Monthly Archives: February 2009

food politics and science, culinary movements in brooklyn, and hot men in beards.

i am seriously excited to be going to a discussion on food writing tonight at everyone’s favorite writing workshop/pirate store, 826 valencia. i consider myself lucky to live around the block from this truly unique nonprofit that organizes tutoring, publishing, field trips, and other writing-related educational activities for kids,  and also raises money and tickles your imagination by selling eye patches, lard, swabbing mops, and all sorts of pirate’s bootyliciousness.  tonight’s talk focuses on food politics and science, and features a heavyweight panel of speakers including food world superstar michael pollan. i’m a huge fan of  the omnivore’s dilemma and the botany of desire and find that my values of food and eating are pretty closely aligned with his eater’s manifesto, so i’m super excited to see him in person. the evening will explore these food themes but also cover topics on writing, publishing, and running a successful blog. i actually bought tickets to the event before starting this blog, just because i love the topic, but after tonight prepare for familystyles to be EVEN MORE AWESOME. ha.

speaking of michael pollan references, if you’re looking for some interesting food reading, there’s an awesome article in today’s nytimes on brooklyn’s new culinary movement. it talks about our  ‘culinarily minded generation’ and how all these young people are making thoughtful, honest, straightforward, traditional, anticorporate foods like handmade pickles, cheeses, chocolate, ales, coffees, and knives (okay, that’s not a food, but they are also thoughtfully handmade in brooklyn). in the words of one attractive bearded chocolate making man (what is up with the hot guys and chocolate connection?), it’s “Slow growth, slow design, slow food. Slow, but without being flaky.” yeah, i read pollan and make my own ricotta, but these guys are seriously dedicated. can’t wait to see for myself as i eat my way through brooklyn in a few weeks…

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the ultimate bacon smackdown menu! aka 8 courses of delicious pig.

i am virtually comatose from bacon overload, but the first annual top iron chef bacon invitational showdown competition was a huge success. the pork belly has never been showcased to such creative heights. both kwame and i produced four dishes – an tiny amuse bouche/starter, an appetizer, and an entree, as well as a bacon related dessert, for a judging panel of our serious foodie friends. kwame was a formidable opponent and i’m proud to have been a part of this culinary extravaganza.  to give you an idea of the level of competition, the preparation included, but was not limited to, a blowtorch, brining with juniper berries, homemade icecream, bacon-infused bourbon, white truffle oil, chocolate-dipped bacon, and that’s just the beginning. continue reading to get a brief overview of the menu with some food porn orgasmtastic photos. i dare you not to read further after seing part of kwame’s dessert below…

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speaking of cheese wheels… (huh?!)

Mei’s photo of those beautiful wheels of cheese reminds me of something I saw in passing the other day: an episode of the Amazing Race, taking place in Switzerland, with a task that involves carrying super heavy cheese wheels down a really steep hill.

In other words, cheese+steepness+Switzerland+little wooden carrying devices= yes.

Also, there is an amazing Asian-American brother-sister lawyer duo. Yes, they both went to Harvard Law. Yes, they are both gorgeous. Yes, they are Asian American. Yes, they kick the ass off this challenge. Yes, they are super sweet, and even fight rather nicely, as far as we can tell. Yes, Mei and I are the next reality tv show ass-kicking Asian sibling team. Glad you asked.

The goods:

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italy photo album: the magical kingdom of ham and cheese (and shockingly sexual subway signage)

i’m gonna be that annoying friend who insists on boring you to death with vacation photos right now, but i’m posting a few italy pictures to provide some visuals for my previous post on the country’s ridiculous deliciousness and enduring food traditions.  i got a fantastic glimpse of their food culture firsthand in the city of parma, italy, home of the famous prosciutto di parma ham and parmigiano reggiano cheese.  representing these two food world powerhouses is like the sports world equivalent of having a baseball team win the world series, a football team with the only perfect regular season EVER, and a championship basketball team with the best single-season turnaround in NBA history, all in one year. oh yeah, what’s up BOSTON? (i ran a company making boston sports gear for girls back in the day).  but i’m getting off topic.

if you’ve been reading this blog, you probably realized that i didn’t know how to use this handy ‘read more by clicking here’ button until now, so you would have had to just keep scrolling down to effectively ignore all my free association blathering and run-on sentences. now i will bite the bullet and set up the jump, but first a photo to entice you in…

chocofestguys

welcome to the secret fantasyland of cute boys and overflowing fountains of chocolate. no, i did not steal this from your dreams.

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Caboose, the rascally rat.

Hey all! It’s Irene, the other sister. Part of my explanation for my MIA-ness is that I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to this little guy (be arned, this is a pretty awesomely awkward shot of my boyfriend’s chest):

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grilled cheese inspirations and a super fast tomato-chipotle soup

inspired by saturday’s grilled cheese invitational, my coworkers and i decided to make our own grilled cheese masterpieces at our today’s morning go game meeting.  one quick supermarket trip and one go game amex later, we had all the fixin’s for killer grilled cheeses and an easy sort-of-homemade tomato soup.

ok, rant warning:  i keep wanting to use the phrase ‘semi-homemade’ but that conjures unpleasant visions of food network star and stepford-wife-clone-with-a-disturbingly-immobile-forehead sandra lee.  check out her website for some frightening recipes like this one for macaroni and cheese, which is essentially ‘make sponsored processed food item. add two more processed food items.  enjoy the chemicals!’.  every single recipe includes ‘specially selected food items’ and ‘ready-made product’ brand names, which explains why she is launching a magazine when amazing ones like domino are shutting their doors. it’s because she is clearly choosing ingredients based on the corporate food conglomerate sponsors rather than what is healthy or tastes good. i appreciate the fact that she encourages people to cook rather than buy fast food, and that she encourages shortcuts to make people’s lives easier, but there are better ways to cook quick, easy, and cheap meals that are healthier for eaters, animals, producers, and the environment.  i’m certainly not perfect in this regard (see bright orange awesomeness below), but i try to make good choices when confronted by certain purchasing decisions, like in making the tomato-chipotle soup. i’ll try to give suggestions throughout this blog for how to avoid highly processed packaged foods in favor of fresher, healthier options, and i’d love to hear anyone else’s suggestions as well. alright, rant over.

wooo, got sidetracked there. back to grilled cheeeeeeese. erin and i brainstormed on our walk to the supermarket and then picked up more ideas based on what we saw at the store. sliced portobello mushrooms, avocados, tomatoes, and fresh basil for greenery. boursin spreadable cheese (secret ingredient of my friend kellin’s kickass GC) and orange cheddar for classic GC steez. grace baking olive bread and sourdough with wheat germ.  and a shitton of butter. we’re lucky that the 23rd and south van ness DeLano’s market has a good selection of organic foods and artisanal bread and everything except the ginormous brick of orange cheese (which had no ingredient list but was super cheap and nostalgically neon) was preservative free. partial ingredient lineup here:

ingredient-lineup

mmm you can practically see the ‘yellow 5 natural coloring’ reflecting back lovingly into your five-year-old eyes. as for the accompanying soup,  i actually had a huge can of classic campbell’s tomato in my basket when i decided to avoid its high fructose corn syrupiness if at all possible. so instead i picked up organic vegetable broth in a carton, a can of organic diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste (ingredients: tomatoes!) and my new best friend, a can of chipotles in adobo. yes, it was more expensive, but nice to make your own, and hey, office supplies are deductible, right lisa? i tossed in the ends of the sliced tomatoes for texture and some of the fresh basil and it turned out pretty tastilicious. the veggie-riffic version of the sandwich below.

tggrilledcheese

respect to all the GCI competitors from this weekend – i knew their job was hard but straddling the delicate melt-yo-cheese-but-don’t-burn-yo-bread line is tough under pressure. but still…can’t leave cheese unmelted. thanks to erin for co-shopping and sous-cheffing, alli for dishwashing, lisa for okaying the above purchases, and finn, zach, and ian for eating. yay office lunches!

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Some good ol’ thoughts on food

Hey folksies,

Mei’s recent philosophical adventure into the ideology and ethics of real, true, good food reminded me of this here essay I wrote for a class during my senior year of high school. The full project was a four-parter on food, music, the earth/environment, and human diversity, and how all these things are profoundly connected to what it’s like to be human today, and hopefully, what it’s like to be human in the future. Anyway, here’s an edited-down version of the food section, with some extra expletives for your reading plejjurr.

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mission taste tour: tartine and the devil’s bread. plus, panzanella!

someone at tartine bakery must have sold their soul to the devil because their bread is fiendishly, hellaciously, fire and brimstone-y good (no, i don’t even know what that means). sure, their banana cream pies, ham and cheese croissants, bread pudding, morning buns, croque monsieurs, and just about everything they make deserve every deliciously over-the-top superlative i can think of, but their bread merits its own separate tribute. bread is oh so simple, yet oh so fucking hard to perfect. it’s just a few ingredients – usually flour, water, yeast, and salt – yet making that ultimate crusty yet chewy, structural yet yielding,  flavorful but not overpowering loaf is an absolute work of art.

i know i sound obsessive, but every person i’ve served it to starts off skeptical, chews for a few moments, then says something along the lines of, ‘i would trade one of my kidneys to eat this every day.’  i couldn’t agree more (you only need one, silly).  every time i buy a loaf to serve as an appetizer, i can never enjoy as much as i want because an entire dinner is coming. so my roomates and i planned  a dinner last week of  just tartine bread, cheese, and salad. they sell the bread only on wednesday through sunday and it comes fresh out of the oven at 5pm. i almost didn’t want to write that because the bread goes so fast, but hell, it’s on their website and everyone knows about it.  which is why all of it had been sold in less than an hour when we stopped by last thursday. GAHHH. arrow straight to the heart. they were nice enough to give us a small piece of tester loaf for free, and we bought a still-really-good-but-poor-substitute-for-tartine-bread loaf of acme cranberry walnut bread from bi-rite.

on our way back, we stopped in tartine to have a glass of wine and listen to a weekly band that always seems to include some form of accordion (bean, you’d love it) and what did we see on the counter but this thing of beauty:

bread1

apparently it was a test loaf of fougasse, which is basically a french version of what would be focaccia in italian. i spoke to a really nice guy who works there named eric, who was taking photos of the bread. i asked if i could take a photo too, then snapped a few shots of him and the fougasse with his camera. we chatted a bit about how we’re neighbors cause he lives over the bakery, and told him about how we came home empty-handed after missing out on the day’s bread. i sat back down and then after a few minutes he came up to us and handed over the fougasse because apparently they had to get rid of this mountainous bready wonder of a test loaf.

GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! the bread score of a lifetime. we took it home, added the other tester loaf, one of my favorite cheeses – the incredibly rich and creamy king island seal bay triple cream brie (anything with triple cream is triple awesome) – as well as a really fresh mozzarella, some deliciously spicy and fruity mcevoy olive oil, and a fantastic bottle of charles creek cabernet that we got at a tasting room up in somona last week. nom nom fucking nom.

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it was like a meal you have as a kid when your parents are out of the house – i’m gonna eat whatever i want! thirty-six marshmallows, two pop tarts, a bag of cheese puffs, and a hot pocket! – except the grown up version. no thought for nutrition, balance, or even vegetables (the salad greens were ignored in the fridge) but just what tastes good, and a lot of it. the fougasse was incredible –  it had a crunchy and cracker-y crust with a thin sheen of oil and a sprinkling of salt on top, and a very airy inside without a lot of heft that the traditional loaves have. it was fantastic with the cheese (duh), but we came to appreciate its true bread-y power because of its deliciousness when standing alone with no accompanying flavors. truly awesome.

and the best part – leftovers! despite attacking the fougasse like a ravenous pack of marauding t-rexes, there was still a fair amount left at the end of our meal (note: this is not because we eat like corseted duchesses at a garden party, it’s because the fougasse started off the size of a fully grown koala bear, i kid you not). here’s an important food tip – never throw out good bread. there are tons of dishes you can make with leftover bread like ribollita (tuscan bread soup), panzanella (tuscan bread salad), bruschetta (holy shit, italians are geniuses!), or breadcrumbs for mac-n-cheese and a bajillion other dishes. just throw the bread in a plastic bag and tie it up tight for a day or two, and stick it in the oven to crisp it up when you want to use it.

the next day,  i decided to make bread salad with the leftovers, which is super easy because you can throw in pretty much any vegetable you like. tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions are standard, but you could also throw in asparagus, artichokes, green beans, white beans, any kind of bell pepper, pine nuts, olives, anchovies – basically anything you’ve got lying around in the fridge or whatever’s fresh at the farmer’s market. we went with just the basics, made a garlicky vinaigrette, and it turned out smashingly delicious:

panzanella

for the salad: leftover bread. four tomatoes. half a red onion. one cucumber.

chop the tomatoes and cucumbers into bite-size pieces and the red onion into thin slices. toss the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350°, until it gets crispy. tear the bread into bite size pieces. don’t do it straight out of the oven or you’ll burn the shit out of your hands (yes, sometimes i’m not that smart).

for the dressing: one big clove of garlic, a chunk of red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper.

mince the garlic (i like to lay my knife blade flat on top of the garlic and then bring my fist down hard to smash it – boooyakasha i’m a ninja! –  then it’s really easy to peel and dice) and the red onion. splash in the olive oil and vinegars. i like red wine vinegar for the acidity and tartness and balsamic to sweeten it up. add salt and pepper. whisk everything together with a fork. the fresh garlic will give it that spicy garlicky taste that perfectly complements the richness of the olive oil and sweetness of the balsamic. mmmm.

once you’ve made the vinaigrette, pour it over the bread and veggies and toss. if the bread is very dry or in thicker pieces, let it sit for a bit to soak up the vinaigrette. enjoy!

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irene’s chinese food to eat before you die

the bean is back up in this business with a hilarious comment on the 100 Chinese Foods To Try Before You Die post, (originally from appetite for china). i’ve rescued it from the comments section where it might die without reaching its deserved readership, sorry for any repetition. irene, you are fucking funny and i love you.

from the mouth of the bean:

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This is a sweet list. I think the more challenging task would definitely be to list items in order of importance/level of eat-before-you-die-ness instead of just alphabetical order. (Mei, you’re really getting into the hyphenated sentences… I like them, but they’re so hard to type!) Anyway, where do I begin?!

Let’s start with the obvious: Peking duck. Sweet, salty, crunchy, oily, all wrapped up in a thin flour pancake. What could be better? (Aside: in my exploits at college, I’ve found that burritofying everything (i.e. taking things and wrapping them in tortillas) is a really good and convenient way to live.) I remember when mom and I were living in BeiJing and we used to eat this stuff all the time, and it was so freakaleeking cheap that I wanted to cry when we got back to Boston and it was 40 bucks/duck.

Next, xiaolongbao. Little dragon bun/bag, i.e. a deliciously moist dumpling filled with shrimpy porky soup. Easy to burn your tongue on this one, so you can’t eat it in one bite, which is unfortunately, because that’s my classy signature move. I remember that I was taught to eat this in my wide-Chinese-style soup spoon so that I could save all the soup from getting sloshed across my plate, and therefore, undrinkable. These little guys also come in a bamboo steamy thingy with some big bai cai (bok choy, cabbage) leaves underneath them that are pretty freaking tasty.

Prawn crackers, also known as shrimp chips definitely bring back the memories, namely the memory of Mei deep-frying shrimp chips in our rice cooker (or our wok? I realize that rice cooker makes no sense) and then accidentally dropping in one of the plastic handles on the pot cover. And then we had shrimp chips, and a lump of greasy black plastic. Mei, was that also the time that a burning gob of flying oil hit you right in the middle of your forehead? She clearly has a long career of food-maverickism (<— definitely not a real word).

Crab rangoon. Freaking tasty. I do not care to comment on the authenticity of this dish. Only on the warm cream cheesiness.

Haw flakes: I haven’t thought of these in so long! Those grainy red discs of delicious jujube fruit will always be that part of Chinese school that I remember most fondly.

Tea eggs: delicious. I’m going to have to learn how to make these one day. I can’t imagine that it’s that hard.

Now, here are a couple that I didn’t see (or that I missed because my brain is fried from 50 pages of the American Journal of Sociology):

Rice cakes (in ovalette form). These little suckers have an amazingly satisfying chewiness, and can be thrown into stir fry, soup, whatever. Mmm, mmm chew.

You tiao (literally, oil stick). These guys are long, bready sticks that are so oily you have to eat them folded up in a paper towel unless you want grease stains all over yourself. They’re also delicious sliced, toasted, and stirred up in shi fan (congee).

Any kind of green vegetable. There’s an “oriental” grocery that Daniel and I sometimes go to, and the vegetable section is full of all of these unlabeled, leafy beautiful greens, and they are all so delicious. You really can’t go wrong.

Okay, procrastination time over! I’m giving myself half an hour for hygiene, and the rest of the day for work! Such is a Sunday afternoon, especially when I slept through Sunday morning.

Love you allz! Let’s see some comments up in here!

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chipotles in adobo are the new bacon…

because they make everything taste better. one tiny $1.39 can of chipotles peppers in adobo sauce is enough to add flavor and spicy deliciousness to everything from soups to sandwiches to plain old cooked vegetables. in case you’re wondering, chipotles are smoked jalapenos, and adobo sauce is a ketchup-y sort of tomato sauce. they’re pretty low on the spiciness scale so i like to eat them whole. if you’re one of those spice-sensitive wusses, that is probably a bad idea. here’s a can:

chipotles

okay, okay. i fully realize the pile of chipotles on the right look like a pile of recently skinned and still bleeding miniature manatees, but they’re fucking DELICIOUS. i’ve never tasted manatee so i can’t comment on the aptness of the taste comparison.

chipotles are high on the you-can-do-this-even-if-you-are-embarassingly-cooking-challenged scale (open can, chop, and add to whatever you’re cooking) and also high on the flavor scale. i added them to a pan full of kale and ended up with an incredibly simple but very flavorful greens dish. just wash and chop the kale into pieces, add a little oil (or bacon grease you happen to have in the pan), add a bit of water to steam the kale and cover. take it off when the kale is cooked. if you want to be all precise and over-achievery, you can add the stems first so they cook more fully than the leaves. this (and pretty much every other green vegetable) would also be really good with garlic, ginger, scallions, and soy sauce.

kale

also surprisingly high on the hard-to-fuck-these-up-even-if-you’re-a-baking-moron-which-i-sometimes-am scale are gougères aka deliciously puffy cheese balls. (as a quick aside, this makes me think of planters cheez balls. remember those?  i used to eat an entire tub of those electric orange balls of awesome, and haven’t seen them in ages. i just googled them and they’ve been discontinued! probably good because those addictive neon friends would tempt me into processed-food-land faster than you can say partially hydrogenated soybean oil).

anyway…don’t the accent intimidate you, gougères are actually really simple. i followed a serious eats recipe for french cheese and bacon puffs (gougères des gruyère is a bit of a mouthful) and they turned out beautifully. here’s a visual walk-through of the recipe, but you can find all exact measurements and step-by-step instructions here.

making-gougeres-copy1

isn’t that mixer beautiful? i got it as a christmas present from my wonderful bosses at The Go Game. for dinner, take like 15 minutes to make the puff balls, make the bacon while the dough chills, stick the finished dough in the oven and let them bake while you make kale with chipotle peppers, then combine the straight-outta-the-oven gougères with the greens for these adorable little kale-and-chipotle-pepper-stuffed-bacon-cheese-puff sandwiches.  so huggable looking, and so tasty. and way better than manatee sandwiches, or so i’ve been told.

sandwich

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