Monthly Archives: December 2006

Happy Holidays!

Latke and Sufganiyot, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

This Hanukkah, I decided to really pay homage to oil–it’s a blessing to fry! And fry I did: latkes (I like mine extra crispy) as well as sufganiyot (donuts filled with apricot jam).

I hope your house is filled with lots of love and good food, too.

‘Tis the Season for… Faux Gingerbread Houses!

img_3270.JPGEvery year for the past dozen years, our family has hosted a gingerbread-house making party.  The first year, I had no idea what I was getting into.  My father, in his wheelchair, carefully designed the houses and cut beautiful templates out of cardboard.  I mixed up giant vats of gingerbread cookie dough which took a day to mix and roll out, then cut in the template shapes, bake and put together, with equally giant vats of icing glue.  In years after that, we made smaller houses, shaped around little milk cartons.  Then we came upon the ingenious fake-gingerbread, actually madeimg_3261.JPG with graham crackers.  Genius!  These little beauties can be put together in just a couple of hours. Everyone knows the best part is decorating them, so why waste time on making real gingerbread?  Here is this year’s gingerbread village.

holiday alchemy

mrmmm vodka collins w fresh squezed lemon juice and organic maraschino cherries, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

It’s one of the biggest booze buying days of the year–everyone’s stocking up for the parties! My list? I bought some of the following: Lillet and Lillet Blanc, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, and Grey Goose Vodka. Oh and big ass bottle of natural maraschino cherries (I’m addicted).


mrmmm maraschino cherries.  without artificial color!

What am I going to do with my purchases this holiday season?

  • Lillet Blanc is great with club soda over ice as an apertif. Or with a twist of orange. Or in a Corpse Reviver:
    3/4 oz Gin
    3/4 oz Lillet Blanc
    3/4 oz Cointreau
    3/4 oz lemon juice
    2 drops Pernod
  • I’m in love with a “Dark and Stormy” (my new discovery at a dissident chef dinner–though for many of you it may not be so new). A Dark and Stormy is Gosling’s Black Seal Rum with ginger beer in a 1:2 ratio. That’s the basic recipe, although I hear you can add a touch of lime or lemon juice. I’m so loyal to vodka and gin drinks, I’m surprised how much I like this rum-based drink. But it’s a winner.
  • If you want something different from a cosmo or lemon drop, but still want one foot in fancy martini/vodka land…try a French Martini (one of my fave drinks–my first french martini was at Balthazar in New York over five years ago). It’s vodka, chambord, and pineapple shaken together and served in a martini glass. That’s another drink I’ll be serving this season.
  • Of course I bought a ton of club soda and tonic water for the mixers like gin and tonic, etc.

Funny. I’m not making any of the drinks that bartenders hate to make: the lemon drop, cosmo, mojito, and manhattan. (btw, two of my favorite cocktails are the lemon drop and cosmo–I’m going to look closely at the bartender’s face to see if he/she grimaces when I order them).

The site I reference throughout this post is The Art of Drink, run by a bartender who cares to share his thoughts on drink.

sullung-tang: Korean beef knucklebone soup

homemade sullungtang: aka beef knucklebone soup, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.


This soup is one of those “special” soups not because it takes a lot of skill to prepare, but because it takes so much time to make. I like to boil this soup for at least 8 hours, until the gelatin falls off the beef knuckle bones in soft and savory pieces that float in the millky white broth and then melt in your mouth.

I love this soup–it is a childhood comfort dish for me–but it has become one of those dishes I make while the hubby is out of town; the concept of beef knuckle bones is just not that appealing a thought to most Western palates.

What’s a “beef knuckle?” It’s the cow’s lower leg, including the hoof itself. It is damn tasty. You do not know what you’re missing if you’re saying “ewwwww” right now, you savage beast. 😛
aka beef knucklebone soup

The house is filled with the savory, gamey aroma of the soup while I boil it for hours and hours, checking to see if the gelatin has softened (it starts out solid, then it becomes very very chewy and tough like tendon, and then ultimately something soft and delicate (you can feel the give of the gelatin under a spoon). The soft and delicate stage is what you want).

This soup takes a lot of patience, but on a homebound, cold winter day alone, this is a comforting activity. Keep simmering, putter around the house, wait for soup, savor smells, feel the anticipation. When you serve it to someone who KNOWS what this soup is, they’ll feel the love–after all, it took you 8 hours (or more) to make this soup!

Today, I’m feeling the love for myself! I think I need it–for some reason I’ve been in the doldrums. Life seems complicated and loud–so I decided to reach for a simple, soothing soup with a good dose of patience. For the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been focused on one thing: this soup. Yah. Like dudes diminish their focus to a video game for a day, I’ll tunnel on soup, thank you.

aka beef knucklebone soup

As with many Korean dishes like sam gye tang ginseng chicken, this soup is known to have medicinal qualities. My health-conscious mother always told me this was “bone soup, with lots of calcium!” It does have a lot of calcium. (Today, it’s been healthy to me in other ways).

Haha–bone soup! Because were totally Americanized kids, she didn’t tell us WHICH bones until we had fallen in love with the soup.

Some people like to add sliced daikon radish to the soup (I do, too–though I didn’t have daikon radish at home this time). The essence of the soup, however, requires very little but the beef knucklebones (called “sagol or “tongani” at Korean grocery stores).

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Is my food telling me something?

my ramen at Santa Ramen, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

First, it was the smiley face hidden in the carrot cake cookie, now it’s a grinning bowl of ramen. It’s not like I see the smiley faces as I take the picture–only a sense of wellbeing and balance as I compose the photograph.

Then, as I sift through the multiple shots, I see it. There. A smiley face!

Is my food trying to tell me something? I think so.

Btw, the above is a bowl of pork flavor, extra spicy, stewed pork ramen with a boiled egg addition from Santa Ramen (yes, I break my ban against pork for this place). I’ve blogged about Santa Ramen before, with a horrible cameraphone shot of my delicious steaming bowl of noodles. I had to go back for another bowl, and for a more decent picture. I’m sorry it took so long (not for you, for my tastebuds!) but we were in luck tonight–a mere ten minute wait! That’s rare! The happy face couldn’t wait to greet me, I guess.

I did check out my husband’s bowl of ramen. No happy face for him:

Ari's ramen at Santa Ramen

portable carrot cake

carrot cake cookies, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

When I was growing up, my mother made us carrot cake: she would take a box of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker cake mix, grate up a bunch of carrots, and add it to the mix. (My mother, an expert cook of Korean dishes, never really bothered to learn how to cook anything else, let alone desserts, which she saw as unhealthy).

She was so thrilled at the concept of “adding fiber and vitamins” to a cake, that she began adding grated carrots to ANY cake mix. THAT–became my idea of carrot cake. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t the carrot cake that the rest of the world knows and loves.

Now I can make all the “real” carrot cake I want–and when I feel like just a bite of carrot cake, these carrot cake cookies are just perfect! Every little bite gives you that combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, carrot, raisin and cream cheese frosting (never will you suffer from a bite of carrot cake WITHOUT the delectable and rich cream cheese frosting).

I’m making these for a company party tomorrow night (I volunteered to bring desserts). But of course, I couldn’t wait–I snuck one for myself just now.

Recipe follows after the jump….

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pumpkin rocks

pumpkin rocks, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Despite the name of this cookie, every bite of these very soft and moist “rocks” takes you to a cozy place infused with warm spices and the sweet flavor of pumpkin. If you want something that reminds you of autumn, or want something to do with the remaining Thanksgiving cans of pumpkin in your pantry, or love pumpkin and small bites, these cookies are just really perfect.

You may think I’m on a pumpkin kick. I sort of am (witness my pumpkin muffin recipe from last month). Pumpkin lends a savory edge to desserts, and I welcome that balance this time of year, when I’m staring out the windows of a storm, or bundling up in the cold. While I have an insatiable sweet tooth and am known for my chocolate cravings, sometimes I like a dessert that is less butter and sugar and more…well, savory. (sorry, lack of words there).

pumpkin rocks

These cookies are supposed to be made with a glaze, but I omit the glaze; they are perfect on their own. The other thing I love is that these cookies are super easy to make. (I never make this cookie with chocolate chips, but I list that as an alternative because lots of people love a chocolate and pumpkin pairing–I prefer the raisin pairing). Based on the recipe in the Maida Heatter Book of Great Cookies, I’ve upped the spice content quite a bit to what you see here.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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this week’s notable eats in vignettes

notable eats, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I thought I’d share the rest of my notable eats this week.  Plenty of my meals and food experiences make it onto the blog as features.  But there are plenty of meals that slip through the cracks–hence, this post that aggregates the “honorable mentions.”

Images 1-9, starting from top row, and going from left to right…

1. Jia jiang myun, a Korean-Chinese noodle dish with black bean sauce, was my favorite dish while growing up. When we got assigned to write about “our favorite food” in elementary school, everyone chose pizza and spaghetti and hamburgers except for me. I chose jia jiang myun. It’s as the East Bay Express calls it: the spaghetti and meatballs of Korea. You can get some at Yetnal Jia Jang, Korean Noodle House in Oakland’s Temescal district. Located on Telegraph Avenue at 44th St., the restaurant is run like a true bare bones neighborhood joint that reminds me of pho restaurants: fast turnover on the tables, lots of noise, super casual and jovial atmosphere. Plus one waitress serving every customer, if that gives you any idea of the vibe! There are several dishes there–the hubby and I had the fried mandoo, jjam bbong (a spicy seafood noodle dish) and the jia jiang myun. They do jia jiang myun best.

2-5. Salt House is a new restaurant created by the folks over at the super popular Town Hall. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on its highly anticipated opening just a couple months ago. Funny thing–we couldn’t get into Town Hall so we ended up at Salt House (we didn’t know the two were related when we made this split decision).

I’m not too fond of salt–so I was curious, in an on-guard sort of way. The place reminds me of SOHO in Manhattan: brick facade, industrial interior (the place used to hold a printing press), trendy decor. The sign for the restaurant is inches off the ground by the front door. The floral decor is a huge bouquet of cotton buds. There’s a gigantic chalkboard with the seafood menu. Despite my affinity for more plush and traditional decor, I liked the look.

But what about the food? It was good. I decided to embrace Autumn and ordered everything duck. The foie gras torchon was paired with clementine–very refreshing. Though the torchon itself was good but not remarkable, I’ll remember the clementine pairing for a long time to come. I liked their duck confit. Others at the table ordered a beet salad as appetizer, and they raved about it. I took a taste, and was a little turned off by beets slathered in a cream/mayonaise-y sauce. I like beets. I don’t like them with mayonaise. I had the upside down pineapple cake for dessert. I likee.

The hitch at Salt House is the service, and from all the other reviews I’ve since read, I’m not alone in this observation. It’s too early on in the restaurant’s life to slam them too much for it (there has to be an adjustment period), but they’ve got some ways to go. The biggest bumble: our entrees were late coming out. We wouldn’t have noticed (so immersed were we in our conversation), but the floor manager came out to interrupt our discussion to tell us, “I’m sorry your entrees are taking so long. They’ll be out shortly.” Oh. It was nice of her, but we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And then we REALLY noticed that our entrees were late.

The other notable bumble is the fact that when it came time to ask for the check, we couldn’t find our server. In fact, we couldn’t find ANY servers. After craning our necks a bit, we noticed the servers were all crowded in a doorway by the kitchen, holding wine glasses. We guessed that someone had sent a bottle of wine to the kitchen and they were sampling the goods. I’m all for that, but did they ALL have to go at once?

But the service, when it was on spot, was friendly and I could see the potential of what might be someday.

6. Sciroppo di Rose: Rose Syrup. Impulse buy of the week (you know about my other impulse buys). I was standing at AG Ferrari’s checkout counter when I noticed this slim, beautiful bottle.

rose syrup!

I am a HUGE fan of rose flavored anything. The other week, my hubby went to organize our pantry and walked out, with a bemused grin, holding 4 bottles of rose water in his arms. “Why do you keep buying rose water?” I guess I’m of the camp that thinks you can never have enough rose water…

So of course I picked the bottle up. The syrup inside shone in the afternoon sunlight, reflecting a color that reminded me of the red flaming autumn leaves outside. The liquid traveled in the languid manner of maple syrup as I read the ingredients, which included cane sugar, lemon sugar, and rose petal extract. I *had* to have this.

Later that day, I mixed a beverage of club soda, lemonade, and this very rose syrup. It was a delicious and unique combination. I’m now thinking of potential cocktails.

7-9. Homemade sashimi and sushi dinner. Sometimes, you just wanna eat freshly prepared sashimi while sitting in your pajamas on the couch. Really. I went to one of my favorite places for fish in Berkeley, the Tokyo Fish Market (located at 1220 San Pablo Ave., between Marin Ave. and Gilman Ave.) and picked up some sashimi grade toro, maguro, and hamachi. While there, I noticed the fresh wasabi root next to the tobiko.

Seeing the fresh wasabi root was like noticing a unicorn. Well, not really THAT awe inspiring–more like noticing a hawk circling in the sky. I had never seen rare fresh wasabi before and my impulses kicked in again; I bought half a root, and then walked over across the parking lot to the Tokyo Fish Market Gift Shop for a wasabi grater (I bought the boxed wasabi grater you see here):

fresh wasabi root!

I couldn’t wait to grate the wasabi and taste it. This is remarkable because I normally HATE wasabi. I normally eat sushi and sashimi plain, without any soy sauce or wasabi. The fresh wasabi was nothing like the green paste I abhor: it was slightly sweet as well as hot–the taste more complex and delicate. For instance, the sweetness of it reminded me of radish. Of course, since this was grated and not from powder, there was also a slight texture to the fresh wasabi paste, too.

This wasabi made dinner so special. I made some carrot sushi rice, a recipe I obtained from a friend of mine, and used it to stuff inari. The most decadent part of all of this was sitting on our couch, in our pajamas and bare feet, chowing down on all this good stuff.

What were YOUR notable eats this week?

rose's carrot sushi rice!

Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef

mysterious dining, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Heads up: Sub Culture Dining is featuring Niman Ranch dinners Feb 23-25, seatings at 8pm

Folks, I finally got my meal from Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef. SubCulture Dining, if you’re hearing about it for the first time here, is an underground dining restaurant with roving meals. Invite only. Not open to the public.

I could write a flowery, lyrical description of the whole night, but the Dissident Chef himself is a straightforward, passionate type, so I’m going to share my thoughts in the vein of “Sub Culture Dining.”

The meal was The Shit:

Sub Culture Dining with the Dissident Chef

p.s. on the pictures: I honored the Dissident Chef’s request that I not take pictures of the location and guests, keeping to the food. Also, the lighting was low (though thankfully not as low as most restaurants–one of my pet peeves is not SEEING my food–if I want to eat in the dark, I will go the Blind Cow Restaurant in Zurich where they actually turn the lights off and you literally eat in the dark, thank you). Oh, what was I saying? The lighting was low, so that presented some photography challenges. I only had my point and shoot, which has limited manual settings–hence, the grainy pictures.

Following the jump is a rundown of things in the following order and categories:



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Persian Love Cake

persian love cake, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

This is my favorite cake to make. I highly doubt this an “authentic” Persian cake, but it does contain flavors reminiscent of Persian dishes: saffron, rosewater, pistachios all combine into a distinct and delicious chiffon cake. Taking a bite of this cake is like a piece of rosy cloud.

I’ve made Persian Love Cake before–blogging about this cake on my personal blog before the incarnation of Muffin Top. I found the recipe originally on epicurious, and have since become a fan of this cake, as have multiple guests who’ve eaten this cake.

The cake is light and flavored with cardamom (and if you use cardamom pods, they are little explosions of flavor in your mouth). The whipped cream frosting has the golden hint of saffron and smells and tastes like roses. Like love!

persian love cake

Technical insights: I am liberal with the rosewater in the whipped cream frosting. Also liberal with the saffron. Super liberal with the cardamom! I tried candying rose petals, and was overwhelmed–I bought candied rose petals instead (I’m fortunate to live close to The Pasta Shop in Berkeley which sells candied rose petals by the pound).

Recipe follows after the jump…

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