Friday, March 31, 2006

Reality Bites

Remember the debut of the Real World? It was unbelievable that people were willing to have their entire lives videotaped and aired in front of the world. I remember at the time, my friends and I said to each other, "Who would ever do that?!"

"Fast-forward to a few years later... No one knows except the both of us," and reality TV explodes in popularity. I stand by watching in horror as William Hung dances like an epileptic monkey being tasered, and millions of people around the world simultaneously cheer. Oh, why do Americans like reality television?

I am not a "reality television watcher," but I did watch a few episodes of the Restaurant with Rocco DiSpirito, I have already sat through three marathon episodes of Top Chef on Bravo, and I kinda-sorta paid attention to the Next Food Network Star by checking online for who was eliminated.

However, I have been active in reading the food blogs of the reality television rejects. Here are some links to some of the eliminated candidates that are a pretty interesting read:

Hans Rueffert (from the first season of the Next Food Network Star, very encouraging individual who is currently battling cancer)
Just Hungry (summarizes Top Chef episodes, really cool website)
Jess Dang (girl from Stanford from the second season of the Next Food Network Star)

I am amazed at how these Food Network reality people are invading the blog world. One of the old food network guys (Michael Thomas from the first season of the Next Food Network Star) even stole Eat, Drink, & Be Merry's name! You thief! Stop it!

Kinda cool to read about their experiences though, and dream about trying out for and winning the next reality television show. (I'd definitely try out the Next Food Network Star) Anyone want to join me? We'd do it together as a pair!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Deep Thoughts, by Passionate Eater

Now that it is nearing the 1/2-year mark for my blog, I was compelled to look back and make a critical assessment about the status of Passionate Eater.

My moment of deep contemplation was spurred by an average evening of commuter angst, while riding the BART train home from work. (For those of you unfamiliar with BART, it is the mass underground transit system of San Francisco and its environs.)

Well, this day was like every other day. It started when I breathlessly reached the train station and saw my train departing from the tracks.

I hate it when that happens.

No no, what's worse, is when you run down the broken elevator (past the slow old ladies carrying huge plastic bags full of "you-name-it") and you barely get to the departing train just as the doors close in your face. That is the worst.

Well, being that I missed the train by a few seconds, I settled down into the line at the tracks, and patiently waited for the next train in 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, as my train wheezed to a stop, I could see from the windows that it was "standing room only." Disgruntled passengers were packed like wriggling sardines with wrinkled and sweat-stained suits and crinkly newspapers clutched tightly in their hands.

Again, like every other day during rush hour, there were a grossly insufficient amount of trains. As I boarded, other stragglers forcibly squeezed their way in the closing doors. Steamy bodies pressed against me, and I rode with my nose inches away from the moist armpit of a fellow passenger wearing a threadbare suit.

As I stood there, for what seemed like an eternity, I got to thinking. What made me different from these hundreds of passengers who were also coming home from a long day of work on the Bay Point-bound train? Most importantly, what makes my food blog different from the thousands (or millions) of food blogs out there? Will my food blog slowly shrivel and dry up for lack of innovative ideas? Should I change my blog? I was at a crossroads.

The longer I stood inside the stuffy train, the more ideas brewed and bubbled in my head, and the more I realized what kind of blog
Passionate Eater needed to be. It was going to be a blog of learning about the impact food has on society! I want to incorporate posts about social justice, international politics, economics, and financial management! Passionate Eater would be revolutionary.

When I got home, I immediately logged online and reviewed the archived contents of
Passionate Eater. Hm. Sometimes, I sounded like a old, hardened, and angry witch. Okay. The tone was just how I wanted it. But the content, the content could be improved, just as I had envisioned.

I sat down and began writing. "Since the beginning of time, food has been..." Hm. Let me think about that.

An hour passed. The empty sentence fragment sat there, staring at me. I stared back. The cursor blinked at me, over, and over, and over again, almost taunting me to forget about my new vision for
Passionate Eater. But I wasn't about to lose this staring contest. I was going to revamp my blog, and revitalize the food blogging community.

After another hour, I broke down. I was tired, hungry, and had no idea what to write.

Okay, okay. I give up. I'll keep my blog the way it is.

Or... Any ideas?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Culinary School Drop-Out Series: Summer Salads 101

I decided to start a series of posts about my attempts (and failures) at making new dishes, without the help of a recipe! But, this will just be my own Franken-experimentation. I'm no professional. In fact, I am far from it! My cooking level is comparable to that of a culinary school drop-out. But, I'm willing to learn, and most importantly, willing to improve!

Yesterday, I was casually shopping at Costco, when I had this overpowering desire for a crazy-cool salad. I made my way to the "refrigerated salads aisle," where I was overwhelmed by cellophane bags filled with pounds of packaged lettuce. The different salad varieties were stacked so high on the shelves, they were touching the frosty ceiling of the cavernous salads section.

Hmm. No thanks. Today, I am going to keep it simple. I decided on making a light potato salad and a cucumber salad with a citrus vinagrette.

First up, was the light potato salad.

After boiling and draining a sizeable pot of cubed Russet potatoes into a metal colander, I immediately added a hearty helping of chopped Vidala onions. I wanted for the tangy flavor from the onions to melt into the salad, and be fully absorbed by the hot potato sponges.

Usually when I make potato salad, I use generous, overflowing tablespoons of mayonnaise. This time, I wanted a healthier, but equally pleasing alternative. Thus, the "alternative" binding agent was a cooling, reduced fat yogurt with just a tiny bit of mayonnaise and dijon mustard. To the potato salad, I added boiled egg yolks pre-smashed with a sturdy fork, diced boiled egg whites, a hefty sprinkling of chopped, flat-leaf parsley, freshly ground black pepper, and brunoised (tiny dices of) celery stalks. The salad was topped off with a flavorful and generous shake from the salt container.

One taste proved that this new potato salad combo was "interesting." Much lighter and tangier than my regular potato salad made with sweet pickle relish and "a lotta mayo," but, it worked.

I then moved onto the next salad. I started with firm rods of vacuum-wrapped English cucumbers, briefly rinsed and diced into bite-sized cubes.

Although I originally wanted to use red onions, sweet Vidalia onions provided a muted, but zesty crunch, and were an agreeable-enough alternative to my first choice of purple-skinned onions.

Next, I wanted acidity, which was provided by freshly-squeezed citrus juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. To that mouth-puckering combination, I added dried flakes of oregano, and a heavy drizzle of honey.

A sample of the final result, and yum! Not bad! Could use some tweaking, but overall, I was one happy salad eater!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Please Read This


If you are getting javascript pop-ups from my site, it is likely that your browser has "Active-X controls enabled." The pop-up is an Active-X control trying to install Zango software. For Internet Explorer users, you can disable Active-X controls by going to Tools > Internet Options > Security. This does not occur in Firefox / Mozilla, and should not affect those who have downloaded the SP2 hotfix. I believe that I have eliminated the malicious Active-X control from my page--I think it was in a free web counter that looked innocent.

Please be careful.

I am so sorry for any harm that I may have caused.

Please run the free spyware removal programs Adware or Spybot just in case.

For those of you who haven't read this post, I am adding a picture of a cinnamon bun as an incentive for you to read it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Help Me, I Beg You

Has anyone encountered a small pop-up box that says, "Click YES to view this page now" when trying to access this site?

When I first started my blog, and I noticed that this pop-up box would "pop up" occasionally. However, recently, I've noticed this EVERY time I visit my blog, and I'm getting angry. Where is this coming from? I think it may be from some website counter that I added to my html template, and I've heard that this may be spyware. Does anyone know how to get rid of this? I don't want to infest anyone with spyware!

Additionally, now my site as "errors" that cause "Microsoft debuggers" to pop up. The pop-up boxes claim that "there is an unexpected ')'." What the?!?

I plead with you, help me! Also, as a note to Stanley's friends who visit this site. I know that you guys are engineers / computer whizzes. Would you mind helping a distressed food blogger in need?

And as for the pictures of prime rib and chicken fried steak--well, there just pictures of crappy food that I had recently, but they reflect my crappy mood.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Working Eater Series: Friday Night Fried Rice

I'm going down to Southern California to visit my parents this weekend, and accordingly, I have to get rid of the geriatric vegetables living in the "old foods nursing home" known as my fridge.

What better way to eliminate all of my elderly vegetables, than making an easy dish that sweeps in all of the leftovers in the kitchen, and presents those leftovers as one unique and tantalizing package? Yes folks, I'm referring to the wonderful invention of "fried rice."

This morning,
Rick Bayless did a mouth-wateringly descriptive interview on KPFA radio, leaving me enamored with him and leaving my stomach growling like a bear on steroids. Yea Barry Bonds, you know what I'm talkin' bout. But as I paused to reflect upon his words, I realized that his vivid description of mole sauce and Mexican cooking actually also described a hearty bowl of fried rice. Mr. Bayless opined that unlike American and European food, Mexican food is very complex and multi-faceted. For instance, in American and European cuisine, a primary ingredient is generally the focus of the attention. For example, one might say, "I love the way the taste of the basil rises above this meal." However, with Mexican food, a multitude of different (and one may say "competing") flavors act in a symphony, so your experience is a new combination of flavors.

I believe that Mr. Bayless's description extends to fried rice. Although I jokingly dub fried rice to be "the resting place for retired vegetables," it actually is a substantial meal with a unique balance of flavors and components. The multiple vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates within fried rice all interact with one another, and yet none of them monopolize the limelight of the dish. Each contributes and plays its own role in a harmonious symphony. Additionally, fried rice is different across all Asian cultures--there are different recipes for different families. Thus, the
history of fried rice is just as varied as its ingredients.

To celebrate fried rice, and to clean out my fridge, I decided to write and post a quick and dirty recipe for a non-fussy version of fried rice for my Working Eater Series.

Friday Night Fried Rice
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
3 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and chopped into small cubes
3 eggs, beaten with a pair of chopsticks
4 sprigs of green onions, chopped, white and green portions separated
4 cups of cooked long-grain jasmine rice, preferrably cold
2 tbsp of fish sauce
1 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tsp of sesame oil
1/2 tsp of sugar

Heat the oil in a large wok until shimmering. Fry the eggs and the white parts of the scallions as an omelet. After the eggs have fully cooked, set them aside.

In the same pan, still on high heat, toss in the chopped carrots. Add more vegetable oil if necessary. Cook the carrots until they are softened, but still have a bite. Essentially, cook them until they are al dente.

Quickly add the rice, and continue moving the ingredients in the pan, to keep the rice from burning or sticking. When the ingredients have been sufficiently mixed, dissolve the sugar in a small bowl with the fish sauce and soy sauce. Add the sauce into the rice, continuing to move and stir the rice.

When all of the ingredients have been incorporated, add the eggs and the remaining portion of the green onions. Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil.

Serve the rice with Rick Bayless on the television. Enjoy!

Side Note: I entertained the idea of naming this post, "Fried Rice: The Rice of Advanced Years," but thought that was too corny. I've conjured up enough tired-ESPN-pun titles in my short food blogger lifetime. Anyway, I hope you like the recipe!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wanton Lust for Wontons, Part Two

Last year, after posting "Wanton Lust for Wontons," I promised Zileel and Annie L. that I would follow up my post with a recipe. Then a month passed. Then another. Then another. About four to five months later, I realized that if friends mean anything to me, I should post, and I should do so quickly.

Without further delay, here is the recipe that I promised last December!

The Best Wontons on This Side of the Mississippi
1 lb of ground pork, preferably with high fat content
1/2 lb of shrimp, peeled, deveined, and roughly chopped
1/2 lb of napa cabbage or Chinese chives, washed, dried thoroughly, and finely chopped
3 sprigs of green onions, roughly chopped (both white and green parts)
1 tbsp of ginger, finely chopped
1 can (tuna fish-sized) of water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 egg, beaten with a pair of chopsticks
3 tbsp of soy sauce
2 tbsp of sesame oil
1 1/2 tbsp of cornstarch
2 tsp of white sugar
1 tsp of white pepper
1 tsp of rice wine
2 pkgs of wonton wrappers

Mix all of the ingredients for the filling together.

Take a dry wonton wrapper, and wipe water on the edges.

Put a dollop of meat, in the middle of the wrapper, and fold the wrapper diagonally. Then take the two long corners and fold them inward. Repeat until all of the wrappers are used.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the wontons and cook until the wrappers become mildly translucent and the wontons float to the surface.

Serve with soy sauce, garlic, and rice wine vinegar. Bon wonton appetit!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Making a Slanted Face at the Slanted Door

After spending $70+ hoo-hahs on my dinner at Jardiniere, I decided to continue my exorbitant spending and dine at the Slanted Door in the San Francisco's picturesque Ferry Building for lunch with my co-worker's last week. First, let me give you a little background on the Ferry Building. After being renovated and transformed into one of the city's architectural masterpieces, the Ferry Building is the ultimate gathering ground for a Bay Area gourmand. The Ferry Building restaurants alone merit the Passionate Eater Seal of Approval. In addition, the weekly farmer's market attracts throngs of eager crowds who congregate around the abundant vegetable stands. The fragrances from pollened blossoms, and voluptuous fruits are invigorating for any passerby, chef or non-chef.

Getting back to my lunch experience. . . I had towering expectations for the Slanted Door. Although I am not the type to fervently hop on any ole' bandwagon, I tend to trust restaurant hype from my friends, and I had heard good things about the Slanted Door.

To start, our table ordered the "friend-recommended" green papaya salad with tofu, rau ram and roasted peanuts. The salad was fresh and light, and absolutely wonderful. The tofu had absorbed all of the acidic tang from the fish sauce and citrus flavorings, and the roasted peanuts provided a delectable crunch.

Our order of spicy Monterey squid with pineapple, sweet red peppers, peron chilies and Thai basil was equally fabulous. The chef immaculately balanced the contrasting flavors of spicy, sweet, and salty with the unique and rubbery texture of the fresh sea squid. However, because I kept hearing the echoing voices of my Vietnamese family remaking on the hefty price tag of the dish, it was a little less pleasurable than it would have been otherwise.

Unfortunately, my experience quickly turned sour. I was disenchanted by the grilled chicken over rice noodles with imperial rolls, cucumber and mint. I mean, come on now. I order this stuff take-out from the Vietnamese restaurant next-door at least once a week, except there, I only pay $3.99 for it, and not $9.50. Now I am not one to "bag on my ethnic homie," but I was not impressed. A restaurant of Slanted Door's stature should not be making this dish without some sort of gourmet twist, unique ingredient addition, or ostentatious presentation.

I felt the same about the spicy Japanese eggplant with green onions and coconut milk. My Dad makes this stuff for under $5 bucks for the entire family of four, and you're telling me I paid what?!?

As I polished off my meal, I came to the wise conclusion, that when you set your expectations too high, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. My Slanted Door experience had been marred by the vehement praise of the many Slanted Door lovers that came before me. Ironically, my overall dining experience wasn't bad. I enjoyed the food, but it is just hard for me to get used to treating common foods that I grew up eating as "haute gourmet cuisine."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Midnight in the Jardiniere of Good and Evil

One of my boyfriend's friends just ended her job as a pastry chef at Jardiniere in San Francisco, and she invited a group of friends to celebrate her move to new horizons, and to enjoy the benefits from her employee-discount for one last time.

Given that it is directly adjacent to the San Francisco Symphony Hall, Jardiniere has the best "location, location, location" to cater to wealthy symphony-goers. It lies in San Francisco's Hayes Valley, which is within walking distance to San Francisco's Civic Center, and thus, it acts as the buffer (comprised of upper-end restaurants) between City Hall and the innards of the city. Another restaurant in Hayes Valley (
that I have posted about before), is Absinthe. Although we not on our way to or from the symphony or the nearby performing arts theaters or ballet house, we were about to enjoy a visually-captivating performance, not by actors, but by the chefs of Jardiniere.

The entire experience at Jardiniere was indescribable. The night was one of excess. We overdrank, we overate, and we stayed out until the wee hours of the morning.

Because we were guests of a Jardiniere employee, we were able to dine in the exclusive "wine room," a room that had to be reserved with a $500 room fee--if you cancel and they are unable to fill the room, they keep your $500. In the room, we sat amongst towering shelves stocked with wines that cost more than a month's salary--meaning that "one bottle of wine cost more than a month's salary," that is. None of us dared to approach the wines too closely, or even lift the bottles to inspect the labels, for fear of the secret hi-tech security system that would laser off our corneas and two layers of our skin. (With vintage wines imported from the finest wineries in Europe, you never know what measures the owner will take to protect it.)

Although we sat in the "wine room," we actually brought our own wine to enjoy with the meal. By bringing our own wine, we'd get to reduce some of the cost of the final bill. Plus, because of the generosity of our Jardiniere friend, we'd also get to circumvent the $15 corkage fee per bottle of wine. Everyone brought wine, and it was fun to drink wines ranging from Robert Mondavi to Charles Shaw ("$2-Buck Chuck") at the restaurant.

The experience was a barrage of flavors, overwhelming at times. The food was fabulous, but not everything tasted terrific. Too much wine dulled my taste buds and my senses, but overall, it was a gourmet extravaganza--an experience of a lifetime.

Because we ate so many different dishes, it would be a tremendous disservice to try to describe some dishes and neglect others. Furthermore, given the deluge of tastes, images, and textures that I experienced throughout the night, I don't feel that I could adequately do justice to any of them. However, being the "obedient" food blogger that I am, I did snap plenty of pictures, so that you can still get a visual taste of the dishes I sampled that night. (The quality of the pictures varies based on whether I used flash, and unfortunately, I didn't use the flash consistently.) Also, although we all shared the appetizers, we ate our main courses individually. However, not everyone tried every appetizer. Consequently, I can't remember what I didn't try, so here is my "best" attempt at labeling the pictures:

First Courses

Maine diver scallops with sautéed mushrooms, smoked bacon, Italian parsley and toasted almonds

Salad of little gems lettuce with chioggia beets and parmigiano-reggiano and green goddess vinaigrette

Duck confit with salad of marinated le puy lentils and heirloom oranges, red wine-honey reduction

Duck liver mousse with garlic croutons and housemade pickles

Gnocchi (I don't remember the full name, but I remember it was "gnocchi.")

Mackerel (I don't remember the full name, but I remember it was "mackerel.")

(I have no idea.)

Arugula, endive and frisée salad with roquefort, grained mustard vinaigrette

(Again, I am dumbfounded. What is this?)

Tombo tuna “crudo” with olive oil poached cardoons, mediterranean cucumbers, crispy fennel and tonnato sauce (I think.)

Second Courses

Hoffman ranch breast of chicken with rapini, capers, chanterelle mushrooms and meyer lemon potato mousseline, natural jus

Red wine braised beef shortribs with horseradish potato purée and herb salad

Petrale sole with Pacific shrimp, artichokes, fingerling potatoes, tomato confit, and lettuce emulsion (This is my main course. It was "okay," but not great. The fish was a little overcooked, and the flavors were bland. But doesn't it look dee-lightful?!?)

Dry aged New York steak with slow cooked broccoli, garlic and lemon, fingerling potatoes, niçoise olive jus

Wild mushroom and potato pavé with local chanterelle salad, caramelized onion and red wine-mushroom sauce

Third Courses

Apple pie à la mode

Carrot cake à la mode

Bonne bouche platter

Creme brulée

Housemade ice cream

Lemon meringue “Napoleon” with passion fruit sauce, macadamia nut tuile

Bittersweet chocolate cake with port-sour cherry ice cream

It was an hour-and-a-half past midnight when we left the restaurant, as the sole stragglers in the building. We had arrived around eight o'clock. Our "lengthy" meal at Jardiniere was diametrically opposite from our reception and treatment during Dine About Town. (When we dined at Rubicon, we were literally in an out in about an hour.) However, at Jardiniere, although we left late, we left with stomachs full with a memorable meal and with hearts full of happiness.

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