Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Country-fied weekend

I spent Memorial weekend out at my aunt and uncle's property in the country. It was a nice time with family, lots of dogs and puppies, music, campfire, pond swimming, volleyball and all that good stuff.

Jack was in heaven because he got to fish. I hardly saw him Saturday evening or most of the day Sunday except through my zoom lens. He caught a bunch of blue gills and bass:

Which he filleted and fried up along with some hush puppies for a fantastic Monday morning brunch.

here is the frying set up. Fish, cornmeal and Hush Puppy Batter.

Mmmm...finished hush puppy. He based the batter off this recipe on the back of the Martha White bag. He added fresh peppers from my uncle's garden. He seemed suprised how easy hush puppies were to make. They were delicious. The potatoes were added to the frying oil for the stray cornmeal to stick too. Neat tip!

Fried fish and hush puppies. We had some homemade cocktail sauce, but I ate mine with Malt Vinegar.

Fried whole fish. Well, minus head, guts and scales...These were a bit too small for filleting, and my uncle said he often fries 'em up like this. I had one and it was fun to eat. The very tip of the tail and the fins were really crunchy like potato chips.

Sunday I put together a campfire fondue. I was inspired by this campfire Brie on CHOW. I had some Raclette at home, though, so I used that, some Brie and some Emmenthaler. I added a little beer to aid in melting and through the whole foil package on the grill (Couldn't find good embers in the fire...)

It's not very pretty. I probably should have taken the brie rind off, but it tasted really good. We served it with crusty bread, and after awhile it became more of a thick spread than a dipping fondue.

Sunday night we had a big bonfire which of course meant s'mores. S'mores are probably one of my top 10 favorite foods. It's just a perfect combination. My cousin came up with R'morses, which were s'mores made with reeses peanut butter cups instead of plain hershey's chocolate bars. They were good, of course, but I prefer the old school classic.

My uncle has this new fancy garden set up. We were eating the romaine lettuce and spinach all weekend. Unbelievably better than store-bought. We took some home. I can't wait til he starts getting the tomatoes and asparagus and zucchini and chili peppers in.

I made last night's dinner with the fresh lettuce and spinach...a huge salad with blue cheese, bacon and black olives dressed with olive oil and black pepper, with a small crusty baguette, some asparagus brie soup and a couple glasses of Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. So good and springy. The tomatoes are actually from the supermarket, and were suprisingly good. Thaey are a special variety from the Santa Sweets brand called Uglyripe tomatoes. Still not as good as homegrown, but leaps and bounds better than the tomatoes you usually find at grocery stores.

I also made today's bento with that lettuce and spinach. I went with a much more western bento this time, a simple sald of greens, cucumbers and tomatoes with canned tuna seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. The top teir is mini charleston chews, some sandwich cookies and my last two Botan rice candies.

So basically, a great weekend with my loved ones and some very fresh and tasty food. How were your memorial weekend eats?

Friday, May 25, 2007


I did it! A whole week of bento lunches! Here's how the rest of my week went:


Bottom tier:
Bed of rice topped with layer of thinly sliced cucumber, then some canned roasted eel and more cucumber. Pickled Daikon sunflower with eel center. In the side compartment is assorted pickles and small sticks of cucumber with more eel on top.
Top tier: Sliced Asian pear, rice cake, candy.


Bottom tier:
Leftover fried rice, Cherry tomatoes hollowed out and stuffed with spicy tuna (canned tuna, siracha chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, powdered ginger), cucumber flowers and edamame salad from a friend. Pickled radish decorations.
Top tier:
Canned Lychees, rice cake and mango gummies.


Bottom tier:
Vegetable gyoza, spicy tuna stuffed tomatoes, cucumber surround, springs of daikon filling in gaps.
Top tier:
I got all experimental with my lychees. They were just asking to be stuffed, so I raided my fridge and cabinets and came up with a toasted coconut, cream cheese, fresh ginger, yogurt, key lime filling concoction. It's pretty good. adds a bit of tartness and creamines to the lychee's super-sweetness. Also, another rice cake and more candy.


I had a pretty bad night preparing this one. I burned the rice. BAD. And I was trying to make an omlet like this, but my pan is crap, the heat wasn't high enough and I thought I'd subsitute rice wine vinegar for mirin. So I ended up with weird looking scrambled eggs. They taste pretty good, though.
Bottom tier:
Bed of rice (I was able to salvage a little...tastes kind of smokey), pickled daikon and tomao sunrise, scrambled egg clouds and pickled garlic ducks swimming on a lake of Wasabi Fumi Furikake.
Top tier: Stuffed Lychees (same as thursday's), dried blueberries, rice cake cut in half, botan rice candy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Well Read, Well Fed (Installment 7)

I recently finished reading Micheal Ruhlman's book Soul of a Chef. I had first heard of Ruhlman when Anthony Bourdain had him as his sidekick on the fabulous Las Vegas episode of No Reservations.I also enjoy reading Ruhlman's blog pretty regularly.

Soul of a Chef has 3 parts. The first follows a group of chefs taking the Certified Master Chef exam. This is a thorough, grueling 10-day culinary test that very few Chef's have passed. Reading about it via Ruhlman is amazing. The emotion and skill of the candidates, the toughness of the judges. I'm always intrigued by people who are so into what they do. Those who choose to take the CMC do so on their own time and money, for a distinction that is well-respected and impressive, but not at all necessary to be a successful chef.

In the second part of the book, Ruhlman hangs out with chef Micheal Symon at his restaurant in Cleveland, Lola Bistro. Micheal is young and successful. His is a more laid-back casual style of cooking/eating. People love his food and his personality. This part of the book is more about the pleasure of food... versus the technique and formality of the CMC.

The third part of the book was the most intriguing to me. Micheal spent time with Thomas Keller at his super-famous French Laundry. Keller is did not go to Culinary school. Ruhlman traces Keller's footsteps to becoming the world-famous, well-respected chef he is today. And now I seem to be obsessed with Thomas Keller and the French Laundry. It's now a new travel destination dream for me. The food sounds amazing, and the way the kitchen works and how Keller thinks/works is so interesting and inspiring. I've since looked through the French Laundry Cookbook. It's intimidating to me, especially after reading how detail-oriented Keller is. I don't know that I'd want to attempt one of his recipes in my haphazard home-cook ways after knowing how much care and thought he puts into food, and how much every little thing makes a difference. It is a good cookbook, though, if you're not a scardey-cat like me. The in-between chapters on basics are very informative, and the whole thing is just gorgeous to look through.

One blogger, Carol, isn't intimidated, though. She couldn't get reservations, so she decided to cook EVERY recipe in the French Laundry cookbook. She's crazy, and kind of my hero. This girl did get a chance to eat there. Sounds wonderful, and she has some tips on how to get in there. It's not exclusive or anything, just small and very popular.

It's been like a week and a half since I've finished the book and started trying to write a post about it, but I can't seem to write about it properly. It's a great book and you should read it. I'll tell ya that much. It's too much for me to go into deeply, I think. There were lots of very eye-opening/thought provoking/exciting moments. You just need to read it, that's all.

Here's the part where Ruhlman interviews Keller's mushroom lady, Connie Greene:
When Connie first had dinner at the French Laundry, not long after it opened, she knew something unusual was afoot in the kitchen. She had come with two friends, and when one course appeared endowed with a nautical theme, complete with a flagpole skewer onto which was hoisted a flag like sauteed duck kidney, she wanted to laugh. "There seemed to be some kind of irony that was going on," Connie recalled, "some kind of inside joke. It was as if the beauty of the food weren't enough." And then it struck her like a gong; she knew the truth. "Thomas Keller," she said, "Is Dr. Seuss's illegitimate child."

Those two observations–Dr. Seuss (what post-World War II American childhood was not filled with Dr. Seuss?) and inside irony–were new to me, but I sensed immediately she was right. They provided the key.

Reichl's review had made special note of a dish Keller called oysters and pearls, a sabayon–a savory custard, really–with pearl tapioca, an oyster, and caviar. I'd eaten this dish, and it made me laugh, not just a chuckle bu an extended, quiet laughing, as if someone was telling me a hilarious story. I had been dining solo, so I probably looked no different from a person you see on a park bench carrying on an animated conversation with himself.

When I hung out in the kitchen, there was time for brief exchanges with Keller before he walked off to put something away, to get something, to take a phone call, or answer any number of questions from his cooks. I asked him why he thought to put an oyster in tapioca pudding. He said, "Certain things you just know." When I pressed, he said "It's just logical."

I said, "Putting an oyster in tapioca is not a logical thing to do."

"For me it was," he said.
"Tapioca, pearls," he said. "Where do pearls come from? Pearls come from oysters, right? So to me it's completely logical. How does is taste to you?"
I asked, "What do you think?"
"I've never tasted it," he said.
"Excuse me?"
"I know that's not a good thing for me to say," he confessed. "But I know it tastes good. You don't have to stick your hand in fire to know it's hot." And he headed out of the kitchen towards the walk-in.

Oysters and pearls is a very sensual, perhaps sexual dish, what with the aphrodisiacal oyster, the creamy-slippery mouth feel, the rich sabayon, the pearls, the salty-fishy-ocean perfume of the caviar, But it can seem plain silly as well.

Awesome! Also? I can't resist sharing this part where Ruhlman recalls the best food he's ever tasted...a calf's brain prepared by Keller:
Offal was the true test of the chef. If you could take organ meats and transform them into exquisite dishes, that was cooking. My Webster's dictionary defines offal as "(1) waste parts; esp. entrails, etc. of a butchered animal (2) refuse;garbage."

Keller had made a tasting menu, then, of "garbage," eight courses of it for seventy bucks.

He began this with the truffle custard, here served with a sweetbread ragout. Next, a crispy medallion on calf's brain with a celeriac puree and black truffles. (I eventually had Keller's calf brain, and it was so good I almost tipped over in my chair at Table Five in the middle of dinner, slowly and to the side, as though I'd been turned into concrete from euphoric surprise. I later told Keller how good it tasted and remarked on how hot the thing was when it got to the table. He smiled and said, "I know. Brain stays hot forever. It's like tar." Now that I think of it, far away from Keller and the French Laundry, I can't name any dish anywhere ever that has been better. That, I realize now, in contended retrospect, was the best dish I have ever eaten. It had a delicious crisp exterior and fatty, molten, succulent interior. It was extraordinary. Calf's brain. "Garbage.")

seriously. go get the book and read it for yourself.

Monday, May 21, 2007

My First Bento

Whelp, I've done it! I made my first Bento Box!! I'm so excited. It's nothing spectacular, but I think it will make a tasty and special lunch. Here it is:

In the lower tier I have 4 Inarizushi, which are simply fried tofu pockets, which come in a can, filled with rice. I didn't make the rice into sushi rice, but I did pour some of the juice from the canned tofu pockets over it. Jack's mom makes these and I love them. They make a great snack, and they are so easy! She's the one who taught me the trick of pouring the pocket juice over them. The flower on top is made with pickled daikon radish and a cucumber pickle. Over in the side compartment I put more daikon radish, cut into little sticks, cucumber pickles and pickled garlic. The top teir is my dessert portion. The pink round things are Daifuku, which are sweet rice cakes filled with sweet red bean paste. The orange round things are yummy mango gummies. In the middle I have some Botan Rice candy and some Ginger People Ginger Chews.

Here is is all closed up. So compact! I can't wait til lunch!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Last night I whipped up a pretty easy dinner that turned out really yummy. I was looking to make something that would go well with a Zinfandel I had, and in my research, Italian sausage kept popping up. I also had some gnocchi that I wanted to use. I came across this recipe for gnocchi with Italian sausage and spinach, which sounded pretty perfect.I decided to add baby portabellas and zucchini also.

First I cooked the gnocchi and set it aside. Then I cooked the salsiccia and set it aside on a paper-towel covered plate. I poured off a little bit of the sausage grease, but left about 2 tablespoons of it in the pan. I used this and bit of olive oil to saute onion and garlic (4 cloves) until it was soft and translucent. Then I added the chopped zucchini and mushrooms and cooked until they were just soft (the zucchini still had a bit of bite). then I added the salsiccia back and cooked for a couple of minutes before adding the cooked gnocchi and raw baby spinach. I stirred everything together and cooked it until the spinach was just wilted, about 1 minute. that's it! Pecorino Romano cheese on top, of course!

final product still in the pan:

here's the wine that started the whole thing:

It went very well with the meal. It's a very fruity wine, and complimented the spicy, salty sausage and highlighted the freshness of the zucchini and spinach.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Non-Food TV Food shows, Installment 3

Sunday night while I was relaxing and channel surfing, I came across Kylie Kwong: Simply Magic on the Discovery Home channel. I think I have seen bits of her show before, but this time I caught most of a whole episode. She's and Australian cook with a Chinese heritage, and for this show she travels around China tasting the food, seeing the sights and meeting the people. Then she takes what she learns home and cooks. The show is very relaxing and slow-paced, with low lighting and Kylie's soft, good-humored speaking. A nice change of pace from all the other food shows, well any tv shows out there.

This episde she made Hot and Sour cucumbers, Soy Sauce Duck and deep fried Tofu. You can see the recipes here. I'd really like to try the duck recipe. It seems simple enough, and great for a lazy Sunday around the house. It's kind of her version of Peking Duck, which she had at a street stall in Shanghai. And she says that the resulting master stock can be used several times for other things, all you have to do is strain it!

The Hot and Sour Cucumbers are on my list to try, also. I think it's similar to the way Jack's mom makes vinegar cucumbers, but with more spice. It's the only way Jack will eat cucumbers. Kylie uses Sichuan Pepper for both the cucumbers and the fried tofu. This is one of the first things that perked my ears up during the show. I had just recently heard about these peppercorns from this entry on the Wandering Chopsticks blog (via tastespotting). Apparently, they have a slightly numbing effect on the tongue, and were banned in the US from 1968 until 2005 (not because of the numbing thing, but because they had been found to carry a bacterial disease that would effect our citrus crop)! So of course, I'm intrigued. Fun!

So, another show to watch, and morebooks to look for at the ol' library. Yay!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Grillin' up a Saturday

Yesterday was kind of a lazy Saturday. The weather was awesome...ripe for some hot grill action. For lunch we had some grilled all-beef uncured hotdogs. Yum! We topped them with this relish we made up a couple of years ago, kind of a chicago-style dog in a jar.It's simple, just cut up a couple of pickles, a couple roma tomatoes and a small red onion, season with salt and pepper and pickle juice to taste and mix together. Use it to top your dog along with your favorite mustard! Some crunchy reduced-fat plain potato chips on the side? Mmmmm MMMMM!

Then, last night, Jack started up the grill again. He grilled some sun-dried tomato chicken sausages and portabello mushrooms. When they were good and grilled, he chopped them up and we added them to some whole wheat penne pasta, a jar of good marinara sauce and some toasted pine nuts. Top with Pecorino Romano cheese, and that's a simple but really yummy dinner. In fact, it's the second time this week we've made it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

friday frozen food fun

Two posts in one evening! Crazy. It's been a long week. I came home from work, too lazy to cook something, too lazy to go to the store, and too poor to go out for sushi for a second Friday in a row. So I took a look in the freezer, where I had collected some fun stuff. So I present, my "there's more to frozen foods than lean cuisine" crazy dinner:

So the round bread thingy is called gobi paratha. I picked it up from a small Indian store by my home.The package says it's "Indian bread stuffed with cauliflower and spices." All you do is heat it up in a skillet for a few minutes. Yum! Quite spicy, which is fine by me. Luckily I had some plain yogurt in the fridge, which served as a dip and added another dimension (and cooled the hot hot spice a bit). When I googled gobi paratha, the first entry was from fellow St. Louis food blogger One Hot Stove (she's on my list of local links on the right over there! small blogosphere!). She has a recipe for making homemade gobi paratha (scroll down, it's there). It doesn't look too too hard, but kind of a delicate process. I usually shy away from baking science-y. Maybe I'll try it, though (I'll just make sure to have these frozen ones (SWAD foods is the brand, by the way) on hand in case I screw up royally.

I also noticed I had stashed some edamame in there, so I heated that up as a side dish of sorts. I love edamame. It might just be my favorite veggie. It's up in the top ten of my favorite foods, even! I just like it with salt. But I might try it with lemon juice, as suggested here, sometime. That would make it more summery!

So, that was my dinner! it took all of 7 minutes, and was way better than any frozen dinner I've ever had.


My friend/co-worker came back from visiting her family in Japan a couple of weeks ago. And the sweetheart brought me back a bento box!!! I'm very excited about this. It's so compact and clean and organized looking. So many possibilities! I have yet to use it, though, but I've been scouring the internets for ideas/tips/etc. I will definetly post photos when I make some. I plan on hitting the oriental grocery store this weekend for some bento goodies. Until then, here's a small gathering of some of my favorite bentos swiped from various websites (I will link to all of them after the photo):

This site has a few cute (or kawaii) lunches, with hello kitty characters being the main theme.

A bento photo group on flickr.

Not as cutsie, but the food looks delicious, and beautiful.

e-obento website (mostly in Japanese) has TONS of awesome photos.

Bento Corner< is a bento blog.

Another bento blog, How to Build a Better Bento. should come in handy!

And I just learned this tidbit today, thanks to good 'ol Wikipedia:
A bento is traditionally made in a 4:3:2:1 ratio: 4 parts of rice, 3 parts of the side dish (either meat or fish), 2 parts of vegetables, and 1 part of a serving of pickled vegetables or a dessert. However, almost anything can be used to make a bento.

I don't know if I'll be that mathmatecal about it. But I will make my first few stick with an Asian, and Japanese if possible, theme. Then maybe I'll venture into more international bento experiments.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Scary 60's food

My mom and I came across a rummage sale last week and stopped in. They were packing up the sale, and were doing a fill a bag for $2 thing. I got a couple old cookbooks, my favorite one being the Good Housekeeping Snacks and Refreshments book from 1968, seen here with the crazy bright green drinks on the cover:

That particular beverage, in case you're curious, is a Lime Frost. The recipe is pretty great:

Lime Frost

These are the tall beauties on the cover!-

1 6 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
5 to 6 cups finely crushed ice
Green food coloring

Empty frozen concentrate into chilled blender. Add ice, 1 cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Stop blender several times and push down with rubber spatula. Add a few drops of green food coloring, if desired. Serve pronto in 6 tall glasses with straws and spoons. Serves 6.

Loretta, the former of this book, helps me out with a note on baking this cheesecake:

Thanks, Loretta!!

Giant pile of cheese. Mmmmm...cheese.

I like the name of this chapter. I need to incorporate the term "zippy" into my everyday vocabulary:

This gorgeous creature consists of ground ham, hard boiled eggs, and white bread frosted with a fluffy cream cheese and milk mixture. Yum!

there's more o the recipe, of course...mayo and pickle relish and such...but I'll just let it remain a mystery.

I will share a couple other recipes from the book, though:

Party Potato Chips

Spread one 4 oz. Package potato chips on cooky [sic] sheet and sprinkle with ½ cup shredded process American cheese. Sprinkle lightly with thyme, basil, or marjoram. Heat in moderate oven (350 degrees) 5 minutes, or until cheese melts. Serve hot.

Now THAT'S how you party!

Tomato Soupshake

Creamy-smooth with a nice tomato-y taste. Add an egg for extra protein, turn shake into a soupnog – it’s a quick summer lunch!

1 can condensed tomato soup
1 cup half-and-half or light cream
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg (optional)

Combine all ingredients in blender or shaker. Blend or shake till mixture is smooth. Chill. (For thinner soupshake, add a little milk.)

Serve in chilled cups or glasses. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

My Soupshake brings all the boys to the yard....

Vintage cookbooks are the best! For more retro recipe fun, check out the blog Grab an Apron, and the classic Weight Watchers Recipe cards circa 1974 website. Makes me want to hit up some more rummage sales...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Russian to eat

Yesterday I had a vacation day and spent the morning doing fun things with my mom. For lunch I talked her into trying something neither of us had had before, Russian food. There is this Russian buffet I've always wanted to check out called Astoria Russian Bistro. So we went.

We were the only ones in there, but I don't understand why because the food was really good. Hopefully they do better business for dinner service or something. I know I'll be returning. There was an advantage to the slow business day...our waitress walked us through everything on the buffet! Yeah, the service was very friendly and fast.

I felt kind of nerdy doing it, but I took photos of my food. So here's what I had:

I started with a bowl of Borscht, a soup with beets, cabbage and beef, and a couple of cold salads, shredded beets and an extremely tasty tomato and cucumber salad with lots of fresh dill. My mom had a mushroom soup, which I tasted. It was good too. It had some spiciness that I couldn't place, but my anti-spiciness mom ate the whole bowl.

My next plate consisted of a rice pilaf with big hunks of lamb. See the bone in there? That's what I like to see! Also a fish entree that was very flavorful, stuffed cabbage and stuffed grapeleaf. All of it was yummy and homey. My mom had the Beef Stroganoff, which I also snuck a bite of. Delicious!!

My last plate, which I went back for even though I was already stuffed, had a beef and potato stew (pictured), a potato pancake and some sort of pasta/beef roll. The highlight was this stew. It had fresh dill in it, and was chock full of veggies. Extremely flavorful and hearty. I got a suprise when I put a yellow vegetable in my mouth, thinking maybe it was squash or something, and it was a big hunk of stewed lemon! Not entirely unpleasant, but sour and unexpected.

So, I will totally visit again. They have live Russian music on Saturday nights, and the bar has a good selection of Vodkas and international beer, including several Russian beers, of course. Couple links:

Here's where Anthony Bourdain went on his trip to Russia for No Reservations.

Here's a big database of Russian recipes.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Well Read, Well Fed (Installment 6)

I recently read Sound Bites; Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand by Alex Kapranos. He is the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, and the Guardian hired him to write a column about eating on tour.

I had mentioned wanting to read the book in this post.

The book is great! Small snippets of food experiences from cities all over the world. Each chapter is only a few pages long, but each one transports you to that location, that time and that atmosphere. It's quite a fun book, with interesting foods and insights and people and places. Even if you're not familiar or not a fan of Franz Ferdinand, if you like food and/or travel, I'd recommend this quick read. Here's an excerpt I found particularly amusing (and appetizing!), from the chapter "Beware The White Widow - utrecht":
The waitress presents each of us with a twelve-inch gold disc. The pillowy-soft batter tapers to a crisp, crunchy edge.

I could not decide whether I wanted bacon and apple or bacon and cheese. Each sounded good, so I ordered all three fillings. It is a crowded pancake. The streaks of bacon and slivers of apple are contrasting characters, but couple well. His salty directness is offset by her sweet, forgiving nature, making their relationship complex and complementary. Bacon gets on well with cheese, too. They’re so similar – vigorous and rude, wrapped together in sweaty excitement. But cheese and apple are vile to each other. Bacon brings out their sickly bitching contradictions, their flavours fighting for his attention, spoiling each other, and awkward in the pancake like a mistress and wife sharing a train carriage with their boorish lover. I love the drama. I tear off a piece and toss it to a drake. He beats the water and snaps his bill. He loves it too.