I was assigned Christmas Eve dinner at the Tarr household (my standby locale for the winter holiday season). Growing up, Christmas Eve meant going to church and then eating clam chowder, so my mind automatically went to the happy soup-and-salad place. I like light food the day before Christmas, and even when my night in the kitchen got bumped from Christmas Eve to the night before the night before Christmas, I stuck with that idea.
I meant to serve minted goat cheese (with a hint of lemon zest) on whole grain baguette with pomegranate seeds as an appetizer, but that ended up paired with the second/soup course (see below). It was delicious -- I highly recommend you start mashing fresh herbs into your goat cheese on a regular basis.
Instead, we started with the salad. I have no photos of this salad because I was too busy making a three-course meal for five to document the results, but I am going to tell you about it anyways. I've never told you about my obsession with poached eggs, have I? Pity. It is real and it is encompassing, and it is largely unsatisfied. I have yet to poach an egg well. Still the quest continues, and the interest has yet to wane. So as I was planning this Christmas Eve-Eve salad, I started with the idea of a perfectly poached egg resting on top of some lightly dressed bitter greens (in this case, frisée, watercress, and a bit of arugula). After considerable deliberation I also threw in some edamame, roasted shitaake mushrooms, kalamata olives, and fontina croutons.
The dressing was the real star but I can't exactly tell you what was in it. I'd like to pretend that's because it's top-secret, classified information, but in fact I put so many ingredients into it that I don't exactly remember all of them. I know there was sherry vinegar, olive oil, tahini, pumpkin butter, black sesame seeds, and tamari, and that I may start a new love affair with the humble whisk.
The soup was a pile of roasted tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, and sage, pureed and simmered with a bit of vegetable stock, a splash of almond milk, and plenty of cajun seasoning (cayenne, smoked paprika, lemon pepper, onion powder, and sea salt). I left a little surprise of roasted chickpeas in the bottom of each bowl, and finished it off with a few more fontina croutons and some parsley.
And finally, for dessert I made almond meringues, which were perfect for dipping in Mexican hot chocolate (a favorite) made with almond milk, lactose-free cocoa powder, cinnamon, cardamom, chipotle powder, and brandy.
And now I hang my metaphorical apron until Friday. I find it fortunate that although I despise Christmas, my ladyfriend's day of birth happens to be the day after the big day. As long as I can find crab and artichokes there should be a stellar post coming your way this weekend...
Wednesday, December 24
I was assigned Christmas Eve dinner at the Tarr household (my standby locale for the winter holiday season). Growing up, Christmas Eve meant going to church and then eating clam chowder, so my mind automatically went to the happy soup-and-salad place. I like light food the day before Christmas, and even when my night in the kitchen got bumped from Christmas Eve to the night before the night before Christmas, I stuck with that idea.
Wednesday, December 3
Every other Monday night Lady and I stay in, so this week instead of a restaurant review I have a probably-more-exciting synopsis of my attempt at pescatarian-friendly paella. I've never made paella before, and was mainly excited that I finally had an excuse to purchase saffron. Saffron is one of those foods that should be given as a gift (along with, in my opinion, organic mangoes, avocados, chestnuts, truffles--chocolate or more preferably fungal, whole nutmeg pods, really incredible coffee, really bitter chocolate, marcona almonds, and anything grown in a windowsill or backyard).
I started with this recipe but tweaked it quite a bit and came up with something closer to this:
1 bag Trader Joe's frozen seafood blend (16 oz of shrimp, calamari rings, and scallops)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1+ tsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
4 + 2 +1 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1 1/4 cup frozen green peas
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 vegan sausage (I used Italian-style because I like the sun-dried tomatoes in this)
16 littleneck clams
1 can artichoke hearts, halved, liquid reserved
3+ cups vegetable stock simmered with 1 tsp saffron threads
1 1/4 cup beer (I used an IPA; a saison or pale ale would also do nicely)
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large paella pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add seafood blend (not defrosted); saute 3-5 minutes with 2 cloves garlic, cayenne, and paprika (the seafood mixture will not be cooked through). Set aside, reserving liquid.
Add onion and bell pepper to pan, and saute 5 minutes. Add the remaining cayenne and paprika, crushed red pepper, and 3 garlic cloves; cook 5 minutes. Add rice and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, beer, seafood liquid, parsley, 4 cloves garlic, half the lemon juice, and peas. Bring to a low boil and cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
In a separate pan, brown sausage in a bit of oil, adding drained artichoke hearts, 1 clove garlic, and a bit of paprika near the end of cooking time.
Add clams to paella pan, nestling into rice mixture. Cook 5 minutes or until shells open; discard any unopened shells. Stir in the seafood and the sausage mixture. Add more liquid (from artichokes or extra broth) as necessary until rice is tender. Sprinkle with lemon juice (or rice vinegar), fresh parsley, salt (we used Tony Chacery's, but that's for another post), and plenty of cracked black pepper. Remove from heat; cover with a towel and let stand 10 minutes.
We were going to pair a crisp Spanish white or even a tempranillo blend with our paella, but really we both love beer and that makes more sense to my palate anyways. I deliberated between saisons and tripels in the grocery store, but ended up with North Coast Brewery's Le Merle. This is a truly excellent California saison, with just enough spice and hops to stand up to our flavorful meal, but still light enough that you would never guess it rings in at 7.9% ABV.
Next conquest: gluten-free vegan pizza. That tastes good. I know I've got you on the edge of your seat...
Wednesday, November 26
It's a lazy Wednesday morning and while I should be memorizing the functions of the Stomach meridian I find myself nestled in borrowed boxers with a plate of leftover Chinese food in front of me with no desire to read about wind heat and borborygmus. Ladyfriend tried to make me one of her "delicious" green drink smoothies (frozen strawberries and bananas, protein powder, green..powder...of some nutritional sort, and almond milk), but I was having a distinct craving for leftover mu shu vegetables (I credit the midnight tequila, but that's subject matter for another post). Which reminded me of this draft of my gastronomic guilty pleasures.
I started this list months ago, before I had a real kitchen in San Francisco, and continued it through the days when memorizing muscle attachments took precedence over, say, purchasing produce. In the absence of free time I found myself taking shortcuts and falling back on my less sophisticated preferences. In fact, I distinctly remember pondering my Gastronomic Guilty Pleasures while sitting in a cafe that happened to be playing a (cough, country) song that falls into the category of Musical Guilty Pleasures. Hm. I'm also going to share that I seem to be falling for Ladyfriend, and even though this feels like an incredibly healthy dynamic it seems apropos to enumerate the less-than-healthy foods that I fall for every time.
* Leftover mu shu vegetables, generally without the rice wrappers and potentially cold.
* Mayonnaise. I could practically eat it with a spoon, but I usually make myself scrape it off the spoon onto some sort of bread product and top with salt. Maybe tomatoes if I'm feeling lypocene-deficient.
* Spaghetti-O's. From the can. With the same spoon (see above).
* I know organic, natural peanut butter is delicious and nutritious, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a weak spot for super-processed sugar-laden peanut butter (chunky). Jar --> spoon/finger --> mouth --> stomach.
* Macaroni salad from the Safeway deli. This should probably be a subset of "mayonnaise" but I do feel it warrants it's own line.
* Onion dip. You know. Marie's? The stuff that's basically sour cream and artificial flavors? Yeah.
There. I said it. Don't judge.
What are your guilty (gastronomic) pleasures?
Tuesday, November 25
My posts have been rather sporadic as of late, as you may have noticed. I seem to have gotten a) overcommitted, and b) involved with a very nice lady, hence a predictable lack of blogging time. I additionally seem to be entering some sort of unexpected cooking hibernation, and I'm honestly not putting up much of a fight. However, ladyfriend and I have been exploring the gastronomic options throughout San Francisco and she recently had the brilliant suggestion to post lurid details about our adventures here. Thus: Tuesday restaurant reviews.
Last night we struck out to Range. I've been eyeing Range since I first moved to the Mission, and passed Range every day on my way to yoga. I sensed that they had particularly inveigling culinary delights to share, but I needed the appropriate occasion and dining partner to venture out.
I was so right. The atmosphere is warm, home-y, and inviting -- plenty of dark wood and brushed silver, pleasant lighting, and perfect acoustics for dinner conversation. We started with the Quercus Harmonia Pinot Noir 2007 since ladyfriend was looking for something sweet and light, and the Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone 2006 on the server's recommendation, since I was leaning towards something earthy. We subsequently swapped wines but both were excellent, with a mutual pleasant dustiness that complemented the autumnal flavors of our meal.
The menu looked lovely, but since we have a host of dietary restrictions between us (gluten-intolerant, loosely lactose-intolerant, pescatarian) we selected an array of appetizers. We were hesitant to order the barley-vegetable soup with gruyere croutons, but we weren't disappointed: it was fantastically seasoned and chock full of greens and root vegetables. The Bartlett pears with arugula, celery root, goat cheese, and hazelnuts were the real star for me, showcasing a melange of flavors that synchronized beautifully against the backdrop of rosemary vinaigrette.
For our next course we shared the raw California Yellowtail with pickled beets, meyer lemon, and tarragon which was...a disappointment. Ladyfriend insists the cut of fish was sub-par, and I didn't particularly care for the preparation. Fortunately the sweet-potato-stuffed pasta with sage, lemon, and pecans made up for it -- the lemon in particular added a lovely bracing quality against the sweet heaviness of the wintry fillings.
For dessert we chose the bittersweet chocolate espresso souffle with cinnamon-caramel swirl ice cream, paired with Ottimino Zinfandel 2005 and the Taylor Fladgate late bottled vintage port 2000, and every single one of those flavors worked together so incredibly well. Port and chocolate have to be one of my favorite decadent combinations, and I give Sam the server major props for pushing me that direction.
Ladyfriend additionally notes the excellent service and lovely food presentation, for an overall score of 9.0 (our highest yet; retroactive restaurant reviews to come). I loved it all that and a little more for a 9.1.
A question for you, kind readers: what do you think about taking cameras into restaurants? I know certain New York establishments have banned photography at the table, and I do feel disgustingly overt/tacky/touristy/amateur whipping out my little Sony Cybershot before each course. But, I know that reviews with a view are significantly superior. Thoughts?
Thursday, November 20
Eggs should be consumed:
* With copious amounts of cracked pepper and kosher salt.
* In tandem with sourdough toast.
* Accented (color, flavor, spice) with sriracha; any hot sauce will do. I suppose.
Avocado should be consumed:
* Whenever possible.
Thursday, November 6
Remember that Gardenburger I had last Tuesday? It catalyzed not only the subsequent yam fries, but seems to have reversed my aversion to Gardenburgers.
Traditionally I like neither Gardenburgers nor portobella mushrooms, either as a sandwich or an entree, largely due to fourteen years of vegetarianism, which included the dark years when most tofu was only served in Chinese food restaurants and Starbucks didn't offer soy milk. Back in the day, vegetarians were stuck with the ubiquitous Gardenburger at every family BBQ, camp dinner, team function, and school lunch. Pretty much the only place you couldn't find a Gardenburger was at fast food joints on the way home from away games with high school sports teams, so you'd make do with a large milkshake and fries and remind yourself to bring an apple next time.
Times have changed, and I generally prefer to take advantage of the more exciting (and often more nutritious) options now available to the vegetarian crowd. However, portobellas (the spelling of which can't seem to be agreed upon -- variations include portobello, portabella, and portabello) are now treated as the "steak of the forest" (credit Ruth Ryus).
But for some reason as I was browsing through the grocery store these Gardenburger Portobella Burgers caught my eye, and when I got home from class this afternoon I knew exactly what I wanted. Layered with avocado, thick slices of tomato, spring mix, and mayo and mustard on whole grain bread, this managed to satisfy my lately insatiable appetite.
Next time, I'm using sriracha, kim chee, and alfalfa sprouts. Other good burger-topping combinations?
Wednesday, October 22
I splurged on a garden burger for my study snack yesterday (instead of my usual cafe-fare Italian soda), and made the healthy choice of salad over fries. Naturally I regretted this as soon as the young woman two tables down from me received her Rueben with fries (and ample ketchup -- I'm a sucker for ketchup).
As I wandered home that evening, my brain quickly turned from reviewing the functions of the Large Intestine Meridian to recalling a conversation at work (the bar, not the spa) about where to get the best sweet potato fries in San Francisco. Since my brain cells are occupied with Chinese characters and Latin terminology these days, I'm afraid I can't pass on the local secrets, since I forgot them nearly as soon as I heard them. But I can tell you that I made a lovely batch of yam fries with achiote powder and coriander last night. I know, I know -- "yam fries" just doesn't have the zesty charm of "sweet potato fries", but I was working with what I had on hand.
These are baked, not fried, but if you leave them in a hot oven long enough they still get nice crisp edges. Serve with sweet chili sauce, and/or plain ol' ketchup.
2 Yams, cut into short fry-like chunks, or any shape you prefer
A small handful of achiote powder (made from annatto seeds, red and delicious, available at Mexican markets and elsewhere if you're lucky)
An ample shake of paprika
A few dashes of coriander powder
Cayenne, chili powder, or tabasco (I used the latter, but would have preferred the former)
Liberal pinches of sea salt
A tablespoon or two of olive oil
Toss to coat, spread out on a baking sheet (perhaps lined with foil if you're smarter than me), and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until edges are crisp and cooked through. Resist the urge to keep peeking and stirring -- one flip once they start to crisp is all you get. Remove and let cool! If you're smarter than me...
And, if you're like me, enjoy with beer. I'm still enjoying the last of summer's wheat beers, but I think an appropriately autumnal pumpkin ale would do as well, not to mention a classic pale ale or more gutsy IPA. If it's made from barley, it will go well.
Sunday, October 19
Every now and then I make something so good I surprise myself. Take, for example, this simple lentil soup I whipped up out of desperation when the cupboards were essentially completely bare (see previous post) and I was looking ahead to three days of nonstop work.
I don't particularly like lentils, and I don't especially enjoy making soups, but inspired by Vegan YumYum's post on making vegetable stock, I decided to brave the world of stockpots and slow simmers.
This soup is terribly wintery, which would be wonderful if it weren't 78 degrees and sunny in San Francisco! Still, soups are nourishing, and that just doesn't go out of season. You can choose to omit the wine, but a) then you're really missing out, and b) make sure you add an extra 1/2 cup of broth or water, and finish the soup with a few tablespoons of rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, halved and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups dry lentils
7 1/2 cups water or broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 acorn squash
Seasonings: I used cumin, oregano, chili paste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat a nice dollop of oil in a large stockpot. Add onions and carrots, cook part way, then add garlic and cook until everything is tender and fragrant. Add the lentils and a healthy spoonful of chili paste, stir to coat, then add cooking liquid, wine, and seasoning to taste (I did about 2 T crushed oregano and a whole lot of sea salt and cracked pepper). Let simmer about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, halve acorn squash, scrape out seeds, rub with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and cumin, and roast for about half an hour. When tender, remove, peel, and chop.
When lentils are nearly tender (and liquid is nearly gone) scoop out a cup or two and puree with a bit of water. Add back to stockpot along with acorn squash and maybe 1 more cup of water/broth. Heat through and dish up.
Serve with parmesan toasts, a smooth and full white wine, and a good novel.
Saturday, October 18
Friday, October 17
...Maybe You Should Clean Out the Refrigerator
I think most of you will agree that this is a universally daunting task. Today, I took it on. Not only did I scrub out months (years?) of food scraps and questionable green stains, but I also discarded a healthy bagful of expired jarred foods: store-bought tomato sauce, with a friendly fuzzy grey substance crawling across the inside of the lid; tubs of non-blue cheese marbled with unwelcome streaks of blue and green; half an onion, half-heartedly swaddled in plastic, as brown and slimy as any Halloween fright you could come up with.
I moved into this apartment in August, and rumor has it nine (9!) human beings inhabited my little abode before the three of us became residents. Furthermore, my current room was most recently vacated by a couple who both took off for the corners of the world, leaving an array of condiments at our disposal. We have THREE JARS of mayonnaise. We have two (large) bottles of sriracha, and something else that looks similar but a tad thinner. There are four kinds of mustard in my refrigerator, as well as five types of jam (techinically two are preserves, but you get the idea). Two jars of capers stand pillared next to two jars of olives, and there is a host of unidentifiable sauces labeled in Asian characters waiting patiently to spice up my next stir-fry.
I bet at this point you think I am going to post about how I used my culinary prowess to concoct a gastronomic miracle out of pickled ginger, a two-week-old cucumber, and three kinds of hot sauce.
You are (thankfully) wrong. But I am going to show you the very nice lunch I put together with sprouting potatoes, summer squash, and the dregs of a package of soy chorizo. There is ample garlic and oregano, a hint of mustard, and a generous dusting of parmesan on top for a proper finishing touch.
The real point of this post: do you know what's in your refrigerator?
Wednesday, October 8
If you've been keeping any kind of tabs on the brewing world you know that hop prices have skyrocketed -- not to mention grain prices -- and consequently brewers everywhere are spiking the price of a pint. This is particularly true of the All-American super-hoppy beers, which obviously call for even more hops (money) per batch. However, this Wall Street Journal article on "The Future of Beer" points out that beer sales are nonetheless on the rise. This might, in part, be due to the appeal of a pricey pilsner or pale ale in our current downtrodden economy: "Craft beer is still one of cheaper luxury items people can buy". Good beer is a splurge, but an affordable luxury even in the midst of our crisis. So go on, shell out the extra few dollars and support craft brewers -- and enjoy doing it.
Check out this WSJ video on the hop shortage, and the brewers who are still coming out on top:
A friend passed on this New York Times article on gender roles in fine dining atmospheres. Author Frank Bruni notes, "Although the goal in many public places and in much of public life is to treat men and women equally, most upscale restaurants haven’t reached that point. Then again they haven’t really tried all that hard. They’ve learned that ignoring gender is risky, and often foolish, because men and women approach and respond to restaurants in different ways, looking for different things." What are your thoughts on this? Ladies, do you expect to be served first? If you were serving a group of people, who would you expect to order the wine? Does observing gender roles in a dining room enforce an unnecessary binary, or does it simply cater to the different needs already in place?
What do you want when you dine out -- and why do you want that?
Thursday, October 2
My friend Megan and I have a standing coffee date...so to speak. We do in fact regularly get together, but usually neither of us actually drinks coffee, and we always at least tentatively plan the next round by the end of each rendez-vous. It's a nice way to explore the city, particularly under the pretense of studying (which, again, rarely actually takes place).
San Francisco is nice, but only nice so far. I hoped to fall hard and fast and it turns out we are still uncertain whether our flirtations will lead to a hot and heavy romance or simply a polite and casual acquaintance. However, I must give credit where due and proclaim the cafes of San Francisco the best I have experienced in the wide world (NB: This means SF beats out the likes of Paris, Venice, Rome, Prague, London, Wellington, Sarajevo, Melbourne, Portland -- Oregon as well as Maine, New York, and Nice; but I'm holding out for various locations throughout Austria, Turkey, Morocco, and Spain).
We most recently met at Cafe Du Soleil in Lower Haight, a charming boulangerie-style establishment with enchanting almond croissants and a decent hazelnut iced coffee. We split a bowl of almond granola with yogurt and chopped fruit, but when Megan departed and I tried to attack my overflowing inbox I kept getting distracted by the vegetable quiches lurking invitingly a few feet from my table. Round, puffy, and crammed full of unidentifiable verdure, they seemed an ideal afternoon companion.
However, the owners of this lovely locale, like so many others in San Francisco, decided to board up the various electric outlets scattered around the walls, presumably in a move to "encourage" patrons to move on once their (my) sparse battery power expired. Yes, I could have stayed and gobbled down the coveted quiche, but on principle if for nothing else ("nothing else" being a stand in for "my starving-student bank account") I vacated Cafe Du Soleil and headed home in search of a comparable (superior?) egg dish.
And now we're getting to it -- what a prologue for this little Tuesday omelette. However, I assure you this omelette warrants the prologue and perhaps a thoughtful after-word as well. Walking home I realized that in addition to craving eggs, I really, really needed sun-dried tomatoes. Immediately. There were other unmet needs I identified as well, and the bus ride home was quite nearly excruciating (we see that someone has let her hunger go a tad too long unattended). When I arrived home I set right to work:
1/4 onion, chopped, fried (ok, I meant to sweetly saute, but in my impatience I let the oil get just a little too hot and I can't say I'm sorry). 2 Tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, nicely lubed up in their packing oil, sliced and given just enough time to flirt with those with those sizzling onions and let things heat up a bit. A shake of dried oregano and a few nice dashes of powdered coriander for some subtle spice, then in go two eggs beaten (aggressively) with a healthy spoonful of grated parmesan and generous pinches of sea salt and cracked pepper. Cook; flip; serve on sourdough toast with a rim of sriracha.
It was a hot kind of day.
Monday, September 29
When I moved into my apartment in early August we were in the middle of a perfectly frigid San Francisco summer. I didn't leave the house without at least two thick layers, and I found myself drinking copious amounts of hot tea.
My godmother generously stocked my new abode with a bagful of lemons fresh from her backyard, and this juicer. I had never seen such a thing before (nor had I ever met a juicer I liked), but now that they're part of my kitchen lexicon I see them everywhere, working their magic one citrus at a time.
I take Bikram yoga, which is that crazy yoga practiced by crazy people in a heated room (supposedly 108 degrees is ideal, but I've definitely seen the febrile arm of the thermometer fervently wobbling to the 116 mark). This means I am thirsty, constantly. My favorite instructor in Philly could and would literally read my mind: during one of the more sweltering classes in the dead of a Philadelphia summer (NOT frigid), I had been fantasizing about the extra-tart glass of lemonade I was going to whip up at work as soon as I got out of class (sometimes working in a bar has it's advantages). Leo leaned over and whispered into my teetering bow pose, "Sometimes, I just think, 'Lemonade'."
When I am really thirsty -- and I mean really thirsty -- I crave tart. I'm sure there is a biological explanation for this reaction; in Bikram, the instructors sometimes advise us to squeeze a healthy dose of lemon juice into our water to help the recovery period and expedite the hydration process. For me, lemonade, limeade, kombucha -- even a particularly vinegary vinaigrette will do the trick. Tart: "Sharp or acid in taste"; "Dress or make oneself up in order to look attractive or eye-catching" (there's a third definition related to promiscuity, and a fourth involving pastry shell, but we'll ignore those for the time being). Something about that sharp, biting quality is alluring, even if laced with a hint of severity.
Back in San Francisco, exiting class to a foggy, windy sixty-degree day tended to waylay my cravings for tart, juicy something-or-others. Fortunately our Indian summer has finally made it's much-anticipated entrance, and we are enjoying ideal limeade weather. Hence, today's selection:
Dissolve one heaping teaspoon of honey in a pint glass with a bit of boiling water. Add the juice of three limes, and fill with ice. Top off with water (sparkling or still). Sip, slowly -- if you can gulp it down it isn't tart enough.
Tuesday, September 16
Ever since my Penina (like My Antonia, but Jewish and Jersey) departed San Francisco to make a name for herself in the wilds of Brooklyn, I've struggled with the concept of cooking for one. It's just not as fun. I could and would cook Perrin breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe an afternoon snack for good measure, but when it comes to feeding myself I'm just not as ambitious, nor as nourishing. In fact, cooking for one notably lacks the element of nurturing that I find so pivotal to the joy I garner from my culinary endeavors. And I don't just mean the act of solitary eating can be monumentally less satisfying, but more importantly that cooking, for me, is inextricably wrapped up with the idea of nurturing someone. It's a kind of offering: here, eat my food, absorb my affection, accept my care. Let me share with you. Share with me.
And so when I recently had the opportunity to cook for someone, I pulled out all the stops. I served a highly-tinkered version of this salmon ceviche with pickled cucumbers and tomatillos (don't let anyone, particularly the fishmonger at Whole Foods, tell you that salmon is a bad choice for ceviche); Smitten Kitchen's rosemary flatbreads (but substituting chives and wheat flour); my now-classic stuffed baby potatoes; wilted spinach salad goat cheese packets and a warm honey-balsamic vinaigrette; and drunken peaches with ginger sorbet. My guest's selection of a Macon-villages Chardonnay complemented my culinary choices surprisingly well, and a spot of pear brandy with dessert rounded out the meal. It's nice to have a hand in the kitchen, but mainly nice to have company in the kitchen...and help with the dishes certainly doesn't hurt.
These potatoes can be a bit time-intensive, but a good choice if you have a minion, er, assistant to help out. I particularly enjoy them as a tapas-style offering as they travel well and make good finger food. If you're especially finicky about presentation, cut off the rounded bottoms so that they sit flat -- myself, I'm a fan of curves.
8-10 Baby potatoes
3-4oz Goat cheese
~2 T Coarsely chopped herbs of your choice (I used chives and a sprinkling of dried thyme)
2-3 Cloves garlic, crushed
A few healthy pinches of sea salt and plenty of fresh cracked pepper
Capers (or, olives)
Boil potatoes with salt until just tender. Rinse, let cool, halve, and scoop out the fleshy insides. Mix with everything except capers/olives, check seasoning, then pack into potato skins. Top with capers or olives, garnish with chives or parsley, and chili oil if you're feeling especially decorative.
NB: You could also sprinkle with breadcrumbs and broil for a few minutes, but I prefer them cold, despite the persistent San Francisco summer fog.
Saturday, August 30
Monday, August 25
Perhaps I should rename this blog, "Starving Student 101."
My fixation with one-pot meals continues, but this time I can at least pretend to maintain my product-focus premise by introducing Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend. A lovely combination of Israeli couscous, red and green orzo, baby chickpeas, and red quinoa, this whole grain blend is quick, easy, and nutritious. That said...I don't love Israeli couscous. It's so starchy! And, as per usual, I find couscous tends to be rather bland unless you put in a big effort.
Sooo, of course I put in a big effort: a handful of toasted almonds, some very garlicky sauteed mushrooms, a sprinkling of basil, and a generous crumbling of ever-creamy roquefort. Delightful, nutritious, balanced -- and did I mention cheap and easy? Those seem to be my tastes these days, in women and food...
Saturday, August 23
Last weekend I held a pre-nuptial cheese-tasting for the illustrious Tarr clan and the parents of the eventual bride. It was a France vs. USA tasting: rather apropos considering the current festivities/competitions (I would have brought a Chinese cheese, but as previously noted the Chinese see cheese as solid phlegm, thus they aren't so big on dairies). Six rounds of cheese later, here are the group's rulings.
California Crottin (PG) vs. Le Lingot (PG)
served with Sancerre and apricot preserves
Crottins are dense little rounds of goat cheese, typically exhibiting the gamut of classic goat's cheese characteristics: chalky, tangy, lactic, lovely. The California Crottin is all of these things in a stocky, sturdy little nugget. Le Lingot, on the other hand, (the link is a great article from the SF Gate) is deliciously lemony with a voluptuous creamline. I thought it ripened beautifully on the train ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, yet the judging panel decided it melted, literally, against the stoic Crottin. Point one for team USA.
Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor (G) vs. St Maure de Tourraine (RG)
served with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and local honey
Truffle Tremor is one of my all-time favorite cheeses, and it never fails to impress. Flecks of black truffles peek out of luscious goaty paste melting to a runny creamline nearing the rind. There is a balanced piquancy to this cheese that is unrivaled, even by the in-your-face spice of the ash-covered St Maure. Click on the links if you want to know the story behind the stick. Team USA is pulling ahead.
Jasper Hill Constant Bliss (C) vs. Brillat Savarin (C)
served with Champagne and balsamic strawberries
Ahhh the Brillat was just so ripe -- so perfectly, delectably, fragrantly, decadently ripe. I kept smelling the wrapper. This cheese always brings fabrics to mind: velvet, satin, silk. Paired with the champagne and peppery strawberry relish the entire experience can only be summarized as: rich. Still, when we followed our silky Brillat with the slightly firmer and more complex Constant Bliss we had to concede the latter's superiority.
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk (C) vs. Abbaye de Citeaux (C)
served with Norman cider and toasted almonds with honey
I had to make three trips to the cheese counter over the course of two weeks to get my hands, finally, on a round of Red Hawk. This stuff is popular! It's pungent, but balanced; rich, yet palatable. In fact, the group ultimately found it more palatable than the famous/infamous Abbaye de Citeaux, which I included largely because of it's dwindling availability: cheeses like Abbaye de Citeaux will no longer be allowed in the States because the moisture content (greater than 67 percent water). I don't quite understand this law, but you can read more here. At least we have Red Hawk to satiate our stinky cravings.
Gruyere Surchoix (C) vs. Beaufort D'Alpage (C)
served with a Cotes du Rhone and all of the accompaniments
Both these cheeses were pressed, cooked cow's milk cheeses featuring a toasty, earthy profile and a firm, snackable texture. Neither stood out as a favorite with the group, but both were superb -- round five results in a draw, although in my heart this one belongs to Wisconsin for their truly delicious gruyere. Both worked particularly well with the toasted almonds and honey, although in hindsight I would have preferred a beer pairing.
Point Reyes Blue (C) vs. Roquefort (S)
served with a Port, a Sauternes, cocoa fig spread and an almond fig cake
I had never tried the Point Reyes Blue but decided to trust the advice of the Whole Foods cheese counter when selecting a domestic blue. I think I regret my decision. "Mild" in this case seems to mean "bland", and "subtle" might be substituted with "boring." I'd stick with Black River Blue or Rogue's Oregon Blue next time. The ever-salty Roquefort therefore took the prize this round, particularly when complimented by the Port -- the dessert Sauternes didn't quite stand up to the blue punch, and the fig-based accouterments did little to enhance the cheese.
In the end, France: 1 USA: 4. Who knew our palates were so patriotic?
*Photos courtesy of Robin from Roto-Blog. Thanks, Ro!
P - Pasteurized; R - Raw; G - Goat; S - Sheep; C - Cow
Wednesday, August 20
I've recently been reminded that being a student is hard. Really hard. Particularly graduate school when studying topics like, say, Anatomy, or Traditional Chinese Medical Theory, demanding endless hours of memorizing and regurgitation ad nauseum.
Furthermore, with the recent departure of my little friend with the big stomach, I've realized that it's also difficult working up the motivation to cook for one. I know I used to cook -- I have this blog as proof. But lately I've had more than a couple meals consisting of dark chocolate and raisins. This is problematic, and not at all conducive to the aforementioned studying. One alternative is to eat out more, but my poor little student checking account really can't handle that.
And so, I am renewing my interest in one-pot meals. I need food that is healthy, light, tasty, and quick. I'm also revisiting my devotion to avoid raw foods, since that seems to be the first thing they hammer into your head at Chinese medicine school (right before "cheese is essentially solid phlegm" -- yes, that's a direct quote).
Thus I present: one-pot pasta. I've always preferred blanched vegetables to raw anyhow, and this is a lovely summer dish.
1/2 package pasta (I use whole grain with flax meal)
Two large handfuls of snap peas, ends removed, thickly sliced on the bias
One lemon, juiced
Four cloves of garlic, crushed
A hefty drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
A nice knob of goat cheese (I used Truffle Tremor because I happened to have some leftover in the fridge; any soft cheese will do)
Simmer pasta in a generous amount of salted water. When it seems almost done, throw in the snap peas. After a minute or so, drain and return to pot. Add crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and plenty o' black pepper. Serve topped with goat cheese. Makes two generous servings, so you have leftovers to take to class tomorrow...
Tuesday, August 12
Cmoore's note: When I recently found matcha in San Francisco's Japantown, I was ecstatic. Not only do I love matcha lattes (soy), but I've been wanting to cook/bake with matcha for months. Here, at last, I thought, was the answer to my culinary invocations. Not so -- whereas I believed (and believe) that the term matcha is synonymous with a form of powdered roasted green tea, the matcha I procured is, in fact, a blend that includes green tea still in leaf form. The following post recounts Perrin's misadventure with our "ground" matcha:
Perrin: thought process:
we have lots of matcha. why not bake with it? GOOD IDEA.
find recipe based on very limited ingredients. aha! i think i've found a good one-- Matcha Tea and Honey Cakes.
this looks great! not only is it chinese (go beijing olympics), but i could put in our local honey too. i bet this would taste really good.
assemble all ingredients. use up our last 3 eggs. prepare to add matcha powder...oh shit, it's not POWDER, it's matcha tea leaves! they're not ground. should have paid more attention. ah well, i will figure it out.
figure it out? yeah right. panic. find a blender, with parts strewn across various parts of cabinet. attempt to assemble blender in a haphazard fashion. pour a generous helping of matcha leaves into blender. look around to see if roommate is still home. good. he's gone.
hm. why does it smell like burning rubber in the kitchen? crap, it might be the blender. frantically turn blender off. smell gradually subsides. roommate walks through the front door and into kitchen.
he sniffs the air, "it smells good." leaves kitchen. smells good??
sigh. take blender off stand, only to discover that the matcha leaves are not, in fact, turned into powder. entire batch of "blended" matcha proceeds to fall out the bottom of blender. mess ensues.
decide to make the leaves into a powder with my own brute strength. use a knife and cutting board in attempt to crush leaves. more mess ensues. become exasperated and grind leaves with thumb and forefinger. dump leaves in dough and hope for the best.
stick mixture in oven for alloted time. is it done yet? hastily take it out and turn off oven. hm they look a little raw, maybe i should put it back in? turn oven back on. stick mixture in a little longer. wait. okay, they look a tad brown, but they're done. success! that wasn't so bad.
break off a tiny piece of cake. the matcha results in a weird, bitter flavor in mouth. kind of like garbage drizzled with honey. uh, what can i do to make this taste better? frosting makes everything taste better? right? right.
proceed to google 'how to make your own frosting'. decide on a brown sugar frosting. sounds good. re-read recipe. wow that's a lot of ingredients. oh well.
make frosting with maximum mess, using half of dishes in kitchen. proceed to frost shit cakes.
why do i still have a gallon of leftover frosting?? stick it in fridge and hope nobody notices.
resolve to stick to ingredients that actually taste good.
Cmoore's post-script: The tea cakes are, in fact, delicious. More like muffins than cakes, but the flavor is lovely, the texture is moist, and the improvised brown sugar frosting adds the perfect touch of sweetness. I would recommend this recipe to anyone -- anyone, that is, who has matcha powder on hand.
Monday, August 11
I couldn't pass up posting the link to Slate's post on "The Next Great American Beer," mainly for the section that discusses PBR's aspiration to become the "President of Beers," which is coupled with a lovely discussion of Pabst's marketing tactics (successfully reeling in hordes of hipsters). There are also a few interesting notes on the concept of domestic beer.
Thursday, August 7
A friend recently directed me to the New York Times review of La Zucca Magica.
In sum: Inspired Italians in the ever-succulent South of France cooking voluptuous vegetarian food. A first! And decorating their restaurant with puppets made from gourds. Another first.
From the owners: “We said ‘basta!’ to trying to pretend the slices did not come from a nice little pig.”
Basta, indeed. This makes me long for Provencal flavors and Old World markets. And...gourds...
Wednesday, August 6
People always talk about last meals. "What would your last meal be?" "This is so good I could die right now." "You're eating like this is your last meal!" Etc.
Sunday, August 3
I haven't been sleeping much. I'd like to blame the dramatic move 3,000 miles from my comfort zones and routines, or the sudden onset of piles of homework and a class schedule, or even the stresses related to working 20 hours per week as a massage therapist (which are, in fact, extensive). And some nights these are the perpetrators, along with whatever other demons choose to drop by for a chat at 3:00am.
Saturday, August 2
I've always wondered how, exactly, people remember anything about wine. Sure, I have a decent grasp of the basic tasting principles, but how on earth do you remember that '96 was a great year for the Bordeaux coming out of Chateau Quelquechose Impressive, and that it should be consumed in March of 2009? I see gimcrack wine notebooks in every boutique-y kitchen goods store in the Bay Area, and I think I've tried to use them on two separate, ambitious occasions -- to no avail. Perhaps that sort of resource is helpful if you frequent tasting rooms, but when I drink wine I am drinking wine and would rather not stop to dissect the experience, or memorize the production notes. I also don't happen to frequent tasting rooms (although I do have an interview to work at one tomorrow -- wish me luck!)
Friday, August 1
Thursday, July 31
Last Friday, July 25, esteemed Governor Arnold Swarznegger passed a bill that prohibited California restaurants from using trans fats. New York City, Seattle, parts of Maryland, and even my dear Philadelphia (former most-obese city in the country) have banned trans fats, but California is the first state to include restaurants under this sort of law.
Wednesday, July 30
Sunday, July 27
Being without a kitchen of my own is putting me in a bad place. I wander past street-side displays of oranges and onions and spontaneously daydream about citrus spring rolls for the next two blocks. I duck into Safeway to buy a lone bulbous eggplant and stare at it, longingly, guiltily, each time I open the refrigerator. I eat vegan chicken nuggets straight from the box, uncooked, piled with mounds of ketchup that drip through my fingers. I buy spices I can't use for the sheer carnal pleasure of inhaling their fragrant-but-inedible fumes, and spend far too much time browsing through thrift stores and kitchen catalogs, examining gadgets I can't yet give a proper home. Suddenly, I inexplicably find myself in Whole Foods, sampling the watermelon and goat gouda for the third time this week. I think I actually had an inappropriate dream involving chana masala. And I almost bought a basil plant yesterday but caught myself before committing the poor flora to my current vagabond life.
So, dear readers, I'm asking for your help. Tell me about your favorite ways to prepare the following foods, and if you're feeling particularly generous choose one to make and tell me all about it. You can post to your own blog or leave me lurid details in the comments section. I look forward to indulging my inner gastronome vicariously through you.
What's your favorite way to use...
_Oranges (Not the only fruit, but a current obsession)
_Tofu (Look for, maybe find, something divine)
_Eggplant (Alone in the kitchen, the agony)
_Onions (Peel first, like my love)
_Basil (Search your mixed-up files)
Bonus points for identifying any or all of the literary references above.
Thursday, July 24
“I always say a gastronome who isn’t an environmentalist is just stupid, and I say an environmentalist who isn’t a gastronome is just sad.”
Carlo Petrini, creator of the Slow Foods movement. Slow Foods USA is coming up, right here in San Francisco -- view the full New York Times article here. And if anyone is planning on attending...
I set out to make a batch of peanut butter cookies this afternoon (credit to 101 Cookbooks), but after I got home from the grocery store and proudly laid out my organic natural peanut butter (crunchy, to be redundant), grade A maple syrup, extra virgin olive oil, and other ingredients practically requisite in a San Franciscan baked good, I discovered what I thought to be a fatal flaw: baking powder. The recipe, as you may note if you followed the link, calls for baking soda. Many people keep baking soda in their refrigerator, to dispel food odors; however, I'm currently a houseguest, and my host doesn't observe this tradition.
This is not the first time I, or any other hapless would-be baker, suffered this mix-up. One of the few stories told about my mother involves a wok, a beef stir-fry, and the wrong white powdery baking substance. Apparently the result was inedible, and I was always careful to check and double-check my ingredient list after imagining a dinner party gone terribly awry.
That said, I did some quick research and discovered all was not lost: thrice the baking powder can be used to substitute for any given quantity of baking soda. Apparently flavor may be compromised, but my cookies were (are) delicious nonetheless. Brilliant. If you want to go the other way, try 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part baking soda.
However, the main lesson learned: keep baking soda in the refrigerator.
Monday, July 21
From my Fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine Theory class:
"Without the kitchen, the army is useless."
We were talking about the functions of zong qi, but I feel that this idea applies to many facets of life. Think Napoleon. Consider Washington. Ponder your own assailments upon the world.
Feed yourself well this week.
Wednesday, July 16
Always a bit behind the vogue, I noticed the vernal influx of food-o-sphere posts on fava beans, and I wanted to contribute my own herald to the noble dicot.
I first saw fresh fava beans in Toronto's sprawling, vibrant, supremely inspirational Kensington Market. Rifling through the endless stalls of cheese, breads, clothing, smoking paraphernalia, spices, dry goods, and produce, I spied the pile of gnarled, spotted pods, which looked like they could have fallen from Jack's beanstalk. "Ah, fava beans!" I exclaimed, largely for my cohort's benefit, "What luck!"
I, of course, had never seen, cooked, or possibly even consumed fresh fava beans at that point in my young, occasionally brash life. Still, I knew I wanted them, and after selecting large, green pods that felt heavy for their size (well it works for lemons and melons...), I walked away with about half a pound of fava beans and the stirrings of possibility.
Now, how to eat them? First, the favas must be shelled, like peas, or rather, like jumbo peas on steroids. I find it easiest to peel back the stem and attached string running down the seam of the bean pod, similar to removing the strings from snap peas or sugar peas.
Next, run your finger along the seam to separate the shell and reveal a row of plump favas nestled comfortably inside. The beans can be removed, and the amply-padded pods discarded (or, if you're really cool, composted).
The first time I experimented with favas, in my wayward youth, I ignorantly stopped at this step, and honestly I don't think the meal was any the worse for my blissful neglect. They were boiled, then marinated with avocados, cherry tomatoes, and chickpeas in a thick lemon vinaigrette, and served in dripping spoonfuls atop thirsty squares of toasted baguette. Fava experiment number one was surely a success.
However, with a bit less bravado and a bit more research I would have discovered the universally-recognized need to double peel your favas. That's right: there's still a long road ahead until we reach the promised Fava Land. After boiling (3-9 minutes in salted water, depending on whether you're going to cook them further), use a paring knife to split the moderately translucent sac surrounding the brilliant green bean. I took the road less travelled and settled for my very own adequately-dexterous fingers, delighting in each painstaking emerald exposé.
Once this was accomplished I marinated the favas, along with chopped cucumbers and red onions, in a lemon-cumin vinaigrette. A few hours later I added a batch of marinated mushrooms and some very salty feta, and again served my salad with an appropriate bread product (Mediterranean flatbreads this time, still good for sopping and scooping).
Serve favas with an appropriately springy wine to suit their fleeting season (April-May). I like the three Italian V's -- Vernaccia, Vermentino, or Verdicchio -- all of which have lovely "green" qualities: melon, lime, hints of grass. A sauvignon blanc would work well, too, but I prefer a more nuanced Old World origin, like the Loire Valley, to the brash New World producers (New Zealand, Australia).
For more fava-related inspiration, check out these now-archived links:
Rosa Jackson, in one of her infinitely inspirational experiments, came up with this Fava Bean Gnocci.
Susan at Food Blogga posted this informative post with preparation instructions and a recipe for Fava Bean and Dill Crostini.
The good folks of Swirling Notions presented this post, featuring another Fava Bean Crostini.
Ulterior Epicure offers this eloquent review of his meal at Bluestem, which included a Fava Bean Salad.
Saturday, July 12
I know I've already posted about making a cheese board, but I've done it again and gosh darn it I make pretty spreads. The latest featured an 18-month-aged Gouda, Morbier, Cypress Grove Bermuda Triangle, and a mystery goat cheese stumbled upon at Whole Foods. We served the dairy delights with candied pecans, fig preserves, raw honey from a neighbor's backyard, thinly sliced apples and pears, grapes, strawberries, and sesame crisps.
And for your visual pleasure:
NB: If you're interested in pairing wine and cheese, check out The Kitchn's post here.
Friday, July 11
We're temporarily staying in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, which Perrin affectionately likens to Spanish Harlem in her "native" New York. There are literally taquerias and/or Mexican groceries on every corner, and I'm overwhelmed by the culinary possibilities whirling through my brain. Nine-cent limes, vats of fresh queso, the ever-popular chipotles in adobe, entire aisles devoted to neat rows of masa harina -- better yet fresh handmade tortillas...and the requisite overflowing bins of yellow plantains.
Plantains aren't usually hailed as a Mexican staple, instead credited to the austral regions of Central and South America. When I first encountered the humble plantain -- plain, blackened, obtuse in its fickle ripening patterns --- I was skeptical of its reputed charms. However, a few hours later the starchy fruit, fried simply in oil and salt, had inveigled me with its piquant textures and flavors. Here was a food that, though moderately useless and thoroughly unappealing in the raw, could be elevated to heights of sheer succulence in the meager locale of a dormitory kitchen.
Since my undergrad days, I've continued my occasional trysts with the staid plantain. Boasting economic and gastronomic utility, plantains seem to be an ideal food for citizens of developing countries...and newly-impoverished graduate students. For roughly ninety cents per person we concocted this fetching repast of fried eggs, plantains, seasoned black beans, and fruit: simple fare, yet substantial, satisfying, succinct.
Plantains are moderately high in calories due to their starch content, but also high in fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin K. If you slice the plantains thinly, and use more oil, you can create something closer to chips; conversely, if you try grilling the result will seem softer, even mushy. Which brings me to yet another application: mash boiled or steamed plantains with adequate salt and butter for a unique alternative to that ubiquitous other mashed starch.
The hardest part about working with plantains is anticipating the aforementioned troublesome ripening patterns. Green plantains are starchier, and thus best prepared as one might use a potato (boiled, mashed, baked). They will pass through various shades of yellow and brown until blossoming to a deep black, and which point the plantains are sweet, and ideal for dessert recipes or as an accent to more savory foods.
Tuesday, July 8
Guest post: By Ariel Braun, a rising freshman at Hamilton College
Many do not believe that a great dining experience can be found beyond the borders of an expansive city. I would have thought so, not meaning to sound arrogant, after I had left the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City on July 2nd. Every up-and-coming or already successful entrepreneur chef or producer that I hesitantly and shyly spoke with hails from the lively streets of New York or a quaint little cobblestone path from San Fran. Though many outstanding and publicly recognized restaurants do take residence in the "big" city, a lazy northern New Jerseyian need not go to the trouble of taking the ferry across the Hudson when one can drive to Su Restaurant in Edgewater. My initial attraction came from an advertisement in the Bergen Record. All I needed to read was "healthy cuisine", "no trans fat", "vegetarian", "partly vegan", and an entire plethora of dishes made with tempeh, tofu, and seitan.
I must admit that in my perspective, Paramus is not known for high quality cuisine. As my sister likes to put it, "there are hidden gems" but, still Paramus is littered with duplicates of Chiles, Outback Steakhouse, and The Cheesecake Factory, all found in overly big malls or in the local strip malls that curiously always have a Starbucks within their midst. These restaurants are of but a few that many in my town refer to as "an upscale meal". I do not mean to sound disillusioned or feicious; it's just that every now and again I want to go to a restaurant that isn't judged on how much food you can fit on a plate for the low price of $13.99.
My past experiences might explain why I was a bit leery when we (my Mom and I) pulled up to a tiny strip mall, where Su was located in the far corner. My initial dread was somewhat lifted when I saw a Traders Joe's heading the initial entrance to the strip. Still, the exterior of Su did not appear anything more than an average Chinese takeout place and even the initial interior walkway had a large desk with several menus scattered over the table, reminiscent of a takeout joint.
Another bad omen followed as the entire restaurant was completely empty if not for a father and son at a far table. However as we were seated, the waiter explained that many folks did not normally venture to restaurants on July 4th. My entire childhood of grilling the ubiquitous hotdogs and hamburgers on Independence Day had somehow escaped me, and the empty restaurant made more sense. My mom and I not being the typical eaters had rather preferred an Asian fusion restaurant rather than the dreaded meat that my brother cannot fathom why we do not eat and enjoy.
Su was arranged in a vertical manner with long tables, a long hallway leading to the bathroom, and long leg room (ok maybe "long" didn't fit the last description). Each table was stationed almost like a cubicle, with only one side of the square table being open to the server. I would hazard a guess that if the area of space was even an inch smaller, a case of claustrophobia would have overcame me. However, this was not the case and the ambiance was dignified, chic, and young. The walls were painted a burgundy red, almost a tart cranberry. The chairs were very modern, constructed from metal and rather short in the back (lucky enough for me that my small stature prevented any discomfort). The entire atmosphere concluded with a naturalistic approach; given that the menu was sandwiched between two 12 x 7 pieces of rustic, clean-shaven plywood. The piece de résistance was the sole waiter of the restaurant. In his early twenties, his head was shaved and he had several protruding piercings from his ears, in addition to several visible dragon tattoos. He matched perfectly with the "cool" surroundings and was amiable, kind, and attentive to his sole customers (I mention his temperament, because it is a very difficult job to deal with my mother and myself at a restaurant, given our unabiding desire to question every single item on the menu and to ask several times where the bathroom is, given that we tend not to listen the first, second, or even third time someone answers our asinine questions. I always joke with my mom that at orientation for new waiters, restaurants must use my mom as the model of an aggravating customer to judge the prospective waiter's patience. A test, I myself would probably fail). So far, so good. Su did not have the commonplace tapestry of unwarranted paintings that occupies the traditional Paramus eatery that, try as they must, the ugly landscapes paintings do not add many points to cover up the disenchanting menu items.
Being used to the typical diner menu that lasts for never-ending pages, the menu at Su seemed rather small to me. However, upon reconsideration, I would consider this to be a good thing since the smaller scale allows for a more personal, fresh menu; the restaurant needen't impress its customers with an all expansive menu. Su's food conquers that job simply enough. In addition, there is a glossary on the back of the menu for those not used to the vegetarian/vegan proteins and other specialties. I needed to glance at the glossary several times, in order to classify a variety of mushroom (eryngi) and to reinstate my familiarity with jicama ("a large, edible, tuberous root of a tropical American plant, of the legume family").
Every single item on the menu sparked a slight overflow of hungry saliva. Though many items embodied a certain Asian style (dumplings, scallion pancakes, and Pad Thai rice noodles), the traditional elements were updated with a fusion of Italian influences, Mexican, and traditional American elements. The Four-mushroom risotto, Orange spiced Guacamole, and Club sandwich respectively. Though each dish contained a spark of recognition from their ancestry, these dishes were spiced with a pinch of remembrance from Japan, China, Thailand, and India.
My eye slid to the Entrée portion of the menu and quickly found the Roasted whole wheat seitan with Chinese broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and roasted almonds. The next item down brought even more excitement and enthusiasm: Spinach pistachio roll with Eryungi mushrooms, yellow squash, zucchini, white asparagus, bell peppers, and gingko nuts. Normally at restaurants I am quite passive when it comes to ordering; but this was no time to rely on the back and forth conversation of "You pick", "No, YOU pick." As the waiter returned with filled water glasses and inquired of our choice, I didn't wait for my mom to ask how big the 'entrees' were against the 'small plates'. The waiter nodded in approval and walked down the hallway to place the orders.
Maybe less than seven minutes passed before our food arrived to my equally famished mom and myself. I had expected good food from carefully reading the menu but, I had not anticipated the presentation that stems from the innovations of nouvelle cuisine. The spinach roll was constructed on a long and narrow, pristine white plate, which candidly showcased the full array of colors. I have an annoying habit of always tasting each element of a dish first, almost like deconstruction, and only after have I tasted each individual element, that I eat like the famished, curious eater that I am; consuming large bits of the food, combing the elements into one constructed masterpiece in my mouth. The bottom of the plate was drizzled with a creamy white sauce, not quite the consistency of béchamel. Though this concoction could have easily been made of cream, the 'V' next to the item on the menu told me the vegan dish couldn't have possibly contained dairy. A slight ring of asparagus stroked the sauce and I concluded it was a puree of the aforementioned vegetable. The sauce was slightly sweet and acidic and the roll slid down your throat with a minor pungency left in your mouth. On far side of each of the sliced rolls, was another thick mixture, again resembling something familiar: mashed potatoes. However, the color of the starch had a more pastoral, green and yellow tone and tasted sweeter and less creamy than the typical potato. Well, here was another carefully planned puree of vegetables including what I believe to be the zucchini and yellow squash. The roll itself was constructed of some type of protein, either seitan or tempeh that was coiled around spinach. The protein far eclipsed the satisfaction you get from the typical chicken, but still retained the stringy and chewy texture of shredded chicken breast. A scattered array of red and green bell peppers and big, spongy gingko nuts finished the dish.
A larger, oblong circular dish was also placed on the table. The whole wheat seitan (Question. Can seitan be whole wheat? I thought it was a soy product) glistened on the bed of vegetables. Most likely due to the roasting process, the seitan was nutty and tender but, did require a job of chewing the protein enough so that it could be easily swallowed. However, my difficulty in swallowing the meal might not have been due to any incorrect preparation, but my animalistic approach to consume the delicious dish quickly and haphazardly, before other ravenous, jealous foes (namely my unattended carnivore brother and my sister, whom one would think hasn't eaten for days, let alone pick up a fork and knife) would appear. The vegetables and seitan were swimming in a dark, salty sauce that was a nice change from the sweet, light spinach roll. After devouring the whole dish I realized that my previous assertion that the chef had left out the broccoli promised in the menu was incorrect; I discovered the spinach-like strands with tougher ends that must have been the variation of broccoli from China.
Though I am very much a dessert person, I do not usually spend the extra couple of dollars on the dessert that is usually not given much thought by the chef. To me, chefs do not pay as much attention to desserts; unrightfully so. The dessert is the ending reminder and the last approach the chef has to convince the patron that the restaurant is worth dining at again. However, my experience at Su was so exceptional that I couldn't help but to ask for the menu again to look at the desserts. While only one of the desserts was vegan, the selection seemed varied enough. There was the traditional Deep fried banana nuggets ('nuggets' to me, was kind of a put-off word, since my memory took me to McDonalds) and homemade ice-cream, that was updated with interesting flavors like lychee, red bean, and green tea. But, I am a chocolate and peanut butter gal and headed straight for the Profiteroles with white chocolate and creamy peanut butter filling with a natural berry sauce. I happily awaited and soon the 'dragon man' waiter brought out a triangular dish that contained not one, not two, but SIX profiteroles! My mom gasped out loud and in hushed tones murmured that, "He [the waiter] must have thought we wanted two of them." (When the check came, it turned out that we were only charged for one dessert. My mom was overly impressed, noting the portion size and became even more flabbergasted when she thought that perhaps it was a misprint on the check and that we did in fact receive two desserts, but only charged for one). Nonetheless I peered at the round balls of puffed dough with no white chocolate in sight. Knowing better than to dismiss the chef, I pierced a ball with my fork and gingerly placed it on my dessert plate and spooned some bluish-purplish sauce on top. The fork didn't work so well to pierce the dough and I succumbed to picking the ball up with my fingers and taking a bite. As I was chewing and trying to suppress the urge to close my eyes (a habit which my brother does when trying to be sophisticated but, I find just annoying) I peered through the dough to find a little pocket of peanut butter and what appeared to be melted chocolate that had been cooled and mixed with the peanut butter. The filling was no overly oppressive that like in most profiteroles occupies the whole interior of the dough; the filling was just enough to provide flavor and texture, but not overly so to take away from the delicate exterior. A little dip in the fruit sauce was the perfect foil to the rich profiteroles as was the several scoops of vanilla ice-cream accompaniment on the plate.
It is funny to note that during the entire eating frenzy my mom and I made the most gangly, unappetizing noises that I can only laugh at now. Not to be crude but, the meal was orgasmic and the sounds only added to the feeling our protruding tummies were causing. The sound orchestration wouldn't have been so bad if we hadn't been the only customers in the restaurant. I feel like our sounds were amplified across the entire space and though the waiter remained just as pleasant, I believe when we left he must have had a roaring, hysterical laugh.
After stumbling out of the restaurant in a food coma with promises to return to the waiter, my mom and I spotted a Yolato (yogurt and gelato ingeniously combined together with less calories than ice-cream) café. After just having visited a Yolato in Paramus, I peered through the glass windows to see that this particular chain offered more flavors than its counterpart. And so, my mom and I happily walked into the store to harass more unsuspecting food servers with questions, only to realize that we were too full to order a pistachio yolato for the road.