Monthly Archives: July 2006

A Cup, A Cup, A Cup, A Cup

I came to love coffee much the same way I came to appreciate food – from the serving end. Work at Starbuck’s long enough, learn many people can’t pronounce latte to save their lives, much less the difference between that and a cappuccino.

Now, by coincidence, one of my best friends, Martha, owns a coffee shop. She and I happened to work at that Starbuck’s together years ago, tamped our first espressos on the same machine; I can remember outlining drink recipes with her on a dry-erase board; today, she can smell a coffee bean and tell you whether it’s Guatemalan or Ethiopian, and knows why some diners rush to refill your cup (that stuff only tastes good hot, and probably even better when masked by the taste of pie).

So by association, I’ve become a bit of a coffee snob. Another friend of Martha’s and mine concurs: she went to Manhattan not long ago and admitted the coffee there “tasted like ass.” Oh my, was all I said.

There was a time I drank so much of the stuff my dentist thought I was a chain smoker. She actually recommended chemical bleaching. A simple cleaning proved I was, in fact, not a smoker – just a very, very awake college student.

Then part of me wonders: do I truly love coffee, or am I just ensconced in its myth, its romance, its lovely pairing with cheesecake? The smell of fresh ground beans does send me swooning. Then of course, there’s the I like my coffee hot and black – like my men! quip, of which I never seem to tire. (Note: that also works with sweet and hot, rich and black, or any combination thereof, etc.)

Until I can learn to do without my regular cup – every morning or so, or at least on weekend brunch – I may never be able to truly answer that.

Quick Coffee Trivia (as per Martha and memories from working for The Big Green Empire):

  • Some places drip their coffee very light, i.e. they brew lesser amounts of grounds to make them last longer. In short: dripping light, bad, dripping heavy, good.
  • Espresso should cook between 17 and 23 seconds.
  • Many cafés run on the automatic machines now (the ones that don’t require measuring out grounds or tamping), but for those that don’t, notice the barista will grind new beans every few hours; this is because the cooking time will vary depending on the time of day and the weather/temperature. The old espresso grind must be thrown out, or in an ideal world, composted.
  • Really good coffee will still taste good cold. (Not as good as it does hot, but I’ve found it’s mostly true.)
  • For the record, Starbuck’s coffee is quite bitter and I’d rather go somewhere else for coffee if I can, like Peet’s or a local place.
  • Interesting to Note as I End this Post:

  • We grew up with instant in the house. I didn’t have real coffee until I was studying at a friend’s house in high school, and threw in coffee coffee thinking it was Nescafé or whatever. I ended up with a mouthful of grounds.
  • I once dated an Irish-Italian guy from Brooklyn who said “caw-fee.” Of course, I was irrationally enamored with this.
  • Strangely enough, I work at a software company for Java (that’s the computer language, not the drink).
  • So that is the extent of my culinary contributions this week: butter and coffee. Just the simple stuff. Maybe next week I’ll do a post on boiling water.

    Bread and…

    I am up late at night with the munchies. I got out a piece of white bread and butter.

    No, actually, better than butter: Plugra butter.

    Christine and Susan mentioned Plugra to me several months ago. In fact, Christine just plain called it “Plugra” like it was its own species, a different animal, from butter.

    As I lick my Plugra-stained fingertips, I must say I now know why.

    My mother used to buy margarine. In fact I can almost remember the first time I consciously purchased butter instead of margarine as a young adult. I was so confused as a child; the pictures of corn on the side of margarine tub – margarine which I called butter – made me think corn and butter were related, that one was a product of the other. (I know, I know, once I read Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’ll find out in some cases, they are!) A chemistry teacher explained it to me on a molecular level: margarine was a really a synthetic gray slab, colored yellow in the 50s because no one was buying it, it was chock-full of saturated fats, little v-like hooks that clog your arteries, when butter was actually much better for you and had, with brown bread, been keeping poor people in Europe or somewhere alive for years!

    My tongue explained it more simply: butter is yummy. In comparison, margarine is not.

    A few weeks’ ago, I noticed PLUGRA on my Traders Joe’s shelf. Here, all along? I’d thought. At only $2.49 for a pound, I didn’t even care it wasn’t cut up in quarters. I decided I’d try it and hack it up myself.

    In a word: delish. NO, in two words, because Plugra butter tastes: like…buttah.

    And yes, an excess of butter will clog your arteries, too, but if you’re gonna go, go rich and creamy with a side of challah.

    RCE Book Club Updates & Sept/Oct Selections!

    I’ve posted an update to the ReadCookEat Book Club over here… This includes our selections for both September AND October (don’t forget, August is nearly here and its almost time to start talking about Garlic and Sapphires!) with LOTS of time to get the books ahead of time!

    wonton sopapillas

    wonton sopapillas
    Originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

    Oh one more post before I try to give my wrists a longer break–can you tell I’m a bit obsessive compulsive about blogging and writing? Keeping me from the keyboard is torture!

    I wanted to say that oftentimes, you’re left with a bunch of unused wonton or gyoza wrappers when you make dumplings. It’s rarely the case that the amount of filling you make exactly matches the number of available wrappers.

    A great way to use up leftover wonton or gyoza wrappers it to make sopapillas (a mexican sweet treat)!

    Fry up the leftover wonton wrappers and sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon.

    If you feel whimsical you can even give the wonton wrappers “shapes” by manipulating them with chopsticks while frying. In this case, I made little “farfalle bowties” with mine. 🙂

    Korean fried mandoo

    Korean fried mandoo

    Going to make this short–I’ve done a lot of posting the last few days, and it’s a reflection of all the typing I’ve been doing on the whole…as a result, my wrists and forearms are burning! I don’t dare admit I have the evil thing called “carpal tunnel syndrom” but I will take it as a sign to lay off typing for awhile. In fact, after this post, I’ve vowed to try to take a few days off from food blogging just for the sake of my wrists.

    Oh–see how this is not short already?

    On with the show.
    When Melanie blogged here about lumpia, the most lovely fried concoction I have had in months (and considering how wonderful MOST fried foods are for me, that is saying a LOT), she spurred on a desire in me to have the equivalent in Korea-land. Mandoo.

    Mandoo are one kind of Korean dumpling (the other kind resembling Chinese steamed pork buns with their round bready shapes). You can make soup with them, “Mandoo guk”…and you can boil them…and you can fry them. I prefer them fried–my mother used to make Mandoo and take them to our school and boy scout troop potlucks where they would be welcomed with “oohs” and “aaahhhs.” They were in high demand, and she would make them every time, feeling that for people to love our food was for them to accept a small part of Korean culture, and thereby her children.

    These are not easy things to make–they are somewhat labor intensive (you have to wrap each dumpling by hand), and I remember spending hours making dumplings with my mother for these social engagements. And we would watch with both pride and horror (hours of work!) how they disappeared into the mouths of our suburban neighbors in a matter of minutes.

    Additionally, I was also put into a “mandoo mood” because I signed up to make aushak for the ReadCookEat Book club–and its accompanying “cooking meme” of making a recipe out each selected book. Aushak are afghani dumplings…


    and for some reason, i could NOT stop obsessing about making both Afghani aushak dumplings AND Korean mandoo dumplings in one day! What a pair!

    And the ingredients were in many ways convenient ( both use gyoza wrapperes…and the aushak dumplings require a filling made with the chopped green tops of scallions…the korean dumpings require a filling made with the chopped white root end of the scallions just for starters). So why not?

    So I did.
    My husband kept looking at me, “Okay…stop obsessing over dumplings.” But when it came round to TASTING and EATING my creation, I think he knew it was all worth it.

    My mother made an “Americanized” mandoo which included finely minced carrot and zucchini. I used a recipe out of a book and adapted it and though it does not resemble my mother’s mandoo too much, it’s much more traditional.

    making aushak

    I’ll post details and the recipe for the aushak MUCH later–since that’s saved for Eric’s Book Club.

    KOREAN MANDOO (adapted from Hi Soo Hepinstall’s Growing up in a Korean Kitchen)
    * store bought wonton skins or gyoza skins, defrosted (if frozen)
    * handful of fresh oyster mushrooms or shitake mushrooms (or dried shitake if you cannot find them fresh)
    * 1 cup cabbage kimchi finely chopped (I used radish kimchi, minced since I didn’t have any cabbage kimchi on hand).
    * 8 ounces medium-firm bean curd tofu
    * 1/2 pound ground beef
    * 1 egg, slightly beaten
    * 2 tablespoons of rice wine or vermouth
    * 2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
    * 2 large green onions, white and pale green part only, finely chopped
    * 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    * 1 teaspoon ginger juice or grated ginger
    * 1/2 teaspoon salt
    * pinch of freshly ground black pepper

    * 2 cups flour for dusting

    Note: bean curd (tofu) and egg are 2 necessary ingredients in the stuffing. They act as crucial binding agents.

    In a stockpot, make 4 cups acidulated water (basically water with a splash of vinegar and a pinch of salt in it) and bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms and blanch for 10 seconds or until the mushrooms are barely wilted. Scoop out the mushrooms and plunge them into ice water to stop cooking. Drain in a colander. With a kitchen towerl, squeeze out as much liquid as possible and chop fine. Place the mushrooms in a large bowl.

    Wearing rubber gloves, wrap the kimchi in a paper towel. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and add it to the bowl with the mushrooms.

    Wrap the bean curd in a paper towel. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place the bean curd in the bowl, along with all remaining ingredients (EXCEPT THE FLOUR). Mix well with a wooden spoon or with your hands until the mixture is smooth and soft.

    To assemble the dumplings have the following on hand: the bowl of wrappers, the bowl of stuffing, a teaspoon, a bowl of cold water, and a plate or 2 large baking sheets liberally dusted with flour.

    Hold a wrapper in the palm of one hand and using the teaspoon, spoon a walnut-size ball of stuffin gin teh center of the wrapper. Using your finger, lighten moisten the wrappers edge with water. Fold into a half-moon shape. Seal the edges tightly using your thumb and index finger.

    Doubly seal the dumping by pinching the edge with your thumb and middle finger. It will resemble a piecrust edge. Line up the finished dumpings on the baking sheets about 1/2 inch apart to prevent sticking.

    To store, dust the dumplings well with flour, wrap the baking sheet tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. After the dumpings are frozen they may be transferred to a plastic bag and kept in the freezer for up to a month.

    You can steam the dumplings, boil the dumplings…or fry them (I like to deep fry them).

    Makes about 64 dumplings.
    1 hour to prepare.
    45 minutes to cook.

    tastebud cocaine

    Foie gras — before
    Originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

    I have been lambasted on my blog for it, but I love foie gras. I love to eat it, despite all the political incorrectness of this food, and despite the stomach churning ethical arguments (forcefeeding ducks and geese to create and enlargened, fatty liver that is foie gras). This food is creamy, fatty, flavorful decadence.

    And now Ruhlman has a post on foie gras on megnut and notable are Anthony Bourdain’s enthusiasm comments under his post. (found via Slashfood).

    pat bing soo

    Korean dessert
    Originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

    One of my favorite Korean treats is “pat bing soo,” (pronounced “paht bing soo”) a pile of shaved ice topped with various sweet delights like sweet red beans or fruit cocktail or fruits and definitely drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Last summer when I was sweating it out in Seoul, I had this wonderful concoction nearly everyday.

    They’re sold in bakeries and cafes, and every place makes a little different. Maybe you’ll get some gelatin in it, or fresh pineapple or maraschino cherries or fruit cocktail out of a can. Either way, there’s nothing more refreshing (maybe a watermelon) on a hot day.

    I was chatting with Melanie about this, and she says Filipinos have something similar called “halo halo.”

    And for what it’s worth–just so you know the meaning of pat bing soo…”soo” means water (the Chinese root anyway, like the Latin root functions in English)…”pat” means red bean…and I think “bing” means ice.

    Slashfood has now featured pat bing soo on their site.

    Feeling Hot Hot Hot!: aka Beef Panang Curry

    homemade beef panang curry
    Originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

    There are two ways to beat summer heat with food: eat cold foods (sorbets, ice creams, Korean naeng myun, more cold noodles)…or eat HOT, SPICY foods.

    When I was in the eighth grade, my computer science teacher told me how much he LOVED Thai food (right after he wanted to know what I thought of “Platoon,” and if the gun shots in the movie frightened me and reminded me of war–WHAT war was he talking about, I wondered, as I’d spent my entire life in America). I had never had Thai food and just stared blankly at him as he described how much the food made him sweat, he said it made him sweat into his eyes and made him cry but he just LOVED THAI FOOD. I was so grossed out by the thought of him sweating into his food that the thought of Thai food receded into the background…and I did not try Thai food until my adult years.

    But the vision of delicious Thai food that could reduce a man to tears stayed imprinted deep in my mind.

    When I finally did eat Thai food for the first time in college, I started off eating pad thai which was a nice and easyy introduction to the Thai tastes of coconut milk and fish sauce undertones–but where were the spice and heat? Then I delved into the various Thai curry dishes. And loved them. Hot. Spicy. Yes.

    Which leads to my first attempt at making beef panang curry–it led to MANY tears. But not the sad kind, the “I am eating way too many chili peppers” kind. I had become my 8th grade computer science teacher. I used a bit too much curry paste (you can buy this at the Berkeley Bowl in the Bay Area or various Ranch 99 stores) and ended up scorching my taste buds! It tasted SO good, but I was sweating and crying while I ate it! (I hope I don’t gross you out like my teacher grossed me out) I had to get up halfway through my meal and pour myself a glass of milk to keep things under control. Next time, I’ll add less curry paste and stay in my seat the whole time.

    btw, my husband who normally does NOT like leftovers, ate the beef panang curry leftovers today. I’d say that means this is tasty! I hope you like it too.

    Panang Nuea, Beef Panang Curry
    * 1 pound of beef, any flavorful cut will do, I used a strip steak cut into bite size pieces
    * 2-3 heaping tbsp of red curry paste (um, I used double this amount)
    * 1 can of coconut milk, about 14 fl.oz or 400 g.
    * 1/2 cup of water
    * fish sauce to taste (start with 1 tbsp and go from there, this stuff is salty)
    * 1/8 cup ground peanuts (optional)
    * 3 tbsp of sugar
    * a few kefir lime leaves for the curry and a few cut into chiffonade or very very thin strips (for garnish)
    * 1/8 tsp cumin
    * 1 pinch of cinnamon
    * 1 pinch of ground cloves
    * handful of basil leaves
    * 1 tsp ground white or black pepper
    * optional: 1 tablespoon galangal, chopped
    * optional: 2 stalks lemongrass chopped
    * optional: various vegetables (baby corn, or bamboo shoots or carrots etc.)

    1. cook the curry paste and the coconut milk, stirring vigorously, until separated
    2. add the beef and mix well with the curry, then the rest of ingredients, except the chiffonade lime leaves
    3. let cook at a very low simmer for about an hour or two, or until the liquid reduces by about half into a thick sauce, or until the beef is melting soft, check the seasonings, add more fish sauce or sugar as needed. Garnish with the kefir lime leaf chiffonade.
    4. serve with steamed jasmine rice

    Blogging for charity

    Just a heads up–Becks & Posh is participating in a charity blogathon…go visit, and make a donation! You have until tomorrow to do some good via blogging. Who said there’s no purpose in blogging?

    Locavore in process

    "the bluest blueberries"

    After reading Michael’s Pollan book The Omnivore’s Dilemma earlier this month, I’ve been closely examining my own eating dilemma. What am I eating, and how can I better my eating habits and be a better food citizen?

    Over the years, I’ve come up with my own guidelines. I avoid eating anything that requires a microwave (that includes microwave popcorn). I use the microwave, in fact, purely for defrosting meats and heating up individual portions of liquids. Oh, and melting chocolate.

    I don’t eat frozen dinners. The fewer the ingredients, the better. I try to shop organic. I buy free range chicken. And grass fed beef.

    But, I have learned, that is not enough. For even organic has gone industrial. How many miles have those organic salad mixes flown to land at my neighborhood grocery store? In many cases, thousands of miles–the usage of fossil fuels negates the environmental benefits of organic. And that free range chicken? It’s been fed an unnatural diet of corn–chickens are supposed to eat grubs! Are they really free range and sustainable? Do they really venture out into the open air, or are they provided with a teeny itty bitty door that looms like the gateway of the Unknown to the timid chickens? Yes, organic is better than conventional…but how much better? And can we do better? That’s Pollan’s challenge.

    Nevermind all the corn syrup in all our foods (corn syrup is bad bad bad). Farmers are subsidized by the government–they are encouraged to grow corn, and yet what do we do with all the surplus? We make it into oil, ethanol, feed it to cows whose digestive system can’t support anything but grass, and convert it into “high fructose corn syrup.” It’s everywhere, and not only that, it’s likely to be the number 1, 2, or 3 ingredient in many of your processed foods. I checked a candy bar from England (yes, I know, that thing was shipped from England using tons and tons of fossil fuels)….and I noticed there was no corn syrup listed in the ingredients. It was refreshing to see the word “sugar” in the ingredient list. When was the last time you saw “sugar” in an ingredient list instead of the ubiquitous “High Fructose Corn Syrup?”

    I used to spend summers in Seoul, South Korea. Over the course of a few weeks there, I lost a lot of weight. I wondered what it was about Korea versus the United States that accounted for such a drastic change in my weight. Yes, I was walking more in Seoul, but that didn’t account for a fifteen pound weight differential. “It’s in the air,” a bunch of us Korean American would say. Maybe it’s in the corn syrup.

    My thoughts on how to eat are in full swing these days. I used to go to the farmer’s market on a regular basis–but somehow, I let those trips fall off my schedule. Going to Whole Foods or the Berkeley Bowl I thought would be enough. But it is not. Even Whole Foods caters to support the “industrial organics.” Though as of this morning, there’s news that Whole Foods will start featuring locally grown produce due to pressure from Michael Pollan.

    Though I won’t stop eating the occasional hamburger from In-n-Out or McDonald’s (even though I’ll be thinking about the way in which these foods are processed), Pollan’s ideas have pierced my psyche as well. I went to the farmer’s market this past weekend. It is a good re-start. Not only that, but it was good for my eating soul to be connected directly with the food and the people who grow the blueberries, peaches, strawberries, lemongrass, basil, tomatoes, corn and all the other bounty laid before the omnivore.