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 up...to 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