Presenting The Faux Gourmet!

The Faux Gourmet has been on hiatus for a while. I began this blog as a creative outlet during law school. After law school, I started other blogs on other topics and no longer needed this as a creative outlet, not to mention my diminishing free time.

But I kept cooking, kept taking food pictures and garden pictures, kept wanting to share the little tidbits of what I'd made. I occasionally did this on my personal blog (to which, I'm sure, people yawned and wondered when I'd post another cat picture). But I started to miss this space. Of all the blogs I have, this format, culled over several dedicated years and incorporating that adorable illustration by Sam Wedelich (see info the left) is by far my favorite.

So I'm back!

Expect short and sweet posts. Less food porn, more recipes and tips. If you want food porn you can look at any of the 5000 million existing food blogs. I don't have good lighting in my apartment and don't have time to style plates. I just want to make something yummy and eat it. If that sounds ok with you, stick around.

Looking forward to being back in touch!


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    Sunday, December 23, 2007

    Enjoying a Well Stocked Kitchen

    Two easy dishes made while I was pressed for time and had very little in the kitchen to work with- all thanks to my well stocked kitchen.

    Taste & See: A few days ago, I preached the virtues of having a well-stocked kitchen, divulging how it is the secret behind being a true faux gourmet. Now that you've got one, or at least have thought briefly about perhaps going to the store once the holidays are over and you're off your diet of cookies and hot cocoa, let me entice you a bit further.

    The first dish is called phat si-ew, or fried noodles with soy sauce. It's a typical Thai street dish made with very simple ingredients, available everywhere for about 20 B. But it wasn't til I saw my host mom make it in the village that I learned the secret to avoiding massive clumps of noodles, the perpetual result of my previous attempts.

    I used fresh noodles from a shop in Chinatown, which come as big slab and cut them into noodles myself.

    The sooner they're used, the better; once I bought the noodles in advance and refrigerated them until the day I needed them, only to find the noodles had gone hard and were impossible to cut. They softened up with heat and oil but were hideously ugly. This time I asked the noodle man and he said to just leave them at room temperature, in the bag. I was skeptical, but as you can see for yourself, they actually look like noodles. (I bought mine for 63 cents a slab and used two slabs to feed 12 people; ask for chow fun, the Chinese name; I'm not sure of the Thai name for fat, soft noodles.) NB: in keeping with the faux gourmet spirit, if you don't want to go to Chinatown, you can use whatever noodles you have on hand, even, dare I say it, spaghetti noodles, in a pinch.

    Next, remember the sauces from A Well Stocked Kitchen Part I?

    Mix in equal proportions so you have just enough to coat all the noodles, oyster sauce, Indonesian sweet soy sauce & regular soy sauce:

    Separate by hand of every last piece of noodle with a plastic bag, as I learned in the village, the trick to dispelling the clumpy phat si-ew of yore.

    Heat up a bit of oil in a wok then add a handful of noodles, turning over gently with til the noodles are soft and stretchy.

    Add a handful of chopped dark greens- any kind you have will do: broccoli, kale, bok choy.

    I used kale, the typical vegetable in street phat si-ew (known as pak kana in Thailand).

    Move the noodles to one side of the wok and crack in an egg. Let it heat up for a minute.

    Scramble it up and mix it into the noodles.

    Season to taste with a combination of the following: lime juice, sugar, chili flakes, fish sauce [the four flavors: sour, sweet, spicy, salty].


    I had friends over for dinner the night I made this.
    I already had the ingredients together and people took turns coming in the kitchen and making up their own small batch. Either my friends are ridiculously talented across the board in the arts of Thai noodle making, or it is really a very simple dish to make. How about you find out for yourself?

    The second dish was a simple stir fry:

    Didn't have much to work with- just a large hunk of broccoli, an onion, some green onions & a chicken breast. But adding a simple soy sauce-sugar-oyster sauce-vinegar-sri racha sauce mix & sprinkling a few cashews on top transformed it into a tasty dinner in about 20 minutes. Assuming cashews are optional, with a well-stocked kitchen you'd have all that on hand, making for cheap & easy food with no need to buy anything special.

    And that's really what having a well stocked kitchen is all about.

    Friday, December 21, 2007

    Breakfast and 3 Variations

    It may be the most important meal, but with all these delicious options I wouldn't mind eating it more than once a day.

    Taste & See: Every couple weeks I go on a new breakfast kick, happily eating my way through my entire supply of my current fixation before moving on to something new. (Always with my morning latte, of course.) For years it was cereal, with a pleasant rotation between old standbys like Life & Chex, splurging on Special K with berries when it was on sale at Safeway. But a little over a year ago, I had a breakfast experience that changed my life. At an early morning meeting, a friend of mine brought along egg sandwiches, two slices of whole wheat bread crammed good with poached egg, cheese and bacon. I'm really not a bacon person, but this was GOOD. I mean, really, really, addictively good.

    And accordingly, for the past year or so I have been obsessed with egg sandwiches. In fact, I do believe I have it down to a science- though finding the perfect mix of fillings (I'm just not willing to continue on with bacon) is purely an art. The mix above was my first and most constant friend: prosciutto, provolone, English muffin, and of course, an egg. [The rest of the breakfast shall await another day in the sun, as today I'm all about eggs.]

    My latest obsession, and what I believe is perhaps the pinnacle of all egg-sandwiches: egg on a whole wheat English muffin with brie cheese and a few sun dried tomatoes. Don't think it is hyperbole when I tell you that the mix of the nutty wheat bread with the sweetness of the cheese and tomatoes is pure breakfast perfection. Of course you can vary it up as you like- most kinds of cheese work, meat is optional, and vegetables could punch up the color. All you really need is a bread (pita, toast, tortillas, bagles, etc.) and an egg.

    Now you'll notice the egg in the photograph above is perfectly round and flat. Where, you may wonder, do eggs look like that outside of McDonalds? Let me share a little technique trick: the microwave. I'm dead serious:

    - Crack that egg into a little round microwave safe bowl, preferable flat bottomed
    - Stir up with a fork
    - Zap it for 40 seconds
    - Wait a few seconds for it to cool so the second round doesn't splat raw egg all over your microwave, then heat again for 10-30 seconds, depending on how jello-y the egg is when you check on it.

    But first:

    - Heat up a sauce pan on medium and put both halves of the English muffin in, cut side down
    - Cover the muffin with a pan for a minute or so if you're in a rush to speed things up, being careful not to let it burn


    - Turn the muffin over & fork out the cooked egg
    - Add your other toppings
    - Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper on the egg if you like.
    - Put the sandwich together
    when the uncut sides are a bit warm, and let it heat til the cheese melts
    - Enjoy!

    [You may also use an oven/broiler if you become madly enraptured with the sandwiches and would like to make some for all your lucky friends.]


    Now, sometime you find yourself outside your comfort zone. For me, that used to mean without my cereal & espresso machine. When I first lived in Thailand I used to resist the daily breakfasts of greens & rice, sneaking in my daily coffee via a French Press lugged to my village home and cereal by way of instant oats in a tin. Not entirely delicious.

    It wasn't long before I realized the error of my ways and learned of all the ridiculous breakfast options Thailand has to offer. Now this isn't entirely Thai- Taiwanese, to be precise, but the freshly fried up donuts from dough stretched and cut before your very eyes and the sweetened hot soy milk with chewy textured bits swirling about is ta-sty. The carts are all over Thailand, easy to identify by the long slabs of white dough being cut, fried and stacked in glass containers & the big silver vats of boiling milk. The milk, nom tao-hoo, is usually 5 B and donuts are 1 B each.

    This is not Thai either-- Chinese-- but I have the fondest memories of being stranded in my village house in the rain, unable to ride my moto to market to buy food, and forced to dart down to the mini-mart next door to buy an egg & a packet of instant jok. Jok is rice porridge, rice that has been boiled until it is the consistency of grits or cream of wheat. I'd pour the packets of gritty powder in a pot with some water, heat it up on our single gas-stove burner, and watch as the powder magically expanded into a steamy bowl of soup. I threw in some chopped ginger and green onions and crack in the egg and let the heat of the soup cook it as I folded it in. I finished it off with a dash of soy sauce. Only later did I get to try the real thing, and as you can see, I was quite pleased. Jok is usually 25 B, give or take 5-15 for meat (pork meatballs is traditional but I like chicken) or egg (obviously!).

    Next we have an item that is very Thai, but not strictly breakfast: bpun. Four dollar fruit shakes at jamba juice just can't compare to the 10 B wonders sold in every village in Thailand. You can get them in every kind of fruit you can imagine, and a few you have never seen. Just point to the fruits stacked around the carts with blenders. I recommend mango (man moo-ahn), pineapple (zap-a-rote), and the flavor pictured below, coconut (ma-prao). (Never had I dreamed a shake could be so good!) Coffee, chocolate & Thai iced tea are also available.

    I couldn't do a review of Thai breakfasts without returning to my earlier post on the ideal commuter's breakfast. My recommendation still stands but I confess I forgot a very important Thai trend: Mr. Bun.

    Now I arrived after the trend's initial explosion and thus never got to see the rage first hand, but I have seen, and tasted, the result: "Mr. Bun" shops of all stripes claiming to be the real thing, like Gray's Papaya in New York, all nearly identical from the outside and impossible for an outsider to distinguish.

    "Fresh fresh, hot hot, soft soft," the above sign reads. They're available below in coffee, coconut and vanilla, about 10 B each.

    I don't know if this Mr. Bun stand at Victory Monument, just at the foot of the escalator, is the 'real thing,' but the boys there were more than delighted to share whatever Mr. Bun it is they're selling.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    NB: This looks very interesting . . . precisely what the faux gourmet is about. I want to start making, photographing & giving my take on some of them but I don't know where to start . . . any requests?

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    A Well Stocked Kitchen, Part I

    The real secret to being a faux gourmet.

    Taste & See: The other day some classmates were admiring my lunch: a toasted pita with hummus, melted gouda cheese and prosciutto on top. "Where'd you get that?" they demanded, hoping the restaurant was in vicinity. Actually, I've been spending extraordinary amounts of time at school recently, so last week I brought in some supplies from Trader Joe and now I just head on up to my office kitchenette every day for a quick bite. There is a microwave, toaster, and a small communal fridge, all I need, with the right materials, to make a faux gourmet lunch.

    The point of this story is not the deliciousness of smearing a toasted piece of pita bread with hummus, piling
    on chunks of gouda and strips of prosciutto and microwaving for 20 seconds. It is delicious, yes, but the point is rather the ease with which such deliciousness is obtained. It required a wee bit of thinking ahead, true: when I went to Trader Joes I had to stand in the deli section and reach for the four components of my meal, a task I could do without even moving my feet. Beyond that, the only difference between my yummy lunch and your almost-turkey sliced cold cut/American cheese sandwich (which might still be tasty, if you like fake-turkey) is good ingredients.

    Lest you protest my bougie sandwich fixins' are out of your price range, let me remind you how much a slice of greasy pizza costs, and that you'd gladly pay for it because your freezer is out of burritos and you're too lazy to de-thaw a chicken breast and frozen stir-fry veggie mix. I promise you, my pita lunch costs less. [The prices are from Albertsons online]:

    Hummus: $2.50, 8 oz, lasts for about 6 sandwiches

    Gouda: $4.99, 7 oz, lasts for about 6 sandwiches

    Prosciutto: $10.99/lb; use about 1.5 oz ounces prusciutto per sandwich

    Pita bread: $2.19 for 6 pieces.

    Total cost per sandwich: $2.64. Beat that.

    (Not to mention superior taste & healthiness . . . )

    Buying some nice grocery staples does cost a bit up front, but it enables you to make quick and easy food in lieu of ordering take-out or buying yet another slice of pizza when you're tired and don't feel like 'cooking,' and it definitely costs less in the long run. In short, it is the primary secret of being a faux gourmet.

    If we're going to put our cards on the table, I will gladly admit my astounding culinary creations from my nearly-bare fridge are only possible because of the investment I'd already made in spices, sauces, and a few dried-good staples purchased in one fell swoop at the outset, now in my pantry just waiting for inspiration to strike:

    So, what's a faux gourmet in the making to buy? Well, it depends on what you like, obviously, and the kinds of food you cook most often. I like to make various Asian foods, sometimes obviously Thai or Korean, sometimes a mix of my own using ingredients common to more than one cuisine.

    The four ingredients above, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, and fish sauce (along with sugar) provide the basic four flavors (salty, sweet, sour, spicy) perfectly balanced in every Thai dish. From this starting point, it's a small jump to a cupboard capable of whipping up quick Asian-inspired dishes in a flash.

    For example , sweet soy sauce, shrimp paste, garlic and *palm sugar combine to form an incredibly rich addition to curries. In the interest of helping you along your journey to being a faux gourmet chef of the highest order, I proudl present my "Top 30" list of non-perishables to stock up on for Asian food, along with a few produce items I regularly replace. *I don't include palm sugar on this list because you can easily use brown sugar as a substitute. [Prices, when listed, are from a random grocery store in Chinatown]:

    1. Soy sauce, 20 oz ($2.95)
    2. Oyster sauce (can get vegetarian version), 20 oz ($1.95)
    3. Soy paste , 20 oz ($2.05)
    4. Fish sauce, 25 oz ($1.45)
    5. Rice vinegar, 12 oz ($2.00)
    6. Sriracha sauce, 28 oz ($2.95)
    7. Sweet (thick, Indonesian style) soy sauce, 21 oz ($2.00)

    [(Fake) oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce & regular soy sauce make a great stir-fry base.]

    Sauces are a small investment that goes a long way, because a few dashes of many combinations of the above turns leftover broccoli into a dish worth writing home about (see entry to come).

    Canned & Dried Goods etc.
    8. Straw Mushrooms ($1.35)
    9. Baby Corn ($0.05)
    10. Bamboo Slices ($1.25)
    11. Pineapple ($1.65)
    12. Coconut Milk ($1.15)
    13. Sesame Seeds ($0.95)
    14. Dried Crushed Chili ($1.25)
    15. Jasmine Rice
    16. Rice Noodles
    17. Egg Noodles

    The vegetables make a great substitute for real produce when you just can't be bothered to make a trip outside. I frequently make a basic curry paste and just toss in two or three cans of whatever I have on hand. Having lots of coconut milk is crucial!

    In the Fridge
    18. Onions
    19. Ginger
    20. Garlic
    21. Curry Paste (pre-made, in flavors like Panang, Green, Red, Massuman) ($1.75)

    [Curry paste packs an unreal amount of flavor in that $1.75; the lazy cook's BFF.]

    22. Limes (or the juice-in-a-bottle as shown above, about $1.50 at Trader Joes's)
    23. Concentrated Tamarind Paste ($1.75)
    24. Bird's Eye Chilies

    [Trust me when I say this little bag of chilies goes a long, long way.]

    While these items should be refrigerated, they last a long time and don't need to be replenished too often.

    25. Dried galangal powder ($1.00)
    26. Dried lemongrass powder ($1.00)
    27. Dried ginger powder

    [Common to several southeast Asian cuisines, I've found the above in Vietnamese and Thai grocery stores.]

    The cheater's version of the real thing, the three spices above are really optional, but you'll find them very handy in lieu of (often unavailable at my neighborhood supermarket) fresh lemongrass, and the distinct flavors really go a long way.

    In the Freezer
    28. Shrimp Paste ($3.95)
    29. Dumplings
    30. Whatever meat you like. You can generally make a dish with or without it, adding whatever meat (or potatoes, or tofu) you like or have on hand.

    Shrimp paste: good as a subtle flavor in food, bad stinking up the kitchen. Keep in the freezer to avoid. In addition to being a handy late night snack, dumplings are a great addition to noodle dishes.

    In the Fridge
    Green Onions
    Bell Peppers
    Dark, leafy green (kale, bok choy, etc)
    Tofu, medium
    Kim Chi, 32 oz ($4.75)
    Fresh lemongrass

    These foods are useful in a wide range of dishes, and obviously not just Asian ones, but of course you may adjust for whatever suits your fancy.

    [Fresh lemongrass, ginger & galangal, with their powder-counterparts in the back, form the base of Gaeng Hang Lay curry paste.]

    Sound doable? Don't be overwhelmed, with the exception of the produce, everything on this list can be purchased once and used for quite some time before you must brave the grocery store again. Unless, of course, you find cooking with these materials so fun you have a big dinner party & blow your supply in one merry evening. I'm not responsible for that . . . though I'm happy to provide some recipes!

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Thanksgiving in Wine Country

    A Pleasant Place with Pleasant People

    Taste & See: I plan to write a little more about a few of the specific wineries visited, along with notes on what we ate & drank [and what you could make to approximate the pairings], but first I want to introduce you to the site of my Food & Wine Weekend, a 5,000 person town in Eastern Washington.

    Prosser has come along way from being founded by a special agent of the interior, Colonel William Farrand Prosser, in 1882. The Chamber of Commerce (photo below, courtesy) boasts of "old-fashioned light poles and cobbled sidewalks" and "tree-lined streets," cradled by a "peaceful river meandering through the velvet hills."

    Velvet hills might be stretching it, but irrigation of the surrounding hills with water from the meandering river, along with the nearly sunny days a year, has made for a thriving agriculture community. As the "Birthplace of the Washington Wine Industry," the agriculture boon includes, of course, grapes for wine. Wine and agriculture permeate everything. For example, the Yellow Rose Nursery, where my mom buys oodles of plants (which thrive in the nearly 300 days of sunshine and the tending of which kept me employed throughout high school) was naturally home to a wine-tasting over the weekend.

    The wine being poured at Yellow Rose, a special series by Heaven's Cave Cellars for the Make the Dash Count foundation:

    The country-agriculture-down home theme is also quite the trope for all manner of wine-packaging. The picture below is from the Snoqualmie tasting room, featuring posters off a new series of labels.

    The whole town is rather charming, though having grown up there I may be biased. Then again, who doesn't love pirouetting bush-statues? (These are from the lawn across from the Wine-makers loft, pictured below.) You have to love the whimsical touch.

    I don't think I was able to appreciate this charm as well when I was living there as a child. (To think I ran along those tree-lined cobbled sidewalks on a regular basis pondering not their charm but of the number of blocks left to complete in my run. What a tragic waste of beauty!)

    It may be that the town itself has made a more conscious effort, hosting as it does increasing numbers of wine visitors every year. Or it may simply be that coming from Manhattan, the charm of a 5,000 person town surrounded by rolling hills and open sky, where my parents know the
    wine-makers and the neighbors send over a bottle of port in exchange for a cup of sugar [this actually happened while I was home for Thanksgiving] is naturally amplified. Either way, I'm excited to present some snapshots of Thanksgiving in Wine Country, hub of the up & coming wine industry in Eastern Washington and the place that will always be, in some way, home.

    In eager expectation of the coming boom, or at least the next wave of the existing boom, and in response to the prohibitively high start-up costs inherent in making good wine, Prosser has seen the growth of targeted wine-making & wine-enjoying investments. The recently renamed North Prosser Business Park (now called "Vinters' Village), pictured below, is a perfect example, containing a number of beautiful new wineries, and new tasting rooms for a few established wineries, in walking distance-- definitely a good thing if you plan on tasting wine at more than a few of them.

    Within the larger area of the Vinters' Village is the "Winemakers Loft," an incubator for up to seven small wineries. Much of the equipment is shared but each winery gets its own tasting room. It works out well for visitors: tour buses can park at one convenient spot and while the Seattlites meander from tasting room to tasting room (much like the river meandering around the velvet hills) the bus-drivers can amuse themselves by admiring the pirouetting bushes next door.

    I actually think this is a marvelous idea. For roughly the cost of a New York Law Firm Summer Associate's salary, one can pay a year's rent in the loft & get started on a little something, all one's own. The fee includes enough equipment for each studio winemaker to produce about 1,000 cases: a 1,000 gallon stainless steel tank for fermenting, racking, blending & bottling the wine, and two 500 gallon tanks in the loft's central room, one for red & one for white. And of course, the 1,000 square feet studio with a tasting room in front, and a barrel & storage room in the back. Anyone want to go into the wine-making business with me? You can crush the grapes and chat with the tourist and I'll whip up a little something in the kitchen to match whatever you're pouring.

    The barrel room above belongs to Coyote Canyon, as does the cheery scene below.

    From inside Yellow Rose Nursery:

    It is not, of course, unique to this town that Thanksgiving is turning point for Christmas decorations. But the wineries provide a particularly good venue for a certain folksy, country-style, dare I use the word again, charm.

    From Willow Crest:

    Christmas lights abound and candles, casting a warm glow in the cozy tasting rooms & reflecting beautifully off the hundreds of bottles of wine in luscious jewel tones.

    From Coyote Canyon:

    From Willow Crest: