Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sunday Brunch Meme

On every possible occasion, I try to incorporate eggs into my meals. For instance, in light and brothy noodle soups, I slip in a large chicken egg right before serving, so that I can enjoy a delicate, oozing, and poached surprise in my steaming soup bowl. In salads, I love to garnish my leafy greens with slices of hard-boiled egg. Even warm pastrami and sauerkraut sandwiches on rye bread taste better with fried egg. In fact, I even put eggs into my oatmeal! Thus, when I was recently tagged by Freya and Paul at Writing at the Kitchen Table to participate in the Sunday Brunch Meme, I eagerly leapt at the opportunity to feature one of my favorite breakfast/brunch item: the eggs-cellent omelette. Although I don't have brunch often, when I do, I must serve and consume eggs. Without eggs, brunch is simply not brunch. Rather, it is a belated lunch--an awkward "blunch," and not "brunch."

When I make omelettes, I serve them with two indispensable sides: creamy slices of buttery, ripened avocado; and roasted potatoes seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil, crushed peppercorns, and coarse granules of kosher salt.

I love how omelettes take on whatever characteristics that you assign them. You can elevate the entire "feel" of an omelette by adding a milky dollop of creme fraiche and a half-a-teaspoon-full of caviar, garnishing the omelette with crumbles of blue cheese and bacon, or wrapping an omelette blanket around warm chevre and sprinkling the omelette with chopped chives ringlets.

There are many alternative ways to prepare omelettes. Some people just bring a large stock pot of water to boil, and drop in ziploc bags filled with beaten egg and other ingredients into the hot water. The omelettes are done when the egg solidifies. You just use a slotted spoon to take out the plastic egg bag, and "pop" the omelette out of the bag onto a plate.

Other people combine the eggs and omelette ingredients, and fry everything together as one large egg pancake with the ingredients interspersed within the pancake.

Finally, others follow the traditional way, and cook the ingredients and egg separately. I follow this method of making omelettes.

My tips for making omelettes, is to first begin with a Teflon non-stick pan. Add one tablespoon of canola oil, and turn the heat on high until the oil is shimmering. Cook the omelette ingredients until softened. You may use any ingredients you wish, including diced bell peppers, minced red onion, crumbled bacon, chopped ham, diced tomatoes, or sliced mushrooms. Then, set the cooked ingredients aside and wipe the pan with a damp terrycloth towel. You can also cook the ingredients in an entirely different pan, but if you cook it in the "omelette-making pan," you don't have to wash as many dishes.

Next, heat the non-stick Teflon pan again on high heat and add another tablespoon of canola oil after any water on the pan has evaporated. Then, add two large eggs, that have been whisked (or beaten with a fork) until the yolks and egg whites are evenly incorporated. Pour the egg mixture onto the hot pan. Use your wrist to turn the pan by the handle until the bottom of the pan is completely coated with egg. As the egg cooks, use a wooden spoon, heatproof silicon spatula, or bamboo chopsticks to lift up the cooked portion of the egg and to allow the uncooked egg liquid to leak onto the surface of the hot pan. Then, with a spatula or with a rapid motion of your wrist, flip the scrambled egg pancake so that both sides of the pancake have had an opportunity to touch the bottom of the pan. Now, add cheese (if you wish) and the cooked ingredients on top of one half of the egg pancake. (If you like your omelettes on the "drier" side, don't add the juices that have excreted from the cooked vegetables. I actually like to add these juices to my omelette, as evidenced by the picture below.) Let the omelette cook for a little longer, so that the cheese has an opportunity to melt. Then, fold the omelette onto a plate by tilting the pan with the side with the filling over a plate, and then letting the omelette fall onto the plate. Before the omelette completely falls off of the pan onto the plate, use the pan to move the "naked" side of the omelette to cover the side of the omelette with the ingredients.

Sprinkle the omelette liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dinner Night at the Movies

Hi there. . . I know that you're probably thinking, "Where the heck have you been?!"

Well. . .

1. There was that week-long vacation to Las Vegas, Nevada.
2. Work has been overwhelming.
3. Although I said I wasn't going to watch anymore NBA games, I ended up tuning in for "brief," one hour portions of each game in the Finals.
4. I'm intimidated by the growing "To Post" folder filling with food images and I haven't yet had the time to set aside to write anything that is not a rambling mess. (But I promise that once I get my act together, I have several restaurant review posts and recipe posts in the pipeline!) Until then, I am just going to post some random, non-post related food pictures of a soupy, watered-down version of red braised pork butt.
5. I discovered social networking sites, and I end up surfing those sites until my pupils are dilated and my eyes are so dry, they can't even be restored with Visine.

But, I am going to pull myself away from those unimportant parts of my life and dedicate some quality "me with food" time with my food blogging friends!

But, I am not going to talk about eating or cooking food. I want to use this opportunity to encourage you to go and see Pixar's latest animated film, Ratatouille. One of my friends is an animator at Pixar, and he actually worked on this film. Although he finished work on the film a few years ago (when it was still in the "animating stage"), both he and I are understandably excited about its impending release.

This past weekend, my animator friend and I had an opportunity to talk to me about
the recent New York Times article about the movie, and he gave me the low-down. (By the way, the article was in the food section of the newspaper, and not the entertainment section, and the article indicated that the movie earned Thomas Keller's unequivocal endorsement and approval.)

In our conversation, my animator friend told me that food is one of the most difficult subjects to animate, because it must not only look realistic, but it must also look appetizing. And, as the article indicates, the human mind is hard-wired to immediately recognize real food. That makes sense if you think about it, because our great-great ancestors survived by distinguishing between the edible berries and the poisonous or rotten berries. But, getting back to the movie: I've heard that this movie is so well-animated, that you'll be amazed at the uncanny detail, from the individual grains of risotto, to the discrete, golden-brown flakes of buttery croissant. Furthermore, my friend told me that after watching the film, your hunger pangs will be at full throttle. In other words, if you are even on this site, that means you'll enjoy the movie! My friend also informed me that although the film had a distinctly bourgeois and metropolitan flair (as opposed to the previous Pixar film, Cars), it would appeal to a wide audience, which means you, me, her, and him!

The beau used to work in the film industry, so I know how important it to spread the word to promote movies. I hope my spiel was convincing enough to pique your interest in the film. And if it wasn't, I hope that the random pictures of a poor man's red braised pork soup somehow did the convincing on my behalf. Let me know if you watch the movie! I'd love to hear what you think!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Eye Exam Time: Is the Better Choice One, or Two?

Right now, I am suffering from a form of food blogger's writer's block, or the "inability to generate new posts." It is not that I don't have the ideas for new posts, I am just to lazy and busy to think of something meaningful. I do have the raw materials though. I have photos: vivid close-ups of syrup-drenched hotcakes, glistening and grill-marked beef steaks, and golden glazed donut rings. . . It is just I am at a loss for words in terms of describing them in an interesting or provocative way. I just have unformed ideas, languishing about in my head and drifting about lifelessly.

I attribute my current "mashed potato brain syndrome" to the fact that I am just a tad burnt out from the events of this month and the last. The beau and I have been three "significant" birthday celebrations, two weddings, and one family reunion the last three weekends. And yes, work has been a little hectic lately.

So instead of an enjoyable-to-read, substantive post, is it okay if I open this time up to a question and answer session? What do you think about using flash versus using no flash? I am trying to get a feel for whether I should make the investment into a better camera that can take crisper, non-flash pictures.

Is the food less attractive with a glaring flash bulb, or is it accentuated with the "soft" light from flash?

Here are some flash and non-flash photos of wedding food from a wedding the beau and I attended in South San Francisco. What do you think?

At the wedding, we started with a salad of mixed greens, walnuts, radicchio, orange segments, goat cheese, and a vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar. The salad plate was decorated with thin slices of apple, which arranged symmetrically like fan blades. The salad itself was contained in mandoline-shaved sheets of cucumber.

Do you like the picture of the greens better with flash, or no flash?

For our wedding appetizer, we feasted on an intricately-layered, exploding, filo dough flower, that was stuffed with a cornucopia of vegetables, including bell pepper slivers, julienned carrots, and sliced mushrooms. The crispy package sat atop a luscious pool of a mushroom-based cream sauce.

Which do you prefer? Flash or no flash?

For the main entree, the beau and I both had grilled filet mignon, sprinkled with coarsely chopped herbs. The filet came with cupcake-sized serving of cheesy potatoes au gratin, shrimp sauteed in a parsley and cream sauce, and steamed zucchini squash and golden wax beans.

Do these pictures change your mind in terms of liking food pictures with flash or no flash?

Finally, in addition to the wedding cake, the bride and groom also offered a palate cleansing sorbet, made of cloyingly sweet raspberries.

Thank you for taking the time to offer your input. And thanks for putting up with my drivel while I gradually get my act back together. I will be back soon, I promise!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Five Favorite Places to Eat in San Francisco

I have really been enjoying the memes that Tigerfish has been tagging me for! The object of her most recent meme is to list my five favorite restaurants in my hometown, the City of San Francisco. Here are my five favorite places in San Francisco, in no particular order. These places are not high-end, but they are places I feel comfortable going to on a regular basis with great food. If you are a tourist, I recommend you to stop by the Ferry Building and "peruse" the foodie atmosphere there, but these five are definitely worth your visit and your money.

Tu Lan: Although this is a recent discovery for me, every experience at this restaurant has been a extraordinary one. Touted as "Julia Child's favorite restaurant in San Francisco," the image of Julia Child scrawled across the cover of the menu is an endorsement to be remembered. You will always hear two things about Tu Lan: 1) the considerable portions of food served and 2) the rock-bottom prices. Although Tu Lan is in a relatively seedy area of the City (read: "non-tourist friendly") and it is a sticky-table dive in the truest sense, it is the best value in the City for great Vietnamese. My favorite item there, is the refreshing chilled noodle salad, or bun cha gio thit nuong, which comes dressed in a spicy fish sauce and lime vinaigrette. The cha gio (fried imperial rolls) are substantial, cylindrical hunks of oil-crisped rice paper wrapped around ground meat. Dizzam! Those cha gio are a force to be reckoned with! (By the way, the pictures in this post are from Tu Lan.)

#2. La Mediterranee: In the Fillmore District of San Francisco, this tiny restaurant is flanked by colorful boutiques with glistening glass windows that showcase flowing mesh skirts and dangly artisan jewelry. You can work up a hearty appetite after perusing what the neighborhood shops have to offer and then feast on soft and chewy pita breads that are kept warm in cloth napkins. The pita breads are partnered wonderfully with La Mediterranee's flavorful extravaganza of thick and creamy Mediterranean dips, made with ingredients such as chickpeas, eggplant, or tart Greek yogurt. Check out a recent post of mine on my lunch at La Mediterranee, here.

#3. Chutney: This is my all time favorite Pakistani restaurant, I cannot say enough about the creamy, rich, and tomatoey sauce in their chicken tikka masala. I was one of the first patrons of Chutney on the day they first opened, and will be a patron of this fantastic restaurant until . . . Well, forever! Other "must try" items include bengun bharta (which is made with softened cubes of tomatoes and eggplant) and garlic naan (which is served piping hot and liberally sprinkled with roasted garlic and fresh cilantro).

#4. Café Bastille in Belden Place: Belden Place is a quaint, cute alleyway bordering Chinatown and the Financial District in San Francisco. Belden Place contains restaurants that are San Francisco's closest equivalent to the bistros on the cobblestone streets of Europe. Strings of white Christmas lights dangle wistfully across the skies and outdoor chairs and tables line the length of the alleyway. The alongside the tables are glowing heater lamps that warm your relaxed shoulders on chilly evenings and open-faced umbrellas that provide a blanket of shade on sunny days. My favorite restaurant in Belden Place is Café Bastille--I love it because of the croque madame sandwiches, with the blistered and enveloping gruyere surface and the glistening and runny egg yolk that oozes oh-so-gracefully over this classic open-faced French ham sandwich.

#5. Marnee Thai: Walking into the restaurant, you will immediately notice several things about this comfortable place. First is the hatch-patterned bamboo façade on the walls. The second is the numerous plaques and certificates decorating those walls. Those awards are for winning international competitions for pad thai. And yes, I said "international" competitions. Their awards for the pad thai are extraordinarily well-deserved. This place seriously has the best pad thai outside of Thailand. The flavors in the pad thai are delicate and arousing, with the perfect amount of tartness and sweetness from the tamarind paste. The noodles are also immaculately textured--mildly agglutinative but firm enough to be discrete, separate from the other noodle tendrils. For more on the deliciousness that is Marnee Thai, please one of my previous posts on the restaurant.

Additionally, if you are lucky enough to have transportation around the City, check out Shanghai Dumpling King for the best Chinese meat dumplings in the entire City. Try looking up the MUNI bus lines for easy public transportation access from where you are staying (if you are a tourist). It is definitely worth the trip. Also, for good Chinese food in Chinatown, don't just stop in any old place. There are many tourist traps with really bad food in Chinatown. I recommend R and G ("RNG") Lounge, which is a pricier place, but their Chinese food is no-fail. Definitely amble down North Beach for some Little Italy dining. Finally, for cheap and delicious banh mi sandwiches, check out Saigon Sandwiches in the Tenderloin District. Oh yes, and for a touristy taste of San Francisco's sourdough bread, check out Boudin Bakery, where you can get affordable clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

And I would love to hear other people's take on San Francisco restaurants. For other San Francisco places, check out my posts tagged with "San Francisco Eats." For this post, I would like to tag my wonderful food blogging friends who write:

Taste Tests (see her list here)
The Short Exact Guide
Cooking with the Single Guy (see his list here), and
The Food Hoe (see her list here)!

As for all of my meme tags, even if you are tagged, feel no obligation to write a response. I understand you are busy. However, I would love to learn what restaurants earn your seal of approval. Also, if you were not tagged but are interested in this meme, let me know!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dropping the F-Bomb in the Kitchen

And by "f," I mean failure.

After recently forking over $9.00+ for an inadequate bowl of soondubu at my staple Korean tofu house, I vowed to learn how to make soondubu at home. Soondubu is a hearty and spicy Korean tofu soup served bubbling hot in a specially insulated bowl. Soondubu always comes with two other components: 1) a bowl of steamed calrose rice and 2) a large egg that you crack into the soup, so that the egg solidifies into custardy wisps before your very eyes.

After receiving verbal soondubu instructions by a Korean friend who grew up making and eating soondubu, I felt ready to take on the challenge. My friend told me, "Honestly, it is not that difficult. You just make a soup of clams, green scallions, silken tofu, and add one spoonful of spicy Korean pepper powder per serving. Serve it with one raw chicken egg."

Easy enough. Her instructions sounded simple, and most importantly, difficult to screw up.

But I managed to do just that. Screw up, that is.

First, I was unable to find any pepper powder at the local Asian specialty store. However, an industrious scouring on the internet revealed an alleged substitute: for each teaspoon of Korean pepper powder, use one teaspoon of paprika and one teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder. I asked a Korean friend at work about the substitute, and she viscerally scrunched her nose in disgust and squinted at me curiously. Instead, she volunteered another substitute: crushed red chili pepper flakes.

Upon rushing home and inspecting my cupboard, I discovered an empty container holding a few lone crushed pepper flakes, an unopened vial of paprika, and a small pouch of cayenne powder. If I wanted to make soondubu that night, I didn’t have enough crushed red pepper flakes, but I did have enough paprika and cayenne powder.

As I stood in front of the cupboard debating with myself whether to use the substitute spices, I remembered a lesson I learned about paprika during a cooking class. My cooking instructor advised me never to substitute regular paprika for Hungarian paprika, because the paprika powder sold in stores is bland, pulverized dust that has been leached of all its flavor by the arid cupboard atmosphere and its musty particle board interior. I heard her voice echoing in my head as I peered into the dimly lit cupboard. Deciding to go against my better instincts, I justified to myself, "Well, the paprika will only lend a deep crimson color to the soup and not any discernable flavor, so I might as well try it anyway."

After methodically adding the ingredients according to my friend's instructions and bringing the soup to a bowl, I diligently watched the gurgling pot with the tofu cubes bobbing up and down.

However, it honestly appeared grotesque. There were tenacious specks of red powder that resolutely refused to dissolve into the boiling soup and the soup became thicker and thicker. As I stirred my imitation soondubu, I thoughtfully noted to myself, "Gee, this opaque gravy looks nasty."

One sample sip and my mouth was taken aback by the simultaneous shock of the bitter and sweet overtones of the soup.

But I continued to saunter forward.

"Maybe the taste will boil away," I told myself reassuringly.

When the soup and the clams inside finally finished cooking, I ladled portions of the soup into bowls for the beau.

It looked better and smelled much better. In fact, it looked downright edible! I served the beau his portion of soup and expectantly waited for his vehement approval. Instead, upon one slurp, he spat back into his bowl and shrieked in an accusatory tone, "Did you use sour milk in this?!"

Dissatisfied and humiliated, I threw up my exasperated hands in disgust.

Less than a few seconds later, the soondubu ingredients sloshed down into the abyssal void for unbearable foods: the garbage disposal. As the churning, whirring, and grinding mastication mechanism of the garbage disposal brought my meal to a close, I realized, "I hate wasting food." But when it tastes like that, "I hate eating it too."

Lesson learned: Do not substitute paprika and cayenne chili powder for Korean chili powder.
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