travel

Take out tasties and delivery diamonds

One thing I have learned from living in the Bay area, is that no matter how much you may enjoy or dread cooking, you always have the option of OK, great, and amazing takeout and delivery. Why leave your neighborhood or sometimes house for delicious good food? Unnecessary. Here are some of my faves:

tofu banh mi, saigon sandwichThe tofu banh mi at Saigon Sandwich is less than a fiver and the bread is perfectly shattering in crispness.

little saigon phoPho is right up the street in Little Saigon, but you can even get delivery if you refuse to change out of pajamas.

salmon and goat cheese omelet, broken recordOver by B’s place, we frequently lumber over to the dive bar Broken Record, where you can just as easily find a stellar goat cheese, salmon and asparagus omelet with caramelized potatoes and onions as you can get a pint of beer and a game of pool.

salvadorean cookieNearby are wonderful bakeries, like a Salvadorean place with all sorts of cakes and cookies.

custard cookiePick your filling: guava, pineapple, custard within a not-too-sweet crumbly cookie.

morning bun, la boulangeOh La Boulange, how I love thee. Yeah, you can now find the Bay area’s favorite local bakery chain in Starbucks, but you can’t replicate the charm of each location. I am completely addicted to the morning bun, with its layers of pastry wisps holding a bit of orange sweetness within each swirl.

tartes, la boulangeAnd don’t forget after-dinner (or after-breakfast?) dessert – the chocolate ganache tart is deep and dark…

nectarine berry tart, la boulange…and this seasonal nectarine and berry tart is  bright and cheerful.

apricot brioche doughnut, arlequinWhy, hello sweet little apricot brioche doughnut from Arlequin – I’ll be grabbing you in a sleepy stupor and stumbling back home.

kaka udonFor those cold an foggy days, nothing beats a savory broth stuffed with noodles, veggies and pickles from Kaka Udon.

tofu arepa and plantains, pica picaAnd thank goodness for delivery services, because I can munch on my  corn arepas stuffed with tofu and avocado with a side of sweet plantains from Pica Pica while doing some heavy duty couch-surfing.

knish and tea cake, 20th century cafeHere’s some pocket sized treats from newcomer 20th Century Cafe.

potato knish, 20th century cafeA delicate potato knish will soothe your savory snack craving.

tea cake,  20th century cafeWhile the tea cake is hiding a fruit treasure, so go ahead and take a big bite.

tofu banh mi, dragon eatsI really love the tofu banh mi from DragonEats as well, because the tofu is so flavorful and the veggies so crisp that it could be the last sandwich on earth for all I care.

tofu banh mi, dragon eatsMore, please.

smittenOver at Smitten, have your ice cream made to order with a shot of liquid nitrogen.

strawberry white balsamic with pistachio brittle, smittenThe smoothest strawberry white balsamic ice cream with a crumble of pistachio brittle.

brioche bread pudding, boxing roomBread pudding at the Boxing Room is crisp caramelized brioche doused with salty sweet butterscotch and tangy buttermilk ice cream.

tofu temptation, izakaya kouBut some things you can’t take out for the full experience, like the tofu temptation at Izakaya Kou with its pungent sauce against wobbly cold tofu.

smuggler's coveAnd alas, Smuggler’s Cove has yet to allow takeout tiki cocktails. I guess some things, like the cozy Goonies/pirate ship ambiance at SC, are worth putting on pants for.

travel

welcome to Austin, where it’s hotter than Cambodia

Recently, I was in Austin, TX, celebrating the birthdays of a few of my favorite Librans (my life is full of Librans that are close to my heart) at the Austin City Limits music festival. I got to spend much needed face time with my pals Niti and Josh in their old/new home state and spend some much needed downtime with birthday boy, and fellow Austin first-timer, B. The good news is that although I didn’t hit up even a tiny percent of the places I wanted to eat at, it was only because I kept getting diverted by other interesting eats (and drinks) along the way. The bad news is that the festival got rained out the last day, so we missed some amazing music. The good news is that we had a free day to spend around the city gorging ourselves with breakfast tacos. The bad news is that despite the rain, its only a few degrees cooler than the temperature on the sun’s surface. I’ll be be back, Austin (when you chill out just a touch more.) You can listen along to these pairings with a (free) Spotify account.

IMAG0062What better way to take your mind off the unobstructed blazing sun, grass sticking to your sweat soaked  ankles, and general feeling of listlessness that overpowers every muscle in your body than the breezy, waves-crashing-ashore harmonies of Local Natives?



Avocado bahn mi from Second Bar + KitchenThe first day was all about acclimation to the sun against our bodies, so there wasn’t a lot of food ingested. There was a lot of snow cones, and beers, and juices, and beers, and water, and beers. One of the few things I ate was the avocado banh mi from Second Bar + Kitchen with a cell-quenching strawberry lemonade. Verdict: too much toppings and not enough avocado, but the real offense was that the sandwich was served on a squishy sweet roll, so it should have been advertised as an avocado-ish HOAGIE. The lemonade was divine, though.  This sandwich was only OK, but what was truly spectacular was that after 30 years, DM still puts on a new wave synth-pop show to shame younger bands. Niti and I sang along to our favorite songs, arm-in-arm, gasping to keep up with their dazzling showmanship and energy.



Breakfast tacos and Tito's VodkaBreakfast tacos and Tito’s vodka, part of your well balanced Austin breakfast. I can eat these every day (and not just for breakfast). Soft tortillas filled with gooey cheese, soft scrambled eggs, picante sauce and meat or potatoes as you wish. These provided the ballast we needed to soldier through the heat for the long day ahead.  We needed that fortitude to hold our own amongst the sea of fans, by far the biggest crowd for a non-headlining act, for the inimitably smooth flow of the unaffectedly cool Kendrick Lamar. Bottles up.



The Mighty Cone hot and crunchy avocadoA full 24 hours after setting foot on Austin soil, my blood finally got acclimated to the heat and my hunger started up again full force. Niti pointed me in the direction of The Mighty Cone for a hot and crunchy avocado. It never, ever occurred to me to deep fry avocado, nature’s most perfect food, but *because* of its perfection it goes without saying that a fried avocado is a mighty tasty avocado.  After spiking the next strawberry lemonade with the contents of our flasks, we enjoyed the sharp but soulful stylings of English rockers Arctic Monkeys.



spinach and mushroom empanada from MmmpanadasAnd then it rained (and rained, and rained, and washed the next day’s concert away.) The last thing I ate at the festival before ducking under an umbrella to watch The Cure serenade a football field of drenched fans is the fantastic spinach and mushroom empanada from Mmmpanadas. The pastry parcel was tender and flaky, and the flavorful filling warmed my cold, wet heart. Hand in hand with B, grinning in the rain as the music washed over us, I was pretty sure this is just the moment that the complex, lush melodies of The Cure’s music is made for.



midnight tacos : fish, shrimp, carnitas, and egg and potatoOh, but the rain didn’t stop us. We headed out to the flooded streets of Austin and started our evening, at midnight, with another round of tacos. From the upper left: fish, shrimp, carnitas, and egg & potato. We pushed forward into the rainy night, raising another glass to future tacos. We compared notes of the festival so far, and I delighted in the fierce edginess of Savages, who played a brilliant set (despite blistering away in the sun) as if they were born to play these songs.



Real grits for a real brunch at Blue Star CafeteriaAlas, the next day of music was not meant to be, so we used our bonus day to eat and also to eat. We started at the Blue Star Cafeteria where I was allowed to indulge in my enduring love for grits. The grits were buttery and smooth, with the perfect tang of cheddar. They were soul-comforting and rewarding on an unexpected level, like the heart-and-brain-engaging country-ish jams of Wilco.



all the brunch cocktails and pecan french toast at Blue Star CafeteriaSince we didn’t have anywhere to be, we shared a stack of pecan French toast and a round of all the sparkling breakfast drinks. Crisp, sparkling and sweet can describe the Smith Westerns’ music as well. Like their show at Austin, our brunch was meandering and left us overstuffed. I might stick to them on headphones.



tomato tart and all the cheeses at Hopfields in AustinAll the drinks, then all the cheeses. That’s what we ordered at Hopfields, a small gastropub bursting with charm and Austin hospitality. After a few beer tastings to choose the perfect accompaniment to our meal, we settled on Belgian style brews to compliment the selection of hand made savory tarts. This place is a little modern, a little rustic, a whole lotta thoughtful and and a whole lotta smart – very much like breakout star singer/songwriter Jake Bugg.



Belgian chocolate and  peanut butter cups from Amy'sLeaving Austin on a sweet note, and obtaining sweet release indeed from the unyielding heat, we waited in line next to the historic Continental Club for Amy’s ice cream. Although I loathe waiting in line for food, the queue gave us time to tailor our ice cream concoction wish list down to a personal signature creation. In addition to their famous Mexican Vanilla flavor, the have some boozy choices like Honeyed Brandy and Guiness Stout. I walked away with a cup of intensely smooth Belgian chocolate ice cream, with a a free topping of peanut butter cups because I knew the answer to the trivia question that day, hooray! And with Amy’s in town I now I see an upside to the constant heat. Good one, Austin. Let’s celebrate with the garage-rock exuberance of the precocious The Orwells, shall we?

travel

thank you for being a food….I mean, friend.

It’s been a *ahem* number of months hiatus for the blog, folks, but not for my tastebuds. I’ve cooked a bit, and eaten a lot. These past few months have been packed with family and friends, because of which I am renewed and recharged. These next few blog posts are a bunch of my favorite taste memories, quite often recalling laughter, relaxation, and joy. First up, some fun meals out with lovely people involving silly stories, dorky jokes, and plenty of munchies.

IMG_20130626_194957_961The cheese board at Fat Angel has all of the perfect pairings for your cheeses, just add beer from their mile deep selection.

IMG_20130626_195436_390But if you don’t order their piping hot, super creamy polenta fries you consider your evening ruined.

IMG_20130704_110422_425Why have one popover when you can have three? Apples with salted caramel, berries and mascarpone, and egg and cheese makes a well-rounded brunch (with the bottomless mimosas, of course) at Luna Park.

IMG_20130707_115539_505Ridiculous brioche French toast with caramel and ice cream at Farmicia.

IMG_20130710_191651_996Reliving Istanbul at Bursa with tangy haydari and bread and creamy feta prawns.

IMG_20130802_240239_822The ice cream waffle at Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe is literally that. These ain’t no Eggos, the waffles are chewy and the vanilla and egg flavors really come through.

IMG_20130804_155853_358An SF picnic would not be complete without the Kentucky from the Creme Brulee Cart: candied pecans swimming in bourbon caramel.

2012-04-28%252019.32.53sometimes amazing people will make amazing food, likethis neverending italian meal of homemade pasta, grilled lamb and cioppino. feel the love!

2012-02-05%252014.05.29

and for parties, having friends with excellent taste and talent means black bean and shrimp tostones.

IMG_20130810_141229_866Smoky grilled squid at Majikku Ramen.

IMG_20130810_141255_038You can’t beat their ramen. Don’t even try.

IMG_20130916_150854_886Digging into the last of the heirloom tomatoes of the season at Mateo’s Cocina Latina; and even though this is wine country, it is fitting to indulge in a fresh margarita on a sultry summer day.

IMG_20130916_184608_322They don’t take kindly to cake-ists at the Petaluma Pie Company. Here, their nectarine-blueberry hand pie (if you have giant hands).

IMG_20130921_121037_472Golden poached eggs over rice with fried shallots and nori at 903; a perfect breakfast today to inspire me to share more, and more often.

travel

eating hong kong

Our eating trip….er, I mean sightseeing trip…ended in the other “Asia Lite” of Hong Kong. It was a short stay here, but we managed to cram in a few great meals. You can’t go to Hong Kong and miss out on dim sum:

_2210062The best meal of all, dim sum at Maxim’s in city hall. Grab a table right when it opens and then give yourself a pat on the back as the line to get in wraps around and around….

_2210060B’s favorite dish of the entire trip: the best shu mai he’d ever had. Piping hot and direct from the kitchen’s steamers, these plump little dumplings are filled with minced pork and shrimp then tipped off with crab roe for a punch for saltiness.

_2210056I always order cheong fun at dim sum. Sometimes I’ll even share these slippery shrimp-stuffed rice crepes with other patrons at the table. Or I’ll get myself an extra plate. Or two….

_2210075You can’t go to Hong Kong and not have an egg tart. You can get them in fancy dim sum parlors, or stop in any bakery while traipsing through town for a quick warm, sweet, eggy fix.

_2219825Of course, we went to Din Tai Fung again. The menu here was totally different than the one in Singapore, so we had more to explore.

_2219838And of course, we also had to compare the xiao long bao in Singi to the ones in HK. Yup, those soup dumplings never broke until they reached your mouth and then watch out for that delicious explosion. Maybe we should’ve ordered another steamer to make sure….

_2219833Shredded greens with tofu was a stunner, with the nuttiness of sesame oil and chewy bits of tofu.

_2219835Bean curd with black mushrooms and soybeans had great chewy texture and even greater savory flavor.

_2219841The menu was like a catalog, pages and pages and pages of options. We did our our best to navigate it until our stomachs pleaded for mercy.

P2210020Walking around Kowloon in the Temple Street night market area, you’ll be surrounded by crowds of people chowing down on all corners.

_2220149We barely had to pause our stride to pick up some fresh baked goods.

_2220340When in HK, make sure to stop by a traditional dessert cafe. Baked sago pudding looks like mac and cheese.

_2220344Under the pearls of tapioca is a layer of sweet taro pudding.

_2220350Don’t think pudding has to end with chocolate or vanilla, here is a silky tofu pudding that is just barely sweet and topped with ripe fruit.

_2210021Or top your tofu pudding with fruit jelly, like the mango one here.

_2210025Or a parfait with cake crumbs and mascarpone-like creamy pudding.

You can get a hundred kinds of dessert soups, hot or cold. Here, a cold sweet almond milk soup with mochi-like ice cream dumplings. Accompany your sweet with milk tea, a sweet condensed milk tea that was traditionally strained through silk stockings.

travel

eating vietnam

My first thought when boarding the plane leaving Vietnam: how soon can I get back here?

Vietnam is for eaters. Food is not mere sustenance here: food is art, food is culture, food is family, food is heritage, food is nature, food is “hello” and “welcome” and also “thank you.”

Vietnamese food is as different in the North from the South as it is from the city to the countryside, but in every street-food stall, artisan bistro and hotel cafeteria you will be spoiled with incredibly fresh and flavorful ingredients treated with respect. And luckily for me, it hits all my favorite tastes in one blow: sour, salty, spicy and sweet.
P2199661Everything is beautiful in Vietnam (and all drinks come with two twisty straws).

_2169480-001Mr. Pho Master, please make me your pho – with the melt in your mouth noodles and a heavenly-scented life-affirming broth.

_2169484-001Unfortunately, I was ill for my first few days in Vietnam. I found that loading up on these gentle carbs for breakfast gave me back some pep in my step: rice porridge (congee) with shrimp,  pho noodle soup without meat but with kaffir lime/chili sauce/fish sauce/basil and cilantro, and the fluffiest egg fried rice.

P2169434-001Upon our arrival at one hotel, we were greeted with a dragonfruit juice box.

_2209709Choosing breakfast on the streets of Ha Noi.

_2209718Fluffy-chewy steamed banh bao with pork and quail egg. Beats an Egg McMuffin any day.

_2209703Fresh baked French rolls for banh mi.

_2209702Making banh mi with pate, jalapenos, pickled veggies, and chili  sauce.

_2209707Pork pate banh mi.

_2209723Oh, it’s so sloppy to tear in half, but its so tasty in your mouth. The best breakfast sando of all: omelet banh mi with all the spicy, tart fixin’s.

_2199677The Vietnamese have a lovely culture of stopping your day for a tasty beverage. We indulged in many. Like this iced hot chocolate.

_2199610Every few hours, B and Adam would grab a ca phe sua da (an intense and brilliant Vietnamese iced coffee, with condensed milk) for the chill, the sugar, and the caffeine. At night, they’d take theirs hot.

_2199611And throughout the day, we’d load up on “healthy drinks”: fresh fruit blends and yogurt smoothies. I was always partial to the limeades. These also came with two straws, but they were never the twisty ones….

P2199630A typical afternoon snack, surrounded by a multitude of glasses per person: alcoholic beverage, fresh fruit drink, water, and then a iced or hot coffee to finish.

_2209764Goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) and cha gio (fried spring rolls) with tasty nu’oc cham for dipping.

_2209771Pho Ha Noi. The flavorful beef broth is punched up with fresh herbs and limes, and yes, even an egg yolk.

P2199657Ca kho to: caramelized fish with chilies, cooked and served in a clay pot that helps develop the thick gooey sauce.

_2179520Can not wait to have this again: banh xeo is a light-as-air crispy crepe stuffed with shrimp and bean sprouts, and served piping hot.

_2179523The white rose dumplings of Hoi An: translucent and ephemeral dumplings with shrimp and topped with fried onion.

P2199651Artfully plated garlic chili prawns.

P2199658Nutty noodles.

P2169444-001Money bags in Da Nang: crispy wonton bundles packed with juicy shrimp.

P2169440-001Bia, bia, bia.

_2169450-001Our first night in Da Nang we didn’t even have Vietnamese food , but it was irrelevant because even the Italian fare was amazing when you have an ocean of fresh seafood nearby. Here, a quite delicious spaghetti frutti di mare.

_2169447-001When in doubt, get the seafood. You will not go wrong.

_2199620The market in Hoi An.
_2199613In the Hoi An market, lunch time  means com ga – chicken rice.
_2179519Everywhere you go, you have to try the soups. Here, a subtle and delicate shrimp and egg soup.

_2179525And here, a more hearty sweet and spicy shrimp soup.

_2179517Did I mention bia, bia and bia? They’re so cheap you can try them all.

P2179572Beautiful Hoi An is chock full of eating delights around every winding corner.

P2179598For dessert, a passionfruit pannacotta (with a ca phe sua and a fresh mango smoothie and a water and a kaffir lime margarita on the side….)

_2209788-001Bun rieu cua is my favorite thing that I ate in Vietnam: a salty sweet tomato broth heavy with sweet crab, egg, fried tofu and slippery rice noodles. Come to mama!

_2209793-001Thinner than paper banh cuon: ghostly rice crepes stuffed with minced mushrooms and pork.

_2209784-001T0o many peppers to choose from.

_2209798-001

Cha ca from Ha Noi: fish grilled in turmeric and served with a generous amount of dill.

_2209800Bo xao rau: grilled beef with beautiful veggies.

2013-02-18 19.40.04Local specialties in central Vietnam: mee quang turmeric noodles with shrimp, home made braised tofu, and cao lau udon-like chewy noodles with pork. The tofu seems simple enough, but this was the best bean curd I’ve ever tasted: braised with soy and ginger for savory flavor, and crispy (not greasy) on the outside with a creamy molten-hot center that melts in your mouth. The secret to authentic cao lau is that the noodles have to be cooked in the water from a single ancient well from the town of Hoi An.

2013-02-18 20.24.36That was just the first course: caramelized pork, seafood pho, and braised beef to round out those bellies.

P2199635Even better than nachos: crab and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce served on deep fried shatteringly crisp wonton skins.

P2199633In the hot, hot middle of the day the most refreshing thing is a seafood salad. Here: lightly poached prawns with pomelo fruit (like a grapefruit) with peanuts, basil, and mint.

Get your fresh fruit on the go.

By roadside eats, I mean right there on the road.

And on every sidewalk…

 Day and night: at all hours, there will be eating.

travel

eating cambodia

Next, our merry band of eaters traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to witness the majesty of Angkor Wat. Boy, is Cambodia hot. Really, really, really hot. I was shocked that I could eat anything but all that sightseeing does stimulate your appetite, especially if there were 2-3 fresh fruit juices and smoothies in between for icy cold sweet refreshment.

_2139121Our insane hotel breakfast: fresh fruit including dragon fruit and the sweetest pineapple ever, homemade yogurt that is thick and sweet, flaky sweet pastries like coconut cake, simple veggie soup, and made to order veggie omelet with soy sauced green beens. Yup, ready for a brutal day in the sun!

_2149294-001Cambodian breakfast: soft noodles with beef, morning glory (a green like a more stemmy spinach) and a fried egg.

_2149291-001Lok lak: peppered beef, rice and fried egg for a roadside breakfast after watching the sun rise over the temple. The deceptively simple  chicken broth on the side was amazing – savory and delicate.

_2149192Cambodian street food: chargrilled fish.

P2159387-001Survival in the heat: fresh kaffir lime juice with simple syrup to adjust for sweetness (why don’t they do that here in the US? it’s brilliant).

2013-02-13 23.38.28Miss Wong’s serves up small bites alongside their vintage Shangai-inspired cocktails like this tea-infused broth packed with earthy mushrooms, tofu and bok choy.

2013-02-13 23.37.42A fluffy Chinese bun with barbecue pork for B.

P2159390-001More traditional Khmer food: aromatic coconut chicken soup with prawn spring rolls and beef and mushroom salad

P2159413-001Traditional Khmer dessert: barely sweet coconut cream and fresh fruit.

2013-02-14 15.53.14Fight fire with fire: on an exhaustingly hot day the only comfort was a dip in the pool with an ice cold Angkor beer and fiery Thai basil-shrimp stir fry with fried egg poolside.

_2159396-001Fish with kampot pepper, caramelized pork, stir fry veggies and chicken skewers.

_2169427-001Fruit crepes: mango, dragonfruit, papaya with a passionfruit dipping sauce.

_2169430-001Fried bananas with caramel. I’m not a huge banana fan, but the tiny bananas in SE Asia are so sweet and flavorful that we always had some around.

_2169422-001There was a ton of other things to try that we just didn’t have time for, so we stopped by the local market to bring even more new tastes home. Everything is labeled clearly with instructions and the wonderful Cambodian people are eager to help you.

_2169419-001For home, we stocked up on some a mok seasoning (for curried fish a mok), kampot black pepper, dried fruits, and loose leaf teas. I’m ready to start cooking!

travel

eating singapore

Are you hungry? You should probably stop right now then. See, one thing I learned from traveling to Southeast Asia with two fun- and food-enablers is that delicious eating is everywhere. Cheap food is pouring out onto the sidewalks because the giant megaplex shopping fortresses can’t contain it all. Even in the unstoppable heat, the enticing aroma of sizzling garlic, or just-baked sweets, or the ripest, sweetest fruit possible stoke the fire of hunger and melt away any willpower.

First off, visiting my brother  in Singapore (or as I call it, Asia Lite). This affluent island city-state is a beautiful stir-fry of many cultures and cuisines. If you’re not shopping in Singi, you’re probably eating.

_2108738-001What better way to start off then Sumaiya’s baked eggs with beans (and imported sriracha from California)?

_2118757-001We were spoiled by Sum’s home cooking: for lunch an incredible seafood paella and sweet and spicy curried pumpkin.

_2118758-001Now that’s a beautiful lobster.

_2118770-001My brother took us to celebrate Chinese New Year the way that hundreds of other families do: on the waterfront, with sticky chili-sauced fingers picking apart crab.

_2118844-001This is all that was left over: empty shells.

P2118815-001To start: black pepper crab. The fiery, dry, smoky flavor is in perfect contrast to the juicy sweet crabmeat.

P2118805-001Adam demonstrates the size of that meaty Sri Lankan crab claw.

P2118784-001The revelation that is cereal shrimp: the antidote to greasy deep-fried shrimp. These shrimp were plump, sweet and juicy and the breading stayed crispy and crunchy and dry with a just a hint of corn sweetness.

P2118800-002Behold, the chili crab! The enormous crab is swimming in bright, red, sweet and (just a little spicy) chili sauce. Don’t wear a white shirt to tackle this (unless like Adam, you are a pro).

P2118795-001Otah: steamed curried fish paste. Definitely a texture to get used to.

P2118789-001Don’t forget the chicken and beef satay.

_2128958-001Food at the hawker centers (indoor street-food stands) are so cheap that it’s hardly worth it to cook at home. Each stall specializes in just a few dishes.

_2128969-001My favorite Singaporean breakfast/ snack/ all day eats is kaya toast: thick fluffy sweet white bread perfectly toasted or grilled  and then slathered with pandan-flavored coconut curd. I got busted for taking this picture of making toast, lest I be stealing company secrets?

_2128973-001Sorry this is the best picture I got of our kaya toast because we devoured it in seconds. And then got a few more boxes to take home. Pandan is a grass that gives the coconut an aromatic vanilla-ish flavor. The key is to top this caramelly sweet coconut jam with a sliver of salted butter to melt all over it – think melted butter over maple syrup. Traditionally eaten with hot coffee and a bowl of runny eggs.

_2128983

Another favorite: roti-curry.  (I can eat this all day long). Hot, flaky roti paratha griddled in ghee is the perfect vehicle for delivering to your mouth the richest curry sauce. The secret combination of what tastes like 38 herbs and spices impart a deep complexity to the curry. Forget nachos, I’m bringing this to the next superbowl party.

_2128963-001Din Tai Fung: Michelin-starred Taiwanese mall food.

_2128965-001We had already planned on hitting DTF in Hong Kong, but couldn’t resist when we saw one in Singi too.

_2128966-001Makin’ dumplins.

_2128986-001Prepare for yum.

_2128989First, a refreshing cold cucumber plate drenched in a soy-garlic sauce.

_2128991The most incredible hot and sour soup to grace our palates. The softest of  noodles and earthiest of broths rich with black mushrooms. And just look at all that black pepper on top! This will kill your cold for sure.

_2128995DTF’s famous xiao long bao. These are truffle/pork soup dumplings, so the delicate dumpling wrappers yield only in your mouth (not on your chopsticks) with an explosion of savory hot broth.

_2129014Lau Pa Sat hawker center in central Singapore is detailed with architectural flourishes. Just remember to bring a packet of napkins because there are no napkins there and also you can reserve your table by placing them on top while you go food foraging.

_2129013This gentleman has a a big ol’ flat top in his stand for making the Middle Eastern inspired murtabak. He stretches out roti dough into a giant rectangle and then fills it with eggs, tomato, mushrooms (and whatever else you want) and then the incredible envelope of goodness is cooked on the flat top for the perfect char.

_2129026The murtabak takes up a whole tray. Like roti, you dip this all-inclusive meal into the savory hearty curry sauce. Breakfast sandwich of champions.

_2129016This gentleman is cooking up some noodles for a bowl of some spicy laksa.

_2129015Really spicy.

_2129019A beautiful bowl of Malaysian laksa, spicy coconut curry soup with noodles and bean curd.

_2129021Hong Kong style dumplings: shrimp and chive dumplings,  scallop dumplings, and shu mai (shrimp and pork). The sweet marshmallowy red bean buns on the right were some of the best we ever had.

_2129030Another favorite of mine, but I am a sucker for smoky rice noodles that are filled with crispy charred bits. Char kway teow is served up with shrimp and egg and bean sprouts and slathered in a sticky black soy sauce.

_2129029Our hawker stand finds. This is for 5 people. Please note that the empty lower left quadrant is reserved for pitchers of beer and chili prawns (not pictured, too busy stuffing face).

2013-02-13 10.54.08As my brother escorted us to the airport, we continued to gorge until the plane carried us away. B tried the famous Hainan chicken rice. Quite simply, chicken that is delicately poached in a gingery stock forming a crispy gel “skin”, with rice that’s cooked in the remaining stock. Seek this out if you are not a fan of the otherwise deliriously spicy and chili-filled treats in Singapore.

2013-02-13 10.53.50Throughout our stay in SE Asia I indulged in my favorite one-bowl meal: seafood noodle soup. This version is packed with prawns, chewy buckwheat noodles, and green onions in an umami-powered broth. Always get the condiments (fish sauce, soy sauce, chilis, and a fresh wedge of lime) for doctoring it up to your standards.

baking, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: comfort

Sometimes you seek comfort in a meal with friends to get over a break-up, sometimes to seek refuge from stress, and sometimes to celebrate something wonderful. Or, as a recent get together proved, for all three. In such a setting, the only suitable meal to accompany copious glasses of wine and frenzied let’s-just-getaway-from-it-all planning is comfort food. Comfort food that is heart- and tummy-warming, a suitable base for self-medicating/rewarding with alcohol, and makes you feel indulgent and pampered. Our meal fit the bill on all accounts and even got us pumped for that getaway adventure.

This gratin made with creamy polenta and Gruyere, hides an earthy layer of wild mushrooms and spinach underneath. It’s a great accompaniment to fish or meat and would be great on a holiday table as well.

 

I paired it with my go-to recipe for ridiculously easy salmon that also looks and tastes impressive: Ted Allen’s pan-roasted salmon. It makes a gorgeous plate and is great on its own or over a bed of arugula (which I lightly dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper).

The pan sauce is simply tomatoes, shallots, cumin, red wine vinegar and olive oil – bright and fresh and colorful.

Don’t think I forgot about dessert. This soul-hugging pumpkin bread pudding is  a scrumptious end to a comforting meal. I used Challah bread for its eggy sweetness, and made the recipe even easier by just using half-and-half for the dairy parts and 2 full teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice for the spices. For that extra squeeze of love, I topped it with a caramel whiskey sauce: just melt down brown sugar in butter and add a good splash of Jameson’s.

burgers & sandwiches, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: condiment cleanout edition

My fridge is usually empty (gasp!) – but the door shelves are always full. I got capers for something and used only a teaspoon, then found a great recipe for miso poached cod and have a big container of miso languishing, and hit up another specialty store for authentic Indian pickle and then forgot to use it in anything else…and so it goes. Recently, I procured a jar of zesty harissa paste full of acidic and subtly spicy red chile as well as a pricey bottle of aromatic tangy preserved lemon for a Moroccan night. I really, really (really?) enjoyed the flavors of these new-to-me condiments so I’d been looking for an excuse to use them again (and use them up) in a less conventional format.

B’s Adam (not to be confused with my Adam, of Polish pierogi and pie proclivities) was dropping by for a doctoral candidate study break so the guy could use a good meal and some comforting convo. I imagined harissa, much like a tomato relish or tapenade, would be a perfect contrast to some creamy, buttery, melty cheese and a grilled cheese is always welcome on a comfort food menu. I was going to do a bright, tangy preserved lemon soup for the grilled cheese, but decided that their zing would go rather well with a juicy salad to balance the richness of the gooey sandwich. To bring it back full circle, I used up both harissa and preserved lemon to make an elegant yet easy-peasy sauce for shrimp – served over yesterday’s leftover rice and you’ve got yourself a balanced meal for fueling your dissertation-addled brain. I muddled together a bunch of different recipes and found the right balance for my tastebuds somewhere in between them, and ended up leaving the fridge door shelf just a bit lighter.

Harissa and Pear Grilled Cheese (aka Best Grilled Cheese Ever)

(inspired by Thierry Rautureau’s Top Chef Masters recipe)

– cut 4 slices of good quality white bread or French bread, about 1/4 inch thick (I used the sublime Acme sweetdough loaf, which is crusty and bubbly, salty and sweet like a delicious French baguette)

– butter each slice on one side (softened butter works best)

– in a small bowl, mix together 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre) with 2 teaspoons harissa

– spread the cheese mixture on the non-buttered side of the bread

– fry the slices of bread (buttered side down) on medium low, go low and slow for that perfectly melty crunch

– while frying, top each slice of bread with a thin slices of a good melting cheese (I used Spring Brook Farm Reading Raclette which is buttery smooth and made for melting. A similar cheese would be Gruyère or Jarlsberg)

– fry up the bread until crisp golden brown and the cheese is melty, then remove from pan

– add some thin slices of pear to 2 slices of bread (I used crisp Bosc, but a greener Bartlett would also add that snappy crunch)

– top the pear with another slice of gooey melted cheesy buttery crisp bread

– slice up and serve (I cut into quarters for an appetizer)

makes 2 sandwiches

Avocado and Tomato Salad with Preserved Lemon

(a mashup of Cooking Light’s recipe with one of Ghillie Basan’s)

– add to a bowl: 2 diced roma tomatoes, 1/2 rinsed minced preserved lemon rind, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, fresh squeezed juice of 1 lemon,  and 5-6 tablespoons good fruity olive oil (more or less based on how sharp you want your vinaigrette). mix it up.

– add salt and pepper to taste

– add 1 diced avocado and stir together gently

– serve with chopped fresh parsley and cilantro, a teaspoon of rinsed capers, and a good sprinkling of paprika

serves 4

Harissa and Goat Cheese One-Pan Shrimp

(inspired by this recipe by Carr Valley Cheese Company)

– heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, and/or  1 minced shallot

– when soft, add 1lb deveined, peeled shrimp

– when shrimp starts to become opaque add 2 diced roma tomatoes

– add 2 tablespoons harissa and 1 cup white wine, mix to incorporate and simmer until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes start to soften

– add 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre), mix well

– add 1/2 chopped preserved lemon rind (rinsed)

– add salt and pepper to taste

– just before serving add chopped fresh parsley and cilantro

– serve with rice or crusty bread

serves 4

baking

punkies…or something

So if brownies are from chocolate and blondies are butterscotch, then what would you call a tender, cake-like pumpkin bar chock full of gooey chocolatey chunks? An orangie because of the color? Or a gingerie? Or a punkie? I admit that these are all terrible names, I mean really really atrocious – but they don’t convey the wonder of these delicious pumpkin bars. With a few standby ingredients you can whip these up with the same handful of minutes it would take to read the directions on that store-bought boxed brownie mix. I added a generous amount of spice (I love my pumpkin spicy!) and a dollop extra of pumpkin (I love my spice pumpkiny!) and the results were perfect for a wintery snack while watching movies or with tea or maybe for after-breakfast breakfast. These chocolatey pumpkin bars (or whatever they’re best called) are beautiful piled high on a plate for sharing, and do be generous with the ice cold milk.