Friday, October 03, 2008


Thanks for visiting Superficial Burns - I've moved to a new location where I will continue my rantings and ravings on all things food and share some details about my life as I finish my master of liberal arts in gastronomy (and food studies - which was recently added to the program's name!).

Please visit me at ConsumingLilly.com, I look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

*taptaptap* is this thing on?

I'm currently thinking about doing some revamps to the blog - maybe starting over, since I'd like to move into a different direction with it. It started as a blog to satisfy the assignment that came with my culinary school education. We were required to keep a diary of our experience so that we could reflect on what we learnt. I'm glad that we were made to do it, because so many days went by in a haze of heat and knives it would be hard for me to remember half of the fun and exciting times we had if not for the blog.

But, as I continue my classes, I'm beginning to find my passion in food lies more in a cultural/sociological frame of mind - I want to understand food, to find ways to answer some of the questions so many people have. I want to find ways to educate and explore healthier, informed options for eating. And the more I learn, the more I realize that the foreigness to fresh produce and 'natural' food is a uniquely American characteristic. Why is this? How is this? And how can we change this?

Because it is everyone's right to eat healthy, and as simple as it seems, Michael Pollan's tag line for In Defense of Food should be tattooed on the bodies of people the world over: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It's so exciting to me to talk to my classmates about this - to find an answer for making slow food, healthy food, real food, accessible to real people. I call it the single mom test. As wonderful as it would be to have everyone participating in CSAs, buying locally and learning the true meaning of organic and seasonal, it's not realistic for everyone. As a single girl living with her patient and adventurous boyfriend, working through our CSA every week requires some creativity and foresight which may not be possible if not for my (1) obsession with food and (2) knowledge and experience with cooking. Could a single mom with two young kids to feed realistically do what I do? What if she had two jobs just to support her family and most of her money gets eaten up by bills, transportation and otherwise providing for her kids? She's a hero if they have a home-cooked meal more than once a week that includes vegetables. It's hard. And not enough people get it.

Living in San Francisco for three years I was spoilt for choice - every produce you could need was grown in the area. Sometimes specific items were more affordable than others, but given the very culture of the Bay Area, there was a variety of places were organic and local options were everywhere.

Back to the single mom with two kids working two jobs... what if she lived in Queens, NYC? The corner bodega doesn't have the best options for local and organic - the only way she would know where the food came from is from those little stickers on those apples from... ??

It's things like this that make me want to understand and know more about how to make food - real food - affordable and accessible to more people. How to change the diet of so many to rely less on having meat at every meal and how to get people to understand the importance of quality over quantity sometimes.

Obviously, it hard. It's harder than most people can appreciate. In fact, I'm going to eat a young coconut right now that's neither organic or local, but it's what I want.

See what I mean? It's hard.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Quick Puff Paste

I have a confession to make: I rarely cook proper meals anymore. By proper, I mean the meals that are planned days in advance. I've never been the kind of girl that puts a whole lot of effort into meals (strange to say, I know) - I'm scrappy in that I can whip up a great meal with an almost empty pantry and fridge, but give me a well-stocked kitchen and I'm a little lost for options.

That being said, there are some times when the mood strikes and I whip up something marvelous. For those times, I like having some items in my arsenal, namely: puff paste. As random as this seems, this has been my saving grace a few times. Last minute breakfast-y items, quick tarte tatins, quiche crust substitute and Chinese dim sum egg tart crusts.

Now, obviously, being the lazy and uninspired cook that I am I have no desire to make real puff at home. The cost of the butter alone would give me heartburn. Instead, I've taken on this awesome recipe below. While it might not be 100% there with decadence, it's close enough and it rises nicely - what more can you really ask for?

Nothing, frankly. Now, go eat a croissant.

Fake puff paste
**Adapted from JJ Paimblanc

16 oz all-purpose flour
8 oz butter, not quite at room temperature, but pliable
6 oz ice cold water
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Break in butter. Mix until the texture resembles small hazelnuts. Add all the water at once and mix rapidly with your fingers, until shaggy. Dump contents onto a floured work surface. Using a pastry cutter, fold the shaggy mess on top of itself, until comes together. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until needed, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Fourth of July Cuisine

It's a pretty universal truth that the fourth of July has some of the greatest childhood memories for American raised kids. Fireworks, hot summers, watermelon wedges, ice cream, barbecues... there's absolutely no downside when you're seven and have weeks until school starts again and endless possibilities because of your hot wheels (in my case, a pimp bike).

In my case, I was able to revisit my childhood glory this fourth of July in Boston with fireworks on the Charles, hanging out on the Esplanade and eating utterly inappropriate foodstuffs. Point in case:

Ohhhh yeah. I'm not even kidding when I say it was disgusting. The popsicle was a mix of cotton candy and fruit punch flavorings, which really popped when you considered that the eyes were little blueberry flavored gumballs.

Ah, to be a kid again and be able to think this was a culinary treat.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cheese Day! in Vermont

I took a Cheese course earlier this year for school, it was a two-credit class that met once a week for two months (or so). Every week, Ihsan Gurdal of Fromaggio Kitchen, would bring in 13 different cheeses of a particular theme (goat milk, cow's milk, washed-rind, natural rind, blue, etc) and we'd power through them all trying to learn something about the most peculiar foodstuffs there ever was.

In my life I've never eaten so much damned cheese. I wanted to die at the end of every class (ESPECIALLY at the end of washed-rind week.. UGH) and when you factor in the bread, jams, honeys, and other random condiments we'd eat with the cheese, we all ate roughly 2 POUNDS of cheese (and it's associated foods) every week. That we didn't all keel over and die by the end of week five is a testament to modern medicine and science.

Anyway at the end of the class (along with a long paper about things relating to cheese) we all went to visit a couple of cheese makers (and their goats) up in Vermont to check out how cheese is made and where the deliciousness comes from!

First stop was Twig Farm to meet the its owners Michael Lee and Emily Sunderman. Michael used to work for Ihsan's shop in Boston and, I guess, that's where he got the bug for cheese making (and worship). We all carpooled there in a variety of groups, so while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive we were free to wander around and watch the baby goats play:

They were very cute and friendly, they were climbing and jumping up on everyone who stepped into the pen. I stayed away partly because I'm anti-nature, but also because we had to stay as clean as possible (I figured at least) since we were going to head into the exceptionally clean and sterile cheese making conditions.

We took turns wandering around the farm and were able to watch Michael heat, cut and basically make the cheese up to the point where he poured it into the molds. Afterwards, we followed Emily down to the aging room where she showed us the cheeses in their various stages:

Before long, we had no excuse to not hang out with the goats...

Fun fact: Goats like to rub their heads against your butt... and it feels really good!

I can't even imagine why someone would choose this life. It's an exhausting effort with no guarantee on return, no holidays, sick days or time off. That doesn't even include the massive efforts and equiptment needed to legally produce cheese in the US. I don't know that I'd feel strongly enough about anything to give up a life of relative comfort for such a intensely different life.

My hats off to these intrepid folks, the cheese is great.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hey food bloggers! Call for papers...

What better a place to promote a symposium on food AND the web than on my food-obsessed blog? Sweet harmony! I'd LOVE to see some of you there, especially the local guys!

Foodies on The Web: A Symposium on Food and New Media
January 30 - 31, 2009, Boston University

Many have argued that the Internet and the arrival of Web 2.0 (if there is such a thing) have created new forms of web-based community and interpersonal communications. This has extended into the world of food with the rise of popular food blogs, community-based websites such as Chowhound, Yelp and Citysearch, and other forms of information sharing and collaboration (e.g. YouTube, Wikis, TasteBook, and so forth).

The goal of this symposium is to explore how, if at all, these new technologies have changed the way people eat, cook, share recipes, decide where to have dinner, learn about nutrition, or simply think about food?

Topics of interest include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
§ Blogging
§ Community building tools such as Yelp, Chowhound and Citysearch
§ Online shopping (artisanal products, cooking tools, eBay, etc.)
§ Wikis
§ Web Video: YouTube, How-to's
§ Video, Web-based or other games (Cooking Mama, Diner Dash, Food Fight)
§ Non-digital interactive forms such as interactive installations or museum exhibits

We welcome all perspectives, including:
§ Explorations or critiques of the above technologies or tools
§ Discussions of legitimacy and authority around the question, who gets to write about food?
§ What is the role of a restaurant critic and food writer in the age of the web?
§ Historical perspectives in terms of how these new forms of communication fit with or extend from more traditional forms: recipe books, restaurant criticism, newspaper columns, food TV, etc?
§ Discussion of the ways these developments are seen as a threat to "traditional" media (i.e. TV, magazines and newspapers) and to "traditional" trades (i.e. restaurant critic, recipe writer, food writer, etc)

Procedures for Submitting Abstracts for Papers

Due Date: September 15th, 2008

All proposals should include:
§ Title
§ Submitter's name, organizational affiliation, telephone number, email and mailing address
§ Abstract of 250 - 500 words that describes the proposed paper.
§ Submitter's CV

All paper proposals should be submitted to the Boston University's Gastronomy Department via email to the following email address: gastrmla@bu.edu. Abstracts should be sent as Microsoft Word attachment, if possible.

All proposals sent by e-mail will be acknowledged within one week of receipt. Notification of the status of proposals will be sent by September 30, 2008.

Speakers will be responsible for their own travel and lodging. Any registration fees will be waived for speakers.

Monday, July 07, 2008


I've been totally slack lately in getting up some blog posts. There's really no excuse for it, but if there WAS, I'd submit the following:

- Summer school is a lot more time consuming than I had originally thought
- I was totally slammed at work and needed to get loads of things done before I left for a week
- I spent a week in France and an internet connection in the hotel was far too expensive
- I'm really lazy and procrastinate constantly (in fact, I'm avoiding writing a paper to write this short blog post!)

So, there you have it. Is it good enough? No, but I'll get something up soon about the trip to France, the meal at Guy Savoy in Paris, the upcoming birthday meal at a fabulous (I hope!) restaurant in Boston, and the fabulous food I've been cooking up in my kitchen thanks to my wonderful CSA.

Patience is a virtue, gluttony is a sin. I'm 0 for 2. Damn!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Review: Winchester Country Club

In the big picture of life, I generally think it's the little things that matter, because the big things are beyond your control. With that in mind, I will dedicate this entire blog post to the wonder of Chef Charles Grandon's cooking, because although it may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, it's the least I can do for his generosity and thoughtfulness this weekend.

Back story: For my final project in culinary school, we were tasked with making the "perfect meal," which, for me is an assortment of my favorite Chinese dishes: Peking duck, Red-braised pork belly and egg tarts. The actual menu ended up being a little different because I had a three-hour window to cook everything, I really wanted to try and mix things up a bit, wanted to tell a bit of a story about myself and my cooking and my 'journey' and make inexpensive, delicious food. My final meal ended up Peking duck confit, Red-braised pork back and a de-constructed Portuguese egg tart. The pork was particularly well-received and Chef Grandon asked for the recipe to use at his club.

My fab friend Kevin and I bugged the chef to go to the club until he relented (we totally did too) and we were expecting to go to the club just to taste the dish quietly in the kitchen, but amazingly, we ended up with a fantastic meal. What a great night!

We had to get dressed up because Saturday nights in the dining room require men to wear jackets, so Kevin put on a suit and I wore a white dress and walked into the most old-school, New England, upper-crust club ever. Kevin joked we'd be the only minorities in there, the Asian and her homo... he wasn't kidding. We stuck out a bit, but not so much that it distracted from the food.

We had a quick cocktail in the bar area (G+T for him, whiskey sour for me) and chatted before being escorted into the dining room. Chef popped out to tell us we should do the full menu with wine and feel free to be wined and dined. Clearly, neither of us were going to say no, so we cracked open the menu and saw this:

Is that the nicest thing ever?! Loved that he took the time to make sure that was on the menu... even if it's not a consistent item on the menu, it was very sweet of him to do it for me on the night.

Kevin and I ordered, they poured us some sparkling wine and out came the pork...

It was so good. He had left the skin on the pork so it had that chewy, thick texture that made it even more luxurious. The addition of the risotto cake and stir-fried greens made every bite taste like the perfect Chinese-food bite. A resounding success!

Next was a lovely, crisp salad before we had lamb kidney chops. They were HUGE and looked so good that it completely slipped my mind to take a photo before I had a bite, but you should get the idea:

They were HUGE and delicious and so hard to finish because it was SO much food and we were drinking a LOT of wine (and by we, I mean me, because I'm pretty sure I drank the whole bottle of 2006 Longboard Russian River Pinot Noir - awesome! - by myself).

We had a warm chocolate cake with butter pecan ice cream for dessert, which while delicious, nearly made us explode with food. We ended up chatting with Charles for a while and taking a tour of the club's kitchen and other dining areas. By time we finally left, Kevin and I were drowsy from fullness and booze and so very happy.

The big tragedy of it all was that we'll likely never eat at the club again and Charles is easily the best chef in Boston. There was a refined quality to the food that made sense and wasn't pretenous, the food was perfectly cooked and seasoned but also full of complexity, depth and flavor. It was everything a beautiful dinner should be because Charles and the great staff at the club get it... they were snooty or bitchy like the people at Gary Danko, the food was interesting, fun and delicious international fare like Masa, and, the entire experience and wine pairing was thoughtful like French Laundry.

If you ever have the chance, get a membership to the Winchester Country Club and have dinner there often... and invite me.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Guest blog: Pigs in a blanket

I've been crazy busy lately and feeling a little overwhelmed, so I tasked my other half to do some guest blogging for me this week. I'm happy to say that Jason happily stepped up and stayed true to himself by making things that are quintessentially part of who he is... so first up in his guest blogging: pigs in a blanket.


I always have enjoyed good old fashioned 'white people' food (Lilly's note: Jason sometimes forgets that he's the ultimate 'white guy'). I found out that Lilly had never had pigs in a blanket after talking about my favorite treats with her. It’s a really simple snack; all you need is pastry dough and processed lil’ wieners.

In order to make 32 pigs in a blanket you will need a 14 oz pack of lil’ wieners and two packs of 13 oz (8ct.) crescent rolls. Yes, each pre-made.

Pre-heat the over to 350F and get out two non-stick 12”x18” baking sheets. No need for oiling the sheets, these should detach once cooler and swiped up with a spatula. Ok fine, spray it, just in case.

Pop open the packs and take out the dough. Unroll the dough from its tubular shape and separate the dough wedges. With a knife cut all of the triangular wedges in half keeping a triangular shape. You’ll be left with a pointy slit on one end and a wider on the backside.

Once finished cutting you can start rolling those pigs in their blankets. Take out one wiener and one wedge, place the lil wiener perpendicular to the wedge at the wide end and roll until the narrow edge is left on top. This should be pretty symmetrical, but be creative. You can’t mess it up. As you finish rolling each, line them up on the pans. They should be uniform with space between each other. They expand about 15% when baking.

Place the sheets into the oven for 12 minutes. At that point check them to see if they’re ready. The kitchen will smell like a pastry and buttery, and the wieners will become golden brown. You may have to leave them be for an extra 3 minutes after checking on them. Also be sure to the inner section against the actual wiener is crispy. Lilly and I had the issue of a doughy inner pasty. Once cooked take out and let cool for 3 minutes.

Remove from the pan and serve with your favorite condiments.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Coquilles St. Jacques au vin blanc

Summer classes have officially begun for Boston University and while part of me is wondering if I should have taken the summer off to just enjoy life a little, part of me is excited about cooking for homework. It's a new experience and part of what drew me to the gastronomy program at BU. As one of my clients loves to say, ONWARDS!

So after finishing up last semester's food economics and policy class (and the cheese class which started half way through the semester and finished with a paper and final on Monday of this week), I've started my summer class, entitled, "Culture and Cuisine: Regions of France." The class even involves a week long trip at the end of June to visit a region of France and explore the vineyards and markets... I know, woe is me and my life of food and travel.

For the beginning part of this class, we are cooking recipes from the regions we're focusing on for that class/week, and then writing a paper on the dish and our experience cooking it. This week, our Thursday class will be focusing on the Southwest region of France, as well as the Pyrenees and Gascony, both regions feature heavy, fatty, delicious foods (hello foie!) so I was spoiled for choices. Keeping in mind the paper also needed to explain why we believed the dish to be a regional one, I chose to make coquilles St. Jaques au vin blanc (basically, scallops in a white wine sauce) from the Southwest region, which includes the Bordeaux region and emphasizes the great seafood found along the western coastline of France.

The recipe had everything: luscious scallops, salty, smoky bacon, creamy, fatty butter, and the inclusion of the region's famous Bordeaux wine - what could go wrong?


This dish was particularly spectacular (ahem - the fact that I cooked the scallops perfectly helped, AND it was my first experience with them, makes me a superstar if-I-do-say-so-myself). If it wasn't so damned costly (4 scallops = $7), I'd eat this all the time. It'd be my "oh this? I whipped this up in five minutes today" dish for guests, because not only does this delicious dish present well and taste good, it really does take like 15 minutes to pull together. BIG FAN. Big. Huge!

Important: don't skimp on ingredients, there's so few and they need to be up to scratch so your efforts aren't in vain.

Coquilles St. Jacques au vin blanc (scallops in white wine sauce)
Adapted from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking and Anne Willan's Regional French Cooking

4 large bay scallops, cut in half horizontally
1 oz butter
2 oz bacon, small chop
1 large shallot, finely diced
3 tbsp flour
1 small glass of white Bordeaux wine
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
pepper (salt isn't necessary, bacon will add enough)

Heat butter in saute pan and add bacon and shallots, saute over medium heat until bacon is lightly browned and shallots are yellow and translucent. Lightly season scallops with pepper and dust lightly with flour, patting off any excess before adding to the pan of butter, shallots and bacon.

Turn heat down to medium-low and saute gently for 5-7 minutes, turning the scallops half way through. Once cooked, remove and place on a plate to rest. Raise heat to high and add wine, stirring to remove some of the flavorful build up on the bottom of the pan. Reduce until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, add parsley and stir.

Plate the scallops and sauce, garnish with more parsley if desired. Serve immediately.

Serves two.

Also, I forgot the parsley and reckon it would have added a nice freshness to the very heavy dish of butter, scallops and bacon, all very rich ingredients.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


While there are a number of things that make me happy, on the top of that list includes two things: delicious and portable food items, and, excessively long and detailed wikipedia entries on random things. Based on those two requirements, it's little surprise that I would fall madly in love with empanadas.

What made this even better for me was that the whole time I was working with the dough, I was humming "The Girl from Impanena" and swaying. There was a very South American/Latin vibe in my kitchen for about 20 minutes until I realized that I was standing in my Boston kitchen freezing because summer has taken a sabbatical this year.

(Note: my back and arms were in so much pain the next day... if only I was in better shape and worked out more, I'd probably not be struggling the next day to do simple things like move. Or sneeze.)

I focused mostly on the dough because Jason likes to make, what I call, 'concoctions' in the kitchen. Included in this is a banana he mashes and then pours chocolate milk powder and milk over and eats/drinks for dessert or breakfast. Granted, we don't have a blender, but, I feel like even if we did it wouldn't change things much. There was another time he was feeling particularly motivated and I came home to find he had made deviled chicken drumsticks based on a recipe he'd found on cooks.com. The covering was this gross breaded-mayo disaster that was gooey and crunchy at the same time and gave me a stomachache. I had to give him props for trying something new and weird, but he lacks that common sense bone that says, "warm, crunchy mayo-y things probably not so appealing, man." God love him for trying though.

Anyway, I can't know what Jason put into the meat (and will have him guest blog about it) but I directed him to make it either have a thick sauce, or no sauce at all because there's something distinctly uncomfortable about eating a hot empanada and burning yourself on the sauce. I also said that whatever he did do had to be a strong flavor because it had to compensate for the plain flavor of the dough.

These may not have been the best in the world, but they were damned good for a first try. And Jason did a great job with the meat, especially for someone who's never had empanadas before, he really embraced the idea.

I've included the recipe for the dough below, a very simple one that I do by hand, but I'm sure it'd work in a mixer. As for meat, I honestly think you could do anything you wanted with this as long as you keep in mind the two rules I gave Jason: don't make the saucy too runny and make it a flavor punch.

Empanada dough
Adapted from Carlos Rodriguez, chef of Orinoco

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup ice-cold water
1 tsp salt

Place 2 cups of flour in a bowl, add the vegetable oil and water slowly, stirring constantly until a ball forms. Add the all the salt and slowly sprinkle the remaining flour on the dough, kneading between additions of flour. You may not need to use all of the remaining flour, just aim for something that's soft and pliable without being sticky or too shiny.

Sit to rest for 20 minutes and make the filling. While it rests, a little of the oil may leach out of the dough - don't worry about it, you can either add more flour and knead it in, or just knead it back together.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll the dough out to 1/4 thickness and cut into 6- or 8-inch circles. Fill with stuffing, lightly water the rum, fold in half and seal, pinching together both halves and crimp with a fork.

Lightly brush the empanadas with an egg wash (one egg beaten lightly with a little milk) and poke holes in the top with a fork.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Review: Lumiere

Jessica Simpson is a funny singer. Pop culture judgments aside, she began as a very disciplined technical singer: good range, on pitch, correct breathing. But she's missing something fundamental. Maybe she'll figure out that imperfection and character makes for a stronger entertainer, Britney may not be the best singer, but girl can put on a show. But what does this have to do with dinner?
Well, Lumiere is great in a lot of ways. It's priced really well for a high-end French restaurant, it's pretty, appealing and is true to form. We had the tasting menu (one with wine pairing and one without) and it was Good. Everything we were served was cooked and seasoned to perfection with flavors that complimented each other and created very harmonious bites in terms of taste and texture.

I have absolutely no complaints, yet I can't help but feel like something was missing. Much like Jessica Simpson's performances, I feel the meal lacked depth, emotion, personality and love. I think French food should evoke feelings of warmth, sensuality and passion, forcing you to rethink the way you've approached food. It should push you to crave, desire and want more because I feel like tasting menus should take me on a journey and to teach me something and to leave me thinking. I'm not likely to remember this as anything but a Very Nice Meal a year from now... is that good or bad?

Either way, it was a Good and technically perfect meal that provided me the opportunity to have wonderfully romantic dinner with my dear boyfriend.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Penang Curry

When I was watching Top Chef last week where the challenge was to make a dinner for four with only $10. I couldn't help but think how easy the challenge is because I do it just about every day. Of course, I'm not trying to impress Tom Colicchio (or any of the other judges - I don't remember them by name because they're kind of sucky) or trying to cook with a very young and inexperienced sous chef.

Do I think Andrew should have been kicked off for making curry? No. But I do think he should be kicked off for making a bad curry. The judges saying that it wasn't practical to cook curry for children because of it's spice and unfamiliar flavors but I think a child without curry in their lives is a childhood wasted!

Penang Curry

1.5lbs beef shank
1 13.5oz can of coconut milk
1 13.5oz can of coconut cream
6 Tbsp Penang curry paste
2 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp crumbled palm sugar

1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 Tbsp very thinly shredded Kaffir lime leaves
2 Tbsp crushed peanuts

Trim beef of all silver skin and place in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower temperature to low and simmer slowly for three hours. Watch it carefully and refill with water if necessary. Once done, place beef in refridgerator overnight. Slice as thinly as possible and place aside.

(Alternatively, Jason boils the hell out of the beef for a couple hours and ends up with a nice brisket-like texture. Then throws it in the fridge and does the slicing.)

In a different pot/wok, pour coconut milk and coconut cream and heat slowly over medium-high heat until shiny and little bubbles form around the edges of the milk and cream mixture, about 4 minutes.

Over medium-high heat, mix in the curry paste until completely incorporated and simmer again for 5 minutes. Add meat, bell pepper, and fish sauce, stir and simmer again for 5 minutes.

Add palm sugar and stir until fully incorporated, simmer again 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add lime leaves and peanuts. Serve immediately over rice.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Zha jiang mian (Meat Sauce Noodles)

I don't think I could function without noodles in my life. They're extraordinarily versatile, comforting and satisfying all at once and have made my life a far happier place since I was very little. I was always particularly fond of the northern Chinese noodle dish, zha jiang mian, which is a sort of Chinese spaghetti bolognase (strangely, I've never been a huge fan of actual spaghetti bolognase). The Chinese dish is a mixture of fermented soybean paste and ground pork served over a bowl of warm, chewy, fat white noodles that always seemed to perfectly trap all the sauce. It was my love of this dish that got me to expert level at chopsticks, I was so desperate to eat the noodles.

This all started because I was wandering down the aisles of the Chinese supermarket when I saw the can with the fermented bean paste my mom always liked using for these noodles from when I was little - talk about deep rooted visual memory. I decided to take it home and give it a whirl, Jason's increasingly comfortable eating the weird Chinese food things I whip up, so worse case scenario, he chokes down one meal.

I'm pretty sure every family has a variation on this dish, but this is how I ate it growing up, so it's what I think it should be, obviously, feel free to play with it. The can of bean paste I used was INCREDIBLY salty in the end (I used to whole can), and it was only slightly buffered by the noodles and fresh crunchy green. Jason would have liked more sauce to mix with the noodles, but overall it was a strong dish. I just have to figure out how to lower the salt levels on this thing!

Zha jiang mian

1 tsp cooking oil
1/2 lb ground pork
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 can Szechuan Hot Bean Sauce*
1/4 cup frozen peas and carrots mix
1/4 cup 1/4" cubed firm tofu
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sriracha
salt (you won't need it) and pepper to taste
1/8 cup julienne celery, scallions and/or cucumbers
1 package noodles, preferably wide, flour noodles

Heat cooking oil over high heat in a medium pan/wok until shimmering. Add pork and stir-fry into smaller pieces until nicely browned. Add garlic and stir-fry again for 30 seconds. Remove meat and garlic from wok, set aside.

Using the same wok/pan, empty entire can of bean sauce over medium-high and saute for a minute. Return meat to wok and stir-fry to cover with the sauce. Add tofu cubes and frozen peas and carrots to the wok and stir-fry until everything is well-coated. Add water, sugar, salt (probably not), pepper, and sriracha, lower heat and simmer for five minutes.

Top warm, freshly cooked plain white noodles with meat sauce, fresh celery, scallions and cucumbers. Serve immediately.

*This is the can of bean sauce that I used and even though it said hot, I had my doubts, which is why I added in the sriracha. I have a spicy food problem, I'm not ashamed to admit. If anyone finds a better way to cut the salt, let me know!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Banana Tarte Tatin

I love tart tatin something wrong. It's not hard to understand why, after all, puff paste, fruit and caramelized sugars are the building blocks of deliciousness.

The tart tatin recipe that I (very begrudgingly) follow is from the pastry chef instructor that came in to teach us last semester. She wasn't a bad chef, but she was always harried, rushed and uninterested in us -- it was clear she was always in a rush to get out the door and beat traffic. Excuse us for intruding on your otherwise busy life, madam! And after her outburst towards me at the end of chocolate day, I'm forced to say she wasn't much of a teacher. (Clearly, allow for a lot of bias here.)

On the day we made tarte tatin in class, I worked with Potter since we'd already worked together to make our puff paste from scratch. Making it was incredibly time-consuming, and if I was making it at home, it would have cost me a pretty penny as well. There's a lot of butter in a puff paste. But we were glad we'd made it because everyone should taste, smell and touch real uncooked puff just once in their lives. It's like velvet made from butter, it's extraordinary.

Anyway, Potter chose to make his tart tatin with bananas while I kept traditional with apples. I loved mine, but I really loved his. Bananas are so perfect for this, it's like a bananas foster without the booze (although, you could take a snifter of it on the side if you wanted). Besides, there was a lot less prep work needed in the bananas since peeling apples isn't quite as easy.

This dessert has quickly become one of our favourites at home. Jason loves sugar, fat and bananas and I love that I can make a piping hot dessert in 30 minutes that looks amazing and isn't stuffed with scary things I can't pronounce. I don't think it keeps well, unfortunately, because the crust gets soggy from the caramel, but I'm not sure -- it's never been in our house long enough to know.

Banana Tart Tatin
(Adapted from Cindy Salvato)
Cindy also mentioned that you could used apples, pears, mangoes and pineapples for this -- basically anything that is rather high in pectin.

2 Tbsp soften unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 ripe (or overripe) bananas
1 8-inch circle of puff pastry*

Preheat the oven to 425F. In an eight inch Teflon coated sauce pan (that's safe to put in the oven - no plastic handles here kids!), spread the softened butter around the bottom. It's perfectly fine to leave large clumps of butter, it will melt anyway. Sprinkle the sugar over the butter.

Take the peeled bananas and arrange them in the pan so they all fit.** Over medium-high heat, cook the sugar, butter and bananas until the sugar begins to caramelize into a dark brown -- DON'T SHAKE THE PAN! It'll disrupt how the bananas were arranged.

When the sugar has become (mostly) dark brown, remove the pan from the heat and lay the puff pastry over the top of the bananas. Immediately place the entire pan into a 400F oven and bake until the lightest color on the puff is golden brown.

Once done, remove from the oven and invert it immediately onto a serving plate. Serve (and be careful, it's very hot).

*I made my own puff pastry for this, but you can just as easily by the pre-made kind from the supermarket - no judgment! I don't even use the traditional recipe for the puff, mine's a sort of fake puff.
**Suggestion: place two full bananas to create a 'circle' on the outside of the bottom, then break the third banana in half and copy the pattern in the center. (As shown in the photo.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jan Can Too

I spent a great afternoon in Rhode Island this weekend watching Chef Martin Yan do a cooking demo at Johnson & Wales University. I've never tried anything of his, but I've watched his shows for years and years and was definitely looking forward to watching him in person and hearing his distinctive accent live.

He touched on a few topics of Chinese cuisine that I'd always wanted to learn more about: regional cuisine, international influences and transfers of the food into other countries. We also learnt a little more about his background and experiences growing up and learning how to cook -- I never knew he received a masters in food science from UC Davis. Its something I've certainly had an interest in learning more about, I only wish we had a class on that topic in this gastronomy program. I'll look into whether they offer the course online...

Anyway, he made a few dishes: duck and mushroom lettuce cups, edamame fried rice with seaweed, and sweet and sour fried fish (all from his cookbook, Martin Yan Quick and Easy). Jason thought the duck and mushroom lettuce cups looked great, if not a little too sauced, but I wasn't so convinced. We both agreed that the fried rice wasn't nearly as clean and comfortable looking as my version (obviously, you have to allow for some bias in that statement), but we liked certain touches, like the shredded seaweed on top. The way it wilted onto the hot rice made it look so good (probably much better than it really was, but that's ok).

We both agreed that the fish looked awesome (more the fish, less the sauce) and the technique he demonstrated was very cool: after dusting the cleaned and gutted fish with flour, he took a wide ladle and spread the fish over it lowering the front of the fish into the hot oil to help it take the shape, then using a separate ladle to pour hot oil over the fish.

In the end, the fish stood up on it's 'belly' and had the same shape it would have had in its natural shape. Very, very cool. I would love to try this at home and will the moment I have something larger than a toy stove in a crappy rental unit in Brighton.

He was very funny and a super nice guy (Jason thought he was a little rude to me until I mentioned growing up in Hong Kong and getting my masters at BU, but I call it being Chinese) and I have a lot of respect for how hard he must have fought to make a name for himself in this business and stay relevant. He, along with the other members of the 'old guard' are the reason things like the gastronomy program, the Food Network and all my lovely food glossies are ever possible. Is he of the same vein of Craig Clairborne, James Beard and Julia Child? No, but he's been a huge influencer in the second wave of cooks that range from high-end to street food like Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme and Daniel Boulud.

He was quite the jokester while on stage, I was cracking up every time he poked fun at Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray, particularly when he explained why he'd never be anything but a guest judge on Iron Chef America, "I don't want to embarrass Bobby Flay." Mostly though he said, "I don't need to prove anything in my career. If I win, it doesn't make me a better chef. If I lose, then I won't be able to sleep for three days!"

Take that BBQ-boy!

He was pushing his new culinary center in Shenzhen, southern China near Hong Kong, like a crack dealer, but I'm totally down to go. I'd love nothing more than to gain a deep knowledge of Chinese cuisine and techniques, maybe one day I'll be able to pass along the information as a culinary instructor for Chinese food or a Chinese food social scientist. Either way a few weeks in China, traveling and learning to cook don't sound bad to me at all.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hong shao rou

Throughout the eighties, my Mom was on a diet. It wasn't always the same ridiculous diet but it seemed similar enough for me to question my mom's sanity -- why struggle so painfully for something that's just not going to happen? It wasn't until she moved to Hong Kong and away from some of the unhealthy body image surrounding her that she would occasionally allow herself to eat something fatty.

It was around this time I finally got to eat some amazing food. To be fair, she had terrible will power and I had some yummy things growing up, but it was mainly after the debacle of the 80s dieting that things really got going. When she would 'break fast' from the diet, we would get to eat some fabulous food: curried crab, dim sum, Peking duck, fatty beef noodle soup, and my favorite, the beautiful pork dish hong shao rou, or red-cooked pork. Thick, meaty, tender and fatty, it hit every area of the satisfaction sensors in my mouth.

It's a classic high-end northern Chinese way of cooking meat, and this particular dish was one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes in the world. The man may have been a little nutty, but there was nothing wrong with his taste buds. I've seen a lot of different versions of the recipe, but the best one I've tried at home has been adapted by me from a recipe my friend Jenny shared with me from the cookbook Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook.

Part of what makes this dish so good is the different strata of fat and meat layers on each bite, so make sure you get a cut of meat that lets you have the layers you want, like pork back or belly. I used pork back in the particular instance, but I think the belly is more traditional.

Hong shao rou (Red-cooked pork)

2 lbs pork belly (you can keep the skin on) - chop the meat into 2-inch cubes
3 scallions – cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces
2-inch piece of ginger, smashed
5 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbs cooking oil
1 tbs granulated sugar
4 whole star anise
2 tbs Chinese xiao shing wine
3 tbs light soy sauce
3 tbs dark mushroom-flavored soy sauce
¾ cup water
conservative pinch of salt.

Pour oil in the wok and heat over medium until shimmering. Add sugar and stir sugar is caramelized and dark brown.

Turn up the flame and add the ginger and pork. Stir-fry for one minute, stirring the ginger and pork in the sugar and oil until well-coated.

Add the garlic and continue to stir-fry together for another 1-2 minutes. Add the scallions, the star anise, xiao shing wine, both soy sauces, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for 3 minutes, without stirring. Cover the wok and continue cooking the pork for 7 more minutes.

Add the water and bring it all to a boil again over high heat and let boil vigorously for 5 minutes before covering the wok. Drop the heat to a simmer cook for 1 hour, or until it pork becomes very soft.

Serve immediately with freshly steamed rice and fried shredded taro.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Coq Au Vin

I'd had crappy coq au vin a couple times in my life before I'd embarked on becoming a "serious" foodie. I didn't think much of it because really, the concept of chicken cooked in wine was ridiculous and weird to me. I'm almost certain I'm not alone in that belief. I was very excited, however, that we'd be doing in class last year, because I'd never known how to make it and had always assumed it was only for the very adventurous and hardcore (thanks mostly to Jeffery Steingarten - such a little drama queen). After we'd made it, I finally (1) figured out what its supposed to taste like and (2) realized it's really not as hard as I thought.

I brought home the extras for Jason and it was so deeply flavored and rich that he assumed it was beef (he's a little weird). It went over like gangbusters and anything that I can cook to add a little diversity to our menu, or, cook in advance and keep reheating all week without fear of overcooking, is always a plus, especially as I've started working full time and going to school and he's begun working in real estate where his schedule is no longer his own. It's extremely useful to have something in the oven at 200F so it's warm for dinner, whenever that is these days.

It's probably a little weird that we have proper sit down dinners every night when we don't even have a place to eat, but so far eating off our laps on the couch as proven successful. I digress...

According to JJ, the bizarre little Frenchie that taught me this dish, the depth of flavor and real color all comes from the browning of the chicken, so patience here (as with most things in the kitchen) is important. Unfortunately, if you're anything like me, patience is a hard to come by personality trait, and I can't help but constantly check and flip the pieces of chicken until I either burn myself from the splatter or I get distracted by something else. Regardless, I've made it with lightly browned chicken as well as almost-burnt chicken and didn't notice a massive difference. I'll be more patient with the dish if I ever feed the Pope, but let's be real here, it's amazing I have time to make this, I'm not going to lovingly brown anything. Pfft.

The wine you use also doesn't really matter. Well, I mean it does, but, you know. I've used a Charles Shaw cabernet at school, a beautiful Agentinian malbec at home and a random blend of leftover wines and it always tasted the same. It's a little ridiculous when people give you wine recipes and say, "use a wine you'd be happy to drink." Well, yes, but when you're poor you're level of acceptable wine is considerably lower than most. I've never really met a free wine I didn't drink, no matter how bad. Not to mention, I live in Brighton and I don't have a kitchen table. I'm using the gallon of table red that I found at the corner store collecting dust.*

Did I mention I also don't have a microwave? Yeah...

Anyway, coq au vin is perfect when cooked at home. I don't think it feels the same when I have it in restaurants so I'm going to stick to my homemade version for now. Just to mix it up though, I'll do Julia's recipe next time to see what happens.

*Of course, just as I write that whole thing about wine, that really cheap bottle of wine resulted in a weird bitter aftertaste in the sauce, and a lack of the deep rich browny purple color I normally get. So the photo below doesn't have the ideal sauce color. Ah well, live and learn.

Coq au Vin
**Adapted from Jean-Jacques Paimblanc

3-4lbs chicken leg quarters
4oz salted pork, 1/4" cubes
2Tbsp butter
20 small pearl onions
1 cup 3/4" diced onion
1/2 cup 3/4" diced carrot
3Tbsp flour
1 bottle (750ml) red wine
1lbs mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup 3/4" diced celery
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dry thyme (or 1 medium to large bunch fresh thyme)
1 handful parsley stems
Salt and Pepper

Cut chicken into drumsticks and thighs. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

Parboil pearl onions, drain and set aside. Also, blanch cubed salt pork, drain and set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet, melt butter and add salt pork until lightly browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. In same skillet, thoroughly brown chicken pieces on all sides, place browned pieces in large, deep pot, adding finished pieces on top of the last ones. Still using the same skillet, add the carrots, onions and parsley stems and sauté until golden brown. Drain all excess fat from skillet and add flour, stirring carefully to incorporate. Cook a few minutes over low heat to cook out floury taste.In the same skillet, add 1/3 of the wine and carefully scrape all the little bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once the bottom is cleaned, pour the onions, carrots, parsley and wine mixture over pot of browned chicken. Add the remaining wine, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and celery to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 40 minutes. (Alternatively, you can place it in the oven at 325F for 40minutes.)

Remove the chicken pieces and set aside somewhere warm while the sauce reduces by 1/4. Once reduced, let it stand, skimming the surface for fat, if necessary. Strain the sauce to remove vegetables and bones.

Place chicken, strained sauce, parboiled pearl onions, mushrooms and salt pork back in the pot, bring to a boil and check seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes (or place back in 325F oven).

Serve with boiled and butter potatoes, or fresh baguette and butter.

Friday, March 21, 2008

So you wanna be a food blogger... ?

To be honest, I'm a little torn. I don't know if I really want to be a food blogger. I'm lazy and lack the commitment needed to post as often as possible. My deep-rooted laziness is tragic, really, it forces me to sometimes go that extra day without a shower or hours and hours without food, even though I'm really hungry. On the other hand, I'm clearly content to do little in a day and if I was a more motivated eater, I'd probably be the female version of the one-tonne man, trapped in his bed eating KFC all day.

Mmmmm KFC.

Yeah, so I literally meant it when I said I was a fat girl foodie.

I'll give this blogging thing a crack and see what happens. GAME ON!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Moving on...

Now that I've completed the culinary arts program:

I don't have to actually keep this blog, but I think I will. Expect a bunch of random posts about food that I'm cooking, eating and/or otherwise consumed with (pun not intended, but greatly enjoyed). I'll probably also pontificate randomly on food to make myself think I'm smart or you know, well-versed on the topic, but don't worry, personal "issues" will be kept on my other blog (it hurts my feelings when).

So, hopefully, this doesn't disappoint. You'll likely see a change in the postings, they'll be less formal and much, MUCH shorter because I'm not expecting a grade from you... I don't need your judgement. Geez.

Anyway, welcome moving on and cleaning up. I'll see you next week. Or maybe sooner.