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every dish has a story

Edible Gifting: Seasoned Greetings Spice RubsJan 10, 2012

I know, I know . . . it's now January, and the last thing you want to relive is holiday-themed anything. I'll try not to drag this one out too long, but let me make just a couple of points:

First, spice rubs make a great hostess gift, no matter the time of year. They are especially great for people who like to grill as well as for male hosts (at least, those who aren't the delicately scented soap types).

If you don't have party plans in the near future, you can whip up a batch of each to keep in the freezer, ready for future grilling or seasoning projects.

Finally, don't you just love the name? Seasoned Greetings — get it? Yuk, yuk.

For the recipe, read on.

Sichuan "Mala" Hot PotApr 26, 2011

I'm a Buddhist, so in theory, I shouldn't believe in fate. In conversational vernacular, karma has come to mean "what comes around, goes around," as though there's some Jedi force out there that causes bad things to happen to people who do bad things. This is not to say that I don't believe in The Force — on the contrary, we have our very own Sith apprentice here at home — it just doesn't apply in this circumstance. But I digress.

By definition, karma is simply the sanskrit word for "action." It's probably true that bad actions eventually cause unfavorable results for the people who enact them, but really what this concept gets at is the fact that consequences exist, and we humans therefore control the outcomes of our karma, whether good or bad. That being said, there are times when events seem to conspire to ensure certain outcomes. Here's a case study:

During my last trip to LA, my best friend and I shared a dish of spicy beef tendon at 15 Cats Cafe in Alhambra. It was a cold dish, dressed in a delicious sauce of numbing sichuan peppercorn that I love. She proceeded to tell me that in Sichuan, they are famous for hot pot broth made with plenty of sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers/oil, and that she regularly prepares this mala (meaning "numbing" and "spicy") hot pot at home. Enlightening! I was intrigued, and flagged that idea as one to try when I got back home. Not a week later, another friend described a Mongolian hot pot restaurant in the East Bay that has become her family's weekend dinner tradition. They, too, serve that spicy, tingly soup for dipping and cooking your delectables. But we rarely make it out to the other side of the Bay, so again it was an idea earmarked for later use. My acupuncturist and I love to talk about food together, and one day she mentioned that she and her husband often prepare hot pot at home in San Mateo, especially when the weather gets cold. That reminded me of the restaurant about which my friend had recently informed me. "Oh, Little Sheep!" she exclaimed. "I love that place...they have one in downtown San Mateo!" These three encounters were too serendipitous to ignore. That same weekend, we trekked down to San Mateo and endured the hour-long wait for our own meal of mala hot pot, and it was like meeting my food soul mate (admittedly, I have many, but this is definitely in the top five).

So was it fate guiding me towards yet another amazing meal? Buddhism would say this is a series of karma with the final one being our decision to hop in the car for our foodie field trip. I could believe either — in the end, the outcome was a very happy one! For the recipe, read on.

Mapo DoufuOct 04, 2010

One of my favorite dishes of all time is mapo doufu.  A fiery hot tofu casserole that leaves your lips tingling hours later (think DuWop Lip Venom!), it's also richly flavored with many difficult-to-isolate flavors. After trying it for the first time at Spices in the Richmond District, I quickly researched recipes and added it to my early repertoire. But the flavors I was searching for eluded me. I could taste the ginger and garlic -- that part was easy. My next quest was for fermented, salted black beans which I found after scouring the aisles in Sunset Super. Many recipes also called for sichuan peppercorns, which were difficult to find, so I summarily dismissed that ingredient, assuming that I could recreate the flavor with regular black pepper. This assumption, I later realized, was terribly wrong.

On Sunday, after researching a few more recipes online, I headed out to Sunset Super to search for this spice. Finally, among the dried beans, fungus, and star anise, I found a one-pound bag of these curious-looking pods. I took my prize home. And now my mapo doufu is about 90% of the way there. I have noted my future adjustments after the recipe. For the recipe, read on.

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