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Parties

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

The Morning After

For the people who spent the night after Zach’s birthday party, I cooked up the rest of the Grateful Palate bacon for a breakfast taste test. The general consensus was that the Meacham Old Fashioned Maple Cured Bacon was our favorite because of the nice maple sweetness and crispy crunch. A few people really liked the strong flavor of the Gatton Farms “Dan Phillips Secret Special Cure”, but we all agreed that it was too salty to eat more than one or two slices at a time.

We also set up a make your own omelette station with all the leftover pizza toppings (there were a LOT). I’ve been watching a ton of Alton Brown’s Good Eats and just saw the episode on omelettes, so I decided to show everyone what I learned. Either I’m a bad study or he gave some bad advice; the first omelette I tried to make was awful—over-done and stuck to the pan. My mom took over, using butter AND olive oil (Alton says to only use butter) to grease the pan and the rest of the omelettes turned out great.

I made one with chorizo, pancetta, ranchero cheese, cilantro and mushrooms. It was delicious.

Monday, March 7th, 2005

Yen-Yen’s Birthday

My grandma was turning 88 and we celebrated with a Chinese potluck. I was in charge of bringing appetizers, but was unsure if I would have time to cook anything. I asked my aunt if it would be okay if I just picked up some cha shu (Chinese barbequed pork). Her reply was, “Perfect… you know Yen-Yen’s 4 food groups are all meat!”

Ah ha. So that’s where I get it from…

Zach and I picked up some beautiful cha shu at King’s Barbecue House in the ID, which was difficult not to eat while driving home. I also decided to make some Sichuan nut recipes from the book my brother gave me. The first recipe I chose was Deep-fried Crispy Peanuts. The peanuts were deep-fried and then topped with Sichuan pepper and salt. They were really good; the perfect cocktail snack. Zach also wanted to try the Strange-flavor Peanuts. In Sichuan cooking, there are 23 basic “flavors”. Strange-flavor is described as salty, sweet, numbing, hot, sour, savory and fragrant. These nuts were somewhat caramelized and predominantly sweet with some notes of hot, numbing and sour. Again, very good, but the texture was too soft and I preferred the crunch of the deep-fried ones.

We arrived at my grandma’s early so that we could play several rounds of mah jong before dinner. She kicked our butts, as usual. Dinner was a feast with crab in black bean sauce, Yen-Yen’s Chinese fried chicken, prawns in tomato sauce, tofu with mushrooms and broccoli, glass noodles, a giant sushi platter, curried clams and deep fried tilapia with sweet and sour sauce. Dessert was a steamed egg cake with strawberries and Tillamook strawberry ice-cream. I love family dinners.





Sunday, February 27th, 2005

Oscar party

I was invited to my first ever Oscar party this Sunday and was very, very excited—not to watch the Oscars, but to go over to my friends’ house and eat really delicious food. My friends G & J are both great cooks with extreme opposite cooking styles. G is like me. He likes to cook by the book, or at least within the framework of some sort of recipe. But J… if you knew J, you’d know that his cooking style matches his personality; very creative. It’s great to watch them in the kitchen together. Their cooking styles really complement each other and they turn out some fantastic food.

I should take a moment to say that while I do see the occasional movie in the theater, I prefer Netflix. So before heading over, I decided to find out what movies and people were in the running so I didn’t sound like a total idiot. I was shocked to find that I had only seen two movies from the entire list—and they were nominated for something like sound mixing. Uhhh.

When we arrived at the party, the Oscars were already in full swing. I was only vaguely paying attention to the television—mostly to see when the commercials were on so I could get up and graze on the appetizers without blocking anyone’s view. I had brought some nice cheeses and smoked white King salmon. K had brought pita chips, which I found to be dangerously addictive. S had made a really delicious smoked salmon spread with cream cheese and green onions. Very simple, but very good.

I got in trouble for rooting against the Aviator. I don’t like Leonardo all that much and thought that the Titanic Oscar sweep a few years ago was ridiculous. So I was feeling bitter. And justified in my bitterness. But I finally had to shut up when S pointedly told me that I hadn’t even seen the Aviator.

After the Oscars were over, we feasted. G had made a fantastic chicken saltimbocca. The chicken was perfectly cooked and napped in a rich and salty mushroom sauce. J had made a crazy cabbage, cauliflower and gorgonzola salad that was presented (beautifully) in a hollowed out Savoy cabbage. They had also made a zucchini dish, shredding the zucchini into thin strips with their new mandolin so it looked like spaghetti. I think that’s my favorite way to eat zucchini. There was also a really good spinach salad with some of the tastiest blood oranges I’ve had in a while.

I am hoping for many future invites to Oscar parties. Next time I might even see the movies.



Monday, February 21st, 2005

Hot-pot entertaining

After my first experience eating hot-pot, I was hooked. I wanted to see how difficult it would be to make it at home. I ordered a portable butane burner on eBay for $10 (!), then set about trying to locate a good recipe.

My brother had recently sent me a Sichuan cookbook and real Sichuan peppers from China, and the cookbook happened to have a hot-pot recipe. It sounded a little more involved than the other recipes I’d seen, but it also sounded delicious. I modified the recipe quite a bit as some of the ingredients were hard to find. I also didn’t want a searing hot broth that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy, so I toned down the heat a little.

I also wanted to make an accompanying sauce, since the sauce seems to play a major role in the meal. The recipe in my book called for a simple garlic and oil sauce, but I really wanted a peanut sauce, so I ended up making one from peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, tomato paste and water. I also made a soy-ginger and a soy-mustard sauce.

I made the broth up to the last step and then brought it over to Zach’s place for the final simmering. I wanted to know how much flavor the Sichuan pepper would add, so I scooped out a cup of broth for comparison before adding the final two ingredients; Sichuan peppers and chili peppers. The broth simmered for another 30 minutes and the difference was amazing. The peppers really balanced out the flavors and helped meld everything together.

When our guests arrived, we turned on the butane burner and set the pot of broth in the middle of the table. Then we brought out two platters of fresh udon noodles, rice stick noodles (soaked in water until soft), fresh shitake mushrooms and chopped napa cabbage. It was pretty impressive already, but then we brought out the platters of raw meat. Oooh! Ahhh! We had Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork belly (yes, I bought it because it looked like bacon), short rib beef, regular beef and lamb. With all that, plus the sauces, we didn’t enough have room on the table so we had to downgrade to smaller dinner plates.

After a brief intro of how to eat hot-pot, everyone dug in. The broth was so rich and good. I could have just drank it for dinner, but with the meats, veggies and noodles it was perfect. Occasionally I’d bite into a Sichuan pepper and the salivating and numbness would set in, but it was definitely better with food than without. By the end of the night my lips and tongue were pleasantly numb.

The sauces were great as well and I liked having a variety. The peanut sauce was rich and luscious, the soy-mustard sauce was spicy and hot and the soy-ginger was light and refreshing—and surprisingly good with the lamb. We bought way too much meat, but no one stopped eating until the last morsel was gone.

For dessert, we had mango jello from a box. We found it at Uwajimaya and it looked interesting. And it tasted interesting—a cross between pudding and Jell-O. I didn’t care for the texture or the fruity and fragrant taste, but some people claimed it was “odd, yet delicious”.



Friday, February 4th, 2005

Pig Roast! (a.k.a. The Six Month Post)

Okay, for whatever reason, it took me six months to get this post up. Maybe it was wading through the hundreds of pictures that my friend Kait took to find just the right ones. Or maybe I’m just lazy. Either way, I finally have the post up for the Pig Roast I threw last July for my birthday. It has all the steps needed for throwing your own pig roast—from researching cooking methods, to buying the pig, to carving it up. It’s worth the read. Maybe.

Read the Pig Roast Post!

P.S. If you’re squeamish about dead animals, then you probably shouldn’t look at the pictures…

Friday, January 28th, 2005

The Gift of Elegance

Zach emailed me a few days ago to tell me (okay, brag) that the photographer for See’s Candies was done with the latest catalog shoot and had dropped off all the leftover candy at Zach’s office. He said that there was so much candy that it filled the break room and left only a small path of space from the door to the fridge. Everyone was told to take home several boxes and Zach took a gigantic four-pounder in gold gift wrap that was embossed “The Gift of Elegance”. He brought it to our friends’ joint birthday party that was held at Cafe Septieme.

I really love Cafe Septieme. I think because it’s nearby, dark and smoky, always warm, has red walls and all my friends go there. The food really isn’t fantastic—in fact it can be very spotty (along with the service) but I love it anyway. I also have a secret weapon called the Blue Cheese Bacon Burger. Every time I eat at Septieme, this is what I order and not only is it delicious, but it’s actually the best blue cheese bacon burger I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what they do to it, but it has lots of really creamy blue cheese sauce and crisp, meaty bacon.

At the party Zach broke out the box of candy and there were gasps around the table. You had to use both hands to pass the box, otherwise it would bend under the weight. It really was a beautiful sight and people at other tables were staring with unabashed jealousy. Seeing that much candy available for immediate consumption made me giddy, but I used restraint and only ate a few of my favorites. Plus a log of nougat that was coated in pecans and was about the size of a soda can.

The birthday boy and girl had a great time and are so well-loved that their friends not only took over the entire dining room but, toward the end of the night, ended up spilling into the bar as well. It was a fun party and I met a lot of new, nice people that I will eventually have over for dinner. They will remember me as the girl with the fistful of candy.


Sunday, January 16th, 2005

Sushi and Tempura Party

My uncle decided to throw a birthday party for himself this year and wanted to serve Japanese food. It turned into an absolute feast.

When we first arrived, my mom and uncle were in the kitchen preparing all the veggies for tempura and serving up sake. My mom had brought her whole sake cup collection and I gravitated toward the one I remember most from my childhood. When it’s empty it looks like there is a cloudy marble in the bottom, but when you fill it with liquid, you can see that there is a naked Japanese lady in the bottom. My brother and I used to fight over this cup and show it to all our friends when we were kids.

The dinner started out with pickled nibbles—daikon, pickled eggplant, kim chee, ume (Japanese sour plum) and edamame.

The next course was silken tofu topped with grated ginger, chopped scallions and soy sauce—a favorite of mine. Then miso soup was served. It had a very mild flavor and wasn’t too salty. Then we had a marinated hamachi appetizer that my aunt prepared. It was delicious, but I have no idea what was in it.

Then came platters and platters of tempura. We had cauliflower, Japanese mountain yams, mushrooms, shrimp, carrots and zucchini served with a wonderful dipping sauce with lots of shredded daikon (I need to get the recipe). The tempura batter was light and perfectly crisp. I learned that the secret to a good tempura batter is to use ice water, don’t over mix and make it a really, really thin consistency. My uncle also used a special flour mixture, but wouldn’t tell me what was in it. We ended this course with tempura shrimp heads. The shells were too hard for me to eat, but the legs and inside parts were good.

There were some more courses of sauteed scallops and grilled eggplant, but I was saving room for the sushi.

My uncle had purchased pounds of beautiful sashimi, which were sliced and heaped on platters. We had smoked salmon, ame-ebi (raw shrimp), hamachi (yellowtail), saba (mackerel), maguro (raw tuna), seared tuna, tako (octopus) and ikura (salmon roe). Some people ate the fish as is, but you could also make a hand roll with seaweed, sushi rice, fresh pea shoots, cucumber and shiso.

To finish off the meal, we had green tea ice cream. My aunt’s friend is a green tea ice cream addict and she buys it by the case. She swears up and down that the Dryer’s version is the best. It was very very good, but I was too full to eat very much of it.

Sunday, December 26th, 2004

Christmas Feast

The family all came up to my Mom’s house on Whidbey island for Christmas day. We cooked up an amazing feast—everyone agreed that it was the best Christmas dinner yet.

Salumi salami – four of kinds of salami: mole, finoccio (fennel), sopressata and regular
Cold smoked salmon with capers, red onion and creme fraiche
Crab and dill toasts

Kosher turkey – slow grilled (indirect method) for 5 1/2 hours on the weber with mesquite (adding 5 coals to each side every half hour)
Oyster bread stuffing
Amazing gravy
Dill brined and grilled salmon
Cipollini onion relish
Savory clafoutis with chanterelles and spinach
Spinach Salad with Avocado, Pomegranate & Grapefruit
Steamed Romanesca cauliflower, drizzled with butter

Huckleberry pie from Whidbey Pies
Pumpkin-bay tart (from The Herb Farm cookbook)

After dinner we all jumped in the car and went on a Christmas light tour…

Saturday, December 25th, 2004

Christmas Eve

Let me start off by saying that I do not have a religious family. Christmas and all other major holidays have always just meant family, friends and food. I love the idea of holiday rituals, and even though we’re not religious, we still have rituals—but I have come to realize that they are somewhat… unique. For instance, when I was a kid our Christmas eve get together always had a theme.

The Cowboy Christmas started it off. Dad wanted cowboy boots, so my mom got him a pair. His brother bought him a cowboy hat. I got him a black satin shirt with embroidered red and white cards on the front. I was really young at the time and was so excited about picking that particular shirt out, thinking he’d actually wear it out of the house (I was wrong). Someone else brought bandana party favors for all the guests and from there it quickly grew out of control.

For the Miami Vice Christmas (yes, I’m so lucky to have grown up in the 80’s) everyone wore pastel T-shirts with white blazers and no socks. Mom found a shiny, baby-blue plastic palm tree that we decorated with pink lights for our Christmas tree. There were pink flamingos in our front yard.

Then there was the Russian Christmas where mom made borscht, homemade blinis with caviar and flavored infused vodkas—this was before you could just buy them at the liquor store. Dad made a gorgeous salmon en croute and painted St. Basil’s Cathedral with a Van Gogh Starry Night background on the dining room windows. My uncle dressed up as a Russian Cossack and threatened to make us wait in line for squares of toilet paper. From what I can remember, the night ended in my dad chasing my uncle around the dinning room table because he was after the last of the pepper vodka.

Next came a Dickens’ Christmas, which was an old fashioned English Christmas. My parents made a beautiful roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and my brother made an incredible gingerbread Big Ben—it was so amazing.

One of my favorite themes was the Hoo-Hung-Wu Christmas (our last name is Woo, so it was perfect). It was at the height of the murder mystery game craze and we did it up right. One of our guests that night was a Chinese seamstress and she brought robes, Chinese hats and fans for everyone. We even had dry ice going to lend an air of mystery. I was in charge of fanning the ice to make it wispy and I accidentally tipped the bucket off the railing and it landed on a guest…

Now that most of the children in the family are grown, we’ve moved on to more tame celebrations that involve a lot of singing. We mostly stick to Christmas carols, but we always sing a round of “No Woman No Cry” at the insistence of my uncle. Unfortunately, the majority of us are awful singers and have no memory for lyrics. A few years back, we played Christmas charades and the losers had to go outside and carol to the neighbors. About thirty seconds into the first song you could see porch lights going out all over the block. It was unbelievably hilarious and sad at the same time.

This year I was a little subdued because I still had a cold, but it was great to spend time with family and friends—talking, singing and enjoying the white elephant gift exchange. We had an appetizer party and everyone brought something. I couldn’t taste much because I was stuffed up, but what I could taste was great: shrimp fried rice, delicious marinated ribs, Asian-style chicken wings, cheese fondue, bagna cauda, artichoke dips, bacon wrapped dates, queso fundido and more.

It was a lot of fun, but a few people in the family are thinking we should bring back the theme Christmas. We’ll see what happens next year…


Sunday, December 19th, 2004

X-mas Party No. 3

I’m coming down with a cold and have already been to too many holiday parties, but my friends are throwing a Russian-themed holiday party. So off I go!

When I’m tired and sick I tend to crave junk food, so I convince Zach to stop at Dick’s before we go to the party. When you’re in the right mood, Dick’s burgers can be incredibly satisfying.

We arrive at the party and they have a nice assortment of fancy appetizers, but the only thing that seems to be Russian is the bottle of vodka I brought. But the appetizers are delicious (and all from the Epicurious website, so I’m told):

Rosemary tartletts with onions and walnuts
Goat cheese, lettuce and roast beef on crostini topped with roasted peppers
Stuffed mushrooms

After the party, we drive through Ballard and Zach gets nostalgic—so we stop at one of his favorite bars: the Tin Hat. It’s a smoky, casual bar that has lots of board games and I immediately like it. We end up playing cribbage and scrabble for several hours, so of course I get hungry again. Zach says the food is good, but I’m skeptical (by nature). I order a grilled cheese thinking that’s a fairly safe bet. It’s made with American cheese and it’s delicious; made with just the right amount of butter and seasoned with dried oregano and served with good hand-cut fries. Nothing I’d drive across town for, but… okay, maybe I would.