Saturday, January 31, 2009

Highlight #137: Sweet spot - Bakery: Sweet Pockets

While we've gained a number of new comers like Serpa in the Irwin st. area, we've also lost a few. One of them is Sweet Pockets, a cupcake only bakery in the Irwin Street market. Incidentally, a new cupcake place had taken its space, so I suppose cupcakes live on in our neighborhood.

My first taste of Sweet Pocket's cupcake was over a year ago, when I happen to stroll into the market one day and found the minis adorable. This week I got to taste it again at my friend's pre-book launch workshop hosted at Sweet Pocket's new location near the Old Vining Inn. Three types of minis were offered (red velvet, happy monkey, and a third that I didn't try and can't remember the name) to help absorb the ample bubbly we were given. I went straight for the happy monkey, which was proven a most wise move. Peanut butter flavored buttercream (I am brave and trusted that Lenora, the talented baker/owner, had sourced the good stuff) brought to the cupcake a welcomed saltiness. And the cake itself was very very moist with loose crumbs. Considering that the mini is about the size of a large man's thumb, the moistness of the cake showed much care on the part of the baker. These were clearly created for folks with a lighter taste in sweets. If dense center and cream cheese frosting is your thing, you'd be better off trying the minis at the Highland Bakery, which are much heavier, but not really fresher or moister in my opinion. However, if you like something airy yet satisfying, Sweet Pockets will hit your sweet spot.

Sweet Pockets
4338 Paces Ferry Road
Atlanta, GA 30339

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Highlight #136: Passing on the message

I received the following message from Lindsay at Melissa Libby & Associates about a fundraiser at Pizza Fusion. It sounds like a good cause, if you are up for some za.

"I wanted to fill you in a fundraiser that all Pizza Fusion locations are participating in, including our local Pizza Fusion restaurant. The newest location in Mesa, Arizona had their grand opening party this past weekend, where they were able to raise $8,000 in support of the Smiths, who are still hospitalized for injuries due to a drunk driving accident in which they tragically lost their two sons earlier this month. Sadly, the restaurant was broken into and the newly-raised the funds were stolen. You can read more about this story, here. Now, in an effort to re-raise the money, Pizza Fusion locations everywhere have banded together and are accepting donations for the Smith family at their restaurants or on the website. Through a partnership with Wells Fargo, donations made out to the Tracy and Frank Smith family fund can be dropped off at any Pizza Fusion location or a local Wells Fargo. To show thanks for donations, the Pizza Fusion in Buckhead is offering a free personal cheese pizza to generous donations of $50 or more. The free pizza will be given during the following visit to the restaurant with a purchase of $25 or more. Pizza Fusion in Buckhead is located at the Astoria in the Aramore building at 2233 Peachtree Road; 404-351-9334."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Highlight #135: Dumpling party and other food for Chinese New Year

I threw a dumpling party this past weekend in celebration of the Chinese New Year. In the spirit of doing everything the old fashioned way, we started with nothing more than flour and rolling pins, including my mom's 20 year old one, which we brought to the states when we moved from China all those years ago. It's a good thing that we did too as I wasn't able to find another one like it here in Atlanta, neither could J in Singapore. Apparently, dumpling wrapper rolling is out of style outside of the mainland. What's the difference you ask? Well, look closely and you will see that the darker colored one, the proper tool, is tapered at both ends like a large French rolling pin, but only much smaller. This is especially useful for rolling perfectly round individual dumpling skins. It allows one to turn the half formed skin with one hand while rolling the dough easily with the other hand. What it achieves is a perfect wrapper that is thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges. So when the dumplings are formed, the closed edges, where two layers meet together will approximate the thickness of the center. Quite genius, don't you think?

Before we started with the dumpling work, I fed our visitors some classic dishes both from my hometown and from the less spicy northern parts where dumpling making originated. Here is a cold glass noodle dish heavy on the red hot chili oil that is the trademark of my hometown Chongqing, boasting the spiciest food in Sichuan. Naturally, I did not give it the dose that would kill the guests. But it was still representative of the flavor. Chongqing is now no longer officially governed by the Sichuan provincial government as it has been declared a self-governing city like Shanghai, which is a way the Chinese government controls wealth distribution to ensure that industrial cities like Chongqing and Shanghai are able to flourish without being dragged down by the surrounding much poorer regions. Regardless, the cooking is still Sichuan all the way through.

From the northern party of China hails this this Bang Bang chicken heavy on the sesame paste. It may look like a satay peanut sauce type of dish, but it really isn't. Instead of sweetness, it's fragrant from sesame and savory from soy.

A bit of watercress served a lighter accompaniment to the heavier meat dishes.

One of my favorite things to cook this time of year is this stir-fried roast pork with garlic chives. The garlic chives's raw pungency turns into a sort of garlicky sweetness when cooked and cuts through the richness of the meat very well.

Here are some snack type stuff in the tradition of my mom, who considers snacking absolutely necessary before the New Year feast. From the bottom, we have glazed soy beans, spicy fish cakes, and stewed peanuts.

I love making this five spice ribs at home. The mix of spices perfumes the entire house as the meat slowly tenderizes in the pot. For my spice challenged husband, this is one of those Sichuan dishes he absolutely adores without suffering.

After some food, we got the dumpling making under way and everyone had much fun getting dressed in flour.

Of course, there were some that skipped the hard work and joined my husband for beer instead. :)

Not all our dumplings came out looking pretty (see foreground vs. background), but we had lots and lots of them and they all tasted awesome.

Here they are all lined up and ready for cooking. Thanks to everyone who contributed and made this evening memorable.

The next day it was off to mom's for more food. Like I mentioned earlier, we couldn't start the eating without some traditional snacks. While head to tail eating has recently became the trendy thing here, we have always eaten all parts of animals in China. In fact, my mom's favorite cold dishes are all some sort of parts. :) Here are stewed pig ears. One of the best things for the complexion according to mom, the doctor.

Also up were slow braised tripe. My favorite for its super tenderness (after long cooking) and it's ability to hold on to the sauce like a sponge.

Mom also made a glass noodle dish (I guess great minds think alike). But she enriched hers with an extra dose of kelp to help us all detox from too much drinking. :)

Also available were these new year sausages that really made me miss my grandma, who always made them when I was growing up. She'd start the process a month before and smoke them in a make shift smoker constructed out of large refrigerator boxes. It was all so fun for us kids.

Dad made his famous dish of four happiness meatballs and fried pork nuggets. My mom always sent him to fry outside in the cold so as to avoid creating too much smoke in the house. He was so glad that this year he gets to do it in Atlanta as oppose to in the frigged air of Cleveland or Baltimore like the past years. :)

Here are about half of the things that we got to cook in the dual hot pot. The other half that couldn't fit on the table were laid out all over the kitchen counter...

Here is a close up of the hot pot. The light colored side contains a seafood based broth punched up with dried scallop essence. The other side is pure Chongqing ma la. Bright red from tons of fried sichuan chilies, spicy soy bean paste, sichuan peppercorn and about ten other spices and larded up with beef tallow, it pretty much numbifies everything it touches and coats one's mouth with a nice layer of pure fatty goodness. Even the husband got really into it despite the pain, which dad was kind enough to help him calm with extra beer.

We finished things off with a plate of my mom's homemade fried pumpkin mochies. Can I just say awesome! Nothing beats having the family together and eating homemade food. Happy year of the ox to all.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Highlight #134: Transformation of a pot roast

I am never one of those overachieving home cooks who make their own duck confit for cassoulet. When I am in the kitchen, I want to do minimal work for maximum enjoyment. On a winter night, when I want to cook and enjoy myself, few things can contend with a simple pot roast for its return on investment.

Step 1: pour self a glass of wine, turn on the travel channel, and let the pot warm up on the stove. When the pot is hot, sear a 3lb chuck roast (salted and peppered) on both sides. In the mean time, soak some dried porcini mushrooms in warm water.

Step 2: remove meat from pot, add roughly chunked onions and celery to soften, and turn oven to 300F.

Step 3: add a few crushed cloves of garlic and some spices that would compliment red wine. Add the softened mushrooms, crashed tomatoes from a 28oz can along with about a cup of wine from the opened bottle (fill a bit more for self) and about a cup of mushroom soaking water. Let it boil for about 5 minutes, then put the meat back in the pot, and insert into oven covered.

Step 4: watch some TV, surf some web, take a bath. One and half hours later, give the meat a turn.

Step 5: Write a blog, read other people blogs, and another one and half hours later, take the meat out to rest. Remove some of the fat from the top (this is a lot easier the next day before I want to eat the roast. The fat simply peels off the top when chilled overnight in the fridge). Reduce the liquid to a consistency I like and season. Slice or pull apart the roast when I am lazy, which is always, and serve with pan sauce. More wine of course.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Highlight #133: Softest tongue - food counter: Chicago Supermercado

Be prepared for some staring and be ready to answer questions about any camera activity if you plan to eat and photograph here and have little Spanish language skills. Being one who cares little about such things when food is involved, I felt just fine. I pointed my way to a stuffed gordita and a tongue taco.

Not able to understand what the lady was saying about the gordita with a concerned look on her face, I ordered it based on appearance. After one bite I got what she was concerned about.

The gordita was stuffed with a softened version of these, fried skin. :) If you are like me and love your gelatinous substance full of collagen (awesome anti aging stuff), then order on! Topped with cheese, the skin was soft and gooey enough to cut with a plastic spoon when the bottom fell out of my gordita. If you are not a fan of slippery filling, then try the plain cheese kind. It's highly recommended by the Blissful Glutton, who obviously knows her south of the border food much better than me.

Out of the meat choices for taco, I chose my favorite, tongue. And boy, was this one done well. Lady J, who I dragged along on this adventure, made the observation that there must have been about 8 oz of meat in this taco. I am no good with measurements, but I agree with her that it's not puny. Instead of one salsa, I loaded on all three available and liked the avocado infused one the best. That aside, the undisputed star of this taco was the tongue. The texture is what's best about well-prepared tongue. Incredibly soft and just very slightly spongy, it is actually quite mild yet beefy and is great for soaking up the salsa. If you are not offended by the idea of eating tongue or weren't told that you were eating tongue, you'd more than likely like this. The handmade tortilla sold at the market held up just beautifully under the weight of all that meat.

Overall, this was a great spot for a quick bite, but not a place to linger for long, especially when one's camera activity arouse much suspicion all around from the workers as well as the customers.

Chicago Supermercado
5263 Buford Hwy NE
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 452-1361

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Highlight #132: RSS finally up and cooking for one

If you have ever looked for an RSS feed or tried to follow this blog, but couldn't, you may be pleased to know that I have finally fixed the problem that was preventing it. You may now sign up for the feed at the bottom of this blog or subscribe as a follower on the right hand side. Thank you for your support despite the lack of this feature in the past three years!

Now onto the food stuff. Today, I'd like to talk about cooking for one, something I do often with the husband out of the country half of the month. Sometimes I do something simple and easy to consume like seared scallops. Other times, I simply feel like cooking what I want Yesterday, I wanted to roast a chicken.

Instead of buying the larger roaster, my preference is for the smaller and younger broiler. In order to get an all around browning effect, I decided to roast it on my poultry roasting stand rather than lying down. The simple stand comes with two locking n shaped wires that go inside the bird and a pan underneath for holding flavoring liquids such as beer and stock and for catching drippings.

Knowing that I'd take some of the leftover to the parents the day after and their generally non-preference for lemony type of seasoning, I opted to make a Chinese five spice coating for the chicken. About a 1/4 cup of seasoning, a good dose of salt and a few good gulps of olive oil make a perfect paste for both generous insertion under the breast and thigh skin and for slathering all over the outside and inside the cavity. I rinsed the remaining seasoning in the paste mixing bowl with some white wine and stock and poured that into the drip pan. The oven was set at 400 to encourage browning.

Fifty five minutes later, my oven thermometer registered 160F at the thickest part of the chicken. With the residue cooking, this was enough to put the chicken in the safe range. Check out that well browned backside on the chicken! You just can't get that roasting it lying down.

Some quick dissecting generated a good pan of juicy meat. I put the drippings in the fridge to solidity and then scrapped off the fat layer. Mixing the remaining chicken essence with a bit of salt and pepper, it became the perfect sauce for pouring over.

But my favorite part about roasting chicken is the carcass after the carving. This is when I put on a favorite movie, pour myself a glass of wine, and go at it with all ten digits. Perfect nibbler food, just perfect.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Highlight #131: Why not just eat better - Restaurant: Dynamic Dish

Since my first visit many months ago, Dynamic Dish has gotten much more popular thanks to well-deserved recognition in national magazines such as bon appetit. This past Saturday, I was very happy that Dirty and Tracy, frequent patrons of the place, made a reservation for the six of us (including new blogger friend Jimmy at Eat it, Atlanta and his lovely girlfriend Katie) at prime dinner hour as the place was packed.

Check out the awesome table setup above. Isn't the orange jug just awesome! I had such urge to take it home with me. If you've seen my very orange home, you'd understand. Before getting into the food, we took full advantage of DD's lack of corkage fees and opened up a few bottles of whites to start. Dirty's famous dump bucket and us drank a crisp green apple perfumed 2008 Hanna sauvignon blanc that I shipped back from Sonoma this January, a rather floral 2007 Le Paradou Viognier Vin de Pays Blanc, and a 2007 Joh. Jos. PrĂ¼m Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett.

We kicked off the food part of the meal with sun choke soups and bowls of steamed local collard greens drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. As simple as that sounds, this was wonderfully flavorful. For many southerners, it may be a strange idea to eat still crisp collards, but try it, you may just have a revelation, especially when the produce is sourced this well.

The best part about going with a few more friends to DD is the opportunity to try all the pizzas (only available on Saturday night). The favorite of many that night was this Floridian containing roasted corn, chevre, and green garlic. DD is not touting classic Neapolitan or New york style pizzas, these are more accurately described by Jimmy as flat breads.

The other colorful presentations included a Turkish pizza having kale, garlic, and feta, an Italian containing lots of mushrooms, and a Hawaiian that combined fresh pineapples with green garlic. We drank a fruit intense 2006 central coast Marylin Remark grenache and Dirty's cab franc with the pizzas. The earthiness of the cab franc went quite well with the mushroom pizza, while the grenache complimented the sweeter pizza varieties.

Finally I got to taste the chocolate cake that everyone raves about (it ran out the few times I have been there). And it was as good as everyone says. Perfectly moist and tender, the cake body was further enhanced by the not too sweet but very smooth frosting.

The color of this fruit bowl was simply stunning in person. The mango chunks appeared to have been lightly treated with a sweetener that turned them very dessert worthy.

Because Dirty and Tracy are old customers, we got a bit of special treatment in the form of extra little bowls of ice cream topped with broken cookie bits and chocolate sauce. You know me, I can never say no to ice cream and this was very good.

So in the new year, instead of vowing to eat less, how about just make a promise to eat better. DD can keep you on that course if you need some help.

Dynamic Dish
427 Edgewood Ave.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Highlight #130: perfect snack for the plane from the Ferry Building (San Fran)

I didn't get to do it on this quick trip to the bay area, but on my trip a few weeks ago, I managed to gather the perfect snack for the plane ride back home. Having tried most of the loaves at Acme Bread, my favorite is the olive loaf. Just a little briny from the olives and perfumed with the green smell akin to that of freshly pressed olive oil, a slice of this bread acts as the perfect partner to slices of orange & wild fennel salame from chef Cosentino's Boccalone. Normally I am not a fan of salame for the plane because high salt content food at high altitude turns me into a balloon. But this particular one is very mildly salted and quite uniquely flavored with plenty of orange zest and fennel to stand up to the olive slice.

Bring this on the plane and you'll make those paying $8 for Todd English branded Delta hummus very jealous. :)

Acme Bread and Boccalone
Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, California 94111
(415) 693-0996

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Highlight #129: Eating happy and saving money for the firm - Restaurant: In-n-out (Mountain View, Cali)

After wrapping up a client meeting on Monday, S and I found ourselves searching for lunch near Mountain View. Hankering for a fuss-free burger, I quickly suggested in-n-out. S happily agreed without much hesitation. It turned out that S and his wife have long had in-n-out on their to do list, but have yet to make it. I sure hope that his wife will forgive him for crossing it off the list without her. :)

The burger was as I remembered, uncomplicated and clean flavored. The bun was nicely toasted and held the special sauce without problem. The next time I may leave off the onion slice that was just a little too strong in the raw onion flavor and distracted from the rest of the layers. Really, when I want to eat a burger at lunch, this is the kind I generally have in mind. It's not too big, not too fancy, not too messy, and not too extraordinarily rich as to render me useless for the rest of the workday. At $4.50 for a cheeseburger, fries, and a drink, it's a real bargain even when the firm is not picking up the check. Actually, the firm should thank us for our conscientious eating habits. :P

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Highlight #128: Simple pleasures

This blog is mostly about eating out, which I figure would be more appealing to those who read it. But I do cook in and do it often, especially when J is about to go on another long trip to Asia, where he will have little control over what he eats. During these times, we keep it very simple. I'll always put on some sort of meat that is not heavily handled like this simple broiled hanger steak, cook up a large serving of dark greens like collards with lot of caramelized garlic, and an unadulterated pot of plain rice. While J is not picky about food (he will eat anything that you put in front of him, which is why I married him), it took me nearly a year to figure out exactly how he likes his rice. There is no mixing of the rice, no stickiness from too much water, no flavoring from stock or other spices, and no mineral taste from unfiltered water. It's just pristine, soft but resilient, unperfumed yet naturally fragrant short grain rice. I have really grown to love that first whiff of starchy warmth as I open the pot to serve. I miss that smell and the man who is not home for me to feed.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Highlight #127: Not twice as good - Restaurant: Il Mulino New York in Atlanta

Let me just first say that this meal was good, even very good. The only thing that tainted my feelings towards the place is the price tag. Don't get me wrong, I am definitely one who is willing to pay for food and have done many tasting menus that cost much more than this meal. But when a single entree easily cost over forty dollars, it makes me wonder whether it's really twice as good as something I'd get at a number of great restaurants around the city. I mean that entree is more than half the price of a four course tasting menu at Bacchanalia. Is it really worth it? However, like I said, the food was of high quality and the service was of a superior standard.

The staff began to take care of us with little tastings of mussels and fried zucchinis before the menu even hit the table. Upon much pondering, we settled on the nightly special of fresh langoustine as an appetizer. It was easily my favorite thing of the evening. Lightly breaded to seal in the juices, the langoustine tasted like a super concentrated mini lobster. The garlicky sauce further upped the salt level and made the sauteed spinach very lovely.

Here is my bear fist sized veal chop with fried sage leaves. Living up to the restaurant's pedigree, the veal was perfectly cooked to show off a blush pink center and was very tender. One thing lacking was salt, especially without a sauce to flavor the bland center of the thick chop.

Lady J's scallops fared much better, wrapped in salty bacon. Nicely seared, the natural sugar of the scallops formed a very attractive caramelized layer. But if you look closely, this entree arrangement, from the sauteed spinach, the sauce, and even the plating look very much like the that of the langoustine appetizer. This wouldn't be a big deal at a more casual restaurant, but it's noticeable here.

We received no visit from the sommelier that night. Instead, our waiter suggested a bottle barolo to drink based on our food selection of scallops, veal chop, and a pasta. Considering the lighter weight of these items, the suggestion was quite off. But since we didn't request for the sommelier, I wasn't too alarmed. On the topic of wine, the table next to us was celebrating a birthday and decanted bottles of Sassicaia, an excellent super Tuscan, and left an entire bottle open and untouched at the table. I was very tempted to grab it. But it probably did not go to waste in the kitchen. :)

We ended the meal with their trademark tiramisu. Nicely soaked through, but not mushy, the texture was fantastic. Combined with the light sweet cream, this was a winning sweet ending.

Il Mulino New York
191 Peachtree St
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 524-5777

Monday, January 05, 2009

Highlight #126: friends are wonderful! - Restaurant: Town (San Carlos)

I really feel the value of this blog when friends take the time to show us places that they love and feel at home in. This happened on NYE when we dropped in on A and M at their beautiful new home in San Carlos. M not only welcomed us warmly, she took the trouble to make a reservation for us to have lunch at one of their local favorites - Town.

The place was buzzing on this holiday afternoon and most patrons were drinking something happy. The lunch combo of an appetizer and an entree looked like a good deal, so we all went for it. My starter was the daily special tortilla soup that was just the thing on this cold and gloomy day. Perked up with plenty of tomatillo, the soup warmed me from within.

For entree, M suggested that I try something with the roasted chicken, which Town apparently does well. Enchiladas seemed the unlikely choice to show off the chicken, but it called out to me. You know what, it was not a mistake. Soft, juicy, and creamy, the chicken filling comforted like my favorite fur blanket. The tangy sauce lightly applied kept boredom at bay. This was a winning dish from all angles.

We ended the meal with a fairly standard sounding warm chocolate cake that was executed well. And, of course, I went all out for the strawberry ice cream as always.

As we walk out, J and I felt all toasty and happy from a simple yet lovely meal with equally down to earth and incredibly lovely friends. The meal provided exactly what we needed to remember 2008 by, friendship and warmth.

716 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650) 595-3003

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Highlight #125: NYE dinner - Restaurant: Jardiniere (SF)

2008 had been a challenging but very rewarding year for J and I. For one, our married life together will forever be measured from this year forward. To say good bye, we gathered with two other couples at Traci Des Jardins's Jardiniere in San Fran early on NYE. J and I had a big party to go to afterwards where magnums of champagne were waiting, so we really needed a good food base.

The dinner started off with a little elegant amuse of caviar panna cotta. The caviar was surprisingly mild on the salt scale and was further tamed by the cool creaminess of the dense panna cotta.

The appetizer course that followed was my favorite of the meal. A small lobster salad captured what I really love about the lobster, it's delicate sweetness. Instead of the mayo that typically holds together a lobster salad, this one was lightly dressed with a citrus infused dressing and was accompanied by crisp stalks of Fuji apple and jewel-like grapefruit sections. The lobster meat was exactly the opposite of mealy and played off its natural sweetness against the slight tartness of the grapefruit and complimented the crispness of the apple. It was a well considered dish.

Next up was a fair sized piece of salmon, slightly seared to crusty on the skin side. Hidden underneath were an abundance of mushroom mix, which included some tasty hedgehog variety. Also in the mix where a bit of greens for color and texture. Most at the table seemed to have enjoyed the salmon immensely. I liked the deep savory flavors very much, but thought my piece was slightly overcooked and flaked a bit less than delicately.

The most interesting dish of the night went to the meat course, a veal dish. The veal was done just right and showed off this protein's trademark mild milky flavor. What really upped the star quotient though was the innocent looking fried cube in the foreground. Without warning, the pierced cube squirted out milk chocolate colored foie gras juice, which imparted an intense earthiness on everything it touched. Completely on the other end of the spectrum from the veal's natural flavor, the combination somehow worked well. Although, I personally enjoyed eating the two separately (just mopping up the foie gras juice with the breaded cube skin).

The sweet ending was provided by the decidedly old fashioned baked alaska. It would have been great to see flame table side, but that would have been a bit too much to ask on this busy NYE. With my ice cream obsession, it's impossible not to love this. The ice cream also hid a thin layer of moist and dark chocolate cake at the very bottom. My devouring the thing led Paula to excited claim that it's the most food she has ever seen the nibbler ingest all at once. I guess that's something. :)

Here is to a wonderful new year ahead. I have a feeling that it's going to be good despite the economy.

300 Grove St
San Francisico, CA 94102