Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hello, World.

It's been a while. I know I've been distant. No posts. No photos. No comments. I have no excuse really other than that I got swept up by life. Call it a sabbatical if you will. A series of endings and new beginnings all rolled up in a big ball of exciting change. I won't go into the nitty gritty but I will provide some highlights--BuzzFeed style.

1. I tried the cronut. Ok not the cronut but a copycat, half decent version a la Posh Bagel.

cronut from Posh Bagel

2. I started making granola. No, it isn't my attempt to become a SF sprouts eating hipster but because I couldn't find reasonably priced and wholesome granola anywhere.


3. I've gotten in touch with my Vietnamese roots. This may or may not have something to do with my laziness to drive an hour to visit my parents and get the real thing.

panfried taro cake with egg

4. I finally tried Ad Hoc. Unfortunately, it was just brunch and not the actual dinner. However, I could have eaten 3 courses of this panna cotta for dinner. 

panna cotta at Ad Hoc

5. I drank a lot of whiskey. Heaps. Hella. Mucho.

whiskey collection

6. I tried the milk without buying the kow. Purple Kow that is. 

milk tea at Purple Kow

7. I had a proper wine and cheese tasting at Viansa Winery. It happened to be the best one ever. Mind blown.

wine and cheese pairing at Viansa Winery

8. I ate real wine grapes. From the vine. 

Jenn eating grapes at Viansa Winery

9. I went to the happiest place on Earth.

Jenn and Mike at Disneyland

10. I fell in love just a little more when this little one turned 3.

Izzy blowing out birthday cake

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Seared Salmon with Quinoa and Roasted Asparagus

I've been making an effort to eat healthier, partially to feel better about what I'm putting in my body but also to slim down a bit (hey--summer is just around the corner!) Tonight's dinner is one of my favorite meals for many reasons: simple to prepare, tastes great and best of all, I feel great after eating it. All the ingredients are nutritious and naturally low in calorie.

I've been slightly obsessed with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah.) It's a grain like crop with edible seeds that are considered a superfood for it's high protein, fiber, magnesium, iron and calcium levels. To top it off, it's also gluten-free! It may look weird and sound weird but quinoa is a god send. It's as versatile as any pasta or grain but so much healthier. I like to prepare it like pasta--throw into salted boiling water and allow to cook through (a method I borrowed from a fellow chef friend) and drain through a fine mesh sieve. The seeds will expand and be soft. Al dente is not ideal with this ingredient.

tri colored quinoa, toasted almond slivers, parsley, lemon zest mixed with EVOO, salt and pepper

I used to not like cooked salmon. Something about the smell and taste just didn't sit right with me. I usually preferred it as sashimi. Lately, I've come around and really enjoy a simple pan seared or grilled salmon with a squeeze of lemon juice. It's also hard to ignore that it's chock full of omega-3 fatty acids and has a long list of health benefits including inflammation, brain function, cancer prevention, cardiovascular health, eye health, skin and hair health. Ladies--want to know the secret to the fountain of youth and shiny Vidal Sassoon locks? Eat more salmon.

pan seared salmon

Asparagus season is upon us and I try to eat them every chance I get. High in folate, potassium and antioxidants, these bad boys are also great for your skin. A quick Wikipedia search on asparagus reveals that that are believed to have many medicinal properties including clearing blemishes and curing hangovers! "Extracts from the leaves and shoots have been known to boost levels of key enzymes that help break down alcohol." Who knew? Aside from all the health benefits, I just love the how they taste. Lightly roasted or grilled with olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper is my favorite preparation

delicious and nutritious

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fish Tacos with Blood Orange Salsa

Warm weather has officially hit the Bay Area! Naturally, I'm less inclined to slave away in a hot kitchen. I like to dust off the old grill and stick to simple, light and refreshing meals. This fish taco recipe is super easy and can be done even even without a grill. It's also pretty darn healthy. I served it with grilled shishito peppers tossed in chili powder. Generally, shishito peppers are not spicy so the extra seasoning makes gives it a nice kick. Enjoy with a cold cerveza and it's the perfect meal any night of the week.

pepper on pepper action
tilapia taco
salmon taco

Grilled Shishito Peppers
1 package shishito peppers (can usually be found at Japanese markets like Mitsuwa)
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest of one lime
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp Nanami Togarashi seasoning (assorted chili pepper)

Blood Orange Salsa
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 medium Roma tomato, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 blood orange, segmented and diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 clove garlic, finely minced
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Fish Tacos 
1 lb. salmon (skin on) or tilapia fillets
mini corn tortillas ("taquitos")
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lime, cut into wedges
cilantro leaves, picked and cleaned
pickled ginger

1. In a medium size bowl, toss the shishito peppers with olive oil, lime zest, salt and Nanami Togarashi. While you are prepping, turn on the grill to medium high heat or oven (400F) if you prefer to roast it inside.

2. In a separate bowl, combine red onion, tomato, blood orange, garlic, lime juice, avocado (add last to minimize handling), olive oil and salt and pepper. Set aside to allow flavors to steep.

3. Lightly coat the fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

4. Gently place the fish on the grill, horizontally. For salmon, put the skin side down. The skin helps keep the delicate fish in tact and can be discarded later (or eaten!) Allow to cook covered for 4-5 minutes. Carefully flip the fillets over and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the flesh is firm to the touch. Remove and allow to rest.

5. Place shishito peppers horizontally on the grill and cook for 2 minutes on each side. The skin should become slightly charred and the peppers may start popping. At the same time, warm the corn tortillas on the grill until soft and toasted (a minute on each side.)

6. Assemble each taco with a piece of fish, salsa, pickled ginger, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Building each as you eat is the best way to keep the tortillas but getting soggy.

Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Europe Part III: Barcelona

While I love French culture, I really really love Spanish food. Barcelona was warmer than London and Paris so it was nice to shed my coat and enjoy some sunshine during the day. Perhaps it’s wasn't peak tourist season or that I was there in the middle of the week, but Barcelona was much quieter than my last visit. This was nice since there were less pushy tourists but this also meant bars were pretty empty at night. We made up for the lack of nightlife by eating more. Bocadillos, jamon, chorizo, Spanish omelettes, it’s all a big blur at this point--a whirlwind of great food washed down with bottles of cava.

bocadillos and way to start the morning

We went to Tapas 24, a casual tapas bar in the L’Eixample neighborhood recommended by a couple friends. We loved it so much, we went back the next day and stayed for awhile. The food is simply divine. I can’t even describe how good a basic sandwich (a bikini) with jamon and cheese tasted. Except to maybe compare them to the patatas bravas---fried potatoes covered with aioli and bravas sauce. Simple and delicious. We were seriously swooning (fueled by the ridiculously cheap cava.) Everything we ate there was great as was the friendly, personable staff that tolerated our loud laughter and squeals.

front and center at the bar
pan con tomate
patatas bravas
onion soup
bikini (love)
 delicious custard pastry
chocolate gelato with olive oil

Taking a recommendation from one of our waiters, we went in search of authentic paella along the water. A couple miles later, we found Xiringuito Escriba, a seaside restaurant packed with locals. During our long lunch, we marveled how locals seem to think nothing of spending two hours at lunch knocking back bottles of wine in the middle of the day. We also gawked at celebrities filming a reality show, whereas most of the restaurant hardly turned to look. Gotta give it to Europeans for nailing the cool demeanor. Hours passed as we ate gobbled down our giant pans of paella,  washed it down with Spanish wine and people watched. It was the best paella I’ve ever eaten. A perfect delicious ending to the trip. 

ocean front dining
this is for two
vegetarian paella

Another one of my favorite spots was La Boqueria St. Joseph, an outdoor marketplace along the bustling Las Ramblas. We stopped here a couple times to poke around and find snacks. This marketplace was amazing. Every stall had beautiful, fresh looking products. Since I couldn't eat it all, obviously I pulled out my camera and took pictures. The stall owners probably thought I was crazy but I didn't care--this was my version of heaven.

catalan chocolates
fruit galore
giant squid
salt cod
butchering right in the open. love it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Europe Part II: Paris

Ah, Paris. The city of love. I have an obsessive fascination with French culture. From my years of French class in high school and college to my first visit to Paris in 2006—I have a great appreciation for all things French. Despite the dismissive behavior towards Americans and my elementary level language skills, I love being in Paris. This trip was vastly different than my first visit. I was intent on enjoying the simplicity of the Parisian lifestyle and of course the food. My travel companions had not been to Paris before so we went to a few of the famous sites, which I didn’t mind seeing again at all. Paris architecture is so grandiose and has such historic presence that it never gets old. No matter how many times I see the Eiffel Tower, I'm still impressed.

notre dame

eiffel tower

ferris wheel

For me, Paris is waking up to a café au lait and a fresh croissant from the local boulangerie. Wandering down cobblestone streets and admiring locals going about their business. Enjoying a nice long meal at an outdoor café.  I was adjusting to European lifestyle with ease and loving it. I didn’t mind the incessant smoking. I could easily have a 2-hour lunch with wine and no cell phone or distractions. I noticed that everywhere in Paris, there are benches. Taking a moment to sit outdoors and relax is a luxury I haven’t allowed myself in a long time. A few days in Paris—I consider myself an expert in bench sitting and fully plan on incorporating this hobby into my life.

Now, on to the food. Food in Paris is amazing. Sure, I had a couple mediocre meals but everything else I ate made up for it. Pastries from Du Pain et des Idees. Coffee from just about any café. A baguette sandwich with butter, ham and cheese. Macarons from L’aduree. Terrine and veal from Le Comptoir du Relais. C’est magnifique! I could go on and on forever but it still wouldn't capture how much I enjoyed eating in Paris.

du pain et des idees
croissant and pistachio chocolate escargot
the one and only l'aduree
macaron heaven 
beautiful desserts 
I went to Le Comptoir after 3 different foodie friends recommended it to me. Of all the places to eat in Paris, what are the chances that they all recommend the same place? I had to go. The minute I sat down, I knew I wouldn't regret it. The restaurant was on a busy cobblestone street in the trendy Saint Germain neighborhood---perfect for sitting outside and people watching. All outdoor cafes have heat lamps and some like this restaurant even given blankets! California could really learn a thing or two.

le comptoir du relas complete with blankets and heat lamps for outdoor seating
duck and fois gras terrine
veal and carrot puree

On our last night in Paris, we ventured to the Montmartre neighborhood, more commonly known as the home of the Moulin Rouge. After looking through countless reviews, I settled on Lui L'insolent for dinner. I loved the cozy intimate vibe and the fact that the waitstaff hardly spoke English. It was a challenge ordering but a welcome change from touristy places.

goat cheese and pesto
"slippery little suckers!"
meat on a stick
threesome dessert
only in paris is absinthe considered a night cap

Despite the lack of sunshine during this trip, I had a great time in Paris. I will always love this city and can't wait to go back (hopefully during warmer months!)