Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chicory is Essential, Apparently

I had been making Vietnamese-style coffee with a dark roast from Trader Joe's, and while it was good, there was just something missing. It didn't taste quite right: it didn't have the same mouthfeel or color as the coffee I had and loved in Cambodia and in Vietnamese restaurants here. Yesterday I decided to pick up a can of Cafe du Monde Coffee with Chicory, and, lo-and-behold, this morning's brew was exactly right.

In Wikipedia I trust (for more about chicory).

The process of making coffee this way is worth it. I love watching the condensed milk swirl up into the coffee from the bottom of the cup. It reminds me of mornings in Cambodia and late nights in pho restaurants.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Anything + Pasta + Broccoli = Satisfying Meal

(Apologies for my amateurish, horribly blurry photography)

The title of this post reflects my general philosophy about leftovers.

First, I should explain that
I am shameless about eating leftovers. Completely. I think I get this willingness to turn odds and ends into edible (and generally tasty) meals from my mother, who is a sorceress when it comes to inventing ways to avoid wasting food.

I have no problem making large batches of pasta to eat over the course of a few meals. I find that shells or macaroni are easier to cook, store, and re-serve than long pastas like spaghetti or fettuccine. The small pastas are also easier to incorporate with sauce and to scoop up in small portions. (This is important to me because I like to use small dessert-size utensils to eat my meals; this is probably because, contrary to what some might say, I have a relatively small mouth.

Also, pasta is very forgiving: as long as you treat it half-way decently, it doesn't much care whether you use a cream sauce, a tomato sauce, or just some butter and olive oil and simple adornments. The key is to cook the pasta to the proper level of doneness-- when it will be mixed with a luscious sauce, it should be cooked slightly less than a pasta that will simply be tossed with a little oil and a few ingredients.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Big Fish Eats Little Fish, Gets Sick--Starbucks Buys Clover

I'm not just a grocery fiend, I'm a coffee fiend as well.

Listening to National Public Radio on 89.3 KPCC this morning, I found out that Starbucks has purchased the Clover single-cup brewing system manufacturer. I have never tried Clover-brewed coffee, but I am still saddened that Starbucks bought it because it narrows the distribution of wealth even more.

It seems that the coffee leviathan is trying to regain its hip, cutting-edge "edge," which I think is a mistake. I just don't think that Starbucks is where we look for the hip and cutting-edge any more-- people who are looking for a coffee experience are going to independently-owned shops, not franchises, and I'm not sure using $10,000 Clovers is going to help.

Starbucks should have learned this after its acquisition of Diedrich's Coffee not only failed to prevent falling profit margins, but (at least for me) added to the evil-corporate-monopoly reputation that is the complete opposite of the counter-culture appeal it once had. It doesn't seem like a wise move to keep trying to do more rather than simply improve upon the services and products it is already providing. The purchase of Clover seems like nothing more than another step to dominate the coffee market, not a genuine move to better serve customers. They've become the McDonald's of the coffee world-- at least in terms of their products, as they treat their employees considerably better, from what I've heard.

Related coffee reading:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hezbollah Tofu: Veganizing Bourdain

I will admit that I am a not-entirely-shameless fan of Anthony Bourdain's smoking, swearing, bad-habit-and-filthy-manners- revelling style, and I am far from vegan, but I still think Hezbollah Tofu is an awesome idea.

Tired of Bourdain's oppressively vehement stance and abusive tirades against vegetarianism and veganism, the folks at Hezbollah Tofu have created "A Bourdain-Veganizing Collective" which will
enjoy vastly improved, veganized versions of [his] masturbatory, blood-oozing recipes. And then we're going to compile them, sell them in zine form, and donate the proceeds to vegan outreach organizations and farm sanctuaries--in [his]name. Anthony, I have to say, I'm really looking forward to the great work we're going to do together for veganism.

I'm by no means vegetarian or vegan, and I have to admit that some of the food I enjoy falls into that "masturbatory, blood-oozing" category, but I appreciate what Hezbollah Tofu is doing.

The audacity of the mission is, in a word, delicious. With the culinary creativity that veganism engenders, I'm sure the food will be, too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Fruit Mark Twain & I Both Love

This fruit goes by many names: cherimoya, soursop, custard apple, strangealiendeathfruit. My love for cherimoyas is perhaps more intense than my love for mangoes, though less ardent than my love for the available-in-Asia-only mangosteen. (Ah, mangosteen--distance truly makes the heart, and stomach, grow fonder.)

These are widely available in ethnic supermarkets in Southern California; I'm not sure how available they are elsewhere. The one pictured above is actually from my grandmother's backyard. In stores, they range in size from as large as a three-year-old's head to the size of an adult's fist. A ripe cherimoya will usually be dark green (though this is dependent on the variety), have a loosening stem, and give to the touch in much the same way as an avocado. They can ripen on the counter but can also develop bruised and unappetizing spots inside the flesh if left for too long.

Mark Twain claimed that the cherimoya is "deliciousness itself!" and I can't help but agree. When a perfectly ripe specimen is sliced open and the luminous white flesh glistens with its juices, it's a moment to behold, akin to that of witnessing a sunrise or getting to third-base for the first time. I usually cut it into wedges and peel back the skin using my fingers or a knife, and sink my teeth in. The flesh of a good cherimoya is, as one of its names indicates, custard-like, with just a touch of fibrousness that reminds you that it actually is, in fact, a fruit. They can be sublimely sweet but I prefer them when they are still on the firm and tangy side. I particularly love the membrane that surrounds each seed. Yes, I'm weird, and yes, this fruit does involve the dreaded spitting-out-of-seeds process-- believe me, it's worth it.

, how it's worth it.

More cherimoya links:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Leftover Crab, Part Deux: Crab Fried Rice

Ah, the fate of the rest of the leftover crab:

I could not pass up the opportunity to make crab fried rice-- it's one of those dishes I always order at a Thai or other Asian restaurant that always seems promising but often ends up with a disappointing crab-to-rice ratio. This would not be the case in my version.

The adventure in crab fried rice entailed:
  • A solid half-hour (probably closer to 45 minutes) of breaking shells and picking at tiny cavities for every last morsel of crab meat.
  • Sautéeing of diced carrots, then onions in butter (yes, butter). The carrots ended up being slightly more than slightly burned, but I happen to enjoy the flavor of carbonized carrot, so no harm done, just some dignity lost.
  • Addition of cooked white rice, a tiny sprinkle of cumin, some white pepper, salt, and some of my mother's magical garlic dipping sauce for a balancing sweetness
  • Once the rice took on some color from the carrots and seasonings, I added the crab and scallions (sliced on the bias), and cooked through just a minute or two longer.
I would have liked to use curry powder in my recipe, but somehow the simplicity of all of the ingredients worked wonderfully. It tasted even better the next day for lunch at work than when it was completely fresh-- I couldn't stop eating it and ended up having it for dinner, lunch, then dinner. Addictive, it was.