Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Special Wednesday Night

It’s not often you’re able to dine out with a chef. It’s even more rare that you’re able to dine at their restaurant with them. I don’t mean they’re working in the kitchen and come out to say hello to you. I mean, they are in their street clothes, coming in for dinner, to sit down with you, and to eat. Just like a normal person would.

I was lucky enough to eat with one of my good friends Jordan a few weeks ago at his restaurant, Alembic. My local San Fran peeps might recognize that name. And be thinking to themselves, “Isn’t that a bar?”. Well, yes. Alembic’s got a bar. A pretty well known one too. Daniel Hyatt’s the well known bartender at the helm of Alembic’s bar program and they serve some amazing drinks (please please please order the Southern Exposure!) But yes. They serve food. And it’s damn good food.

I sat down to dinner with Jordan, his girlfriend Vanessa, and another friend of mine, Olga. And without hesitation, we dug in. With one quick glance of the menu, I wanted to try everything. What jumped out at me? Literally all of it.

The beauty of eating out to me? Eating foods and dishes that are hard to recreate at home. So yes. While the endive-asian pear salad was amazing (ummm, can we say yuzu truffle honey??), I felt a little like, “I could tackle that at home.” I didn’t get the same feeling about the kobe beef tongue sliders. Nor the Indian spiced grilled chicken hearts. Both were amazing. And boy, do I wish I could make those chicken hearts at home. YUM!

Another delicious dish? Sweet and spicy boar jerky “Bulgogi.” So good to eat, and presented so beautifully. Our group of foodies of course wanted the bone marrow (cut long ways, the way I prefer bone marrow to be cut!), we tried the za’atar potato chips (my friend Olga LOVES the spice!), the shishito peppers (of course I ended up with two hot ones!), the pickled quail eggs (even me, the gal who doesn’t like anything pickled liked these!), goat cheese croquettes with romesco, kabocha squash tempura, crispy pork belly, and the miso glazed escolar.

Last, but certainly not least, I had my first experience with scrapple. What is scrapple you ask? Scrapple is made with ‘scrape pieces’ (offal if you will), and essentially cast into a terrine, and then sliced. I learned it’s served mainly on the East Coast, and is popular in Pennsylvania. Well, this West Coast, offal eating girl loved it. It was served on turnip greens, with a poached egg on top. Offal for breakfast basically. I’d go back every week for this dish. And umm, definitely not one I’d make at home. Even better.

It was a long night of good food, good cocktails, and friends enjoying it all together. How’s that for a good Wednesday night?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finding Value In A Small Space

I’m a city gal (umm, Adventures in SF, come on people!) And I live in a small apartment. It’s technically a studio, but I’m really lucky that to there is a separate kitchen. My kitchen is a decent size, especially given the apartment size. But big? Definitely not! A ton of storage space or counter space? No, by all means, no. Dishwasher? Garbage Disposal? No and no. Of course not. But what does it have? The basics. And that, along with some inspiration, is all I need to create wonderful dishes.

This weekend, as part of my house cleaning extravaganza, I cleaned my kitchen. I threw away things, I organized, I wiped down counters, I took inventory of my spices, and I cleaned!! I find that a top to bottom scrub and reorganization of my kitchen (and my closet!) every once in awhile are absolutely necessary. It gives me a reason to throw away the old stuff, and find room for the new. I frequently dream about having a big kitchen. Having the luxury of a full size oven, lots of counter space, tons of storage space, and a big table my family and friends can gather around. A recent post on Smitten Kitchen about the author’s small kitchen made me think about my space.

My small kitchen has also taught me a lot of things. How to stay organized for example. How to think through a recipe and execute it so that I’m making the most of my space. How to effectively store my things. And what tools and gadgets do I absolutely need, and which ones can I do away with? My small space has also helped me fine tune my organizational skills. How do I manage to cook in a small kitchen? What are some of my tips?

Clear the counter space! As much as possible, put things away after you've used them, and find space for everything in a cabinet if possible. the more work space you have, the better.

And if that's not possible? Well, I’ve officially taken over the kitchen table as an extension of my kitchen counter. It is no longer a kitchen table. It’s a prep area. If I were to have people over for dinner? Ummm, let's just say it would be hard.

Clean along the way. It’s true, I wash dishes all night long when I’m cooking. There’s no dish station. No one to do the dishes after. And even if I wanted to wash the dishes all at the end, there’s not enough space to dry them! So I wipe, and clean and do dishes all along the way.

I have the problem of collecting stuff. I have a lot of stuff. Especially when it comes to my kitchen where I've got the habit of collecting things. An adorable olive dish here...teacup there...unique salt and pepper shaker...a cool set of glasses...a beautiful pitcher...serving platter. You get the picture. I think I have enough flatware to serve a three course meal for a party of 12. No space for it, but I've got the serving platters, flatware, wine glasses, martini glasses, champagne flutes and margarita glasses all ready to go! So for me? I'm working hard to not purchase these random things.

I haven't let my small space stop me from trying out ambitious recipes. There's always a way to make it happen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ice Cream Dreams

I’m absolutely obsessed with ice cream. I think that’s pretty clear by now given how much you hear about my eating and making ice cream. My dream job right now? To be at home making ice cream all day long. Maybe even selling it to a few restaurants or small coffee shops. Or if nothing else, making it for all of my friends and family!

A local San Fran pastry chef recently opened up an ice cream shop, Humphrey Slocombe. And part of the reason I’m so excited? It’s because of the flavors they’re offering. Pastry Chef Jack Godby is offering some unique flavors (and unique food tattoo art, check it out here!). For anyone wanting regular old chocolate or vanilla? Not the place for you. But for me?!? WOW! I want to go and try every single flavor!

Or better yet, I want to go and spend time working with him. Learning more about ice cream making, picking up tips and techniques and of course, seeing how he dreams up these different flavors.

The flavors I want to try most? Foie gras. Yes. You heard me right. Foie gras ice cream. And Lychee Rose Petal. Pistachio bacon. And Salt and Pepper. And Secret Breakfast. I mean really. All of the flavors sound amazing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my ice cream lately. Thinking about the things I’ve learned since I started, and about the flavors I’ve made, and the flavors I want to make. And even took out my note book one day and jotted down all of the flavor combinations I want to try and make one of these days. Betcha can’t wait to hear about them all??

I’m hoping for one or two new flavors every month or so. Just think, in the 10 months since I’ve first started making ice cream, I’ve mastered 8 flavors (Fresh Mint, Peppermint Stick, Espresso, Bourbon Raisin, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Crème fraiche, Fresh Peach and Cherry and Chocolate Chip.) Who knows what the next 10 months will bring?

My friend Olga recently sent me this old article on ice cream from the New York Times. A good read, it really talks about some of the basics of ice cream making, as well as some of the fun of making your own ice cream. I realized something the other night. I haven't had store bought ice cream in months! I want ice cream? I just make it!!

I also came across this great post on Michael Laiskonis’ blog, Workbook. I’m a fan of this blog, although some of the posts are a little bit technical for me. While I wish I had the time and energy to pour into the science behind his creations, I just don’t have it in me. But this post about ice cream was particularly interesting. I’ve printed it out and saved it…maybe some day I will have the time to devote to really learning the science behind ice cream!

A girl can dream…
The ice cream carrier my sister gave me for Christmas--now I can bring my ice cream to my friend's houses and keep it cold! One of the best presents ever!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another Year...

Wishing you all, a Happy Chinese New Year!! (Or I suppose to be more politically correct, Happy Lunar New Year.) A time to reflect and to look ahead. A time to spend with family.

During my last trip to Hong Kong, every where we went, we saw people preparing for the holiday. Selling ingredients for traditional dishes for celebrations, purchasing decorations, and stuffing red envelopes (or lai see).

While walking down a small alley full of street vendors, I saw this stall selling lanterns. With the sun shining behind it, to me, it was the perfect representation of the festive and happy holiday.

Central District, Hong Kong 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Staying In Touch

In this day and age, there are a number of ways for people to stay in touch. How do you do it? How do you talk to your friends? And stay in touch? What are your new preferred methods, and which ones do you no longer use?

You have email coming at you, and not even through one email address. Everyone's got multiple email addresses. One for work. One that's personal. One for the junk emails. Me? I've got 5 different ones.

Then there's IM. Which do you use? AOL? MSN? Yahoo? G chat? ICQ? More than one? Me? I use 3. (Oh wait. Now there's chatting through Facebook. So that's 4.)

Speaking of Facebook. It brings me to these social networking sites. From the professional ones, LinkedIn, to the social ones. Remember Friendster? Then there's MySpace and the one I prefer to use, Facebook. Through both LinkedIn and Facebook, people can send me messages. Either messages on 'my wall' or private messages. Essentially yet another email account (bringing my count up to 7.)

We've got phones of course. Home phone, work phone, cell phone (and yes, some people have more than one of those too!) And oh wait. I guess if you have a cell, you must be a texter. And on my work cell? I've also got BlackBerry messenger. (So I guess that's 5 Instant Messaging outlets I've got?) Hmmm.

So. With all of that at my fingertips...what's your preferred method of communication?

Sure, it depends who with. And sure, it depends what you want to communicate. I've learned which of my friends are phone people (and many aren't!) Which friends do prefer the phone? (Let me give you a hint, it's the ones that aren't sitting in front of a computer all day long and who don't have to talk on the phone for work!)

During the work day, the quickest way for me to get an answer from a colleague or friend? IM. Or believe it or not, through Facebook. Sorry employers reading, you better embrace it, Gen Y and even Gen X is on and off Facebook all day long. The good news? It's not all personal. I find a lot of my ideas, inspiration and business leads come from Facebook.

Email's good too. Although it's maybe even more important to know who's NOT good on email! And it's always helpful to know which of your colleagues and friends are addicted to their PDA's. Those people are BEST at quick responses. (Especially if you tease them with a good subject line topic!)

Who's good at IM and who's not? And when do you use IM and when does it bug you when people use IM inappropriately? Do some people use it in order to avoid in person interaction? Yes. One of my pet peeves.

What about texting? Or BlackBerry messaging? Me? I like them both. Not for lengthy conversations obviously, but they're a useful tool. In a loud environment and can't hear? Text! Want to talk about the person you're with to another friend? Text of course!

It's no wonder we're all stressed and tired all the time. We're always connected. There are rare moments in the day when we're not accessible. Or when we're not having people and information coming at us from a number of different places.

I've found that I have to self-impose times of day or nights of the week when I don't check email. Or when I turn my phone off. Those moments of silence (albeit far and few in between) are really important moments. A time for me to clear my head and to do some thinking. Or a chance to enjoy time with my family or friends. A time when I have 100 percent of my attention dedicated to them.

Call me old fashioned, but I just like communicating with people face to face.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Secrets of the Heart

So why do some people wear their hearts on their sleeves? Why don't others? When do we decide to be safe and keep our feelings inside? And when are we not scared to express ourselves? When do we decide to take the risk, and when do we hold back?

When you think about it, what's the worse that can happen? A little rejection? A little disappointment? Maybe a little embarrassment?

So what. What's the best that can happen? You connect with someone special.

What if we all wore our hearts on our sleeves? What if we could all be more open and honest with each other? Would the world be a simpler and better place? Or at least a little less confusing maybe? Would we all waste a little less time?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Searching for that Taste

When I was young, my dad would often make this simple steamed white cake. It had a touch of sweetness, and was light and fluffy. In it's simplicity, there was something special about it.

I remember watching my dad make it once. And it seemed really simple. A cup of this. A cup of that. That was it. (Well, it wasn't actually a cup. It was a rice bowl. The recipe just called for equal parts of a few key ingredients, and in our household, the rice bowl was the measurement tool.)

I woke up in the middle of the night one of the first nights I returned from Hong Kong. Jet lag. I couldn't sleep. I was tossing and turning. And some how my mind started thinking about this steamed white cake. I hadn't thought about it in years, and last tasted it even longer ago. I wanted this steamed white cake. I could taste it on my tongue. I couldn't take it anymore. I had to get up and try to make it.

I thought I remembered the recipe. But as I was making it, it didn't seem quite right. Something was missing.

I called my dad the next day. He filled me in on the missing ingredient. Pancake batter. Good old Bisquick. Yikes. I would have never remembered that. I had managed to have forgotten one of the key ingredients (there are after all, only four ingredients.)

I finally made the steamed white cake a few days ago. And it was even better than I remembered it. The simple simple SIMPLE cake had hit the spot. And took me back to my childhood. Right back into the kitchen, standing around the counter picking at the cake as it was still hot. Right there with my sister, dad and mom.

It never ceases to amaze me how food can take you back to a specific moment in time. A moment in your life, in your past. How so many feelings can be conjured up just by the scent or taste of food.

Dad's Steamed White Cake

1 cup cake flour
1 cup pancake mix
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

In large bowl, combine ingredients. Stir well and make sure to get rid of all of the lumps. Pour mixture into shallow dish (even a pie tin would work.) Gently tap to get rid of the bubbles on the top. Steam for 30 min on medium heat. Let cool and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lookin for Inspiration

Where do I find inspiration? Spending time with family and friends. Being outside in the sunny California winter. Being in the kitchen.

I had a long weekend that was inspiration filled. From spending time with my family, to seeing good friends and catching up, dining tapas style with the gals, being in the kitchen... I had lots of time to reflect, to do the things I enjoy, and to spend time surrounded by people I love, and people that love me. It was all very much needed.

I have been wanting to try a new ice cream recipe, and hey, since the sun's shining outside, and the weather's warm, feels like a good time for ice cream!

Check out this amateur late night spoon shot. So can you tell what flavor it is?

Speaking of inspiration, today our 44th President of the United States is sworn in. Here's to a man that has inspired and will ignite change for our country!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where I Wish I Was...

Washington, D.C.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writer's Block

I've had a lot of random thoughts and observations in my mind from my recent travels, experiences and of course, meals. But I haven't been able to put pen to paper. I'm not sure what's causing my writer's block.

Maybe stress? We're not exactly in a prosperous economic time, and there's a lot going on at work. And I'm definitely still playing catch up from being on vacation.

Maybe I'm feeling uninspired?

Maybe it's just a 'normal' lag?

Maybe I have other things that's keeping me preoccupied?

The other problem is that I'm doing a lot of other writing...but not for my blog. Maybe by the time I'm done with that writing, I don't have time and energy to post?

I'm going to try and get through this phase and hopefully will be back soon with lots of posts. Keep reading! I'll be back!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Favorite Aussie Words

I have always loved the Aussie accent. How can you hear it and not have it bring a smile to your face?

What I didn't know? Was that they had so many sayings and different words. Here are some of my favorite words, phrases and sayings from my trip Down Under:

- Bottle Shop: liquor store
- Mystery bag: a meat pie (doesn't sound too appealing does it?)
- Chrissie: Christmas!
- Prezzies: presents (what Chrissie would be complete without prezzies?)
- Sickie: taking a day off work when you're not actually sick
- Roadie: an alcoholic beverage you take on the road with you
- Brekkie: why breakfast of course! (My favorite usage of the word? "Chew your arm off and have some brekkie")

A few words we left without ever knowing the meaning of. Can anyone help? Any Aussie's reading that want to help?

- Tog
- Turps
- Budgie smugglers

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Before It Can Get Better...

It has to get worse.

At least when it comes to cooking. At least for this home cook.

I have my tried and true savory dishes that I make. Dishes that I've made a hundred times, and dishes that I know are good. My roasted chicken. My beef stew, and curry chicken. My seared salmon and chicken salad. My spaghetti sauce is delish, and my spring veggies with sun dried tomato sauce penne is a favorite.

You see, I'm not a recipe gal. Never have been (as my friend Matt will attest to after the 'Christmas 2008 Biscuit Incident').

It all started when I was young and watching my mom cook. She'd eye ball everything. A pinch of this, a heaping spoon of that, and then oh, some of this. Then she'd taste. And in would go more of this or more of that. She kept on tasting, every step of the way.

I remember being old enough to ask her for a recipe once. She said she didn't really have recipes. It was all in her head. It made me so mad! How was I suppose to remember it all? So then she reluctantly pulled out this spiral notebook, with a dozen or so recipes written inside. All written in her perfect handwriting. All written in Chinese. Useless to me. I could tell, these were recipes she had gathered and written down years ago. By the time I was old enough to even ask her about her recipes, she had mastered all of these dishes and no longer even took this little notebook out. So where did that leave me?

Well now? I do the same. I know what ingredients go into the dish, and I generally know the proportions. I know just enough technique wise, and read enough cookbooks and watch enough cooking shows to THINK I know what I'm doing.

Do the dishes come out exactly the same every time? No. After enough practice, are they close? Yup. And while this method clearly wouldn't work in a restaurant, for a home cook, it's ok.

As I read more and more cookbooks (and yes, I do read them cover to cover, novel style), I continue to find more inspiration. More inspiration in using new and different ingredients. Inspiration to cook foods that are less familiar to me. Or dishes that I've always loved, and just never have made at home.

Have I ventured to tough ingredients such as octopus or offal? No, not yet. But I have started to veer away from my classics.

Some recent dishes I'm feeling confident about and close to perfecting? My butternut squash soup. Oh, and my homemade pad thai. All derived from recipes I've read, but then kind of tweaked into something of my own.

And the first few times? Not so good. What you forget is, cooking is an experiment. Sometimes, the dishes don't turn out right.

What happened when I decided to roast some vegetables with a new salt/thyme mix I had created? Too salty. I had used too much (I couldn't help myself! The green color was just so pretty!). I had a few bites, and tried to get it less salty by taking a big bite of mashed potatoes with it, but I'd didn't help much. Ultimately, the veggies had to go.

And what about this new chili garlic sauce I bought? Spicy! And I do not handle my spices well. So the first batch of a Chinese chicken salad I made with it. Left my mouth on fire. The second time I tried to use the sauce on a chicken? Still too much! Or not enough of something else to balance the flavors out. I'm still working on it.

So you see. Before my food can get better, it's gotten worse. Let's hope I make it past this little rough patch and end up being able to add some new dishes to add to my repertoire.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A New Favorite Seasonal Ice Cream

The inspiration behind my recent holiday ice cream? A holiday favorite!

Candy Canes!

Growing up, my sister and I loved the grocery store peppermint stick ice cream. You know, the vanilla ice cream with bright gooey swirls of pink and green mint? We moved on to the occasional treat of the Swensen's peppermint ice cream, which was white peppermint with the chunks of candy cane in it.

Well, as our palates have grown even more sophisticated, that same grocery store peppermint stick ice cream just wasn't going to cut it for me anymore. So this past year, I decided I would try and make my very own peppermint stick ice cream!

It wasn't too hard. I decided that I'd get the minty flavor from fresh mint. So the base of my ice cream was a fresh mint ice cream. One of my all time favorite home made ice cream flavors, I figured that given the yummy base, the ice cream should be delicious.

I bought a bunch of candy canes and smashed them up into small bits and pieces (I swear I thought my horrible downstairs neighbor was going to come up screaming at me with all the noise I was making.)

Because my candy cane chunks were a bit inconsistent, I figured I'd just stir the pieces into the ice cream, and it wouldn't matter. What I didn't think about, was the fact that even just by stirring the candy pieces into the white fresh mint ice cream, it would turn the ice cream a light pink color!

It was perfect. A nice re-do of a classic. Everyone loved the peppermint ice cream on top of our little chocolate cakes. Maybe we have new family holiday ice cream tradition??

My sister and I taking a break from eating for a photo!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy Birthday Michelle!!

Today is the birthday of one of the most special and important people in my sister!!

Happy Birthday Michelle!!

I want to wish her a fantastic day and upcoming year. Here's wishing you many more years of health, happiness, love and laughter. I love you!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Maybe it's that time of year. The end of one year, and the start of a new.

It's a time to reflect on the year that's past. How we've changed. Things we've learned. New places we've been. A time to think about the new friends in our lives, friends that may no longer be in our lives, and the core group of people that have helped us get through another year.

What things to we want for the new year? Are there new goals that we have? Things about our lives or ourselves that we're not happy with? New things we want to try? Whether it's a professional or personal goal, what will the new year hold for us?

Personally, there's a lot I want to do next year. From continuing to see the world to continuing to spend time with good friends and my family. I want to spend even more time cooking and baking (Yes! More time!) and continue to grow as a cook.

Something else I want to do more of? I want to take better advantage of my local surroundings! I spend a lot of time in San Francisco, and a lot of time traveling, but not necessarily a lot of time in the areas surrounding San Francisco.

One of my favorite blogs that I follow is a blog my friend Adam writes: His posts are thoughtful, often inspirational to me and has also made me realize how little time I spend in the surrounding mountains and trails.

While I am not a big runner nor biker, I love hiking. I love that you can choose such different types of trails (hilly, more flat, in a woodsy area, in a more open field, etc.), you can choose different difficulties, and different hike lengths. And every time I go on a hike, I enjoy every part of it, and am so glad I went.

So, why haven't I been hiking more?? I can rent a car to get out of the city easily through my ZipCar membership, and not having a car to get out of the city is not an excuse!

I was inspired to pull out my "101 Great Hikes of the Bay Area" book a few nights ago. I'm embarrassed to say how many of those hikes I've actually done from that book. I'm not even going to tell you. But it's not a lot. And as I was reading through the book, many of them caught my eye...from hikes down the Peninsula to up in Marin and of course through the East Bay as well.

So friends, help me out! When I call you to see if you want to get up bright and early and go for a hike, please say yes! Eventually, I'll venture out and go on a few hikes alone, but baby steps people! For the first few, I want some company!

I'll be sure to keep you all posted and will share all of my experiences (and photos!) with everyone.

Until then, Happy New Year! Here's to a fun filled 2009!