Monday, January 31, 2011

The Kitchen Reader: Will Write for Food

This month's book, "Will Write for Food" by Dianne Jacob, was chosen by Sarah from Simply Cooked.

From Dianne Jacob's website

I guiltily admit that I wasn't sure I was going to find this month's selection to be all that interesting, even though I dutifully ordered the book from Amazon then procrastinated until the last week to read it. I'm pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised by how informative this writing manual is.

First off, I'm impressed by how relevant Dianne Jacob made this current edition by interviewing so many top name food bloggers. It really speaks to the power of the blogging medium and their influence to be included in such an instructive book.

I also very much enjoyed learning about the backgrounds of some of the preeminent food writers. I had no idea Jeffrey Steingarten used to be a lawyer, though i guess his pompous demeanor should have been the first clue (sorry lawyers who read this if i offended you, it's a gross over-generalization!). Cookbook author Greg Patent obtained a PhD in zoology before making the career switch. I've been idly reflecting that science is similar to cooking in a number of ways, so i don't find it surprising to hear of that kind of a switch. It's interesting how many food writers started out as general reporters e.g. Frank Bruni, Kim Severenson to name a few. I just assume they loved food first and the writing came second, but it's probably easier to develop a passion for food than to become a skilled reporter.

Finally, the book is packed full of ideas on how to improve your writing. Even though I write this blog for fun and have no aspirations/delusions of quitting my day job to become a "food personality", it's nice to be inspired and find new ways to hone a craft. Oddly enough, the majority of my last career in investment banking required writing - it involved writing coherent stock investment arguments in a concise but convincing manner that were published for investors as research reports. This was the part of the role that i enjoyed the most, conveying ideas in the written form and is one of the things that i miss in the corporate world (PowerPoint presentations just isn't the same medium).

I'm inspired to make some changes to my blog, hopefully for the better. Look for some new ideas in the weeks to come!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday's Food for Thought - Random Creatures

I may have a slight fascination with unusual meats (see prior post here). It's not an obsession yet and I certainly don't feel the urge to eat exotic creatures, but here are some stories in the news this week that I found amusing and wanted to share:

Serious Eats The Nasty Bits - Frog Soup
I've got a stomach of steel and most things don't bother me, like the baby chicken with head and feet still attached. Hell, I've dissected frogs in college. But even this post made me a little squeamish, though I did chuckle at it.

Threats keep Arizona eatery's lion tacos off menu
No one wants to believe that I found lion at a local butcher shop (Savenor's) - the most of comment that I get is "did you mean loin?". I wonder if Savenor's experienced the same reaction from the public as this restaurant did...

Chris Cosentino Tells Vanity Fair How He Would've Made Lady Gaga's Meat Dress (Vanity Fair story and Grub Street Boston recap) 
Speaking of meat, but perhaps put this in a category of someone who likes meat waaaay too much...

Cash-Strapped Bergen, N.J. To Fight Snow With ‘Pickle Juice’
Obviously not meat-related, but in the downright awesome category. I guess it's ok - it is compostable, right?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

They could be called Total Knock Outs

These cookies are known as TKO's:

That stands for "Thomas Keller Oreo", as made in Bouchon Bakeries in NYC, Napa and Vegas. I think I've been to all three locations (NYC and Napa for sure, Vegas is a blur) but I've never tried their oreos since I'm crazy about their bouchons, which are these cork-shaped dark and rich chocolate brownies. I've been known to walk the 10+ blocks in NYC from my old company's office to Columbia Circle, buy the bouchons and hand carry them on the plane to share with the husband at home (ok, so maybe the fruit/produce from California wasn't that strange in retrospect). But somehow, I'd never noticed their oreos.

This in itself is odd, because I am a big homemade oreo fan. I don't like the commercial brand because I find them too sweet. I don't go out of my either way to find the bakery version since I'm not that obsessed with them. However, one day in the last week or so, I was reviewing my starred blog reader entries and noticed a lovely post from local blogger Tiny Urban Kitchen featuring the Bouchon Bakery recipe, helpfully converted from weight measurements to volume. The white chocolate filling as opposed to the more traditional buttercream got my attention, so I got it into my head to give these cookies a try.

It did require a trip to Williams Sonoma to pick up a pastry bag since I don't have one (nor the decorating tips) and a set of cookie cutters (since I don't have any anymore). I also popped in to Whole Foods to pick up white chocolate (Green and Black's organic bars) and dutch cocoa powder (Lake Champlain Chocolates). Oh and a pound of butter, since we were out.

It was amusing to read the original recipe from Bouchon Bakery posted on The Kitchn site (link below), as half of the comments raved how amazing these cookies are while the other half complained it was a disaster. I'm guessing the complainers didn't realize the difference between weight and volume, which obviously can have a huge impact. In comparing the Bouchon Bakery recipe to Tiny Urban Kitchen's version, it was interesting to note that her adaptation called for 1 1/2 tsp of salt vs the "pinch" in the bakery recipe. We all know I'm a salt fiend so I went for the 1 1/2 tsp. I also generally reduce the amount of sugar that recipes call for, but in this case I didn't and I'm glad I didn't mess with it.

The verdict: These are addictive cookies. They're chocolately, they're salty, they're not too sweet, and they're definitely, wonderfully buttery. They're better than the store-bought version, and I like them better than the ones sold by Hi-Rise Bakery or Flour. The husband has declared these to be his new favourite cookie, more so than the white chocolate cranberry ginger cookies that I make all the time. Luckily for him, they made 42 sandwich cookies and I'm not sure if I was skimpy with the filling, or I just couldn't operate the pastry bag (both are reasonable possibilities), but I only used half the filling mixutre and have the remainder sitting in the fridge, ready to be used with another batch of cookies. It's a bit labour-intensive (I'm not the fastest rolling out the dough and cutting cookies, nor am I that adept with the pastry bag) so I'm saving the next batch for a weekend project or another snowstorm. The husband did go out and buy another pound of butter so I'm ready to go the next time I have a few hours to kill.

TKO's, or Homemade Oreos
from Tiny Urban Kitchen and Bouchon Bakery via The Kitchn

1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
15 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together using a paddle on medium speed. Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the butter and sugar mixture until combined. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 of an inch. Cut out cookies into desired shapes. Refrigerate the cut cookies for 20 minutes. Bake at 325°F for 12 minutes and let cool on a rack.

For the White Chocolate Ganache Filling:
7 ounces (14 tbsp) heavy cream
7 ounces white chocolate
1 ounces (2 tbsp) butter

Chop the white chocolate and place in a bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil and pour over the chopped white chocolate and stir until smooth. Add the butter and stir until incorporated. Allow the cream mixture to cool. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip until light and the mixture holds its shape. Refrigerate until needed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 started off more pharma than foodie

It's been a while since I've been here - 2011 had a fairly hectic start, most of it due to the pharma side of things than the food angle.

2011 actually started off kinda crappy because I was sick. I spent all of December with a sinus infection. Doesn't sound like much, but if you've ever had a sinus infection, it's surprisingly how lousy it can make you feel. I put it up with it, since I tend to get sinus infections easily, but after 4 weeks and not feeling any better, I finally decided to seek medical attention. The nurse practitioner who looked up my nostrils announced "Yep, they're inflamed" and sent me off with prescriptions for an antibiotic and an oral steroid. For those of you who've been fortunate to not have asthma-type of problems, you probably wouldn't know that oral steroids like prednisone is strong stuff and isn't good to take long-term because of its side effects - swelling, loss of bone density, amongst others. Luckily the antibiotic and steroid combination cleared things up after about two weeks, but the moral of the story is don't put up with a sinus infection for 4 weeks.

The other pharma event of 2011 involved a trip to San Fran to attend the JP Morgan Healthcare conference. This is probably the biggest investment event in the biotech/pharma industry. It's been a few years since I've attended this conference so it was nice to be back in that setting and catch up with many former colleagues. It was also a fantastic excuse to be in San Fran, which is probably my favourite city to visit. The hubby flew in mid-week to start our eating adventures, which consisted of the following:

  1. Wednesday night dinner at SPQR in the Pacific Heights neighbourhood of San Fran: We'd read a number of rave reviews of this little Italian joint. Showing up for dinner at 9:30 on a Wed helped since we didn't have a reservation and were able to get a seat at the bar right away. The reviews were right - simple Italian cuisine with Northern California ingredients done very well in a charming setting. Definitely try the spiced ricotta fritters with smoked maple syrup - essentially a savory, light as air doughnut that made for a wonderful starter.
  2. Thursday lunch in the Mission District: We were on a hunt to find the El tonayense food truck due to the hubby's taco craving. It took 20 mins of brisk walking to determine it wasn't in the area that we were in, and by this point I was ready to have a low glucose meltdown (it was close to 2 in the afternoon) so lunch involved a stop at Humphrey Slocombe and consisted of a scoop of ice cream - Vietnamese coffee for the hubby and Secret Breakfast for me, their famous vanilla base mixed with bourbon and cornflakes. They're also famous for their prosciutto ice cream, but alas no luck that day. We eventually did find the truck where I devoured a lingue torta, or a beef tongue sandwich. I love beef tongue so I was a very happy girl, though the saucy goodness made an enormous mess.
  3. Friday breakfast at Tartine Bakery: Another trip into the Mission District to a renown bakery where it's not unusual to find lineups snaking out the door and down the block on the weekend. A giant pain au chocolate and an orange blossom morning bun, both filled with butter, fueled us for our road trip.
  4. Friday lunch at Koi Palace in Daly City: Our plan was to drive south on Highway 1 to explore the coast. On the way, we made a point of stopping in Daly City based on a friend's recommendation when I asked where to get the best dim sum, since the dim sum offerings in Boston are weak at best. Delicious dim sum made all the better with the lack of a wait (since it was a weekday).
  5. Friday dinner at Dosa on Valencia: Another meal in the Mission District, this time South Indian vegetarian to give the body a break from the meat. We learned about this restaurant from Unique Eats on the Cooking Channel. They're known for a super spicy dosa, which is a crepe made of lentil and rice flours and covered with some sort of habernero sauce, but neither one of us thought we could stomach the spice and therefore went with tasty but tame veggie options. Dessert was Humphrey Slocombe again - our friend had suggested we try Bi-Rite Creamery as well, but we got lazy and went for the exact same flavours we'd eaten the day before. Why mess with a good thing?
  6. Saturday breakfast at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market: This is probably my favourite spot in the world on a warm and sunny day. It was more of a zoo than usual because the Good Food Awards winners were displaying their wares, but it was highly worth braving the chaos. In addition to one celebrity chef sighting (Chris Cosentino of Incanto and Boccalone, pushing a giant cart of onions), we snacked our way around the market, the highlight being the burger from 4505 meats. My one regret is that I didn't go back to buy a bag of Chicharrones (fried pork skin) that everyone raved about, but the crowds got to me by that point. We did end up with a tasty bag of organic clementines, 3 organic warren pears, and a pound of organic brussel sprouts that made it home with us in our carry-on. It was a nice souvenir from our trip.
  7. Saturday afternoon: We picked up lunch from the Spice Kit downtown that consisted of a Korean burrito (rice, beef short ribs and kim chi, wrapped in lettuce and rice paper), a bbq pork bun and a pork banh mi sandwich and drove up the coast on Highway 1, finally settling to eat on Stinson beach after a terrifyingly hilly drive. The verdict on the Asian fare - the burrito was my favourite but a little too big (I'm not a fan of regular burritos because of their size), the bbq pork bun was good but David Chang's Momofuku buns have ruined me for life, and surprisingly we thought we made a better banh mi sandwich. We continued north, eventually reaching Tomales Bay and the little town of Marshall for a late afternoon snack at Hog Island Oyster Company. A glass of wine and a dozen oysters by the water when it's 65 degrees and sunny out is a fantastic way to spend our last afternoon in Northern California.
  8. Saturday evening: We made it back into the city to watch a bit of the football game (don't ask me who was playing) over a glass of wine at a bar in the Pacific Heights neighbourhood before trekking over to Japantown for our last SF meal. We hit up Ino Sushi, a 20-seat restaurant tucked away in the corner of a strip mall that reminded me of the Porter Exchange plaza on steroids. Talk about a no-frills kind of place - they have no website, the elderly husband is the sushi chef and the elderly wife is the brusque server. Basic sushi offerings for the most part and not particularly pretty to look at, but boy was the sushi fresh and very tasty. We had the best unagi nigiri that we've probably ever eaten and tried monk fish liver nigiri, which is something we don't normally see on sushi menus. Monk fish sushi is highly worthwhile trying if you're a foie gras kind of person, a very unique experience at this little sushi joint.
So that's what we managed to pack into 3 days of eating. Next trip on the agenda is Puerto Rico in March, a mecca of pork products. I went last year without the husband and liked it enough to suggest going back this year, though I've already been informed that he will not rent segways with me to explore old San Juan. Now, if only I can survive the next 5 weeks of winter here in the Northeast...

Surfers in Santa Cruz - there was a sea otter bobbing near the surfers, eating a snack
San Fran Ferry Building Farmer's Market - notice how crowded it is?

Hog Island Oyster Company in Tomales Bay - 65 degrees and sunny

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