Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Belatedly, (Super) Bowl Bash Snacking

It's such a cliche when people say that good things come in small packages. I know sometimes it's true, but when it comes to food, well ... the more food, the merrier! And so, for our first Super Bowl party, Boy and I did it up and filled every available space on our counter with vast amounts of oversized snacking. That's right ... six feet of pure sandwich goodness found itself a home.
Behold, the bounty within!:

I talk a lot about my favorite supermarket, Best Yet, who I love for the quality and value, and no better value can be had than the package Boy and I ordered for the Super Bowl. Ordinarily, I like to go to specialty shops, but pretty much everything I've gotten from their deli is trustworthy, and more importantly, I had faith that their bread was going to be good. The smell of Italian bread baking permeates the air in the front of the store on a weekend morning (when I go shopping) and they bake their own bagels. I like the kaiser rolls, but they bring those in from Modern Italian Bakery, which is fine by me since those are the particular moist-inside rolls I'm a huge fan of.

Well, for our big Bowl bash, they didn't disappoint. We ordered six feet worth of hero, one American and one half-American/half-Italian. They were packed plentifully, as you can see from the cross-section, with Boar's Head cold cuts, my cold cuts of choice, with ham, turkey, roast beef, tomato, lettuce, and cheese. It was supposed to be American cheese, but I guess they ran out since the half had yellow American and the cheese on the full was white and tasted like Munster. Italian dressing, spicy coarse mustard, and mayo came in the box with the hero, and found itself generously slathered atop  soft, moist, and chewy bread that was delectably toasty, just on the right side of burnt, forcing the sesame seeds to take on a mature, earthy flavor that was delicious on the crisp bread, which was particularly and surprisingly good on the Italian half with its spicy meats and rich flavors.

Anyway, this was the ultimate deal, since for only $30, you get one 3-foot hero came with 2/3-pounds of macaroni salad, potato salad, and coleslaw, plus a fresh deli pickles and an olive bowl sampler from their olive bar.

We got two of these orders, so had plenty of food to go around, but unfortunately, way too many olives to be distributed, since no one attending, myself and Boy included, are particular fans of olives. I like 'em one way, and that's in a salad on a Muffuletta, no ifs, ands, or buts. The shame of it was that the pickles were pretty good, but they absorbed much of the distinctive pungency of the olives, which tainted them.

The macaroni salad was a little over mayonnaised, but that's not the deli's fault, since they clearly label it Reiser's, a wholesale brand. However, Reiser's macaroni salad is common and popular, with elbow macaroni perfectly and consistently al dente, and a nice bell pepper and celery bite adding to the level of interest.
The potato salad got rave reviews, too, and I was unable to find the room ... but I was one of the only ones since that went, to my astonishment, quicker than the macaroni salad. But in the meantime, I was gorging in the corner with Kettle Chips brand russet potato chips, which is apparently rarely available, since they're not on the site ... but were also just on this side of burnt, but in a fabulous, crunchy, smoky way. Yum!

Wings, of course, are a must-have, and a highlight of any proper football gathering, and Boy's dad obliged the crowd with a tray of wings from a shop in Selden. My little sister and I were excited since buffalo wings, with their tangy bite and delightful acidity, are one of our particular favorites, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the honey barbequed wings my father-in-law supplied were really, really good! They weren't that weird, tangy, pseudo-barbeque flavor, but actually a sweet (but not too sweet) sauce with subtle nuances of honey instead of the sickly fake honey flavor that's often found in cheap barbeque sauce.

As for Little B, don't worry - it was a cheat day for my poor little dieting dog, too, and he was awarded a massive cow's ear, the biggest I've ever seen at around 18 inches long, for his good behavior, as the rest of us proceeded to laud the invention of tequila.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Epicurean Adventures: Chinese New Year Gluttony

No matter the language, the culture, or other silly differences that we silly humans point out to ostracize ourselves from one another, there is one recurrent theme that runs through the majority of holidays: gluttony. A sin it may be, but feasts are one of the most anticipated parts of family gatherings, and the Chinese are no different.

The way Chinese New Year works in my family, is we close down the restaurant a bit early and gather three of the front room tables together.  We then proceed to slowly but steadily fill all three tables up with so much food, one serving plate per table, that rice is forbidden (Dad's had no luck at all with enforcing this) and you only have about six inches of space to claim on the table.

Here's a smattering of what was had (since I apparently forgot to take shots of a bunch of dishes in my feeding frenzy ...)

The hand-battered fried flounder was one of the first things to come out, puffy and crisp, sweet and salty fish beneath a golden crust with an airy center. The cold cuts behind my mother's finger are cold Chinese roast beef and apparently soy-marinated squid.

This is the mandatory soup that we're supposed to all share for good health, luck, and fortune for the coming year. My sisters and I usually dread this, since this traditional soup has what's called a Golden Egg that needs to be eaten by everyone. This said Egg is not very pleasant. It's a hard-boiled egg, peeled, which is fine. But then, it's deep fried and tossed into soup. Things that are crunchy that get forced into submissive bubbled up sogginess on the outer layer, and maintain a total blandness inside? Not so great. However, the wontons in this soup were little dumplings of pork wrapped in a meat-based wrapper, which was interesting, and the home-made fish balls (like meatballs, except with fish ... it's spongy, not very fishy, and definitely unique - and not nearly as gross as it sounds) were a novelty as they're often store-bought.

My sister's boyfriend Jordan merely call these (and correct me if I'm wrong, Su-Yee) "Best Pork." I only know the name for them in Cantonese, but I hear the word "gold" in it, so I assume that must have to do with the sauce. Anyway, tender pork chops on a tiny bit of bone are fried up and tossed in a special Chinese balsamic vinegar glaze and seasonings for a sweet-and-sour taste that's beyond what take-out customers have ever experienced. A Cantonese dish, it's flavorful, sweet, pungent, acidic, and juicy all at the same time.

Lightly coated in a dry batter, fried, and tossed in a lemony sauce, this firm white fish boasted flesh that was sweet and odorless, due to its extreme freshness. The diced bell peppers gave the sauce a crunchy green taste (you know what I mean) and created an unexpected flavor and texture.

Okay, now this is one of my favorites, in front of roast duck, another favorite - garlic and honey glazed pork ribs. Chopped into bite-sized pieces, each little rib is coated with a dry batter, quickly fried, and tossed in a delectably sweet, rich glaze that has a nice acidic bite to counteract the honey and detracts from the obviousness of that flavor. I think there are also finely diced scallions in there, too. Multi-leveled flavor, the essence of this dish is hard to capture in words. I'm not sure about the authenticity, but I've been enjoying these since I was a kid. They're equally good cold, but don't hold up too well in the toaster oven, I found.

Giant wild-caught shrimp, with a saltier flavor than farm-raised shrimp, simply boiled whole to be beheaded and shelled at the table. My dad was really excited about them since they were massive ocean shrimp, but the brininess kept it from being a hit.

Japanese seaweed salad was apparently a novelty my parents have decided they're into. Did you know that shit comes in a bag?! After I found that out, I was kind of disappointed since I've been paying $4 per tiny little bowl of the stuff at sushi restaurants, and being happy about it. Anyway, if you've never had it, it's great stuff -- crisp and tossed in sesame oil and some dried chili flakes for interest, with toasted sesame seeds throughout. The sliced stuff on the side is cold thin-sliced giant clam.

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is what ten pounds of lobster looks like cut up, lightly fried, and tossed in a soy-based, garlic and scallion light sauce that barely even classifies as a sauce since the flavor gets absorbed into the succulent, sweet Maine lobster meat, leaving minimal liquid at the bottom of the tray. The juices and sauce instead are trapped in the lobster shell while cooking and being served to burst into fully realized flavor the second it leaves that shell and enters your mouth. Each piece, per Chinese tradition, is cut to a big bite size, and a plastic fork is all you need to yoink that delicious meat right out. 

Forgoteen are the pictures of the chicken with a garlic paste and the roast duck (my hands got to greasy to hold a camera with; in my uncle Mike's words, I eat like a "barbarian"), which is different than the Peking duck we had last year (thin-sliced butterflied and roasted duck wrapped into fluffy white mantau buns with fresh scallions/cucumbers and hoisin sauce), but also awesome in its rich gamey, dark-meat flavor. Also not included are the Littleneck clams and Long Island oysters my dad simply didn't have time to cook. However, the copious amounts of food straining the table's capacity and later, our waistlines, left those items far from missed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Year of the Tiger

I could make a lot of mean-spirited jokes here about a certain other Tiger that's suffered a great deal in recent months, but perhaps, with his "Blasian" heritage, the rolling into the year of the tiger is a more optimistic sign for him. I mean, we could say that a certain pro golfer's humiliation is not entirely complete since this may be the year we hear more about him and his famous tail and the dirty dozen stripes on 'em. But on the other hand, maybe it's a year of hope for Mr. Woods.

Regardless, I don't know him so perhaps mockery isn't the way to go.

Anyway, this introduction is just the lead-in to a post about Chinese New Year and all the happy food goodness that goes along with it. A feast for the eyes await, pending my actually uploading images off my camera, with exotic things like abalone, jellyfish, and roast duck, along with semi-mundane things such as honey ribs, lobster, and Chinese roast beef.

More to come!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Mardi Gras!

Well, this isn't exactly food-related, but I can't tell you a time when I wished more (outside of the Katrina semester, of course - that was a MISERABLE five months ...) that I was in New Orleans. The city, during its already most jubilant time of the year, is currently celebrated a historical win on a general basis. No hurricanes or evacuations this past season; the city won against the greedy mitts of the NFL (long story short, the NFL claimed to own the phrase "Who Dat?!" and the gold fleur de lis. Louisiana's governor responded with a "fuck you" letter and the city rallied their support around the small business owners -- which is pretty much everyone -- and won. Only in New Orleans!); the Saints won over the Colts (what a weird game that must have been for New Orleans native, Peyton Manning!); and Mardi Gras is around the corner. How much better can things get for that fair city?

This Tuesday marks the end of a record high for New Orleans, and it's with deepest regret that I was not at the Super Bowl parade of the only Super Bowl I've ever cared about, have not been at the weekend parades of the past three weekends, and was snowed in rather than rained out.

Around this time last year, I was strategizing parking alongside the parade route and debating getting a bike (is drunk-biking as illegal as drunk scootering?). I was thinking about the advantages of woo!-ing for beads and throws nearer to my apartment versus being near Popeye's and VooDoo BBQ. I was buying tiny bottles of cheap wine that could be recapped or exchanged for a cool tomahawk or spear, and I was getting out my many-pocketed "concert pants" (I wonder where they got to in the hubbub of moving...), readying them for a weekend of wear in the mud and frigid air of a New Orleans winter night. Coconuts (Zulu), shoes (Muses), and stuffed animals were my primary focal points as Mardi Gras fever burned throughout the city.

Granted, there were negatives. Insane amounts of traffic down our one-lane streets. Drunk tourists spilling beer, pissing on lampposts, and yelling for someone, anyone to "show their tits." Plastic bags would litter the streets, torn apart in the frenzy for beads. The crunch of said beads would grind underfoot and under car tires, or they'd glitter from the treetops of the live-oaks that lined St. Charles Avenue, festively adorning them until natural elements would cause them to biodegrade.

But most of the negatives could always be avoided, whereas the positives could not. The camaraderie of the people, grilling on portable grills in the neutral ground, beer being tossed from one stranger to another. In years past, Super Bowl parties being held on that selfsame neutral ground, with people setting up outdoor living rooms and celebrating with the random passersby and the other people milling around awaiting the start of each parade. There's just something magical about Mardi Gras that can bring out the best or the worst in people.

So happy Mardi Gras, everyone, to the people I used to know in the city I still love. Have some king cake for me, or inhale a big ol' po-boy. Drink cheap wine and cover yourselves in purple, green, and gold feather boas and jester's caps; adorn yourselves with glitter and whatever it takes to be noticed by the top level of the double-decker floats of this weekend. Share your buckets of the late Al Copeland's Popeye's chicken, and throw your cheesy beads at the tourists drunk in the Quarter. Grab some stuffed animals for the children or the dog, and above all, be merry.

New Orleans, this is your year.