Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Meal with Emil: China Poblano

It all started with this window and two cute Chinese ladies making steamed buns.  They were eyeing Emil as we pushed him by in the stroller, smiling & waving.  Ryan & I smile back, but our gazes don't meet their eyes. We kept walking, but we were both thinking about those delicious-looking buns.  

Emil was not having a good day, or a good weekend for that matter! The Kalama Brothers were in town to play the Ohana Festival at Springs Preserve.  The Vegas shows always becomes an Ohana festival, with so many in our family living there!  Our visit with them was a bright spot in an otherwise challenging trip. We blamed teething, but there was very little sleep happening in our room.  In desperation, around 7am I offer to take a walk with Emil so Daddy could get some sleep.  A Downtown Vegas hotel/casino is not a very baby friendly place to take a morning stroll.  We zigzagged around trying to dodge smokers and shady characters.  We walked outside in search of fresh air, but only found ourselves searching for shade.  We searched in vain for a Starbucks :( The scene was equally tragic at Springs shade in sight. What are they 'preserving' anyway? Astroturf? San Clemente weather has ruined me for the rest of the country...Vegas, how do you do it? I really should have made time for breakfast, but I was mentally 'saving myself' for some ono grinds at the Ohana Fest.  Instead, we found some sad excuse for curry chicken katsu slopped over jasmine rice...and this was the best looking option!, sleep deprived, hungry.  I attempt to nurse Emil with a dry, sweaty teat.  It is every bit as terrible as it sounds. Ryan & I look at each other in desperation. "I think we made a big mistake", shaking our heads in our hands. Parenting is hard, and our hunger only escalates the problems. Tomorrow is a new day.

 "Today, we eat like kings!", I say clearly with something to prove.    
Which brings me back to those beautiful buns :)  Only when the baby drifted off to sleep (finally!), did we give in to their deliciousness.  Sometimes, a nap can turn the whole day around. This nap literally turned us around! This was our chance! We change directions, walking back to the Cosmopolitan hotel and directly to the hostess at Jose Andres's China Poblano.  Table for two please, and room for a stroller.
Noodle bar meets taco stand, I'm still not really sure what brings Chinese & Mexican food together. I say this even after reading an old legend on the menu about an Asian girl brought to Mexico by pirates. Jose Andres brought the two cuisines together, and both were delicious...that's enough for me. I loved that the front window on the Mexico side of the kitchen also operated as a taco stand serving 'street food' to the crowds walking through the hotel! Nice touch.
I'm feeling better already, as we survey the menu. We tried to give each side of the kitchen equal opportunity, so we ordered 2 items from both the Chinese & Mexican menus.  I love small plates and sharing, and this menu was great for that.  Things just came out of the kitchen as they were ready, so it was a surprise to see what dish would be next. I loved the Tuna Ceviche. Beautifully fresh ahi, amaranth seeds, 
soy sauce & pecans, which offered a delicious crunch.  I really enjoyed the temperature of this dish...nicely chilled.  The most deceptively challenging rule in cooking is hot food hot, cold foods cold.  Sounds easy enough, but with the hustle bustle of a busy kitchen, things happen.  This ceviche was presented on ice..problem solved. 
The noodle dish was a daily special, so some of the server's description escapes me.  Buckwheat noodles & black pepper...honestly, too much black pepper.  While the daily special may have been a tad forgettable, I can vividly recollect Lengua Tacos! I know some of you out there are instantly puckering in distaste, tongue tacos? Tongue can be quite tasty...try it! Since tongue is a tough muscle, it requires a rather long cooking time to become tender.  This Lengua taco was perfectly tender, shred-able beef  topped with a salsa pasilla & what I thought to be not quite enough radish.  I like radishes :) 
China Poblano calls these little beauties "When Pigs Fly", delicate steamed buns filled with Chinese BBQ pork.  The Hawaiians call this dish Manapua, the Chinese call it Cha Siu Bao (bao means bun) and serve it with Dim Sum. I have my husband Ryan to thank for my intro to this Hawaiian favorite.  Awesome food is yet another perk of marrying a Polynesian! Honestly, I haven't had a bad Manapua yet! I love the softness as a result of the steaming, paired with the nice texture of the yeast dough...delectable little clouds.  I thought this version had a nice ratio of bun to pork. They tasted every bit as good as I had imagined, walking by that window salivating.  I feel revived. We had our reward. 

Our respite was brief, as Emil soon woke up, grunting at us for tastes of everything.  Luckily, it was enough.  We felt renewed! A well-timed meal (along with a well-timed nap) can turn the whole day around.  Those beautiful little steamed buns, and all the deliciousness that came along with, were like a symbol of hope in a dark moment of parenting.  It's tiring, it's testing to our every fiber of patience, but we will be sustained...this time in the form of a delightful pork filled dough ball :)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Meal with Emil, No Kid Hungry

    Being the wifey of a starving artist does have its perks. Over the years, I've learned to tag along to only the best events.  Luau in 95 degree Fallbrook in July? No thanks. Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation event at Montage Laguna Beach? Now we're talking :) 
    This is the 6th year the Kalama Brothers have played for this great cause, ending childhood hunger! It's been so fun to watch this event blossom over the years from a small gathering in a park on a rainy night to a culinary showpiece at a 5 star resort.  My husband is always so happy to donate his time & talents for this worthy cause! In previous years, I've volunteered too...I had hoped to rub elbows with Alan Wong.  Instead I polished & stacked champagne glasses.  I'll happily tackle almost anything, I didn't mind! 
    This year is different. "You're going to bring Emil, right?" says Judy, the event chair.  Would you let me in without him? "No, but I didn't want to say it that way" she says.  So, I take my 7 month old to a fancy schmancy food event...this should be interesting.
    Who doesn't love a nice hotel?  The Montage Laguna Beach is as nice as it gets!  I've never spent the night here yet, but my dining & event experiences with the place have been very memorable!  Upon pulling up to valet, the gentleman tells me he has a little something for Emil, please step inside.  From behind the lobby desk, he pulls out a red radio flyer wagon FILLED with toys!  I can tell these toys can sub as both kid/dog toys.  Emil chooses the pink octopus...grasping for those eight long legs & instantly putting them in his mouth.  For a moment, the valet guy looks at me, waiting for me to react to my son's choice of a pink toy, "He is secure with pink", I say, moving on.  Smart move Montage...bribery is EVERYTHING in the kid world. 
It's amusing to watch my husband try to hit all the different dishes in the short amount of time he has before performing.  He is very goal oriented during this time...8 chefs, 35 minutes.  It's amusing to watch me play the role of the human octopus...carrying Emil, my purse, my wine, and my beloved food all at once.  I'm feeling bad for using the adjective 'beloved' before food, and not my son. Ok, Emil is beloved too.  
See that look in his eye as he admires the food?  Ok, now he resembles me!! It didn't take this kid long to figure out that Mama & Dada are eating the good stuff.  I'm already caving to the demands of a 7 month old...I gave him tastes of Chef Chris Crary's (from Top Chef Season 9) Uni & Almond panna cotta (with caviar, peas, pickled beets and crispy potatoes). As long as it appears to be something I'm enjoying, he wants some.  
Chef Josiah Citrin of 2-Michelin star Mélisse served Veal loin with celtuce, sea vegetables, and sorrel.  I dont have nearly as much wine as I would prefer.  Not even pumping & dumping can relieve a job that starts at 6am every morning without fail.  Have I finally learned moderation? 

Ok, after several years of experience, I can tell you Chef Alan Wong always has the longest line!  I don't just say this because I have a penchant for Hawaiians...his food is delicious!  This year, Steamed Opakapaka with pork hash & ginger.  The light & flakey fish paired with a savory pork hash?...Decadent!! 
Chef Craig Strong from the Montage's Studio used my favorite Mango Sage Honey from VR Green Farms in San Clemente for his gastrique on his scallop dish.  I've been using that honey in my panna cotta for a few years now!  Am I finally ahead of a curve?  

Montage's Pastry Chef Lee Smith celebrated the strawberry (again this year, but that's not a complaint!). Strawberry Risotto with white chocolate & citrus olive oil, Frozen Strawberry Creme Fraiche Push Up Pops, and English Scones with Devonshire cream & jam!  

Oh, the cheese. Straight up food porn! Even as I'm enjoying this beautiful evening (and I must say, the most well-behaved baby ever), I realize that Emil probably won't be invited next year.  Big difference between 6 months & 18 months!  'That's ok' I think, as I lean back & sip my wine.   Next year this time, I'll might be ready to ditch him for a couple hours! I go back for a 2nd Strawberry Creme Fraiche push pop, and resolve to just enjoy the moment.  Pretty easy to do. 

A Meal with Emil

My poor neglected blog, it's been a whole year!! Forgive me as I play a bit of catch up! Here's my only excuse. I spent a few months interning as a dairy cow, and the schedule was quite demanding :)  There is now another little insatiable appetite in our house, which has added even more fun to our adventures in eating! Our son Emil is acclimating very quickly.  After all, to borrow the phrase of a wise 10 year old, "He's not just a snack, he's A-meal!".
The first few months were spent just trying to keep everyone fed.  Sounds easy enough, but at 6am I was usually tripping over the cat demanding his morning 'treat', while searching for my nursing pillow as Emil wails in the background.   Feeding the adults is a whole other takes a little practice to get dinner on the table while caring for a newborn! That said, I ate lots of yummy stuff in the name of 'keeping my milk supply up'. Want to know the best gift ever for a new Mom? My neighbors & friends organized a dinner delivery schedule when we got home from the hospital!  They went totally overboard and brought us dinner for like, 10 days!  Ten days!? Of course I had to bake some treats to say Thank You :)
We always said we would try to take full advantage of those first few months of eternal slumber...when babies will sleep anywhere, blissfully unaware of their surroundings.  So, I bellied up to the sushi bar with Emil slumbering in the sling.  When he wanted to be held during dinner, Rybo got creative while eating his soup (please don't try that at home. Eating soup while holding a baby isn't the best idea we've had). Pretty soon, I discovered I had lots of time for cooking at home too!  We have been blessed, Emil is a great sleeper!  He naps, I cook :) 
Secretly, I feared getting a picky eater baby.  Mother nature has a sense of humor like that, you know? So far, Emil has been eager to receive 'tastes' of just about anything we are eating.  I'm surprised I'm not more uptight about what he's eating, but with no family history of food allergies, my intuition told me it was ok.  The only thing I have tried to stay away from is honey...infant botulism doesn't sound like something to mess around with.  

And we're off...into this colorful world of messy mealtimes, disturbances during dinners, and more fun than we were ever having before!  Its as if my whole life I needed WAY more for WAY less enjoyment in the end.  Truth be told, seeing my baby grin at me, avocado smeared ear to ear, is all the happiness in the world.  Now I know :) 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bun in the Oven

I'm cooking up my most important dish ever...our first son, Emil Keau Kalama. 67% done, so I guess he's medium rare, at best. This is one time when I'm aiming for well done! The last 25 weeks have been an adventure in eating, and just about every other aspect of life too. Here's the short-story recap:

 I didn't have morning sickness. At all. I say that to the right women and I see their faces shift, and I know...we aren't friends anymore. I did experience fatigue. Like I ran a marathon, partied all night, and then worked a double fatigue. Napping daily and snacking nearly constantly seemed to make me feel better, so I managed to gain 5 pounds during the first 10wks. So, there, are we even now?

 The world was a carousel of wonderful & terrible aromas for a couple of months. I felt like a bloodhound...I could smell someone's gum from across the room. I could tell if my husband drank Jameson or Maker's Mark whiskey at his shows. The cat nearly starved, as the smell of his food made me consider giving him up for adoption. Somewhere during the 2nd trimester, my x-ray smell-a-vision turned into a stuffy nose that leaves me blissfully unaware of such bothers (blame it on the extra estrogen, I hear).

 We're hungry! Like, take-a-little-kids-ice-cream-cone-for-yourself hungry. I'm suddenly aware there is another little insatiable appetite inside me, as I'm craving things that are unusual for me...mostly sweets. I'll take fudgy brownies, cinnamon rolls, shaved ice, fruit smoothies, baskin robbins ice cream, and a doughnut, please. But hang on, I would also like NY style pizza, carnitas, stuffed shells, bacon cheeseburger, spicy tomato juice, Brazilian bbq, and a giant bowl of pho. The frustrating, but wonderfully self-limiting part to this appetite, is that I can only get half way into my plate before running out of room in my cramped prego belly. It's really uncomfortable to have a real baby & a food baby co-habitating.

 More than morning coffee & evening wine, I miss sushi. Even though it will be Thanksgiving turkey time when I deliver, I'm really hoping someone brings me a spicy tuna roll in soy paper in the hospital (hint, hint). I can't wait to take my husband up on his sushi-feast offer at our favorite neighborhood spot (9-Style Sushi in San Clemente). I plan on eating my (pre-pregnancy) weight in oysters on the half shell & sashimi, topped off with Nigori saki & a Kirin (pump & dump, baby).

 Most of all, I can't wait to devour our sweet baby boy...I want to eat his chubby little cheeks & long little toes. I love the smell of newborn babies too. Take a whiff of the top of their little heads...ahh, now that's delicious :)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting Baked 101, pt 1

"I don't bake". It's always been my go-to excuse for not offering more than ice cream or the occasional bread pudding for dessert. Part of it is personal taste, I will usually choice savory over sweet. But this semester, I am forced to renig on this one, as Baking & Pastry is a required course, and I'm a bit of an overachiever :)

Baking is completely different from hot foods's chemistry. With cooking, I can usually eye-ball measurements for spices, etc., and you can almost always "fix" it in the end by adjusting flavors. Baking requires precision, it either comes out right, or very, very wrong.

The Bakery at Orange Coast College is brand new (remodeled last year) and it is Beautiful!! No hot gas oven ranges, no smelly fryer oil...just pristine wood work benches, meticulously organized shelves, and 3 amazing commercial ovens. It seems so peaceful, compared to the hot food kitchen. Luckily, the Chef instructor is kind of militant, so that makes me feel more at home. I'm used to kitchens being unapologetically rough & tough.

A huge departure from all my other culinary classes, I get to bring the food we make in class home!! My standing with the hubby/family/friends is bound to increase this semester (*dusts flour off shoulders*)! For me, that's my favorite part of cooking...sharing it with the loves in your life. Well, that, and eating it.

First class, we made cookies, 5 different kinds of cookies (chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, snickerdoodle, and ginger). Measurements are paramount...most professional recipes use weight rather than volume for dry ingredients...precision! The balance scale was a little intimidating at first (it reminds me of the weight scales they use at the doctors office...I always hated seeing them slide the metal marker over as my weight increased), but we've grown to be friends. The Chef made a big deal over whisking the eggs before adding them to the dough. Who knew?! I always just dumped them in & counted on the kitchen aid to incorporate them! Also a big deal, chilling the dough for at least 30 minutes before baking. This keeps the cookies from spreading out too much during baking. We used an ice cream scoop for portioning the dough...consistent sized cookies!

I'm getting totally spoiled by the quality of the equipment! My tiny kitchen at home dulls in comparison. The ovens are impressive! We have 3...2 are combi ovens (combi meaning convection & steam options) and a rotating oven that has 4 shelves that revolve in a circle during the cooking process (a little dial, much like an elevator, points to the shelf currently visible from the window). Chef Simpson says Mrs. Fields made her millions with a good cookie recipe & a convection oven! The rotating of pans during cooking, even moving them to different shelves in the oven,is encouraged for even browning of cookies. Since most ovens at home heat from the bottom, the bottoms of cookies often get hard...the chef suggests using double stacked sheet pans!

The recipes for this class are tested & adjusted year after year. I am giddy at having these awesome tested recipes for future use. The recipe for ginger cookies was surprising to me, using black pepper to contribute to the spiciness...yummy! I will share it with you here, because as of yet, no one has told me not to do so :)

Ginger Cookies
All Purpose Flour 10 oz.
Baking Soda 2 1/4 tsp.
Salt 1/2 tsp
Ground Ginger 1 T
Ground Allspice 1/2 tsp
Ground Black Pepper 1/2 tsp
*Sift dry ingredients together on parchment sheet*

Brown sugar 3 1/2 oz
Sugar, granulated 3 1/2 oz
*Place in mixing bowl with paddle & blend. Take out hard lumps if not blended*

Butter, unsalted 6 oz.
*Cut if butter & add to bowl. Cream butter & sugar until one blended paste.

Molasses 3 oz
*Add to above mixture & use rubber spatula to clean sides & bottom of bowl*

Egg 1
*Whisk egg then add to above until it all comes together*

*Make a small funnel out of parchment sheet. Turn machine on low & add dry ingredients to wet. Work efficiently & stop mixer when dough looks smooth & even. Scrape sides of bowl if necessary. Scoop cookies, roll evenly between palms and drop down into sugar. Place on parchment lined sheet pans and depress slightly. The cookie should be about 5/8 inches thick. Chill, then bake. *

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday mornings & Backdoor fun

Now that I have your attention, allow me to elaborate.

For the last 3 weeks, I have been investigating what I once thought to be a San Clemente urban legend. It started innocently enough. Hungry & perhaps a little hungover, we walk 2 blocks to Antoine's Cafe, a cozy little bistro serving breakfast & lunch. As can be expected on weekends, the line was out the door & onto the sidewalk. I vaguely remember hearing that you can order Antoine's food from the neighboring bar, The Red Fox Lounge.

The Red Fox Lounge is a salty little dive bar accepting cash only. I have always considered it the "late night spot" as it is open until the early morning hours, a rarity in San Clemente. We refer to the shenanigans that occur there as Fox Tales. Although most folks leave around 2am, the joint reopens bright & early, 7am.

My guy & I go in through the back door, ready to explore the possibilities of finding a quicker route to breakfast. On that first fateful Sunday morning, it seemed like the bar itself had a hangover. Smelling like last night's beer & tequila shots, the interior was scattered with colorful characters who seemed like they never left. I became more optimistic when I spotted small tabletop menus with breakfast & lunch offerings from Antoine's. The bartender, a no-nonsense straight-shooter, quickly explained how to go about ordering.

Through the door marked "OFFICE" is a small closet with a sliding window that looks straight into the kitchen of the cafe. After peering voyeuristically into the kitchen waiting for one of the cooks to notice us, I spot a light switch on the wall. Once flipped, a red light clicks on in the kitchen. A cook stops, and comes to take our order. The menu is simple, 9 breakfast items & 9 lunch items, all designated by numbers. Ryan gets to order breakfast (his fav, 2 eggs over easy, 3 pancakes & sausage: the #2 breakfast) & I decide on lunch (my fav, BLT with avocado & fries: the #2 lunch). Cash is passed through the tiny window. We are told that we will see the red light inside the bar illuminate when our food is ready. Such a quirky little system...I am instantly charmed by the whole thing.

Back at the bar, we order bloody mary's (spicy, half tomato/half clamato juice, salt on the rim). Music fills the bar, crooner classics. The bartender seems to take great joy in quizzing the patrons with name that tune, reliving the classics from his glory days. Ryan, the trivia genius that he is, rules at this game. The atmosphere is entertaining. A 60-something couple starts to slow dance at 10am. When another couple starts to make-out at the jukebox, the bartender announces "Get a room, this is a family bar!"

Soon, the red bulb above the "OFFICE" lights up. Our food is ready! We re-enter that closet & collect our breakfast. It was the quick-fix brunch we were looking for...way faster than waiting for a table next door, not to mention the entertainment! I feel privy to a San Clemente secret.

For the following 2 weeks, we make this pilgrimage, albeit, 2 blocks. The scene is slightly different from week-to-week, sometimes quieter than others. Regardless, we enjoy simple yummy food, a morning beverage. Breakfast & a show!

Admittedly, not everyone's Sunday brunch of choice, but I love borrowing this entertaining atmosphere for an hour. When we awake on a Sunday morning and I ask "Wanna have some backdoor fun?", my husband can't seem to help but say "YES!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Salad Days

I've heard people use this term. Mostly older folks in reference to the time in their lives when they were young, carefree, and blissfully in love. I must admit, I never really understood it. Salad is boring in comparison to say, eclairs, but its pleasing in so many ways. I AM young, carefree & blissfully in love. So, I try to take care of myself, and my new husband too!

My new favorite salad dressing was a complete accident: guava vinaigrette. Side note: I've been trying to consume less processed foods...short ingredients list. If I cant pronounce it, don't eat it (Beware, my beloved Hagan Daas dark chocolate ice cream has only 5 ingredients, but don't be deceived, its evil). Ever looked at the ingredient list for salad dressing? I bet, 15+! Good news, any homemade vinaigrette is easy once you know the basic formula.
Basic Vinaigrette formula: 1 part acid to 3 parts oil
The start for every vinaigrette, yet sometimes I use slightly less oil than this ratio. It goes something like this:
* Create a base of flavor: For the guava viniagrette I used guava jelly (which we just happened to have in the fridge), minced shallot, salt & pepper.
* Add an acid: I used lime juice for this one (but vinegar or other citrus fruit can work)
* Whisk in oil: high quality olive oil will really shine here! Drizzle it in slowly while whisking until desired viscosity (thickness) is achieved.
* Season to taste.
Once you get the basic formula, you can substitute other ingredients as needed. Sometimes, its nice to include an emulsifier (an ingredient that stabilizes an emulsion: the union of un-blendable ingredients). For example, Dijon mustard is perfect for a lemon vinaigrette. For the guava dressing, the jam will thicken the dressing to the desired point.
Tip: Make the salad dressing at the bottom of the serving bowl, then layer the salad on top
With the liquid on the bottom, you can layer all other ingredients on top. Salad greens, layers of toppings, then toss just before service.
Try Sweet Stuff too!
Adding a sweet element is an easy way to balance the acid in vinaigrettes. Ripe mango & blueberries, watermelon, strawberries, dried fruit, candied nuts...use whats available and fresh! Culinary school focuses on method rather than recipes. Simple cooking ratios are way more empowering, giving you the chance to be creative!
Ingredients matter! Use the good stuff!
Raw ingredients really shine in simple preparations. Ripe summer heirloom tomatoes, aged balsamic vinegar, high quality olive oil (I used a meyer lemon olive oil on this one)...use the good stuff here!

No uncharted culinary territory here, rather a return to the basics.
Nourishing & satisfying, colorful & pretty too...I'm loving the salad days. Happy Summer :)