Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

My friends Gwyn and Nic have always been a little more creative than me. They think of neat things that I wish I could come up with on my own as well and they brighten up my day with their fun creativity.

Gwyn sent me a picture of their pumpkin this year and it totally put a smile on my face, so I am sharing it with you.

As a Mac-girl who works on a Mac at the Lab and who blogs on a Mactop (a Mac laptop) at home, I LOVED this idea. For non-Mac people, this is the Power symbol on Macs. I have no idea if other PCs use this too, but goodness, this pumpkin is creative and Nic and Gwyn are ingenious!

Later in the evening, I will be posting a picture from my Best Halloween Memories of Gwyn, Nic, Seth, the Mogurin, and me all dressed up like the bad-ass ninjyas that we are. I have to borrow the Papa Bear's scanner to do it, since the picture was taken pre-digital camera revolution.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Dim Sum Battle Champion!

The results are finally in! After countless miles driving around the South Bay in search of great dim sum, we've decided on the Champion! The Dim Sum Judging Committee, consisting of four core members who attended all three sessions (Jan, Caity, the Papa Bear and me) and many guest judges, visited three finalists over three weekends. The finalists were chosen from information I gathered from my online research as well as recommendations from friends and they were Dynasty in San Jose, Koi Palace in Daly City, and Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae.

With scoresheets in hand, we assigned points on the following criteria: Freshness, Richness, Repeatibility, Overall satisfaction, and Final Impression. Freshness was based on both the freshness of the ingredients and the resulting final product. In other words, freshness of the shrimp inside was scored alongside the moistness of the wrapper for a shrimp dumpling. In the Richness category, we gave dishes with the most optimum oiliness a 10 with those too rich and those without enough oil scored low. Repeatibility is a simple measure of 'do you want to eat more of it?' Overall satisfaction was the score given right after eating the dish and Final Impression was the score given upon reflection while we waited for the check.

What we quickly learned was that it is very difficult to judge deliciousness when one is hungry. We constantly found ourselves stopping and asking whether we really thought the dishes were well-made or if we were just hungry. The Final Impression category was helpful in making that assessment and we often found our Final Impression scores to be lower than our Overall Satisfaction scores.

Koi Palace takes the cake in terms of commitment required to eat there with a ridiculous two hour wait and slow table service. Is it worth it? We didn't think so and won't likely be back again, although Koi Palace had some stand-out performances, like the vegetarian tofu skin roll. The tofu skin (yuba) was moist and succulent with a more broth-like sauce than the thick, corn-starchy sauces that many other places have. With each bite, the yuba resisted with just the right texture to provide pleasure and released the delicious soup from the soft, juicy innards.

Since this is my absolute favorite dish in dim sum, I almost voted for Koi Palace as my favorite... ...until the xiao long pao came. Since Koi Palace had a large selection of Northern-style dim sum, I had high hopes for their XLB. Unfortunately, this was the worst, I mean - THE WORST - XLB I have ever had. It was all dried up and the pork was a strange consistency. Yikes!

In the end, the Core Committee decided that Dynasty was the Champion with speed of service, variety of dumplings, and cost performance as added factors. Hong Kong Flower Lounge was consistent with scores in the B+ range for everything, but they just didn't have anything that stuck in our minds. Koi Palace is definitely unique with some dishes scoring in the A/A+ range and some scoring in the C-/D+ range. For consistently good, fresh dim sum, we'll be going to Dynasty for now!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Okra is not okura

All throughout growing up in Japan, I always thought okra was a Japanese word, spelled okura. You can imagine my surprise when I saw the word in a Maya Angelou novel in high school. It was then that I realized that the proper way to spell it was 'okra'.

I've always had a thing for sticky, gooey things as my love for natto and yamaimo attest, and I fell in love with okra the first time I had it. My aunt used to make this lovely dish composed of the Trinity of Stickiness - natto, yamaimo, and okra - all chopped up into small pieces for maximum stickiness, lightly seasoned with ponzu. It was as though she collected all my favorite things into one dish.

I recently found this red okra at the farmer's market in Pleasanton and jumped on it. I've been trying to explore new vegetables, and the red okra seemed to be an interesting twist on a old favorite. Unfortunately, my adventures are often not fruitful, as I found out from all my recent fruit tastings. These red okra had a harder-than-necessary outer skin that took away from the stickiness and the delicious sliminess. Blah.

Oh well, they made for a pretty picture...

OkAra is indeed a Japanese word, and it is tofu curd. It is produced similarly to cheese curd, except instead of milk, soy milk is used during the process of making tofu. Unlike okra, okara is dry and most often than not, blah.

I'm secretly not very adventurous, am I?

I'm going to try several new places this weekend, so I promise next week's posts will be slightly more exciting than my tinkerings in the kitchen!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cupcakes are good for the spirit

I have an affinity for cupcakes. I'm not a huge fan of cakes in general, but cupcakes are different. Whenever I am tired or sad, thoughts of cupcakes cheer me up. The Mogurin used to make them for me all the time - sometimes with boxed cake and premade icing, but those worked just as well as made-from-scratch cupcakes to brighten up my day. To come home to a house with something baking in the oven immediately melts the stress away and brings the fun back into life. As both the Papa Bear and I deal with higher levels of stress these days, I really ought to bake more, but baking requires people to eat the final products, and too often in our house, baked goods get thrown out from going stale... Oh, I have an idea! I should bring it into work more!!!

Speaking of cupcakes, I noticed that The Most Beautiful Bride I Have Ever Seen also had cupcakes at her wedding. When I was at Oliver's wedding, I was instantly smitten with the idea of cupcakes as wedding cakes.


I need to make me some cupcakes to recharge very soon!

And speaking of weddings, my college buddy's wedding this weekend has been postponed due to inclement weather in FL. Hmmmm. Sounds like I have a weekend of baking ahead of me!

On the road again soon

I've got a busy few days coming up soon. I'll be speaking at a UC Davis Cancer Center Symposium on Thursday (for which I have to get up at 5 AM!), followed by a weekend trip to FL to celebrate my college roommate's wedding. I'll probably get home late on Thursday and since I'll be leaving early on Friday morning, things are going to be a little bit crazy over the next several days...

My mom wasn't impressed with the quality of my Pocky pictures. She asked me to make it look more appetizing next time. I thought they were quite tasty looking myself, but alas.

I can't seem to focus on food today, partly because I'm still trying to unwind from my crazy day at work. This isn't much of a food blog today so far!

One of the most interesting things about having a blog, food related or not, is seeing what Google searches lead to your site. I've had many funny exchanges with Fatemeh, Sam, and Molly about crazy search words that lead to our blogs. My best one so far is "My Dear Sophie", which happened to be the title I used for my post about Sophie's Crepe in SF. Turns out there is a X-rated porn video by the same title, and seeing how many people actually search for it on Google, my guess is that it's a pretty popular video! Strange coincidences.

I haven't had a whole lot of interesting eats lately - been eating the same rotation of naeng myun, spaghetti, sushi (at Sushi Yoshi these days), and whatever random dish I happen to make. Makes for a boring food blog, eh?

Maybe I'll actually get home at a normal hour tomorrow to make something fun for dinner...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Zo-sui porridge vs risotto

My little sisters prefer to eat something exotic over what they are familiar with (especially the older Baby Cub), and this adventurous spirit is something I try to encourage. But sometimes, it makes me laugh when I can trick them into thinking the familiar is exotic by a simple name change - like calling porridge 'risotto'.


Thick porridge has that same consistency as risotto without any cheese. This might heat up the authenticity debate again, but the trick works to get these somewhat fussy eaters to finish their dinner. Eating risotto sounds so much more fun than eating porridge, even though what they are eating really is a porridge over a risotto.

My porridge is a little more action-packed with lots of goodies than most porridges. In Japan, we have two types of porridges - zo-sui and okayu. Okayu is more like the Chinese porridges - they look white with chopped-up rice grains and only a few trimmings in it, which can range from eggs to pickled vegetables. Zo-sui on the other hand, is soupier with more vegetables and meat/fish pieces and firmer, whole pieces of rice grains. My porridge is definitely more zo-sui than okayu. Mine end up being much more of a rice-soup than a porridge.

I wonder what the Baby Cubs are going to think when they have real risotto for the first time... ..."Hey, this isn't real risotto!"...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Happy Birthday!

It is the Papa Bear's 40th birthday today!!!!

The Papa Bear is my precious comic relief on this blog, saying very fatherly embarrassing things at restaurants ("Do you have buffet?" at a fancy Indian restaurant) and doing embarrassing things ("Oh, I saved Anne's left over fish skin from dinner while you were away") to more loving things - like driving my drunken body home after the mind had left for home already on too many occasions. He is also a very talented hand-model as many of my pictures prove. (Yes, as his pimp, or I mean, agent, I am willing to loan him out for a negotiable fee!)

He has taught me a lot about Vietnamese food, and most of the Vietnamese influences you see in this blog is all what I have learned from him. He's taken me to various different Vietnamese restaurants to expose me to the different intricacies of his cuisine, perhaps partly hoping for me to bring home some of those dishes. Instead, he gets food-billed as Vietnamese that he's never had and Chinese food with mysterious ingredients.

He froze his butt of in Paris (literally) after the Baby Bear made him walk around aimlessly for hours on end, stuffing him with twelve meals in 72 hours. The very last evening in Paris, he was shaking and shivering helplessly in his bed as I wandered the food court at the near-by department store, Galerie Lafayette.

The Papa Bear holds an esteemed position of Nikyu (second degree brown belt) in Sushido, after valiantly pin-point the strengths and weakness of one of my favorite Japanese restaurants. He's been training regularly, so perhaps he is ready to test for his black belt soon...

Happy Birthday, Papa Bear!!!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Not so good, not so good...


I am not a big fan of fruits. I rarely eat them, and when I do, I only eat a little bit of it. I don't like too many fruits, but this one takes the cake as my least favorite fruit of all time... I don't think my dear fruit eating Joy could handle these...

Chinese apples.

Wow, I have never had anything like these bite-size apples. They are mealy to the max, dry with no juices, and what little juice you can squeeze out of these guys are tart, Tart, TART.

I don't think it's that I had a bad version - I tried two versions to give it a fair shot. And no, I will likely not try them again for a long, long, LONG time.


I'm still recovering...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

SHF: Home-made Men's Pocky

I pondered and pondered as to what I should make for this SHF: The Dark Side. I have been a fan of Kelli's Lovescool for so long, I wanted to make something that would show my respect for her and her inspirational blog. She was also one of my lovely judges during the last DMBLGIT competition, so I wanted to participate with a really nice dish as a show of appreciation for her time...

The problem was that I am not a very big fan of chocolate. I appreciate a dose of good chocolate here and there, but in all honesty, I don't crave it and I don't lust after it like I drool over some of the equally sinful savory treats and alcoholic drinks. I'd rather drink the same calories than eat decadent desserts - so I have a fairly limited repoire of chocolates treats to share... I brainstormed for all kinds of chocolate treats I would want to eat - which didn't produce a very long list. Since I always try to add a little touch of Japan (or at least Asia) when I participate in these events, I decided to go with something uniquely Japanese that had chocolate as a main player...

Home-made POCKY!

More specifically, these are called Men's Pocky in Japan, since they have a dark chocolate coating. For some odd reason, dark chocolate (or anything with subdued sweetness) in Japan is considered either manly or adult - hence, the dark chocolate versions of Pocky are called Men's Pocky...

Pocky is a national favorite in Japan. Ask any Japanese person and they will know what Pocky is. The familiar red box evokes childhood memories in almost anyone who spent any time growing up in Japan. The ubiquitous treats are found in convenience stores around the country, at kiosks at public transportation hubs, brought to field trips, and even served at bars in place of popcorn and peanuts. There is a wide range of Pocky-derivatives, such as those with strawberry chocolate (my favorite), green tea chocolate, crushed nuts with white chocolate to all other variations produced through Japanese creativity. The makers of Pocky, Glico, often bring out 'seasonal Pocky' too, which have boxes and flavors that are unique to the changing seasons in Japan - like the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Pocky.

Making my homemade Pocky was so easy, I'm amazed I'd never done it before. My Pocky ended up about five times the width of regular Pocky, but I bet I could get them thinner next time. There was sesame in my biscuit, since I just used frozen dough from a previous SHF dish (yes, it was 4 months old... but it was frozen!).

Although my Pocky wasn't quite the same as the boxed Pocky, it definitely had the Pocky spirit. I don't know if I were to serve this to Pocky aficionados, they would recognize it as their favorite treat... I'd definitely do it again as an easy snack for potlucks and dinner parties, since they are very photogenic, cute little chocolate sticks!

Sesame tart pastry was sliced into thin strips, rolled into tubes, and baked until golden (in my oven, 400F for 10 min, but my oven is so messed-up, I have no idea what the real temperature is). Once the strips were cool, I poured microwave-melted dark chocolate on them and let them cool on saran wrap. Once the chocolate solidified, Pocky easily came off the saran wrap.

Confessions of a Sushi Princess

Because I am having some trouble focusing on work today, we started talking about whether non-natives can make authentic dishes. Colleen thinks non-Australians can make Australian food just fine, and Shan says her favorite Chinese cookbook is written by an American. Jutta and I are on the other side of the camp, saying that native people who grew up with the food know the subtle flavors best to produce the just-right results.

This all started out because of my announcement that I generally don't eat at sushi places with non-Japanese chefs. It's not that I think there's some sort of genetic requirement to prepare sushi, but my experience has been that if you want good sushi and are paying top dollars for it, a small-scale Japanese restaurant is the only way I can justify the price point.

Here's why:

1. There is such a thing as the perfect rice-to-fish ratio in sushi. If you exceed one or the other, all you taste is rice or fish, not that perfect melting of the two in your mouth. Many non-Japanese places (or even Japanese places, for that matter) get the ratio all wrong by either putting a giant piece of fish on it under the name of generosity or packing too much rice to keep the cost lower.

2. There is a sequence for which sushi can be enjoyed best. I don't want the massive strength of toro or hamachi as the first piece during a sushi dinner!!! All the subtleties of the more delicately flavored snapper and halibut will be lost if my tongue is coated by the fatty ones first! Same goes for any fish with ginger and onions on top - like aji, sanma, etc. I LOVE those hikari-mono (shiny fish), but please, hold them until after the delicate ones!

3. Ditto with cooked dishes. I see nothing wrong with mingling cooked dishes from the kitchen during a sushi meal, but the timing is delicate. I don't want to start my dinner with deep-fried pork skewers when I am there to eat some sushi! Timing is key. A deep-fried pork skewer around the ~75% finished point is perfectly timed, perfectly presented to break the monotony.

4. Miso soup is not a starter! This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Why, oh why, do Japanese restaurants serve miso soup as a starter?! Miso soup and rice is supposed to be a FINALE! The final dish! The last of the last! It's supposed to be enjoyed at the end to conclude the meal and finish you off! Why the heck would I want to destroy my appetite and my taste buds with a strong bowl of soup with enough umami to exhaust my tongue at the beginning of the meal?!

I can go on and on, but now I am starting to sound less constructive and more whiny, so I'll just stop here. I guess I should clarify my point, though, and say that there are tons of Japanese sushi chefs who do not meet my sushi standards for the $80+ per person price point. To complicate the matters more, there are also Japanese sushi chefs that, unless you let them know you want it traditional, will try to accommodate the Western ways, which in their minds, is to overload you with fat, salt, and as much umami as their establishment can pack. Subtleties that build up in a slow crescendo to a powerful finish with a bang, my friends, is what makes sushi so pleasurable.

Do you think I am a snob?

At the same time, I am a deep lover of the California roll and other funky rolls on occasions. However, I rate these as a totally different experience, especially since they charge only a fraction of the cost of the real nigiri-style sushi.

I hope Joy thinks the title of this post is OK - it's actually Paris Hilton-inspired - nothing literary here...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Creative Asian Dishes

Sometimes, I am so creative, I amaze myself.

Who knew that hoisin sauce would go so well with olive tapenade?! My Trader Joe's Olive Tapenade, which is described as 'a chunky mix of olives, tomatoes, red peppers, garlic, and lemon juice', always reminded me of the Chinese pickled vegetable that we call "Za-sai" (搾菜);in Japan. I have no idea what the Chinese name is for these pickled vegetables are, but I have seen them in the markets in Chinatown in Oakland. They look like some kind of root vegetable or giant brussels sprout, marinated and pickled in red pepper sauce.

I figured that if my olive tapenade reminded me of zasai, it must go well in a Chinese-themed dish. I tested this hypothesis a few days ago when I was too tired to worry about failure... I mixed 2/3 parts olive tapenade with 1/3 part hoisin sauce and mixed that in as the seasoning for my sliced up chicken thigh meat. I finished the dish with some fresh basil and sesame seeds...

Amazingly, this was really good! And the olive tapenade tasted even more like zasai in this dish!!! Slightly sweet with a tangy pickled flavors coating the tender thigh meat that released satisfying juices with each bite, I couldn't believe it myself. Who ever knew that olive tapenade would go so well with hoisin sauce?!

Five minutes in the kitchen with rewards good enough to trick the Papa Bear into thinking he was eating real Chinese food!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Yet another sushi variation: temari-style

I've been meaning to take a picture of my pumpkin beer and pumpkin butter outside to conclude my pumpkin-season food posts, but with the sun going down sooner and my work schedule being a little bit on the crazy side, I just haven't had the time. I really enjoy taking pictures of food a whole lot more when I can take pretty pictures. My chances of taking pretty pictures are exponentially higher when I take them outside...

Anyway... I spent the last two days in Berkeley, attending a bioinformatics conference/workshop over at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBL). I'm amazed to say that at this conference, the people there - both participants and organizers - talk a whole lot about food. We've had discussions on a wide range of topics, starting from the origins of corn oil to the pricing structure of milk in CA. Interesting group of people - seems like these bioinformatics-type people are a whole lot more interesting than cancer biologists! Since this workshop has a hands-on component, I've had my laptop handy for the past two days...and what better things are there to do than to look at all the backlogged photos during breaks?!

Here's what I found, lurking in my folder!


This is a temari-style unagi sushi from Yuzu in San Mateo. Temari-style, like the futomaki, is a non-nigiri style sushi found in Japan. Temari, which directly translates as hand-ball, is a little children's ball that girls and little boys played with back in the old days. I have never seen a temari myself, but the image I have is one that is made out of cloth - which makes me wonder how bouncy this temari could possibly be.

Temari-style sushi mimics the temari-look with its curved, round structure. They tend to be smaller in size, averaging around bite-size, than regular nigiri. Interestingly, anytime I have ever had temari-style sushi was in restaurants that didn't specialize in sushi. They tend to be served at fine-dining establishments, known as ryotei, or at smaller, quiet Japanese bistros, known as koryouri-ya, where the focus is on an assortment of delicately cooked plates. These temari-style sushi is frequently made with fish that's either been marinated or grilled, highlighting the culinary skills and creativity of the chef over the freshness of the ingredients.

The round circles you see on the unagi are small pieces of rice crackers. They were a very welcome addition of crunchy texture to the unagi-rice softness. I tend to not be a big fan of unagi because it tends to be too mushy and oily, but I remember really, really liking the crunch. And these look so cute too!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pumpkin Season - Part III: Curry Spaghetti

I love left-overs because they make handy lunches and become easy starting points for future dinners. I recycle my left-overs until it is all gone. Recycling (or reusing) left-overs is one of my greatest culinary skills...

After my Ducky Autumn Roll dinner with pumpkin couscous, I combined the two dishes into a very deliciously tasty soup that I enjoyed for lunch. I made the soup by boiling the duck bones in shiitake broth into a sort of fancy ramen-like broth. To prevent the soup from being too boring, I added yuba (tofu skin) to increase the texture quotient with that wonderful mouth-watering silky-smoothness of yuba. I also added the pumpkin couscous to the soup for added complexity and layered flavor. This duck-pumpkin soup was absolutely satisfying with subtle sweetness and multiple umami flavors working together.

But I didn't finish there. Although the soup was fine for lunch, it wasn't enough to be a dinner, so with the left-over soup, I went one-step further. I turned the pot of soup into my favorite weeknight meal - Japanese curry. I thinned the soup some with vegetable broth to prevent the curry from being too salty before adding carrots, potatoes, and onions along with an assortment of spices like tumeric, cloves, cardamon, and garam masala. As those vegetables got softer, I threw in some edamame as my protein source for the evening. Just before serving, the boxed Japanese curry roux was melted into the soup and voila! My duck-pumpkin curry was done!

The yuba in the curry was excellent. Just excellent. I think yuba is going to be a routine addition into my Japanese curries from now on. I've always loved yuba, but I didn't know it would work SO well in curry. I can almost feel that silky, sexy, seductive glide of yuba rolling around on my tongue, resisting slightly as I bite into it - the resistance generating more of that absolutely pleasurable glide.

Edamame is another non-traditional component of Japanese curry, but it is one of my absolute favorite curry ingredients. Edamame do not disintegrate like carrots and potatoes under my preparation, so it provides a satisfying firmness to the otherwise mushy mixture. The onions and carrots provide a backdrop of sweetness, a welcome change in pace from the heat and spice, while the disintegrating potates give the curry its viscosity.

Since I had a craving for spaghetti and its playful texture, I decided to serve the curry over spaghetti to create what we Japanese would call "Curry Spa" or "Kare- Spa". The modern Japanese palate is used to these crazy 'fusion' concepts, so matching curry with spaghetti seem like just another convenient way for us to combine the foods we love. The combination of this duck-pumpkin curry with spaghetti was right on - not to toot my own horn or anything, but this was one of my best super-fast weeknight meals made from twice-recycled left-overs!

curry spa

How I love my noodles!

Edible visitors

Seems like I've been getting a lot of edible visitors around my house. Look who was here on Saturday!


Hmmm. Thanksgiving is coming soon... I could go for some truly free range, all natural turkeys!


These aren't turkey vultures, are they?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Dreamy First Impression: Yumeya

It is very, very rare that I talk about a restaurant that I've only been to once on the blog. Sometimes, first impressions are tricky, since too often, I've been disappointed or delightfully surprised on a second visit. But today, I feel a burning desire to talk about my dinner last night even though that was my first visit to the new Japanese izakaya-style restaurant in Sunnyvale, Yumeya (or Yume-ya).

I found myself repeatedly saying, "I was so impressed with Yume-ya last night!" over and over again this morning. Watch out, Tanto and Saizo, there is a new Dream Come True (yume in Japanese) in town for us Japanese izakaya fans!

The decor at Yume-ya is nothing fancy at all. In fact, when I saw the place, I was hesitant to come in, since it looked so sketchy. But when I saw the menu, I was definitely intrigued and excited about eating here. The dishes were innovative with wonderful variation. Dishes covering a range of grilled, fried, fresh, and boiled could be found for savory, sour, and sweet in many different combinations.

We tried a wide variety of dishes, of which none were disappointing. Although everything was uniformly good, there were some standouts that were prepared with very delicate attention to detail and flavor. I was a big fan of the tsukune meatballs which came as one of the three skewers of the yakitori order. I also really liked the flash-fried sato imo (sticky, taro-like potato) soaked in a strong dashi broth.

The portion sizes were perfectly calculated for the diners to want just a little more - a common problem with places like Tanto these days has been that by the time you're done with the dishes, you're so sick of the flavors that you don't feel like coming back for more for a while! Instead, Yume-ya's smaller portions left you wanting more each bit. It definitely had the draw power to make me want to come back again soon.

The delightfully surprising thing was how affordable dinner here ended up being! Four hungry people with approximately 1 liter of sake (consumed by alone) ended up being $100 or so before tip and tax - much better cost performance than ANY of the good local Japanese restaurants. The sake menu is moderately priced - and a little bit tricky. I saw a sake titled, "Kyoto-style Special Junmai", and since I'm a Kyotophile and I like junmai (pure-rice) sake, I decided to give it a try. I liked it quite a bit, since it was crisp and clear with just enough kick to go well with food...until I saw the bottle. Well, the bottle said in big letters, "SHOCHIKUBAI". ...I felt like I had gone to a blind taste test for French Fries, choosing the crispiest, perfectly salted fries, only to find out they were from MacDonalds. Or going to a blind beer tasting with lots of good local microbrews and choosing a Michelob Special as my favorite. Shochikubai?! What's wrong with me?!

Anyway, the only other potentially bad part of Yumeya is that their Today's Specials menu is only in Japanese. I'm not sure how to get around the ordering issue if you couldn't read the white board or the printed menu. Heck, they almost didn't give me the Japanese menu - which would have resulted in me never coming back! The English menu was boring and if anything, centered on sushi, which was not mentioned once in the Japanese menu. Because of that, I didn't try the sushi, but maybe one of these days I'll get adventurous.

Next time, I'll take pictures! This place is definitely blog-worthy!

150 El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA
5:30 PM-11:00 PM
Closed Sundays

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sushi instead of pumpkin today...

Wow, it's been a busy few days - so busy I've had no time to look at any pictures I've taken or take any new pictures! I've been meaning to take pictures of my other pumpkin favorites - a pumpkin beer from a local brewery in Hayward, CA and Trader Joe's pumpkin butter (sort of like apple butter, but pumpkin), but I haven't been able to get home before the sun is down. As you can tell from the sub-par indoor pictures, the lighting inside my house is less than optimum to do the beer or the butter any justice! Since I've got no good pumpkin pictures left (although I still have THREE pumpkin entries left), we're taking a break from Pumpkin Season posts today...

Instead, I'm sharing something my friend, Ted, made for the party last Saturday. Ted and his sweetheart, Shuko-san, brought these wonderful home-made sushi rolls and we gobbled them up!

You see, it is somewhat of a misconception that we Japanese don't eat rolls. We do! We just don't have the wacky fried rolls or ones with avocado and/or cheese! We also don't use that orange tobiko roe to coat the outside of rolls - rolls in Japan are black with the seaweed on the outside. Rolls in Japan are somber and serious, not full of party like the rolls here...

What you see here is 'futomaki', one of Japan's most common rolled sushi. It literally translates to 'Fat Roll' and is often stuffed with all cooked items. Egg and kanpyou (re-hydrated dried gourds seasoned with sweet soysauce) are the usual suspects. Sometimes, spinach or other greens find itself wrapped into these big, giant rolls.

The dilemma as a consumer is always figuring out how to eat these monster sushi rolls. One bite? Woa! That'll be a big bite! Two bites? But then all the innards fall out! I usually pre-cut my roll on my plate and make them into bit-size mini rolls myself, but then the whole point of having the Fat Roll is lost...

Ted's rolls were BIIIIIIIIIIG too. His sushi rice was nicely seasoned and the egg inside, moist with a complex balance of sweet and savory. The nori actually does more than just hold the roll together, as they contribute a delicate aroma of the ocean. Yum!

With that hunger-inducing memory, it's time for dinner!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Pumpkin Season - Part II

I was hoping to get to one of the Katrina benefit dinners at any of the hipster restaurants far away from work and the suburban boredom that is Livermore... Alas, I am still at work. I realized today that I was supposed to give a presentation in Berkeley on Friday, and since they are going to be using some fancy projection system, my slides are due tomorrow. So far, I have 2 slides done, and one is my title slide. Sniff. Procrastination has gotten the better of me again, and I am having to stay at work instead of out and about enjoying my fading youth.

Oh well.

Since this is breast cancer awareness month, I'll deviate from regular programming for a second and share a little bit of what I do as a cancer biologist. My presentation on Friday is about angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the process by which new blood vessels grow, and because blood supplies all of your cells with oxygen and other much needed goodies to grow, tumors are particularly fond of new blood vessels. They actually NEED it to grow beyond a certain size/state... You see, tumors are just like us and they can't grow a whole lot if they don't get their nutrients. Taking advantage of this fact that angiogenesis and tumor growth are hand-in-hand are the very promising anti-angiogenesis cancer treatments... And somewhere in this web is little Doc Alice, trying to find her place in the field of cancer biology and human health...

Anyway, back to pumpkins before I speed off back to angiogenesis for real.

This pumpkin-shiitake couscous was an accompaniment for my most recent Paper Chef entry. Since I went shopping after being inspired by Chris on Saturday, I picked up a pumpkin at the Walnut Creek farmer's market. I saw a very pretty orange pumpkin for only $3 - it was huge for $3! Well, it turned out to be a not-so-tasty pumpkin in the end. I think it was a decorative pumpkin...

But before I found that out, I sliced the pumpkin into two, cleaned its guts, and roasted it in my oven. My oven has no temperature control, but the pumpkin came out soft and scoopable in an hour and whatever temperature it felt like being. While the pumpkin was roasting, I made a very condensed dried shiitake broth, seasoned with soy sauce, which I've been enamored with since trying it during the last IMBB. I took the mushrooms out and sliced them while I cooked the couscous in the broth. I dumped the mushrooms and the scraped pumpkin-meat back into the pot once the couscous was done, and voila! Pumpkin-mushroom couscous! So vegan, yet so satisfying. The couscous really absorbed the shiitake depth of flavor while the pumpkin meat gave it strength and substance. This was rich without being cumbersome, light without being bland.

My only complaint is that the pumpkin really didn't have that strong sweet pumpkin taste.... But then again, maybe it's because the Japanese kabocha (what we call pumpkin) is really not a pumpkin but a whole different gord...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pumpkin Season - Part I

We're kicking off a three part post on pumpkin dishes here at MED to celebrate the upcoming Halloween. I have very many fond memories of Halloween, starting with the Halloween Carnival my elementary school used to put up as THE biggest event of the year for students. It was an evening of fun fund-raising with games hosted by each of the classes from kindergarten to 12th grade. It really was a big event with costume contests, invited guest students from other schools (a big deal since the dating pool at my school often felt incestuous), and kids of all ages running around all night long. It was in one these events that I ate my first caramel apple (to which I lost a baby tooth long after I lost the last one, leading to traumatic moments of 'holy, moly, this treat made me lose my adult tooth!')

More recently, a bunch of my best buddies from graduate school dressed up as ninjyas and caused raucous on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The next day, when I went to judo practice, my fellow ninjya came up to me and said, "Oh, man, it was SO funny when you kicked that guy in the stomach!" and proceeded to recount to me a play-by-play of an 'exchange' I had with some big frat boy. Me? I had NO recollection of it after one too many...

pumpkin cheesecake
These days, I've tamed my ways and have been a lot less excited about Halloween, but this weekend, when I saw this gorgeous pumpkin cheesecake at the party on Saturday, it made me stop to think - I need to get in touch with my inner child and let the Halloween spirit come out!

To those lucky ones who can read Japanese, Chris has a recipe on her blog. This cheesecake, in typical Japanese fashion (that I happen to appreciate very much), was neither super sweet nor super rich. Chris knew there was going to be a whole lot of drinking at this party, so she made this cake with the intent of pairing with wine. And copious amounts of wine. The Japanese call it, 'tsumami', which literally means 'things to pick on', and this tsumami-style cheesecake definitely did the job. Light enough with delicate, controlled sweetness, the pumpkin flavor really came out without competition from the cheesecake. All the drunkards really loved it, as well as those of us staying sober (for one reason or another - mine was that I was simply too hungover to imbibe).

Kudos to Chris for a new pumpkin recipe and inspiring me to start a pumpkin-themed week!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Paper Chef: Vietnamese Autumn Rolls

I'm finally getting my life back in order after an insane month that left me longing to be a housewife somewhere other than Japan (or at least trying to), and to kick off my rebirth, I had a few friends over for dinner tonight to try a creative twist of an old favorite - Vietnamese Summer Rolls.

As I've written before, these fresh, salad-based wraps are sometimes known as Spring rolls, Summer rolls, or Fresh rolls. One thing they are never known as are Autumn rolls. So, when Stephen of Stephen Cooks suggested that we all make an Autumn-themed dish with duck, pears, nut butter, and ginger for the most recent Paper Chef event, it was only natural for me to try to make Vietnamese Autumn rolls. I used the Paper Chef excuse to cook up something I wouldn't do normally - like roasting a whole duck.

autumn roll
My Paper Chef entry is my take of the Vietnamese rolls as a Autumn version with duck as the meat with pears, endives and watercress as the 'herbs'. My dipping sauce was a soy nut butter-ginger-pear-duck broth dipping sauce instead of the simple peanut sauce.

One thing I'm not that good at doing is knowing what vegetables and what fruits are best at which season. Of course I know strawberries are good in the Spring, tomatoes in the Summer, and hard and/or root vegetables in the Fall, but this seasonality thing is something I am still learning. In my defense, I know all about the seasonality of Japanese fruits, but many of those aren't available here!

Anyway, a quick Google search told me that endives and watercress were in peak season in Autumn, so I went with endives and watercress as my 'Autumn herbs'. But living in the Bay Area, where tomatoes are still ruling the Farmer's Market stalls, I didn't see any of either. I found them in Whole Foods, but that means nothing in terms of seasonality. I hope they qualify as Autumn herbs!

After running around for the whole morning, I started in the kitchen by getting my duck marinade together:

2 cups sake
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup orange juice (squeezed from real oranges - I have them frozen from orange season)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup plum sauce (found in Asian grocery stores - kind of like a lemonish/plum jelly)
1/8 cup pomegranate molasses
3 lobes grated ginger

Although measurements are approximate, I whisked all of these things together and made sure it was savory-sweet. I then washed and wiped my whole duck and let it soak in the marinade bath for maybe an hour.

In the mean time, I made the sauce:

I washed and boiled the neck and gizzards from the duck, taking away all that yucky stuff that float up - this duck broth was going to be the basis of my dipping sauce today. The combination of the dipping sauce and the salad roll is really what defines these Vietnamese rolls, and I thought that the sauce being made with the same duck 'essence' was the best way to make sure the rolls have the best accompaniment.

While the duck broth was in progress, I grated a humongous multi-lobed ginger (maybe five lobes?) and a peeled pear for the dipping sauce. I didn't know a pear could be so easily grated, but grating the pear released all of the juices very nicely while giving the sauce that necessary consistency. When the duck broth stopped producing all the yucky stuff, I let it simmer for a while (maybe 30 min? I lost track of time crocheting my turtle, inspired by Super Eggplant's Florence. Yes, you will see my turtle when he is fully born...).

I added the ginger and the pear into the duck broth when I could peel myself away from my crocheting project and let it simmer some more. I added some hoisin sauce and soy butter (my nut butter choice) into the duck broth and whisked it together. I probably added about 1/4 cup each, but this is totally a personal choice - please put in as much or as little of either ingredient to make a duck-powered soy nut sauce. This is very, very similar to the peanut sauces that frequently come with Summer rolls in restaurants, except a little thicker (because of the pear and ginger both) and spicier (because of the ginger).

With the sauce finished, I went to roast the duck:
I stuffed the inside of the duck with a pear and an apple (the apple was a generous freebie from the pear vendor at the Farmer's Market today!). I roasted the duck in my oven (which has really no accurate temperature control) with various settings, but I wouldn't trust anything I say about the temperature control. I've come to understand my oven by using my hand as a temperature gauge, so I roasted it until the outside was crispy and the inside moist. It took about another hour or so when it was all said and done.

Assembly of the final product was easy:

I washed the endives and the watercress, and just in time, Anne and the Papa Bear walked in to help me slice and dice the duck after its post-roasting 'resting period'. I peeled and chopped up another pear into thin slivers to wrap inside along with the endives and the watercress.

Final step was wrapping! I wrapped one just to take pictures of it by rolling the endives, watercress, pear slivers, and duck into the rice paper. I sliced the roll in half just for the photo shot and dabbed some soy nut butter-ginger-pear-duck broth dipping sauce on the side.

For the actual dinner, Shan joined the three of us for a wrap-it-yourself feast of Autumn rolls:

And I've got to say - this was a good combination! A success! The spiciness of the watercress inside the roll and the ginger in the dipping sauce complimented the duck very well. The sweetness from the pears, the duck itself, and the dipping sauce gave the spiciness a nicely balanced contrast. The crunchiness of the pears and the endives made the overall effect of the rolls quite refreshing despite the richness from the duck.

I also made a pumpkin-shiitake mushroom couscous (material for another post) to go with the Harvest theme and served the whole meal with a Pumpkin Ale for those of us who imbibe (two out of four).

It was a nice evening with a breeze of Autumn on a Sunday night. Thanks for a wonderful opportunity to get creative, Stephen!

PS: The Papa Bear says, "What the heck is Vietnamese about this dish?!". Ha.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Nothing like a party to beat the blues!

I spent today eating. Literally.

A few of my Japanese blogger friends got together today at our only non-blogger friend's house today. Isn't it amazing how everyone seem to have a blog these days?

I initially almost couldn't get my lazy butt out the door, partly because I was so tired and just feeling b-l-a-a-a-h - but after being reminded by my kind friends via blog comments yesterday that I really ought to get out of the house to start feeling better, I decided to drag myself to the party.

We started around 2:30 PM and continued to eat and eat and eat and eat. There were two separate waves of food, and Ma-chan's dishes from the second wave was SO EXCEPTIONAL that both Jan and I couldn't stop eating even though we were full already. We kept saying, "Goodness, I'm so full, but this is SOOO GOOOD, I NEED to eat another bite!"

Like this lobster!

Like this shiso-wrapped chicken meatballs!

Like this pepper steak!

The party today totally helped me get through some of my burnt-out blues. I think I am letting some of my work stress get the best of me - I just feel like I was stuck in this endless rat race, spinning my wheels, working so hard, getting no where. And I was letting that feeling take over other aspects of my life - like exercise. All of a sudden, I couldn't remember why I wanted to exercise - it felt like hard work for nothing - I was getting exceedingly frustrated that I was running a lot and working hard at it but that my runs weren't improving at the rate I wanted. Perhaps it's because I had forgotten that I started running because I actually enjoyed it that it became more and more painful... And perhaps it's because I'm not focusing on the job at hand and looking too much into the future that I am not as successful at work as I could be...

Intellectually, I understand. But emotionally, I'm still working at it. I'm going to take it slow with running and try to find the joy of running again. I'm going to try to remember that work stress will come and go and try to leave work at work. No more working on Friday nights!!!

Thank you to my dear Japanese crew for a wonderful afternoon full of delicious foods, friendly shoulders to cry on, all the kisses (!), and the happy moments! I guess I owe all of you many dinners for helping me take my first step out of the sadness. And an extra special shout out to Ma-chan and Steve for their amazing hospitality and kindness!

PS: Chris' Pumpkin Cheese Cake and Ted's Dashimaki Tamago are coming soon as future posts!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Why so sad? I don't know.

Do you ever get that feeling that you're just so sad or so tired you can't deal with it anymore?

Yes, MED is getting a whole lot more personal.

I'm so tired.

Anyone who can take me away from this will win as many Asian-inspired dinners than they can possible want.

I need an escape.

Look what I found!!

Oh, sometimes I wish we had all the 'cute' things they have in Japan here...

Look at this crazy site!

If I had a Japanese blog, I could choose from a Baby Rabbit, Cat, Panda, Mouse, or Dog to live on my blog. My BlogPet will read my blog and learn the art of language through the process. He will then start commenting on my blog and even reciting a little haiku periodically!

Amazing. I wonder if my BlogPet will learn anything from my English blog. Probably not, huh?

...Sad. I might have to convert MED into a Japanese blog!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It really is food...

These sticks are edible. Really.

Yes, they are what you think they are. They are generic slim jims - those spicy sausage treats that are staples at gas stations, powering many mileages during road trip - the chunks of grease and oil, squeezed together into tubes inside mysterious coating of who-knows-what.

I found these at a smoked meat stand at the West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio. They were delicious in that road-trip kind of way. These were way better than slim jims, since the grease patches didn't feel as chunky in addition to actually tasting like meat. These sticks even had a smoky aroma to them, unlike that plastic oiliness that real slim jims have.

It's funny how I am calling fake food 'real' and real food 'generic', huh?

Why is it that road trips induce a sudden lapse in conscious eating? Does anyone else suffer from the same symptoms? I'm usually so very good when it comes to eating healthfully, but get me in a car - I'll eat chips, slim jims, and M&Ms all trip long!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

IMBB: Enlightenment is the Vegan Way

I'm finally getting my life back together after several weeks of disease-ridden mad rush to meet an NIH-imposed grant proposal deadline. How ironic is that? The National Institute of Health drove me to illness with pressure and stress!!

One of the few things I managed to make for dinner besides boiling water for naeng myun (the brilliant Korean answer to the instant ramen) was a vegan soup. I had intended to post this in time to meet Sam's IMBB challenge to eat vegan, but alas, it is past her deadline and her round-up! But since it was tasty, I'm going to post anyway.

The Japanese have had a long history of vegan cooking, perfected by Japanese monks. Known as Shojin Ryouri, which directly translates to Enlightenment Cuisine or Salvation Cuisine, no animal products, including dairy or eggs, can be used. In addition, garlic and green onions are prohibited too, since these 'hot' foods can prevent one from achieving and maintaining a calm mind.

When I went and stayed in a temple for a night at Koya-san in Japan (along with six American Japanophiles), we enjoyed a full Shojin Cuisine in kaiseki style. One of the most memorable aspects of that meal was the dashi broth. Although the broth was made with no bonito or any other dried fish flakes, the broth was full of umami goodness and surprised me with a rich depth. I asked the Head Monk the next day what the secret was, since konbu seaweed alone couldn't possibly create that deep, nourishing complexity.

"Shiitake," he said. "Dried Shiitake."

So for this IMBB Vegan Challenge, I made two shiitake dishes to explore the richness these mushrooms can provide - Shiitake-ginger rice and shiitake soup with vegetarian dumplings.

The dumplings were purchased from my new favorite Japanese-Chinese buns and dumpling shop (Hana in San Jose - a post about them is coming soon). The soup was delicious and satisfying with a deep complexity and aromatic harmony of the shiitake and the ginger. I was afraid that soy sauce may bring unnecessary competition into the soup, so I seasoned the soup with sea salt instead of soy sauce to enhance the shiitake flavor. I was really amazed at how much flavor these dried shiitakes contain. All I did was wash a handful of mushrooms, add them into ~2 cups of water, bring to a boil, and let them boil for a while. There was so much flavor in there, I was knocked off my feet! It needed nothing else. I added some veggies and the dumplings into the broth with some salt, and it was done! A perfect meal in itself!

Since I had my shiitake mushrooms handy, I figured I'd also experiment a rice dish I've been in love with for a while - the ginger claypot rice from Vietnamese cuisine. I really love this dish, but I always have to pick out all of the Vietnamese dehydrated sausages. Those sausages are just oily and chewy with all of its life sucked out by the rice - and I guess I'm just not a fan of Vietnamese sausages!

The original version also has shiitake slivers in it, and that, I love and pick out to eat them. Since my shiitake was so full of flavor and potency, I decided I'd make an imitation claypot rice in my electric rice cooker - imitation in many ways, since 1. I have no claypot, and 2. this was going to be vegan. I mixed sweet rice (mochi gome) with regular rice in a 1:1 ratio, added shiitake slivers and grated ginger, and cooked the rice in a shiitake broth. The resulting rice was... not salty. SURPRISE! I forgot to season it! Other than that, I didn't miss the sausages at all, so I'll try this again soon...

And yes, as you can see, I broke the Shojin rule and used green onions in the soup... Enlightenment and salvation are both very, very distant concepts from where I am...

Tagged with: + .

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My porker says...

"Alice, what are you doing still awake?! Go to bed if you're done with work!!! I don't want your germs!!!"


...OK, Hazel, dear. I'm going to bed...

DMBLGIT #9 - if you want your scores...

In the spirit of friendly competition, I've withheld reporting scores, so if you would like to see the scoresheet, please email me at aliceDOTfoodphotoATgmailDOTcom. I will gladly send you the compiled scoresheet with the names of the judges annonymized.

I know, I know, what's the big deal, right? But working in a field where we are constantly ranked, I've become conditioned into keeping scores private and confidential. Also, it's a whole lot of scoring to find a clear (and easy) way to post from my prospective too!

Just drop me an email and I'll send you the scores right away!

Monday, October 03, 2005


It is my pleasure to introduce the winners of the DMBLGIT #9 tonight!!! All of the entries were truly wonderful, and all of the judges had wonderful things to say about the quality of submissions. I've added up all the scores from all five judges and sorted the data to determine which entry had the most total points to shine as the Grand Champion and which entry had the most points in each individual categories amongst Aesthetics, Originality, and Eatability. So without further adieu, here are the winners!


Entry #25!!!!

Cin from A Few of My Favorite Things! in Melbourne, Australia is our winning entry. Her cookies with that amazing delicate pink won over the judges. Cin managed to also snag the Top Originality slot too as the Originality Champion! Double crowning for these gorgeous cookies!!! I also loved her post about her upcoming friend's wedding and her excitement about being a bridesmaid.

Next up, our Aesthetics Champion is...

Entry #21!!!

Chubby Hubby's gorgeous photo from Singapore with exciting depth-of-field play and framing with madeleines blurred in the background captured the eye of the judges! This really is a beautiful shot - a sense of serenity comes through so nicely! And really, how did you get the spoon to balance so nicely, Chubby Hubby?

For the Originality Championship, since the Grand Champion also took the Top Slot, I'm going to include the runner-up here. And the very close Runner-up is...

Entry #42!!!!

Fatemeh of Gastronomie in the SF Bay Area shot to the Runner-up slot for originality with this flying banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Don't you think it looks like the sandwich is cruising along its neighborhood air borne?! With cilantro as its fluttering flag, this banh mi is ready for action!

We had a tie in the Eatability Championship! The shared honor goes to our Aesthetics Champion, Cubby Hubby, and to...

Entry #44!!!!

Lynn from To Short Term Memories in Tokyo cruises into the Eatability co-Champion position with her trio of Pierre Herme mousses! These adorable shot-glass mousses are so inviting with a warm hue!

Finally, our Local Champion is...

Entry #18!!!!

Cenzina from il cavoletto di bruxelles in Italy whose post I still cannot read, but she told me how these delicate treats are a local specialty from a small town in Calabria. A great interpretation of the 'Local' theme in addition to being a beautiful shot of stylish cakes!

And that's all there is, folks! My role as the DMBLGIT #9 moderator is over! It's been a whole load of fun, and thanks to all the participants and the judges!!!!!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Still down, way past the count...

Still trying to recover... Sleeping a lot, coughing a lot, and blowing my nose a lot.

This week, DMBLGIT winner announcement will come tomorrow, followed by my super belated IMBB: Vegan post. Then I have a few new vegetable finds, as well as the exciting report from Dim Sum Battle: Hong Kong Flower Lounge vs Dynasty to report. We scored a whole bunch of dishes at HKFL and at Dynasty to see who the King of Dim Sum is in the area. We'll have Round III: Koi Palace Battle coming up soon too, so if you have any must-try dim sum joints that I ought to include, let me know! I've screened out Harbor Village, ABC, and Yank Sing out already, since based on my very personal opinion, they didn't impress me as much as Dynasty and HKFL...

A lot of exciting posts coming up this week, if only I could get better... if only I could keep my eyes open...

I really, really want to write more, but the energy level just isn't were it needs...

I need sam-ge-tan... I might just have pull my lazy butt out of bed and finally make it this week... Saaaaaaam-ge-taaaaaaaaannnnnnn....

DMBLGIT #9 - Final Update before the Announcement

Ops! This entry was in the wrong In box and just discovered! You see, I had two entries sent to my regular email address rather than to my alice.foodphoto address - when I forwarded these messages to alice.foodphoto, gmail combined them into one message!!! So, when I posted about the first forwarded message, I had marked that job done without realizing that Sarah's email was also in the same string!! I'm so sorry, Sarah!

Sarah, from Montreal, Canada, had made a spaghetti squash meal after slow cooking (10 hrs!) her spaghetti sauce in a crock pot for her post on One Whole Clove. This is as local as it gets - she got the gourd right out of her godmother's garden and the herbs, peppers, and spices used were grown in her very own garden! I love the colors of the presentation - using the gourd itself to contain her spaghetti strands in it, she really maximizes on using the ingredients for the full effect!!

I've just got one more score sheet coming from one last judge before announcing the DMBLGIT #9 Grand Champion! I promise to let the news out by this coming Monday!!!!