Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are You Voting for Hillary, Obama, or Comments?

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind! I am discovering so many amazing food blogs and making many new blog friends over the internet! Unfortunately, there is one downside to all of this--blogging is getting to be pretty consuming. One of the ways I was thinking about easing the blog workload, was no longer replying to the comments on this page. If a reader has a question, I will answer in a reply comment on your blog or send a response email. I will continue to comment on your blogs, and you are welcome to continue to leave a comment on my blog so that I can "discover" your site, if I haven't done so already. What do you think?

I am very, very grateful for those of you who do leave comments (I read them all and laugh and enjoy every sentence), but I know that are many people out there who read this blog and don't leave comments and don't read the comments section at all. I am just trying to get a "feel" for what people think. Please vote using the poll below and let me know what you think. Also, I am also adding these pictures of dim sum (sia jiao shrimp dumplings and shao mai pork dumplings) as an incentive to vote!

Update: Thank you everyone who took the time to weigh in on this issue and share your thoughts with me. I read and mulled over everything that you said, and discovered that the most meaningful and insightful thoughts shared with me about "commenting" issue, were through the comments themselves. That made it even harder to come to my ultimate decision. From now onward, I am going to try replying to all the comments as a group, with a "Hi everyone," and responding specifically to certain questions within the comments. However, I want to note that I love reading and commenting YOUR blogs and will continue to so. Thank you friends for your input and for your support. I appreciate your friendship and readership.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gladly Wanting Seconds at Tartine Bakery

After being inspired by the "Single Guy Chef's" recent visit, I decided to pay a visit to the famed Tartine Bakery, located in the artsy-fartsy and culinarily gifted Mission District of San Francisco.

The usual line snaking out the door of Tartine moved relatively quickly because I randomly struck up a conversation with a customer behind me. The customer informed me that Tartine Bakery was "dubbed the best bakery in the United States by the New York Times" and I would be in for a "real" treat. He proceeded to launch into an arousing speech about Tartine's pastries--his glowing speech was worthy of a standing ovation.

As I listened to his mouthwatering descriptions of Tartine's legendary pain au chocolat, my appetite increased like a grizzly bear's and I hungrily clasped onto the menu with my sweaty hands until my knuckles were white. I remember responding, "Gulp. For lack of a better response, that sounds reeeeal good sir."

Meanwhile, I slowly ascended forward in the queue.

Before I knew it, I was at the front of the line and directly facing the worker standing behind the glass counter. I furiously and studiously scoured the menu with a furrowed brow. There were a plethora of decadent dessert options: cake interlayered with ganache, passion fruit bavarian cake, flourless chocolate mousse cake, and open-faced croque monsieur sandwiches. The longer I looked at the menu, the more blurred my vision became. With Tartine's mouthwatering selection, I knew that there was no way I was gonna make my mind up in time for the cashier. The waiter behind the polished and spotless glass display case inquisitively raised his eyebrows at me. Again. And again. And again.

He exasperatedly inquired with a forced smile, "Are you ready yet Miss?"

I could tell that his patience was running thin, as was the patience of all the customers waiting behind me.

"Just give me a few more seconds. I guess I'll have a single order of a . . . Frangipane tart. And . . .No wait . . . Or no. . . Add a chocolate eclair to my order. No, take it off. Or you can add it back on. What the hay, put it on my order."

My hasty decision felt so rushed and uninformed.

Soon after I paid the cashier, I opened the thin cardboard boxes holding my desserts and plopped by derriere onto the sidewalk.

First up was the chocolate eclair. With the gooey, chocolate covered eclair firmly implanted between my opposing fingers, I opened my mouth wide for the taste. One bite and I found myself standing at the pearly gates with Saint Andrew, Saint Peter, and Saint Augustus.

It was perfection.

My teeth instantaneously broke the thin and airy crust covering the vanilla custard. The custard was thick, velvety, goopy, and luscious. One taste and I felt as though I was transported to the soda counters of the 1950s and was eating chilled spoonfuls "real" vanilla ice cream made fresh from the creamery. Upon closer inspection of the eclair, I spotted visible black specks of vanilla bean interspersed in the custard pudding. Furthermore, the chilled chocolate coating had formed delicate beads of condensation and looked like a glistening and bejeweled chocolate robe. Yum. That stuff is real vanilla and chocolate, yo.

Next, I cut into the berry tart.

The open slice revealed tenuous layers of crisp and buttery pastry crust that had baked until each paper-thin pastry level was perfectly golden brown. The seasonal blackberries that decorated the top of the tart had melted into the crust and had concentrated their sugary flavors during the baking process. The flaky crust had also absorbed the almond and cream filling but acted as a perfect retaining wall in compartmentalizing the unique flavors in different regions of the tart. Finally, the slivers of toasted almonds added the perfect crunch and almond flavor to the dessert.

After I polished off the items I had purchased, I looked over my shoulder at the steadily growing line. Although my stomach was more than satiated, I thoughtfully wondered: "Should I go back to the line and wait for seconds?"

Oh what the hay. . .

Monday, March 26, 2007

Working Eater Series: Banh Mi Me!

My favorite type of sandwich is the "banh mi," a Vietnamese street sandwich. The banh mi sandwich exemplifies the profound influence the French colonial empire has had on Vietnamese cuisine--it is a sandwich (a classic Western food item) that incorporates Asian elements (cilantro, pickled daikon, and green chili peppers).

To make banh mi sandwiches, start with high-quality crusty French baguette. The baguette must be cut open and toasted until warm and lightly browned at the cut edges.

Lightly smear a thin coat of mayonnaise (preferably not Miracle Whip or other salad dressings with a "tangy zip") on the exposed side of the bottom section of the cut bread.

Add lunch meat onto the sandwich, and when placing the meat into the sandwich, artfully "curl" the cold cuts into folded halves. Vietnamese families traditionally like to use the ham or turkey breast cold cuts. I would advise you never to use bologna or salami. You can also add Vietnamese-style barbequed pork, barbequed dark chicken meat, shredded chicken breast, slices of Vietnamese pork meatballs, fried egg, and crackly roasted pork skin. The sky is the limit as to the filling for a banh mi. Mario Batali added mango and lobster and I read a recipe that added seared tuna. I like to add liverwurst pâté in addition to the meat filling. Just as long as you line the exposed half of the bread with the meat until the bread is sufficiently covered, the sandwich should taste delicious.

Generously heap the sandwich with handfuls of a slaw mixture made of pickled and shredded carrots and daikon. This pickled slaw is what gives a banh mi sandwich its "kick" and unique flavor. To make this banh mi slaw, first shred carrots and daikon on the large holes of a box grater. I prefer using more carrots than daikon in the slaw. Then, cover the freshly shredded root vegetables with a dressing made of equal parts rice wine vinegar and white sugar. You can use distilled white vinegar too, but keep in mind that white vinegar is more tart and mouth-puckeringly sour, so you might want to modify the sugar-vinegar content if you use it. The slaw should taste more sweet than sour. You should marinate the slaw for at least two hours before using it. Drain the slaw well before you place it on the sandwich, and don't worry if the daikon turns orange from the carrots. Use your hands to squeeze out the excess moisture, wringing out the pickling juice from the slaw as best you can.

Add a scattering of cut jalapeno rings (with seeds included) and several full sprigs cilantro. You may also add slices or slivers of cool cucumber here. Finally, cover the sandwich with the remaining half of the cut loaf.

See how easy that was! Now go out and make yourself some delicious Vietnamese street sandwiches!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Currying Favor with Red Potatoes

I have a newfound admiration for red potatoes. With their thin red skins and supple, creamy innards, they sometimes are a perfect alternative to my first potato love, the Russet.

I am gradually substituting red potatoes in dishes where my family only used Russets. However, although red potatoes are more glamorous and are better suited for more visually appealing dishes, they are not always interchangeable with Russets.

Plus, I find myself encountering my own moral opposition when using red potatoes as a Russet alternative. Using red potatoes for potato salad?
You can definitely do that. Stews? Of course! Potatoes au gratin? Bring it on! French fries? Although there may be problems, why not? What about Mom's curry? . . . Hey, wait a minute! That would be sacrilegious. Mama always made curry with Russet potatoes, and therefore, I need to too. Plus, you need the starchiness imparted from Russet potatoes to make the base of a hearty and thick curry gravy.

Or do you?

I decided to try it out for myself.

Although there wasn't as substantial of a curry sauce as I am accustomed to, the potatoes hadn't disintegrated into a sandy slosh. The red potatoes maintained firmness and their overall shape and form. Plus, the potatoes had absorbed the curry seasonings and tasted just as flavorful as Russets.

Hmm. . . I think I'm coming around to red potatoes. All the way around.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Grass Is Greener on St. Patrick's Day

Deviating from those tasty food blogs that are featuring recipes on how to make steaming loaves of freshly-baked soda bread or hot corned beef brisket and cabbage, today, I am going to post up some "green" non-Irish foods to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day!

In school, I was one of those kids who always forgot to wear green and instead ended up wearing purplish, silver-dollar-sized bruises on my forearms from being pinched the entire day. I quickly learned to say, "I am wearing green underwear!"

Nowadays, I no longer say, "I am wearing green underwear!" Instead, I say, "I ate green today for lunch," and thus I successfully avoid the onslaught of stubby little pinching fingers. Today, I really did eat green today: green tortellini and lentils! . . . I guess you can say I have a thing for green food.

Happy St. Pattie's Day everyone!

Pressed Five Spice Tofu

Although my own attempt to live a vegetarian life failed miserably, I will always be an avid proponent of meatless meals and vegetarian options at every dinner table. Accordingly, I will always shamelessly promote tofu. Tofu is a staple in any vegetarian diet, because the ground soy beans that make up tofu provide a plethora of nutrients to a tofu-eater, the most important of those being protein.

Although almost everyone is familiar with tofu, not everyone is familiar with "pressed tofu." Unlike the ubiquitous tofu that comes in the refrigerated section of every major supermarket, pressed tofu is its unique and often neglected cousin.

Pressed tofu is actually regular tofu that has been "pressed" and drained of excess liquid. If regular tofu was the ricotta of the cheese world, then pressed tofu is the dry aged parmesan. Essentially, pressed tofu has less moisture and has to go through a few more processes to get to its final state.

Although you may purchase pressed tofu unflavored, you can also buy it infused with five spice powder. Five spice powder is an aromatic blend of finely milled spices, including ground star anise, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns, ginger, cloves, and occasionally cardamom. In Mandarin, five spice powder is called, "
wu shiang fun," or literally, five fragrant powders. I believe that the dark brown skin of pressed tofu comes from the infusion of the ground spices into the exposed surface of the tofu and the drying process.

The appeal of pressed tofu (vis-à-vis the spongy, waterlogged, and ivory-toned tofu) is that the texture of pressed tofu is substantial and astonishing meat-like. There is "bite" and resistance to pressed tofu: pressed tofu defiantly and snaps back with elasticity when you sink your teeth into it. However, similar to the traditional type of tofu, it can easily assimilate with the flavors of any dish because of its absorptive qualities.

The pictures above are of a previous recipe I posted before, but I substituted one bundle of asparagus for the okra and added one package of pressed tofu, which I cut into bite-sized strips.

I hope I have sold you on the merits of pressed tofu. I can't wait to hear whether you have tried it!

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Breakfast Haiku About Brown Rice Congee

Simple and cleansing,
Warm, soothing, and refreshing.
Congee with fried egg.

I was inspired at breakfast this morning while surfing through scrumptious food blogs and the haikus on Craigslist.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

An Everyday Pleasure #7: Girl Scout Cookies

Can you turn down a bespectacled and uniformed third grade Brownie with pleading puppy-dog eyes?
Well, my answer is no. Especially not if she armed with (and selling) colorful boxes of sugar-laden Girl Scout cookies. Like the rest of America, my favorites are Thin Mints and Samoas. Unlike the rest of America, I would knife a guy in the gut to get my yearly quota of Samoas.

If you've never sampled a Samoa, allow me explain the heavenly cookie ingredients that lead to my demented infatuation.

Samoas start with a buttery shortbread cookie with a hole stamped out the middle. Think of it as a sugary, oversized, and decadent Cherrio, if you will. Then, the cookie is blanketed in a generous carpeting of dessicated and toasted coconut flakes and enrobed with a gluey caramel adhesive. The cookie is then decorated with swirly chocolate stripes, which hypnotically beckon your lips and tongue for a sweet taste. The end result after this arduous cookie-making process is "the Samoa," the Girl Scout cookie of all cookies! And yes, I can polish off an entire box in one day!

If the Girl Scout cookie season was year-round, Samoas really would be my everyday pleasure!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Working Eater Series: Chilled Szechuan Peanut Noodle Salad

One of the first noodle dishes I learned how to make as a budding, preteen cook, was chilled Szechuan peanut noodle salad. For an inexperienced home-cook who consistently made mistakes and imprecise measurements, I found this dish to be very tasty and forgiving--even where my skill wavered. Thankfully, the ultimate outcome was always delicious.

The ample room for error allowed me to take liberties with ingredients and add what I wanted. . . But I always went back to the basics. The basics are as follows:

To make chilled Szechuan peanut noodle salad, start by whisking together a sauce combination of commercially-made chunky peanut butter, soy sauce, honey (or brown sugar as a substitute), and rice wine vinegar until smooth and all of the gooey peanut butter lumps have melted away into the silken sauce. Although I use chunky peanut butter for the preternaturally crunchy peanut particles, I would advise against using freshly ground peanut butter, because it lacks smooth and artificially whipped consistency of commercially-made peanut butter. Thus, I prefer "artificial" chunkiness to "real" chunkiness for this recipe. Yes, that's ironic.

I use equal parts of about 1/2 a cup of soy sauce and vinegar and about 1 to 1 1/4 cup of peanut butter. Also, I use about 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey, or 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar. You may use less vinegar, but taste the sauce as you go along. It should be creamy and less liquidy. Traditional recipes call for using black sesame paste, and some American-versions substitute tahini paste, but I just use double the peanut butter (the 1 to 1 1/4 cup I was talking about earlier).

As you can see below, things can get kinda messy.

As you are manually mixing the sauce, prepare about one pound's worth of dried wheat noodles. Boil the noodles until pliable and softened, and rinse them under cold tap water until cool to the touch. Drain the noodles well, and add a generous drizzle of sesame oil (two or three tablespoons) and finely minced garlic--about an entire bulb's worth.

Next, pour the sauce over the noodles, and mix until the noodles and thoroughly and completely coated.

At this point, add about five or six slender sprigs of scallions that have been minced or finely sliced on a bias. Include both the white and green parts of the scallions. You could even use the whole bundle if you wanted to. It wouldn't overwhelm the noodles. Also add about five grated carrots and one English cucumber that has been sliced into crescent, half-moon wedges.

I encourage you to add whatever fresh salad-type vegetables you'd like. I like to add crisp patches of iceberg lettuce that are hand-leafed and torn into bite-sized pieces. You may also add thin slivers of red bell pepper, slices of boiled egg, bean sprouts, and cilantro.

And that's it! It's very simple actually. But the best part is, when you taste these noodles, I know you'll be thinking, "Who needs peanut butter and jelly when you can have peanut butter and noodles?"

Oh, and for two food bloggers who tried this recipe, check out their blogs here and here!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Karahi Kid

A few days ago, I was in the mood for some great Indian food. The only quasi-Indian food I know how to make is curry carrots and potatoes. I decided to be adventurous, and audaciously decided to try an impressive dish I had tried before, karahi beef.

Although "karahi" means a large, seasoned, circular, and flat-bottomed pan--that is comparable to a wok--it also refers to a richly-flavored curry
prepared in a karahi and made with tomatoes, green chilies, and ginger.

In a wok, I stir-fried cubes of marbleized beef and white onion just until caramelized, so that the softened edges of the onions were glazed and browned. Following the recipe, I then added minced green jalapeno chilies, garlic, grated ginger pulp, a spoonful of garam masala, chopped tomatoes (with all their liquids), and bulbous chickpeas (garbanzo beans). The relatively dry curry began to metamorphosize and take on a life of its own, as the tomatoes emitted their juices and the liquid evaporated into a thick and fragrant curry gravy.

When the curry was eventually finished simmering on a low flame, I ladled the karahi over a fluffy bed of basmati rice and sprinkled it generously with chopped cilantro.

One bite and I was pleased that I tried something outside of my comfort zone. Mr. Miyagi would be proud of this Karahi Kid!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Open Sesame Oil

One last minute ingredient sure to imbue any dish with an intoxicating fragrance and deep, nutty flavor is sesame oil. This magical elixir will accentuate almost any Asian-themed dish.

Also, sesame oil will add a stunning visual dimension to any soup, because the oil accumulate into little mini, bronze-colored pools and buoyantly rise to the surface of the steaming broth.

I don't need any coaxing from Ali Baba, my mouth will open automatically at the sight and smell of a dish infused with the piercing flavors of sesame oil.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Leaving My ♥ In SF #1: Independent Coffee Shops and Street Art

When I first moved to San Francisco, I was completely, utterly, and stupendously miserable. I had relocated from a secure, comfortable, and sheltered neighborhood in West Los Angeles to the Civic Center region in San Francisco, and had inadvertently signed a year-long lease that placed me right in the middle of one of the filthiest, most crime-ridden, and most drug-infested parts of the city.

Everyday I tearfully longed for Southern California as I laid alone on the carpeted floor of my studio and listened to the clamoring rattle of street cars passing on Market Street.

I remember the day the U.S. declared war on Iraq and protesters swarmed the steps of City Hall and Federal Building. I watched from my balcony as I saw the National Guard congregate and close off the main thoroughfare in San Francisco. The National Guard formed a taut human barrier across all lanes of traffic, and were dressed full-on riot gear and armed with bulletproof armor, ballistic shields, and batons.

I remember fearfully thinking to myself, "This would never happen where I come from."

I also remember visiting the independently-owned coffeeshop a block away from my apartment, and encountering two types of people: 1) bohemians / hippies reeking of incense, with tangled dreadlocks and tattered tie-dyed clothing or 2) studious beatniks sporting rimmed glasses and turtlenecks and sipping on free trade coffee as they flipped through dog-earred pages of Foucault.

With my
US Weekly Magazine in hand and neon pink flip-flop sandals on my shivering feet, I felt like a fish out of water.

But the more I lived in San Francisco, the more I began to understand and appreciate it. It wasn't until several months after my move that I realized I had fallen in love with the City because I began to recognize it for the highly cultured and educated city it is--a city brimming with intelligence and flamboyance and ripe with character.

This past week, I strolled through my old neighborhood in San Francisco, and appreciatively reflected on how aesthetically pleasing and picturesque every building, street corner, and tuft of grass truly was. Only in San Francisco. I saw artistic beauty in everything I observed, from colored chalk drawings on the coffeeshop blackboard to the shadows projected by the palm trees at sunset.

Here are some pictures I took that day, images that I felt were particularly compelling, because they illustrate the subtle, yet remarkable beauty of San Francisco that I have come to know and love.

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