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archive for February 2011

p is for…

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Recipe: pandan ice cream

[Today is the last day to get the early bird registration discount of $50 for the Food and Light food photography and styling workshop in Boulder, Colorado this summer. We are so looking forward to working with you!]

P is for party! In my case, a dosa party hosted by my favorite little blogger down the road, Manisha. She has ruined me, ruined me. I dare not set foot into an Indian restaurant lest I be disappointed that it’s not as good as Manisha’s cooking. [I’m sorry, I don’t have good photos of the dosas because I was too busy EATING them… Priorities, man.]

manisha tops the little papads (which i kept sneaking)

mango panna cotta with cardamom and pistachios

Did I mention that I love having friends who cook? It seems to be a problem that plagues many of my food blog friends who happen to be phenomenal cooks – none of their friends cook. Sure, people eat, but few people actually know and prepare their food at a fundamental level these days. I’m guessing this readership is in the minority when we consider our society of convenience and junk and corporate-mystery-crap-peddled-as-nourishment. But back to friends who cook… Just the other day I was having a pleasant catch-up with Lisa over breakfast and she bemoaned that all too familiar plight of the avid cook: no one invites you over for dinner. Foodies (I know some people hate that word – so call them food enthusiasts or whatever, I really don’t care) are always told “I can’t cook like you.” That’s not really the point. Both Lisa and I agreed that being invited over for take out pizza would be terrific because it’s about spending the time together, not going head to head to outdo or impress. At least, that’s not what my friendships are based on.

(from left to right) great cooks: kitt, manisha, birthday girl dana, and teri (not pictured: kathya)

I was lucky in grad school because I had two girlfriends who were great cooks and we took turns inviting each other (and partners) over for big bash meals – something to take your mind off the grind of research for an evening. I bond with people over food. My dad had a rule in our house: we all sat down to dinner together as a family and the television was turned OFF. And you know what? It was nice (except when the topic turned to SAT scores, college admissions, and why the heck I insisted on playing field hockey). It took a while, but after a couple of years in Colorado I have found a great gaggle of gal pals who love to cook and love to feed one another. We go to ethnic grocery stores together like fifth graders on a field trip. So it was a few weeks ago that Kathya and I were cruising around H-Mart in Denver.

p is also for pandan


Truth be told, I didn’t know what pandan leaves were. I just knew that southeast Asian bloggers loved the stuff and made pretty green desserts with it. I held the bag in my hand… a mere two dollars or such. “What is it?” I asked Kathya. Her face melted into a big smile and she told me she loves the stuff and it’s a little nutty, a little floral. I put the packet in my cart thinking I would enlist the help of the interwebs later to figure out what to do with the leaves.

tie into a knot for ease of retrieval

milk, sugar, cream, and a pinch of salt

steep the leaves in the hot cream

Pandan is screwpine leaf and the flavor is nutty, floral, and a tad piny, if that makes sense. It’s subtle and lovely. I was always drawn to it because it’s green and I’m a sucker for green foods. What I learned was that the green color comes from pandan extract, which I didn’t have. So I chanced a visit to my local Asian grocer and found it. I picked up a bottle for myself and another for Kathya.

pandan extract

**Jump for more butter**

bring on the awesome

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Recipe: carne adovada quesadillas

Reminder: You have until March 1, 2011 to get the early bird registration discount of $50 for the Food and Light food photography and styling workshop in Boulder, Colorado this summer!

California does it to me every time. I get a nip of the flowers, the greenery, the warmer weather and I start feeling excited for spring despite my sworn love of winter and skiing and fleece and down. Boulder will start blooming in April well before our early mountain flowers bloom come late June, so I can travel down the canyon to get my spring fix as necessary. The difference in the seasons from one place to another can be quite drastic all due to geography.

yosemite’s geography and weather dictated winter last weekend

I have mixed feelings about Yosemite. It is one of the most heavily visited of our national parks and in summer it is a veritable tangle of cars and people all wanting to experience the wilderness while loving it to death. We call it the sacrificial lamb. It’s the small area of wilderness you open up to the general public in order to save and preserve the rest of the park which sees far less traffic. Woodland critters run up and beg for food when they ought to be running away from people. Part of the reason I love these stunning natural places is because I want to hear the rush of the rivers and waterfalls, the chirps of the local birds, the breeze rustling the leaves – not some couple arguing over their broken marriage (yeah, we heard that one night in camp) or car horns bellowing because we can’t be courteous to one another. We bring our outside problems in and they are at their height in summer. Traveling to Yosemite in the off season reminds me of just how amazing this place is any time of year.

a squall blows through the valley

Have you been? The famous towering outcrops and sheer valley walls really work that third dimension. I was in awe the first time I laid eyes on the valley 18 years ago. It doesn’t fail to take my breath away today. It’s special and worth seeing at least once. The best part about the snowstorm was that it kept a good bit of the holiday weekend crowds at bay. Actually, that’s not true. The best part about the snowstorm was the snowstorm.

can’t resist a clearing storm

As the clouds lifted and sucker holes (patches of blue sky) materialized to the west, the wet snow on the trees began to melt under the sunlight and fall. It felt like the aftermath of a big spring storm as we walked through the stands, pelted by a never-ending snowball fight with the trees. I have always held the opinion that everything looks magical under a blanket of white snow. Yosemite valley looked candied, dusted, and ready to eat.

view from the gates of the valley

You can see more of the photos from the trip on my photo blog.

It’s still winter over here in Colorado, but the longer daylight hours and our bluebird days cue me to shift my cooking habits. I associate slow-cooked stews and soups with the cold and dark nights that seem to stretch on forever. Rummaging through the freezer recently, I found a jackpot of carne adovada I had prepared back in December to make life for Future Me easier. I love to cook, but if I cook and bake too much when the sun is up, I start to get ornery. I honestly don’t know how some of my friends like Shauna and Jennie crank through recipe after recipe (sometimes the same one over and over again until it’s perfect), but these ladies are dedicated baking and cooking machines. My hat is off to them. But me? I’m a lazy bum and sometimes lazy bums just want a quick and easy quesadilla.

you will need tortillas, cheese, and carne adovada

even distribution is the ocd’s mantra

**Jump for more butter**

the way home

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Recipe: chinese pork belly zong zi

I’m looking forward to going home. There are few if any trips that I’ve taken where I felt that I wasn’t ready to go home to be with my guy and my pup, in my familiar surrounds, getting back to my routine. A creature of habit. That’s me. When I booked my travel I was asked to identify this as business, personal, or both. I checked both. The primary reason was to shoot.

me and my gazillion new friends

With the forecast calling for snow (and lots of it), we packed our skis because there’s a ski resort in Yosemite. Little did we know that unlike ANY OTHER SKI RESORT IN THE WORLD, Badger Pass CLOSES when it gets snow. It has to do with plowing the roads and such, but I was simultaneously dismayed and astounded and then dismayed some more. The storms cleared just in time for us to drive back to the coast so Jeremy could catch a flight home while I spent an extra couple of days visiting with my grandma.

mandatory activity: the eating of the chinese food

Even though I used to live in Southern California, it still blows my mind that flowering trees are starting to bloom here in the San Francisco bay area… in February. February. I suppose that is why Grandma likes it here so much. That and all of the awesome Chinese food.

plum blossoms

Whenever I visit, I always drive Grandma to whatever stores she needs to go to. We get her (my) sewing machine in for maintenance, go to the fabric store so she can pick up materials for some projects, go to the Asian markets for groceries… Years ago, I purchased a package of bamboo leaves while visiting Grandma and flew home with them. They sat in my pantry for about three or four years. These are an essential component for making zong zi – Chinese rice dumplings (more like Chinese rice tamales). I *finally* got around to making these a few weeks ago and now that I know how to make them… I need more bamboo leaves – to make more! I have two bags of them packed in my luggage as I type.

fried shallots, dried shrimp, bamboo leaves, pearl rice (sticky rice)

bamboo leaves, rice, pork belly, mushrooms, fried shallots, dried shrimp

My grandma used to make zong zi from scratch when I was a little kid. Back in the day, these sorts of Chinese treats were hard to come by in southern Virginia, but if you had a Chinese grandma in your house, you were in luck! I have strong visual memories of the foods my grandmother made for us when I was growing up. It’s the only reason I knew which rice to buy (fortunately for me, their label hasn’t changed in over 30 years!). I have seen some recipes use other kinds of rice (long grain, short grain), but I like the texture of the pearl or sweet rice, as it is sometimes called.

slicing up the pork belly

soaking the rice

boiling the bamboo leaves

I checked my local Asian grocery store for bamboo leaves to give to a friend (who also wanted to make zong zi), but they only had frozen banana leaves. I’m glad I didn’t substitute because after cooking with the bamboo leaves, I think they are essential to the zong zi. The leaves impart a mellow tea flavor to the rice.

marinate the pork belly with soy sauce, shallots, cooking wine, sugar, and pepper

mix the shrimp and rice together

simmer the pork and mushrooms

**Jump for more butter**