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!