinkled with flour. Knead the dough out, rotate it a quarter-turn, fold it over, and knead again, adding flour as needed if still sticky. Knead for about 5-10 minutes to get the gluten proteins working.

Put the lump of dough into an unsealed Ziplock bag and let sit on the counter for 40 minutes. If you’re in a rush, you can go as short as 20 minutes, but ideally you want to let it rest for 40 minutes to an hour.

After 40 minutes have passed, take the lump of dough, roll it out with a rolling pin, and cut it into 4 equal pieces. (Tip: you’ll want the pieces to be more narrow than wide so that it doesn’t stick to the edges of the pasta maker.) You’re all set! You could choose to make cut pasta, shaped pasta, filled pasta.. even leave the strips whole and make lasagna. We haven’t quite tried shaped pastas yet so read on for instructions on “string” or cut pastas.

To roll the pasta, we use a Marcato pasta maker, see link here for info about it. Set your pasta maker to the 0 setting and run the dough through it. Fold the dough over on itself in thirds (like you’re folding a brochure) and run it through the machine again. Repeat this 2-3 times until it has produced a consistent thickness. Change the dial to 1 and run the dough through once. Continue changing the dial to higher numbers and run the dough through once each time until it reaches the desired thickness. For spaghetti on the Marcato machine, we roll up to the thickness setting 6 and angel hair about 7 or 8. The higher you go on the setting, the thinner the pasta, and higher chance of it falling apart during cutting.

Beautiful rolled pasta dough

After rolling each piece of dough, cut the lengthy piece in half and place on top of a baking pan lined with saran wrap and let sit.  You can stack layers of saran wrap on top and repeat this step until all the dough has been rolled. The saran wrap keeps the rolled pasta from drying out while you finish up the rest of the dough. Be sure to keep the baking pan in a cool place! We once left it our stove (which is constantly warm because of the pilot light) and the bottom layer turned out to be unusable mush.

Let sit between layers of saran wrap to prevent drying out

The cutting of the pasta really just depends on your preference. The Marcato pasta maker comes with default cutting heads for fettucine and tagliolini. Additional heads could be bought separately for about $30-$40. For all intents and purposes, these two attachments with varying thicknesses should suffice. Peel off one of the rolled pieces of dough from the saran wrap. If it is too sticky, liberally sprinkle with all purpose flour. Excess flour will just flake off into the water later, but the cutting heads will not make clean cuts if the dough is too sticky. Roll the pasta through and make sure to catch the strands as they come out from the opposite side.

Hold the strands as they are cut

Lay the pasta on a drying rack to dry before cooking or storage. Space out the strands, dusting on extra flour if you have to, to ensure that the pasta does not end up in one big mass.

Finished product!

The pasta is best if consumed in the same day, so if you are using the pasta right away, you’ll want to let it sit on the drying rack for at least 10 minutes or so before dropping them in salted (or oiled) boiling water. Fresh pasta takes considerably less time to cook than the dried stuff in the box, so taste taste taste! When it is al dente (approx 2-3 minutes for capellini, 5-6 minutes or so for fettuccine), drain the pasta, toss in sauce, and serve immediately. You definitely need to dress the pasta shortly after draining in order to avoid clumping.

If you have leftovers or would like to keep the pasta for later, it keeps for about 3 days in the refrigerator in an airtight ziploc bag. Let the pasta dry on the racks for an hour or so and gently pack them in the bag so that the strands do not break. Freezing is not recommended, and drying on the rack will not dry the pasta sufficiently for long-term storage like the grocery store brands.

We hope this little guide will help you get started in your pasta making adventures. It may take some time and a few attempts to get the right texture and consistency in fresh pasta but it will definitely be worth the hassle. If you have time during the week, definitely consider making fresh pasta. We, however, still often make Barilla during the week for convenience’s sake (for shame, yes). Now that the basics is covered, it’s time to experiment with different sauces but will post them here as we do!