Food & Drink

A Meal Worth Flying For

I love my mom’s cooking, and sometimes I will lie awake at night driving myself crazy reminiscing about some of her dishes. It’s not about how talented of a chef my mom is –she is pretty great– rather, it’s about how some people have the ability to impart their own signature touch on everything they make, so that everything they cook tastes distinctly like they made it. It won’t do just to follow their recipes because no one can replicate the original chef’s signature imprint.

Or maybe I’m just lazy.

In any case, this was one of the meals my mom made on my recent visit home:

Let’s break it down!

Pork Belly 2 Ways:


I was brought up eating a traditional diet in which we ate as much of the animal as possible, not just the white meat. All over the world, you will find cultures that eat animal organs, skins, cartilage, and so forth. But for some reason it’s considered “gross” or, incredulously, unhealthy, to like those things nowadays and the most “risqué” a mainstream restaurant will get is chopped liver. But boy do I miss all those strange, unpopular animal parts, including the collagen rich pig skin you see above. The sliced pork belly was steamed in a soy-based sauce, and the chunkier pieces of pork belly were braised in a similar stew.

Cucumber and Egg Stir-Fry with Black Fungus:

Dang, no wonder I wasn’t popular in grade school life.  When the teacher asked everyone what their favorite foods were, how could I raise my hand and say “Black Fungus” while everyone around me was all pizzas and hamburgers and shit?  Anyway, this is delicious.  I have no idea how to cook or even find black fungus.  I once got something that I thought was black fungus, but… it wasn’t.  Despite being very tough and hard to chew, it wasn’t until after I had grimly ingested all of it did the thought occur to me that maybe IT WASN’T EVEN FOOD.

Eggplant in Fish Sauce:

I love eggplant.  It’s like a meat to me.

Silken Tofu Casserole:

When I was a toddler, grown-ups would touch my face and exclaim: “Your face is as soft as silken tofu!”  As a result, silken tofu dishes tend to have a cannibalistic quality for me.  Here, with shrimp, lima beans, and bamboo shoots, it’s a great, light-tasting contrast to the richer dishes like the eggplant and pork belly.

Cauliflower Stir-fry:

Nice and crunchy little albino broccoli.

Sliced Dragonfruit:

My parents always have a novel and exotic fruit at home.  Like an evil twin locked away in the attic, they always keep the exotic fruit tucked away in a corner of the basement, away from the prying eyes of curious neighbors.  This time it was the dragonfruit.  It always makes me feel dainty and ladylike when I end a meal with sliced fruit.

And there you have it, a meal worth taking six modes* of transportation to get to!

*The six modes being: subway, train, air train, airplane, ferry, and automobile.

 

FILED UNDER: A Meal Worth Flying For, Food & Drink | Permalink

Nutrition Showdown: Pinkberry vs. Red Mango

A couple of years ago, the frozen yogurt world was rocked by scandal. Pinkberry was sued in a class-action for falsely describing its product as a frozen yogurt and for falsely calling itself “all natural.” The company settled, changed its ways, and put up its ingredient list for the public to see.  But ever since then, I’ve always been a little wary of Pinkberry and wondered if maybe I should switch to another provider for my froyo addiction.

The obvious replacement for Pinkberry is Red Mango.  Indeed, their rivalry spans across the country, from LA to NYC.  I decided to take a look at the ingredient lists for each company’s original flavored frozen yogurt to see which one is the healthier choice.  Here are my findings.

Pinkberry Original Flavor:

Nonfat milk, sugar, nonfat yogurt (pasteurized nonfat milk, live and active cultures), nonfat yogurt powder (nonfat milk, culture), fructose, dextrose, natural flavors, citric acid, guar gum. (Ed. Click on the link above to see slight variation for Pinkberry sold in California and Connecticut.)

Red Mango Original Flavor:

Nonfat Yogurt (Skim Milk, Natural Flavor, Guar Gum, Live & Active Cultures), Filtered Water, Pure Cane Sugar, and less than 1% of Sodium Citrate and Potassium Citrate (natural buffering agents).

Compare and Contrast

  • Dairy. The only dairy ingredient in Red Mango is frozen yogurt, but Pinkberry also has nonfat milk and nonfat “yogurt powder” in addition to plain ol’ frozen yogurt.  Another difference is that Pinkberry says that its milk (but not its yogurt or yogurt powder) is made from hormone-free milk.  Did you know that the U.S. and Brazil are the only countries that allow dairy farmers to use synthetic growth hormones? On the other hand, the FDA ruled in 1993 that there is no significant different between milk with and without synthetic growth hormone.  But on the other, other hand, the Sixth Circuit overruled the FDA in 2010 by concluding that there were significant differences between the two, including more um, pus, in milk with synthetic hormones.  Anyway, let’s talk about something else…
  • Sweeteners. The sweetening agent in Red Mango is cane sugar (sucrose), but the sweetening agents in Pinkberry are sugar, fructose and dextrose (a/k/a glucose). Recent studies suggest that fructose encourages fat storage more than sucrose does and might cause diabetes (here’s one). Even more significantly, sugar is the second ingredient in Pinkberry, placing it ahead of all ingredients except milk —that means there is more sugar in Pinkberry than there is frozen yogurt!  In contrast, sugar is one of the last ingredients in Red Mango, after frozen yogurt and water.
  • “Citr”-stuff. Pinkberry has citric acid, which adds a tart flavor and acts as a natural preservative. Sodium citrate and potassium citrate control the acidity of Red Mango’s frozen yogurt. All three substances are considered safe, non-controversial food additives.
  • Flavor. Red Mango relies on its yogurt for flavor, and does not add any flavoring agents. But Pinkberry has “natural flavors” which, under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, can be pretty much anything (“the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis”) that has the flavor of, pretty much, anything (“spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof”). The Centre for Science in the Public Interest’s guide to food additives classifies natural flavors with a yellow caution label, meaning that some natural flavors may pose a risk and require further testing.

The Healthier Choice

A really, really, really, close call.

After weighing the pros and cons of each product, I dug deep into my foodie soul and realized that the winning product must be one that “Is what it says it is.”  There is something disingenuous and even potentially dangerous about a product that is artificially made to walk like a duck, quack like a duck, and legally qualify as a duck –but in reality is barely a duck.  Pinkberry might look and taste similar to frozen yogurt, but its main ingredients are milk and sugar, it uses food additives for flavor, and it contains weird ingredients like yogurt powder.  On the other hand, Red Mango’s main ingredients are frozen yogurt and water and has no taste additives.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Pinkberry uses synthetic growth hormone-free milk, and I wish Red Mango would release a statement on what kind of milk it uses (60% of milk in the USA is hormone-free whether labeled or not), but on the whole it is clear to me that the superior product is:

Daniel Kim, CEO of Red Mango

Red Mango!!!

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, Nutrition Showdown: Pinkberry vs. Red Mango | Permalink

Ultimate Beer Taste Test

1. Buy a bunch of single beers –at the local bodega, I found Tsingtao, Corona, Red Stripe, Bass, Stella Artois, Negra Modelo, Singha, Boddingtons, Dos Equis.  Put them in the biggest pot you have. Fill with water and ice.

 

 

2.  Put it on the floor.

 

3.  Don’t forget that you need something to cleanse your palate between the different beers.  I used a pizza.

4.  Set-up a laptop nearby and make a chart (I hope you label it better than I did) and start drinking.  Record your results.  Here are mine:

5.  Announce the winner.

 

THE WINNER IS NEGRA MODELO!!!

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, Ultimate Beer Taste Test | Permalink

The Perfect Lunch (for a Communist)

Aside from cannibalism, I think I’ve pretty much tried every “philosophy” of eating under the sun. I’ve tried juices, smoothies, raw foods, veganism, salads, and all of that new-age stuff. I’ve tried old-school options from Italian sandwiches, to the stews of South America, Eastern Europe, and Korea. I’ve had Oscar Meyer bologna white bread sandwiches, Olive Garden pasta, and Ruby Tuesday burgers. I’ve fallen asleep at my desk with a stomach full of foie gras.

And while I am always game to try something new or to revisit an old favorite, what sits best with me for lunch, what I would love to have five days out of seven, is just a simple bowl of WHITE rice, Chinese greens, and a warm, translucent, poached egg perched atop it all, with a trickle of soy sauce running down its silky cheek.

This is the food I grew up with, the food I learned to feed myself with, the food that I was embarrassed by as a teenager, and the food that I abandoned when I sought wisdom from self-proclaimed nutrition gods of the Atkins, Raw Foods, and other modern tribes.

This is the food I return to.

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, The Perfect Lunch (for a Communist) | Permalink

Eat Wings Without the Mess (video)

After watching this video, you too will know the SECRET TRICK to eating wings with impeccable grace and cleanliness.

Impress your family, impress your friends!
Impress the strangers on the fence!

Never again will you suffer the indignities of being caught mid-gnaw at the bars, or feeling the sting of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce in your tender bodily crevices.

Let this trick banish forever the Wingter of your discontent, my friends!

FILED UNDER: Eat Wings Without the Mess (video), Food & Drink | Permalink

Make Your Mom Happy in 7 Easy Steps

STEP 1:  Be 18 years old.

It’s time to go to college and your mom looks at you sadly for a whole week.  Finally as you’re loading the car with your 386 IBM PC and dot matrix printer, she says: “Will you be able to cook for yourself there, when you feel like Chinese food?”

You look at her blankly, through the freshman fog of cluelessness.

“Write this down,” she says very seriously, and begins to recite in that age-old poetic form –the recipe.

You scrawl it down on a scrap piece of paper and shove it in your pocket.

STEP 2:  Wait many years.

Really, really, really miss a mom-cooked meal.  Rummage through papers, notebooks, pockets, and other personal crevices.  Find the recipe.  Buy the ingredients: tomatoes, onion, carrots, potatoes, beef, cilantro, star anise, cooking wine, red wine, soy sauce.

 

STEP 3:  Chop stuff up.

 

STEP 4:  Put some of it into a pot.

Cook beef in olive oil until white on the outside.  Add onion, soy sauce, cooking wine, red wine, and 1 star anise.  Bring to a boil. Turn heat down to super low and simmer for 1.5 hrs.

STEP 5:  Add vegetables.

Bring to a boil.

 

STEP 6:  Simmer down.

Simmer on low for 1 hr.  Add salt to taste.

 

STEP 7:  Throw it on some rice.

Take a picture of it.  Send it to your mom, who now lives across the world from you and has been missing you and worrying if you’re eating well for over a decade.  She’ll be happy, guaranteed.  (And so will you.)

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, Make Your Mom Happy in 7 Easy Steps | Permalink

Late Night TV Snacking

With wine, of course.

Strawberries are one of the twelve fruits and vegetables that I always make sure to get organic. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that all kinds of bad stuff would lodge in those tiny pits? And that skin! Thin, translucent, more permeable than a teenager with self-esteem issues! Taste-wise, I prefer the smaller, redder, less genetically modified, berries over their bigger, more turgid, less flavorful, GMO’d cousins.

Three kinds of cheese: cheddar, swiss, and goat. If you could only have one kind of cheese for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mine would be cheddar, even though I love brie. Because you can have cheddar plain. With brie, you always want to assemble its friends together for a party in your mouth –figs, preserves, breads and crackers. Have you done this delightful cheese personality quiz yet?

Blood oranges are so dramatic! Sometimes they taste awesome, but as some of you might be able to tell just by looking at this picture, this one was not very sweet nor soft and luscious.

Peanuts are actually a kind of legume, and not nuts at all. Didja know?

Also on the platter: olives and cornichons.

And on the TV? Probably “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Guy is the best!

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, Late Night TV Snacking | Permalink