Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Working Eater Series: Popcorn, Elevated


Like most people, my "go-to" snack is popcorn. If it is not smothered in butter or margarine, laden with salt, or coated in a hard candy shell, it is a healthy, ethereal, and satisfying alternative to greasy and sugary snacks. And it usually is a staple in everyone's pantry! I usually try to air-pop my popcorn with dried corn kernels and a brown bag. All you need to do is fill a small paper lunch bag with 1/2 a cup of dried corn kernels, tightly fold or crumple it shut, and microwave it on high for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your microwave settings and when the popping sound decreases (just like the directions on the processed kind). Follow those directions, and you will have instant microwaved popcorn. For popcorn, do not resort to the artificially-flavored and carcinogenic popcorn brands of the Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret, or Act II-persuasion.

However, plain popcorn is monotonous and buttered popcorn quickly gets tedious without something extra special to elevate it into "spectacular" territory.


For me, I love furikake, a slightly sweet and very umami/savory Japanese spice blend made of dried bonito fish flakes, seaweed, and other flavorings. If you are not familiar with furikake, think anchovies or fish sauce, but less salty and in a dried form. For a Japanese or Hawaiian-inspired popcorn snack, just add (1) slivers of nori (dried seaweed), (2) a couple of tablespoons of dried furikake seasoning, (3) several drops of dark sesame oil (very intensely flavored, so act with a judicious hand), and (4) a pinch or two of wasabi powder for the perfect flavor profile. You could also add salted peanuts too!


For a N'Awlins-inspired popcorn, dissolve a teaspoon or so of creole seasoning and a few dashes of Tabasco with a melted tablespoon of butter and quickly toss the mixture in with the popcorn and feast away!

For a South American-inspired popcorn, I usually just add salt, chile powder, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. This combo works with corn on the cob too, and it is divine!

I have also heard of additions of dried oregano, cumin, and parmesan cheese, but I have yet to try those flavor combos. Do you have any "spectacular" popcorn ideas to share? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Shaking In My Boots At Shake Shack


When I posted about the "In-N-Out and Five Guys taste-off" that we organized eons ago, many commenters remarked that there was "one burger chain to rule them all," and that I gravely failed to mention this burger joint. This place? New York City's Shake Shack. Therefore, when my beau and I visited the East Coast recently, we had to visit the burger joint I have heard as this "second-coming of In-N-Out," but way better.


Well, you know how I feel about In-N-Out. And you know how I feel about Five Guys. In seconds, you are going to find how how I feel about Shake Shack. (I will have to tell you about my favorite burger place in all the world, Umami Burger, real soon!)

Upon entering, my immediate impression was that Shake Shack felt trendier and more appealing to the hipster crowd. We decided to "go big" and order the Shake Stack, which is a classic cheeseburger with an additional veggie patty inserted inside the sandwich, as well. Shake Shack's veggie patty is not your standard salty hockey puck of tasteless and ground-up grains and beans, rather, it is a sliced portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese, breaded, and deep-fried. As you would imagine, the divine mushroom nugget contains a volcanic eruption of oozy, gooey, and stringy melted cheese and meaty mushroom flesh with each bite and is perfectly matched with its best friend, a crunchy, crumbly, and golden-brown breading.


Unfortunately, upon biting into the mammoth burger, it degenerated into a unphotogenic and gloppy mess, so you will only see pre-bite pictures. (Sorry for the blurry pictures, but my free hand can barely wrap around that monster!) As you can see, the Shake Stack typifies what is great about America: truth, justice, and deep-fried cheese.

As for the crinkle-cut fries, they were good, which means they were leaps and bounds better than In-N-Out. The ultimate verdict and my burger-licious impressions? I loved the juicy, greasy, savoryness of each burger and thought although it felt unhealthier, it was a tasty burger just a little more flavorful than In-N-Out. (It might have been the quality of the meat or the meat-to-fat ratio of the ground beef, the fresh house-made pickles, or the luxuriously soft and tissue-like lettuce.) It was definitely better than the squashed and foil-steamed mess that is known as a Five Guys burger. However, in my book, In-N-Out still wins for the easy accessibility (to California residents), the cheap prices, and the reliable quality. Shake Shack is definitely worth repeat visits though!


Have you tried these burger joints? Let me know your thoughts!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tex-Mex Seven Layer Dip



Without a doubt, my favorite party food is seven layer dip. With one deft swoop of a wide-brimmed tortilla chip, you can shovel a delectable and flavor-packed bite of seven unique tastes and textures into your open mouth. Also, since there is guacamole and salsa inside, you save on repeated trips to the party table!


Every family has their own version of seven layer dip, so you will definitely see many variations. I have had seven layer dips with both black beans and refried beans, with ground beef or turkey, and with plain chopped tomatoes instead of a piquant salsa. Some people use cilantro instead of scallions as their seventh layer. Others use lettuce, canned green chiles, or Mexican corn as one of the seven ingredients. In addition, you can use whatever proportions of the ingredients that you'd like, as long as no one ingredient eclipses the others.


Although there is room for creativity, it is generally accepted that there are six necessary ingredients that must be included in a seven layer dip. These are: (1) beans, (2) cheese, (3) sour cream, (4) tomatoes, (5) avocado, and (6) olives. (The seventh ingredient can be almost anything you would like. Well, maybe not pasta or chocolate, but you get my drift.)


This is my family's recipe.

Seven Layer Dip (Salsa de Siete Capas)
1 16oz can of refried beans
1 4.25oz can of pre-sliced black olives
1 cup of pico de gallo salsa (or 1/4 cup of jarred salsa with 1 large tomato, chopped)
1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 cup of sour cream (or nonfat Greek yogurt)
1 tbsp of cumin (or taco seasoning)
2 scallion sprigs, chopped and with the root end removed
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, and roughly smashed
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
tabasco, to taste
1 large bag of corn tortilla chips


Layer a wide transparent bowl with the ingredients, starting with the refried beans (with the cumin and tabasco mixed inside). Follow the bean layer with a layer of sour cream, shredded cheese, smashed avocados and garlic, pico de gallo salsa, black olives, and finally, the chopped scallions. Use the back of a wide spoon or spatula to help you spread the creamy ingredients. Serve the dip with corn tortilla chips and voraciously enjoy the dip in front of the television and with friends.



Also, instead of serving the dip in a large bowl, you can use a plate, individual custard ramekins (if they are transparent glass or plastic), or lowball liquor glasses. If serving individual portions in ramekins or liquor glasses, garnish each portion with a white or blue corn tortilla chip. This way of serving seven layer dip will result in less mess (in the dip itself), but will require the washing of many more dishes! Either way, I hope you enjoy this dip, I know I do!


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Lookie What I Found: A New Felt Food Set At IKEA!


It comes with a faux plastic tray, pre-sliced fish, two spears of broccoli, lemon wedges, and halved tomatoes!

Okay, I admit, I am way too happy over these toys. But I do like these fabric food sets far more than the hollow play food sets (where each food item is basically just a hard plastic shell).

Sadly, the most unfortunate part about this post and my purchase is, is that my son doesn't even play with the other Duktig play food sets that I previously purchased for him. But, if you have child who loves to play in his or her pretend kitchen and help mommy make a scrumdiddlyuptious meal (or are like me), then the complete Duktig felt food set is made for you!

And yes, in case you are wondering, this new set is already collecting dust and cobwebs in my son's toy bin. (He is like his daddy and loves his toy cars.) Well, at least I am getting some mental satisfaction out of those toys!

The Absolute Best Way To Store Green Onions

My friend recently sent me a link on "the absolute best way to store green onions." Instead of putting bagged scallions in the crisper bin or vegetable drawer of a frigid and dark refrigerator, store them near a sunny window in a transparent glass of water (and change the water once it gets cloudy). To test this method of storage, I left some scallions in the fridge (on the right) and stuck the rest in a glass mason jar filled with tap water (on the left). The results were impressive.



It looks like an overgrown jungle in there! There was at least an inch of growth on the scallions that were partially submerged in water. Also, as you can visibly notice, the onions from the fridge were flaccid and droopy (and yellowed, but I cut those parts off). According to the link, the scallions will grow indefinitely (you are supposed to only use the verdant tops by snipping off what you need, and not the white portions), but I haven't tested this yet. And I have to admit, I'm a little suspicious about how the scallions would continue to grow without the nutrients from soil, but I'll let you know how this experiment goes!

Update: A fellow food blogger informed me (in the comments below) that after three (3) to four (4) weeks, the roots will begin to rot. But she gave her seal of approval to this method for short-term scallion storage! I should note that when I changed the water, I made sure to thoroughly rinse and scrub away the oniony slime on the bottom of the scallions. I also peeled back the visibly brown and wilted layers at the bottom that had been soaking in the water. It is a little gross, but I believe it helps the green onions keep their "shelf-life" longer. I also noticed the green parts of the scallions bent pretty easily (they do not seem very fibrous).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia


One of my favorite pre-baby trips last year, was my "couples only" trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. My husband and I loved Canada. We loved the crisp Canadian air, which was punctuated with the perfumed fragrance of tulips and hyacinth. We loved the sweeping and majestic views of the ocean from the Stanley Park. We loved learning about the history and the art (including the intricate and towering totem poles) of the native peoples. Another one of our favorites? Granville Island. If you are visiting Vancouver, one thing you "must do" is head off to the Granville Island Public Market, which is chockful of boisterous vendors who sell a vivid array of seasonal produce.


The "goods" available at Granville Island Public Market, however, are not limited to fresh fruits and vegetables, but you can purchase things such as antique baubles from a public market jeweler, or mountainous pot pies with craggy and buttery pie crusts from a local baker.


And since it's Vancouver, you know they are going to sell seafood at the market! On the recommendation of our Canadian-phile friend, my beau and I purchased a few sticks of maple syrup salmon (an amusing combo of two quintessential Canadian ingredients). The salmon was a little tough and cloying for my taste, but the freshness of salmon itself was stellar--the quality of salmon in Canada is unparalleled.


Another place you must visit on a stop at Granville Island, is Sandbar, a restaurant on the island where my husband and I enjoyed a early pre-dinner meal after a small lunch. Since we were planning on attending a wedding that evening, we only ordered a few beers and a 1/2 order of their mussels in a coconut curry sauce (a great option for someone who wants the "taste" and not the cost of a full meal). (If you are budget-conscious, I would also check out their happy hour specials.)


The uncutous, fleshy, and rotund mussels burst in our mouths like delicate seafood balloons, releasing creamy and mouthwatering innards. The milky curry sauce was perfectly sweetened and seasoned, not too ethereal, not too heavy, and had the perfect balance of subtle coconut aroma.


I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but Vancouver and Granville Island are definitely worth a visit!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Working Eater Series: Fage (Extraordinarily) Good Living


I first discovered Fage Greek yogurt when introducing my then six-month-old baby boy to solid foods. My refrigerator has been stocked with at least one container of Fage yogurt ever since. Therefore, when I heard about the Foodbuzz contest sponsored by Fage, I leapt at the opportunity to openly praise a product that I already love.

My typical use for Fage yogurt is swirling a heaping and lustrous tablespoon of the ambrosial milk product into Sammy's baby food. (And I seriously do this daily, no joke.) Based on the advice of his pediatrician, I have learned that full-fat Greek yogurt can provide infants with necessary nutrients (especially calcium) and beneficial cultures that help in digestion. In addition, Sammy loves the decadent and rich textures imparted by the yogurt. With Fage, I think my little Sammy might grow up into a modern-day Zeus!

However, Fage yogurt is not just for my son, but also for me. As a working mom, I often don't have the time to splurge on certain luxuries of life (especially calorie-laden desserts). And yes, I am really trying to lose my pregnancy weight! Therefore, I turn to Fage Greek yogurt (which possesses health benefits that surpass that of regular yogurt) as a delicious alternative to sour cream and whipped cream. Dipping strawberries into a viscous and pleasingly unctuous yogurt? Yes, please! It does not hurt that as I enjoy Fage yogurt, I can imagine myself luxuriating in ancient Greece, gazing at the chiseled columns and statutes of gods or Olympians which scrape the blue sky. Or, I love dreaming that I am sitting with my feet dangling the warm and pristine Greek waters as I watch the bubbling sea foam lapping against the fishing boats. Finally, I love imagining that I am listening to the teachings of Socrates in a palace rich with history. As evidenced by Fage's yogurt, Greeks knew (and know) how to enjoy the "good life" by balancing healthy eating with daily activities. No wonder the ancient Greek empire had such success. And with the help of Greek yogurt, I hope to sculpt my post-baby body in statuesque form!

Here is my favorite way to enjoy Fage yogurt. In its simple, pure, and satisfying form, and slightly perfumed with honeyed sweetness.


Greek Yogurt With Ripe Figs, Toasted Almonds, Honey, and Blackberries
1 7oz container Fage yogurt
4 ripe figs, washed and sliced
1/2 cup of blackberries, washed
1/4 cup almonds, toasted
2 tbsp honey, warmed in microwave for 20-30 sec


In two pretty glasses, divide the yogurt and gently top with the yogurt with the fruits and almonds. Then, drizzle the honey over the yogurt, and enjoy!

With Fage, I am confident my family will be on their way to living the "good life."

Disclosure: As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here: http://www.fageusa.com/community/fage-greek-getaway

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Foodbuzz 24X24: Red Egg and Ginger Party

My husband, mother-in-law, and I threw our firstborn a traditional Chinese red egg and ginger birthday party when he turned one this past week. I am sure you are wondering, "What is a red egg and ginger party?" Red egg and ginger parties are typically celebrated at the one month mark of a young child's life. During the ancient times, when infant mortality rates were high, if a child survived to the one month mark, it was a sign of great fortune and an event worthy of a big family get-together.


The one month milestone in a child's life is a significant occasion for all families, and this milestone is marked by a huge celebration in Chinese culture, where family and friends plan a banquet and meet the new baby. Also, a mother was expected to rest for one month so that she could recover from the physical stress of labor. During such parties, relatives prepare large stockpots of nutritious ginger soup, as ginger has warming (yang of yin/yang) properties to help the mother heal and help increase milk production. The ginger soup, as well as a rice wine and pork trotter soup are strongly believed to help nurse a new mama back to health after childbirth. Also, boiled eggs, representing fertility and life, were dyed red (the luckiest color in Chinese tradition) and gently massaged onto the baby's face. Legend has it, that the egg would increase the fertility of newborn child, guaranteeing a sizeable family. Also, during these parties, instead of birthday presents, the baby and the new parents are given red envelopes (hong bao).

In ancient times, at a red egg and ginger party, the family would formally name their newborn and also shave their baby's head for good fortune. Although we didn't carry out all of the traditions of the red egg and ginger party, we tried to carry the theme throughout our baby's party. That meant dressing him up in a formal outfit and serving Chinese party foods!


As the day approached, however, we realized that our menu was a little too ambitious, so we ended up getting a little help (i.e., ordering frozen dumplings, jungzi, and soy sauce eggs from nearby San Francisco restaurants and shops). We have a little baby, so a little "help" is necessary for throwing a party! The party menu included (see descriptions below, with three recipes):


Chicken and Napa Potstickers with Soy Garlic Dipping Sauce



Soy Sauce Eggs (soft boiled eggs marinated in a bath of soy sauce and mirin--for a good recipe, click here)


Shrimp Fried Rice (just add shrimp and frozen peas to my old recipe)


Vancouver Japadog-Style Hot Dogs with Asian-Fusion Topping Bar (for the kids, with wasabi paste, Japanese mayo, caramelized onions, and nori slivers)



Oranges (which symbolize good fortune, prosperity, and longevity in Chinese culture), Boiled Eggs Dyed Red, and Fruit and Veggie Plates



Chinese Tamales, or jungzi


Grilled Chicken Drumsticks


Chicken and Pine Nut Lettuce Wraps
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, finely diced (best to cut if partially frozen)
2 cup carrots, peeled and finely diced (depending on size of carrots, about 5)
1/2 cup green scallions
1/3 cup of pine seeds, lightly toasted in pan for a few seconds until fragrant
2 tbsp of corn starch
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of canola oil
1 tsp salt, or to taste


1 head of lettuce, washed, with leaves separated


Heat the oil in a frying pan until shimmering. Add the carrots and cook until they have started to sweat. Meanwhile, combine the chicken with the soy sauce and corn starch, and then add it into the pan, stirring constantly. Then, add the scallions and fry until the chicken is cooked through. Then, add the pine seeds and serve in a bowl next to the lettuce leaves, or assemble the lettuce wraps for your guests.


Refreshing Chinese Cucumber Salad
2 or 3 seedless English cucumbers, washed and cut into 1/2 to 2 inch strips (almost as if julienned)
1/2 bunch cilantro, cut into 3 cm long portions
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp canola oil
2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Combine all of the liquid and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Then, combine the sauce mixture with the cucumbers, cilantro, onions, and garlic, until coated. Let the salad sit for at least 30 mins before serving.


Gingered Carrot Cake Mini Muffins
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups (about 1 lb) shredded carrots
1 cup (4 oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) finely chopped crystalized ginger
chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, ground ginger, nutmeg, and 1 tsp salt. In large bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, butter, and sugars 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in pineapple with its juice and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts, raisins, and crystallized ginger. Spoon batter evenly into cupcake tins with lined with cupcake wrappers. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for mini muffins or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


For the games, we invited the children to blow bubbles outside with bubble wands and had an arts and crafts station for the children to color and cut out their own Chinese dragon masks and paper lanterns. Check out the link here for the FREE dragon mask template we used. We bought wooden sticks online for them to use as the mask holders.


We also played Ni Hao, Kai Lan on the television, so that the kids could learn some Chinese and learn about Chinese culture with a fun and popular cartoon.

We also handed out party favors in red Chinese take out boxes (board books, kazoos, bubbles, and red envelopes with chocolate coins), so the kids kept busy and entertained. See the picture way above, to see the contents.


For the decor, we reused our wedding banner, set up Chinese umbrellas, and also folded origami tigers and dragons from the Canon website. Check out the Canon site for the FREE patterns and templates, here. Warning: The patterns are beautiful and complicated!



Also, we printed labels for our water bottles for an extra personalized touch. Check out Gynnn Wasson Design's blog for the FREE water bottle templates we used.



We also decorated a centerpiece with red envelopes.


Thanks for joining me at my party! I hope you learned a thing or two about the red egg and ginger party, a traditional Chinese celebration which is as important of a holiday as Thanksgiving or Christmas for some families. Hey, any even where the entire family gets together to enjoy a feast and meet the new addition is good in my book!