Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Did you know? Ranch dressing

Tonight, after a spectacularly long nap, my brain cells kicked in: I realized I didn't know what was exactly in the ranch dip I was smothering my carrots and celery in. I mean, I could always realize with my tongue what ranch flavor was and then deduce key facts:

  • the red speckles in the dip are probably carrots (or orange M&Ms)
  • there's probably some onion in it, since it tastes like garden vegetable cream cheese and because ranch-flavored popcorn and Lay's chips had green herb-like dots on their ranch powder
  • it's probably mayonnaise-based because of its opaque white non-shade
But really, that was all I could think of. Which brought me to wiki, and then to two little gems that made my day:
  • I was right on all three conjectures - even though they weren't that hard. The taste of ranch that I couldn't place comes from a heavy dose of buttermilk, though.
  • This 2005 Slate article, which provided me with the fact that there is such a thing as the Association for Dressing and Sauces that monitors flavor trends for dips, dressings and sauces. Since I am, after all, a proud nerd, I call dibs on the analysis on the flavor trends' longitudinal data. Also, the association had it right, Greek was totally a trend this year...
While we're on this flavor trends business, I have never been able to understand why ranch became the chosen dressing. Today at the salad bar, nearly everyone smothered their salad in ranch (that is, there was more ranch than lettuce on their plate), regardless of any demographic differences. Also, using deep-fried foods (e.g. chicken fingers or fries) as a carrier for ranch dressing seems kind of weird in theory, because you're adding fat to fat. It's like drinking milk with pizza: something that should be avoided until there's nothing left in your fridge.

In that little thought experiment, I began comparing ranch to other dips: Thousand Island (the chili sauce equivalent to ranch -- no way on my fries), ketchup (the sourness provides a contrast to my beloved onion strings), and honey mustard (slightly hot on the tongue, but not enough to alarm most Americans' spicy range). Then I realized that besides the mayonnaise and the fat, that the buttermilk gives a tang to the dressing, and that maybe ranch on chicken fingers did make a little sense.

But ketchup and French dressing, still for the win.

P.S. In the same inquisitive spirit that led me to wonder about ranch, I just looked up French dressing. Apparently it's not just the tomato based, sweetened version of a vinagrette, but it's supposed to be a generic name for all vinagrettes. That said, the wiki article also acknowledges the presence of nationalistic French dressings:
"Those from outside the U.S. may best picture its appearance and consistency as a very high quality interior house paint the color of terra cotta."

Exactly.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To places that would not ordinarily be found on a fine dining list:

a personal note to Starbucks (three locations in Harvard Square alone - I would know; for one math exam we had to find the distance from campus to each), Dunkin' Donuts (Harvard Square), Chipotle (Harvard Square), McDonald's and Mary Chung (the latter two in Central Square)

Starbucks, thank you for providing caffeine in three convenient locations. Your pumpkin spice latte (iced and light whip) really went well with chicken tacos, and your free wi-fi enticed me though I hadn't taken advantage of it yet. It's too bad your $3.68 per craving made me leave you for...

Dunkin' Donuts, thank you for filling in my caffeine craving when Starbucks was unable to make it happen. Thank you also for being cheaper and for giving me free toasted almond syrup and only giving me half the amount of usual sugar per my request. Please don't fire the man who gave me the first good cheap coffee I've had in a while that I haven't made myself just because he burned the pan pizza to a crisp and one of your employees from another location who was ordering an iced coffee yelled at him and called his manager at 10:30pm on a Friday night and then got behind the counter and made the coffee herself.

Anyway, your strawberry frosted donuts were better than I expected. The frosting would have been better on a cake donut, though.

McDonald's, thank you for still operating a dollar menu - and one of your locations - within two miles of Harvard Square. My Tuesday night "Please, please give me fries with that problem set" craving has been satisfied, thanks to you. That said, I wish you would have had burger meat after 10pm for my friends.

Chipotle, thank you for providing me with the taste of what a good, Midwest-headquartered burrito chain tastes like when I was homesick. Thank you also for acquiescing to my picky demands for tacos.

Lastly, Mary Chung, thank you for still using the 1950s, quaint Boston-specific term "Peking ravioli" for your dumplings and potstickers, and for not making any changes to your menu prices. More specifically, thank you for putting bean sprouts in your dan dan (peanut flavored) noodles, adding extra crunch, which is more than I can say for Shangri-la in Brookline, and for inspiring me to try a similar recipe in the dining hall (which I'll talk about in a later post). Thank you, moreover, for making me rant to my mom about my peanut butter noodle cravings so that both she and my sister could teach me good recipes for them. Even though your noodles are kind of salty in retrospect and I will probably swap them out for pan-fried Peking ravioli next time, they are still my guilty craving.

And now, a final point. I don't know to tell you this, and not to come as a surprise or anything, but my romance with one and/or more of you is over (read: everyone but Mary Chung's). I think I first knew it when I craved that bitter, bitter taste of coffee at 2am one night before a problem set was due, and I saw you with your doors closed, refusing to take my cash. I'm sure you're understanding enough to have seen how addicted I've been to the idea of your caffinated, deep-fried goodness, but I want you to know that I will always remember the calories it cost. It's not you, it's me and my health-conscious January.

To ellipticals and a good Earl Grey tea,
Heidi

Monday, December 29, 2008

Now, the fall '08 photo rundown

places I ate and pictures I took (that will hopefully improve, thanks to those photography books I got for Christmas...)

Blue Ginger (Wellesley). Ming Tsai's (didn't anyone watch East meets West in the 90s?) restaurant. Tasty, though carb-heavy, entrees, and a long trip. Above: the Filipino-style pulled pork sandwich.

Rialto (Cambridge). Touted on all the student email listservs around Restaurant Week as "the best restaurant in Cambridge." I took advantage of a 15% student discount I had, and went...we were easily the youngest people in the restaurant. Service was wonderful (possibly because it wasn't Restaurant Week), Jody Adams came out to talk to us - and not just about food, she's super nice - and recommended the honey ricotta cheesecake that most people get on their first time. That's not pictured here, but the second course of truffle pasta, and third courses of pork tenderloin with fig and seared sea scallop with stuffed butternut squash pasta are, respectively. The latter two courses are still on the December menu.




Incidentally, this meal marked the start of the weekend where I gained - and lost - six pounds.
Two reasons: a harrowing midterm and Columbus Day weekend, when some family visited. Meal number 2 that weekend: Harvard Faculty Club (Cambridge). Having dealt with Rialto the previous night, I wasn't as impressed as I could have been (the seared beef-blueberry vinagrette salad was a winner, though), and the entrees, per a faculty club, seemed a little overpriced. Below, a picture of the beef medallion:


Yankee Seafood (Boston). We indulged next day with some seafood - the fried kind. Enter Yankee Seafood, next to Bank of America Pavilion, which we found on Yelp. Best fried scallops ever. Also, during lunch, it was pointed out that good seafood places have bad fries. This proved to be no exception.


Minsok (Brookline) was our dinner that night. We struggled through the amount of Korean food we ordered but were delighted at the seafood pancake and the stir-fried seafood. This, however, is a picture of the japchae - sweet potato noodles. And that concludes my food-intensive weekend for the semester.

Fireplace (Brookline). A repeat visit for brunch over the semester. My first time, I ordered the challah french toast, which although rich and pretty to look at, made my stomach hurt afterward. The fried duck hash was the unanimous favorite, though - especially slathered with the yolk from the accompanying fried eggs. Later, I would try eating the fried goat cheese and walnut salad, but it elicited the same physiological response I had from the challah.
I also confirmed my findings that salad was not meant to be one of the food groups of brunch.

Giacomo's (Back Bay and North End). Remained the place to bring out-of-town friends for food. Secret: don't wait at North End - they don't take reservations - go to Back Bay. The quantity of the small fried calamari place (at $7) was huge, and the best entree remained their specialty seafood pasta - whose quantity was also enough for two (though I opt for the fra diavolo over the overly-rich eponymous lobster based sauce).

Cheesecake Factory (Cambridge, Boston). Surprisingly, a repeat visit this semester - if only for the cheesecake. Among my classmates, it has become "the place where we go out somewhere nice for dinner" - despite the fact that there are so many good places near Harvard Square to eat. Rather, I think Cheesecake Factory has attained the dubious award of "restaurant where we can escape." In any case, if you look past the overly-rich (again) and possibly overpriced Asian-fusion pasta (though pretty good - and definitely more reasonably priced than California Pizza Kitchen's Kung Pao Spaghetti), it's actually okay, and a good place to find steaks. Also, it's called Cheesecake Factory for a reason. Below, the pumpkin cheesecake:

Shabu-Zen (Chinatown and Allston) might be the restaurant I most frequently visit, by way of my sister's influence on my taste (she goes there about five times as often as I do).

Finale took a smaller hit (or should I say drain?) on my wallet on this year. The blocking group's Finale fund (let's pay for the birthday girl's preferred Finale dessert) was still in effect, and yes, I like the tiramisu, but as I've previously said, ov-er-rat-ed. I've taken advantage of our walking distance from two Whole Foods though, and I am now requesting this beast of a cake:

Note that it also contains berries, something difficult to find in the Harvard dining halls. And now that I've definitely gone over my usual photo quota, go forth and eat.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A January 20 Memo...

Advocates of Change in Food Policy Look to Obama With Hope

(Because that title could not be more convoluted.)

“He is the first president who might actually have eaten organic food, or at least eats out at great restaurants,” Ms. Gehman Kohan said.Still, no one is sure just how serious Mr. Obama really is about the politics of food. So like mystery buffs studying the book jacket of “The Da Vinci Code,” interested eaters dissect every aspect of his life as it relates to the plate.
As my sister pointed out, this is a lot of speculation...and a lot of projection onto his identity. I mean, he's already the 'arugula' president, no? (Love the fact that they got the author of The United States of Arugula to quote on the article, by the way.)

I'm not sure if I'm as interested in his kitchen (well, I am, in the way that people are interested in Michelle Obama's clothing choices) - or even local/sustainable food policy - as much as I will be about what he does about kids and food. Might there be some improvement there - or at least, getting junk food advertisements and vending machines out of public schools?

They look for clues in the lunch menus at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, where his two daughters will be eating items like herbes de Provence pita, local pears and organic chopped salad, served with unbleached napkins in a cafeteria with a serious recycling program.
The point being that Obamas' daughters are attending a fancy-schmancy school with fancy-schmancy food, of course. But I can't say that I found it too fancy - I mean, I miss the grilled cheese and tomato soup I had in high school, but we also had cooked-to-order chicken-tomato risotto at one point. Along with the Au Bon Pain mushroom bisque, it was one of the few memorable meals of my high school, though. Not because it was so good (it was pretty good), but because the whole concept of it seemed too luxurious.

I wonder if the Sidwell menu was cherrypicked similarly - but all in all, comparatively nice food (I did get Tazo tea bags at lunch, after all) is definitely part of a college preparatory education. Though it shouldn't be necessary as part of the education, but as part of the $1500 meal portion of tuition. (In which case I always wondered why they just didn't give us a Chipotle burrito for lunch every day; eight times out of ten it would have been more satisfying.)

Also, Harvard also orders organic, local produce - but it's now common for colleges and prep schools to order the same. See 'Major food trends!!111oneeleventy' (kidding, though it really is one). So local pears and produce don't faze me, and neither do the napkins (I think, "Great. Finally, we can get rid of the school-logo emblazoned cocktail napkins that were a waste of money.").

But of course, the question is, when will every other high school kid - public and private schools alike - get the same thing? And that brings me back to the beginning of my post.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Froyo: An Update

In case you're wondering...I did end up going to redcherry in Minneapolis. My friend James patiently watched me taste and complain about the state of Minneapolis froyo (too tangy, too watery) -- though the citrus was a lot better than their berry flavor.

But I wonder if the froyo trend has hit a roadblock.

It has with me, I mean -- compare the number of times I've been to Berryline this year (2) versus the number of times I've been to Starbucks since Thanksgiving (10). I wasn't even addicted to Starbucks last year, even though I went there all the time last spring to study. Why might this be the case?

1) Starbucks is closer.
2) Holiday drinks (I refuse to pay more than $2 for a mocha - which makes things near impossible at Starbucks - but gladly put pumpkin syrup in my latte and I will jump my willingness to pay to $4. Oh, economics.)
3) I've developed a caffeine habit thanks to all these problem sets.
4) Berryline wouldn't give me a free yogurt even though I tried to pass off my cupcake costume as a froyo sundae. It was pretty convincing too...actually, this is reflective of a larger problem. Not that Berryline should have given me free froyo (it would have been nice - I got free Chipotle that day for wearing tin foil - but they aren't obligated to give free stuff) but now that the owners aren't there all the time, service at Berryline is inconsistent. Sure, there are the really nice guys, but others are just unfriendly. And give you less fruit.
5) Also, buy-one-get-one coupons at JP Licks.
6) Did anyone mention cold?

Just a thought.

A quick rundown of fall '08 and future posts (hello again!), and some gift ideas

Between problem sets, exams, meetings and papers, I (clearly) haven't been blogging. I keep promising this won't be a habit...but hopefully my New Year's resolutions start with updating Foodivia at least once a week.

A quick summary of my fall: I came to school, went out to eat more often than I did last year, and most notably, dressed up as a cupcake for Halloween (the G-rated kind).

I also took a LOT of pictures of food, which I'll be putting up shortly in sets, backtracking from the Taiwan Food Festival in August all the way to this week. (My roommate: "I'm so honored to be the only human in your Facebook album, and that's because I'm eating a lobster claw.") Until photos come up tomorrow, enjoy The State of the Cookie - a Slate discussion about what makes the perfect cookie.

Finally, in the rush for Christmas shopping, I've also been looking for good food-themed gifts - and I stumbled on miniature food jewelry. I've always been obsessed with fake food (I used to press my face against sushi displays, I buy thumb-sized plastic bowls of udon at gift shops...) so needless to say, I was excited. For instance, these tiny cupcakes - but at the other end of the scale, there are giant sushi pillows too. Cakespy, which also does sweets reviews, was a pretty good source for similar gifts (though kind of expensive on their part), but I really like their own art better.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Taiwan, part one

Hi folks, sorry for the delay -- but I'm blogging in Taiwan! Woot!

No surprise that there are lots of things to see. My first week involved me getting up around 5am - earlier than most of the neighborhood markets in Taipei - but fortunately, grabbing some radish cakes, chive turnovers (jiuchaihezi), scallion pancakes and shaobing youtiao.

Delicious deep-fried goodness, to say the least. (For the record, I really like my radish cakes pan-fried I just realized this year why I've begun avoiding mochi -- I don't enjoy the QQ goodness of rice flour products. That said, I can still go for a tapioca milk tea -- and if you didn't know already, Taiwan most definitely invented that.) Once I got out of my jet lag, it was back to surfing beef noodle shops and local holes-in-walls for good food, especially Taiwanese-specific cuisine. Check the 'typical dishes' list on Wikipedia; I've had pretty much everything but the blood (I generally shy away from innards). If I didn't know what to order, the luroufun was my staple; I've had it all my life, given the lack of fresh seafood in good 'ol Minneapolis and the fact that my mom and sister both cook it. And in Taiwan, they put it over thin, translucent rice noodles on request. Yum.

You might be thinking I've eaten tons and tons since coming here. Weirdly enough, I've actually lost weight - humidity in 90-something degree weather can kind of make your appetite fizzle...but yes, I've eaten. Two unlimited hot pots in the past three days, to be honest.

My internet time is up...so here I go. Next post: the Taiwanese food festival.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thursday morning

I wake up at 6:40 to get two mochas.

They are delicious, probably because they are (a) free, (b) not too sweet, and (c) because there is wi-fi involved. The best part is that there's foam (uninvited by typical mocha standards) sliding down my cup, with no trace of a mocha stain.

And while I've got wi-fi and a caffeine rush, a little tidbit from Wikipedia:

"International coffee houses' standards prohibit the preparation of hot milk foam over ice, since it is conducive to the rapid buildup of bacteria."
Tasty.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese Crayons...are bland now

You might recognize that Crayola color...but did you know they have roasted red pepper, eggplant, bleu cheese and florentine at Macaroni Grill?

I didn't, until midway through my meal. Interestingly enough, looks like the colors are regular red, purple, blue and green, just customized for the restaurant. Which seriously bums me -- I want crayons of my own. That is, crayons named after my needs, desires and cravings. Also, my friends.

In the meantime, I found another thing Macaroni Grill might consider as an extension of the Crayola domain:

"Now there is a fun, flavorful alternative to sugary soft drinks that makes it easier to get children to drink the water they need. Crayola Color Coolerz! is a naturally fruit flavored purified water – with NO sugar, NO calories, NO carbs, and NO caffeine. Fortified with the vitamins kids require."

Mmm, because your kids can't deny themselves essential vitamins of the form "Screamin' Green" and "Purple Pizzazz." Sounds like a good time for an experimental review...




Sunday, July 27, 2008

And to think I almost deleted this one...

...but I knew, after all, that there must be some reason why I subscribed to too many email lists.

Secretly, I always wanted to be part of a food themed musical -- Calvin and Hobbes got to do it, and so did Hey Arnold! But in this hypothetical situation, I could never decide what I wanted to be, and anyway, in my fifth-grade play, I played a rabbit that was addicted to sleep. Instead of being a carrot, I ate carrots.

It's confirmed: my love for Kitchen Kaberet and Food Rocks has reached a new generation...albeit by Italian commercial. In the Parmagiano Reggiano, my favorite part is the tomatoes bobbing from side to side in the very beginning -- what's yours?

Friday, July 25, 2008

"A wall of cheese. You will crash. It will not be pretty."

I recently discovered McSweeney's from a link; the humor site, while a little difficult to navigate, is hilarious. It got even better when I found their food reviews:
http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/newfood/


They're just as stickily vivid and nourishing as personal essays, yet make for a light read. Kind of like dim sum.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Froyo metropolis update

The Crimson reviews frozen yogurt in New York.

Meanwhile, I haven't caught up on redcherry, Leeann Chin's new brand of frozen yogurt. I have to say their logo isn't very appealing, though - a little too cutesy-retroish for me. Meanwhile, CityPages beat me to the punch, offering a brief review.

DC bloggers have been waiting for froyo for a while, and they've got it at Mr. Yogato, where my friend has her "amazing summer job." It's more like the area's Berryline, rather than Pinkberry: Mr. Yogato's original name was Berry Line (two separate words) when it advertised for employees on Craigslist. From what I've heard, apparently Mr. Yogato's owners know those of Berryline.

From what I've said so far, it'd seem like this post would end on a relatively sad note for Minneapolis froyo...except Fruitgurt (available at Dayton's -- oh wait, I mean Macy's -- locations) has been going strong since I was a kid. It also happens to smell amazingly like vanilla when you stop by, so you should probably do so.

But please, someone get more sour-er yogurt here!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

But if baby I'm the bottom, you're the top!

Slightly less discreet than Cole Porter's lyrics, but I stumbled onto Piper's picture of Japantown and realized it pieced together with my picture (from a Bay Area 99 Ranch) pretty well.

Consider it a melding of the two California halves...or maybe of the corporal type.




Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Power of Ambivalence

Well, not really. (Please vote, kthx.)

Some of you may have seen my online status during the last month, even though I'm not cool enough to twitter: "Call 1.800... and ask for Tazo lotus tea to be put back on!"

The fact that I forgot the last seven digits of that Tazo number might show the fact that I'm forgetful. It also might highlight the (unfortunate) fact that I never called, myself. Maybe I'm just that awesome to simply delegate tasks to my Facebook friends (but I'm not, and I actually kinda think delegation stinks. Most of the time.) And in an effort to defend myself, here's my Tazo lotus story.

It was senior year in high school when we suddenly realized the amazing Tetley drawstring tea bags had suddenly been taken from the cafeteria, probably because the seniors were drinking the teachers' stash. Grumbling about the lack of a minor caffeine pep and of the entertainment of tightening a drawstring (yes, lunch was often boring), we found Tazo tea a few months later on a caddy above the coffee machine.

Luckily, in spite of my short stature, I also have a hidden talent: I am really good at getting tea bags from caddys a foot above me. Just ask the really tall lady who refused my help the first time. (The trick is to tippy-toe and grab a tea bag between your index and middle fingers, crossing them as you pull the tea bag down from the caddy. I promise it works.) This began my daily lunch habit: a bag of Tazo lotus tea, occasionally sprinkled with a bag of rock sugar.

Tazo's advertised its lotus tea as "a delightfully subtle tea with the delicate taste and aroma of lotus essence. This surprisingly full-flavored yet delicately floral blend is clean and light-bodied with an aroma reminiscent of freesia." Lotus has a flavor profile of "peach, nutty, flowery, overripe, melon" and an aroma of "tropical fruit, green tea."

Now, I can't say I knew that when I started drinking Lotus. I did taste the nutty and overripe flavors in my mouth, and I can say that it was a delicate flavor (as Tazo's release repeats, "delicate"). But I didn't realize that my particular fascination with this tea was probably from the floral flavors and scent (no way I could have recognized freesia, even though it's my mom's favorite flower). That makes sense, though, considering my enjoyment of lavender Earl Grey and rose petal tea.

In any case, I became gradually addicted to Lotus, finally getting my own stash and drinking at least three cups a day. And yet, upon graduation, as soon as I was cut off from school-accessed Tazo I couldn't find it in a grocery store anymore.

And this is where we (I had gotten my mom hooked on Lotus, too) went into the hunt: we placed custom orders at Cub, Byerly's and Lund's every few months, with no response. We harassed Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I asked most of the Starbucks I entered if they sold Tazo Lotus (they didn't). And then the Davis Square Starbucks told me Tazo Lotus was discontinued, which brings me back to the top of this blogpost.

And seemingly in laziness-induced limbo.

Until my mom hit up Fresh and Natural Foods randomly one day and found it. Assured by its expiration date (late 2009) we realized that a) Lotus hadn't really been discontinued or b) Lotus activists were looking for the tea too or c) we were just that awesome.

We chose c) and went home with a couple of boxes, satisfied.

Oh, summer.

It's nice to have a little free time:

- Watching Iron Chef America right now. I'm so behind on television consumption that I didn't realize there was a fifth Iron Chef. I wonder who'll he'll replace? My bet is on Flay. Definitely not Cora, since she hasn't established a 'franchise personality' yet. Also, Jeffrey Steingarten appears as a judge again. Whew, since he's really the only judge I trust - the others tend to be a little too nitpicky for me.

- My mouth is still smarting after eating pineapple two hours ago. Maybe it was because my lips were chapped, but honestly, it still stings. There's purple underneath my fingernails from blackberry stains, and they still haven't come off after two days of washing. Thank goodness for perfectly ripe fruit - a rarity in the dining hall.

- I've been fortunate enough to have summer jobs where the cafeterias have been pretty darn good (and probably subsidized). Last summer, I discovered my weakness for sweet potato fries (a good-sized box for around $1.50), my personal rules for them (they must be thin, they must be crunchy, they must be only slightly and vaguely healthy) and garlicky, thick-as-potato-skins kettle chips. This time, I'm living off chicken-salad-with-veggies-on-foccacia, chicken wild rice soup, and an occasional onion ring order. My fellow co-worker did tell me about the transparently-winged bug in his salad though...he said it was crunchy. I say that'd be gross if I saw it.

- On the really good side of things (as opposed to darn good cafeterias) my friend and former lab partner is now experimenting with pizza. I am so stoked in anticipation of his results - he's working on adding different proportions of ingredients to his crust. I'm also quite tempted to make this blurb as science-pun-based as possible in a Foodivia post, but I'm not going to.

Friday, July 4, 2008

One way to up the Fourth of July budget

My buddy A and I have known each other since I was six, she was five and she brought a pair of tiny waterguns to afamily friend's potluck. With that dysfunctional start, you can expect a typical IM conversation to look like this:

A: Dude, check this out.
H: Nope.
A: Why not?
H: Your link doesn't work RAWR.
A: Rawring is inapprops, since you wouldn't be doing that in real life. Check your email...wait, what is it?
H: It's not that hard when it's automatically saved into an address book.
A: My b.
H: WHAT THE FREAK. Awesome.
A: The watermelon?
H: Yeah. I should blog about this.
A: Haha, yeah.
H: Obvs?
A: You mean obviously. Get your vocab straight.

The picture in question:


And after a quick Google search for "square watermelon," I found out that
1) Those were real!
2) You, too, could stuff a watermelon plant in a box and quite possibly have it grow square.
3) This Japanese-developed fruit also happens to cost around 10,000 yen.

So you probably wouldn't spend $80 on a watermelon. But you could always cut up your watermelon (no curved rind showing, of course) and say, "This is where it came from." Kind of like how most weddings now use sheet cake, while the official cake is largely Styrofoam decoration.

In short: Weird but cool.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Don't upload photos during lunch...


...especially if you haven't eaten yet. And you're hungry.

But anyways, if you're wondering what I've been doing since I last posted: food photos. That is, playing with the flower setting on my camera and realizing my capabilities of taking (for the most part) non-blurry pictures. Here's a few to share; all of them quirky brand appropriations. Photos linked to specific restaurants' menus to come later, with reviews. So, a brief tour of my spring:

Finally, the Pocky photoshoot (6, 7, 8). There is a high correlation between the quantity and quality of food photography and the quantity of problem sets to be done; the photos here were nicer as a result. Pocky basically consist of long cookies dipped in chocolate or other flavored, processed cream; this particular type (dessert) is dipped and then drizzled again with milk chocolate. And now, the photos:

The grocery store I hit up over break. It's an Asian grocery striving to become a supermarket...so it bought out a local Rainbow and promptly replaced the signage with appropriate ingredients. If I were you, I'd avoid the durian aisle.

A trip to Target (how exciting, given the limited transportation of a college student) yielded the next two items: Wildly Cherry M&Ms - not to be confused with Cherry Chocolate Rain - and Strawberry Milkshake Oreos. Though I've tried neither, the latter sounds more promising: I imagine that Wild Cherry M&Ms are a candy-coated version of cherry Hershey's Kisses. Which, for the record, was a bad idea, guys. Also, adding -ly to the word "wild" makes it that much schmaltzier.



Oreo Strawberry Milkshake Creme. Where are the Green Oreos now?

Back in Cambridge, I indulged in a Guts bar (on top of my math problem set) that someone brought me from Taiwan. Taiwanese junk food is among the most addicting...it's not too sweet, rather delicate, and if it's salty, it's laced with MSG. In this case, a Guts bar consists of a "egg roll" cookie covered in a layer of chocolate wrapped with nuts; its hollow interior is then filled with strawberry flavored creme. And funnily enough, it was only 178 calories (admittedly, still a lot, but not as much as I had expected). It had a nice combination of crunch and creme, although there was no chewy compromise and the chocolate layer was a little thick.

That said, Guts is a great name for a candy bar. It sounds so much more satisfying than Snickers.

The cross-section of a Guts bar proved photogenic (despite not being human). The strange reflection, of course, comes from the interior of the wrapper and not the bar.

Finally, the Pocky photoshoot. As you might have noticed from the top photo, there is a high correlation between the quantity and quality of food photography and the quantity of problem sets to be done. Pocky basically consist of long cookies dipped in chocolate or other flavored, processed cream; this particular type (it really is called dessert Pocky) is dipped and then drizzled again with milk chocolate.




Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two unrelated links

1. A sponsored ad above my inbox: Black bean brownies (and not the chocolate kind). This reminds me of the balsamic vinegar recipe above my bed, courtesy of my cupcake calendar.

2. I couldn't wait another eleven months (that is, Valentine's Day) to post this hilarious 2002 piece from the New Yorker.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Pomegranate is so 2007..."

I really liked Naked pomegranate juice when I first had it; I liked it even more than the Naked smoothies.

Then I had concentrated pomegranate juice. And slowly, the trend trickled down the quality scale:

1. Blueberry juice is a poor complement to pomegranate - it makes it too sweet and doesn't give it enough berry flavor.
2. Nom pomegranate iced tea. Stick with the lychee - the pomegranate's overrated.
3. Arizona pomegranate iced tea. Which shamefully, I am drinking right now for the first time. A strange fruity flavor and lots of corn syrup.
4. The tipping point, in my opinion? Haagen Dazs' premium pomegranate-chip ice cream. You may remember me briefly mentioning this as an early taste for my senior project - no real pomegranate and no real chocolate chips.

I guess I'll move on to acai...oh wait, that was winter '07? Shoot...for that matter, acai was overrated too.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I need my Taiwanese food fix

What you do with thirty-six hours before a midterm:
1. You blog.
2. Or you go to Taiwan and eat.
3. Or you wait an extra week to hit up Winterfest: Taste of Taiwan during midterm season.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Cultural imperialist guilt"...

...is the best line in this article from the NYT.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the L.A. Times reports on shiso, a herb that's recently become trendy in the States. The article's courtesy of Mr. Sohovich, who asked if I had ever heard of it; I hadn't, but I've definitely eaten it: Korean restaurants include it as part of their banchan, the set of small dishes that accompany a typical meal. It's marinated and eaten leaf by leaf, and unfortunately, I'm not a fan. From what I've heard anecdotally, it's a love-it-or-hate-it herb.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

We know more than we thought we did?

Last weekend, I met up with Hank, who was in the Yard for a quiz bowl tournament. I was able to stick around to watch one of the rounds, and was proud that I recognized the plot of Fargo without ever having seen it (Minnesota, represent!). I became even more elated when I recognized Anthony Bourdain from various quotes, before the "clincher hint" that referenced his television show and book of the same name, Kitchen Confidential.

After dinner, I tagged along with him and a few of his teammates for dinner. Apparently all restaurants in Harvard Square are crowded at 8 pm on Saturday nights, or the influx of high school debaters (and coaches) that weekend just decided to fill up all the seats there (and those visiting prefrosh at Annenberg). After checking out Le's, Uno's, and Bartley's (still taking orders in a twenty-person line outside!), we settled on Bertucci's for the legit pizza and the free bread.

But Bertucci's was no exception to the horrors of a dinner line. When we asked for the wait, we were told "typically twenty-five minutes, but thirty-five for all of you" - which makes sense because we weren't the only seven-person group queuing up. So it was a long wait which became equally ridiculous when we realized that a) they only had one large-sized table, b) that thirty-five minute wait approached fifty-five minutes, and c) the servers told us that "we're running out of chairs" and couldn't put a spare chair up against a booth.

Service was fairly prompt - for having to deal with seven starving students who had to wait that long - although somewhat disparate; one waiter was significantly more helpful than the other. Good, but not ridiculously delicious, Bertucci's appeal lies in the free bread - hot, soft and not doughy with a crunchy crust - and the consistency of the food (although the tomato sauce is a little thin, the pizza crust was remarkably similar to the bread - which was a good thing).

The best part of the meal: not having to figure out how much to pay or how to calculate tip with six MIT students around - three of them who were math majors. Whew.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Food: The Lit Review

What Hilary Eats, Hilary Gets

We all know Mike Huckabee can pull off the barbeque bib, but can Hilary?

Hopefully, all the candidates will each get a gastronomic profile...not that it would sway my vote.

Keep Your Laptop in the Kitchen

This Strib article refers to online cooking communities and bloggers, but emphasizes how most people share recipes: over the Internet. I can't say I'm surprised - and I definitely can't say that I'm unhappy about it. Comparing uploaded recipes to handwritten family recipes is like comparing the Kindle to a well-read copy of The Great Gatsby: no one can replace the latter, but technology opens up these ideas to a whole new demographic. I'm incredulous at what you can do with it - for example, we improvised homemade salsa for my sister's Super Bowl party, but were able to cross-check the ingredients online.

Chocolate doesn't have that much caffeine...

so I don't feel as guilty posting an NYT article about it here that discusses milk chocolate's recent comeback against the yuppie dark chocolate trend. No longer declasse, it's gourmet. Admittedly, I was one of those percentage snobs (as you can see in a previous post), but since then, I've been working my way back to milk chocolate. That said, it's difficult; although I know that milk chocolate has a "better" texture than the brittle bitter, sometimes I find it too rich (and occasionally too saccharine). Not saying that dark chocolate can't be rich (case in point: Burdick's), but the bitter almost buffers that overwhelmingly one-dimensioned taste.

And seeing as I can't participate in the sponsored wine-tastings here, I guess I'll have to settle for describing chocolate with "hefty bouquet" terms.

(Last two articles were graciously provided by Mr. Sohovich.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Note to Self

In the spirit of other friends' recent reminders to themselves on their blogs, I'd like to share a recent epiphany-resolution of mine from ten minutes ago:

For one week, I will not be drinking caffeine products (effectively starting 12 midnight, Saturday the 23rd, until 12 midnight, March 1).

If I had wanted to sound more impressive, I could also say - with equal truthfulness - that I won't be consuming anything with caffeine for the rest of the month. I share this with you because it is highly likely that I will - or come very close to - breaking this rule, and I'd appreciate some enforcement as it would be highly entertaining for me. It could also be highly entertaining for the rest of you if you had a betting pool going on this, but I digress.

I'm fairly confident that I am not dependent on caffeine. Although I do enjoy drinking coffee, my main reason for doing so is because of the taste and not because of the energy boost. I imagine that any hyperactivity on my part from drinking coffee comes from the sugar that's been added; I was raised on decaf. And really, for me, coffee is a craving for Starbucks, and not the cadaver-grey fluid from the d-hall (even if it is free trade).

That said, I may have developed some tolerance through my daily consumption of tea. While I do reduce the flavor by using soy milk as a buffer (more about this amazing combination later), the entire process of making a spot o' tea has become an ingrained habit, which brings me to my reasoning for why I'm missing out on the caffeine:

Because Wheaties is the breakfast of champions, and I got dressed at 11, I missed out not only on cereal but also on being a champion today. My bad, especially since today, being a champion is synonymous with "finishing my Expos draft." Because my brainpower wasn't fueled with the necessary fiber, I couldn't think - all the way until 2:30, when I resolved to pick-myself-up with a little caffeine.

But then, my mind-tongue connection slipped and I asked for an expresso.

The cashier put on her matronly face, raising one eyebrow, but didn't ask questions. "Here you go, honey."

I looked down at it. It was tiny. And then I realized why I needed to memorize coffee menus by heart; by definition, an expresso is the shot-sized cup with concentrated coffee. Not the Americano I wanted (watered down expresso in a larger cup), not brewed coffee, not even a ghetto latte that would have frozen my hands on the way to the library.

It was too late to switch orders, and while I marveled at the size of the cup ("It's so cute - the perfect size for my five-year-old son!") I had no idea how to drink it. Maybe like in communion - taking it down in a beat?

Oh, but I was not so brave. It took me three sips, but only one to realize how bitter it was; even an hour later, the aftertaste is still on my tongue.

So in conclusion, forgive my increasingly incoherent post and remind me that there was a direction this caffeine jolt was supposed to take me: towards the conclusion of my paper.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Coolio, Literally.

Yeahhhh...

I hope you clicked the Newsweek link - I can't tell if I'm somewhat appalled, amazed, or just laughing so hard that I don't know what I'm typing. The interview is hilarious.

I'd like to think that I'm amazed - despite my dislike of celebrity chefs, it's hard to dislike someone who acknowledges him as a celebrity first and cook second. It does feel tongue-in-cheek though. Coolio is almost winking at the camera, really...

That said, Coolio brings up a good point when he talks about affordability, although he exaggerates a bit. (While Kobe beef would make my day, a terrible chef can't just add truffles to their dishes to make a masterpiece. It'd be expensive; it'd still be crap. If I might add to my own cred, I'd paraphrase that as "it's not about the bling.")

We watch the Food Network and cooking shows for two reasons: 1) to be amazed by what we cannot do, and 2) to learn. Coolio's show leans toward the second...but we do become amazed by his entertainment. And who wouldn't try Blasian or Ghitalian food?

Friday, February 15, 2008

"I'm sorry, I can't make out with you..."

...when you have steak breath." (Courtesy of Tara.)

If you clicked on the NYT link above, then wonderful; if not, go back above and read it. The gist is that vegan-omnivore couples have to accommodate each others' dietary preferences, but since people have different standards, it makes for easily-make-and-break relationships.

A few particularly interesting snippets from the article:

Vegans, who avoid eating not just animals but animal-derived products, take it further, shivering at the thought of kissing someone who has even sipped honey-sweetened tea.

See post title above. Also, I vividly remember a similar sentiment from a previous article about searching for vegan relationships...
-------
Judging from postings at food Web sites like chowhound.com and slashfood.com
, people seem more willing to date those who restrict their diet for health or religion rather than mere dislike.

Typical sentiments included: “Medical and religious issues I can work around as long as the person is sincere and consistent, but flaky, picky cheaters — no way” and “picky eaters are remarkably unsexy.”

If we do a "shallow text analysis" of this, we can see that being vegan is linked with infidelity, thanks to the juxtapositions of "picky cheater." Also, unsexiness.
-------
Could it be that pickiness stems from a person's unwillingness to change? And what does that say about my removing cilantro from everything?

To defend myself, I would say that taste is subjective and that I've also been exposed to cilantro for most of my life. The acquired taste clearly hasn't kicked in. I think you could make the same argument with simply picky eaters, as long as they're not declaring moral superiority as their sole reason for going vegan.

So, next question: would I date a vegan? The answer is no. I'm not going to use the "different cultures" argument, because to say that would undercut the importance of learning from others and even diversity. But if we do consider veganism to be a lifestyle - or even for some, a religion in its own right - then it makes sense to not date a vegan if our value systems - and not simply cultural backgrounds - are incompatible.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New York, Day 3

My final day in New York consisted of redemption at the Peking Duck House (28 Mott St./
New York, NY, 10013/212.227.1810
and 236 East 53rd St./New York, NY, 10022/212.759.8260), where we had originally planned to eat Saturday night. But thanks to the Fung Wah stop's location, we just happened to be in Chinatown.

Having arrived for a late lunch, we went straight into the main dining room (there was another one downstairs). The full length window of the Peking Duck House was shrouded by a red curtain, but the interior of the restaurant was not the hole-in-the-wall that I had expected.

We promptly got to work with the menu. Of course, Peking duck was on the list. The restaurant offers an Peking Duck Dinner special ($26.50 per n persons for a Peking duck and n-2 dishes - I couldn't explain it without the 'n's...), but we opted for the actual dish ($40) because we wanted to go a la carte. For other dishes, we chose homemade noodles with beef ($9.25) and more hollow vegetables (ordered 'off the menu' - in any case, it's usually there in Chinese restaurants).

Another habit - before Peking duck is served, it is shown to the customer so that he or she can approve of its size and how it's been cooked. (I might that Peking duck is notoriously hard to make - we actually talked about this while we waited for lunch. My sister's friend had prepared one, but had to hang it in his kitchen for three weeks.) This time, the chef actually hacked (in politer terms, I mean cut - not hax0rz) the duck in front of us, although he left a significant part of the meat on the duck, probably for someone else's duck soup.

The duck was placed promptly on the table with pancakes, cucumbers, green onions and hoisin sauce...which shouldn't be confused with duck sauce nor plum sauce. We wrapped all the ingredients in the pancake (really a very thin tortilla), and it was amazing that I might've as well hummed. The cucumbers were refreshingly crisp as was the duck skin (not quite as red as it is in Minnesota) against the chewy pancake, which was a little bit more thick than I would have liked. On the other hand, the dark meat was rich, deeply flavored, and the oil that mingled with it made the pancake taste better.

As for the noodles - I had expected brazenly shaven handcut noodles, similar to that of Joy Restaurant (one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area). At Peking Duck House, though, what homemade noodles seemed to mean were metal noodle cutters wielded in Chinatown. That said, the preparation is still legit in my opinion. Although the noodles were thin, they were well-textured and tasty - it didn't resemble the same shape as chow fun, but since it contained bean sprouts, beef strips and onions, it sure tasted like it. Finally, the hollow vegetables were delicious. They weren't particularly special, but they had been cooked in clean oil, and instead of the typical garlic stir-fry, scallions had been added to the mix.

Overall, the meal was a little pricey for a regular lunch - there was definitely a 'duck premium' added, but it was well worth a trip. We then headed over to Tai Pan Bakery. Again, mistaken assumptions - with its purple exterior and metal covered lunch counters, I thought it was a bakery for tourists. It turns out that it's a well-known Chinatown establishment...and that it was packed. I took a sesame ball for the trip (that's not my picture, though). It was two-point-five-inch-diameters of fried goodness, and the oil got on my fingers, even through the wax paper slip it came in. When I bit inside, there wasn't a lot of red bean paste to be found though, but even after two hours on the bus, it was still, weirdly enough, simultaneously crisp and chewy...but not crunchy.

And well - that concludes this short intersession trilogy. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Future field trip: Toscanini's

Man, it's hard to keep up with Toscanini's. A personal, probably-not-so-accurate timeline:

Three weeks ago - passed by on my way to Royal East (review forthcoming).
Two weeks ago - planned outing for the weekend with roomie.
Ten days ago - found out from Hank that it was closed for not paying taxes.
Last week - bummed out because I had missed out on cucumber sorbet.
Now - Toscanini's is back in business; on to the cake batter ice cream!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

New York, Day 2

After a late breakfast, we headed to Times Square, followed by the Whitney Museum. By that time, it was 2:30, and we were craving a late lunch, so upon a recommendation from my brother-in-law, we tried to find Momofuku (171 1st Ave/New York, NY 10013/212.475.7899). The 1st Ave address implied that it was near the United Nations, so we spent a twenty blocks’ walk looking for this noodle house, finally calling it twice. But no one picked up to confirm, and we ended up heading to Grand Central Station as a consolation prize, disgruntled. (It looks like something’s wrong with its directory entry – it may be closed?)

Grand Central Station had a huge food court with smaller versions of “unique New York” (try saying that fast) culinary establishments. I shared and quickly gobbled down a tomato and parmesan foccacia from Zaro’s Bread Basket ($4.95), only made better by the temporary heat from the panini grill. I imagined it as an yeasty, herby upgrade of a pizza.

We then headed to Rockefeller Center and picked up pseudo-lunches from ‘wichcraft, in the basement. The gourmet fast food sandwich bar was pricey, though the sandwiches were good. Plus, points for presentation.

The slow-roasted pork sandwich ($8.50) with red cabbage and jalapeno had enough – if not too much – of a spicy kick. While the grilled fontina ($9) was fairly small, the makers had the great idea of including chewy black trumpet mushrooms (I am fairly certain these are the mushrooms labeled “black fungus” in Chinese supermarkets) and truffle oil on the moist-but-crisp white bread. A better choice was the soup ($4) – pureed cauliflower that was only apparent in the aftertaste, with colorful chive oil on top. It came with two thin, crunchy breadsticks to dip.

A quick stop for Dean and DeLuca’s coffee was next – we had been looking all afternoon for one. The coffee was hot and pungent – while the scent did indicate its bitterness, most of the aftertaste evaporated quickly.

On to Pinkberry! We searched online for the nearest location – and it happened to land smack-dab in the middle of Koreatown. Given my fondness for Berryline, I was eager to compare Pinkberry to it. Perhaps that is somewhat irreverent, however: Berryline is actually a Beantown knockoff of Pinkberry. As a result of the recent froyo craze and the fact that Starbucks is actually putting a little of their brew into Pinkberry, it seemed that Pinkberry was a little paranoid. I was yelled at for taking photos in the crowded space, which looked like an internet café meets teenage-girl Starbucks.

And what do I think about Pinkberry’s froyo? To some extent, it might have been Berryline withdrawal (I found out that they had mango – plus Oreo – while I was gone), or simply the factor of being first, but I found Pinkberry to be refreshingly good. Other customers walking out of the store called it “yogurty,” and that was indeed the case. It was also surprisingly creamy – I had expected something icier. The fruit – I ordered raspberries, blackberries and mango – was for the most part, fresh. My mango was unripe (another point for Berryline!) and green tendrils were protruding from one blackberry, but the raspberries were ideal.

During our brief stay at Pinkberry, we planned out the remainder of this non-stop noshing day. Our original plan was to eat at the Peking Duck House in Chinatown but we were sidetracked by the Korean eateries. (Incidentally, the NYT published an article about the Koreatown that same day, which we only found later that evening.) We finally settled on Hyo Dong Gak (51 W 35th Street/New York, NY 10001/212.495.7167), a few blocks' walk from the center of Koreatown and the recipient of a few favorable online reviews.

Upon walking into the restaurant, we waited for seats to open. The restaurant looked comfortable, in a good way…but so did the menu, in a bad way. I scanned up and down the pages, but all I saw was “sweet and sour pork,” “Mongolian beef,” and more of what looked like to be generic Chinese take-out dishes. Not that I’m morally against “sweet and sour pork,” I just prefer to eat it only when necessary. (And by necessary, I mean once a year.)

My sister reassured me that “really, that’s the special thing about this place – they’re a Korean/Chinese hybrid restaurant,” but really, I struggled – and still do – with this conception.

(Warning: I am a moderate version of my friend Hank, who refuses to eat the (reputedly) “awesome” steak at Waffle House because he only eats waffles at Waffle House. That said, I do agree with him on the Cheesecake Factory – if you must, only get the cheesecake there. My take, however, is that the entrees there are not only generic but laced with sodium.)

Back to Hyo Dong Gak. I looked skeptically at my sister. First of all, the menu clearly stated Chinese restaurant. Second of all, one of the posted reviews on the restaurant’s bulletin board was from a local newspaper who championed the fact that their Japanese reviewer liked some sort of seafood delight. Awkward was an understatement, but just when I was about to leave, a table opened and we obligatorily sat down.

With a little help from Yelp, we chose our order: the noodles in brown sauce (called jajang-myeon - $5.95), an bowl of seafood noodle soup (with extra seafood), and tang soo yook, described on the site as a Korean version of sesame chicken. We looked around at all the other tables, and it looked like they ordered the exact same meal as well. Good call; we patted ourselves on the back.

The first thing that arrived was the tang soo yook. It did look like generic sweet-and-sour chicken, but it was surprisingly good. It had been deep fried in the same style, but the chicken came out hot and the oil tasted clean. Granted that when you bit into it, hot oil burst out, but it was quite tasty. The sauce was somewhat flavorless and the vegetables were definitely of the sweet-and-sour chicken genre (peppers, water chestnuts, snow peas), but the dish’s freshness made up for it. It wouldn’t be a repeat though; upon picking up the check, we found out that the chicken was almost double the price of the other dishes ($12.95).

The seafood noodle was tasty – the broth was flavorful, but also delicate, with a hint of ginger added to the seafood brew. The noodles were chewy, and there was a good deal of seafood in the bowl, which on its own, probably could have manhandled two of us. As for the noodles with brown sauce, it was my favorite dish. This traditional Korean dish – thick soy-based paste over diced pork, onions and other vegetables – is my mom’s favorite (and even has a Chinese equivalent) but the Minnesota restaurant rendition could not compare to this. The noodles were the same as those used for the seafood soup, and they complemented the sauce nicely. And oh, the sauce. It wasn’t salty and it definitely didn’t lack ingredients – rather, it had a bacony flavor that melded to and a thickness that clung on to the noodles.

So I ended up having to walk about fifteen blocks before my stomach felt less full…and that concludes my second day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New York, Day .5: Shanghai Moon House

My intersession trip to New York began with a harried rush to the legendary Fung Wah bus. And by legendary, I mean notorious. It’s no surprise that I was a little fearful of the Fung Wah – but the only negative story I personally heard was from a philosophy student I met on the T, who pointed out that one trip, his foot, straying in the aisle, was sprayed with Febreze. And even so, that wasn’t that terrible.

And the bus ride, in reality, wasn’t that terrible either. Granted, I played the role of a “yuppie seeking validation of and legitimacy in his or her life” (aka: the plotline of Love Story) through a cheap bus ride adventure, but really. My only worry was the strict ten minute allotment for the McDonald’s stop; rumor had it that the driver would promptly pull out regardless of missing riders. Whether that happened this time…I don’t know. The bus was fairly speedy in the 4.75-hour trip, but my brother-in-law had to point out to me that the driver almost crashed into a car upon arrival.

Whoops.

In any case, it was around 10:30 pm when we finally sat down at Shanghai Moon House Restaurant (67 Bayard Street/New York, NY 10013/212.766.9399 or 212.766.9098 ), a repeat visit for my sister and brother-in-law. They had been raving about the pork steamed buns (8 for $2.99 – ridiculously cheap by most standards) and the aromatic beef cold noodle ($4.50). We ended up ordering a few other things as well, as the dining and packing schedule had been a little harried to say the least. (I beat my roommate’s packing record – fifteen minutes. Take that.)

The food came quickly, and we started off with appetizers. The pork steamed buns were just as I had expected, and even a little bit larger-sized. A quick note on the buns: the kind that we got weren’t dry or sandwich-y, bread-based buns. Rather, these buns were what are called tang bao, “soup” buns, meaning that they were filled with the same broth used to cook the pork filling. The overarching goal of eating tang bao is to not let the soup leak out, since it’s really the best part of the bun. The way to do this is to use chopsticks to maneuver the bao into a soup spoon, dip the spoon into the gingery vinegar sauce, and to eat the bao in one bite, letting the ingredients soak against your tongue.

We followed this up with a combination of three appetizers ($9.95): sliced aromatic beef, wine chicken (aka drunken chicken) and jelly fish. The sliced beef was thin and had a good proportion of jelly, which added to the meat’s chewy texture. And yes, it was aromatic – but the spices were subtle. The wine chicken tasted like any other drunken chicken, but the chicken meat was a little leaner and there was less fat and skin. The jelly fish, although vinegary, was a little less flavorful. However, a generous portion of it was served, and it was nice and chewy. For those of you who are a little less adventurous with regard to jellyfish: don’t worry, it’s good. And it doesn’t really look like meat; it’s just clear.

The sautéed water spinach came ($7.95), followed by the aromatic beef cold noodle ($4.50). The water spinach’s sell comes from its crunch – it also goes by the name “hollow vegetable” because its stems are indeed hollow. Typically water spinach is drenched in oil and lots of garlic, but Shanghai Moon’s rendition was a little bit more delicate. Yes, there was plenty of oil, but at least it looked like it wasn’t reused oil (a heads-up: if your egg rolls ever look dark-colored, it’s probably because it was the tenth batch to be deep fried in the oil). The fresh flavor of the spinach really stood out, but I wished there was a little more garlic flavor in the dish. The cold noodle (shown above – with close up of the meat) was topped with a creamy, light-color peanut sauce that could have been thicker. Combined with the noodles – which had a wavy, fettucini-like texture – it was really quite tasty.

Finally, the surprise hit of the meal was something I didn’t realize we’d ordered – pork and vegetable strips in garlic sauce (admittedly, I don’t have the price because it was a last-minute order). It consisted of thinly shredded pork with green peppers and water chestnuts, topped up with sliced garlic cloves under a brown gravy. Although it looked out of place in a Shanghai-style restaurant, next to the pork steamed buns, it was my favorite dish of the evening; the flavors were bold and the peppers were sharp.

Knowing the huge quantity of restaurants in Chinatown, you could easily head from one to another for a month without repeats, and during visits to New York, I’ll have more on the list to try. But this one may warrant another trip.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tropical Fruit, as covered by Newsweek

Click here. (Unfortunately, the online edition doesn't feature the cute little chart of pictures alongside each fruit.)

Helpful, but it looks like they missed the custard-apple, the dragon fruit and the Buddha's hand. And maybe even the pomelo?

Also, has anyone tried the dragon fruit Ice Breakers gum?
It be poppin'. Like my lipgloss.

...and there goes all legitimacy of this blog post.

Review: Wagamama

57 JFK St, Cambridge, MA 02138/617.499.0930

I figure I'll state it up front: I am not a fan of Wagamama.

I ordered the ginger chicken udon ($10.50) both visits. Actually, the udon was fairly flavorful - the ginger was strong. However, despite accepting the fact that udon does and always will have a pasty texture when stir-fried, but if anything, it meant that something - some sort of additional ingredient - had to supplement it. That didn't happen: the chicken was really bite-sized. My taste buds could not overcome the "overstick" of the udon noodles, conglomerated together in one mass.

The funny thing is, my dining companions and I agreed that my dish was probably the best tasting of what we had ordered - the yaki udon ($10.75), the chicken chili men (noodles in a spicy sauce, $11.75) and the aka-taka chicken salad ($9.95). To Wagamama's credit, the yaki udon was not a clone of the ginger chicken udon; the chicken in the salad was tasty, but the sparse quantity of it seemed out of place on the plain "mixed" lettuce leaves.

Wagamama takes your orders using an electronic reader, which means the food came fast. Unfortunately, we were ordered to leave fast (as in, less than 30 minutes). At one point, our server came by and pointed out: "Maybe I'm crazy, but didn't I give you the bill five minutes ago?"

And the opportunity cost of this: a (better) meal at any other Harvard Square establishment. So I offer alternatives to Wagamama within two blocks:

- Uno's, individual Farmer's Market vegetarian pizza: $8.79
- Penang, family-style: $10-12
- Felipe's, nachos: $5.35

And if you're willing to trek a little more,
- Bartley's, the Mitt Romney burger (including onion rings!): $9.15

In short, overhyped and overpriced.

Review: Penang

57 JFK Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA 02138

Every time you eat at Penang, you effectively issue a vehement "no thanks" (or something more profane, if you prefer) to Wagamama. This is because you have to go through the main lobby, which contains Wagamama and Staples, and trek up the stairs to find Penang.

This scorn is also well deserved.

[I am not a fan of Wagamama. The food came fast, but we were ordered to leave fast (as in, less than 30 minutes). The noodles were flavorful but dry, and were barely supplemented with any ingredients.

And all of this cost me $13 - in comparison, a (better) meal at any other Harvard Square establishment:
- Bartley's: a burger, with upgrade to onion rings:

Open everyday from 11:30 am to 11:30; call 617.234.3988/617.234.3989

Edit (fall 2009): Penang is now closed. Goodbye to one of the good Asian staples in the square...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Food 2.0, here we go

Instead of Web 2.0, we've got chocolate startups ahead.

Tcho's design looks particularly good. I like the check-off boxes for flavors...it's like blunt wine tasting for pre-yuppies.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recipe: Rebecca and Julia's Breadsticks

And I omitted a few things from that list below:

Well, the copious amount of grilled two-slices-Swiss-with-two-pieces-salami-and-two-tomato-slices-on-Italian-bread sandwiches I had. But also the products of the following recipe. Call them breadsticks or slices or even a garlic bread impostor.

The breadsticks:
- one or two slices of bread, preferably Italian
- oregano, red pepper, and olive oil

Drizzle olive oil over the bread - if it looks like there's too much, tilt the bread back and forth to redistribute the oil evenly. Slice the bread into longer stick pieces (although if you're Julia, you'll leave it in one giant piece). Shake oregano over the bread, and stick it into the toaster. (If the bread's Italian, you'll want to take the tongs to knock the bread out - it gets stuck. Again, don't set stuff on fire.)

The sauce:
- consists of what's at the pasta bar.
- parmesan cheese, oregano and garlic powder

We personally cross our fingers for pesto sauce, but regardless of the type, take a small bowl of sauce, and add about two tablespoons of parmesan cheese. The consistency of the sauce should be thick, almost a little bit paste-like. Add oregano - four more shakes more than what you think will be enough. Garlic powder is only needed if the sauce is red pepper flavored; just a little bit will be more than enough.

Dip the breadsticks in the sauce. Happy eating.

Exams: Partially by the Numbers

The five most frequent items on the reading period menu:

10 omelettes. More ketchup than necessary. Egg whites only - Egg Beater omelettes are paper thin. Tomato-onion-green-pepper, because unshredded cheese corners barely melt and the ham is from the sandwich bar.

10 grapefruit halves. To be eaten when waiting for the omelette in the grill line.

4 muffins, one each of:
- Tripleberry. Blueberry, craisin and weirdly tart candied cherry. (Whoever invented the term craisin was clearly a genius.)
- Lemon poppyseed.
- Corn. Gritty goodness.
- Bran. Raisin for tangy flavor.

3 Caesar salads. And doubtless others (parmesan vinaigrette for the win).

2 small bowls of generic Cinnamon Toast Crunch (to clarify, that would be Toasted Cinnamon Squares, thankyouverymuch). Habit very much discontinued when they ran out.


Is this one step up, or one step behind?

Yale is switching from Aramark (huge corporation; by my count, I must have eaten in about fifteen of their organizational cafeterias. They can be bland, but if you find one with sweet potato fries, go.) to its own in-house kitchens for dining halls...of course, Harvard had that system already.

But it looks like Yale's getting Stanford's dining head to come over (and if there's one thing I really wanted from Stanford, it was the fresh, sun-kissed ingredients. Or maybe I'm romanticizing that. I just wonder if it's as good as they say).

Oh, the politic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The view from Berryline

(strawberry and kiwi on coconut froyo)

Three or four trips later, we're nearing the end of official finals week. Whew.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

You're got thirteen days...ready, set, go

Aside from dollar-scoop Tuesday, here's another of Baskin-Robbins' perks:

Click here for a buy-one-get-one sundae coupon (until January 31).


Enjoy.

A badder better cookbook?

Via Wikipedia, the nursery rhyme:

Betty Batter bought some butter,
"But," she said, "the butter's bitter;
If I put it in my batter,
It will make my batter bitter;
But a bit of better butter,
That would make my batter better."

So she bought a bit of butter,
Better than her bitter butter,
And she put it in her batter,
And the batter was not bitter;
So 'twas better Betty Botter
Bought a bit of better butter.

If you got through that tongue twister, you're in luck. Because I strongly suggest checking out these great (and wonderfully legit!) recipes. To give you a taste, this edition includes "Yogburt, 'Appycots, and Weird Crunchy Stuff," "Om Nom Nom Spaghetti" and "Pan de la vie Boheme" (which should probably remind me of La Boheme and its modern day counterpart, Rent...but surprisingly reminds me of Orwell's Down and Out.)

And admittedly, the recipes are pretty tough competition for our Annenberg Cookbook. A quick shoutout to Phenol for writing - thanks!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Before you visit Boston

You should read this NYT article for a quick hit...

and notice that Burdick's, among other Cambridge establishments, was namedropped. (Not Finale, though - though I'll have a comparison of Finale vs. Burdick's after finals.) Oh Burdick's...how I'm so glad that you are so close to me on a icy winter's day.

Though I can't really handle 5 ounces of your thick hot chocolate (literally chocolate) and might have to settle for the mini two ounce instead. And as we learned in our mandatory drug seminar in our dorm, two ounces is a larger size than 1.7 ounce. Actually, that's fairly obvious - rather, two ounces is slightly more than a shot glass.

So that would be a shot of chocolate.

Yep.

Fortune Cookies and Good Reads

I recently found Jennifer 8. Lee's blog, the Fortune Cookie Chronicles, and am loving it. She happens to be releasing her book (of the same name) in March, and it's about the history and role of Chinese food in America. Obviously, it's about food, but it's also about culture (example from the summary: "unique bond between Chinese food and American Jewry" - yes).

In any case, she recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about the fortune cookie's backstory, which my sister forwarded to me. Check it out - surprisingly, a historian argues the fortune cookie could have stemmed from Japan. And if I've told you about my return to Boston last week (where the annoying know-it-all across from me claimed fortune cookies were from China - more on him later) then this article seems to be in good timing.

For me and for him.

For Valentine's Day...

...this is all you need.

Because the one you love deserves double American on their grilled cheese.

Um, maybe some jewelry too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

If only for Chuck Norris

"And because of this imagined world, America became an edible Emerald City, a culinary Kubla Khan where hot dogs paved the streets and Kool-Aid flowed from taps. A place where Chuck Norris took it in turns with Arnie to keep the peace, while Corey Haim kept the well-coiffed vampires at bay." (Tom Parker Bowles, The Year of Eating Dangerously)

Most food writing starts off with a bang, making you think that it'll be a must-add to your list on Facebook (the sole arbiter of your identity). Then it kind of ends with a few too many snapshots of the journey (especially if it's a book where the author travels), and not enough food. Which makes sense, because it's the end, you should have some reflections, et cetera. Same thing happened with this book: the intro was hilarious; the last part, a not entirely satisfying conclusion. But this might have been easily the best sentence I've read in a food book in '08: 90s pop culture mixed with a cultural vision (and obviously, the requisite food name-dropping).