Europe!

Gone for Europe June 1st to June 24th.

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Thursdays in the Heights: Risotto Recipe Redux

Risotto Recipe Redux

Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This week’s water crisis posed as much a state of emergency to cooks as to anyone else. To every cook’s dismay, vegetables could not be washed with water from the faucet, and water had to be boiled every time something needed to be cleaned or rinsed. This situation makes even the most manageable of food preparations a little more demanding than usual. During this busy time of the year, what is necessary is a hearty recipe that does not require the use of water at all. You can put down those unwashed zucchinis now.

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Thailand, the beautiful

Thailand, the beautiful

The night air hangs thick with humidity, pollution, and sin.

Fluorescent light from the hawker stands illuminate the narrow, dirty sidewalks of Suhkumvit soi 16. It is the longest road in Bangkok, and more illicit activities are transgressing at any point along this behemoth passageway than any five mile radius in America.

Down the street from our super-swank hotel replete with two roof-top pools, Jamie and I are sitting at a small table and stool on the sidewalk. Having just landed in Bangkok after some adventures in the South, we’re impatiently waiting for a hot bowl of seafood stew from a vendor when a madame approaches, speaking in Thai and gesturing at Jamie and I to clear out because we’re squatting on the island of tables that belong to her charge, the svelte, heavily made-up early-30ish woman lounging next to us. I only want a place to eat my food, she wants ideal client-luring positioning, so we quickly negotiate over to the tables on the other side of the sidewalk.

My memories of Thailand, when I went last year in February, are hazy from time and booze, but after writing two articles about New Rod Dee, Thai restaurant in Allston, and a Thai red curry recipe, I decided it’s time that what happened in Thailand, …goes on the internet?

This is an account of what I remember when sifting through my “Thailand Feb-2009″ folder. Some of these I don’t remember at all, so I will make it up as I go along. As you read this, I suggest clicking the play button on that Job2Do video to feel as if you were there as well.

Doo Ter Tum by Job2do

Even the color-blind can see this

In Thailand, every color symbolizes a day of the week, for example, Tuesdays are pink and Sundays are red. I totally just chose my two favorite colors for that. Pink cars are prevalent, and driven by men as well. Thai culture is not so petty as to attribute such trivial matters like color to gender norms, like associate pink to emasculation. How liberating.

Tastes like soft-shelled crabs.

One of my favorite thing to do is frolic through Asian supermarkets in search of the Asia-specific-specialty flavors for American products. Like, “nori seaweed” or “garlic soft-shelled crab” Lays’ chips??? My question is, how can one tell whether it tastes like soft-shelled crabs or blue crabs or Alaskan king crabs in potato-chip form? Or is it like cloud watching? Shouldn’t it fundamentally taste like potatoes? Or is that an artificial flavor additive as well? Man, processed foods kind of weird me out sometimes.

While being chauffeured around, we pass by the government buildings and Red Shirt party protesters. For those of y’all who skip the South-Eastern news in the papers, they are the cause of all those airport closings and drama. They’re a rowdy bunch. Just two weeks ago, mid-April, one of the Red Shirt guys scaled down the side of a hotel from the third floor after po-pos converged on the room hoping to round up rebel leaders. This reminds me of a few parties I have been to in the past.

At some point, we wandered into Central Mall, officially the largest mall in Southeast Asia and inevitably, to find some things to please the belly. The only time before this I have had mall food this great was in San Francisco (where grilled sword fish was served in food courts, oh MY). The curries we ordered were fiercely spicy and after a few bites, Jenn, Jamie, and I were reduced to tears and sweating a little despite the strong air-con. The meal took longer than anticipated because we had to stop every so often to sob into our napkins.

I’d even drink the water from the Chao Phraya river to make my nerve endings stop hemorrhaging. Those river houses are quite adorable, and I wonder how much the residents were hating on all those, us, foreigners gawking at “authentic Thai living” and feeding their catfish bread. Who wants to eat catfish that overloads on carbs? If I were subsisting off the river I live on, I would wanna eat catfish that eats other fish, as they should, and rain violence on those people who are screwing with my food source.

After a few days of city adventures, my travel companions, Jenn, Jamie, Suvi, and I ventured south to Phuket, Phi-Phi, and Krabi to soak in more natural grit from sand and ocean. Here is a revealing picture of me descending upon shark and noodles, in the midst of my most carnal moment. The shark tastes like chicken, and the noodle was not bad, but the main draw was that we were eating on a beach and the ocean shimmered a rapturous blue-green in the near distance. In ten more minutes, I will leave this frame and leap into that vast and briny soup.

“Let’s park this elephant in the driveway next to the SUV!”

Thailand is the “Land of Smiles” but it is also “Land of exploiting elephants”. Actually, these furry beasts are quite happy since all we do is feed them bananas all day while we perch on its back as it happily tromps through the jungles and poos into the tiny streams. It’s like, if I “work” on the internet and my employer buys me lunch. Wait, that’s what I do anyway! Sweet!

That motorbike.. should not be moving. And yet.

In the middle of the photo dump, I find this. Oh, Jack. What a character. He is this random beach boy we picked up in Ao Nang who took us kayaking, and as Jamie and I were paddling in one kayak and he another, we hear a tiny voice shouting, “Help! Help! I’m stung by a jellyfish!” from Jenn. We beach on a random island-esque area, and like Jack, his namesake from Lost, our new boy-savior runs into the jungle, gathers some herbs, and completely heals the jellyfish stings on Jenn.

Hankering for a dip

The trio, sans Suvi (who had pressing matters to return to in civilized Japan), hire a long-tail boat to island-hop our way back from Krabi to Phi Phi and end up at this spectacular end of the world. Have you ever wondered what those picturesque looming cliffs in Disney films and Miyazaki animations are inspired by? Wonder no more. Nothing is more beautiful than what nature comes up with.

Danger, danger

But you would reconsider if you saw what was lurking underneath that clear Tiffany blue surface once the tide goes down. Rocks that would slice the unsuspecting. Unfortunately, most of the beaches around these parts are rocky once you go past the first five feet or so. Also, this is why those boats remain further out there. Same beach, three hours later. Vicious.

So the heroines resume their journey to Koh Phi Phi, tired out from playing leap frog on sharp rocks. I am in a coma on that hammock in the middle of the boat, Jamie is playing mummy, Jenn is cam-whoring from the deck, one of the crew is trying to lay bottle caps on Jamie’s leg without waking her up, and the captain is ignoring our ridiculous antics.

And the adventure continues with fire-dancers, heart-wrenching sunrise, stinky fruits, and Nigerian sex-traffickers.

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Thursdays in the Heights: Blue Asia Cafe

To be honest, I almost did not write about Blue Asia Cafe for my last-ever restaurant review for The Heights. I was looking into something more Boston: hot dogs, lobster rolls, maybe an Italian joint near Harvard Ave that was more affordable than the North End could provide for BC students. As luck would have it, the restaurant that I had picked out was closed on the Sunday that I would go investigate, and as I ranged the street pondering the options (and there were many! I suggest Harvard Ave as the first place to look if you are ever thinking about Korean, Nepalese, Indian, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and other global cuisines), I spied into Blue Asia and thought, Oooh! Taiwanese小吃 (snacks) and manga! — And all the sudden thrust into a nostalgic memory of frolicking around Taichung and Taipei with Erica and the Azalea crew last year.

While the Café may not offer “the best” of Taiwanese food, it offered something comforting and homey—the flavors clear and healthy rather than the oily, salty, MSG overload that most food in the eat-out arena represent. It reminded me of my mother’s cooking, which is quite a compliment I think (I know I know, everyone says their own mother is a culinary goddess). After three years in Boston, in less than a month, I will return to that in New York, but for those who are just starting their adventures in Boston, and crave a little taste of Chinese home cooking, this was the place for me, and maybe for you too.

As for writing for The Heights, my column was about encouraging students to explore options outside of the dining hall and to be a little more adventurous in their palate (Try everything! What’s the worse that can happen? You hate it? Ok). I did not write about the obvious places (yes, we all know Roggies & Fins is awesome and whatever), I did not write about places that I did not like (what was the point?) and I tried to cover a wide variety of cuisine: American, New American, Spanish, Japanese, Afghan, and Thai, to name a few. It’s been an amazing year, dining out in Boston, perceiving it with a more critical eye than as a passive diner, and just being completely awed by the gastronomic landscape out there (I’ll compile a list of Boston’s Must-Eat-In places soon enough).

All writers have at some point their vulnerable moments—it is nerve-wracking, having your piece, your baby, out there for all to pick apart and criticize. I am so appreciative of all my friends who have read the column or commented on it to me and, in these small gestures have offered so much more support to me than any of them will realize.

I will end my role as a Heights food columnist with one more recipe escapade next Thursday, but here’s to the last published piece about a stellar restaurant.

Bite of Boston
Blue Asia Boasts Authentic Chinese Cuisine

By Jenny Liu

Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blue Asia Cafe may resemble a nursery spackled with bright greens, reds, and oranges, with butterflies dancing across the walls, and light fixtures in the form of bell flowers hanging from the ceiling, but despite this restaurant’s youth (it recently opened in January 2010), the food is nothing short of experienced.

The menu boasts options that might be familiar to those who have ventured through the Shilin Night Market in Taiwan, where everything from pan-fried scallion pancakes to tofu are sold and eaten on elbow-to-elbow tight counters. When I went on a lazy Sunday afternoon, they offered a traditional Chinese breakfast menu with homey delights such as hot soy milk, and you tiao, crispy fried dough.

For the appetizer, you can indulge in something as simple as an egg pancake with dipping sauce, or as luxurious as succulent, sliced pork belly in the chef’s special garlic sauce.
The dumplings are homemade, pan-fried or steamed, and other intriguing items dot the extensive menu, like chilled seaweed seasoned with garlic. The adjacent table was eagerly picking away at a small hill of chilled cabbage marinated with a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy.

Continue Reading on the Heights website or on the viewer above

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Thursday in the Heights: Curry in a hurry

Spicy curry with Jenny

Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the vein of last week’s review of New Rod Dee’s remarkably delicious Thai food, I investigated how to make curry in less time than it takes to order it from a restaurant and have it delivered to you. For those of you who are subscribers to the idea of cooking as “stir-fries on the fly” or “less than five ingredients,” be comforted that this Thai red curry recipe only requires a few sauces bottled and packaged at your nearest Asian grocer, any meat and vegetable you have on hand, and one single pot.

[Continued on virtual paper below]

Recipe (REVISED and CORRECTED)

Thai Red Curry

Ingredients

  • Vegetables (bell peppers, carrots, peas, potatoes)
  • Protein: chicken, shrimp, or tofu (about 1 pound)
  • 1 can coconut milk (13 .5 oz.)
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. red curry paste
  • 2 tsp. fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1-2 fresh red chilies, minced, OR 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, OR 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. dried crushed chili
  • Cilantro (optional)
  • Cooked rice

Directions

  • In a medium size pot, gently sauté onions and garlic in vegetable oil until the onions turn translucent.
  • Add meat, vegetables and chilies and cook until mostly done.
  • Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, red curry paste, lime and sugar. Cook for approximately 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.
  • Serve with rice.
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Food Porn

… No particular occasion.

IMG_5853Click for more, yes, more

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Thursdays in the Heights: New Rod Dee Thai

New Rod Dee Brings The Heat

Published: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Rod Dee is the youngest and, for Boston College students, the most accessible of the Rod Dee restaurants. Its location on Beacon Street near Washington Street makes it the closest to Boston College. Rod Dee, the eldest, is only a stone’s throw away on the edge of Coolidge Corner, while the successor, Rod Dee II, near Fenway, was closed due to a fire. As if trying to compensate for its later arrival, New Rod Dee serves up fragrant, spicy Thai cuisine that would succeed even in the streets of Bangkok, and, unlike the shoebox-sized Rod Dee, the space is generous and dressed in sunny orange and burnt red. It is casual enough that you could stroll directly to the counter and order from a menu made friendly by its letter-number associations, evocative of the old game of Battleship — except that there are only victors in this particular match.

[Continue reading at BCheights.com]

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Thursdays in the Heights: Kosher eats

While I got an extended weekend for Easter holidays, my break in New York had more Jewish than Catholic undertones– with trips to Zabar, meeting gay Jewish boys named David at the Ritz, and doing absolutely nothing.

The morning after a long night, I woke up to Eric making matzo brei with the most gorgeous plating, which in my hangover-induced grogginess, I couldn’t bother with my food photographing obsessive compulsion predicated on a post-Freudian struggle with my subconscious desires to return to my mother’s womb, thank you psychotherapy.

But I felt so terrible about not taking macros of the matzo brei that I found another way to immortalize it: in a Heights recipe article. Forgive me.

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Toro at Restaurant Week

Toro at Restaurant Week

20 plates.

That’s a lot to stomach. Even for one so accustomed to the ten course meals in Chinese dining. This was Toro, in the South End, by Chef Ken Oringer (owner of Clio and Uni), who does not shy away from offal. Toro could mean “bull” in Spanish or refer to a type of salmon or tuna in Japanese, but the menu has definitive influences from both.

The highlight reel:

Sweet and tender– one of the juiciest, most flavorful sweetbreads I’ve had. What are sweetbreads? I still remember the first time when I had them at Momofuku in New York, possibly fresh out of highschool and so green about the culinary arts, we asked one of the chefs with fierce sleeve tattoos, who gestured towards his throat and said that it was the thymus of a calf. It was too late to turn back; no matter how strange it was, it was too delicious.

Miso and Butter, one of those great marriages of French and Japanese that you wish you had thought of sooner. The texture of the uni, an orange sea urchin that is served as sushi (and quite expensive too), is soft and kind of dribbly, and it has a distinct funk: musky and fishy. It’s something that I haven’t gotten accustomed to despite all those post-clubbing breakfasts at Tsukiji.

Beef heart tastes like a rare slab of roast beef. Pretty tame compared to the visions of a great, pumping heart of a cow that I kept imagining.

Mussels in this fantastic basque cider sauce. We kept stealing bread baskets to sop all this liquid jackpot up.

The maize asado, grilled corn with melted cheese and lime, was spectacular as well, but if that is really your thing, take that Fungwah bus to New York, and go to Cafe Habana for their grilled Mexican corn for the holy grail of all that is corn and cheese.

Continue to Flickr for visuals of 17 amazing dishes

What we ordered:

Pinchos

Pan con Tomate y Anchoas
Tomato bread with anchovies and garlic mayonnaise

Atun Pincho
Tuna tartare with coconut milk and lime

Corazon a la Plancha
Grass-fed beef heart with romesco

Mollejas
Cripsy veal sweetbread with blood orange and cinnamon

Uni Bocadillo
Pressed uni sandwich with miso butter and pickled mustard seeds

Tapas

Ensalada Cortada
Chopped salad with tomato, cucumber, black olives onion, cornichons, avocado, and idiazabel cheese

Gambas al Ajillo
Griddled garlic shrimp

Escalivada Catalana
Marinated wood roasted eggplant, onions, peppers, and tomatoes with sherry vinegar and olive oil

Tortilla Espanola
Egg, potato and onion omelet with alioli

Hummus
Argon oil, za’atar, and fresh chickpeas

Mejillones con Sidra
Mussels with chorizo and basque cider

Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija
La Especialidad de la Casa. Grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese

Asado de Huesos
Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade

Pulpo
Braised Baby Octopus with Butterball Potatoes, Meyer Lemon and Piri Piri

Patatas Bravas
Fried potatoes with alioli and spicy tomato sauce

Pato con Membrillo
Smoked duck drumettes with quince glaze

Pollo con Farro
Crispy chicken with farro, mushrooms and Madiera glaze

Navajas A La Plancha
Seared island creek razor clams with garlic, lemon and piquillo peppers

Dessert

Churros con Chocolate
Airy crisp fried pastry with chili infused chocolate

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Radius RW 2010: Dessert

Thursdays in the Heights: Radius

Bite Of Boston

Radius Hits The Mark During Restaurant Week

By Jenny Liu

Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Better than Shark Week. Or even Fleet Week.  Boston Restaurant Week Winter is here, and as you are reading this sentence, it may be one or two days away from ending on March 26.

Is there that grandly decorated, hallowed hall of fine dining that you walk by in Copley Square every so often? Is it that place where you eagerly press your face against the pristine glass windows to dreamily stare into the dining room before your reverie is interrupted by the host on the other side, who gives you the withering two second glance-over? In the most egalitarian fashion, over 200 high-end, trendy, or just plain good restaurants signed on this year to provide a three course meal at an affordable price ($20.10 for lunch and $33.10 for dinner), a tradition that will continue to be held twice a year, hopefully for many years to come.

The highlight of this year’s restaurant week thus far was Radius in Downtown Crossing. The chef and owner, Michael Schlow, former New Yorker and closet Yankees fan, has won a slew of prestigious awards from Food & Wine, Gourmet, and Esquire. Most impressively, in 2006, Radius was awarded four-stars in the Boston Globe, one of two restaurants to ever receive that recognition.

[Continue onto BC Heights for the theatrical experience of fine dining: soup from teapots, scalding nubs of carbs, giant croquettes, and deconstructed carrot cakes]

Cauliflower Soup (crispy duck, brioche croutons and romanesco)

Slow Roasted Pork Loin (molten polenta, wild mushrooms and star anise jus)

Spiced Carrot Cake (cream cheese frosting, mascarpone, spiced raisins and pickled walnuts)

Other restaurant week stops include: Sorellina, Chez Henri, and Toro… (Stay tuned)

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