Sunday, January 31, 2010

Runway on the Cheap

I just finished watching the trainwreck that was this week's episode of Project Runway.  Spastastic Ping, with her "oh shoooz!" and her loopy Statue of Liberty toga dress, got auf'd. I'm going to miss her special Asian brand of crazy.  

Single tear.

Anyhoo, in honor of this week's challenge, in which the designers have to design a high-end signature look and an affordable derivation of another team's signature look, I thought I'd pull together a few low-budget versions of previous Project Runway looks.

Image Sources: NY Mag and ModCloth

Modcloth's "Leanne" skirt is reminiscent of the designer's Bryant Park collection.  But much more affordable at $49.99.

Image Sources: My Lifetime and Forever 21

Forever 21's summery little number reminds me of a sad-sack version of Amy's genius burlap dress, with its handkerchief-like layers.

Image Sources: NY Mag and Forever 21

At first blush, this indigo Forever 21 skirt has nothing to do with Irina's severe knits collection, but the overlapping flounces of the skirt echoes Irina's armor-inspired piece.

Image Sources: Examiner and Modcloth

This is a bit meta, since Jesus's and Amy's MC Hammer does the Twenties look is "derived" from Ping and Jesses's buddhist monk dress.  The Modcloth dress takes the best part of the four designers' design -- the noir lace -- and leaves out the zaniness of J&A's harem pants and P&J's toga.

Have any of the Project Runway creations inspired you when shopping, whether in a store or in your closet? 


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dear Anthropologie,

Please don't make a top that looks like some sort of nasty skin disease and then call it "whorled roses tank."  Because I will mistakenly read it as "whored roses tank" and make all sorts of skeevy associations.

Image Source: Anthro

That's all.  Thanks.


Diary of a Secret Housewife: Zuni Chicken

It's shabbat, which means it's roasted chicken night in our Chewish household.  Since my last chicken recipe experiment went so well, I thought I'd try out another: Zuni Cafe's Roasted Chicken.  I've been eager to try this recipe ever since I first saw it on Smitten Kitchen.  It basically involves roasting a small, whole bird on very high heat; the chicken self-bastes in its own juices (no additional fat is added), and the result is heavenly -- crisp skin on the outside, and juicy, delectable meat on the inside.

The recipe is available all over the internet, but the clearest, easiest-to-follow one is at Serious Eats.  (Don't miss Smitten Kitchen's post, though: it will make you drool and inspire you to run out immediately to the market for a chicken.)  Of course, I tweaked the recipe a little, and I actually think it made the chicken even better.

That's right, Zuni, my chicken brings all the boys to the yard. Well, just my husband to the dinner table, but you get the idea.

Here are my secrets.  First, get yourself a kosher chicken, of no more than 3 or 4 lbs.  (The Empire brand whole chickens at Trader Joe's are always a good bet.)  The Zuni recipe tells you to dry-brine the bird by salting it all over and putting it in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight.  Getting a kosher chicken expands upon that idea; the salt makes the chicken extra tasty and juicy.  It's like magic.

Second, use lots of fresh herbs.  The Zuni recipe calls for 4 sprigs of herbs, 1 sprig for each quarter of the bird.  You're supposed to make pockets between the skin and each breast, as well as between the skin and each thigh, and to put a sprig into each pocket.  But why use 1 sprig, when you can use many?  I squished a few sprigs of rosemary, sage, and tarragon into each pocket.  As a result, even the usually blah white meat was full of flavor.

Image source: Smitten Kitchen

The Zuni Chicken is served over a complicated bread salad, which I was too lazy to make.  I just toasted some rough-chopped pieces of stale boule with a bit of reserved chicken fat, tossed the bread with spring mix, and dressed the whole thing with a combination of champagne vinegar, warm chicken drippings, and a squeeze of lemon.  I garnished with a few Fuji apple slices for sweetness and crunch.

It was spectacular.  Seriously.

As a side dish, I roasted an array of vegies: teeny potatoes, peppers, fennel bulbs, garlic, leeks, butternut squash, and brussel sprouts.

All I do is create little compartments for each vegetable with foil, so that I can flavor each vegetable differently but still roast them in the same Pyrex roaster.  The butternut squash was tossed with maple syrup and cumin; the sprouts and potatoes were first parboiled and then tossed with shallots, herbs, and chicken broth; the fennel got a sprinkling of parmesan; and the peppers, leeks, and garlic got a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of the herb mix I used in the chicken.

Another shabbat, another chicken recipe!  Oy.  We're going to turn into poultry by the end of the year.

Do you have a favorite chicken recipe?  I only have 7 days to come up with another one.

Update: Read about our visit to Zuni Cafe here.


Friday, January 29, 2010

What Foods Do You Love/Hate?

In my capacity as a teaching consultant, I worked with a group of TFs today in an Anthropology course on Food and Culture.  We came up with a great question for them to use as an icebreaker at their first section:

  1. What food do you think of (or reach for) when you want a taste of home?  
  2. And what food do you find repulsive or disgusting?  
The idea is that these questions are a window into one's ethnicity, culture, and identity.

I was thinking that these would be a great icebreaker for us too, as I'm eager to get to know those of you who are lovely enough to look at my blog every once in a while.  ;-)

Let's start with question #1.  For me, the food I think of when I dream of home are gai dan jai (literally "little eggs") -- waffle-like egg puffs that are sold on the street in Hong Kong.

Image Source: HK LightBox

Even now, seeking those warm eggy snacks -- crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside -- I see Causeway Bay from the perspective of a seven-year-old primly dressed in a plaid school uniform, strolling the teeming thoroughfares of the big city hand-in-hand with Sam Po, our housekeeper.

Image Source: Flickr

There is a crumb of Proust in all of us.  But for those who grew up eating – literally – on the streets, those whose experience of the city is organized not merely by sight or sound, but, most intensely, by taste and smell, a bite of the simplest of street foods conjures forth a memory-laden topography.  When my mom, my sister, and I travel to Southeast Asia, we go to visit with family, to shop, to see the sights.  But we know that to return is to eat.  Or, rather, to eat is to return.  Cities change.  Food, however, does not.  Through street foods we become intimate with the cities of our childhoods; in following the trail of the things we used to eat or in searching for new things to eat, we reacquaint ourselves with the terrain.

Sorry . . . give me a street food, and I wax poetic.  Your turn: what food reminds you of home?

P.S. Love street foods too?  My sister has a post on Hong Kong street foods that you shouldn't miss.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Giveaway Winner!

The lucky bride whose ringbearer will be skipping down the aisle in a gorgeous creation by Busybuttons is . . .

Katie!!  Thanks for participating, everyone.  Looking forward to doing another giveaway soon!


Giveaway Reminder

Don't miss out on a gorgeous ring pillow from Busybuttons.  You have until 11 pm EST tonight to enter the giveaway!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cure for Badness

Poor husband is home sick with an acute case of badness (yes, that's a medical term I learned from him).

Since he's the doctor, not me, I did the only thing I can do to treat his illness: make chicken soup.  With matzo balls (I like my balls fluffy and large, and you can quote me on that), carrots, shredded chicken, fennel, and lots and lots of mandel (tiny soup croutons).

What remedies do you resort to when you or yours are sick?

P.S. Do you know what would make you feel better?  Entering the giveaway, of course!


Public Service Announcement

French Connection "'Flash' Bow Dress."  $59 on Rue La La.  Discounted from $168.  Click here if you need an invite.

Image source: Rue La La

The more you know. [Insert annoying NBC xylophone thing here.]


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Back to Basia

The new Basia Bulat album is out today!  Yay!

Basia who?  I know, I know.  She's not exactly a household name.  But if you hear her voice just once, you'll swoon. It's totally indescribable.

And did I mention she was discovered by Howard Bilerman of Arcade Fire, i.e., the masters of weird instruments?  Yeah, she plays the autoharp.  And "All Songs Considered" named "In the Night" one of 2008's best songs?  I love the visuals for "In the Night" almost as much as I like the song: in my dreams, I often play pied piper to a drum-playing bunny, dancing skeletons, and masqueraders.

I'm listening to the new album today while writing and job searching.  It's a good day.

By the way, did you enter the giveaway?  You should!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Inaugural Giveaway: Marie Antoinette Ring Pillow

It's no secret I love vintagey lace, fabric flowers, and buttons. Imagine all the oohing and ahhing I did when Etsy seller and crafter extraordinaire BusyButtons showed me their gorgeous "Marie Antoinette" ring pillow.  And when this mother-daughter team offered to do a giveaway of this ring pillow on my little blog, there was much giddiness, off-tempo clapping, and awkward jigging on my part.

Got that pathetic image out of your head?  Good, because you're in for some serious gorgeousness in the form of this pillow:

Isn't it so darling?  And perfect not just for a decadent, rococo wedding, but even for a rustic outdoor wedding with an Anthropologie-esque edge.

And best of all, you can customize this pillow with your choice of ribbon to match your wedding colors.  J'adore!

To win this beautiful confection of a pillow, visit Busybuttons, check out the lovely array of ring pillows available there, then write a comment below telling us which Busybuttons design is your favorite.

Want to double your chances to win?  Subscribe to or follow this blog, or link to this post from your blog.

You have until Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, at 11 pm EST to enter.

What are you waiting for?  Get commenting!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Let Them Eat . . . Macarons

Speaking of Laduree, I recently learned from CasaSugar that Sophia Coppola designed the palette of "Marie Antoinette" around a box of its macarons.

Image source: Casa Sugar

And why not?  The sugary pastel shades of Laduree's macarons and packaging are so feminine and sumptuous.

Image source: Laduree

And now Laduree has come out with the Signature Collection line of boxes, which were designed by Designer's Guild, Fragonard, and Louboutin, among others.

Image source: Laduree

I mean, seriously, could more beauty be crammed into one little box?  If I got one of these, I wouldn't know whether to eat the macarons or frame them.  I'd probably frame them, and then lick them through the frame.  It's possible I'm licking the screen right now.

Image source: Laduree

While we're on the topic of Marie Antoinette, I have a little secret to share.

Come closer, so I can whisper.

A very exciting giveaway will be happening on this blog on Monday.

Let's just say you'll want to subscribe to this blog and stay tuned!


Macaron Dreams

When my husband was in business school in Philly, there was a French bakery (now closed) that made the most gorgeous, delectable macarons.

Image source: Casa Sugar


Sorry, momentary food-induced reverie.  I'm back.

Sadly, it's hard to satisfy our love for macarons.  It's not that they aren't available in Boston: Fromaggio Kitchen, Whole Foods in Dedham, and Burdick's all make delicious macarons. It's just that freshly baked macarons are usually $1.50 each.  Given how many macarons we're capable of devouring in one sitting, our macaron addiction is not good for our bank account.

That's why I was particularly giddy to discover that Trader Joe's now carries macarons in its frozen food aisle. I know, I know . . . frozen macarons?  I was skeptical too.  But they're actually really yummy: exactly right texture-wise, and rich with the sweetness of chocolate ganache or vanilla bean.  And the price of $4.99 for 6 chocolate and 6 vanilla macarons just can't be beat.

Image source: Laduree

It's not Laduree quality, but at least you won't have to pay for a plane ticket to Paris.  And you can pick up something for tomorrow's dinner at the same time.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Forest Hills State of Mind

If you haven't seen this tribute/parody to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," you should. And you'll remember how much better SNL was with Rachel Dratch, not to mention appreciate the deep Chewish truth of lyrics, such as:

"Fed me prune hamentashen
Fed me prune danish
Why the *** did everything
have to have a prune in it?"



Thursday, January 21, 2010

Laptop Fashions

As a grad student, I always tote my laptop around town, mainly because I have a fantasy of being the kind of writer who can crank out a chapter while sipping a latte and gazing dreamily out the window of some romantic cafe.

Right.  Never happens.

Nonetheless, since my MacBook does in fact go with me everywhere, I feel a need to spiff it up a bit, so that it becomes more reflective of my personality.

Image source: I Am Human

Currently, my laptop is "upholstered" in this cheerful fabric cover ($30 from I Am Human).  The bold graphic gives the laptop some style and warmth, but the best thing about the cover is that the cushiony fabric (which is adhesive, but removable) gives a bit of extra padding to the laptop.  No more ugly scratches across the aluminum body of my Macbook!

The same manufacturer also has a fun wood veneer series.  I like the Scandinavian vibe of this cover.

Image source: Michelle Christina

My old 12 in. Powerbook, which was weathered with a zillion scratches, was spiffed up with a white version of this laptop decal from Etsy seller Michelle Christina.  For $13, the decal was an inexpensive way to cover up scratches (and to distinguish my laptop from others at the airport security check).

Image source: Casauri

I've been carrying my laptop around in this Casauri case for several years.  I'm a huge fan of orange, and I like how compact and light (but yet cushiony) the case is.  But after years of commuting with it, the case is getting a bit worse for wear.  So I've been on the lookout for a replacement case.

And I think I've finally found it!

Image source: Bookbook

On Unplugged today, I came across this awesome laptop sleeve that looks like an old book.  Isn't it charming?  And perfect for a literature grad student?

The leather hard case comes in a few different colors/designs, all of which look like vintage hardcover books.  My only quibble with it is its price: $79.99 seems a bit much to pay for a laptop sleeve, no?  And I wish one could customize the case with a favorite book title or author, etc.

Do you carry your laptop with you?  If so, do you have a cover or a case you love?


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pho Keeps (ha! a pun!)

Did my last post inspire you to make pho?  Or just eat pho?  No shame in the latter.  If I weren't procrastinating from writing my dissertation, I'd be leaving pho-making to the experts as well.

But on the off-chance you are procrastinating as well, I'd thought I'd follow up with some tips about pho from mom.

Tip 1: As soon as you get home from the market with the sliced sirloin, divide the sirloin up into single-serving portions (5 or 6 slices, say, for pho), wrap each portion in Saran wrap, and freeze the portions you're not immediately going to consume.  This way, not only will you not be forced to eat a whole tray of meat in one sitting, you'll also have perfectly portioned, easy-to-store and -defrost sirloin for your next pho-venture.

Tip 2: Any pho broth you have leftover can be frozen, either in ice cube trays (you can pop the cubes into a Ziploc bag once they are frozen) or in small tupperware containers that are pre-portioned for one serving of pho.

Tip 3: For even more versatility, separate out half of the beef stock before putting in the pho spice sachet.  The reserved stock can then be used in all sorts of other recipes or frozen for future consumption.  This is also an easy way of making a number of different kinds of soups in one session.  For example, you can use the reserved broth to make a separate batch of stock for bun bo hue (there are spice sachets available for this as well) or, to switch cuisines entirely, French onion soup.

Do not, however, as I did, put the stock in a pitcher while waiting for the ice cube trays to go through the dishwasher.  Because what might happen is that your husband might pour himself a nice tall glass of beef broth, thinking that it's ice tea.  There's nothing as horrible as expecting a frosty sweet beverage and getting a mouthful of savory stock instead.  Blech.

Finally, here's a tip inspired by my sister, not mom, and it's just as useful if the only thing you want to do to pho is eat it.  To keep it real, you gotta pronounce "pho" correctly.  It's pronounced "fuh" or "fer," not "fo" (rhyming with ho).  If it sounds gutteral and somewhat unappetizing when you say it, you're probably pronouncing it correctly.

For an awesomely offensive and NSFW lesson on pronouncing and making pho, check out the first episode in comedian Jimmy Chiu's animated series, Wok the Fuck:

Happy procrastinating!  Or eating!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

It's a slushy, wet day here in Boston, and in weather like this, nothing satisfies the soul or the belly like a steamy bowl of broth and noodles.  So I made pho.  Pho bo, to be specific.

Image source: Viet World Kitchen

I know, I know.  You think I'm nuts.  Make pho?  From scratch?  Pho sho.  (Hahahaha! I'm hilarious.)

Since pho is practically the national dish of Vietnam, recipes abound.  Andrea Nguyen's recipe is probably the go-to one for many pho lovers.  I, of course, can't leave well enough alone and so tweaked the recipe a bit, mainly for efficiency's sake.  If you're lazy or if your Louboutins pinch after standing at the stove for too long, you'll want to try my version instead.

Trust me.  I'm queen of shortcuts.

Step one is to char two onions (preferably yellow, but I made do with red) and a knob of fresh ginger.  If you're an old Vietnamese grandma, you squat over a fire on the street and charbroil these items over a rickety chicken-wire grill.  If you're Andrea, you stand over a hot stove with a pair of tongs and roast each item by hand.

If you're Amanda (that's me), you turn on your broiler, throw the onions and ginger (both unpeeled) onto a baking sheet, and broil the suckers for about 15 minutes, until the onions and ginger appear slightly charred on the outside and have a gentle give when squeezed with tongs.  When the items are cooled, peel the onions (the outer peel should pop right off) and pare the outer layer of skin off the ginger.

While the onions and ginger are doing their thing, parbroil some bones for the stock.  Get some beef bones -- preferably marrow bones -- from your local butcher (our Asian market has very inexpensive beef bones in the freezer by the meat aisle).  Put the bones into your stock pot, fill the pot with just enough cool water to cover the bones, and bring the water to a boil.  Boil the bones over high heat for about 3-5 minutes, until a frothy, disgusting layer of scum (blech!) lifts off the bones.  At that point, pour out all the scummy water, give your pot a quick scrub, and rinse off the bones (a colander will come in handy for this).

Here's the thing: If you're lazy like me, you'll be tempted to skip the whole parbroil process.  After all, you're probably thinking, this sounds like the juju Asian moms often perpetuate; despite my mom's nagging, for example, I never rinse my rice before I cook it, and I'm still alive.  But I'm showing you the above photo of the nasty scum for a reason: if you don't parbroil the bones first, all of those impurities are going to be in your soup, and you will not get a clear or clean-tasting broth.

After the parbroiling process, put the clean bones, the charred onion and ginger, about 1/4 cup of Vietnamese fish sauce (I'm a fan of the Three Crabs brand), a tablespoon of sugar, and a large parsnip* into your stock pot, along with about 6 quarts of water.  Bring the water to a rolling boil, then simmer, for about 2 hours, on low heat, uncovered.  With good bones, the stock will turn a gorgeous caramel color, as in the photo above.

* Andrew Nguyen's recipe calls for an ounce of yellow rock salt.  I didn't have that, so I put in the regular sugar and the parsnip instead.  I always put parsnip in my stocks, and I find that it adds a sweetness and depth to the soup that you don't get with mirepoix alone.

Now, if you're Andrea, you would put into the stock 5 star anise, 6 whole cloves, and one 3-in. cinnamon stick.  If you're Amanda, you giggle immaturely at the phrase "star anise," recognize that none of the above spices are available in your pantry, and go for the cheat instead.  The cheat is to pick up one of the commercially prepared pho spice sachets available in the spice section of your local Asian grocer or online.  The one depicted above is my mom's favorite brand, but if you know of other good ones, let me know in the comments.

The pho spice sachet looks just like a large tea bag.  It has the appropriate amount of the pho spices bundled together into a little pillow of goodness.  After simmering the stock for two hours, add the sachet, and the stock will magically transform from beef broth (yawn) to pho (yum).

Simmer for another hour.  While you're waiting, go write something.  Like a dissertation.

At this point, the kitchen will be fragrant with the delicious aroma of pho, and you'll be so transported you'll swear you were squatting in an outdoor hawker stall in Saigon.  Taste the broth now to check its salt level; add fish sauce if needed.  If you're not going to cool the stock down before eating it, take time now to skim the fat off the broth.

Tip: A piece of toast floated on the surface of the broth will help attract residual fat after skimming.

When you're ready to eat, assemble the ingredients for your bowl.  You'll need thinly sliced sirloin (meat specially cut for shabu shabu is perfect for this); some onion (usually yellow, but again I only had red), sliced paper thin; as well as banh pho, the cellophane noodles, which are available either fresh (usually near the dairy aisle of your Asian grocery) or dry.  If you get the dry noodles, you'll have to blanch them before you use them.  If you get the fresh kind, all you'll need to do is pour some boiling water over them in a colander, and they're ready to go.

I'll let you figure out which one lazy Amanda used.

For garnish, I recommend soybeans, quickly blanched in boiling water; a lime wedge, some pepper, and Sriracha; and an assortment of fresh herbs, including green onion, cilantro, and mint.  Some people like hoisin sauce too.

Put the noodles in the bowl first, followed by the raw sirloin, and the onions.  Pour the hot stock over the ingredients; the broth will cook the thin sirloin in the bowl.  Add your preferred garnish.

Voila!  Pho!


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I'm so happy you stopped by!

Thanks for not unsubscribing


Monday, January 18, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Ga Ro-Ti (Vietnamese Roast Chicken)

My mom grew up in Saigon, so Vietnamese is as much our home cuisine as Chinese. So when I got tired of making my mother-in-law's roast chicken (a delicious recipe, just totally overplayed in our house since it's our routine shabbat meal), I thought I'd try out a Vietnamese version.

Since my mom's recipe for Vietnamese involves calling for takeout, my go-to source for all Vietnamese recipes is Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen cookbook. For tonight's meal, I tried out her recipe for "garlicky oven-roasted chicken," or ga ro-ti.

Andrea's marinade calls for 4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced; 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 3/4 teaspoon black pepper; 3 1/2 tablespoons Maggi; and 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil.

I added a tablespoon of honey, because I'm sweet like that. And a squinch of Sriracha, because I'm hot like that.

I covered two kosher chicken legs with the marinade and put the whole concoction in the fridge. Andrea says you can leave it there for up to 24 hours. I marinated the chicken for about six hours, and it was flavorful and succulent. (The kosher chicken no doubt helped, so definitely spring for it even if you're not Chewish.)

About thirty minutes before roasting, I took the chicken out of the fridge and pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken, skin side down, in an oven-safe dish or baking sheet.

After 15 minutes, turn the pieces over and continue to roast until the skin is browned. (Andrea says you should hear "sizzling" at this point, but I heard nothing but my rumbling tummy.) At this point, I basted the chicken with some of the marinade to keep it moist.

You can tell the chicken's done when the juices run clear when a piece is pricked at the meatiest part (or when the kitchen smells so unbelievably good that you can't stop yourself from eating the chicken asap).

The chicken was unfreakingbelievably awesome. The skin was brown and crispy, with a hint of heat from the Sriracha and a note of sweetness from the honey and sugar; the meat was juicy and tasty, redolent of garlic and the unami from the Maggi. Husband not only devoured the chicken, but sopped up all the pan juices with bits of stale bread scavenged from the bread box, declaring it the best. marinade. ever.

Oh yeah, I served the chicken with pho. Made from scratch. I'll tell you more about it in my next post.

Right now, I'm off to lick the roasting pan.

If you haven't visited Andrea's blog, Viet World Kitchen, you should. It's a feast for the eyes and the tummy.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

On the sale rack today

Two fabulous shoes on sale at Bluefly.  Four gorgeous outfits styled around them.  Six items that will appear in my dreams but not my closet.

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