Category Archives: Random musings

To Tell You the Tooth…

Feeling like one of these little guys right about now.

Apologies, first off, to my readers for my prolonged absence. I could give you a laundry list of reasons why it’s been more than a month since my last blog post: things got busy, work’s been crazy, I’ve had writer’s block, I’ve been too busy watching Mad Men, etc. etc. But truthfully, I just haven’t been that inspired to write about food lately. Maybe I’m taking food for granted, or maybe I’m struggling with balancing my love of food with my ever-expanding waistline. So yeah. There it is.

It’s taken something a bit drastic, however, to get me excited about food again. On Thursday, I had a wisdom tooth pulled.

Having a wisdom tooth is no fun, for obvious reasons (hello, chipmunk cheeks!) but even more so when you’re going to be put under general anesthesia. You can’t eat anything for eight hours before the procedure, and afterward, you’re only supposed to have liquids, then soft foods. Which means you’re most likely doomed to eat nothing but mushy potatoes, smoothies, yogurt, pudding, apple sauce and tomato soups for three or four days straight.

Planning ahead, I made a batch of vichyssoise, a potato-and-leek soup that’s supposed to be served cold, but after a couple of days, I got a little tired of it. My taste buds later turned to thoughts of Chinese food–especially congee, which is the ultimate comfort food–rice porridge with chicken, ginger, scallions. It’s easy to make, but it takes some planning ahead. Also, good luck trying to cook anything while doped up on painkillers. Hot stoves and Vicodin do not mix.

I checked to see whether my favorite Chinese restaurant, Mark’s Duck House, had congee on the menu, but no dice. There was, however, crab meat and fish maw soup, as well as egg drop soup. Bingo.

Crab meat and fish maw soup

Egg drop soup is a pretty common staple on Chinese menus, but crab meat and fish maw soup is something special. It’s made with fresh crab (obviously) and fish “maw,” which is just a nice word for a fish’s swim bladder, the organ that gives fish the ability to control their buoyancy. It’s dried and reconstituted in soups, and has a texture similar to wet pork rinds. YUM! Did I have you at fish bladder and wet pork rinds? Why aren’t you salivating yet?

Ok, so it’s not for everyone, especially those who are picky about textures, but to me, it’s delicious. Fish maw and crab meat soup is a rich, thick, hearty dish, perfect with a dash of white pepper and Chinese vinegar. It reminds me of shark fin soup, only without the unnecessary bloodshed and animal cruelty. Poor sharkies.

What makes this soup, and egg flower soup, for that matter, great for a post-wisdom tooth extraction diet is that it’s chock full of protein and won’t leave your stomach grumbling in an hour, like mashed potatoes or tomato soup would. Also, I can’t seem to get enough of either soup. Can’t say the same for mashed potatoes or vichyssoise, for that matter.

If you ever find yourself in a Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant and happen to see crab and fish maw soup on the menu, give it a try, what the heck. And if you’re already a fan and would like to try DIY-ing this fabulous soup at home, try this recipe over at The Unoriginal Chef and let me know how it turns out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fix myself a bowl of fish maw and crab soup, wash up, put a heating pad on my puffed out cheek, and think about what I want to eat–and blog about–tomorrow.

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Some Like It Hot: The Pepper that Makes Grown Men Cry

The scary pepper with the equally scary name: The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion

One thing I really enjoy about my office environment is the random conversations I have with my co-workers. Today, for example, my colleague Brandt and I were discussing the apparent lack of raccoons in northern Virginia because he was concerned about rodents getting into his bird feeder. Then the conversation steered toward Hot Meats, which, besides having an awesomely awkward name, are touted as the bird lover’s ultimate rodent repellent. They’re sunflower seeds that pack a punch with hot chile oil, which squirrels do not like.

I told him that if he REALLY wants to teach a squirrel a lesson, he should lace the Hot Meats with ghost peppers, or bhut jolokias, which are a northeastern Indian hybrid pepper that has been rated the hottest in the world. A single ghost pepper can have a rating of over a million heat units on the Scoville scale.

Let’s put that number into context, shall we? Tabasco, which is pretty hot if you’re a wimp, comes in at 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale, while pure capsaicin, which gives pepper plants its spice factor, has a rating of 16,000,000 heat units. Holy hell, that’s hot.

The Ghost pepper will send your taste buds to their graves.

After  a quick search, however, I was surprised to find out two things: that the feared bhut jolokia pepper has been surpassed by a pepper with an even more menacing name, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper, and that the bhut jolokia’s Westernized name, the ghost pepper, is actually an erroneous translation. Whoops.

At any rate, there’s no misinterpreting the Scorpion pepper’s moniker, which pretty much lives up to its namesake with a sting that rates 2,009,231 Scoville heat units. That’s TWICE as hot as the ghost pepper!

I love spicy food, don’t get me wrong, but you couldn’t pay me enough to eat one of these suckers. I mean, look at what it can do to a grown man! (Warning: Do not try this at home.) However, if you’re interested in growing your own Scorpion peppers and goading a frenemy into eating one (while secretly filming his or her reaction) check out this site.

Have you ever had a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion or bhut jolokia? What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten?

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That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Variety is the spice of life. Right?

 

When I first moved to the good ol’ US of A, I was shocked to see how many varieties of Girl Scout cookies there are. How many flavors? Let me count the ways:

1) Thin Mints, mint chocolate wafers coated in chocolate
2) Samoas/Caramel Delites, vanilla cookies dipped in caramel, chocolate and coconut
3) Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties, vanilla cookies layered with peanut butter and chocolate
4) Do-si-dos/Peanut Butter Sandwiches, oatmeal cookie sandwiches with peanut butter filling
5) Trefoils/Shortbreads, a traditional shortbread with the Girl Scout emblem
6) Dulce de Leche, caramel cookies with caramel chips
7) Thank U Berry Much, with cranberries and white fudge
8) Thanks-a-lot, a shortbread cookie dipped in chocolate
9) Shout Outs, a Belgian-style caramel cookie
10) Lemonades, shortbread covered in lemon icing
11) And the new  Savannah Smiles, lemon wedges with lemon chips and powdered sugar.

And the above list doesn’t include the discontinued flavors!

The reason why I was so surprised was that I was a Girl Guide (Canada’s version of Girl Scouts, except with cuter uniforms–seriously, what’s up with those green vests?), and we had the following cookie flavors to sell:

1) Vanilla.
2) Chocolate.

Both were sandwich-style cookies with cream filling. Sometimes, if we were really lucky, we would be given peanut  butter or Thin Mint-like biscuits to sell,  but that was  rare. (Apparently, the Girl Guides of today sell Chocolatey Mint cookies in the fall, so at least there’s that.)


“Boring!” you might say. Yeah, fine, it’s not very creative. But I have to admit, I will always prefer Girl Guide cookies to any of the Girl Scout cookies on offer, with the exception of Samoas. Those are damn tasty, I won’t lie.

And, I daresay our Chocolatey Mint cookies are superior to Thin Mints–there’s actual mint filling inside!

 

Eat yer heart out, Thin Mints.

The Girl Scouts, though, have Girl Guides beat in terms of marketing their cookies. Apparently, the Scouts have just launched an app that locates cookie sales near you. Well played, Girl Scouts. Well played.

What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie?

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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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Happy Groundhog Day!

America, you just got Punx'd. (via msnbcmedia.msn.com)

The town of Punxsutawney, PA, rose early this morning to see what its most famous resident had to say about the weather over the next six weeks, but I was more interested in two other questions: What does Punxsutawney Phil eat, and, more important, how do groundhogs taste?

You would think a groundhog would eat what it’s supposed to–grass, dandelion and clover. But in true American form, Punxsutawney Phil reportedly feasts on dog food and ice cream throughout the year. No wonder he weighs around 15 pounds! (In the wild, they average in weight from 4 to 9 pounds.) Chunky little chucker, isn’t he?

Apparently, of the 115 recorded predictions he’s made so far, Phil has predicted an early summer only 15 times. What do you want to bet his main motivation for presaging longer winters is having an excuse to go back to his warm burrow and continue pigging out?

If I were to ever have my pick of groundhogs to eat, I’d probably steer clear of Phil, not only because he’s famous, but also because he’s a lardo. After all, you are what you eat, right?

A cursory Google search–yes, my research methods are exacting–led me to an interesting website, appropriately named UShotStuff.com,  that says groundhogs are considered dark meat and have a mild flavor, and can be used as substitutes in rabbit and squirrel (!) dishes. Note the non-PC recipes on the site, as well as the Comic Sans font.

Here’s one random yet delicious-sounding recipe from the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension website. I’m not entirely sure what NCSU has to do with woodchuck recipes, though. One can only imagine.

Groundhog Pie

1 woodchuck, skinned and cleaned
1/4 cup onion
1/4 cup green pepper
1/2 tbsp minced parsley
1 tbsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
4 1/2 tbsp. flour
3 cups broth

Biscuits:
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. fat
1/4 cup milk

Cut woodchuck into 2 or 3 pieces. Parboil for 1 hour. Remove meat from bones in large pieces. Add onion, green pepper, parsley, salt, pepper, and flour to the broth and srit until it thickens. If the broth does not measure 3 cups, add water. Add the meat to the broth mixture and stir thoroughly. Pour into baking dish.

For biscuits: sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cut in the fat and add the liquid. Stir until the dry ingredients are moist. Roll only enough to make it fit the dish. Place dough on top of meat, put in a hot oven (400 degrees F.) and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until dough is browned. Serves 6-8.

It’s doubtful that you’ll find 80/20 ground woodchuck chuck at your local Whole Foods, but I’m sure you can find someone out there who would be willing to supply you with unwanted groundhogs that have eaten prize vegetable gardens en masse. Craigslist would probably be your best bet, judging by this post for free groundhog meat that was posted in 2009.

Some words of wisdom for those brave enough to experiment with woodchuck meat:

“Please be assured that the groundhog roast
Is not a new invention;
Its fame, now reaching coast to coast
Is worth a cook’s attention
A Punsx’y chef will say it’s good,
And willingly he shares it,
But Woodchuck, like all other food,
Depends on who prepares it.”
Cooking with the Groundhog (1958)
And, finally, what Chow Bella post would be complete without a somewhat related, somewhat random YouTube video? Hope everyone has a happy Whistle Pig Day!

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Nuggets of Wisdom

Chicken nuggets fly the coop in Banksy's 2008 installation The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill (via garidavies.me.uk)

I did a bad, bad thing tonight.

After work, I planned on making some deliciously healthy Barley Stew with Leeks, Mushrooms and Greens, and was feeling good about a week’s worth of fairly good-for-you eating. It all came crashing down, though, when I picked up Dr. J from his office. Having had a super long day after pulling an all-nighter for work, he requested that we go to McDonald’s for dinner.

I hesitated for a split second, then our car started barreling toward the Golden Arches.

Hell yeah! We hadn’t gotten fast food since our honeymoon in Montreal over the summer. (Long story short, we got dolled up to have a fancy, expensive dinner, but the restaurant closed due to a city-wide blackout and the only place open was “McDo,” as it’s known in French.)

Fifteen minutes later, we brought home our fast-food booty:a Big Mac meal for him, and a 10-piece McNugget meal for me.

I see that arched eyebrow and the judge-y look. Yes, I have seen “Supersize Me,” and I know some people believe Chicken McNuggets  are made of unidentifiable pink, chicken-y crap. But then again, there are some people also believe that wearing Forever Lazys in public is acceptable.

Nope, that's not strawberry soft-serve ice cream, friend. (via Gizmodo.com)

Supposedly, mechanically separated chicken is made from eyeballs, guts and other nasty bits soaked in ammonia, reflavored and dyed with artificial colors. (Not entirely true, by the way, according to Snopes.com, and anyway, I have it on good authority that McNuggets are made of chicken breast meat, not that pink crap, so that didn’t bother me in the least.)

But I ate my McNuggets with gusto anyway and was feeling pretty good–until I flipped the box over to check out the nutrition facts (BAD idea) and realized that I’d just consumed 29 grams of fat (44 percent of the recommended daily value)  and 1000 mg of sodium (42 percent of DV). Ouch.

I looked to blog therapy to relieve my McGuilt Trip, but as I googled Chicken McNuggets,  I came across a Daily Mail story that came out today about a UK teen who has eaten nothing but Chicken McNuggets for 15 (!!) years and passed out while working. She was rushed to the hospital because she had trouble breathing and was found to be critically vitamin deficient and anemic. And she also had inflamed veins in her tongue. Gross.

The sad part is, the photos in the story really show how sickly she is. Imagine how much prettier she’d be if she’d eat a damn salad every now and then.

After reading her story, I didn’t feel quite as bad about 10 measly little nugs. Still. I think I’ll work out over the weekend anyway and make that barley soup to cleanse out the ol’ colon. Gotta atone for my sins somehow, I suppose.

Happy weekend to all, and to all a good night.

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In the News: What About the Twinkie?

This wouldn’t be a proper food commentary blog without some mention of Hostess Brands filing for bankruptcy protection this week and the hoopla that ensued over the uncertain future of the Twinkie. Love ’em or hate ’em, the iconic yellow, cream-filled sponge cake tube is pretty much engrained in the American childhood experience, which even I can appreciate, despite growing up Canadian.

They may not be around for much longer, but there’s no doubt they’ll live on forever beyond supermarket shelves. How immortal is the Twinkie? Let me count the (fairly obvious) ways:

1) It has its own urban legend. Because, you know, Twinkies can survive a nuclear holocaust and never go bad. (Not true, by the way.)

2) It’s mentioned in a slew of movies and TV shows, like Ghostbusters and Wall-E, which, incidentally, only reinforces the idea that Twinkies can last 700 years.

Wall-E's pet cockroach enjoys a Twinkie in 2805. Via DenofGeek.com

3) It’s the nickname of the Minnesota Twins, who will be around forever. (I confirmed this with Dr. J, who is a die-hard Twins fan.)

4) It was a legit legal defense in San Francisco. (“The Twinkies made me do it!”)

5) It’s a racial slur referring to an Asian American who’s “yellow on the outside but white on the inside.” (Guilty as charged. I’ve also used the term “banana” to describe my Asian-American identity in jest.) But did you also know it’s a pejorative used by American Indians to describe a Caucasian who claim to be American Indian without strong blood ties to a tribe? I learned something new today.

6) There’s a pretty famous book and website dedicated to the Twinkie and raises all sorts of nasty questions about what really goes into our processed foods. I think I’m gonna have to add “Twinkie Deconstructed” to my Goodreads to-read list.

6) It’s a name that some people use for their babies. And I’m not talking about fur babies. Like, human ones. No joke. I actually knew a girl in college named Twinkie, and a cursory Google search tells me that other people share the same moniker.

I have a feeling I’ve only skimmed the surface of the full scope of Twinkian influence, but as the Hostess drama continues to unfold, we’ll be hearing more about this legendary snack cake as people continue to wonder, just as Bill Murray did, ‘What about the Twinkie?”

In the meantime, here are some cute Twinkie cupcakes inspired by the Minions in Despicable Me, via The Cupcake Blog. Cute characters in a so-so movie, but enjoyable all the same. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Twinkie Minion cupcakes, via TheCupcakeBlog.com

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