Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Dragon Fruit

Growing up in an Asian family, I was taught from an early age the importance of eating plenty of fruit, not just from a "health" vantage point, but from a "spiritual" one. During the Lunar New Year and birthday celebrations, fruit took on a deeper meaning, as certain types of fruits (such as peaches and oranges) signified prosperity and good fortune for our family. Because my father grew up in Vietnam, he made sure to introduce his children to fruits from his childhood, even though such fruits were very expensive and rarely available anywhere near where we lived in Arizona. Durian, starfruit, lychees, longans (dragon eyes), pitaya (dragon fruit), and mangosteens were his favorite tropical fruits. I have already posted before on lychees and mangosteens, and today, I would love to share with you about the dragon fruit.

The outside of the dragon fruit looks akin to a hot pink and underdeveloped artichoke, with flipper-esque growths emanating from the fruit's oblong body. With its audacious appearance, it is clear to see where the dragon fruit gets its name. You can easily imagine the tentacle-like dragon fruit stems to be the twirling, suspended whiskers of a dragon's mane. However, the inside of a dragonfruit is a monochromatic contradiction to the brazen colors of the outside rind. The fruit is just supple white flesh, simply flecked with a scattered design of black poppy-like seeds.

To eat a dragon fruit, cut it just like a melon, lengthwise, and then into wedges. Next, peel away the hardened rind to reveal a delicately soft and fleshy interior, which texturally feels identical to a kiwifruit. The subtle fruit flesh tastes both like a soft, ripened pear and a kiwifruit, but without any bite of tartness.

Check out your local speciality store or the ethnic area of your supermarket, to discover the dragon fruit. Happy holidays, and Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spiced German Elisen Lebkuchen Cookies

Although the beau and I visited Switzerland from late October to early November, we noticed that many Swiss stores had already begun decorating for Christmas. For instance, luxury clothing boutiques had sparkling strings of Christmas lights dangling from the storefronts and chocolate shops had cottony bundles of artificial snow nestling in the corners of their windows. Best of all, the Swiss supermarkets were stocked with bountiful displays of seasonal Christmas cookies. The Christmas cookies that repeatedly caught my eye (and helped to empty the cash from my pocket, time after time) were "elisen lebkuchen" cookies, or spiced German Christmas cookies.

The first time I purchased
elisen lebkuchen cookies, I was mesmerized. After carefully opening the crinkly cellophane wrapper, I laid out the three different cookies from within the package and delicately inspected them one-by-one, caressing the edges with my fingers. I divided the cookies according to their three types: (1) plain, (2) coated in chocolate, and (3) coated in a milky sugar glaze. Each cookie had an airy, rice papery, communion wafer layer adhered firmly to the back. (Although I have analogized certain textures to communion wafers before, the cookie backing literally tastes like a communion wafer, and later, after industriously scouring the web, I discovered that indeed, the backing is a communion wafer.)

As I bit into the thick and pillowy soft cookie, I found that they possessed the encompassing, warming flavors of gingerbread and rum with a soothing aftertaste of cloves and allspice, and just a hint of cinnamon. The dimpled cookies had crunchy bits of chopped hazelnuts, distributed throughout the cookie dough. The cookies coated in chocolate and the thin layer of hardened sugary icing were also delightful. Even though I purchased the cookies from the store rack, the cookies had retained the moisture and texture of being freshly baked, just a few hours ago.

I hope my post about my experience with
elisen lebkuchen cookies gets you in the holiday mood. They sure did for me, way back in October!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Window Shopping in Zurich

I loved window shopping in Zurich, and I hope from this picture, you can see why.

I would spend hours walking up and down Bahnhofstrasse and the nearby neighborhoods, simply peeking through storefront glass and deciding what I should purchase for a mid-afternoon snack. See the candied citrus segments coated in chocolate on the lower left hand corner? For a chocolate-lover like me, Switzerland was a dreamland.

(Also, since we are on the topic of "looking," I just wanted to thank the blogger at Three Column Blogger for providing the instructions for me to implement this new, three column layout. Check out the blog for amazing, detailed, step-by-step guidance on changing your blogger code.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Confiserie Sprüngli

The one store that defined my trip to Zurich, Switzerland, was without a doubt, Confiserie Sprüngli, a delicious store which is a combination bakery (with a dizzying selection of toothachingly sweet Swiss pastries) and confectioner/chocolatier’s shop. (Thank you for the tip, Just Hungry!)

The moment you enter, you will see a throng of eager patrons standing in line to order Confiserie Sprüngli’s renowned Luxemburgerli macaroons. The macaroons generally consist of (1) decadently buttery chocolate ganache or (2) cloud-like puffs of whipped cream, sandwiched in between two melt-in-your-mouth meringue mounds that have an airy, wafer-like crispness. The meringues literally evaporate in your mouth like a sweet silk, made of sugar.

Yes folks, this is what manna must have tasted like. Hallelujah!

The first thing I thought of when I read the word “luxemBURGERli,” was the word, “burger.” The Luxemburgerli macaroons do indeed look like dainty finger-sized burgers, but exhibit an artistic flair—they might possess a bright pastel sheen, a luminescent surface which reflects the glistening sunlight, or be covered in a blanket of powdered cocoa. Confiserie Sprüngli has a stunning array of robust flavors, including pistachio and alcohol-infused flavors such as champagne and Bailey’s liqueur. But there are flavors even for the unadventurous, including classic French vanilla, and Swiss chocolate.

After you’ve ordered your macaroons and paid at the counter (but before you open the pristine box flaps to your macaroon feast), take the time to read the attached message printed in three different languages (German, French, and English) on a paper slip the size of those you find in fortune cookies. The instruction on the message is simple, yet forceful, "Enjoy [your macaroons] as soon as possible." The delicate texture of the macaroons are best eaten in seconds so that they retain their crisp and airy texture, and don't become chewy and stale from humid air.

These Luxemburgerli macaroons, unfortunately, don't come cheap. I remember the price as roughly five Swiss francs (approximately, four dollars) for a small box of four macaroons. But believe you me, they're worth every bite.

If you aren't in the mood for sweets, the Confiserie Sprüngli on Bahnhofstrasse (the main thoroughfare in Zurich) sells savory foods, such as sandwiches, quiches, and meat pies.

So to recap, if you're in Zurich, you "must" visit Confiserie Sprüngli. It's the place to eat Swiss sweets!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Love Being Barefoot

I adore Ina Garten. I worship her recipes, show, taste, and wit. Did I mention that I am enamored with her recipes? They are precise, easy-to-follow, and yield immensely satisfying results. Her vanilla ice cream? Do die for. Her roasted chicken? Hells yea, it's good.

My favorite Ina Garten recipe is her take on tabbouleh, a fresh, cleansing, and uplifting parsley salad from Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Ina's version is amazingly delicious, although, not entirely as parsley-dense as the versions that you find in Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants.

To make a more traditional (or more "restaurant-like") tabbouleh than Ina's version, (1) cut the portions of boiling water and medium grain bulghur wheat in half, (2) chop and add an additional bunch of flat-leaf parsley, and (3) also add a tsp of cumin or a pinch of allspice. You should definitely try her recipe, but check out my slightly adapted version, here.

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!
1/2 cup medium-grain bulghur wheat (grains should be this size, look at the fifth picture down)
3/4 cup boiling water
juice from 2 lemons
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches of flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (not one sprig) of scallions
1 bunch of fresh mint
1 cucumber
3 medium tomatoes
1 tsp cumin, or a pinch of allspice
salt, to taste

In a large lidded pot, combine all of the liquid ingredients (the hot water, lemon juice, olive oil), the cumin, and the bulghur wheat. Immediately cover the pot, and set aside.

Finely chop the parsley, scallions, and mint, discarding the brown leaves and stems. Add the parsley, scallions, and mint to the bulghur wheat mixture.

Next, peel and cut the cucumber into small dices, and core and similarly dice the tomatoes. The tomato dice should be "pico de gallo salsa-sized." You can keep the tomato seeds and juices and add them in the tabbouleh salad, if you'd like. They usually will be absorbed up by the bulghur wheat. Now, add and stir all of the ingredients together, and add salt to taste.

I hope you enjoy this recipe (or Ina's). It's a refreshing and healthy salad that goes great with toasted whole wheat pita bread, and creamy hummus topped with toasted pine nuts. I like to let the tabbouleh sit in the fridge, to allow the flavors to combine, and have it the next day at a picnic or at lunch.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Depression Sets In

Sigh, I have been feeling down and out recently.

The economy.

The job market.

And it's only been getting worse. The latest bad news to befall my ears was the recent trade by the Suns of Raja Bell and Boris Diaw for Kevin Richardson. Well, yes, granted, it is a good trade, but it breaks my heart to know that the dynamic, explosive, and adrenaline-filled Suns team of just a few years ago is now completely torn asunder. Note to Steve Kerr: You already had Shawn Marion, but you let him go in pursuit of your short-term desire to go further in the playoffs. You just got rid of two amazing players for a "great scorer" that you already had! Well, not to bag on Richardson, but Marion is actually better than Richardson. . .

I guess this hurts more because I love, love, love Raja Bell. And I mean "love."

Bye-bye Marion, D'Antoni, Bell, and Diaw. And bye-bye to the Suns that were a great team. We will miss you all, and you will be a special part of Suns history and my heart.

Sweets? Specifically, an ice cream-filled crepe cone, with pan-crisped edges and an airy light texture? I need you now. Help me to cope with my loss.

Hornets? Please lift me up, baby.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Therapeutic Cooking #2: Warming Winter Soup on a Budget

I don't want to keep on harping on the dismal state of the U.S. economy, but I know we've all been feeling the impact of the recession in our lives. However, just because we are feeling the pinch in our pocketbooks, doesn't mean that we have to feel the pinch in our waistlines! I want to share some brief instructions on how to make an amazingly simple and cost-effective meal with very affordable ingredients.

First, let's address the base of the soup. Using water for your soup is fine, but if you've roasted a chicken or turkey recently and still have the leftover carcass sitting in your refrigerator (specifically, I am referring to the ribcage, neck, wingtips, and butt, with all large pieces of meat removed), use it! Boil the carcass in a large stockpot until the meat on the bones is stringy and spent of all of its flavor. Save the "stock" and add it to this winter soup. The stock from the leftover carcass will be rich in body and in flavor because it has collected all of the concentrated, roasted poultry flavor from bones and oven-roasted skin. You don't have to add anything else to make this stock--you don't even have to add onions! Also, feel free add whatever leftover wine you have left in your refrigerator to your soup. I wouldn't open a new bottle of wine for this soup, but if you have a half-consumed bottle in your fridge, pour it in!

Next, let's talk about the meat. Instead of purchasing a large, premium cut of beef or even cubed chuck, go to your butcher and ask for beef soup bones. These are usually as cheap as 0.99 cents a pound! Usually, beef soup bones have a lot of gristle, gelatin, and fat that breaks down only after prolonged cooking. The bones will also have remaining bits of meat, which will be little protein surprises in your soup. I promise, these bones will make your winter soup divine. The marrow from the soup bones lends milkiness and unrivaled depth to the soup. Simmer the bones in the water (or stock) for at least 2 hours.

Then, you can add 2 cans of whole tomatoes, and peeled and roughly cut carrots and potatoes. Boil these root vegetables and tomatoes until they are tender, and add chopped celery. Boil the celery until just soft, and then cover the soup with the lid and take it off the burner. Feel free to extend the soup with cans of tomato sauce, for a deeper, thicker feel. Then, you are done. Taste the soup and the root vegetables, and cook it longer, if necessary.

See how easy and affordable that was? The texture of the soup will be substantial, and the flavor will satiate even the most hungry of beasts. And really, all you have to purchase is the beef bones, carrots, potatoes, celery, and two cans of whole tomatoes. That is what I call a hearty and therapeutic meal!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wanton Lust for Wontons, Part Three

One holiday recipe my family always makes during the Christmas season, is warm, steaming, and soothing wonton soup.

My parents taught me two methods to fold wontons: first, into a beggar's pouch and second, into the shape of a gold ingot, the ancient form of Chinese currency. According to Chinese tradition, such gold ingot shaped wontons are said to bring one's family fortune and prosperity. During the holiday season and the Lunar New Year, our family exclusively folded wontons in the gold ingot shape.

I have already posted about wontons on two other occasions, but I never included a step-by-step pictorial on how to fold wontons. Well, I am posting one now! Check out my recipe for wontons (and step-by-step wonton filling pictures) at my previous post, here.

To fold a wonton, first, place a tsp of filling in the middle of a clean wonton wrapper. Then, wipe a corner of the wrapper with egg wash or water. Fold the wrapper over the filling diagonally, making sure to squeeze out any air, sealing the filling tightly. Then, bring the two opposing triangle corners together, and squeeze them firmly so that they form an almond shape (with no exposed or loose corners). You can also use a little bit of water or egg wash for assistance here. Look at the pictures, to see what I mean.

If you followed the instructions correctly, you have just folded a gold ingot style wonton! Congratulations!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Strawberry Fields Forever

As child, I loved sweet, ripe, and juicy strawberries. Strawberries were my favorite fruit in the whole entire universe. I would eat so many green plastic containers of the berries that sticky red juice would stain my lips and clothes and the delicate poppy-like seeds would get stuck in my teeth.

I was a "strawberry girl" all the way--I demanded that my mother buy me strawberry flavored lip gloss, strawberry scented items, and strawberry flavored bubble gum. If we had Neapolitan ice cream in the house, everyone knew that the strawberry section on the left belonged to me. After trick-or-treating at Halloween, I would even trade the prized brand name chocolate candy bars for a few more strawberry hard candies. I know, it is unbelievable that anyone would do that because those candies are the rejects of the bunch.  Well, those, the starlight mints, and those peanut buttery candies wrapped in orange or black wax paper.

When I grew older, my love for strawberries waned. They simply weren't as sweet as I remembered. However, thankfully, I later learned how to capture the summer sweetness of the berries in my adulthood, by making a chunky and viscous strawberry syrup. Drizzle this syrup on vanilla ice cream, on a short stack of fluffy hot cakes, or in the warm pockets of waffles, and I promise that you'll never go back to chocolate or maple syrup again! Or at least, it will be difficult for you to do so.

Chunky Strawberry Syrup

5 cups of frozen strawberries
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup of water

In a saucepan on medium heat, dissolve the granulated sugar in the water, constantly mixing the sugary water with a wooden spoon. When the sugar has dissolved, add the strawberries, and bring the berries to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low or low, and allow the mixture to simmer uncovered for about 30 mins, until the syrup reduces. Be careful not to break apart the strawberries. Allow the syrup cool, and then refrigerate the mixture until chilled. Serve cold.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Celebrating Monumental Victories

This has been an unprecedented year in American politics, and most importantly, American history. First, the nation resoundingly elected its first ever non-white president, a brilliant and charismatic gentleman named Barack Obama. This past week, after the votes were tallied from the December 5, 2008 election, America discovered that Louisiana had elected the first ever Vietnamese-American congressman, Anh "Joseph" Cao.

My parents would have never imagined that these two events would have happened in their lifetimes, much less the same year. Thank you America, and thank you Louisiana, for teaching me that we can achieve what once was impossible.

Image courtesy of the Times Picayune.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bring It!

I just got back from my one month long honeymoon from Europe!

During my time there, I attempted to taste all of Europe so that I could report back to my amazing-incredible (not just amazing, and not just incredible, but "amazing-incredible"--with the hyphen) readers with all of my findings. Well, I also ate like a beast for myself too. But mostly for you. Really!

But I have some really disappointing news that actually took me a few days to digest. When we returned home, we were in the process of uploading all of our pictures onto the computer, when a serious mistake of astronomical proportions occurred, resulting in the permanent deletion of 90% of our honeymoon pictures. It has to do with moving files through the command prompt using an Apple.

Trust me, it took me a full week before I could talk about this like an adult. For the first couple of days, the only thing I could say was repeated expletives. Yea, those dirty words shot out of my surly mouth like a AK-47.

Unfortunately, after countless visits with the tech support at Fry's and hundreds of dollars spent of freakin' useless "recovery software" purchased online, we discovered that we pretty much lost those photos for good. And the pictures included our multiple visits to Berthillion in Paris, France (the best ice cream in the world), Nico in Venice, Italy (the best gelato in that region of Italy). Oh yes, and pictures of us, the honeymooning couple. (For a food blogger, you know I was just a tad more devastated by the loss of those food pictures though. Shh, don't tell the beau!)

However, the limitations of modern technology will not get this food blogger down! No!

This is my new goal. To blog my attempt to try and recreate my most memorable meals and snacks in Europe with recipes. Yes, the pictures were deleted, irretrieveably. But the memories? Still in my head. And I can still use this to my advantage. I don't want to just say, "I had the best paella ever in Barcelona," or "I loved the pizza and pasta in Florence and Rome," but I want to say something like, "Paris was the start of my love affair with excellent coq au vin."

So I am turning this horrific nightmare into something good. Just to give you a roadmap: for the future, I will be blogging about my experiences with (1) Swiss, (2) Italian, (3) Spanish, (4) French, and (5) English cuisine. I know, that is a lot of places, but it was a one month honeymoon, and we exhausted our life savings for that trip. (Oh, and as a side note, upon our return to the U.S., we discovered that the remainder of our life savings in our 401(K) had also been "exhausted," or apparently eliminated.) But thankfully, since I backed up the pictures from Zurich, there will be a few more Zurich posts.

Welcome back to Passionate Eater folks, you will be seeing me more often now!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Riveting Rivella

Even though I am on my honeymoon, there hasn't been one day that I haven't thought about food blogging.

Allow me to explain! I am sampling many new types of food products and many different cuisines, and I can't wait to share my experiences with you!

One of my most exciting discoveries in Switzerland (the land of milk, cheese, fondue, and chocolate) is Rivella, a popular carbonated Swiss beverage made from milk plasma or "milchserum," in German. Rivella allegedly rivals Coca-Cola in terms of popularity in Switzerland.

Although I am not entirely clear what "milchserum" is, Rivella allegedly contains all of the nutrients and minerals as milk, but does not contain any proteins or lipids. To me, Rivella tastes like two parts Red Bull with one part diluted apple juice. If you have ever tried Calpico (a yogurt-based drink found in Asian supermarkets and unfortunately titled "Calpis" in Asian countries), I would say that Rivella has got the tarty yogurt essence of Calpico too. Rivella has an interesting, biting flavor with a strong aftertaste, but definitely quenches your thirst as you are hiking through the bustling river-lined streets in a large Swiss city or the trails cutting across rocky Alps. If you are ever traveling in Switzerland, drop by a local market and pick up some Rivella to try.  It is the real Swiss deal. Rivella makes me want to go blow an Alpine horn in the mountains and yell "Ri-vella" (instead of "Ri-cola")!

. . . I know, that was a horrendous joke.  Okay, back to the honeymoon.  More posts soon!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Greetings, from Switzerland!

I just wanted to send everyone a quick update about my whereabouts. The beau and I have been having a wonderful time in Switzerland, eating what the Swiss eat. (Check out this McDonald's advertisement from the streets of Zurich for an idea of a classic difference between American and Swiss food--the cheese!)

In Switzerland, for a typical breakfast, we will have a buttery croissant with butter and preserves and hot chocolate; for lunch, we will have a crusty round of bread with hot wurst and mustard; and for dinner, we will dunk cubes of chewy white bread into a gooey fondue pot of melted gruyere and emmenthaler cheese.

I have so much more to write about the Swiss food I have been having here, but it may have to wait until I return to the States. I can't wait to catch up with all of you, and hope you are all doing well!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Honeymooning, Do Not Disturb (Just Kidding, Feel Free!)

Several big things will be happening here on Passionate Eater.

First, both my blog and I will be making the transition from New Orleans back to San Francisco. I am sure you are disappointed (as I was and am), but now that I am married, things are inevitably changing. I tried to convince the beau to move to New Orleans, but he has a stable job and other regional commitments, so I will be moving back to the Bay Area instead. However, we will continue to visit our New Orleans family and friends on a regular basis. The hurricane season disrupted my ability to try as many restaurants as I wanted to, so I need to go back to New Orleans often and eat like no tomorrow! (And take a look at the sunlight on these gorgeous New Orleans houses on the picture above!)

Second, I am leaving for my honeymoon in Europe in one day! During my honeymoon, I might drop by for a post and comment every now and then. Definitely expect to see a honeymoon recap here on the blog!

Before I take my honeymoon, I just want to share with you the story of how my Bay Area beau proposed:

Back in 2006, I was offered a position in New Orleans. The job in New Orleans was a once in a lifetime opportunity, for many reasons. I remember weighing the pros and cons with the beau, and one of those pros was living and interacting with "kind Southern gentlemen and ladies." The beau saw that "pro" as listed on the paper, and had a look of extreme dissatisfaction on his face. I think he just saw the "Southern gentlemen" part. However, he ultimately let me go.

About one month after I moved away, the beau surprised me with a round-trip plane ticket from New Orleans to Washington D.C. He greeted me at the airport with a limousine (huge surprise) with a dozen roses (1 red, 11 white, to say I was "one in a million") and had me chauffeured off to the Jefferson Memorial. Then, he bent down on one knee, and proposed on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. In front of people! In public! I guess you know what I said, since we got married a few months later.

Sigh, memories get me all teary-eyed. I will be making more memories this upcoming month. See you soon!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Master and Commander

In the early 90s, I remember watching Paul Prudhomme on his cooking show and an unknown Emeril Lagasse on Great Chefs. Both shows aired on my local P.B.S. station. It was through those shows that I first learned of
Commander's Palace in New Orleans, Louisiana--the very restaurant that launched the careers of Prudhomme and Lagasse, putting them on the national culinary map. I would never have imagined that I would one day have the privilege of dining at Commander's Palace, or that I would eventually live in New Orleans.

If you are unfamiliar with
Commander's Palace, I think I could say that it is arguably the "best" and most iconic restaurant of New Orleans. It has a rich culinary legacy that has been defined by time (the restaurant itself dates from the 1800s), its owners, and its classic location. Currently, the Brennan family dynasty owns Commander's Palace and a bevy of other upscale (and pricey) establishments in the New Orleans area, including Ralph Brennan's Bacco and Café Adelaide. You will arrive the illustrious Commander's Palace by following the tree-lined boulevards in New Orleans' wealthy Garden District, but the whimsical "bird" decorations and colors inside the restaurant will amuse you more than the gorgeous neighborhood surroundings.

The evening that we dined at
Commander's Palace, the beau started with the turtle soup au sherry. The turtle soup filled the air with a buttery and rich aroma, and was dense with soft pieces of the holy trinity (bell peppers, onions, and celery), tiny cubes of hard-boiled eggs, and chewy morsels of diced turtle meat. When our server brought out the shallow bowl of steaming soup, she drizzled cool sherry over the top of the soup. The beau eagerly swirled the sherry throughout his bowl, permitting the sherry to lend its tartness to warm brothy goodness.

I also selected soup as my starter. However, I instead opted for the gumbo du jour, which was made with a rich shrimp stock, chocolately dark roux, and other fresh regional ingredients. I found the gumbo to be thinner than the gumbo at Acme Oyster House and less substantial at Emeril's Nola, but it was slightly sweet and intensely flavorful, packed a bit of spicy heat, and contained large chunks of duck meat.

We eagerly used the glistening and buttery pieces of golden garlic dill bread to sop up all of the remaining soup left in the bowls.

For his main course, the beau ordered the deep-fried soft shell crab, which was injected with an acidic French-inspired ravigote sauce. The menu indicated the the crab was injected so that the crab would be "marinate[d] from the inside out." The crab was served with an amusing salad of scallions, petite herbs, grape tomatoes, and red onions in a spicy horseradish and grainy dijon mustard sauce, and a drizzling of liquified basil. The crab also came with mashed crab boiled vegetables, upon which the crab was served. The crab's deep-fried breaded coating was crunchy and perfectly contained the soft crabmeat flakes and shell.

I ordered "Commander's mixed grill," which came with a selection of meats finished with a housemade Worcestershire sauce. The meats included a hickory grilled tournedo of beef, rabbit tenderloin, and spicy lamb and rabbit sausages. The protein-heavy dish was served with mustard greens braised in New Orleans Abita beer, Creole smashed new potatoes, and a sweet and chunky huckleberry and cherry compote. I loved the tenderness of all of the meats, the different selection of proteins highlighted the distinctive gamey flavors of the lamb and the rabbit. Also, the contrasting sweetness of the compote and the savory flavors of the meat and greens really made an impact on my palate. Everything was cleverly prepared.

We ended our evening with a classic New Orleans dessert with a lot of fanfare, bananas foster, which was flambéed at our tableside. The server halved the bananas; cooked them in butter, brown sugar, Caribbean rum, banana liqueur; set the bananas ablaze; and poured the mixture over a rotund scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Check out the video of our bananas foster in action here:
I hope this post inspired you to visit New Orleans soon, and stop by Commander's Palace for a divine meal!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Therapeutic Cooking #1: Chicken and Mushrooms

Now that times are tough, I want to share with you an amazingly cost-effective (and therefore, therapeutic to your wallet) recipe: chicken and mushrooms.  And by "cost-effective," I mean "dirt cheap." Yes, that's pretty much all that there is, chicken, and mushrooms.  No frills, no nothing else.  But it tastes pretty good.

All you need to purchase is supermarket containers of regular white button mushrooms and cremini mushrooms (you know, the ones in styrofoam), four chicken thighs, and use items that you should already have in the fridge or pantry, such as milk, worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.

First, place four chicken thighs (seasoned with salt), skin down, onto an unoiled skillet set on high heat. While the chicken thighs brown, use a moistened mushroom brush or paper towel and clean off the dirt from the mushrooms. When they are cleaned, slice them, checking on the progress of the chicken, and turning when brown. (You can actually overcook thighs, just make sure that the insides are no longer red.) Take the thighs out of the skillet, drain off all of the grease, and add 1/2 a chopped onion and 3 cloves of chopped garlic to the skillet, and fry until brown and translucent. Then, add the mushroom slices (I like to add the white mushrooms first, and cook them down a little), a splash of worcestershire sauce (~1 tbsp), and milk (preferably whole milk or cream, ~1/2 cup). You can even add ~1/4 cup of white wine, which is what I did here. Then, replace the thighs into the pan, and continue to heat until the mushrooms have cooked down and the chicken meat is cooked all the way through. Add salt to taste, pepper, and serve with rice or baked potatoes.

There you go! With just a few ingredients, you've got a really cheap, foolproof, and satisfying dinner. I would definitely classify something hearty, warming, simple, and as affordable as this, to be therapeutic. To me, at least.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No Waffling Around

I am going to proclaim it from the mountaintops and vigorously pump my fists in satisfaction. I need to share the news, "I love homemade waffles!"

Don't be intimidated by waffle-making, there really isn't much complexity involved. See how ugly my waffles are? And yet they tasted delicious and exuded an air of magnificence. Best of all, anyone can make amazing waffles with a waffle iron, pancake mix, cooking oil, milk, and cooking spray, and the reward is a million-fold. I love the crispy surface, and moist, pocketed, and buttery interior of every waffle. And I absolutely adore the versatility of "the waffle."

Although I enjoyed these waffles simply (with each and every square cavity brimming with maple syrup) you can make waffles as elegant as you'd like. Thus, you could add chopped nuts, blueberries, mashed bananas, oats, or even wild rice into the batter, and top a finished waffle with mascerated berries, dessicated coconut flakes, whipped cream, crème fraîche, or a piece of freshly fried chicken. You could even drizzle balsamic vinegar over a waffle topped with a rotund scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Ah, I think I am in love.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Open Faced Question

Hi readers, all one of you (Mom, I am referring to you), I have a question to ask you. I have changed the format of my blog to feature larger images and have now placed a watermark on the images to protect against bad folks from reposting my images without linking to my site. However, I have noticed that the images sometimes take a while to load. Do you prefer large or small images? What do you think about the watermark? Thanks for chiming in and letting me know your thoughts. The poll below will end on October 20, 2008. (Oh, and I was going to use a picture of an open faced sandwich for this post, but I didn't find one, so here is blank white emptiness instead. Sorry.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Roasted Lemon Chicken Revisited

I am so grateful that the universe always manages to correct itself. If you are a reader from back in the day (and I mean, way back in the day), you will remember that I previously failed at making roasted lemon chicken. Pretty miserably.

Thankfully, Meathenge, a meat blogging genius, just happened to chance upon my "failure post" and left a comment, giving me some helpful advice on how to correct my mistakes. Based on his sage suggestions, I was able to remedy my chicken disaster, and since that moment onward, I have made delicious roasted chicken and never looked back. Today, I would love to share the wealth of his great information, especially since I just made roasted chicken yesterday. There are several steps for how to make a great roast chicken.

~ First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees (at 450 degrees, you will cook the chicken for 1 hr; but according to other food blogs, you can also cook the chicken for 1 hr 30 mins at 425 degrees, or 1 hr and 30 minutes at 400 degrees for a chicken that is 3 lbs or less).
~ Next, remove the inner giblets, clumps of excess fat hanging from the meat, and feather remnants. Wash, and thoroughly dry the outside and insides of a whole chicken, using as many paper towels as necessary.
~ Third, liberally season the outside and inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Here, I used a bit of lemon zest, pepper, and garlic salt, and moistened the chicken skin with a little bit of cooking oil.
~ Fourth, place the chicken in a roasting pan on a v-rack or another elevating rack, so that the chicken does not touch the surface of the roasting pan. At this stage, I placed three quartered (or halved) lemons and a bay leaf (really, broken pieces of many bay leaves) into the chicken cavity.
~ Fifth, tuck the chicken wings underneath the body of the chicken, so that the wing tips do not scorch, and tie the chicken drumsticks together with kitchen twine, enclosing the chicken cavity. I did not have any kitchen string, so I omitted the step.
~ Sixth, roast the chicken in the oven for 1 hour, or until the juices of the chicken run clear when punctured with a sharp paring knife. Finally, remove the chicken from the oven, cover the chicken with a foil tent, and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes, so that the chicken retains its delicious juices.

And the roasted chicken? Well, it turned out perfectly! With a paper thin, translucent, golden brown, and crispy skin. Also, in the meantime, I was able to make mashed potatoes with that 1 full hour on my hands.

For mashed potatoes, I peeled and cubed 5 large russet potatoes, and boiled them in salted water until fork tender. Then, I drained the water, and ran the potatoes through a ricer. I added about 2 tbsp of butter and 1/2 cup of whole milk, and salt to taste. Then, I smashed the riced mixture with a potato masher. When the chicken came out of the oven, I then decided to take a ride on the gravy train. Thus, I mixed about 1 tbsp of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of cold water, until there were no lumps, set the roasting pan on two burners, at a low heat, and used a wooden spoon to mix the cornstarch slurry into the drippings remaining in the roasting pan. When the sauce thickened, I had gravy! (Let me warn you though, the gravy will be a little sour from the lemon juice that seeped out during the roasting process.)

See how easy it is to have a great and affordable dinner on the table in less than 2 hours, with very minimal labor?

I hope that you have learned from my kitchen failure. We all make mistakes when cooking, but that leaves many more opportunities for the successes! Good luck, and keep on cooking!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Broke-@$$ Oktoberfest Lunch

When I was growing up, my dad often made me sauerkraut and sausage for lunch. I remember that I would wait until my bread got soggy with all of the juices from the sauerkraut, and I would use my fork to cut my sausage (or hot dogs) into small pieces, so that I could enjoy a bite of sausage with every mouthful of sauerkraut. I knew, even as a little girl, that there was something special about the combination of the two: sausage and sauerkraut, like the yin and the yang, like Cagney and Lacey--inseparable, and necessary with the other. Somehow, the tart, mouthpuckering sauerkraut was meant to be paired with the salty sausage meat.

The other day, I received an email about Oktoberfest, and I suddenly remembered my favorite afternoon meal. I am sure that no person of German descent or any other Oktoberfest participant would lend any credibility to my recipe, thus the "broke-@$$" qualifier. Furthermore, presentation-wise, it doesn't look spectacular. However, it is packed with flavor, and will be worthwhile to make, I promise. Best of all, this dish is very affordable (I would venture as far to say that it was "cheap"), and therefore, a meal that is easy on the pockets during these tough financial times.

Sauerkraut and Sausage
1 pkg polish kielbasa, cut into individual-sized portions, or smoked sausage links
1 can of sauerkraut
1/2 red onion, chopped finely
1/4 bottle of beer (drink the rest, while cooking)
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp brown sugar

Heat the oil in a pan on high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the finely chopped red onion and cook until the onion pieces have wilted and begin slightly brown at the edges. Add the brown sugar and beer, and let the pan's contents simmer and reduce for a few minutes. Then, add the sausage to the pan, quickly turning the links so that they are cooked evenly. Finally, add the sauerkraut, cover the pan, lower the heat, and cook until everything is heated through. Serve with hot dog buns or toasted slices of dark rye bread and grainy mustard.

Oh, and as a side note, when I cut into the red onion in the picture below, I discovered that it was rotten in the middle so I used a white onion instead. Therefore, for a bit of additional color, I added some chopped scallions at the end. As you can see, my preparation was really broke-@$$!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wham, Bam, Ala-Kazam at Emeril's Nola

When I moved to the City of New Orleans, I had my my first upscale dining experience at Emeril's Nola Restaurant. I remember that day quite vividly. After securing a last minute reservation online, the beau frantically rummaged through his luggage to find clothes appropriate for an elegant dining establishment. He wanted to treat me out to a memorable meal the day before he was going to return back to the Bay Area. We excitedly threw together a strange ensemble of clothing with the "touristy" and summery outfits in our baggage, and drove to the French Quarter from our hotel on Saint Charles Avenue, to sample the food prepared by the Food Network star.

We felt a little out of place upon arrival because of our clothing, but were immediately welcomed with a freshly baked basket of Emeril Lagasse's famous scallion cornbread muffins.

After reading the mouthwatering menu selections, the beau and I decided to start with the pan-roasted crab cake. The crab cake had a crispy and evenly browned exterior and was topped with a delicate dollop of smoky eggplant puree and crinkly leaves of fried spinach. The crab patty was served on a plate scattered with substantial crumbles feta cheese and pitted kalamata olives, and placed in a pool liquefied citrus butter. The classically flavored crab cake was moist and bound together well with fine bread crumbs and New Orleans seasonings. I thought the crab cake itself was delicious and had a relatively good crab meat to breadcrumb filler ratio. However, while I love kalamata olives and feta cheese, I found them to be too salty and a tad overwhelming in comparison with the delicate crab cake and citrus butter flavors.

The beau and I each had a bowl of Emeril's gumbo. I know I will make many enemies by saying this, but after having (and loving) the thick okra or file-enriched gumbos at Mother's and Acme Oyster House, I noticed that the gumbo was more watery than I had envisioned. However, the penetrating flavors of the spicy gumbo were deep, earthy and left a fiery, burning sensation in the back of my throat. I also loved the simple touch of how the chocolate-colored gumbo was served, ladled into a shallow bowl and topped with chopped green scallions.

For the main course, I ordered the hickory-roasted duck with whiskey-caramel glaze, natural jus, buttermilk cornbread pudding, haricot verts, fire roasted corn salad, and candied pecans. The haricot verts were blanched perfectly, so that they retained their verdant color and vibrant "fresh produce" crunch. I loved the chilled, sweet corn kernels, the sugary candied walnuts, and the moist bed of cornbread stuffing. However, I found that the dry, jerky-like duck meat to be over-saturated with the strong flavors of hickory smoke, and the glaze and the jus had concentrated unappetizingly into a salty syrup.

The beau ordered grilled pork porterhouse with brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes, toasted pecans, and a caramelized onion reduction sauce. It definitely had similar taste and textural elements as my duck entree, but without the same shortcomings. The pork was tender and juicy, and the slippery slices of sweet potatoes tasted like a Thanksgiving feast with the pecans and oniony gravy.

I was originally going to name this post "No Love for Emeril's Nola," but after reminiscing, I realize that there was a lot to appreciate in bold, experimental flavors in each dish. While I felt a little overwhelmed to an extent by the salt and sugar used in each entree, my tastebuds have a lot to learn from the master. Bam!
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