Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waiting in Line in Sidney, British Columbia

My husband measures the quality of a restaurant by the line of people waiting to get in. His belief is that if people are willing to wait in line for food (on top of waiting for the food to be ordered, prepared, and served), then it has to be really, really, really good. When we waiting for the early morning British Columbia Ferry from Victoria to Vancouver, we made a pit-stop for gas in Sidney and since we had time to spare before the scheduled ferry departure, we decided to take a leisurely stroll around the quaint little town. Although, the streets were nearly empty, but we noticed a collection of locals in front of a cramped yet boisterous restaurant named Third Street Cafe. Since we had not had breakfast yet, my husband decided to wait in line with the other eager patrons and "get our early morning grub on." As we waited in line, we observed the locals passionately discussing the ongoing hockey playoffs and admired the peaceful surrounding streets and scenery, which literally looked like it came from a Norman Rockwell illustration.

After we were seated, my husband ordered eggs benedict with "Canadian bacon" and since I was recovering from a stomach bug and keeping away from hollandaise sauce, I ordered the house-special omelet with cheese, mushrooms, turkey sausage, and "Canadian bacon." The omelet came with their fluffy breakfast potatoes, and toasted and buttered pumpernickel rye bread. (In case you are wondering, yes, as typical American tourists, we classify "Canadian bacon" and "Canada Dry" as Canadian food.)

I am happy to say that the breakfast was hearty, filling, and more than satisfying. The warm and crackly-crusted bread boasted a perfect ratio of moistening butter and the eggs were fluffy and well-seasoned. The potatoes were also cooked to perfection, with a light pan crust and a warm and silky interior.

As I polished off my breakfast, I reflected on my husband's selection of the restaurant. I realized that I had to agree with him: if there is a line, yes, it usually is worth the wait.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bride-To-Be In Wonderland: Very Merry Unbridal Shower and Tea Party

My friend recently got married, and as one of her bridesmaids, I had the pleasure of helping to organize her bridal shower. The maid of honor, the other bridesmaids, and I primarily derived inspiration for the bridal shower from a blog post on an Alice In Wonderland themed shower (by a food blogger who went to school with my husband) and the Queen of Tea Parties, Wandering Chopsticks.

During our hunt for decorations, the maid of honor found an incredible set of matching invitations and "Eat Me" and "Drink Me" party labels on Etsy and a pack of Alice In Wonderland playing cards, and we went to town on using these items to make the tablescape come alive. We downloaded images from Lewis Carroll's books and slid them into apothecary jars filled with candy, and peppered the table with candies and paper daisies. Check out the tea sandwich recipes and more party pictures below!

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
2 8oz pkgs of cream cheese, softened
1 bundle of fresh dill
2 tsp salt (or salt to taste)
1 large English cucumber, thinly sliced (with peel and seeds intact)
1 loaf of white bread, sliced and with crusts removed

Using the sharp blade of a knife, scratch off/separate the soft dill fronds from the woody stems, and finely mince the fronds. Whip the dill and salt into the cream cheese, and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust salt accordingly. Spread each slice of white bread with a thin coat of the cream cheese spread and a layer the bread with the cucumber slices. Assemble the sandwiches, making sure that both the upper and lower slices of bread have a thin coat of the spread. Slice the sandwiches into quarters, diagonally. Cover with plastic wrap or wax paper until time to serve, to keep the bread soft.

Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches
1 dozen of boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup of mayonnaise
1/2 cup of spicy mustard
1/4 cup of sweet pickle relish
1 tsp of black pepper
1 loaf of white bread, sliced and with crusts removed

Combine the eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, and pepper, and mix thoroughly. Generously spread each slice of white bread with a heaping layer the egg salad mixture and assemble the sandwiches by topping the sandwich with another slice of white bread. Slice the sandwiches into quarters, diagonally. Cover with plastic wrap or wax paper until time to serve, to keep the bread soft.

At tea parties, it is important to provide guests with a varied selection of teas. If you keep your pantry stocked with classic teas (such as black tea, green tea, chai tea, and other spiced teas) you should be in good shape. If you are looking to purchase some additional teas and are adventurous, try some great loose-leaf Asian teas (such as jasmine, tung ting, pouchong, and ti kuan yin), and robustly flavored teas such as rooibos and roses, cream Earl Grey, and ginseng. If these tea options sound too overwhelming, do not worry, just do what we did and pick up a variety pack of Bigelow (Celestial Seasonings, or Twinings) teas and you should be good to go for your tea party. (I used to totally shun Bigelow teas, but since we have them at work, I have taken quite a "liking" to some of their flavors.)

Also, another great party time-saver is preparing a crudite platter. I used to prepare all of the vegetables on my own (by washing, peeling, and cutting up carrot and celery sticks), but my husband taught me the error of my ways by showing me how easy it is to open a bag of baby carrots and grape tomatoes and pouring them onto a platter. Take it from me, it is well worth the time and money to take this shortcut.

And there you have it! I hope the pictures gave you some ideas for a tea party or shower you will be holding in the near future!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Burger Showdown: Five Guys vs. In-N-Out

Ever since I married a DC-native, he and his family have attempted to convince me to move to the East Coast and also, convert me to love all things East Coast. Sometimes, I can see his point, but sometimes, we simply have to agree to disagree.

For instance, he vehemently lauds the merits of burgers from the up and coming chain, Five Guys. He believes they serve the juiciest, meatiest, and the overall best burger in America. So when I went to visit his family, I made huge effort to try these so-called "Best Burgers in America." Unfortunately, as I posted before, I failed to understand the hype. Yes, Five Guys have a huge variety of free toppings (like hot sauce, grilled mushrooms, and grilled onions), but the toppings are not unlimited and bountiful like Fuddruckers. Also, I like that they serve the burger with a sesame seed bun and in foil, but the foil made the burger bun mushy and squished. Finally, the burgers are a little too pricey (for my taste) for a standard hamburger chain.

As a West Coast native myself, I have always adhered to the adage that In-N-Out burgers are superior to all other burgers. First off, they are cheap. Second, they taste pretty darn good and hit the spot when you are hungry.

Top and bottom left pictures courtesy of M.P. and J.P.

My husband and I have talked to our friends and acquaintances, and have discovered that East Coast transplants love the juicy (and, in my mind, "grease-soaked") burgers from Five Guys (and the Cajun seasoned fries, free peanuts, and copious topping options), while West Coast natives love the simplicity of In-N-Out burgers and fries. So my husband and I decided to settle our dispute once and for all, and planned a "taste off" or "throwdown," just like those taste tests in the 1980s between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Indeed, as we were planning our "taste off," Zagat published its findings on hamburger chains, and crowned Five Guys to be the victor as the best hamburger chain in America. Given that there are many more Five Guys restaurants in America than In-N-Out restaurants, I was not going down without a fight. I wanted to test for myself which burger reigns supreme--by polling the taste buds of my trusted friends. (However, I agree that In-N-Out's bland-o-rama fries taste like Styrofoam or cardboard, so I conceded the fries category in advance.)

Me, my husband, and a large group of our friends decided to meet in Fremont, California, where they just opened a new Five Guys within walking distance of In-N-Out. My husband and I picked up the In-N-Out burgers (with some "animal style," some regular) and met our friends at the outdoor seating area of Five Guys, where we ordered our custom burgers and toppings.

As a part of the "taste off," we asked the participants to complete written surveys rating the appearance of the burgers, the quality of the meat, the texture of the bun, the freshness of the toppings, and their overall impression. I will be honest, since we asked many D.C. natives to participate, I really thought Five Guys would emerge as the winner. But I was pleasantly surprised when we tallied the votes! The best part, is that some random guy stopped at our table and threw in his vote as well (for In-N-Out) and the owner of Five Guys came out (to check why we brought In-N-Out burgers to his restaurant) and said he was interested in the results.

Memorable comments from the Burger Showdown survey:

Comments for Five Guys
- "Meatylicious"
- "Five Guys all the way!"
- "Best EVER!!"
- "Tastes like a backyard burger, nothing memorable"
In response to survey question regarding "presentation," a participant responded:
- "foil wrap makes it warm but because [it is] soggy, [it] looks like BK Whopper"

Comments for In-N-Out
- "More balanced, suited to a more sophisticated palate."
- "I like the extra sauces [at Five Guys] BUT... I *CRAVE* In-N-Out"
In response to survey question regarding "feeling in stomach afterwards?"
- In-N-Out feels "like butterflies in stomach"
Verbal comment: "In N Out is etched in my memory"


Five Guys = 6 Votes
In-N-Out = 11 Votes (+ 1 vote from a random guy who decided to tell us he liked In-N-Out better while carrying a Five Guys as take-out)
Undecided/Tie = 1 Vote

So there you have it! The results of our little democratic experiment illustrates that In-N-Out really does have the best burger in America! Please comment and let me know your vote!

P.S. To distinguish between which burger is from In-N-Out and which burger is from Five Guys, the burgers with the sesame buns are from Five Guys.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Foodbuzz 24X24: Celebrating the Cuisine of Gulf Coast: Breakfast in Louisiana

When I lived in New Orleans, I was enthralled by that wonderful city. One of my favorite things to do every weekend, was to visit the famed Café Du Monde in the French Quarter for golden-brown beignets dusted with powdered sugar and a café au lait with milk and chicory. I also greatly enjoyed riding the streetcar into the Uptown area for a satisfying seafood brunch. Whatever breakfast I enjoyed, I would always have the opportunity to listen to the live jazz music in the background. Just as in many other parts of the country, in New Orleans, breakfast is the most important meal of the day--even though other meals are also important!

When I received an email that Foodbuzz was donating the proceeds of this month's "24 X 24" competition to help the people in the Gulf affected by the oil spill, I decided to emerge from my hiatus from blogging to celebrate their generosity. I planned a quick New Orleans-themed breakfast for a small group of friends. I wanted them to appreciate the food from the Gulf Coast, and thus, perhaps gain an awareness of how the oil spill is affecting the people and culture in the area.

Breakfast Menu
Creole Omelets
Bananas Foster French Toast
Golden-Brown Beignets
Buttery Grits
Corn Muffins
Café Du Monde Coffee

For breakfast parties, I always try to take as many shortcuts as possible. You do not want to have to wake up at 5:00am in the morning for a party! So the day before, I made as many things as I could in advance, including corn muffins from a package. I also peeled the shrimp and precooked the shrimp, Creole-style. I also took the easy route for the "buttery grits with Gulf shrimp," and purchased instant buttery grits, so the day of, I would not have to slave over a hot stove top making sure there were no lumps!

Another time-saver, was purchasing premade beignets from the store and coating them with powdered sugar. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to easily purchase authentic beignets in San Francisco because of my tight schedule, so I did the unthinkable--I bought plain donut holes instead. Thankfully, my guests did not openly express any disdain towards me at the table.

Immediately before the guests arrived, I brewed the coffee and poured the mimosas, so that they could quench their thirst as they began to mingle.

For the breakfast party, I selected two relatively easy dishes to make: Creole Omelets and Bananas Foster French Toast. I began making both items about 2 hours before my guests arrived. The recipes are as follows:

Creole Omelets
10 extra-large chicken eggs, beaten
2 red bell peppers, de-seeded, cored, and diced
1 yellow onion, minced
2 Louisiana hot link sausages, diced
1/2 lb cooked Creole Shrimp
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
6 tbsp vegetable oil
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Zatarain's Creole Seasoning, to taste

Heat a non-stick pan to high heat, and swirl 1 tbsp of oil in the pan. Sautee the onions, bell peppers, and sausages until the onions are translucent and red from the bell peppers. Set aside.

In another small non-stick pan, heat 1 tbsp of the oil until shimmering. Put about 1/5 of the beaten eggs inside the pan, and swirl the egg so that it coats the bottom of the pan and begins to solidify. When the egg begins to set, carefully flip the egg pancake over in the pan, being careful not to break the pancake. Then, place about 2-3 tbsp of the mixture and several shrimps on 1/2 of the egg pancake. Sprinkle the shrimp with shredded cheese.

After a few minutes, when the egg begins to fully set and brown, quickly fold the egg pancake over the topping and onto a plate.

Also, French toast is a crowd-pleaser, and very easy to make. Not only is "French" toast a popular dish in the French-influenced Louisiana area, but for an even more New Orleans-centric twist, enjoy your French toast with Bananas Foster, rather than maple syrup!

Bananas Foster French Toast
5 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup of milk
10-12 slices of whole wheat bread
5 tbsp of vegetable oil

4 large bananas, quartered
1 stick of butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup banana liqueur
1/4 cup rum
vanilla ice cream

Beat the eggs together with the milk. Meanwhile, heat one tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan. Working quickly, dunk the bread into the egg mixture and fry it in the pan, turning when the side touching the pan begins to brown. Add more of the oil as you work in batches. When all of the French toast is cooked, plate it on a platter and set it aside.

Next, heat the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a pan on low heat. Quickly place the bananas in the pan (you can also leave the bananas uncooked and pour the mixture over the pan, but that is not traditional) and then the alcohol. If you feel comfortable, use a long-necked lighter or torch to quickly light the alcohol in the pan and let it burn off. Or, you can just let the mixture cook for a while, letting the alcohol evaporate without the flames.

When finished, serve the French toast with vanilla ice cream, and spoon the mixture and bananas over the toast and ice cream.

As my guests and I conversed, we discussed how New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Region is known for its unique culture, cuisine, and generous people. Now more than ever, we need to applaud and recognize this culture and continue to assist the people living in the area by supporting their economy. After Hurricane Katrina and now the oil spill, the people there have been hit by tragedy after tragedy. Many of my friends and family from the area are closing their business after the spill. Please continue to support and help the Gulf community in anyway you can in light of the oil spill. I hope my breakfast party somehow inspired you regarding Louisiana cuisine and the beauty of Louisiana people.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Breaking My Silence: Monumental Changes on the Gulf Coast and In Our World

When I lived in New Orleans, I ate seafood at least every other day. The oysters from the Gulf Coast were the best I had ever had in my life. The shrimp was succulent to every bite. Today, I just read an article about how Drago's has stopped selling its chargrilled oysters and seafood restaurateurs are now being forced to completely overhaul their menus because of the now toxic, oil-polluted, and contaminated Gulf waters. I simply cannot imagine what it would be like to have gumbo without curly Louisiana shrimp or po' boys without golden deep-fried oysters. Everyday, my heart breaks more and more when I see what is going on (or what is NOT going on in the Gulf). BP's oil spill is affecting the livelihoods, culture, health, and welfare of everyone in the Gulf Coast communities and in all of the world.
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