Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Scenes from East Asia

by Stephanie

Nothing particularly picturesque going on yet today, but THANKSGIVING is here. Today I am giving thanks for laughter and love and life, things that have not escaped me even though I have fled the country for the year.

near the public square--birds hanging out at their little sanctuary, the sun doing its thing in the midst of a pollution-choked sky

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shanghai, take a bao

by Stephanie

I'm just going to put this out there--I am a terrible blogger. I have serious problems posting regularly and often, two things that make a good blogger. And I don't love taking pictures of food (I'd rather eat it while it's hot and tell you about it later). I'm trying, I really am. But I do absolutely love the writing that goes into these as well as the promise of eating the results of said experiments. I think those are what keep me going on this thing. (Slight nudge to Lisa who has been a little MIA for the past 50 years)

That said, Shanghai happened. By happened I mean we thought it would be fun to take a weekend jaunt to Shanghai, a glamorous city beyond comprehension for us country bumpkins. I was humbled by the sheer volume of the city--18 million residents and far more modernity than I imagined. The city is an interesting example of the East and West trying to blend (and the West somewhat winning in dominance). That fact was more than slightly okay with me because I have really been missing my western food. Yes, I'm admitting it. I put myself in charge of food on the trip and found some really exciting places that warmed my heart and will hopefully fulfill the quota for a while.

One thing I have been missing dearly (and this will come as no surprise to anyone) is not just good coffee but also cafe culture. Berkeley is so in step with this, and so it has been greatly jarring to my system to not be able to step outside my door and get a foamy latte at Strada before embarking on my school day. I found this French bakery that somehow made its way to Shanghai--and for an hour or so I was able to re-immerse myself in the art of cafe-ing.

The last capp I'll have for a while

me, Jena, Ellen being cutesy and adorable for the camera

We also visited Ellen's research site, which is this adorable enclave of twisting alleys, cafes, and other commercial things that come with gentrification. Another East meets West example.

That was very well and fun. We topped off the night with a ridiculous dinner at the rotating restaurant at the top of the Radisson: smoked salmon pasta, aloo gobi, and garlic naan never tasted so good.

credit: Jena

But there was a Shanghainese specialty that still eluded us: one of the chief reasons I went was for the xiao long bao, which some have described as "seductive". Is food sexy? These must maintain a precarious balance that far too many establishments have not been able to reach. The skin must be of the right thickness, only melting in your mouth and NOT the steamer basket. The meat cannot too overpowering in taste, for the highlight must be the soup inside, which should be piping HOT, delicately scented . And it should all slide down your throat like a beautiful dream. After a bad experience with the little soup dumplings/buns/jury's still out on how to categorize these, I was ready for the real thing.

Friends, they were delightful. More than that. I built them up so much in my mind because I knew they had incredible potential--there are people out there who scour the globe for the best xiao long bao--and they didn't disappoint. Shanghai did not disappoint.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blackberries break on through

by Stephanie

So I’ve now been in this country for close to two months now. 54 days to be exact. It’s so hard to really explain to you over the internet what it feels like to not live in the US, to not be constantly surrounded by the comforts I think are home. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I really have nothing to compare it to. Even my update newsletter, which is supposed to be this grand sweeping exegesis detailing succinctly exactly what I’ve been doing for the month of September, is pretty shoddy because it’s just so hard to describe the sights, the sounds, the smells. Oh the smells. They run the gamut from freshly fried “donuts” right outside our apartment in the morning to garbage...lots and lots of garbage. Everywhere, everywhere. Okay, not everywhere (as evidenced by the photo above), but do not be deceived; there is a lot.

But what comes most to mind right now is something I received right before I left home way back in late August. You see, I’m kind of picky about the types of fruit I will eat (and up until now, most berries have been on the no list), and so when I discovered last summer that I actually enjoy the gentle sweet/sour flavor of the blackberry, I felt victorious and freed from my former habits. Modesto blackberries are awesome. And these berries taught me a few lessons before I left home this past August.

One thing I’ve noticed about blackberries is that inevitably a few of them will bruise and smoosh in your bag/bowl/fridge. These are the softer, riper ones. They are also, as I have found, dramatically sweeter than the firmer ones, and infinitely more wonderful in my opinion. To be frank, my life is a little bit of a mess right now. Somehow, the harrowing questions of What I will do with myself next year? and How I will go about doing that? eclipse the beauty of the moment, this year in Asia. There also exist the strange little things that creep around in the burrows of my heart that whisper, What if you’re not ready for that? or Seriously? (That one is more prevalent than I would like.) Add to that the utter confusion that generally accompanies one’s entry into a foreign land completely different than one’s own, and I can say that my life, right now, feels like it’s taken a small beating. I know I’m better for it, though. (Process of growing up, I see you! Don’t even try to hide.)

Another element of growing up is learning how to be fully responsible for the stuff you have to do. Sounds easy, but obviously since the vast majority of people are still incapable of doing this, I have wiggle room. The night before I left, I was in a frantic rush trying to pack all the things I should have tucked away about a week before (procrastination a giant barrier to the aforementioned element of growing up). My mom knew what a difficult time I was having trying to wrangle a year’s worth of belongings into a mere two suitcases. So when she showed up in my doorway with a bowl full of consolatory end-of-summer blackberries, I started to cry. Not the heaving sobs type, but the pathetic tiny sniffles that mean only one thing: I am not going to see my mommy for a year, and I will miss her.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joy comes unexpectedly

by Stephanie

Whether you're actively looking for them or not, life's little surprises will get you--oh, they will. Some are good and some are wrinkle-your-nose not-so-good, but the joys produced by the first kind tend to override the disappointments of the others. Good thing too--I have wallowed more than my fair share in my various clouds of melancholia. But when joy, wonder, unexpected blessings shine their way into my life, I can do nothing but gaze skyward and whisper, "Thank you thank you thank you thank you" (who says that prayers have to be complicated?)

This past weekend the family took a little trip to the Monterey Bay region. The ocean (and other related scenery) were gorgeous as always, although the food is always the star of the show. A new (to me) spot was La Bicyclette, a place where the salad/soup are family-style but you have your own entree--I had the most luscious carrot soup of my life as well as this fabulous pot of chocolate mousse (they claim it's for 2, but I'll claim that it could be for 8 and I ate at least 6.5 persons' worth...) The interior was so cute and cottage-y, and did I mention the chocolate mousse was unbelievable? Okay. I love Carmel. And I love La Bicyclette so much I didn't mind too much that we didn't go to my favorite restaurant probably in the whole world, Casanova, this time around.

Things I've attempted: choux pastry (it never rises like I want it to! Why?!), these infamous cookies which I saw featured on this blog, quite probably the biggest food blog influence in my life. Lisa's too. (We like to pretend we are on a first name basis with the author and her husband...of course we're weird!) The cookies were amazing. I will now let all my cookie dough rest at least 24 hours before baking. However, that does allow a lot more time for the dough to be eaten and not baked...

Some less-than-great surprises: a little car mishap in Berkeley that is resulting in a very large price tag, Sylvester my cactus dying, but most salient right now is this. (Before you start to narrow your eyes in disgust that I even mention the S-word of coffee on this hallowed ground, please know that not all of us grew up in places with an abundance of cafe culture. Starbucks introduced me to espresso when I was just a silly junior high kid with no concept of coffee. It also enabled me to see that there is much better out there.) But back onto the topic. I did not care a ton about 600 Starbucks stores closing, but then I took a closer look at the list and was promptly saddened. First, there is the Standiford & Tully store closing, which miffed me a little because it is spacious and happy and orange and the closest place to home. But then...the Berkeley Shattuck & Cedar store, nicknamed "the faraway Starbucks" by yours truly, the site of so many memories...I am sad to see it go. It was a place of retreat for me, where lots of hangout with friends and Jesus and even studying happened. It was also the place where Lisa found out she would be a hot 50 year old woman...dearest faraway Starbucks. I suppose this is one of those times when I just need to buck up and realize that Berkeley is not obligated to stay the same, in fact can't stay the same...but I can look back on all the very wonderful times and take joy in all of them.

update: In addition to a dead cactus, my mother and I also managed today to kill our fish. We were cleaning his water and he managed to jump out of the bowl and into the sink. I had to turn the disposal on him. Hoping there is joy somewhere to be found here...

Monday, July 7, 2008

If we dare say so ourselves

by Lisa

Really, I don't have much I want to say today except that Sarah and I made a potato salad this weekend which we quickly declared was The Best Potato Salad We've Ever Had.

Okay, maybe I have a few pictures, too. We had some burgers,

did some cartwheels (more like, As Many As We Could Possibly Do Before Feeling Ill),

tossed around a frisbee,

and laid around like kittens.

But really, the most important thing we did, honestly, was make and eat that potato salad. Okay, fine. Maybe that was second to hanging out with each other. And eating burgers. And doing cartwheels and playing frisbee. And sleeping like kittens. But still. It was darn good.

It was so good I'm tempted to go buy more potatoes right now. Even though it's July 7th. And we're not having a picnic for dinner tonight.

The Best Potato Salad We've Ever Had
adapted by Lisa and Sarah, from The Silver Palate

My favorite foods to make are those which don't depend on exact measurement, but rather require intuition and experimentation. So, as usual, please don't stick to what I've written here. Taste along the way (how could you not?) and adjust to your preference. You're bright. (You certainly will be after making and eating this baby.)

8 red potatoes, washed, peels left on
3 hard boiled eggs*, chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2-4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2-1/4 red onion, diced small
1 or 2 stalks green onion, chopped thin
handful of chopped Italian parsley

splash of white wine vinegar
splash or two of olive oil
salt and lots of fresh ground pepper

Boil potatoes whole in salted water until tender but still firm. Boil eggs as instructed below. In a bowl, stir together diced vegetables with mayonnaise and the rest of the ingredients, except last three ingredients. Roughly chop eggs when they are done. When potatoes are done, slice them roughly and sprinkle still-hot potatoes with vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix into mayonnaise mixture.

Eat. Enjoy. Rinse. Repeat.

*Tried and true method: Add cold water to pot with eggs, bring to boil, covered. With pot still covered, turn off heat and set timer for 5-7 minutes (depending on how cooked you like them). Drain, and run cold water over them until to stop cooking and cool eggs. Also, older eggs (i.e., purchased a week ago or so) peel more easily, so plan ahead if you can.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

There is no theme to this post

by Stephanie

It seems that I haven't posted in over 2 months. Thanks, Lisa, for picking up my pathetic slack. Hmm, let's see, the excuses for the absence: I graduated from college (note the ceremonial leis), moved back home, am currently working on raising support to go overseas next year...not good enough reasons. (I actually misplaced my USB cable, which prevents photo uploading to computer. And you think, Steph--how lame do you get?) What have I been doing, food-wise and etc-wise, exactly? No easy answer, so here are some highlights that were chosen because I have accompanying photographic evidence.

First, a little surprise outing for some Very Special Little Sisters to Lovejoy's Tea Room in San Francisco, lovingly planned by Teresa and me. They thought we were kidding when we told them to bring blindfolds. Dressing up for little feminine jaunts like this is just one of the many things I'll miss about being in a sorority. The people, of course, I'll miss most (here: Natalie, on the beautiful, beautiful little sis and Steph, my honorary little because we are the same person, waiting outside the place, which induced many giggles from passers-by.)

I'm in Modesto (my hometown) for the summer. It is an ever-growing town (or city?) with over 200,000 residents and continuing. But its roots reside in agriculture, and this is never more prominent than in the summer, when fruit stands are at their best as their proud displays burst with splashes of color--plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, pluots. And cherries. OH the cherries. I've been chomping through bags and bags of them since I returned home in late May. My favorite is called Fidel's, and every time I go the lady who works there smiles warmly at me and playfully chastises me if I take only one bag because inevitably I will be back the same day for more.

Here's something I've actually done: individual chocolate souffles with a 9.7 oz Scharffen Berger home baking bar (70% bittersweet, of course, acquired from the delicious Scharffen Berger factory tour) for my friends Heather and Kristen from Oklahoma who visited for a couple weeks back in June. They were a little dense. I had a hard time deciding when to take them out of the oven because my ramekins are different sizes and how high are they supposed to rise anyway and I wanted them to be perfect...but we managed though, and everything tasted a little sweeter with some homemade whipped cream.

Does anyone know why my pictures are turning out all blurry? Is it the lighting, the fact that I can't hold my arm steady when I take a picture, or that my camera is 4 years old and I've more or less thrown it around rather roughly for those 4 years and it wants to quit?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A win-win situation

by Lisa

Navigating life in a period of transition comes with its challenges. In just a few weeks I'm packing my bags (more like, my bag) for the Windy City, leaving (at least physically) many dear friends from college (the most growing period of my life) as well as the part of the country in which I've spent most of my life.

When it first sunk in that I was leaving, I wondered about how I should invest in relationships. Did I need to taper off times with old friends, or just the opposite? And I also faced decisions about new acquaintances. Do I ask somebody to lunch and just as soon as they let me into their life wave goodbye? (They'll probably just as soon be thinking, "I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello..." Or maybe only Annie would think that.)

I had the same dilemma two days ago, when I re-found the seed packets some good friends had given me for Christmas. I don't know why I had put off planting them (or making a sourdough starter or writing that thank you card or anything else on The List, for that matter). Ah, procrastination. I guess it took Realizing There Isn't Much Time Left to just go ahead and try planting them. Pretty soon after, this thought flew into my head: "I'm going to be so upset if they actually grow (because I'll kick myself for not having planted them earlier)." Then I (just as) quickly realized the stupidity of that thought - of course I wouldn't be upset! It is almost a truth universally acknowledged that much sadness can be swept away by parsley pesto or a bowl of fresh arugula with goat cheese and vinaigrette.

It was a win-win situation. If I had herbs before I left, I would be joyful. And if I didn't - well, it didn't matter that I hadn't tried earlier!

I labeled the pots with question marks at the end. Who knew if they would contain parsley, chives, or arugula? So I labeled them "parsley?", "chives?", and "arugula?".

Today after getting up from a little nap, I checked the plants to see if they needed water. I couldn't believe my eyes - was I still dreaming? - when I saw tiny little shoots in the arugula pot! It hadn't even been two full day since I had planted them!

So I'm hopeful. Like the arugula, some new friendships of the past few months I'd mentally labeled "friendship?" have similarly started to sprout up. And instead of having regret that we didn't start this earlier, I'm grateful for what they are now.

And so I'm going to water them and care for them for the next 55 days and see what happens.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Surprisingly delicious

by Lisa

Being a food blogger comes with its challenges. (Sometimes it's so much easier to write haiku that doesn't make any sense.) I mean, I feel like I always have to have some sort of theme, where I creatively and analogically tie it into the recipe, or something brilliant like that. And also I almost always feel like it's not okay to cheat on recipes, like calling for spaghetti sauce from the jar or using canned garbanzo beans. And even though I disclosed all in my last post, it's not without at least a little diffidence that I bring today's recipe, which doesn't even pretend to be gourmet.

I was actually quite caught off-guard when I found this recipe online which inspired today's. I wasn't looking for a recipe for instant chai. Even in the past I have had this discussion in my head: Should I make an instant chai? No, it wouldn't be fresh. But it'd be so easy. No, it's not as good as the real thing. But it's so easy. No, no, no. Yes, yes, yes. (Or something like that.)

[For those as neurotic as I and who may want to know how I "accidentally" found myself at this site with this chai recipe which threatened so my mental stability: I was actually looking up recipes for aloo gobi to try to figure out why the one I ordered had been so soupy - maybe it was something regional. One site suggested that there's a wetter version of potato cauliflower curry called aloo phulkopir dalna, but when I googled that, it didn't really seem to explain my soupy curry. But somehow I found the link to the instant chai, and it caught my eye.]

[For the not-so-neurotic, I proceed here:] Long story short, I decided, what the heck? why not try this instant chai? As lovely as it is to be able to boil chai at home with milk and with whole cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks, etc., when you're at work with only the water "cooler," a good instant chai sounds a lot more attractive and reasonable than walking down the street to the dreaded Starbucks for a too-expensive,-too-sweet,-not-creamy-enough chai latte.

The recipe looked reasonable enough. I used it as a guideline, not really following the proportions, and it was surprisingly delicious. I think I've had three cups every day since.

I'm planning on making more and mailing some to a certain friend in Minnesota once she gives me her new address. (I can even throw in some instant coffee powder, too, if you'd like it dirty. Even more if you want it... um, nevermind. Eww for gross guy at Starbucks. Yay for Molly!])

The stuff is great 'cause you can have it hot or cold, although with the weather here the last few days, it's kind of hard to tell which way you'd want it. It's still good anyway; just be careful when you get to the bottom of your mug/glass, lest you end up with a mouth full of ground spices which have sneakily settled to the bottom.

So, here's to a lukewarm glass of chai! Cheers!

Instant chai tea
inspired by Sandi on RecipeZaar

The original recipe called for instant tea (have you ever seen it in the stores? I haven't); I didn't follow that. In any case, I still liked being able to keep my tea brewing separate from the powder, so my recipe basically makes the creamer/sugar/spices part for the chai. The recipe is really rough, and I really encourage you to modify it according to your liking. I couldn't have it any other way for you.

It's a bit awkward with some ingredients you may not have just lying around the house (like vanilla sugar; odd that I had some), but I did some quick and dirty calculations, and I think that even if you spent the money on it, it might work out to cheaper than instant chai from the store. (It's definitely tastier.)

I'm putting my original proportions, but I'd recommend doubling it; it goes fast. (I did two batches one right after the other.)

1/2 cup dry whole milk powder
1/2 cup non-dairy powdered coffee creamer
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (which Sandi says you can make by putting vanilla extract into the sugar, allowing to dry, and then breaking into clumps; you can also replace this with 1/2 cup regular sugar, plus 1/2 cup French vanilla flavored powdered coffee creamer - in addition to the plain powdered coffee creamer above)
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
2 heaping teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 level teaspoon each, ground cloves and cardomom
*adjust spices to your liking, and also consider adding: white pepper, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne
tea bags (black, orange pekoe, darjeeling, etc.)

Pulse ingredients for a few seconds in food processor to blend ingredients.

To serve: Brew black tea in hot water. (Use less water if you're going to ice it.) Any tea (even Lipton) will do; my dad always sends me home with different teas from the Indian market which are in nice bags. (I am not tea snobby enough to say you must brew loose leaf.) Stir in 2-3 heaping teaspoonfuls of your newly blended chai. Enjoy!

Store dry mixture in airtight container.

[P.S. If you were looking for the theme in this post, sorry. I don't think it really got anywhere. I think I was trying to go for something like, how 'bout we give me a break? or Here's a cup of chai to make us all happy!]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

a poem

by Lisa

over vanilla milkshakes and smooshed "double" cheeseburgers
after minigolf
around 12 midnight

listening to camila
sitting in the parking lot

under the streetlamps

annie says,
"lis, i love how you can be such a food snob and yet still enjoy

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not with a bang but a whimper

by Lisa

Transitions, change, saying goodbye. There's no way to express the emotion with cohesion and clarity.

In a few months, I'll be leaving for Chicago. And I have friends moving on, as well, to other things, and places: China, Guatemala, marriage. I'm not quite sure what it looks like to say goodbye, because what is going and what/who is staying has become so confuddled, diffused like an electron cloud. Because I can say that I'm leaving Berkeley, but I'm also taking parts of it with me. And of course, whenever I return to it in future visits, it won't be the same.

Berkeley, you have been good to me. Rough, too. The city, the classes, the people, the bus lines, the restaurants (oh, the restaurants), the noise, the strangers. I think I will miss you.

I started to make a mental list of things I should do before I leave Berkeley, like Eat At Cheeseboard For A Week Straight So That I Get Too Sick Of It To Miss It, things like that. Or, dine downstairs at Chez Panisse, eat at À Côté, appreciate Berkeley Bowl. All those concrete things are good, they're easy to measure, and to check off a list. But how do you make sure you've spent enough time with your closest friends, and made sure they know that you've appreciated their friendship? That you don't know what you would have done if they hadn't been there to see you through your hardest moments, when there couldn't have been enough Kleenex boxes around, or minutes to sit together in the silence before you both had to get back to the paper that was due the next day? That through the sacrifices of their time, love, and lives, they've challenged you to be the best you could be, that they weren't afraid to tell you that you needed to change - to prune a part of yourself - for the better? That you're going to miss the way they imitate and mock you; or the way they complete your sentences, and you, theirs?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Portland stole my heart

by Stephanie

It is such a beautiful place. 2 weeks later, I'm still in awe. (Let's not focus on the fact that it's taken me 2 weeks to post.) It's so green! So laid back! So many Subarus! (By the way, the last point does not really excite me at all. It was just an observation.) Anyway, enough with the parentheses, I'm sure you want the dirt on Portland.

The thing is, there is no dirt. Well, none that I saw. Locals were so nice to my roommate and me when we looked lost; the coffee was bordering on Blue Bottle status, and Powell's is a 4 story bookstore that takes up an entire city block. Why did I leave you Portland, why.

My World Cup Coffee cafe au lait...delightful.

Flowers at the Portland Farmer's Market, located at Portland State University on Saturdays. There was a hyper-abundance of tulips and poppies, which made me oh so happy. The roommate and I made a lunch out of chive pesto, a demi-baguette, Bosc pears, and a huge cookie for dessert.

Next up was Reed College, where I hung around in hopes of running into Donald Miller. (Mark my words; next time we meet for sure.)

There is this gorgeous lake behind the campus that provides the perfect backdrop for quiet contemplation and the like. I had a really hard time capturing with my camera how lovely the atmosphere is here. My soul felt quiet and at rest.

You can wikipedia Renn Fayre if you're curious...just another crazy differentiating feature that separates Reed from pretty much every other college campus in the world.

"Hi, our name is adorable Portland doggie chocolates! Take us home with you!"

This is the last picture I took before my camera battery pooped out on me. I consider Saint Cupcake amazing because I actually loved the cupcake frosting. I really don't like frosting, so this was huge.

Oh Portland, thank you for a lovely time. I will be back; a gem of a city like you is too good to ignore for long.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Speaking of food disasters...

by Lisa

Well, I wasn't really planning to write about my chocolate pudding disaster, because, for one, I'm not even supposed to write about it (I'm leaving that for Stephie), even though I've already written about it here and there. But I realized tonight when eating my fifth serving, I don't think I've had a disaster as delicious as this one. And since I didn't actually follow the recipe (do I ever?) I don't feel so bad writing about it. I can still let Steph take credit for the real recipe.

So a few weeks ago I made the pudding for the first time in a long time when I got these new dessert glasses (I think they're these ones; they look like the ones at Bittersweet and I looove them!). And that turned out well; see pictures in previous post. We stood around eating it. "Boozy," one person noted. "Yeah," the others agreed. "It is?" I chirped. But really, I didn't think it tasted boozy, per se - the alcohol only worked to cut the sweet a tad, which there was little to begin with, which I like. But to be honest, I felt embarrassed for not having noticed how boozy it was because one, I should have a discerning palate - I'm a food blogger! - and two, I've been trying to defend myself against the outrageous and unfounded claims that I'm an alky.

My friends call me The Alky, but I know that deep down inside they really actually appreciate it. In fact, these inklings were confirmed when Anna asked if, for her 23rd birthday, I would make "the boozy pudding." (Wait, did she ask, or did I just offer? Can't remember. I was sober then - really, I was.)

Anyway, I was all ambitious about making a huge batch of it, so there I was, pouring loads of milk into the saucepan, thinking, I want to make lots of pudding, and that requires lots of milk. (Was I trying to make it so that the rum could not claim to comprise most of the pudding as regards the liquids? No, not at all, not at all.) And then of course I didn't really have enough of the other ingredients to match the proportion. It didn't take long to figure out that it wasn't going to set, so I ended up throwing the bowl of liquidy goop in the freezer. I remember thinking it looked (and tasted) like melted ice cream (which foreshadows what was to come). Not exactly what I would expect of any pudding.

I was devastated, but instead of drowning all my sorrows in alcohol - after all, it had all gone into that pudding, anyway - I gave it one last chance to redeem itself. After giving it time to harden up, we popped it into the microwave and defrosted it slightly. Two minutes later it was as scoopable as ice cream, and twice as delicious. Redeemed, I thought. I almost wasn't sure I'd ever make the pudding the right way anymore. Spooned into a stemless martini glass with a dollop of whipped cream, it was enough to make up for a lifetime of cooking disasters. Ice-y, chocolatey rich, creamy, and most of all, boozy.

So, yeah, in true Lisa form, in order to make what I made, you can't really follow a recipe. But if you, too, want to enjoy an adult fudgsicle made from a pudding recipe gone wrong, you can try doing what I did, which is this: boiled three cups (i.e., way too much) milk, to which I added about 10 ounces chopped 70% cacao chocolate after turning off the heat. Threw this into the blender with only two eggs, poured half of it into a bowl, and added an additional egg to the blender, and poured the remainder in a separate bowl. Added generous amounts of alcohol. Despaired and whined. Threw bowls into freezer, then the microwave. Scooped, ate, and cheered. Hooray!

Monday, April 7, 2008

You know you're slightly addicted to food blogging when...

by Stephanie create an absolute disaster in the kitchen and your first thought is "Do I want to blog about this?"

Readers, I feel like I am not that uptight of a person. My room is usually an organized mess, minus the organized part, and you know, I enjoy going with the flow and laughing at what happens along the way. But last Saturday night...oh goodness. A veritable disaster. My mother put me in charge of the Easter dessert, and I had all these visions in my head of a 13-layer cake complete with sugared pansies and the most perfect fondant hands could create. Kidding. But I did have the ambition to make a marble cake, and that all came crumbling (ha) down when my mom took the cake out of the oven 20 minutes before it was due to be done and called out, "Honey...I can't get it out of the pan." The cake was completely rock hard. I went over the recipe later, which called for milk in the ingredient list but never included when it was to be added in the procedure part...and so I completely forgot about it and never included the milk. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Talk about perfectionism rearing its ugly head. I have never been so upset about failure before. Baking is my thing. I don't do the whole botched cake thing. Was the world coming to an end?

At my wit's end (it was 1:30 am, people), I decided to make the brownie recipe on the back of the King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour bag. And they were wonderful indeed. I suppose even failures can be fortuitous at times. Because when push comes to shove, even a 13-layer cake can't top a hot fudge brownie sundae on Easter Sunday.

(according to the King Arthur flour bag) The Best Fudge Brownies Ever

1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt (inc. to 1 tsp if using unsalted butter, which you should be doing anyway)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour (the good stuff, none of this whole wheat stuff, seriously)
2 cups chocolate chips (I chopped up one 4 oz. bar and got too tired to do the rest. It was still good)

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.

In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just until it's hot but not bubbling. It'll become more shiny as you stir. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour and chocolate, beating until well combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

No pictures from that little event, but here are pretty flowers from the City! Specifically, Bi-Rite Market (adorable).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

We've waited long enough

by Lisa

Wow. It's been a long time, friends. Almost a whole month has gone by without us saying even a word. Is anyone still there?

I've been thinking about you, readers, and have wanted to tell you about recent adventures. A lot of important things have been happening around here. One, I made my first hummus from scratch - well, almost from scratch. (Thanks, Soofie!) Two, Steph and I finally (two years later!) made the Salmon in Lemon Brodetto with Pea Puree and had the most wonderful dinner party ever, hands down - mostly because of the creative and hilarious company. (What could be more fun than giving each other piggyback rides around a tiny apartment after eating a delicious meal topped off with chocolate pudding pie?) Three, I ventured out to Blue Bottle - what else is there to be said?

But what I come to bring you today is these to-die-for biscuits. Actually, just hours before, I had made Steph's chocolate pudding (a pot de creme of sorts), but kinda felt guilty blogging about that. It is her recipe, and she still needs to write about it; after all, who do I call every time I forget the three ingredients that go into it? I wonder: did I make these biscuits out of penance? I really still don't like to bake, even though I often get all kinds of urges to do so; where they come from, who knows. But I was kind of hungry, and it's nice to have a motivation to do something I do/n't want to do. I knew I could, for at least a few minutes, trick myself into thinking I enjoy baking if I knew I could eat the result before no time at all. That's what quickbreads are for, no?

After cutting out the shapes (hearts, I know, I'm a softie - what can I say?), I wasn't quite sure what to do with the scraggly edges that remained. I'd tuned out almost everything I'd heard about baking, but I vaguely remembered that it's not a good idea to overwork dough that you want to be flaky. So, tossing the remainders on the baking sheet along with the nicely cut shapes, my roommate Anna teases, "Wow, Lisa. You really don't have much patience for baking, do you?" Hey, hey. I'm just trying make flaky biscuits, okay?

We enjoyed the dinosaur-shaped pieces with honey, watching the pieces as though figuring out what shapes the clouds were forming. Okay, not really. We were busier consuming them than thinking up such romantic notions, but I'm a writer - I feel like I have to say idealized things like that.

But without further ado, let me give you the recipe; I've waited long enough and probably so have you. And, Stephie, I promise to make you a whole tray of them, to make up for making the pudding and these, without you here!

Heart and Dinosaur Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (I used 1T less than a stick)
3/4 cup half-and-half (you could also use cream, buttermilk, milk)

Preheat oven to 425. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut cold butter into pieces, and using a pastry blender (highly recommended!), work the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. (Alternatively, if you are without a pastry blender, you can use two knives, or your fingers to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.) Pour in liquid and stir a few times to mix. Turn onto a floured surface, and knead once or twice in order to bring it together. The dough should be sticky, resist the temptation to add too much more flour, but you can if you need to. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll dough to half-inch thickness. Using a floured cookie cutter, cut biscuits. Place biscuits (and the edges, if you want dinosaurs/clouds) on a parchment paper on a baking sheet, next to each other, so that they rise up instead of out. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Birthdays all around

by Lisa

I don't know how it started, but last summer I made a goal for myself to learn how to cook Indian food. Maybe it started because Indian food occupies a lot of my mind space. Whenever I go see my parents, I cast my vote for Indian. It's something I grew up eating, since my family is from Malaysia and the cuisine there is almost as much Indian as it is Chinese. And it's not uncommon on the way back from class or work for me to call Naan 'n' Curry to order a piece of naan or container of rice. (Yes, they are programmed on my phone.) On top of all that, two of my good friends (one of whom also posts to this blog) wrote a song about the dreamy curry guy at the Naan 'n' Curry down the street. (It's called, well, Dream Curry Guy: The Spicy Remix.) Regardless of how it all started, the point is: I did it! I learned how to make Indian food. I shared a chana masala recipe a few months ago, and here I am back with more.

My best friend, Elizabeth, turned a year older this week. For her birthday, she asked if we could cook together and if I would teach her to make my Chicken Tikka Masala. We used to cook a lot together when we were in college (I say that like it was so long ago), and since it was something both of us missed and treasured, I happily agreed.

We actually tried making it a few weekends ago when we were at her parents' place. I looked up a few recipes and they all looked complicated. I ended up making a hybrid of a few recipes. We broiled the chicken, but in later versions, I found it unnecessary to do that; pan frying was enough for me. For me, at least, it's all about the cream sauce. My version is a little more spiceful than what I've had in restaurants. While I told you above that we ate Indian food often while growing up, I had never had Tikka Masala until I came to Berkeley. When I first had it, it didn't seem authentic to me - it seemed too starter, almost like vodka cream sauce. (Not that that's a bad thing or anything... just not authentic seeming.) So it's funny that my version is more spiceful than even I like, at least for Tikka Masala. It's just that it feels so wrong to cook something so plain. You'll have to play around with it on your own and see what you like, and/or visit the dreamy curry guy at N and C. So far we've discovered that he's most often guarding the cashier on Sunday nights.

Additionally, I recently added Making Rice On the Stove to The List of Lisa's Deviations from the Chinese Culture (the first item relating my use of a fork, and not chopsticks, to scramble eggs). I posted a recipe for spiced rice below, and you can also do it similarly in the rice cooker. And don't forget to call your local curry house for some fresh naan.


I came home one day and these little beauties had been baked. (Happy birthday, Justin!)

Oh, man. Is it okay for me to even like these things? I mean, I have a food blog, guys. I'll give you one if you don't tell anyone I like them. In fact, have a whole tray. (Except for the three I already ate.)

Maybe you've stuck with me so far (even through those pink things) because you're wondering what the question of the week is. It's a spin-off an icebreaker question I was asked at my work meeting. (Yes, I got a job!) I'm part of a team that addresses staff development/training at the University, so the question was: "If you could have a magical pillow for one night that could teach you anything you wanted to know, what would you want to learn? And how would your life be different after that?" So my spin-off is this:

If you could learn any one type of cuisine overnight, what would it be?

You already know mine.

Relatively Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

2 chicken breasts, diced

Marinate in:
1/2 cup yogurt
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper
around 1/2 teaspoon each: ground cumin, coriander, tumeric, other spices as you wish (cayenne pepper, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon)

1 medium onion, diced
1/2 inch ginger, minced or sliced
1 small jalepeno, seeded (or not), minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
additional ground spices

1 small can tomato sauce (8 ounces)
1 cup cream

Marinate chicken, overnight if possible, but while prepping sauce will be just fine. I have a hard time giving measurements, since I just grab from the spice set I got.

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan (preferably not non-stick) over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook until they begin to sizzle and pop, a few seconds. Add the onion and saute about 10 minutes; don't be afraid to let them get a little brown/caramelized. Add jalepeno, garlic, and ginger and cook for a few more minutes. At this point, throw in any additional spices (e.g., dried ginger if you don't have fresh, more clove if you like it, etc.) and fry until fragrant.

Add entire can of tomato sauce and stir; it seems to help clean up the bits that stick to the pan. Then add cream, stir, and heat.

In a separate pan (I like to use non-stick for this part), add few tablespoons oil to pan, and heat to high. Sear the chicken cubes. They don't have to completely cook here, since they can continue to cook in the sauce; breast meat tends to overcook quickly, so don't overdo it. When the chicken is done, throw it into the sauce.

Let sauce simmer on low or medium low until ready to serve.

Serve with rice, naan, yogurt, cilantro, lemon slices, tomatoes.

Indian Spiced Rice

3 cups long-grained rice, unwashed (I use Jasmine, but would like to learn how to do it with Basmati)
5 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 pod cardamom
3-4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 inch ginger smashed

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon tumeric

Combine first set of ingredients in pot. Bring to boil, covered, then reduce to low and let cook for 15-25 minutes until water is absorbed. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid and check; it needs the steam to cook, and the water is pre-measured for this. When it's finished, stir in butter and tumeric. You can also add chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The challenge

by Lisa

So, today I face a challenge. No, it's not Can I Eat More Bananas Than My Housemates? (The checker at TJ's asked me, when scanning the second batch of 12 bananas in a month, "Do you live in a zoo?" Last time I checked, no. )

No, it's a lot more serious than that. Steph emailed me yesterday morning, providing the stats on our blog. Exactly three posts every month since we launched - no standard deviation on that mean. She said, "You have two days to post. Go!" (Thank goodness for leap years.)

It didn't take long to figure what I could write about. Because most of my brain space these last few days has been occupied by another challenge I had been facing. I was asked to cook for a dinner party for seven. Not a difficult task, under usual circumstances. But when I thought about those in attendance, I realized one of them had given up meat for Lent. Not a big deal, I frequently cook vegetarian. But add to that two lactose intolerants (one of whom also gave up sweets for Lent) and another who is deathly allergic to nuts, and there go a few good stand-bys like quiche, quiche, and quiche. Also, having recently read Smitten Kitchen's gracious post, I wanted to make Rachael Ray's You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce. (My two cents' on RR is, well, simply this: Steph's amazing chocolate pudding is from her.) In any case, alas - vodka cream sauce contains, well, cream. Another no-go for the attendees.

So, anyway, the dinner. I was excited about this one. On the menu was a fellow foodblogger's Accidental Chickpea Soup, a Great Big Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers, Dessert Stolen From Someone Who Stole It From Cesar. For appetizers, crusty bread with all kinds of yummy tapenades: roasted garlic in warmed olive oil, parsley pesto but without almonds (it's official - I'm obsessed), sun-dried tomatoes, buttered mushrooms.

The dessert idea is so killer - figs and dates quartered and arranged in a flower pattern against white dishware with a dollop of lemon zest marscapone, drizzled with honey, garnished with an almond.

And, on a whim, I decided to use the lemon curd I made the night before (which I made for no other reason than just to make it), to make a lemon tart not unlike this one. For the curd itself, I used a hybrid of a few recipes I found, and I liked how it turned out - not too much sugar so that it's tart/sour enough to surprise you but not too sourface sour, if that makes sense. Maybe you'll just have to make it yourself. I think you'll like it, too.

Of course, getting to use my cake dome was really the highlight of it all. And the new pitcher. Oh, the new pitcher.

Two other things that made smile this week:

One. At Trader Joe's they were giving away balloons to the kids. I watched as what looked like a four-year-old girl tell her two-year-old brother, "Don't let go." As though the period at the end of her sentence were a cue, the little boy released his balloon just as she finished. The green balloon floated to the ceiling. I laughed out loud.

Two. On a more serious note, the other thing that made me smile this week was the rad sunset on Tuesday night. I think God uses these to remind me that He's in control. About a year-and-a-half ago I remember watching a sunset and sensing Him say to my heart that I don't lift a finger to make such a beautiful thing happen; can I not, therefore, trust Him to make a beautiful thing of all my life?

What two things made you smile/laugh this week?

(Thank you to my dear friend, David, for taking photographs tonight when I was without Elizabeth's point-and-shoot, the only camera with which I have any amount of familiarity.)

Here's a recipe for the tart; it's very flexible, so use your intuition and vary as you go!

Tart with chocolate and lemon curd

1 prebaked tart
a handful or two of semi-sweet chocolate chips

5 egg yolks plus 1 egg
1/2 cup lemon juice (~4-5 lemons)
zest from lemons (~1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup baker's sugar
5-8 tablespoons of butter

In a small saucepan, whisk together eggs, lemon juice, zest, and sugar. Heat on medium heat and continue to whisk constantly for about 8-10 minutes as it thickens. At some point, switch to a rubber spatula and continue to stir until it coats the back of the spatula, or you can run your finger through and it holds.

Remove from heat and stir in butter, a tablespoon at a time. Place saran wrap directly on surface to prevent skin from forming and refrigerate.

Place chocolate chips on tart. Place in warmed oven for a minute or so until chips begin to melt. (This works well when you've just baked the tart and the oven is already warm.) Remove and spread chips into a layer of chocolate. (I just used a butter knife; a spatula will do, too.) Refrigerate entire tart for a few minutes to cool.

Spread curd on top of tart with chocolate. Refrigerate some more. Garnish and serve!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

touring my City

by Stephanie

Yes, I know, I have been absent from this blog for quite some time. But it's not my fault, really it's not. It's not my fault that Lisa has all this pent-up creativity and therefore has constant material to blog about, and it's certainly not my fault that I have no kitchen facilities at this house! I was thinking about the loveiscooking title of this blog, and how I rarely cook nowadays (when I get really hungry, like tonight, I call Lisa and bug her to cook for me). So, it's almost like for Lisa, loveiscooking, and for me...loveisbeingcookedfor? I know that's bad grammar, but you should bear with me because I have some fun stuff coming up.

So this entry is definitely less about cooking and food, and more about the things that I see. I'm currently interning at the Burt Children's Center, which is this incredible place for kids in need, and I will most likely have a lot more to say about it later, but for now...a few snapshots of the City (capitalized because it's the best city in the world...that is, San Francisco). The kids live in this huge renovated Victorian house and it is just gorgeous.

(check out that blue sky!)

Just across the street is Alamo Square, this gorgeous park with amazing views.

So if you grew up in the 90's like me, you definitely remember the TV show Full House. This is the exact lawn (I think?) where they run down in the beginning sequence!

I made friends with this doggy! There's a special section in the park where you can let your doggies run around unleashed and where I can pretend that your doggies are my doggies!

And then I went to this place I've been eyeing for quite some time. As a very recent Yelp convert, I kept reading about this place, this place that draws tons of raves from people, especially people who are obsessed with coffee. And so I decided on my way back from BCC that I would stop by because I am also obsessed with coffee. In short, it was amazing. I will say that I felt more than a little out of place because I am not a thirty-something San Francisco hipster. And after being in college for almost four years, it is weird to hang out with people who are older than 20. But it is a magical place, the very newly opened Blue Bottle Coffee cafe.

So Real Good coffee doesn't actually taste bitter; the bitterness comes from all this other gunk that manages to afflict most coffee around here. Blue Bottle coffee was slightly sweet, and with a bit of half & half it managed to be almost perfect. I love how the coffee here reflects the building up above.

Now this thing was incredible. (Notice how my vocabulary does not fall outside of words like "amazing" and "incredible". If you'd like some new words, inform me please.) I had never seen one of these things before...they had them set every 3 seats or so, and it's a cream pitcher on the top and a sugar bowl on the bottom! Coffee accessories never fail to delight me.

This cafe is famous because it houses a $20,000 coffee machine. I was way too intimidated by the trendy clientele and the ridiculous luxury of this thing to photograph it, so check out the NY Times article instead.

So look forward to more of the City! I'm there every Friday until May.