Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Glimpse of Sun-Shine: Mediterranean Entertaining

This week has been an extraordinarily hectic one. I haven't been posting (or even checking my favorite food sites) lately because of a Mediterranean party the beau and I have been planning and eventually threw yesterday night for group of close friends. The event involved a significant amount of prep work and shopping, but what made the party difficult, is that I had to simultaneously make time for my biggest annual commitment: the NBA Playoffs with the Phoenix Suns. When I watch Suns games, I get "in the zone," and all else in my life takes second place--including cooking and eating. To me, Suns games are more important to me than imbibing my daily requirement of water or consuming life-sustaining nutrients. Yes, I said that correctly: Suns games are more important to me than food.

But, now that I have a brief period of off time (Game 4 just ended), I want to make some time for my other commitment, my friends here at the food blog! I want to share with you some pictures I was able to take of the food at the party. Unfortunately, because I spent huge portions of my pre-party time watching Friday's game, I wasn't able to take as many pictures as I usually do, but here are some of the tastier pictures I was able to snap.

The most difficult and labor-intensive item that I made for Saturday's party was the dolmades. Dolmades are made with thin blankets of veined grape leaves, which are carefully bundled around moist filling made with steamed long grain rice. The rice filling is festooned with specks of coarsely minced mint; sweet, plump, and flavor-saturated raisins; crunchy pine nuts; and a savory blend of steaming and caramelized onions and garlic. For the full recipe, check here. For a step-by-step pictorial on how to assemble dolmades, see the pictures below:

The dolmades went perfectly with tzatziki, a cooling dairy-based salsa made with thick, Greek yogurt. Tzatziki is infused with the zesty and taste bud-penetrating flavors of mint and mixed with suspended, gravity-defying diced cucumber cubes. Tzatziki should be made ahead of time, to allow the flavors to imbue themselves throughout the creamy yogurt concoction.

Also, for the party, I prepared my favorite refreshing Mediterranean salad,
tabbouleh, made with a coarsely minced herb blend of flat-leaf parsley, mint, and green scallions. The salad is dressed with fruity extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest and interspersed with crumbly and absorbent kernels of coarsely milled bulghur wheat. This too should be made ahead of time, again, to allow the mixture of the flavors.

Along with the above pictured items, the party meal featured southern-cooked spinach and poached asparagus spears with lemon zest (which was cooked ahead of time, and unfortunately, not very photogenic), roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary (didn't have time take a nice picture of this) and commercially-made pita bread and

Okay, back to watching SportsCenter highlights and replays of the Phoenix Suns playoff game! You're welcome to come to San Francisco and watch with me, if you don't mind my trash talking!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Working Eater Series: Chilled Vietnamese Vermicelli Noodle Salad (Bun with Nuoc Cham)

Looking for a summery, refreshing, and unlaborious idea for dinner that can be finished in less than 20 minutes? Try this Vietnamese salad made with an ethereal dressing infused with the robust flavors of citrus, mint, and piquant chili pepper flakes. The simple yet sophisticated flavors from this salad will pirouette upon your tongue and open your palate's horizons to the multifaceted world of Vietnamese cuisine.

To make the nuoc cham salad dressing for the vermicelli bun salad, whisk 1/4 cup of high-quality fish sauce, 1/4 cup of granulated white sugar, 1/2 cup of water, one tsp of crushed red chili flakes (or one minced, deseeded, red Thai bird chili), and the juice from two limes. You may also add a bit of lime zest from the limes too. After the sugar has dissolved, add about five cloves of minced garlic and one carrot, shredded on the large holes of a box grater (not the small holes, as I did here). Adding the carrots into the dressing helps to soften them slightly and allows the carrots to absorb some of the flavor from the tangy and full-bodied marinade.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a 10 oz package dry rice noodles, and boil the rice noodles until they are soft and pliable. Be careful not to overboil the noodles because they can quickly become mushy and disintegrate. Boil the noodles for less than 5 minutes, stirring the noodles periodically to prevent them from sticking together. Keep an eye on them. After five minutes or less, immediately drain the noodles in a colander, and rinse them under cold, running water. As you rinse the noodles, use your hands to swish the noodles around in the running tap water, so that the noodles will cool completely. Shake the colander over the drain to get rid of excess water and divide the noodles evenly into large bowls.

Wash, leaf, and tear 1/4 a head of iceberg lettuce into bite-sized pieces. For more uniformity, you may also shred the lettuce finely. Also peel and thinly slice one large cucumber and coarsely chop 1/2 cup of packed mint leaves. You may also choose to add a handful or two of fresh bean sprouts and several full sprigs cilantro if you'd like. Divide the chilled salad ingredients and organize the salad on top of the noodles.

Finally, portion out the nuoc cham dressing into small bowls, to allow each person to add his or her own dressing to his or her own liking. You may also sprinkle the salad with crushed and roasted peanuts.

Wasn't that easy? Now there is just one more step: serve the salad, and enjoy it! Also, for a great recipe with barbequed pork, check out Oishii Eat's site!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Working Eater Series: Apple and Gorgonzola Panini Sandwiches

Looking for an uncomplicated way to enliven your monotonous brown bag lunches? Try this refined, bourgeois version of the ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwich.

Start with a freshly-baked loaf of herbed panini (focaccia) bread. Slice the bread into individual-sized sandwich servings. Then, use your fingers to evenly distribute crumbled gorgonzola cheese over the bottom slices of the bread.

Meanwhile, wash, core, and cut a red delicious apple into thin slices. You may also use fuji or gala apples or a bosc pear, but I'd advise against using Granny Smith apples because of their tartness. Of all the apple varieties, I like using red delicious apples the best because of the classic red color. Nestle the slices of red delicious apple into the gorgonzola crumbles.

Next, cover the sandwiches with the top half of the panini bread and place the sandwiches in a panini press or non-stick grill appliance, such as a George Foreman grill.

The sandwich should be heated on the medium setting of the grill for about five minutes or less, depending on the strength of the panini press or grill.

After five minutes, there should be parallel grill marks impressed into the surface of the bread and the melted cheese will be oozy and supple. The apples should have retained their crispness and will provide a delicate sweetness and freshness to the final grilled cheese sandwich.

This sandwich goes well with fresh fruits, such as juicy red strawberries and purple clusters of red grapes.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

In Pictures: Mad Hatter Tea Sandwiches

When I think of tea parties, I think of women dressed in outdoorsy, flapper ensembles sitting underneath spotless, wide-brimmed umbrellas. I think of starched linen tablecloths, tabletop wicker baskets brimming with freshly-baked scones, and ornate glass containers holding sugary fruit preserves. I think of pinkies saluting upward and long and tapered fingers delicately holding the handles of porcelain tea cups.

Recently, I was inspired by
Wandering Chopsticks to throw my own tea party, because I wanted to sit back and relax from the hurried and vexing stresses of this week.

Similar to
Wandering Chopsticks, I also made tea sandwiches for my party, but I added a uniquely Californian flair to the classic sandwiches. In doing so, I transformed a traditional, sophisticated tea sandwich into one worthy of the Mad Hatter. The images conjured up by my odd tea sandwich creation, were garish, gaudy, and clown-like, akin to the polka-dotted bow tie and purplish, elephantine top hat donned by Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter.

I started with a soft loaf of multi-grain bread. Using a tea cup as a stencil, I cut into the bread with tip of my knife, tracing a circular cutout into the wholesome bread. Being as frugal as possible, I used the bread ends as well.

On the bread rounds, I smeared a gentle coat of
freshly-pureed pesto.

Then, I sliced creamy avocados into thin crescent-shaped half moons and interlayered the slices on top of the bread rounds.

Next, I topped the sandwiches with crimson-colored beet slices,

And thin squares of chilled brie.

As I finished making the sandwiches, I couldn't help but to smile like the Cheshire cat at my odd creation. This tea sandwich was definitely worth of a Mad Tea Party!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ten Things I Want for My Kitchen

Just off the heels of purchasing over $250 in attachments for the beau's KitchenAid Stand Mixer, I feel like I'd have to take out another loan to be able to afford any new kitchen gadgets. Unfortunately for me, my kitchen is the size of an airplane restroom. Thus, not only can I not afford any new kitchen appliances, flatware, or dinnerware, but my crowded and compacted apartment couldn't accommodate the additional kitchen purchases anyway. I don't have many kitchen appliances to begin with: just a small food processor and a spice grinder, but I always daydream about how my life would be "so much easier" if I just had a little more help in the kitchen.

A girl can dream can't she?

Tigerfish just tagged me for a fun meme, called "Ten Things I Want for My Kitchen." Below is my list! Also, I have included some pictures of shao loeng baos and lettuce wrap filling from my recent visit Hu Chiang Dumpling House in Cupertino. (The picture at the very top is of shrimp and celery filling for lettuce wraps. The picture at the very bottom is of shao loeng baos filled with wintermelon.) Soon, I hope to be making similar meat-filled dumplings and lettuce wraps with those new KitchenAid attachments! Now getting back to the meme, here is my dream list of items I want for my kitchen (someday):

1. Newfangled Turbo-Powered, Self-Cleaning Oven (with microwave, convection, thermal, steam, and infared heating technologies to cook in less than 1/3 the time of a regular oven) - I recently read
an article about these ovens in the NY Times, and I have been lusting after these ovens ever since.

2. Mongolian Barbeque-Style Grill - I don't know how practical this would be, but I have always admired the theatrical act that chefs in Mongolian BBQ restaurants put on when they furiously chop up meat with their clanking spatulas on that heated metal table.

Also, as a side note, I want the knife skills of the chefs at Benihana.

3. Indian Tandoor Clay Oven - My mom always tells me that when she was growing up, her neighbors used to bake bread in clay ovens by pasting dough on the walls of the oven. When the dough eventually fell off of the wall, it had transformed into steaming bread and was ready to eat! As Rachael Ray says, "How cool is that?"

4. Silicone Baking Sheet and Cupcake Mold Set - Take it from Hollywood, the more silicone, the better.

5. High-Capacity Pressure Cooker - To make a honkin' pot o' beans every Sunday.

6. FoodSaver Vaccum Pack Machine - I admit, I like watching infomercials and I am completely sold on the merits of the Magic Bullet. But the FoodSaver is in a league all on its own. Can you imagine prolonging the shelf-life of cheese? Incredible!

7. Electric George Foreman-Style Grill with Interchangeable Panini Press and Belgium Waffle Iron Plates - I made this kitchen item up, but wouldn't that be cool if there was such a thing?

8. Stainless Steel Roasting Pan and V-Rack - I would love to make my own crispy-skinned chicken with a nice roasting pan and v-rack.

9. Stainless Steel Food Mill (or Potato Ricer) - Ina Garten makes food mills and potato ricers look like they are indispensable for any self-sufficient kitchen. Although I admit, they sorta look like Medieval torture devices at certain angles.

10. Le Creuset Dutch Oven - Every time I see the neon green version of these ceramic coated cast iron pots, I throw a temper tantrum in front of my beau and scream, "I want one, I want one, I want one!"

. . . And that's my list!

This meme was quite enjoyable to participate in, so I'll let you readers volunteer if you are interested in doing it! Please let me know if you would like to do this meme, and I'll tag you retroactively!

I'd like to tag Susan's food blog! She'll get back to me with her blog site!

And also, Zileel posted her ten things!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Leaving My ♥ In SF #2: Public Transportation

A few nights ago, I was coming home from a San Francisco Giants game, and I was enamored. Not with a man. Not with a food item. With San Francisco's public transportation system. Admittedly, there are plenty of frustrating, teeth-clenching delays in the daily commute schedule. And even I tire of the inherent pushiness and rudeness of the majority of San Francisco riders. However, there is a lot to be in awe of.

San Francisco's transportation lines are the life-sustaining arteries to the City. Ferries skate across the watery surface of the Bay to transport passengers to the Marin, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport System) subway whizzes commuters into a pressurized, tubular tunnel to the East Bay, and the MUNI's (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) street cars, trains, and electrical buses carry people to any imaginable destination within San Francisco.

Continuing my series featuring images depicting the beauty in San Francisco, I wanted to share some vivid photos of what San Franciscans encounter everyday when using the public transportation system.

And how could I post pictures of a San Franciscan's commute without featuring pictures of the food consumed during Happy Hour, immediately before the commute home? One of the best places for Happy Hour in the City is Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building, where they sell oysters for $1.00 each.

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