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!


The Faux Gourmet

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    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    Dinner Party Donation Fund Update: Had my 2nd dinner party the other night & we doubled the fund! Plus, Heifer sent me all kinds of promotional material, including brochures, a poster, and little animal pins, so I look official. (If you missed the first story about the DPDF, see here.)

    The menu, in case you are interested, included:

    - Butternut Squash Soup, a new recipe. It was just OK, and I had to crank up the spices off-recipe to keep it from tasting like baby food. Given that a butternut squash cost approximately $6 and had to be roasted and pureed (a little antithetical to the Faux Gourmet ethos), I may stick with my traditional cheaper and easier Curried Pumpkin Soup, using pumpkin from a can. Now that is faux gourmet, kids; no shame.

    - Arugula Salad with fresh chevre, grilled pears, roasted red peppers, and toasted pecans. In keeping with the salty-caramel theme (see previous entry and related links), I added a dash of sea salt to the pears once they'd reached their delectable caramel state. I think it worked, bringing out the sweet with the contrast. I often make a grilled pear-prosciutto-pecorino grilled sandwich; the salt in the meat and cheese cover the same ground.

    - Baked Phyllo-Dough Wrapped Brie with fig jam, using brie a guest brought.

    - Bread and Garlic-Chili Olive Oil (see recipe here; just omit the shrimp for a quick dipping oil).

    - Couscous as featured in Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten, and his column in the New York Times' Thursday Dining In section, The Minimalist. It was heavenly the night I made it, filling my apartment with the aromas of orange peel, cardamom, and rosewater, perfect complements to the crunch pistachios, apricot and almond. The next day it was a bit gummy, however, so I'd recommend making day-of or reducing the liquid-to-grain ratio. I haven't yet researched how to make couscous less gummy, but I shall look into it & report.

    - Lamb in a pomegranate syrup and olive oil marinade, "grilled" on the stove, drizzled with pomegranate molasses. I went to an Italian butcher, who asked what I was making and selected and kebab-cubed the meat for me, and it was still only $6.99 a pound. Compare to aforementioned so-so squash and that looks like an even better deal.

    - Seriously Good Fresh Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Browned Butter Cream Sauce. The ravioli were from Murray's Cheese, and weren't cheap, but were so incredible, and bursting with flavorful filling (not like those crappy, 85% pasta dough ravioli you're used to) they were worth it. Two per person was enough, all things considered.

    - Flourless Chocolate Cake, made (more or less) by a guest chef, M. Drizzled with raspberry sauce and served with vanilla ice cream, courtesy my roommate.

    Phew, that was quite a job. I wouldn't recommend making all that solo! The dinner was on Wednesday and I didn't finish washing all the dishes til Thursday night. When I finished my Friday appointments, I more or less collapsed and enjoyed me a nice, long sleep. But it was worth it; it always is.

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Quick Tip: Heaven in Liquid Form

    (Not that liquid form . . . )

    Quick Tip: A reader wrote in with the following comment:

    "I recalled reading your blog entry about your Aunt's homemade caramels (pictured above) and the obsession with salted caramel that followed with dulce de leche ice cream. I just tried the new Starbucks SALTED Caramel Hot Chocolate and it was incredible. Perhaps, one of the best hot chocolates I've even experienced. Home-made hot chocolate on the stove from a box of Hersey's baking chocolate and the hot chocolate made from Mexican Chocolate Oxagon discs
    being the top tier of hot chocolates.

    While I do not necessarily want to promote a large commercial chain known for sub-standard and unoriginal coffee drinks, I have to insist the salted caramel hot chocolate is a must-try! Especially during a late-night study session."

    My first thought: Genius!! As I have made clear many times (e.g. here, and here, and the salty caramels mentioned above), salty caramel is a divine combination.

    I too, bemoan promoting a large commercial chain (even one from Washington) but I know a good idea when I see one. Anyway, I have already raved about Haagen Dazs getting in on the salty caramel trend, with its fluer de sel caramel ice cream, a flavor that turned out to be tasty (but when is Haagen Dazs not?), but a little stingy with the caramel. I figured it wouldn't kill me to try Starbuck's new drink once, for research purposes . . . just so I can give you my review, and to aid me in developing a recipe for the delicacy that doesn't require a trip to Starbucks.

    The verdict: my drink didn't stand up to the expectations. I could barely taste the salty caramel; it was kind of just a hot chocolate. I don't know if this is a reflection of the lack of uniformity at Starbucks, despite their best intentions; my drink was made by a bored and overworked high school kid who was busy leaving drawn shots of espresso unattended and pouring slapdash, foamless steamed milk. Also, I didn't order whipped cream; perhaps the cream is necessary to hold a thick caramely layer on top, highlighting the flavor.

    In any case, I am certain I can do better and when my hot-chocolate drinking research produces a salty-caramel pinnacle, I shall share my findings. A tough job, but someone's gotta do it. Just be thankful you have me.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Launch of Dinner Party Donation Fund!

    I love to have people over & cook for people; it is something I'm good at and it makes me happy to cozy up with a circle of people I enjoy, in turn making them happy. But some discussion at my church small group the other week got me thinking . . . how can I use this thing I love, this talent, the space I have (what there is of it!), to serve people outside my circle of friends? People who cannot repay me, who have greater concrete needs? (Not to say my friends don't have a real need to eat something tasty from time to time!)

    Enter The Dinner Party Donation Fund,
    a collective effort to allow our enjoyment of good food & good company to benefit more than just ourselves. (Suggestions for a snazzy name, preferably with a really awful--by which I mean, wonderful--pun & some punchy alliteration?) I have dinner parties anyway; people offer to contribute anyway. Now I just provide the no-pressure option to anonymously put some money in an envelope. We'll use the funds to support various organizations that are doing good work and helping people build better lives for themselves. I don't necessarily make more than the cost of the meal itself (my time + groceries), but I don't intend the dinners to function as fundraisers per se. I'm just providing an opportunity for the people who enjoy the experience to tangibly express it.

    I'm biased towards organizations that address an underlying problem rather than just doling out a band aid. Consequently, our first project is to buy a cow ("an udderly original gift") through Heifer International, a $500 purchase. Last night we ate gaeng hang lay curry using the recipe of Pee Jam, my Hmong host mother, who worked with Heifer in Northern Thailand. She presided over several "pass the gift" ceremonies, where women who'd received livestock via Heifer gave one of the offspring to another woman. Cows provide milk, with needed calcium and protein, not just for the family, but to sell, turning a profit which can finance things like school fees. When I lived in Central America, another family used their animal as collateral to obtain a loan, with which they purchased a sewing machine and started a tailoring business. Without the animal, they'd have had to use their home, and I think we have a renewed appreciation of the problems with that.

    Our first night got us off to a great start, enabling me to move the cartoon cow up the grass pasture thermometer designed by my roommate. (Photos forthcoming.) I am having another dinner on Wednesday, and hopefully many more to follow, moving that cow up towards the goal. If you're in the New York area please email for an invite.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old AK"

    Image, Kalandrakas (and more where that came from)

    Note: I'm having trouble with my photos; the colors in the photos below do not match the colors
    and (in my opinion) do not look nearly as good as they do as displayed in my photo-editing software. I'm not sure what the problem is. Hopefully I can figure it out soon enough & you will humor me & suffer through the lesser versions of the images.

    Taste & See: Starting in 2006, to mark the 60th anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's ascension to the throne, the Thai people began wearing yellow shirts en masse on Mondays. Yellow is the color of Mondays, the day on which HM was born, and thus auspicious. When the military coup ousted the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the soon-to-be-banned Thai Rak Thai ("Thais love Thai land/people") party, it came festively, bearing yellow ribbons and guns.

    Pink became the new yellow in 2007, when HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana Kroma Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra (how's that for a mouthful) of Thailand was admitted to the hospital for cancer treatment, and her brother, HM the King, was spotted visiting her in a pink shirt. Pink was soon traded for green when HM left the hospital in a green blazer a few days later.

    Black was exchanged for green a few months later, in January 2008, during the traditional 16 day ritual of HRH's state funeral. I was back in Bangkok at that time, doing research for WITP at some Thai markets near the palace. One minute I was photographing porridge, the next minute the market was mobbed with middle age ladies in black lace, stopping by to mop up some noodles after paying respects to HRH at Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall.


    I love the Thai street markets because they are where everyone comes together. My high society Bangkok host family would plunk me down on plastic stools at makeshift tables with the same ease as my rural Hmong family or community development co-workers. Kids weave soccer balls around the fruit vendors, who peel mangoes for the noodle makers, who dish up bowls of goey-teow for the moto cabbies to slurp up in between ferrying college students to and from classes to the only other activity that matters, eating in the market in between classes.

    Political chaos and mourning HRH doesn't stop the everyday goings-on of the market:

    Sales of some items probably go up; fragrant floral wreathes used as offerings/expressions of honor or sympathy:

    Cheerfully buying & selling lottery tickets:

    A rainbow of seasonal produce for sale, including chompoo (rose apple), grapes, green mangoes, and tamarind:

    Fruit vendor waits for customers:

    A woman waits with buckets of crab and fish to sell:

    A shoe vendor relaxes in the shade:

    A pair of motos waits for the owners to finish lunch:

    Luk Krung ("half Thai") sells desserts (See the hair? I'd bet my britches he's the progeny of a Thai woman & an American soldier during Vietnam et al.):

    Bags of chili paste, steamed vegetables, and roasted chickens ready for an easy dinner:

    Man cutting fish to order for moto driver:

    Woman sips
    nam dang (red juice made with a flavored sugar syrup) and sells various kinds of pak (vegetables):

    Elderly woman waits to weigh fish:

    Vegetable vendor makes a sale:

    Mobile orange vendor:

    Woman roasts fat bananas and chilies for
    nam prik (chili paste); pounds nam prik:

    School boy wheels little girl down a Bangkok sidewalk:

    Even as the coup threw democracy out the window (again) and a series of political disputes (see also, an almost comical prosecution) of Constitutional proportions rocked the polarized country into a series of showdowns and violent protests (escalating still), the market continues to be a festive middle ground. (Not that people don't show their stripes at the market; TRT signs used to be present in abundance on vendor carts.)

    Ice Cream vendor demonstrates his loyalty to the People Power Party (PPP) through the sticker on his cart:

    Satay vendor uses stickers to show pork, chicken, and been skewers, and patriotism:

    After all, whether you favor the TRT leadership's ongoing grip on power under a different name, or whether you demand a new election, everyone has to eat.

    On a more personal note, I wish I could be there now. My heart is heavy for my beloved Prathet Thai. Keetung jang loey. (I miss Thailand alot.) It is killing me to have to read about the continuing developments from this distance, so hard to get an accurate picture of what is happening and how people are responding. I suppose it is my sense of wistful nostalgia that led me to post the idyllic pictures above when one could just easily show images like these.

    Thursday, October 2, 2008

    Not Even Faux Gourmet

    The Faux Gourmet Wants to Know: What is your favorite easy on-the-go snack? Leave your comments below!

    I was ridiculed yesterday (again) for munching on one of my favorite snacks: pure, unadorned, celery.

    Photo, Organic Passion

    "Watching you eat that makes me doubt your abilities as a chef," one of my friends joked. It isn't that I'm trying to lose weight (celery famously has fewer calories than the number required to eat & digest it, but it is not a weight loss tool).

    Nor am I seeking the health benefits (vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, foliate, molybdenum, manganese and vitamin B6, calcium, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, magnesium, vitamin A, phosphorous and iron, not to mention reducing high blood pressure, clearing uric acid from painful joints, possibly helping the treatment of arthritis and rheumatic problems, and helping the kidney as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant).

    I tried to explain that the fresh, clean celery was just a nice break from the more complicated flavors in the rest of my food but she was having none of it. Celery is, apparently, so lame, it isn't even faux gourmet. I suppose what with celery being so popular among such luminaries as guinea pigs, dogs, horses, birds, squirrels, and small rodents, it is a hard sell. But come on people, without celery you couldn't have chicken noodle soup, or Cajun cuisine, or a decent Bloody Mary! (My Auntie R's excepting.)
    Give me a break!

    Photo, eat'n style Munchen (see also accompanying recipe)

    So I persist in my celery eating ways, iconoclast that I am.
    I scoop up piles of velvety hummus, I fill it with peanut butter and dot it with raisins for a sweet little treat, or I just munch away, keeping me awake through hours of thick reading. Delicious!

    Photo, Inside Voice (see also accompanying recipe)

    Meanwhile, the Faux Gourmet has been wondering what simple snacks you, dear readers, turn to in a pinch, when you need an easy, portable snack to tide you through. You can't sound sillier than me, with my celery-munching ways!

    Please post a comment & share your favorite on-the-go snacks.