Thursday, July 5, 2012

Au Revoir + New Beginnings

Well loyal readers, I've loved Alimentary, My Dear and all my related culinary adventures, but it's time for me to move on.

I know that in my very first post I mentioned that I had a dysfunctional relationship with blogging. And that hasn't changed. I still come up with ideas for new blogs in the middle of the night that I end up second guessing in the morning. But what has changed is my desire to limit the topic of my blog. While I love food (and after all the gushing I've done on this blog, there's no way you readers can doubt me), writing about it exclusively made me feel that I was neglecting other parts of my life that I want to share with the world.

And so, though it makes me sad to say goodbye, it's time. Goodbye, Alimentary, My Dear. You've been good to me.

But fear not readers, for as they say, when one door closes another one opens.

With that heartfelt farewell said, I want to share with you my personal lifestyle blog, Fueled By New. You can read a little more about it here and here, but in essence it chronicles my mission to try new things in all aspects of my life, from food (of course) to style, from pop culture to in-person experiences.

My ice cream cupcake masterpiece. Read more about it on Fueled By New.

And for those of you who have just been dying in anticipation of a new food post written by me, I've already written one on making ice-cream cupcakes for the first time. (I even entered a contest!) So, check out the teaser photo below and, if you liked Alimentary, My Dear, please follow Fueled By New

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nowruz Festivities: A New Year, The Same Delicious Traditions

Our Haft-Seen
(the traditional table setting for Persian New Year)

As the dull gray skies and chilly weather of winter begin to recede and are gradually replaced by sunnier days and corresponding sunny dispositions, it's clear that spring upon us. I always feel an inexplicable sense of buoyancy come springtime: the whole world seems a little more cheery and anything seems possible. Maybe it's just me, but it seems so natural that some cultures would choose this season to mark off a new year. Nowruz, aka Persian New Year, is one of those springtime holidays, celebrated on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.

Narcissus flowers are sometimes featured on the haft-seen.
It's springtime!
When Nowruz came around a few weeks ago, I was excited, not only because it meant that spring was just around the corner, but also because I had the chance to connect with my culture. Because I was born in Oakland and not Tehran, because I'm only half-Iranian, and because (regrettably) I don't speak Farsi, it can be hard for me to feel connected to my Iranian roots. As you may have guessed, the one way I can really participate in and relate to Iranian culture is through food. The few Farsi words that I do know are generally food related. I grew up cherishing the times when my grandma would trace the letter "B' in cinnamon on top of her homemade Sholeh Zard (Saffron Rice Pudding) just for me. Ghormeh Sabzi might as well be my middle name, I can't get enough of it. My taste buds adore saffron, almonds, pistachios, strong tea, fresh herbs, sheep's milk feta, hunks of meat and yogurt.

Nowruz is the one time of the year that I feel really connected to my Persian side. Aside from giving me the chance to practice some of same Zoroastrian traditions that have been around since ancient times, Persian New Year helps me to relate to my culture through its emphasis on food. Food plays a large symbolic role in the traditional table setting for Nowruz, which is called the haft seen (which literally translates to 'seven-dishes setting'). Each of these seven dishes starts with the Farsi letter "s"(seen) and are each meant to symbolize something, and with the help of my trusty Persian cookbook (Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij), I can tell you what these items are and what they mean:

1. Sabzeh (sprouts, generally wheat or lentil) represents rebirth. 
2. Samanu (wheat sprout pudding) represents affluence/sophistication.  
3. Sib (apples) represents health and beauty. 
4. Senjed (the fruid of wild olives) represents love.
Apologies for not using my own photo here, must've forgotten to take it.
Photo Credit: Tumeric and Saffron (awesome blog, check em out)
5. Sir (garlic) represents medicine. 
6. Somaq ("sumac berries") represents fertility.
7. Serkeh (vinegar) represents old age.
Beyond these traditional seven dishes, there are other items that we usually put on our haft-seen: a traditional book of wisdom, coins (wealth), decorated eggs (fertility), flowering hyacinth/narcissus, goldfish mirror (images of creation), candles (enlightenment/happiness), and sweets/candies.

Other haft-seen items.
Persian sweets.
Persian sweets.
Persian sweets.
But, enough of my lecturing about Persian culture (I don't know enough about the subject to be a good lecturer anyhow). I'm sure you're all dying to see what kind of feast my grandma cooked up for us this time and I'm dying to show you. With all of my family and several family friends celebrating with us, my grandma had about 20 mouths to feed;  it's needless to say that she worked pretty darn hard on all the snacks, decor, and the meal. Luckily, she has a real flair for event planning and of course is a fabulous cook. Because you readers love visuals, let me end with some photos of our meal and of our celebrations, let those speak for themselves. Happy scrolling!

Pre-food table.
Smoked cod and rice.
Traditional meals for Nowruz usually include fish.

Salmon, asparagus and potatoes.
Not particularly persian, but quite delicious.
The Feast with my wonderful, diverse family, friends and family friends.
Look mom and dad, your backs are on the internet! 
Chickpea patties, herbs and radishes

Wheatgrass sprouts and yogurt with cucumber (above) and beets (below)
Persian meatballs.

Fruit and Pound Cake dessert 
Ben modeling end of meal coffee drinking.
Haft-seen, a few minutes before new years countdown.
Eid-eh shoma mobarak everyone!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Joshu-ya Brasserie: Decent Sushi, Aesthetically Pleasing

Photo Credit: Curtis C. 

Not too long ago, Ben and I went to Joshu-ya Brasserie for the first time. It's almost inconceivable that we hadn't been there before, since it's only a few blocks away and we're both sushi fiends. Now, Joshu-ya's sushi was pretty good; it definitely beat out my old favorite, Manpuku, in the flavor and freshness departments. But I'm choosy about my sushi. I like it when the fish speaks for itself. Cucumber, rice, seaweed, avocado are only there as complements, supporting actors if you will, to the main attraction that is seafood. And, of course, the very best sushi has that remarkable just-plucked-from-the-ocean freshness to it.

Waiting patiently for our food.
Good example of the aesthetically pleasing aspects of our meal.
Now, when these lofty expectations meet the poverty that marks the college student lifestyle, you get a perpetually unsatisfied consumer of sushi, aka moi. (Only exceptions: eating sushi with parents. I recommend the sashimi at Kirala in Berkeley and the nigiri at Zen Toro in Davis if price is less of an object for you. So. Much. Delicious.) Anyway, with all of this in mind, my meal at Joshu-ya was not half bad. I ordered the spicy tuna roll––they were not kidding about the spicy part. That was some hot sushi. I also had their seared salmon nagiri with a truffle creme sauce, which was my favorite of the two since it came closest to meeting my aforementioned requirements for good sushi. The truffle creme sauce was rich but not overpowering and the salmon flavor still had its chance to shine through.

WARNING: Contents of this plate may burn your tongue
and set your lips aflame, even sans wasabe.

But, as the title of this post suggests, the sushi itself paled in comparison to its aesthetics, for me anyway. The plating was so beautiful that I couldn't help but awkwardly take multiple photos with my lovely, bulky dSLR. I thought the outside of Joshu-ya was pretty charming too, but this may have merely been my proclivity for twinkly christmas lights in outdoor, nighttime settings.

Gorgeous and pretty darn yummy to boot.
Anyways, in spite of my pickiness, sushi at Joshu-ya was an enjoyable experience, one that I will likely undertake again in the future.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In the Kitchen: We All Scream For...

My Mouthwatering Masterpiece. 
...ICE CREAM! For my readers who have payed extra close attention to my previous posts, you'll remember that I've wanted an ice-cream maker for quite a while now. But, because it seemed a rather frivolous purchase, I couldn't bring myself to buy one. Lucky for me, my wonderful parents are regular readers and decided that an ice-cream maker just might make the perfect Christmas gift for me. (Thanks mommy and daddy! I'll repay you in ice cream soon!) Being the lazy thing that I am, I didn't get around to using it until a few weeks ago when I decided to emulate my favorite ice cream shop, Ici, and make one of my favorite flavors in the world: Earl Grey. I scoured the internet and happened upon this recipe from Mac & Cheese, which was a resource that I happily consulted and modified to suit my needs. The following post details my ice-cream making adventure in recipe form...don't worry, there will be lots of personal/witty commentary and photos to keep things lively and a little anecdotal tidbit at the read and party on, Garth and Wayne. And, away we go:

(makes about 1 quart––the maximum amount that my ice cream maker holds.)

1 cup whole milk
2 cups half & half
3/4 cup sugar
6 Earl Grey tea bags (Trader Joe's version works well)
5 egg yolks

Ingredients, minus egg yolks.
Directions (complete with my goofy commentary in italics and lots of photos):

1. Pour the milk, half & half and sugar into a medium-sized pot and heat on medium/hot until warm. Since I don't have a fancy candy thermometer or anything like that, I just used my (clean) finger to test the temperature. Remove from heat, place the tea bags in the mixture, cover and steep for one hour. I was a little worried about leaving warm milk out for so long, but it turned out fine for me, so just roll with it.

Pre-steeped mixture.
Post-steeped mixture.
2. Separate eggs if you haven't already and whisk the yolks together in a medium-sized bowl (should be large enough to hold the milk mixture. Rewarm the mixture and slowly pour it into the bowl with egg yolks, whisking constantly. Yeah, I don't have fancy kitchen equipment or even regular kitchen equipment. I had to substitute a fork for a whisk and a large pot for a medium-sized bowl. But, as Tim Gunn says, make it work!

Being a poor college student, I have no medium-sized bowls laying around.
Only one medium sized pot and one large sized pot, pictured above.
3. Return the milk and egg mixture to the pot, cook over medium heat. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to stir and scrap the bottom of the pan. This is your custard--it will be done when the back of the spatula/spoon. (If you're unsure, you can draw a line across the coated spatula/spoon with your finger. If it leaves a clean trail, it's done.) I was also a little nervous about this part, mainly because I fear salmonella like the plague. I waited until the custard 'coated the back of the spatula,' but it seemed so subjective, so I kept it on a little longer. I didn't know the finger trick until after I had made it. 

Obviously, not my kitchen. (Kinda wish it were.)
My photo ended up being not so good.
– Cool the mixture (Overnight for best results. This would also be a good time to freeze your freezer bowl if needed). I actually didn't know that the freezer bowl needed be frozen ahead of time until after I had made the custard. So I improvised, stuck the custard in the fridge for the night and put the freezer bowl in the freezer. Turns out, cooling custard overnight is a thing real cooks do. Awesome. 

Just in case you didn't know what a pot in a fridge looked like. 
– Freeze in ice cream maker according to your appliance's instructions. With my ice cream maker (Cuisinart ICE-21R), your freezer bowl needs to be pre-frozen for about 24 hours before you make the ice cream. Attach the freezer bowl to the base. Place the mixing paddle into the bowl, circle side up. Place lid on base and lock it into place. This turned out to be somewhat stressful for me because I was so worried about it turning out alright and I didn't want to be foiled by overlooking a detail. The manual said to put the custard in the freezer bowl asap, because the bowl would start to defrost. So I was running around my tiny kitchen like a mad-woman, frantically double-checking my instruction booklet to make sure I didn't miss a step.

And, here...we...go...
Nervously consulting the manual.
Ahhh, what is happening? 
– Turn your ice cream maker on and immediately pour the mixture in. Leave that noisy thing on for 20 minutes. This was seriously the most nerve-wracking thing the first time––I was so skeptical that it was gonna turn out like ice-cream. The second time I made this I had a lot of fun checking up on it every so often and watch the mixing paddle scrape the solids off side of the freezer bowl. I don't know why that was so entertaining. But I digress... 

Swirling, swirling, ever swirling.
Wilt thou ever becometh ice-cream?
It's working! It's working!
– At this point, your ice cream is finished and will have a soft-serve–like consistency. If you are anything like me, you will be jumping around your kitchen with a level of excitement only seen in kindergarten classroom. If you desire a more ice-cream–like texture, transfer the dessert to a container and store in freezer for a few hours or overnight, for best results. After that, you've got Ici-status Earl Grey ice-cream!
Straight out of the maker.
Soft-serve consistency.
Hello world. Look what I made! 
After a night in the freezer.
Despite my loquacious description of the process, it was surprisingly easy to make this recipe. Before this, my only other experience making ice-cream was with my dad when I was about six years old. We had a one of those old fashioned wooden churners you had to crank by hand, and one sweltering summer's day we made strawberry ice-cream in the backyard. (I would say it made me feel like Huck Finn or something, but his dad wasn't very nice. Mine is.) I remember my arms being so sore, but the ice-cream was so good, it felt as though I had earned it. And, even though compared to that, this experience this was ridiculously easy (to the point where it's dangerous for my waistline), I still got that feeling of satisfaction this time around.

So, making ice-cream, believe it or not, was kind of an empowering experience for me. Being able to make it all by myself and having it turn out that good was something to be proud of. The fact that it was just as good as or (dare I say it?) maybe even better than Ici's (no, blasphemy!)...well, that just put a big smile on my face. Look out for many more ice-cream making posts in the future!  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Homeroom: (Belated) Valentine's Day Mac & Cheesiness

Homeroom's Gilroy Mac & Cheese. 
With poor Ben severely sick and in pain with an old person's disease shingles on Valentine's Day, it's pretty needless to say that we didn't really get a chance to celebrate. Luckily, neither of us puts too much stock in the made-up holiday, so we weren't too upset about this. But we do usually mark it in our own little way and, despite the fact that it came a little later than usual, this year was no exception. I had heard good things about this mac & cheese place called Homeroom in Oakland, so we decided to check it out for a belated Valentine's Day date.

Homeroom's DIY Chandelier, hanging over the community table.
Photo Credit: Homeroom.
It was a Friday night and the place was packed, but we fortuitously managed to get seats right away. Now, I should have expected this from a place that specializes in mac and cheese, but the place had a total hipster vibe to it (in a good way). There's a community table, diy chandeliers, wall decor consisting of succulents, and a chalkboard with a map of California on it and other cute Bay-Area-bougie things. They even served their drinks in mason jars!

Ready to eat our mac n' cheese!
Anyways, this particular night, Ben ordered the "Spicy Mac" with breadcrumbs, which for some reason is excluded from their online menu, so I can't give you specifics in terms of ingredients, but I can tell you it lived up to its name. Seriously, you need to have something to wash this down with or your mouth might be left with third-degree burns. I ordered the "Gilroy" with breadcrumbs and broccoli, which includes gouda, sharp pecorino and a hint of roasted garlic. (As a native NorCal gal, I appreciated the playful naming of the dish). We had fun being couple-y as we ate, taking bites off of each other's plates, which had the added bonus of making both of our dishes taste better. Because Ben was still recovering, we both made a wholesome choice with our beverages by getting homemade root beer, which had this refreshing, almost spearminty aftertaste that we both found to be quite enjoyable.

Tell me what homemade oreos look like?
This is what homemade oreos look like.
(Also Blue Bottle coffee in a big red mug)
I received a lovely tip from miss Miraya (whom you should all know by now from this and this) that their homemade oreos were to die for, so we ordered some for dessert. This was probably my favorite part of the meal. The oreos were not only made from real chocolate cookies (not those little cracker-like things you get with the name-brand version), but they also a bit of sea salt on top of them which was just the icing on the cake. I actually think that sea salt and chocolate could replace icing and cake in that proverb because the combination is just that natural and heavenly. And, in spite of my coffee-hating ways, I quite enjoyed dunking my oreo into the Blue Bottle coffee that Ben ordered to top of the meal. (I even took a few sips, but don't tell!)

 Our return to Homeroom: "Mexican Mac" takeout 
Now, not to get too cheesy (get it?), but the wonderful meal that Ben and I had that night more than made up for the fact that we weren't able to celebrate Hallmark Card Day in a timely manner this year.
We got to do some of our favorite things: talk about nothing significant for long periods of time, make fun of each other, and geek out over delicious food. Best of all, we discovered a new place to eat, and we've since gotten takeout from there (I was boring and stuck to "Gilroy", Ben tried "Mexican Mac," which has chipotle peppers and a lime on top, nuff said). All in all, it was a pretty good time with a pretty cool guy. And that's as cheesy as I'm gonna get.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Parisian Palate Pleaser: Brunch at La Note

Brunch: 1 Soft Boiled Egg + 2 Lemon Gingerbread Pancakes
As the title of this post suggests, I was quite happy with my recent inaugural trip to La Note with my wonderful friend Miraya, who has accompanied me on many of my adventures, culinary and otherwise, including the one that inspired this blog. Knowing how popular this place is and being an avid Yelp consultee, I was prepared for a long wait to get into this place, especially in the mid-morning on a Sunday. After putting our name on the list we got in relatively fast (30 minutes or so), but waiting even longer for the food to arrive was not something I had anticipated. By the time we got our food, it had been about an hour, which to my hungry stomach seemed like forever, and I was getting a little delirious.

Note my self-restraint as I pose for a picture whilst deliriously hungry.
Photo Credit: Miraya Berke. 

In spite of this lengthy delay, the food was absolutely delectable. I ordered deux Lemon Gingerbread Pancakes which came with refreshingly-moist poached pears and blueberries. And to satisfy my hypoglycemic need for savory flavors (and because I saw it came in a cute little egg holder and precious little spoon), I ordered a soft boiled egg as a side, which was garnished with what tasted like oregano. For me, no Sunday brunch would be complete without a glass of orange juice, so I couldn't resist getting that as well.

(Pancakes are more fun to say in Spanish)
Note the beautiful poached pear.

(Because I've already started speaking Spanish)
Note the cute little doily and tiny spoon. I felt dainty.
All of this was quite delicious. I started on the egg first, which was a delight to eat and I felt super adorable eating with my tiny spoon. The pancakes had a good amount of gingerbread spice to them, though––being a lover of sour tastes––I could have done with a little more lemon flavor. (Come to think of it, by the time I was finishing my second pancake, my palate was on sweet overload and I found myself wishing I had saved some of the egg just to balance the flavors out a bit). Their butter was somehow noticeably yummy too. The poached pears, however, were my favorite part of the meal. I literally could have an entire bowl of them just by themselves. Overall, it was just nice to be out having a tasty meal and shooting the breeze with a good friend.