Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Weekend Fun With Family and Friends

I've been really busy these last two weeks, but finally am catching a brief break! I missed everyone!

Lots of events happened that I'd like to share about: I had a wonderful holiday dinner with my friends and their family, helped make a massive Easter dinner for hundreds (or at least 50+) of people, flew down to Southern California, and got a debilitating case of food poisoning--all in the process of two weekends! Doesn't sound like much when it is written out, but I am still exhausted!

First up, is a photo summary of the great dinner with my Southern California friends. My friends came up to spend the holidays with their family in the Bay Area, and generously invited me to join their entire family (and close family friends who earned the titles of "aunties" and "uncles") in a pre-Easter feast. My friends and I had a great time sharing and listening to stories, looking at (new) wedding pictures, catching up with one another, playing old skool Dr. Mario and Mario Cart on the Nintendo 64, and eating a sensational meal. The meal was even more delicious because of the great company (as my friend's mother wisely said).

We dined on stir-fried greens cooked to perfection with pan-toasted garlic and a judicious amount of salt and pepper; and salmon steaks stewed in a Southeast Asian-style curry, which was thickened with coconut milk and flavored with tongue-penetratingly pungent lemongrass.

In addition to those items, my friend's mother had made gyoza (potstickers). The thin, chewy potsticker wrappers were seared crisp in a sizzling and oiled pan, filled with delectably seasoned ground meat and shredded cabbage, and served with an assortment of traditional sauces bespeckled with chili flakes and bold spices.

We also dined on sauteed kale, which had been wilted in a heated and oiled pan with liberal amounts of chopped garlic.

My personal favorite of the evening was the chicken, which was made with soy sauce, sesame oil, chopped scallions, and cilantro. The chicken was bursting with juices, and was tender to the bite. It wasn't overcooked to the point of being "fall-off-the-bone," was perfectly done--thus it still had a tiny bit of resistance as you tugged the meat off the bone with your clamped teeth. The scallion ringlets and the chopped cilantro leaves had melted their flavors into the chewy skin of the chicken, and the sesame oil permeated and infused the air and the meat with sweetness. That dish, more than any that night, gave me a warm and welcomed feeling in my stomach and in my heart. That dish reminded me of home.

After dinner on Saturday, on Sunday, it was off to help out with Easter dinner!

When I arrived, the industrial kitchen was bustling with face-less hands, spoons, and knifes in a constant state of chopping, stirring, washing, mixing, whisking, peeling, and pouring. I got right to work.

It was fun to help out with seasoning the roasts, plating (if you call what I did "plating") the sliced ham, and chopping the vegetables (including piles of yellow onions, bunches of rubberband-wrapped scallions, garlic heads from several mesh bags, several pounds of potatoes, and a box full of cabbage heads). My beau got to stir the soupy and boiling spinach and cream mixture in the three-foot-high pot for 2+ hours!

The final Easter menu included: 1) creamy mashed potatoes made with sour cream, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and scallions; 2) penne pasta with a sauce of pureed sun-dried tomatoes and chopped parsley; 3) coleslaw made with chopped cabbage, corn, vinegar, and mayonnaise; 4) creamed spinach; 5) marinated beef roasts served with a red wine and rosemary reduction; 6) baked ham with a brown sugar glaze, 7) peach cobbler, and 8) chocolate brownies dusted with powdered sugar.

Hope that gave you a tiny peek of what has been going on in my life these last two weekends. Essentially, I've been having great time being a passionate eater with my friends and family!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Deliciously Dangerous Liaisons

This past Friday, a close friend of mine bought me surprise tickets to see Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, with performances by the Russian Troupe of the Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet and Orchestra. The performances (particularly that of Odette / Odile by Natalia Moiseeva) were breathtaking.

No offense to you ballet-junkies out there, but although the ballet was eyeball-poppingly spectacular (yes, there were gasps, oohs, and aahs throughout the entire affair), our pre-show dining festivities at Liaison Bistro stole the evening. At the show, we sat through three acts of absolute talent. At the bistro, we sat through four courses of "good god, I'm speechless" talent. See the difference?

Still reeling from my drunken stupor from my eating fest at the pricey Jardiniere (the restaurant of choice for ballet and symphony-goers), my friend and I decided to dine at a more economically reasonable, but still pre-show worthy restaurant. Our inquisitive Google-searching led us to Liaison Bistro or Bistro Liaison, whose owner and head chef is alumni of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.

We started with classic French onion soup, or soupe à l’oignon as the fancy-pants français like to call it.

The individually-sized soup ramekin arrived, covered in a bubbling and blistered blanket of emmenthal cheese gratiné. As soon as my soup spoon penetrated the outer layer, a volcano of steam erupted out of the opening. Within, I found a spongy slice of baguette, that was fully saturated with the thickened and reduced soup. The soup itself had powerful overtones or rich red wine and was counterbalanced with a deep, husky beef flavor.

However, the cheese was a little creepy. It smelled of burnt and frizzled hair, and the cheese was far too chewy. I would have actually preferred more "sticky" and "gooey," than "chewy." The cheese lodged in my throat, almost like a thick wad of chewed Bubbalicious or Bubble Yum gum. The longer I chewed, the more it remained a resistant, immobile, and solid mass, not disintegrating at all with each vigorous crush of my jaws. Even when I tried to swallow that mo', I still couldn't get it down without gagging.

Although the French onion soup left more to be desired, I don't attribute any of its shortcomings to the chef, but to my own underdeveloped and immature tastebuds.

Next up, was the salade niçoise, which was fantabulous. The texture of every element was right on the money. The salad came with perfectly cooked light-skinned potatoes marinated in a herb-infused extra virgin olive oil; slices of creamy, ripened avocado; sweet flaps of sliced and roasted red peppers; and hard-boiled eggs with yolks that had reached the "perfect in-between"--the yolks weren't a runny, viscous fluid, nor were they an overcooked powdery mess. Rather, the yolks were creamy, sensual, and soft.

The star of the salad was the seared tuna, which was perfectly rare within. The outside was flaky, just like a good-quality, $2.50 can of albacore tuna. The inside was moist, cool, and tender, like the sashimi you've ever bitten into. The tuna was nestled in a dainty pile of salty and concentrated tapenade made with capers and niçoise olives.

Thinking that nothing could beat the salad, our next course was delivered to our table. I ordered my main dish "off the menu," and it was the daily special of lamb shanks braised in wine and served with couscous, dried cherries, and dried currants.

Braised lamb shanks had the tender (not tough or stringy), fall-off-the-bone texture, even though there was no bone. Also, the nutty grains of couscous were distinct and not cooked into a mushy, sloppy porridge akin to bad polenta. Dried cherries and currants highlighted the sensational sweetness of the wine and were a bright contrast to the well-seasoned and savory lamb shanks.

Although we had already unzipped our pants at this point, we "had to" get dessert. Because we were already busting at the seams and overloaded with food, we ordered the crème brûlée à l'orange.

For lack of a better description, the crème brûlée was unfriggin'-believable.

Light tapping on the surface of the crème brûlée cracked open the hard candy ceiling. I felt almost like an Alaskan fisherman, breaking open the solid surface to delight in the treasure underneath.

The hardened candy brûlée was delicate enough to instantly melt away on impact to my tongue, but resistant enough to provide a brittle bite. It wasn't like one of those bad crème brûlées with thick shards of caramelized rock candy that fill the crevices of your teeth with hard and sticky fillings as you try to crunch them down.

I was at first reluctant to order the crème brûlée à l'orange, because I was afraid that the orangy flavor would overpower the crème brûlée. But the orange flavor was subtle and refined, and almost undetectable. It wasn't at all like those desserts that are reminiscent of orange-scented car deodorizers, air fresheners, or a can of syrupy and highly carbonated orange soda. Neither was it the orange color of traffic cones.

Naturally, every crème portion of a crème brûlée has a creamy, gelatin-like resistance, so that if you lightly press your finger to the surface of the custard, it will spring back up and leave no depression. However, this stuff was infinitely better. It was sooooo soft. The delicate pudding caressed and danced upon my lips, and was so silky, and creamy, that even high-quality Whole Foods organic yogurt pales in comparison.

As I scraped the last of the remaining custard out from the crevices of the ramekin, I sat back and exhaled. Dee-licious! Given that I ate myself into a paralytic coma, I didn't even have the ability to give the chef a standing ovation, but he sure as heck deserved one.

Friday, April 14, 2006

De-fense!! De-fense!! De-fense!!

Image courtesy of the Arizona Republic.

I love sports. I am one of those people who are compelled to fervently support sports teams that are based in their state, city, or region, for no reason, other than the fact that they represent my native state or country. Although fans are just spectators, being a serious fan takes serious effort. Just watch Fever Pitch, and you'll understand. Living in Arizona made me into a rabid Suns fanatic. I get so passionate, that I am willing to physically attack and verbally berate anyone who somehow violates "my" Suns team. I don't even live in Arizona anymore, and I still get overly protective of my babies.

However, I don't really care for any Bay Area team. San Francisco Giants or Oakland As? No thanks, I like the Diamondbacks and the Angels. San Francisco 49ers or Oakland Raiders? No, I've been commandeered to support the Washington Redskins by my Washington D.C. beau. Golden State Warriors? Yea right, who would support those losers?!

Well, the Bay Area is growing on me, and I think I've just found a team that I can wholeheartedly support. The Bay Area restaurants! I was surfing the internet yesterday, and I found this link:


I don't know who puts out this list, but I like the fact that team Bay Area is leading the pack at number four! But what is this? How come French Laundry is from the "USA" and other U.S. restaurants are from "New York"? What, is New York its own culinary country? Buzz off you pretentious New York trash! You think you're "all that," but my French Laundry is kickin' your crowded-Times-Square @$$! (Yea, I called your @$$ square!)

Hey, what good is a team, if there ain't a lil' rivalry?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Working Eater Series: Poor-Man's Polenta and Greek Salad

You know how when you go shopping at Costco (or your warehouse store of choice), you can end up eating the same thing for the next three weeks straight?

Costco is not for a single-person shopper. I remember the first time I bought an acre-sized cardboard tray with interlayered croissants and pastries. I thought, "This is a great deal, because I have an easy breakfast for this entire week!" Unfortunately, I painfully learned that it was not a good deal, and I learned it the hard way. I had to eat each and every one of those mo's by myself until I was blue in the face with disgust. ... Well, not every one, some of them grew a fuzzy shag carpet of green and black mold before I could finish the entire tray. That is why to this day, I can't look at croissants or pastries in good faith again.

I experience the "single-person Costco syndrome" after parties too. You never want to be the party hostess who doesn't prepare enough food. Unfortunately, overpreparation means "tons of leftovers for you to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of the week." Additionally, my Mama taught me to "Want not, waste not" the Asian way, or "If you waste food, I will disown you and those of your lineage!"

Because of my tightwad upbringing, I've tried to make eating leftovers more exciting, by innovatively metamorphosizing the ingredients into new and different dishes.

the April Fool's Feast Sunshine Fest at our apartment last week, we had one tremendous and unbearable stink emanating from the fridge.

It was the cheese.

Last week, we bought feta, gorgonzola, gouda, parmesan, romano, fontina, and of course, Kraft American singles. All of the odors combined with one another, and smelled like there was day-old roadkill marinating in our kitchen.

I heeded the orders of my roommates who said, "Get that crap outta our fridge, or get out of the house," by making a rustic rosemary and parmesan polenta and classic Greek salad with what I had left in the kitchen. These two dishes "sorta" went together, but they were quick to make and thus would be great for any
Working Eater.

For the polenta, I started by bringing a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. I slowly sprinkled in handfuls of dry cornmeal, turned the heat to a medium-low, and briskly whisked the mixture until it was creamy and silky to taste. After about 10 minutes of cooking and whisking at low heat, I then added a pat of butter, a splash of whole milk, generous amounts of finely shredded parmesan and romano cheese, and finely chopped herbs. You can use whatever herbs are in your fridge, but I like to use rosemary the best. Continue to whisk the ingredients together, to get a wonderfully creamy and rich concoction.

For the Greek salad, I used fresh and juicy Roma tomatoes and vacuum-sealed English cucumbers, both diced and sliced into edible pieces. I added a drizzle of olive oil, dried oregano crushed between my fingers, black olives, and large crumbles of feta cheese. Finally, the entire salad was doused in red wine vinegar, and marinated for five minutes.

Easy and delicious! Don't use bottled salad dressing, when you can easily make your own. Plus, don't worry about not having all of the traditional ingredients to make a dish, but use your imagination to substitute flavors, or just use what you have. That is the key to being an efficient and effective working eater.

After hungrily wolfing down the polenta and Greek salad, I was inspired to share how
easy it is to use what you have in the fridge to make a delicious meal for you and your family after a long work day.

Monday, April 03, 2006

An Appetizing April

Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day.

Not in the month of April.

No April showers. It has already rained over 26 days out of the 31 days of March in San Francisco, and I miss the sun.

To welcome April in, and to appease the sun gods to shine their favor upon San Francisco, my sister and I threw a mini party, titled the Sunshine Party. We wanted to take the gray gloom away from our lives for a brief moment, even if the dreariness was hanging ominously in the clouds overhead.

Instead of serving foods that evoked rainy-day emotions (like a steaming bowl of hot noodle soup that fogs up spectacles and makes you sniffle, or a bubbling clay pot of fiery-flavored tofu and stew), we wanted to dine on cooling salads and sip tall drinks with frosted cubes of ice clinking softly against the glass.

In the morning, when we went shopping for our event, we carefully selected vividly-colored summer-season fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, we strove to achieve an international flair to the party menu, so that we could celebrate all sunny-day foods from all cultures.

Nothing epitomizes a sunny day better than a bowlful of sweet, seasonal berries. The sugary sun-ripened berries at the supermarket were visually reminiscent of vibrant colors of summer time, and thus, they were a necessity at our party.

We next wanted to take advantage of the voluptuous and plumped tomatoes, rich in deep tomatoey flavor and bursting from the seams from the copious rainfall. We decided on two tomato dishes that would go perfect with the theme of our party: tabbouleh, a light and airy Mediterranean dish; and caponata, a hearty Italian vegetable dish.

The bulgur wheat in the tabbouleh blended and absorbed the summery elements from each of the ingredients: the cooling and crunchy cucumber, the fruity olive oil, the zesty parsley, the refreshing mint, and the ample tomatoes.

The caponata was equally mesmerizing, with the acidic aftertaste left by the red wine vinegar, the rich huskiness of the eggplant, the "bite" of the crisp celery, and most importantly, the fresh and luscious tomatoes.

We also wanted to celebrate the sun with a sampling of fresh cheeses, and we briefly entertained the idea of presenting a cheese plate with crackers. However, that would be too simple--a four cheese pasta dish would better represent the summer.

Our four cheeses included fontina, pecorino romano, gorgonzola, and parmesano reggiano. Each of them combined to make a creamy, sensual pasta, that was a luxurious reminder of a summer-time dinner with the family or green pastures with feathery grass swaying to and fro in the wind.

Indian samosas were last. We baked mashed Russet potatoes, spherical green peas, and fiery jalapeno peppers inside of crispy, crinkly phyllo dough wrappers. The roasted pockets were seasoned with coriander and cumin, and were a spicy reminder of the "heating" and the "drying" elements embraced and lauded by sun-worshippers.

As the we watched dusk approach that evening and collected the navy blue and maize-colored terra cotta sun faces for storage, we came to the peaceful conclusion that the sun shined brightly on us that day. With the success of the event, we were undoubtedly the objects of its favor.
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