Thursday, August 26, 2004

a tale of two paneers

i love paneer. the first time i tried it was actually in one of those vacuum-sealed foil meals by tasty bite called kashmir spinach. i adored it. the spinach was good, but i couldn't get enough of those milky, cheesy chunks. since then at various restaurants, i've had paneer that was very good, and some surprisingly bad. i thought it was time to try my hand at making my own paneer. i used the recipe from julie sahni's classic indian cooking. there are only two ingredients, and the process is simple, but it takes some time, and requires planning ahead.

bringing milk to a boil

in a large pot over med-high heat, bring 8 cups of whole milk just to a boil. scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally so it doesn't scorch. i actually doubled the recipe because i planned on making two paneer dishes. when ready, lower to med-low heat, and add 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. other starters may be used, like 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar, or 8 ounces plain yogurt, but the author recommends the lemon juice because it produces softer curds. stir gently until white curds form and separate from the whey.

milk curdling

it should only take 10 seconds or so. then stoke slowly for 30 seconds. you don't want to break up the curds too much. in the sink, pour into a colander that is lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth.


rinse under a medium stream of cold water for a few seconds to get rid of the lemon juice and scum. take the corners of the cheesecloth and tie them together. gently twist to squeeze out as much water as possible, then hang the cheese to drain for 90 minutes. i hung my cheesecloth from a wooden spoon over the sink.

more draining

after draining, place the cheese (still in the cheesecloth) on a flat surface. place a heavy weight on top of it to compress cheese. i used my le creuset dutch oven. the only problem i found was that it would occasionally tilt, and i'd have to re-adjust. no biggie, though. just don't fill the pot with water. keep weighted for 30 minutes.

remove cheese, and slice into cubes. it was difficult to cut neatly because the edges of cheese weren't compacted as firmly as in the center. it's now ready to use in whatever recipe you'd like to use. most recipes i've seen call for the paneer to be lightly fried on most sides.

cutting the cheese

i used my cheese in saag paneer (spinach), and matar paneer (green peas in tomato sauce). we ate them with fresh naan.

two paneers

both were very good, but even better the next day. also, the cheese softened up a bit the next day. on the first day, it seemed a little dry and firm. i may have added a little too much lemon juice to the milk.

i really had fun making the paneer. when i cut into the slab, i thought, "wow, i just made cheese. how cool is that?" i'll definitely try it again. i'd love to achieve the perfect consistency.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

zuni cafe's spaghetti with clams

pasta sans breadcrumbs

perusing the latest issue of saveur magazine (my favorite food mag, btw), i was thrilled to find the recipe for their famous gateau victoire. it is one of the few flourless chocolate cakes i've ever really liked. i am a flour lover, in cakes anyway. though i've yet to try the recipe, another recipe on the opposite page caught my eye. spaghetti with clams sounded quick, easy, and yummy.

with help from mr. dexygus (since i'd sprained my ankle a few hours earlier), we got the meal on the table in record time. we used linguine because i don't particularly like spaghetti. the clams were plump and juicy, the breadcrumbs were addictively crunchy and flavorful, probably because there's a ton of olive oil in it (they're not in the picture because we forgot about them until halfway through the meal), and the pasta was infused with the rich, sweet broth. the only aspect i didn't like were the cherry tomatoes. maybe they were a little too sweet. or maybe they should've been cooked down a little more. i'm not sure. all i know is everytime i put them in my mouth, it seemed to conflict with the rest of the dish. still, i'd make this dish again, making minor adjustments.

Spaghetti with Clams (a la Zuni Cafe)
from Saveur Magazine, no. 77 (Aug./Sept.)

(serves 2-4)
- salt
- 1/2 cup tender breadcrumbs made from day-old country-style bread ground in a food processor
- 8 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 tbsp. dry white wine
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup ripe, sweetest, most fragrant cherry tomatoes available, preferably sweet 100s, halved
- 1/2 lb. dried spaghetti
- 2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/4-1/2 tsp. marash pepper flakes or 2 pinches dried red pepper flakes
- 1 1/4-1 1/2 lbs. smallest manila clams, scrubbed
- leaves from 3 branches basil (about 1 cup), coarsely chopped
- sprigs from 6 stems flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Mix together breadcrumbs, 2tbsp. olive oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. wine in a small bowl. Spread on a baking sheet and toast until unevenly brown, 5-7 minutes. Season with pepper and toss while warm.

Place tomatoes in a bowl and season with a few pinches of salt. Set aside. Cook pasta in boiling water until just tender. Meanwhile, put the garlic, pepper flakes, clams, and remaining oil and wine in a large skillet. Cover tightly and cook over high heat until all the clams have opened, 2-5 minutes. Swirl pan occasionally while cooking. Discard any unopened clams. Uncover skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. The broth should be very flavorful. If not, simmer to reduce liquid a bit. Fold in the tomatoes and herbs. Simmer til warmed through.

Drain pasta, add to clams, and toss well. Adjust salt to taste. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and serve.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


er, i think i broke my ice cream machine already. there i was at 11pm last night, ready to churn my ice cream. you know how it is when you get a new appliance, and you're eager to use it for the first time, and you just kind of skim the instructions? well, that was a mistake. i missed a crucial step in assembling the lid which caused the churning blade not to fit properly. too much pressure was forced onto the blade, and thus the churning motor, and i think that's what's causing the motor to now sputter. it's not churning smoothly anymore, and keeps reversing as if there was ice creamy resistance.

it was such a bloody frustration last night. i was almost on the verge of tears. lots of fussing and fidgeting with the machine, the dawning suspicion that it was broken, and on top of that, no ice cream.

i called the company this morning, failing to mention that it was probably my fault that it wasn't working. i feel a little guilty about that. i feel very conflicted actually. i'm generally an honest person, but then my chinese upbringing kicks in. "don't pay for what you don't have to." i can hear all my relatives now. "what are you, crazy? don't tell them the truth. get it replaced for free, man! they make so much money, anyway." and i'm sure one aunt would say, "you have to be sneaky sometimes." my family is sneaky sometimes, and they're so proud of it. i'm not sure i would be.

i'm waiting for the customer service rep to talk to her boss, then call me back. i'll let you know if my conscience gets the better of me.

Monday, August 16, 2004

my new ice cream maker

i received my new ice cream maker in the mail today. i know, i'm bad. i'm trying not to be much of a consumer, but there are some things i need. i know, i know, i don't need a fully-automatic ice cream machine, but it will really make me happy. i made some lemon ice cream base in anticipation for some lemon ice cream tonight, but it wasn't meant to be. as i unpacked the machine a couple hours ago, i discovered that the manual recommends letting the machine sit for 12 hours before the first use so the refrigerant can settle properly. bummer. oh well, pictures tomorrow.

indian restaurant round-up

since i've been so into cooking indian food, i thought it was finally time to eat at some indian restaurants. it's been several years since i've done so, and i really wanted to try some well-regarded hole-in-the-wall type places. in the last three weeks, mr. dexygus and i have been to naan n' curry in the sunset district, breads of india in berkeley, and shalimar in the tenderloin, or "tandoorloin," as some people call it. actually, i've never heard any real people referring to it as the tandoorloin. i've only seen it in articles and such. i thought it was pretty cute when i first heard it, but not too much anymore.

naan n' curry
642 irving st.
san francisco, ca 94122
(several other locations, as well)

i'd heard that naan n' curry was overwhelmingly chaotic, and i was worried that i'd get flustered trying to order. i needn't have worried. it was 2pm in the middle of the week, and it was nice and slow. we ordered plain naan, garlic naan, saag paneer, and prawn masala. mr. dexygus also had an order of lamb vindaloo which he loved. the naan was amazing. huge slabs of soft, chewy, buttery bread. i preferred the plain one. the prawn masala was really good, but it tasted a lot like the vindaloo. plus, at $9.99, it was one of the most expensive things on the menu, and there were only 5 prawns. i know i'm sounding like my mother, but that was $2 per prawn! as for the saag paneer, it was a little too salty. i'd love to go back and try one of their fish curry specials which i only found out about after we'd finished eating. there were also a number of other dishes on the menu that sounded really yummy.

breads of india
2448 sacramento st.
berkeley, ca 94702

i didn't care too much for this place. the food was more expensive than i expected, but it did come with salad, rice and a small cup of daal. i ordered the salmon tandoori, which was pretty ordinary, and even a little dry. the naan wasn't too great either. i did like the lassi, though. i admit, i'm not a fan of slab-of-meat cuisine, but i don't recall there being any curries on the menu. i could be wrong though.

532 jones st.
san francisco, ca 94102

the naan here isn't as good as those at naan n' curry, but i think the food is better. we ordered an okra dish that i loved, but mr. dexygus barely touched. he said that the sweetness didn't do it for him. i thought its only fault was that it was pretty greasy. my paneer masala was also really good. mr. dexygus also had a tandoori chicken that he said had really good flavor, but was a little dry. we would've ordered more food (there were so many tempting items), but we didn't have much cash. still, we ate well for $15. i'd definitely go back. so far, this is my favorite indian restaurant.

Friday, August 13, 2004

rest in peace, Julia

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

shiny shiny bar of the gods

honey almond nougat bar

we were shopping at rainbow co-op today, and since we hadn't been there in awhile, we took a bit of time to browse every shelf in every aisle (well, except for the vitamin and supplement aisles, of which there are many). i came across this honey almond nougat bar from michael recchiuti confections. i told myself that i didn't need it, and actually was able to pry myself away from its call. my resolve, however, didn't last. no sooner had i turned the corner towards the registers did i make u-turn and march back to my temptation. there was no hesitation, no contemplation. it was as if something else controlled my body.

i waited until i returned home before unwrapping my bounty. i carefully peeled back the shiny gold wrapper, being reminded of charlie bucket and his golden ticket. 70% bittersweet chocolate encasing an almond studded honey nougat. it was bliss. i ate four rows to mr. dexygus's one. the last row is to be saved for him. not if i get to it first...

Friday, August 06, 2004

quick pasta

linguine with mushrooms and broccoli raab 

well, last night was one of those "let's see what we can make with what's in the fridge" kind of nights. we had plenty of leftover veggies from dishes we'd planned to make last week, but never did. we always have some kind of pasta and some kind of cheese around as well. so i put together linguine with mushrooms and broccoli rabe. it was really quite yummy, and pretty quick too.

so start your big pot of salted water to boil. heat up some olive oil in a large skillet. add some garlic and crushed red pepper, then some mushrooms. i used what we had which were buttons, and shiitakes. when your water comes to a boil, add one bunch of broccoli raab that has had the tough part of the stems removed (i usually cut off about 1 1/2 inches from the end). cook for five minutes, then remove and drain. using the same water, cook a pound of dried pasta. when done, drain and toss with olive oil, mushrooms, broccoli raab, grated cheese (i used manchego), salt, and pepper. voila! grate a little more cheese for the top, and you're done.

Monday, August 02, 2004

my midnight snack

hairy melon soup Posted by Hello

i just enjoyed a bowl of this hairy melon soup that my dad made. it's supposed to clean your system, whatever that means. i think most chinese soups, though, are supposed to clean your system. that's what my parents always told me, anyway. my dad told me to tell mr. dexygus that it's just melon soup, not hairy melon soup. otherwise, he may not drink it.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

saturday dinner at fifth floor

my family and i like to go out and have a nice dinner once a month or so. since my brother's birthday is tomorrow, this month dad wanted to go someplace fancy. after his quest for reservations on or near the appropriate date, the candidates were acquerello, masa's, and fifth floor. when the votes came in, fifth floor won by a landslide. my reasons for choosing fifth floor are threefold: 1) i haven't tried it since laurent gras took the helm, and i've heard such wonderful things about his creativity. 2) we'd eaten at masa's within the past year, and i really didn't care to go back so soon. 3) since i have a gift certificate to acquerello, i will be going sometime in the near future with just mr. dexygus.

my only reservation with the restaurant was that i had to get dressed up. if you know me at all, this is a chore i loathe. first of all, i have like 2 dresses. my normal garb includes t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops. needless to say, being in a dress is very uncomfortable, and makes me self-conscious because i so rarely do it. plus, having to walk in heels. but once we sat down, i was able to relax somewhat despite the fact that our table was smack dab in the middle of the room.

ok, so let the review begin. i have mixed feelings about fifth floor. there were probably as many hits as there were misses. keep in mind, however, that this will be a somewhat frivolous review, as i really don't remember all the components of all the dishes (their online menu will help a lot, though it's not identical to our menu last night), and my palate isn't too sophisticated.

lobster knuckles with avocado puree, and (some kind of) gelee. this was perfect, and sadly, the highlight of my meal. the lobster was sweet and succulent. the gelee, which was just barely set, definitely had umami going on. the avocado kind of tempered the gelee and brought everything together. two perfect little bites.

spring composition. this was just ok. some veggies (carrots, peas, green onion, beet, string bean) boiled or steamed served with parmesan (or other hard cheese) and pistachios with a goat cheese sauce.

sashimi. large order, though it was only 10 pieces, ranging in size from your standard 2-incher to pieces the size of your fingernail. sorry, i didn't catch the names of any of the fish. we weren't really too impressed with this. everything was impeccably fresh, but some fish were not very flavorful. i did love this little pink one though. it was so sweet.

english peas and shellfish. this was very nice, though our waiter had not heard me order this. when we asked about it, he immediately got the order to the kitchen, and it came as we finished up the other appetizers. this was a cold pea soup topped with a shellfish ceviche (clams, lobster, oyster). i really liked this dish, but my brother said it reminded him of the jolly green giant.

crabmeat and avocado. this was ok. the crab was very fresh and sweet, but there was way too much avocado.

lobster cappuccino. we had to try this, since i think it's one of their signature dishes. it was very good. the menu describes it as lobster broth emulsified with chestnuts, prawns, and sauteed lobster. yep, that's what it tasted like. plus, there were a couple chunks of really good lobster.

as if i hadn't had enough lobster, i ordered the lobster with jerusalem artichokes. my only other options were fish, and they didn't sound appealing at the time. this dish stumped me. i enjoyed eating it, though it wasn't anything special. it was served with a purslane salad which i liked. i always like eating succulents. everything thus far had been intensely flavored, so i was surprised (maybe dismayed) that this dish wasn't. maybe the chef didn't want to detract from the crustacean, i don't know, but it wasn't very memorable.

i didn't taste any of the other entrees at the table, so i'll just tell you my family's impressions of them.

prime short rib. my dad and my brother ordered this. they really enjoyed it. my dad, especially, was impressed with how tender, yet firm, the meat was. apparently, chef gras bakes it slowly. my dad, who makes short ribs fairly often, usually braises his, but he is eager to try the slow-baking method.

niman ranch pork belly. mr. dexygus and my future sil, angela, ordered this dish. it didn't quite meet their expectations. it is poached with black truffles, and roasted crispy on the edges. angela thought that it was too one-dimensional. it needed some acidic note. mr. dexygus couldn't really enjoy it because the whole time he was thinking about how he shouldn't be eating a chunk of meat that's 75% fat.

desserts: i have to say that overall, there was too much going on with the desserts. too many flavors. there were individual components that i liked, but i really can't enjoy a 5-component dessert as a single composition.

chocolate and raspberries. guanaja soup with citrus confit and raspberry granite. valrhona chocolate isn't my favorite because it's too fruity for my taste, but i really liked this soup. the raspberries and citrus in the soup were also nice, but i didn't like the bits of ginger. the granite was served in a champagne flute with a raspberry syrup poured over it. i thought the syrup tasted medicine-y.

cherry clafouti. with apricot-caramel ice cream, champagne foam, and apricot-ginger preserves. the clafouti, which was served in its own dish, was good. i couldn't even taste the ice cream though because the preserves completely overpowered everything.

tapioca and mango. mango sorbet with tapioca, and roasted mango on the side. this was ok. it reminded me of something i'd had recently at an asian dessert place.

strawberry and rhubarb. strawberry salad with lime zest, rhubarb and vanilla panna cotta. i really don't think strawberries should be on a menu if they're not perfect. they weren't even close. plus, the lime was too strong for it anyway. the panna cotta and rhubarb, though, were so good. the panna cotta was just barely set, and its sweetness was offset by the tart rhubarb. it was nice and simple. we kind of fought over this one.

i hate when i rag on dishes or restaurants or whatever. it makes me feel so snobby. but man, for those prices, you expect perfection. well, price isn't the issue. even if it was half the price, i'd have the same complaints. oh, speaking of complaints, i was put off initially because of their strict no-substitutions policy of the tasting menu. they had a 6-course tasting menu for $95 that if chosen, the whole table would have to partake. there were two course that i wouldn't have been able to eat because of meat. i asked our waiter if i could have substitutions, but he gave me a firm no. i was a little irked. i've been to several high-end restaurants where they not only allowed substitutions, they actually created something new for me (or maybe i'm not so special, and it was just their standby vegetarian option. yeah, that's probably it).

i might go back to fifth floor. when the dish is a hit, it's really a hit. i just have to know what to order.