Dinner is Served: Roasted tofu over peanut cabbage salad.

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Shredded red cabbage, grated carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro, green onions and unsalted peanuts tossed with peanut sauce dressing and topped with roasted tofu and a slice of lime. #meatlessmonday

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On the Table: Crabfest 2014

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I love life in Nor Cal. We are world-famous for food. Thank goodness for the steep hills and beautiful vistas that keep me inspired to run. Otherwise, I’d weigh twice as much as I do now!

Though we skipped last year, we brought Crabfest back in 2014. Fifteen dungeness crabs met their demise in my kitchen while the 49ers lost their chance at the Super Bowl.

Here are a few pics from the day.

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We had two crab boil pots going — each filled with corn, potatoes, sausage, spices and, of course, crab.

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There were nine of us dining, though we had enough food for a lot more people. I made crab cakes with the leftovers two days later.

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Despite being so sexy Colin Kaepernick was unable to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. I rarely care about pro sports but I cared this year!

Koreanese Bento #26: Just enough time for a snack

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Potato-and-pea baked samosas with tamarind-date chutney, fresh strawberries and Asian-flavored financiers and madeleines by SweetMue.com.

Not much of a bento …. More like a glorified snack box. But I’m sharing it anyway because it’s not about perfection, right?

For a while I was making bento that were rather time consuming. There’s nothing wrong with that unless, of course, higher standards keep you from making a portable and healthy lunch when you have less time.

I tossed together this snack of leftover samosas, fruit and pastries in less than five minutes, and they’re in a re-used Chinese take out container to boot. So here’s one for the imperfectionist in all of us. Cheers! And happy snacking.

PS: The madeleines and financiers were made by my dear friend from SweetMue.com. She’s been blending Asian flavor favorites, such as taro, red bean, green tea and black sesame, into traditional French pastry recipes. Her green tea cream puffs (not pictured) are a personal fave. I am also a big-time fan of her black sesame puffed pastry balls! You can follow her baking adventures on her blog, sweetmue.wordpress.com.

In the Kitchen: Pseudo potato and pea samosas with tamarind chutney

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My dumpling kick and my try-to-waste-no-food kick continue to overlap. I had a bag of boiled new potatoes from Krabbefest 2012 (a Dungeness Crab-lovers delight) and a big bunch of cilantro and leftover tamarind concentrate after from my Taste of Southeast Asia dinner party. (Guests had to dress up as a tourist, local or otherwise. We had a lot of “backpackers” in fisherman trousers and beer brand T-shirts show up!)

Eureka, Indian food! I decided I’d attempt samosas, but this would require some serious improvisation.

Crab for all! Those are the potatoes way in the back. We also had garlic bread, corn on the cob, pecan salad and, of course, spicy boiled dungeness crab.

1. Spices
I didn’t have any garam masala handy, so I made it. Peeled and toasted the cardamom pods that had been languishing on my spice rack for god knows how long and toasted the seeds on the stove top with a half stick of cinnamon, some whole cloves and black pepper corns. Then I dumped these in my “spices-only” coffee grinder and gave them a good whir. I cheated for the final ingredients, adding store-bought ground coriander seed and ground cumin to the mix.

2. Dough
I could have made the flaky pastry dough required, but this seemed a lot of effort for experimental, reconstituted leftovers. I opted for store-bought spring roll wrappers instead. The only problem — they were square, and I needed round. Placed a bowl upside down over a stack of skins, traced it with a knife, removed the edges and cut the results into imperfect semi-circles. Tada!

3. Filling
I was using frozen boiled potatoes that I’d thawed in the microwave. As anyone might imagine, they were a big watery mess. I think, in the future, it would be best to dice the potatoes and freeze them on a tray before tossing them into an airtight bag. Alas, I had not been so prescient. So I had to squeeze out my messy pile of sad potato bits in paper towels. But, you know, it worked. The rest was inspired by recipe I found in Andrea Nguyen’s lovely Asian Dumplings cookbook. But more about Ms. Nguyen later …

4. Cooking
Real samosas, while ever-so-tasty, are a fried-food binge waiting to happen. I have an upcoming trip to Hawaii, which will require much more skin exposure than my usual SF wardrobe, and cannot afford to put on another pound. (Alas, bikini, you love me no longer…) Continue reading

Koreanese Bento #25: The remains of the other day

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Garlic shrimp over fried rice. Baby lettuce salad with tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. Balsamic vinaigrette dressing. And a two-cookie finale!

Went to Tahoe this past weekend and had, by far, the best snow of the season. Of course, it hasn’t been much of a season this year. But it dumped from Saturday night all the way through Monday afternoon, when we headed back down the mountain.

Got home late in the evening, and it’s been go, go, go ever since. Haven’t made it to the grocery store, much less cooked up a decent meal. So this bento was all about improvisation.

Had some leftover rice from the week before, and the remains of the salad ingredients we brought up to the condo, including a vinaigrette I’d hauled there and back in a mason jar.

With the help of some vegetables and ginger out of the freezer, the fried rice got a little color and a pop of flavor. I cooked the frozen shrimp in leftover bacon fat and fresh garlic and then squeezed lemon juice over them at the end.

The cookies, I confess, are not homemade. But the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for the trip were too big for bento fare. Overall, not too shabby for the remains of the other day. 🙂

Look at all that snow! Kirkwood was adrift in white, and no crowds to boot!

Happy as a clam in the cold, windy weather.

In the Kitchen: Mandu and memories

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When I make dumplings, I think of Christmas. I am transported back to my childhood and my grandparent’s house in a Florida golf community. My halmoni, mom and aunties are sitting around the square table in the breakfast nook, chattering in Korean and folding tasty fillings into doughy pillows. Later, the dumplings will be steamed, pan-fried or boiled.

I fold along with them, though my versions tend to be over-stuffed and a little sloppy. Still, it’s great to be the kid amongst the grown-ups. Most of what they say sweeps over my head, but I can usually get the gist by interpreting the tone of their voices. If they are speaking in whispers, chances are the subject is one of the men sitting over in the living room in front of the TV.

I still love to make and eat mandu. It’s the tastiest of nostalgia, Christmastime or not … These were made with beef, kimchi, zucchini and tofu, a little twist on our old family classic.

It’s important to get rid of as much liquid as you can. So salt the zucchini for 10 minutes before rinsing, and squeeze out as much juice as you can from the kimchi. The former should be chopped small enough not to make big lumps and possibly tears in the skins. The latter can be whirred up in the food processor, quick and easy.

The filling. And, yes, that's a cookie scoop!

Not too much filling or the dumplings will leak.

The first fold.

Pinched shut.

In go the "fancy" folds ...

The final product.

A great local brand of dumpling skins -- nice and thick!

Koreanese Bento #24: So starts the dragon year

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Dragons lair: Three pork and water chestnut dumpling dragons perched on a red-leaf lettuce salad; a flock of carrot birds atop sauteed cucumbers and beef with rice. Fresh berries for a happy ending.

I haven’t made bento in a long, long time. While there are numerous joys of working from home, such as the irrelevance of kimchi breath, it doesn’t make much sense to pack your lunch. In addition, when you do work “out,” it’s usually at a cafe, where toting in your own food would be highly frowned upon!

That said, I’ve been cooped up in the apartment all week with a nasty cold. It began Sunday night and grew worse with each passing day … Finally, with the aid of magical antibiotics and a whole lot of tea, I am just now released from my self-imposed quarantine.

Thought I’d celebrate with a little bento-making. Year of the Dragon, this one’s for you. Hope you are healthier moving forward.

In the Kitchen: A very post-modern Christmas to you

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One of our three trays of post-Christmas cookies. They were spice-flavored and tasted better than they looked!

My cousin and I decided to make cookies after finding a fantastic Christmas cookie deco set on sale at Sur La Table.

Kuhn Rikon at more than half off? Does syrup have sugar in it? Then, yes! We also test drove the Cuisipro decorating pen, which I have to say was a worthy non-sale splurge.

In light of the fact that this was Dec. 26 and also in honor of a trip to the SF MoMA earlier that day, we decided to forgo traditional Christmas colors (and cookie-decorating principles in general). We covered ourselves in bright pink and electric blue sugary icings well into the night and gave ourselves stomach aches sampling the goods. A very merry post-modern, post-Christmas cookie time, indeed.

Happy Boxing Day!

Kandinsky snowmen, Miro snowflakes and Klee stars for the sky!

Jess admires a Rothko at the San Francisco MoMa.

One of Dieter Rams' ten principles of good design, listed as part of an SF MoMA exhibit. Cookie makers, take heed!

On the Table: A birthday blowout dinner at Benu

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I wrote a profile about chef Corey Lee for the November 2011 issue of KoreAm magazine (read article), which I blogged about a few days ago (read post). The day before we went to press, Lee’s one-year-old restaurant, Benu, debuted in the Michelin’s 2012 Red Guide San Francisco with two stars. Amazing, though not unexpected, from this uber-talented 34-year-old Korean American.

A happy ending

I needed a justification to spend the kind of cash this swank SoMa eatery requires. My birthday, which this year fell the day before Thanksgiving, was an ideal excuse. I invited three friends who weren’t leaving town along for the fine-dining fete.

We committed to the full tasting menu, and what a delightful (and very expensive) ride! For $180 per person (and the whole table must join in), we consumed an amuse bouche, 19 dishes plus an exquisite piece of birthday cake. Highlights included oyster and pork belly with kimchi; eel in feuille de brick with creme fraiche and lime; foie gras xiao long bao; beef braised in pear, beech mushroom, sunflower seeds and leaves; and lychee and red bean with matcha custard and wild rice.

Duck, celery, chestnut, persimmon, Shaoxing wine.

As a bonus, an older, quite elegant couple from New York sat at the table next to ours. They peppered our dinner conversation with surprisingly knowledgeable (and humorous) quips about mysterious menu items such as crispy cod milt (sperm) and espelette (pepper hailing from the Basque region of France and Spain).

Guests of a famed winemaker, they were enjoying Thanksgiving in Napa while their children busied themselves elsewhere. When it came time for the bill, the server discreetly offered it gratis. They refused, saying they would only let Benu comp the wine.

Who were these people?

Of course, after they left, I asked. Turns out we were conversing with Florence Fabricant, writer for the New York Times and author of myriad cookbooks, including the altruistic who’s who recipe compendium, “Park Avenue Potluck: Recipes from New York’s Savviest Hostesses.” You can read her regular posts in the Diner’s Journal on nytimes.com.

Florence Fabricant of the New York Times.

What a happy birthday for me. 🙂

Lychee, red bean, matcha custard, wild rice.

The tasting menu.

Off the Press: A profile of Chef Corey Lee

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Corey Lee standing in Benu's sunny kitchen.

I interviewed and photographed Corey Lee at his restaurant Benu for the November 2011 issue of KoreAm magazine. What a treat. Set in an alleyway in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, the restaurant, which opened in 2010, has already garnered two Michelin stars.

Here’s a look at some of the pictures that didn’t make it into the magazine. To read the full article, click here.

Lee designed the tableware for his restaurant with a renown Korean porcelain maker.

A cup bearing Lee's moniker.

Homemade tofu in kimchee broth with chrysanthemum leaves.

A modern, minimalist sign serves as portent to the dining room's style.

Sea cucumbers bubble in a sous vide machine. Lee co-wrote a book on the cooking method with his former boss, Thomas Keller of French Laundry.

One of the kitchen staff weighs each pair of dumpling skins.

Well wishes decorate a plain white column in the kitchen. This one is from the famed Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley, Calif.