Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gastrophoria 2.0 : New Home!

I've got something tasty to share with you all—Gastrophoria has a new home at!

Just like a hermit crab, I've shed my old home (it was a good run dear Blogspot) and designed a new one entirely from scratch. Powered by Wordpress, it's now better, stronger and tastier!

Some of the improvements include bigger photos, better organization with the site split into five sections:

1. A Spot of Tsz: self musings
2. Fooding Guide: must-share restaurant finds
3. Gastro-Remix: kitchen experiments
4. Nuanced Pig: shrine to bacon and its porky counterparts
5. Project Sweet Tooth: all about desserts and my dream trip to Paris

So, don't hesitate and visit me at! Bon appetit!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dolce Gelato : Green Gold Rush

I've struck green gold. Tasty pistachio gold.

There's a little trade secret amongst gelato connoisseurs to gauge the caliber of gelato shops and that's by the quality of the shop's pistachio flavor. The reason is that pistachio is one of the most expensive flavoring and hardest flavor to get right, making it the perfect benchmark. 

There are two ways for a shop to create this flavor. The artisanal (arguably the right and only way) is to grind toasted pistachio into pistachio butter or use pre-made pistachio butter in their gelato base. The second method is to skimp on using actual pistachios, opting instead to cut it with cheaper alternatives such as almond butter or worse yet, solely employ artificial flavors and colors. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not. A telltale sign of an interior pistachio gelato is that unnatural pastel green you can find in subpar shops and an overly sweet, marzipan flavor. 

However, when it's done correctly, the result is sublime. A wonderfully creamy experience with a subtle sweetness and nuttiness that you can't get with any other flavor—a little slice of heaven in a cup or cone. If you can't tell, I'm a little obsessed with pistachio gelato!

Yesterday, after a fail grunion run at Laguna Beach, I was in need of a serious pick-me-up. Fortunately, my friend and fellow gelato enthusiast (so much so that he used to own his own shop!) recommended Dolce Gelato, a little shop off the beaten path. 

While I trust his taste, I had some reservations after seeing the shop's signage. Being a graphic designer, I must admit I judge many a place by their appearances and the usage of the font Curlz doesn't exactly convey an unforgettable gelato experience to me. 

Fortunately, it's the insides that matter and their gelato was exactly that. Dolce offers a rotating roster of 24 flavors, most of which are classics, (such as vanilla bean, coffee and chocolate) and some are more adventurous with Margarita, brown butter (amazing!) and habanero chocolate. All are made daily in house.

My friend orders the PB and chocolate chip at once. As for me, being highly intolerant to lactose, I arranged for a tasting of all 24 flavors. As proof, here are all my spoons! While all their flavors were top notch, there were 3 that were extraordinary: 

The first was of course pistachio. Creamy, full-bodied, yet delicate at the same time, it was one of the best specimens of pistachio gelato I've ever eaten. The secret (not-so secret now) to Dolce's recipe is that they use 50% California pistachios for the creaminess and 50% Sicilian pistachios for their intense flavor. 

Second flavor is their non-dairy chocolate, mostly because I couldn't tell it was non-dairy! They were able to get the richness by using quality dark chocolate, rum for the extra kick and bananas to get the creaminess just right.

Third flavor is banana cream as it was just like eating banana pudding. By using a ratio of unripe bananas and ripen bananas, they were able to get spot on with the desired texture and peak flavor. 

My friend and I left with our spirits renewed and stomachs fully satisfied. The only critique I have is they should have opened in Los Angeles instead, preferably next door to where I live ;) 

247 Broadway Street
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ruxbin : Rethinking Chicago Cuisine

I half-dreaded visiting Chicago. 

My first trip happened years ago when I met my arch nemesis: snow. While pretty to look at for a few minutes, I subsequently spent the next few hours shivering in a fetal position under covers in full winter regalia and with the hotel heater at full blast. Needless to say, I was not made for the cold. 

Also, Chicago cuisine is not my cup of tea. Deep dish pizza, Chicago hot dog and popcorn was not something to write home about. So, when my friend invited me to the NRA (not the gun-totting kind), National Restaurant Association Convention, I was weighing the cons and pros for a few days.

Fortunately, my curiosity won out and I am so glad it did because this trip changed my perception of Chi-town's foodscape. Of course, I made it a point to avoid all tourist traps, so no Yelp and instead, I only consulted friends with a strong penchant for eating well.

One such recommendation was Ruxbin. It's an almost brand spankin' new restaurant near Wicker Park that's creating a buzz in the community for its renditions of American comfort food fused with Korean flavors—and doing it well. Not to mention it is a dream project of the brother-sister duo of Ed (formerly of Per Se) and Vicki Kim (USC alumna, a fellow Trojan literally—my friend was in the same student organization with her!). With a story like that, how can I not visit? 

So after a red eye flight and a full day of work and exploring, we made our way to Ashland. In an unassuming building on a sketchier block, Ruxbin was quite a sight to behold in all its reclaimed and steampunk glory. What was not good though was that it was already a full house when it was only 6 pm.  

My fears were confirmed when we were turned away as there was a 2+ hour waitlist, merde! Fortunately, the hostess (who was actually Vicki herself as I later learned 2 courses down the road) sensed that we were travel weary and agreed to seat us upstairs in the communal wine table for appetizers—let the feasting begin! 

First up, bread service. Instead of the usual bread and butter routine, we were treated to a fluffy bowl of popcorn treated with toasted seaweed. So addicting that we scarfed down three bowls of this within minutes of getting situated.

It was a good thing the garlic fries soon arrived as we would packed away their entire popcorn supply! Thinly cut, expertly fried and sprinkled with just enough garlic, these fries made for a top class appetizer, especially when dipped (and doubled dipped) in their housemade smoky chipotle aioli.

We also ordered the Ruxbin's Croque Monsieur. Normally it's leaden with cheese and quite deadly, but this rendition was given major lippo and makeover with the use of fresh tomatoes, olive tapenade and a sprinkling of herbs. 

For libations, we let our server (who was also the in house mixologist) take care of us. His special of the night was a homemade ginger soda with lemongrass, cucumber and Thai chili. It started out refreshing and cool and slowly grew spicier as the meal progressed. Lovely!

By then, a table opened up and we were ushered downstairs. It was a feast for the eyes being fully immersed in the dining room. With Vicki as our guide, she pointed out the reclaimed elements, which was basically every piece in the room! Here are some highlights: the glass wall was  salvaged from a DJ booth, the lights made from old chandeliers and school chairs, seats created from old Eames chairs and seatbelts and the ceiling were decoupage with vintage cookbook pages. 

Finally, our mains arrived. Mussels bathed in a savory mixture of sake, tomatoes, orange and fennel was textbook good, but the hanger steak stole the show. 

The humble cut of beef was elevated to prima dona status as it was perfectly grilled and adorned with a single caramelized yolk (made by poaching it in a solution of melted sugar and fat). When pierced, the yolk coated the slices of steak luxuriously… I am salivating just thinking about it. And it only gets better from there with the strong support cast of crispy kale and kimchi fried potatoes. It was hands down the best dish from the trip. 

By then, we were ready to throw in the towel but Vicki encouraged us all to push through by sending out desserts. The first was a refreshing lime panna cotta with lychee and toasted coconut, almost like a pina colada! 

The other was a grown up strawberry shortcake, was macerated berries, chantilly creme, crispy biscuit and a balsamic drizzle. The only regret I had was wishing I didn't eat as much during the meal so I could have enjoyed it more fully.

My friends and I stumbled back the car afterwards fully sated and with grins all around. We were definitely in a state of gastrophoria ;) 

I couldn't have asked for a better first night in Chicago. Thank you Vicki for taking care of us and showing me Chi-town is so much more than deep dish pizza! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tortellini Tikka Masala : Gastro-remix Inspired by hitRECord

I'm probably one of the biggest procrastinators out there. Just sit me in front of a computer (with internet access) and I'll be happily occupied for days if not forever. 

It always starts innocently enough, with a quick log-in to gmail to check messages (estimated time: 5 minutes)—you know, just a quick in-and-out maintenance. 

Fast forward to 2 hours later and I'm furiously trying to figure out the typeface to a Logan Walters' redesign of Wu-Tang Clan album. Productive night fail.

Once in a blue moon, procrastination can produce some fruitful results, such as creating a new recipe for tortellinis. 

Strangely enough, it started with watching an interview with Joseph Gordon Levitt on Team Coco's website after being stuck staring at a plate of uncooked tortellinis and deciding to take a break. Mesmerized with the plain red button that JGL was wearing, it led me on a google search. Turns out it is the logo for his production company, hitRECord… interesting.

After a quick stroll through the site and finding out it's for artists collaborations, I then sign up and proceeded to spend the next hour checking out projects—this one is a goodie (To warn you, clicking on the link may lead to your own procrastination odyssey!) 

While I was going through all the remixes on JGL's site, it clicked. Tortellinis doesn't have to be prepared with a classic Italian sauce and accompaniments, why not take a page from hitRECord and remix it with a different cuisine? After all, I often wish I could pair sauces from one restaurant with main courses of a another.

With that way of thinking, everything fell in place. Three-cheese trifecta tortellinis on a play date of a lifetime with the spicy and sassy tikka masala—tastes like a Vespa ride on the set of a Bollywood feature or JBL's mismatched Badtz Maru socks. Ok, definitely not that, but you get the idea. 

Give it spin and let me know what you think!

Tortellini Tikka Masala
Serves 6

1 package Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini

Tikka Masala
2 tb canola oil
1 small onion, diced (around 1 1/2 cups)
2 tsp ginger, minced 
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 pinch pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tsp garam masala (or curry powder if you can't find it)
1 tsp paprika 
1 tsp cumin
1 jar Classico marinara pasta sauce (any brand is fine)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup silvered almonds, toasted
1 tb lemon zest
Cilantro sprigs
Olive oil

1. Prepare the tortellinis according to package directions. It should take around the same amount of time as the sauce.

2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, add oil, onion, ginger and garlic and cook until the onions essentially melt. Around 10 minutes. This is the flavor foundation on which the sauce builds upon so don't skimp on the time spent here!

3. Add the pepper flakes, garam masala, paprika and cumin to the onion mixture and stir for a few minutes to let the flavors meld and bloom in the oil. 

4. Add the sauce and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Once that's finished, turn off the heat, stir in the cream, cilantro and salt to taste. 

5. To plate, pour a healthy ladle of the tikka masala sauce on a plate, add as few (or as many) tortellinis as you like and garnish with a sprinkle of almonds, cilantro, and lemon zest. Top with a peppery olive oil and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Billionaire Bacon Palmier : My Plan to Impress Gordon Ramsey

I have a confession to make: I once tried out to be on reality television last year. More specifically, to be on Gordon Ramsey's MasterChef series (season 1). 

It's actually quite uncharacteristic of me as I am cursed with the worst possible stage fright. Stuttering, clammy hands, tomato complexion—the whole nine yards. Just thinking about the experience gets my heart pumping at full speed. 

However, I'm a devoted Gordon Ramsey fan. I was willing to battle my affliction for the slim chance of meeting the infamous chef and who knows, maybe even impressing him with my culinary creation! And so, on an early Sunday morning, I set out with my good friend to my first casting call at The Grove.

To enter, we had to fill out an application akin to the mammoth packets to apply for college as well as to create our signature dish in front of a panel of judges. Knowing there were no stoves nor refrigeration, I create a plate of cookies as my entry dish. A risk since everyone were preparing extravagant masterpieces. 

The producers actually stopped when they walked by my station as I simply unwrapped my plate and said I was ready to present while everyone else scrambled to assemble their elaborate dishes. Looking back, I think they were a little miffed as they thought I didn't take their prompt seriously. However, I presented it as a dish that was uniquely me. 

Merging the French palmier (my Francophile side coming out) with the goodness of bacon, it was the matrimony of the two loves of my life. I called it the Billionaire bacon Palmier. 

In a way, it's like the perfect man of the cookie world. It combines the French sophistication of buttery pastry layers, the complexity of caramelized brown sugar, the manliness of smoky bacon and just the right amount of spice from the black pepper to keep things interesting. A wonderful blend of sweet, salty and spicy to keep you wanting just a little more. Best of all, he's, I mean, it's low maintenance too—the whole process got me in-and-out of the kitchen in no time.

Perhaps they thought I was crazy to describe a cookie in such depth or that they too saw the light after eating the palmiers (I hope it was the latter), I got the golden (green) ticket to go on to the next round! 

Needless to say, I never got on to the show as I was cut after the third round (which involves a cooking video that will never see the light of day). However, it was worth it to see them cast the Housewives of Beverly Hills, not to mention it was a memorable month to say the least! Perhaps one day, I too can make a beef Wellington for Chef Ramsey… 

Billionaire Bacon Palmiers
Yields 20 cookies and serves 5

1/2 package or 1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets 
1 cup brown sugar
2 thick slices of apple smoked bacon
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

First, render the bacon slices in a skillet on medium heat till golden brown and crispy. Drain the cooked bacon on paper towels and crumble to tiny pieces  (the smaller the better) when cooled to the touch.

Next, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Unfold the sheet of thawed puff pastry on a clean work surface and sprinkle 1/2 cup of brown sugar evenly on top. Use a rolling pin to gently press the sugar into the dough.

Carefully flip the pastry over and scatter the crumbled bacon all over the top. Do the same with the black pepper. Take the remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar and sprinkle over evenly and lightly press the toppings in with the rolling pin. 

Now comes the fun part! Roll the left vertical side to the center and then repeat with the right side. Gently press the two sides together and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the pastry log for an hour or so till it's firm and thoroughly chilled. This step is imperative because it enables you to slice the palmiers easily later on and also ensures even baking.

Once the pastry is chilled, slice the log crosswise into 1/2 inch medallions. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet (silpat works wonders as well) with plenty of space in between as they will spread and expand in the oven.

Bake the palmiers for 8-10 minutes till they are golden brown on top. Flip the cookies over and bake for a 3-5 minutes longer till the bottom is caramelized as well. Let them cool for a short while and enjoy responsibly!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My New Trader Joe's Addiction : Peanut Butter Goodies

Girl Scouts better watch out. The cookie syndicate may have the thin mints and Samoas market cornered, but they may soon be losing foothold on the Tagalong business. 

Yes, Trader Joe's is encroaching on GS's sacred peanut butter cookie territory with their newest substance, the Peanut Butter Goodies. 

Being a long-time loyal GS user, um, supporter, I was skeptical of this product, thinking no way will it ever be as good as the original. But, at under $3 a box (25% cheaper than the real deal), it warranted a try. Besides, I was jonesing for a cookie fix at the time.

So, I rush home with my new purchase, hands slightly trembling as I dissembled the box. Under the fragile cellophane jacket, 16 ravishing chocolate-covered discs grinned at me with their peanut freckles. 

I already knew this was going to be some good stuff. 

Taking my first bite, my senses were assaulted with a symphony of flavors and textures: crunchy cookie, smooth peanut butter mousse with just the right amount of salt, all concealed by a thick layer of rich milk chocolate. To make them extra lethal, TJ's laced the PB goodies with crushed peanuts on top for even more texture. 

Suddenly, Tagalongs with their feeble chocolate coating, seems diluted compared to TJ's wares. What's more is that these PB Goodies taste so much more substantial and real with contrasting textures and striking the delicate balance of sweet vs. salty. Hmm, better have another one just to make sure it's not a fluke. 

1/4 box after, consider me a convert. Now, if you would excuse me, I'll just ride out this sweet sugar high, thank you very much. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

San Franola Granola : Lifestyle to Business

Small businesses fascinate me. 

Perhaps it's has to do with my childhood aspirations. I had no dreams of grandeur such as creating state policy being a senator, saving lives as a police officer or making millions on Wall Street. All I wanted was to be able to create, to produce something that beautify people's lives or at least made them happy for a moment. 

Yet, I have no idea how to do so and I'll admit I still don't. I went to college for art and business where I learned more outside of class than in. After that, I've stage in a restaurant for pastries, worked in an architecture firm and am currently designing in a studio. While I enjoy what I do, there's a gnawing feeling that I still haven't found my niche.

One thing is certain though, I love to learn about how small businesses get started. In fact, interviewing them and figuring out design can help push them forward is the best part of my job. 

Even outside of design, whenever I visit a cool store or a nice eatery, I can't help but to engage them in conversation. It's just inspirational to hear about a problem they decided to tackle and how their product/service is able to help.

One such company is San Franola Granola. Started by friends Matt Teichmann and David Miskie, they took on the challenge of creating a healthier granola. After finding them at a party in San Francisco, I got to learn more about their story through Matt. 

12 years ago, David's dad was dealing with health issues due to an unhealthy diet. It was clear he had to overhaul his lifestyle so he worked with David to start exercising and to eat better. From that, he created his own granola recipe.

There's a common misconception about granola. Its name may paint a picture of health but the product is anything but. That's because the rolled oats are individually coated with a thick layer of sugar and butter, rendering the initial health benefits useless.

So, David's dad started experimenting in the kitchen. After hundreds of batches, he landed upon the winning formula: roasted almonds, maple syrup, flax seeds, rolled oats, whey protein, canola oil, molasses and a touch of cinnamon. Using all-natural ingredients, he was able to lower the sugar content per serving significantly as well as provide fiber and protein, making it his go-to snack after his work-outs. 

With the combination of a healthy diet and exercise routine, David's dad was able to shed 40 pounds and feel even better. 

Wanting to share this granola with others, David and Matt left their full-time jobs and bootstrapped to launch San Franola together. It's only been a little over a year, but they're spreading throughout NorCal. And most excitingly, starting to get carried in Los Angeles. 

Here's to healthy eating!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trust Your Gut : The Most Memorable St. Patrick's Day

This is for all the girls who have been in abusive relationships, girls currently in abusive relationships, as well as everyone who has a mother, a sister, an aunt, or a girl friend. Take this as a cautionary tale.

I used to be naive. I didn't understand people in abusive relationships. Why couldn't they see the toxic environment they are in? And even if they did, why wouldn't they leave? Don't they value themselves? 

For me, I thought I was above it all. That I would never be a victim. After all, I'm independent, smart, and have a foolproof method for weeding out unsavory guys. I was invincible. 

Or so I thought.

From May to November of last year, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. The ironic detail is that I didn't even know it. In fact, it was only on this St. Patrick's Day that I had the realization.

I now understood, having been in the same position that countless women have been in. Abuse doesn't just come in physical punches, but rather in many forms. Insidious tearing downs and having friends taken away is just as bad, because there are no concrete markings for others to see and step in. Your self-esteem takes a beating and it changes your perception of people forevermore. I know it'll take time for me to learn to trust again. 

Looking back, I should have heeded all the subtle warnings made by others while I was in thick of it and trusted my gut—that feeling you get (not unlike indigestion) when something's off. Because, even though you are influenced by your heart, deep inside, you still know when something is wrong. 

The disconcerting truth about being in an abusive relationship is it rarely begins as one. 

Instead, it started out as any other relationship with genuine feelings and attraction coming from both parties. Although an abusive relationship begins from a place of good intentions, the path it takes soon strays to a different trail. Due to insecurities, or in my case, I was with someone struggling to maintain the facade of the perfect man in spite of a bad reputation. 

The ironic thing was, if he had been truthful from the very beginning, this would have had a different ending—one that didn't result in betrayal but rather acceptance. After all, one shouldn't be judged forever based on their past (unless they were a serial killer), but rather upon their present actions.

Instead, he did everything in his power to protect his seemingly spotless image. When confronted about unsettling information about his character and his actions brought up by others, he would change the subject, putting the blame instead on the so-called perpetrator. 

By interjecting gossip and creating fabrications, he would bury the truth by undermining the reputations of those who stood up to him or had warned me. The fact whether they were my friends or his friends were irrelevant—all were fair game. To gain my trust, he also used his experience and profession as grounds for knowing better, always putting emphasis on his desire to protect me. 

As time went on, I grew unsure of what's true and what's false and my friendships deteriorated. I doubted the sincerity of others, stopped going out and looked to the relationship as my main support. 

But by then, the relationship has long changed dynamics. No longer was there communication. In its place, broken dates, exclusions and excuses. When I questioned his many disappearances and trips, he blamed it on work even though there were photos online proving otherwise. More alarmingly, there were flirtatious messages between him and others all over the internet that showed little regard to the relationship or me for that matter. Yet, he always knew just what to say, twisting the situation and claiming I was unsupportive. 

I had such a distorted view of him that although it was clear the relationship was ill-fitting, I stayed on due to guilt and obligation. I learned to make due even though I was unhappy. Like a friend had once said, it was as if I was trying to put two pieces of the puzzle that was not meant to be together. You know, the cloud pieces that looks as if they fit so you try again and again, hoping the wear on the sides would give accordingly.

One of the my most regrettable moments in doing so was wavering on my stance on when to become intimate in a relationship. My personal rule is to be in love first. But due to increasing pressure and wrongfully placed guilt, I caved in before I was ready. What was meant to be an intimate and beautiful act became cheapen and debased. It felt as if a part of me died.

After a particularly bad month, my work, family and friends started taking notice. Although I brush off their concern, I finally started looking at the relationship at face value. Making a mental checklist, I realized I was emotionally starving and that there was no hope for the situation getting better. 

It was then crystal clear what I had to do. 

Over a meal of Chicken McNuggets and a bottle of Mexican coke, I told him I couldn't continue. He blamed work and everything else as usual and pleaded me to stay one year, promising things will change. 

Immediately, my gut hurt acutely and this time I paid attention. I simply said no and told him I could very well hate him by then so instead, I'd like to end the relationship on a good note and be friends. After saying it, I felt like Atlas without the weight of the world on his shoulders. 

Yet the guilt remain. He works so hard at his job and was I am breaking up with him based on his work ethics? All because I was unhappy? I felt horrible and tried to make amends by making plans to hang out with him—in essence, putting myself in the same cycle.

I was also slow to let others know of the breakup because of the guilt, but as I started opening up months later, it was as if the world finally spoke up about the elephant in the room and the truth came out.  

Every event I went to, I learned something new about him through others—and if I had paid attention, even while I was in the relationship. At first I defended him, but the pieces  started making sense. Though the truth was hard to hear, it was really the deception and dishonesty involved in concealing it all that was upsetting. To take advantage of someone's good will and trust to protect themselves was and still is hard to believe.

I became angry at myself for the time wasted, but looking at it from another light, I am proud of myself for getting out as quickly as I could, before the point of no return. Not to mention I had repaired my friendships even before I had ended the relationship.

But I've still got a long way to go. Learning to trust, or specifically, trusting the right people will take time.

And so, I want others to heed this cautionary tale. If I could stop at least one other girl from making the same mistake, then it's not for nothing. I wish for everyone to be careful and to look out for their friends because the sad truth is no one is immune. 

With this journal entry, I want to take notes for myself, to refer back to as need, these promises to myself:

I will trust my gut.
I will only lose my heart to a man who's willing to fight for me as much as I fight for him.
Do not make due or settle. 
Most of all, treasure my friends. 

After what seemed to be the worst St. Patrick's Day where I only wanted to stay home, my friend Christina dragged me out the the most random and fabulous party in an Austrian mansion across from Oscar De La Hoya's home. With a night full of authentic Irish meal of corn beef, dill potatoes and boil cabbage, good conversation and better company, I felt renewed. 

And yes, even got my chocolate fix with Irish Car Bomb cupcakes—rich and sinfully delicious. As I walked into their bathroom to wash my hands of incriminating crumbs, I looked upon the endless mirrors and in my best Marie Antoinette accent said, "let them eat cake!" 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bacon Card Giveaway Winner

First of all, I'd like to give thanks for everyone's support and votes for the Alaska Fish Taco contest. Although my taco didn't win, we put up a strong fight! 

Plus, the contest lead me down an interesting route and gave me the chance to cook with the talented Chef Diana of BLD to create the perfect fish taco (at least in my humble opinion)! 

Secondly, I'd like to congratulate Diana of Diana Takes a Bite, the winner for  the Bacon Card Giveaway! 

With bacon on the mind one evening, I decided to immortalize the tasty goodness in card form—and thus, the bacon card was born!

Here's a sneak peek of the porcine cards—be sure to be on the lookout in your mailbox! 

Ps. Whoa. Chef Diana and Diana Takes a Bite. It's fate. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

2011 Food Trends & Being Snubbed by Barefoot Contessa at the Fancy Food Show

I confess: I've got a thing for entrepreneurs. 

There's just something so awe-inspiring as creating a business from scratch, to take the road less taken and most of all, to believe in an idea so much that an entrepreneur would do everything in his/her power to rally a team of a few (or hundreds) to bring said idea to fruition. 

To me, meeting Martha Stewart trumps over the biggest movie star du jour any day. Having met Tom Ford and other notable entrepreneurs, I feel they are down-to-earth and often ready to share a wealth of information.

So, imagine my delight in attending the 2011 Fancy Food Show in San Francisco for work. Not only was there to be 3 days of tasting galore, there was also the chance to meet with food entrepreneurs, one of which was Barefoot Contessa, the easy-going personality of Food Network. 

Alas, a friendly on-screen personality doesn't always translate to real life. It was evident as an artisan cheese maker in line earnestly praised Contessa and presented her with a wheel of his best cheese only to be thanked in a bored sigh and with directions to place the wheel away from the display. 
I fared no better, as my request for a photo was met with explicit directions to stand at least a few feet away. Sadness. 
The Ace of Cakes booth was even more disappointing. They had roped off the entire booth and only a few buyers were invited in the space. When did TV personalities had bigger egos than their actor counterparts? 
Fortunately, Chef Paul Prudhomme was a more welcoming figure (not to mention a legend), chatting and joking with passerby's. 
The food also didn't disappoint. From cured hams from Italy, cheeses from around the world and enough sweets to satisfy the most formidable sweet tooth, I felt like a kid in a stadium-size candy shop. 
After tasting (and re-tasting) at most of the 1,300 booths, here is my report on 2011's food trends.

1. Black truffle "caviar" 
Taking the latest molecular gastronomy techniques, Tartuflanghe disguises concentrated black winter truffle juice in caviar form through spherification. Served on top of toast with smoke salmon and mild cheese, the truffle perlage samples were in such demand that the server had trouble keeping it in stock. I alone had more than a handful. Each day.

2. Duck Proscuitto 
Hudson Valley may be known best for their foie gras, but their myriad of delectable duck products stole the show. There were duck salami, smoked duck breast and duck proscuitto. Sweeter than their ubiquitous porky cousin, it was smoky, silky and addicting. Lesson learned? It's great during breakfast, lunch and dinner!

3. Flavorless Water
It seems water has come a full circle. With the carbonated, vitamin infused and fruity flavored water now considered passe, the hot new water are ones that are flavorless so they can better hydrate and cleanse the palate. Claims made by such are SanTasti and Blk…  I think marketers are running out of things to promote!

All in all, a wonderfully delicious show!

Photos courtesy of Rachel

My Day in the BLD Kitchen

IIt was 4pm and I stood in BLD's employee's bathroom fussing over about my motley outfit of Banana Republic dress pants, a pair of boys socks, black crocs and a collared shirt.

Only a few hours ago, I was on the phone with Anuar, BLD's general manager, proposing the idea of me shadowing Chef Diana and her crew since I had won their Tweet-a-Dish Contest. My goal was to help out and observe the conception and execution of a dish as well as to see how their kitchen ran. 

Intrigued, Anuar said he'll discuss with Neil and Amy Fraser, the husband and wife team behind Grace and BLD. After what seemed to be an eternity (aka an hour), I was given the green light!

And so, after a design presentation, I rushed over and quickly changed into the only pair of pants I owned and ran to meet Chef D. With a warm smile, backwards baseball cap (the unofficial uniform of the crew) and speaking a mile a minute, she quickly showed me the facility and kitchen. 

Because I have worked in pastry at the now closed Sona, it was comforting to be back in a commercial kitchen. However, there are changes between two. Back in Sona, I was coddled in the cool (temperature-wise) side of kitchen as the pastry station was next to the garde manger and had low boys and a freezer. 

The BLD kitchen however, the cooks are sandwiched between a wall of scalding hot grills, ranges, a deep fryer and the other side, heating lamps. To keep cool, I gulped ice water. 

As Chef D had other matters to attend to as she oversees the entire kitchen, she introduces me to Adonis (Doni) where he showed me the ropes. I also made acquaintance with the all-male staff (where are the girls?) and then it was business. 

To create Chef D's version of the fish taco—beer batter fish taco with cilantro ginger slaw, Thai chili Aioli and corn tortillas to be exact—it starts with homemade corn tortillas made in house that day. 

Next was star of the show, the fish. A fresh shipment of rock cod arrived that morning, so Chef D had prepared a marinade of coconut cream and an in-house blend of curry paste made with fresno chilies, shallots, ginger, amongst various spices. 

As the fish is marinating, Doni and I ground Arborio rice till it became a fine powder to be used to flour the fillets. He also taught me the secrets of making a crunchy yet airy beer batter: 1 parts flour, 2 parts corn starch, baking powder, lots of beer (Pilsner for taste), soda water, salt and freshly toasted cumin and coriander seeds to build flavor. Don't forget at the end 1 egg white beaten to soft peaks, the key to a light batter. 

The cilantro ginger slaw was given similar care. The cabbage, carrots and green onions were finely shredded and lightly salted to draw out moisture. Right before serving, the slaw was dressed with a dressing of cane sugar, fish sauce, sesame paste, chilies and lime. 

My main contribution of the day was making aioli, to which I added lime juice, lime zest and an ungodly amount of Sriracha to homemade mayo. 

With all the components ready, it was time for a test run! 

Doni carefully dusts the generous fillets of fish in the rice powder, then dunks it in the beer batter and lightly lowers the fillet into hot oil. Then, a corn tortilla is sprinkled with water and thrown on the griddle to warm and soften. Chef D then smears on a generous helping of the Thai aioli, and places on the freshly fried fish and slaw. To serve, a sprig of cilantro and crushed macadamia nuts are sprinkled on top. It was a sight of beauty. 

After the wait staff gathers, we all divvy up the test taco and my oh my, my recipe pales in comparison to Chef D's masterpiece. Crunchy, spicy and fresh at the same time, it was as if my mouth was on vacation on sunny Cabo. 

I stayed a little while longer to watch them prepare a few other dishes—one of which was an interesting vegan dish that packs a party of flavors—but I knew I couldn't wait much longer for the full fish taco experience. With that, I changed back into my dress, met up with my friend and got our grub on!

Thank you to Chef Diana and Anuar for making a foodie's dream come true. And to Doni and the kitchen team for patiently showing me around. Lastly, to Christina of Food J'taime, Kevin of KevinEats and Matt of Mattouille for coming out!  

Note: The photo of Chef D and I as well as the good photo of the fish taco are courtesy of Kevin.
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