Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Food

Good Eats Returns!

It’s been a long while since I last posted. Life just took over! But I’ve missed blogging for a few reasons:

  • it helps keep me writing
  • I can document places I’ve been, food I’ve eaten and cooked, books I’ve read, thoughts I’ve had
  • it’s a good space for reflection

So I’ll start up where I left off, with some food and some travels.

Thanksgiving 2014 has come and gone, but not without some great eating! One highlight of this past few days of cooking and eating was having Dungeness crab, Vietnamese style. (At least, I think it’s Vietnamese style – the recipe comes from my Vietnamese friend!) It’s Dungeness crab season in the Bay area, and I hope to take full advantage of it.

Having grown up in Maryland, I’m still partial to Maryland blue crabs; but I’m learning to love Dungeness crabs, too, which isn’t very hard!

We got two big crabs for $6.99/ pound at 99 Ranch, the big Chinese supermarket out here. And then we used this video to kill the crab as humanely as possible. One adjustment to this video was that we left the crabs in the freezer for more like 30-40 minutes. I think even an hour would have been better. This was another good supplemental video that was helpful.

So here’s the recipe from my friend that we used:

Ingredients

  • 4 dungeness crabs = 6 pounds
  • two fist size knobs of ginger
  • two heads of garlic (small or medium size)
  • two bunches of scallions
  • 2-3 tsp fish sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar

Dungeness crab ingredients

Preparation

  1. Crabs – take off the shell.  Put the innards into a bowl (keep!!)  Cut up the body part into halves or quarters.  Keep all parts for cooking.
  2. Ginger – cut into 2 inch matchsticks
  3. Garlic – rough mince
  4. Scallions – 2 inch chop

Cooking

  1. Use big pot (wide bottom is better) with a lid.
  2. Heat oil.  Add garlic and ginger.  Saute for a minute or two.
  3. Add crab pieces.  Cook for a minute or two.
  4. Add fish sauce and sugar (may need to add more – taste the broth that develops from all the ingredients).  Toss crab to coat with developing sauce.
  5. Add crab innards.  Cook a few minutes, tossing if possible.
  6. Add scallions.  Turn heat down to medium.
  7. Cover with lid.  Check every so often, toss to makes sure all crab pieces get flavoring.
  8. Total cooking – 7-10 minutes, check that meat turns white.  Don’t overcook!

IMG_6886

We made the recipe with two crabs, and that would have been enough to feed three people, probably. Super simple and easy – the hardest was probably butchering the crab, but luckily I got someone else to do that (thanks, D!).

It’s good to have a filler to go with this since not everyone can eat enough crabs to fill themselves up, so I made some kimchee-bacon fried rice. I don’t really have a recipe for this, but I’ll write a narrative description here:

  1. Chop up well-fermented kimchee, bacon, and anything else you want to throw into the fried rice.
  2. Cook up the bacon to get it crisp.
  3. Add the chopped up kimchee with some kimchee juice and cook that up until the kimchee has wilted pretty well. Add some sugar, sesame oil, and soy sauce for some extra flavor.
  4. Add day-old rice. Stir it all around.
  5. Add an egg or two and stir well.
  6. Serve!

IMG_6887

Good post-Thanksgiving eats!

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Reconnecting

Once again, months have passed and I haven’t written. There are several reasons for this.  A few to be named here:

  • I haven’t been traveling to exotic lands (thus no cool photos to share).
  • I haven’t done much cooking experimentation (thus no recipes to share).
  • I haven’t felt inspired much to write.

But a lot’s happened.  Here’s a recap of sorts, in no particular order.

I almost got laid off at work but then got promoted instead.  So I don’t think this is usually how life works, but I lucked out in knowing one of the VPs in charge of a whole restructuring/ lay-off process at my workplace, and I think that’s how I got kept on board. So the job has been more interesting than it was a few months prior.  More challenging, more creative thinking, more use of my whole brain.  I still think about what I want to do next.  But for now, I’ve only been at this job about six months, and I’m settling in.  Next is to ask for a raise (which didn’t happen when I got promoted – it didn’t seem appropriate to ask when the reason for the restructure was a big budget hole!).

I traveled quite a bit for work.  This was before the restructure.  I got the lucky role of traveling to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbia, MO, and Kansas City, MO during the coldest months of the year (January and February).  You know people always say travel for work sounds cool but isn’t really.  And I would concur.  Traveling is fun.  Work can be fun, but not all the time.  Traveling for work is just work.  I didn’t get a chance to explore any of the cities I visited, so no photos to share.  And I saw snow in almost every city.

I reunited with my girlfriends from college in Philadelphia which was great fun!  We ate.  At Morimoto (see a sample of a dish from the omakase below).  At Parc Bistro in Rittenhouse Square.  At Reading Terminal Market. Cafe Lift for brunch.  I have to say we did fairly well.  We even topped it off with cheap Chinese takeout at a place across the street from the weekend apartment rental we were staying at.  Reminded us of the good ol’ college days.

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We sightsaw. We went to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and even did the free tour of the hall inside.  We walked down Walnut Street to do some window shopping. We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum.  We saw some of the famous Philadelphia street sculptures. And we did this all without a car and without using public transportation.  We’re walkers!

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And we just hung out. Good quality girl time.

I experimented with more sourdough.  I got a gift of homemade Bay Area sourdough starter and started making some loaves.  Some turned out better than others, and here’s the best loaf I was able to make using this recipe.  It was delicious.  Airy, sourdough-y, crusty and light.  Yum!

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I reveled in the Bay Area spring.  As an East Coaster, I had always pooh-poohed the lack of seasons that I perceived in California (at least in LA and the Bay Area).  I clung to my love of autumn as a way to say I always needed my four seasons (even though in the Boston area the summers were getting hotter and the winters colder and snowier and the spring just nonexistent).  So this being my first spring in the Bay Area, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But it has been glorious.  We had a few weeks of much needed rain in the transition from “winter” to spring.  And the flowering trees and spring flowers just took over as early as February.  They’re now in full force, but it’s amazing how with an ongoing growing season, there are always flowers on trees or on bushes.  But one can tell which are the spring flowers, which are the winter flowers, etc.  Here were a few of my favorite spring blooms:

ImageI read.  I became a fan of Ann Patchett in first hearing her speak on Fresh Air with Terry Gross about her new book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which I am now reading. But my first read of hers after hearing her on NPR was The Patron Saint of Liars (it was all I could get from my online library to read on my iPad – the rest of Patchett’s books were checked out with long waiting lists), which was poignant, heartwarming, and beautifully written.

I read a few Haruki Murakami books, which totally grabbed me: Norwegian Wood and A Wild Sheep Chase.  I had tried to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year while traveling and just couldn’t get through it.  I had also read and loved What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which I wrote a blog post about almost two years ago (!gasp!).  So I gave Murakami another go and really enjoyed those two.  I feel like these are books better understood and read by people in their younger, angsty-er days, but I still enjoyed the language and the characters that I encountered.

I’m in the process (it’s taking awhile, and it sits on my nightstand to read a few pages of every few nights because it takes a little more energy to read) of reading The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth.  A fascinating read.  The plot is quite simple – a love story involving the lives of individuals living in the Bay Area.  But the author masterfully constructs line after line, verse after verse of unrelenting sonnets! It’s incredible.  Even his table of contents, acknowledgements, and dedication are all written in verse.  He’s funny, sweet, incisive.

And I’ve had some great meals. Most of which have been homemade! I DID have an amazing sushi dinner at Ichi Sushi in Bernal Heights on Mission Street.  If you go there, get there early to stand in line before they open or get reservations.  And get the omakase. It’s TOTALLY amazing.  I had a couple great meals at Pizzaiolo, a great restaurant in Temescal in Oakland, on Telegraph Ave. Another place to make reservations or get there early before they open to get in.

But the BEST meal of all was not one, but several meals prepared by my cousin who loves cooking gourmet meals.  Truffles on soft-scrambled eggs.  Ramen with a homemade ramen broth.  Cassoulet.  Baked rabbit.  I mean, these are amazing meals.  I feel lucky to be his relative.  And I get to bring friends along sometimes, too!  Lucky them!  Here’s a sampling:

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All in all, it’s been a productive, satisfying few months.  Who knows what lies ahead?

Time for Some Biscotti

For many years now, I’ve been making a double batch of biscotti to give away as Christmas gifts to co-workers and friends.  I think it comes from a combination of anti-Christmas-commercialism and the fear of going shopping among the crowds and a little bit of laziness that has made me do this kind of gift-giving.  Also, I think my adult friends and family all have what they need or want, and I don’t know what to get anyone anymore.

Anyways, this is the best biscotti I’ve ever had in my life.  Hands down.  I was introduced to it by my dear friend in college.  Her mother would bake a batch and send it to her, and I was one of the lucky friends who got to have some!  We’d have morning coffee on Sundays, I’d supply the coffee with my trusty little Gevalia coffeemaker (illegally stashed in my closet along with my illegal rice cooker, hot water heater, candles, and toaster oven!) and she would supply the delicious almond-y treats.  Many a chilly Sunday morning was spent gossiping about the weekend’s goings-on and savoring the crunchy biscuits dipped in coffee.  One of my favorite college memories.

I finally got the recipe at some point.  Maybe this was after college, when I was missing the biscotti, not having been able to find its match in any store. Biscotti that I’ve bought is often like hard-dried bread.  And it’s not so tasty.  I don’t know what it is in this recipe – maybe the prominence of the almonds, the bit of cakey-ness that makes it not so dry.  It’s perfect with a hot cup of coffee or even warm milk.

So here’s the recipe.  Thanks for sharing, Mama H!

photo (1)

(double recipe amounts in parentheses)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup butter (2/3 cup)
  • 2 cup flour (4 cup)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (1 1/3 cup)
  • 2 eggs (4 eggs)
  • 2 tsp baking powder (4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts, finely chopped (3 cup)
  • Glaze:
    • 1 cup chocolate chips (2 cup)
    • 1 tbsp shortening (2 tbsp)
    • Heat in small pan, low heat.  Stir till smooth.

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Beat butter till softened.
  3. Add 1 cup of flour.  Add sugar, eggs, baking powder, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Stir in remaining cup of flour and nuts.  Mix well.  Resulting mixture should be a like a sticky dough.
  5. Divide dough in half.  Shape each portion into a tightly packed log (about 9″ x 2″).
  6. Place logs about 4″ apart on lightly greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
  8. Cool logs on rack for about 30 minutes.  Drop oven temp to 325 degrees.
  9. Cut each log on slight diagonal with serrated knife into 1/2 inch pieces.
  10. Lay slices on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees for 8 minutes.
  11. Turn slices over and bake another 8-10 minutes.10.  Cool slices on rack.  While cooling, prepare chocolate glaze.
  12. Dip cookies into glaze.  Let set.
  13. ENJOY!

So pass this recipe on!  It’s a little labor intensive, but SO worth it.  And my photo above shows the double batch yield.  Happy holidays!

A Whirlwind Trip to Iceland

One of my best friends just turned 40, and to celebrate, a few of us, including her, went to Iceland for a long weekend.  What an unexpectedly great mini-vacation!  For about $1,000, we had a round trip flight out of JFK to Reykjavik, three nights at the Reykjavik Natura, and two tours (to be spoken of later).  What a baaah-gain! I did zero research before going to Iceland (my friend did all the bookings), and it was great to have everything pretty much taken care of.  Iceland is a beautiful country, just growing in its tourism industry, so not yet overrun with crazy photo-taking tourists from around the world.  And we got there in time for the first big, steady snow of the season, so everything was coated in a blanket of pristine snow.  It was cold, yes, but I expected that, so I was somewhat prepared both mentally and physically. Here’s a quick run through of what we did over the three and a half days in this country of 300,000 people, about the size of Virginia:

iceland-map-1

We took a red eye flight from JFK into Keflavik, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik, both of which are in the southeast of Iceland.  But with the time difference (5 hours ahead of New York), the five-ish hour flight brought us into Iceland at about 1am EST.  And from our arrival, we were on the go pretty much the rest of the day. The first thing that took getting used to was the inflated prices of everything.  Others had told me that Iceland prices are way higher than US prices, and that was no joke.  The other thing that took getting used to was that the sun didn’t rise until about 10am and then set around 4pm.  Literally, the sun did not get high in the sky.

Our first stop from the airport was at Blue Lagoon, a man-made geothermal spa that was “accidentally” formed from the running of a nearby geothermal power plant.  It supposedly has healing waters, and it’s called “blue” because the water is a tinted light blue.  A little scary when you think of it, that it’s created from the waste of the power plant, but oh well.  In any case, it was really cool to be soaking in this hot water (high 90 degrees) while the outside air was in the low 30s (it was cold enough to be snowing).

30 Blue Lagoon

After a few hours lounging, we headed into the city, checked in at our hotel, and took the public bus into downtown.  We took a nice walk down Laugavegur, a street lined with shops and cafes, as the snow fell and the temperature dropped.  We arrived for dinner at Fish Market, with a great seat in the lounge to celebrate my friend’s birthday.  We wanted to take full advantage of Iceland eats, so we ordered appetizers with puffin and whale as well as the langoustine main dish (basically a mini-lobster).  All was totally yummy, and we got a free dessert which was as big as one of the entrees!

fish market meal

The next day, we did the Golden Circle tour, the most popular and recommended tour to do in Iceland.  We got on a tour bus and went to several places, all where we could get out and take photos, a walk, and enjoy the sights.  What we saw:

  • Thingvellir National Park – a beautiful expansive national park, the site of the first Icelandic parliament in 930, and the location where two tectonic plates (the North American plate and the Eurasian plate) converge/ diverge
  • Gullfoss (Golden Falls) – an impressive and powerful waterfall
  • Geysir geothermal area – site of hot springs that bubble up into the sky, kind of like Old Faithful
  • Fontana steambaths – a spa with natural steam baths and pools in the open air.  The tour includes a gimmicky experience of seeing bread baked in a pot in the sand, heated by geothermal activity.

golden circle

That night we ate fish and chips and Icelandic Fish and Chips, which was quite good.  Overall, the food we ate in Iceland was tasty.  Not as I had expected.  Our next full day tour was an all day trip including a glacier walk, a visit to a folk art museum, a traditional Icelandic meat soup dinner, a view of a beautiful waterfall lit up by night spot lights and a full moon, and a hunt for the aurora borealis.  The glacier walk was way cool.  We had crampons strapped to our boots, and hiked up the glacier, even through a short snowstorm.  Unfortunately, we were not successful finding the Northern Lights, but the full moon was gorgeous, and with the new snow on the ground, we had some beautiful short walks in search of the aurora.

day two tourWe got back to our hotel around midnight and crashed.  A long day.

The next day was a free day, our last half day before heading back to the airport.  We headed back downtown, had a hot dog at a famous stand that has been frequented by Bill Clinton (that’s their claim to fame).  It was a delicious hot dog, which we ate outside, under a bike shelter as the snowflakes fell.  Well worth the search and the wait.  And cheap, relatively speaking = 380 Icelandic krona (about 3 bucks!).

What a fun and easy trip.  All courtesy of Iceland Air.  Check out their package deals!

Cooking Frenzy

I’ve been cooking a lot in anticipation of starting a new job, which means I won’t have much time for cooking anymore.  Unfortunately, I haven’t taken a lot of pics because I’m increasingly feeling a bit foolish and self-conscious taking photos of food.  What happened to the simple joys of cooking, enjoying the process, and then eating with friends and family?  Well, then again, we weren’t blogging, Instagram-ing, Facebook-ing back in the day.  We’ve become such a visual culture.

But enough on that.  Here are some of my cooking adventures with links to recipes I used.

Mom’s Kimchee

I’ve made this and posted about it before.  It’s always a wonderful feeling to make some kimchee, jar it up, and then wait a few days for it to ripen.  This time I think I didn’t use enough salt.  I shared some with friends (though I worry about that a bit because it wasn’t the best batch I’ve made).  Already, I’m waiting to make another batch.  But I’ll need to wait for another free day.  kimchee copy

Homemade Pizza

This was one of my cooking highlights.  I’ve been hunting for a good pizza dough recipe for years.  I’ve tried all kinds.  For awhile, I was using Giada De Laurentiis’s recipe, but one thing I always found lacking was a yeasty, springy texture.  It was more cracker than dough.  Good for thin crust, but not great.  I finally came up on this recipe.  Easy to make.  You just have to make it a few days in advance (or make it way in advance and freeze it).  But it’s so worth the wait.  Soooo good.  And so easy to make the pizzas once they’re ready.  Something about the slow-yeast-rise adds amazing flavor.  This is definitely going to be my go-to.  And I hope the next I make it, it’s just as good.

The other part of the amazing pizzas were the toppings I chose.  I was cooking for my cousin and his wife who are big foodies (especially my cousin).  So I knew I wanted to do something simple, classy, and super-tasty.  I bought all my groceries at my beloved Berkeley Bowl for under $30!  That included fancy mushrooms (including chanterelles), arugula, bacon, buffalo mozzarella…

I chose not to use a red sauce or any kind of sauce for the pizzas.  I feel that sauces tend to drown out the flavor of the dough and the toppings.  So here were my combos, in order of deliciousness (top listed first):

  • brussel sprout leaves (not pre-cooked), caramelized red onions, bacon (chopped and pre cooked), dollops of buffalo mozzarella, scattered roasted garlic (roasted in whole cloves), dusting of grated parmesan cheese on top.  I drizzled the pizza dough with some olive oil before putting on the toppings.  And the brussel sprout leaves crisped up so nicely.  This was heavenly!
  • mushrooms (three types – portobello, shiitake, and chanterelles– all sauteed with some garlic and a squeeze of lemon), bacon, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and a heaping of arugula (kept fresh, tossed with some olive oil and salt, spread on the pizza right after coming out of the oven).  Oh so good.
  • prosciutto, roasted garlic, mozzarella (dry form, grated), caramelized onion, ripped fresh basil.
  • heirloom tomatoes (thinly sliced), basil, mozzarella.

I didn’t take any photos, but trust me that each pizza was delicious!  I’ll be making this again for sure!

Butternut Squash Soup

I don’t really use a recipe for this, I just throw things together and it usually turns out great.

  1. Roast butternut (or any kind of squash) squash along with some garlic cloves and other root vegetables like potatoes and carrots.  Use your favorite method– with herbs or not, with olive oil, cut up in cubes or not…
  2. Make chicken stock.  (Or use pre-made stock that you have in your freezer.  Or use store-bought stock.)
  3. In a big pot, saute some leeks until nice and fragrant.   You can saute them in butter or olive oil or both!
  4. Throw the roasted vegetables into the pot.  Toss that around with the oil and leeks a bit.
  5. Pour in stock.  Whatever amount you would like to make a soup.  I’d say err on less at first in case you want a thicker soup.
  6. Add a bay leaf or two or three.
  7. Cook it up.  Since the vegetables are roasted, this shouldn’t take long.
  8. You can add some nice warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, curry, turmeric, ginger, paprika, black pepper…  Any or all of these!
  9. Using an immersion blender, a potato masher, or a fork, mash up the vegetables when they’re soft enough.  (Take out the bay leaf(ves) first.)
  10. Puree, mash until the soup is the texture you want.  You can add some cream if you want at the end to cream-ify it.  Or just leave as is.
  11. Add salt and pepper to season.  This can be done earlier on.
  12. Serve with some nice crusty bread.

butternut squash

OK, that’s enough for this post.  I don’t want to overwhelm you!  And now I’m back to being a working girl.  And I’ll just be eating stuff like this (haha, no really, this was the simplest thing ever to make):pork belly

Pork belly (pre-sliced, bought from the Korean market), marinated in red pepper paste + sesame oil + sugar + mirin, with a sesame leaf wrap, homemade kimchee (see above), and Chinese broccoli (see previous post).

Bam!!

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