Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Antipasto & Dinner - 12/25/2011

Every year, my mom requests that I write her a Christmas story; since this is her sole plea, and I love writing and the story's recipient, I always comply. This year, I wrote her a piece that contains portions  describing our family's Christmas dinner. I hope that my photographs and the accompanying story segments aptly convey the familial feasting that ensued. 

A couple of days before Christmas, my parents and I made our debut trip to Bossa Foods, a monstrous Italian market. Inside the faux castle-villa exterior, the store housed the most impressive selection of Italian ingredients that I have ever seen. Both the quality and sheer magnitude of products offered transformed me into a little kid wandering wide-eyed through a candy shop. 

Homemade raviolis 
One of the many aisles devoted to pasta
Endless rows of vinegar and olive oil
Appetizers from Bossa Foods rendered me helpless and I gorged myself beyond repair before dinner.

 The spread included a vast selection of cured olives, onions pickled in balsamic vinegar, tender artichoke hearts, miniature balls of creamy mozzarella and slices from a hunk of smoky cheese, and four varieties of salami. Almonds coated in olive oil and salt and pepper and then roasted with rosemary were dangerously easy to pop in one’s mouth, lethal when coupled with their intense toothsome quality. Several types of crackers filled a long narrow basket, from the plain water variant to the more complex cranberry hazelnut combination. Since I took it upon myself to try every single combination of ingredients from the spread – the smoky cheese with the cured almonds was especially delectable – we were all stuffed to capacity well before dinner. Not to be deterred by such an insignificant obstacle, the feast began.

On Christmas Eve, my dad and I made my grandma's famous stuffing recipe. Although the result was tasty, we were unable to replicate grandma's rendition of this dish. The story I wrote for my mom includes a tidbit about our turkey and stuffing, of course. 
Hand mixing - an essential procedure
In the center of the table, the bulbous turkey protruded like a firm yolk from a farm fresh fried egg, giving off the savory aroma of paprika coupled with juices from the tender breast and flavorful dark meat. A couple stray niblets of stuffing were visible at the entrance to the bird’s interior, no doubt infused to perfection with spices and rich meat liquid. The rest of the stuffing sat in an adjacent bowl, a heaping mound of high-quality sausage, sautéed onions and celery, and asymmetric cubes of top-notch French baguette, saturated with creamy mushroom soup and giblet drippings.   
 A steaming bowl of Chinese sticky rice also graced the Christmas table, a delightfully textured and flavorful mixture of firm rice units, dried shrimp, and finely diced cured meat, flecks of green onion and mushroom visible to the trained eye. No dinner would be complete without Grandma’s festive specialty, a symbol of familial appreciation for food and each other. Although small, the dish of homemade cranberry sauce commanded attention because of its vibrant color, a deep magenta with enticing chunks of slightly different hue and density. On Christmas Eve, my mother created this exquisite sauce from fresh cranberries – the peel of a lush orange and flavor captured from the juniper berry flavor of gin were vital components of the ultimate heterogeneous mixture.

The roasted vegetables were awe-inspiring, braised with olive oil, spices, and salt and pepper, sufficiently softened in the oven yet still retaining some texture, coveted by the eager teeth. I admired the cauliflower florets, transformed into plump yellow trees by the domineering cumin, and complemented in color, flavor, and texture with the garnishing fresh pomegranate seeds; the boxy cuts of yam and butternut squash, glazed with maple syrup and yielding enthusiastically to the oven’s heat, obtained a flexibility characteristic of all oven roasted root vegetables.
Not to be outdone by the turkey, the hunk of ham glistened with a home-style maple sugar glaze, embedded cloves sticking out beyond the deep brown skin. The slicing process exposed the tenderness beneath, the bright pink flesh oozing clear juices that were an undeniable testament to the meat’s luscious quality. It’s hard to imagine that anything could enhance the meal, but the prospect of homemade cheesecake kept us excited for the final course even as we embarked upon the unheard of intermediary journey of navigating the seas between gobbling and savoring the wealth before us.
My cousin's homemade cheesecake was rich yet surprisingly light - although I usually relish dense cheesecakes, I was particularly grateful for the unconventional airiness of my slice. The graham cracker-ginger snap crust and the cheese filling, never cloyingly sweet, fused together in a most satisfying fashion. We topped each serving with freshly whipped cream and a homemade raspberry sauce. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grandma's Christmas Eve Dinner - 12/24/2011

Grandma serves a feast
Not your standard restaurant fare 
Chinese home cooking

the whole family gathered around a small table rice bowls marking each individual place setting waiting to be topped with fluffy, delicate egg custard green onions adorning the smooth, flat top and dried scallops lining the bottom like little treasures waiting to be found by the hungry mouth. another essential, the pickled vegetables with pork meat, vinegar crunch delectably complementary to the creamy egg. the simplicity of fresh vegetables, Chinese broccoli and slender steamed green beans, starchy lotus root rendered soft and malleable by its inclusion in the soup stock and the soup, a clear light broth spooned over any remaining rice, imparting the essence of earth and sea, root vegetables and dried scallops. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lake House Dinner - 12/23/2011

nothing compares to wild inlet mussels, fresh caught and laboriously scrubbed to saltwater perfection cooked grill-top in butter, white wine with tiny slivers of smoky bacon and minced garlic garnished with chopped fresh green onion and parsley, a squeeze of lemon i dug in ravenously, sucking the tiny sea bodies from their homes and using the encasing shells to spoon the broth greedily into my waiting mouth rips of bread for dipping, asymmetric crusts saturated with the sea salty butter liquid

 crafted by cumin
delectable roasted trees
garnished, green and red
the unparalleled tenderness of prime rip cuts dripping with meat juice and sliced delicately from the hunk, which emerged from the oven surrounded by limp root vegetables, generously yielding to the heat as the meat captures flavor as if it needs any more the enthusiastic knife slices effortlessly, like butter the gravy drippings fuse with the succulent flesh, the rice i create the perfect bite

and the salads first baby arugula, finely sliced fennel, crisp green apple all delicately coated with mustard vinaigrette, its pickled shallots infused with honey mustard, champagne wine vinegar salt and pepper a combination that boasts hues of green, a testament to the fresh taste
 and the other vibrant beets deep magenta and sun gold the earthiness melding with creamy avocado crescents chopped parsley

crumbly almond top
lemon zest and cinnamon
soft chunks, sweet yet tart

New Jersey Lunch - 12/17/2011

rumored, the water
delicate dough and chewy
New Jersey bagels

toothsome chunkiness
vegetable broth, parmesan
satiating soup

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December in Driscoll - 12/8/2011

I woke up this morning to a campus transformed by the night’s snowfall; finally, a delicate coating of white powder covered the barren black trees, a fitting conclusion to December’s first full week. Correspondingly, my toothsome Driscoll lunch was an appropriate end to both my first semester classes, and my allotted dining hall appearances for the week—indeed, ten meals has carried me only to Thursday as of late. The 11:20-12:35 time slot left me starving, per usual, and I was overcome with a wave of ecstasy when I entered Driscoll’s lunch line to find my favorite menu selection.
Savory satisfaction need not look any further than the rich portabella mushroom burgers. These decadent units consist of delicately toasted rosemary flatbread layered with juicy marinated mushroom slices, sweet caramelized onions, and jalapeno cheddar, topped with a sizable dollop of creamy red pepper aioli. Each bite bursts with a complex combination of umami tastes, providing the fortunate diner with a lusciously textured and flavorful experience. On any given day, the barbeque lentils atop brown rice similarly satisfy my constant, unabated hunger for quality eats. Bound by a base that harnesses the flavor of Middle Eastern spices, the thick, clumpy lentil combination interacts with each rice unit so that every forkful promises to be a heterogeneous mixture of both sweet and savory taste, and firm and mushy texture. The golden macaroni and cheese was the final hearty component of my midday meal—possessing the creaminess I had been craving, the decadent globs of cheese-coated pasta tubes and tender sausage chunks fused together in a most tantalizing fashion. When constructing individual forkfuls, I make sure to consume bites of macaroni with the delicious roasted vegetables. A varied medley of finely sliced carrots, onion slivers, broccoli florets, and succulent mushroom slices, the whole mixture is seasoned to perfection and then roasted so that each individual vegetable piece retains some crunch while developing a semi-soft consistency. I relish the curried cauliflower florets equally, their vibrant yellow color a testimony to the intense cumin flavor that seeps into their textured, once-white surface. Although not pictured here, the butternut squash bisque was another cornerstone of my meal. I revel in the creamy light orange puree, the consistency of the squash body creating a silky smooth liquid that fuses divinely with my taste buds. The velvety solution coats the small oyster crackers I add in, infusing them with earthy flavor and saturating each one with the rich liquid. Indeed, the arrival of the snow and wintry weather renders me powerless against the comfort of hot, hearty eats. 

Please note that this entry is written in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Last Log Lunch - 12/2/2011

The semester's concluding Log Lunch epitomized the delicious eats and engaging discussion that aptly characterized my fall Friday afternoons. December's first days have been sunny, crisp, and clear, bare trees silhouetted against pale sky the only indication of the seasonal transition - certainly an intermediary between October's unwarranted snow, and November's uncharacteristic tropical weather.
A multi-themed spread greeted Log Lunch's eager diners - while the butternut squash and peanut soup boasted Thai influence, the southwestern salad was a Latin American-inspired culinary experience, and the "snowball" bread effortlessly bridged all borders with its seasonal inspiration. Per usual, the welcoming chalk board credited Might Food Farm for the meal's produce. The butternut squash and peanut soup was delectably creamy, pureed into a smooth orange velvet that fused enticingly with one's tongue and taste buds. The liquid's satisfying complexity came from a refreshing hint of lime and a subtle but strong spiciness, contributed by the visible red pepper flakes scattered throughout the thick, rich mixture. Garnished with peanut chunks, the silky soup proved to be decadent both on its own, and as a complement to asymmetric tears of the "snowball" bread. Although I always characterize the bread component by its impressive moistness, these units presented an unrivaled lusciousness, the dough remarkably malleable. In addition to the fresh, crunchy greens, the southwestern salad contained tender corn kernels, earthy pinto beans, and firm white rice. These ingredients provided a textured and flavorful base for the cilantro dressing, which was created with the primary herb, green peppers, olive oil, red pepper flakes, pecans, and of course, salt and pepper. Thus, the light green topping was distinctly flavored - usually, I don't like cilantro, but the taste wasn't overpowering - and slightly spicy, bound together by nutty creaminess.
Dessert was another rendition of the snowball theme - Mexican wedding cookies, which delicately coated one's finger's with a fine coating of powdered sugar "snow." The small spheres were tantalizingly buttery, with sizable almond chunks that lent texture and flavor to each decadent bite. The richness and strong flavor of these units enabled me to slowly nibble away at the dense mass, an experience not disrupted by their miniature size. Indeed, I savored the entire meal appropriately, the season finale bringing a touch of melancholy - I already eagerly anticipate the toothsome eats of next semester.