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Food: The McRib’s Return

2 Nov

The Los Angeles Times has good coverage of the McRib’s 6-week return at all chain restaurants, the sandwich’s fan base, as well as the reasons for its sporadic appearance:

While some U.S. devotees would like to see the sandwich join the McDonald’s lineup permanently, store operators have found that sales are strongest for about four to six weeks, said McDonald’s Corp. marketing director Brad Hunter. Thus the McRib has taken on a cameo role. Elusiveness heightens its appeal.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Hunter said. “The quest for McRib happens throughout the country every year.”

The sandwich consists of a pork patty pressed into the shape of ribs. It’s served on a hoagie-style bun with onions and pickles. McRib has 500 calories — 240 of them from fat — and 980 milligrams of sodium, according to the McDonald’s website.

The nationwide promotion marks the first time in 16 years that the sandwich has been available at every U.S. McDonald’s at once. The company is also holding a contest for the best tale (tall or otherwise) about hunting for or eating McRibs. The winner will get a free trip to Germany, where the sandwich is always on the menu.

8th Annual Spice of Life Festival

17 Oct

On my way home from church, I briefly stopped by the 8th Annual Spice of Life Festival, located in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

Two pictures below are of Paul’s Paella. In the first bite, I could distinctly taste the chorizo, bell peppers, and lemon. However, I thought the rice was too mushy.

The next two photos are of Carolyn Tillie‘s remarkable food jewelry.

I gave Carolyn some of my paella. In return, she gave me a small slice of her okonomiyaki.

Braised Green Beans [Day 23]

2 Oct

Sijidou 四季豆, or Chinese-style braised green beans, is an easy dish to make.

  1. Set oiled pan on high heat. Once hot, add green beans.
  2. Remove green beans when their surface begins to ‘blister.’ Set on a plate, temporarily.
  3. Sauté minced garlic, ginger. Optional: red chilis, preserved vegetables, and dried shrimp.
  4. Reincorporate green beans, stir. Salt to taste. Turn off heat, set on a plate.

For a more detailed recipe, see Diana Kuan’s excellent Appetite for China.

Washing green beans in a colander. As you can see, these are old green beans — no matter! They will be soon be braised, and so inconspicuously old.

Chop off the ends, then cut into 2-inch pieces.

This is one of my favorite things in the fridge: ginger in a tube. Do not hate.

The finished product!

I also made eggplant with tomato and mushroom. No recipe, sorry.

Making Di San Xian 地三鲜: Sautéed Eggplant with Potatoes and Green Bell Pepper [Day 16]

25 Sep

Since my favorite vegetarian foods are fairly easy to make, I’ve been cooking a lot more often. One of my favorite foods is di san xian, or 地三鲜, a northeastern Chinese home-style dish (东北家常菜). The first time I had it was one year ago, when my friend Vishal serendipitously pointed at the ‘di san xian’ photo in the restaurant menu.

Transliterated, ‘di san xian’ means ‘earth three fresh,’ no doubt because it incorporates 3 fresh elements: eggplant, potato, and green pepper.

I’m notoriously wacky — er, okay, bad — at giving cooking instructions, so I hope the following recipe will be fairly comprehensible.

Di San Xian: Sautéed Eggplant with Potatoes and Green Pepper

3/4 medium Chinese eggplant
80% Russet potato, or 2 small potatoes “borrowed” from your roommate
1/2 green bell pepper
3/4 green onion
2 cloves diced garlic
1 smidgen of minced ginger
1.5 Tb-ish of soy sauce
Corn starch

  1. Peel the potato, then slice it and the eggplant into thin chunks. (See 1:14 of this video for an example, or see the slices below.)
  2. Place the eggplant pieces in a bowl, sprinkle with salt to get rid of excess water. Wait for 10 minutes or so, then pat dry with a paper towel. (See Photo 1)
  3. Put some oil in a pan. Once it gets hot, carefully put in the potato pieces. I recommend using a slotted spoon (see Photo 3) to avoid crazy oil/water splash catastrophes. Start the heat on low, and once the potato starts looking cooked, turn up the heat.1 Remove the potatoes, place on a plate with a paper towel to absorb oil.
  4. While you’re waiting for the potatoes to fry, you might want to make a slurry of soy sauce, corn starch, and water. I can’t really tell you the proportions. But you’ll get it right. Also, I added a few drops of sesame oil the last time around. I’m not sure if it made a difference or not.
  5. Shallow fry the eggplant on medium heat. Look at how vibrant the purple is! Once the eggplant chunks starts looking translucent, transfer them to the same paper-towel lined plate.
  6. Chop the green onion, dice the garlic, mince the ginger, cut the green bell pepper into whatever shape you’d like. I recommend chunks about the same size as 2/3 of your index finger, assuming you have normal hands. Also, don’t chop off your finger while thinking of my size referent.
  7. Get rid of most of the oil in the pan, and use what remains to sauté the green onion, garlic, and ginger. Once it starts to get fragrant, add eggplant and potato on medium to high heat.
  8. Add the slurry, stir it around. You’re done! (See Photo 5). Serves 1.3 people as a main dish, 2 as a side dish.

1 Low heat will cook the potatoes, high heat will give it a nice browned exterior. This method, as well as the double-fry (one pan on low heat, another already on high heat), is also the key to good french fries. (See Photo 4 for the beginning of the process)

Vegging Out [Day 3]

12 Sep

From September 10 through October 10, I plan to be a vegetarian. Just as the dates are almost completely arbitrary, so are my reasons.

I’ve written about my quasi-vegetarianism, or “vaguetarianism,” in the past. I haven’t changed my stance on meat since that entry, but after having a few conversations with vegetarians, I decided it would be interesting to join them for a month.

For one, I think I’ll become more conscious about my food choices when I eat out. Second, it’s an incentive for me to cook more since most vegetarian things I get at restaurants can be made at home, and at a cheaper cost. Third, I’ll take my overall nutrition into account more often, now that I have to be more conscientious of where I’ll get my iron, protein, etc.

But honestly, the biggest factor in the decision was the first one. The interest in vegetarianism became a commitment (albeit only a month-long one) shortly after I ate a big cheesesteak at Vinnie’s. A month-long form of dietary penance for the quarter-cow I ate, I suppose.

My friend Laura suggested I blog about whatever physical/mental changes I have during this month, which I think could be a valuable exercise. I’ll admit that I don’t foresee any big disruptions to my lifestyle. All it means is no more occasional mushroom burger at Bongo Burger, no more bimonthly-ish chicken burritos, no more hunting wildlife on the weekends. This is doable.

This is doable.

But maybe I don’t have to try and convince myself. In the past few days, I have had corn chowder, vegetarian tacos, chocolate chip cookies, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, among other things. If this is penance, then I haven’t quite had feelings of contrition yet.

Today I made ratatouille.

This is not ratatouille. This is the most grotesque cutting board I have ever seen in my life. We inherited it from the previous tenants.
It has become the designated hot plate mat.

Fresh out of the oven!

You can’t really go wrong with nice veggies, tomatoes, romano cheese, and mushrooms. I added some sun dried tomatoes, which in retrospect was a very wise decision.

I have some theories as to why vegetarian foods weren’t so popular in the recent past, but I’ll share those another time.

Food: “Research”

31 May

DC may be the only place where Chinese restaurants serve a standard fare of Chinese food, fried chicken, seafood, and subs. The addition of subs is mystifying, if only because I think submarine sandwiches rank pretty low on people’s favorite foods.

I tried to imagine the following scenarios —

  1. Dude, I’m really hungry.
    Yeah, bro, I’m in the mood for a sub.
  2. Hi, kids! What do you want for dinner?
    Children, in unison: Subway!
  3. No, pizza’s a terrible idea. What our potluck needs are some submarine sandwiches.

— and found myself even more baffled.

I naively thought I would be able to understand the place of subs in a Chinese joint after a few jaunts to local carry-outs over the weekend. Three restaurants and two days later, I’m closer to the answer, but still very far. I’m leaving DC tomorrow (blah!), and I realize that I have to return at some point to do more, erm, ‘research’ on this.

At Goody’s Carry-Out, which “serve[s] delicious Chinese food, Mexican food, subs, seafood, & chicken at most reasonable prices,” I ordered 3 Chicken wings with fried rice. I had the choice of topping the chicken with ketchup, Mumbo sauce, hot sauce, or barbecue sauce. As Quinn, the cashier, bagged my order, she asked me if I also wanted some soy sauce. This medley of sauce choices — East, West, and … Mumbo — was really delightful.

A beguiling snack from Spring Garden: the Philly steak eggroll.

Addendum: I realize I haven’t actually had a sub at any of these places. However, my visits were more geared towards talking with people than trying food. Still, though, I probably should get a sub sandwich during phase 2 of my research — which, by the way, is now receiving grants.

Food: Libyan Cuisine

9 May

My roommate’s friend is Libyan, and she is making food downstairs as I type. I guess it is good that I am typing and occupying my hands from doing other things, like, say, wrenching my stomach in longing. Because it is hard to wait for the final almonds to be fried, the last bits of lamb to be stewed, and so on.

This is a preview of what’s to come:

Dispatches from the Capitol: Baseball and Local Natives; Food: Comfort Food (Part of a Series)

6 May

In DC, paupers can thrive as cheap — sometimes free! — events abound in this area. I also went to a Bach cantata performance, but didn’t take any pictures. All together, these events cost under $20.

I’m very excited about this Saturday, when I’ll get to listen to a presentation by Jennifer 8. Lee, a (former?) journalist known well for her writings on Chinese-American food.

On a related note, it’s been some time since I’ve last written about one of my favorite topics,* American comfort foods. I’m hoping to pick that up again, soon. In the meantime, I’m continuing my morbid fascination with KFC, revived by the recent unveiling of the Double Down.

A review of the sandwich, in the Boston Globe:

KFC’s newest offering has redefined the American sandwich landscape. The Double Down sandwich consists of two fried chicken breasts, bacon, cheese, and special sauce. “This product is so meaty,’’ reports KFC’s website with the sort of pride usually reserved for a child’s flawless piano recital, “there’s no room for a bun!’’

Maybe not, but there is room for criticism. If the American public is serious about rejecting all sensible dietary guidelines, KFC completely fails to deliver. The Double Down poses as the atomic bomb of artery-clogging, but it’s really just a grenade. Many people would have to wait years for a heart attack, even if they ate one every day.

Americans have long mastered double-, triple-, and quadruple-decker sandwiches. And yet this ostensibly innovative new sandwich features just one story — a design that is outdated and ill-suited to sate the average American gullet. And it contains merely two types of meat. Would it have killed KFC to add ground beef? Some pork? And, to wash the whole thing down a bit, a bucket of nacho cheese for dipping? If there’s one thing Americans are qualified to do, it’s judge fast-food sandwiches, and they are likely to punish KFC for not going nearly far enough. The Double Down is just a 540-calorie disappointment.

*Actually, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything substantive, period.

Food: Pizza

23 Mar

My roommate Abby gave me the wonderful idea of buying a frozen cheese pizza and adding toppings. Voici —

One-half: spinach, feta cheese, basil, red onions, mushrooms
One-half: potatoes, caramelized onions, oregano, rosemary, garlic

It’s great, economical-ish, and tasty.

My other roommate, Erin, has added bacon and brie on her pizzas in the past, both of which turned out really, really well. She also made the dough from scratch, which is beyond my league.

While I’m on the topic of cheesy, starchy foods … I had chili cheese fries at Stoney’s, located in Logan Circle. I give them points for thought and originality for broiling the CCF, as it gives the fries a nice, crisp exterior. However, once you crack the cheesy shell, you’ll find that the chili is not much more than water and stewed beans. I don’t know, I find something deeply unjust about that.

Travelogue: Straight East Coastin’

28 Feb

Interns come and go, politicians stay as long as their constituents will have them: DC is a city of constant flux. And while it’s home to a great many cultures, ethnic communities here thrive mainly at a private, small level. That is to say, my first impression is that ethnic languages, cultures, and foods are most readily found inside homes or civic groups, not in the marketplace, not on dense streets, not in lively quarters — with some exceptions (the Ethiopian and Eritrean presence around U St. comes to mind).

Boston is different. There’s a sizable Chinatown, a really nice Little Italy, and probably other areas that I didn’t see in my 2.5 days there. Also, while some areas (e.g., Cambridge) experience a lot of residential turnover, even a short-term visitor will be able to sense something very constantly and palpably Bostonian about the region. Contrast this with DC, which I almost want to say has less a culture of place than it has a culture of politics. But that’s not entirely true. I just can’t pinpoint what DC’s essence is yet.

I’d like to write in more detail about Boston, because I had a really great weekend. There were many instances of seeing people for the first time in a very long time, and I appreciated every moment. However, it’s late, and I have to sleep. Here are a couple of photos from a small batch I have just uploaded to my flickr (username baulina).

Vegetable curry with egg & cheese at Cafe Mami with the indomitable Steph An (not pictured). This is the acme of Japanese curry.

Mike’s Pastry is a caloric nightmare, but one that few want to wake from. The popular joint is best known for the cannolis, but has a huge selection of cookies and cakes. Here, they are about to be boxed.

L-R: Éclair, ricotta cheese cannoli, tiramisu, Napoleon.