Friday, October 31, 2008

Fear Factor

For those of you who are not familiar with this, the image below is of a Chinese thousand year old egg. This was one of the items that contestants from the Fear Factor show were forced to consume. Don't worry, I won't be passing them out to kids on Halloween.

Despite its name, these eggs are not preserved for thousands of years. Despite being served on Fear Factor, they are NOT gross. Just ask my fiance, who's not Chinese by the way. It's just a matter of acquired taste. I don't love it, but I've learned to live with it.

Basically, eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, salt and other ingredients. When you bring them home from the Chinese supermarket, you first remove the clay exterior or crust to get to the shell of the egg, give it a good wash, then it's good to go. The egg white (which is no longer white, but a transparent brown) is, for the lack of a better word, like jello and the yolk is creamy inside. These eggs are widely used in congee, which is a rice porridge, our version of comfort food.

I hope this will ease your fear if you ever come in contact with a thousand year old egg. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sad Cookies

I had been a fan of Ruby Et Violette, a little cookie shop in Hells Kitchen NYC, ever since I tasted their cookies. They have all kinds of flavors, from Champagne & Strawberries, Espresso to Kitchen Sink. I heard of the place from the Oprah show more than 5 years ago and learned of a mother named Wendy Gaynor who opened a cookie shop and donated part of the proceeds from the business to Mount Sinai, where her daughter was treated after a serious accident. The name of the store stands for the name of her two daughters. It was a very touching story - her cookies were good, and I felt good supporting her cause as well. I haven't been there in years and passed by the place a couple of months ago. I was shocked to see that it had a major overhaul. What happened? Change in ownership.

The place isn't what it used to be anymore. While they kept the cookies as is, the meaning behind the shop has been lost. I checked out their new website and there wasn't even information on donations, which I am assuming have been discontinued. More than that, their cookies now cost alot more than what they used to be.

I love the idea of eating good and doing good. I don't think I would feel as good eating Ruby Et Violette's cookies anymore.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Try a Different Cut of the Fish - Halibut Nape

I'm a big seafood lover and like to try new things. So when my fiance made me dinner one time with Halibut Nape, I really liked it - not only because he made it for me, but also because it was a different cut of fish I've never had before.

The nape of the fish, we were told by the fish monger, is similar to the belly of a fish. It's full of fatty goodness and moist. It's also much less expensive than fillets. So when we went to the wonderful fish market in my fiance's neighborhood and saw Halibut Nape, we just had to have it again. The cooking method is the same as a fish fillet, but you just have to remove a layer of silverskin from the flesh.

I made the Halibut Nape
my fast and usual way - broiled with bread crumbs. I served it with a side of Israeli couscous with pine nuts, leeks and lemon juice. Yum!

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Healthier Burger & Fries Meal

I love fries from fast food joints, but I stay away from hamburgers as I don't eat anything with four legs. :-) One night, I felt like making burgers I would eat and having healthy fries, so I made turkey burger with no bun and oven roasted potatoes.

I got a wonderful and tasty turkey burger recipe from Alfred Portale's cookbook. It was super yummy! Anyways, I placed the burger with melted cheese on top of some greens. As for the potatoes, I roasted them with some onions. Usually though, I would make oven potato fries - take some long russet or Idaho potatoes and cut them into long thick wedges. I didn't have those, so I used whatever variety I had in the fridge and cut them into cubes instead. The meal was indulging without really indulging.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anatomy of a Ready to Go Freezer

What do you do in Boston? I get this question alot. I think my fiance's freezer sums it up.

I stock up his freezer with meats and home cooked meals that can be reheated or cooked quickly within half an hour max. This is in addition to job searching, watching Martha, Jon & Kate +8, Project Runway, etc. of course.

You'll find recipes to some of what you see in his freezer here:
Turkey Spring Rolls - make on weekend& freeze for quick weeknight meal
Turkey Dumplings - make on weekend & freeze for quick weeknight meal
Ricotta Gnocchi - make on weekend & freeze for quick weeknight meal
Mushroom Pasta - no weekend prep required
Mushroom Lasagna - make on weekend for quick weeknight meal

I always try to make my meals from fresh ingredients. The only handy things I like to have in the freezer are left over tomatoes from the can, left over tomato paste from the can, shrimp, peas, spinach and pine nuts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Aroa Fine Chocolate

After we hit Flour Bakery in South End Boston, we ventured around the neighborhood. My fiance had read that there was a dessert place called Aroa down the block that sells French macaroons, so we checked that out. It looked pretty cool addition to seatings and a display of their sweets, you get to see what goes on in their kitchen behind a big glass window.

Aroa sells a variety of french baked goods, from chocolate (of course), fruit pate to croissants. The major ingredients that go into their products - chocolate, coffee beans - are organic and fair trade. We left Aroa with almost every single flavor of macaroon - coffee, chocolate, mint, pistachio, lemon and raspberry. We were disappointed when we got home that their crusts were broken (I'll explain more later).

Above, our collection of macarons about to be devoured from Aroa

Overall, their flavors were good, but not like the macaroons we had in Paris. The pros? They were tasty, sized right, had good texture and have the signature "macaroon feet." The cons? They lacked buttery flavor in their ganache and subtle sheen on their crusts, which were also too thick.

First one we tested out - pistachio macaroon. It was very flavorful. This and lemon would be my favorite flavors there. I liked how they sprinkled some ground pistachios on top so that I know what flavor I was about to eat. The missing sheen I mentioned before is alot more apparent on the chocolate flavored macaroon - you can't really tell on the pistachio because of the sprinkled nuts.

Above, the exterior of Aroa's pistachio macaroon

Above, the apparent lack of sheen on Aroa's chocolate macaroon

A bite inside the macacroon revealed what was wrong. The crust was totally separated from the inside of the cookie - the hollow area inside made the crust easy to break. I have had stale macaroons before (about 3-4 days old), but I have never had one like this, so I don't believe staleness was its problem. The crust on macaroons should be thin, but the ones from Aroa were a bit too thick. This may have to do with the crust separation.

Above, the (thick) crust separation in Aroa's pistachio macaroon

Compared to the macaroons we had in NY/NJ, I would say this is a small notch below Bouley Bakery's. But they ain't bad considering the fact that they were produced in Boston, which my fiance calls "the inferior city." If I need a macaroon fix, I won't mind going to Aroa.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Great Shoe Idea

Wouldn't it be lovely to show off some blooms on my bridesmaids' heels? You can definitely see them better on concrete grounds.

Above, image from Apertura Photography

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cool Save-the-Dates?

The reality of our wedding being less than 8 months away hasn't hit me yet. I think I'm going through some sort of denial; lacking the bride gene here really. My dress came in a week ago and I haven't even gone to the bridal gown store to see it. Perhaps it will finally hit me when we send out the save-the-dates, which was the first DIY project I tackled.

I find that save-the-dates are necessary not only because we have alot of out of town guests, but also because most people are very busy these days and a big heads up would eliminate (or at least reduce) friends and family asking over and over again "when is your big date?" If only I get a dollar every time I get that question. :-)

I've done alot of research on save-the-dates...the designs and etiquette. In the end, I just want to have fun with it. My criteria is to make one that's easy, without photos, cool but practical and creative. I think it turned out kinda cheezy (like me). So my friends, you will see for yourselves when it comes in the mail. What you won't see though are the following fun ones, all fun and creative ideas from Martha Stewart:

Creative, but postage-wise, not very economical

Very practical, but not too fun

Fun and practial, but not for my non-destination or non-city wedding

Fun, but not practical

All images from

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The World's Worst Wedding?

This is unbelievable! Thank god there isn't a pool right behind the altar at our wedding.

Image from

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Living Walls

I saw living walls or vertical gardens on the Martha Stewart show yesterday and was taken right away! Not only are these pretty, but they are environmentally friendly as well. Living walls are basically plants planted on panels that could be attached to walls for indoor use or on flat structures for outdoor use. The irrigation system is built in and looked simple. If you want to purify air, pick what you want to grow from NASA's top 15 plants.

Above from ELT Living Walls

Personally, I would use them in the foyer in my future house...or I can make one for my wedding for a designated photo area and use them for my house later! Anyways, they're great if you live in a tight space, and they would be perfect outdoors if you have a small balcony or outside space like the one below.

Above from ELT Living Walls

The living walls really remind me of the eye catching cactus wall I saw from Instyle Home two years ago. Believe it or not, I still have that issue!

Above from David Tsay

Above close up, my original photography of the magazine page

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beef with What's Labeled Asian

I have strong opinions when it comes to food I grew up with, namely Chinese food. I accept American Chinese food, but it is not what I know from my childhood and love. At least American Chinese food is recognizable to traditional Chinese food. Along the same lines, I have no beef with Asian fusion, as long as it tastes good and is recognizable; if not, it's what I call Asian confusion. What I have serious beef with though, is something that claims to be Asian but isn't.

For example, I once ordered a Thai Wrap from Devon and Blakely (which I heard serves good soup by the way), but it was hardly Thai at all. Here were the ingredients in the wrap: chicken, celery, scallion, carrots, apples, almonds and yogurt dressing. If you're not scratching your head on this, I was. I'm not Thai, but the only Asian ingredient in there was scallions. Yogurt is hardly Thai at all; it's Indian. What else can I say other than serious beef? Ignorance?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For the Fish Lovers - Sardines Sandwich

I love fish...the fishier, the better. Take Mackerel, for example, most people don't like it because it's a very assertive fishy kind of fish, but I love it. Sardines is somewhere along that line, and when I had my very first sardines sandwich at Bread in NYC many years ago, I was hooked.

The sardines sandwich was served warmed with lettuce, tomato and a spicy mayonnaise on a baguette. If I remember correctly, they may have descibed it as Thai. That combination was so good that I had to complicate it at home (below is my recipe for the spicy mayo). In terms of the sardines, my friend told me that the ones from Morocco are the best. I shared my canned Moroccan sardines I brought back from Portugal with my fiance, and he agreed.

Above, Morrocan sardines and Spicy Mayonnaise

Spicy Mayonnaise
2 servings (for 2 sandwiches)

3 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha (Thai hot sauce)
a squeeze of lemon juice (or vinegar)
salt & pepper

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Turkey Spring Rolls - Step by Step Guide

I wrote about my mom's vegetarian spring rolls more than a week ago and promised to post my own version and step by step photos when they're up and running. And now, the wait is over! I like to make them on a weekend and put them in the freezer. They're ready to fry up anytime - no need to defrost.

So I never asked my mom for her spring roll recipe; I just made my own. I used the vegetables that she used, and added ground turkey for a more hearty spring roll. In terms of seasonings, I put in what I thought tasted good. As for the spring roll wrappers,
I prefer to use the smaller size (5x5) because they're easier to handle and to fry. You can buy these in the frozen section in an Asian supermarket.

Turkey Spring Rolls
makes about 20

1/2 lb ground turkey
10 dried shiitake mushroom, rehydrated and sliced thin
1 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
1 medium carrot, julienned (tip: take a short cut by using a vegetable peeler to make thin strips)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
1 scallion, julienned
2 tablespoons oil (any oil other than olive)
salt and pepper to taste
spring roll wrappers (5x5)
1 egg white (for sealing the spring rolls)

To make the filling:

Soak the mushrooms in a bowl of water, preferably hot or warm. Make sure they are fully submerged. They should soften in about 30 minutes in hot water; more than an hour in room temperature water. Remove the stems and slice the mushrooms at about 1/8 inch thick.

Heat up a pan (preferably a wok) over medium-high heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, add the ground turkey and a dash of salt & pepper. Toss around for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic. Toss around for another about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add mushrooms, carrots, bean sprouts, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Toss around for about 5 minutes. Add sesame seed oil and scallions. After about a minute, turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool.

To fill the wrappers:

Grab 2 sheets of the wrappers at once and lay them down flat in one layer, with one of the corners facing you. (You can use one sheet if you're short on wrappers, but 2 sheets make a more crunchy exterior when you fry them)

Take 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the filling and place across the bottom of the wrapper, about an inch above the corner.

Roll up the bottom corner until you don't see the the filling anymore. If there's any filling that escaped (like below), just tuck them back in.

Moisten the left and right hand corners with egg white and fold them in towards the center.

It should look like an envelope now. Moisten all the edges on the upper flap with egg white.

Roll tightly from the bottom up. After rolling it up once, you should have more than an inch of the upper flap remaining. Continue to roll up, and you're done!

Just make sure the spring roll is sealed on all sides; if not, brush those areas with egg white. If you place it seam side down, it should dry and hold together nicely.

This is what it should look like on the other side.

In terms of frying them, I don't like to deep fry them. Just have enough oil in a pan to fry up these babies. Drain them on paper towel before serving.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunday Breakfast - Flour Bakery (Again)

I know, someone's obsessed and it isn't me. My fiance was determined to scratch his itch for Flour Bakery's sticky bun, so we headed to their Fort Point location this time. It was a nice enjoyable 5-10 minute walk from South Station...the sun was out and the temperature was perfect.

We felt so much more comfortable and relaxed there. The Fort Point location has so much more room. There are communal tables, regular tables, bar stools and plenty of outside seating.

Above, the communal table and menu at Flour

Above, the bar stools at Flour - the "tables" are interesting, no?

Above, the baked goods "buffet" display at the counter

I drooled over their luscious looking display and decided on a lemon ginger scone, which was sold out the day before at the South End location. The first thing that struck me was its dome shape - from what I understand, well-made scones are supposed to be leveled in height. If you cut the scones with a sharp knife or a sharp cutter, the scone should rise evenly when baked. If cut with a dull object, all the butter layers would get smushed together, preventing the edges from rising correctly.

Above, the dome shaped lemon ginger scone

Traditional scones are dry and this isn't one of them. It was moist (more so than Once Upon a Tart) and was topped with a lemon icing. I usually don't like icing because they're usually piled on thick, but I liked it on the scone - it was the perfect amount. It added an extra fresh lemon flavor and the right amount of sweetness to the scone. The combination of lemon and crystallized ginger chunks was perfect.

Above, the moist interior of the lemon ginger scone

As for the sticky bun...I am happy to report that it scratched my fiance's itch. Unfortunately, it was a bit dry this time compared to our first.

Our experience didn't end with the sticky bun. We brought a berry bread pudding home - it made me very happy. Whoever came up with bread pudding was a genius, and those who make bread pudding at bakeries are very smart. It's such a clever and efficient way to use day old bread. Anyways, the berry bread pudding was perfect. The sweetness was perfect, and the berry topping added a very nice tangy contrast to the creaminess of the custard soaked bread. I especially like the currants on the top. I prefer this over the banana chocolate version, hands down.

Above, berry bread pudding

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saturday Breakfast - Flour Bakery

After our first experience at Flour Bakery at Fort Point in Boston months ago, my fiance developed an itch for their sticky buns. So we checked out their other location in South End for a late breakfast/early lunch this past Saturday.

Compared to their Fort Point location, the one in South End was a bit disappointing. It was packed, slightly cramped and many baked goods (namely their famous sticky buns) were sold out by noon. The high demand was apparent in this more populated area.

What we had was very nicely done.
I had Banana Bread and my fiance had a BLT. The former was flavorful and moist. The latter was excellent - I can't say enough good things about their BLT. The bread was nicely toasted (without butter, which is perfect because bacon is greasy enough by itself). The bacon was thick cut, perfectly cooked and crunchy. The tomato did not taste ordinary; it looked like it was roasted briefly and flattened. The sandwich spread was light, perhaps mayonnaise, when combined with the juice in the tomato, dripped lightly down your fingers bite after bite. And lastly, the arugula added a very nice touch - its pepperiness was refreshing when combined with the bacon...a winning combo!

Above, the very nicely toasted bread on Flour's BLT

Above, a bite into Flour's BLT - see the thick cut, perfectly cooked bacon?

We also had a Banana Chocolate Bread Pudding to go. It was good, but not a show stopper. I stole a bite at the bakery before I brought it home. It had just come out of their temperature regulated display. I thought that wasn't the best way to serve needed to be served warm, which would allow the chocolate flavor to come out more.

All in all, I prefer the Fort Point location - it's less busy, more comfortable, well stocked and well ventilated - I know for sure I won't leave the place stinking like bacon all day!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What to do with Left Over Bechamel Sauce?

I had some bechamel sauce left over from the Mushroom Lasagna I made yesterday, so I thought I would make pasta with it.

I tossed in some penne with the sauce and things I have in my freezer - spinach, pine nuts and parmesean cheese. Garnished with fresh parsley, it was simple, fast and good!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Creative Use for Dumpling Wrappers - in Lasagna

I had some dumpling wrappers in the freezer left over from making Turkey Dumplings, and I was tired of making the same old Mushroom Pasta. While I was browsing through Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home - a light bulb went off in my head. I saw a Portobello Mushroom Lasagna recipe, so I thought to myself why don't I just use the dumpling wrappers as pasta in the lasagna and use the mushroom sauce I made? I know it may sound weird, but it worked!

Above, Mushroom Lasagna made with dumpling wrappers

Using dumpling wrappers in place of lasagna pasta is perfect if you're not feeding an army. So in my case, I made 2 individual servings of lasagna - one for myself in a small ramekin, and another in foil sitting in a disposable container in the freezer for my fiance. I don't know if freezing the lasagna works, but I will definitely report the findings once it is consumed.

In terms of the filling, I made my usual sauce for mushroom pasta. It went very well with the bechamel sauce (essentially a thickened milk sauce) from the lasagna recipe. I love jazzing up my go-to recipes!

Above, the layers in the Mushroom Lasagna

Monday, October 13, 2008

Easy Easy Mushroom Pasta

I have gotten dinner on the table in way less than an hour with this easy and tasty Mushroom Pasta recipe. Not only is it easy, but it also freezes beautifully. I find myself making a large pot and freezing left overs for my fiance when he needs a quick week night meal.

To get the most flavors into this recipe, I use a mix of mushrooms - baby bella, plain ol' white ones, oyster, and dried shiitake. The two reasons why I use shiitake is that I have it in my pantry, and that it is dried so it is more flavorful. You can use dried porcini if you like. Make sure to reserve the liquid used to rehydrate them. If you don't have dried mushrooms, that's fine...just substitute the reserved liquid with chicken stock.

In terms of the herbs, fresh is always preferred. Since this is my go-to recipe, I usually resort to the dried ones in my pantry. If you're using fresh herbs, roughly double up on the measurements, as dried ones are stronger.

A time saving tip to this recipe is to use sliced mushrooms from the supermarket. Strangely, they cost less than whole mushrooms in my local supermarket and they are usually in better shape than whole mushrooms (which I have seen were moldy on occasions), so that's why I started using them.

I'll write another post on the steps I follow for most pasta recipes to make them flavorful.

Mushroom Pasta
serves 2

2 8oz package sliced mushrooms (baby bella and white)
2 oyster mushroom, sliced (optional)

6 dried shiitake mushroom, rehydrated and sliced
(or dried porcini, whatever you have on hand)
1/2 C of reserved liquid from dried mushrooms (or chicken stock)
1 small onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

olive oil

salt & pepper
1 tablespoon butter
half a package of linguine
pasta water
fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Boil water for the linguine in a pot and add a big pinch of salt and pasta when the water starts boiling. At the same time, saute onions in oil over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes in a pan big enough for tossing pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and toss around for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add mushrooms, oregano, dried parsley, thyme, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquids, about 5-10 minutes, depending on how much you have in the pan.

Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and scrape off any yummy goodness sticking to the bottom of the pan. In about 2 minutes, add the reserved mushroom liquid - be careful not to pour in the sediments that settled in the bottom of the liquid. If pasta is now cooked half way, add to the pan in a minute or so. If pasta is not cooked half way yet, reduce the heat of the sauce pan to low and wait til it's there.

Once pasta is added to the pan, add in about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Cook in the sauce until al dente ("to the tooth" or basically has a bite). If the pasta is a bit dry, simply add more pasta liquid - the starch in there should thicken it up. If the pasta is too wet, either reduce the sauce over heat, or add in bread crumbs to soak up the moisture.

When you have enough sauce, turn off the heat. Add the butter and garnish with fresh parsley. Dinner is served!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Finally Caught up with Project Runway!

Oh my god, I am loving the bridesmaid dress by Leanne! I wished I could get my hands on a photo.

I love her organic designs - they're interesting yet simple at the same my taste. I also like her wedding gown, but it's a bit too out there for me.
I don't understand what's going on with the midriff on wedding gowns these days...even Monique Lhuillier has a few versions.

Above, wedding gown by Leanne from

I also like Kenley's wedding gown. Now I'm starting to think my wedding gown's not big enough. In fact, it's not big at all.

Above, wedding gown by Kenley from

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Local Farmer's Market

It was such a nice Fall day...leafs turning color, falling on the ground, not to mention the temperature at 60 degrees! I really wanted to go pay a visit to the weekly farmer's market in the parking lot of my fiance's building in Boston, but someone didn't want to go with me.

So I had to resort to admiring the activity going on there from his kitchen window. There were people looking at the fresh produce, lining up for ice cream and some just sitting on the side relaxing. This was my view from the window:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Slow Down People!

I seriously think they should have speed limits in supermarkets. I fear getting run over by a shopping cart.

Oddly enough, I enjoy going to the supermarket and taking my sweet time drooling over the different varieties of fresh produce and seafood. On my recent visits without my fiance, who always rushes me, I noticed customers going at high speed and making short stops. You can tell they're coming when you hear the wheels on the shopping carts rotating like crazy.

I know life is hectic and stressful, but slow down people!
You're gonna give yourselves a heart attack.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Turkey Spring Rolls

My mother used to make vegetarian spring rolls (meatless probably because I don't eat anything with four legs), but she hardly cooks anymore. She used to wrap them on weekends and freeze them so they would be ready for her on week nights - you can fry them frozen, and they come out beautifully. This inspired me to make my own version for my fiance when he needs a quick meal. I like to serve them with soup for a nice contrast of textures.

It's not hard to make these babies, but wrapping them is a rather involved process. I will post my recipe when I get my step by step instructions with photos up and running. Hopefully, you won't have to wait too long!

Above, a bite into my crispy Turkey Spring Roll

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Long Wait Til Spring

I helped out my sister with some gardening over the weekend. She's planting down the bulbs now and hopes that they'll shoot up in the spring. She was very systematic with planning down what to plant - a very interesting system using alphabets to code every variety of bulbs she's got, from A to Za, Zb, etc.

Above, my sister looking at her mad system

Above, her madness all planned out on paper

We planted one 2-foot wide strip next to her driveway, which took about 3 hours. First, she wrote out each letter in chalk on a landscape fabric, then scored where the letters are so the bulb planter can be inserted to dig up the soil. The bulb planter is a really cool tool - you dig it deep into the soil, lift it up, place the bulb into the soil, press the release handle on the tool to release the soil that was dug up.

Above, putting the bulb planter to work

We worked til night with the help of some lights that looked like they were meant for construction (I felt like a construction worker for a while). Towards the end, we got a special guest appearance from a very hungry squirrel. After circling the potential buffet, it crawled into the drainage pipe and refused to get out. My sister and brother-in-law thought it was looking for a place to die. Apparently, this was not the first time they've seen this happen. I guess that's life in the suburbs!

Above, a squirrel that refused to get out of the drainage pipe