Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pittsburgh: home-cooked Indian dinner

On my first night in Pittsburgh, one of the current students hosted several of the applicants at his condo for dinner.  I thought it would be a relatively simple affair given that cooking for seven is no small task, but I was wrong.  We guests helped a little bit with chopping vegetables and watching things on the stove, but other than that, it was all on our host.  In a little over an hour he produced an impressive (and I imagine rather authentic) Indian meal consisting of the following: homemade pita chips (with store-bought hummus), basmati rice, chana masala, vegetable curry, egg curry, and a chicken/yam/mango/coconut milk dish.  It was definitely more spicy than I'm used to, and I learned that spicy food + sweet drink = even more burning, but the food was so delicious that I kept eating despite the heat :-).

Speaking of sweet drinks, I had some very fine orange juice while I was in Pittsburgh:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Red velvet birthday cake

For my friend Elyse's birthday, I baked a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.  I followed smitten kitchen's recipe but used "only" two ounces (two bottles) of red food coloring, after realizing just how much three ounces is; because of the reduction in food coloring, I also reduced the cocoa powder by about 1/4 cup.  Also, when making the frosting, I used 2.5 cups of sugar instead of 3.

The baking and icing went relatively smoothly, though the inscription of melted chocolate required a few corrections.  I've learned that a parchment paper cone is far superior to a ziploc bag, and that letting the melted chocolate cool down also makes it more manageable.  (I probably should have looked this up beforehand instead of learning the hard way.)  Fortunately, the end result looked all right and tasted good, so all is well.

Palo Alto: Mayfield Cafe

In between errands at Town & Country this morning, I stopped in at Mayfield Cafe for a late breakfast.  I sat at the counter and, after deciding I didn't want anything heavy, settled on a plain croissant and a mocha - always good benchmarks.  Service was surprisingly slow, and the bartender apologized for how the long wait as he rushed to make various espresso drinks.  My croissant (from the bakery next door) came well before the mocha, and when the lovely bowl was finally set in front of me, the bartender said "Sorry again for the wait; the croissant is on the house."

As it turns out, this was one of the best croissants and mochas I have had in recent memory.  I like my croissants on the crustier side, and this was a lovely ratio of crunch and flake, with very tender innards.  The mocha was a good complement in that it wasn't overly sweet.  Mayfield Cafe tends to be on the pricey side for lunch and dinner, but breakfast is certainly more accessible (if you're not in too much of a hurry).  The atmosphere is very inviting, though rather loud during brunch time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weekday dinners: Salad, garlic herb cheese, and salmon

Monday dinner was a nice salad (greens from the Farmer's Market) with some sliced apple and the biggest, prettiest golden raisins I have ever seen (hooray for Hamada Farms!); toasted sweet batard; chicken meatballs; and some garlic herb cheese spread from East and West Afghan Food.

Tonight, I actually cooked: salmon with sauteed vegetables, served with noodles.  I first browned some garlic, diced onion and bell pepper in olive oil, then started cooking the salmon (lightly seasoned with salt and pepper) in the middle of the pan while the vegetables continued cooking around the edges.  After flipping the salmon, I added some diced Roma tomatoes to the vegetables, sprinkled on some salt, and drizzled on some balsamic vinegar.  By the time the salmon was done cooking, the vinegar had caramelized a little and the tomatoes had softened, creating a nice pan sauce.

I'll save dessert for another post.  Also, my new centrifuge (salad spinner) arrived!  Too bad there are some cracks in the bottom, due to lousy packaging during shipping....the cracks don't interfere with function (yet), but since I don't have time to go ship it back, I guess I'll request a partial refund from Amazon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rochester: Wegmans, Gate House Cafe, Openface, and more

On my first night in Rochester, my student hosts and a fellow applicant found out that I had never been to Wegmans, the Northeastern grocery store that is so much more than a grocery store.  So, we went to the original Wegmans in Pittsford (near Rochester), and soon after walking in, I understood why so many people (including my friend L) love Wegmans so very much.  It's like Whole Foods meets Andronico's meets Rainbow Grocery meets Christmas lights.  Big, bright, pretty, tons of beautiful food everywhere, great bakery section and prepared food section, a tea bar, etc etc.

Dinner on Thursday night (with the other applicants and some current students) took place at the Gate House Cafe in Rochester.   One of the hosting students started us off with a round of appetizers, including spinach dip, eggplant fries, some falafel, seared tuna, and Zweigle's White Hots (the local hot dog) in puff pastry.  The eggplant fries were forgettable, but everything else was great, with the fluffy falafel being unexpectedly tasty.

Cheesy spinach dip and pita
 All of the Gate House's burgers and pizzas are named after local celebrities.  After hearing plenty of recommendations for the burgers - though their pizza is great too - I ordered "the Fagan," which is a burger with sauteed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and au poivre sauce.  I specified Kobe beef instead of regular beef, and while I don't have a direct comparison, this was a pretty great burger.  Very juicy, very tender, and nicely seasoned.  Interestingly, the bun was square instead of round.

This picture makes the burger look way smaller than it actually was.

For dessert, three fellow applicants and I shared the tiramisu and the lava cake; the latter was particularly satisfying.

Lunch on Friday was ordered in by the MSTP from Openface Sandwich Eatery, which seems to be one of the best-known lunch places among the med school community.  I had picked an open-face turkey sandwich with mixed greens and turkey soup, and a side of gingered carrots.  There were plenty of more exciting options, but I was in a hurry when making my choice, so I stayed on the simple side.  The bread was quite good  - a little more robust than most white sandwich bread, and I think it was brushed with a little butter and toasted.  The carrots were, in fact, very gingery.  It was nice to have a relatively balanced lunch before running off to more interviews!

On Saturday I flew back to SFO via Chicago O'Hare.  Gate B6 at O'Hare may now be my favorite airport gate ever, because directly facing it is a large Vosges Haut-Chocolat stand.  Not feeling inclined to spend $7.50 on a chocolate bar, I instead bought a single chocolate-caramel marshmallow, which turned out to be worth every penny of the $2.50 it cost.  Behold:

Pretty chocolate store!
Upon arriving back in Palo Alto at East Coast dinner-time, I was fortunate to be fed at the home of E & M, who dished up a simple yet perfectly flavorful plate of sauteed corn, caramelized onions, and chicken breast.  Thanks again!  It was precisely what I needed after a week of exciting but very un-home-cooking-ish food :-).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chicago: pizza and La Petite Folie

Deep-dish pizza

Hello from Rochester!  I was at the University of Chicago on Monday and Tuesday, my first trip (that I can remember) to one of the nation's best food cities.  The culinary highlights this time:

1. Lunch on Tuesday was deep-dish pizza.  My first thought upon opening the box was "Well, that looks pretty cute."  As for how it tasted, well, I was actually a little underwhelmed.  There was sauce on top, but none on the inside, which was layers of dough and cheese with intercalated sausage.  Based on what one of the current med students told me, this is the way stuffed pizza is supposed to be.  Definitely a fork-and-knife affair, if only to avoid spilling on one's clothing, and very hefty.  All in all, pretty good, but not my favorite pizza ever.  Is it heretical to say that I prefer Pizza Chicago in Palo Alto?

2. After I was done for the day, I stopped by Medici on 57th, a very appealing bakery+cafe.  Although I was tempted by the luscious-looking fruit tarts, I knew they would be way too big for me, and I instead picked up a pastry (cinnamon raisin) for breakfast the next day, and also got an "Orzata shake" (chocolate ice cream in almond soda, which I didn't know existed; not surprisingly, it tasted very chemical-ish).

Lovely fruit tarts
3. Dinner on Tuesday evening was a wonderfully memorable meal, thanks to one of the faculty members I met.  After finding out that I am a young foodie with some knowledge (if not first-hand) of the renowned Alinea - where he has dined multiple times -, he kindly invited me to join him and a visiting colleague for dinner.  We went to La Petite Folie, probably the best restaurant in Hyde Park.  I had actually Yelped this restaurant when I was considering where I might want to take myself for dinner after the interview day, so I was even more excited when we got to the door.

Frisee salad
My host ordered a white Burgundy that was both crisp and rich, and ended up pairing really well with the food.  My first course was a frisee salad with roasted pear, toasted hazelnuts and sherry vinaigrette, and my main course was canard (duck) a l'orange with green beans and gingered carrot puree.  Everything was delicious, especially the perfectly-cooked duck!  My host and his colleague ordered the same salad, mussels in cream sauce, beef daube Provencal, and lamb chops, and they thought their dishes were fantastic too.  We were all too full for dessert :-).

Canard a l'orange
I was also instructed to order some Spanish olive oil from La Tienda online - something to look into once I get back home!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Palo Alto: Max's Opera Cafe and fridge emptying

Saturday brunch: french toast with sliced apple, yogurt and jam

On Friday evening, after a dash around the Shopping Center to round out my interview wardrobe (sadly, the red JCrew button-down I bought on Thursday night had a strangely loose collar that looked messy under a suit jacket), I had dinner with a friend at Max's Opera Cafe.  I've always found Max's to be an interesting place: the atmosphere is dim and somewhat elegant, the noise level tends to be high, and people are equally comfortable dining there in evening gowns as they are in shorts and flip-flops.  Also, considering the size of the menu, I think it's remarkable that the food is as consistent as it has been during the 5+ times that I have been there.  Their warm bread basket is also worth mentioning - the raisin roll is particularly good.

This time, I ordered the mojito skirt steak, which was a very large, wide ribbon of steak, served with a mint-lime-rum sauce, potatoes, caramelized shallots, green beans, and corn bread (which was initially left out, but was then brought after I asked about it).  The skirt steak was a little uneven in the degree of cooking, and there was more char on the ends than I would have liked, but the flavor of the meat and of the sauce was great.  My friend ordered the french dip sandwich, and said that the jus was too sweet, but otherwise he seemed to enjoy it.  The accompanying fries were, as always, large and perfectly golden.  No pictures, because I didn't have my camera with me.

Roasted tomatoes, zucchini-and-corn curry stir fry, egg fried rice

On Saturday, I remembered that I needed to clean out my vegetable crisper.  After throwing out some rather old vegetables that had succumbed to the ravages of time, I was left with a few onions, zucchini, and some corn.  I diced an onion, sauteed until partly brown, then added the sliced zucchini.  I mixed some green curry paste with the leftover chicken stock from the butterflied chicken, added this to the vegetables, and finally added the corn (which I had boiled and then sliced off the cobs).  This stir-fry was a nice complement to some leftover roasted tomatoes and some egg fried rice, one of my favorite comfort foods.

Almond croissant, peach, and yogurt
At the Farmer's Market this morning, I picked up a three peaches, two of which (along with a croissant) will hopefully not get squished inside my bags.  I also discovered today that the Indian prepared-food stand sells tasty samosas for $1 each, and that said samosas can be liberally topped with the curries and chutneys placed in front of the stand.

My next post should include some mention of Chicago deep-dish pizza ;-).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New favorite tea

This week is a rather intense one, so I'm taking a short breather to describe my new favorite brewed beverage.  Last week, I went to Teavana to buy a hostess gift (Peach Momotaro blooming tea), and since my own canister of "To Life" white tea was empty, I decided to also get myself something new.  After sniffing a few options, I settled on two ounces of the Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos (pictured), which has a fantastic aroma that makes me feel like I'm on vacation.  I've since brewed quite a few cups of this wonderful tea; it tastes smooth and rich, barely sweet, and the hint of ginger is warming but not at all harsh.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weekend in Dallas: Everything really is bigger in Texas

Chicken mole enchiladas
I spent Labor Day Weekend in Dallas with my dear freshman roommate P.  For dinner on Saturday we went to Mi Cocina in Highland Park Village, which was apparently "the first self-contained shopping mall in America."  We had guacamole (screw my avocado allergy; this was worth it, and at least I'm no longer eating one avocado every Sunday like I used to); steak and chicken fajitas, and chicken mole enchiladas.  In general I'm not a huge fan of Mexican food because I often find it too heavy or greasy, and I'm no Tex-Mex expert, but I thought the dishes at Mi Cocina were delicious.


On Sunday morning, after a bike ride to downtown Dallas and back, we assembled ourselves a big brunch of Iranian bread (one of my new favorite foods) and cheese, chicken sausage, berries, leftovers from dinner, scones, and tea.
Yummy brunch
Once P's parents arrived, we set out for the Fort Worth Historic District, which is as classically Texan as it gets.  We worked up our appetites by visiting the museum and riding mechanical animals (let's just say that P was definitely a better cowgirl than I), and around 5pm we had dinner at Riscky's Barbeque

Right across from the historic Stockyards
I ordered the pork ribs and was pretty shocked by the gigantic platter that was set down in front of me:

So. Much. Food.
I don't think I had ever had "dry rubbed" barbeque before, so that was a novelty to me.  These ribs were pretty good, and I liked how they weren't excessively seasoned.  I managed to eat half (deemed an very admirable effort by P and her parents), which was still more than enough meat.  I also tried a bite of P's filet, which was great.  We ended the evening with Coldstone ice cream at the Shops at Legacy in Plano.  The next day, after eating more of that wonderful bread for breakfast (and packing some for the plane), I flew back home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Roasted butterflied chicken!

[Warning: The following post contains images of raw meat]

I am proud to report that I have successfully butterflied a chicken on my first attempt.   I used these instructions, which were very helpful.  In anticipation of today again being too hot to bake, I decided to prepare the chicken after getting home from work/volunteering last night.

The chicken, with backbone removed:

The chicken, with breastbone [partially] removed, and flipped over:

Then I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, thyme, and a little butter (because, oh, why not), put it into the oven at 425degF, turned down the temperature to 350 after 10 min or so, and went to take a shower - part of why I like roasting chickens so much is that it enables multitasking.  The legendary Zuni Cafe roast chicken is apparently cooked at 475 degF straight, but the best roast chicken I ever ate (from a food festival dinner at The Slow Club) was cooked at 500 for 5 min and then 325 until I compromise.

The result, about an hour later, was evenly cooked, juicy chicken with a crisp skin.  Part of this chicken was dinner tonight, along with a simple green salad with tomatoes and some peanut-sauced noodles.

Getting ready for a long weekend, which I know will involve some great food.  Happy Labor Day Weekend to all :-).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Weekday dinner: vegetable-and-salmon tian

Vegetable tians are some of my favorite dishes to make because they're so incredibly easy: wash and slice vegetables, layer them in a baking dish (with or without a base of something like sauteed onions+garlic), add seasonings (salt, pepper, olive oil, minced garlic, herbs, maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar) and bake.  If you artistically arrange the vegetables, you end up with something like the fancy ratatouille dish depicted in the eponymous film. 

I usually don't have this patience, though, and just toss the components into the pan.  This is my go-to dish during the week, and I've served it with rice, pasta, or noodles.  Yesterday, I started with a layer of sliced zucchini, lightly seasoned, followed by a layer of broken-up and seasoned salmon (precooked), followed by roughly cut tomatoes, followed by a little more salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.