Tuesday, August 6, 2013

America the Beautiful & Bountiful

It's started to get to me when people print in recipes for baked substitutions that "it tastes just like fried." Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. Most often, it's the latter. Not only do I avoid deep frying for the health benefits, I also am always concerned (with meat in particular) that the final result will either be a bacteria-laden, undercooked mess or that it will be throat-cloggingly dry. I've only had success with this rather tedious method of cooking once. It was making vegetable tempura and "shrimp-flavored" puffs with my grandmother at least 5 years ago. My great uncle is an absolute pro at it; he can execute anything from tonkatsu (flattened, breadcrumbed pork) to mushroom tempura with perfection. Personally, I’d rather leave the indulgent foods for when he visits (and cooks for) my family.

In general, I try to steer clear of the imitations for fear of their deception.  Sometimes, though, when I’m sick of cooking a particular ingredient in a manner that is thoroughly exhausted, I’ll let go of my tendencies. I’ll find a dish that I know I like and look for a recipe that suits me, meaning no excessive fat, sugar or salt. {I know I’m difficult.} When our friends came over and said they’d be bringing 2 medium eggplants with them because they had received five (you’re not reading that wrong) between their two (you’re not reading that wrong, either) produce boxes, I knew I had to come up with something good. Something classic that even my non-eggplant-eating brother wouldn’t mind, because goodness gracious, we needed to eat those eggplants. {I know I’m overzealous.}

Luckily, I had kept this recipe in my to-cook list. I was quite dubious of it: it’s a taste-alike and terribly simple. Could this recipe really yield an eggplant parmesan comparable to its batter-and-boiling-oil-dipped parent? The answer is yes. I’m even saying that it tastes better than its greasy progenitor. But you’ll just have to try it out for yourself.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan
adapted from http://delectabledarlings.com/2013/05/20/baked-eggplant-parmesan/
I'd say it's perfectly balanced with saltiness, crunchiness, softness and acidity. Just don't scrimp on the baking time: the eggplant must be completely done in the center to pull off the dish. 


  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 cup marinara sauce, or however much you need to cover the bottom of the pan
  • 1 medium tomato, cored and diced
  • 3 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, grated, optional
1) Crack the egg into a flat bowl or pan and beat. Pour the breadcrumbs into a similar dish. Slice the eggplant into 8-12 slices. Dredge each piece in egg before coating in breadcrumbs and placing on a greased baking sheet. Cook for 10 minutes on each side in a 400-degree oven. 

2) Pour tomato sauce across the bottom of the pan, shaking gently to cover evenly. Arrange eggplant in a layer. Place sliced tomatoes on top of the eggplant. If there’re more slices of eggplant, place those on now. If not, simply sprinkle with half of the cheese in an even crust. Reduce oven to 35o and bake for 20 minutes before adding the cheese. At this point check on the eggplant with a fork and judge further cooking time (the total could be anywhere from 30-45 minutes).


I really like corn and, not necessarily a logical extension, cornmeal. You may have seen the previous post containing a casserole with a polenta layer or the one with my favorite cornbread {scroll past the chili recipes} in it, which is far more relevant to the next recipe.

One of my friends once made a citrus-scented olive oil cornmeal cake that was so lovely that I have since been obsessed with the idea of cornmeal as a dessert ingredient. When I found this cake and saw that it was mildly healthy, I figured I should go for it. There was no event or occasion, it was just a “let’s celebrate summer and life” kind of cake. Plus, I hadn’t had any good treats in a while.

Since cornmeal can require extra moisture to avoid grittiness, I figured it was a natural progression to make it an applesauce-eque cake. Unfortunately, I was in too much of a hurry and pulled it out before it was completely done. The center was runny (which my brother enjoyed), and I really should have put it back in the oven, but (a) it was terribly tantalizing sitting there on the counter and (b) I didn’t want to dry out the edges. I would recommend covering the pan with foil for the first 20 minutes or so of baking so that it can steam a bit. This may yield a different texture, but then, I am a fan of Asian-style steamed buns and cakes.

Blueberry Peach Cornmeal Cake
You can use any stone fruits you’d like as far as I can tell. I added a few berries for color and because they were pretty flavorless on their own.
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 ripe peach

1) Thinly slice the peach and arrange in the bottom of a sprayed 9-inch cake pan (I used 8-inch but then had to pour the extra batter into another container to bake because it wouldn't all fit). 

2) Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium large bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Add wet to dry, stirring to combine thoroughly but not overmixing. Add blueberries and stir gently. 

3) Pour cake batter over the peaches, filling the pan only to within a half inch of the rim. If there's extra batter, pour into another small pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for ~40 minutes. It's important to check the doneness all the way down to the bottom as it will be wetter down there due to the peaches. 

P.S. If you've ever wondered why peaches have an almond-shaped kernel in their center if you crack open the pit, here's your answer (it turns out it's not just Mother Nature playing a prank on us). As far as I know, that's actually an almond in there. Here's an abreviated version of the Food Lover's Companion's definition of almond: "There are two main types of almonds--sweet and bitter...The more strongly flavored bitter almonds contain traces of lethal prussic acid when raw. Though the acid's toxicity is destroyed when the nuts are heated, the sale of bitter almonds in illegal in the United States. Processed bitter almonds are used to flavor extracts, liqueurs and orgeat syrup. The kernels of apricot and peach pits have a similar flavor and the same toxic effect (destroyed by heating) as bitter almonds..."


For the past few days I've been reading through the November 2012 mega-issue of Cooking Light. I rarely have the opportunity to actually read entire articles, instead skimming the pictures, pop-out words and captions in an entirely unfulfilling manner. There are two substancial pieces that stand out from the trendy desserts and healthy cooking techniques. They're quite long in comparison with much of the journalism that we have come to accept in the concise news channels of the Internet, but they're well worth your time; think of them as short stories if you need to.

Mississipi Chinese Lady Goes Home to Korea is a mildly introspective essay from Ann Taylor Pittman, the food editor for Cooking Light magazine. It recounts her culinary and familial adventures when she journeyed to Korea, her mother's homeland. Hearing about all of the communal food resonates with me because of my own mother's Japanese heritage. I'm lucky enough to know many of them and have most of them living here in the United States (far flung as they may be). I visited them in California and was reminded of how comfortable (a term Pittman mentions) we are together, without judgement. Everyone's happy to share their food, inviting the others to experience a bite of their own pleasure. 

This article is a good segway into a peek at my trip to San Francisco last week. I'm only highlighting the food adventures here: we did do other things besides eat, I promise!

Friday - an exciting adventure into what could be called the new Asiatown where authentic restaurants thrive. I ate at Pho Phu Quoc (aka PPQ), my cousin's favorite restaurant. I had never had pho (pronounced fuh) before because our local place is always packed at dinner time. I loved that the basin-sized steaming bowl were brought to the table accompanied with an array of bean sprouts, lime wedges, Thai basil leaves and jalapeños--customizable is my cup of tea. Plus, that's not even talking about the coconut drink. I'm pretty sure it's just Cream of Coconut, tapioca pearls and cubes of steamed taro. And that, folks, is all you need to hear.

Saturday - I baked banana bread for my uncle and cousin at their house for breakfast. Midmorning we explored Petaluma, a relatively small town about an hour outside of San Francisco and sampled cheese and ice cream at Petaluma Creamery. The piña colada ice cream is some of the best I've ever had, and that's coming from a chocoholic. When we arrived at my great aunt and uncle's house we had onigiri (Japanese rice balls), inarizushi (some people say the rice inside the tofu wrapper looks like a football), roasted chicken and burritos from La Azteca, the taquería my cousin Derek visits every time he comes to the West Coast. The evening brought us even more delicacies in the form of the Bon Odori Festival (a Buddhist festival honoring one's ancestors, usually shorted to 'Obon'). The temple we attended the celebration at serves hundreds of styrofoam bowls overflowing with udon noodles and topped with kamaboko (fish cake, the pink-edged pieces), braised beef (already consumed) and fresh scallions. For dessert, the traditional imagawayaki is served. It's two pancakes filled with a dollop of an, sugared red bean paste, and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds embedded in one side. Even if you don't like the idea of a normally savory ingredient--beans--being used in a sweet application, you must try it anyway.

Sunday - after a quick tour of Sonoma city and the Solano Mission contained in its borders, we returned to Auntie and Uncle's house for lunch again with many of the same components of Saturday's spread. For dinner, Auntie served smoked salmon caught a mere six hours before serving by a friend. For the sides she had green beans, tomatoes and beets fresh from the garden as well as her homemade kimchi and a slaw-like cabbage salad. Even after such a filling meal we indulged a little in her delicious minty chocolate cake leftover from the previous day.

Monday - perhaps the day best representative of San Francisco. A morning at the California Academy of Sciences was followed by lunch in the same Asian-dominated district from my first night. Our first choice of Korean barbecue was closed, so we headed up the street a block to Hahn's Hibachi. One item in particular on their menu stood out: the Pile O' Beef, which Derek ordered and consumed with gusto. We also ordered a chewy clear-noodle salad to share. The only thing I wouldn't recommend is the "tempura", which is a completely different style from the Japanese. Basically, you just have to order some sort of meat, whether chicken or beef and it will come with the appropriate seasonings and a delicious side of bean sprout salad. We wandered a ways into the now-touristy Chinatown and eventually came to what many people consider to be the best Dim Sum restaurant in the city. I have no reason to dispute this claim. We ate egg custards still scorching from the oven, balancing the wobbling center on the flaky crust while we stood out on the gusty sidewalk. A while later we ended up at the Ferry Building, a classy farm-to-table-centered indoor market containing stalls selling everything from scented olive oil to artisan cheese and charcuterie. There was more than one Whole Foods-esque mini store selling colorful ribbon pasta and off-the-beaten-track pressed juices. From there we walked 39 piers down to Ghirardelli Square. That day they were sampling milk chocolate with caramel, which was a bit too sweet for my palate, but still too much to resist. The evening ended at Fisherman's Wharf where we ate at one of the many seafood-devoted restaurants fronted by small street-side shacks. I would not recommend Nick's Lighthouse for anything but the crab chowder, a brown-sauce-based variety, as everything else was dumbed down for the tourist industry.

Tuesday - Point Reyes looks like how I image the moors of Scotland. It probably is nothing like them, but since I've only ever read about them in Laura Ingalls Wilder's ancestors' books...anyway, the day started out with fresh citrus from Auntie's garden and then moved on to more onigiri and kimchi for lunch. We hiked out 3 miles or so on the trail to the tip of Point Reyes, seeing two herds of elk in the process. For dinner, Derek cooked us some lovely Wagyu (American Kobe) burgers that was given to my Uncle Marcus by a friend of his, a small beef farmer. I'm not a big meat person, as you might have figured out, but this particular beef had such a rich flavor that it was hard not to be intrigued. Of course all of this was complimented by more fresh produce, including a bright heirloom tomato salsa made by Auntie.

Wednesday - an early morning headed to work with Uncle so that I could be dropped off back in Tiburon. Before I left their house, I had one last glass of Auntie's fresh-squeezed blackberry lemonade, made almost entirely from ingredients in her garden. I also took half of the loaf of bread that Uncle and I had made in the bread machine the night before. It was a dense oatmeal loaf with a hint of molasses and definitely my kind of bread. For the trip down to Monterey Bay with Uncle Marcus and his son, I packed egg salad/pesto and hummus/pesto sandwiches (using Uncle's bread). Once we arrived, we tasted four varieties of clam chowder on Fisherman's Wharf (a second one) that afternoon. Each of the seafood restaurants was very similar, so they tried to lure people in with their samples. There were also two crepe places, one of which was closed, so we had some from the other. They were quite good, though it was clear that the shop was much more accustomed to serving sweet crepes to savory because the batter was slightly sugared even though we ordered tomato/avocado/spinach and turkey/egg/cheese. From there we went on a 3-hour whale watching tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watching, a scientifically crewed boat. After sighting between 8 and 10 blue whales and at least half a dozen humpback whales, we headed to Ambrosia, a fairly highly rated (on Yelp) Indian restaurant nearby. Overall it was quite good, especially a fish curry we ordered. I loved that we were expected to eat family style and thus served a trough of rice alongside small cauldrons of each of the three dishes we ordered. 

Thursday - breakfast at the Embassy Suites is usually a treat, but this time it was overly crowded and not entirely enjoyable. We headed to Monterey Bay Aquarium and toured the exhibits until lunch time. Despite the long lines in the cafeteria, everything moved fairly quickly as they had many staff members positioned around the room with walkie talkies directing the flow. The lunch was quite good with a complete salad bar and a few interesting choices on the hot menu, including a "cobbler" that was remarkably like chicken pot pie with a crumb topping. That evening was one of the highlights of my trip. We drove home as quickly as we legally could to get to the Upper Haight neighborhood for an Off the Grid event. It was 13 food trucks and I was ecstatic. Maybe you don't know this about me, but I'm kind of a street food junkie. I eat at this type of vendor every opportunity I get. Especially if the trucks are as diverse as they were that night. For those of you in the Bay Area or looking to go there, these trucks were phenomenal. I tried Señor Sisig (Filipino), An the Go (garlic noodles),  Curry Up Now (Indian), Sanguchon (Peruvian) and Whip Out (BBQ), which may sound like a lot of dishes, but all six of us shared around to get a bite of everything. The veggie curry burritos from both Curry Up Now and Sanguchon were very different from what you're probably used to. The Peruvian-style curry in particular was a whole new flavor profile compared with traditional Indian fare. If you eat meat (even just once in a while), you must, must, must get the nachos from Señor Sisig. They are fully loaded and capable of feeding a large army, endowed with spices and layers of flavor that we just don't seem to get in our everyday diet. Noodle fanatics be warned: you may end up eating the entire carbo-load of An the Go garlic noodles if you're not careful. They're very simple, served only with a little broccoli and carrots on top, but the dry seasoning imparting the flavor on the pasta is more than enough to satisfy. Whip Out was Derek and my younger cousin's favorite, as they really enjoyed the brisket sliders. {Besides those there were Onigilly (sushi), Cheese Gone Wild (grilled cheese), Hapa (modern Filipino), The Chairman Truck (Chinese), Sajj (felafel/shawarma), Phat Thai (Thai), The Rib Whip (Midwest BBQ) and Cupkates (cupcakes).} Though it was already 9:15 or so, we walked around the neighborhood so that I could see where the hippie movement was born. I think it's changed quite a bit, but the streets are still lined with vintage boutiques, thrift stores, record shops and booksellers. Somehow, we ended up at Ben & Jerry's. Let me just intercede here and let you know that I was stuffed to the gills. I had bought my own burrito from Sanguchon before I realized that I was expected to finish everyone else's dinners. Luckily I understood this before I had gotten more than 3 bites into my burrito, but still, after doused sweet potato fries and beefy nachos and spicy chickpeas and buttery noodles and brisket fringes, I was near to bursting. But one does not simply pass on B&J's. Especially if one is standing in front of the B&J's scoop shop at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. And I'll just say that I could probably fit a kid-sized scoop of Passion Fruit Pineapple sorbet in after any meal.

Friday - not much time left in San Francisco at this point. By the time that everyone was up in the house (all three of us, that is) and in the car, it was 11:30 and we only had an hour and a half before I needed to get to the airport. So where did we go? Trader Joe's. We had to pick up some 21 Seasoning Salute (my younger cousin's favorite condiment), some Maple Leaf Cookies and some Raisin Rosemary Crisps (which proceded to not fit in my luggage). From there we stopped by the nearby Boudin to buy a loaf of sourdough to bring back to my dad, who had expressly requested it. When we finally got up to the front of the line (it was approximately lunch time and Boudin serves sandwiches and soups), I saw sourdough baby turtles. I couldn't refuse. 

Overall, I had an amazing time and I don't feel like I wasted one second of the trip, which is extremely important to me. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see my family and try so much great food. I hope it won't take me five years to get back out there again!

Now I'll share the second article. Welcome to the Golden Age of American Food by Scott Mowbray delves into the foodie era that we have entered as we move away from the nutrient-depleted factory products of the late 20th century and into the slow-food movement of the 2000s. You may think that this is over-generalized, that many Americans live in food desserts, lacking basic sustenance, but Mowbray paints a convincingly bright picture of the heyday that we are coming to embrace. 

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