Monday, February 7, 2011

Asian Super Bowl Feast

I normally love Super Bowl parties - lots of cheering, commentary on commercials, endless dips and snacks - all good things. But this year I had sort of a sad realization about myself. I realized, when it comes to watching things I actually care about on TV, I'm not very good company. In fact, I get downright crotchety.

Case in point: we hosted an Oscar party last winter for our cousins and colleagues in Boston. I was excited about the idea of having lots of people over and making fun foods. But as soon as the Red Carpet coverage started, I wanted complete silence so I could focus on the stars. Hmmm. Silence is hard to come by in a 500-square foot apartment with 20 people.

So this Super Bowl, we declined party invitations and celebrated, just Joe and I, at home. I felt relieved. The only person I'd have to harshly "sshhh" was my sweet husband, and I know he can take it.

I pored over our new wedding cookbooks with a cup of coffee and an open window. It felt wonderful, flipping through gorgeous photos and ingredients lists. I'd had a hankering for Vietnamese Pho thanks to a recent takeout order in Baltimore from Mekong Delta Cafe. So I whipped out our glossy new Williams-Sonoma Asian Cookbook and tried to identify what exactly it was my taste buds were shouting for.

Turns out, they wanted a clear soup. So I decided to make Miso soup, vegetarian spring rolls and Pad Thai all from scratch. Figured we could space out the eating if I got an early enough start cooking.

I schlepped over to Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, on Cambridge St. with my reusable bags and sloppy list. Produce was no problem, and frankly, I was excited to tackle the Asian aisle with a specific purpose! Usually I just stand in front of those dried foods and rices and think, dear God, what does this translate to, and was it an animal? A vegetable? Hard to say...

And even yesterday with my detailed ingredients list, I still managed to become overwhelmed. I found about 60% of what I needed, but then the packages veered off from the exact terms used on my ingredients list, and I was lost. I didn't know how to translate and find substitutes. For example, what's dashi? And if they don't have dashi, what's a close substitute?

I began Googling on my iPhone immediately and managed to cross off a few more items, but dashi, miso shiro and konbe were still eluding me. Oh, and tamarind paste. Another stumper - what TYPES of foods were these? Should I look for them in the produce or cooler sections or the dry goods aisle? I was starting to sweat as I spun in circles in the Asian aisle and contemplated how these recipes might taste with only 60% of the right ingredients. Maybe I could just improvise.

Finally a very nice employee came over and said, "Ma'am, can I help you?" I said, "Do I look terribly lost?" He said, "I've been watching you stand here for 10 minutes. How can I help you?" Bless his heart.

I happily shoved the remainder of my ingredients list at him. Poor guy. Didn't know he was going to turn into someone's personal shopper. We found everything on the list except for dashi, and he even asked other colleagues if WF carries it. I learned that miso shiro is kept in the cooler section above the orange juices. Who knew?

Humbled yet victorious, I saddled my bags to my shoulders and started the 2-mile walk back home. I felt like a pack mule. I kept thinking, if those fragile rice-paper rounds break in my bags, I'm going to scream. But they didn't.

The miso soup was my first recipe once I got home and rubbed feeling back into my shoulders. These were new ingredients to play with! I was so excited! I'd finally jumped off the cliff and invested in all these Asian cooking oils - sesame oil, mirin, rice vinegar, fish investment, but a worthwhile one.

The kanbe was dried seaweed (again, who knew?), and I soaked it as instructed for 15 minutes in hot water until it was soft. Then I laid it on our wooden cutting board and began cutting long, thin slices. I was so moved by how beautiful this seaweed looked in my house. It was slippery, yet thick and durable. I rubbed my fingers over it several times to get the feel, and then I ripped off a piece to taste. (Since these were all new ingredients to me, I wanted to know what everything tasted like on its own before I mixed it with something else. That way I could better decipher what I needed to add more or less of next time). Kanbe was unremarkable by itself, but I knew it played a key role in the final flavor of miso.

I followed the miso soup recipe to a tee except for the dashi. It said to substitute 6 cups of low sodium chicken broth for dashi, but I opted for vegetable broth instead. Kind of a big difference. It made the soup much thicker than it should have been, and I didn't get that clear broth I was expecting. But now I know - chicken broth does not mean vegetable broth.

The spring rolls were fun and super simple. We shredded and peeled a bunch of veggies and fresh herbs and then added chickpeas as a protein substitute. I was excited to play with the rice paper rounds. They were surprisingly thick and malleable. I had been afraid they'd tear at the slightest touch. We each made our own little rolls, poured a little duck sauce out and had ourselves an appetizer during the pre-game show.

The Pad Thai was a cinch. Joe made the chile paste since he's the Master of the food processor. I think I added too much tamarind paste (even AFTER removing a tablespoon from the pan), so the color of the sauce was much darker than the Pad Thai I'm used to eating. I think I could use less fish sauce next time, too. Little too much salt flavor. Otherwise, it was good. And Joe had seconds, so I guess that's the real telling sign.

And now I have a pantry full of Asian ingredients for more experimenting! That's my kind of game on!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Burrito night

My sis came over last night for some overdue catch-up time, and we raided the 24 Store for dinner materials. The great thing about living next to a convenience store is, well, the convenience. Down side is the lack of fresh produce. Imagine that.

Grape tomatoes and a head of iceberg lettuce were the freshest things we walked away with. The rest came out of some sort of package - hate that. Canned pink beans and black beans that we heated on the stove, wheat soft burritos, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheddar cheese.

And let us not forget the beauty of Hint of Lime tortilla chips. Have mercy. I'll admit - those were an impulse buy and probably a bad health decision. E and I plowed through those while we prepped the other ingredients.

We made ourselves a little burrito station and served them up to order. Topped with a side of American Idol, we had ourselves a crazy Thursday night!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Back at it

Joe and I were on vacation in Mexico last week, and we did a little visualization exercise together. Long story short, one of the outcomes of our conversation was that I wanted to recommit to my blog. We do a great job of taking advantage of the Boston food scene, and I miss being plugged in to the local foodie community like I felt I was in Baltimore. So there should be more regular postings to come as I get back at it.

Starting with last night. I met up with my sis, who moved to Boston just after I did, to catch up on vacation stories. After a brief gab fest at the office, we decided to check out the Marliave bar where our cousin, Anna, recently started bar tending. We thought we could be her "easy money" for the night while she practices on other customers.

You have to want to find the Marliave. It's tucked down a dark side street off on Tremont on Bowsworth, at the very end of the block. But it's in a great location near Suffolk Law School, the Common, and the historic Omni Parker House.

It's an awesome setting if you dig vintage bars - real vintage, as in 1885. Most of the interior is white tile with minimal black accent tile. The food is French-inspired, courtesy of the founder, Henry Marliave.

For the record, you will be best advised to order the house-cut fries IMMEDIATELY upon arrival. A side portion is a hearty helping of thick fries seasoned with rosemary. They're heavenly, and my poor sister didn't stand a chance when she ordered a side for herself last night. I tried to fool myself into thinking I wouldn't touch hers, but let's be honest, I have no willpower.

I ordered a glass of the Lambrusco and the side portion of the wild mushroom risotto. They have an entree serving of the risotto, but after seeing the deep cereal bowl-size side portion, I can't FATHOM consuming an entree. The risotto was very satisfying, although I could have done with fewer large mushrooms and more small mushrooms mixed in. I ended up leaving a small pile of oyster mushrooms in the bottom of the bowl. Probably because I was too full from sniping fries off E's plate. Doh.

Anna recommended we head upstairs to check out the really awesome dining room, but we ran out of time. Sex and the City 2 was calling at 8pm down the street! Now, I'm a huge S&TC fan, and I probably quote the show and movie an obnoxious amount. ("I may not send texts, and I may not get texts, but the subtext of that text - boo-tay.") So no surprise that I really enjoyed S&TC2, despite poor reviews from critics and friends. It's pure entertainment, people! Don't take it seriously! Without giving it away for those who haven't seen it, I think Carrie got off a little too easy at the very end. That seemed a bit too far fetched, even to me.

But it's all in good fun!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The MFA and Parish Cafe - hey, a rhyme!

Holy schnikes, it's been a while since I posted. Moving to Boston will do that to you.

Joe and I uprooted from Baltimore in June to pursue some pretty awesome career opportunities in Beantown. And the short story is, we're LOVING it. Couldn't be happier. Although what is UP with it getting dark at 4:00pm and snowing in October??? Our little Southern bodies are confused!

And low and behold, my little sister, E, helped us move to Boston, fell in love with it during her 4 days here, and four weeks later, she'd uprooted from Virginia and has started a new life of her own here too. Two cousins also moved to Boston this summer for law school and physical therapy school. Just too exciting! Having family so close is a first for Joe and I. Love it.

And last night was just one of many chances we've had to take advantage of that. Joe and I met after work for a double date with E and her bf at the Museum of Fine Arts. Once a month, the MFA has Free Community Day where they open the whole museum, including the special exhibitions, to the public until 9:45pm. Perfect!

We'd been this summer on another free day (cheap-os!), but we didn't make it through the whole museum. And we still didn't last night. But we did get to see The Secrets of 10A: Egypt 2000 BC. Very, very cool. The coffin on display is the most elaborate coffin that has been recovered to date.

And we finally toured the Japan and Korea wing. But I'm a sucker for Impressionist art. It's magical to be in the same room with Renoir, Monet, Manet, Millet...And for the first time I actually reveled in the old European wing, dreaming about my recent visit to the Uffizi and wishing I were back there.

I was happy to see so many young people at the Museum. Guess that's what happens when they let you in for free :)

Off we went to the Parish Cafe, a new favorite of ours on Boylston, but a favorite to all who live here. The concierge at Hotel Marlowe (my home away from home with visiting colleagues) recommended it, so we tried it out a few weeks ago. The menu is all sandwiches and salads, but the recipes are collected from chefs all over town. The top four sandwich items never change (get the Rowdy or the Zuni roll), but the rest rotate, so you can always count on something new.

I ordered the beet salad and tomato and rice soup. I was so excited to get to New England and find BEETS on the menu! Heaven forbid you see them anywhere in Baltimore or Virginia. What's up with that? I love knowing I don't have to rely on just cooking them at home - they're perfectly acceptable in menus all over Boston.

Joe got the Campbell, some veal sandwich that looked pretty substantial. And then we meandered home to the Navy Yard. Good times in Boston.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wine and cheese

Planned meals have temporarily ceased to exist at my house. Blame it on a crazy schedule, but wine and cheese have officially become my default dinner.

We've been in and out of our house dodging, um, visitors, I guess you can say, so cooking has taken a back seat. The last three dinners at home have featured a bottle of red and a block of something golden or white.

My girlfriend, Adriana, came over last week and brought some gorgeous cheese and fig spread while I supplied the Cabernet Sauvignon and crackers. My Extra Sharp Cracker Barrel cheese, courtesy of the Inner Harbor Lofts Convenience store next door, was quickly trumped by her European selection. After noshing and chatting for two hours, we decided that wine and cheese is THE perfect dinner. Anything more is just over achievement.

Guest blog post is up!

Check it out on Baltimore Magazine's "In Good Taste" page here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Baltimore magazine guest blog

I just submitted my guest blog entry to the Food editor at Baltimore magazine for her blog, In Good Taste. The editor, a frequent PR pursuit mine, is going out for knee surgery and asked for guest bloggers during her recovery.

Shout out to Twitter for alerting me of the opportunity. @sunnye03 was all over it.

She was open-minded enough to give me the green light, so my post should appear sometime next week. I'll link to it when it goes live.