Friday, July 30, 2010

Steak and Ramen

Best ramen! And I've had plenty. This is by far my favorite. It's a Korean brand and has all the spiciness that Koreans (and I) love. The noodles are much better quality than your average cup o' noodles and the flavoring is addictive. Boyfriend and I use it as popcorn seasoning occasionally! Very, very good stuff and lunch today.

Dinner last night was unbelievably delicious again. With the pad thai earlier in the week and my favorite, favorite, faaaavorite wings from my favorite wings place for dinner later, I dare say this is my favorite week culinarily so far! Unfortunately I didn't manage to snap any pics before they were devoured, but suffice to say, no steak sauce was needed at all.

The sauce was to die for! I'm definitely doubling or maybe even tripling the recipe next time so I can use it as a gravy over the smashed redskin potatoes we had with it. It was a rosemary, bourbon, mustard, worcestershire-based sauce. The worcestershire added a perfect tartness from the vinegar. The mustard was hot and sweet and added a nice kick. The rosemary was a surprisingly subtle earthiness. The bourbon had a delicious yeastiness that always reminds me of making cinnamon rolls. And the bacon was a perfect solution for grilling, adding the crispy crunch of caramelization and smoke. Absolutely amazing and quite simple! Definitely a winner that we'll have to make again. Soon. Boyfriend absolutely loved it too, of course, it was a big, delicious hunk of meat.

The recipe was adapted from to suit our taste. The original is here, but the version we actually made is below:

~ 1.5 lbs steak
salt and pepper
2 gloves garlic, minced
4 T hot and sweet mustard

Crisp, crumble, and top:
4 slices bacon

1 T hot and sweet mustard
1 T dry rosemary
1/4 cup bourbon
2 T worcestershire sauce
1/2 T brown sugar
1 T lemon juice

So you can see we modified quite a few of the measurements!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thai in our pad!

Excuse the terribly unpunny title, but I'm so pleased with what we had last night! Since introducing boyfriend to the deliciously sweet, sour, salty, spicy pad thai a few months ago, he's loved it and we wanted to try making it ourselves. Yesterday we finally did and boy, did it exceed my expectations. We're still useless at cooking rice noodles, but at least this time it turned out way, way better than the congealed blob from last time. It was mighty tasty!

The little eggs on the right are quail eggs, which we picked up from the oriental mart while we were there. Tasty, but not as good as I remembered from my childhood, sadly. Boyfriend didn't care for them, so I ate his. Why so many limes? It's the final garnish that's absolutely crucial. It just really pulls all the flavors together, granted one slice or two at the most was enough.

I wish I had spent more time cooking up the shrimp separately and just adding them to the top after it was done, I'd like to get a bit more color to them..

But all in all, I'm just picking at bones now. It was delicious!

Lunch was simple but good. I had my favorite summertime salad, which just consists of sliced cucumbers and italian dressing to dip. Couldn't get any easier and I enjoy much more than any salad with lettuce. Very fresh and summery and it gets a bright burst of acid from the dressing. Yuuuum!

Also had some leftover chicken with rice. From the top, there's two pieces of cumin/cayenne chicken, then one piece of boyfriend's teriyaki-style chicken. Both absolutely delicious and tender and savory. They don't look as great as they did fresh, but the flavors are even better!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mmm...lunch, Part 2

So that rotisserie chicken I had made into a chicken salad lunch? The rest of it got recycled last week into chicken and dumplings. Here's what I did.

First I took all the meat remaining from the bones and set it to boiling in a pot of water for an hour or so to make my own chicken-flavored-water or broth or stock, or whatever it'd be classified under.

In another pot, I sweated down some red onion, celery, and carrots for flavoring and added the chicken meat. To that, I added most of the chicken-flavored-water-broth and seasonings to make a rudimentary chicken soup. The excess chicken-flavored-water-broth, I froze individually for later use. The boiled down chicken carcass was finally discarded.

Once the soup came to a boil, I tried a couple different dumpling recipes. First I tried a rolled out one that used butter, milk and baking soda, but it was a little light for my taste. I prefer big, doughy drop dumplings, so I ditched the extra stuff and just mixed up some flour and water. and dropped it in big spoonfuls into the boiling soup. These came out more like I wanted. I didn't add salt because I hoped they'd pick up some of the soup, which came out too salty despite cupfuls of water added to try to dilute the salt. Oops..

All in all, it came out okay, tasty and doughy, which was just what I wanted. Although there are a couple points I'd like to troubleshoot, mainly how to make a better chicken broth or stock from scratch. I don't think I should have left the skin on the chicken, because the broth came out with lots of fat, yuck. And I'm not sure if I want to boil the veggies with the stock or just leave it plain chicken. Lastly, I need a way to save this, if at all possible. One batch makes too much for one lunch and when I tried to save it and reheat it, it came out a very lumpy, thick mess, not delectable...

Weekend slump

I didn't blog about food this weekend, but really, there wasn't much to blog about. This has to be our laziest weekend on record.

Friday after the boyfriend got home, we went shopping hoping to find lamb. I've been wanting to make yang rou chaun, which is a lamb kebab dish and popular streetcart food in Beijing and many Northern chinese cities. I absolutely loved these as a kid. It's funny how most of the foods I loved as a kid make it onto my toplists now. I wonder if I had been introduced to them at a later age, if I'd still love them just as much or if part of their appeal is in reminiscing?

Anyway, little chunks or strips of lamb are threaded onto wooden skewers and grilled over an open charcoal flame. They're heavily seasoned with hot stuff and cumin, the predominant flavoring and served to you fresh off the grill, dripping lovely lamb fat and spices.

Although grilling presents a difficulty since we live in an apartment with an electric stove, we decided to try the recipe in the oven with similar spices, hoping to produce a similar taste. But we didn't expect to be stumped by the sheer lack of lamb. Now I'm not a meat expert, so we hopped over to Meijer, but the only lamb they had was fit for chops or a huge leg that boyfriend and I would have no clue how to butcher, nor could we hope to eat that much. So we hopped over the local meat store, which is absolutely amazing, stocking things like elk, buffalo, and venison and occasionally rabbit. We were sure they'd have some! Well, at the meat market, we learned we probably needed "round" but that they didn't have any. Two places down. Onto the next Meijer, but they only had tiny chop pieces again or ground lamb. What a fail..

Maybe that was what demoralized us for the weekend, because we ended up picking up frozen pizza on Friday, takeout on Saturday, and sandwiches on Sunday.

The pizza was DiGiorno's and the first time I've tried them, although everyone knows the tagline of "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno's!" (marketing genius!). We picked up the kind with breadsticks because boyfriend looooves breadsticks, sometimes more than the actual pizza. It was ok, but honestly I was craving supercheap, super crispy flat crust pizza. DiGiorno's had a thick buttery crust. The texture was a little weird to get used to, but the outside ring part of the crust had a buttery flakiness that reminded me of biscuits. I think I liked it. The breadsticks were nothing to rave about, nor the rest of the pizza. I think I might prefer the new Domino's or whatever the supercheap, super crispy flat crust pizza was that we got last time and sorta burned.

Saturday was breakfast/lunch then takeout. And boy, was the takeout horrible.. Boyfriend and I were desperate though, being starved after 9 hours of not eating since lunch/breakfast, unless you count random fruit and junk food. I was hoping that the hole in the wall place would be decent, because the chef could only converse with me through broken English or Cantonese (which I do not speak). But it was the epitome of cheap (read: tons of filler carrots and celery, a practice which I despise and will dutifully pick out every last piece from my food) and greasy (which usually I don't care too much about, but it was ridiculous) and flavorless. Yuuuuck. It offended me to think that they called that chinese food. Utterly unappetizing, despite being starved. I think I had a third of my half-order.

Saturday was our most gourmet day with a picnic at the beach of buffalo chicken and pepper jack sandwiches. For sides, we had some sliced cucumbers with Italian and these huge, toothachingly sweet Ranier cherries that were totally worth the premium price. We also picked up some treats at the Oriental mart, some fried seaweed stuff from the boyfriend and a szechuan-style fish jerky type thing from me. Unfortunately, we finished the fish already and I can't find a pic of it online, but I did find the seaweed:
Boyfriend is sort of addicted to them but I didn't really care for them. The taste is okay, but I think dried seaweed strips on their own (without the frying) have more flavor and I didn't care for the crispier texture of the fried type.

Sunday, we also got...............Speedway frozen coffee!! If you have the fortune of having these machines in your local Speedway, they're absolutely the best frozen coffee I've ever had. They're creamier than they have any right to be and absolutely delicious. Not all Speedways have them, we went through three one time trying to find them. They look like your average icee maker but the coffee in them comes out beautifully, all smooth and cream, and they're even tasty after they've melted, something I can't say about icees. Perfect summer treat!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Easy mac and Beijing duck

Yesterday's dinner was about as uneventful as you can get. Boyfriend came home craving cucumber salad (yay, he's starting to crave veggies!!) and lucky for him, I had started some marinading earlier in the day, so he promptly divided it up, smothered his in sour cream, and got to munching. I prefer mine without sour cream, but the new touches I'd tried, namely adding crushed red pepper flakes and slices of red onion, left it a bit strong. Or maybe it's the new rice vinegar we got. I didn't end up finishing it, but it did make me crave something savory and dinner-y, so we mixed up some easy mac which was way too yummy for its own good, and that ended up being dinner.

Through the rest of the night, we snacked a little more on peaches (me), ice cream (the bf...and me), and kiwi (both!). I deviated from my usual mint chocolate chip to get this coffee ice cream with chocolate swirling and espresso chips. I've decided I really dislike swirls..they're just way too sweet for my taste. But the espresso chips were rich and dark and crunchy and absolutely tasty. Yuuuuum~

I hope tonight's dinner will be something a little more interesting, though. We've had a couple rough nights in a row with the terrible "chinese-style" rice noodles and easy mac. Nothing against easy mac, I love it, but it's oh so simple and I've been inspired to make something tastier! Probably partially by all the tasty food my little sister's having. She just started on a two-week trip to China and I'm unbelievably jealous! She mentioned in an e-mail yesterday duck (which she said was her favorite, BIG SURPRISE! Although it is a surprise to my Chinese-food-disliking sister, but not a surprise to anyone who's had Beijing duck before) and eggplant (I'm sure the oh so tasty szechuan variety, all garlicky and dark). Man, I'm jealous..

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Star Trek and Immigrant

The first draft of this post inadvertently turned into a heartpouring rant about the pros and cons of being an immigrant, but that detours too much from the topic of this blog, so I'll turn to a more light-hearted note, of some of my first memories.

My mom and I immigrated to the United States when I was 5, following my dad who had come over about a year before us to "pave the way." I remember a nauseating plane trip (my first) which would probably be equally painful now. My sister just left for China yesterday and I looked at her itinerary; it's a 13 hour non-stop flight, Chicago to Beijing, not counting the short hop from home to O'hare.

I remember they served some kind of noodles on the trip, I think it was Chow Mein. It didn't taste like any Chow Mein I'd ever had in China. It was greasy and too yellow from food coloring. I remember the puke bags the food came up in (do they have names other than puke bags? Air sickness bags?). I remember I got carsick a lot in China; how could they expect me not to get sick on a plane ride?

When we got to the United States, I saw my dad who I hardly recognized after more than a year. I thought it was him at first and started running towards him, but hesitated before I got to him, because I started doubting myself, if it was actually him. I wonder if he remembers that painful moment as well as I do and if he wondered then if he'd been away too long and regretted it.

What followed was a dizzying trot through O'hare, which at the age of five and dazzled by its brightness and shine, I was sure must be the biggest place in the world. It was so different from anything I'd ever seen, I didn't believe it was a building. I wasn't sure what it was. Then a cartrip to my dad's apartment, which I don't remember at all. I just remember walking into that dark apartment and on the small round dining table, there was a 6-pack of coca-cola in those little plastic 6 pack rings that you always seen wrapped around dying fish.

Then we went upstairs to his friend's apartment where they'd prepared a big meal (my dad couldn't cook) and we all sat around a big table, me next to my mom. There's a photo of that somewhere, I look lost and not too happy. I'm sure I didn't understand anything, but I was happy for the feast.

It was a big contrast to the apartment we'd left in China, which I'd always remembered as warm and bright, in 10 o'clock in the morning lighting. The last meal we had there had the same brightness, as well as the big blue moving truck that hauled away all of our stuff, probably to my relatives, including the bright red tricycle I'd just gotten, given away to a cousin before I even learned to ride it.

What brought on this reminiscent kick was another blog post comparing and contrasting Star Wars and Star Trek. I watched Star Trek when I was 5 or 6, shortly after all this immigrating stuff. Obviously I didn't understand much at that age. Even more, I barely spoke English. But I got the general gist of the show, that this crew was lost in space, far from Earth and they were trying to explore the universe and find a way back.

Even though I watched it, I never really liked it because it made me uncomfortable. Today it finally clicked for me why, and I'm surprised I never put the two together. The situation reminded me of own, having left China and come to this strange new place, Chicago. O'hare was the strange, bright spaceship that had brought me here and I had no idea how to get back. The parallels aren't that clear-cut and psychotic, but the feelings are the same. And I always wanted to see the Enterprise crew get back to Earth, because I didn't want to give up the hope of going home to China. But of course they never did.

Extrapolating, I think that's why I dislike all stories with similar plotlines. Even more than dislike, they make me uncomfortable deep in my stomach. Call of the Wild, assigned reading in fifth grade, where the dog starts out as a pet on a warm, sleepy Californian veranda and gets plunged into the Wild and has to fend for himself. I don't like stories where the characters start out happy and comfortable and they end up having to undergo a hard and arduous journey to get home, if they ever do. It resonates too much with my nomadic childhood, and like the crew of the Enterprise, I'm not sure if I'll ever get back home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Today I'm going to share one of my favorite chicken tips: Rotisserie chicken. I love this stuff, it's always available cheap, fresh and hot at my local supermart. For the price of a footlong, you get a whole chicken enough for several meals-for-two. And there's so much to do with the unavoidable leftovers. Instead of using plain chicken for salad, chicken salad or soups, rotisserie chicken offers an easy, more flavorful, ready at hand alternative.

For lunch today, I whipped up a superfast chicken salad ripping off little chunks from the leftover bird and dicing up some celery, red onion, and squeezing on the appropriate dressings: mayo, mustard, italian salad dressing and the like. Then I realized I only had two little ends of italian bread left...oh well. We'd gotten some Ritz crackers for meatloaf Sunday (which was delicious by the way, we polished off over 1 1/2 pounds of extra lean ground beef between the two of us) and the chicken salad with Ritz is even better than on bread, what a tasty surprise!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

In first grade, my principal read this to my class and I've loved the book ever since. This is truly a classic that can be enjoyed way past outgrowing most picture books. There's plenty of story behind the book and lots to read. The illustrations are beautifully detailed, providing lots of opportunities and stare and look for funny situations scattered throughout the pages.

The food tie-ins for this are endless, almost every page has an idea. There's plenty of breakfasts--imagine a bedtime story with an accompanying storybook breakfast for a special morning. Pancakes and your usual eggs and bacon, or if you've never tried cream cheese and jelly, it's a delicious combo! Think fruit and cheese, it's a yummy contrast of sweet and fresh with salty and rich. (Like watermelon with colby jack, just had some last night)

A wonderful development here is the recent 2009 movie adaptation. While the story strays from the book, it ties in some nice lessons against overeating and being true to yourself. It's a good kid-friendly film and very bright and pretty to watch.

Scholastic has a nice book discussion guide online here: I think the question about the pros and cons of living in Chewandswallow would get some creative and unexpected answers!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

About this blog and Harry Potter

Today I had the wonderful idea to take my lifelong passion for food and turn it to a creative outlet, blogging. Hopefully this blog will serve as an collection of ideas about anything to do with food; and I have many. Hopefully some of them will even be creative and interesting enough to merit sharing and enjoyment, which is the ultimate goal of any endeavor.

I've always had a strange knack for remembering food scenes in books and movies. It's some sort of weird talent that's always useful for a bit of trivia, but isn't particularly useful. Today, I had the idea to turn it to fun, with coming up with these memories from familiar books or movies and using them as meal-planning or kid-friendly, healthy-living, reading-tie-in ideas. Yes, that's a lot to try to accomplish, especially in combination, but we'll see where this goes from here.

So, without further ado is the first idea.

I like the sound of the TV in the background when I'm performing everyday drudgery like housework. It's my spoonful of sugar to help dishwashing go down. I like having a familiar movie, so I don't get distracted by following the details; I prefer something I know well and can tune in and out from. So today I chose Harry Potter, the first one. As part of the generation who grew up with the books, and being the type to read a book she likes backwards and forwards and over again, I'm quite familiar with the series.

This first idea comes from a scene from the book, towards the beginning. The Dursley family, lead by the brutish Uncle Vernon, is running from the Hogwarts letters addressed to Harry. In their desperation, they head to a stormy, miserable island in the sea. I'm working my way through Alexandre Dumas' massive Count of Monte Cristo at the moment, so I suppose the mental image is a familiar one, although even more desolate and lonely than the dismal Chateau d'If. Anyway, in Rowling's version, Hagrid bursts upon the scene (which before had only the paltry feast of a few bags of stiff-upper-lip potato crisps) with the revelation that Harry is a wizard and brings with him fat, juicy sausages and a semi-smushed birthday cake.

This book-reference would be particularly apt on a camping trip. Having never had the chance to go on one before, I imagine it'd be wonderfully classic to sit around a campfire roasting some nice sausages (or hot dogs) and passing around a jumbo bag of crisps (or your favorite potato chips--mine is the Canadian classic, ketchup!) while reading the chapter, maybe followed by some messy, mallowy smores and ghost stories? Or if the great outdoors are a bit wild for your tastes, plan a backyard/deck/patio/living room camping trip, retaining all the usual good food without the hassles of latrines and mosquitoes.