Friday, December 5, 2008

The Taj - My Culinary Experience

Over the last few days while listening to the tragedy unfold in Mumbai, my heart empathized with the families of the victims and to those who lost their lives. It was at the Taj Hotel Mumbai, the Gate of India, where I received my apprenticeship in southern Indian cooking with a young bright chef Vikram. 

A few years back after one of my group culinary trips, I took a detour and spent five days at this beautiful colonial hotel overlooking the Malabar Sea.

Late every afternoon, after the lunch crowd consisting mostly of international guests dispersed, chef Vikram would bring out tastings of delicious varieties of regional curries, piping hot naan and parathas fresh from the tandoor oven. I would then select a few of these dishes for him to teach me after the hectic lunch hour. The kitchen staff worked long shifts. After lunch, the staff was busy preparing for the dinner menu for the hundreds of guests that come through the Tanjore. This was the time when Vikram took me for a tour of the bustling market to shop and visit stalls from cookware and spices. Coincidentally, the market was located right near the train station where many lost their lives in the beginning of the attacks. 

Keeping track of last week’s horrific events, I could not help thinking of my wonderful culinary experiences with the kitchen crew at Tanjore Restaurant and how this event has transformed the gentility of the people who were passionate about their work and food. Writing this blog brings my senses to the smell of delicious fish curry with sounds of popping mustard seeds and hot chapattis in Vikram’s kitchen. I am sure there will be many fruitful stories like mine to share with great memories of this colonial landmark and that our stories overcome the calamities that enveloped the Taj last week. 
** update August 20,2014- The Taj Hotel Mumbai has totally revamped with all new and modern  restaurants.

Here is a simple vegetarian dish I learned from Chef Vikram

Okra with Curry Leaves

1 pound fresh okra topped and bottomed
10 curry leaves
4 dried red peppers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 red Serrano chilies sliced thin lengthwise
and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt.
Set a wok over a medium heat. Add the oil, toss in the mustard seeds, red peppers and curry leaves cook until the seeds start to pop. Add onion and green chili and sauté until tender.
Turn the flame to high and add the okra, add some water or vegetable stock, stirring constantly for two –three minutes, add spices and continue cooking until okra browns (about 10 minutes).
salt to taste.
Note:You can substitute Asian Long Beans, Cauliflower or String beans.

Curry leaves :
Grown on small trees, the soft leaves are stripped from the short sprigs, use fresh or dried, just sizzle in hot oil to reveal its clear spicy flavor,then add to a finished vegetable dish, great to jazz up seared salmon or red snapper.
  ** update August 20,2014- The Taj Hotel Mumbai has totally revamped with all new and modern  restaurants.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holiday Cocktail Party Ideas

Seafood Ceviche with slivers of lemongrass and Lime Zests

A cocktail party should be fun and festive; it can be as simple or complex as you wish to make it.

Make a quick list- how many guests will be attending? YOU DO NOT want to be working at your party. It's wise to have someone there to give you a hand but not your friend or family members.

It is great to mix guests with different backgrounds and interests, you will be playing the host. Have a caterer and combo of your own signature dish you are best at with flavorful spices. And do one or two fun delicious cocktails to get your guests buzzing and have a fabulous time.
Here is one of the easy delicious recipes from my kitchen.

Seafood Ceviche (you can do this ahead of time and mix it an hour before the guests arrive

1 lb of #36 shrimp (deveined and shelled)
1 lb. of bay scallops
1 lb. filet of sole- sliced thin pieces
1 sliced serrano chile, minced
6 juice of limes
salt and pepper
1 minced red onion, minced
1 mango- peeled and diced into small pieces
1 asian pear- peeled and diced small pieces
2 cloves of garlic

Prepare all these ingredients, put aside all the seafood on bed of ice. mix all the seafood ingredients with lime juice one hour before guests arrive and then toss with the rest of ingredients. add salt and pepper to taste. served with toasted tortillas or point toast......

Friday, October 3, 2008

Exchanging Culture on Your Travel

Over the years of my travel, whether on yoga retreat in the mountains of Oaxaca or in Petra, Jordan, my most satisfying experiences have involved exchanging knowledge with or cooking and marketing with the people of the country. In Bali, I rented a house in Ubud in the middle of a rice field from a family that owns two restaurants catering to the tourist in town. I showed them how to make spicy marinara sauce so that they don't have to buy expensive Ragu bottles from supermarkets.

In the morning, take I took a ride on their jeep to the market and afterward we would cook in their kitchen, to create some Ikan Bilis, a traditional fish curry made of candle nuts, along with all styles of Satay sauces.

So on your next travel, take a class, and go right into the kitchen if one of the meals you had wows you; don’t be shy to volunteer and get your hands dirty.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Family: My Niece Samantha

Six weeks ago I became an aunt again to my niece Samantha..
With Asian tradition for a month old baby, one gets to introduce family and friends by giving lavish banquet meals.

My brother and I decided to do a BBQ with all kinds of seafood and quality cuts of meat from Pino Prime meat on Sullivan St,  New York City. It was a nice Sunday in mid August, good times partying by the pool, and not having my catering staff involved after they have catered four weddings recently.

Large Tiger prawns, succulent diver scallops. Dry aged steak, Kobe rib eye.  

Where can you go wrong? No need to be a pro to cook this. Simply marinate with some nice dry rub spices with the large scallops, my friend Daniel snipped fresh thyme from the garden, crushed garlic and white wine for a marinade.

Carol made amazing berry compote with kaffir lime leaves and peppercorn syrup to end the meal.

We opened some nice Prosecco to start, Malbec and Riesling as well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Berries, Berries, Berries

This season there has been an abundance of berries. I just came 
back from my godmother's beach house and she had blueberry 
and blackberry patches growing in her garden. So plump and 
luscious, she simply made them into jam.

Our kitchen here in Saffron 59 has been making warm berry cobbler with lemon zests, crisp toppings, and if you want to be a little fancy, add simple syrup with slivers of kaffir lime leaves, fresh lemongrass slices, assorted crushed colorful pepper corns, fragrant star anise and a cinnamon stick while the syrup is hot.

With flavors ranging from mildly sweet to tart and tangy, fresh berries are simply delicious 
on their own.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Recipe: Soft Shell Crab with Tamarind Glaze

Soft shell crab is in season!

Now is the time for soft shell crab! It's easy to make, delicious, and a fast dish for the summer. The best soft shell crab usually comes from Maryland and is only $3-$5 a piece from your local seafood market and is seasonal and fresh. You can lightly sear it with butter and garlic or olive oil, or you can use my signature dish we feature at Saffron 59. It is one of the traditional recipes that I made while I lived in Saigon, Vietnam.

To prepare the crab, simply remove the gill and the claws. Then egg wash- flour, beaten egg
add panko crust then sear each side for 2 minutes

For the sauce,
small chunk of dried tamarind, soaked with 1/2 cup of warm water
then you squeeze the pulp and seeds out to get the juice (set aside)
brown the shallots and add the tamarind juice
season with fish sauce, sugar, salt and pepper
bring to a boil

Spoon the sauce over the crab then garnish with fresh slivers of scallion and enjoy!

Travel: Affordable Eastern Europe

Before our busy season starts in June, with all the weddings we have here at Saffron 59, I took a two week trip to visit close family in Budapest, Hungary with a side trip to Transylvania, Romania. It was a fruitful and relaxing trip, with its wonderful eco-tourism, affordable and clean accommodations with local families, and the fresh, seasonal vegetables we had from the remote farmland and mountainous region of the Eastern Carpathian.

During my trip to Hungary, I tasted many Tokaji wines, proclaimed to be "the king of wines" by Louis XIV of France. Named from the region it hails f
rom, Tokaji-Hegyalja in Hungary, this region is known for producing sweet, flavorful wines because the grapes have been affected by noble rot- which is what occurs when the weather is wet and begins to rot the grapes. When picked at the perfect timing, the grapes produce a fine and concentrated sweet wine. With over 700 vineyards in that region alone producing this wine, I highly recommend tasting it at your local wine shop.

In Budapest, I stayed at the Lanchid 19, known for being a "hip", boutique hotel. With its affordable $139 a night rooms, modern design, and great location over-looking the Danube river, it was the perfect accommodation to top off my trip.

Then, on my trip to Romania, we went to Transylvania and saw the house where Dracula was born. This mountainous area, made famous by the book Dracula by acclaimed author Bram Stoker, has now become the setting for many horror and vampire movies because of the eerie, gothic feel of the area and is now an excellent tourist location.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Update on Burma

morning offering for the nuns in Shwe dagon Pagoda
Morning offering for the nuns at the Shwen Dagon Pagoda

Dear friends,

I would like to thank you all for your calls and emails about my family and the orphanage in Yangon. I was about to prepare a note to update some of you on the progress we have made with the orphanage that I have been supporting for eight years, and then devastation that hit Yangon area last Saturday, and it is deeply sad that the orphanage is severely damaged.

Last nite, I heard from my friend Kit Young, who runs the music school, Gitameit . She wrote to me that she will drive over with the American consulate jeep to check on the orphanage and some of my family members today. And here is her note below to those that wrote to me about contribution.

Gitameit has turned into a disaster relief organization. The musicians and I drove to outlying townships today. In our Gitameit Center backyard alone and - the hindu temple ceremony hall - there are 800 people camped out with less than satisfactory sanitation, diminishing clean water supply and very little else than rice porridge in the last two days.

The Karen Women's Group will assess the most urgent needs of families there and tell us tomorrow. The Myanmar Red Cross was in today - but does not have enough supplies of rice orwater and needs donations.
The regime is busy chopping up fallen trees on roads - beginning to work on electric poles - in rich areas of town. Survival for the poor or communication with citizenry is not their fault. They even neglect their own... As I passed some soldiers cutting trees yesterday, I asked if they'd eaten breakfast. Of course not! So, I went back home to get them some bread.

There is a big issue of Myanmar gov't wanting supplies but not relief personnel to come into the country. After today's slight confrontation with this Shwebaukan thug trying to control things, I understand why.

We've identified these communities linked to us already - around 3000+ people. We figure we will need to raise at least $150,000 in the coming weeks - just to keep these communities afloat until some of the markets get up and running. We will try to put progress reports up on the Gitameit website, there is paypal system at the Foundation for the People of Burma website –thank you so much for your support, Kit.

p.s. the contribution to the orphanage and the cyclone victim checks are written out to Friend without borders, 59 fourth avenue, New York, NY 10003..att: irene khin wong…I will wire the fund directly to kit.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Asian Heritage Month

It is Asian Heritage Month, we are celebrating the diverse culture and achievements of Asians who play a vital role in the unique and our society and the role they play in this wonderful country of ours. It is to recognize the important contributions of Asian Community and its present significance to this country.

There will be enormous interesting events from food demo to performances covering from Asia Society to University of Toronto with music from the Philippines to Indian.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Thingyan Water Festival: Time to Purify

Happy Thingyan! Wash it all out, may the water clean all bad spirits within us and bring peace, prosperity for whole year!

People in Myanmar, also Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, celebrate Thingyan Water Festival every month of Tagu, which means the first month of the 12 months of Myanmar Calendar. I remember the streets are full of people pouring and sprinkling water on each other to purify the bad, evil spirits. Young and old, man and woman, everyone is out to celebrate the Water Festival and welcome the new year in hope of prosperity and happiness to come.

This time of year, I celebrate Thingyan Festival with Ginger Salad, it is one of my favorite, fresh and tasty salad from Burma...
Burmese Ginger Salad (Jin Thoke)
Some recipes for this salad call for bottled pickled sliced ginger, but the homemade version tastes much fresher. Although it takes two days to make, little hands-on effort is required. We recommend using young ginger, which has very thin, delicate skin and is more succulent than mature ginger. Young ginger is easiest to find in markets during the spring; if it's not available, use the smaller knobs of only very fresh, plump mature ginger.

3" piece young ginger, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp. channa dal (hulled split dried small chickpeas)
1⁄2 cup peanut oil
10 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1⁄2 tsp. fish sauce
1⁄4 cup peeled, roasted, unsalted peanuts
2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
4 green bird's-eye chiles, stemmed

1. Toss ginger and 1 tsp. salt together in a medium glass or ceramic bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring every 8 hours. Rinse ginger, drain well, and put into a clean glass or ceramic bowl. Add lime juice and mix with your fingers until ginger is well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring every 8 hours. Soak chickpeas in a small bowl of water for 8 hours.
2. Drain ginger, then slice into long thin strips. Put ginger into a clean medium glass or ceramic bowl and set aside. Drain chickpeas, thoroughly dry with paper towels, and set aside.
3. Heat oil in a wok or a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and fry, stirring constantly with a slotted spoon, until lightly golden and crisp, 6–8 minutes. Transfer shallots with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Fry garlic in the hot oil, stirring constantly, until just beginning to turn golden around the edges, 1–2 minutes, then transfer to paper towels to drain. Fry chickpeas in the hot oil, stirring constantly, until golden, 4–5 minutes, then transfer to paper towels to drain, setting wok with oil aside. Set shallots, ginger, and chickpeas aside separately to cool completely.
4. Add fish sauce, peanuts, sesame seeds, and fresh chiles to bowl with ginger. Add fried shallots, garlic, and chickpeas and 2 tsp. of the frying oil, season to taste with salt, and toss well. Adjust seasonings. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Chinese Art

This year, the Chinese have outdone themselves again. I first noticed Zang Xio Gang work at Asia Society in '93, his work was going for 90k. This week at the opening of the Asia Contemporary Art show, his work are fetching from 1M- l.5 M..along with my other favorite artist, Yu Minjun...well deserved!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Top 5 Restaurants

I have been traveling since age 21...and I always enjoy eating local food.

I've had loads of delightful meals.

There are always meals that are memorable, and I wish they were not always a flight away. Here are my five favorite restaurants from the 43 countries I have traveled to:

Chez Omar- Paris (he is the owner, serves great Moroccan food, amazing succulent lamb shank)

Harmonique- Bangkok, Thailand. A traditional home restaurant, near the river, owned by three sisters. (My favorite dish is striped bass steamed with chili and lime juice…fresh, delicious)

IL Hausen- Alsace, France (Delectable cuisine, chic ambiance, detailed service and great wine--open kitchen with fresh seasonal vegetable and local cheese with wine)

Banana Leaf - On my recent trip to Burma, I stopped by Singapore (Fun, abundance, flavorful sweet and savory Indian dishes served on fresh pieces of banana leaf)

Zen- Hong Kong (hip, cutting edge- I love the drunken prawns, live shrimp dancing in wine and served right away on your table)