Saturday, August 30

Chocolate-Covered Kim Chi (Not a Mistake)

A friend who was living in Japan sent me a killer care package a few months ago, which included this tasty specimen. It tastes like...chocolate.  Wait!  Wait for it...oh!  There it is!  Now it tastes like...chocolate-covered kim chi.  Wowsers.  Spicy, pungent, salty, sweet, with a hint of...yes, yes that is in fact fermented cabbage on the finish.  Delicious cabbage? Undecided.  But props for fitting all four flavors into one foil-wrapped package.

Monday, August 25

Whole Grains, the Quick Way

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

Cheese Mania

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

One-Pot Wonder

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

Playing with Matchas

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.

press 'ON.'

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

Patriotic Hipsters

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.  

I'll stick with my Lagunitas and my Stone for now, thanks.  Go ahead and call me a snob, but at least I'm a snob with intact taste buds.

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

Firsts and Lasts

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.  

Well what about first meals?

As in, what shall I cook for my first meal in my new apartment?

All I know so far is that there will be champagne, fresh basil, more than likely an avocado, and possibly a few tears. 

Sunday, August 3

Mate Chai, Mate?

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.  

But last night, the culprit was my friend Anna, whose enchanting company is quite nearly eclipsed by her stunning Sapphire-and-tonics-with-limeade.  Tasty, thirst-quenching, and inspiring a pleasant euphoria, I lost count after round three.  

So this morning, when my alarm jostled me out of bed after a brief and fitful nap, my first thought was: coffee.  However, the cafe closest to my bus stop serves slightly stale muddy water in lieu of that finer roasted stimulant: pass.  I considered tea, but that didn't seem quite gutsy enough for the task at hand.  Then I noticed the sign for Guayaki Mate Chai and my decision was made.  

Mate (mah-tay) is a stimulating South American beverage long imbibed to promote health, vitality, and longevity.  With 24 naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and a host of antioxidants, it's definitely got a leg up on a cup o' joe. There seems to be some debate as to the compound that gets the job done -- is it caffeine?  Theobromine?  Mateine?  Whatever it is, claims to increased mental clarity and sustainable energy don't seem far from the mark.  At any rate, it got me through five-and-a-half consecutive hours of deep tissue bodywork.

Mate chai is a liquid spiced tea concentrate made from mate leaves instead of black tea.  Mix 1:1 with the milk or milk-like substance of your choice.  I chose steamed soy milk with no regrets.  The flavor is grassy, roasted, and slightly metallic, in the most compelling and ambrosial way possible.  

As a bonus, it's organic, vegan, and kosher.  It's even said to fight bad breath.  Put down the coffee cup.

Saturday, August 2

The Note

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!)

Tyler Balliet at The Second Glass recently reviewed this unique solution to my conundrum: The Note, from Hinckley Cellars.  This is a clever metal device designed to help slip that curvy bottle right out of it's little label in no time flat.  Clever, or kitschy?  Maybe a little bit of both.  Instead of using The Note, Tyler takes photos of wine labels with his cell phone: I happen to find this notion nothing less than brilliant (thanks, Tyler).  But, if you're really into wine gadgets, check out the video below and get ready to fork over your $65.

Friday, August 1

A Response to the Responses

Thanks to all who chimed in with their culinary two-cents.  Special credit to Nimoy, who made her very own blog post on orange-glazed tofu.  Check it out, it looks delicious!  Props for using three of the five prompt ingredients.  

Also, since few of you were willing to take the plunge and wager guesses on my literary references, here they are, with my heartfelt (although not always first-hand) recommendation:

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson)
Jeanette Winterson's gastronomically-endowed autobiography, replete with food-tinged metaphors and told in her very distinct, particularly captivating style.  Not my favorite Winterson, but still an excellent literary experience.  

Looking for God: An Unexpected Journey through Tattoos, Tofu, and Pronouns (Nancy Ortberg)
A series of essays on the mundane nature of the divine, which, it appears, includes that most mundane of vittles: tofu.  Heavy on the Christian overtones, but an interesting approach to daily spirituality nonetheless.

Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant (Jenni Ferrari-Adler)
From Goodreads: "A delightful and unexpected collection of pieces by writers, foodies, and others-including Nora Ephron, Marcella Hazan, and Ann Patchett-on the distinctive experiences of cooking for one and dining alone."  Highly recommended by one Nancy E., and particularly germane to my current situation.
- and -
 The Agony and the Eggplant (Walter Hogan)
Biography of children's author/illustrator/humorist Daniel Pinkwater.  I can't actually vouch for this one, but on a somewhat related note, Irving Stone's biographical novel of Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ectasy, belongs on everyone's reading list.  

Peel My Love Like an Onion (Ana Castillo)
A Mexican flamenco dancer riddled with Polio navigates the mores of urban Chicago.  Maybe not so deep, but the Goodreads comments seem to concur that the voice is "authentic."  You be the judge.  

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E. L. Konigsberg)
A childhood favorite; a classic.  If you haven't explored the Met with a pair of runaway children, if you've never thought of bathing in fountains and fishing for pennies to pay for your next meal, if you've never vicariously fallen in love with a mysterious statue...then drop whatever you're doing and head to the nearest library.  There's also Amazon.  You won't regret it.


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