Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Post 41: Harmonious Presentation

The night before the trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, my dad prepared some simple dishes just to help celebrate the occasion.  It was probably more presentation than actual preparation, but regardless, the dishes looked very... err... harmonious... like they were all coexisting quite peacefully together.  Here are some of the more beautifully arranged dishes.

A gleaming assortment of fruit.
Green grapes, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
Fruit tastes best when someone else washes and peels it for you.

Abalone sashimi still chillin' in its shell.
Just a tiny squeeze of lemon and a hint of wasabi is enough.
This is my abalone.  Sea otters, stay away.

Ika and ikura.
The salty salmon roe on a bed of fluffy steamed white rice is a favorite.

The hexagon of appetizers.
Saltwater chicken, salmon sashimi, octopus sashimi up front.
Smoked duck with ginger, braised beef, yellowtail sashimi in the back.

Mango mousse cake.
Frances Bakery in Little Tokyo has the most fragrant and flavorful mango mousse.
Our family has been coming here for more than 25 years.

I was a very happy camper after this meal.  But watching my dad put together a meal reminds me of where my passion for food comes from.  Like father like son, I guess...

Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20101130/20101120

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Post 40: Club 33 and Disneyland (OC: Anaheim)

My actual birthday had finally arrived, and some very good friends of mine kidnapped me to the Happiest Place on Earth... somewhere I haven't been since high school.  The churros were as expensive as I had remembered... the Dole pineapple whip soft-serve was completely new to me... and the satay skewers from Bengal were simply awesome... but Club 33 trumped all.

Club 33 is located at 33 Royal Street just a few doors down from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride exit.  We found the buzzer (there are two... the lower one leads nowhere) next to the pale green door hidden between 31 and 35 Royal Street.  A receptionist answered, welcomed us in from the freezing cold, took our jackets and put us through the lift (she corrected me and said it wasn't an elevator) to the second floor.

The inside was a world apart from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans Square.  Ornate decorations adorned the walls... props from Disney movies stood in the walkways... Mickey's ears formed the finger grip of the martini swizzle sticks... there were no screaming children here, but it was still definitively Disney.

Never mind that the chicken was a bit dry or that the salmon tasted more like the char than the fish itself... the chateaubriand was awesome, and the risotto made me think twice about rice.  Mickey and Pluto were there to celebrate with me and the dozens of other birthday boys and girls in the restaurant.  I was just happy to be there with some of my favorite people in the world...

We rode our favorites, had lunch at a hidden restaurant and watched World of Color on the California Adventure side of the park.  It was absolutely freezing, which implied that it was a bad idea to ride Splash Mountain... but the absolute lack of a line beckoned us.  Three of us are now sniffling, sneezing, and hacking our lives away (someone may even have a sinus infection), but it was all worth it.

The weather forecast called for rain, but there was no rain.  Just a few clouds skipping across the sky... on the run to Space Mountain, we caught a glimpse of the full moon hiding behind the clouds.  If it hadn't been there, the smiles from the sea of children were enough to light up the night sky.

The fountains at Bellagio in Vegas were the first to inspire my return to an organically constructed body of water, but the World of Color will guarantee my return.  Apparently the World of Color gets updated every so often... will this motivate me to buy an annual pass? Smart move, Disney...

The day started off with a bit of confusion... where was I to spend the day? Clues: outdoors, need comfortable walking shoes, somewhere between LA and San Diego... there was only one place in my mind.  And it ended with nothing but certainty for me... I have the best friends in the world.

ML - 20101124/20101121

Monday, November 22, 2010

F.A.T. News 3: Foie Gras Protest at Providence

Thanks to fellow foodie Rose for linking this article to me.

Foodies will be foodies:
Animal rights activists plan to disrupt Providence dinner, foie gras menu
article by Rene Lynch, LA Times

The Animal Protection & Rescue League may have convinced certain chefs to discontinue serving foie gras at their restaurants, but it certainly won't prevent foodies and foie gras lovers from searching for foie gras elsewhere.  A foie gras lover is a foie gras lover, and the foie gras lover will find a way to consume foie gras... whether in America or France, whether through legal or illegal means.  While I am all in favor of the protection of animals and against any kind of abuse that animals endure, the protest by the Animal Protection & Rescue League at Providence sends a message that hinders their ultimate goal to protect animals from abuse.

Disrupting someone's meal is simply irritating.  Remember when telemarketers used to call the house phone in the middle of dinner time? Those telemarketing phone calls were more irritating than any kind of philanthropic solicitation at LAX or any kind of door-to-door religious coercion. 

And remember what happened to those telemarketing calls? The national do-not-call list was created as a method to maintain privacy and to end those annoying interruptions.  Almost everyone I know scrambles to register their name and number on the national do-not-call list when it's announced every year.  There are barely any rings on the land line now.  

Handing out pamphlets or brochures? Protesting at the source (e.g. farm) of the animal abuse? Sure, I can deal with that.  But when a diner is hungry and prepared to feast on his food, whether organic or abused, he will eat his food.  Any distractions, disruptions or interruptions are just irritating to the diner.  He will more likely ignore and develop animosity toward the source of the dinner's buzz kill.

It's the wrong time and the wrong place for a protest with unsightly photos of animal abuse.  Picket on Capitol Hill instead.  Put a measure on the ballot.  Protest against those who actually abusing the animals.  Don't make more enemies by ruining a diner's evening.  While it's commendable to understand the origins of the foods that arrive on the dinner plate, many foodies don't care.  Not all foodies are turning their backs on the problem.  They're just there to eat.

Since the protest already took place, I asked a source at the restaurant about what happened.  This person tells me that the protest was quite loud, but guests understood and did not send any complaints to the staff.  Props to both activists and restaurant guests for standing their ground.  But perhaps a change of location may be better suited for a protest in the future.

Good luck to the geese.  As a tribute to the beloved animals who endure the suffering in order to provide foie gras lovers with culinary happiness, I leave you with a picture of my heavenly foie gras dish from Michelin-starred restaurant Jean-Georges in New York.  And a link to the the website of a popular alcoholic beverage.  Support the geese, please.

ML - 20101122

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Post 39.2: Americanized Taiwanese - Three Cup Chicken Lettuce Wraps

For the international potluck our goal was to bring a dish that represented our culture.  I brainstormed for days... debating whether to bring something substantial like dumplings, a simple snack like Taiwanese sausages, or maybe even some sweets like boba or mochi.  I even ventured into the stereotypical fried rice or chow mein, but I decided that I must show my co-workers something truly Taiwanese.

I made a long list of Taiwanese foods that included: Taiwanese-style tamales (肉粽), braised pork rice (魯肉飯), and even oyster pancakes (蚵仔煎).  I crossed items off the list one by one, eliminating them due to pork or seafood content, level of spiciness, and of course, ease of preparation.  And when I put the final strike through the second to last item, three cup chicken was the dish that was left.  Three cup chicken is about as authentic Taiwanese as it gets... and what could be easier than dumping wet and dry ingredients together into one pot, and letting it simmer until fully cooked?

What are the essential ingredients?
Thai basil, whole cloves of garlic and large chips of fresh ginger.

So three cup chicken is three cups of what?
One cup each of soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil... simmered down to the end.

But as authentic as three cup chicken is... I still ran into a few ease-of-eating problems.

The chicken that's typically used still has a lot of bones running throughout the chicken... and that's not easy to eat at a potluck.  So I substituted bone-in, skin-on chicken with boneless, skinless chicken breast (it's healthier too), and diced them into cubes.

And I thought that lugging a big pot of white rice to work was not a good idea... so I subbed the rice for lettuce! Lettuce wrapped three cup chicken, I thought, would be a creative way to eat something very traditional... and it might get my foot in the door with my co-workers who are not as familiar with traditional Taiwanese cuisine.  (Lettuce wraps are one thing I can thank P.F. Chang's for... but the gratitude stops there.)

I subbed water for the rice wine just in case the alcohol didn't fully cook off, but it made the chicken a bit tougher than how it's supposed to be.  And using diced cubes of chicken breast rather than chunks of bone-in, skin-on chicken probably dried out the chicken a bit more than I would have liked.  The chicken wasn't tender, but it wasn't cardboard... and it wasn't anything a bit of minced water chestnuts (for crunch and moisture), green onion (for freshness), or Sriracha (for kick) couldn't take care of.

Success? For the first time making something my ah ma is pro at... yes, it was a success.

The only failure was for not taking a picture of the lettuce wrap itself.  It was topped off with the water chestnuts, toasted sesame seeds, slivers of fresh green onions, and a swirl of Sriracha.  It was beautiful.  What a fail.

Always take pictures before you eat!

Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20101104/20101028

Friday, November 12, 2010

Post 39.1: International Potluck

I work in a section of the office that has people from all different ethnic backgrounds... from Afghan to American to Pakistani to Polish.  We used this to our advantage by holding an international potluck at work.  Here are some of the dishes that my co-workers brought to the potluck... along with the five words they would use to describe food from their culture.

Sambosas and chutney

No typo there.  Sambosas are from Afghanistan, and samosas are from India.  Difference? Other than the extra letter, Indian samosas are pyramid-shaped and primarily filled with potatoes, while Afghan sambosas are flatter and are filled with seasoned ground beef.  

The ground beef filling is folded over with wonton wrappers and then fried in a wok... a wok? That doesn't seem very Afghan! The wok is used by Afghan-Americans... but what if you're Afghan in Afghanistan? You make your own wrappers with flour and water, and grab a deep kettle to fry these fantastic fried finger foods up.  Clear out the space in your stomach for Afghan sambosas.  They're ridiculously addicting.

Sambosa filling: ground beef, cabbage, onions, peas, carrots
Spices: ground coriander seed, cumin, paprika, garlic, garlic powder, salt, pepper
Chutney blend: cilantro, murch (Afghan chili) or jalapeño, apple cider vinegar, avocado

Marya's 5 words to describe Afghan food: Persian style cooking, Indian spices

Pork fried rice

Bai cha, or fried rice in Cambodian, is surprisingly similar to Chinese style fried rice.  But the rice that Cambodians use is different.  While the best Chinese fried rice is made with day-old, long grain rice, my co-worker informed me that Cambodians use a mixture of new rice and old rice.  Many claim Cambodian rice is a higher quality version of the rice from Thailand or Vietnam.  I can't tell the difference just yet, but hey, at least I know it's good.

Stir-fry ingredients: Chinese sausage, eggs, corn, peas, carrots, garlic, soy sauce

Holly's 5 words to describe Cambodian/Khmer food: simple in a complicated way

Chicken qorma with matar pulao

Mmmmm... now this is some good stuff.  Spicy food always makes me happy.  Although I was ensured that the heat on the qorma was toned down just for us non-Pakistani, non-Indian folk, it was spicy enough for some perspiration to form on my forehead... but not too much.

Vegetable oil was used instead of ghee (clarified butter) in the qorma... oil is healthier, and it doesn't congeal when it cools off the way ghee does.  The pulao, another word for pilaf, was a tasty way to soak up all the gravy from the qorma.  I liked the added touch of the peas (matar) to the rice.

Qorma ingredients: yogurt, fried onions, coriander, powdered cumin, peppercorn
Pulao ingredients: Basmati rice, peas, fried onions, cumin seed

Zeeshan's 5 words to describe Pakistani food: Just use the Wikipedia words
Wikipedia's 5 words to describe Pakistani food: refined blend of various cuisines

Pancit bihon

Ah... Taiwanese stir-fried rice noodles? 米粉? That's what I thought when I first noticed the rice noodles.  Not only are the Taiwanese and Filipino rice noodles similar in appearance, the name is similar as well... bifen in Taiwanese and bihon in Tagalog.  But the big difference, at least for me, was not just the choice of meat (Taiwanese generally use pork to make rice noodles) but the last minute squeeze of lemon right before eating.  Usually, calamansi is used for its more sour flavor (as compared to the typical American lemon)... it adds a burst of flavor that's unseen to the naked eye. 

The burst of flavor, especially the sour taste, is something that Filipinos like, and I understand why.  The squeeze of lemon at the end is like icing on the cake... it makes something already good that much better.  With this eye-opening experience with bihon, I think slices of lemon will forever accompany my bifen.

Main ingredients: bihon rice noodles, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, scallions, lemon

Peter and Lisa's 5 words to describe Filipino food: porky, vinegary, Spanish-Asian fusion

Cabbage rolls stuffed with beef
Ireland, Poland

Oooooh... how interesting.  Traditionally, cabbage rolls were a way to consume leftover food in old Eastern Europe.  It's something I've never had before, so I was quite intrigued to discover what was inside.  As I broke the cabbage leaves apart, I was surprised to discover not just beef within but grains of fluffy white rice as well.    The stuffing can be any kind of meat mixed with grains, eggs, vegetables and even the leftover bits of cabbage too small to wrap around the filling.  Covered in tomato sauce and cooked for 45 minutes in either an oven or over the stove, the cabbage rolls stuffed with beef makes a very hearty meal.  Meat, veggies and carbs are rolled into one... literally.  All that's missing now is beer.

Stuffing ingredients: ground beef, white rice, onions, tomato sauce, salt, pepper

Christina's 5 words to describe Irish food: meat and fat and beer

Texas BBQ beef

Phil's in San Diego and Lucille's in the LA area both make great barbeque, but Jon's wife Tammy barbequed up the best batch of beef today.  The meat was sweet and tangy and ever-so-tender.  I didn't even need the rolls to enjoy the shredded deliciousness.  Meat and sauce is as simple as it gets.  It may be the reason why Jon describes American food as basic... just grown on a farm.

BBQ ingredients: beef and sauce

Jon's 5 words to describe American food: heavy, filling, basic, farm food

Not featured: 
Antipasto salad (Italy) and Three cup chicken lettuce wraps (Taiwan)

ML - 20101117/20101028

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Post 38.4: Connie's White Truffle Mac & Cheese


This past weekend Connie made mac & cheese with the white truffles that Diana and I got for her birthday.  Take a look at Connie's process of making white truffle mac & cheese with a few photos:

Props to Connie for the hard work... it's nice to see birthday presents being put to good use. And props to Michelle for the garlic bread spread from scratch.  It was delish! Until next time, y'all, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20111111/20101107