Candied Pecans, Two Ways

8 Dec

I can’t believe Thanksgiving flew by and now it’s almost time for Christmas! I love this time of year for the gaily colored lights and for the excuse to give in a little to excess. If you don’t know, I’m a seasonal candy junkie. I buy seasonal editions of peanut M&Ms and candy canes like I buy muskmelon and sweet corn in August. But as much as I love eating all that sugar, sometimes I just want a hint of sweet, a snack with more substance. I remember the delicious Nuts4Nuts carts in NYC and how the little packets of just candied peanuts warmed my hands and belly on the subway platform.

Enter the Candied Pecan. Continue reading

Columbus Alive: Cocktail Contest

22 Oct

I am a terrible blogger. I’ve had this draft in its own web browser tab for weeks now. There’s nothing like a direct link from the Columbus Alive to motivate me. HA.

When Shelley Mann (EOC of the Alive) first asked me to do a signature cocktail for the Alive, I was literally panic stricken. Thoughts like “But I make vaguely Southeast Asian themed adult beverages!” and “But I just moved to Ohio a whole thirty six months ago so I’m totally not qualified to make an Ohio themed cocktail!” flew through my head. After some thought (and a little encouragement from the peanut gallery), this was a challenge I couldn’t wait to take on.

First, I brainstormed some classically Ohio and seasonal ingredients: pawpaws, nah, too hard to find; apples, nah, didn’t want to bring out my crutch, the juicer; OYO vodka, nah, too obvious choice. I wanted something that would give taste buds a spin and I knew I wasn’t going to use vodka. Since I have been really loving light and dark rums, and brandy recently, I was halfway there by narrowing down my choice of spirits.

Jim Ellison over at CMH Gourmand has long maintained that Columbus is the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” and that title has always stuck with me. We have a fine selection of local ice creams between Graeter’s, Denise’s, Mardi Gras, and of course, Jeni’s. I ruled out Graeter’s and Denise’s because I knew their ice creams would be too rich (too much milk fat) and none of their sorbets or yogurts appealed to me for this project. My brother and I used this project as an excuse to take a trip to Mardi Gras to sample some of their more unusual offerings. Unfortunately, the flavors at Mardi Gras were a little too delicate and were completely overwhelmed by the alcohol (although, their fig ice cream is PHENOMENAL).

I had heard about a collection of syrups from Bear over at Slow Food Columbus and tracked down this Cleveland company, The Lounging Gourmet, for some samples. I haven’t tried the Lavender or Rose Elixirs just yet, but I knew the Fire Orchid and the Hibiscus was the direction I was heading for this cocktail.

Finally, I stopped by Jeni’s on the way home to peruse their seasonal selections. I’ve always loved the Mango Lassi (and thought it would pair well with the Fire Orchid) and was awe-struck by the floral and tart flavors of the Plum Cassis Lambis Sorbet. Both of those flavors came home with me.

Now, play time! Let me tell you, this experiment was not without fallen soldiers. I learned the hard way: mango yogurt and dark rum are not good friends; you try to get them to play nice but they just make a pukey looking mess and it’s best to enjoy each one separately. I’ll refrain from posting pics of the finished product because Jodi’s pic, hotlinked above (my apologies!!) are FAR better than mine. If you click on the picture, it will link to the Alive article and recipe.

A final note: photoshoot glass was purchased at thrift store on Cleveland Ave., ribbon was purchased from On Paper at High & Buttles, John Glenn button was purchased at Eclectiques Antique Mall in Clintonville on High St.

Shanghai 2010: New Obsession, Crispy Pan Fried Buns (生煎饱)

14 Oct

 

Ceramic Wall Decoration in the Forbidden City

 

A couple days ago, while strolling through Hocking Hills, Kyle asked me what my favorite meal was in China. It’s hard to say… there are so many styles and so many types of food to eat. Two years ago, without hesitation, I would have said that my number one was soup dumplings (小笼包). But I think I had so many during that one trip that the flavor is burned upon my palate and I no longer crave it as much as I used to. More recently, I’ve become obsessed with a close cousin of the soup dumpling, pan fried buns (生煎饱, literally, raw fried buns).

Much like a soup dumpling, pork, pork tallow, and pork fat are wrapped in a thin dough and sealed shut with a twist. Unlike a soup dumpling, these babies are lined up in a huge cast iron pan, covered, and fried with the seal side down. You can see the upside down dumpling twist on the left in the pic above. I didn’t get a good pic of the big cast iron pan, but you can find one here, from the exact same purveyor I visited (Lil’ Yang’s Crispy Pan Fried Buns): Flickr pic of 小扬生煎饱.

My goals for successfully eating these crispy pan fried buns are the same for soup dumplings: don’t spill the meat juice, add finely julienne ginger and red vinegar to each bite, and don’t burn my tongue or palate! My technique is the same: nibble a hole at the top of the bun, stuff ginger in said hole and spoon in some vinegar, allow to cool for 15 seconds (if I can wait that long), and then it’s a one bite deal from there. There’s no better feeling than having a mouth full of juicy pork, crispy dough from underside, and ginger&vinegar to cut the richness of the pork fat. This is the new number one eats on my list for my next Shanghai trip.

Mutton Pao Mo (羊泡馍)

12 Oct

When I left Columbus in late August, it was hot and a touch muggy. But it was no match for the humidity that greeted me when I landed in Shanghai: we’re talking so incredibly humid that air-conditioned buildings regularly “sweat” (condensation from the air builds on walls and windows) much like how a cold beverage “sweats” on a hot summer day. A welcomed respite from Shanghai’s weather came in the form of a three day trip to Beijing. It was cooler, drier, and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been in Beijing (a little less than two years) but since my bro hasn’t been since he was young, we crammed in several obligatory tourist sites. We spent a half day in the Olympic Park (Water Cube: 水立方; Bird’s Nest: 鸟巢), a couple hours on the grounds of the Summer Palace (颐和园), many hours wandering the hutongs (胡同) in Beihai (北海公园), a couple hours inside the Forbidden City (故宫), and my favorite, sunset at the Temple of Heaven (天坛).

The single number one item on my list of foods to eat in Beijing is pao mo (泡馍). It is a regional specialty from Shan Xi (陝西) province whose largest city is home to the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑), in Xi’An (西安). Traditionally, travelers would pack a couple of these unleavened flour discs because they kept well. These things are about as round and hard as a hockey puck. Since we had a late breakfast and my brother hadn’t had pao mo before, we decided to share one puck. We saw some folks put down two and three of these pucks in one bowl!

Once arriving at their hosts’, travelers would break apart these pucks into pieces about the size of a chocolate chip. We spent about five minutes breaking apart this puck. It’s kind of a pain in the nards, but if you have bigger pieces, it’s so dry and hard that it’s impossible to eat.

Once that’s done, the host pours steaming stock or soup over the bread pieces. In our case, the restaurant (we went to 西安饭庄, there’s a painted portrait of Mao Zedong’s visit on the wall!) took our bowl back to the kitchen and added a rich mutton soup with chunks of tender mutton, a couple pieces of leafy greens, and just a touch of rice vermicelli for textural interest. Unlike Western/European stocks, Chinese stock is almost a pure meat and bone broth (no aromatics or mirepoix). The bread pieces soak up the broth and end up with a surprising al dente texture, moist and with a little chewiness. In general, Chinese folk feel the same way about lamb and cheese: either you grow up on it (halal restaurants are common in Northern and Western regions) or like my aunt, wrinkles her nose, covers her mouth to hold down the nausea, and runs the other way as fast as she can. For the non-mutton eaters, there’s also beef broth. My brother and I both love lamb/mutton/game so this was a hit and we almost wish we would have ordered a portion for each of us.

As accompaniments, we had a plate of pickled cabbage and carrots (泡菜), sugar fermented whole cloves of garlic (糖蒜), fresh cucumbers, and hot sauce and cilantro to garnish the bowl of soup.  Warm, meaty, gamey, chewy, soupy, this is my type of comfort food. I really hope I don’t have to wait another two years to have this meal again…

Chia Seeds!!

28 Sep

After coming back from China, land of meaty snacks and multi-course meals, I’ve really made a concerted effort to eat more plant based products and to be more creative with my protein sources. I started experimenting with chia seeds right before I left for my trip and it was one of the few things I was looking forward to coming home and eating (salad greens and raw veggies were another). On my first few tries, I bloomed chia seeds in too much water which resulted in a bland, vaguely nutty, terribly soupy, “pudding” of sorts. I tried again with chocolate soymilk and that ended up far too sweet for my liking (though it went wonderfully with fresh strawberries). This time, I hit the jackpot: one part chia seeds (by volume), three (up to four) parts cashew milk. Now, I don’t own a Blentec or a Vitamix, just a twenty year old Hamilton Beach home blender. Needless to say, my neighbors hate me, especially when I’m running the damn thing for five minutes at a time on a Sunday morning.

I find chia seeds to be really weird. I’m not a fan of strawberry seeds (in general) but the texture of this “pudding” is a little like tapioca’d strawberry seeds. I like pairing chia pudding with fruit that mirrors the seed’s texture so figs, kiwis, and strawberries have worked well for me.

Cashew Milk
soak 1 cup (one part, by volume) cashew pieces overnight (at least 6 hours).
rinse and drain.
combine in blender with 2 cups (two parts, by volume) water.
blend at high until smooth (in a conventional blender, at least two minutes).
add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon sugar).
blend again to incorporate.

Chia Pudding
combine 1 cup (one part, by volume) chia seeds with above cashew milk (three parts, by volume).
stir well to prevent clumps.
wait 30 minutes to enjoy, or refrigerate for breakfast the next morning.
yields 32 ounces chia pudding.

Shanghai: Dim Sum

22 Sep

Water lilies!

Preface: In the slideshow below, I have added pictures of roasted pigeon. If you have an aversion to meat and its associations, you may want to look away.

Shanghai, like Hong Kong, is an eating town. In the past 16 years that my family has lived in Shanghai, we’ve seen moderately sized restaurants (200 seaters) grow to multiple locations with each location having multiple floors (600 seaters). Restaurants are filled to capacity on even the most humdrum weeknight. There are even small snack joints that have grown to multiple hole in the wall locations without street signage. Contrary to U.S. practice, any restaurant worth eating at will have at least one location.

Tang Palace (唐宫海鲜舫) is sort of a giant in Cantonese (Hong Kong style) dining in China: they have five locations in Shanghai, seven in Beijing, five near Guangzhou, one in Hangzhou, and yet another in Suzhou. This is THE place to go for live seafood, hairy crab (when in season), shark’s fin, roasted meats, and Hong Kong’s most beloved export, dim sum (点心, dian3 xin1 in Mandarin). They serve dim sum from a menu (not push carts) seven days a week, beginning at 7am, and a reservation is highly recommended. It’s *that* popular.

Between the four of us (my mom, dad, bro, and I), we ordered something like 14 dishes. We were fortifying ourselves for a long day at the World Expo and boy, were we stuffed. Since it’s kind of long to post all the pics one by one, I’m going to try out this slideshow function.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

US Air Services, Step Up Your Game

19 Sep

This is Shanghai's subway. It is gorgeous.

This post has been smoldering on it’s own tab for a good four days now. I had written a long rant about the deficiencies of US air services and the terrible experience I had at Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 5…  Which included piss poor crowd control by TSA and by discomfort structures (low, thick rails lining walls to prevent people from sitting on the floor against the wall), crappy SYSCO food offerings with disgruntled service, ego-tripping TSA barking out orders to passengers and generally treating us like cattle, non-functioning electrical outlets (so passengers can’t recharge their phones/comps/etc.). I also quoted President Obama’s Labor Day speech, about how transportation infrastructure, particularly railways and airways, need massive funding to bring us into the 21st Century — to be on par with the rest of the developed and developing nations. But it was a little too removed, a little too level headed for an impassioned blog post.

I understand there are systemic problems with our air service that include pitifully low wages, towering operating costs, aging airport structures and design, and oh yeah, “security.” But these issues do not preclude treating passengers like piggies at a trough or the next terror suspect. To make matters worse, none of these crowd control strategies are used at locations that desperately need it, i.e. right in front of security, where immigrant families and extended kin come see off their beloved’s return to the old home (老家).

China, whose population is known for poor manners compared to our East Asian neighbors, puts their airports about an hour outside downtown to discourage non-ticketed passengers from seeing off their travelers. The staff at security screening say “Please,” “Thank you,” and use the body language of a butler rather than of a police officer (officer, officer, over-seer). If you want to eat, Beijing’s domestic airport offers independent sit down coffee shops, a Thai restaurant, a Korean restaurant, a buffet, and fast food joints specializing in regional cuisine. And this pales in comparison to Tokyo’s Narita or Seoul’s Incheon airports. If you make even the slightest glance at an eatery while walking past, you are greeted and someone is immediately available to take you order.

It makes me so angry that our second largest airport is in such a disarray. That my $10 roast beef sandwich came on a styrofoam plate and was nothing more than two pieces of rye, three slices of roast beef, two watery tomatoes, and a pinch of shredded iceberg lettuce. That many airlines see it perfectly fine to use disposable plastic and paper everything during service. That a two hour flight in the US yields a “snack mix” and four ounces of a beverage.

And since this is a food (& beverage) blog, let me show you exactly how far we must improve. Let me start with the crappiest in flight meal I had this trip: the offering on a 90 minute flight between Shanghai and Beijing on Air China. The chicken and noodles were so-so but the saving grace was the four pieces of hami melon (similar in flavor to cantaloupe but crisper like an Asian pear).

Below is an example of one of Asiana’s non-big time meals, probably the lowest quality of the four I ate but still very delicious (‘cept the brownie cake). But the butter for the bread was from New Zealand and the fish nuggets in gravy were tender and delicious. Other ones included pickled daikon/carrots/cucumbers and cut fruit. Note, that fork is made of real stainless steel (and it has real tines!) and the white dish is real ceramic. O_o

Behold Asiana’s big time meals on long haul flights. This is Ssambap, it’s basically leaf wraps with rice, bulgogi (or kalbi, or anything else), and a condiment made from soy beans. On the side, a seaweed and egg soup, a container of kimchi, egg rolled with seaweed, and three slices of pineapple. The sheer variety and crispness (aka freshness) of the leaves was overwhelming! They included shiso/perilla, napa cabbage, and romaine. It was so much food and by far one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a flight (Emirates comes close).

Another one of Asiana’s big time meals: Bibimbap. The rice came in a sealed microwavable packet and was perfectly done, not mushy and not hard at all. So many fixings for the bibimbap! And kimchi, and egg drop soup, and soba noodles with sauce! And fruit! There was even a super cute tube of a chili paste. It may or may not have made it to my purse.

And the crowning glory? The airport food at Incheon was very very good. This (non-instant) ramen noodles in spicy seafood broth came from a fast food service type cafeteria. You order at the main counter, then you go up to one of a several stations that each specialize in something different. This came from the Japanese station. Enoki mushrooms and sliced hotdogs with rice cakes and dumplings too?  It was so very very good. The menu listed it as “hangover ramen” and I’m sure that I’d be revived with it’s spicy, rich, fishy and shrimpy, broth.

And lastly, after the 14 hour long haul flight from O’Hare to Incheon, this ox-bone soup warmed and relaxed from from within. If you’ve never had it before, it’s a very mild and (non-dairy) milky broth that is flavored simply with salt. A salt cellar is brought with the soup and customers add to their liking. The macaroni and mayo banchan was a little weird but the garlic scapes with baby shrimp shells was delicious.

There are definitely airports in the US that are on the up and up. CMH is one of them. Free wifi, Cup O’Joe, Columbus Brewing Company beers, and a Wolfgang Puck is not shabby. I just wish we had more flights to bigger destinations.