Monday, July 30, 2012

Flank Steak Sandwich

From Days Gone By, Part 5

I'm always hearing about the power of food, and how it can not only connect people together, but also keep memories alive.  I used to think all of that was utter b.s., but since I am now on the cusp of being twenty years of age, (which, in my mind, feels like the worst birthday behind forty), I have been thinking back about being a carefree (and careless) kid and have realized that in fact, most of my vivid childhood memories have all revolved around food.

Outside of the kickball field, lunch was one of the more competitive parts of elementary school.  It was all about who had the best lunch and whether you could jip someone into trading for your food.  Bartering was usually over Doritos or cookies, but at times kids would even swap whole sandwiches.  When you first think of a sandwich in Vietnamese cuisine, one's mind automatically thinks of the nirvana that is Banh Mi, a delight that I relished growing up eating.  However, I went to a private school in a less than diverse area, filled with sheltered kids who thought that no matter what part of Asia you were from, your cuisine solely consisted of orange chicken and fried rice.  

(Just for kicks, I remember word for word a conversation I had in seventh grade.

           Me: My parents own a restaurant
           Classmate: What kind?
           Me: A vietnamese one.
           Classmate: Oh sweet, so you have like fried rice and egg rolls?
           Me: *mental facepalm*)

I knew that if I dared bring a banh mi sandwich to school, the aroma of pungent pate, pickled carrots, and salty headcheese and gio would immediately attract unwanted (and most likely negative) attention.  Thus, growing up everyday my mom packed me a sandwich consisting of untoasted wonder bread, kraft miracle whip, iceberg lettuce, and a couple slices of foster farms turkey, cut in half diagonally, and then wrapped in foil.  It was honestly the most boring sandwich you could possibly come up with, and after years of eating that sandwich every single day it was a struggle trying to finish it.  While everyone always looked forward to lunch to see what surprises awaited in their lunch box, I became totally indifferent to it, knowing that I would always have a water bottle, a bag of cut up apples, and that damn sandwich.  By third or fourth grade after repeatedly taking home uneaten sandwiches, I "graciously" asked my mom if I could start making my own lunches from that point on. 

Now, please don't get me wrong.  Did having what I thought an inferior lunch make me dislike my mom?  Of course not, but it definitely did make me strive to build a better lunch bag. 

As a kid I didn't think having a competent lunch would even be an issue, but this was a private elementary school in an affluent area, where I felt that every action that everyone did was a way to show off.  I would constantly look with envy at flaunting kids whose lunches seemed never ending.  Even worse was that there were some stay at home moms (nothing against them personally) who showed up in a tracksuit everyday to hand deliver food (from god damn restaurants no less) to their eagerly awaiting child.  I distinctly remembering an incident where one mom brought an entire pizza, and suddenly the boy no one liked for one day was making new friends left and right... and I, ashamedly, was one of them. 

I will say though that I did beat everyone at one thing, and that was the use of a brown paper bag.  While everyone in first to third grade carried around hulking igloos and metal crates, I slyly pulled a brown package from my backpack, knowing that I was cooler and more mature than them.  By 6th grade, brown paper bags was a sign you made it into junior high, and everyone had them.  Of course, there were people with eco-unfriendly plastic bags, but that was because it was a plastic bag from a sushi bar, as their moms had just hand delivered that day's lunch.

Because the brown paper lunch bag started becoming so ubiquitous in the classroom, there were bound to be some mix ups.  One day in fourth grade, I opened my bag and low and behold, was a pack of gushers.  On the inside I weeped with joy, and gleefully I started peering through the bag to see if there were any other surprises.  Once I saw the lack of a tin foiled wrapped sandwich and an uncharacteristic bottle of Sunny Delight, I made the sad, devastating, realization.  I begrudgingly rushed back into the classroom, to see the teacher showing the contents of my lunch (which that day was the infamous bland turkey sandwich, a cut up apple, and a water bottle) to a forlorn and obviously disappointed girl, trying to convince her to make do with it.  Once I mixup was cleared, the girl happily waltzed to the lunch tables, and I followed after her, my hopes and excitement shattered. 

As a result of all of these shenanigans, I began diligently waking up early to make my own sandwiches.  Over the years they were as simple as the summer sandwich, to something as elaborate as a baguette filled with leftover steak au poivre I had made for dinner the night before, complete with cognac peppercorn cream sauce instead of mayo.  The best part was eating it in front of jealous eyes, and as a sick and twisted form of unnecessary revenge after all those years of eating mediocre sandwiches, openly relishing every bite.

However making these sandwiches proved to be time consuming and a draining activity in the morning, and by 8th grade the novelty of having a unique sandwich wore off.  I began resorting to taking a minute and thirty seconds to microwave a hot pocket each day, which was much easier and faster, and in my mind tasted just as good.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Ice Cream

The Quarter Life Crisis

This post took me a long time to write, (4-5 hours to be exact), mainly because it deals with a topic that has bothered me for the past four to five years, and has been fervently racing through my mind with increased tenacity, especially in the past couple months.

I've noticed that frequently my professors extol the virtue of following something you're truly passionate about, despite the financial rewards it may or may not present to you.  Class after class, I hear the importance of chasing your dream early on, lest you wake up one day and realize you lived a life of regret, and as a result, these discussions consequently move towards a simple question that I encounter not only in the classroom but in day to day life... "What are you passionate about?"

My first answer is usually food... I show people my passion for food.  I make them a meal that tries to break their expectations, in order to show what the difference is between "I like to cook" and "I am a passionate cook."  I complain about the downward spiral of the Food Network (I'm pointing my finger at you, Cupcake Wars), while simultaneously praising the writings of Michael Ruhlman, the pantheon of blogs bookmarked in my browser, the culinary inspiration that is Thomas Keller, and the cinematic masterpiece that is Pixar's Ratatouille.  I spend every moment of my free (and sometimes not so free) time reading about the culinary world, various new techniques, and recipes, and then I dream of the day when I can dine at the French Laundry, Le Bernadin, Scarpetta, Les Halles, and the other restaurants named on my bucket list.

"Any other hobbies?"

I then show people my Flickr account, detailing my food journal and the senses I try to stimulate when one sees a picture of a thickly sliced piece of golden french toast, blanketed in powdered sugar and accented with the reddest strawberries you can find.  I also show them my conceptual photography portfolio, which provides me an escape from everyday life, and translates all of the thoughts crowding my mind that I can't express with words into a fantasy world for anyone who views it to take part in.  Finally, I let them view all of the painstakingly edited pictures I have taken over the years of my travels that capture the whirlwind of emotions I get when embracing another culture.

The second question I frequently get asked is, "Then why aren't you pursuing a career in photography or food?"... and my answer to that is an awkward stutter, followed by, "I honestly don't know."

Actually, I probably do know, and it comes right down to being afraid.  I've lived for the most part a sheltered life, blissfully unaware of what it means to live on a budget.  I don't know what it's like living paycheck to paycheck, or saying "no" to something I can't afford.  I spent my high school career taking the toughest classes possible, staying up until 2am every weeknight in order to get the highest SAT score, and G.P.A. I possibly could, all while juggling the responsibilities of being on ASB, so I could get in to a college that could eventually land a 9 to 5 career and a steady paycheck.  For me, pursuing a "lowly" education and career in photography or culinary arts meant throwing all of that hard work away.  I was convinced that if I was able to succeed doing that, then eventually as an adult I would have the time and money to pursue cooking and photography outside my forty hour work week, which would hopefully... maybe... perhaps...  satiate these two passions.  This compromise seemed much more reasonable than the financial insecurity and not uncommon seventy hour work weeks that both a photographer and restauranteur/chef might experience. 

Had I not experienced honors chemistry in high school, I immediately sacked the archetypal Asian dream of majoring in medicine, as I knew that could very much lead to me (figuratively, of course) shooting my brains out.  Thus, I chose business, thinking that if I didn't fall into the trap and temptation of an accountant or financial banker's salary, that I might be influenced to actually follow the two passions I've exhaustively written about and open some sort of photography or food related business.  Or perhaps, the creativity marketing has to offer might fulfill my interest in digital media and lead to a job I might actually enjoy as much as a career in food or photography.  However as I've come to realize, studying the material that will help open a business is much different and less satisfying than studying what your business will eventually be about.

If you've actually read all the way to this point (kudos to you), don't get me wrong - I love what I do in college.  I love the growth I've experienced in the past year, and the broadening of my horizons through living in a tight knit, on campus community.  While I don't necessary like economics or accounting, I like the leadership opportunities I have been presented with and jumped upon, and believe it or not, I kind of like the idea of working in the corporate world.  I think it affords me even greater opportunities in making a change in the world.  I have a hard time imagining myself being a prominent figure or philanthropist in society by working late nights in the kitchen or staring behind a computer screen editing photos.  But at the same time, while I do dream of being a leader in business, the idea of donning a black, pinstriped apron and serving a room full of strangers in a cozy, dimly lit bistro at times is a stronger desire drifting through my mind.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grilled Herb Marinated Chicken

When watching a food travel show one day, I heard the host having a foodgasm over chicken that actually tasted like pure, unadulterated chicken, as opposed to what comes shipped to us in vacuum packed cellophane packages over at our local Albertson's.  Intrigued, I got to wondering- is the stuff you can get at Whole Foods really that much tastier and chicken-y?  But then again, I'm just too damn stingy to fork over the premium for a free range bird, when I can get pre-cut, mass produced chicken from Costco.  Does it make me a hypocritical foodie with poor taste?  Most definitely.  But until then, I guess I shall cover up my bland, factory farmed chicken with a slew of different marinades. 

I usually don't like salting my marinades themselves, because it's hard to judge how much salt you need for the amount of protein you have.  Instead I just salt the meat directly, and then pour on the marinade- no need to worry about over or underseasoning. 

ready to bake

I love grilled chicken for huge crowds because a) it's cheap, b) it tastes good, and c) everyone likes chicken.  However for me they're a bitch to cook, because only the back half of my grill stays hot, meaning I would have to do 2-3 batches of chicken that take a half hour each to cook.  Big no no.

So instead, I opted to pre-bake my chicken pieces for the sake of convenience until they were done, and let them cool in their own rendered fat and juices so they would stay moist before I chucked them on the grill on high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Perfect, fast, chicken!


It is crucially important that you pat dry the chicken pieces though- the pre-baking process renders out an insane amount of chicken fat from the thighs, and if you just slap it on the grill, not only will there be a sh*t-ton of grease flare ups, those flare ups will leave a burnt, sooty flavor.

*If you're only cooking for a few though, definitely take the extra effort to cook it entirely on the grill, because it tastes a lot more smokier and the charred flavor permeates the meat.  

let's be honest- just skip the salad

I absolutely love this chicken- the skin gets crispy, and you can actually taste the marinade.  It's great served cold on a picnic (or cold from the fridge for that matter).  But overall it's an easy meal to pull together, and makes for some great midnight snacking leftovers

Grilled Herb Marinated Chicken

inspired by Ina Garten

1 onion, roughly chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest
1/3 cup of lemon juice
1/2 cup of basil
1/2 cup of chopped parsley
2-3 green onions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons of dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons of black pepper
1/3-1/2 cup of vegetable oil
chicken thighs and legs

Put all of the ingredients except the chicken and salt in a blender and puree until smooth.  Season the chicken pieces with salt, and pour over the marinade.  Allow to sit in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

Grill the chicken on low to medium low heat for 20-25 minutes, with the lid down while flipping occasionally until the internal temperature reaches around 160 degrees.  Cover with foil and allow to rest before serving.

Alternatively, if you are cooking for a large crowd, transfer the chicken along with the extra marinade into an oven safe dish and bake at 325 degrees until fully cooked (160 degrees).  Allow the chicken to cool in the liquid to room temperature.  When you're almost ready to eat, drain the liquid and pat the chicken pieces dry.  Grill on high heat until the skin is crisp and brown. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Toronto Part 8: Terroni

While I try best to choose where we eat on vacation via Yelp as much as possible, sometimes you can't ignore the recommendations of experienced locals, which is how our group found ourselves at Terroni.  It wasn't just one local that recommended this restaurant however- it seemed like every other person we asked told us to drop what we were doing and spring on over to the restaurant before the dinner rush.  While we tried to get there as swiftly as possible, we still ended up waiting around an hour amongst the cozy shelves filled with canned tomatoes, pasta, and olive oil. 


I honestly can't describe the atmosphere of this place other than sexy.  Everything is a smidge closer together than they should be, and the dimly lit lights made it so that the streets of Toronto outside lit up the restaurant just as much as the lamps inside themselves.  I couldn't help but just gawk at everything around me.  From the food, to the textured wood dining tables, to the glimmering lights outside reflected in the wet pavement, and finally to the fashionably well dressed patrons sitting inside, everything was just beautiful to the eye. 

While we perused the menu deciding on what to eat, we were served a complimentary loaf of bread along with a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  The bread, while decent, was disappointingly cold and was only eaten to settle our growling stomachs from hours of walking the city.

Aside from each ordering our own individual entrees, we decided to share a pizza so no one would have to agonize over choosing pasta or a pie.  The Smendozzata ($16.95 CAD), consisting of house made sausage, red onions, gorgonzola, and mozzarella did not disappoint.  The crust was deliciously thin, and shattered on the outside every time you took a bite, but still had a substantial and satisfying chew.  The bitterness of the charred crust was balanced by the sweet, fruity tomato sauce, while the sausage provided a rich, fatty juiciness.  A minimal (and dare I say perfect) amount of cheese held the pie together.  

The Garganelli Geppetto ($16.95 CAD) for me was the 'meh' dish of the night.  While I appreciated the idea of little to no sauce in order for the dandelion greens, homeamde sausage, fontina, parmigiano to shine through, extra virgin olive oil wasn't enough to keep the whole thing together, and I just found the plate mediocre. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Grilled Flank Steak

Summer Gloom

Fourth of July this year was a quiet affair- I wasn't in the mood to deal with the mobs at the beach, and plus, we've been having unusually cloudy and damp weather.  As a result my cousins and I ended up taking my grandma to breakfast before taking a break at home, and then returning back to her house for dinner (which consisted of takeout pizza).  Afterwards we ended up watching fireworks on the front porch.  

carbo loading for breakfast

I've become increasingly frustrated as summer progresses.  I meant for these months to be a time of growth and development both artistically and personally, but living at home has brought out my old lazy streak.  I have to force myself to the library in order to get any work done, or else I end up watching reruns of Family Guy on Hulu.  You know you're up to nothing when all the days start melding together and you can't tell the difference between Friday and Tuesday.  I blame it all on our stinkin chihuahua.  

In my quest for somehow providing steak while entertaining for the masses, I decided to give flank steak a second go.  The first time I tried making one it turned out tough, chewy, and bland, so in order to prevent failure I turned to the trust worthy recipes of Kenji Lopez over at Serious Eats and the Food Lab.  If you haven't heard of the Food Lab, go spend five hours right now reading all the articles.

all the other stuff

In accordance with my lazy streak, I ended up being too bothered to break out the measuring spoons and cups, so I just eyeballed and estimated everything, going heavy on the tomato paste, just because I like the flavor and adding in red pepper flakes and scallions.

criss cross (apple sauce)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Confidence Booster

Dear Barbara,  

       Although you do not know who I am, nor have you ever met me, I know you were are a very extraordinary individual.  Just the fact that you have a food blog (that I wish I found out about sooner) makes you special in my book, but judging by the blogosphere you are a person held dear to many hearts.  I don't even know you enough to know if you like cupcakes, but either way these red velvet ones are dedicated to you.  Rest in peace.

if i could, i would have the flags at half mast
Ever since I had Sprinkles Cupcakes, I've had an obsession over finding the perfect red velvet cake.  In fact, it has become my life mission, with a whole set of bookmarks in my browser dubbed "The Red Velvet Collection", and I have slowly gone through each recipe in hopes of trying to find a recipe that closely replicates the Sprinkles taste. 

For the past two years, red velvet cake, alongside cornbread, pancakes, and white rice was on the list of things I could never conquer in the kitchen... until now.  I have finally found my perfect red velvet cake recipe, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (Thanks Deb!). 

Being able to overcome an obstacle as niggly and seemingly insignificant such as this may seem trivial to most, but to me it's as if I climbed Mount Everest (which I will never do).  This red velvet cake really has been a confidence booster for me, and as I start to conquer more in the kitchen, I feel this blog maturing right alongside me.  Two years ago I could never dream of taking pictures as half decent as the ones in this post, and I can't wait to see what another two years brings.

the bounty of summer