World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: January, 2006

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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Over the weekend , after a long overdue massage, I ducked in out of the cold rain and into Eliza’s for takeout. The Chinese restaurant’s entry way was adorned with pomelos, tangerines and oranges. As I stood waiting for my soup and dumplings a member of the wait staff came over. Turns out that tangerines and oranges are presented during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively. Pomelos, the forebearer of the tiny grapefruit symbolize abundance, and sounds like the word for "to have." 

2006_ep According to the Chinese today marks the new year 4703.  The celebration, also known as the Spring Festival continues for 29 days. In the Chinese calendar there are three ways to name the year.  Numerically, by mascot, (12-year cycle) we are at the start of the Year of the Dog and lastly by it’s formal name Bingxu, which is part of the ‘Stem-branch’ system (60- year cycle (2006 is the 7th year of the current cycle). The calendar is based on lunar and solar rhythms.  The Spring festival historically celebrates the earth coming back to life as it’s also the start of ploughing and the sowing of seeds.

The custom and the food on New Year’s Eve is deep and closely observed.  Two of the most traditional foods one will find are a type of dumpling and a savory ‘cake.’ The former, according to Asia Recipe, is one of the most popular dishes served in Northern China are dumplings shaped like a crescent moon and  boiled in water called,  jiaoziChina Daily, recounts that "dumplings were first known in China some 1,600 years ago. The Chinese pronunciation of Jiao Zi means midnight or the end and the beginning of time. According to historical records, in ancient times people from both north and south ate dumplings on Chinese New Year’s Day."  The name in Chinese literally means "sleep together and have sons."

Today however, perhaps because Southern China produces more rice than other regions, they prepare nian gao, a sweet-sticky glutinous "cake" made from rice flour and sugar.  It looks a bit a kind of glutinous white cake in the shape of rectangle. Oliva Wu, in a Feb, 2005 SF Chronicle article, describes it as a "cousin to Japanese mochi and Korean dduk.  Those who know the characteristic chewy-gooeyness of those foods as well as many of the Thai, Indonesian and Southeat Asian sweets, will be perfectly at home with the Chinese New Year Cake." 

As with most cultural traditions there is an abundance of food served up most of  it signaling plentiness, luck and wealth. Other customs include serving chicken presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness.  Noodles should be uncut, as they represent long life.

Festivities come to a close with the Yuan Xiao Festival, or Lantern Festival.  During this festival another type of dumpling is eaten.  Fillings inside the dumplings called  Yuan Xiao can be  sweet or salty. Sweet fillings are made of sugar, walnuts, sesame, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste. {Ed note: how fragrant!}.  The savory  variety is filled with minced meat, vegetables or a mixture.

Curiosity about the tradition and the food made me wander some on this holiday.  Now it’s time to put some won ton wrappers to use.

21-Cake Salute

Don’t ask me how I found this 21 Cake gallery complete with a jazzy music bed.  What a display! I discovered these treats in one of those lost wandering moments we all have from time to time.  But this is so fantastic and impressive.  I think it’s a bakery site in Beijing.  Beautifully decorated cakes–look at the one with a candle in the center, there’s a cheesecake formed as Swiss cheese (why didn’t I think of that?!).  What a concept–21 cakes, 21 fillings. 

It’s primarily in Chinese–there’s not much difference between the Chinese and English versions of the site.  Worth checking out the the small cake captions that are in the windows that open when you click on a cake. Captions that are no less than whimsical and close to haiku:  "The milky baby blue hearts attract you for a quiet distance retreat." Another, "You find her and utter no word. The choking beauty comes from the quietness." For the Green Tea Mousse Cake, "The tea brings a quality time, loneliness has not root here."

Make sure you after you open the secondary window that you click in the upper left hand corner for image two–revealing the cut center of the cake. 

It’s Burns Night, Bring on the Haggis

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"Haggis have all got the best of ingredients."

James Pirie, Scotland’s Oldest Butcher & Winner of 2005 Haggis Championship

Poet, and one might have to suppose, a bon vivant of his day in Scotland. Robert Burns’ birthday revolves around drinking whiskey, eating haggis, reciting poetry and singing a few songs. Today is Burns Night celebrating the bard’s birthday, and it is enjoyed by millions of people around the world who salute the ”immortal memory” with haggis, pipes, whiskey and women.

The evening usually begins with whiskey cocktails bearing such odd names as Rusty Nail, Scotch Buck, Scottish Sunset or a Scottish Cobbler.  Following this start a traditional Burns Supper can be divided up into three parts. This traditional order of events is known as the Bill o’ Fare. 

  • Food (including the Address to the Haggis)
  • The ‘Immortal Memory’ (a fun, witty speech, referencing Burns– his life and work)
  • Various songs, readings and music to end the night

As to the food the first course is a soup, usually Cock-a-leekie or Cullen Skink.  But the central focus comes with the main course of Haggis with Champit Tatties and Bashed Neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips),  beginning with the Haggis Ceremony. This is arguably the best part of the night. Everyone stands, and the chef carries the haggis high on a platter from the kitchen, accompanied by a bagpiper (or fiddler). Everyone, including the piper, is poured a whiskey and raises their glasses in a toast to the haggis, saying ‘Slainte mhath’, pronounced ‘slan-je va’ and meaning ‘your good health’. The host or a guest then reads the poem To a Haggis.

Haggis is, the national dish of Scotland.  It tastes and looks a bit, so I’m told, like a boudin  but instead of rice there is oats, or perhaps somewhat more like a Cajun dish called paunce, which is stuffed pork stomach.  I’ve also heard it’s similar to scrapple. Haggis is under examination these days for possibly contributing to obesity in children.

Surprisingly, after all this drinking and eating a traditional dessert is served which is a sherry trifle called a Typsy Laird occasionally a popular pudding called Cranachan, made of oatmeal, fruit, cream and whiskey served with shortbread.

New Year’s Eve Dinner Menu

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            Blue_cheese_foam_w_port_reduction1    Meyer_lemon_pine_nut_tart2

Bacon & Eggs

Caviar & Blini

Citrus MarinatedBay Scallops w/ Herb Salad (blood orange & mango)

Tomato Sorbet with Mozzarella Soup & Tuile

Potato Ravioli with Shaved Truffle

Foie Gras with Rhubarb

Cabernet Sorbet with Shallot

Beef Tartar Spoon w/ Quail Egg on Brioche

Perail de Bribes with Frisee aux Lardon            

Blue Cheese Foam with Port Reduction

Meyer Lemon Pine Nut Tart with Mascapone Sorbet

Today’s post is more of a personal one.  A bit of a tribute to some out-of-town friends. The thing you need to know about the Carters is that they think they are foodies.  Really they are uber-foodies.  I met them, where else, on a cooking vaction to Oaxaca.  We ate grasshopers and drank beer together in the centrico. They do things I aspire to do when one is in a relationship.  No not having those deep, philosophical discussions over Italian espresso and the Sunday Times.  It’s more serious than that.  It’s to have someone in which to argue over what makes a better vacation–a cheese and wine tour of Italy or a going to Vegas to dine at six of the A-list restaurants.  She’s a trained chef with a passion for wine.  He’s a biotech marketer with Mexican mole muscle to spare.  What a combination–he breaks it down to understand, she cooks by the senses.  They have a little bit of me in both of them.  This is why we can have two hour long phone conversations on the machinations of Rick Bayless, the flaws of Flay, and the crisis taking place in home kitchens ("it’s a fundamental  breakdown in our culture that people aren’t cooking), to name a few.  I receive emails and voice mails along the lines of "ask your friend why the receipe on page 58 of the FL cookbook doesn’t work."  Yes, they actually cook from that book, who knew that the recipes were there to use. 

Last week’s conversation ran along the lines of "Don’t you think every home should have a foamer?" and "Jeanne, we bought a commercial ice cream maker. Really, it was just something that we should have done sooner. How else can you make tomato sorbet?"

In this conversation they regaled me with their New Year’s Eve dinner menu that they prepared for each other.  It was an affair that lasted all day and well into the night.  Needless to say there was a lot of wine, also.  The pictures, provided by the Carters, and the accompanying menu are from assorted cookbooks.  If you have questions regarding the menu just post them here. It’s an impressive meal from quite a pair of uber-foodies.   

   

5 or < | Peanut Butter Cookies

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Lately I’ve become fascinated by the idea of simple food.  What this usually translates to is cookbooks coming off the shelf and lots of reading and researching. My current quest is around how many ingredients does it take for something to taste flavorful while minimizing the number of ingredients, time and a search for non-essential pantry items.  Many may think this combination is not easily found. But my efforts have been rewarded.  As a result I will be exploring this theme frequently here at World on a Plate.

The first entry is peanut butter cookies, a classic American treat.  Good Housekeeping Great American Classics Cookbook tells us that the spread was created in the late nineteenth century as a protein substitute for those with bad teeth. In the mid 20’s peanut butter cookies began to appear.  These cookies were usually rolled and cut into shapes. It wasn’t until the 40’s that the preparation shifted to that of rolling the batter into balls and carried its signature criss-crossed marks from the tines of a fork. 

There are as many recipes for this cookie as there are moms. But this recipe although minimal in components and instructions is full of flavor and sweetness. The cookie is thick and crispy at the edges and a bit chewy in the center and full of peanutty taste.

Simply Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes about 16 cookies

1 cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky

1 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the ingredients into a mix bowl.  Beat with a hand mixer until smooth.

Separate mixture into round balls, about 1 tablespoon each.

Place batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper about 1 inch apart. Using a fork dunked into water after each impression make a crosshatch pattern on the top of the cookies, pressing to flatten out. 

Bake for approximately 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Gourmet Winner!!!!

I won! I won! I won!

Unfreakin’ realness!

Gourmet Finalist – Winner?!

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There it is. This was where I was late last night.  Voting is over.  I have many friends, family, co-workers and of course all of you wonderful readers and fellow food bloggers to thank.  I’ll be baking dozens and dozens of cookies in the days and months ahead. Yes, while this was a fabulous opportunity it was such an incredible boost in morale for me. 

So now what?  According to the all important rules and regulations, the editors need to verify the "potential winner."  In fact I received an email from a Gourmet editor yesterday asking me to provide contact information. The official announcement is on January 18 via their website.

Many of  you have written to ask what the I am winning well this is the best juiciest delicious prize a food loving writing fool could imagine.  The Grand Prize is a Gourmet Institute weekend in New York City, including airfare, 2 nights’ accommodations, 3 days of Gourmet Institute events, and an entire weekend of fabulous food, plus a copy of The Gourmet Cookbook signed by the staff of the magazine (approximate retail value $2,500.00). Winner must be available to travel on the itinerary selected by Sponsor. Ground transportation and meals that are not part of Gourmet Institute. Hob-nobbing with the upper echelons of the food publishing and restaurant world.  The event, is open to just 300 people and in looking at previous events here’s a Gala, a big restaurant dinner, there’s seminars, photo and styling lessons. 

Will I exchange witty remarks with Ruth?  Dance with Mario? Ask Jacques Torres his thoughts on single varietal chocolates? Pick up writing tips from Dorie?  Ask Keller about his secrets on discipline.  Stay tuned…and thank you for your support!

Food Trends 2006

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At this time of year trend analysts and marketers issue their forecasts of what’s to come in the next 365 days.  Research and Markets, recently issued a report that "more than 90% of all new product development  in the food and beverages industry fails." So let’s take a quick look into the crystal goblet.

According to the Washington Post, trend expert Faith Popcorn is predicting faith-friendly food products.  We beginning to see this with Tyson Foods who offers a free downloadable prayer book on its web site.  Another one of her observations is that women would prefer a more experiential grocery shopping experience.  I’ve always thought it would be an rewarding outreach program to have a home chef posted at a central location in a Whole Foods poised to answer cooking related questions along the lines of "what can I eat tonight."  The chef talks to the shoper, provides a recipe and off they go to get those ingredients.  The shopper wins. The store wins.  Where is that program?

Sara Moulton, executive chef at Gourmet  shared her predictions that range from an increase in Middle Eastern food and the rise of ethnic regional foods in the form of Italy’s Tuscany and India’s Kerala regions.

Hotel Marketing, (a must read for me now!)  talked with researchers who are responsible for identifying and implementing culinary trends for 2,700 hotels in many of the world’s greatest cities, reports  breakfast is back.  "Big, fluffy buttermilk, blueberry and apple streusel pancakes, sweet and savory waffles, and flavorful French toast are being seen more and more in restaurants and catering. New takes on breakfast basics, such as the Lemon Soufflé Pancakes, that are found at the restaurants of Renaissance hotels, are becoming more and more popular."  They also report that a bartender should have training as a mixologist, and the rise of contemporary twists on foods from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

Another wave to ride is the super food one.  Blueberries, avocados, green tea, beans, walnuts, chocolate, to  name a few in this food roup will not only satiate you, but provide you with good health, longevity, perhaps even make you beautiful.

Personally I’m hoping that more diners step outside to Blackberry and talk on their phones, and for  improved service at restaurants.  I’d also be thrilled if the following happened: a  decent sit-down style Mexican restaurant opened in San Francisco which is  filled with a large Latin population; more awareness and  support for local farms and regional artisan food products, more chef-farmer relationships,  and more home and professional chefs experimenting in their kitchens.  And one final one, eating healthy foods rather than diet foods.

Scottish Super Foods (venison, honey and berries…)

Overview of Super Foods Trend (SF Chronicle)

Marlene Spieler’s SF Chronice Super Foods Recipes

Cook the Cover- I’m a Finalist!!

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Well, color me black and tan!  I’m one of three finalists for this month’s Cook the Cover competition at Gourmet Magazine! I know can you believe it?  I can’t, really I can’t. It’s brilliant. 

Some of you will remember this as my entry into this year’s IMBB/Cookie Swap. On a complete whim  I decided to enter them into the publication’s monthly reader event.  I was certain that my entry would be one of hundreds if not thousands of possible entries.

So here’s what I’d like to ask–because although right now as of 7amPST I am in first place with 40% of the voting. However we all know one should never rest until the work is done. After all the Linzers are right on my tail.  I need your support through a daily vote!  Simply vote by going to here  and click on the text next to the big photo that reads–"We’ve chosen our December finalists." Click the the first entry to activate your vote for my recipe entitled "Black and Tan."

The winner’s recipe will be published in a future issue.  There’s also an all expense paid trip to the Gourmet Institute in New York City.  Do I get to meet Ruth? Do I?!

Ohmigawd. Ohmigawd. Breathe. Breathe.  Please vote daily! THANKS!  Winner is announced on January 18–my parent’s 42nd wedding anniversary.