La Source : Cooking for a Cause

By Tsz on September 19, 2011

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of the big picture.

Being a freelance designer, I find myself stressed on a day-to-day basis in trying to complete enough projects to get by. In a sense, I’m living the life of a starving artist—sort of, as I have managed to eat pretty well in spite of it all.

Because of my lifestyle, I will admit that I’ve got a bit of a tunnel vision. Work, make rent, pay down student loans. Repeat each month. This seemingly endless cycle plays a toil on my psyche—and I’ve just started my working career!

So, I find it vital to my sanity to step out of my shoes periodically, see what is going on in the world and give back however I can.

Last week, I’ve had the opportunity to cook with my friend Tim at a fundraiser for La Source and Generosity Water. La Source is a documentary about a small village in Haiti called La Source and its inhabitants in their continuing struggle in bringing clean water to their village.

We decided to showcase Haitian cuisine so we created a menu of simple comfort dishes:

1. Riz National, a rice and Kidney beans pilaf that’s boldly flavored with salt pork, cumin and cloves.

2. Boulette, Haitian meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce.

3. Pikliz, Haitian pickled vegetables.

The fundraiser was a success due to the team and master planning by Carlin. Quite happy to be able to participate and help out by doing what I loved. For more information about La Source, please visit here.

Before I sign off, here’s a little simple recipe for making Boulette at home!

Boulette with Spicy Haitian Sauce
Serves 4

1 bag of your favorite frozen meatballs (I went with beef)
1 28oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup canned pineapple
1 small onion, finely minced
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Hoisin (not traditional, but it makes the sauce!)
1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper, finely minced (use less/more to taste)
Salt to taste
Chives (optional)

1. In a 375-degree oven, roast the meatballs in a heavy duty roasting pan. This should take around 30-40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes and pineapple in a food processor until smooth.

3. In a large sauce pan over high heat, cook onions and garlic with the oil until brown and soft. Pour in the tomato-pineapple puree and continue to cook on high heat.

4. Once the sauce is boiling, add vinegar, sugar, Hoisin and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference.

5. Reduce for 15 minutes on medium heat until the sauce is thicken. Ladle over meatballs and garnish with chives. Best served over rice!

{Group photo by Anabel Choi}


Ube Macarons : My First Time

By Tsz on September 16, 2011

Before I made my first batch of macarons, I thought they were a scam, price-wise.

The price for one macaron ranges from $1.50 to as much as $3+. Considering they are consumed in one-bite (unless you’re like me and nurse it for four bites), that makes macarons one of the most expensive desserts per square inch-age. Think of them as the Manhattan lofts of the dessert real estate world.

But since I love macarons, especially ‘Lette’s (formerly known as Paulette) specimen, I needed a way around the system.

So I thought, why not make them from scratch? I can make 50 of them at once and ride out the most sensational sugar high of my life. I prematurely congratulated myself and got to work.

First was research. After an intense but enjoyable blog reading spree, I settled on a recipe by Food, Je’ Taime and Bakerella. The first recipe because I’ve tried Christina’s macarons (they were the real deal) and the latter recipe because it had step-by-step photos illustrating the whole process.

Next was shopping for ingredients. At first glance, the recipes ask for almonds, powdered sugar and egg whites. I got them all and a bag of Ube powder so I can make myself Ube flavored ones. A walk in the park.

But a closer reading revealed that all measurements are in grams and the almonds have to be ground by hand. That meant a stop at Amazon for a digital scale and food processor. $200 dollars and a week later I got back to work.

Then I realized the egg whites have to be aged for 24-48 hours. Doh.

My “amazing” idea to circumvent driving an hour to ‘Lette and dropping “big bucks” to feed my sugar fix was starting to look grim. However, I am not a quitter, so I saw project through and aged my egg whites accordingly and followed the recipes to a T.

The resulting macarons were surprisingly good as they had the coveted feet and the characteristic chew. However, the $200 and a week and a half of wait time and work to get to that point was not so fun.

Lesson learned? I will now gladly fork over the money for my macaron fix as it turns out as they’re worth every penny.


Happy Mid-Autumn Festival : Mooncake Time!

By Tsz on September 9, 2011

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Like most holidays, there is a deeper meaning behind the momentous day (here’s the story if you’re interested), but being a sugar junkie, this is the perfect excuse for me to indulge in mooncake(s).

Soft pastry covering, sticky sweet lotus bean paste and salty duck egg yolk—must say my ancestors got the salty-sweet trend down before it was even hip to do so!

Over the years, I’ve tried (more like gorge on) a multitude of mooncakes. Some are bad, which are either too dry or too greasy, some are decent but very few are exceptional.

One brand that I go back to time and time again is Wing Wah Mooncake. Their filling is always moist, the pastry not too greasy and the egg is salty but not too much so. To me, that is the taste of home.

My inner child also makes note that the metal tin that the cakes comes in makes for a swell Lego storage box.

Anyhow, whether you celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival or not, give mooncakes a try!


Homemade Nutella: Better Than the Original

By Tsz on September 8, 2011

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with doing things from scratch.

This preoccupation led me to change the oil in my car for the very first time during Labor Day Weekend. While I’m not sure if the opportunity cost and the resulting sunburn was worth it, it’s a good lesson to learn about car inspection basics such as checking the tire pressure, inspecting fluid levels and resetting my car’s service light. Take that Honda dealership!

Another recent notable experience is making Nutella from scratch. I grew up on a steady diet of eating it straight from a spoon so when I stumbled on a recipe for it on LA Times, it was on!

All that’s needed are hazelnuts, cocoa powder, powder sugar, vanilla and oil. A little oven action to toast the hazelnuts and a quick whirl in the food processor produced a jar of the most luscious homemade chocolate hazelnut spread to be drizzled and devoured over sourdough bread. If you want to go the extra mile, brush the bread with olive oil before grilling and top it with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt.

The homemade spread tastes just like Nutella, but concentrated with more hazelnut and chocolate flavor. Considering it took me 20 minutes total to make a more superior Nutella, I’ll keep making my own!

{Recipe here}