Homemade Ratatouille over Rice
I’ve decided to do something different from my other entries in the past. This entry has been divided up into 4 sections: food trends, recent happenings, culinary school, and charities. These are a culmination of thoughts that I have been meaning to put into writing the past few weeks. Biggest complaint? So much to write so little time!
Food trends this past summer:
1. Vietnamese food – it has been getting a lot of props lately in NY, which has become such a relief for me. Back in 2002, I noticed there was a lack of a Vietnamese population that existed here. How could this be since this is a city well known for its diversity? I was convinced and told friends and family members that I was part of the 1% Vietnamese population that probably exists in NY. There were many times when taking a cab that the driver would ask what ethnicity I was. They always thought I was either Japanese, Korean, Chinese, or all of the above, but Vietnamese never came to mind for them. One cab driver, in fact, has never heard of Vietnam. I asked, “Seriously? You’ve never heard of the Vietnam War?” I don’t know what’s more insulting: being called “exotic” or not ever hearing of a country called Vietnam.
Mind you, there were Vietnamese restaurants around, but it wasn’t a place where all hipsters would flock to. Nowadays, there are hipster approved joints such as An Choi in the LES that serves up Vietnamese sandwiches aka banh mi and pho (vermicelli noodle soup) amongst other standard Vietnamese options. On Mondays, tucked away in the back yard of An Choi, sits Asia Dog. Asian Dog is usually set up at the Brooklyn Flea on the weekends. Their story was rather simple: they had backyard BBQs with friends all of the time and once the demand grew, they decided to officially make it into a business. Can’t beat grilled hot dogs coupled with Asian toppings of your choice! There are vegetarian options as well. Next time, I’ll be sure to try the bulgolgi burger.
Another example of the Vietnamese food trend’s existence is the banh mi cart that sits just outside of Hanover Square in the Financial District. The line is always long and many people are willing to wait as long as 45 minutes just for a banh mi sandwich. They also sell spring rolls if you don’t mind getting hit with severe food coma later at 3 o’clock.
2. People’s Pops
One of the more popular (no pun intended) stands at Brooklyn Flea is People’s Pops. After asking if they could make a Watermelon Mint pop (recipe found in Food and Wine magazine), strangely, they were already in the process of making them. So this became my number one mission: to taste the watermelon mint popsicle. The apricot lavender seemed to be a crowd pleaser. As my friend, La and I walked around shopping and sopping up popsicle juice drippings from our chin, others walked by with a nod of approval with their popsicle in hand. Pretty much the equivalent to a popsicle high-five! These pops became a summer favorite rather quickly. Not from marketing, but from word of mouth. This seems to be the most effective method of selling any product to the public.
3. Gourmet Food Trucks
Gourmet food trucks have been on the rise not only in NY, but in LA also. The Korean taco truck, Kogi seems to be the new rave. A similar truck just opened up in Jersey City. It’s only a matter of time when NY will have one of their own. The Dessert Truck closed unfortunately earlier this month, but will be setting up a storefront downtown very soon in November. Location is TBD. Other favorites seem to be the Big Gay Ice Cream truck, the Cupcake truck, and the Rickshaw Dumpling truck just to name a few. The best thing about these gourmet trucks is that you can either fan them on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter. With all of these new gourmet trucks coming out of the woodworks, there has caused a bit of a turmoil for existing food trucks that have dominated the street vendor scene for many years. Such vendors include the hot dog/pretzel carts and halal/kabob carts.
I attended a cooking class at the Whole Food Culinary Center recently in celebration of Julia Child’s birthday that focused on recipes from her infamous cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. Overall the class was fun-filled and buttery, except for the two instances when I was paired with the cooking nazi. She apparently liked to be in control during most of the cooking process. Insert good thoughts here [___]. This weekend, I’ll taking another class with an emphasis on dim sum. This is going to be really fun. Our culinary teacher, Wai Hon Chu just wrote a book called “The Dumpling: A Season Guide” soon to hit shelves late October.
I have to admit, I was never a fan of Julia Child. I remember cringing everytime I saw her cooking shows when I was younger. Her voice really irritated me, but after the movie Julie and Julia came out, I can see her in a new light now due to much press as the revolutionary chef/home cook. I would rate the movie 3 out of 5 stars. Meryl Streep played Julia Child very well, while her husband’s role lacked personality. Although Julie Powell seemed so perky and loving in the movie, the real Julie Powell seems to be the complete opposite. Not that she’s a sad person full of angst, but they have very different personalities. The movie was disappointing in a way that the ending left us all hanging with the notion that Julia Child wasn’t very happy about Julie’s blog and passion for emulating her recipes. Julie seemed to brush it off with “I’ll stick to what I think Julia is like in my head and that’s what counts” sort of attitude. This seemed a bit too contrived for my liking, but it’s a Hollywood film so it was expected. Tom, who had finished reading “My Life in France” by Julia Child made a good point about the movie though. Julie made blogging look so easy and light hearted. On the contrary, the reality of blogging involves much contemplation on words and phrases. Editing and re-editing. It’s not as easy as it looks. Writing can be mentally draining and once it’s completed, there is a huge sense of accomplishment.
Update on culinary school:
I almost forgot how complicated the whole financial aid process can be when starting school. Its great that there are tons of scholarship/grant options, and different loan options, but because of the language and extensive paragraphs of terms and conditions, this is no easy task. This is also when I regret not doing more philanthropic work in the past. I have supported many charities financially however in the past, would this count? Probably not.
1. To anyone who watched Top Chef Masters, I was so glad Rick Bayless won for his charity. His non-profit organization called the Frontera Farmer Foundation supports small sustainable farms throughout the Chicago area, which in turn helps to promote farmers markets and helps to build a better relationship in their community through food and their environment.
2. A charity that has been left under the radar is the UXO LAO organization. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Laos made me realize how farmers have been affected by the Vietnam War in Laos. Many people are malnourished and/or out of work due to disabilities from land mines exploding while walking on their own land. I had no idea there were so many more bombs underground that have yet to be resurrected. This is definitely the US’ responsibility to clean up after ourselves and to not put innocent victims in danger because of our actions.
3. Last, but not certainly not least, I wanted to close this entry with another great cause. It’s an organization called KOTO, which hits close to home for me. I hadn’t realized there was such an organization until I watched Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie a few weeks ago. It’s a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program located in Hanoi, Vietnam that provides its disadvantaged youth a culinary opportunity to build a better future and at the same time reduce street crime. I am a huge advocate for this charity because I couldn’t imagine not being able to go to culinary school or training for something I am passionate about. Sometimes I wonder how difficult it must be for people who do not have a job and might not be qualified for a school loan, and/or financial aid.
In honor of French cuisine and Julia Child, I’d like to include this blog entry with a ratatouille recipe I’ve concocted myself. It was inspired from a wonderful dining experience at Zucco’s with my friend, Amy Lee (“AL”), who made a trip out to Paris a couple years ago. Zucco’s, a small hole in the wall, no frills, French diner that makes incredibly authentic French fare for a fraction of the price.
1 zucchini (sliced into half moons)
1 yellow squash (sliced into half moons)
1 small eggplant (sliced into half moons)
1 small yellow onion (sliced into half moons)
2 ripe vine tomatoes (diced)
1 carrot (cut into 1/2 inch widths)
1/2 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans low-sodium chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 cup cooked rice
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium to large stock pot, combine all ingredients until it boiling then let simmer for 45 minutes or until it thickens into a stew like texture. Serve over rice. Also fabulous when served over scrambled eggs.