Summer Lemon Bars

11 May

Isn’t it wonderful when you make something that you truly enjoy eating- something that you would gladly pay money for (that is, if you hadn’t just fixed it up yourself at home)?

I usually find that when I cook or bake foods, I don’t really feel like eating them (though that never really stops me- I eat them anyways!). There’s just something infinitely more appealing about food that someone else prepares for you.

Maybe it’s because after putting so much time into making a dish, you just can’t bring yourself to end its delicious existence. Or maybe it’s just because along the way you’ve so filled yourself up with the spoonful-tastes of sauce and the finger-licks of batter that you’re simply too full to enjoy the final product!

These lemon bars are an exception. Even though I licked up much more than a finger’s worth of batter, I still had room for an embarrassing number of lemon squares after dinner. (I had to make sure they tasted good, after all…!)

They’re so easy to put together, irresistibly bright and tangy, and they freeze well- perfect to save for those afternoons when you’re craving something summery and bright.

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Mint-Chocolate Brownies

4 May

I’ve learned that in the food world, it’s so easy to go from being conscious and ingredient-aware to being flat out pretentious and snobby. I admit, I’ve fallen into the latter all too often, especially when I scoff at other people’s baked treats-from-a-box. After reading all my food blogs and recipes, I (arrogantly) think that I know food, that I do food right, more than anyone who eats fast food or makes brownies from a box.

Except brownies from a box…are pretty amazing. Making brownies from scratch- melting the chocolate, whisking in this and that- it all just feels excessively laborious considering how good brownies made from a mix can be.

Maybe it’s just the familiarity, the childhood memories of baking the Betty Crocker mixes with my sister and thinking that we were such good cooks. There’s that certain burnt-chocolatey taste that only seems to come from brownies from a box (especially in the chewy-crunchy edge pieces- my favorite!) and I simply cannot manage to recreate in homemade brownies.

Another added plus: with less time spent on preparing the actual brownies, it opens up more opportunities to play with the flavors and additions.
Take these mint chocolate brownies, for example.

I’ve been craving mint chocolate brownies for a few weeks now. The fudgy brownie, the creamy, light green mint topping, the ganache-like chocolate shell. I never really ate them much as a kid, yet suddenly I longed for all the non-existent memories attached to them, embedded in their familiarity.

But when I’m really craving something, I don’t have the patience to make it from scratch. I usually end up buying it (and more often than not, being disappointed), or I try to find some shortcut that will get the food I crave in my belly ASAP. So here comes in the brownie mix. Literally five minutes later, the brownies are in the oven, and I can focus on getting that minty green color just right. It’s really a snap to pull together now- so easy, that I almost feel guilty. Almost. But I’m too busy stuffing these delicious bites of fudginess in my mouth.

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My latest obsession: CBS

13 Apr

Caramel au beurre salé, that is.

Henri Le Roux caramels from Paris

You’d think that a bon bon made almost entirely out of butter and sugar would be much too sweet, but the salt- that wonderfully addictive salt- balances everything out nicely. It slowly melts in your mouth, leaving a lingering complexity of sweet-saltiness. Irresistible.

I swear I’d eat in in any form.

Inside tarts.

CBS Tart by Sadaharu Aoki

On top of millefeuille.

CBS-Praline Millefeuille from Gosselin

In the center of chocolates.

Bernachon chocolate with Le Roux CBS center

…by the jar?

I need to get on that.

La Petite Maison- Dubai

22 Feb

I went to La Petite Maison intimidated—by the French reputation for rudeness, by the possibility of being let down by yet another “just fine” meal in Dubai, where the food hardly ever justifies the price. I had read reviews, both good and bad: some praising the impeccable Nicoise cuisine, some complaining about the rude, rushed service. But when a restaurant gets as much buzz as La Petite Maison has, there will inevitably be a few negative remarks here and there.

Still, I went in fully expecting gruff service, knowing that French servers are not really inclined to chitchat. But I loved it. The service was actually wonderful—unobtrusive, polite, perfectly timed and in rhythm, whisking empty plates away before they began to get in the way. They were real sports when I tried out my French on them, giving me a little encouraging smile and a compliment as we paid the bill, Mais tu parles tres bien! And contrary to my fears, they made no snide comments when I whipped out my camera and began impulsively (though discreetly) clicking away.

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Oh and the food! The restaurant bills itself as French-Mediterranean, with the concept of shared dishes, placed in the middle of the table so everyone can take a nibble, somewhat like Spanish tapas. Though a little awkward for mains that are typically meant only for one (like my sea bass, or any of the proteins really), the concept is just my style—I can’t help but taste everyone’s dishes whenever I go out. Flavors were neither risky nor particularly surprising, but in every dish there was a little something that elevated it from good to…something more. With every dish, I’d chew carefully and try to figure out this flavor or that ingredient. It was compelling—I suppose that’s how you’d describe it. Stuffed as I was, I couldn’t leave a bite uneaten.

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Finally, free foodie reign in Baltimore

8 Aug

Staying with my sister in Baltimore has been great- not only have I been able to eat some really nice food (I admit I’ve been spoiled- she has let me choose where to eat for basically every meal out), but I got to spend time with her, make some tasty pork dumplings, meet her friends, and help her organize her apartment. Of course, we’ve had our fights (I was hoping by now, since she’s in college and we hardly see each other, we would get along better), but we’ve also had a lot of much-missing bonding time. We read food blogs together, vented about our problems, confronted our insecurities. Eeshk that sounds overly girly and mushy. It wasn’t that cliched and cutesy.

Back to the food. I never used to be fond of tapas, but on my first day here we had tapas at Aldea in Fell’s Point. We sat in their lovely little courtyard-garden, and it almost felt like we were dining at a cafe in Europe. I got some beautiful photos- natural light makes all the difference. We also ate at a popular brunch spot- Miss Shirley’s, and had a really nice birthday dinner (for my sister) at Della Notte. Of course, I grabbed some sweet treats along the way- including some heart-stopping jelly doughnut french toast.

Eating around Philly as fast as possible

8 Aug

I stayed in Philly for less than a week, and was basically limited to the area around UPenn, yet I still managed to squeeze in a few nice meals. The little Korean place near Penn was nothing special according to my Korean friends, but it gave me an intro to Korean food. My business team went for a wonderful (and incredibly filling) 3-course dinner at Bistro Romano, where I’m sure I drove the server crazy with all my questions and order changes (I’m not the most decisive when it comes to ordering…).

One day, for lunch, I tried the Crunchburger (a burger with crunchy potato chips to provide an interesting textural contrast and starchy fried goodness) at nearby burger joint run by Bobby Flay. I’m no burger expert, but Bobby’s Burger Palace sure delivered some really delicious burgers- I was just longing to try all the flavor combinations! After the burger, I wandered into Capogiro gelato with a friend. I planned to just taste a flavor then leave (is that so wrong?), as I was still filled up on meaty burger goodness, but when I asked to taste one flavor, the over-eager gelato man gave me about 6 different tasters. I realized I probably would need to order a cup- and I’m glad I did! Coconut and dulce de leche were my favorites, and they just happened to complement each other, especially when they got muddled in a puddle of melted gelato at the bottom of the cup.

I didn’t get to try all the places on my list- I’ve yet to eat at one of the many food trucks, Vetri, Osteria… but that happens where ever I go. I try to plan out my meals too much some of the time, and then it almost becomes like a mandatory assignment. For some reason we perceive things as more fun when they’re not required or planned. It’s like that part in Tom Sawyer, when he tricks some boys into thinking painting the fence is fun- not a chore.

Eating out doesn’t exactly become a chore when I pre-plan what and where I’m going to eat, but I just don’t enjoy the meal as much. I’m getting better about not absolutely NEEDING to go to a certain restaurant (I can be rather unreasonable at times), and I’ve ended up having some pretty good “spontaneous” meals.

More San Francisco Food: Cheap eats and sweet treats

8 Aug

Excuse the corny title- I couldn’t resist.

Although I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life, living in Dubai has made visiting the States seem like much more of a vacation in different cultural environment. I’ve been rediscovering all of the nice things about America (excuse the overgeneralizations that are to come) that I never used to notice. The way that everything outside just seems so much more…I don’t know- alive. Everything is green. You can just stroll along the road on the sidewalk (Dubai is mostly highways). And best of all, it’s not that hard to find good food. Specifically, affordable good food. I was surprised to find that the majority of food I ate was quite satisfying, and some I wouldn’t mind eating again and again. I actually did eat some again and again, namely the sandwiches from Sweet Joanna’s (next door to the Folger Building) and from La Baguette (the BEST French baguette sandwiches I’ve had to date).

I also loved going to the farmers’ market up by the Ferry Terminal Building. I could never tire of farmers’ markets. There’s something about walking around outside, in the fresh air, while you peruse the various food stands, admire the colors of the fresh produce, maybe sample a cut of that impossibly sweet, juicy peach, and just drink in all the noise and smells and action all around. One day I was in a terrible mood- I was sick, tired, grumpy, and I just wanted to curl up in bed. When our lunch break came around, I went, alone, to the farmers’ market. I ate a little of this, a little of that. A ripe, juicy peach, a sausage, a whiskey-glazed pecan scone. It was just what I needed. I returned to class completely transformed, overflowing with energy and contentment (it may have had something to do with that whiskey scone…).

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