Category: Cooking


I Don’t Get It

Why FoodTV continues to give us crap shows, I will never know.  I’ve come to terms with my social soapbox-ish rant about Iron Chef America.  Where that entry may have come from a place of anger, I don’t know that I’ve grown that much since.  I still don’t understand why a television network named FoodTV gives us the worse food shows in this country.  Cupcake Wars, the now defunct Ace of Cakes, Triple D, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Challenge, and over the last couple of years, the heinously bad Chopped.

The premise is simple:  Rustle up some talented chefs, dangle $10,000 in front of them and then….wait for it….give them crap to cook with and see how much of an ass they can make of themselves.  All the while, being critiqued by “renown” chefs and restauranteurs who’ve all gone into “kitchen stadium” [ICA] themselves and LOST.  And they had awesome ingredients to cook with on ICA.  Here on Chopped, it’s just the bizarre on top of bizarre.  After watching the Chopped All Stars, where master chefs such as Anita Lo and Nate Appleman go against one another, I have affirmation that Chopped is a show I just don’t get.  I don’t get why putting bizarre ingredients in front of chefs and asking them to cook in 20 minutes is good entertainment.  We don’t learn anything, we don’t want to eat the food they serve, and we certainly would never attempt to cook anything they prepare.  Why giving a chef fresh pasta sheets, dried papaya, chorizo, and bluefoot mushrooms is suppose to get my culinary juices running is beyond me.  Granted, the Chopped All Stars have a social undertone to it.  These chefs are not just competing for themselves, but they are competing for some really great charities they partner with.  I have this picture of the production offices of FoodTV, snotty MBA graduates sitting around the table saying to each other, “Let’s put raisins, pine cones, spinach, and bitter melon and see what these a-holes can create in 20 minutes”, followed by maniacal laughter.  Oh FoodTV, how low you have gone in your desperate attempt to come up with something like “The Wild Within”, “No Reservations”, and “Top Chef” that Bravo and the Travel Channel are kicking your butts in.

I wish I could “chop” this show along with 90% of all the other shows this network puts together.  There’s a reason Anthony Bourdain, after just ONE year of “A Cook’s Tour“, decided to ditch FoodTV and jump to the Travel Channel.  Emmy Awards later, I am sure he is glad he never agreed to the preposterous idea FoodTV threw at him to travel the US to find the best BBQ.  Thank goodness Anthony Bourdain gave them the all familiar suggestion rather than buckle to fame and riches, both of which he was able to achieve anyway in another channel anyway.  And my new favorite show, “The Wild Within” would never fly on FoodTV.  Why?  Because it’s actually good.  Not only that, it’s social.  It’s thought provoking television.  Even if you disagree with hunting in general, you have a better appreciation of what Steven Rinella is doing on that show.  And FoodTV?  Another cupcake show?  Another show to squeeze every last bit of Bobby Flay?

Yes, this is another angry rant.  No, I am not happy.  Who can be, with this network?  Watching Guy Fieri devour another chicken fried steak is not my idea of good television.  Let’s do some real television people.  Tune into “The Wild Within”, “No Reservations”, and “Top Chef”.  Those are the shows we ought to be watching.

The Perfect Roast

 

While there really is nothing wrong with getting a roast chicken from your local grocery store for about $5.99, there’s nothing like making your own roast.  For those who are cost conscious, making your own roast chicken will cost more than picking one up at Ralphs/Vons/Safeway.  Drive, park, walk in, pick up, and purchase.  Depending on the drive time, takes what?  10 minutes?  For your own roast, there’s the prep time and cook time that we could be doing something else.  We could be at the park, hiking, rocking climbing, or doing something that would be bring the heart rate to a healthy level.  But really, would we?  Or would we be staring at the computer, chatting on line, or in front of the TV, watching another episode in the adventures of Snookie?

A perfect roast chicken is really, the easiest thing to achieve.  It takes as little as 3 ingredients [whole chicken, salt, and pepper] or as many as you would like depending on the herbs you want to use [thyme and sage being the most popular].  In following Thomas Keller‘s Bouchon roast chicken, there is nothing easier to make.  Yes, you have to prep the bird.  Take out the wish bone so that after it’s done cooking, you can carve out that breast without hindrance [if you’re new to this, about 3 minutes].  Rinse and dry the bird [1 minute].  Truss the bird so it cooks evenly and keeps the breast moist [2 minutes tops if you’ve never done it].  Stick it on a large iron skillet [less than 10 seconds].  In the oven for about 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the bird or until the thickest area of the bird reads 160F.  This entire process will take a whopping 1 hour, 40-50 minutes of which you’re not even doing anything.  Let it stand for 15 minutes and chow.

Yes, this bird will run you closer to $10 and you might be asking, “Why should I buy an uncooked bird for $10 when I can get one for $6?”  No arguments here.  But to me, there’s nothing like seasoning my own bird, infusing different flavors each time, and just waiting for it to cook.  There’s nothing like knowing what went in flavoring the chicken.  Again, I’m just saying that cooking home-y foods need not be complicated.  The 3 ingredient roast chicken will be moist and above all things, really damn tasty.  Get in that kitchen and invest about 15 minutes of prep time to get the perfect roast chicken.  If you want to be fancy, cut up some root vegetables [carrots, celery, onions] and some russet or sweet potatoes and throw them in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then put the chicken on top.  The natural juices of the chicken will get all over those potatoes and vegetables and coat them with savory goodness.  At the end of the 60-75 minutes, you’ll have a meal for 3-4.  Happy days.

 

What’s Really In It?

I recently read Mark Bittman‘s piece on oatmeal on the NY Times website.  The article is really about how McDonald’s will do anything to get customers into their doors.  This time, they are trying to do it by offering what they consider, a healthy alternative to their already bloated calorie laden menu.  If what he writes is accurate, the new FMO [fruit maple oatmeal] has more sugar than a Snickers bar, only 10 less calories than a cheeseburger or egg mcmuffin and costs more than a double cheeseburger [at least in NY].  To add more fuel to the fire, the McDonald’s FMO cream “ingredient” has actually 7 ingredients, 2 of which are actually dairy.

We really, really, need to stop thinking that this is good for you.  Yes, you can ask McDonalds to take out the cream, the sugar, the dried fruits and “customize” it the way you want.  But think about this, in the time it takes to drive or walk to McDonalds, wait in line, and wait for your FMO that’s calorie rich and sugar heavy, you could have had a nice bowl of healthy oatmeal at home.  Or if you’re in a rush, boil the water, pour the oats in the pot, get ready for work and dump the whole thing in a Glad plasticware and bring it to work.  Still better for you and you can at least see moderate the amount of “goodness” going into your bowl of goodness.  Making good oatmeal really takes 2 items: water and oats.  That’s it.  Boil the water, add the oats, reduce heat and let it simmer.  If you want to put some honey in there to sweeten it up, go for it.  But just remember, McDonald’s “cream” has SEVEN ingredients.  Just so you don’t think I’m making this up, it’s listed in McDonald’s website: milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan.

I wasn’t aware of this before reading the article, but did you know that McDonald’s yearly sales of $16.5B is just under the GDP of Afghanistan.  Do we really want to hand over another $2.50 to a corporation who’s sole purpose is to get people to eat crappy food and make us feel like it’s worth it?

Stiff Competition

I had never heard of the Bocuse d’Or competition until I it on Top Chef as a prize for winning an elimination challenge to be part of the team.  It’s clearly the top cooking competition in the world.  Yes, even more so than the Iron Chef America.  It’s really the cooking Olympics of the culinary world.  It’s named after Paul Bocuse, the then president of Salon des Métiers de Bouche [Culinary Sector Exhibition and Trade Fair].  This was one of the first, if not the original cooking competition where the cooking is live, with preparation and presentation of dishes in front of an audience.  The first competition took place in 1987, and as it evolved, so had the audience.  By 1997, in support of Mexico, there were marachi bands, foghorns, cowbells, etc. rooting on their compadres.  This competition takes place every 2 years and 2011 is the year of the Bucose d’Or.

The competition starts with 24 countries in the World Finals and each team consists of 2 chefs, 1 head chef and 1 sous/commis [who must be under 22 years of age at the time of the competition].  The competitors have 5 hours and 35 minutes to prepare 1 meat and 1 fish dish.  No food can be prepared [no cutting, no pre made stocks] ahead of time.  24 judges judge each team based on cooking technique, presentation, sophistication, creativity, and visual beauty.  Clearly, this isn’t something to be taken lightly and it’s a tremendous honor to win.

Having taking place in France until just recently, it’s no surprise that the home country has taken home the top prize 6 times.  Other European siblings such as Belgium, Norway, and Sweden have all faired well over the years.  America has never finished in the top 3.  Ever.  Highest finish for us is 6th place.  This year was no different.  The winner this year was Rasmus Kofoed of Denmark.  Rounding out the top three are chefs from Sweden and Norway.  Gavin Kaysen has represented the US in 2009, but this time, it was up to James Kent.  It just wasn’t his, or the USA’s, year.  Chef James Kent finished in 10th place.  Several food writers have been writing about the event and the aftermath, and it looks as though Chef Gavin Kaysen is particular devastated this year as the Coach.  Eater and Michael Rulman have both posted good articles about the Bocuse this year and after reading it, I realize just how much pressure and stress goes into the preparation of the event and in 5.5 hours, it’s all over.

I wonder where it stops.  Is it not enough that we have the coveted Michelin Stars, the pressure in attaining and keeping it.  The pressure of just surviving in an industry that has a failure rate near 60%-70%.  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, while it would be great to see the US take home the Bocuse d’Or, I’m quite happy eating away at a French Laundry, a Per Se, Lolita, Momofuku, and the like.  It doesn’t matter to me that none these world class chefs have never represented the US at the Bocuse d’Or.   I’m happy living in my bubble, where good food is easy to find, but great food transforms an experience to something special.  And even though Chef James Kent didn’t win the Bocuse d’Or, I know his restaurant Eleven Madison Park is amazing and a must try for me when we go back to New York.

Sad State of Affairs

 

I still watch the Food Network, although the love affair has been gone for a while.  What sealed the deal for me was the latest viewing of only half of a new show.  Restaurant: Impossible is another underwhelming, unoriginal idea from this network.  If it were an original idea, it might have been good.  But clearly, the producers of this network are running out of ideas.  And fast.  Restaurant: Impossible has a simple premise.  Robert Irvine, the infamous chef of Dinner: Impossible, takes a fledgling restaurant and tries to turn it around in 24 hours.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s already been done.  It’s been done superbly by the BBC’s original version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.  The only difference of the British version is that Gordon Ramsay takes 7 days, rather then 24 hours to turn a restaurant around.

I’ve never been shy about stating that I’ve never worked in the food industry.  Never walked into a professional kitchen.  So all of these opinions I have do not come from any experience in running or cooking in a kitchen.  These restaurants, as far as I can tell, are real restaurants with real hard working people.  To try and turn it all around in 24 hours is not serving these hard working families because it takes weeks, if not months to do this in the “real world”.  As it were, Gordon Ramsay has already stated that it’s a gut wrenching show for him as he has developed ulcers in trying to turn these kitchen nightmares into successes.  And some, after he has put his stamp on them, have even closed after he leaves.  I fully understand that the people sign up willingly to be on a show like Restaurant: Impossible, but for Food TV, it feels less about the owners of the restaurants then it is trying to put Robert Irvine front and center in its Americanized, watered down version of Kitchen Nightmares.  And to take people’s livelihoods and try to change it all in 24 hours and then leave to have them “sink or swim” is both maniacal and self serving.  This is the latest hackneyed concoction of another unoriginal idea from the Food Network.

While Anthony Bourdain may have his own flaws, he correctly stated that while the network deserves all the successes they’ve had, they are indeed an evil empire.  When he was approached by the network to do a cross country trek to rate the best BBQ fairs in the US after he hit it big with “A Cook’s Tour”, he clearly saw the light.  He turned that down and realized that no one wanted to see him trekking cross country in his cowboy boots, eating BBQ ribs and brisket and determine which fairs are the best.  But more importantly, he never once wanted to have anything to do with that.  But “they” kept pushing him.  And then he found a new home in the Travel Channel to do what he really wanted to do.  And the rest is, as they say, history.

A lot of these shows are rehashed ideas over and over again with different makeup.  Iron Chef America is clearly a complete and utter rip off of the classic Japanese Iron Chef [at least they’re not shy about that].  No more needs to be written about Restaurant: Impossible.  The now defunct Tyler’s Ultimate is a knock off of A Cook’s Tour with a twist at the end where he cooks the dish he’s traveled the world to eat.  Barefoot Contessa, Everyday Italian, Giada’s Home Cooking all seem the same to me.  Take a successful woman, put her in a fab house and let her cook, all the while having orgasmic reaction to food while saying, “How easy is that?”  The Next Food Network Stars and The Next Iron Chef America are very, very poor versions of Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, respectively.  Is it just me, or isn’t it telling that it’s “The Next Food Network Star”, rather than “The Next Food Network Chef”.  And poor Robert Irvine and Ann Burrell.  To have them slave away at a show called “America’s Worst Cooks” is almost agonizing to watch.  And don’t get me started on Cupcake Wars.  Really?  When did cupcakes ever float up to the top of the food chain?  And the judges make it seem like it it’s haute cuisine.  It’s a freakin’ cake.  But smaller.  Next!  The thing they did get right was to finally cancel Ace of Cakes.  While a few episodes of what they can do with fondant is cool, we get it.  You can artistically make anything out of cake and fondant.  No need to bludgeon us to death with it.

So, where do we go from here?  As far as I can tell, Food TV has left the building.  It left the building about 3 years ago.  Even Bourdain’s early hatred of Emeril Lagasse has disappeared when FoodTV dropped the most popular show it ever had without a public “thank you” to the one chef who made the network.  That’s the true shame of it all.  So here’s to you Food Network and your tepid and unoriginal shows.  Because while the producers are around a meeting room trying to convince Mario Batali to do another knockoff of Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown”, I’ll be watching Top Chef on Bravo.

Reinterpretation

I’ve never been to the French Laundry.  I’ve never been to Per Se.  The closest to those restaurants I’ve been to is Providence here in Los Angeles, where the food is both playful [a dessert offering paying homage to a Seinfeld episode called “These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty”] and exquisite.  I am not at all trying to compare Providence to either of Thomas Keller‘s restaurant, but I think it is important to take comfort foods to a new level where we can experience something new.  Something so American, such as macaroni and cheese, can be reinterpreted to a higher level as Thomas Keller does at Per Se.  The picture above is his interpretation of macaroni and cheese.  A butter poached Nova Scotia lobster tail served over creamy lobster broth and mascarpone enriched orzo topped with a parmesan crisp.

I know a lot of people take offense when people like me say cooking can be considered an art form.  People might say, “It’s food for crying out loud!!!”  But like many art forms, you can reinterpret something that is so familiar to you that it creates a new experience.  To me, that’s part of art.  It’s part of what artists go through to interpret, and at times, reinterpret their surroundings and even their own experiences.  And it’s this reinterpretation of a classic American dish that allows someone like Thomas Keller to be inspired by something of the past to take the diner to a new place.  As he says during an interview with Charlie Rose:

People often ask, what inspires you?  Well, you can’t really say what’s going to inspire you in the future, but you can talk about stories of what inspires you in the past.

We don’t want to live in the past, where mac and cheese is done a certain way and there’s no changing it.  But there’s importance and artfulness in trying to transcend a dish that is so basic to something quite extraordinary.  While these new interpretations won’t evoke childhood memories perhaps, it is the same childhood memories that allow chefs like Thomas Keller to reach for the stars as we ride happily along with him.  We don’t all have to cook like Thomas Keller to imagine the possibilities of creating a new dish from an old dish.  It takes iterations to get the flavors right and balanced.  We don’t have to have lobster tail or mascarpone enriched orzo, but we do need some imagination and some adventure in our way of eating.  As Eric Ripert said during an interview for PlumTV.com, a dish normally take about 4 weeks from conception to bringing it on the menu.  We don’t have to go to French Laundry or Per Se to experience food in a new way.  We just have to be open to new experiences.  Sometimes they work out beautifully, and sometimes we wonder why we tried at all.  But life is not about going to Red Lobster every Friday night because that’s what you’ve done for the last 20-30 years.  Life is full of experiences and one can start by venturing out to something new.  It will be worth it in the end.  We may never look at macaroni and cheese the same ever again.

Behind The Curtain

 

I have been curious and in some ways, completely enamored about what goes on in the kitchen when we go out for dinner.  What is going on back there that’s making our food taste so good/bad?  One thing’s for sure, you cannot compare a franchise restaurant, like a Cheesecake Factory, to a non-franchise/big box restaurant.  It’s clear the menu at Cheesecake factory will be the same, pretty much 365 days out of the year.  They don’t care that asparagus is not in season, it’s on that damn menu.  But if you truly care about food [yes, that’s somewhat of an indictment on Cheesecake Factory, although I think it’s a fine place to eat], you bring in seasonal and locally grown ingredients.  Not because you want to be posh, but because it’s the responsible thing to do.  It’s the sustainable thing to do.  I’ve never worked in a kitchen, nor have I ever even worked in a restaurant, but it’s clear when you eat at a restaurant that truly cares about the ingredients and how it is prepared.  Here in Los Angeles, I’ve eaten at Providence, a 2 star Michelin restaurant on Melrose near Hollywood.  The food is exceptional.  You can taste the craftsmanship in each dish.  To be fair to the Cheesecake Factory, the cooks also work damn hard.  When it’s the lunch/dinner rush, that kitchen is a hot bed of cooks pushing out orders like there’s no tomorrow.  So why isn’t the Cheesecake Factory sporting any Michelin stars?  Everyone works hard in both restaurants, right?  Right.  But not everything is created equal.  The people who run and work at Providence is not just about turning tables all night long.  The food is the center piece of something more than just feeding hungry mouths in the dining room.  There’s thoughtfulness to the ingredients, creativity, balance of flavors and texture, finding that niche where it’s pushing the envelop of one’s dining experience.  And I think if you’re honest with yourself, that is not Cheesecake Factory’s M.O.

Alinea is considered the best restaurant in America today.  It’s surpassed the French Laundry and Per Se to become the star of the culinary circle in this country.  It is ranked number seven in the world and it has, of course, 3 Michelin stars.  I’ve never eaten at Alinea.  Shoot, I’ve never even been to Chicago [egregious, I know].  I don’t know that I will ever get to eat at Alinea, where people wait in line to pay over $200 per person for a 20 course tasting menu.  It’s a restaurant that isn’t for everyone.  In fact, the sheer intensity of chef and owner Grant Achatz will probably turn off a lot of potential diners.  I think many of us want something familiar to eat, even if we think it’s so drastically different.  Alinea pushes the envelop to the nth degree.  They do it, not out of arrogance, but out of total respect for food and their diners.  They do it because, as chefs, they are in many ways, artists themselves.  To picture Picasso, Van Gogh, or Michelangelo giving anything less than their creative best would be unthinkable.  As masterpieces are created, artists go through a process of creating, executing, failing, and starting over again.  One can argue that I’m being extreme in calling chefs artists, and maybe so, but to understand just a little of their thought process in creating dishes would help us see that they are not that different than painters and composers.  They all go through a creative process in throwing out bad ideas and embracing new and exciting ones.

So, what goes into running and cooking at a place like Alinea?  Why is it the best restaurant in America?  What would make anyone pay $200 per head to eat at a place like this?  The video below shows how utterly dedicated these men are to their craft.  Led by Grant Achatz, these men discuss, debate, and embrace a world where their starting point is the Sistine Chapel, not Michelangelo’s sketch drawings.  It is a menu development meeting where you get to experience 2nd hand, anyway, the kind of creative process and healthy debate on how they want to give their customers the very best they can possibly give.  It’s amazing to me the passion and soulfulness of their approach to something as simple as squid and green beans.  Many out there may think, “Who cares?  Give me a slice of pizza and I’m in heaven.”  And that would be missing the point.  It’s not just about preparing food, it’s about excellence and most of all, a true passion to create something new and exciting.  This should inspire us to do the same in our own lives.  Push the envelop, even if the process is slow, as Grant says.  That’s OK, but we always have to be mindful of what’s “out there” in the landscape and strive for being the best.

But, What Is It?

Banana bread.  Beautiful banana bread.  When done correctly, it is one of my favorites.  Moist, warm, and full of banana flavors.  It’s amazing how simple ingredients can turn into something quite wonderful and yet so tasty.  Many people will tell you what their favorite kind of banana bread is.  Pillsbury with walnuts, Betty Crocker with pecans, or even Sara Lee’s already made banana bread. Quick, simple, and just add liquid [often water].  But, what is IN the boxed banana bread mix?  And is it really that much faster to make?  Doing a quick Google search yields the following ingredients in the Pillsbury Banana Bread mix:

ENRICHED BLEACHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, DRIED BANANA, WHEAT STARCH, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, DEXTROSE, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: BAKING POWDER (BAKING SODA, SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE), DEFATTED WHEAT GERM, CORN STARCH, PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONOESTERS, SALT, CELLULOSE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, POLYSORBATE 60, NONFAT MILK, TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID (ANTIOXIDANTS

I have to be honest, I don’t know what half the ingredients are.   Although growing up on this kind of stuff, for the past 10 years, I am trying to wean myself off of the artificial ingredients out of my diet [this goes beyond box mixes].  When they have to use the word “natural” in their ingredients, that kind of scares me.  To make the Pillsbury banana bread, you put the mix in a bowl.  Add the water and mix.  Then put it in the loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes.  Total time is about 50-55 minutes.  I suppose that’s pretty quick to make banana bread, but still, what is “cellulose” doing in my banana mix box?  And what is “nonfat milk” doing outside the refrigerator?  “TBHQ”?  It doesn’t even have a vowel!!!

The picture is my homemade banana bread.  The ingredients are as followings:

UNBLEACHED FLOUR [MIX OF WHITE AND WHEAT], BAKING SODA, BAKING POWER, BUTTER, RIPE BANANAS, WHOLE MILK, BROWN SUGAR, ORANGE ZEST, NUTMEG, AND EGGS.

I know what these ingredients are.  But you’re probably asking, “But how LONG did it take you to make banana bread from scratch?  Like 3 hours?  Do you knead the dough until your arm falls off?”  Here’s what you do.  Melt the butter and put it with the eggs and sugar in a stand up mixer.  On low speed, alternate adding the flour and mashed bananas in three batches until just mixed.  Pour in loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes.  Total cook time is about 70 minutes.  I admit it takes longer to make this banana bread than the Pillsbury.  And even though I haven’t had the Pillsbury banana bread in over 15 years, I don’t have a doubt that in a taste test, Pillsbury doesn’t stand a chance.  No, my banana bread is not necessarily “good” for you – it has butter, sugar, and eggs.  You won’t lose weight eating it.  But these ingredients are already natural.  I don’t need to qualify them by using the word “natural” as an adjective.  There are no artificial flavors or ingredients.  So, while the Pillsbury Banana Bread instant mix may seem quick and simple, I implore people to cook/bake without artificial flavors.  Companies like Pillsbury and Sara Lee wants you to believe that pouring water into an already made mix is faster and easier.  Don’t believe the lie.  I know you can all do it.  I know we live busy lives, but we really have to try and carve out time in our day to really cook.  It doesn’t have to be French Laundry worthy.  It just has to be from the heart and with real ingredients.  We need to break our dependence on these instant/frozen meals where all they are are sugar and sodium ladened junk food.  We need to start fighting for our lives and it needs to happen now.


Egg waffles.  I don’t know how many people on this side of the Pacific has had it, but when you have, it’s tough to forget.  The picture here was taken from the CNNGo Hong Kong website, and it brings back the smell, the taste, the texture, and memories of yore for me.  I can’t remember the first time I had egg waffles, but I know we were still living in Hong Kong.  I must have been less than 8 years old when I had my first and these beauties, known locally as “雞蛋仔”, or “little eggs” were just heaven in a brown paper bag.  Whenever we go back to Hong Kong, I always get one.  Depending on my mood, I’ll get plain, chocolate, taro, coconut, etc.  The egg waffles are light, airy, crispy, and fragrant.  I’ve eaten the ones they have at Tasty Garden in LA and even those don’t compare.  The ones at Tasty Garden are dense and although the taste is similar, it can’t touch these in Hong Kong.  So, I was surprised and happy to see that CNNGo Hong Kong had a post dedicated to these egg waffles.  And little did I know, there is a local rivalry and competition for the claim to be the “best egg waffles” in Hong Kong.

I know they’re just egg waffles.  But then again, they’re not.  When you read the CNNGo post, you realize that these egg waffles are the source of people’s income.  They wake up early, stay out late for those who love a midnight snack, and do it all over again the next day.  For a few HK dollars, you can do the math how many they have to sell to not only break even, but to get a profit to live off of.  Their equipment is old, duct taped together, and seasoned after many years of use.  They’re like the weapons of old time warriors, now aged, reflecting back when times were more violent.  They take out their rusty swords and remember bloodier times.  Like these old warriors, these egg waffle vendors go out there every day.  Probably 7 days a week and never been on vacation.  They continue to seek the perfect recipe.  The perfect combination of ingredients so they can say they have the best “egg waffles” in Hong Kong.  As one of them says:

“It’s all in the secret recipe, which I’ve been perfecting for eight years,” says proprietor Mr Lai. “No one can come close to my flavor. I’m sure of it. That’s why I’m the only guy who will confidently let you try before you buy.”

I can’t wait to go back to Hong Kong to try one, or two, or maybe all of them to rank my own egg waffle battle.  I love being reminded of my childhood in Hong Kong by the taste and smell of food.  And these beauties are right up there that really bring me back.  Why?  Because I haven’t been able to find them here in LA like those in Hong Kong.  But then again, maybe that’s a good thing.  It’ll keep bringing me back.

Getting Hands On Experience

When I tell people I want to make pasta from scratch, most of the responses I get are, “Why?”  As in, “Why wouldn’t you just go to the local store to buy some Barilla?  I mean, it’s from Italy, right?”  While I’ve certainly contributed to Barilla’s bottom line over the years, I think there’s something magical about making food from scratch.  After reading Mark Bittman‘s “Food Matters“, I’ve really been looking at what we eat.  I never realized how much preservatives are in the foods we buy at the grocery stores.  We’ve been bouncing between Albertsons, Trader Joe, and Whole Foods like we get fuel credits driving around town.  So, even if I don’t ever make something twice, I most always want to give something a try once to know what goes in it.

Pasta was easy an choice.  My friend had given us a Kitchen Aid pasta machine extension for our wedding and it hadn’t seen the light of day for 2.5 years, so I thought there was no better time then to start now.  And watching Jamie Oliver, and most recently Michael Symon, make a simple pasta dough, it seemed easy enough.  I tried Mark Bittman’s pasta recipe by using a food processor, but I think next time [if there is a next time], I’m going to use the best tools on this planet: my hands.  With just 4 ingredients, it seemed like it was just too easy to mess up.  And it was.  Making fresh pasta was super simple, especially with the pasta machine extension.  The pasta came out truly al dente after it was cooked.  A firm bite and certainly different in taste than dried pasta.  Of course, there’s nothing more convenient than dried pasta, but knowing that what we were eating had no preservatives and tasted truly great was that much better.  I know I won’t be making fresh pasta every time we have spaghetti or lasagna, but the next thing I want to make are raviolis.

I find that even though the quicker, more convenient way of making pasta is to just buy it at the store, there really is nothing better tasting and more satisfying then making my own.  The satisfaction isn’t just about the taste, but it’s about creating something so familiar from ingredients that most families already have in their kitchens.  Flour, eggs, water, and salt.  To see how these four ingredients, when combined, turns into such fresh tasting pasta makes me want to throw out the rest of our dried pastas at home.  It’s this creating something out of basic ingredients that really satisfies my culinary soul.  It’s telling yourself that spaghetti with marina sauce is not overcooked noodles with ketchup.  But for so many people out there, that’s what it is.  And I think even if our lives are just out of control busy, we need to carve out time out of our day/week to make something fresh and healthy.  Let’s get off this reliance on foods loaded with preservatives and let’s get back to basics.  Let’s get back to living and eating right.