Quote of the Day 2008-7-26

That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

-Thomas Paine

Quote of the Day 2008-7-23

Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.

-Leo Tolstoy

Gym Cliques During the Day

I’ve noticed that certain people go to the gym at specific times of the day and I wanted to discuss that today. Here are the crowds that I’ve noticed and some comments on them:

Morning, pre-lunch crowd – this is reserved for weaker guys and fat women who hit the gym at off hours because they want to work out but they’re not comfortable being in there with a lot of other people.

If you’re working at an office gym, this is also when hot girls go to work out. They don’t want to go at peak hours because they know all the guys are staring at their sports bras and asses. Most girls do not want to feel like a hanging chicken in Chinatown nor fend off some pathetic attempt to pick them up.

Lunch hour – these are the super set guys. They’re sprinting from station to station trying to fit in as much exercise as they can in their thirty minute break. As a guy, let me say that this is the most uncomfortable time to be in the locker room. You’re cramming thirty naked guys into a space designed for eight people.

After-work crowd – this is the happy hour meat market. This is a social time where 90% of the people understand that they are there to try to pick up a date. Girls are in makeup, guys are wearing their designer sportswear while doing just enough to get swoll and impress some girls. If you’re in Berkeley, this is when you’ll see Triangle Man.

The other 10% are guys who are trying to actually get in a good workout and you see the highest proportion of douchebags. You get the power-lifting guy who takes those sharp quick breaths while he’s lifting, then shadowboxes in between sets. He’s trying to lift ridiculous amounts of weight but he’s giving that “Now now, chief, I’m in the fuckin’ zone” attitude.

Let me conclude with a quick gym douchebag test. If you do any of these things, you are a douchebag:
-wear a sleeveless shirt or a beater (to show off your massive armpit hairs)
-use wrist wraps (if you’re that strong, try a private gym)
-in the office gym, wear fingerless gloves
-wear sunglasses, a headband, or an iPod while lifting weights
-shadowbox or dance between sets

Family Dinner 2008-7-20

This was by far the toughest and longest Family Dinner that I’ve ever prepared. It was a lot of dishes and a lot of trouble, but I was determined to make it good because the mystery guest was Sophia, a small deity in taekwondo.

The cooking started two days early so I could start curing the fish and make the baklava. Baklava is the most troublesome dish I have ever cooked and it is truly a labor of love. The fillo dough is some of the hardest stuff to work with – it kept ripping and folding in on itself. Then there’s chopping 5.5 cups of walnuts, melting 3 sticks of butter, and spending 6 hours cooking a pastry. But in the end, it is totally worth it. The baklava was absolutely magnificent and definitely the most delicious dessert I’ve made so far.

The other troublesome part was the hummus. It’s not the actual preparation that’s a pain so much as getting all the ingredients in one place. I guess it’s hard because I’m not Arab and I had never bought half the supplies, but it hurt to see so many places where I could just buy giant jars of hummus. Your cooking lesson of the day is that baklava and hummus are not foods that are necessarily worth the effort of making it yourself compared to the convenience of simply buying it.

I aborted the rice noodle salad because it was not going to work. I bought wheat instead of rice vermicelli and realized too late that they are two totally different things. Another small disaster occurred with the spring rolls. I am not good at making dumplings as it is, and the spring rolls ended up broken. They still tasted good so it wasn’t a total wash.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures this time around. It’s kind of good, because it wasn’t my best effort. Other than the baklava, I would rate this Family Dinner as just pretty good. Which is a shame, because it was the costliest Family Dinner so far. I had to buy a lot of pretty unique foods and a food processor.

BTW, the mystery guests this week were brilliant. Sophia was one of the most thought-provoking and interesting guests we’ve had so far, as expected. Bobby and Mimi were also great guests.

Guests: Justin, Kelly, Aki
Mystery guests: Sophia, Bobby, Mimi
Materials cost: $400
Cooking time: 12 hours

Quote of the Day 2008-7-16

Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.
-Milton Friedman

Family Dinner Recipes: Globalization theme

This is my super-fusion meal, featuring dishes and contributions from as many major parts of the world as I could get. It has Indian and Latin American influence for the main dish, a Roman-Vietnamese spring roll, a Mediterranean-American hummus, an all-Asian salad, a Japanese-French appetizer, and a Middle Eastern (one of my favorites) dessert. Most of the cooking will be done before Sunday, so it shouldn’t be any more stressful than normal on the day of.

I know I’m supposed to use proper parallelism for good grammar, but screw that. Since will also be the first bona fide five course meal, I will put the dishes in order of service.

Gravlax Sashimi

Yields: 4 servings
1 pound center-cut wild salmon fillet, deboned
½ cup of sea or kosher salt
¼ cup light-brown sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Grated zest of 2 limes
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon Basil Oil (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon Balsamic-Soy Reduction (recipe follows)
1/8 cup shaved pecorino romano cheese
20 Sweet, Soy-Glazed Almonds, cut in half (recipe follows)

• To cure the salmon: Lay plastic wrap in a 9 by 9-inch baking dish and cover with a thin layer of salt. Lay salmon, skin side down, on the layer of salt. Cover salmon with the rest of the salt. On top of salt, evenly spread a layer of brown sugar, lemon and lime zest, mint, and basil. Wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap, being careful not to leave any openings. Refrigerate for 48 hours. Remove, unwrap and wash the salmon under ice cold water to remove all the salt. Blot dry with paper towel and return it to the baking dish. Pour the wine over the fish, just to cover it, and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Remove and refrigerate until ready for use.

Basil Oil

1 cup packed basil leaves, stems removed
Coarse salt
1/3 cup of olive oil

• Bring a small pot of water and a large pinch of salt to a boil. Blanch basil for 15 seconds and immediately drain into a colander and run under cold water. Squeeze dry and transfer to a blender. Add oil and blend until smooth. Strain out basil through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the puree with a spoon to extract the most oil.

Balsamic-Soy Reduction

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce

• In a small pan, heat vinegar and soy to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes.

Sweet, Soy-Glazed Almonds

1/2 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon mirin

• Preheat the oven to 300° and roast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden, about 12 minutes. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, combine the peanuts, sake, soy, and mirin and cook until the liquid caramelizes and coats the nuts; remove to a sheet of parchment paper and allow to cool.

• To assemble: Slice salmon in ¼ inch slices and arrange in a fan on each plate. Drizzle over the basil oil and balsamic–soy reduction. Sprinkle the almonds and pecorino slices over the salmon and garnish with the greens, if desired.

Rice Noodle Salad with Panko-fried Shrimp

Yields: 4 servings
For the dressing:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sweet chile sauce
1/4 cup filtered or bottled water
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 Thai chile, seeded and chopped

For the sweet soy-glazed peanuts:
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin

1 8-ounce package rice vermicelli noodles
1/2 pound mung bean sprouts
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded and cut into 2-inch julienne
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped scallions, green part only
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large egg, well beaten
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable or grapeseed oil

• Make the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

• To make the sweet soy-glazed peanuts: In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, combine the peanuts, sake, soy, and mirin and cook until the liquid caramelizes and coats the peanuts; remove to a sheet of parchment paper and allow to cool. When cool, cover with another piece of parchment and lightly crush with a rolling pin.

• In a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles for 2 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and cook for 1 minute more. Drain both through a colander and run under cold water until cool. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

• In a large bowl, toss the rice noodles, bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, and scallions with all but 1/4 cup of the dressing and divide among four serving bowls.

• Just before serving, fry the shrimp: Dip the shrimp first in the beaten egg and then coat with the breadcrumbs. In a medium saucepan, bring a 1/4 inch of oil to 325 degrees (or until a piece of shrimp sizzles upon contact). Immediately transfer shrimp to the hot oil and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes total. Top each salad portion with 3 fried shrimp, drizzle with the reserved dressing, and top with the crushed peanuts. Serve immediately.

Hazelnut Hummus

Yields: 4 to 6 servings
For the Beets:
½ pound baby or small beets (different colors if available), scrubbed, dried and trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Ras el Hanout spice blend

For the Vegetables:
Salt
½ cup (½-inch-thick) bias-cut celery (about 1 stalk)
1 cup cauliflower florets (different colors, if available)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely chopped anchovies

For the Hummus:
¼ cup hazelnuts
1 cup cooked drained chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch cayenne
Salt to taste

For the Garnish:
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped parsley

• For the beets: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets in a single layer on a large sheet of aluminum foil set on a baking sheet, drizzle and rub with oil, then wrap into a tightly sealed package. Roast beets until tender when pierced by the tip of a paring knife, 30 to 45 minutes. Cool, peel and cut into wedges. Toss with the vinegar and spice in a medium bowl. Set aside.

• For the vegetables: While beets are roasting, bring a medium pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt generously, then add the celery and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer celery to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Repeat cooking and shocking with the cauliflower, about 5 minutes to cook.

• Whisk the oil, lemon juice and anchovies in a wide, shallow bowl. Drain the cauliflower and celery, add to the vinaigrette, toss and set aside.

• For the hummus: While beets are roasting, place the hazelnuts in a baking pan. Toast in the oven, stirring once, until the skins crack, about 8 minutes. Remove nuts immediately from the pan and wrap in paper towels. Place the parcel in a resealable plastic bag; seal it to steam the nuts for 5 minutes. Roll it on a hard surface to loosen the skins. Sort, removing the nuts and discarding the skins.

• Place the hazelnuts, chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne and salt in a food processor. Pulse to form a smooth paste, about 1 minute. Adjust salt to taste.

• Spread the hummus on a large platter. Drizzle with the pomegranate molasses. Drain beets, cauliflower and celery, and pile them on top. Garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.

Roman Spring Roll

Yields: 4 servings
For the fish:
1 large (1/2 lb) baking potato, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
Coarse salt
8 large, round spring-roll wrappers (made of rice, not wheat)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
8 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1 lbs red mullet or tilapia fillets, skin removed, and cut into 8 equal pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped black olives
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Minced spring herbs, like chervil and chives

For the sauce:
1 cup good-quality fish or seafood stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch

• In a medium saucepan, cover the potato with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until the potato is very soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Using a potato masher or ricer, mash the potato, using enough of the reserved cooking liquid to make a smooth, creamy puree.

• To make the fish packets: Hydrate the spring-roll wrappers in a bowl of hot water, one at a time, until soft and pliable, about 1 minute. Transfer to a paper towel and lay flat. Spread 1 tablespoon of the potato puree over the entire surface (this strengthens it) and sprinkle with parsley. Place 1 chopped sundried tomato in the center of the wrapper and top with a piece of fish. Sprinkle the fish with salt and top with 1 tablespoon of the chopped olives. Fold three sides of the wrapper up over the top of the fish, rolling it towards the fourth edge to tightly enclose it. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 8 fish packets.

• In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the packets until the wrappers are golden brown and crisp, and the fish is cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

• To make the sauce: Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of cold water. In a medium saucepan, bring the fish stock to a boil and slowly add the cornstarch mixture, stirring until thickened, about 15 seconds. The consistency should be somewhere between liquid and gelatin. Season with salt.

• To serve: Spoon a few tablespoons of the warm sauce into the bottoms of 4 shallow serving bowls. Drizzle the sauce with olive oil and place two fish packets on top. Garnish with the spring herbs and serve.

Tandoori Skirt Steak

Yields: 4 servings
For marinade:
6 ounces plain yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 clove garlic, minced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 teaspoon, each: red chili powder, salt
1/2 teaspoon, each: cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala

2 pounds skirt steak, fat trimmed, cut into 4 8-ounce pieces

• For the marinade, whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Add steaks, coating to cover. Marinate in the refrigerator 4 hours or overnight.

• Remove steak from refrigerator about 1 hour before ready to grill. If using a gas grill, preheat burners on high for 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to moderately high. Oil grill grates. Grill steaks, uncovered, about 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Alternatively, broil steaks on high, with the oven rack about 4-5 inches from the heating element, about 3 minutes on each side.

Baklava

Yields: 40 servings
2 pounds phyllo dough (approx. 40 sheets)
6 ½ cups finely chopped walnuts
1 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
¾ pound unsalted butter (melted)
2 ½ cups honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice

• Grease a 13×9 pan (bottom & sides) and set aside.

• Mix well the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

• Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack.

Note: When working with phyllo be sure to work fast and keep the unused portion covered with plastic wrap at all times, as it tends to dry out pretty fast. Also, be sure to carefully follow the defrosting instructions on the phyllo – the sheets will stick together if you try to do a “speed defrost”.

• Set aside one full-size sheet of phyllo dough. Cover with plastic wrap.

• Cut remaining phyllo sheets to match the dimensions of pan.

• Carefully lay the full-size phyllo sheet into the greased pan, folding over the pan edges. With a pastry brush, liberally apply melted butter.

• Lay a cut sheet of phyllo into the bottom of the pan, and with a pastry brush liberally apply melted butter. Repeat 9 more times, so that you have the one full sheet and 10 smaller sheets as your bottom layer.

• Sprinkle 2 cups of the walnut mixture into the pan. Lay 6 more sheets of phyllo on top, making sure to liberally apply the melted butter between each sheet. Repeat this 3 more times, so that there are 4 separate layers of the walnut mixture. For the top layer place all remaining phyllo sheets, again making sure to liberally butter between each sheet. Using a sharp plastic spatula, carefully fold over the large sheet of phyllo that should still be extended over the edge back onto the top, so that the inside edges of the pan are visible. Carefully score the baklava into whatever shape you want, cutting about halfway down. A diamond pattern is traditional.

• Bake for 2 ½ to 3 hours at 300 degrees until brown.

• About 5 minutes before removing the baklava from the oven, combine the honey and lemon juice and heat over a medium heat until runny.

• Remove the baklava from the oven and very carefully drain the butter.

• Set the baklava on a cooling rack, and pour the honey mixture completely over it.

• Cover the baklava and let sit for at least 4 hours. Overnight or longer is best.

• When you are ready to cut the pieces, cut through the score marks with a sharp knife, and use a spatula to remove the pieces.

Family Dinner 2008-7-13

We had a very successful Family Dinner on Sunday, which made me especially happy because I wanted to make it a special thing. I already had most of the ingredients so it wasn’t too bad there either, and in fact this was one of the cheapest Family Dinners in cost.

As far as the cooking, let me say that the recipe calls for a LOT of wine. I actually thought it was too much and was worried that the taste would seep in. To make two sets of the recipe (dinner for 8), you need 3/4 of a bottle of wine. It looks like a tremendous amount when you put it in the pot but it turns out well. The chocolate mint swirl is also a much bigger recipe than it seems, and again I thought the dessert tasted way too sweet. I’m not sure if I’m adding too much sugar or what, but I need to tone it down a little bit. Only Kelly really enjoyed it, but she would drink melted chocolate out of the bowl if I offered it to her.

I also decided to bring back labeling who came to Family Dinner and how much it cost. The cost is the price of goods. It doesn’t account for leftover materials or materials that I already had (especially spices and herbs). It should balance out in the end.

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Guests: Aki, Justin, Phong, Sandy, Kelly
Mystery Guest: Beverly
Materials cost: $55