Wednesday, December 27, 2006

to fill a ramekin


I'm spoiled. I mean, I still relish placing a thick slice of fresh white tuna in my mouth...biting into the sweet crunch of persimmon...swirling a tasty, full-bodied Napa Valley cabernet...but these experiences tend to happen a lot more now. It's hard to tell about them all.

But I could not let our annual Chinese fusion holiday dinner pass without comment.

Christmas was particularly good this year. This was the year that I woke up on December 24 with no recipes, no ingredients, not a single plan at all.

In my mid-morning state-of-the-kitchen assessment, I found six ramekins and a large, smooth wooden platter. And in a spirited effort to please my mother, I planned my portion of the menu around this stock of rarely-used Crate & Barrel dinnerware.

Off I went to brave the insanity that is Whole Foods on Christmas Eve (think Times Square, except people are armed with carts), sweeping up the more intriguing vegetables stacked in aisle 1, which I promptly sent into the oven to be roasted when I arrived home: eggplant, asparagus, fennel (this was blanched), summer squash, zucchini, red pepper, yellow pepper, garlic. I plated these with slices of toasted ciabatta, rubbed with roasted garlic, sea salt, and olive oil, all placed atop a bed of romaine, Kalamata olives, and cherry tomatoes, and dressed in a marinade from Gourmet:

Roasted Vegetable Marinade
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried orégano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk until emulsified.

I had heard about Roy's souffle during a recent trip to Hawaii (thanks Scott). After much searching online, I found the prized recipe at Best of LA in the food blogging community. I've tweaked the recipe a bit. I know, I know - who am I to mess with Roy Yamaguchi's famous chocolate souffle? But I actually found his version slightly too sweet. Also, I felt that the original recipe should best be doubled to make 6.


Roy's Chocolate Souffle
Makes 6 souffles

12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
4 eggs
4 egg yolks

1) Melt butter and chocolate in saucepan over LOW heat. Set aside.
2) In mixing bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch.
3) In another bowl, whisk eggs and egg yolks together.
4) Add melted butter/chocolate mix to sugar mix. Combine thoroughly with wire whisk.
5) Stir in eggs. Whisk until smooth. Place in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.
6) Coat each ramekin with baking spray. Place ramekins in a shallow water bath in a metal baking pan (water should come about halfway up the sides). Fill each ramekin 2/3-3/4 full with batter and bake for 25 minutes in preheated 400° oven on the top rack.
7) Serve with powdered sugar and fruit.

It's good. Very, very, very good.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 02, 2006

the meat project


Exactly one week ago I realized that I was dangerously on the verge of becoming vegetarian. Despite my rapidly growing list of poser Californian-isms, I decided that I would not be adding an air of tofu-lentil elitism to my image. And so I vowed to myself to make at least one meaty item a day, an endeavor that, among other things, has kept me quite busy and not blogging.

My seven-day carnivorous adventure started with a bacon frying marathon and culminated tonight in "Roast Capon with Chile Cilantro Rub". You know you've broken new ground when you repeatedly set off the fire alarm, and your roasting pan emerges from the oven a shape very different from what you recall 400 degrees ago. Nevertheless, a worthwhile exercise with rewards of wonderfully crispy skin and juicy meat. Note that I used chicken because I didn't have any cage-free capon at my disposal.

Roast Capon with Chile-Cilantro Rub
(from Gourmet with my modifications)

Active time: 45 min Start to finish: 2 hr

1 (4-lb) capon or roasting chicken
4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon pure mild red chile powder such as ground ancho
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil

Rinse capon and snip away any excess fat from cavity using kitchen shears. Pat capon dry and season with salt inside and out. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

While capon is standing, mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle. Add cilantro, chile powder, cumin, and butter and mash to a paste again.

Arrange capon, breast side up, with neck toward you, and gently work your fingers between skin and flesh of breast, working your way down to thighs. Rub one third of spice mixture under skin of breast and thighs. Rub another third of butter mixture in cavity of bird, then tie legs togeth
er with kitchen string (or not - this is done to ensure even cooking with bigger birds usually, or for aesthetic purposes).

Put capon in a buttered roasting pan. Roast in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and set oven to 450 degrees. Brush top and sides of bird with remaining mixture then return to oven (tent capon with foil if it gets too brown), until a thermometer inserted 2 inches into fleshy part of a thigh registers 170°F, about 20 minutes.

Let capon stand
20 minutes before carving.

I have very few pictures from the week, as meat takes a long time, and the reality is that I find it difficult to take my usual 100 post-cooking photographs on low blood sugar.

Tomorrow - something easy - like tuna sandwich. Or, maybe, leftover chicken with chile cilantro rub.

@ 180 degrees

Sunday, September 10, 2006

breakfast and bubbly


Entertaining in California is as good as expected. It begins with a hour-long trip to Berkeley Bowl, during which I muse over which of the 10 varieties of peaches I should buy for my cobbler, and which ones I might toss into my tropical fruit salad...

And don't even get me started on the papaya ponderings.

On the menu for this morning:
- PINK & YELLOW MIMOSAS (just launched!)
- and of course...PEET'S COFFEE

- Putumayo's Afro-Latino Party
- Buena Vista Social Club
- Pink Martini (Hang on Little Tomato)

from Gourmet (with a few adjustments)

mini bagels, halved
soft goat cheese
Genoa salami, thickly sliced and quartered into triangles
cherry tomatoes, sliced 1/4" thick
basil chiffonade
black pepper

Lightly toast mini bagels. Generously spread goat cheese over each toasted bagel half. Top with three slices of salami and three slices of tomato. Garnish each bagel toast with basil and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Not a difficult menu at all. In fact, can be done with spare time to take 3 photos for food blog before guests arrive.



Oh yes, and would you like to know what I ate yesterday? Cabernet Sauvignon. Right off the vine (talk about tannic). My visit to the vineyards has got me thinking about crushing and bottling some of my own.

BTW - Pink and Yellow do make nice mimosas. Then again, I've never met a mimosa I didn't like.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

no food

I keep saying the food updates are coming...and they are. But first I wanted to share a few pix from the road trip.

Working backwards...

Final destination: my new apt. I recently upgraded and got chairs and a bed. Fab.

This would be Tahoe. Pretty. Third prettiest lake on the trip (after Yellowstone and Michigan).

Yellowstone Upper Falls.

The bison, aka buffalo. Very cool. We had some in burger-form.

Scene of the flat: Acme, Wyoming. FYI: Verizon doesn't represent so well in the Acme vicinity.
Me and Caf: taking on the Badlands in flip flops and platforms. 110 degrees F. Nearest Starbucks 291 mi. away, according to GPS.

And this is how we roll.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

no photo

Lame, i know. The mattress is getting here on Saturday.

So the massive wine tasting part of the fun has slowed significantly (has it only been a week?), and I can finally resume my "sushi-once-a-week" resolution. (No sake necessary, thank you.)

Some favorites:
Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay
Etude Pinot Gris
Stags' Leap Petite Syrah
St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon (2002)
Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz

Must be careful not to get spoiled.

Peet's is on my way to work. Did you know that the Peet's here puts soy milk in its carafes? They put it right there on the counter, next to the half & half. Just like the regular milk. And the nonfat. Equal opportunity for dairy and non-dairy alike. Now that's what I like to see.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I started training today. I tasted 17 wines. I am learning that it's all about the art of spitting. :)

The food is amazing here, from falafel to fish tacos to bbq'ed eel on my very street - to crepes at Betty + Ben's, Kiri's lemon verbena ice cream, and prime rib of lamb at the Hudson House.

Sorry - no pix, no details, no cooking. Not until I get myself a mattress.

Sunday, July 09, 2006



Intense. Unpredictable. Extraordinary.

Nothing like an over-reactive strawberry ice cream soda and gigantic muffin to nurse the delirium of working till 4am.

These photos were taken at Cabot's Ice Cream & Restaurant, the prime location for a power lunch in West Newton, where I worked until two Fridays ago as a Design Strategist for Design Continuum. I figured I should record this experience for the team (we're really into memories and everlasting friendships and such).



pref. in center of table, far away from anything you might care about


I have finally decided to move onwards and westwards. Or more, I have finally found the courage to uproot myself from my safe and happy home of 25 years, eliminate 70% of my possessions, and drive 3500 miles across mountains and desert, all because I think I have found the right opportunity for a new adventure and career.

Over the next two weeks, my best friend and I will be driving from Boston to Berkeley, CA. At the end of the month, I will begin my new job in Napa Valley at a wine company. I am excited. I will keep you updated as much as I can.

Sunday, May 21, 2006



Last week was quite rough, but it ended brilliantly with dinner at Michael Schlow's Radius on Saturday night (thanks to my dear parents). I've been to Schlow's Via Matta in Boston - Radius is far better.

Though I've fought it for a while, I think I finally have to accept the label of "yuppie" now that I consider duck and fennel to be comfort food. My review is here on the Boston Chowhound site.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

sports, sweats & sauce


This guy I know (Andrew) writes for the Dig and the Improper Bostonian, and he did this great piece on "things to do while your girlfriend is away". It's true, a guy's got choices. Some guys watch basketball. Some dust off the old XBox from college. The more proactive types might invest in a kegerator. My friend Ping - he makes BBQ sauce.

I don't have too much back story for the making of Ping's BBQ sauce. All I know is that it involved a 4-hour shopping trip that covered 5 different grocery stores - Super 88, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Russo's, and Costco, and that the yield was massive. Ping used a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.

Ina Garten's Barbecue Sauce
from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Prep Time: 55 minutes
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (1 large onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup tomato paste (10 ounces)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan on low heat, saute the onions and garlic with the vegetable oil for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned.

Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Ping marinated his chicken overnight, and the result was tender, sweet, with just a touch of spice. I was impressed.

I later found out that Ping has considered that kegerator as well, but, after playing out the scenario in his head, realized that drinking unlimited beer every night might not coincide well with the beginning of his rotations schedule (he's a med student).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

happy pork-chops-and-ice-cream-cake to you


I turn my first quarter-century next week, and have started to wonder if this is that year when it will become increasingly less fun to welcome the arrival of any subsequent years.

That aside, I still have no problem making a big deal of other people's birthdays. My dad's was at the end of April, and we decided to cook for the family instead of risk another mediocre meal at one of Boston's many generic, overpriced restaurants (no, I am not jaded by the restaurant scene in this fine city of culinary magnificence).

It is not easy for my dad (I call him Baba) and me to share a kitchen. "I am the best chef," my dad will periodically remind me, whether he is surveying the steak he scored at Whole Foods, tasting a spoonful of his seafood soup, or pouring himself a Sam Adams. "Really. I am."


I like to create drama in the kitchen when I am cooking with Baba. "GET OUT OF MY WAY!! I NEED THE STOVE!!! arghhh...MOVE!" It's more interesting this way. My dad's too zen, and he spends 80% of his "active cooking time" on the couch, watching golf. Meanwhile, I am zigzagging, juggling my time between prepping veggies, mincing garlic, reducing sauces, rolling out and freezing dough, marinating meats, toasting almonds (I always burn the stupid almonds - arg)'s just not fair.

For his own birthday dinner last weekend, Baba prepared pan-fried pork chops (Taiwanese-style) and miso-baked salmon. I took care of salad and dessert. Yes, yes, I know - it seems unfairly balanced, but honestly, I spent way longer preparing my two courses. Pathetic, I know. (And Baba washed the salad greens, too.)


We composed our salad around a base of sliced honeydew melon and prosciutto, cushioned with frisee and arugula (my dad's favorites, after a particularly good experience at Lumiere in West Newton, MA). I topped the greens with blueberries and candied sliced almonds, then dressed everything with a blend of chili sesame oil, olive oil, cider vinegar, sugar, and toasted sesame seeds. The result was a satisfying mix of spicyness from the dressing and sweetness from the fruits and nuts. (I know it's overkill to post three photos for the separate steps I took in preparing the salad, but I happen to like the photos I took.)



on a bed of frisee and arugula with toasted almonds and chili-sesame vinaigrette

For dessert, I attempted my first-ever ice cream cake. Despite its 4 layers, it was extremely easy to prepare (though if you try it, budget for at least a half-day, to allow for ample freezing time). I followed a recipe orginally printed in Gourmet in 1991. A springform pan is a must.

Coffee Almond Ice Cream Cake with Dark Chocolate Sauce
1 1/2 cups fine chocolate wafer crumbs (couldn't find any - I used Oreos)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 pints coffee ice cream, softened slightly
1 1/2 cups well-chilled heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups crushed amaretti (Italian almond macaroons, though I used crushed biscotti)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

For the dark chocolate sauce:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 tablespoons Amaretto, or to taste (I substituted with Bailey's)

To make the cake:
In a bowl with a fork stir together the crumbs and the butter until the mixture is combined well, pat the mixture onto the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a lightly oiled 8-inch springform pan, 2 1/2 inches deep, and freeze the crust for 30 minutes, or until it is firm. Spread the ice cream evenly on the crust and return the pan to the freeze for 30 minutes, or until the ice cream is firm. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the cream with the vanilla until it holds stiff peaks (do not overbeat!), fold in the amaretti thoroughly, and spread the mixture over the ice cream. Smooth the top of the cake, sprinkle it with the almonds, and freeze the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the top is firm. Freeze the cake, covered with plastic wrap and foil, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Just before serving, wrap a warm dampened kitchen towel around the side of the pan, remove the side, and transfer the cake to a serving plate. Cut the cake into wedges with a knife dipped in hot water and serve it with the chocolate sauce.

To make the sauce:
In a small heavy saucepan combine the cream and the brown sugar, bring the mixture to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking occasionally, and boil it, whisking, until the brown sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolates, whisking until they are melted. Whisk in the butter and the Amaretto, whisking until the sauce is smooth, and let the sauce cool slightly. The chocolate sauce may be made 1 week in advance and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the chocolate sauce over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm.

I can't wait for my dad's birthday next year.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

project cornbread


If I say, "I work in West Newton", I get blank stares. But if I add "Down the street from Blue Ribbon BBQ", I get nods of acknowledgement and murmurs of envy. (This is a shared experience for many of us at Design Continuum, as I learned over yet another large platter of oysters last night).

Blue Ribbon BBQ is a local cult phenomenon, mostly because the food is really good. The pulled pork is really good...the mashed potatoes are really good...and the cornbread is awesome. My current diet regimen requires at least one large square of Blue Ribbon cornbread per week, whether as toasted croutons, baked stuffing, or crumbled into a bowl of white bean chili, simple and unadulterated.

I figured, if Blue Ribbon bakes something like 2 million squares of really good cornbread per day, it couldn't possibly be that hard for me to make 16 squares of my own.
(It was harder than I expected.)

Project Cornbread, Take 1 (shown below, right)
Variation on Joy of Cooking's Southern Cornbread
[with diced green chili peppers and corn kernels]
The crumb was moist, but the texture was light. The cornbread also lacked richness in flavor - I should have known something was up when I didn't see "butter" in the recipe. Cornbread should not be made without butter.

Project Cornbread, Take 2 (shown below, left)
Variation on Joy of Cooking's Northern Cornbread
[with rosemary and toasted pine nuts]
The butter played a nice role in rounding out the flavor and creating a crumbly texture, but omitting corn kernels from the batter (without compensating with more liquid) resulted in a dry product. Also, the additions were weird. Pine nuts are not exactly indigenous to North Carolina.


Project Cornbread, Take 3 (pictured at top)
Spicy Chorizo Cornbread
inspired by America's Test Kitchen

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 can (8 oz.) corn kernels
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly
1 medium chorizo sausage, diced

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 8-inch-square baking dish (preferably glass) with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne, and salt in medium bowl until combined; set aside.
2. Mix brown sugar, corn kernels, and yogurt until combined. Add eggs and whisk until well combined.
3. Using rubber spatula, make well in center of dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into well. Begin folding dry ingredients into wet, giving mixture only a few turns to barely combine; add melted butter and chorizo and continue folding until dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour batter into prepared baking dish; smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert cornbread onto wire rack, then turn right side up and continue to cool until warm, about 10 minutes longer. Cut into pieces and serve.

Success! A fine cornbread made with the help of ample butter and corn, plus the spice of cayenne and the goodness of chorizo.

P.S. Hooray for everyone walking in Project Bread's Walk for Hunger today!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

vote for haley house!


photography by Savannah Jacobson

Hi all,
I wanted to announce the happy news that the Haley House Bakery Café has been nominated for two CBS-4 A-List Awards!

Haley House is nominated in two categories: BREAKFAST and HEALTHY LUNCH. Look for these categories in the "CHEAP EATS" section on the CBS website. The winners will be determined by voting. So if you've enjoyed your visits to the Bakery Cafe, please go to the site and share your thoughts.

And if you haven't yet visited Haley House, I strongly encourage you to go. You will love it, I promise.

2139 Washington Street
Dudley Square, Roxbury
(617) 445-0900
Monday to Friday 7AM - 4PM
Saturday 9AM - 4PM

And look for the Bakery Cafe's new logo and menus that my team at Design Continuum recently designed as part of our pro bono brand identity project for Haley House.

Thank you!


photography by Savannah Jacobson

P.S. I cannot help but also give a quick re-cap of my last weekend of eating out. Those of you familiar with Boston would appreciate how I dedicated all three days to spoiling myself - Gigamoto oysters at B&G Oysters, a Ginger Rogers cocktail at Franklin Cafe (gin, ginger simple syrup, muddled mint, lime juice, and ginger ale, on the rocks), brunch at Union Bar & Grille, brunch at Metropolis Cafe, and finishing on Sunday with a wine pairing event highlighting French complements to traditional Taiwanese foods, held at Mulan Restaurant in Cambridge. My new discovery - a 2000 Bordeaux from Chateau La Cardonne (Medoc). Wine Spectator described it back in 2001 as "shows good berry, tobacco and cherry character, with well-integrated tannins and a fresh finish." The sommelier at Alexander Wine & Spirits says, "a mixture of spice, blackcurrant, and bilberry...round and flavorsome, introducing mineral and deliciously smoky notes." I would say that I found it "sophisticated, smooth, and really good with tea-smoked duck."

Friday, April 21, 2006

pb and t


T is for tofu. I have been practicing my own form of fusion at home.

Way before anyone was slathering hoisin sauce onto pizza dough or tossing mandarin oranges with romaine, my family was exploring the culinary frontier of East-meets-West with "Chinese Variations on Skippy".

The classic example is Shou-aie's (my "little aunt's") sandwich - peanut butter and pork sung on white bread. I have yet to meet anyone (Chinese or otherwise) who believes that this could be a good idea, but I tell you, it's genius. Visit your nearest dealer in fluffy dried pork (any Chinese grocery store) and see for yourself. I ate a lot of peanut butter-pork sung sandwiches growing up.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, or PoPo as I called her, assessed our peanut butter-pork sung-eating habits, sighed, and assumed the responsibility for nourishing our displaced family in Boston. With no cooks to rely on in the States (as she had had back in Taipei), she developed her own repertoire of dishes, relying on her memory, Chinese newspaper clippings, and the kindness of friends who included recipes in their letters.

Probably to PoPo's dismay, among all her tasteful, authentic creations, it was her quick and simple preparation of cold tofu that endured as one of my all-time favorites. PoPo granted my request for Peanut Butter Tofu only when our tofu was at its freshest (our family bought massive quantities, straight from the wholesaler that supplies the Chinese restaurants and grocery stores of Boston - Chang Shing Tofu).

I tried to replicate PoPo's recipe based on taste. It's close, but not quite right. It didn't activate my taste memory the way it would have had I gotten it perfect. I need to keep trying.

PoPo's Cold Peanut Butter Soy Sauce Tofu
1 square fresh, soft tofu ("silken" at an American grocery store)
3 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. warm water
2 scallions, chopped
sesame oil

Set the tofu on a medium-sized plate. With a sharp knife, slice into 1" cubes, retaining the tofu's upright shape. Mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, and water together in a small bowl, and smooth the mixture over the tofu. Garnish with scallions, and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve and enjoy!

My grandmother cooked with passion, and with resilience, and she lived the way she cooked. PoPo selected only the highest quality ingredients, and she never skimped in her preparation of them - if she was going to cook at all, she was going to do it right. When PoPo encountered a difficult dish, we ate it day after day, week after week, until she was finally satisfied with her results. Every day, PoPo happily spoiled those she loved, by feeding us with good food.

My grandmother's example remains a great inspiration in my life. PoPo was also a writer.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

asian fusion


"They're putting ginger and wasabi in everything these days!" lamented my friend Ping today. "And everywhere I go, there's mango on my fish."

He's right. Fusion is the food fad that won't go away. But I like mango. And I really like ginger. Fusion for the sake of fashion annoys me, but it sometimes turns out pleasant results.

I attended A Spoonful of Ginger two weeks ago, a food tasting benefit for the Joslin Diabetes Center. Given the cause - research for the Asian American Diabetes Initiative - the participating chefs, who included Ming Tsai, Jasper White, and Joanne Chang, made conscious efforts to give their dishes an Asian flair.

Joanne Chang piped ginger cream into her profiteroles. Ming Tsai topped his conch ceviche seafood bisque with crispy wonton strips.

But it was Ken Oringer (of Clio restaurant, Boston) who truly took fusion to another level with his Shiso Bubble Tea. His conception was a creative, unforced, and terrifically yummy combination of Japanese and Taiwanese ingredients - shiso-blended green tea floating atop a layer of sweet milk, suspended with tapioca pearls. He served his tea in tall shot glasses with oversized bubble tea straws. (Shiso is that jagged-edged herb that often garnishes a plate of good sushi.)

My take - fusion is worthwhile to the extent that it opens new possibilities for creating innovative and better foods. While I would have liked Joanne's cream puffs just as much filled with traditional whipped cream, and Ming Tsai's soup served with a piece of fresh, crusty bread, my Shiso Bubble Tea experience could not have been re-created in any other way.

(What I really cannot appreciate are dishes like Foie Gras Shiitake Shumai, which I once ordered at Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger. Sure, it's good. Of course it's good. But is it excitingly different from traditional shumai made with pork? Not really. Is the flavor of the foie gras completely transformed by the presence of the mushrooms? No. Is it $16 good? Really can't say...)


Monday, April 10, 2006

brownie bowl


When it comes to dessert, I like to write about my attempts at raspberry coulis and cardamom-ginger infusions. If the name sounds trendy and exotic, I will probably order it...(just throw in a flavor like rose, cayenne, or Earl Grey). Accented vowels help the cause, as do geographic references, like Mexican chocolate and Thai coconut. And I still, admittedly, believe that "flourless" means "awesome".

But Harvard Square's Pizzeria Uno, Chicago Bar & Grille is where I go for crispy fries, sugary margaritas, and my favorite dessert of all time - the Brownie Bowl. It costs $4.49 and is composed of three triangular Oreo brownies, weighed down by a generous heap of vanilla ice cream, liberal squirts of hot fudge, and a disproportionate mass of whipped cream, topped with a sunken cherry and, if you are lucky, an Oreo cookie. Every brownie bowl is different, because each one has been made by a different artist with a different style and level of apathy for his/her job. You never quite know what you are going to get.

The brownie bowl was a key part of my high school and college experience. My friends and I wagered brownie bowls. "I'll bet you a brownie bowl that George Clooney was in Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes." We bribed each other with brownie bowls. "I will buy you THREE brownie bowls if you come to my chemistry grad student halloween party." And, of course, we celebrated with brownie bowls - end of semester, end of exam, end of day. I owe brownie bowls to all kinds of people from school.

I have since found several respectable brownie bowl substitutes, most notably the Cheesecake Factory's (aptly named) Giant Brownie Ice Cream Sandwich and, more recently, Prairie Star's Double Chocolate Brownie Sundae, which I shared with my college roommates last weekend for old time's sake. Prairie Star is located on Dartmouth Street in Boston, between Back Bay and the South End. The owners' moist half-pound dark chocolate brownies are so popular that they are now available online for purchase.

And since I am in the mood for disclosing information...well if my no. 1 dessert is the brownie bowl, then the first runner-up is most definitely McDonald's vanilla ice cream cone. It is creamy, swirly, and delicious.

I promise I will start cooking again. I've been too busy eating the past couple weeks.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

old school tea


K, I admit it. Tea is a fad. Tea became a fad when we began drinking grande Tazo Chai Tea lattes out of paper cups.

But before the Body Shop sold tea tree oil facial wash, before we ordered our green tea purple with slimy gelatinous balls, and before yerba mate debuted as the new coffee for tree-huggers and hipsters alike, my mom was brewing lemon tea.

Her recipe: "Lots of lemon, lots of honey." The kettle was on the stove the moment I mentioned any kind of tickle in my throat.

I've always associated tea with having a certain healing power. Thus, when I started feeling a bit funny last week, I resisted my regular morning espresso and regrettably reached for our selection of non-caffeinated, herbal teas at work. As per usual, I began with chamomile and, as needed, moved on to the others with progressively greater virus-killing effects, sometimes indicated by the word "Zinger". I don't believe in cold medicine.

I knew things weren't getting better, however, as the frequency of my hot water runs increased and the tissues on my desk grew scarce. But I remained hopeful - on Sunday, my friends and I had reservations for the ultimate tea experience - High Tea at the Boston Harbor Hotel. If anything could beat this cold, it was three pots of mint tea, augmented by the curative effects of smoked salmon and caviar sandwiches, petite blueberry tarts, and flaky drop scones with miniature chocolate shavings.

Afternoon Tea was, indeed, exquisite. The dainty sampling of food, poised on three tiers of plates, did not disappoint. I enjoyed everything thoroughly...the orange-and-yellow rose petals scattered on our table, the sweeping view of the harbor, the overwhelming maturity and female-ness of the entire experience (quite different from our late-nights eating slices of Tommy's in the past)...but woke up the next day feeling sicker than ever.

After sulking through another day in bed, I gave in and drove myself back to my parents' home. Soon, I was cradling a mug of that steaming elixir - made with lots of lemon, lots of honey, and two thick slices of ginger. (How lucky to have my mom nearby!) I leaned my face in, breathed in the vapors, and felt my head finally begin to clear.

TIER 1 ...the quick breads

TIER 2...the sandwiches

TIER 3...the sweets

Monday, April 03, 2006

chocolate chip favor


Earlier in my blogging days, I posted a picture of Justin's French toast. Justin is still living in Beijing, but between the day of his Great French Toast Event and today, Justin did visit home and, while here, did me a huge favor. In thanks, I sent him a care package of chocolate chip cookies. (I figure he can't fill his whole food pyramid with just French toast and bacon).

They don't eat many cookies in China. Despite being over four times our population in size, the Chinese probably eat a tenth of all the cookies we eat here in the U.S. (note - this is not for work, so I am definitely making these numbers the best of my knowledge). In fact, as far as I know, few Chinese desserts are baked. They are traditionally steamed, fried, or cooked as delicious sweet soups, served hot and cold.

Further investigation has led me to discover that "cookie" is a concept entirely "Made in USA".

"Cookie" is not actually a translation of anything - it represents a baked American invention, an icon of Yankee ingenuity, most notable in its glorious form bursting with chocolate chips. It has since become a word that we lazily apply to all other small pastries and sweets of the world... (apologies, on behalf of American English, to those who bake in other countries). So now it suddenly makes sense why there are French madeleines, German spritz, Italian biscotti and Florentines, Scottish shortbread...etc.

Anyhow, enough with the words. I was excited to have the opportunity to try Marilyn's chocolate chip cookie recipe from her blog cauponilla. She, in turn, found this recipe on page 776 of The Best Recipe. I have made more than my share of chocolate chip cookies in my time but could not resist giving this one a try, seeing as it has stood up to the rigorous scrutiny of America's Test Kitchen. I am re-posting the recipe below.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts/pecans (which I omitted, per request)

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips and nuts to taste.
4. Drop heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet 2 1/2 inches apart.
5. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, the outer edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy, 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a wide metal spatula.

Not a bad cookie at all. I am happy to be using recipes posted by fellow bloggers, and am wishing that there were some smart central site that compiled all of these recipes into a friendly, searchable database...with a pretty interface.

A brief note about the practicality of sending cookies to China...the cost of shipping equals something around the value of 150 spicy roasted lamb skewers plus two beers in Beijing...and twice that in a city like Xi'an.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

bloggers and maps


Hi everyone.
I've decided to try and initiate the creation of a Frappr map for food bloggers around the world. I am excited and awed that I have been receiving visitors everywhere from San Francisco and Chicago to Malaysia and Greece. Fellow food bloggers - please add yourself to the Food Bloggers group that I've created on Frappr. I think it will be interesting for us to have a visual representation showing just how global the community is.

Make sure you type in the name and URL of your blog when you fill out your profile, so others can visit your blog by clicking on your map pin!

Food Bloggers Group Map

Sunday, March 26, 2006

blogs and mags


I really think food and design are highly correlated interests. Just like travel and languages. Or videogames and sports.

Matt lent me an issue of Eat, the ultimate in funky food magazines, which, to my dismay, printed its final issue in 2004 (I learned this after extensive Googling...which eventually brought me to fellow blogger Santos's The Scent of Green Bananas...thanks Santos!). Matt picked up Eat in San Francisco back in April 2002. The fact that he's held onto it since says something. This magazine is cool.

While the magazine was published in Tokyo, contributors hailed from both Japan and beyond (primarily the UK). The result was a globally-oriented publication with a bipolar sense of humor (a mix of dry British wit and Japanese irony, which, as a reader, you keep wondering if you should attribute to something having gotten lost in translation).

This particular issue, themed "Adventure", covers all topics between the evolution of the plastic fork (with a good amount of discussion dedicated to the origins of the spork) and the opening of Ichiran ramen restaurant in Tokyo, where customers can savor a full bowl without ever speaking to another soul (they order electronically and eat in individual cubicles, or taste concentration booths). Eat also recommends a good Malaysian chicken curry in Washington, D.C. and features interviews with Jane Goodall ("Pursuit: Monkeys") and Akira the Hustler ("Pursuit: Sex Work") about the foods they eat.

The back-end of the magazine features two fine-looking multicultural urbanites modeling Prada and LV while eating rice balls and strawberry pie. This is followed by a detailed page of weight and volume conversions, listed by type of food, including fresh breadcrumbs vs. dried breadcrumbs and grated parmesan vs. grated cheddar.

Random, yes, but Eat captures just about everything I like through some fantastic writing - travel... fashion... design... people... cooking... and of course, food. I'm thinking I might just have to eBay those back issues.



Monday, March 20, 2006

susan's red lentil spread


I have a lot of cookbooks. Chocolate cookbooks, retro cookbooks, cookbooks dedicated to the tart, Vietnamese cookbooks, yeast-based cookbooks, cookbooks for friendship, cookbooks for speed, cookbooks for Germans...But I rarely use any of my own cookbooks. As much as I delight in discovering them, buying them, receiving them, trialing them, and displaying them, I eventually tire of them. And in the end I'd much prefer using yours.

Reading someone else's cookbook is like watching their dog for a day. It's a fun and random peek into their lives.

Last week, Susan let me borrow Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw. It's a heavy book, with no photos and only a few graphics of vegetables printed in green. (It was thus not a cookbook that I would have ever picked up on my own, as I am a great sucker for food porn.) Susan had marked the page for chuncky chickpea soup with a recipe ripped from a magazine for quinoa salad with apricots and pistachios. Chocolate buttermilk cake was tagged with a slanted xerox for sweet zucchini-spice bread. I have a new admiration for Susan's alternative sophistication in food and know that I would eat happily should I ever be invited to dinner at her place.

I chose an easy recipe, given that I had just about everything in stock, with the exception of red lentils, which, like every single other type of bean, nut, grain, and spice, can be purchased in bulk at my neighborhood Harvest Co-op.

Red Lentil Spread
(adapted from Diana Shaw's Essential Vegetarian Cookbook)

2 tsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 1/2 tbsp. finely minced ginger root
3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 cup uncooked red lentils, rinsed
2 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp. of the cilantro, cumin, and turmeric. Reduce the heat to medium and saute, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lentils and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until lentils are cooked through and all the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Check often after 10 minutes to make sure that they aren't sticking (if so, add 1/4 cup water, stir, cover, and continue cooking).

Mash the lentils with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in lemon juice and salt to taste. Let the spread sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Before serving, stir remainder of fresh cilantro into spread.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

the quest for a better muffin


This is my first muffin post since the inception of Bribe Me with a Muffin.

It is difficult to explain why we like the muffin, just as it is difficult to explain why we like long, hot showers or, say, George Clooney. We just know we do, and, rather than deconstruct the reasons, I prefer not to spoil the magic and just live it.

Twenty-four years in Boston have led me to some pretty good muffin finds throughout the city.
Petsi Pies's blackberry peach crumb muffin is superb (Petsi Pies is on the Cambridge/Somerville border). Sorelle Bakery & Cafe in Charlestown also does a nice job (I prefer the quaint location on Monument Ave.), as does Appleton Bakery Cafe in the South End (banana chocolate chip). And of course, I must mention Haley House's unique line of all natural and wholesome muffins. My personal choice is the pumpkin bran, topped with organic pepitas. While I am at it, I will also note that one of my most memorable muffins of all time was this piece of work from a cafe in the Upper East Side in NY (the name of this place escapes me at the moment - it was the type of place that had a serious thing for stainless steel). Memorable, partially because the muffin was indeed tasty, but more so because it set me back $4. Oh, New York.

Anyhow, I digress. There are thousands - maybe millions - of muffin recipes out there, many of them bad. I've been through my share of dispiriting let-downs. There's always something wrong - too cakey, too dense, too dry...I have high standards for muffins, and I always have my eye out for something better.

Joanne Chang, a personal heroine of mine, runs Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston's South End. Joanne Chang is my heroine, because she is a Harvard applied math/ec major turned management consultant turned pastry chef/ restaurant owner. Flour is both hip and cozy and turns out excellent baked goods (not to mention a highly satisfying curried tuna sandwich). Food and Wine featured Flour as the Best New Bakery in Boston in 2001.

Fine Cooking recently printed Joanne Chang's muffin recipe. I adapted it for mixed berry muffins. This one's a keeper.

Mixed Berry Muffins
(makes 12)

3 1/2 c flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 c granulated sugar
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 c. whole milk
1 c. whole milk yogurt or sour cream, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 c. mixed berries, fresh or frozen (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)

Put rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease top of standard 12-cup muffin tin and line with paper or foil baking cups.

In a large bowl, sift the first four ingredients and mix well. In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, butter, milk, yogurt/sour cream, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold gently with rubber spatula until dry ingredients are mostly moistened (a few lumps and streaks of flour are ok). Fold in berries.

Use an ice cream scoop or ladle to scoop the batter into the muffin cups. The batter should mound higher than the rims of the cups by about 3/4 inch.

Bake until the muffins are golden brown and spring back when you press the middle, about 20-30 minutes. Let the tin cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes.

The result is a worthy example of what is perhaps one of the most versatile and pleasing baked goods to ever come out of the American kitchen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

sand and dirt: equally delicious


So they've got the BBC, and we've got CNN. They ride the Tube, I take the T. They take responsibility for the Spice Girls, and we for the Backstreet Boys. They eat English trifle, and I have my sand cake.

I happily came upon this recipe for sand cake whilst searching online for beach-inspired foods.

Sand cake is the ideal party cake. It is meant to be messy and is thus easy to serve (ideally with a plastic shovel). It's a fun conversation piece. And best of all, you really can't screw it up. The only point to note is that it needs to sit in the fridge for several hours prior to serving.

Sand Cake
(many variations exist - this is G+Siri's version)

2 packages (3.5 to 4 oz. each) vanilla-flavored instant pudding
4 cups milk
1 container (8 oz.) nondairy whipped topping
1 package (15 oz.) chocolate-chip cookies, broken into quarters
2 cups vanilla-wafer cookie crumbs, divided
Gummy lobsters, shells, flip flops (if you can find them - use fish if you cannot)
Candy rocks
Paper umbrellas

In a large bowl, whisk pudding mix into 4 cups milk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping, then fold in the chocolate chip cookies. Spoon half of the pudding mixture into a clean 2-3 quart plastic beach bucket (or glass trifle dish). Sprinkle with half of the vanilla cookie crumbs. Decorate with some of the candy items. Repeat the layers. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow the cookies to soften. Decorate the top with gummy candies, candy rocks, and paper umbrellas. Warn your guests that candy rocks can be hard on the teeth (sorry Peter!).

This fabulous example of sand cake above was made by my fabulous roommate Siri.

FYI - For those of you who may be wondering - sand cake is indeed the lesser-known relative of the other sediment-based cake, dirt cake. Dirt cake is similar in spirit, but with a few notable substitutions. It is made with crushed Oreos and chocolate pudding and topped with gummy worms. It is best served in a flower pot with a trowel.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

the second best thing that's ever happened to a twizzler

(thank you Peter for the photo)

There are a lot of things I like in this world.
But there are more things that I could potentially like.

In our last post-sushi candy run to CVS, something new and different caught my eye - Twizzlers Twerps on display, front and center, orange and pink. Immediately, I thought of Twizzlers Sourz, those bite-sized "sour-coated chews" to which I developed an alarming addiction late last year. After my first taste of that sour berry blue, I knew I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was taking down an unnaturally large number of Sourz in a single sitting. I began making up false reasons to visit my purveyor, with my trips always ending up in the aisle with that cheery neon packaging.

I wasn't heading down a good path, and I knew it. After several weeks, I painfully resolved to cut myself off. I vowed not to buy any more Sourz. The decision brought a moderate degree of suffering early on, but eventually I did stop thinking about Twizzlers Sourz altogether.

Until that day. When bags and bags of Twizzlers "Twerps" lay before me. My regular sources of sugary delight - Snickers, Reese's, Twix - none of those seemed to matter now that I had been enticed by these "tangy filled chews".

I caved. I bought the Twerps. They weren't as good as Sourz (I'm not sure if anything will ever be). But I still ate too many.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

parallel giant baking


40 mph winds and temperatures with a high of 20 transformed an exciting Saturday of beginner snowboarding lessons into an intense and gnarly day of baking.

Amanda, Cafa, and I first consoled ourselves with breakfast at Sound Bites, a somewhat overrated but still highly satisfying neighborhood joint in Somerville. (I've been spoiled by San Francisco, where places like Chloe's Cafe have made whole wheat walnut toast and farm-fresh berries a standard part of the hangover brunch...)

We then moseyed our way into the Saturday scene at Market Basket, which is completely different from what you might find at the local Whole Foods (Cantabrigians sampling cheeses after yoga) or Shaw's (MIT grad students towing personal shopping baskets on wheels). Market Basket is frenzied. Market Basket is disorienting. Market Basket is wholly human and astoundingly cheap.

I could have spent hours wandering the aisles, but my companions kept us focused on our mission. We gathered the necessary ingredients and headed home, and for the next couple hours dedicated our full attention to our chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting and chocolate hazelnut bars.

Since my visit to Magnolia Bakery in the West Village last month, I have been thinking about the meaning of the quintessential cupcake. Ostensibly, Magnolia's does make the quintessential cupcake - simple flavors, deftly frosted with a thick, sugary smear. But they also make a big to-do of your entire experience in their store, which, unfortunately, takes away from the cupcake's innocent charm (note the bouncer at the door). The price of fame, I suppose.

Our chocolate cupcake recipe came from Martha Stewart, and our peanut butter frosting was the classic healthful mixture consisting primarily of peanut butter, butter, and confectioners' sugar.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cupcakes
(makes 12)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or soy milk, room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

1. Place rack in center of oven and heat to 350°. Line cupcake tins (regular size) with 12 paper liners; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine cocoa, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, milk, egg, and vanilla. Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed, beat for two minutes. (I did this by hand.) Add boiling water and beat to combine (batter will be thin). Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners.

3. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting

3 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk or soy milk

Combine butter and peanut butter in a medium bowl, and beat until smooth (an electric mixer helps, but we did it by hand). Gradually mix in the sugar and vanilla. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is smooth. Beat for a few minutes for it to get fluffy.

Don't frost the cupcakes until they are cool! We topped our finished cakes with chocolate nibs made from crushed chocolate chips. (We had trouble getting them to stay on the frosting, so we sprayed each cupcake lightly with vegetable oil first.) The end product was delightful and a joy to eat. As Amanda described, it was just moist enough to be good, but not so dishonestly moist as a cupcake from Duncan Hines. (Better than a mix - it's a low bar, but the unspoken goal of anyone who takes the time to make brownies or chocolate cake from scratch.)

Meanwhile, we also took on the challenge of developing our own chocolate hazelnut bar recipe, which I will not share with you just yet, as it is still somewhat a work in progress. I will say, however, that should you be without a food processor, Cafa has found it useful to keep the household tool chest handy by the kitchen.

(a work in progress)

For a savory complement to our nutritious lunch, we added freshly popped popcorn, which our very resourceful Amanda made in a brown paper bag, and I buttered and seasoned with garlic, chili pepper, and salt.

Overall, the day was schwank, and I am beginning to wonder why Parallel Giant Baking has yet to be included as an event in the Winter Olympics. Would it be against the rules to seek sponsorship from KitchenAid?