29 June 2013

Baguettes (from May)

After Finals were over, I decided to make bread the night before I moved out. Packing? Psh, I could do that later. (But it actually turns out that I can just throw all my stuff into canvas bags).

I decided to make baguettes because I don't like turning the oven up to a high temperature at home, whereas it's fine in my dorm's kitchen where the heat doesn't cling onto you like duct tape. I also really love baguettes. All day every day.

Although these aren't exactly authentic because they're kind of dense...I think they pass. I don't remember exactly what recipe I used, and now I can't find it online, but I think it was this:
10 g active dry yeast
680g flour? Some mix of white and whole wheat
330 ml water?
Some salt...

I had to knead the dough for at least 10 minutes before everything was incorporated. Halfway through, I started to believe that there wasn't enough water (because it was pretty floury) but after a lot of kneading, the dough becomes really hydrated and sticky.

I think I let it sit for 1.5 h? Then I formed the baguettes, and let it sit for another hour. It is unfortunate that I don't remember the steps...

After rising, they go in the preheated oven with a metal container of about 50 ml water that will create a lot of steam. The steam in the oven emulates conventional baguette ovens that have steam injected in during baking. Refer to here to learn why steam helps with crust formation.

I liked this so much I gave some to my GA, SP's mum, and friends. It needs bigger holes though (too dense and not as chewy at the moment).

27 June 2013


On the 26th of February, I had my phone on. Those who know me know that my phone is never on because I don't usually text.
Coincidentally, I received a text from the preceptorials committee! Preceptorials are mini classes that occur over the semester. One can learn how to make a clay bowl, revel in philosophy, take a tour of some part of Philadelphia, or paint some mural. Every semester, I sign up for the cooking and art preceptorials, along with some other ones. The problem is that most preceptorials have size limits, so I usually get waitlisted for all of them. However, here was a text telling me that I was off the waitlist for the macaron preceptorial that evening, and that I could participate if I wanted to! So, instead of studying for an upcoming midterm (Algorithms?), I decided to learn how to make macarons with 11 other students, taught by one of the guys who owns the Sugar Philly food truck.

Mararons, not macaroons.
The last time I tried making macarons, I ended up with this yummy cookie failure that was stuck to the pan. Since then, I had actually tried macarons (in Montreal and at a Wharton Supply Chain Conference that I went to, hoping to meet some R&D people from Pepsi -well, that didn't work out).

(After baking)

This time, I was given a lot of advice on how to make good macarons. As this occurred 4 months ago, all that advice is hazy, but here are the most important notes:

  • Use a large metal bowl to whip egg whites.
  • Whip egg whites until you can hold the bowl upside down without anything falling out. This takes about 10 minutes of pure whipping.
  • Use gel-based dyes, not water-based ones, because they are more concentrated.
  • Preferably obtain a Silpat liner for the baking pan, or at least, use parchment paper.
  • To even out the tops, gently hit baking pan onto table a few times.
  • Let macarons rest at room temperature until they become matte in colour (slightly dried out) before baking. This took about half an hour?
  • When baking, rotate the macaron pans and alternate the racks. I think we started on the top rack for 3 minutes, then the middle rack for 3, then the top rack again for 3, but I really don't remember. 

(Dulce de leche filling, made by heating a can of sweetened condensed milk, in the can) 

Anyway, I'm positive that there are many resources on the internet regarding perfecting macarons. The main problem causing my failure last time was that I didn't whip the egg whites long enough.

I proceeded to study for my exam while eating macarons.

26 June 2013

Sei & Maine Avenue Fish Market - Washington DC

Yes, this happened an entire month ago, but I never got around to posting about it. This was  the second Memorial Day Weekend we've spent in D.C. (see the first time in 2010 here and here - I'd like to think that I've grown up more since then?).

In a nutshell, food-related events included:
  1. US Botanic Garden!
  2. Teaism - my first bento box!
  3. Hirshhorn Museum - giant butter!
  4. Sei - fancy sushi!
  5. Maine Avenue fish market!
  6. Hot dog from a "70s hot dog" food cart that was bad.
  7. National Museum of American History Food Exhibition
Now, in extreme detail!

US Botanic Garden
I love botanical gardens. I love them more than zoos. More than museums. I revel in looking at oddly-shaped leaves and brightly coloured flowers. I saw an avocado tree in real life! A pineapple plant right in front of me! This was fantastic! Sure, plants aren't cute or cuddly but it's so exciting for me to see the species that end up feeding me. Look! Marshmallow plant, even though modern marshmallows don't contain it.

SP and I went to Teasim for lunch. I've never had a bento box before so this was exciting! The restaurant is beautifully decorated. In the basement, a constant, relaxing flow of water supplied the granite(?) pool in which carp swam around. So, this probably isn't authentic Japanese cuisine but it was still a neat, well, "fusion".
SP got the make-your-own-handrolls box. Unfortunately, the salmon was smoked. The nori was really crispy though, and I taught SP how to make the cone-shaped maki. The cabbage was pretty good, and I loved the mayonnaise.

I got the cooked salmon bento box. The cucumber was good but not as sour or spicy as usual pickled cucumber (though I typically eat Chinese pickled cucumber). The spinach was kind of astringent. I liked the salmon but I wish it were raw :(

Hirshhorn Museum of Art
Giant butter! I would love to have this as a bench or bed. My entire house in the future will have food-shaped furniture.

Sei Restaurant
For dinner, my family (minus my dad) and I walked around for a good hour before deciding on sushi at this nondescript sushi place halfway between Chinatown and Independence Mall. However, we then decided that we wanted to go to Chinatown to eat. While we were walking around Chinatown looking at menus, debating the authenticity of whatever the restaurants offered, my sister complained about having to walk so much. At some point, she exclaimed that we should just go for sushi. A guy walking past us stopped and advised "You know, if you really want good sushi, you should go to Sei."

Welp. After some walking and much confusion ("The map says it's right there!" "I don't see it. I just see the Spanish place." "It should be right there near the corner..." "..." "Oh! It's hidden!"), there we were, shuffling down some steps into the reception area of Sei, where they have posh business cards. From the outside, all you see is a small patch of white translucent glass with the word "SEI" written in thin letters.

We were seated at a white square table in the middle of the frustratingly dimly lit dining area. We sat on plush white chairs with no armrests ("modern", I guess). There was a candle at the table. I felt like I was in a lounge/club/bar type place. Young professionals were hanging around at the other tables, though I think there was one table with little kids. This place was possibly too classy for me.

They had interesting types of rolls. We ended up trying the fish and chips roll, a salmon roll with strawberry, a typical eel and avocado roll, and another one that escapes my mind (but possibly had scallops?). My sister only eats salmon nigiri or sashimi, so that's what she got. However, she was distraught with the fact that they had already put wasabi on the rice, under the salmon.

I enjoyed the salmon roll with strawberry. It was unexpected. As this occurred over a month ago, I've shamefully forgotten most of the details. The fish and chips roll wasn't greasy at all, so it wasn't exactly what I had in mind. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and experience!

Maine Avenue Fish Market!

The next day, SP and I were walking towards the paddle boat area, when he remembered that there is a fish market in DC. As I love visiting different regions' markets/grocery stores, we decided to check it out. Apparently, in the past, the fishmongers would sell the fish at the port. However, there was some rule that made it illegal to sell fish on the port. So instead, the seafood is now sold directly from the boats that are anchored to the port. Technically, they aren't "on" on the port. I lamented the fact that I was unable to buy fish to bring home (because it'd have to sit in my bag or the back of the car for 2 entire days). However, we did have some delicious oysters (2nd time in my life?) and shrimp. They have both ready-made and fresh seafood.
The oysters were dislodged ("shucked" is the word, I suppose) right after we ordered them. They were very tasty.

We took the shrimp to the park/pathway near the paddle boats to eat. It was a really sunny day although it was a bit breezy, which gave a mild chill. Also, I like cocktail sauce.

National American History Musem - Food Exhibit
We got a pretty bad hot dog at a food cart on Independence Mall. It was supposed to be a "Mexican hot dog", with cheese and guacamole. We were given a hot dog with Cheez Whiz and diced unripe avocado (or maybe it wasn't even avocado. No avocado flavour). That was a letdown.
However, the Food Exhibit was alright. I wish they had more original documents rather than printouts of posters, though.
 I think this would be funny to sell nowadays.

I really liked this one, even though I haven't had a Frito in about 4 years.

 A pringle container!

I have never seen this for sale before, so that was cool.

Who knew there were so many shapes?

I forgot why the pins say this.

 Taco maker.

25 June 2013

Some Ice Cream Place

Somewhere between Ithaca NY and Geneva NY is this ice cream store that sells wine ice cream. As I am not of age, I didn't try any. However, they also have lots of other ice cream. I bought a "small" mint chip ice cream whose scoop ended up being larger than my fist. It was also only $2.60. I'm not sure whether they make all these normal ice cream flavors on-site though, because I saw a Hershey Ice Cream sign, and the mint ice cream tasted pretty normal.

The lady at the resgister seemed a bit irked and impatient but that might've been because there were 13 of us causing a ruckus and/or paying with card (which required signature).

I am unable to recall the name of the place and I can't find it on Yelp or Google Maps. It was somewhere between Geneva and Ithaca and I think it was a sky-blue cottage off the "highway".

23 June 2013

Pepsi R&D

I signed a confidentiality agreement with Pepsi so I guess I can't really talk about our tour and tastings in their R&D center. However, I did get a hat out of it. I don't wear hats, but I guess I have a Halloween costume now. I also drank a lot of Pepsi.

I guess I can say that I would like to work for them.

What a short post; I don't even have pictures!

22 June 2013

Fancy Dinner & Notable People

In one night, I met a person from Consumer Reports (regarding food), a sustainable dairy farmer (Ronnybrook Farm), a chef (who incidentally has been on the Food Network), and a bunch of other really successful people in the food industry. By "successful", I mean that they've accomplished things. They've changed the world. Not through pipetting in a lab or trading shares, but through following a vision and a passion. It makes me wonder whether I'm as passionate about anything.

Super appetizers with carbonated punch. Again, everything was really classy and I was the awkward rock that prevents the wagon from smoothly sailing (heh, worst metaphor within a 1 mile radius). First, I had issues figuring out what to wear. As I wanted to travel minimalistically, I brought 3 fancy outfits, 1 T-shirt, and shorts, for 3 days. It turns out that for fancy events, people change into eveningwear, especially after walking around in business casual on a farm earlier in the day. Oops?
And then I had issues getting out of my chair without triggering everyone's Awkward-Alert!-radar.
Ensuite, I took pictures of my food, which might be socially frowned-upon.
然后,I asked for an autograph.

Dinner was self-service with steak on bread, salmon, bread, quinoa, and beets.

Dessert was a cake from the Culinary Institute of America. Apparently, the red stuff is actually ribbon, even though the tour guide told us that for the cake decorating class, everything had to be edible. One of the layers was chocolate, while the other was plain cake with dulce de leche tiramisu(?) filling. I somehow ended up with 1.5 slices of cake, which was a bit too much but I ended up eating it all anyway, since it was really tasty.

There was also some apple tart which was good, and brownies.
Ronnybrook Farm supplied 10 pints of ice cream, which was delicious.

A lot of socializing went on, and I learned a lot about milk (but no sources). Ronnybrook Farm cows are not considered "organic" because they are fed antibiotics only when they're sick. Apparently, Horizon and other organic farms have to kill any sick cows because they aren't allowed to give cows antibiotics, lest they lose the "Organic" label from the USDA. I already read previously that the label itself is difficult and expensive to purchase, meaning that organic farmers don't bother with the label. Also, apparently Ronnybrook Farm cows live to about 15 years, and after they're done with milk production, they're allowed to retire and graze the grass until they die. Horizon cows ostensibly only live 3.5 years. Ronnybrook Farm prides itself in owning about 200 cows who they all know by name. They also haven't bought a cow in 40 years.

I'm taking all this with a chunk of salt though, because it's honestly difficult to buy good milk in so many circumstances (income, convenience, posession of car or bus pass, large scale/schools), and it's also difficult to know for sure what companies are doing.

We also had a presentation about restaurant ownership. The thesis was that the goal is to exceed customer's expectations, and to definitively change how the customer feels about the establishment when he/she walks out. I definitely don't think I've managed that consistently with the cafe I work at. It's actually also applicable to social interactions. If you haven't made a significant positive impression on someone, whether it be in an interview, a date, or performance...well, how much did you care about the relationship with the other party?
It's something to mull over.

21 June 2013

Kraft R&D

We used to buy Kraft peanut butter in Australia. The red label was crunchy, while the blue label was smooth. I used to get the peanut chunks stuck in my teeth a lot.
Kraft also reminds me of Vegemite. What a staple!
Kraft singles somehow factor in too, though once we moved to HK, we ended up buying some other brand's processed cheese. So, those were my childhood Kraft memories.

I do not associate childhood with Lunchables, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Jell-O, or cream cheese. So, it's interesting visiting the Kraft Beverages R&D and seeing other people possibly relish in nostalgia, while I'm sitting there thinking about Vegemite.

We first had an introduction to Kraft, and I learned that Kraft actually split into Kraft and Mondelez after Kraft bought Cadbury. I'm pretty surprised after seeing so many familiar brands belonging to Mondelez's. Perhaps I would want to work for them (hah, free samples?).
We had a tour of the pilot plant and I saw sacks of citric acid and flavourings. This made me very happy. We toured and viewed the coffee roaster, and tasted 4 different coffees (made with the Arabica bean and/or the Robusta bean). Yes, I could tell the subtle differences among the coffees, but I'm really not sure which I prefer. I like them all.

The Kraft facility apparently had a renovation to make it more modern and friendly for collaborations. From a picture, it sort of looked like a possible office space at Google. However, I noted vending machines and it appears that there are no microkitchens. I think it's kind of bizarre that food companies don't offer free food, while many tech companies have on-site chefs, free meals, and microkitchens with EVERYTHING.

 Kraft did have a giant kitchen though, and we had a group "make your own drink" activity. My group and I made the green ("Summer Twist") and toxic orange drinks. The green was peach, mango, and grapefruit(?) flavouring with citric acid, while the orange was vanilla, gingerbread and grapefruit. The activity was fun, but it seemed kind of juvenile.

I think the red drink was cherry vanilla and I don't remember what the other ones were.
We had discussions about working in the food science industry at lunch. I wanted to know whether the scientists came up with the new flavours/ideas. Unfortunately, it turns out that marketers are the ones who dictate what foods or drinks get made. Darn, I knew I should've transferred to Wharton.

At the end, we received goodie bags! It turns out that I have bought nearly no Kraft beverages in the past. We got Gevalia coffee, Kool-Aid (in both plastic bottle and powder form), Capri-Sun for adults (i.e. bigger serving size), Crystal Light, and Mio.

20 June 2013

Mint Premium Foods - Tarrytown NY

Sometimes, I feel that in my entire life, I've been eating well. This day was not one of those times. The Culinary Institute of America and Mint had, in a mere 8 hours, made me think that I've just been a plebeian in the world of cuisine, or even just American restaurant culture. Maybe I get delighted too easily by simple food eaten while sitting on the stairs, and maybe I just don't go to enough swanky places where there is live jazz music playing and a guy sauntering around offering at least 20 types of cheese on a giant platter. So I think, "Hmh, maybe I'm not actually cultured."

But then I remember that I can cook and if I tried, I could remake whatever I'm eating here, minus the classy atmopshere.

Giant cutlery and rooster sculptures are themes of this trip. Assorted rooster sculptures were displayed at Bocuse, while Pepsi - wait, I signed a confidentiality agreement with them, so I guess I can't say. :(

The green chunk is pesto cheese. Now I must buy pesto cheese! It was perfect. While we waited for our food to arrive (our group had personalized menus!), we snacked on bread, cheese, and square-rimmed bowls of olives. I tried an olive and immediately rekindled my dislike for them (it was way too salty).

I got the chipotle chicken and avocado wrap with salad and fries. I had no appetite, but I ate everything anyway because I don't like wasting food (especially good food that took a lot of energy and time to produce). The wrap was not spicy at all, though there was this orange sauce. The chicken was in some sort of casing, making it sort of like sliced chicken sausage, except that the chicken was not mushy or a slurry; it had actual chicken texture (although it was a bit more elastic than usual). There was a lot of stuff in the whole wheat wrap too, which kept falling out. The salad with vinaigrette(?) was a bit too salty. The fries smelled like fries I had when I was a kid, and they were tasty (but aren't all fries?).

Our table was made out of a slab of wood that had been sliced vertically from a tree and varnished. Hence, the table was not actually rectangular. I thought it was neat.

19 June 2013

Culinary Institute of America

Unfortunately for me, at the first opportunity I got to eat fancy gourmet food, I was sick. I started with a mild headache and sleep deprivation on Monday afternoon, which morphed into a fever, sore throat and pulsing headache throughout Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I had absolutely no appetite and everything tasted bland. This did not mesh well with the trip to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Kraft, Pepsi, and 2 fancy dinners. I feel as though I just shuffled through the food, systematically spooning it into my mouth. I didn't get to enjoy the food as much as I should've :(.

We went on this trip as part of our internship program. Along with lunch at Bocuse, we also received signed menus and a tour and Q&A of the CIA. Bocuse is apparently the inspiration for a chef in the film Ratatoullie.

Although I didn't get to taste every little flavor in the food, it was still fun and enriching. I did consider going to culinary school 4 years ago, but it didn't seem so viable. In addition, I don't think I'd want to pay for cooking skills, which I believe can be learned from the internet and lots of trial and error. Sure, CS and Bio can be learned from the internet too but in those cases, I'm paying for the piece of paper that says that I'm qualified. And opportunities and networking, I guess.

So, Bocuse!
As we walked in, many wines and champagnes were displayed horizontally behind glass cases. We entered a well-lit, bright restaurant with sofa seating and plump cushions. The celing was shiny and the walls were adorned with chef hat shaped lighting fixtures (on to of which stood a miniature chef model).

There were red half-moon placemats and mustard yellow cloth napkins (with patterns on them). We drank water out of glass goblets. In the center of the table were a box of conversation cards and a small container of fancy salt.

The waiters and waitresses were extremely polite. I actually felt kind of awkward (especially when it got to eating the lamb with bone) because the place was so elegant. Bread was offered about once every 10 minutes, and although it was extremely crusty and delicious, I felt impolite accepting bread more than twice. Oh, social customs. I hope to one day be able to achieve such light, crusty, and chewy-crumbed bread. Although my baguettes are crusty, they're kind of dense.

Usually I don't order appetizers, but as everyone at my table did, I figured I would too. As we waited for them, we each received half a grape tomato with balsamic dressing, mint foam, and a leaf thing that I think tasted a bit like chard. It was an interesting mix of flavors.

The neatest thing was that everyone's appetizers or entrees would arrive at the exact same time, with each student chef holding exactly 1 dish. Then the dish would be presented in front of the customer, and the lid would be lifted off, IN UNISON! Then, the chef would explain what the dish was.
It was like a performance.

This is a smoked salmon thing. I'm not sure how one would eat the cracker without using one's hands.

Truffle soup with a big poof of pastry. The soup was a bit thin and bland (or I just couldn't taste anything because I was sick). The truffle flavor was there though.

Pistachio pate (a bit salty, so I ended up eating it with bread). It tasted bloodier(? More raw?) than I remember pate being (at least 10 years ago, in a mass produced canned version).

Part pate, part snail, mashed potato, and potato chip. I wonder if they made the potato chips on-site. The lattice structure must be difficult to make and fry. The snail was chewy. I'm used to eating snails coated in  cheese, so having it this way was less salty and fatty than expected.

Someone else ordered the fried frog, which came with a watercress sauce. The frog tasted just as I remembered (when we used to eat them in HK some 10 years ago). The batter was really light. Think tempura coating.

I picked lamb as the main dish, and it was probably the most difficult to eat in a civil manner because of the bones. The lamb came in 3 forms: a chunk of lamb (which tasted a bit overcooked), a croquette with lamb shreds (really good and tender), and a chunk of lamb with bone and a mouthful of fat (extremely difficult to eat politely, but delicious).

And here I am, being messy with the food on my plate. I ended up not following etiquette and just using my hands to hold onto the bone while I ate the lamb. Oh well.

Here is a chunk of steak from KV, sitting diagonally from me, and a chunk of chicken from HB, sitting next to me. The steak was really tender (but I haven't had real "steak" before - i.e. one from a steakhouse), and the chicken tasted very plain.

Then dessert! Among many classic desserts (chocolate mousse thing, madeline, marshmallow) were nitrogen ice cream, which they made in a KitchenAid mixer right in front of you, and a pineapple upside down cake with coconut icing and dry ice. A red (not for eating) liquid was poured onto the dry ice, resulting in a fragrant smoke that reminded me of hibiscus, even though I couldn't really smell it since I was sick.

The ice cream wasn't really cold and the stick thing was edible but I'm not sure what it was. Some sort of not-too-sweet cookie? Overall, I felt that the cake was kind of stale.

We were surprised with mini cakes and truffles before we left! The truffles were made on-site (we could see them make them through the window to the kitchen).

At the end, we filled out a survey on their iPad regarding service and menu. We requested additional outlandish desserts (e.g. fire). Although the portions aren't as big as those in some chain restaurant, I was extremely full for the next 7+ hours. This was definitely a great, calm, friendly dining experience.