What Do You Mean By “Cook” and “Chef”?

Recently, I caught a podcast episode of The Splendid Table where “Nigella Lawson Defends the Honor of Home Cooking.” She recently wrote an article on Lenny Letter arguing that people shouldn’t say that they are “just a home cook.” The word “just” implies that home cooks are less than a chef where Lawson seems them as distinct crafts. Continue reading “What Do You Mean By “Cook” and “Chef”?”

Way Too Much Detail About My Oatmeal Ritual

Since I started working about 7 years ago, I have eaten oatmeal for breakfast before work about 4 out of every 5 weekdays. Just recently, Julie and I decided that she would take over oatmeal-making duties to better align our morning schedules, and I had to show her how to do it. Continue reading “Way Too Much Detail About My Oatmeal Ritual”

Kevin’s Cooking Tips

I started cooking during the summer after my freshmen year at college. Growing up, I had watched my mom cook steak, stir-fry, salmon, and countless other home cooked meals. However, my own experience was primarily expert microwave timings and occasionally baking desserts. Needless to say, the first summer was rough. Continue reading “Kevin’s Cooking Tips”

Tasting the “Impossible Burger”

A few years ago towards the end of college, I went mostly vegetarian. Like most diets, my rules were byzantine, and I made plenty of exceptions, but it was largely effective. My meat consumption went way down with one simple trick: I didn’t buy meat. Since I was no longer on a meal plan, I was only tempted to eat food as far as my fridge, and I was similarly disciplined in my grocery shopping because the primary reason I went mostly vegetarian was because I was cheap and didn’t want to pay for meat. Continue reading “Tasting the “Impossible Burger””

Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2017 Edition.

It only took 6 tries, but this year, I finally served a Thanksgiving dinner on-time, and more importantly, I felt totally relaxed. Although I have prepared gantt charts for the past several years, I always ended up behind schedule and needed to draft additional sous chefs to finish dishes while I was carving the turkey. This year, I was actually ahead of schedule, and like years past, I learned a few things that made it all happen. Continue reading “Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2017 Edition.”

How to Avoid or Save Unintentionally Flat Bread

Behind many great works are stories of vision and foresight. Others are credited to incredible hard work and deliberate effort. And yet other creations, both great and and maybe just slightly pleasing, come out of desperation from abject failure. Like the coffee cake above.

The week prior to this creation, I had excitedly baked up a strawberry bread recipe using some of the first strawberries of the season and real buttermilk. After being convinced that my milk and lemon juice substitute was a bum deal, I ponied up for real buttermilk from the grocery store and was excited for it to change my baking forever. And it might have if not for one small mistake.

Continue reading “How to Avoid or Save Unintentionally Flat Bread”

5 Foods I Don’t Like

I consider myself an adventurous and unpretentious eater. I don’t eat at my favorite restaurants more than once or twice a year because I would rather go somewhere new. I eat Dominos, and I eat fancy Neapolitan pizzas. When presented with an array of desserts or pastries, I will find a knife and take a bite-sized piece to try everything, within the boundaries of courtesy but usually beyond the boundaries of my appetite. As important as it was to get a Cronut on my trip to New York, I also like Oreos and deep-fried Oreos. And even though I don’t quite understand picky eaters, it usually don’t bother me since I’ll find a way to like whatever they like.

However, I do have preferences, and although my threshold is low, there are a few foods that fall below the line, which I will avoid if possible.  Continue reading “5 Foods I Don’t Like”

Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2016 Edition

According to tradition, I hosted my company for an early Thanksgiving last week. Although I enjoy hosting and cooking for friends regularly, this event is by far the most ambitious as I cook a full meal for about 20 people. Each year has been an opportunity for me to learn more about hosting, and I have a few more lessons to share from this year.

In the past, I have done various ethnic and regional cuisines, but I have run short on ideas. Of course, there are plenty more unexplored cuisines in this world, but I have only picked cuisines that I think I have an edge on and wouldn’t be offending co-workers who know that culture better than I do. This year, I ended up doing a Canadian Thanksgiving, which was some combination of stereotypical Canadian food (butter tarts) and using maple syrup in everything. Continue reading “Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2016 Edition”

Ice Cream Memories

A few weeks ago, the hair on Julie’s cello bow fell off. We found a luthier in San Jose and drove the 25 minutes to an unfamiliar part of town. Seeing the matching address, I pulled forward into street parking directly in front of the shop and the Mexican restaurant next door. The luthier shop itself was a remodeled house built decades ago: violins and viola lined the walls of what once must have been the small living room and dining room.

Altogether, our visit was quick, and we were told to come back in a few days to pick up the repaired bow. Normally, we would have headed straight home, but we saw a vintage-looking Foster’s Freeze on the block on our drive in and decided to treat ourselves to some ice cream.

Took the picture from the car while driving away
Took the picture from the car while driving away

After we ordered and paid for our ice cream, the owner asked if we wanted “one more for the cello” as he pointed at the case on Julie’s back. We laughed, then took the raspberry cheesecake twister he handed us to sit down and eat.

If you’re unfamiliar with the twister, you’re not. It’s soft serve ice cream with a mix-in flavor, like butterfingers or M&Ms. They’re also known as McDonald’s McFlurry or Dairy Queen’s Blizzard. Whatever you call it or whoever makes it, it’s delicious, thick enough to be turned upside down, and comes in sizes larger than any single person should eat. Somehow, combining soft serve ice cream with chocolate bars is exactly as good as it should be.

Most of my Blizzard consumption came on summer road trips with my family. I can’t tell you where any single Dairy Queen is, but I can guarantee you that I could one by driving on a highway for an hour anywhere in the US between 2 big cities. We never considered getting hot food at DQ: it was always about the ice cream, and the blizzards specifically, at that. There are too many flavors for me t confidently have a favorite, but I was always trying something new and hoping that my sisters got something different as well to try.

Even outside of road trips, ice cream was always important in my family. My grandpa kept ice cream in his basement deep freezer for my weekend visits after doing dim sum. He only had the universally derided wafer cones, but I couldn’t complain about a vehicle for ice cream. Once, he got maple ice cream instead of the usual vanilla: it sounds delicious now but apparently didn’t pass muster for 5 year old Kevin. When I performed the rare act of rejecting ice cream, he ended up eating it himself on the patio while I played in a kiddie pool in the backyard.

My other grandparents were big ice cream fans: they had blocks of Chapman’s ice cream their freezers everywhere they went. We would have defrosted slices of cake with ice cream on top. I think they enjoyed it just as much as I did, and I hope they kept the habit even without grandchildren around. Still, they knew that was an easy way to please and share something with us .

My mom also regularly got us ice cream at the mall. I always got SuperKid ice cream at Laura Secord, and we probably covered the 32 flavors at Baskin-Robbins, too. I can’t remember if she got ice cream, too: I hope so. Even now, we still talk about ice cream. A lot of plans are still up uncertain for when my family comes out to the bay area in a few months, we all agree that the Kitchen Sink is a must.

I don’t know many people without allergies who don’t like ice cream, and given how much children enjoy it, ice cream is an easy love to share between generations. Food is a very common way for families to show how much they care, whether it be that warm chicken noodle soup or those soft chocolate chip cookies. Even within food, however, ice cream has a special place: it stays when generations change ethnic cuisines or health diets or just different preferences. It is shared both in the home kitchen and outside to the local ice cream parlor, or in my case, the Dairy Queen in the middle of nowhere, USA. The diversity of flavors makes it both flexible to tastes and enduring as an idea. And it’s something that we can pretty much always use to return to childhood memories.

Of course, it isn’t always the same thing. Last week, Julie and I went to the mall, and I had Dippin’ Dots for the first time.

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I had seen them in malls countless times before and had always been curious. Julie gave a good explanation for why she (and I) didn’t like them: one of the best qualities of ice cream is how smooth and creamy it is. Dippin’ Dots are definitely not smooth and creamy. Even so, I found myself desperately trying to scoop up the last of the melted syrup at the bottom of the cup when I finished.  Ice cream is still ice cream and has some essence that can take you back to other serving you have ever had.

Farm Fresh to Me

You may or may not have noticed that I never really concluded my dinner table tournament. Despite my claim to be good at maintaining commitments and projects, I definitely stopped well short of goal to cover all of the options. I did, however, make it slightly further than my blog would indicate because Julie and I did end up trying a CSA about 6 months ago, so here’s my extremely belated post about it.

Farm Fresh to You

Farm Fresh to You is a community supported agriculture provider. The idea is that consumers can cut out the grocery store middleman and get produce directly from local farms. There are various schemes of how it works, but the basic setup is that I, as a consumer, pay a farm, and they send me shipments of whatever they’re current growing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Many people have opinions about the benefits or issues with this, but I was interested in trying it primarily for 2 reasons. First, I would get better, fresher, riper produce. The story goes that produce at the grocery store has to be picked early so that it will not rot en-route before getting to the consumer. Since CSAs cut out that step, the produce can be picked at perfect ripeness. Second, I would get different stuff. I like the novelty of eating, cooking, and cooking with different things. When I go grocery shopping, I will naturally tend to buy produce that I know how to use and how to cook with. With a CSA, I would be forced to use whatever showed up and, as a consequence, try new things.

We ended up signing up at a booth during a community event in downtown Mountain View. Although I could tell that they guy was going through his sales shtick, I felt okay going along since we intended to try a CSA anyways. He got us a discount for our first couple boxes, and in the end, each bi-weekly shipment was somewhere in the range of $30-40.

Delivery

Our box showed up early Friday morning, so we opened it up over breakfast and discussed our options.

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The mix included a few different types of fruit, 2 types of peppers, 2 types of grapes, some greens, tomatillos, and a few other items I can’t identify several months later. Overall, we were quite satisfied with the variety and set about planning how to use everything.

Preparation

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Prior to that day, I could not have told you what was in green salsa. Maybe just green bell peppers? It turns out that green salsa is mostly just tomatillo with something spicy (peppers) in it. We found a recipe for green salsa, and it turned out great. The fresh salsa listed on the same page was not good. I would not recommend that. But the roasted salsa was good, and I definitely learned why I should be less impressed with the salsa options at Mexican restaurants.

The peppers ended up as fajita vegetables for fajita night.

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and we also roasted and sauteed the other vegetables for another meal.

I'm pretty sure we got those potatoes in the box, too. I forgot about those, I think.
I’m pretty sure we got those potatoes in the box, too. I forgot about those, I think.

The butter lettuce ended up as part of our salads. I sadly realized a long time ago that I didn’t know how to make good salads. I think I leaned too much on vegetables (all bitter) without balancing it out. With Julie’s guidance, we stepped up our salad with apple, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and candied nuts.

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The Followup

Given just the text above and the pictures, you might have been led to believe that we had a good experience with it. You would be correct. We liked the CSA enough that we got another 4-5 boxes.

Unfortunately, I don’t think a box ever went that well again. We got the first box on a signup promotion, so subsequent boxes ended up with much less in them. We also noticed that they often were filled with less exciting staples, like onions and green lettuce, which didn’t really taste any better to us than what we got at the grocery store. Because it was just produce, we ended up having to go to the grocery store anyways to fill out our meals for a week.

The final realization, however, came when I went shopping the day after receiving a box and seeing a few of the more unusual items at the Milk Pail. I walked through the store and tallied up the cost of buying an equivalent amount and realized that I would come out far ahead doing my own shopping–which I do anyways. I immediately added a task for myself to cancel my subscription, which took probably another month because I had to call in during work hours to do it, and I’m bad at completing tasks that require phone calls during work hours.

Overall

I had a good experience with Farm Fresh to You. I have realized that I enjoy the process of cooking, and a CSA mostly lets me do that. However, I think I am mostly spoiled to have the Milk Pail just down the street from me, where I can get cheap, local, fresh produce. In the end, the CSA just provided me the convenience of delivering a few of the same items at a premium, and that wasn’t worth it to me.

Here are my rankings:

  1. Blue Apron
  2. Farm Fresh to You (CSA)
  3. HelloFresh
  4. Munchery
  5. Plated

You may be surprised to see the CSA not first despite it being the closest to my normal pattern. Were normal home cooking not an option, it would be first, but I think that I would be more likely to mix Blue Apron into my meals than the CSA.

There’s a chance I will continue the Dinner Table Tournament in the future, but in the spirit of sunsetting responsibilities for my New Year’s Hopes, I think I will declare it done. I will probably continue to blog about food, but it will likely be in a far less structured format.

This post is part of the Dinner Table Tournament where I pull Julie along my need for novel experiences in “staying in” dinner options to generate blog content. I have not been compensated by Farm Fresh to You for this in any way for this post. Yet.