Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Way We Eat, and Spam.

I just listened to this NPR story about how the Japanese internment camps during WWII affected Japanese (food) culture in America. One account mentioned the prevalence of Spam, which made me think of how it's so popular in Asian foods, especially the pacific islands like Hawaii and the Philippines.

That brought me to this website, which briefly mentions the history of Spam with one paragraph of note:

During World War II, sales of Spam soared. In part because it requires no refrigeration, Spam was perfect for the military and became a standard K-ration for U.S. soldiers. Military personnel introduced it in Hawaii and elsewhere.
From another website:
"Spam Musubi" is one cuisine that Japanese in Hawaii invented and popularized. Musubi (omusubi or onigiri) refers to rice ball, a traditional Japanese food which is commonly found in the Japanese diet in Japan even today. However, combining American canned meat "Spam" and musubi is a creation by Issei and Nisei in Hawaii during World War II when fresh meat or fish was scarce. Today it is one of the most beloved Japanese foods in Hawaii.
Alice is reading The United States of Arugula right now, and although I haven't read it, all this talk about history and influences on food has me thinking... it's so moving how a dish like "Weenie Royale" can be celebrated and redeemed despite its gloomy origins. And to think that there are so many other political and historical influences on our food culture that we don't even realize... that might have nothing to do with tradition or "authenticity." And just how Spam reflects US "influence"* on the Pacific. My thoughts are so scattered! I need to do some research!

* I use the word "influence" in quotes because some may think of that as a euphemism.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baking with Dorie, or The ULTIMATE Ugly Christmas Sweater Party

As I had mentioned earlier, I made some food for a holiday party this weekend: some spiced almonds, roll-out sugar cookies + royal icing for decorating, and some peppermint brownies. I wanted to make a limited amount of food because baking/cooking for parties is too stressful. Everything else we just bought. All of these, save for the nuts, were Dorie Greenspan recipes (brownie one slightly tweaked) and they worked quite nicely.

I made the icing since buying it is SO expensive whereas making it costs almost nothing. I had to use a crapload of food coloring though to get deeper, brighter colors instead of pastels. Some of my nails are still stained blue =P I used sandwich-sized ziploc bags and just cut the holes instead of using tips. Once I get my hand on those snowflake cookie cutters from Sur la Table, I'll try making nice-looking cookies... we'll see how that goes.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

TOP 5 fried desserts (to try making)

Fried Lychee Custard Bars from Flickr (searching under "fried" gets you all sorts of interesting results...)

After opening my mind to fried delicacies, I decided that there are some other things I want to try dunking into a big vat of sizzling hot oil:

1. Fried brioche: Again?? I want to do it better... the texture was a bit dense
2. Creme Frites, a la Jen Kenny Nguyen when she was at Belden Taverna
3. Lemon Ricotta Fritters, from Dolce Italiano, as featured in the Chronicle today
4. Ice Cream
5. Churros

You would think a place like Bar Fry would have a nice selection of fried desserts, but they don't.


Restaurant Reviews are so 2007

When I went to NYC about a month or so ago, I had dinner with my cousins (one of whom is also a foodie) at a nondescript restaurant that isn't worth mentioning (nor was it worth talking about in my NY post). I had been eating nonstop that entire week, and although there is an infinite amount of restaurants/carts I'd still like to experience, I didn't really care that I was having a meal at one off my mental list (more than one, actually).

After filling in my cousin on where I had been eating that week, we both concluded that we're over it. Eating out at new restaurants just isn't that exciting to me anymore. Maybe eating out is just an early phase that foodies go through... restaurants equate to their initial exposure to the realm of the food industry since it's the most accessible (requires money, but no skill). I mean don't get me wrong, I still like to try new places here and there... but after a few years of doing that, it adds up financially and calorically.

My views of dining have also changed since actually working in a restaurant. Here is an excerpt of an email from my old pastry chef after I showed her my blog (slightly edited for confidentiality):

i wonder if, as a cook now, maybe u write ur blogs differently knowing that no matter how "subpar" something might seem, somebody mighta spent a lotta time on that....take the XXX for example...personally, i think that dish sux...its way too heavy and kinda gross and has no place on a table outside of a diner.....yet, i know that "Bob" takes half an hour every day peeling and slicing those by hand... ... sauce is made in three steps by three different people.....just some food for thought
She's exactly right. Part of the initial excitement of trying new restaurants, for me, was to see which ones were good (and bad), to compare them, to be able to make accurate suggestions and be able to know where to take people (these reasons are in addition to the obvious, like sharing a good meal with good company, learning more about food, witnessing creation and innovation of others, etc). However, now that I've had my fair share of what the city has to offer, "reviewing" restaurants doesn't mean the same thing. I now try not to post anything negative about a restaurant without giving them the benefit of the doubt because I know how much work it takes to make even a tiny garnish that will probably be ignored and disregarded by the diner. However, without that tiny garnish, the dish will be incomplete in texture, taste, and/or presentation. I'm getting more and more vague, but the point I'm trying to make is that... no matter how bad a restaurant may seem, it still takes a lot of work to do what they (we?) do... so I feel like judging without a complete understanding of what's going on back there is unfair.

So my illusions of touring the city's finest as amateur food critic have ended. There are still restaurants I want to try, and I will still share my experiences (more for my own records, anyway)... but they will probably be quite sparse. The end!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Project Holiday

Coming soon:
- For an uber cheesy holiday party: roll-out cookies a la Dorie Greenspan, maybe some peppermint brownies, or spiced almonds since I have so many
- Cookie gifts: roll-out cookies maybe, or some lavender shortbread... not sure yet
- For my grandmother's birthday: A cake that old Chinese people would like... which means... similar to those vanilla sponge cakes with fruit and taro filling. Any suggestions??? It will definitely have to be a layered cake... not too sweet... there's a reason why Chinese bakeries keep selling those, and not just because they're cheap! I can't think of anything =(
- Christmas: my dad requested some kind of mousse... that's not really festive, but oh well. I may try my hand at apple pie again to see if I can do better than last time

Other things I may try soon:
- Making my own chai blend
- Tiffany's butterscotch pudding from the Top Chef holiday special: even Elizabeth Faulkner really liked it!

I really want the cookie cutters on the right... these cookies (photo taken from sur la table) are soo pretty! If only I could decorate like that....


Comfort Chic, or Happy Birthday to Me! cont.

Over the weekend I threw a dinner party - I went a little overboard and got way too much food, spending about $200 at Berkeley Bowl, but at least no one went hungry! I was going for comfort food that was slightly elevated (hence, comfort chic, ha).

The menu:
- Antipasto w/ roasted red bell peppers, hummus, roasted garlic, roasted balsamic pearl onions, olives and chili peppers, roasted tomatoes and Acme bread
- Baked sweet potato fries with chipotle lime mayo (same as before)
- Truffle crab mac n cheese (gruyere, cheddar, and pecorino romano). Because of the oil spill, I had to use canned crab, which worked fine.
- Chanterelles and other misc mushrooms with leeks and roasted chicken from Costco. I wanted to save time! Plus, Costco chicken is pretty money.
- Fried brioche (or, donut holes) with 6 dipping sauces: spicy Mexican hot chocolate, dulce de leche, espresso creme anglaise, peanut butter sauce, huckleberry-blackberry compote (Berkeley Bowl ran out of huckleberries so I had to improvise), and a cranberry-orange compote.

There was kind of a mess, as you can see.

* Update: Here are some less messy pictures. I also forgot to mention the salad, which consisted of arugala, Bartlett pears, toasted hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, and ricotta salata.


Mini Molten Peppermint-Chocolate Cakes

I went to a potluck/holiday party this past weekend and brought this dessert. I forgot to take pictures of it, so I'll post this really bad picture of these normal molten chocolate cakes I made a long time ago. The ones I made this weekend were more raw in the middle than the one in the picture, served hot and right out of the oven with some ice cream, and sprinkled with crushed candy canes.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

Last year I gave myself a car. This year, THIS is the best present ever (from myself):

Sattwa Chai I ordered that arrived at work on my birthday! It's better with steamed and slightly foamy milk, but microwaved isn't bad either =) Now I have year's supply!


Sunday, November 25, 2007


252 California (b/w Battery & Sansome)
(415) 956-9662

French/ Seafood in Financial

My tastes in fine dining have evolved since I first started getting really into eating out. My very first fine dining experience was at La Folie, which still to this day I remember as being amazing... but was that just because I didn't have any other restaurant really to compare it to? I bring this up only because I wonder... had this meal at Aqua been my first fine dining experience, would I have been just as blown away?

Aqua is definitely very good. Impeccable service, extremely knowledgeable wait staff, beautiful plating, and good quality food. I went here with my family for my mom's and my birthdays, and we all opted for the 3-course since that was already a good amount of food (as opposed to the tasting menu, which is... 9 courses? I'm too lazy to look it up). Their amuse was a trio of minis that didn't really go together, but their mushroom soup had a kick of hazelnuts, which I am widely known to be a sucker for.

L: Amuse bouche - Monterey sardine over celery root salad, mushroom soup w/ creme fraiche & hazelnuts, smoke ahi tuna croquette w/ roasted bell pepper sauce
M: white sturgeon + veal cheeks, served with cremini and hollowed
potato w/ marrow (very cute)
R: Atlantic cod w/... stuff

They're known for their tuna tartare, which was ok, but honestly, I'd rather taste the fish than all those spices. I had a trio of foie (one poached, one in sweet bon bon form - not my fave, and one cured). For entrees, everything was ok, but I must say that I really liked the cod. The plating looked so time-consuming, but it really was the best dish of the evening by taste.

L: Apple tatin w/ green apple sorbet M: Pineapple medley, including ice cream, "caviar," foam, etc. R: cookies and candy

I was really disappointed with their dessert menu. My friend used to work there, and she always described the desserts as so amazing... but on this occasion, they just.. weren't! Maybe my expectations were too high, but the only thing that really intrigued me was the "Fall Composition," which turned out to be the one that only Joe ate (he eats everything). "Le Kit Cat" did make an appearance and it was very well done, and the pineapple medley was beautifully adorned with a dried, thin slice of pineapple that looked like a snowflake/flower... but in the end, the never failing Grand Marnier souffle was the winner. Their plate of cookies/candies (I forget the French term for it) was also kind of a let down. I can't even really remember what was on it because it was so unmemorable - sad! Maybe fall just isn't this pastry chef's best season....

L: Chocolate mousse dessert w/ Le Kit Cat (they didn't actually call it that, but that's basically what it was), roasted bananas (SWEET), & a lime caramel sauce
M: "Fall Composition" - from the bottom up, huckleberry compote, some other fruit I forgot, maple creme I think, quince gelee, gingerbread cookies, some other stuff I don't remember... there was a lot going on
R: Grand Marnier souffle w/ candied (?) citrus

All in all, this was a very solid meal, but nothing particularly blew me away. I think I'm over eating out, but that's a whole other post....


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner, First Pie, or The Onset of Non-Stop Holiday Gluttony

Thanksgiving really does mark the beginning of lots of eating. Both my birthday and my mom's also fall around this time, and then once December hits, so do all the holiday parties. Luckily the Bay Area maintains good weather so I can still go running.

So as far as I can remember, my family has ALWAYS had Thanksgiving with my dad's brother's family, plus or minus a few people. We alternate between our houses (Fremont or Walnut Creek), and my aunt has almost always made the turkey + "Chinese stuffing," and my dad has almost always made the mashed potatoes and gravy. This year, however, the kids (people under 50) made dinner kind of.

The turkey and sticky rice (my absolute favorite part of Thanksgiving - seriously, I look forward to it every year!) were still kind of made by my aunt, with the help of her daughters/my cousins. They also made some other veggies and an American stuffing. On our side, my little sister "made" the mashed potatoes with the help of my dad. My older sister and her Joe made pumpkin soup, cauliflower gratin, and green beans which I didn't touch because there was a crapload of ginger in them.

I took care of dessert and cheese puffs - I made mini pecan tarts using puff pastry because I happened to have some in the freezer, pumpkin parfaits from the Barefoot Contessa, and an apple pie. They were all firsts, except the pumpkin mousse - I made something similar for my Fall Feast, but not the same recipe (Actually, the Barefoot Contessa's recipe called for yolks... but it didn't say to cook the custard which was really strange... because you'd just be eating raw egg yolks in the mousse.... so I brought it to 160 just in case).

It was my first time making pie EVER, so I was a bit nervous. It wasn't the best, but at least my sisters said it was better than Marie Callendars'. =)

Before & After - not a true lattice because I didn't interweave, but eh that's ok.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Tailor, revisited

I just read Frank Bruni's review of Tailor, and I just had to say that I agreed with almost everything he said. He described almost exactly my own experience there.

Photo by the NYTimes.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving at Work, or "PBBH"

We had our second annual Thanksgiving potluck competition at work today, and my team decided to have a honey theme. I decided to do dessert, and the first thing I thought of was a peanut butter banana and honey sandwich. There was a stretch of time (maybe about a month) where I ate those just about every day for breakfast with a glass of milk. YUMMMMMYY!!!

So I thought I'd do a play on that: almond torte with caramelized bananas topped with honey mousse and honeycomb candy.

I didn't win haha (darn you, rice pudding!). But whatever, I know Thanksgiving is less classy and more rustic, but I just wanted to try it anyway. Now for the real meal....

For the very first time in history, the KIDS (as in, people under 50) are making dinner this year! and none of us have ever roasted a turkey... good times ahead. =) I love the holidays!


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

THE WEDDING, professional

Not a huge selection, but that's ok. Non-professional pics (courtesy of Jon) are here.

There was a bulletin board behind the table in case you're wondering why the random gold tablecloth is hanging on the wall haha.


Chai City

So in my last post, I talked about how I fell in love with the chai at Joe: the Art of Coffee. Well I emailed them yesterday, and got a response this morning:

Hi there- thanks for the kind words- We use an organic concentrate called Sattwa- As far as I know we are the only people who have it in New York- We don't sell it, but certainly could sell you a container of it (half gallon?) if you'd like- I have to check what it costs us, but I think each container is around $10.
Best, Jonathan

I think I will buy a 6 half-gallon case. It comes out to $0.69 a serving instead of paying $3-4 at a coffee shop! I will never have to go to Peet's again....


Monday, November 12, 2007

BRR it's cold in here!

So I've been away from the interweb because I've been in NY. It was like SF on the coldest night of the year, except every day = bearable, but this California girl is very happy to be home! The trip consisted of lots of eating, shopping, walking (to pseudo-counter the eating, kind of but not really), and time with good friends. =) WARNING: this is a long-ass post.

L: whole wheat bagel @ Murray's, M: hazelnut latte @ Joe the Art of Coffee, R: pastrami @ Katz

I try to go to NY once a year, yet I still hadn't tried some of the city's staples. I'd only heard of Murray's Bagels from the Amateur Gourmet, and I must say that it was very eh. Honestly, the bagel I had was no better than Noah's.

I also made it a point to go to Joe: the Art of Coffee, but when I walked over to the Waverly location, I realized that I had been here before over two years ago. Random. My NY friends seem to live by this chain, but I thought their coffee was ok. Their chai, however, was incredible. I visited Joe maybe 5+ times during my trip, and all but one time got the chai. I need to find out what they use! Stupid work has their site blocked =P

I also headed over to Katz deli on the LES, and it was way bigger than I thought it would be (it was huge!). The pastrami was, indeed, very tasty when fresh and hot. Definitely not as big as Cyn made it out to be - I could totally eat the entire thing, but then again, I have a freakishly large appetite. But $15 for that sandwich? Are you kidding me?? They're lucky they're famous and can get away with charging that much!

L: Eggs Norwegian @ Balthazar, M: Grimaldi's, R: view from the promenade @ Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

I've passed by Balthazar many a time, but had never eaten breakfast there (pastries, yes). Mike's waffles were whatever, but my eggs were pretty sublime. They had pretty good coffee too. To work off that decadent breakfast, we took a very nice walk downtown and across the Brooklyn bridge, arriving at Grimaldi's. They have a lot of history, but their pizza was just OK (Mike and his sister Joyce later spent an entire day driving around Brooklyn after Donut Plant, going to like 5 different pizza joints to hunt down the best NY pizza. I didn't go, but Mike's favorite was Di Fara's). Since it was just down the street, we stopped over at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory despite the already icy weather. It was whatever, but I'm sure we would've enjoyed it much more had the visit been weather appropriate.

We also stopped by the Bryant Park/Times Square area to visit Joyce at Conde Nast (she's an editor at Cookie) and got to relive parts of The Devil Wears Prada except in baby-size. We visited, but didn't eat at, their cafeteria which was designed by Frank Gehry. Too bad we didn't run into Anna Wintour =P We also got granola (so much gluttony!) at 'wichcraft since there are booths everywhere in Bryant Park, and it was pretty money.

To kill some time before dinner, I went to Bouchon over at the Time-Warner Center since I had never eaten there (none of the locations). I really just wanted one brioche, but since they only sell them by the dozen, I settled on a pesto croissant which I had for breakfast the next day. Very tasty when toasted, and spicy! But really, who doesn't like a pastry that's 75% butter. Ah, if only I were kidding....

That same day, I met up with friends at Basso 56, which was decided almost solely by location since we wanted somewhere in that area so we could have an easy trek to Kyotofu afterwards. Basso 56 was whatever, and unfortunately Kyotofu was the same. This dessert bar seemed to be as widely praised as Chikalicious (where I went last year - cute concept, but I'm not dying to go back), and had enough buzz that reached SF (or me at least). But... it just didn't work for me. Their niche is in Asian-inspired desserts, using bases like soy/tofu, mochi, etc, but there was just too much going on. We had a chocolate mochi cake that was hardly reminiscent of mochi in texture, a tofu cheesecake that was kind of weird (not in a good way), and an Asian pear galette that people seemed to like the most. It was good to try, but I don't think I'd go back.

Another day I ate at Google. Why? Because it was free. Plus, I was getting tired of all the eating! But mostly because it was free. Later on after walking from Midtown to Chelsea and getting free goods from Joyce's OXO connection, we stopped by Three Tarts in Chelsea on our way back to Greenwich. Joyce loves their homemade marshmallows (with such flavors as yuzu, mango, and the like), and they were indeed pretty good. The plain vanilla ones would've gone nicely with a big cup of hot chocolate mmm. We also stopped by Murray's Cheese (pretty sure it isn't affiliated with the bagel chain) where they know Joyce as a regular. We also stopped by Porto Rico next door to Joyce's apt in Greenwich since Mike is an addict.

That night we had dinner at Tailor, which I had been long awaiting after reading a ton of NYTimes press over the past year. I feel really self-conscious taking flash pictures in dimly lit restaurants, so that's why pictures aren't so great (click to enlarge). The menu isn't listed on their website, but I took a copy home with me to remember. We ordered the entire menu, both savory and sweet (except for the dishes that were on the cocoa tasting that didn't overlap). Don't worry, it was small and we were able to eat everything and not feel disgusting. As for the savory dishes, the peanut butter foie that got a lot of hype was... almost just like peanut butter. There was WAY too much and I could hardly taste the foie. The pork belly was pretty amazing, but everything else was not fabulous, save for their really interesting potato granola.

Sam Mason, the chef-owner and former WD-50 pastry chef, should really just focus on his sweets, because that was really where our meal shined. The Manchego cheesecake was squirted onto the plate like toothpaste, the sassafras cake tasted like a root beer float, and I really enjoyed the smoked vanilla ice cream that accompanied one of the dishes. The restaurant is also surprisingly large, maybe to a fault since it's so new, and the toilets were super cute. The dining area was pretty empty, but the downstairs bar/lounge seemed to be pretty happening. If I were to visit NY again, I wouldn't mind coming back for dessert. That's really what this place should be - a dessert bar/lounge. Afterwards, we thought about going to Bar Fry but our stomachs just couldn't hang.

My last day was a Saturday, and the streets were definitely packed. I met up with a friend at Spotted Pig for brunch, got there before 11:30am to be seated right away (it was picking up as we were leaving though). The burger really was divine. Dripping with Rockford and fat, this juicy burger was pretty freaking amazing. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to see what Spotted Pig had to offer since their weekend brunch menu (as opposed to the lunch and dinner menus) was very limited, and didn't even list the gnudi they're famous for! Oh well, another time. It was definitely less trendy and more down-to-earth kitschy Irish pub than I had imagined since it's such a hot spot.

After getting yet another chai from Joe, I walked down to SoHo to Vosges because my former anti-chocolate friend said she was converted there. I, on the other hand, was not converted. I'll have to give it a few more tries, but $2.75 for ONE piece of chocolate? I'll try that conversion when I'm a little closer to baller status.

I took a walk down to Chinatown (which was not a good idea since weekends are always packed with old Chinese people elbowing their way through the streets), but I just really wanted to try Joe's Shanghai. Their xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, were, according to Tinwin, the best (i.e. better than in Taiwan, Shanghai, SF, etc). This I HAD to try. Even after my lard-laden burger at Spotted Pig.

So I got my one order of crab-pork XLB to go and was looking for a place to just sit and eat before they got cold. The thing about NY that I don't like is that... there's NOWHERE to just stop and sit. There are parks, but aside from that, there just aren't any benches or anything. I wandered around for a good 10 minutes before finding myself in the middle of Confucius Plaza. Screw it, I'm eating was all I was thinking. Since I was already so full, I was planning to just eat one. Oh, how naive I was. In the next 10 minutes, all 8 were gone. Compared to Shanghai Dumpling King, Joe's XLB were much bigger, and the soup was pretty effing amazing. There I was, standing alone in the biting cold in an empty courtyard with old Chinese people walking by, too indifferent to care about that crazy girl stuffing her face with XLB. In my defense, it wasn't all just gluttony. The soup was so hot and I was so cold! But it was mostly gluttony. The only thing I didn't like was that the skin was thick and on the sticky side, as opposed to SDK's thinner and more delicate skin. But that soup was pretty yummy.

I ended my day with dinner at Bao 111 which I don't need to talk about, and at MJ Armstrong's to watch a depressing defeat. But, it was a great trip, and after my burrito and pizza today, I will go on detox. =P

Aside: if your first thought upon seeing the post title was "there must be some Toros in the atmosphere" you are super cool.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fall Feast!

Friday night I stayed in, but with good company:

Pasta with butternut squash & wild mushrooms, side of asparagus. Roasted sweet potato fries with chipotle lime mayo

No pictures, but for dessert we had pumpkin custard with maple caramel. The fries were by far the winner, and the chipotle really made the difference!