Top Chef, Eat Your Heart Out

You guys know I love to cook, right? Everything about cooking, I love. Chopping, dicing, mincing, searing, simmering, blending, whisking… I love it all! Of course, the main reason I love cooking so much is because I love eating, naturally, but I think there’s something in the act of cooking itself that calls to me as well. The catharsis of working in the kitchen, the instincts that creative cooking calls upon, it lights me up!

So it is especially great to be dating a guy that has a passion for cooking as well, albeit with a slightly different twist. Sean is an engineer by nature, and while my cooking philosophy is all about a dash of this, a smidge of that, let’s add this and see how it all turns out, Sean is fascinated by the nuts and bolts and science of it all. So as molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine has made its way further into the mainstream, he’s been especially enraptured. And his interest in that side of cooking means that I get to benefit from all his investments.

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Including sous vide cooking! While I was staying at my parents’ place last week during Jen and Mia’s visit, Sean and I cooked up a feast of epic proportions for the whole fam with his shiny sous vide machine.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of sous vide, it involves cooking food sealed in airtight bags in a water bath heated to a very precise temperature. This method allows food to cook for long periods of time (depending on the type of meat, you can cook some things like short ribs and other tough cuts of steak for several days!) without losing flavor, overcooking, or breaking down, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth textures and full-flavors.

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Sous vide tends to get a lot of screen time on Top Chef because it’s kind of a set-and-forget it method of cooking until it’s time to finish whatever you’re cooking, which frees up a lot of time to work on other stuff in between. Alongside the sous vide chicken thighs (and a roasted cauliflower steak for my vegetarian sister), I also whipped up some potatoes au gratin, green beans with caramelized onions, and a cauliflower puree. Mmm!

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Now, speaking of finishing whatever is being cooked via sous vide, the one thing about this method of cooking is that it doesn’t leave food looking particularly aesthetically pleasing when it’s all said and done. After all, when everything is cooked perfectly evenly, with heat permeating from all sides all at once, no browning, searing, or crisping will occur. Which just means it needs to occur after the food is finished cooking in the sous vide!

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By searing food in a pan, on a grill, or with a cooking torch at the end of its cooking process, you end up with a delicious, crispy skin and some color that makes it look just as delicious as it tastes! We cooked the thighs for about 90 minutes in the sous vide, then finished it in a hot cast iron pan for just a minute or two on each side. The result?

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A fabulous meal that I was even more proud of than usual! The consistency of the chicken was absolutely perfect, with the flavor completely permeating every bite. We seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, put a little bit of butter, some thyme, and garlic into each of the sous vide packs before cooking, and it all was perfectly balanced at the end.

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On the same night we did the chicken, actually, we also experimented with eggs cooked via sous vide. I didn’t know this before, but you can actually pop eggs — in their shell and all! — into the sous vide at certain temperatures for the perfect cooked eggs! 145-degrees leads to amazing, soft poached eggs, a little bit higher and you get soft-boiled, all the way up to hard-boiled!

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We cooked the eggs for just shy of an hour, and they were pretty much the perfect Eggs Benedict consistency. This is particularly great, because there’s no limit on the number of eggs you can cook at once! So we were able to make a dozen poached eggs for a big brunch we held at the house later in the week, and it was awesome.

I can’t wait to experiment more with this fascinating form of cooking! In fact, as you read this, Sean has some pomegranate short ribs going in the sous vide. We’re letting these ones cook for a reeeeeeeeeeally long time, so here’s hoping it works out just as well as this one did!

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Surprise Feast

Last night Sean and I went over to have dinner with my parents and my uncle & aunt who were in town visiting. Unbeknownst to us, my mom and Aunt Dorothy really pulled out ALL the stops for this dinner. Earlier in the day, I’d asked my mom what we were having. Her answer was simply, “Western food”. I guess that’s technically true, though I have a feeling a meal like this deserved a little more buildup.

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Well, surprise! We ended up with a feast in every sense of the word. It ws the kind of meal that made me tres, tres desole that I forgot my real camera at home. iPhone pics do NOT do it justice!

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There was a dijon glazed pork roast, spanish rice, a cranberry-apple-pear compote, roasted vegetables, and a delicious little caprese salad on the side. Whoo-ee! If I had known that it was going to be such a feast, I would have prepared myself! As it was, however, I’d had a late lunch so I wasn’t able to demolish my plate like it deserved. Sad panda.

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Of course… that didn’t mean I still didn’t have room for dessert. You can’t really see it too well in this picture (fail), but my mom made pears poached in red wine and served it alongside a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream and a li’l slice of apple pie. Random? Maybe. But delicious? Hells yes.

You know, it’s funny, I never really used to consider myself as someone with much of a sweet tooth. I would always prefer an appetizer over dessert, salty snacks over chocolate and candy. But over the past year or so, my appreciation for the sweeter side of life has REALLY increased! I find myself legitimately craving baked goods now, whereas I never used to give them a second thought. Which, of course, is probably a bad thing for my weight loss. But it’s a good thing for my general sense of happiness and wellbeing, hehe.

Do you find that your food tastes change/have changed? This could be a general thing, like my shift in starting to prefer sweets to savories, or something more specific, like my unadulterated love for brussels sprouts now even though I used to fake-gag every time I saw them.

Greek (Chinese) Mama

Last night was one of the (many) occasions where I wanted to kick myself for leaving my camera at home. I went over to my parents’ for dinner, as they just returned from an amazing and jealousy-inducing Mediterranean cruise vacation on Tuesday. Their cruise departed from Istanbul (not Constantinople) and eventually arrived in Athens, but stopped in Ephesus, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Phillipi, Rhodes, and I’m sure I’m forgetting another one. But basically any important historical place in Greece, they went to.

Apparently, my mom didn’t get enough Greek food while there, because when my brother and I went over last night, she was whipping up more Mediterranean cuisine! The spread was so pretty that I was super mad at myself for not bothering to bring my camera. Oh well, I guess it was good preparation for my Healthy Living Summit presentation on photography, eh? Do as I say, not as I do, friends. 😉

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First up was greek salad (which I chopped up) that included cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, olives, and was dressed with EVOO and salt & pepper.

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There was also olive oil & balsamic to dip some delicious crusty bread in.

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Then grilled chicken with a spice rub and a Turkish stuffed bell pepper recipe my mom was trying out. They were stuffed with seasoned rice, pine nuts, olives, and spices! Behold, my plate:

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Although I was too full to finish my stuffed pepper. I should always know better than to snack before one of my mom’s home-cooked dinners. Tsk, tsk, Gretchen!


Photo from my mom’s birthday dinner back in February

I definitely inherited my love of cooking from my mom. Somewhat hilariously, she actually didn’t know how to cook until she met my dad, at which point she started feverishly studying my Po-Po (Chinese term for maternal grandmother) so that she could learn! Her specialty is delicious, authentic Chinese food (duh!), but she loves to experiment with all kinds of cuisines. The biggest way in which we differ in our cooking styles is that my mom is very recipe-oriented. She likes to print out recipes when she’s looking for something new, whereas I like to look up recipes more for inspiration. I like to READ cookbooks, not COOK from them (which I know is very counter-intuitive but hey, I’m a rebel.) I’ve tried to learn some of my mom’s recipes, but it really is one of those things where it always tastes better when it comes from her!

My mom’s proclivity for following others’ recipes has always been funny to me, since she doesn’t have any of her OWN recipes written down! They’re locked in her mind like a steel trap, since she’s been making them for so long. So watching her make her amazing sweet & sour pork recipe for the first time went something like this:

“Okay, then you make the sauce. Put in two spoonfuls of this, then pour in some of that, then — oh wait! — whisk in a spoon of that first…”

My poor brain couldn’t quite keep up, and I *still* don’t know how to make it. Ah well, at least next time I know to bring a notepad and pen with me. 🙂

What’s that one dish that mom (or dad) still, to this day, makes best?

PS: Head on over to Healthy Living Blogs today to check out my guest post on why having a “Top Posts” page rocks!

PPS: It’s my sister’s 30th birthday today!!! Also, to a lesser degree of excitement, it’s Sean’s and my 6-month. Kekeke.

Honey Pig Izakaya

It’s been a little heavy in these parts lately (but thank you all for your awesome and supportive comments!), so how’s about we lighten the mood on this hot and sunny Thursday, hmm?


All photos taken by Taylor!

That’s the spirit!

Last night, the fam, Sean, and I headed out to Honey Pig Izakaya for dinner. I went in full of boastful pride about how I knew aaaaall about Honey Pig from the one time I’d been there before. I was going on and on about how it was a hot-top-style Korean BBQ place, about how we’d have to get there crazy early because there’d be a huge wait, etc, etc.

Well, evidently, Honey Pig Izakaya, while run by the same people, is a completely different restaurant than Honey Pig. (Mind you, they’re like, down the street from each other as well, so you can see how I would have gotten confused.) Instead of offering raw meats cooked on the hot top in front of you, it’s more of a general Asian fusion restaurant. Whoops! Oh well, at least the Living Social deal that my dad had was definitely for this place, so I hadn’t led us all to the wrong restaurant!

Alas, it wasn’t quite the experience I think we were all hoping for, but the food was still quite tasty. It was pretty unique, too, getting to order all manner of cuisine: Japanese, Korean, you name it!

We mainly feasted on yakitori: Japanese-style skewers of meat and vegetables (the fried vegetable skewers were my favorite, hehe). We also nommed on one of their sushi samplers (not bad!) as well as their bulgogi. You can’t have Korean food without bulgogi, no matter if it’s eaten hot pot style or not!

Ben and my dad also got giant beers. What is it about Asian beers that make the serving size so huge, despite the fact that we can’t hold our alcohol for squat? Seriously, if I was to drink one this size, well, you’d probably be carting me home in a wheelbarrow, hahaha.

All in all, the food was good but the experience is much better at the original Honey Pig. That said, if you’re ever craving some Asian flavor in the Annandale area, but don’t feel like dealing with the line or the noise of the other one (it was seriously crazy when I went before!), why not give this Honey Pig a try?

Chinese New Year 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Today marks the first official day of CNY, which as of now it is the Year of the Dragon, friends.

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And you better believe that my Whasian family kicked it off in style this weekend!

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Some of my extended family came up from Virginia Beach to ring in the new year with us. It was great getting to catch up with uncles and cousins alike: chatting together, cooking together, and, of course, eating together!

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So, er, this is supposed to be a weight loss blog, right?

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Bahahahahaha.

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Weeeeell, what can I say? It was a(nother) celebration! Oy, so much food. We had an entire duck, pickled cucumbers, beef and onions, tofu and bean sprouts, mushrooms and bok choy, prawns, new year’s soup, and a whole fish. There was also an unpictured vegetarian dish made with soy and fungus, which sounds gross but was awesome.

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Almost all of the dishes we ate had some sort of significance in terms of what they stood for. The noodle soup had egg dumplings that represented gold bars (for prosperity), the fish represented longevity… or something… you get the idea. It definitely made for both a meaningful AND delicious smorgasbord of traditional dishes. My tough cousin Sidney even took care of the fish eye and duck head, ahahaha.

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It was, overall, a wonderful time with my family that I obviously never see and never hang out with. Ever. Cooking with my mom and learning her secret ninja kitchen skillz is something I always enjoy regardless of the occasion… though admittedly I don’t think I’ll be frying up whole fish anytime soon.

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I was back over at my parents’ place for lunch the next day as well, to eat more. And, you know, spend more time with my extended family. Heh. As a doubleplusbonus, the whole new year-filled weekend was capped off with me getting money! (Don’t worry, it’s legit. Receiving red packets — “hong bao” or “lai see” — from your elders is part of CNY tradition.) Even if you weren’t ringing in the other new year this weekend, I hope you all had a good one. And stayed warm and dry!

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year!