June 30, 2009

Do you agree? Check yes or no.

"I may love street food above all other types of food. I have never figured out just why, although I've considered the possibility that, through some rare genetic oddity, my sense of taste is at full strength only when I'm standing up. (The fact that I particularly enjoy whatever I eat while standing in front of the refrigerator could be considered supporting evidence.)"
--Calvin Trillin, "Three Chopsticks," The New Yorker

YES for me.

After reading this article I wanted to hop straight off to Singapore to get, among other things, a "carrot cake," which Trillin describes as "fried white radish and flour cake, with garlic and eggs and scallions and other vegetables."

June 29, 2009

Death is like a bag of cherries

"In my dream I knew I was going to die soon," she said. "And it's a funny thing, you know, but I was very glad. I had a bag of cherries, and I said to myself: 'Never mind, you just gobble them up quick before you go.' "
--"Tonka," by Robert Musil
But the thing is, you can't possibly "gobble up" a bag of cherries, because of the pits. I suppose you could spit the pits out really fast. But god, does this girl's life suck, or what—if even the dying part involves spitting out pits?

June 28, 2009

Take a gander at this

"This was an amazing little old woman, with a face like a staring wooden doll too cheap for expression, and a stiff yellow wig perched unevenly on the top of her head, as if the child who owned the doll had driven a tack through it anywhere, so that it only got fastened on. Another remarkable thing in this little old woman was, that the same child seemed to have damaged her face in two or three places with some blunt instrument in the nature of a spoon; her countenance, and particularly the tip of her nose, presenting the phenomena of several dints, generally answering to the bowl of that article. A further remarkable thing in this little old woman was, that she had no name but Mr. F's Aunt.
--Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
A bit of Dickens' humor. He comes up with the strangest character descriptions. I can imagine him chuckling to himself as he wrote this. What a pitiful creature this "Mr. F's Aunt" is.

P.S. The meal described on the next page:

"There was mutton, a steak, and an apple-pie--nothing in the remotest way connected with ganders--and the dinner went on like a disenchanted feast, as it truly was."
By the way, a gander is a male goose. Lo and behold, I actually learned something today.

June 25, 2009

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Tuesday was a cloudy day, so I decided to make meself some meatballs. There's no "I" in "meatballs," but there's "me"--so I made them for meself, of course.

This was my first experience making meatballs. I purchased a pound of ground beef (80 percent lean) and, upon peering at the 90 percent lean beef, discovered that, yes, it truly is cheaper to be fat. Take that, articles that say that there's no reason people on welfare should be overweight, when it's "obviously" cheaper to buy healthy foods. For me, though, it seemed like a win-win: Won't it only help make the meatballs all the moister?

So I proceeded, feeling pretty good about my $1.99 meat purchase. After the walk home, I was feeling extraordinarily lazy, so I decided not to look up any meatball recipes for reference. I did know some things about meatballs already, however, including that you should add an egg, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and onions/garlic, if desired. So I made do with what I had: half a chopped onion, a minced garlic clove, one egg, and a good dash of s&p.

Cloudy Day Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large egg
s&p as desired

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (yes, hot!). Combine ingredients with a light hand. If you're not sure how much salt and pepper to add, and want it to be perfectly seasoned, Sara Moulton suggests cooking a small bit of the seasoned meatball mixture and tasting it. I was far too lazy to follow this sage advice.

Form the mixture into 1.5-inch balls and spread evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet. Believe me, you'll be glad for the foil when this is all over and you can easily dispose of the fat that's bubbled out of the meatballs in the cooking process. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

So my first time making meatballs wasn't all too bad. It went pretty smoothly, except that I slightly overbaked them. My mom makes Chinese meatballs with ground turkey, silken tofu and fish paste. Those are far more tender than mine tasted. I'll have to take a swing at those sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, this particular batch of American-Italian meatballs was saved by the grace of half a jar of marinara sauce. I took the other half of the onion and another clove of garlic, minced them, browned them with sliced baby bella mushrooms over high heat with oil, and added the marinara sauce and meatballs. I then simmered the mixture until it smelled fantastic, and spooned some over a bowl of steaming hot white rice. Yum. Marinara sauce makes everything right with the world.

June 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Treats

Two of my all-time favorite Chinese treats are sesame rice balls and scallion pancakes. So I tried making both of these in the past few weeks, with mixed results.

Black sesame dumplings. Though they were delicious, they were also pretty frustrating to make. Basically you take glutinous rice flour (usually a clear package with green lettering) and add enough hot water until it forms a dough that's easy to work with (not too wet, not too dry). If it's too wet, it'll stick to your fingers and be impossible to work with. If this happens, don't fret: just add more flour. Similarly, if it's too dry, add more hot water.

Once it reaches the right consistency, roll a chunk out on the palm of your hand, stuff with a bit of black sesame powder & sugar mixture (equal parts) + a dab of oil. Form the dough around the filling, being careful not to let the filling leak out. Roll into a ball. This was the frustrating part, since the dough isn't very resilient to being rolled & folded onto itself. But tread forth with nimble fingers, and you shouldn't have a problem. Meanwhile, clumsy fingers like mine probably won't be making these again, at least not while they're conveniently available frozen at your local Asian supermarket.

Scallion pancakes were a bit more successful, but not by much (since I don't currently own a rolling pin). I tried to cram as many scallions in there as possible, mainly by slicing the scallions as thin as possible. That way when you're pressing the dough flat, you can keep the scallions from oozing out of the dough. Check out the recipe at My Kitchen Snippets.

Basically, a scallion pancake is made with flour, water and scallions (as well as a bit of oil). But some recipes call for egg in the recipe, which most likely results in a different sort of texture. I'll have to give it a whirl sometime and see for myself.

June 19, 2009

growing pains

"Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.

But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?"
--Kahlil Gibran
Life is so complicated. And difficult. Or maybe that's just growing up.

June 16, 2009

Red velvet woes

It all started with a red jacket.

That one.

The color reminded me of a bottle of red food coloring I had purchased over a year ago with the sole intention of making red velvet. I never did, but since then, I have laid lips on several red velvet cupcakes, always to be disappointed—they are usually far too dry and flavorless.

Finally I decided that I had to make some red velvet cupcakes of my own before I could legitimately write them off as "just pretty" desserts. Because I don't enjoy cream cheese frosting, I demand more of the cake: moistness in addition to flavor (usually bakeries carry red velvets that deliver neither, though they are beautiful to look at).

My first batch of red velvet cupcakes was successfully moist, but lacked flavor. I guess one out of two isn't too shabby. I need to find another recipe or give this one a makeover. Two major thoughts came to mind as I polished two of them off while they were still warm: 1. Needs more cocoa flavor. 2. Not sweet enough. (Perhaps because I did not make the frosting?) I liked the flavor of the buttermilk, though its overly subtle sweetness made me feel like I was eating an incredibly soft, bright red biscuit. Weird.

If you ask me, red velvet has been skating by on its looks for far too long. People fall in love with the contrast of its color against the cream cheese frosting, but what about us cake and crumb lovers? We want a cupcake that is so good that it doesn't make us think twice about shamelessly licking the crumbs off the wrapper.

And so I implore you to demand (and produce!) cupcakes with flavor and delicate texture, not just cutesy looks. A cupcake's beauty only runs frosting-deep. It's time that we made a serious effort to produce a red velvet that is as moist and tender as (gasp!) pound cake. I love it so. And I hope someday I will be able to love red velvet too.

Recipe for "Red as my Jacket" Red Velvet Cupcakes (to be edited at a later date):
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. canola oil (a little less, if possible)
1 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 Tbsp red food coloring (depending on how red you like it)
1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix wet and dry ingredients separately and add wet to dry. Fill cup-lined muffin tins almost to the top. Should make exactly 18 good-sized cupcakes. Bake for 20 minutes.

June 14, 2009

So eggs aren't the meaning of life?

"There had been mornings when, awakening with rays of sunlight on her face, she had thought that she must hurry to Hammond's Market to get fresh eggs for breakfast; then, recapturing full consciousness, seeing the haze of New York beyond the window of her bedroom, she had felt a tearing stab, like a touch of death, the touch of rejecting reality."
--Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
How can the thought of fresh eggs for breakfast not be enough to kick one out of one's depression? Just kidding. I get it. The thing is, Atlas Shrugged kind of makes you hate lazy human beings (including yourself, if applicable). On the other hand, it's sort of inspiring, in a tough love kind of way. Not to mention that it's kind of a sizzler.

On a side note, at graduation today, I thought the head of the department said "feces" instead of "theses" (as in the plural of thesis) in his speech. Boy, was that a funny misunderstanding.

June 9, 2009

Warning: This post may contain an excess of hyphens and/or slashes.

My goodness. If you haven't yet read Julie and Julia, go out and snag yourself a copy. If you're cheap and honest, read it in the aisle of a bookstore. If you're cheap and wily, steal it. The point is, read it.

Well sure, you could just wait for the movie to come out, but then you'd miss out on the author, Julie Powell's, accessible, friendly-yet-crass-gal-next-door writing style. Besides her enviable way with words, Powell also appears to possess eerie psychic abilities. Skeptics need only take a look at this quotation from page 108 of the blog-turned-book:
"The orangey sugar cubes at last mooshed, I proceeded to zest and squeeze oranges, soften gelatin, separate eggs -- doing it just the way Meryl Streep does in The Hours, by gently juggling them back and forth in my hands, letting the white slip through my fingers into a bowl waiting below. Felt like the way Julia would do it -- very cook-y."
That's some psychic/powers-that-be-or-else-highly-coincidental stuff, considering that Meryl Streep is actually playing the part of Julia Child in this soon-to-be-released blog-turned-book-turned-Nora-Ephron-movie!!

I know, what the wha?? It's like the sweet, sweet icing on her gov't-secretary-turned-pajamas-donning-writer's cake. Cavities be darned, I'd like me a slice of that! Or maybe some sugar-rolled chewy ginger cookies instead? Because truth be told, I'm not really a fan of icing most of the time.

June 3, 2009

strawberry spring

"Having mastered the art of verbal invention to perfection, he particularly prided himself on being a weaver of words, a title he valued higher than that of a writer; personally, I never could understand what was the good of thinking up books, of penning things that had not really happened in some way or other; and I remember once saying to him as I braved the mockery of his encouraging nods that, were I a writer, I should allow only my heart to have imagination, and for the rest rely upon memory, that long-drawn sunset shadow of one's personal truth."
--"Spring in Fialta" by Vladimir Nabokov
It's always a kick to see writers poke fun at their own profession, isn't it?

Speaking of spring, now that it's late spring/beginning of summer, you know what that means: strawberry season's in full swing. I learned a couple factoids about strawberries yesterday:
1. It's best to wash them without soaking them. Just spray dirt off with cold water.
2. Strawberries have approximately 200 seeds and are the only fruit to display seeds on their skin.

P.S. Isn't it kind of cool that you could almost get away with typing the word "strawberry" one-handed, if it weren't for that pesky sometimes-vowel y?