Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Under The Weather Breakfast

When I was a kid, as soon as mere mention of a sore throat was uttered by someone in the family, my mother would spring into action, and certain very specific steps were taken. First, you would immediately begin gargling with salt water. Second, sticky, stinky Vicks Vaporub was applied to upper lip and chest, and a humidifier was set up in the bedroom, sometimes with a stalk of eucalyptus leaves from the backyard.

And then came breakfast. You'd be sitting, curled up on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons, when a loud whirring sound would come from the kitchen. Shortly after, Mom would scurry over with a glass of thick, pulpy, just-squeezed orange juice. If there was a limoo shirin in the house, you were extra lucky: its juice would be in there too, and you'd be advised harriedly to drink it fast before it turned bitter. Next came a glass of warm milk with plenty of honey, and a perfectly soft-boiled egg, with buttered toast to dip in the yolk, and a saltshaker close at hand to season each spoonful.

I've had more than my share of sniffly coughy days of late, and so I've tried to recreate this childhood breakfast for myself (no Vicks Vaporub, thanks). Granted, orange juice squeezed fresh by Mom has made way for orange juice squeezed almost as fresh by the kind people at Evolution (by the way, Evolution Juice, have I told you lately that I love you? Ahh, a story for another day...), and hot tea has replaced warm milk, but the centerpiece of it all, the soft-boiled egg, remains.

It turns out that a soft-boiled egg is not a simple thing. In Persian, they are called assali -- honey-like -- and my mother's were always just that. But she made it look deceptively effortless. Everyone seems to have a fool-proof formula for the perfect hard-boiled egg, and most of them are dead on, but ask about soft-boiled eggs, and even the for the most food-knowledgeable, hemming and hawing ensues.

So, I got my crack team on the job (get it? Crack team? Little egg humor for ya... Heh, I crack myself up. Whoa, crack myself up! I did it again! Anybody got a peanut?!), and the results were...well, disappointing. The first attempt, 5 minutes from start to finish, was horrendously undercooked: clear snotty whites. So, after opening it, I decided it was going back into the water. Of course this brought up the question of how to hold it upright and prevent water from getting into the opening. All good questions. I tried to constrain it by using a biscuit cutter/cuff thing, but it was not narrow enough, so I ended up with wispy poached egg whites all over the place. Sad sad days.

Next time around, I went for the following: cover and turn off heat at boil then wait 3 minutes. And, overcooked! My toasty soldiers balked at the solid, undippable yolk! I suspect that this had to do with the fact that I was cooking a half-dozen eggs, in a large pot of water, as I was going to hard-boil the rest for potato salad. My thinking is that because it took longer for the larger amount of water/eggs to come to a boil, the egg cooked longer than if it were boiling solo.

Recently I tried again, and friends, I'm happy to say the third time was the proverbial charm. Single egg, two-and-a-half minutes. Whites were solid but still jiggly, and yolk was perfectly golden, soft and dippable. At last, my soldiers, my sore throat, and I enjoyed a comforting breakfast, like honey.

Before the recipe, a couple more eggy notes:
- If all this soft-boiling talk makes you nervous, just go to Le Pain Quotidien and have them do it for you. Organic egg, perfectly cooked, fresh organic bread, latte in a little bowl, and the added joy of their hazelnut praline spread. Delight!
- And if you're a egg power-user, check out this fascinating article on molecular gastronomy's approach to egg cookery, which teaches us that if you bake an egg for an hour at 67C, you get a yolk you can mold like Play-Doh.
- And finally, I love egg. So will you. (Click the 'egg song' link.)

Soft Boiled Egg

I should disclaim, this recipe is not foolproof. It seems that a soft-boiled egg recipe is a personal thing: with so many variables -- stove hotness, pot thickness and heat capacity, pot width (which, of course affects the amount of water it takes to cover the egg), it takes a little experimenting, with your own equipment, to find your own perfect soft-boiled egg recipe. This is a good starting point though.

1 egg

Place egg in a small pot and carefully add water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil, uncovered. Turn off heat, cover pot, and let egg sit for 2-1/2 minutes. Carefully remove egg from hot water with a slotted spoon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bad Blogger, Good Food

Here's what I remember about Al Noor:

(You see, I actually went there back in March (just 2 months and I've already forgotten it all. as if the growing number of grey hairs on my head wasn't enough to freak me out), took no notes, remembered hardly anything, took a single picture, and put off the write-up for a million years. All play and no work makes Tannaz a bad, bad food blogger.)

- First the basics: It's Pakistani food, it's cheap cheap, it's in Lawndale. Don't let the location scare you off -- it's right off the 405 at Inglewood. Besides, seriously, live a little. Seriously.
- It's really delicious. Despite the misgivings shamefully enumerated above, I felt it important that it be included. Everything was so tasty, it just seemed 'right' -- like, as if the combinations of spices, vegetables, meats and sauces were the Empirically Correct versions of each dish, whether jai farezi or bharta.
- It's pretty spicy. I was scared. I managed okay, but still, if you're sensitive, ask them to make the dishes milder for you. Also get an order of raita to mollify the fire.
- There is zero ambiance. This is hole-in-the-wall dining at its finest. Bad decor, bright fluorescent light, all leading to casual and familiar banter with your dining companions.
- The food is in neon colors. Bright orange sauces, rich with cream. Surreally inviting to all the senses. Perhaps this is the 'noor' (light) in the restaurant's name?
- The service is friendly and familiar, and you get a plate of sliced cucumbers with lemon wedges to start it all off. Charming.

The upshot: I'm thinking that I subliminally forgot the details just so I'd have an excuse to go back. It's cheap and easy, but such a delight. But don't take my word for it -- what do I know? Just go.

Al Noor is at 15112 Inglewood Ave. at Marine, in Lawndale.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves

And let me tell you, it is pretty tiring.

For my sister, it means changing the poopy diaper of the son, changing the poopy underpants of the other son with a sweet smile on your face because you're not allowed to get upset with him for having an accident, meeting the increasingly complex emotional and intellectual needs of the brainy, girly daughter, holding back from kicking the son even when he kicks the other son hard, procuring breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all three and their dad, treading water in a sea of boxes as you get settled in a new home, and maybe, just maybe, having 2 minutes to put on lipstick or reminisce fondly on the days when you had a single solitary moment when you were the only one in the room.

For my ex-roommate and dear dear friend, it's graduating from toy design school: hoping to sleep an hour or two each night as you put the finishing touches on Higglytown firetrucks and penguin board games, then perking up for job interviews as you pray that the toy industry will not send you away to Ohio. Keeping feisty mom away from stepmom throughout the graduation festivities since this city really is too small for the two of them, making sure the burping frogs in your learning-manners whack-a-mole say "excuse me" after they've been tapped with the princess's magic wand and not crying when the whole, painstakingly hand-constructed game falls, breaks, and ceases to burp.

For another dear college friend, it is a whole other ball of yarn. It means finally graduating law school, after the whole endeavor was put on hold for a year to make way for chemo. Dealing with a new set of medical mysteries, which, while not as ominous as the 2004 edition, are certainly an annoyance. Trying not to crack as the mother who's taken care of her all her life slowly turns into someone entirely different -- violent, unpredictable, unbearably taxing to every aspect of the family. And, amazingly, it means, holding her head high through all these tribulations, doing her best to find a silver lining, and finally planning the dream wedding that will be as perfect a day as she can hope for if it doesn't make her crazy first.

We women have come a long way. We proved we can do it all countless times over, but man, can it be exhausting -- physically, emotionally, psychologically. If life were fair, it'd all come with massages, naps with the softest blankets, bubble baths, a personal valet, and a couple extra hours to the day. And if life were fair, it'd come with good health, guaranteed, for each woman and her family. Peace of mind, at last.

All we've got is chocolate. These cookies are not going to fix it all, but in the midst of all the mayhem, perhaps closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and biting into a deeply chocolatey disc laced with soothing chamomile will offer a moment of serenity.

Soothing Chocolate Chamomile Rounds
Adapted from Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook

The chamomile flavor is very subtle here, but the chocolate flavor of the cookies can stand on its own. Every few bites you'll get a whisper of the light flowery chamomile scent.

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used 7 ounces of Valhrona 71%, and Ghirardelli chocolate chips for the rest)
6 tablespoons butter, unsalted (go for the Plugra for extra deliciousness)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
the contents of 2 chamomile teabags (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cups sugar

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two large cookie sheets with foil.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over simmering water until melted through, stirring occasionally to combine. Allow to cool to just warm.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. With a whisk, beat eggs, chamomile, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl about 2 minutes. Scrape the chocolate mixture into the eggs and stir to combine. Add flour, and stir until just combined.

Drop the batter by teaspoons onto lined pan. Bake 11 to 13 minutes, until tops of cookies are just dried and the insides are still chewy. If you are baking two sheets at a time, halfway through cooking, switch the top and bottom sheets, turning each one front to back as well. Let the cookies cool slightly, then remove them from the cookie sheet with a thin spatula.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

what's the point of papaya?

is it just me, or does papaya at all times, even when it's a perfect specimen, at perfect ripeness, taste like rotten?

i understand the visual appeal -- the deep orange flesh, the center cavity filled with caviar-looking seeds -- all very nice. and i like the concept a lot: tropical summery goodness, just squeeze on some lime and scoop. but every time i get lured in by its exotic appeal, i'm disappointed. even in maui, taking a stab at what should have been an ideal one, i took one bite, and bleh. it's just not good.

am i missing something here? did the taste of fusty rottenness become a good thing at some point? someone clue me in.

[thanks Smaku for the gorgeous photo]

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Birthday to Yum!

i've heard it said that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. i'm here to say that this is false.

that is what blogging teaches you. sounds disparaging, but it's not. inspired by so many others around the web, who, despite a lack of formal qualifications, had something to say, and decided to say it, i took the opportunity to take my chattiness to the next level.

it has meant a lot. it's been an avenue to connect with friends in a new way, and make new, very dear ones, in the most unexpected ways. it's allowed me to entertain dreams and fantasies i'd never really let see the light of day before. granted, those dreams haven't come to the forefront in the most romantic perfect way, but at least they've been recognized now. and in a way, they have been realized -- i get to yammer on about food, eating, and my fair city -- a few of my very favorite things -- and there are people out there who listen. wild.

so what's the state of the yum? i'd like to think the writing has improved considerably in these 365 days, although admittedly i sometimes miss my own crazy stream-of-consciousness style, which has sort of made way for real words and grammar and topic sentences and things (although judging from this meander of a sentence, it's not all that far gone). the photos have improved considerably (thank the lord), although i'm still stuck below the ceiling of completely uninstructed point-and-shoot. i've still got the very templatey blogspot template, which makes me sad, but hopefully an improvement is coming soon.

it's been a bang-up couple months as far as readership. april surpassed the next highest month by over 20 percent. i love these clicks. you have no idea how i obsess over pretty much every one. it's a little unhealthy in fact.

so, here we are a year later. i live in that same sweet apartment just off fairfax (now with cheery green living room!), yet again, i'm working in visual effects, i still swoon over evocative caffeine experiences, and as always i have a somewhat extreme obsession with summer (2007 is already gearing up to be the Best Summer Ever, i'm telling you). but i've had at least five sessions in my mother's kitchen -- finally learning the recipes that, little did she know, were very much the inspiration for all this food interest. i've gotten opportunities to get my words out further across the web. i've made a point to visit my local farmers' market on a somewhat regular basis (i mean, real farmers' market, a different breed from my fairfax one). i've been on the receiving end of delicious olive oils, high end steak tastings, invitations to our city's own winery, and inspiring cookbooks. i've also been on the giving end -- being able to participate in a menu for hope, and getting others to join me at project chicken soup.

so, all is well. thanks for reading. thanks a lot for reading. and now that you all know a little about me, i'd be tickled if you'd drop a note (a comment, or an email if you're shy) and let me know a little about you. i mean, we've known each other for a year -- i think it's about time we take it to the next level.

[thanks Amigurumikumi Kingdom for the photo!]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

the beloved butterscotch budino on nytimes.com

How is it that the New York Times always has such a solid grasp on the southern California food scene? They've covered, in delicious detail, the Chinese food mecca of San Gabriel Valley, the taco stretch from San Diego to the central coast, and today, Mozza.

Recall when we talked about Mozza back in January, that I, like everyone else, was swooning over the butterscotch budino -- luscious, just sweet enough, slightly bitter, perfect, and touched with sea salt caramel. Well, this lovely New York Times article includes the recipe. So now we can go make tubs of it and eat it for all three meals. Except it won't be as good. Because turns out, we're not Nancy Silverton. Alas.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

BlogSoop: It's What's For Dinner

I wanted to direct your attention to a new website that I'm excited to be a part of. BlogSoop Los Angeles launched last week, and it's a great place to find out what the food bloggers are saying about local restaurants. The interface is pleasant and clear, there's editorial content and pretty pretty pictures to supplement the bloggy restaurant reviews, and the 'g' in the logo is wearing a cute little chef's hat!

I must say, poking around the site, I realize a few things:
- that I'm a slacker, and there are many restaurants I've been to but neglected to post about.
- that I'm a slacker, and there are many restaurants I've not been to, but need to.
- that I'm hungry.

Anyway, browse around and you can get a good feel for which restaurants people are talking about right now. Then next time you want to check out to a new restaurant, go back to the Soop and search for it. You'll find deliciously opinionated reviews from a hand-picked group of the chatty, food-obsessed teems of Los Angeles food bloggers. (Hi, I'm Tannaz -- I'm chatty and food-obsessed.)

Also note that the Los Angeles site is the youngest of three -- there's also a BlogSoop San Francisco (middle child), and a BlogSoop New York (the originator).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bay Area Roundup: The Rest

A few more Northern Cali recommendations, these from Oakland, Berkeley, and San Rafael. (San Francisco ones are here.)

Berkeley and Oakland

Arizmendi Bakery Oakland. So, it's a co-op and bakery, and a local coffee spot, a short walk from Lake Merritt, with those fun potato-based disposable forks that biodegrade faster than plastic, and hearty oat scones and ridiculous cheese rolls. And they have pizza. 3625 Lakeshore Ave. between Lake Park and Mandana. But they learned what they know from...

Cheeseboard Pizza. On the same block of Shattuck as Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse, this offshoot of the cheese-store/bakery co-op next door is quite unique. For one, each one of the twelve 'members' shares equally in working and decision-making. For another, they have only a single, sauce-free, vegetarian flavor each day. But people line up out the door of this sliver of a pizzeria for their delicious pies. Once in, you're rewarded for waiting with a jazz trio playing in the corner, you quickly order your pizza and drinks, then, in classic Berkeley style, cross the street and set up camp on the grassy center median, right under the sign that reads, "Do not sit on the median". 1512 Shattuck Ave. at Vine.

Great China Restaurant. It comes from great authority that this is the best Chinese restaurant in Berkeley. I certainly had the best Peking duck I can recall: lean meat, perfect rectangles of crispy skin. (Be sure to ask for the bones to take home to your Chinese mother so she can make soup!) The crab dish is decadent: a big mound of buttery crab meat, and fluffy buns to split in half, pile on the crab meat, and let the butter soak in. Mmm. Also delightful is the two-skins noodles, the fried tofu, and the sauteed cabbage. Basically everything we had. People have complained about the service, but we were served by the owner's son who was a pretty cool cat, and the service was spot on. 2115 Kittredge St. just east of Shattuck.

Gelateria Naia. I mean, they'll never hold a candle to my beloved Scoops, and once you've stuffed your fat face with duck and crab and all sorts of Chinese goodness, it doesn't leave much room for gelato love, but inventive flavors, delicious product, and very friendly service certainly don't suck. And they have a great web presence (which for this geek, goes a long way). 2106 Shattuck Ave, between Center and Addison (and 4 other locations throughout the Bay area).

San Rafael
Sol Food. Possibly the hippest place in all of sweetly sleepy San Rafael. Shockingly green building generally has a line outside the door. Inside, delicious Puerto Rican food in very satisfying portions: Try the camarones criollos with tostones -- plantains flattened into a large disc, fried, salted, and garlicked; and go home with a bottle of their fiery pique sauce. 732 4th St. at Tamalpais, and another, smaller one about a block away on 3rd.

Places in San Rafael I Should Have Tried But Didn't
Graffeo. Fancy gourmet coffee. And they even have a French press grind.
Mayflower Pub. Great-looking pub, 35+ years old, Boddington's on tap (not that I like beer all that much, but still, that says something), quiz night. Need I say more?

[thanks to rwclark and _e.t for pizza and gelato photos, respectively]