Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Than A Food Blog

Our new blog is but a puppy.

omgomgomg. I've moved! Find the new baby blog, now co-run with my pal Daniel, at! New posts there shortly! Update your bookmarks & feeds!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Original Boston Creme Pie

The original Boston Creme Pie can be found, allegedly, at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston.  Liz told me this over the phone, and I later saw it in a pamphlet (albeit, the Omni Parker House's pamphlet), and later, etched on the window of the hotel.  Because I love my blog more than I hate sweets, I decided to try it during my trip to Boston.

Liz was in Boston too, skipping all of the conference (lucky!) and instead doing fun things like shopping during Tax Free Weekend and taking yoga classes.  We met up for lunch at the Parker's restaurant (called, literally, the Parker's Restaurant), and were promptly ignored for about seven minutes.  I guess you have to be SEEN to be ignored.  No one was around, so we left and decided to eat the pie ("It's actually a cake," says Liz) at the little shop in the lobby, where they also sold it.

It was...ok.  The outside was encrusted with almonds which I thought did not belong.  Aren't BCPs (Boston Creme Pie, not Birth Control Pill) supposed to be smooth and creamy?  This was crunchy (due to said almonds) and cakey ("Didn't I tell you it's actually a cake?" says Liz again).  The creme center was nowhere near adequate.  It was the thickness of a stick of gum (NOT Wrigley's!  Freaking Wrigley's.  Freaking Chris Brown, you sellout.).  Completely inadequate.  I guess what I was expecting was a choux creme, just big and flattened out and with chocolate on top.

The moral of the story is, sometimes the authentic original isn't great.  It drives me crazy anyway when people say, "It's SOOO AUTHENTIC!" as if that's the holy grail.  I think Panda Express is just as yummy, in a different way, than the Chinese food I had in Hong Kong.  And even though the last BCP I had was when I was a tween and I decided randomly to make it and it took me SEVEN HOURS, I think the modern interpretations on the BCP are for the better.

It certainly wasn't worth it for Liz, who, by sharing it with me, exposed herself to the virulent cold strain from which I am currently suffering.  Sorry Liz!

Parker's Restaurant
60 School Street
Boston, MA 02108

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shimi's Wedding Cake~*

This is it. The big one. The one I had been working towards for a year. The one that I took sooo many lessons for. The one that I had tirelessly practiced for, every single month, since last July.

Of course I'm totally kidding. I think I practiced two whole times for Shimi's wedding cake. Hey, Shimi, if you're reading this, all's well that ends well, right?

But what a fucking journey it was. Last July, on a hellish drive from Seattle over the border to Vancouver, the crazy idea was hatched for me to make her cake. Being a wedding cake decorator has always secretly been the thing I wanted to be when I growed up, so I was really excited.

But then the week of her wedding came around, smack in the middle of one of the busiest summers I've ever had professionally (three deadlines the Friday before her wedding), and I started to hyperventilate. I barely slept the Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday preceding her wedding, not because I was working on her cake, but because I was freaking out about it. My friends said, "What the fuck were you thinking?" and I would respond, "WAAAAAAAAAH!"

When Asians get stressed, they get organized. But there was too much to think about! I had to remember to buy wire cutters to cut the dowels to insert into the cake! Did I really need to spend more than $20 only on BUTTER? And what the fuck kind of CAKE was I going to make?

Well, the abomination above is test recipe #1 (I started testing recipes on Tuesday). Let's see. It did not rise at all. It was burnt on the edges. Oh, and it tasted like grainy feces. I definitely cried a little bit when this came out.

But as Liz/QJ/Tinx would say, I am persistent as a mosquito/heat-seeking-missile/Michael Phelps. I picked myself back up and went back to the drawing board.

And then promptly dropped a fucking egg on the ground. As I was dumb and only bought exactly enough eggs as the recipe required, this was tragic indeed, and incited a barrage of "shits" and "fucks" and "cunty cunts!" and a couple more tears.

These are the pans that I lined with parchment paper. I didn't realize that just lining the pans takes a million years, and requires tons of measuring, precise cutting (don't look at the top one), and many, many diagonal cuts that are to be spaced 1 cm away from one another. Once lined, they look very profesh and cute at the same time.

The winning recipe. That Martha Stewart. She is the goddess of all things, including wedding cake recipes.

Totally Kidding Part II! It's totally cake mix (Hey, Shimi - all's well that ends tastily, right?). In my darkest moments of despair, I asked myself WWTCS1CD? (What would Top Chef Season 1 Contestants Do?). They, of course, got into major shit with Collichio for using cake mix for the wedding cake in the wedding challenge! I remember one of them saying, "You just can't beat cake mix - it's so consistent and the texture and taste are always perfect." So, the perfection above is industrial-sized yellow cake mix from Smart & Final.

I mean, LOOK AT IT! Moist, yet perfectly dense enough to withstand the weight of the tier above it. The same rise everywhere, crisp edges - perfect for stacking. And completely delicious. Simon and I dragged the trimmed-off pieces through the tub of icing and at a shitload of it.

I have a schmancy icing spatula, but the bottom tier was styrofoam (which cost, in total, $12. TWELVE DOLLARS for fucking STYROFOAM!?!? Shoulda just made it out of cake!) so I just got down 'n dirty with my hands. It's better than expensive hand cream - my hands were sooo soft.

Oh, by the way, having the bottom tier be styrofoam was bride-approved, so there.

The middle tier, post-icing. It is soo cute and fluffy looking, even though it was ten pounds of icing and cake. I wanted to hug it and squeeze it.

So this is fondant in the raw. I needed Simon's strong hands to knead it for me, but otherwise he was totally unhelpful. During the MOST DIFFICULT moments he was like, "Oh, I'm no good at this part. You do it." Mofo.

Anyway, you add the height of your cake plus the diameter, add two inches, and then roll out the fondant to the appropriate size on the mat. There are many details here that I won't go in to (like how you have to Crisco AND powdered-sugar the rolling mat, but the sugar has to be applied using a special powdered sugar bag thing, but they don't tell you that you can't touch the Crisco with the special bag or else it will clog the holes and no sugar will come out, etc.)

Using a combination of voodoo and blind luck, your cake will look like this after the fondant has been applied. It's tricky, because you're putting a flat circle onto a cylinder so there's tons of extra fondant that hangs down like a skirt. It takes special hands (WINK) to get the fondant smooth. Oh, and the Wilton brand fondant smoother (such a thing exists).

With the cakes safely made and safely covered, I realized the CAKE boxes I bought were way too wimpy to hold the CAKE. The bottom tier, being styrofoam, was light. The middle tier weighed around 10 pounds, and the top tier weighed about 7. I had to go to a special box store (BoxBros, where the shop dude asked me if there was a Verizon store around there...what?), where I also bought fragile tape (not tape that is fragile, but actual tape that says FRAGILE! FRAGILE! FRAGILE! on it).

So, the cakes were done, save for some last-minute assembly. OH, but I forgot - I had to DRIVE SIX HOURS UP TO BERKELEY with these fuckers. I drove like a grandma the whole way, and left the car running even while filling up on gas to keep the A/C going. Fondant-covered cakes can last up to 5 days unrefrigerated, but still.

When we got to the hotel, we were in a suite so Cara and I took out the shelves in our fridge and stuck the cakes in. I was anxious - would the cakes dry out? Would the fondant warp or crack? I put the fridge on the lowest setting and tried to forget about it for two days.

The day of the wedding - EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I took my social support entourage (including a STRUCTURAL ENGINEER! SCORE!) to the reception site an hour early to assemble the cake. Cheez and Cara were most helpful, mostly because they were the two that stayed behind when I realized I forgot stuff in the suite and sent Emry and the engineer back to the hotel. They nearly missed the ceremony due to my stupidity and traffic, and for that I apologize.

The construction was surprisingly easy. A couple air bubbles had snuck in, so I just pricked and deflated them. I had never doweled or stacked before, so I was a wreck, but I had read about how to do it 20 times. Basically, the main concern is that the top tiers will sink into the tiers below. So you have to stab wooden or plastic dowels vertically into the cake, right under the cake board of the tier above. But of course each cake is a different height so you have to custom-cut your dowels (thus the wire cutters). Then we used my makeup pencil sharpener (which I had not because I was prepared but because I am vain and had my entire make-up kit with me) to sharpen the ends and poked them into the cake.

The ribbon wasn't glued all the way around - it just rested at the base and I attached the ends with the daintiest dollop of piping icing. I left a little window on the top layer so that the bride and groom had a place to cut.

Then some lady came around with a huge, messy bouquet. "Flowers for the cake." "Oh, REALLY?? Because I was told that I was getting a bag of just loose orchid blossoms. Can you find the florist and make sure?" "I AM the florist." Oh.

Good thing I had NOT found wire cutters, and instead gotten stem-cutters from the garden shop. WOooOO! We snipped off the dahlias and a bunch of orchid blossoms, and then proceeded to do about three hundred permutations of flowers. Orchids on top, dahlias at base. Dahlias at top, orchids at base of every tier. Dahlias AND orchids on top, orchids all around the bottom. Just three bunches of orchids on the bottom, two dahlias and one orchid blossom on top. Only dahlias on top, orchids on bottom with a carpet of orchid blossoms covering the entire table. No orchid blossoms carpeting the table (took forever to clean), dahlias on top, bunches of orchids at the base.

PHEW. Anyway, behold the final product:

I was pretty fuckin' proud of myself.

Shimi and her hubby cut exactly where they were supposed to (I warned them that fondant is pretty tough, so they would have to use muscles, and further, that fondant is not tasty [though my hamster LOVES it] so they should peel that off before they fed each other the cake). They fed each other and didn't grimace (SCORE!) and did not keel over from food poisoning. In the end, the caterers cut the cake and served it to the masses (it was really only supposed to be for the bride and groom) and I was told by many that it was the best cake out of the three that were served. Thanks, Top Chef!

I owe so many thanks to my good friends who helped me along the way. And to Shimi, for taking a HUGE risk and letting some random punk make her cake. And, of course, I am thankful to my mother, who will never let my head get big and who would not acknowledge any sort of innate talent in me and said, "Wow, those lessons really paid off! You must have had a great teacher!" Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

E Tutto Qua

I'm headed up to the bay AGAIN, this time for Shimi's wedding, for which I am making her cake (and am working on it furiously right now)...and that reminded me of the LAST time I was up here, for an entire bachelorette party WEEKEND! After driving up from LA with Cara in her fabulous but fabulously expensive-gas-guzzling Mercedes, and after a bottle of wine in the hotel, and after presenting Shimi with her goodie basket that included a his/hers joint vibrator/cockring from me and Cara, and after walking in the extreme June cold, we finally arrived, one hour late for our reservation, to E Tutto Qua, in the North Beach neighborhood.

The manager couldn't be mad, though, after seeing 18 girls totally decked out and rushing into the restaurant with nipples erect from the cold. We were seated at a lovely window table on the second floor, and I snagged prime real estate directly across from Shimi, the bride-to-be.

Cara is my food soulmate. She is also the only other non-married/engaged one out of our high school group, so we often stick together at these weddings. Now we can get officially stuck together thanks to the same-sex marriage ruling. Perhaps we'll take a jaunt over to Sacramento and make our love official this weekend.

Anyway, both of our eyes (all four of our eyes??) lit up as soon as we hit on it on the menu: steak carpaccio!

Cara: Do you want to-
Me: YES.
Cara: The carpaccio?
Me: YES.

It's pictured top. Isn't it gorgeous? Though there was too much crap on it. The parm slices should have been as thin as the meat, and they would have done with half as many capers. When I eat raw meat, I want to TASTE it, you know? WINK WINK.

This is MY kind of beet salad. Many many beets, just barely cooked through, and a mountain of goat cheese and pine nuts. Despite what the inimitable Bourdain says, I loved the verticalness of the presentation. I don't care if it's played out. It hasn't been played out in the beet salad arena!

Let me backtrack a moment to describe our server. He was extremely nice. Extremely. He also had the most over-the-top Italian accent ever. Like Mario and Luigi combined, except much more verbose, and sprinkle in a little Domenico from Tila Tequila. Blend, simmer, reduce. Using a large wooden spoon, scoop the Italian accent reduction and splash the entire mixture into someone's face. That's what it was like. It couldn't have been real.

Oh MAN! They don't have their menu online and I was too busy enjoying wine and company to take notes. Let me recreate from my memory. Alright. My entree is pictured above. It was a chestnut ravioli with sage butter and crispy pancetta. But what are those black bits?!?!? Surely not truffles?!? I don't remember truffles. What on earth are they? Anyway, my entree was the winner of the night. I'm so happy that the inside was chestnut rather than butternut squash, which I don't think is meaty enough. The salty bite and crunch of the pancetta with the chestnut - OY!

The special of the night was rabbit, which was also ordered. [Waiter: "YES-a PO-ra BAH-nee!"] This one was not a hit. The meat was just SO dry, and the time and effort it took to debone the poor thing made it all the more not worth it. I might as well fry up Cheeto (our hamster - don't tell Tinx). The accompanying veggies were great, though! I must exclaim the name of the food before I eat it, if I really love it. Do you do that ever? The carrots were so good that they made me yell, "CARROT!" before every bite.

This is Cara's gnocchi. How interesting. I've never encountered gnocchi with a clam sauce. I'm sure that's what intrigued Cara, too. And who doesn't love gnocchi? (Secret time: I don't really...but I feel like it's like proscuitto, where everyone's supposed to like it no matter what.) However, something went wrong in the execution of this dish, as Collicchio would say. I didn't even try it.

This is not a breast implant in a pile of blood. This is panna cotta with raspberry sauce. I love all jello-ey substances. As a texture eater rather than a flavor eater, I just adored the slippery smoothness of this. Despite the rather barbarian presentation, the sweetness was very refined.

For the bride-to-be, a complimentary dessert. I didn't have any of the thing in the corner, but I did partake in the poached pear and mint leaf. I believe they were going for a heart motif with the creme anglaise? Looks like something else. Labia.

I have been told that my posts follow a template. Photo, description of food that is in a city that's not LA, some mention of balls. So I thought I'd switch it up and go with labia today.

E Tutto Qua
270 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sad Food

I have many ideas for photo essays. I have these ideas, sometimes, before I even have the photos. For example, I'm currently working on my "Dogs That Should Be Named Oreo" photo essay. So far I have two pictures. Both are blurry (dogs do not stay still in the same way that entrees do) and one of them has a bandana on the crucial "creamy center" so you can't even see it.

ANYWAY! Sometimes, however, the inspiration comes from the subject. The very, very sad subject in this case.

It all started during my conference in Baltimore. Every year, there is a super cute girl who doesn't know anyone and I pick her up at the mentor-mentee reception and turn her into my BFF for three days. This year it was Betty (clearly not her real name as she would never be so unstylish as to be called Betty). Anyway, Sharisa and Betty and I and some others hit up a local sushi joint, the name of which I have now forgotten. As we, collectively as a group, didn't know each other that well and were shy, that thing happened where NO ONE touched the last piece of sushi (see top).

Isn't it sad? It's sad. This is the culinary equivalent of the kid who didn't get picked for...kickball? It's always kickball in TV shows. But it's not like this piece of sushi was sickly and inhaler-toting. It was just on one end of the roll, and we just happened to start eating at the other end.

Anyway, I had great fun framing the photo so the plate looked huge and the sushi sad as can be.


The next day, Sharisa, Betty and I went to a very very delicious Mexican place. Even being from LA, I liked it. I had some sort of beautifully proportioned bowl with guac, salsa, cheese, rice, and... carne asada.

I was innocently eating when a lone piece divebombed off my fork, bounced off the table, and came to a sad stop on the ground. We all got immediately excited. Picture #2 in the photo essay! This pic is the view from between my legs. Sad, sad piece of cow.

Then, we went to the Whole Foods down the block to pick up fruit and other organic produce that is so difficult to come by during conferences. Haha, totally lying. I wanted to get a big fucking bag of potato chips to binge on that night after stumbling back to the hotel room wasted.

But anyway! They were serving, for St. Patrick Day, samples of fun things like bangers and mash, bread with Irish butter, and this cheese made with black beer. I speared a tiny cube with a toothpick and...

GASP! Too good to be true! I inadvertently dropped the cheese! It tumbled down into a tiny and desolate crevice to live out its last, uneaten, sad existence. Giggles as Betty and I snapped a bunch of photos and the Whole Foods lady looked on like we were crazy.

I had grand visions of compiling a collection of such photos worthy of filling a coffee table book. It's difficult, though, when one's #1 rule is that this shit has to happen naturally. No fake posed sad food photos.

Fast forward to now, July, almost 5 months later, and it has NOT HAPPENED ONCE. So it's time to post this already. It did happen once to Betty, who posted this on my wall:

Betty wrote
at 3:43pm on March 21st, 2008

I had one remaining cheerio in my bowl was yearning to be photographed by you.

lol. Miss you Betty~

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Western Spaghetti

I'm having a computer meltdown, sorry for the delay in posts~

Until I can get access to my own pics, here: Geekologie found this amazing PES stop-motion video of making toy spaghetti. That description does not do the video justice. Just watch it.

Now back to "fixing" my lappie (alternately pleading at it, spitting on it, and having staring contests with it).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sugar Butter! [Giggle]

Last night I went with Dr. Z to his ex-girlfriend's wedding. Dr. Z's current girlfriend was out of town digging up fossils or whatever it is that she does, and he didn't want to show up alone (on account of the whole EX-girlfriend thing). I assumed he scoured his friends for the hottest one to show off so I was flattered, and indeed, did my best to look smashing, but it turns out that he asked me merely because I'm "game for everything." I guess that's a compliment.

I've blogged weddings before, because for some reason they are so funny! I think it's the fact that many different people are brought together, and there are so many instances in which to display (your lack of) taste, whether it's the dress, the cake, the flowers, etcetera.

This wedding was VERY tasteful. It was tasteful, polite, tame, nice. It did not start out well, however. The invitation said 6pm; we arrived at the country club in beautiful Bel Air at 6:00:30. Apparently, that was thirty seconds too late, as the parents were already walking down the aisle and we got yelled at by the wedding planner and were not allowed to go to the wedding area, but were instead relegated to an area about 200 yards away like losers.

The ceremony went off without a single hitch. Very nice, very smooth (except for the fact that there was a guy who was golfing right next to the couple. WTF?). I enjoyed schmoozing with the wedding guests, who seemed to ALL be from Dr. Z's church. I made sure Dr. Z had a drink in his hands at all times, cooed at the appropriate moments when talking to family friends' moms, and walked the fine line of reassuring Dr. Z that yes, the bride was very very hot, but not hot enough to deserve him.

Anyway, next to me at Table 5 was David, one of Dr. Z's oldest friends and a youth pastor. Who doesn't drink. And sings really really high (he sang the upper harmony in the Indigo Girls song that they sang during the wedding). Overall, a very nice but slightly off chap.

For example. He suddenly shrieked, "SUGAR BUTTER!" and started giggling. Intrigued, I looked over and decided to document what was going on.

Step 1 [pictured top]: Put ball of butter inside your empty wine glass (because you don't drink, remember?)

Step 2: Put in a packet of sugar. You may have to raid the super fancy custom-made cappuccino bar for the sugar packets, as at this point the salads have not even been served and there is no sugar on the table.

Step 3: Mix with a fork. Be focused - do not, for example, listen to the wedding speeches, or pause to place salad dressing on your salad. Definitely eat your salad dry.

Step 4: Not enough sugar!! Grab one more packet and sprinkle the contents onto the ball, which is stuck to the end of your fork. Do this with a frenzied, trembling sort of excitement, as you are SO CLOSE to getting to eat your sugar butter!

Step 5: GRATIFICATION! Eat your sugar butter! Smooth it all over your tongue and enjoy the crunch of the sugar crystals and the creamy saltiness of the butter. If your eyes feel compelled to roll back in your head, let them.

I, for one, was much more enthralled by the MASHED POTATO BAR! A huge line there the whole night. I have recently been over mashies, but now I am firmly back in the MASH camp.

Aside from a couple awkward moments (e.g. where I had to lean over, place my hand gently on Dr. Z's shoulder and say, "Don't take that personally," when the bride's father said, "When we first met [groom's name which I've already forgotten], we instantly thought, 'Now THIS is the kind of guy we want for our daughter!'" and when Dr. Z brought a conversation to a screeching halt by saying, "Yeah, but there's a rape in it" about a book that everyone was raving about [Pillars of the Earth]), I had a surprisingly fabulous time at this wedding where I knew no one. Dr. Z kept saying, "You're doing great!" so I think he would agree.