Category Archives: foodie

The Foodie Handbook Book Reading (with Queen Pim)

My friend said we should go to a book reading, since it was by a food blogger.  I actually didn’t know who Pim Techamuanvivit was but I thought it sounded fun. So off we went!

We chose our seats and thumbed through her book for a while, trading laughs and funny quotes from her book, “The Foodie Handbook: The (Almost) Definitive Guide to Gastronomy.”  Reading the book was a good time.  Her storytelling is effortless. It seemed like the book’s mission is to deflate some of the stuffiness associated with foodie-ism.  OK, so I didn’t buy a copy but my enjoyment was genuine.* I could totally understand why Pim is a star.

About ten minutes before the reading, a bookstore employee announced that three of the bookstore’s employees kindly prepared recipes from the book: roasted vegetables with dates; alfajores; and bread soup. The small crowd lined up. All of the food was so, so delicious. I loved the soup especially.

She read a few excerpts from the book and spent a generous amount of time answering our questions. At one point, she was telling us about visiting a farmer’s market in New York with a famous French chef (I can’t remember his name)  to buy some snap peas. He apparently picked each pea pod individually and was pleased with his purchase. Until he visited another stall, with slightly better peas. Which prompted him to try to return the first set. Ah, not high maintenance at all!

Anyways, she charmed everybody. I think my friend was a little smitten with her.  He kept saying, “Oh, that was really cute! You can take me to these food things if they are cute!”

*In an attempt to save money and cut down on clutter, I try not to buy books anymore. My tendency now is to check books out from the library. If I pine away for a book for a LONG time, then I might consider buying. Sort of like dating the book instead of marrying it right away.

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I’ve put three post-like things about food/money (including most of the “show me the money, part i: finding low-cost recipes” post on their own page “show me the money” instead of publishing three posts.

fyi, I think I’m the last person to learn of Cake Wrecks, but, if not – check it out!

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Shiitake Stuffing for a Minnesota Holiday Potluck

Zojirushi

Once upon a time, I attended a potluck, with a savory bread pudding in tow. It was much, much loved. And my hopes of eating the leftovers were not to be – it was entirely demolished! I was so proud of myself because I thought I had completely invented the recipe, and it was the first time I made it (not something I recommend when cooking for others – my backup plan was to buy something if it didn’t turn out). But now I realize – the dish reminds me a little bit of the chawanmushi my grandmother would make. Everything “new” is actually old.

Shiitake Stuffing

Ingredients: (I don’t remember the exact measurements…these are very approximate)

  • 1/2 loaf of decent quality San Francisco style sweet Italian bread – the kind with sesame seeds on the crust;
  • 2 cups of dried shiitakes;
  • 3 medium yellow onions or 2 large yellow onions;
  • soy sauce;
  • 3 eggs;
  • 1 24 oz can of chicken stock;
  • milk? (I can’t remember if I used milk or not…*)
  • dashes of white wine;
  • dashes of ngouc mam;
  • dash of sugar;
  • cooking oil/butter.

1. Soaking

The mushrooms were the stars of this show. I soaked them in warm water for a few hours before I cooked. Usually, I soak them in a deep, narrow container with a small dish that fits inside the container mouth to keep the mushrooms submerged nicely.

2. Chopping

The onions and mushrooms needed chopping/slicing. Each went into their own bowls, waiting their turn. I wanted to show off the beautiful shape of the shiitake, so, I sliced them (sans stem of course) from the top to the gills in 1/8″ wide pieces.

3. Bread Frying

This was the longest part – frying 8-10 pieces of bread on each side, to get some slight browning.** After frying, I chopped each slice into four strips. I think I chose against cubes, in the hopes that the pudding would be more textural.

4. Sweating the veggies + deglazing

To a hot, hot skillet, I added the onions, then the mushrooms. They sweated for a good few minutes, without burning. Then, I poured the chicken stock to deglaze and quickly scraped all the veggie fond from the bottom of the skillet. Now, I can’t quite remember how much white wine, soy sauce, ngouc mam, and sugar I added, but, they went into the mix during the deglazing. Everything simmered and smelled amazing as it all reduced a little bit.

5. Cooling the mushroom mix/Preheating oven

I knew I would need to add egg to make the stuffing, and did not want scrambled eggs, so, I let the mixture cool down a bit. Very important! I think I separated the liquids and stored them in the fridge or freezer for a little bit. This is probably when I preheated the oven (likely to 400).

6. Egg mixture

I beat the three eggs and incorporated the cooled liquids (and possibly the milk, if I used it!). The egg mixture was not watery in consistency – when I was mixing, likely with some chopsticks, the mixture was a little bit resistant/elastic.

7. Baking

I think the glass baking dish was 9″ x 13″ or so. Well, I buttered it. Then, loosely arranged the bread and the mushroom mix. Then poured the egg mixture, which almost covered the bread/mushroom mix. A few pieces stuck up here and there, for textural interest. Into the oven it all went, for about 1 hour at (probably) 350 Fahrenheit.

8. Costs

Most of the ingredients were pretty cheap, but the shiitakes usually aren’t.  The shiitakes came from a package I got from Costco, a really great deal – I think it was like 1/2 lb for $10.00 or so. Probably used less than 2 dollars’ worth or so. The quantity of onions might be 2 dollars. The bread expense…hm…maybe 2 dollars? Half a loaf, for four dollars or less (two dollars’ worth). Three eggs…roughly 50 cents – 75 cents, depending on how fancy the eggs were. That’s seven dollars so far, not counting the dashes of this and that. Using store-bought chicken stock brings up the cost to ten dollars. It serves more than ten, so, it’s probably less than a dollar per serving.

How did it taste? Oh, I remember it well! First, the nearly custard-like bread/egg foundation is rich and savory. Then a bite of the shiitakes makes the brain so very happy. Shiitakes are pure umami to me.***

*I usually use milk when making stuffing…so…I probably used it for this recipe…

**I don’t remember why I fried the bread, it’s been such a long time since I’ve made any kind of stuffing/pudding , but I’m pretty sure I’ve always done that for bread stuffings.

***Science journalist Robert Krulwich has a charming 8 minute story about Kikunae Ikeda and Escoffier discovering umami contemporaneously. One as a chemist, the other as a chef.

Kotonk Chow Fan // Spam Fried Rice

Beware of Hawaiians. They will laugh at your “mainlander” accent. They thought I talked funny because I am a kotonk. I speak native Californian! Meanwhile, they spoke pidgin. Who’s right? Ah, when in Rome…do as the Romans do. And in Hawaii, that means, fall in love with Spam. From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

Hawaii residents consume nearly 7 million cans of Spam a year, an average of about six cans for every man, woman and child.

Not a fan of spam musubi (mandatory for Hawaiian residency). But, I do love it in my fried rice, as do many Hawaiians. Putting spam in your fried rice is a modern nod to the more traditional char siu. Plus – spam costs a lot less!

Kotonk Fried Rice

  • 3 cups of cooked, refrigerated Japanese rice;
  • 1/4 of a full container of Spam (thanks mapgirl!) ham / other savory meat-like thing;
  • 4 green onions, sliced moderately thin;
  • 2 eggs, beaten like they owe you money;
  • salt and pepper – be generous!

Use your favorite skillet – for this, I used a cast iron pan. I like to start off by frying the Spam. Then, add the rice – use your spatula vigorously! Add vegetable oil whenever necessary. Ideally, you would scramble the eggs separately, but, let’s not get too crazy here. Add the green onions when the rice is hot and the eggs are scrambled. These will wilt in a matter of seconds. You are done! Season with plenty of salt and pepper!

(My mis en place…well…minus the rice, salt, pepper and vegetable oil for frying…)

(action shot of beating the eggs)

(plated, just for you!)

P.S. I’m going to have to do the price calculations later. But, I think this is quite inexpensive to prepare! I think 1/4 of a container of Spam is going to work out to less than $1.00.

Luxurious, Lazy and Thrifty – Poached Eggs

If you have a little vinegar, and a small pot, you can have the most glorious poached eggs. Do you need silky golden yolk slipping away from a firm white? Don’t get me started!

Poaching away. Happily.

Adorned with a stripe of salt and black pepper.

Digging in!!!

Lately, I have been thinking about lowering my fat intake by just a little bit. Having fried eggs all the time is no path to glory. So I thought I might try poaching eggs instead. Many many ugly eggs later, victims of my experiments, I realized I needed perhaps to actually learn how people do it. I got a serious bee in my bonnet after fixating on …Lisa’s… eat, drink and be a fat bastard photostream on Flickr, where she displays her first proper set of poached eggs. I was totally inspired! After a few more tries, I feel like I have it down to a science!*

Poached Eggs

  • 2 eggs; (about $.16)
  • water in a pot, enough to cover the eggs by 1/2″ or so – about 2 cups;
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar (the very cheapest distilled or apple cider is fine – mere pennies, if at all).

Bring the water to a boil. Shut off the heat. Wait until the bubbles stop. Add the vinegar. Crack each egg carefully and slip them in. Wait about 5 minutes, if you like them a teensy bit runny (as I do). Fish them out of the pot with a flat spatula. If you have some roasted garlic or garlic butter lying about, drop a teaspoon or two on the eggs. I like my poached eggs with some pita bread (about $.10 per pita) – costs less if you use regular bread (shown above with a toasted white roll). Lot of goodness for less than fifty cents. Enjoy!!!

*With practice, it’s totally multi-tasking friendly. For example, the other day, I started the water, made a short phone call, checked email, plopped in the eggs. I was done with the eggs at the end of the call!

Kitchen Feng Shui

So…I’m not a resident of NeatFreakStan…I’m sure my friends would be shocked if I even got a tourist visa. But even I know that without some kitchen feng shui, your cooking is dead (or at least, miserable!). A few weeks ago, I helped someone reorganize her kitchen. This kitchen was a rather hardworking one – meal/beverage preparation up to four or five times a day! It’s amazing how many things were so out of reach or otherwise difficult to use.

I told her that the space was limited, and she should treat her kitchen as if it was downtown Tokyo or New York – not a square inch to be wasted! That means…stuff that she uses all the time, she could assign to premium real estate, such as the cabinets nearest the stove or even the countertops themselves .

In deciding where to put things, I weighed a few factors:

  • frequency of use;
  • reachability; (yeah, might not be a real word but this is the INTERNET!)
  • bulkiness, weight or other barriers to use; and
  • visibility.

So…these are the things I did to help…

Prioritized (what I wanted)

I went through a “diagnosis” stage to figure out the major uses and the really big obstacles – just figuring out how she (and everyone else) actually used the kitchen.

Identify the Nonnegotiable (what was not going to happen)

Despite my non-expert (yet fabulous!) opinion, I knew that there would be things that I could not change or affect. It was extremely important to learn what she was willing or able to change: (1) she did not want to spend any money (and we did not); (2) some storage she designated as “off-limits” or display-only; and (3) there were many things she was not ready to throw away (argh!).

Execute (what actually happened!). Lots of decluttering. Out with the unused plastic food storage missing lids, glass jars, containers, or any other things that never get used. Moving things around. As Nike says, Just Do It!

***warning: ranting starts now***

It’s actually pretty frustrating to see clear potential (in this case, in a kitchen) totally stagnated – and rendered into something that hinders people. I saw stagnation, stagnation, stagnation – everywhere! But there were a few standout culprits:

  • Culprit #1 was a large rolling cabinet that never got rolled anywhere. Its depth, one foot, ensured that anytime she reached for plates in the overhead cupboards she was extending her arm fully and possibly having to get tippy-toed to reach certain ones. I moved the rolling cabinet so that it was out of the way.
  • The kitchen had an OK amount of counter space. However, jam jars, peanut butter jars, condiments, and totally miscellaneous snacks (Culprit #2) occupied major aspects of usable space (instead of being relegated to…STORAGE!).
  • The pantry, and other food storage was definitely Culprit #3 – no one could find anything! Marinated artichoke hearts, etc., would simply disappear one week after purchase…leading to repeat purchases of the same items! I found FIVE, five, FIIIIIIVE 28-oz cans of enchilada sauce (or like nine POUNDS of it!!!)…where no one has made any enchiladas…for the last year!

*** end of ranting…almost time for a pretty video…***

As a result of my help, not only does she report that her kitchen is easier to use, she is making changes – on her own initiative! This makes me SO happy, and makes me feel like I helped her get some positive momentum (and gives me greater optimism about my own decluttering!). Sometimes it really does help to have someone else look at your stuff, so that you don’t have to do things the same way, over and over again. You can do it better! That’s pretty much the backdrop of the plot in Kitchen Stories – the Swedes actually studied ergonomics of the kitchen in the 1950’s!

P.S. The music in the film is nice!

P.P.S. Been wanting to write about this book somewhere on the blog – I loved reading Justin Spring’s The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About Setting Up and Cooking in the Most Ridiculously Small Kitchen in the World–Your Own. Got it from the library a few months ago because it looked cute. Who knew it was actually useful? He teaches readers how to organize a small kitchen in personable, enjoyable prose. Hello – he even gets into issues like lighting your kitchen! He presumes the absolute worst space situations – and still helps you pull off beautiful dinners. Once you start reading the recipes, it becomes very clear very quickly that he just might know what he’s talking about…the guy grew up on a 36-ft boat. I still need to try his toaster oven Shirred Eggs. Basically, butter a ramekin, put the egg in it, sprinkle some herbs / cheese on it, pop it in the toaster oven and take your morning shower. BRILLIANT!!!

FREE Suraj Westfair Madras Curry Powder – shameless pandering at its best!

What you see above is one of two packages of curry powder that were given to me. The other I’ve decimated through repeated, delightful episodes of making curry dishes. I believe this might be a brand commonly available in Canada (hence the bilingual packaging) but I’m not exactly sure. This is 400 grams, typically retailing at about $10.00 Canadian or thereabouts. At this time though, I have to clear out my pantry because I am moving.
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Al’s Breakfast of Minneapolis, Minnesota: prosaic American breakfast as an art form (blissful altar of breakfast post #2)

Al’s is an institution. A good one. Of course, I didn’t know that the first time I moseyed there. It is not much bigger than a postage stamp. The Wikipedia entry says it seats fourteen people. Apparently its diminutive nature didn’t stop it from winning a James Beard award.

People wait in line for seats to open up. It’s worth it. Just try to avoid going between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. – or just be very very patient.

You can get a fancy flourish or two. Yeah, a little tomato, basil, or this or that might show up. But Al’s treats honest, prosaic American breakfast as an art form. In my last visit, I ordered some toast, eggs, and sausage. The manager gave me two lovely eggs the cook fried gently in butter to a perfect “over medium.” Eggs can get too dry. Or burnt. Or whatever. Or just boring, which is probably the worst outcome. With Al’s eggs, I could enjoy everything: the sweetness of the butter playing against the yolk and white; the tenderness of the “medium” I’d requested; and happily pairing the egg with toast or sausage in alternating bites. Oh, and the pancakes. Maybe that was a different visit. The blueberry pancakes were spectacular. The tartness of the berries accentuated the tender texture of the pancakes. A little butter and syrup heightened the superb pancake experience into true love. Al’s is to the breakfast grill what Rudy Galindo is to the ice rink: a world-class champion. Work it, Al’s!

Sure, you could certainly visit it for its quirky ambience. It’s stuck in a converted alleyway in the middle of Dinkytown, shouting distance from the University of Minnesota. You could be sitting next to some New Yorkers experiencing Al’s for the first time, or a ex-Minneapolite carrying a torch for Al’s all the way from who knows where. Listening to the staff communicate with each other and the customers makes for great people-watching. But make no mistake, this place has got the absolute chops DOWN. Al’s got its reputation the old-fashioned way: by earning it!

...not much wider than a bicycle is long

(post #2 in a series about BREAKFAST!)

Al’s Breakfast
413 14th Ave. S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
612-331-9991
PHOTO CREDITS:
  • first photo showing much of the restaurant above appears by kind permission of m.papaya;
  • second photo by Megan Mayer of mnartists.org; and
  • the third photo appears by kind permission of sidesalad.