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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    Saturday, May 23, 2009

    Great, Cheap American Wine II

    Adding to the list:
    more excellent Washington wines under $25

    While my last entry complained of omissions in a recent article reviewing great, cheap wine, I obviously made many grave omissions in my response, as any attempt to catalogue great Washington wines is bound to do.  There are far, far too many wines out there for me to be comprehensive.  But I spent the better part of yesterday hitting the street and wine-tasting my way through a number of local wineries so no one can say I didn't make an effort.  

    Taste & See:  Two wines don't qualify for "the list" because they're over $25 but they were so good I can't not share my joy.  Bunnell Family Cellars Mourvedre and a pic are both stunning. The 2006 Mourvedre, (100% Mourvedre, $38) pure peppery bliss, outshone a Spanish Mourvedre (in Spain, known as monastrell) we'd already decided was pretty stunning itself.  The 2006 a pic (47.5% Syrah, 18.6% Cinsault, 17.3% Mourvedre, and 16.6% Grenache) was seriously like drinking red wine butter.  Butter may be an adjective normally reserved for white wines but this baby was smooth as . . . well, you know the phrase.

    In the budget category, I'm thrilled to share Thurston Wolfe 2006 Syrah.  (See the photo of the winemaker, Dr. Wolfe, on the previous post).  It smells of chocolate pepper; if the taste itself weren't so divine I could almost be content just taking repeated deep breaths in front of a glass.  It is so deep and rich you'd never know it was blended with 5% viognier.  At $16 this wine is a steal; since it will be good now through 2015 you have no excuse not to buy cases!

    Usually Roussanne and Marsanne grapes, both Rhône varietals, go together like peanut butter and jelly; the perhaps better known viognier rounds out the trio.  You don't see many Roussanne headliners however, so I was tickled to try not one but two such versions at Maison Bleue, a new winery specializing in French-style wines.  They have a regular Roussanne called La Vallee du Soleil (2008, $25) that is crisp and fresh, with a fruity (pineapple, peach) start and an acidic finish--nothing regular about it.  They're also doing a sweet Roussanne, called La Vie Douce (2008, $20) that is rather remarkable.  The first taste was rather sweet and I was afraid it would become cloying but I was amazed to find the flavor brighten into a rich, complex blend of flavors I had to keep sipping over and over to get a handle on.  

    And in a quick note to add to my recommendation for the DavenLore 2008 Rose ($13) in the previous post:  I spoke to the winemaker today at the local farmer's market and learned the wine is a blend of Malbec, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot and Cabernet.  We tried and tried to guess but Cab was the only one of the four my friends and I guessed correctly.  That just goes to show how interesting and complex it really is.

    Do it yourself: Don't take my word for it.  Visit these tasting rooms, those discussed in the first part of this article, and others on a weekend (or week) get away to Prosser, Washington, my charming hometown in the heart of the Prosser wine industry.  I am not going to reinvent the wheel and tell you where to stay and eat when you're in town:  see this article about wine-tasting in Prosser and visit the town's chamber of commerce website for tourist information.  Enjoy your visit!

    Friday, May 22, 2009

    Great, Cheap American Wine I

    Correcting a grave omission:
    some excellent Washington wines under $25

    Update:  This post is the first in a series.  Look for other posts of the same title for more delightful Washington wine recommendations under $25.

    I recently read an interesting reflection on the difficulty of finding cheap American wines that are really good, interesting and lively. Too many cheap American wines are cookie cutter blends, tasty but bland, the author complained. Fair enough, but as I'm always a stalwart defender of Washington wines I was obviously disappointed he didn't include any in his list of goodies. I'll just chalk that up to his not having discovered them yet and see what I can do to remedy that.

    A Seattle Times piece compiling a handy list of 100 of that 2008's greatest Washington wines, many of which are under $25, certainly helps. For example, the Thurston Wolfe 2004 JTW Reserve Dessert Wine ($20), Barnard Griffin 2007 White Riesling ($8), Milbrandt Vineyards 2006 Traditions Merlot ($15), Alexandria Nicole 2005 Destiny Ridge Merlot ($24) and Hedges Family 2006 Three Vineyards Red ($25) are all local favorites, to say nothing of wines in other major Washington wine areas, like Walla Walla and Woodinville.

    Dr. Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe winery conducting barrel tastings.

    Taste & See:  Better yet, I've been back in Washington visiting family this week & had a couple great wines lately that belong in his list:

    We enjoyed the
    Daven Lore 2008 Rose ($13), from a new, smaller winemaker in my hometown, on the front lawn at sunset the other night, accompanied by a chevre-pasilla chili-tangerine-pomegranate dip I'd made. It was crisp and fresh, as a rose should be, with a bright cherry aroma but not overwhelmingly fruity or sweet. Very good.

    I haven't had it lately, but my last trip involved tasting at Milbrandt Vineyards, where I fell in love with their Chenin Blanc ($12.99). The bad news it is available only in the tasting room; the good news is that might be enough to enduce some people to visit my charming hometown. The Chenin Blanc is a varietal that fell out of popular usage in the 1980s, a perfect example of the mass production trend the article above describes.  This wine balances notes of kiwi, apples and melon with a nice acidity. (Their charming label & website design doesn't hurt, either.)


    Airfield's signature biplane, decked with Christmas lights

    The fact that I write a food column for Airfield in no way predisposes me to like their wine . . . if anything, I agreed to write the column because I already liked the wine so much. Conventional wisdom has it that the 2007 Oaked ($20) and Unoaked Chardonnays are both absolute winners although the 2007 Unoaked is no longer available.
    The Oaked is creamy, with notes of peach and butterscotch. The 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay is looking promising, however, at $12 a bottle you can taste it repeatedly to watch it develop.

    Personally I've really enjoyed the 2007 Lightning ($20) lately. It is a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Chardonnay and certainly provides the complexity sought after in the aforementioned article. I made a lovely risotto with this wine recently. I seasoned the rice with salt, pepper, butter, a touch of saffron, homemade chicken broth & Lightning. Then I added seared scallops, shrimp, and asparagus touched with lime riesling grapeseed oil--all cooked separately--as well as frozen peas. Finally I melted in a bit of brie cheese, which gave a nice creamy texture. Delicious!

    Finally, the Airfield 2008 Pinot Gris ($16) was a delight with grilled salmon the other night. It has a fresh, clean taste with a good fruity nose, but not at all overly sweet. The label's proclamation--notes of lychee and white peach--is dead on; there's also a mysterious hint of banana. Very enjoyable.

    I know there are many more I could list but I'll never get this posted if I don't stop somewhere. But if you know of another Washington wine that combines value with a really interesting, complex taste, please don't keep it to yourself!

    Thursday, May 21, 2009

    Twitter Me!

    Hello all,

    I just joined the ranks of Twitter at a friend's request. I don't totally get Twitter as a means of communication but I'll give it a shot. I'd be honored if you'd follow me (and I will return the favor, if you like). I don't really know what I'll be twitting about (what is the proper Twitty verb for creating a Twitter post?) but I can promise the foodie equivalent of name-dropping--noting the delicious things I'm eating & drinking at any given time. With any luck it will provide us both with a little cooking inspiration. Find me on Twitter as TheFauxGourmet. (Or see above to follow me.)

    The Faux Gourmet

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Quick Links: Sriracha

    It's a bird. It's a chili. No, Huy Fong Sriracha ("rooster sauce") is supersauce & its origins may surprise you.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Quick Links: Shakes & Sandwiches

    Speaking of strawberries, the New York Times Nutrition page had a recipe for making the ultimate strawberry shake today. The secret is, apparently, a very ripe banana. (The Thai versions are entirely strawberry but they're closer to smoothies; I can see how a banana would give a shake a nice texture).

    I also recently found a story highlighting the ultimate in faux gourmet--cheap Asian sandwich-esque offerings, posed as an alternative to the classic bahn mi. The photos are beautiful even if a few of the offerings sound a bit unappealing (stir fried noodles in bread?). However, they forgot to mention one of my favorites, the as yet unphotographed (by me, anyway) sesame pancake sandwich. The bread is crispy on the outside, soft and airy inside, and stuffed with beef, carrots, cilantro, and chilis. I get mine at Prosperity Dumpling, on Eldridge Street in Manhattan. As the first Yelp review (at least when I checked) says, the beef sesame pancake is divine. Yes indeed.

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Better be street if you lookin' at me II

    A beginner's guide to snacking on Thai fruit

    Taste & See: My family is in town to visit, and naturally I'm busy trying to cram in as many delicious eating experiences as possible in a three day span. My stomach is currently the size and shape of roughly a bowling ball but I'll deal with that later. In the mean time, we are eating our way through New York. Or, more precisely, yesterday afternoon we ate our way from Union Square to SoHo, savoring snacks at a half dozen of my favorite eateries. While I'd be happy to recreate the food tour any time, that's not what I'm writing about today.

    The experience of grazing on small bites up and down New York neighborhoods was reminiscent of what I love about eating in Thailand. There is food in abundance, lining the streets, tucked into alleys, perched along the edges of bus and train stations. Any time you get hungry you hardly have to turn around to find a cheap snack, ready and waiting. There is rarely camel-eating in Thailand, gorging til you can't take a bite more, justified by the need to hold yourself over until the next food milepost. No. Food is an ongoing constant and you can afford to take a small snack of one thing now, knowing another small snack of something else is waiting for you around the next bend, the moment you are in need.

    While snacks in the US tend to be carb-heavy, Thailand offers a rich variety of fruity treats, the perfect respite from the hot and dirty Bangkok streets.
    In fact, one of the delights of Thailand is the abundance of fresh fruit, all the time, everywhere. This doesn't begin to cover the variety of fruits available--no photos of the alien-esque rambutan or the jewel-like mangosteen--but these fruity snapshots from Thai street life aren't a bad start for a wannabe Thai snacker. (Note, this isn't the first time I've written on the topic; see another piece here ("Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old AK"), here ("Sugar + Spice") and here ("Better be street if you lookin' at me I")

    One of my favorite Thai snacks is green mango (mah-muan). Or to be precise, partially green mango. The best mango isn't the lip-pursing, bracing hard and sour green fruits, or the sweet juicy candy of those fully ripe. No, the best are just a bit flexible, a bit pale-yellowish soft and ripe in the middle, just the faintest trace of sour remaining and only the beginning of sweet. The effect is not the overwhelming candy of the ripe fruits or the suckerpunch of the raw ones, but a simple, mellow mangoey essence. A mango in pre-cut slices in a bag runs about 10 B; hard to beat.

    Everywhere you find little blue carts with glass iced containers containing, typically, coral sticks of papaya, (mah-la-gawn) spiky yellow mounds of pineapple, (za-pa-rote) pink watermelon (dtang-moe) wedges and glossy green rose apples (chom-poo) or guava (farang, which, incidentally, also means foreigners; expect a little laugh at the popular joke: farang gin farang; the foreigner is eating himself). Everything is 10 B for a bag; that is, 10 B for half an ice cold pineapple, peeled, chopped and slid into a plastic bag with a whir of a machete. Stab a piece with a bamboo skewer and feel a cool breeze transport you from Bangkok grime to a beachside cabana.

    Chili salt and sugar are option but favored by Thais, especially for guava and raw mango.

    One of the boons of Thai street fruit offerings is that all the work is done for you. Jackfruit (tah-noon), durian (tuhr-ri-ahn) and pomelo (some-oh!) are all a pain and a half to peen and serve, definitely not something you buy for a casual stroll down the street. (For durian, there is also the small matter of that smell . . . ) But thanks to ingenious vendors who do the dirty work for you, a snack sized takeaway container is ready and waiting to provide that crisp fresh pomelo burst, any time you like.

    Don't let jackfruit's spiky outer covering fool you; it looks like durian but the fruit is nothing like it. The yellowing hunks of jackfruit, like oversized corn kernels, have a flavor unlike any Western fruit or spice I can recall, sweet but not overpoweringly, with a note of something a bit sour and tangy—but not acidic. The fruit itself is fairly hefty, with a stretchy, chewy texture. Banana leaves make a convenient serving tray—waste not, want not!

    150 B for the durian, 20 for the pomelo and jackfruit is usually comparable to pomelo in price/serving size; prices vary more widely with these kinds of specialty fruits.

    Oranges (som!, as if an exclamation) by the kilo are pretty cheap, but I might prefer the piles squeezed into made-to-order juice than whole.

    Whole coconuts (mah-prao) conveniently provide natural containers for coconut water with coconut shavings options; prices vary but expect to pay 20-35 B.

    Guava (farang) and passion fruit (nang chom) juices are two other fabulously refreshing treats. This woman also sold an orange carrot mix.

    Be wary, juice may be salty; it can come as a shock if you're not prepared. Check to make sure it is not by asking, “mai kem, chai mai?” Not salty, right? You want to hear them tell you “mai kem,” not salty.

    And when the sun beats down, your feet are sore from a day of traipsing the Bangkok streets, and your throat is dry with the pollution of a bustling city, nothing beats the heat like a strawberry smoothy (bun sah-traw-ber-ree!) made from almost nothing except strawberries chilling in a fat of icy water. It is kind of like drinking summer. 15 B.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009


    Hello dear friends,

    I've been a bad blogger lately. I know I rarely talk about my personal life but for those who don't know me personally, I'm completing a graduate program this week and I've been rather busy—well--doing that. But I've missed you, as I hope you've missed me. Now that you can call me Faux Gourmet, Esquire, I'm back with a vengeance . . . until prepping for the bar sends me back into a cave for a few weeks in July. But before & after that I'm all yours, so please resume your habit of checking What's in the Pot? blog regularly!

    Thanks for your patience while I took a needed hiatus. I look forward to celebrating the joy of eating & exploring good food on the cheap once again.

    The Faux Gourmet

    “I ordered the Yum Neuah but yours was better.”

    Taste & See:  In honor of my dear friend, D, who is soon to move away from our great city back to the barren wilderness from whence he came, I present for you one of his favorite recipes—that is, one of his favorite things to have me cook: Yum Neuah (new-ah). I know. With a name like “yum!” how can you go wrong? Yum Neuah is a Thai beef salad, kind of like a deconstructed beef burrito, sans carbs & replacing Mexican spices with Thai spices. Ok, maybe it's not that similar to a beef burrito. Maybe, simple, fresh & healthy recipe that it is, Yum Neuah is far superior.

    D sometimes tells me when he's had Thai food, “I ordered the Yum Neuah but yours was better.” That may be a bit of nostalgia speaking more than, say, an bite-to-bite taste test analysis, but I'll take it. I did learn from the best, after all. My most memorable Yum Neuah experience involved a Hmong wedding in the north of Thailand where almost every last part of an entire cow (and two pigs) were slaughtered, butchered and transformed into myriad beefy recipe. The women sat at long picnic tables, peeling bags of garlic, chopping lemongrass and green onions, and pounding chilies for an hour. The most magical concoction of all was an enormous vat of glistening chunks of beef into which a potpourri of spices and sauces were churned. A bit of time on the grill and the Yum Neuah meat fairly danced in the mouth, popping with complex notes of flavor, as Thai food is wont to do.

    You don't have to kill your own cow to make good Yum Neuah, however. D, if you should desire to impress your new friends, just follow along. Before you know it, they'll be sending you texts about how much better your Yum Neuah is.

    Do it Yourself

    Yum Neauh involves three steps, each of which is fairly easy. The hardest part is figuring out proportions that create a flavor that works for you. The trick in Thai food is balance- a harmonious blend of salty, sweet, sour and spicy. I give you estimates (for a 4 person meal) so the rule-bound cooks among us don't get too worried, but it is really best if you experiment. Don't be afraid to pour and shake using your eye instead of measuring cup, and when it comes to chopping veggies, go with however much of each you want to eat. There is no formula. Just take heart that with these ingredients as your raw materials, it is hard to make the food taste bad, and if you do, they're cheap enough you can try, try again.


    Meat: About one pound rump or sirloin steak

    Meat marinade:
    4 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 square inch ginger, chopped
    1 bunch cilantro (coriander) roots, washed and chopped
    3 tbsp olive oil
    ½ tsp ground black pepper

    4 Tbsp fish sauce (like salt in baking, fish sauce doesn't give a fishy or salty flavor but simply helps to enhance other flavors)
    4 Tbsp lime juice
    2 Tbsp soy sauce
    1 tsp chili flakes (more if you like it hot; also consider chopping up 1-2 fresh bird chilies per person), 1Tbsp palm sugar (substitute brown sugar if you can't find it)

    Vegetable base:
    2 red onions, diced, generously sized
    1 bunch green onions, chopped (use both the green and the white parts)
    1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
    1 bunch mint (sprinkle on chopped leaves as you like)
    1 bunch cilantro (sprinkle on chopped leaves as you like; I can't stand cilantro so I omit)
    1 bag pre-mixed greens
    1 ½ cup cherry tomatoes


    Let the meat marinate while you prepare the dressing in another bowl.

    Grill the meat—and by “grill” I mean, fire up the back burner, let a pan dowsed in olive oil get good and hot, and give the steak a good few minutes on each side, just enough to char the outside and leave the middle nice and juicy. Of course, if bloody isn't your thing, by all means, keep it on a bit longer. Once the top and bottom are both seared, however, you might want to turn down the heat a bit and add a lid to avoid burning the outside while the middle gets done.

    Slice the meat into long strips and let it marinate in the dressing.

    Start a batch of rice.

    While the meat soaks in the flavor, chop the vegetables for the vegetable base and arrange them in a separate bowl.

    Spoon meat and dressing over a pile of greens and a side of rice; enjoy with a cold beer.

    Note: Yum Neuah makes great leftovers, but don't pour the juicy meat over the whole bowl greens or they'll get mushy; instead, serve individual portions from separate serving bowls. When you eat Yum Neuah right as its cooked, the meat will be hot but it is also delicious cold, straight from the fridge.

    You can also make a vegetarian option by simply serving as a vegetable salad; there is a vegetarian version of “fish” sauce. But honestly, you're missing out.