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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

We saw the sites, we embraced the culture, we bought souvenirs. But mostly we ate. A lot.

I could hardly do justice in a blog post to all the wonderful food we ate on our travels, but I’ll try to give you some of the culinary highlights.

The trip began with two days in Bangkok, the gustatory highpoint being dinner at Celadon Restaurant. The Red Curry Duck and appetizer sampler were fantastic. Sadly the photograph below is lacking my favorite item in the sampler, which was some sort of smokey mussel mousse in a mussel shell. Totally unexpected and delicious.

We travelled next to Phuket, where we spent a phenomenal 5 days at the Indigo Pearl resort, which I highly recommend if you’re looking for an utterly relaxing retreat. The resort sits on the northern part of the island, meaning it is set off from the notorious nightlife of Patong and liveliness Phuket Town. 

That also means the resort is set off from many of the restaurants on the island, but for us that wasn’t a gripe. The food at the resort was very good, and there are a bunch of mom-and-pop restaurants along the beach, which the Indigo Pearl directly abuts. But I think the standout at Indigo Pearl was the cocktail menu — outstanding, and one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen.  Spiced tangerine caipirinha, anyone?

Our time in the next two stops — Singapore and Hong Kong — was far too brief (2 days in Singapore, 1.5 in Hong Kong), but I managed to eat my body weight in both cities, so all was not lost.

Sadly I did not have time to visit the famous hawker centers in Singapore, but I did manage to eat at a few food courts and in the process stumbled across BreadTalk, a Singapore bakery with which I am now officially obsessed. I could have eaten the entire store, but settled on a Fuji pear stuffed brioche (top left in photo above). Yum.

We also grabbed a meal at Blue Ginger, which was lovely, although the flavors in some of the dishes were not to our taste. The Ngo Heong appetizer (homemade rolls of minced pork and prawns seasoned with five spice powder wrapped and fried to crispy golden brown) were delicious — and infinitely unphotographable in that lighting… Sorry guys. The dessert was excellent as well: forbidden rice with sweetened coconut milk. However, the Ayam Buah Keluak (braised chicken flavoured with turmeric, galangal and lemongrass cooked with Indonesian black nuts)…not so much our favorite. The flavor of the nuts was a little too pungent for our uninitiated palates.

In Hong Kong, we gorged ourselves on dim sum at Victoria City Seafood and learned a thing or two in the process (which shall provide material for a later post: How Not to Eat Dim Sum). I think our favorite dim sum was the crispy baked pork bun, but the steamed buns filled with shrimp and chives came a close second. I expected to fall in love with Dan Tat, but alas…I was very lukewarm on the experience.

For our one and only dinner in Hong Kong, we dined at Hutong, which is uber hip, uber chic, uber everything.  The restaurant is perched on the 28th floor of a mod highrise on Kowloon, floor-to-ceiling windows providing an unparalleled view of the Hong Kong skyline.  Sadly it was misty and gray that evening, so none of my photographs of the skyline came out.  Sigh.

The food was very tasty, although I must admit: the crispy deboned lamb ribs didn’t wow me as much as I’d expected, given all the rave reviews.  Don’t get me wrong — they were really, really tasty, and Roger loved them, but I was expecting to ascend into the heavens upon my first bite.  I didn’t.  But I still thought they were quite good.

The highlight of the meal, however, was the Chinese birthday cake I surreptitiously ordered for Roger.  We had been traveling the day before, on his actual birthday, so I thought I’d surprise him.  Well, I’d never seen a Chinese birthday cake and when it came out, I discovered that it was a very large steamed bun covered in red speckles.  Roger was delighted.  However, we couldn’t help but notice that this “cake” looked a lot like…well…a freckled backside.  So we dubbed it “freckled ass cake.”  The cake itself had little flavor and wasn’t very exciting, but given its likeness to a freckled bum, it made the meal and provided a perfect end — literally and figuratively — to our time in Asia.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the last stop on our trip: Los Angeles.  We passed through on our flight home and met up with my college roommate and had a wonderful, scrumptious meal at Pizzeria Mozza.  Everything about the meal was wonderful, from the arancini to the butterscotch budino (*FANTASTIC*!!!).  But mostly we enjoyed spending time with an old friend :).

 

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I know, I know: I posted a recipe for banana bread about two months ago. But I subscribe to the belief that one can never have too many banana bread recipes in one’s arsenal.

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The great thing about banana bread is that all you really need is a bunch of old, mushy bananas. I like mine made with some buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt — but like with most things, I’m not picky. Then all you need are your “staples” and from there, it’s up to you. Toss in spices — cinnamon, cardamom, cloves — or goodies like nuts, chocolate chips or dried fruit. Oats, whole wheat flour, candied ginger — the sky’s the limit.

I’ve found that you can make banana bread moist and deliciously decadent without using a cup of butter or oil. Bananas themselves provide a lot of moisture and sweetness in baked goods, and small amounts of acidic fats like yogurt and sour cream add tenderness without a lot of guilt.

This Plain Jane version of banana bread is nothing fancy — no coconut, no toasted nuts, no hunks of dark chocolate — but it’s delicious. Like many banana bread recipes, it’s the result of a bunch of black and mushy bananas that had to go and some ingredients lingering in my fridge that I needed to use up. In my experience, sour cream makes a mean banana bread, and in this case, you only need a 1/4 cup to create a tender and delicious loaf.

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Feel free to make this banana bread your own — add chopped dark chocolate, or toasted walnuts, or poppy seeds. At the very least, this recipe might inspire you to whip out your own favorite banana bread recipe. You can never have too many.

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For years, I was the friend who never had a boyfriend. My idea of a “long-term relationship” was the one guy I dated in college for four consecutive weeks. I considered that a Big Deal.

Why the dysfunction? I was picky (like, Seinfeld picky), I got bored, and most of all, I loved a challenge and always went after the one I couldn’t have.

Then, a little more than two years ago, I met Roger. I met him at a party for a mutual friend and was taken with his British charm, his dashing looks and his keen intelligence. But then I discovered we were 15 years apart, subscribed to different political ideologies and held different religious beliefs. Clearly he was undateable.

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I canceled our first date (made up some lame work-related excuse) and gave him the runaround for nearly a month. Not only did we seem to have so may superficial differences, but he was also so available. And who wants that?

But persistence paid off. I finally agreed to go on a date with him — “Just one drink,” I said — but told one of my girlfriends to call me about 45 minutes into the date with an “emergency.” One always needs an “out” in such situations…

Well, she never called. And she didn’t need to. Despite all the qualifications that I felt he didn’t meet on paper, I realized we really did have a lot in common. One drink turned into two drinks…and dinner…and a kiss on the cheek to say goodnight.

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I wasn’t cured of my relationship-related dysfunction overnight. I continued to worry about our age difference and our politics and the problems those things could create down the road. But I slowly came to the conclusion that I would deal with those problems when they became problems. And you know what? They never did.

Truthfully, on some level, my concerns about the age difference and everything else came down to what other people might think (“What will they say?! A man who is 15 years older — imagine the gossip!”). But in the end, it didn’t matter what other people thought. It mattered what I thought, and I loved him.

So here I am, two years later, in love and now — the secret is out — engaged.

As a tribute to the English man who melted this American girl’s heart, here is a recipe for English scones. They are tender and fulfilling, with the perfect amount of sweetness, just like him.

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There are many wonderful benefits to living in our nation’s capital: free museums, cherry blossoms in the spring, two restaurants by Michel Richard.

But some days it feels like all of those pluses are offset by some of Washington’s big minuses: the constant presence of pompous politicians, the influx of protesters wreaking havoc for the sake of wreaking havoc, and — a personal peeve of mine — the lack of anything resembling what those of us who grew up in New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia call “bagels.”

Plain bagel

Let it be known: doughnut-shaped bread does not a bagel make. This fact seems to have escaped most of the chains and grocery stores in the District. You may be able to fool a few folks with your “French Toast Bagels,” but not this girl.

To be fair, I have found one bagel shop in the District of Columbia that makes a decent bagel, but it’s closing next year to make room for a new restaurant. So like I said, I got nothin’. And to all of those who refer me to bagel shops in Maryland and Virginia, I say thank you, but I really don’t feel like trekking across state lines for a bagel and some schmear.

So what is a girl to do? Make her own bagels? Well, as it turns out, yes. I had seen a recipe in Sherry Yard’s “Desserts by the Yard” for New York bagels, which requires little more than whirring the dough in a food processor, letting it rest overnight and boiling and baking the bagels the next morning. That sounded perfectly doable on a Friday night, in preparation for fresh bagels Saturday morning.

2 bagels

Were the bagels Bronx-worthy? Mmmm…not quite, but close. And they were certainly better than the imposters being sold as bagels in these parts. In the future, I think I would add malt syrup instead of the brown sugar I had on hand, which would give them more of that characteristic bagel flavor.

But details, details… Bottom line — with minimal prep and little cleanup, I had fresh, hot, crusty bagels an hour after I’d woken up Saturday morning, about the same amount of time it would have taken me to get dressed, drive out to Bethesda, buy some bagels and get back home.

So now that I can make fuss-free bagels on my own, it looks like I can cross that off my “Washington peeves” list. Now, if only I could do something about those politicians…

Poppy and sesame

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Tap Tap Tapioca

Apparently I’m on a crusade to redeem the foods people love to hate. A few days ago I was singing the praises of the disrespected brussels sprout, and today I’m lauding the humble tapioca pudding, a dish many love and an equal number passionately detest.

Recruiting people for Team Brussels Sprout is, believe it or not, a lot easier than convincing people to embrace tapioca pudding. See, with brussels sprouts, you just need to cook them properly and get the flavor right. But with tapioca, you’re not up against flavor (tapioca doesn’t really have any); you’re up against texture.

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I’m convinced there is a contingent of people out there who are “texture eaters.” Just like there are “supertasters,” who are acutely aware of flavors the average person cannot detect, these “supersensers” are extremely sensitive to a food’s texture. Most people I’ve met who would fall into this category don’t like oatmeal, oysters, sushi, or even yogurt — anything that might feel slippery, strange or lumpy on the tongue.

For these people, or ones approaching that level of sensitivity, tapioca pudding provides the ultimate ick factor: it’s slippery, lumpy and unusual. The tapioca balls, which are small balls of dried cassava starch, become jelly-like when cooked in the custard mixture. So not only do you have the slickness of the custard itself; you also have a bunch of slippery little buggers floating around in there.

So for the supersenser types out there…I’m sorry to say, there’s not much I can do to win you over. But for the rest of you, I’ll say this: tapioca pudding is often butchered by cafeterias and mess halls, whose cooks turn out gloppy, slimy, icky pots of so-called “tapioca pudding.” If this is your only experience with tapioca pudding, give it another chance.

This Regan Daley recipe dresses up tapioca pudding with a vanilla bean and is truly delicious — nothing like the jiggly mess my elementary school cafeteria used to throw at us. It’s sophisticated and yet totally comforting, a perfect winter treat. And if I haven’t won you over in my “scorned foods” crusade…all is I can say is, hey, I tried, right?

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Note: This is my submission to this month’s Sugar High Friday — “The Proof is in the Pudding” — and my first SHF ever. Given the title of my blog, how could I not participate? If your interested in knowing the history of pudding…I have an oh-so-nerdy write-up here.

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No Knead 2.0

Baggett No Knead above

Edited to add: Okay, I didn’t realize Cook’s Illustrated *also* dubbed their version of no-knead “No Knead 2.0.” Whoops! FYI, this post does not describe the CI recipe, but rather the one printed in the Washington Post.

By now, most home cooks are familiar with “No Knead Bread,” at least in name or concept if not in practice. Mark Bittman’s 2006 article on Jim Lahey’s novel technique sent curious bakers and novice knead-a-phobes running to their kitchens to master the art of crusty, delicious, homemade bread, sans fuss.

I may be the only enthusiastic baker in America who has yet to try Mr. Lahey’s technique. I know, I know, what have I been doing, right? Well first I didn’t have the right pot…then I did…and then life sort of got in the way.

But then a few weeks back, two different articles appeared — one in the New York Times, one in the Washington Post — that attempted to best the original No Knead recipe, making the process even simpler, even “no kneadier.” Luisa at Wednesday Chef had iffy results with the Times recipe, so I ditched that one.

But Nancy Baggett’s recipe in the Post looked promising. Whereas the latest Times recipe claimed “No Knead” results could be accomplished in half the time, Baggett’s recipe didn’t cut the time much at all, but it cut out the need to touch the dough entirely. Even Jim Lahey’s recipe required a little futzing, just gently shaping the dough before the final rise. But the Post recipe required no kneading at all — none. I think she should have called it, “No Knead, for Reals.”

Baggett No Knead

Does that make it more clinical and sterile? Yes. Admittedly, sometimes I really like kneading dough. Rough week at work? Family giving you a hard time? Take it out on the dough. I also consider it a workout, justifying the copious quantities of bread I will soon eat.

But sometimes, you just want delicious bread without the cleanup. Although I’ve never made Lahey’s recipe (I will, I will, I promise!), his method does require a special pot and just a touch more “cleanup” than Baggett’s recipe. That said, Baggett’s method yields a rectangular loaf, not the rustic boule shape that makes the original No Knead Bread so beautiful. The Post recipe yields more of a sandwich bread or loaf for morning toast than something you’d make for guests.

So, compelled by my guilt for not trying this method the first time around, I gave Baggett’s whole wheat loaf a try for breakfast this weekend. The verdict? Very, very tasty, and I’ve been enjoying the loaf for breakfast all week. The texture is soft and the exterior has a wonderful crunch. Sadly I cannot compare it to the Lahey bread (the shame!), but I suspect it’s a very different type of bread prepared using a similar method.

Next time I have a dinner party, I will give Lahey’s method a try. And I have a delicious, old-fashioned, knead-to-your-heart’s-content bread recipe I will be sharing soon. But for an average morning after a tiring work week, this recipe does the trick.

Baggett No Knead Slice

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I will never forget the first time I baked pumpkin bread. I was in 6th grade, and my teacher Ms. Pasceri announced that the day before Thanksgiving, the class would be baking pumpkin bread together. She told everyone to bring in a clean leftover coffee canister and said she would take care of the rest.

When the day came, she broke us into groups of three, handed us the recipe and the ingredients and walked us through the process step by step, helping us carry our batter-filled coffee canisters to the classroom oven.

I had baked before that day, but I think that was the first day I realized that baking, food, meant a lot more to me than most of the other kids in the class. My partners haphazardly threw the ingredients into the bowl and thought it was funny to mush the ingredients together or throw them at one another. I didn’t want to be a square or a tattle-tale, but all I could think was, “This is food we’re dealing with here! Don’t make a joke of it — don’t you want to see how it comes out?? It will be delicious!”

Pumpkin bread 1

And it was delicious, despite the mushing and throwing and indifference of my buddies. It was warm and sweet and spicy. I couldn’t wait to bring my canister home to share with my parents and brother.

In the many years that have passed since that 6th grade project, I’ve baked many pumpkin breads, all delicious but none seeming to taste quite as good as that first batch. I’ve since lost Ms. Pasceri’s recipe, but I’m sure it’s the same as any standard pumpkin bread recipe. What made it special wasn’t necessarily the bread itself, but the fact that I’d learned to make something new, something I could say “I made.”

This time of year, I invariably start craving some fresh, home-baked pumpkin bread, and in the spirit of my recent push to eat “light” ahead of Thanksgiving, I found a great recipe in Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts. The cake is light, tender and perfectly spiced, and one bite takes me back to a Wednesday in November all those years ago.

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