Showing posts with label Weird Food Wednesday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weird Food Wednesday. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Only Peanuts and Salt

As the alien jar crept from the brown paper bag, I became fixated on the grotesque, thick layer of oil floating atop the unusually jaundiced goo. Why must I subject myself to this peanut butter imposter? The expression on her face told me that I had no choice in the matter. My mom proceeded to hand me the mutilated bread and implausibly dry peanut butter. I could barely swallow my first bite. Peanut butter was just the first in the long line of transitions that were to come. . . .

organic, healthy, and tasty peanut butter options are out there
photo by Jonathan Coveney

But with a little coercion and self-education, I had an epiphany! Awareness of hydrogenated oils led to my most significant edification, and I am now a major proponent of natural and organic foods. Here is why:

Hydrogenated oils are commonly known as trans fats. The process of hydrogenation involves adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils in order to reconfigure the fat into a solid. This chemical process is designed to increase the shelf life and “flavor stability” in food, hence why you can open a bag of Cheetos or Oreos that you think you bought a few months, or even years ago, and they probably still retain their flavor and crunch. Why is this bad you ask? Well, consumption of trans fats increases LDL “bad” cholesterol and decrease HDL “good” cholesterol. Consumption of trans fat also leads to increased risk of heart disease, strokes, and diabetes, and is also linked to various cancers. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, effects occur even at low levels: if you add just 2% more calories from trans fat to your diet, there is a 23% increased risk for heart disease.

So while it was maddening to surrender my favorite foods one after the other, I now realize how important avoiding hydrogenated oils are. I have found, however, getting people to swap their chemically enhanced staples such as peanut butter for organic versions is no easy feat. Thankfully, though, organic and natural options have evolved so that the tastes and flavor profiles now match the quality of the food, and I promise that tasty alternatives can be found!

It is important, however, to still check the ingredients of all products since it has become a deceptive marketing technique to add “zero trans fats” labels. According to the FDA guidelines, products that contain less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving can be listed as containing zero trans fats. In terms of peanut butter, which I have chose to focus on, you should look for products that contain only peanuts and salt. The layer of oil on top—which I once found revolting—is just the naturally occurring separation of the peanut oils after the “crushing” process. It takes only a few seconds—and a little strength—to stir the natural peanut butter until the oil is incorporated and then voila, you have a jar of delicious and natural peanut butter. There are many brands of natural peanut butters available now (some don’t even require mixing!) and all different types and flavors. My current favorite that I highly recommend is Santa Cruz Organic. And while I like my peanut butter crunchy and not smooth, I’ll hold off on the that debate for another day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Culture of Food & Eating

Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture by Eugene Anderson is one of the many fascinating books we read in my anthropology class called “Food & Feasting: Archaeology of the Table” (I highly recommend it! Not for an easy A though . . . ). Yes its true, everyone who has the ability to eat, eats. But, one often forgets why we eat what we eat and the vast cultural differences that exist in food preferences. For most of us, food means pleasure. We eat to enjoy, savoring both the tastes and nostalgia associated with that food. More often than not, foods that we were raised with are our favorites. This goes right back to the womb! Not only do babies learn to love sweet and milky foods; they also learn to love foods like garlic, onions and chiles, whose powerful flavors print through in the milk. According to Anderson, some mothers self-consciously eat their ethnic foods when nursing their babies, so that these tastes are ingrained into their children’s food preferences. As a child gets older, these “innate” preferences are further influenced by “what everyone else eats”- this means different things in different cultures. In America, it might be white bread, hamburgers and ketchup, while in rural parts of Zambia, a list of “favorite foods” might include caterpillars, millet mush and hippo meat!

Another astounding factor I read about is the universal tendency to avoid foods identified with poverty. For instance, sweet potatoes- that are viewed as delicacies in many parts of the world- are detested in China and parts of the American South, because they were “poverty foods” in these places. Another interesting example the processed meat known as Spam; this food item was frequented tables during World War II in countries like United Kingdom, and consequently became stigmatized. The same meat, however, is used creatively and regularly in Hawaiian cuisine.

Perhaps more obvious is the fact that the availability of a food influences its “status” in a society. An excellent example of this includes caviar in Russia- it was introduced into the diet because it was widely available. However, as time progressed, overfishing made this item rare, and now it is predominantly a luxury food.

Personal taste is probably the overruling factor; there is a scale of “openness to the exotic” that often comes into play when deciding where to eat out on a Friday night- Tex-mex or Ethiopian? One is always in search of the perfect combination of familiar and new, but there are some food traditions that are not effaceable. Those who ate homemade bread every day cannot stand the taste of factory-made bread and will even actively avoid it, while those who grew up in typical Southern American society insist on putting oil, butter, AND cheese in their eggs. And of course, there are the South Asians who will drown the very same eggs in Tabasco. Some call these stereotypes, but really--pardon the pun--it's all in good taste.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Enjoying the Seasons

Unlike many of my peers, I had a rather uneventful Spring Break this year, with home as my vacation destination. After three straight days of zoning out in front of the TV in my pajamas, however, I decided that I needed to do something somewhat productive with my precious time off from school. Since eating, (as opposed to extra studying), has always counted as a productive activity in my book, I opted to gain some new and exciting culinary experiences in the Atlanta area.

Seasons 52 focuses on fresh, seasonal food that's low in calories and fat
photo from restaurant's official website

One of the places I discovered was Seasons 52, a restaurant chain based in Florida. Before you judge though, let me make it clear that Seasons 52 is not just another Applebee’s or Red Lobster. Seasons 52 distinguishes itself from the pack as a casually upscale grill and wine bar. When I first walked into the restaurant, I sensed a relaxed and unpretentious, yet quietly sophisticated, ambiance. The interior design featured a blend of rich mahogany and cool slate, subdued wall lighting and foliage accents, which provided an intimate and contemporary feel to the space. The restaurant was divided into three main sections - piano and wine bar, dining area with tables and booths and kitchen behind glass dividers. The live jazz music coming from the piano bar, coupled with the bustle from inside the kitchen, created a relaxing yet sophisticated atmosphere.

Another distinctive feature of Seasons 52 is its commitment to serving market-fresh, seasonally-focused meals without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. The “Seasons” part of the name touches on the changing of the menu that coincides with the seasons, while the “52” refers to the weekly switch of soups and vegetables. This is hardly a new concept in restaurant dining, but certainly an innovative undertaking for a chain establishment.

Something else unique about Seasons 52 that you definitely would not see at another food chain - or at any other restaurant, for that matter - is that no menu item contains more than 475 calories! Instead of cracking out the deep-fryer and slathering on the butter, Seasons 52 focuses on cooking techniques such as grilling over open fires and sprinkling generous amounts of herbs and spices to enhance the food’s natural flavors, but not its calorie content. To be honest, I was a little skeptical as to how the food would taste, so I was prepared to be a little unsatisfied, but to my delight, the food made me feel just the opposite.

The first dish that my friend and I sampled was the plum tomato flatbread with fresh basil, roasted garlic and melted Parmesan. All the ingredients were bursting with flavor, without being too overpowering, and the melted cheese on top perfectly balanced out the other flavors. The flatbread wasn’t too greasy or salty, which is usually the problem when I order similar items at other restaurants; this flatbread was the perfect balance of crunchy and chewy without the oily mess.

scallops with sundried tomato pearl pasta from Seasons 52
photo from restaurant's official website

For our entrees, we ordered the roasted crab stuffed shrimp and the caramelized sea scallops. For less than 475 calories, I was expecting child-size portions, so I was surprised to see that each dish was actually what I would expect a healthy, moderate-portioned meal to look like. The shrimp was sautéed with a medley of asparagus and peppers in a light garlic sauce and then stuffed with oven-roasted crabmeat. The chef definitely did not skimp on the crabmeat, as each shrimp was thoroughly and properly stuffed, which cannot be said about food at even the more upscale restaurants. The shrimp and crab were delicious - perfectly cooked, popping with flavor and fresh-tasting. The dish was accompanied with a wedge of grilled lemon, which I squeezed over the seafood; the fresh lemon juice added a pleasant “zing” to the shrimp and complemented the garlic flavor from the sauce.

The other dish we ordered was the sea scallops. They were grilled and served over a bed of roasted asparagus and sundried tomato pearl pasta. The scallops were fantastic - juicy and a little smoky from the grill. The pasta, with the pieces of sundried tomato, was also a standout and went very well with the scallops. All the vegetables featured in both dishes were fresh, crisp and vibrant, which added to the simple yet beautiful presentation. And nothing was drowning in sauce, which was a pleasant change; for once, the flavors of the dish came from the actual food, and not the sauce covering it.

Even the desserts are guilt-free “mini indulgences,” which come in three-ounce shot glasses that contain no more than 300 calories. The menu includes everything from strawberry cheesecake to key lime pie. We settled on the mocha macchiato and pecan pie, which were both rich and creamy and completely satisfying with only a few bites, which is how dessert should be enjoyed.

My experience at Seasons 52 was completely refreshing as it is not everyday when you come across a restaurant where good food and healthy food are not considered to be mutually exclusive. And what about those in the Philadelphia area that are dying to have a taste? Well, good news - Seasons 52 just opened up a new location in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is definitely a feasible - and worthwhile - trip!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Life at Penn can be very stressful; every day just seems to whizz by! Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the leisurely pace of life in Spain, while I was there over spring break. Its not that people are lazy, or just spend three hours of the day snoozing during ‘siesta’- there’s just no rush. I discovered that the term “siesta” encompasses relaxing in the park, spending time with family, and more importantly, eating and cooking. Lunchtime can span three hours, usually 2pm-5pm, and after people have digested their food, they hit the bars a few hours later for drinks- and tapas. Many tapas restaurants I have visited in Philly just serve different variations of toppings on bread; the true Spanish tapas experience is however very different. Just to give you a taste, here are a few of the tapas that really stood out!

tapas, like this plate of huevos revueltos con jamon, represent a different way of eating as well as a different way of life
photo by Karuna Meda

Huevos revueltos con jamon
This rather hodge-podge of ingredients consists of scrambled egg, potatoes and Serrano ham. You can eat it with or without bread, either way, the simple combination of the blandness of the eggs and the spicy succulence of the ham is heavenly.

Patatas bravas
This was a standard at most of my tapas adventures, and one of the few vegetarian options on the menu. Cubes of potatoes are fried to a perfect crisp, and served with a spicy tomato sauce.

Pulpo a la Gallega
This is octopus cooked in Galician style, meaning it is boiled or grilled as opposed to fried. Even though I’ve eaten calamari, I was still surprised by the texture; I never realized how effective the crispy dough is in concealing the rubbery feeling of the octopus. Nevertheless, the octopus, if cooked just right, soaks up the olive oil, sweet Spanish paprika, and garlic. Divine.

Tortilla de patatas
A very typical dish of Spain, this is essentially a potato omelet. Potatoes and onions are fried in oil, and then raw beaten eggs are added, and fried to make almost a fluffy quiche like omelet, using a special utensil called "vuelve-tortillas". Eaten hot or cold, tortilla de patatas is probably the most popular in Spain.

Don't forget, tapas cannot even be called as such without drinks. One can choose from beer, wine, Sangria, and good old soft drinks. I truly miss the evenings where we just ate and drank, not to stuff our face with food and get drunk, but to take part in a cultural activity that the Spanish have immense respect for - savoring a meal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


During my amazing visit to Spain over spring break, I couldn’t get enough of the food . . . and drink! Making full use of the drinking age of 18, I had my fair share of sangria and exquisite wine (and learned that Spanish beer isn’t all that great). Of all the drinks I had, one stood out the most: Calimocho. Popular during street gatherings (yes, I saw plenty of high schoolers drinking on the streets), Calimocho is a mix of red wine and Coca Cola, in approximately equal proportions. It really is a cheap man’s drink, in a very drastic way--Calimocho is sometimes even made in a plastic bag!

calimocho looks just like regular cola, but has an unexpected twist
photo by Karuna Meda

My friends and I headed to the Retiro Park in Madrid armed with a two liter bottle of coke, 3 Euros worth of red wine, and plastic cups. After emptying out some of the coke, we poured in approximately 3/4th of the bottle of wine, and voila!

It really is an unusual taste, like sour cherry coke. The first few sips were dubious, but I really started to enjoy the peculiar combination of fizzy caffeine and the tartness of the wine. Needless to say, we had no trouble finishing the two liters.

Some people may call Calimocho a trashy wine cooler, but I thought it was oddly refreshing, and so easy to make! Some variations include using white wine instead of red, and adding flavored vodka. So here is another idea to add to your list of cocktails for spring fling!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 The Blog

New to Philadelphia? Wondering what the restaurants are like here in the City of Brotherly Love? Well, with Philly being a city of bloggers, there are a lot of sites out there highlighting the city’s thriving restaurant scene. Few have been more successful, however, than my personal favorite:

Foobooz is devoted to bringing Philadelphians the best in “food, drink, gossip and deals” in the city’s restaurants. Its bloggers declare that “food and drink are keys to happiness, and there are few places better to indulge in other than Philadelphia.” They prove this statement by providing weekly updates on the best new eateries, bargains, and hidden treasures that this city’s restaurant scene has to offer.

To be honest, I have been a diehard Foobooz fan for about six months, and I check the blog almost daily for updates. It lets me know the latest in closings, so I can try out that restaurant before it shuts down for good. It also highlights notable openings, so I can keep up with what’s new and trendy in Philadelphia eating. Foobooz also provides info on local culinary events in the area, from Restaurant Week to Center City Sips, so if you’re looking for something fun to do you can always be in the know.

Their site even provides a demographic of their readers: young adults with college educations who often dine out (sounds like many Penn kids). The bloggers have compiled a list of their “Best of Philly” picks, along with event calendars and maps of every bar, eatery, lounge and café in the region. You’d be hard pressed not to find a good suggestion amongst the numerous posts.

They also provide fun little updates like “Eyeball Benders” that showcase an interesting photo of a local eatery so readers can test their knowledge of restaurant decor. All in all, whether you are a newbie to the Philly scene or a seasoned veteran, Foobooz is definitely worth checking out, especially if you want to keep up with the latest happenings. Also, it doesn’t hurt to look cool when you can make restaurant suggestions to your friends.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Not a Chocolate Person . . .

there's nothing wrong with shying away from chocolate
photos by Elizabeth Cunningham

Vanilla over cocoa. Blondies over brownies. Vanilla cake over chocolate. Oatmeal raisin over chocolate chip. I’m just not a chocolate person, and apparently, that’s strange.

Somehow, over the course of human evolution, it has become bizarre for a person not to like chocolate. This aspect of my likes and dislikes sets me (and others of the same opinion) apart, as if millions of years ago, distaste for chocolate would have led us along the path to apes and monkeys, rather than Homo sapiens. We’re a small group, but we’re passionate. First choice: not chocolate. Case closed.

I wish fine restaurants would respect our minority. On a recent vacation, my family chose to dine at one of the fine restaurants in town. The appetizer and entrée menus were marvelous, offering options for all palettes. Caesar and house salad. Gazpacho and French onion soup. Mahi mahi and filet mignon. A wine list to dazzle the most selective connoisseurs. Yet the dessert menu fell short, much to my personal disappointment. My eyes scanned the list, taking in the exquisiteness of each dish: dark chocolate crème brulee, sampler of various truffles, chocolate mousse, and lime sorbet. Really? My only non-chocolate option was lime sorbet? I chose the last item on the menu, and I’m not quite sure whether I did this because it was what I wanted to eat, or for reasons more meaningful: to support those people who aren’t satisfied with chocolate.

It’s not about wanting the healthier option; it’s about wanting a food choice with color and bursts of flavor. It’s about wanting options which don’t fit under the umbrella category of “chocolate.” Take, for instance, the following:

Chocolate covered strawberries. I don’t get them. While I completely appreciate the adorable patterns chocolatiers and bakers create atop these succulent berries (drizzled dark chocolate atop white, tuxedo patterns made of multiple chocolate types), count me out. I can’t help but wonder what compels some people to coat a perfectly delicious red strawberry in a brown shell, which both melts on your fingertips and breaks apart the moment you bite into the dessert—only to land on your shirt or pants, which you recently cleaned, of course. The strawberry alone would be just perfect.

Now don’t get me wrong— you’ll find me eating chocolate every now and then, but as result of a craving, not an obsession. (And plus, instant hot chocolate doesn’t count). Ladies: you’ll hear me on this. Chocolate absolutely constitutes its own food group. However, when I want to eat chocolate, I want to be eating chocolate . . . not a fluffy cake with an artificial taste only remotely reminiscent of cocoa. I want a fantastic square of perfectly smooth dark chocolate. Don’t hide a berry within its depths or add essence of coffee or mint. Keep things simple. However, given the option, my loyalties lie with all things not cocoa-related.

Finally, a message to all chefs: challenge yourselves to create gourmet dessert not made of chocolate. Or at the very least, please offer lime sorbet on your menu. It might not compare to your dark chocolate crème brulee, but it doesn’t contain chocolate, and that alone is reason for ordering it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Weird Food at Trader Joe's

click here to visit the official Trader Joe's website

Often times the highlight of my weekend is a trip to Trader Joe’s, just browsing through their aisles of amazing food products. Every week I find something new and exciting - and no matter how unlikely the food combinations, it's always delicious! Here’s a list of some of the interesting food I’ve found at Trader Joe’s. If you’re the adventurous type, keep your eyes peeled for these items the next time you’re there!

-Dark Chocolate-Covered Chili Mangoes - This is a really fascinating combination of flavors - dried mangoes dusted (generously) with chilli powder, and then dunked in dark chocolate. This requires some really adventurous taste buds!
-Spicy and Tangy Almonds - Made with Tabasco and lemon - mind blowing!
-"Wasabi Wow!" Snack Mix - Wow! Is a very appropriate adjective.
-Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies - These decadent treats are just the perfect combination of the spicy cinnamon and sinful dark chocolate. Unfortunately, I think this was only for the holidays…
-Japanese Sticky Rice Snacks - Gotta love seaweed!
-Ginger Almost Cashew Granola – lowfat!!
-Gorgonzola Pita Crackers
-Smoked Chicken Apple Chardonnay Sausage - Everyone likes a little wine.
-Organic Maple Agave Syrup
-Peanut Butter with Flaxseeds - Omega 3’s with your PB & J?
-Teriyaki Turkey Jerkey

The list is really endless . . . you’ll have to check it out yourselves to get the real experience of the incredibleness that is Trader Joe's!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cheesy Art

Cheese puffs are usually not considered to be a very high class snack, but as Jason of Eclectic Asylum Art shows, you can put those orange fingers to good artistic use. I must say, though, that he's better with cheese puffs than I am with charcoal, and for that I am very jealous.

Click here if you can't see the video above, or to check out more of his work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who Ever Thought of Bacon and Chocolate?

From chocolate-covered bacon to bacon brownies and even bacon-and-chocolate cupcakes, the latest trendy flavor combination is certainly provocative. Never before have breakfast and dessert been blended with such finesse, such pizzazz, such disregard for custom. Balancing sweet and salty is nothing new, as seen in various ethnic cuisines as well as in your average country fair kettle corn, but this recent combination is nothing short of explosive. Chocolate-covered pretzels? Typical. Pumpkin bacon chocolate chip cookies? Not so much.

mo's bacon bar by vosges combines rich milk chocolate with applewood smoked bacon
photo from vosges' official website

Nevertheless, the curious craze for bacon and chocolate has growth rapidly, in part due to online presence of curious food bloggers, eager to test out new ideas in their own kitchens. Why not try some Bacon and Peanut Butter Truffles? Or how about some Maple-Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies? Better yet, why don't you whip up a batch of Chocolate Bacon Blondies?

Bacon and chocolate have also found their way onto restaurant menus across the country, sneaking into the dessert menu alongside less exciting standbys, like the perennial apple turnover. For example, Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles, which focuses on meat dishes, has introduced the Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar to much fanfare. Check out a review and some beautiful bacon bar footage here.

Even upscale chocolatier Vosges has hopped on the bacon-and-chocolate bandwagon with Mo’s Bacon Bar, a combination of applewood smoked bacon and deep milk chocolate that promises to make the “lust of salt and sweet coat your tongue,” they claim. Since its introduction, the bar has proved a surprise hit, selling out in 48 hours when released in British chain store Selfridges.

So where do you stand on the bacon and chocolate debate? Delicious . . . or disgusting?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Happy Intestine Day!

Dear Readers,

We at the Penn Appetit blog have declared today Intestine Day! Read on for two very different accounts of how intestines have come into the lives--and stomachs--of two of our writers. But be warned, some of the pictures and descriptions that follow are not for the squeamish!

Blog Editor

Life, Death, and Intestines in Jordan

For Eid al-Adha, the holiday which commemorates Isaac's near-sacrifice at the hands of his father, Abraham, it is customary to slaughter a sheep (or two, depending on your wealth). You then donate some of the meat to charity, eat the rest yourself, and let nothing go to waste. This includes the majority of the innards: heart, lung, kidney, liver, brain, stomach, and intestines. Heart, lung, and kidney just taste like meat, mostly. Liver's not my speed, I stay away from brain, but due to certain circumstances I was obliged to eat both stomach and intestine.

extracting intestines to prepare for dinner
photo by audrey farber

Stomach is prepared by boiling several times to clean it, then cut up and sewn into little pouches stuffed with rice, chickpeas, and vegetables, and then cooked. It smells rancid from beginning to end and tastes as bad.

The intestines are a whole different ball game. Having watched them come flopping out of a dead sheep hanging upside down from his feet, then watched the bile and fecal matter be squeezed out of them--including a priceless moment when they encountered a hole in the intestines and squirted out all over the place--then boiled, boiled, and boiled again, and finally stuffed with the same rice mixture as went into the stomach, cooked, and eaten - it was all a bit too much for me.

I ate it, but I had only as much as required by etiquette and was still nauseous several days later. Now I can't eat lamb without flashbacks to the taste and smell of festering digestive organs.

The two upsides are that, first, I have seen an animal slaughtered and I can still eat meat--something very few carnivores can say and second, the entire experience was a reminder that there are cultures in the world today that still appreciate an animal for what it is and what it provides us, utilize the entirety of its edible parts, and let nothing go to waste.

Intestines are Yummy. Really.

Every country has its own official “quirky” food: France has its escargots and frog legs, China has its monkey brains . . . and Korea has its cow intestines. But before you start thinking that Korea is a little too weird for your taste, you should know that there are a lot of countries that frequently use different types of tripe in their cooking--all disguised behind mysterious names we can’t pronounce. Just to name a few: the Spanish Callos dish, the Hungarian Pakal, the Japanese Yakiniku, and even the American Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup.

So why even consider using animal organs in something that’s going in our mouths?

Because it tastes good. No, really, it does. It also feels good. The chewiness of the intestine allows one to savor the sauce slowly oozing out with each bite, which is what makes any intestinal dish heavenly, in my opinion. Of course, the same chewiness is what makes intestines a deal-breaker for some people, but those are the boring people who like the conventional stuff. I assume YOU are up for some adventure if you’re still reading this.

Once the intestines are meticulously cleaned (and it needs to be, for obvious reasons), it is perfectly edible by humans. Getting it cleaned, however, is no easy feat, which is why people rarely prepare this dish at home. One tip for those who do want to give it a shot: rub the intestine layers in flour so that the odor goes away, or else you might not want to go through with your little adventure.

Korean restaurants offer quite a variety of animal tripe dishes that appeal to the general population, two of which I will mention now.

The most popular is the soon-dae: quite literally, a type of Korean sausage that wraps up a mix of vegetables and noodles or sticky rice into a flattened layer of pig intestines. It is most popular among students who have little time and money on their hands but of course, adults love this dish just as much. Soon-dae can be eaten with a salty dipping sauce, cooked in a noodle broth, or stir-fried with vegetables and spicy sauce.

soon-dae, Korean intestine sausage

stir-fried soon-dae

The second is gob-chang: small intestines of either pig or cow. Most restaurants that serve this dish serve dae-chang--large intestines--as well. I personally find it most satisfying when the intestine is served chopped to bite-size pieces seasoned with salt and pepper or a spicy sauce, which we would then personally broil on a pan in front of us and eat as soon as they are ready. For an extra burst of flavor, you can dip the pieces into a spicy or garlic sauce.

broiled gob-chang, Korean small intestine

Another popular choice is the gob-chang jun-gol, which mixes the intestine pieces with vegetables in a spicy (or not spicy, depending on your preferences) casserole.

gob-chang jun-gol, Korean intestine casserole

It isn’t exactly the healthiest food in the world, but it’s a treat worth savoring every once in a while. I myself make it a habit of eating all the different variations of intestinal dishes available every time I go back to Korea for vacation. And if you ever decide to visit Korea, even for reasons other than the intestines, don’t be afraid to try them out because they’re totally worth it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Better Know a Spice: Galangal (a.k.a. Blue Ginger)

Spice: Galangal

What is it? Also known as Blue Ginger, it is used extensively in Indonesian, Malaysian and Indian cuisine.

Where'a it from? There are two varieties of galangal: greater (laos) galangal is native to Java, and lesser (kencur) galangal, used less commonly is found on the south east coast of China.

Is it an imposter of ginger? Greater galangal is a creamy-colored rhizome with a gingery, camphorous bouquet, while lesser galangal is orange in color and is hotter and more pungent. It is used either as a whole root or powder.

Is it a “Defisher”? Galangal is effective in neutralizing the salty fish taste and is therefore used most frequently in fish and shell-fish recipes. Its flavor is tempered best by garlic, ginger, chili, lemon or tamarind.

What are its health benefits? Galangal cures gas!

Spice up your life: For centuries, a tonic of galangal and lemon juice has been used in south-east Asia as an aphrodisiac- move over chocolate covered strawberries!

Will it burn my mouth off? Yes! 5/10 on my mouth-burning scale

Recipe Idea: Add it in coconut milk for a Thai soup!

Where can I buy it? Indonesian Groceries on 16th-17th and Morris, Asian Grocery complex on 11th and Market, and Reading Terminal

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Finger Lickin' Good

Photo by Audrey Farber.

We have all been reprimanded by our mothers on countless occasions to not eat with our fingers. Whether they believed it was dirty or rude, they always came up with some argument. “But why,” we would say in response, “did God give us fingers if he didn’t want us to eat with them?”

Well, hand eaters rejoice – there ARE places in the world where not only is it acceptable but encouraged. I spent the last semester in Jordan where I got used to eating with my fingers, and not just finger food. Whether it was dipping bread into olive oil or hummus, pulling chicken or lamb meat off the bone, or rolling rice balls while eating the traditional dish mansaf (rice and lamb served with a yogurt sauce that is used as the glue to create the rice ball, which incorporates all the components of the dish).

I don’t know what it is but there’s something about pulling a steaming hot chicken breast apart with your fingers that makes eating so much more satisfying. Maybe it’s because you’re closer to the food by actually putting the effort into making it edible, or because you like the taste of your fingers, or simply because it’s always fun to get your hands dirty…and make your mother angry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Personal Discovery: El Bulli

Lamb's tongue with red mullet
Photos from El Bulli's website

A few days ago, a friend directed me to the site of the restaurant El Bulli, knowing my love for ingenuous, original dishes.

I found myself scrolling through images of the craziest edible inventions--Iberian ham "tapioca," fish cotton candy (fish meat formed with a cotton-candy consistency), and pine-nut marshmallows. Many of these feats are carried out using the latest kitchen technology.

I've always been interested in food inventions, unlikely ingredients carefully placed together, forming surprising concoctions. Unfortunately, the really shocking creations are usually constructed at the expense of taste. Image my surprise when I learned El Bulli had been rated the Best Restaurant in the World by "Restaurant" a record number of four times (although I do wonder if they accounted for El Bulli's use of cutting edge kitchen technology when judging taste...).

That's when I set about finding all I could about this amazing place. Where was this restaurant? How could I get a reservation? How much would a meal cost? El Bulli is a cozy edifice nestled in the outskirts of Roses, Spain and can only house around fifty diners at a time. The restaurant is only open from April to September, and for the 2,000 reservations they book every year, the restaurant receives over 400,000 "applications." That's right. After prospective diners submit their reservation request, eager epicures wait for months for their letter of rejection or acceptance. Surprisingly, a meal only costs 165 euros, or around 200 dollars per person (not bad for the 'best restaurant in the world').

If you're wondering how Chef Adria can cover his overhead--the cost of running a restaurant that uses expensive cutting-edge techniques, but can only house a small number of diners--your concerns are not at all off-base. Chef Adria uses the money he commands from interviews and guest lectures (not at all a stingy sum) to cover the costs.

And really, the dishes are a spectacle themselves. Here are some more of the creations that Chef Ferran Adria has cooked up:

Irish coffee of green asparagus and black truffle

Lychee soup with apple lattice, bilberries, and fennel water

Note: If you type 'El Bulli experiences' in Google, a quite a few personal blogs, penned by fellow food-philes, will pop up detailing their dining experiences at El Bulli.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Live Blogging - Top Chef Season 5: Episode 4

Alex leaves and returns home to get married, not too surprising or upsetting, especially considering that I could barely remember him on a week to week basis. Next week the chefs have to cook for Gail's bridal shower, which Carla describes as a "frickin' disaster" and during which Fabio woos dozens of middle-aged women. Looks like another good one!

Haha, that psycho Kathy Lee is helping judge the winner, and it's not pretty as she spits out Jeff's shrimp right of camera. Ariane takes the win, and Carla claps and screams excitedly in the apartment. She seems more into it than Ariane herself. Rocco gives her a lame tool set of cooking tools, but her better prize is a live spot on the Today Show tomorrow, so tune in everyone, because I'm sure it will be absolutely riveting to watch her make a salad with watermelon. I think Jamie will be safe just based on past performances, but it's a toss-up between Alex, for his faulty creme brulee, and Melissa, a victim of apparently inedibly spicy shrimp, for the boot.

I'm not really sure what the point of doing the demonstrations ahead of time for the judges is. In the interest of entertaining television, I would just throw them on camera completely raw and watch them crash and burn. I mean nothing happens at all during the fourth hour of the Today Show anyways. So they chose the top 3, which includes Jeff, Fabio, and Ariane for the first time. She may be around longer than I anticipated. Jamie falls to the bottom 3 courtesy of the raw egg on top of her salad. She better get her act together, of else Team Rainbow will disolve completely. Tom comes to wake up the top 3 at 2 AM to take them to the studio at 30 Rock. I think that's the average bedtime of most Penn students these days.

That segment was seriously like 3 minutes long, and all we got to see was the shopping portion at Whole Foods, which never ceases to entertain me and Lea saying that she was planning on making a seared duck breast with corn and blueberrys. She says it works, but I think that she's lucky that she has immunity for this one.

10: 14
Ok, sorry. I knew I said that I would blog last week, but I didn't get around to watching the Tivo-ed episode until like 11 on Thanksgiving night, and I was in a semi-vegetative tryptophan induced state, so I barely recall the hopefuls assembling Thanksgiving dinner for the Foo Fighters in microwaves and toaster ovens. I do remember quite vividly Ariane rising from the ashes of the bottom three with a successful turkey and being dubbed a cougar by her teammates.

The quickfire this week is to make a breakfast amuse-bouche, and everyone does decently in impressing guest judge Rocco DiSpirito. Actually, I want to eat 90% of what the chefs cook, especially Jamie's mini breakfast BLT. Lea comes away with the win and gets a paperback of Rocco's new book. Paperback, come on, I think you can provide the hardback copy of your own book Mr. DiSpirito. Padma introduces the elimination challenge: cooking a 2.5 minute segment live on the Today Show. Carla, who is quickly rising the ranks of my favorites, says that if you go over your time limit, the producers will "cut you." I'm pretty sure she meant "cut you off," but I'll forgive her, because she reminded me of Bon Qui Qui and because she's repping my hometown of Washington, DC

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


With my right hand gripped tightly around the knife and my left strangling my subject, I lifted the blade above my head as the wind howled violently outside. I can do it, I tell myself, I will demolish him! He will suffer for the unbearable pain he caused me! I released my hand, stabbing his lifeless body, piercing through the skin again and again, ripping him to pieces.

How did I, a relatively mild and peaceful Penn sophomore, end up in such a violent frenzy? The story begins a few weeks ago, November the fifth, a breezy autumn Wednesday in University City…
“Do you have any pumpkins?” I inquired at the farmer’s market stand on 36th and Walnut. The previous week, the fruit men had brought crates full of pumpkins for Halloween. Ever since, I had this unbearable craving for freshly cooked pumpkin sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon, just tender enough to spoon out and savor on the tip of my tongue.
“We have a ton of pumpkins, but we didn’t think anyone wanted them anymore. So we didn’t bring any,” The man responded. My face dropped. “You know what, if I remember, I’ll try to bring you a pumpkin next week, okay?”
I can’t say I was too hopeful, so I just purchased my fruits and politely thanked the men working at the stand. But I really wanted a pumpkin. I was craving it.
The following Wednesday, I returned to stock up on my usual round of fruits. As I approached the apples, the man behind the table came up to me with a smile. “We brought it! Just for you!” He pointed to a box on the side.
Ecstatic, I ran over and peered into the box. An average sized lumpy pumpkin rested on top of another. “Thank you so much!” I gushed, “I’ll take that one!”
“No no, we brought you the other one,” The man replied, as he lifted the small pumpkin to reveal a monstrous orange sphere hiding underneath, “We brought this one just for you!”

I stared at the beast, and my eyes widened. There was no way I could carry that back to my room. Absolutely no way. I glanced back at the man, alarmed. His voice echoed in my head, We brought this one just for you! I needed some way to get out of it.
“This is huge! I mean, how much is this gonna cost me?” I attempted, trying to pull the penniless-college-student stunt.
“You know what, I’ll give it to you for just five bucks. Great deal. I brought it for you.” He had to remind me. I took a deep breath, took out my Penn card, and asked to pay using dining dollars.
I put one bag of fruits on one arm, strung the second around my other arm, and lifted the monstrous vegetable. And let me tell you, it was actually heavier than I expected! My arms could barely wrap around its circumference. I staggered under the weight, finally leaning back to balance out.
“Thank you for the pumpkin!” I managed to call out, as my trembling legs wobbled to support the equivalent of quintuplets--in a full-sized crib.
“It’s actually a squash, by the way,” The man called out, waving goodbye.
So there I was, lugging an enormous mutant squash down Walnut. The wind hardly provided any relief, as its fierce breeze could not counter the wave of heat that suddenly permeated throughout my body. As my fingers began to get clammy, my grip started to loosen. I tried to walk faster, rushing towards Rodin, my dorm, but the squash seemed to accumulate weight with every step. What the hell type of squash is the size of an oversized pumpkin? I asked myself, cursing under my breath.
People on the street began to turn and stare, snickering as I passed. Random strangers offered to help. But I couldn’t stop--I didn’t want to prolong the trip. I wanted to get back, to reach my dorm, to put down this squash and rip off my scarf and winter jacket (and, quite frankly, everything else as well), and just fall into my mattress and pass out.
I ended up taking a few breaks along the edge of the street, but I eventually made it back. I plopped the squash down on the kitchen table, eager to rid myself of this heavy burden, and sank into a nearby chair.
I stared at the squash. There was no conceivable way a squash could be that large. It was like an athlete on steroids--unnaturally buff and muscular. Spasms involuntarily shot up and down my arms, as the pain from that arduous journey four blocks away began to take its toll. I was craving a pumpkin, and now I have an enormous squash that resembles one instead. What do I do with this thing?
I’ll tell you what I did; I took revenge.

Additional Fun Facts:
- I later found out that this was a Golden Nugget Squash. On average, they weigh three pounds each.
- I cut up some of the squash into pieces, added a dab of honey on each chunk, sprinkled some cinnamon on top, and cooked it in the oven. It was delicious.
- With the remaining squash, I cut it into chunks and cooked it in the oven for a few hours until it softened. I then scooped it out and mashed it together. It now resides in the freezer in three containers. At some point, I plan on making some squash soufflé.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Live Blogging - Top Chef Season 5: Episode 2

Basically the bottom three were all totally pathetic, but Jill sealed her fate with her lame explanation. Inexplicably, Ariane seems way more upset than Jill as she weeps in Carla's arms. Jill says she'll always be cooking, but I hope she stays away from ostrich eggs. Next week, the chefs are making Thanksgiving dinner for the Foo Fighters, so get ready, because even though I'll be at home, I'll still be logging to share my thoughts.

After the judges praise Carla, they begin to lay the compliments on Fabio, but he misunderstands and begins to make excuses. It's kind of cute, I guess, but he's already grating, and I think he'll be around for a while. He wins the elimination challenge, unsurprising considering that he hogged about half of this episode's screen time. Props to Gail for calling out Jill's pathetic defense of her nasty quiche. That may be enough to drop her below Ariane on the elimination ladder.

10: 40
I'd just like to interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to say how excited I am for the Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion on Tuesday, seriously, best show ever. Ok, back to my second favorite show. Ok, Fabio is funny, or whatever, but why does he get to talk so much? I haven't even half of these strangers since their introductions last episode, and he's talking about dragons and princesses every other second. These diners are just like I expected, overly critical and just plain annoying. "You go on Top Chef and you make meatloaf. I mean, come on," says one of them. You don't make it on Top Chef and all you can do is make fun of meatloaf. I mean, come on, at least come up with a better insult to entertain me. I wasn't going to comment on the individual dishes yet, but that avocado mousse looks repulsive. Rhadika is lucky that she has immunity. I'm calling Ariana to go with her "violently sweet" lemon meringue martini.

So the elimination challenge is to create a three course New-American lunch menu. I always love watching the chefs shopping for groceries. Scratch that, I love watching the faces of the other people in the store who either ignore the camera or look extremely confused. Jill's making an ostrich egg quiche, and it's appropriate, because she actually kind of looks like an ostrich with that long neck. Tom comes in an drops the bombshell that they'll be cooking at Craft, his restuarant, and even better, that the chefs will be cooking for people who tried out for the show but didn't make it. It will be nice to see these not-quite-talented reality show hopefuls be as critical as possible.

Ok, so we're back for another week, and we get a quickfire hot dog competition right off the bat, and they actually have to make the hot dogs. Ew, I don't think I want to see this. Yeah, I didn't need to see the sausage stuffing, but some of the chefs came up with some innovative stuff. Eugene's sushi dog actually looks foul, and based on the look on the guest judge's face it tasted that way too. Radhika won with her Indian-inspired dog, which looked delicious, although I find it funny that last episode she said that she wanted to venture away from Indian cuisine, yey she's already resorted to it once or twice.

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