Saturday, July 14, 2007

Nuevo Blog!

Hi peeps! As you may notice, there has been some formatting problems on my page. I tried to re-format the template for a new look in light of this blog's 1st birthday but it has been tricky in terms of the timing and actually doing the work. I've been spending some time in Indonesia hanging out with family and (of course) enjoying great food. Somehow, this homecoming has been very different from others. Not only did I finally understand that the full enjoyment of food requires all five senses, it also needs great companionship. No matter how delicious the food in front of you is, you won't enjoy it if the dining partner is your sworn enemy! :)

Anyhoo, besides a makeover in food/companionship philosophy, I also got a makeover of sorts: contact lenses, makeup (finally!) and a sharp new haircut (at least I think it's sharp, haha), which got me to thinking about a whole new blog with a whole new philosophy. So, The Foodiva, my new blog, is a reflection of this nuevo philosophy I aim to live by.

I find that I've been too solitary especially in the past few years. I enjoy a lot of solitude in Chicago because I'm so far away from my family and most of my friends who are either in Indonesia or Singapore. I like the freedom and independence of the US, but at the same time, I yearn for what I had earlier in my life (gosh, do I sound ancient or what?). Despite the craziness of it all, I want to lead a life similar to what it was like when I was a kid still living in Indonesia: endlessly surrounded by loved ones and (almost) daily gatherings around the dining table.

So, what I'm trying to say is that I'd like to adopt a more "social" and community-centric lifestyle (if you will). So feel free to visit any time and drop me a line at my new pad, The Foodiva.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I Like Killing Flies

Being a self-professed food enthusiast (or foodie, if you will), I like to not only cook, bake and eat but also read, write, chat and think about food. An obsession? That's an understatement in my family. There was a short article in Gourmet magazine a few months ago about what they think are the best food-related movies and "I Like Killing Flies" is one of them.

"I Like Killing Flies" is an independent documentary about the unique, family-operated Greenwich Village restaurant, Shopsin's. Specifically, the film follows the eccentric patriarch and cook, Kenny, who is more interesting than many fictional characters. Profanity-laced and surprisingly peppered with many intelligent analogies and thoughts, this documentary was a lot of fun to watch. Kenny is as likely to serve someone one of his butter-laden, delicious creations as to throw customers out of his eatery for unconsciously breaking his rules.

Kenny's rants on his various philosophies in life are gut-bustingly funny and thoughtful at the same time. Having been used to customers leaving empty plates, he would taste the food on an unfinished plate just in case there's something wrong with his cooking. Weird in many ways, no? The extensive and interesting menu at Kenny's diner is sure to please any taste bud, ranging from mac'n'cheese pancake (yes, you read that right!) to "Blisters in my sisters" (some sort of corn tortilla, egg, veggies and meat concoction). The beautiful shots of the food that Shopsin churns out has made it a definite destination the next time I visit NYC (which isn't that far into the future, actually). Personally, I would like to try the mac'n'cheese pancake out of pure curiosity *haha*

Unfortunately, due to some complications (the nature of which I'm not 100% clear about), Shopsin's had to close down for a few months. Fortunately though, it's scheduled to be reopened by the time I visit the great city *yay* Unlike standard documentaries that aim to "teach" the audience something, this movie was pure enjoyment (okay, okay, I learned not to bring a party of five to Shopsin's!). If you like food and are up for some laughs, this is definitely something you have to watch!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fire up your grills!

It's summer and the smell of grilled food is everywhere. Being a urbanite without a nice balcony, I've been deprived of home-grilled foods for some time now. The last time I grilled was when J and I were in Wisconsin and we happened to have brought our grill along. We grilled our meats at a park near New Glarus and I must say that nothing tastes better than a freshly-grilled meat! Determined to end our drought of grilling fun, I've told J to clean his baby grill and we're going grilling! The main foods we grilled were burgers, sweet corn and pineapples. Very simple, I know, but this was our first time in some years, so we're starting slow.

We decided to bring the grill and the food just right across our apartment, to Jackson Park. The park isn't that large but is very nice and green. It is surrounded by busy streets but the lush trees and a nice playground manage to shield away the traffic hustle and bustle for the most part. The trees and vegetation used to be more lush before a huge thunderstorm destroyed (yes, literally) some of the trees. Most still remain but it would be nice if there were more greens, no?

We managed to get everything we needed down there in 1.5 trips (only I came back the second time) thanks to my organization *winkz* It took no time to light the charcoal and we started grilling our burgers. While our meat was grilling, we started to feel some water droplets. To our horror, it starting drizzling a bit and we happened to be situated on a patch of the park that had no tree cover at all. Unwilling to back down to mere slight precipitation, we moved our grill and other accoutrements beneath a large tree (not the smartest thing to do considering the increasing risk of being struck by a lightning under a tree, but hey! It's not a heavy thunderstorm!). Fortunately, the rain died down about 5 minutes later, resurrecting our first cookout of the year! Yippee!

I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes for the burger. It basicaly contains ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, egg, salt and pepper. I decided to make it sans bacon because we were going to have two burgers each so wrapping them with bacon wouldn't be so good for our arteries. The recipe yielded pretty tasty burgers: well-seasoned and tender. The only problem we encountered was that they didn't hold together so well. Some little chunks of meat got stuck on the grill grate and fell into the coal, but luckily for us, most of it was intact for us to devour.
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It took a bit of effort to cook the burger thoroughly enough (we do not, after all, want to get Salmonella or E. coli!) but they turned out nicely-charred outside while still juicy and tender overall. Other burger accessories included the bunz (of course), lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions and ketchup.
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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now, isn't that a beautiful burger or isn't that a bee-yoo-tiful burger? And delicious to boot too!
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And check out this perfectly-browned corn! Tasting the charred corn topped with some butter and salt really brought me back to the weekends that I spent with my extended family in the mountains right outside of Jakarta. On Sunday, our parents would bring us to this villa complex that has a man-made lake (or a large pond, really) and a huge playground with a pool of plastic balls. There would be a stand that sells freshly-grilled corn that they also bathe in butter. My favorite part of the grilled corn was (and still is) the slightly charred, browned part for maximum smoky flavor!
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For dessert, I wanted to try grilled pineapples. I was inspired by a recipe I saw while watching the Food Network. If I'm not wrong, it was Paula Deen who grilled the sliced pineapples and served it with some ice cream.
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Unfortunately, we didn't have any ice cream or a nice, cool treat with us that would've been nice with the warm, sweet pineapple. Grilling the pineapples made it softer and even more juicy. The taste of warm fruit is a bit odd to me because I usually always have fruits either cool or at room temperature. The warm, grilled pineapple was interesting but I wouldn't have it stand-alone for dessert again. It would go better on a shish kebab or served with ice cream (or chilled by itself).
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So that was the highlight of my weekend (in addition to just cleaning up around the house). Our bbq excursion took a bit of organization but it was tons of fun and delicious food. I plan on having more bbq sessions this summer and we're going to try to have it by Lake Michigan, which is only 5 blocks away and is way prettier than Jackson Park. So join me outside and fire up your grills!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Roasted garlic = A Taste of Perfection

At Bistro 110, a chic French-American eatery in downtown Chicago, roasted garlic is served alongside fresh, warm bread and butter even before the waiter takes your drink order. It was the very first place I encountered roasted garlic. It was delicious! Roasting the garlic totally took away the heat factor but left a more sedate and tasty garlicky flavor. Warm, fresh, buttered bread is the perfect canvas for such a distinctive taste. It is obviously very popular at Bistro 110 because they have been printing the recipe for roasted garlic on a 4-by-6 card that they give out to every customer. Even though it's very simple, I don't know why I never got around to it sooner!

My interest in it is finally rekindled because: (1) I have some garlic lying around, and (2) I happened to see a recipe for roasted garlic in some paper that I was reading. So, here's how you go around making this heavenly treat! All you need are some foil, good quality (extra virgin, preferably) olive oil and garlic.
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Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Meanwhile, chop of the top part of the garlic to reveal the cloves. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Tear of a length of aluminium foil enough to loosely warp the garlic. Place the garlic on the aluminium foil and drizzle the cloves with some olive oil, before loosely wrapping the garlic with the foil. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Put in pre-heated oven and let roast for 50 minutes to an hour. During this time, your house will smell like the kitchen of an Italian grandmother and attract hungry people like bees to honey! And voila, behold the sheer perfection! Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I didn't have good bread around the house (only a pathetic loaf of generic brand rye bread). Fortunately, there's an Italian eatery in my apartment building where I immediately trudged my way to for a loaf of good Italian bread. I toasted a few slices to serve alongside the roasted garlic as an appetizer. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now this is what a taste of perfection looks like. It's so simple that anyone should try it at least once. I can totally assure that you WILL be hooked because I am! Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Happiness is ...

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... a tall glass of milk with chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I found my digicam cable! Yippee!

It's official! I'm back from the abyss of the lack of digital pictures to share. Whoopee! Anyways, I've been enamored with a few Chinese pop stars rcently. I saw "Curse of the Golden Flower" a few weeks ago and found out at the end that Jay Chou, a super popular Chinese singer plays one of the main characters! He's pretty cute in the movie and I liked his character, so I proceeded to find out more about his music. Along the way, I raided my sis' music collection and found another popular Chinese singer with a wonderful voice, David Tao. So I've been listening to their songs (mostly just their love ballads) non-stop (... I'll probably get sick of it soon *hah*). Check out my playlist if you have some time.

Now, on to less frivolous stuff: FOOD! As I mentioned previously, I did quite a lot of travelling in the past few weeks: one for my sis' graduation in Boston and another trip to LV with the family. Boston was quite hectic because not only did I stay merely for the weekend, my parents and I helped my sis pack up her shit load of stuff. Of course, despite the busy-ness, we found time to get bubble tea and have some much-needed girl talk!
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And yes, my little sister graduated cum laude (whatever that means) from the BC school of management! I'm so very proud of her and so are my parents!
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After the graduation ceremony, we went for lunch at a South End spot that supposedly has pretty good seafood, B&G Oysters. The restaurant belongs to same group as No. 9 Park, a posh Boston restaurant that has been rated to be in the top 10 American restaurants by Gourmet magazine. Here are what we had.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket My father had the monkfish over a bed of veggies and asparagus, which was pretty well-cooked but lacked any exciting flavor.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket I had their beautifully-plated lobster roll with some pretty damn good fries and stringy coleslaw-like thing (which I didn't touch, I have a thing against coleslaw). The lobster was slightly overcooked, giving it a rubbery texture but the mayo:meat ratio was pretty low, which is good in my books. I just hate soggy mayo salads! The roll was just a hot dog roll bought off the shelves of supermarkets, which was a tad disappointing. I was hoping for some freshly-baked demi-baguette but maybe that's just the foodiva in my talking *winkz*

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket My mum had the halibut with an olive consomme and tomatoes. It is a very appealing plate but the flavor was lacking.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket My sister's friend had this cioppino-like stew. I didn't get a taste because it would've been plain rude to impose my fork/spoon on an innocent stranger's lunch!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket My sister ordered a delicious-sounding dish with diver scallops, gnocchi, peas, lardon and truffle emulsion. Her dish was actually the one I was most excited about but it disappointed. The gnocchi was quite good: pillowy, chewy and tasty. The truffle flavor was quite exquisite also. but the star of the dish, the scallops, were way overcooked and were rubbery! I suppose we should've ordered some oysters because it is what they're known for. But really, what special skills does it take to just buy the freshest oysters out there and serve them raw? Based on our lunch there, it's not really worth a return trip. Most of the cooked seafood disappointed and their price point isn't even that great (that's the cheapskate in me!).

Due to the lack of adventurous eating in Boston, we more than made up for it in Las Vegas. LV is my aunt Elly's favorite place ever, it seems. In recent times, she hasn't failed to make a pilgrimage to LV every year. When I was little, I used to travel with her family and LV was one of the destinations. It had been a few years since I had been back to LV and boy, what a transformation it has been! Some of the older hotels are gone and there are many flashy, new ones mushrooming on or near The Strip. Everything about LV was so opulent, rich, garish and overpriced! However, most of the time, the food was pretty fresh and delicious. I guess it better be at that price!

The first meal I had in LV was at "Okada", a Japanese fusion restaurant in the Wynn hotel. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We started with a salad and sauteed mushrooms, which combined to yield a very delicious flavor! Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We also shared a lobster roll and a spider roll. I didn't (and still don't) think that lobster should be served with rice at all. Without any accoutrements, it's pretty plain and the joy in eating lobster, in my opinion, is enjoying its smooth texture with maybe a dipping of butter and a bite of bread. The lobster maki roll turned out to be just ok even with the sauce on top of it but the spider roll was pretty awesome. I mean really, what deep-fried food isn't?
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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The entree I ordered was a broiled cod with soy sauce. It was perfectly cooked and had a succulent, almost creamy texture, which I found very unusual for fish!
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My sis had a fish + foie gras dish that was also delicious. I've only had foie gras once, when my cooking whiz of a cousin, Helen, shoved it down my throat one Thanksgiving. It was a bit strange but I enjoyed it. So I thought the whole fish + foie grad combo was a bit odd, but the combination was actually quite good. The simplicity of the fish and the richness of the foie gras made good partnership.
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My mum, as usual, stuck with her favorite Japanese restaurant staple, salmon teriyaki. The one at Okada was slightly overcooked for my taste but had a nice teriyaki flavor.
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My father had some beef bowl thing that he thoroughly enjoyed. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We also had breakfast at one of the cafes in the Wynn hotel. The breakfast menu is simple and straightforward, offering breakfast standards such as eggs, granola and cereals. I had a crab omelette that was just ok. The crab was obviously canned and it wasn't even enveloped in the eggs, like an omelette should! The eggs were slightly overcooked and wasn't seasoned enough.
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My sister's eggs benedict though, was top notch. The eggs were nicely poached, the ham was delicious and the muffin was toasted well. To top it off, the hollandaise was very tasty.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

My father had the strawberry waffle. The name was slightly midleading because I thought the strawberries would be incorporated in the batter. It turned out to be plain waffle with a huge, fresh pile of ripe strawberries! I absolutely adore berries. I should've had the strawberry waffle instead!Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Our cousin ordered the yogurt granola bowl that also had berries (I'm jealous!) drizzled with honey. It was very refreshing and beautiful!Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I really enjoyed hanging out with my family in LV. Besides engaging in pure gluttony, we caught a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon, and grand it was! The Grand Canyon was just 100% majesty and stark beauty. It would've been more awesome if we had savored the sight during sunrise or sunset when the lighting would've been more dramatic. It would've been better also if the helicopter ride wasn't so nauseating. My sis and I almost threw up our breakfast after the choppy ride there! In addition, we were able to catch the Cirque du Soleil show based on the Beatles lives and work, Love. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I loved the dancers' expressiveness and pure energy. I find LV to be a city of not only sin but also of excess and opulence. Although I had fun visiting the city of sin, I don't think I can live there. I wouldn't be able to bear the heat! And how on Earth can I cook if it's so hot out? Here are more decadent pics of my Vegas adventure!
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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, June 04, 2007

Where in the world is Maria?

It sure has been a crazy past few months for me! 2 separate weekends in Boston and another one in Las Vegas. I love to travel but it does get a bit tiring after a while, especially when there's so much work waiting for me in Chicago. My immune system got compromised a bit and I ended up with a mild cold/cough combo while in LV.

But anywayz, the main reason I haven't updated for so long is because I misplaced the USB wire for my digital camera. Thus I haven't been able to upload my most recent adventures to share here. The school year is winding down now (thank God!) and with a little bit more time, I really hope my USB wire surfaces otherwise I'd just cry a river!