Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Salt in Your Food

I can't help wondering when watching all the food competition shows out there if the salt I taste in my food in restaurants is indeed salt. I've seen beads of sweat dripping off the competitors' noses too many times. I'm sure the salty sweat adds flavor to your plate.

Perhaps I've been watching too much of Iron Chef America and Chopped on Food Network and Hell's Kitchen...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Chinese Spider

Nope, not an insect, but the slotted utensil that can used for draining/scooping up deep fried items, dumplings, gnocchi, penne, etc. These days, there are many stainless steel tools that improved on the original Chinese version, which has a bamboo handle. Unlike their new stainless steel counterparts, the original version is much lighter but still very much sturdy at the same time.
Image from

Spider skimmers are not the easiest to clean because of their woven design. So mostly, I use it for non-greasy operations and wash quickly after use in hot water to prevent food from drying on its many crevices.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Figure Skater + Food Network = Disaster?

I used to love watching ice-skating, and Brian Boitano was one of my favorite figure skaters. Not only was he a great competitor and an Olympic champion, but he also had great sportsmanship. So imagine my surprise when Food Network added him onto their show line up. I had my doubts on the unlikely combination of Boitano+Food Network, but was so pleasantly surprised and amused by "What Would Brian Boitano Make?" It shows such a different side of Boitano that I've never seen before - he's not the serious skater that I saw in competitions, but a foodie with a quirky sense of humor.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the first episode of "What Would Brian Boitano Make?" I got a kick out of the overdramatized scenes and his imagination of all things unlikely in his head. I especially loved how he made a jab at the often flashy and overly artistic figure skating outfits. All in all, quirky humor + cooking by a foodie works for me!

All images from Food Network

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waffles Quest, Part II

My brother and I have graduated from making the plain ol'waffles topped with fruit/whipped cream/syrup combo to the Gaufres de Liege. We attempted the supposedly epitome of all Belgian waffles (according to him) that are made from pearl sugar and yeast. He consulted me on the recipe he found that was supposedly adapted from Mr. Crepe, another establishment of Ingrid Heyrman and Peter Creyf, the duo behind my brother's favorite Waffle Haus. He took over the whole process, with a minor mishap of an additional tablespoon of flour and sugar. I don't think it had a major impact on the outcome, but I have come to the conclusion that I like the plain ol'waffles better - I wasn't crazy about the aroma of the yeast batter in a waffle...I associate it more with bread than waffle.

Making Gaufres de Liege is an intricate process. It took longer
than regular waffles because you need to allot time for the dough to rise and rest. On top of that, to make it authentic, you have to get your hands on Belgian pearl sugar that isn't available in your local supermarket. My brother was crazy enough to purchase boxes of it on the internet when you can actually substitute it with crushed pieces of sugar cubes. The pearl sugar plays a major part in the waffles because it caramelizes in the waffle iron to create a crunchy exterior. It may create random dark brown spots on the waffle, but that's the signature of Gaufres de Liege.

If I have neglected to mention this before, 1 waffle per person is plenty because they are quite rich in taste. This applies for regular waffles as well.

According to my brother, our attempt on the Gaufres de Liege wasn't bad - the authentic ones he had at Waffle Haus in VT had a crispier exterior and a lighter texture. He will definitely continue his quest to make the best Gaufre de Liege, but I'm not sure I'll be with him every step of the way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Immersion Blender Combo

This week, I share with you a fabulous 3-in-1 equipment, the hand blender and chopper. Having been a cook in several small apartments, this was really handy and space efficient. We bought this gadget about 5 years ago, when I convinced my husband (then boyfriend) that I needed a food processor in order to make delicious meals for him. I didn't want a big food processor because of space issues. Luckily, we found the Braun Hand Blender and Chopper that fit our criteria and at a reasonable price. The motor half of the gadget can be attached to a blender, whisk or chopper and simply detached for easy storage.

Image from

Ironically, I've used the immersion blender more than the chopper because I made so much soup for my husband while he was in Boston. Either way, it was the perfect investment. On top of that, its one speed setting makes it a no brainer gadget, which I love. I've made whipped cream with the whisk attachment (I didn't own a hand or stand mixer) and have made various salad dressings, sauces and dips with the chopper to cut and emulsify. The only problem I had was that it broke from overheating, but Braun sent us a new one and we've never had a problem since.

Even though there are all these other fancy looking stainless steel immersion blender combos out there now, I still like our plastic version better because I know the immersion blender attachment won't hurt my non-stick or stainless steel pots. It is a keeper!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Waffles Quest, Part I

I was commissioned by my brother, a food snob, to make batter for the waffles he's been dreaming about ever since he visited Waffle Haus on his ski trip to VT. Apparently, Waffle Haus is an authentic Belgian waffle joint created by Ingrid Heyrman and Peter Creyf, who came to the States from Belgium. I was told that their waffles are special in that they are Belgian sugar waffles called Gaufres de Liege, not those that are topped with fruit/whipped cream/syrup that you find here. How is a home cook to replicate what is supposedly the epitome of all waffles, made from pearl sugar and yeast?

Surprisingly, I was crazy enough to entertain my brother's quest for the intric
ate Gaufres de Liege. We started off with testing the plain ol'waffles topped with fruit/whipped cream/syrup combo before advancing to the Gaufres de Liege. I was going to use Martha Stewart's buttermilk waffles recipe before I realized that one batch called for more than a stick of butter and separating the egg whites from yolks. I wanted to be health conscious and also wanted the easy way out for making my first waffle batter, so I went to Alton Brown's recipe since I had watched his episode on making waffles.

I made a very good decision. Not only were the waffles tasty and rich, but their textures were also perfect - the wheat flour in the recipe gave the waffles character and the baking powder gave them the right amount of fluffiness. I made only one change to the recipe - I added vanilla extract for more flavor.

In terms of equipment, we used the Waring Pro WMK300 to make our waffles. It is a top-rated waffle iron from Consumer Research that does fancy flips as opposed to other models where you just open and close the cover. My brother loved making waffles like a professional - the experience probably made the waffles taste better in his head. We like our waffles with a crispy exterior and moist & fluffy interior, so we used the highest cooking setting (#6) and cooked them 10-15 seconds more than indicated from the waffle iron.

Next up, I'll be attempting the ultimate
Gaufres de Liege.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Microplane

The second installment of "Martha's Favs Mondays," where I share the essential tools & equipments that I can't live without (or would like on my wish list), is the Microplane rasp grater. I used to use a vegetable peeler and a knife to zest fruits for cooking & baking before my Microplane days. Not anymore! It is such an energy and time saving tool to have in the kitchen. I've used it to make lemon ricotta pancakes, lapsong souchong tea rub, cranberry orange scones, broiled turbot fillet with bread crumbs, and the list goes on.

Image from Williams-Sonoma

The Microplane rasp was first developed as a woodworking tool, but is now mass marketed as a kitchen tool in all home stores. Their kitchen tool empire has grown from zesters, sea salt shaver, to all kinds of different graters. Although I am a Microplane fan, I don't have (and don't want) all of their tools. The only one I have is their rasp grater. I feel this is the only true one I will ever need. I've used it for zesting fruits, grating cheese and ginger root, and both applications work perfectly & beautifully. The other Microplane tool that I'm looking to add to my kitchen is their Box Grater...I just haven't decided between the Oxo or Microplane.

So contrary to what my husband may think, I don't want everything. Otherwise, I would collect all the Microplane tools (yes, even the ridiculous sea salt shaver)!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Momofuku's Fried Chicken - Wet Nap Required

My brother, the food snob, talked about Momofuku's Fried Chicken obsessively for days, after which he religiously typed in their website address every morning in order to be the first on their mad reservation system. After countless days and weeks of trying, his obsession paid off - he was finally rewarded one of the most sought after reservations in NYC. "How ridiculous is it to make reservations for fried chicken?" I thought. I wasn't impressed by Momofuku's over-hyped ramen, but I rode along with my brother on his quest to find the most delicious fried chicken ever. Having had Unidentified Flying Chicken, Bon Chon, KFC and Popeye's under my belt, I was up for this most difficult challenge.

David Chang was reportedly inspired to make the best fried chicken after he tasted Andrew Carmelini's version (secret ingredient: old bay). After much testing, Chang rolled out his Momofuku's Fried Chicken dinner, only served at certain designated hours of the day. Each fried chicken dinner comes with 2 whole fried chickens that are fried to order, one southern style, and another Korean style. They are served with mu shu pancakes and other accompaniments. Each Fried Chicken dinner serves anywhere from 4 to a maximum of 8 people. We had 8 people and we were all full by the end of the meal, with 2 pieces left over. In fact, I was so full that I proclaimed "I don't want to see another piece of fried chicken for the rest of the year!" just when our server arrived to clear our table.

My first piece was the southern style - I bit into the crispy thrice-fried skin, which had a very surprisingly earthy flavored crust, and was met by the juicy, piping hot meat in the interior. My second and third pieces were the Korean style, which I prefer over the southern style because of its complexity (spicy and fermented kimchi-like quality), sweetness and finger-licking stickiness. My companions also agreed with me; their reason was that the southern style was a tad too salty for their taste. In terms of combining the fried chicken with mu shu pancakes, a very messy application, my favorite combination was lettuce, shiso leaves, basil, scallion-ginger sauce and spicy red sauce. Don't worry, the restaurant has plenty of wet naps on hand.

Momofuku's fried chicken was definitely good, but I'm happy to stick to the more accessible, no reservations needed, UFC or Bon Chon any time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pottery Barn Surprise

It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of Pottery Barn - it's too traditional and their furniture are mostly made of dark wood. However, I do browse through their catalogue once in a while when they come in the mail. Imagine my surprise when I saw this non-traditional chandelier:

Image from Pottery Barn

What a great idea to recycle your empty wine bottles! If I were a handy man, I'd totally make one for myself.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Silicone Spatula

Happy Monday!

I've been on the hunt for the ultimate kitchen tools & equipment for our new home. I have some essential ones already for compact living, but since we'll have more room for storage, I have been looking to expand my essentials collection so I can do some real (and time saving) baking and cooking. So I thought I would share the essential tools & equipments that I can't live without (or would like on my wish list) in a weekly feature called "Martha's Favs Mondays
" on this first Monday of September. Silicone spatula kicks off this series.

Image from Williams-Sonoma

Silicone spatula is by far the busiest tool in my kitchen. I use it for both cooking and baking. I admit, I have reservations about using silicone even though it is heat resistant up to 450° F (some even over 800
° F, as Williams-Sonoma claims for theirs) but I made an exception for the spatula because it is so useful for scraping my bowls/pans clean without scratching my non-stick and stainless steel pans. The paranoid part of myself will not use silicone for baking in the oven though. Hence, I've only used my Silpat, a silicone baking mat, once.

I have 2 spatulas - one for cooking and another for baking, so it would be impossible to transfer garlic flavors to my baked goods. I love using the spatula for making pasta sauces, sauteing onions & garlic and especially making scrambled eggs. For baking, I like how I can use it to scrap my bowls clean so only a minimal part of my mixture or cookie dough goes to waste. Here's what I look for in a silicone spatula:

  • Long handle for cooking so you don't burn yourself while working on a hot pan and for baking so the spatula can reach into a deep 5qt mixing bowl
  • A nice sturdy handle, which is why I prefer wood over plastic (on top of that, plastic may melt when in contact with the rim of a hot pan)
  • Flexible (not flimsy) head for easy scraping - I would say that making scrambled eggs is the ultimate test
  • Head features one curved side, like the WS ones, to scrape the often curved bottom of a bowl or pan

In terms of brands, I can't recommend one because I don't remember mine (our cooking spatula is more than 4 years old, bought from the now defunct Linens n'Things). I don't think you can go wrong if you look for those features I listed above. I know that the Rubbermaid recommended by America's Test Kitchen has a pretty hefty price tag for a spatula (about $11) and I have not given in (yet) since my existing cooking spatula is alive and well. I do, however, love the spatulas from Williams-Sonoma because they make the perfect gift as they can be engraved! I own a small one (not engraved) from WS for baking, and I have no complaints. Same goes for my full-sized Kitchenaid spatula for baking.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Who is the Most Overated Chef, Asked NY Magazine

I was browsing through The Grub Report from NY Magazine, which surveyed several influential food critics on a variety of topics in the eating world. One of the questions asked them to name the most overrated chef. I couldn't agree with them more:

"Winner: David Chang. Many respondents declined to answer this question, but Chang scored the most votes from those who did."

He may be overrated, but I believe that he is smart to focus on the masses.

Like I said before, Momofuku Noodle Bar's ramen didn't fool this Asian. However, I am due to return to Momofuku for Chang's much sought after fried chicken tonight and will be back with a full report.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Prune, Cure for Hangovers

Prune is a place for adventurous eaters and for those not afraid of heart attacks, for sure. We've been to Prune for dinner, but never wanted to put up with the crazy line at brunch. Finally, we sucked it up and checked it out for their famous brunch. We were rewarded with a tasty brunch and a good look at Gabrielle Hamilton, the fearless chef who created such inventive items on her bold brunch menu, which ranged from deep fried sandwiches (Monte Cristo) to coddled egg with chicken.

I started off with a Classic Bloody Mary, out of what must have been 10 other kinds of bloody marys on their cocktail menu. I thought it was fine (only because I'm biased towards the one from Public). It was the first time though, that I had a beer chaser with a bloody mary. It worked, but I'll skip being all liquored up next time.

I decided that I wasn't going to order anything "normal" like their Classic Eggs Benedict or pancakes, so instead, I went for the Fried Oyster Omelette with Remoulade Sauce. Soon, I realized I was having a brunch perfect for a hangover...bloody mary, something fried or greasy (Note: I did not have a hangover). The Fried Oyster Omelette may have sounded strange (and also looked strange since it was just a huge fried oyster sandwiched between egg), but it was a surprisingly good combination. The crispiness of the batter was a nice contrast to the creaminess of the oyster and softness of the egg. On top of that, I could tell that the egg was perfectly cooked when it jiggled softly instead of landing with a thud when the plate was placed on my table. It was the best egg, ever. I didn't understand the combination of powdered sugar with hot sauce though.

Overall, I thought the portions could have been a tad bigger. We're not into supersizing our food, but my husband certainly wasn't full from his Sausages & Oysters, even though he was given two thick slices of toast suffocated with butter. His homemade lamb sausage was smaller than the palm of my hand. In the end, I thought Prune failed on the price to portions wasn't wallet friendly and portions could be larger.

The bottom line is that I would return to Prune in the future when I feel like having an inventive brunch for special occasions...or for a hangover cure.