Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DIY Dumplings? Desire Dim Sum? Get Andrea Nguyen's book "Asian Dumplings"

Tricia and I are passionate Dim Sum-o wrestlers.  Living in Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have many good Dim Sum restaurants near us in Chinatown, Alhambra, and Gardenia.  However, we had been wondering lately -- how difficult would it be to make our own char shiu bao (steamed pork buns)?  Or har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings)?  After doing some research, all we knew was that it supposedly took years (nay, a lifetime) of professional training in the kitchens and/or culinary schools of Hong Kong to be good enough to be worthy of making these morsels.  Our dreams of DIY Dim Sum seemed hopelessly farfetched.

Then one day, while driving and listening to KCRW's Good Food podcast, I found out about Andrea Nguyen's new book entitled Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas and More.  It was as if a steamed dough crescent rainbow had formed over the 405!  Our soy sauce, chili and mustard prayers were answered!  

The book goes into a lot of detail and offers short cuts for making your own doughs.  If illustrations aren't enough for you, she's got instructional videos on the book's companion site asiandumplingtips.com.  Indian, Thai, Japanese, South American, Vietnamese and Fillipino dumpling lovers are not left out -- they too get recipes and techniques.  Seriously, if you want to make any sort of dumpling-esque food item, this book is for you.

So now we are building up our equipment list, taking the advice of Mrs. Nguyen and getting a tortilla press (!), and a wooden dowel to make into small, cheap rolling pins.  We're still tracking down some of the more exotic ingredients, like Shaoxing rice wine.  But hopefully soon I'll have photos up of our creations.

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posted by Brian at 3:44 PM 1 comments links to this post

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yummy Cupcakes vs. Sprinkles

At last! As mentioned before, I finally had a chance to try L.A.'s competitor to Sprinkles Cupcakes, Yummy Cupcakes. Ideally, if this were a true cupcake face-off, I would have had both side by side, taken lots of photos for the blog, done a blind taste test with friends... but a) I had no time to go to both places today, one being in Beverly Hills, the other in Burbank; and b) I was hungry and the cupcakes were far too distracting to report about properly.

So this was basically a scouting mission. (One with a glass of milk and lots of napkins.)

But I can say that you can't go wrong with these cupcakes. Cheaper, perhaps slightly less fancy or boutique-ified than Sprinkles, but larger and to my palette just as delicious. My foodie friend Jenny, her fiancé Jason (who wrote the Apple iPhone's manual!) and I sampled the Peanut Butter, Red Velvet, and Chocolate varieties. Besides that, we saw Snickerdoodle, Blood Orange (sold out just as I got there), and quite a few other kinds. The Peanut Butter was amazing... rich, peanut buttery, smooth, luscious. The Red Velvet was delicious, comparable to the Sprinkles version (but it would have been nice to have them side-to-side.) The Chocolate had a nice cream interior, much more subtle a cupcake than the Peanut Butter.

Obviously more research needs to be conducted... by me, with a gallon of milk.

(Just found out there's a Yummy Cupcakes in Santa Monica now too, so a side-to-side comparison should be much easier.)

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posted by Brian at 7:15 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, October 04, 2007

High-end Cupcake Invasion!

First it was Yogurt (Pinkberry and its copycats). Now it's cupcakes taking over.
Look out!

Sprinkles in Beverly Hills (coming soon to Boston, London, Tokyo, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Phoenix-Scottsdale, Charlotte, and elsewhere)

Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank.

I've had a Sprinkles cupcake, courtesy of our iteration producer who brought some in for our planning meeting. It felt high-end. Made with fancy ingredients, packaged in a nicely designed box. There was a neat color-key sheet in the box mapping the colored (and inedible!) buttons on each cupcake to what flavors they are. Was it to die for? Meh. A bit sweet. But pretty-looking.

This week, they were mentioned on NPR. The founders were investment bankers who decided to change careers, get trained in pastry arts and sell cupcakes. Evidently, they are good marketers too -- the cupcakes landed in the hands of Oprah, who gave them away to audience members. Voila! Huge lines at the Beverly Hills store, and expansion into more cities is imminent.

But there is also buzz about Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank. I suspect those may be better tasting than the highly branded Sprinkles, but that will require extensive research and taste testing.

If either bakery wishes to provide me with samples, I will begin immediately.

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posted by Brian at 4:01 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Happy Corned Beef Hash Day!

My father used to make the best corned beef hash. (Ok, granted, I have not had that many outside of his version. Very small sample set.)

Canned corn beef, green onions, and potato chunks all grilled up nicely. Mmmmm.

Sadly, neither of us should be eating that anymore. But it's sooo good, especially with poached eggs and toasted English muffins.

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posted by Brian at 4:51 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, July 09, 2007

High-speed Osaka Tour

Roughly a year ago, I met a young Japanese man here (Mr. Takuya) in Los Angeles, who upon finding out I would be in Japan, invited me to dinner in his city, Osaka. Because I left Kyoto late, and because the rendezvous point I arranged through his friend over the phone (since she spoke better English) was farther than anticipated (via train) from my hotel, I was about an hour later than we had intended. Oops. Fortunately, the three ladies waiting for me spotted me instantly (not too many Americans, I guess). We then all piled into Mr. Takuya's car waiting outside.

We did a quick driving tour around Osaka. The conversation that evening was quite humorous given the language barrier, but everyone had little electronic dictionaries. This made it work well enough. Mr. Takuya drove, while I chatted with the ladies in the back seat. They told me they were students (from Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Kyoto), who had failed their Japanese entrance exams, so they were all studying together in Osaka. They pointed out various Osakan landmarks and I tried to catch a glimpse of them between buildings and trees in the way.

Unfortunately, my batteries gave out (as they had been doing a lot -- my camera only likes Nimh) and was only able to capture a few shots. Here is a tiny bit of Osakan architecture (probably not its finest) as we drove along:

Then we headed to the famous Dotombori district, filled with restaurants and things to do at night. I had hoped we might go to a Teppanyaki steakhouse restaurant, a favorite example of which is the Osaka Grill in San Francisco (a more refined version of the popular Benihana chain). Many of these restaurants had long waits, so we opted for a Okonomiyaki place (which I had never tried before).

Here are most of us (minus the photographer) in front:


Unlike the teppanyaki steakhouses I've been to, this type of place has you cook everything yourself sitting near the floor in a small private room with a phone to call the waiters with. (Okonomiyaki translates roughly to "grill whatever you want, the way you want.") There were no English menus anywhere, so my hosts picked the food choices. The raw ingredients arrived in bowls. Meats, chopped yams, onions, raw eggs, rice sheets, octopus, dried fish flakes, mayonaise... Other stuff... I have no idea really. The ladies took over immediately, stirring, mixing, combining and then pouring onto the hot grill at our low-flying table.


At one point, we talked about how Osakans and Tokyoites don't always like each other. I asked why. There was a pause, then a lot of typing on personal dictionaries. Mr. Takuya turned his screen towards me and it read "not on same wave length". A-ha!

After eating, we walked around the district. I saw a strange Ferris wheel-like ride thing built into the side of a building, with each car lit up with neon lights in the shape of a buddha(!) Also saw a place to eat fugu (the poisonous pufferfish), which had a nicely illuminated tank of large deadly fishes swimming and quietly daring people to come inside and eat them. We found a temple and each got fortunes written on paper. Apparently mine was very good. One of theirs suggested bad health, another a bad marriage ahead. I was supposed to keep mine, but they took theirs, folded them up origami-style, then attached them to the wooden structure of the temple itself, amidst hundreds if not thousands of other presumably bad fortunes. (What happens when the Temple gets filled up with bad fortunes? Misfortunate leaks out into the city? Yikes!)

Finally, we said goodbye to the ladies and Mr. Takuya took me to visit his Uncle's exotic sushi restaurant, where a whole family party (great aunt, uncle, aunt, friends) had already gathered after hours and eaten. I'm not sure that they were all that interested in meeting a tired American who spoke no Japanese, but Mr. Takuya's Uncle gave us some very good bonito tuna at least.

Then we bid farewell and headed to Takuya's apartment where I met his girlfriend, a friendly Korean woman. She also had a dictionary computer and practiced her English with me. Meanwhile, Mr. Takuya demonstrated his various electronic toys, including a miniature helicopter that floated around the apartment, and a remote-controlled matchbox car. Despite it being about midnight at this point and my consciousness fading, Mr. Takuya decided we should go see the 24-hour electronics shopping store so he could buy me a Gameboy Micro before I left. How generous!

One side note: Japanese GPS is way ahead of ours. Instead of typing in my hotel's address (which I didn't have with me), he was able to type in the hotel phone number and voila! There it was on the map. Coolness.

UPDATE: You can learn how to cook okinomiyaki at home!

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posted by Brian at 3:56 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, July 06, 2007

Kyoto's Surreal Nightscape

Kyoto at night feels straight out of Miyazaki's Spirited Away where you could swear there are gods coming out to frolick and get some teppenyaki or a sento bath.


There's a skinny, long alley-way called Pochonko where the short buildings gang up on you from the sides and the signs appear to float, inviting you in to miniature pubs, restaurants, and "massage parlors." Like in Tokyo, establishments are perfectly happy to be up on the 4th floor or higher, enticing litttle nooks reachable only by stairs. Enticing, certainly, but with few English characters to guide me, I just plowed forward through the glowing squares.




Occasionally I would see signs with English characters (How can you resist a pretty place with alchohol with mushrooms for company?):

One extremely rainy night, me and my new umbrella (probably made in China, but I'm assuming it speaks Japanese) ventured out in search of a small late-night Gyoza dumplings place. Naturally I took a wrong turn somewhere and it took far longer than it was supposed to but eventually found it:

Once inside, all I had to do was utter one word to the Japanese-only folks there. "Gyoza!" "Hai!" they said. The menu had only a list of things to drink (beer). At this place, they come in lots of 10 (although I'd say they're about half-size). I ordered 30. Mmmm.

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posted by Brian at 1:55 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Food in Shanghai: Donbeiren & Late Night Hot Pot

Next it was time to try Chinese food completely unlike any I've seen in America. For lunch, we tried a Manchurian Donbeiren-style restaurant.

Red curtains wishing us all good luck! (I may need it...)

Fried ... something? I can't quite remember what these were. Tasty though:

Translucent noodles made out of bean curd, covered with colorful thinly-sliced vegetables:

Pork joints. Note the straws meant for sucking out the juice:

Manchurian-style dumplings, with various vegetable fillings:

Then on some night we explored a street where locals go to cure their late-night hunger pangs. Here you can get pretty much any kind of Asian food you want:

We opted for a hot pot place, with a most unique Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-like interior:

It was noisy and crowded. There was a recess in our table with boiling spicy oil. Various plates of uncooked ingredients like green leafy veggies, onions, mushrooms, beef, and live (still hopping!) shrimp arrived for us to slide on into the murky depths.

Technically, we do have some so-called Hot Pot places in Los Angeles, but to my knowledge they are Korean, or the Japanese Shabu Shabu variety. In any case, I'm quite certain they don't have giant illuminated mushrooms sprouting up out of the floor like this place.

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posted by Brian at 10:14 PM 0 comments links to this post

Food in Shanghai: Peking Duck

I had the good fortune of having locals show me around Shanghai, without which I could not have experienced the array of colorful culinary concoctions from northern China. Manchurian "donbeiren", Tawainese, Beijing-style, and Shanghai were all on the menu.

One night, we ate what is notably a Beijing specialty, Peking Duck. We took a taxi to a famous place that presidents have visited:

Our hostess, who leads us upstairs to the pending feast:

Duck I am used to, certainly. But unfamiliar to me were the appetizers my friends ordered for us. Duck feet cooked enough to be soft, but still a bit rubbery:

A plate of tiny, still-living shrimp swimming in a sauce. On the right, fried tofu (okay, that I know). In the middle, much more familiar sautéd shrimp:

Ahh. Here we go. The man with the knife rolls in the main course:

After he's done his magic, voila! Peking duck:

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posted by Brian at 10:35 AM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 11, 2007

Manipulating Emotions Through Food & Technology

MIT Technology review has a video clip about Chicago restaurant chef, Grant Achatz, who combines food technology (typically reserved for fast food), gourmet cuisine, and design to stimulate emotions in his guests.

Seems to be a common thread in creating good things -- your work should manipulate emotions.

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posted by Brian at 8:20 AM 0 comments links to this post