30 May 2011

Ma Lai Gao (马来糕) (Malay Cake)

My mum used to/still does buy these cute round little yellow (not natural cake-type yellow. I mean Spongebob-style yellow) cakes from the freezer section of Kamman, the Asian food store. They're called ma[3] lai[2] gao[1] (马来糕). It literally means "Malaysian cake", and for a cake so small, I wonder how it's so succulent (yes, out of all words, I believe that "succulent" is the most accurate adjective). All you have to do is stick them in a microwave for a few seconds, and they end up so spongy and chewy and pillowy.
When browsing through food blogs, I found a recipe for ma lai gao, and I tried it out today. Since I didn't have white flour with me, I used 100% whole wheat flour (whoo!). Evidently, it didn't end up looking Spongebob-yellow. It didn't taste much like the store-bought one either. It was much more buttery and had irregular air bubbles. The store-bought version had perfectly uniform batter, and has a really distinct taste that I couldn't replicate in this version.
This version is still amazing though, but I really wish that I could copy the store-bought version instead, even though I think it used shortening and other random stuff (I'll check next time). The whole point of making the ma lai gao from scratch was so that we'd never have to buy plastic-covered, made-six-months-ago ma lai gao from Kamman anymore!
Unfortunately, since I'm now back in Philadelphia, I won't have access to a steamer, brown sugar, or my tasters (my brother and sister, since they're the ones who eat the ma lai gao), so I guess I'll have to wait until August.
However, this is the quest I've been waiting for! I'm gonna replicate the store-bought ma lai gao!

28 May 2011

Apple Pie!

0.5 cup of sugar
3 tbsp whole wheat flour
cinnamon and/or whatever spices you like
3 giant apples (You know, the ones from Costco), sliced. I had one Rome, one Royal Gala, and one Golden Delicious.
Pie crust!! (whole wheat!)

All you do is layer apple with sugar and flour. I managed to get three layers of apples in my glass pie pan (which doesn't seem to have issues with dough sticking on it, so it's cool).
On the bottom rack, I baked for 20 mins at 375F and 15 mins at 350F. Then, I let it sit in the oven (while the oven was cooling down) for about 50 minutes to an hour.
I guess it's a matter of preference, but I really don't like apple pie when the apple parts have the consistency of mashed potato/applesauce. I also don't want super sweet apple pie.
So, for me, improvements to this recipe would be
1. Less sugar in apple filling. For sure.
2. Bake pie in less time (Possibly bake the crust for 10 minutes first, then add in the apple, to get less soggy apple).
3. More sugar in crust.

We had leftover pie crust because the top design didn't really use much crust, so my sister ended up making cookies with it (microwave for 45 s). Pie crust cookies are really yummy, actually.

26 May 2011

Pie Crust!

I made pie crust today because it has to sit overnight for the apple pie tomorrow. I've already figured out a design for the top! No, it will not be a crumble top.
I looked through my old photos to see if I ever took a picture of the pie I made 5 years ago, and unfortunately, I didn't.

I guess the rules for this pie crust are that it's made with patience and whole wheat flour. I know it's rare to see whole wheat pie crust, and it's even rarer to see pie crust made with chunks of butter (not melted) without the use of a food processor.

I found a pie crust recipe here and I altered it specifically for whole wheat flour and apple pie filling.
Ingredients for a 9- to 9.5-inch pie base and top
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon sugar or just plain sugar (more if you want)
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter cut into chunks
5 to 7 tbsp apple juice (or water)

1. Sift flour. Add everything except juice/water into bowl.
2. Cut butter using a metal spoon. I suppose a plastic knife would work well too.
3. Cut butter. Now, the dough starts smelling phenomenal. For some reason, my dough smelled like cheesecake-graham-cracker crust, or just pie crust in general.
4. Cut butter. The dough looks browner, the butter pieces are smaller, and ... I smooshed some butter too because cutting butter took a lot of time. In retrospect, though, leaving a few lumps may not have made much differenc.
5. Add juice/water until you can form a ball.
6. Stick in fridge overnight. I didn't wrap it in plastic wrap... I just stuck it in a container. For cookie dough, at least, it doesn't seem necessary to wrap stuff in plastic.

Well. Let's see what happens tomorrow!

25 May 2011

Chocolate Pudding!

Something is wrong about my blog. Something terrible and ignored for 17 months.

The pie is a lie.

Despite calling my blog PIE-314, I've yet to make a pie and blog it on here. Sure, cheesecake has some sorta shell, and egg tarts can be considered open-top pies, and I've posted about pie before (made by others). I've just never made pie from scratch.
Actually, scratch that. I've made pies a few times in my life and I believe that they all turned out to be pretty much disasters. The chocolate pie I made when I was in year 8 turned out to have super overwhipped filling (it was still delicious, though). The berry pie with lattice top I made when Harry Potter 5 came out was really sour I didn't follow a recipe and I used only a few teaspoons of sugar.
The apple pies I made nearly EXACTLY 4 years ago, on Memorial Day 2007, were made with some biscuit mix and cracker crumbs (cracker crumb top). If THAT doesn't sound bad enough, I used dried apples that I tried to rehydrate by sticking them in water for half an hour (figuring osmosis would do something). I also followed no recipe, meaning that I had this dried-apple-and-preservatives-and-water sludge sitting on biscuit-mix-mixed-with-crackers concoction sitting in the oven for some random amount of time...but it didn't burn.

The best part was that the crust actually turned out pretty delicious.
The worst part was that I gave one of the two pies that I had made to my neighbour...and I actually felt proud of what I had made. So, now I cringe.

On Friday, I will actually make an apple pie. (Why? To show that in 4 years, I taught myself how to bake. It's not for a patriotic reason.) From scratch. I guess you all know by now that I dislike the whole pre-made crust, cake mix, pudding mix etc. enterprise.
So how does all this tie in with chocolate pudding? Well, I was going to make a chocolate pie, and I was determined to follow the recipe for once (instead of tweaking everything), because it was a tofu recipe by Alton Brown, and he's pretty awesome. However, I was pretty occupied most of today, and it was also really hot, so baking just didn't sound appetizing. Instead, I just made chocolate pudding from the pie recipe. No, not pie filling, because instead of using 13 ounces of chocolate, I only used 4 (116 g). Why? ...I only had 116 g of chocolate. It's perfectly fine, though, because 4 oz of strong chocolate makes the pudding taste like chocolate, too. I'm never going to buy pudding again! Those pudding cups are silly now!
Ingredients for pretty bitter but so intensely chocolately pudding (just the way I like it!)
116 g (4 oz) 65% cocoa chocolate
1 tbsp honey
1 lb silken tofu
2 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Stick everything except tofu in the microwave for 30 s.
Blend with tofu.
Stick in fridge overnight.
Since my pudding is still chillin' in the "chill chest" (Alton Brown terminology), I guess I'll take more photogenic pictures tomorrow at breakfast time [Update: it's the first photo]
What? You don't eat pudding for breakfast?
Nutritionally, it's the same as eating scrambled tofu and drinking hot chocolate, which many people do for breakfast. So why can't I eat pudding?

I'm making apple pie on Friday.
(By the way, it's world thyroid day...not that much happens)

24 May 2011

Food Addiction?

I was cleaning out my "internet scrapbook" folder full of funny, ingenious and cool things I find on the internet (e.g. a CD container being used as a bagel lunchbox). I find it rather disturbing that a majority of the pictures that I have amassed are food pictures. Cute cupcakes with icing, grilled bread, chocolate mooncakes, a wallet shaped like toast with butter... a cow sitting at a guillotine (I'll keep that one.), a circuit board made out of candy, various cheese items, and the list could go on. There's even a dark chocolate bedsheet design! And chocolate vermicelli!

There is definitely something wrong with me.

Time to annihilate all these pixels. Actually, I should make a list of foods/concepts that I want to try. It'll be fun. So that'll be on the sidebar --->

23 May 2011

I'm With Fatty by Edward Ugel

I spent a few hours of my day reading Edward Ugel's I'm With Fatty: Losing Fifty Pounds in Fifty Miserable Weeks. It's a pretty short read detailing 6 foot 2 Ed's attempt to lose 50 pounds - from 263 lbs to 213 lbs within 50 weeks (do I call him Edward? Ed? Mr Ugel? I guess Ed, because he talks to us really familarly). His writing style is pretty droll; I don't really laugh but I get his jokes/allusions to other literature works when he mentions them (in particular, the Thor reference!).

In dishing out his struggles, Ed sheds light on his personality, his culinary training (Dude! 5ish years of learning about ingredients and cooking with a French chef! I would love that!), his childhood food culture, his - frankly speaking - addiction to food, his exercise, and the way his family supports him. Stuffed in are snippets that make the story realistic: the occasional/frequent (depending on your point of view) relapses, the binges, the 3+ pints of ice cream in a day, the slurping up of a Big Mac (without the center bread piece, to make him feel better). You start to care for this Ed guy, perhaps due to empathy, or just the way he sounds so intent on trying. You want him to lose all those 50 lbs, even though the faceless obese 1/3 of the American population (or 2/3, if you want to stick in the "overweight" people too) need to lose some 50+ lbs to be labelled "healthy" according to BMI standards. The way Ed pleads with himself to stick to his "Fatty Project" and the clear fact that he gets all depressed and mindless when his wife leaves him (For a week. For a conference. This isn't a drama book.) all give some sort of sincerity to our narrator. In addition, he doesn't belittle us with any pompous attitude; instead, he uses layperson's speech and - the best part - he doesn't preach some sorta diet. This is a dude telling a story, not selling a fad diet/book/marketing some product for $$$ (*nod to Dr. Atkins, Dr. McDougall, Dr. South Beach, and the "Is Sugar Toxic?" article in the NY Times, by Dr. Lustig*).

Oh wait, Ed IS selling a book - this one. It's okay, he needs the money. This is his job after all; after being fired from his previous job, his "job" was to stay at home with his kids and adhere to his "Fatty Project" for a year, and write about it. Oh, and cook dinner, which by the way, was another reason I liked him, because my father staunchly believes that mother does the cooking.

Of course, there are parts that I disagree with. I almost skipped past the part about a juice cleansing diet thing that Ed and his personal trainer tried, because
1. Juices for a week for "cleansing" are terribly unhealthy. There is literally no protein in drinking raw vegan juices for a week, let alone much fibre. However, I'm fairly sure there are enough vitamins (except B12, but as Ed does eat animal products, he definitely has enough B12 to last a few months stored in his liver) and minerals for a week, and I suppose a short-term juice diet doesn't cause death or anything too serious. After all, it's better than the french fry & soda diet that 100s/1000+s of people go through, right?
2. Ed claimed that his personal trainer lost 10 lbs within 24 hours, and another 8 lb by the next day. Losing 10 lbs in one day seems rather far-fetched, and my Nutrition 517 professor, Dr Compher, said that it seemed highly unlikely. I suppose this can be explained if Ed's personal trainer has a high BMR (understandable). In addition, Ed did say that his trainer's muscles did look like they atrophied, so I guess that could be a source of the weight loss. Either way, still unrealistic for the layperson.

***Spoiler Alert***
So what happens in the end? After going through a roller coaster of weight gain and loss, Ed finds himself 46 lbs lighter, happy with the fact that he ate healthy and played racquetball through the winter holiday season, and only at an overweight BMI (as opposed to an obese class I BMI)! He's happy, he realises that people at gyms and Weight Watcher meetings aren't snobs or judgmental; they're friendly and/or indifferent. It's a pretty chill ending.
***END Spoiler Alert***

So why am I doing a non-science book review on a food blog? Frankly, I haven't read a good food book a while; in a lot of books, I find the author really critical or utterly obnoxious, or I disagree with a lot of the premises made because they aren't scientifically correct, or are just so self-evident it seems degrading to me to read it. Ed doesn't claim anything scientific, he doesn't arrogantly ridicule others. Quite the contrary. He details his addiction, his obsession, his compulsive eating, and he voices his fears and helplessness. He's one of us. We all want to lose weight for some reason, and we all subconsciously think about it even when we do EpicMealTime-esque dinners. He makes me see myself - I'm a food addict too! I'm obsessed with food too! Sure, I'm classified as "healthy" by BMI standards, but there's currently the frosh 15. According to Ed's doctor, gaining 10 lbs in a month (which Ed did in the first month of his Fatty Project) is a terrible feat. I gained 10+ lbs the first month after taking methimazole last year. Lovely, you know, as it was also prom/beach season (but I didn't go to prom! Harhar!). Since I've generally kept my weight out of this food blog, I don't think I'll stop now, since it's such a vapid topic.

Anyway, as Ed says, if you want to motivate someone to get off being labelled as class I or II obese, threaten them with the fact that they'd probably die from sleep apnea, oh, shall we say, tonight, and that in order to save yourself and see your kids grow old, you have to wear a humiliating breathing mask thing...unless you lose some weight.

I guess it makes me feel glad that, hey, at least I, unlike Ed, don't have "fat pants" - larger sized pants for in case I get fat during the week.

22 May 2011

Nifster's Chocolate Bears

My sister, a.k.a. the Nifster, bought a chocolate bear mould&chocolate kit from Michaels, the art store. In other words, she spent some sum of money buying a piece of pretty plastic and a few pellets of weird waxy "chocolate". The stuff wasn't even legitimate chocolate! It was just this bizarre chocolate-coloured play-dough-esque thing that tasted like super-solidified lip balm. Erm...
In total, she ended up with six chocolate lollypops. She gave one of her precious treasures to me, and I really appreciate it because she spent I-don't-really-know-how-long crafting such exquisite treats.
Trust me; it looks more discoloured in real life. So, since I didn't feel safe eating it, I decided to throw it away. :( I know, I'm wasting food, but it tasted really off. Yes, I did taste it first, and I did swallow some of it. It also smelled weird.

I bet when I was a kid, I would've loved to have one of these make-your-own-shaped-chocolate kids. Seriously, how awesome would it be if I could give out chocolate and say that it was MY doing? I suppose this is the appeal these things have to kids, or even adults who don't really mind the weird taste of the chocolate. For a person who is really finicky (but not too esoteric) about chocolate (i.e. me), this just doesn't work because it kinda grosses me out, unfortunately.
I mean, does that look like a bear to you? Cancerous, maybe. Metastasised tumours! Or, you know, normal decay.

The bright side is that now when I get actual chocolate chips - not stuff with PHOs or other random oils - the Nifster can get out her mould and we can make real chocolate bears! I do kind of wish that she had frog moulds, because I miss chocolate frogs from both Harry Potter and Australia. I just searched up the name of the chocolate frogs I used to eat in Australia - FREDDO FROG!!! - I really miss those :(. I've only had chocolate frogs once in my life, and I just realised that after HP7 Part 2 comes out, the sales of Harry Potter foods will - oh wait, I forgot about the theme park. Okay, so there will definitely be a stock of Harry Potter food in the future. I just need enough money to go to FL and purchase all those things.

Speaking of which, why is there no 100% Star Wars theme park?

20 May 2011

Taste of Penn Part VI: NuGo Nutrition Bars

This is part of the series about the Taste of Penn.

I got/am still pretty sick with a cold/cough/fever/snot flowing out of my nose so I decided to curl up and burn and freeze (oh fevers.) while reading The Da Vinci Code instead of blogging last night. The last time I had read The Da Vinci Code was the night before/up to when I turned 13. It's kind of weird reading it again, because I had missed many facts and I think I misunderstood some of the plot line, too. Or, well, I guess I read it with both more skepticism and an open mind this time (if that makes sense. Skepticism, because "APPLE" was a really obvious answer (although factually incorrect, I think?, because the Bible never mentions an apple. It mentions fruit, yeah, but not apples), and everything is just implausible and bombastic. Open mind, because I guess I know more about religion now and I see each character in a more neutral light now than I did before. I guess the worst part of growing up for me is that I stop believing in fiction, and Dan Brown isn't that cool to me anymore.


My last blog post about the Taste of Penn concerns NuGo Nutrition.
In all honesty, I nearly skipped going to this table, because I figured it'd be something like Zone bars or Balance bars, and I'm not really interested in them. But I had pretty much looked around at all the other tables, so I decided to take a sample from NuGo and ask the cliche question. The representative sounded pretty knowledgeable. "We use REAL dark chocolate. You know where we get our cooca from? The best place from chocolate in the world. Java." (At least, I think that's what he said. I apologise if my memory is a bit off).
And that sparked my curiosity, because nutrition bar companies don't usually boast about the chocolate part of the bar. They usually boast about the protein content or glycemic index.
The representative at the table and I ended up talking a lot. Dude dislikes Zone bars too, when I mentioned them. "You know what's in those things? Chocolatey coating! Not real chocolate!", which is actually kinda true since a lot of chocolate flavoured nutrition bars don't have any real chocolate; it's all chocolate flavouring. A few years ago, the Hershey Kissables were labelled as chocolate candy, and not actual chocolate because there was no actual chocolate (cocoa) present in the candy. Likewise, many companies, to cut costs, don't actually use real chocolate in their chocolate flavoured products; it's just this really cheap, weird-textured waxy sweet stuff that offers no flavour, but visually looks like chocolate (and I didn't copy that from the pamphlet, but it appears that the pamphlet used the same adjectives to describe it. Funny.). And, being visual consumers, we buy into it.
According to the pamphlets, there are 7 subsets of NuGo, each catered to a certain audience. At least the CRISPY CAT brand touts itself as a candy bar as opposed to some healthy granola bar, which Kudos sort of advertises. In looking at the nutrition label of the mint flavoured NuGo Dark, which the representative gave me for free (Whoot!), I think that it's pretty comparable to Clif Bars; 10 g protein, around 200 calories, 5 g fat...
I was pretty happy with the representative's knowledge. I asked him why only some of his bars had the "USDA Organic" label on it, and he said that most of the bars ARE basically organic, but they aren't certified because it costs a lot of money. TRUE.
He then agreed with me that Clif Bars are pretty much the only other company that offers nutrition bars made with "better/more natural" ingredients. They also retail at Penn for similar prices: $1.89 for Clif Bars, and a purported $1.79 for NuGo Bars (they haven't come out at Penn yet). Either way, it's more expensive than buying Clif Bars at Shoprite or Costco, because Penn Dining likes to rip us off.
In all honesty, I prefer Clif Bars over NuGo Bars because they taste better, but that's just a personal preference. The nice side of NuGo compared to Clif is that they aren't ridiculously sweet. Then again, I do have my cold and everything tastes less delicious :( Having a cold and eating food is like sleep-eating (not that I've ever done any sleep-eating, but Chowder has, in one episode): you eat all the food, but you don't get to enjoy it.
One issue I have with one of the pamphlets is: "The vegetable fat in fake chocolate is an unhealthy saturated fat that raises bad cholesterol". Oh my bad, palm oil is apparently high in saturated fat, according to Wikipedia.
At some point, the representative mentioned the whole thing about various companies starting out with good ideas, e.g. the South Beach, Kellogg's - the people who started these diets all had this whole natural, fresh foods diet, but now, the stuff "they", as a company, sell is pretty unhealthy.

Since I might end up working for some food company, I asked the representative about his job. He said that he majored in Management and he gets free NuGo bars. Another business major?! Whyyy!?! As a science major, will I always be in the shadows, 7 degrees away from the free food and outward face of the company? It seems like every food company I check out wants business majors!

I think this is a sign that I should go to med school :(
Dude isn't this pretty?

18 May 2011

Ummm Failed Brownies?

It's my friend's birthday today and I decided to make a Domo brownie cake for him. I copied this recipe from Allrecipes.com and it failed. 30 minutes into baking, the edges were kinda crusty and the centre was still gooey.
Not "ooo fudgy brownie!" gooey. I mean, uncooked gooey.

It's now 33 minutes into baking and I'm sitting here wondering what to do, because now it looks like a volcano erupted. The surface of the brownie looks like a natural disaster. To be politically incorrect, it looks like Katrina visited my oven.

*goes to check cake with a fork*

And the cake just sunk lower. I didn't think that was possible.

The worst part is that I actually have to be somewhere in 15 minutes so I can't keep poking at the cake.


I got back from visiting my high school guidance counselor at noon, and I checked the cake. I had left it in the oven (turned off) in the hopes that the remaining heat would somehow cook the cake...for an hour. Generally, I trust leaving slightly undercooked food in the oven while the oven cools down. Bad habit, I know. The edges were crispy and rock hard and the center was...dense.
This is terribly photo-phobic.
So I cut off the edges. They were very crispy and shiny.
Looks better already! (Who am I kidding?)
So I added a lot of melted chocolate over the top since I don't have chocolate icing, and I made a mouth for Domo. The Smarties candy are there because the chocolate and the pink (should be red) icing kept mixing. I know Domo has black eyes, but I figured I should use a light colour because you can't see black clearly on dark brown. I also didn't know what I'd use for the eyes; I guess some chocolate would've been a good idea but I had used up the chocolate making the cover-up for the brownie earthquake.
Initially, I was going to go over the red/pink icing with white icing, but the red/pink icing refused to harden/dry. I think it's because I used too much milk and what I ended up with turned out to be a glaze rather than icing. So, I had to somehow get 8 triangular teeth to show up on top of Domo's mouth. What to do?! More Smarties? Almonds? White chocolate (which I don't have)? I ended up using tortilla chips, and breaking tortilla chips into perfectly triangular shapes proved too difficult so I just searched the middle/bottom of the bag for preformed mini triangles. I know tortilla chips aren't white, but I guess this will have to do. In bad lighting, this actually looks like Domo!

17 May 2011

Qin Dynasty Seafood Restaurant (秦皇食府)

Parsippany NJ.
A few years ago, my parents were unwilling to drive me there to visit someone, but now, apparently, lunch is worth the (longish?) drive in the rain. We went in order to celebrate Mother's Day and my end of the semester as a college frosh. There were tons of people because it was tea/lunch time, and there were people pushing around trolleys of foods. Typical Cantonese restaurant style; you pick what you want, and they stamp at the correct section of a piece of card at the table, and later, you pay for however many stamps of food you got. Pretty neat, because you get to try sundry foods at a relatively low price (Okay, much cheaper in HK, but can't complain).
Xiao Long Bao - the buns with the soup. I didn't eat any but my sister liked them.
The egg tart's custard was phenomenally creamy and flavourful. The spring roll was still drenched in oil (Yes. Dripping.), but it was pretty good. At least I could tell what vegetables were inside it...
My brother liked this.
Pig blood. My brother and dad liked this. Bad picture quality. :( In the background, you can see the sesame ball thingy, which was pleasantly crunchy and not too sweet.
Nicely garnished and seasoned chicken legs.

Halfway through eating my egg tart, I felt compelled to take another picture because the cross section looks just as amazing as the whole egg tart. Notice how creamy it looks!
Fried tofu with one piece of shrimp in the centre. I'm not really sure how they managed to stuff/inject a cube of tofu with one piece of shrimp. The tofu wasn't that great, actually. The fried part was soggy (as it was in sauce...), so there was no real point of it being fried, in my opinion.
Dumplings with glutinous rice skin. For such large dumpling skins, the filling was really scant. It was also a cow flesh filling, along with some peanuts and a few pieces of vegetables.
The good thing about the waitresses was that they would explain pretty much anything on their trolleys. This green ball was apparently made with bitter melon...
...and it was absolutely NOTHING like bitter melon; inside was sesame paste and peanuts, and the green part was just glutinous rice that was deep-fried on the outside.

Rice noodles (chang2 fen3) filled with fried dough (you2 tiao2). Novel concept, nice sauce. I'm not super fond of fried dough, though. I really love rice noodles, however.
My brother and dad love durian. I don't. I never have, and I'm not sure that I ever will. This is a durian pastry.

It looks pretty delicious, actually, and I did eat some, first while smelling, but then without smelling the durian. By inhibiting my sense of smell, the flavour was harder to detect (Monell!), and I felt like I was just eating some sorta sweet pudding. However, I really can not ingest a lot of durian. I've tried it in all these forms, and I still really don't like it; I've had it fresh (the same way I eat any fresh fruit), in candy form (yes, durian candy exists), in chip form (well, okay, they were jackfruit chips), and now in pastry form.
And I still don't tolerate it.

Final thoughts:
Good for large groups: you get to try more dishes, and each dish is pretty easy to split
Great if you want authentic Chinese (actually, Cantonese) food without broccoli and cashews. I'm saying this because when we first moved to the U.S. and got food at Chinese restaurants, there was a lot of broccoli, cashews, and sweet food.
Kids like it (i.e. my sister, who doesn't eat much at home)
Pretty fair pricing.
Go between 11 and 2 on weekends. On weekdays, the variety seriously goes down, and any time after 2, the variety also goes down. If you go for dinner, you end up with the more formal Chinese restaurant style, with ordering actual dishes, and having bowls of rice, and a tureen of soup etc. If you want just casual dining with lots of choices, you should go for tea time/lunch!

Qin Dynasty Seafood Restaurant (秦皇食府), 857 Rt. 46 E, Parsippany

16 May 2011

Taste of Penn Part V: Lundberg Family Farms

This is part of the series about the Taste of Penn.

At the Taste of Penn, I have to say that the most delicious food came from the rice products at Lundberg Family Farms. The rice salad was phenomenal; it was textured, fresh, and the representative could list off all the ingredients when I asked for them.
The barbecue rice chips were also amazing. They don't taste extremely ricey (like rice crackers), but you can definitely tell that they aren't made from corn or potato. There is a ton of spice, which beats anything made by Pirate's Booty, and it's also really crunchy.
The flavours that they have are also ridiculously unique; Sesame and Seaweed, and Honey Dijon are flavours that I HAVE TO try one day (seaweed chips are rare out of Asia)!!

Lundberg Family Farms claims to be sustainable and family owned, and I asked where the farm is based. The representative said "California", which is a rather large carbon footprint (transportation) if you want to ship rice over to Penn Dining in Pennsylvania, every week/month. I mean, the Carolinas have rice farms too, and if they supplied rice for Penn, it'd be much more environmentally friendly. I voiced this concern, and the representative did go on about how they contribute to sustainability/eco-friendly behaviours, and that, yeah, transportation will always be an issue.

And, although Penn dining does boast the same things over and over (they make soup from scratch, they use local stuff, within 150 miles), all of it is pretty gilded when you consider that this rice will end up being from California (if they choose this vendor), fruit comes from all over the world, and the oyster crackers, ice cream, peanut butter, and sprinkles all come from U.S. food oligarchies with farms factories that are definitely not within a 150-mile radius. Oh, and the vegetarian soup has been vegetarian chili for the whole spring semester.

I'm eating a lot of peanut butter right now.

15 May 2011

Taste of Penn Part IV: Nancy's

This is part of the series about the Taste of Penn.

"What makes you special?"
My question. I really need to come up with a better, less cliche question, but that's all I had for the Taste of Penn. I really didn't need to ask, though, because Nancy's dairy honestly tastes different.
The cottage cheese actually tasted like something! It was tangy. Flavourful. Sour. The cottage cheese I get at Costco/Shoprite is usually much more mild tasting, and perhaps even bland, which is the way I like it because I'm not a huge cottage cheese fan. This cottage cheese, however, was thick and distinctly - may I say it - "gourmet"!
(no picture unfortunately)

I tried some of the yoghurt and it was also extremely sour-tangy. The fruit was also apparently homemade. I don't think I'm used to the strong taste, because I've grown up eating milder, sweeter yoghurts, but for those of you who want to try stuff with a zing, or who are dairy fanatics... this takes the cake. I mean, this takes the parfait.
I had never had kefir before, so I don't have anything to compare with this kefir. Maybe kefir is an acquired taste but I just thought it was okay.

The representative to whom I talked emphasised the whole organic thing, with cows from Oregon, and the presence of live cultures in the products. One thing that never made sense to me was that if we are digesting the foods we eat, how much of the probiotics (i.e. live bacteria) actually get to our small intestines intact? They'd have to survive a pH of 2 in our stomachs! According to my past two nutrition classes, research on this has been (what a surprise...) two-sided, with no conclusive evidence of probiotics aiding in digestion in the small intestine.
Dude, I love Yakult and yoghurt so much though, purely for the taste, and not for the probiotics component, that I'm not too concerned with this (apart from the fact that it's a huge advertising gimmick).

14 May 2011

Taste of Penn Part III: Pulmuone Wildwood, Inc.,

This is part of the series about the Taste of Penn.

I'm very picky and judgmental, especially when it comes to food and food companies. I suppose this is why I'm interested in talking to representatives, because it offers me the "inside" (or however "inside" they feel like showing) of the company philosophy, and their attitudes (seem to) demonstrate to me sincerity. Or something. I don't really know, but attitudes do matter.

My first impression from meeting the representative from Pulmuone Wildwood was that she was really cheery and devoted. She pushed the sample to me, urging me to eat it and she spewed out the benefits of eating organic/soy/etc. I guess it seemed a bit belittling, because, hey, I'm not a complete neophyte. I told her the soy veggie burger patty and the tofu were delicious (it was true. They were scrumptious!), and she thanked me and moved on to feeding other people. About half an hour later, I came back to take a picture and I told her I was going to blog about her company. She kept repeating, "Don't forget to write about how we are about sustainability, and how our products are made with the best ingredients..."
I'm not actually sure what she said because she kept repeating herself and stuffing in more facts, but the general gist is the cliche "we sell organic, healthy, better-for-you food".

This blog is an advertising tool. Or, it's a reverse-advertising tool, because I will end up butchering the company profile (in the next paragraph).

At one point in her spiel, she mentioned the word "celiac", and it wasn't in a good way.
"...and did you know that in the 1970s, when there was a rise in GMOs and transgenetic products, there was a rise in celiac disease? Celiac was rarely diagnosed before; but after the rise in transgenic foods, it doesn't take much to see the correlation...And with that rise was a rise in obesity and heart disease and other things, all because of the rise in these GM foods, and our foods are organic and completely healthy...."

Celiac disease wasn't diagnosed before because it wasn't seen as a disease, much like how diabetes wasn't seen as a legitimate disease in the Middle Ages. Celiac is a genetic disease when you have issues digesting gluten. It has nothing to do with freakin' GMO! Chances are, if someone can engineer wheat without gluten, people with celiac disease can actually end up eating wheat flour! And honestly, how can you merely conclude that a rise in GMO caused a rise in disease? What about flour refinement? Increased caloric intake? More sedentary lifestyles? There is no "one" answer, and CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION! So, I just lost some/all respect for the representative/company. I'm not really sure what that means, because I'd still eat their food because it's delicious, but I believe that the company image in my mind is completely dented now.

13 May 2011

Taste of Penn Part II: Dr. McDougall's Right Foods

This is part of the series about the Taste of Penn.

Initially, I was gonna make a pretty nice and shallow entry for Dr. McDougall's Right Foods, but then I did some research and I've started to reconsider.

At the Taste of Penn, I checked out this table only because my brother and dad adore instant noodles, and I figured I should get a box for them. They sell instant cup noodles, but made with organic and "healthy" stuff instead. The representative did emphasise that the products do not have MSG and are vegan. I find this simply amazing because it seems to be a rule that instant noodles include animal juice. The fact that there can be vegan teriyaki seems pretty sweet (literally...). I've lost interest in instant noodles since 2006/2005. Because Dr. McDougall's seems pretty interested in the environment, I talked to representative about perhaps making compressible cups (accordion style packaging), so that more cups of noodles can be shipped per box = less transportation gas! I've emailed them about it too, so maybe one day we'll see accordion packaging hit the shelves.
When I had a few more dining dollars left, I ended up buying some more of these noodles because they went from $1.89/cup to $1.89/2 cups to 50c/cup.
50c for an ostensibly "healthy" meal seems pretty chill, right?

I tried the teriyaki flavour... the noodles were thin and dense, and the seasoning smelled good. I added water to the line on the [paper] carton and microwaved it.
The noodles were thin and pretty tasteless. They were definitely not instant noodles. They were egg noodles, but in a pretty bland way.
The soup was... salty. Sweet. Um. Not really teriyaki.
So now, to talk about the actual company. Why is it called Dr. McDougall?
The addition of "Dr." makes people feel like they're eating something healthy.

Dr. McDougall, according to the website, is a vegan who has a health programme for people and he sells books.

"As the founder and medical director of the nationally renowned McDougall Program, Dr. McDougall has helped thousands improve their health and their quality of life by teaching people about the benefits of a plant based, heart healthy diet rich in good starches like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, rice, pasta and legumes."

Dude. These instant noodles are plant-based, sure, but they aren't heart healthy. In the most simplistic way of looking at this, if you eat 10 of these in a day (200 Calories each, 2000 typical RDI of Calories), you'd have 200% of your sodium intake for a day. There is 480 mg sodium
Yes, 200%.
Contrast that to the plant-based diet that I eat. Cereal. Banana. Apple. Sandwich, peanut butter, jam. More cereal. Cookies. Tofu, rice, raw spinach. Boiled broccoli. Soymilk. LOTS OF Chocolate. LOW SODIUM, GUYS.

Let's continue.
200 Calories for a meal is kinda little; it's so unrealistic when people eat 100 Calorie packs as "snacks". If I follow the 2000 Calorie RDI (Okay, I don't, and I know it's very variable depending on your exercise level; there are many BMR/Calorie intake calculators online so you can calculate your own), each meal should be around 400 Calories, if you include snacks and drinks. As a complete generalisation, BMR is at least 1000 Calories for adults - this is the energy needed to run your body per day if you're just sitting there like a vegetable.

0.5 g fat. That's cool I guess.

7 g protein
14% vitamin A
2% vitamin C
2% calcium
6% iron
200 Calories.

Compare that to eating an orange (100% vitamin C, 40 Calories, maybe)
+ a serving of carrots (100% vitamin A, 30 Calories)
+ a glass of soymilk (30% calcium&iron, 7g protein, 140 Calories)
+ a lot of spinach (?? iron, ?? Calories)
210 Calories. More fibre, less sodium.

So, I don't see what Dr. McDougall is trying to define as vegan and healthy, or whatever.
On the other hand, why am I criticising a dude who is trying to get people to eat healthier fast food as opposed to Cup Noodle? Why am I pointing out his flaws when he's actually making people more aware of what they're eating? At least he's using organicish ingredients, right, and at least he's including some fibre and having 20x less fat that other instant noodles right?

So, it's your call.
Though, my nutrition professor (Dr. Compher) did influence me; I figure she'd say something that goes along the lines of, well, this guy is trying to sell his books and his diet and get money.

I guess, if he sincerely wanted to help "thousands of people", maybe he should be an actual physician, right? Or a professor. Or, you know, high school volunteer work, which is what I do for CHiP although the program didn't work that well this semester.

12 May 2011

Taste of Penn Part I: Overview

In order to generate student enthusiasm/democracy in choosing the vendors for next year's Penn Dining program, Bon Appetit (our caterer) decided to sway all the current people on a dining plan with this huge food-free-for-all. To the typical student, it was just a mountain of samples. I noticed that a lot of students actually were paying attention to the vendors' speeches, although most just walked around, picked up samples, and left. Of course, it was a subtle advertising gimmick because JT, who complains about Commons food--okay, don't we all--, said that "this would be the only reason I'd get a dining plan next year", which of course is a hyperbole, but it still shows how stealthy/skilled businesses are at manipulating us.

The theory was that students would sample food from vendors and choose the ones that they wanted in next year's dining halls. Because I have connections went to a "student focus group/give your opinions of the dining plans" dinner a few months ago, I had the marketing manager's email, so I contacted her about the list of caterers because I really couldn't remember them all. She emailed me back with this list:

Against the Grain, Applegate Farms, Organic Beef Stadium Hot Dogs, Barilla, Dr. McDougall's Right Foods, Flint Hill Farm, Food Should Taste Good, General Mills, Jack and Jill, Kegel's Produce Incorporated, Kellogg's, Kiss My Face Corporation, Lundberg Family Farms, Market Access Culinary, NuGo Nutrition, Pulmuone Wildwood, Inc., Rockland Bakery, Smithfield, and Springfield Creamery/Nancy's.

There was also a Danish bakery (with a Danish name that I can't recall) that didn't have its name on the list.

The ones in bold are the vendors with whom I talked (yes, discussions happened.). The ones that are italicized AND bold are links, meaning that I'm going to make a separate blog entry about them, because I spent more than 5 minutes talking to them, and they showed me some interesting perspectives in the food marketing world (why am I a Biology major? Why am I not transferring into Wharton?).

I didn't bother talking to every vendor because
1. Applegate Farms, Organic Beef Stadium Hot Dogs, and Smithfield had animal flesh products.
2. Barilla sells pasta. There is always Barilla pasta in my house for some reason. It's not that novel for me.
3. Food Should Taste Good's representative wasn't present at the table so I just grabbed some chips and moved on.
4. Jack and Jill had one representative who was occupied with scooping ice cream for other people. Jack and Jill is currently the ice cream vendor in all of Penn's dining halls. A few months ago, I checked the ingredients list on its website and pretty much every flavour has HFCS (speaking of which, I will blog about my Nutrition paper later) and, again, ice cream like this isn't exactly novel.
5. Kiss My Face Corp. isn't a food company. I just took the free lip balms and soaps.
6. Kegel's and Market Access Culinary... I know one of the vendors in the list is responsible for making the fries at our dining halls, and I suppose it's either of these two, but I can't remember. I did ask how they make waffle fries, and the representative said something about using a special type of potato cutter, but it was pretty vague.

So now, I will talk about the vendors in bold.
1. Against the Grain - gluten-free bakery products.
Using tapioca and other flours as a base, the gluten-free baked goods by Against the Grain were amazing! The quality of the raisin bagel and cheese pizza were really high, and honestly tasted like wheat flour bread! Sure, it was a little dryer, dense and glutinous, but the overall flavour and texture was strikingly similar to wheat flour baked goods; there were holes, the bread was squishy, and it could be toasted! While I was chewing my bagel piece, I listened to the representative talk to two other girls about gluten-free baking. One of them asked whether a gluten-free diet was healthier compared to a gluten-including diet. This was the moment I was waiting for! I wanted to see how the representative would answer this question. Would he lie and say that gluten-free foods are healthier, in order to sell his product? Would he claim that gluten makes us fat? Would he say that gluten is a nasty chemical?
He said something along the lines of, "Well, celiacs are allergic to gluten. You know, some people say that gluten-free is associated with [certain health stuffs], but there really isn't enough scientific evidence to say for sure".
Now that's what I want to hear.

2. Flint Hill Farm
The representative showed us a video of cows and fed us some cheese and buttermilk. I don't think that I like buttermilk (I've never had it before)... The mozzarella was pretty good, and Flint Hill Farm apparently supplies the mozzarella in my sandwiches when I get Express at the dining halls. I don't recall much, but there was a lot of clutter on the desk advertising the farm...

3. General Mills
I was unaware that I was at the General Mills table when the representative offered me some oat bars. There were two types; the original soft-baked one, and a chocolate chip one. Both were pretty standard. I asked him what made his company stand out, and he said "well, all the brownies in your dining hall come from us, using this brownie mix here, and these bars come premade; all you have to do is bake them."
So our dining halls don't actually make the desserts from scratch. Not cool, in my humble opinion.

4. Kellogg's
Apparently Kellogg's makes the black bean burgers at the dining halls. I ate a sample of quesadilla with a mashed-up-black-bean-burger-patty filling, which kinda defeats the purpose of it initially being a burger patty. The representative offered me a recipe that I declined.

5. Rockland Bakery
To further ruin my impression that the dining halls make their own desserts, I learned that Rockland Bakery basically makes all the baked goods beforehand, and our dining halls just bake/defrost them. Also, apparently Rockland Bakery makes cherry cheesecake and lemon bars, which I have yet to see in our dining halls! What is it with feeding us hard sugar cookies instead of cherry cheesecake!? In response to "What makes your company cool?", the representative told me, "Well, we supply all of your desserts". Sigh. I did tell her that I loved the key lime pie that they make, but she looked at me skeptically and said "Uh huh." and offered me more dessert.

6. The Danish Bakery
I'm not super fond of danishes with jam in the middle, but the one I had was ridiculously buttery and flavourful. The jam was pretty tart too, and everything was so flaky I was scared that I'd end up having to eat the pastry with a spoon. When asked "What makes your company cool?", the representative told me that all the butter comes from Denmark (pastries are shipped here frozen), where the cows are fed a ton of grass and such and are therefore super fat. All that milk from the cows also comes from the winter, when the cows are even more fat, making the butter super fatty, flavourful, and nutrient dense (compared to other butters, of course). I don't know how truthful this all is, but the danishes were definitely pastry, not bread. Rockland Bakery danishes taste like smooshed dense white bread with glaze and jam. This company's danishes taste like flaky pastry with a nice crispy sugary touch on the exterior, and more airy pastry in the interior.

The other vendors will be the topics of other blog entries.

If I ever become a food writer/critic/socialite, this is what I envision my job to be: going to trade
shows/expos/food sample events and just taking free stuff. However, chances are that I'm just gonna be working in a lab.

03 May 2011


It's at night, and it's a market of food, sorta.
It's a swarm of people.
A mob of college kids, hungry for some culture (or just free food.)
At the Rodin College House rooftop lounge, there was a Nightmarket, brought to us by various student organisations, including the Chinese/Taiwanese/Korean/African/Vietnamese/some other Student Associations. There were trays and trays of rice, bowls of grass jelly, cups of aloe vera drink and bubble tea, and packages of Choco Pie.

All Free.

The catch? We had a reel of tickets (10 tickets? 15 tickets?), and each scoop of food cost at least a ticket. The "prices" were jacked up too; at first, the Choco Pies were only one ticket, but later, they cost two tickets. The bubble tea, by default, was two tickets, whereas the aloe vera drink was only one ticket. In general, two scoops of rice cost one ticket, as did two scoops of fried plantains.

From top to bottom: I tried the fried plantains (amazing!) and jollof rice (I'd never had it before, but someone mentioned it to me a few weeks ago and that's sparked an interest...and it's really good), along with some Vietnamese noodles (which had shrimp and I was unaware...), fried rice (don't know why. It wasn't even good fried rice. My mum makes the best fried rice in the world...or it's just an acquired taste, so I intrinsically dislike everyone else's fried rice), seaweed (best ever! Okay, a little salty, but I hadn't had seaweed in ages, so it was delicious), and a Vietnamese rice flour and glutinous rice dessert that was amazing.

The bubble tea was warm.
I was pretty upset that I was using a styrofoam plate. However, I did like this study-break-esque thing (It happened two weeks ago actually). Along with the food, there was also bracelet making and an African game called Mancala (I think), and it was really fun! I've been really busy with studying, so I don't think I'll be blogging until May 10 at the earliest.