Monthly Archives: February 2012

In the News: Can Ice Cream Be Racist?

Ben & Jerry's newest flavor got a pretty frosty reception.

Ben & Jerry’s is at it again, stirring sh*t up and getting reamed about a controversial flavor. (Remember the hullabaloo over Schweddy Balls? Yeeaah.)

Last Friday, the iconoclastic ice cream company announced it would release a new flavor in honor of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks‘ star point guard and the NBA’s first Taiwanese-American player who everyone and their mother is talking about right now, at the Ben & Jerry’s Harvard Square location. Seems appropriate, right? Especially since Lin went to Harvard and pretty much put its basketball team on the map.

Well, apparently, the move had consumers crying foul because of the flavor’s ingredients: vanilla frozen yogurt, lychee honey and (gasp!) fortune cookie pieces. The backlash was so swift that you’d think Ben & Jerry’s printed a caricature of a kung-fu fighter wearing thick round glasses and a Fu Manchu moustache on the carton. People started complaining that the use of fortune cookies was inherently racist (and soggy). The use of lychee, which is a Southeast Asian fruit, also ruffled some feathers. Ben & Jerry’s ended up replacing the fortune cookie pieces with waffle cone ones, but kept the lychee honey element.

Ben & Jerry’s issued an apology via (several) Twitter posts following the bad press, saying:

“On behalf of Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops, we offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended by our handmade Linsanity flavor that we offered at our Harvard Square location. We are proud and honored to have Jeremy Lin hail from one of our fine, local universities, and we are huge sports fans. We were swept up in the nationwide Linsanity momentum. Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try to demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and  if we failed in this instance, we offer our sincere apologies.”

The inspiration behind Ben & Jerry's latest flavor. And no, I will not combine "Lin" with "inspiration."

So, as a food lover and an Asian American, I have a few thoughts on this kerfluffle. First and foremost, I’m not entirely sure how delicious the combination of lychee honey, fortune cookies and vanilla yogurt would taste. Not exactly the strongest flavor, I’d imagine.

Second, I’d like to point out that if there is anything that is truly Asian American in this combination, it’s the fortune cookie. According to food historians, fortune cookies originated in Japan and Chinese immigrants were responsible for making them popular in the United States, in particular in the San Francisco Bay area. In fact, many Asian-American restaurateurs were all clamoring for recognition as the first to invent the cookie.

Chinese-American author Amy Tan also pointed out the American-ness of the fortune cookie in her bestselling book, “The Joy Luck Club,” when two immigrant Chinese women start working in a fortune cookie factory and find the baked good to be rather humorous and, well, foreign.

And journalist Jennifer 8. Lee explored the history of the cookie in her book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” in a bid to show “how Chinese food is more all-American than apple pie.”

If anything, they should have nixed the lychee honey altogether  and maybe added something more fun, like Harvard crimson sprinkles or M&Ms in Knicks colors or something. Although I would probably steer clear of Twinkies and bananas. Now THOSE would be offensive.

Better yet, they should have asked Lin himself what he would like in his namesake ice cream.

Do you think “Taste the Lin-sanity” was racist, or do you think people should calm the heck down already? What would you have put in a Lin-inspired ice cream flavor?

(Also, for all you basketball fans out there, here’s an interesting post on Dr. J’s blog about Lin by a fellow Californian and Asian American who, like me, hasn’t bought into “Linsanity” fad quite yet for various reasons.)

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Oscars 2012: Let Them Eat Gold

Wolfgang serves up a golden opportunity.

Watching the Oscars is kind of like watching the Superbowl for me–I usually don’t keep track of the major players throughout the year, so I’m not really that invested in who wins and who doesn’t. But I might tune in if I’m with friends and there’s food and alcohol involved. Especially if there’s alcohol. (I also enjoy praising/jeering actresses’ red-carpet sartorial choices, but that doesn’t really fit into the whole Superbowl metaphor.)

This year’s Oscars was all right, I guess, but it got to be more fun with each glass of cava I downed with my friend AJ. But what I REALLY would have liked to see was what Wolfgang Puck was going to serve at the Governors Ball.

“You can almost call it Wolfgang’s greatest hits over 30 years,” Puck said in a recent Reuters report.  “This is the perfect menu because there’s something for everybody.”

Indeed. Among the more interesting menu selections:

Pork belly dumplings with soy and ginger

Lobster taco with tomato and pickled shallots

Chicken pot pie with shaved black truffles and roasted vegetables

Shanghai lobster with coconut curry, jasmine rice and pickled ginger

Chinois lamb with cilantro-mint vinaigrette

Earl Grey tea truffles

Chocolate-dipped Pop Rock cakes

And, of course, the traditional 24-karat chocolate Oscars and the smoked salmon on Oscar-shaped flatbread with caviar and crème fraîche. Yum!

Here’s the shopping list for the entire menu, which comprised more than 50 small plates, main courses and desserts:

  • 1,300 farmed oysters
  • 5 kilos of American farm-raised caviar
  • 1,450 pounds Maine lobster
  • 7,500 U.S. shrimp
  • 30 gallons cocktail sauce
  • 1,250 stone crab claws
  • 10 pounds of black winter truffles
  • 20,000 pieces of California-grown micro greens
  • 6,000 pieces of mini brioche buns
  • 5,000 cage-free eggs
  • 200 quarts heavy cream and 200 quarts milk
  • 800 pounds L’Etoile du Nord bittersweet chocolate
  • 25 pounds edible gold dust

What really caught my eye, though, was the 25 pounds of gold dust, which brought to mind Billy Crystal’s one-liner early in the broadcast: “Nothing takes the sting out of a recession like watching millionaires present each other with gold statues.”

In the course of my research on what Chef Puck served after the Oscars, I came across some coverage highlighting some criticism from Joel Berg, a food poverty campaigner with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, regarding the use of real gold in dishes served after the Golden Globes. He pointed out the irony of giving rich Hollywood types expensive, extravagant food for free while people stricken by the severe recession were struggling to get a decent meal, which, okay, yeah, I get. It’s a Marie Antoinette-like situation, and someone’s head might have to metaphorically roll for it.

Of course, that didn’t stop Puck, ever the pro, to deliver a sumptuous meal while also tempering the extravagance with social consciousness. Apparently, all the ingredients, with the exception of a few items, such as the lobster, were locally sourced, and all the leftovers were  donated to a local homeless shelter.

Still. What do you think? Is real gold a little much, especially at more than $135 per gram? Is it necessary to dust it on desserts served to celebrities after awards shows, especially during a recession?

I don’t have any answers. All I know is that, contrary to what the tabloids tell us, celebrities are NOT like us. After all, no one I know poops pure gold.

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Kitchen Adventures: Brilliant Brioche

Happiness is a warm loaf of bread.

There is a reason why I will never lose weight in time for bikini season this year–it’s brioche. It’s buttery, light, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and I just can’t get enough. Now that I know how to make it successfully, well, I can just kiss goodbye any chance of  shrinking my muffin top for good.

Over the holiday weekend, I finally carved out some time–and you do need plenty of time for this project–to make brioche from my favorite pastry book, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe. I’ve made several waistline-busting batches of goodies from this book already, including Double Apple Pie, and all of them turned out swimmingly, so I expected no less from Joanne Chang’s brioche recipe.

As far as pastries go, brioche is sort of an odd duck in that it’s pastry-like bread. Or bread-like pastry, whichever you prefer. Apparently, the first recorded use of the word brioche was in 1404 (whoa!) but the origin of the word itself isn’t quite clear.

According to FoodTimeline.org, there are several theories, but my favorite is the one from Larousse Gastronomique, which says that brioche gets its name from Brie, since brioche was originally made with the famous cheese.  I like this idea best because my favorite Filipino pastry, ensaymada, is pretty much like brioche, except it’s topped with a thick, creamy, sugary frosting and shredded cheese. Fodder for a future kitchen adventure, perhaps?

The Philippines' answer to brioche. Via Recipes.Wikia.com

Another fun fact about brioche is that it’s tied to the infamous quote that’s often attributed to Marie-Antoinette. You know the one:  “Let them eat cake!” In French, it translates to “”Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” a quote that the French queen reportedly said after hearing about famines in the French countryside in pre-Revolutionary France. It’s long since been a phrase associated with callous insensitivity to the plight of the working class, but the sad part is, Marie Antoinette apparently didn’t say it.

Marie Antoinette lost her head for brioche in a bad way. (via Biography.com)

The quote actually appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book Confessions, which came out when Marie Antoinette was only nine years old, and there’s no record that she said it herself during her reign. Of course, 18th-century folks didn’t have the Googles back then, so that fact didn’t help when the angry bourgeoisie stormed the castle and sent her to the guillotine (ouch). The misattribution still persists to this day though, even with the interwebs. C’est la vie, I suppose.

Anyway. I digress. The brioche-making experience was pretty fun. The process involves mixing the dough, letting it proof in the fridge overnight, dividing the batch in half, shaping each section into rectangles, folding them up and placing them in two loaf pans. After the dough has had enough time to rise, you brush the tops with an egg wash, pop them in the oven, and 35 minutes later, you’ve got yourself two loaves of heaven. Also, the buttery air in your house will smell so good, you’ll want to eat it.

I immediately sliced off several pieces, slathered on my mother-in-law’s amazing homemade raspberry preserves (made with fruit from her own raspberry patch in Minnesota!), made myself a cup of vanilla rooibos, and I was a happy girl. Guess who’s going to be eating brioche every morning this week?

Screw it. If I gain a little more of a belly because of this amazing treat, so be it. Anyway, French women don’t get fat, right? Does the same go for women who eat French food? One can only hope.

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Laissez les Bonbons Rouler!

Mardi Gras cake balls. OH YES I DID.

In honor of the year’s most indulgent holiday, I present to you my latest creation, the Mardi Gras cake bonbon. Okay, fine, they’re cake balls, and they’re not exactly ground breaking, but they definitely fit Fat Tuesday’s “let’s throw the diet out the window for a day” requirement.

Inspired by a post for Mardi Gras cupcakes by fellow  blogger Sweet Pea’s Kitchen, I went about making the most bombtastic cake ball using the three colors that have become synonymous with the holiday: bold yellows, greens and purples. Up until yesterday I had no idea that the colors actually represented power (yellow/gold), justice (purple) and faith (green). I just thought it was a gaudy combination of whatever colors look appealing to drunk people partying in the street.

Anyhoo, now for the fun part: how to make these bad boys.  I used Bakerella’s recipe for Red Velvet Cake Balls as a template, with my own twists.

Laissez les Bonbons Rouler Cake Balls

1 box white cake mix (these usually call for eggs, oil and water, so have these on hand as well)
1 can store-bought white frosting
1 small bottle green food coloring/gel
1 small bottle yellow food coloring/gel
1 small bottle purple food coloring/gel (you can also combine red and blue dye and adjust to your liking)
1 12-oz bag green Wilton Candy Melts
1 12-oz bag purple Wilton Candy Melts
1 12-oz bag yellow Wilton Candy Melts

1) Prepare the white cake mix as directed on the box using a 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan. Cool to room temperature.

2) Once the cake is cooled, break off big chunks of it and crumble it between your hands into a big mixing bowl. Continue until the entire cake is crumbled, making sure there are no big chunks remaining.

3) Scoop 3/4 of the icing and mix it into the cake crumbles. Don’t use the entire can of frosting, as it will make it too sticky. Stir the frosting and cake until it gets a nice, light Play-Doh-like texture.

4) Divide the batter into three sections, placing two sections in two separate bowls and leaving the third section in the original large mixing bowl.

5) Add five drops of green dye to one bowl, and mix it in vigorously until thoroughly combined. Keep adding dye to achieve the shade of green you like.

6) Repeat step 5 with the other two bowls, using yellow and purple dyes respectively.

You should end up with this:

Now, time to make the balls.

7) Pinch off equal pieces of each color, stick them together, then roll the combined batter into a ball. Place ball on a cookie sheet. Repeat until all the batter is gone.

8) When finished, stick the cookie sheet in the fridge for at least an hour so the balls solidify a bit. In the meantime, prep a couple of extra cookie sheets lined with parchment paper for the candying process.

9) After the balls have chilled, put the green candy melts in a microwave-safe bowl and melt according to package directions. Once they’ve melted, place a cake ball in the candy, and spoon the candy over it until it’s completely covered. Lift the ball out of the bowl, and tap the spoon on the edge of the bowl to shake off excess candy coating.

10) Gently roll the ball onto the prepared cookie sheet. Don’t worry if candy pools around the ball, you can take a toothpick and draw a line to separate the excess candy coating from the rest of the ball.

11) Working quickly, repeat step 10 until half of the balls are coated with green.

12) Repeat steps 9-11 using the purple candy melts. Don’t worry if the balls aren’t perfectly smooth–mine weren’t but they turned out ok for a first-time attempt.

13) Once the balls have dried, melt half of the yellow candy melts and, using a fork, drizzle it slowly over the green and purple cake balls. Mine turned out kind of Jackson Pollack-y, but I kind of liked how they turned out.

Nom nom bon bons

14) Let them dry, then dig in!

Of course, this recipe can be customized in all sorts of ways. For instance, I wanted to bake in some bourbon, but, alas, had none on hand. You could use any combination of cake flavors, really. Go ahead, get creative. I know you want to.

The best part about this cake ball though is the fun surprise you get when you bite into it!

The colors, the colors!

Do you guys have any fun Mardi Gras recipes to share? What’s your favorite Fat Tuesday food to eat?

Happy Shrove Tuesday, everyone! Let the bonbons roll!

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I’m Craving: Funky Fromage

Vive la stinky cheese! (by Palmino, via cheezburger.com)

I must confess: I’m very attracted to smelly foods. Durian, kimchi, bagoong, Époisses de Bourgogne, fish sauce, garlic–I will eat it all, and in vast quantities, if left to my own devices. Of course, I won’t eat these all at the same time, unless some genius chef comes up with a fabulous way to incorporate everything into one cohesive dish (hint hint, “Chopped” producers).

Unfortunately, not everyone shares my fascination with funk. Which is why it can be challenging when you’re working in an office environment and suddenly a craving for a  big, fat slice of smelly cheese hits you like a whiff of Limburger.

Usually, I’m very considerate when it comes to my lunch choices, but the other day, I couldn’t help myself. At lunchtime, I went in for a dentist appointment, which didn’t take as long as I expected. Left with some time to kill, I trotted across the street to Red White and Bleu, a local wine and gourmet shop that I’ve been meaning to check out for some time.

While they didn’t have any of my favorite cheese, Époisses, in stock, the owner, James, introduced me to two new pungent pals: Meadow Creek Dairy‘s Grayson and Grès des Vosges, an Alsatian cousin of Munster cheese (no, not Muenster, the stuff you find in grocery stores–the real stuff smells like feet and is made with raw cow’s milk and left to age in damp cellars). Munster smells so bad that I’ve seen reports that people call it “monster cheese.”

Both are soft, washed-rind cheeses, and both stink to high heaven, which is just how I like them. Grayson, a seasonal cheese named after the county where Meadow Creek Dairy is located, can only be described as having a rich, beefy and creamy taste, with the consistency of a thick fudge. Taste-wise, it’s sort of like a Taleggio. Fabulous. But, to be honest, it smells vaguely like that rotten odor that emanates from a tooth when a crown pops off,  along with a touch of manure.

The reeking Grayson (via Meadow Creek Dairy)

The Grès des Vosges, which comes nicely packaged with a pretty fern frond pressed into it, is also rich and creamy, but a little milder than the Grayson. So how does it smell? Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle article would have you believe it’s a mix of “garlic, mushroom, barnyard and cultured milk,” but that’s just being polite. Personally, I smell a mix of yeasty belly button lint with a hint of fish sauce, but that’s just me.

I handed the cheese to Dr. J while his eyes were glued to the TV during the Timberwolves/Bobcats game, and, thinking it was a bar of soap from Lush, took a big whiff. His response: “Gross. I thought I was going to be smelling something nice.”

Grès des Vosges--gross smell, grand flavor

Don’t my descriptions make you want to run out and drop some dimes on stinkcheeses? Like I said, the relationship between smell and taste is inversely proportional. The more gag-inducing the odor, the more gratifying the taste. I would buy these two cheeses again in a heartbeat.

Anyway. Returning to my point about malodorous foods and the office, I returned to the office with these two cheeses in hand, and, after opening the Grayson at my desk, I got self-conscious that my co-workers were going to throw up, so I stuck them in the communal fridge. Then, of course, I became paranoid that the cheeses were going to stink that up, so I left work a bit early to keep the smelliness to myself.

I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things, leaving the cheese in the car for about an hour, and, well, word to the wise–leaving two pungent cheeses in a closed space for a longish period of time is ill advised. That was a bad choice.

Have you ever tried a stinky cheese? If so, did you enjoy it? What did it taste like?  Feel free to get creative describing how bad they smelled–that’s half the fun when it comes to writing about cheese.

To paraphrase the great Andrew Zimmern, “if it smells bad, eat it!”*
*applicable only to stinking cheeses, not other foods. Actually, this is kind of bad advice out of context.

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V-Day Sweet Treats

Break me off a piece of that...

Roses may die and diamonds may be forever–but a box full of exotic Kit Kats  is a Valentine’s Day gift that just keeps on giving. My good friend and fellow blogger Ilene just returned from an epic trip to Taiwan and Japan, and had blogged about the crazy Kit Kat flavors you’ll find there, including green tea, purple sweet potato, red bean, wasabi and even soy sauce. (Incidentally, soy sauce is the most popular flavor in Japan. I guess there’s a reason why the word “umami” is Japanese, right?)

She went on a massive hunt throughout Tokyo to find the Holy Grail of Kit Kat stores, and finally found it in the Tokyo Central metro station, of all places. Apparently there are more than 200 flavors out there, mostly found in Japan. Check out her adventures here.

She must have known that I was drooling over my laptop, because she sent me a cute box chock full of treats for Valentine’s Day. (Thanks, Ilene!)

The flavors, counter clockwise from the lower left: strawberry, blueberry cheesecake, almond tofu, red bean sandwich, green tea, orange, strawberry cheesecake and cantaloupe. Yum!

I can’t tell you exactly how they all taste just yet, mainly because I enjoy just looking at them. Plus, the sooner I start chowing down, the sooner they will all go away 😦 Such is the dilemma of the average food lover, I suppose.

And I’d imagine it’s the same dilemma that most Kit Kat collectors have as well–apparently, there are some people who make it a hobby to collect these things. There’s even an entire blog dedicated to the exotic Kit Kat. Now that’s a hobby I can get behind. If only Nestle would start distributing these crazy flavors here in the States. Come on, Japan, share the wealth, will ya?

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

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In the News: The Best Commercial I’ve Seen This Year

 

I’m not usually one to buy into TV ads for fast food chains, but this Chipotle commercial that stole the show last night during the Grammys had some people getting a little blubbery over burritos. It was a deadly combination of adorable animation, heart string-tugging storyline and an amazing cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” by Willie Nelson. The ad actually came out last year, but last night, it really started turning heads, not just because it’s a damn good commercial, but also because it aired right after Coldplay’s ho-hum live performance. Awwwkwarrrrd.

At first, I was skeptical about the company’s message–no way they’re really going back to small, family-owned farms, and isn’t Chipotle owned by McDonald’s anyway?–a reaction that I’m sure a lot of people had. While it’s true that Chipotle and McDonald’s were once BFFs, they parted ways in 2006, but apparently people still associate the two together. (This CafeMom.com blog post from last year explains it all.)

After researching Chipotle  a little,  it certainly looks like the chain is doing more to ensure an ethical food supply than its competitors. But no matter what you think about Chipotle, there’s no denying that this is one damn good commercial. Sit back and enjoy.

 

 

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