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Showing posts from 2007

Creepy candles

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Mike and I won these creepy candles from my friends Helen and Dan's holiday party Yankee's Swap. All credits to Helen who picked out these candles. Imagine a huge factory far away in...I dunno, China? that makes baby-powder-scented candles in miniature glass baby-strollers. All hail to globalization. If you don't know what these candles are for -- well, aren't you glad this blog is informative of such useful products? These are all-occasion candles. For weddings we have the couples candles (yes the melting headless white candles) -- they do come in three so you have 3 chances of using them at your weddingS. Then the baby stroller candle for the baby shower, of course. Champaign candle for all-purpose celebrations. And finally, a watchful virgin Mary candle for those of you repenting your dirty dirty sins!

Birthday cake

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We celebrated my friend Vivian's daughter's first birthday at a Flushing seafood restaurant. I was tasked with the cake. Not able to find a bakery that would take an advanced cake order, I just made one myself. Vivian specifically instructed no nuts or chocolate. But I think we both had the same kind of cake in mind. I think all Chinese/Taiwanese kids around my age (umm I won't reveal the actual number here) would recall this kind of birthday cakes from our childhood -- layers of light yellow sponge cake and snowy white whipped cream mixed with various fruit chunks. The cake is usually plainly frosted with the same kind of whipped cream, and topped with more fruits -- but what is common to all these cakes are slices of canned yellow peaches 水蜜桃! To this day, canned peaches are still a guilty pleasure of mine. When I was little, I always begged my mom to get a can of peaches if I tagged along with her to the western-style supermarket.

Other than the peaches, I still used fre…

Moroccan Lamb with Quinces

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Well I pulled off the 10-people dinner party rather successfully, I must say. The Christmas tree provided very nice lighting and ambiance. My friend Yvonne brought the most amazing cheese (Vacherin Mont d'Or, supposedly available only once a year from a specific Swiss region) that the guests continued to rave about a week later. Mike was, of course, in charge of the drinks. He managed to give so much booze out that everyone was drinking water by the end of the night. I was way too tired to bother taking pictures. But here's an old picture of the Moroccan Lamb dish with couscous exactly how they were served. The recipe was, you guessed it, from Martha's magazine. The addition of saffron gave the dish an exotic edge, and the lamb was cooked to falling off the bones. In my opinion, the shank was such an amazing cut because all the connected tissue becomes a soggy sticky mess that creates a great mouth feel. The high-pectin content in quinces thickened the sauce very nicely, a…

My first Christmas tree!!!

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I had no idea Christmas trees are so expensive!! And I learned so much about having a tree -- it's not just the lights and ornaments. I learned about tree stand, tree skirt, and tree bags. I also learned of the different techniques of hanging tree lights to create different effects. I thought I was going to follow the directions and string the lights tightly on each and every single branch. But then I came to my senses. Now I just need a fireplace to go with my tree...

Pike quenelles with mushroom cream sauce

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I had planned to make this dish for my upcoming dinner party. The recipe came out of the Gourmet Cookbook, from which I have yet to make a bad dish; that is, until now. Quenelles are named such because of the shape -- any semi-solid food ingredients can be coaxed into a football shape with two large soup spoons. In this case the quenelles are made out of white fish paste, egg white, and heavy cream. I suppose this method came about when there were a lot of fish with too many bones. After the fish is ground up with egg white and then mixed with the heavy cream, the pasty mixture had to be forced through a fine sieve -- an undertaking that I soon realized would prevent me from ever attempting this dish for a dinner party, not to mention I would have had to double the recipe to accommodate the number of guests. The paste was so thick that it took A LONG TIME to get to the final fine paste. The obvious need was to get rid of the bones back when this recipe was devised -- but I started wit…

Martha vs. Rachel Ray

I will take Martha over Rachel Ray on any day. I read this today. Apparently Rachel Ray's foray into the lifestyle media arena has generated some competitive spirits on both sides. Rachel has in fact hired the old publisher at Martha's Everyday Food magazine to do her own fast food publication. (just a side note, can it get even faster than 30 minutes? Like, what? 30 seconds?) The last line of the article is funny: In short, Martha doesn't think that Ray is a good thing, and Ray doesn't think Martha is delish.

I've got All Clad pans

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All Clad really has done a fantastic job advertising itself by sponsoring a countless cooking shows on TV. As long as I can remember, almost all the PBS cooking shows are sponsored by All Clad. And not to mention the Food Network ones -- that is, until the show host gets his/her own line of cookware. These pans do lend themselves nicely in front of TV cameras. They're shiny and modern looking. And now that I used them, I can confidently say they DO work better than my old cheap-brand pans. They do take shorter time to heat up, and there really isn't any hot spot! I know this because I was making caramel with the new sauce pan, and the caramel was made evenly and gradually. In the past, the sugar liquid would turn from colorless to amber on random spots on the bottom of the pan, and I would always have to swirl it frequently to keep it a homogeneous mixture. Not so with my new pans! The entire body of the sugar liquid turns yellow-ish and then amber in a uniform fashion. It was…

Kylie Kwong

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I was really happy to have found a new cooking show on TV that entertains and is also instructional. Actually, I found an entirely new channel (new to me anyway) -- Discovery Home. Kylie Kwong is a 4th generation Chinese Australian and is quite a famous chef over there. I like her show because her food always looks scrumptious and her cooking instructions clear, simple, and concise. I also like her because she bears an uncanny resemblance to my friend Yvonne. I think her show is the only Chinese food cooking show on TV at this moment since I haven't seen Yan Can Cook (annoying host, supposedly fake accent, and not very educational overall) for a while, and East Meets West has also disappeared (Ming is also slightly overbearing with his jock-ish manners; and the show is fusion style and poorly adaptable to home cooking). Kylie's food is mostly simplified Chinese recipes, with occasional fusion twists. But she just seems so approachable and pleasant. Each show is stylishly edite…

Mooncakes (Mid-Autumn Festival)

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The Mid-Autumn Festival this year is not until 9/25. But I have been itching to make mooncakes since I bought several mooncake molds in an antique market in Shanghai back in 2005. In my mind there are mainly two kinds of mooncakes -- the Cantonese kind and the SuZhou-style kind. A Cantonese mooncake has a very thin, tender, and buttery crust, and a very high filling-to-crust ratio. The other kind has the Chinese puff pastry style crust and is usually much smaller than the Cantonese kind. Well, according to Wikipedia, there is apparently a third kind popular in Taiwan, which uses shortbread-style dough for the crust. After much research into various recipes, I saw most of the Cantonese crusts require the use of lye water to treat the dough. I don't know...I have been brainwashed into thinking that using lye water is bad. The Chinese style puff pastry is something I have always wanted to try. But alas, I am not about to use shortening, and I was not able to find rendered leaf lard a…

Dinner with Charles

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I have finally freed myself from working on weekends. For some reason, I was so brainwashed during my graduate school days that I never escaped from my work during the weekends. But I am now slowly getting used to the fact that weekends are my own time and work should not interfere with it.

Charles was here this weekend. I made ginger carrot soup and avocado BLTs for us to take to the Prospect Park for a lunch picnic. We tried to play backgammon but the instructions were too complicated. Then for dinner we made salmon burgers, green beans with black sesame dressing, and Japanese congee. All these are recipes from "Harumi's Japanese Cooking." She is reportedly the Martha-like figure in Japan. And her recipes are really easy to follow at home. Best of all, more than half of the recipes are quite light, healthy, and perfect for the summer. I also learned to use my microwave as more than just a reheater for leftovers. I now have cooked chicken thighs (for chicken salads), gre…

WImbledon

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It started as a dreary, rainy, and cold morning. I set out from Maze Hill at 6am, taking the train to the London Bridge; then I tranferred to another train to the Wimbledon station. Transferring yet again with 6 other passengers onto a shuttle bus, which let us out at the end of a very very long queue at around 7:45am. Supposedly the Brits love to queue. And they don't speak up when someone cuts in front of them because they have too much pride to make a scene. The queue was very orderly. I made friends with my neighbors in front and behind me, who kept my position in line while I got myself a bacon sandwich and some bad coffee (for 5 quids!). There are queue stewards who gave each person joining the queue a queuing card, providing the legitimacy of the queuing position.

It was good to have made friends with the ladies behind me, and the tennis gods must have been very kind to me. At about noon, the rain came pouring down, halting play on all the courts. Many people were going i…

Light summer supper

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Red snapper fillets were smeared with dijon mustard and covered with parsley and tarragon. Baked for only about 18 minutes and it was done just right. The green beans were dressed with a lemon and honey vinaigrette and topped with toasted pine nuts. The standby couscous from the Barefoot Contessa book rounds off the meal nicely.

Sharpening knives the old fashion way

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On an early Saturday morning a series of "ding ding dong dong" sound slowly increased in volume. Could it have been an ice cream truck? M and I looked at each other confusingly as we peered outside the windows in search of that approaching truck. Oh no, it was most definitely not an ice cream truck. It was a tool sharpening truck! How romantic, I pronounced! I would have never thought I would encounter such a neighborhoodly existence in New York City. Sure, in Taiwan we always had vendors coming around to sell all sorts of stuff under the sun -- roasted chicken wrapped in clay; veggies and fruits; sweet tofu treats; clothes; screen and glass repair. But here in NYC? Uh-uh. In my excitement I rushed out of our apartment building wielding two chef's knives and watched the sharpening longingly, full of anticipation. The truck owner essentially ground off the old knife edges and created two new ones. Upon more honing at home with my home-sharpening tools, they were restored …

Ham, Ham, and More Ham

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This is a postmortem on the 11-lb Virginia Smithfield ham I bought for the Chinese New Year's dinner way way back in February...there is still more than half of it hacked into pieces in my freezer. In my humble attempt to finish it I made a modfied version of chicken cordon bleu (boned chicken legs wrapped around a piece of ham and cheese, then cooked in tomato sauce) I also made somewhat a casserole dish with this ham, zucchini, mushrooms, and a bechamel sauce...and after all the chinese soups I flavored with random pieces of ham, I decided to call a stop to it before Mike and I overdose on nitrates. In any case, we liked the ham, but only to use it to flavor stock or soups.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

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Whooo! I just finished reading this Michael Pollan's book, named one of the 10 best books in 2006 by the NY Times. And what an excellent read it was. Over the last few weeks I almost missed my subway stop more than a few times on my commute to work because I was too much immersed in learning all about the omnivore's dilemma -- that is, what a modern man is to eat everyday?

The concept was as simple as it can be -- what am I going to eat today? What is it that I am eating? Where did it come from? How did it find its way to my plate? The book was divided into three sections: industrial/corn; pastoral/grass; personal/forest. The author traces the footprints of all the food ingredients back to its fundamental roots. Then, in the end, armed with the knowledge of the what, where, and how of the food, he sat down and enjoyed (at least tried to enjoy) the meal.

But why?

Mr. Pollan made a strong case with this question: why wouldn't you want to know who makes your food? We worry abou…

"Easy" Pizzas

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My innate Chinese cheapness usually compels me to cook every single night. But there are times I just can't come home with enough energy to make a meal. We have recently exhausted nearby takeout spots, so we tried the Olive Vine Cafe, a middle eastern place, for some falafel and pizzas. The falafel was bad -- lukewarm and too dense. But the pizzas were simple and good. They used pita bread as the crust, and all sorts of toppings. This is quite similar to Barefoot Contessa's tartines. I realized that it is the perfect way to use up leftover food. And I also began to feel ripped off for paying $9 for each pizza. Hence two nights later I made my own versions of the same thing.

The first one has onions, roasted red bell pepper, and leftover skirt steaks that was marinated in soy sauce, ginger, rice wine, and garlic. The second one is topped with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and fresh pesto sauce. The last one is almost a breakfast pizza, with sauteed vidalia onions and bacon …

Chinese New Year Eve's Dinner

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Until this year, I have been spending Chinese New Year in Taiwan for the last 6 or 7 years. The festivity in NYC of course can't compare to those in Asia, but I was not going to lower my standard to attend the Chinese New Year Spectacular just to reconnect with my roots. Plus, all Chinese holidays are about food anyway. As long as you have lots of good food, you're all set. So I just needed to have enough people to justify making a full table of dishes. Hence my friend Vicky and her husband Tim became the victims of Albertitto's first Chinese New Year Eve's dinner! Vicky and I grew up together. We are what people would call 青梅竹馬...well sort of...Our moms have been coworkers for a long time, and we played and bathed together many times when we were little. (There are more embarrassing stories that I won't tell here) In any case, it was lovely to reunite again with Vicky in a foreign land after so many years.

Tim and Vicky brought wine and a fruit tart. I made steame…

Real Food

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This is a post I was working on months ago, which I just never finished. But since Michael Pollan just wrote a much more eloquent and timely NYT article on a similar subject, I felt I had no more to add this matter with my bad writing...

(Also, I have not had internet or cable TV at home for almost a week now...which sucks in a way, but I have found so much more time to do other things like reading, cleaning, organizing, etc.)



Nina Planck has written a pretty convincing book on food advices. You see, she doesn’t use the words “healthy,” “organic,” or “natural” to describe her food of choice. Her label is “Real Food.” The book revolves around a central theme – that humans for tens of thousands of years have been eating both vegetables and animals, both grown the way nature intends them to be. Cows should graze on grass and not eat animal products; milk should be drank raw and not pasteurized; the list goes on. She proposes that modern industrialized food is the culprit for heart diseases…

What's in your freezer?

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Freezers hold foods at -20C, extending the shelf-life of most ingredients by months. It is hard to imagine how people coped without it back then. The content of one's freezer speaks volumes about her eating habits, cooking styles, and really, the lifestyle. My aunt had a box freezer in her garage that kept bags after bags of microwavable hamburgers and hot pockets. There were also tons of juice concentrate and frozen vegetables. The content of my freezer changed quite a bit over the years. When I had a car and groceries stores were not within walking distance, I usually shopped on weekends and bought meat in bulk packages. I kept lots of frozen beef, pork, and chicken for use on any day of the week.

Now I don't have a car, and I pass by a supermarket everyday after work. I shop for food almost daily. This way the food is always fresh, and I avoid leaving old produce in the fridge and letting them go to waste. So presumably my freezer would have more room now. That is really n…

Thumbprint Cookies

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Pepperidge Farm makes a really good version of these buttery cookies. Arguably, these store-bought cookies do taste a little better...the cookie's nuttiness, sweetness, butteriness, and its texture have probably been engineered to the optimal settings. But making these yourself really isn't hard at all, and you know for sure what goes into these little delights.

Recipe: Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1.5 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 egg, separated
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp fruit preserve of choice (I used raspberry)

1. Heat oven to 350 F
2. Blend well butter, egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl
3. Sift flour and salt into the bowl and blend everything together until just incorporated
4. Roll dough into small balls, about 1 teaspoon each
5. Beat egg white in a small bowl until it is a little more liquid and foamy
6. Roll each dough ball in the egg white and cover it with chopped nuts.
7. Place…

New Year's Eve Dinner

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I had plenty of time to prepare for the New Year's Dinner this year. The original idea was to have a classic 5-course French dinner -- soup, fish, meat, salad, and dessert. But we were too lazy to get oysters for the fish course. Plus, I don't know how likely the fish store frequented by us has fresh oysters on a Sunday of a New Year's holiday weekend. Charles joined us for dinner and brought flowers. Most recipes are from the Gourmet Cookbook, except the dessert was from the Epicurious website and the chestnut/apple puree from Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way book.

We started with French pea soup. Leeks were softened in butter, simmered with chicken stock, peas, and Boston lettuce, then pureed into a smooth emulsion. The soup was finished with a few drops of heavy cream and fresh croûtons (cubed french bread, drizzled with butter, roasted for 25 minutes).

I have been waiting for an occasion to try this duck recipe for a while. This is a twist on the French classic Duck …