eatjennswords

discovering new food and experiences

What’s your Flavor?


Discovering new things can be either amazing or disturbing. In the case of my newest discovery it was both. I recently read an excerpt from the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. While reading this I was educated about the flavor industry and flavorists. Prior to which I had no idea this industry even existed. According to Schlosser the flavor factories manufacture the flavors for all of our favorite processed foods using mixtures of chemicals. This includes everything from Mcdonald’s French fries to strawberry ice cream. This really freaked me out and I suddenly realized I had no idea what I was eating, but at the same time it was really cool that people could make flavors.

Schlosser described his experience being in a flavor factory as visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I really loved this description and it really helped me visualize what was going on. In our class discussion we even made our own comparisons to the famous film in that the flavor factory was like the chewing gum that had an entire meal in it. The flavors in the gum were manufactured and endless combinations could be made. In flavor factories they are making the taste of our foods and with endless combinations of chemicals come endless flavor possibilities.

My favorite part of this excerpt was probably the last paragraph. Schlosser talks about smelling the flavors with his eyes closed. Even though he was just smelling a piece of paper he visualized the food in front of him and it seemed so real. He seemed shocked when he opened his eyes to a lab and a piece of paper. I think that is the best part though, he makes his point that so much of what we eat is fake but he does it in a way where he isn’t trashing the industry. He recognizes the bad part of it but also how awesome it is.

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A Relationship Through Food

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There is a special relationship formed when we are children with those who take care of us. It is not only a relationship of necessity but one of love and friendship. A lifelong bond comes out of a relationship like this. Usually this kind of relationship may exist with a family member. For me, I was lucky enough to have this relationship with my mom, who has also grown to become one of my best friends. What follows is the conversation we had about food in our relationship including what I ate (and refused to eat) as a child, how she grew up with food and her relationship with it now, and what she hopes for my future with food.

Me: What did I hate eating when I was younger? How did you deal with that?
Mom: Vegetables -tried to mix them in with other things or put cheese on broccoli, but not much success

Me: What did I love eating?
Mom: Pasta

Me: How has your relationship with food changed over the years?
Mom: I was raised in an Italian family that loved to eat. I started trying to eat healthier as I got into my 20’s and started exercising. Now I try to eat a very low fat healthy diet with whole grains, lean protein, fruits & vegetables.

Me: How did you start cooking? What made you want to start?
Mom: I used to watch my parents cook and learned a lot from them. As I got older I knew I better learn if I was ever going to cook for myself a family someday.

Me: What is your favorite meal to make?
Mom: Chicken Parmigiana, with salad or veggies.

Me: What did your parents cook?
Mom: Lots of pasta, steak, roasts & potatoes, salad & garlic bread.

Me: What are your favorite food memories of me growing up?
Mom: Watching you eat pasta with your hands when you were very little. You got the sauce everywhere!

Me: Why did you cook more than Dad?
Mom: When you kids were younger, I was home more at dinner time and dad was working later, and also I was home on weekends and dad worked.

Me: Is there a special food that reminds you of me?
Mom: Pasta & chocolate chip cookies.

Me: Did you cook for me or for yourself?
Mom: I tried to cook things that I knew you liked, and didn’t worry too much about my favorites

Me: What foods did you stop cooking once you started a family?
Mom: I tried not to make too many desserts.

Me: What do you hope I’ll cook when I have my own family?
Mom: Pasta – to keep the Italian tradition going.

Me: If you could have any meal (the ultimate meal) what would it be?
Mom: Mexican food is one of my favorites, but don’t have it that often. Also, any good fish or chicken dish with veggies & a really good dessert like chocolate soufflé.

Me: Do you enjoy cooking, or do you do it because you have to?
Mom: I do it because I have to, but enjoy it when I have the extra time to cook and am not rushed.

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Gourmet Ghetto


Chicken and potatoes are probably some of the most basic foods you can eat. People have probably been eating them forever. There are countless ways you could prepare both items. I’ve had chicken grilled, pan fried, roasted, and baked; I’ve had potatoes mashed, baked, fried, and in tater form just to name a few. All of these preparations were good but on Thursday when I visited the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley I had some of the best chicken and potatoes I have had in a long time.

For the chicken we went to Poulet on Shattuck Ave. we tasted an adobo roasted chicken season with a chili, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil rub. The chicken was packed with flavor. It was a little spicy for me but I couldn’t stop eating it. The skin of the chicken was a dark brown with a redish tint with the meat a tender pink. The chicken was so juicy I had to lick my fingers after I ate it. I wish there was enough of it so that we could have had seconds.

For the potatoes we stopped at Gregoire on Cedar St. These weren’t normal potatoes though, they were potato puffs. They looked like little golden brown golf balls. They tasted like tater tots but fancier, less elementary school cafeteria and more gourmet restaurant. The potatoes were whipped, smooth and creamy. Luckily I was able to have seconds of the potato puffs.

My only problem with these two items was that I did not get to enjoy them together. I think the potato puff and roasted chicken would have actually been a perfect pairing. Perhaps I’ll have to go back soon and get take-out from Poulet and Gregoire so I can make my own combination of the current reigning champs of chicken and potatoes in my book.

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Chopped!


If you have never watched the show Chopped! You should start watching now. It is one of the most exciting cooking competition shows I have seen, and for all of you Disney Channel Original Movie lovers like me it reminds me of the movie Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off. What happens in the show is there are four chefs and they each have to cook three courses, with one chef getting chopped after each course. The twist here is that each course has three mystery ingredients that must be incorporated into the dish. This was the task I was faced with.

In class each person had to pick three ingredients out of a bag and those would be the ingredients we had to use in our dish. I actually got pretty luck drawing watermelon, kiwi, and mint. These ingredients seemed to go together and I didn’t think it would be too difficult. At the same time though I didn’t want to just make the obvious fruit salad or mojito. I turned to my roommate Claire for some help as she is the resident gourmet chef in our house. She had some good ideas but none that I would eat myself. One in particular was a watermelon kiwi salad with olive oil, lemon, feta cheese, and mint to garnish. It sounded simple enough to make but I knew I wouldn’t touch it. So I decided to go with something on the obvious side and made a watermelon kiwi smoothie.

I collected all my ingredients from the local produce market and got started. I cut up all the watermelon and kiwi, took the skins and rinds off, and threw them in the blender. I added some ice cubes and then realized I needed I liquid base. My options in my fridge were water, milk, and an Odwalla Superfood drink. The Superfood has fruit in it so I thought that would work well. The only weird thing about it is the color; it is a muddy green that looks like sludge rather than something you would drink. Since I used this, my smoothie turned into a lighter muddy green color instead of the vibrant pink I was hoping for.

Once the drink was mixed I poured it in a glass and garnished it with the mint. Despite the aesthetics of the drink it actually tasted really good. It just goes to show that you really should judge a food or drink by what it looks like but by what it tastes like (a rule I need to remember with my picky eating).

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Japan Town

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I was a little nervous to go to Japan Town. I am a pretty picky eater and tend to refuse things I’ve never even tried based on how it looks, what I am told is in it, or if my friends think I will like it or not. Getting to Japan Town I decided to try to be more open minded and at least try everything. That didn’t work out very well. It ended about being a 50/50 draw with all of the different places we went.

Let’s start off with the questionable things. The day began at Yakini Q café. I had actually been here before and really like the hot chocolate and macaroon I had. Unfortunately today we were having the sweet potato latte. The first problem was the fact that I don’t like sweet potatoes or lattes, so I was not excited to try a combination of both. I did try one sip and I was not a fan of this drink. It just tasted like a liquid potato and to me it was all bad. Later in the day we went to Mifune Don and had okonomiyaki. I was told that this was like a Japanese pancake with cabbage, pork, potato, shrimp, soy sauce, mayonnaise, fish flakes on it. Just hearing this scared me but when the dish came out it got even worse. It smelled like raw fish, not appetizing at all. Then I noticed the fish flakes moved! I could not handle that. Right when I saw that I was definitely convinced that I would never be eating this. These items were definitely the low parts of the day.

Luckily, there were also some high parts. We went to Benkyodo to have mochi. I had seen mochi before and decided it was not for me, but for some reason I actually tried it and I actually like it. Mochi is actually very plain but the texture is what makes it different. It’s kind of reminds me of what flubber would feel like. It was soft and squishy. There was something even better than the mochi though. We visited Mays coffee shop for taiyaki. It was a fish shaped waffle filled with chocolate and banana. It was warm and so good. I loved it so much that I even went back for seconds. Although part of that was because I was scared for what food was to come. The taiyaki reminded me of when my dad would make me chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast when I was a kid. It was delicious and my favorite item of the day.

My visit to Japan Town was filled with mixed emotions. There were some things that I absolutely hated, some things that were not completely disgusting, and some things that were so delicious I would definitely go back for them. I am glad I got to experience everything though, I feel like this field trip really tested my limits and helped me break past them a little bit.

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Kitchen Disaster


I can’t cook, but I try. Sometimes things turn out alright, but usually something goes wrong. As long as the meal is simple it’s generally fine. Breakfast items tend to go over pretty well due to this. My favorite thing for breakfast is oatmeal. It just starts my day right. I don’t get too fancy, I just put my instant oatmeal in the bowl, add some milk, and put it in the microwave. It seems like it would be pretty hard to mess up, but somehow I managed to do it. I feel like I actually deserve a little bit of credit for this kitchen disaster, it must take a special kind of person to mess up instant oatmeal.

Anyways, where I went wrong was with the microwave. This oatmeal in-particular asks to be cooked for one minute, stirred, and then cooked for another 30 seconds to a minute. After cooking for one minute I stirred the oatmeal and put it back in for another 30 seconds. After that the oatmeal still wasn’t the consistency I wanted. It was a little too soupy, probably due to the fact that I don’t measure my milk, I just pour it in the bowl until it looks right. So I decided to put the oatmeal back in the microwave for another 30 seconds.

I left the kitchen for those short 30 seconds and when I got back and opened the microwave it looked like a bomb went off. My oatmeal had exploded. It seriously looked like a volcano had erupted. There were oats on every wall and tiny crevice of the microwave. I had to start completely over on my breakfast and scrub the microwave (which it probably needed). I definitely learned my lesson. Now when I make oatmeal I stay in the kitchen and when I get really paranoid I stare into the microwave making sure another disaster won’t happen.

Recipe:
1 packet instant oatmeal
Milk (however much your heart desires)
Mix the milk and oatmeal in a bowl and put in the microwave for however long it says on the oatmeal packet. If you decide to go rogue and do more or less time you will need to add:
1 part patience
2 parts caution
Warning: going rogue while making instant oatmeal may result in a messy explosion!

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The Mission District


On Thursday I was lucky enough to visit the Mission District in SF and have some great food. I was a little nervous at first because I would not consider myself a city girl and I would consider myself a picky eater. Surprisingly, the atmosphere was beautiful and the food was delicious. In total we stopped by seven restaurants for tastings, and while they were all yummy I did like some more than others.

My favorite stop of the day was Roxy’s. Roxy’s is owned by chef Manny Torres Gimenez and is actually a pop-up so that he can try some new ideas for dishes. Manny mixes a lot of different food techniques when cooking with his main three being Venezuelan, Italian, and Japanese. This may sound like a weird combination, it certainly did to me, but trust me it works! Manny also makes everything from scratch in-house, which gives the food more of a homey and comforting taste about it.

While there I tasted the gnocchi, and if you read my last post you know that I am pretty much obsessed with gnocchi. The gnocchi was soft and squishy with little ridges and tasted doughy. It was in a bolognese sauce with chunks of ground meet, but the sauce did not overtake the dish.The mixture of the meet with the dumpling was like a meal with multiple courses all wrapped into one. Chef Manny was also able to mix all of his different techniques into such a classic Italian dish. I think that’s what I liked most about it actually, that he was able to turn such classic dishes into something new and exciting. I thought his cooking actually represented the Mission district very well. It was a little bit of everything mixed to perfection. Hopefully I will get to go back to Roxy’s one day and experience more of Chef Manny’s interesting and mouth-watering creations.

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My Most Memorable Meal

canaletto 1
It is so hard to choose my most memorable meal. I have so many I could pick and so much goes into the decision. What makes a meal memorable to me is not only the food, although it is a big factor. What also goes into the decision is the atmosphere of the restaurant, the drinks, the service, and who I am dining with. Considering all these things I was able to find one meal that stands apart from the rest.

The meal was almost a year ago. I was in Las Vegas to dance at the WCC basketball tournament. It had become a tradition that every year my mom takes me and a few other girls from the team out to dinner one night. This year we decided to go to Canaletto’s in the Venetian hotel. Right when I walked into the restaurant I no longer felt like I was in Las Vegas, but had been transported to Italy. Our waiter even had an Italian accent and was very attentive and charming all night. We sat at a round table which made it feel very warm and cozy, like in an Italian household. Everyone that worked there was friendly and even the other diners were having fun with each other. Overall, the atmosphere was pleasant and comfortable which made the food that much better.

Before we ordered we were given fresh bread with olive oil and vinegar. The bread was soft and warm. The mixture of olive oil and vinegar on the bread was a perfect combination. When it came time to picking entrees I went with the gnocchi. Gnocchi is a rather simple dish of potato dumplings but when it came out it was so decadent. It was in a tomato cream sauce and cooked just right. I took one bite and gnocchi melted in my mouth. The gnocchi was so delicious I had to remind myself not to inhale the rest of it. Once I had finished my entree it was time for dessert. They brought out authentic Italian gelato. It was so thick and creamy and the flavors were magical.

Once the meal was over I was actually a little sad that I no longer got to experience such good food and atmosphere. I had to leave Italy and go back to Las Vegas. It was such a simple meal but the restaurant made it so special. Next time I am in Las Vegas I will definitely go back to Canaletto’s to see if the magic is still there. Hopefully I will leave with a new “most memorable meal”.

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