Merry (Belated) Christmas!

>>  Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday so far. Bryan and I have been blessed to have an entire week off from work. We've been visiting family - spending quality time with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and 1-year old nephew.

Of course, that also means we've been eating way too much.
Hot Pot Soup
Christmas lunch: Hot Pot Noodles Soup

In accordance with our family tradition, we had a Chinese hot pot for dinner on Christmas Eve. It's something we've done on Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember.

One of the best "side effects" of a hot pot are the leftovers. During Christmas lunch the next day, my mom prepares bowls of hot, piping noodle soup made with the leftover hot pot broth. The broth itself is super flavorful, brimming with complex flavors from all the goodies cooked in the hot pot from the night before.  To that broth, my mom adds fresh noodles and lots of fresh vegetables, tofu, and meat. On a cold, snowy morning, there's nothing that's hits the spot like this satisfying soup.
For dinner on Christmas this year, our family made our own Taiwanese "lumpia", or fresh hand-rolled spring rolls.  I'm sure every culture makes these slightly differently. My mom's version includes pork, cabbage, carrots, eggs, pickled turnips, and (mostly importantly), crushed sugared peanuts. I absolutely love the complex mix of textures and flavors in this flavor-packed roll - it's absolutely addictive.

Finally, the day after Christmas, we had simple stir-fried vermicelli, which was both comforting, healthy, and totally reminded me of home. My mom told me that the secret to making good vermicelli is to soak the dried vermicelli in cold water before cooking. Hot water degrades the noodles too much and causes them to break apart when you stir fry it.

Who knew?
Australia ChristmasJen in Sydney, Australia, where Christmas decorations begin in early November

Though it's been super relaxing being pampered by my mom while she cooks every single meal for us, I'm also anxious to get back into the kitchen. I've been inspired recently to try out new recipes from The Modernist at Home (a gift I received from Bryan) as well as playing with my new pressure cooker (which apparently is needed for many of the recipes in that book). It's also been awhile since I'ved baked, and I'm in the mood to make some super cute cookies - maybe of Domokun or The Snowman.
Snowman in the snow
The Snowman in Ohio

We'll soon resume the Tasting Tour of Tokyo series, as well as explore some great local Boston-area restaurants I've tried in the past month.

For now, however, relax, slow down, and savor this special time of year.

Merry Christmas!

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Last Minute Gift Ideas

>>  Saturday, December 22, 2012

My husband's really good at giving gifts.

He's thoughtful, does tons of research on products, and always has a running list in his mind (yearlong!) of potential gifts he could give you.

In some ways, it's really, really nice to be married to someone like that. I've gotten some pretty incredible gifts in the past 11 years we've been married.

In other ways, however, it's really stressful! I don't think nearly as methodically as he does, and I'm a huge procrastinator on top of all that. As a result, I can't even come close to giving as good gifts as he does. He's lucky if he even gets a gift by Christmas. Sigh . .  yes, it's true. I'm really THAT bad sometimes . . .

So, I thought I'd share with you some of the gifts I've received over the years, maybe as inspiration for you as you go shopping on this last holiday weekend before Christmas. Some of these are a repeat from last year, but I've updated the list quite a bit. Not all of these gifts were from Bryan, but in many ways, he probably played some role most of these (he likes to buy me random things too, even when there's no special occasion).

Please enjoy the list, and I'm really sorry I didn't post this earlier!

ever the procastinator . . . some things just don't change.

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Puritan & Co

>>  Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I cannot tell you how long I've been waiting for this.

Well, I guess I could, technically.

I still remember that fateful day back in May of 2011 when we stopped into our favorite local hangout, Garden at the Cellar, and found out that Chef Will Gilson had left, planning to do a pop-up in the Cape for the summer.

Noooooo! It can't be!

The Garden at the Cellar had quickly become our favorite place to visit, a mere one minute walk (maybe two minutes if we had to wait for traffic on Mass Ave) from our tiny urban condo. It was a place where we knew we could enjoy Will's ever changing seasonally-inspired menu as well as the fantastic truffle fries (which we got every single time).

I knew Will was talented, and I was itching to see what he would do next.

The following year flew by. Sure, I saw Will here and there, but he was pretty mum about his plans, though he did hint there was something in the works.

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Mikawa Zezankyo (tempura)

>>  Tuesday, December 18, 2012

UntitledThis is the third post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi Akasaka and Rokurinsha.

Rick Bayless called his meal here "one of the most impressive, most intimate meals of my life."

Michelin deemed it worthy to receive one Michelin star.

Chef Tetsuya Saotome has been called a "living treasure", a "maverick", and even "idiosyncratic."
Opened only since 2010, Mikawa Zezankyo has quickly become recognized as being one of the top tempura places in Tokyo.  It's not that surprising, actually. After all, Chef Saotome spent over thirty years making tempura at his original Mikawa restaurant in Kayabacho. It became so popular he eventually opened up a second, larger location in Roppongi. Chef Saotome estimates he's made over half a million pieces of tempura in his lifetime.

Mikawa Zezankyo is Chef Saotome's newest project. After handing off his other two successful restaurants to his apprentices, he opened Mikawa Zezankyo in 2010. Hidden in a small residential street east of the Sumida River, this tiny restaurant is not that easy to find.
There are only nine seats, so reservations are very difficult to get. Furthermore, Chef Saotome works alone to create the actual tempura. The assistants will help with everything else, but only Chef Saotome does the actual frying. If he's on vacation, the restaurant closes.

According to Chef Saotome, "I am able to see the scales on the fish that other people cannot see and then just coat each piece in the appropriate amount of batter. After that the trick is simply to count the seconds the fish should be cooked for." [source]

It's an art that takes extreme precision and skill. Come here, and you know you'll have the master himself cooking for you.
I had originally tried to book this place through my hotel concierge, but had no luck. Thankfully, my friend and fellow blogger Shirley from Lovely Lanvin (who happens to be a local!) called them and was able to reserve a table in the private room upstairs.

I couldn't wait to see what kind of magic would arise from Chef Saotome's expert hands.

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>>  Friday, December 14, 2012

This is the fourth restaurant post in the series, Welcome to My New Hood, focused on restaurants in the neighborhood between Harvard Square and Porter Square. Other posts in this series: Rafiki Bistro (no longer open), Super Fusion Sushi, and Temple Bar.

 "Why Giulia?" we asked.

Giulia is the name of a street in Italy where Chef Michael Pagliarini's brother works.
In fact, there are little hints of Chef Pagliarini's Italian roots all over the restaurant, from the generous sprinkling of Italian words all over the menu (we had to ask several times, "what does this mean?") to the traditional Italian cookies offered for dessert - baked by his mom - who  learned these recipes from friends in Italy.

If you haven't heard, Chef Pagliarini, who previously worked at Via Matta in the Back Bay, has just opened up a new Italian restaurant in Cambridge.
There has been much pent up demand for this place. In the past, people regularly bemoaned the lack of Italian restaurants in Cambridge, especially on this stretch between Harvard Square and Porter Square where gastropubs rule. Sure, you can head up north to Gran Gusto (excellent place, by the way) or to Huron Village and check out Trattoria Pulcinella . . . but for a place that's really close and convenient?

As you must know by now, Bryan loves fresh pasta. When we heard that Chef Pagliarini would be making fresh pasta daily right at the chef's table, we absolutely could not wait for this place to open.

Last week it finally opened on Tuesday. We immediately called them up and made a reservation for four (plus a baby!).

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Recent Favorite Food Cities + winner of Giveaway

>>  Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thanks everyone so much for your participation in the giveaway. I was thrilled at the response. I really think it's the most popular one I've ever hosted. I guess everyone likes to travel. :)

And the winner is . . . .

Gee Emm!  This was chosen randomly (using out of 187 entries. Gee Emm said "I would love to stay at the only North American Club Carlson Radisson Blu... in Chicago!"

I must say, I was surprised how many people picked Radisson Blu in Chicago. I didn't even know about the hotel, but it must be pretty incredible. That reminds me, I really need to get myself out of Chicago one of these days - go back to my Midwestern roots!

Anyway, thanks everyone else for playing. It was heartwarming to hear your comments (I hardly get any comments on this blog, so I'm never quite sure what people think about my posts!). It was encouraging to hear what aspects you all liked, and thanks again for some great suggestions!

For fun, in the spirit of this travel-oriented giveaway, I thought I'd share about some of my recent favorite food cities to visit.

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Rokurinsha (tsukemen ramen)

>>  Sunday, December 09, 2012

This is the second post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi Akasaka.

How do you find a good ramen place in Japan?

Easy - just look for the place with the longest lines. Japanese people absolutely adore their ramen and are very willing to patiently wait in long, organized lines in order to partake in this soul-satisfying hot bowl of noodles.

A perfect example would be Rokurinsha, a ramen shop that opened in 2005 in a quiet residential area in the Osaki district of Tokyo. Although it was a bit out of the way, the place was always packed, filled with lines that sometimes reached over 300 people on busy weekends. It was not unusual to show up at 11AM and wait about two hours before getting into the tiny 12-seater dining area.

Eventually in 2010, under much pressure from angry residential neighbors complaining about the crazy lines, Rokurisha closed its Osaki shop and re-opened elsewhere in the city.

The location most people talk about is the one inside Tokyo Station on Tokyo Ramen Street, a corridor full of ramen shops all in a row. A second one resides at the shopping complex at the Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo's newest attraction (and the tallest tower in the world).

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Kikunoi (Akasaka)

>>  Tuesday, December 04, 2012

This is the first post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan.

One negative aspect of being a tag-along on your husband's business trip is that you're often alone. After all, he's in the destination to work, which means he can't hang out with you during much of the trip.

Thankfully, Tokyo is an easy city to navigate, and at this point, I know it quite well. I was perfectly happy to spend my afternoons shopping, exploring, and even visiting friends while he was at his conference.

Unfortunately, there were a few nights where he had business dinners and couldn't even eat with me.

Last time that happened, I bought simple take-out at the local depachika (basement of the department store) and ate in my hotel room. This time, I decided to head out into the city and dine solo at one of the most famous kaiseki establishments in Tokyo.

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Giveaway! Free night stay at the Radisson Hotel

>>  Monday, December 03, 2012

Rome, Italy

Before we start our Tasting Tour of Tokyo series, we'll have this fun little travel related giveaway.

As many of you know, I love, love, love to travel. I love exploring new cultures, new landscapes, and (of course), new cuisines. Food is, naturally, a huge part of any of my trips, and I always do tons of research before choosing where to eat on each trip.

6-mile hike along the coastline of the island at Santorini, Greece

I also have been getting into photography a lot more lately, and it's been really fun to explore new cities and countries behind the photographer's lens. I've gotten to the point where the photos are really my main "souvenir" from each trip, and I hardly bring anything physical back with me these days (with the exception of some local snacks, of course!).
Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada

Of course, lodging's a big part of travel, and something I almost never talk about on this blog. The quality of your lodging can make or break a vacation, especially when you're in a foreign country where you really don't know how things work. I've often relied heavily on hotel concierges for help regarding various things, and they can make such a difference depending on how good they are.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was in Australia and stayed at a Radisson Hotel in Sydney. The location was fantastic and the free wifi in-room was really, really helpful (and not something we got everywhere else on our trip). The hotel breakfast was pretty pricey, but I just skipped out on dining there and walked right outside where there were endless choices for food.
China Pavilion in Shanghai at the World Expo, 2010

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm participating as one of 50 bloggers in Radisson's celebratory giveaway event called "50 Years, 50 Days, 50 Rooms." In honor of the hotel's 50th anniversary, they are giving away fifty free night vouchers over a span of 50 days.

I'll be running the Giveaway for one week, ending on Monday, December 10th. To enter, please comment below telling me what kind of posts are your favorite here on Tiny Urban Kitchen (and what you'd like to see more of . . ). For a second entry, please comment on this facebook post telling me where you would travel if you got the free voucher. Maximum 2 entries per person.
Yosemite National Park, USA

The free night voucher is valid for one free night, standard room, double occupancy at any North American Radisson Blu or Radisson hotel of the winner’s choice. The voucher expires one year after issue date. The full terms and conditions are located on the room night voucher.

Good luck!

Disclaimer - Radisson is providing the free hotel stays both to the winner of this giveaway as well as to Tiny Urban Kitchen as a thank you for participating in this event. I fully paid for the Radisson stay in Australia detailed in the post above.

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Tasting Tour of Tokyo

>>  Saturday, December 01, 2012

Tokyo Skyline view from Westin Tokyo
Bryan travels a lot for work (did I mention he recently hit the two-million airline miles mark?)

In fact, we recently calculated that he has spent the last 7 weeks (out of 12) on the other side of the world. Interestingly, he's spent most of that time in countries that walk and drive on the left side of the road, which has made coming back a bit confusing (especially when walking on sidewalks and such).

Although it's not fun having your husband away so frequently, there are sometimes perks. Occasionally, if the destination is enticing, I'll choose to go with him. It's great because I get to spend more time with him, and the trip becomes a bit cheaper because lodging is usually already covered by his work.

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to go with him to Tokyo. I love Japan, and it's hard for me ever to pass up a chance to go there. Instead of focusing so much on sushi this time, we branched out, and tried several different types of Japanese food.
Sukiyabashi Jiro
Of course, we still had sushi. In fact, we had a chance to taste sushi made by probably the most famous sushi master in the world right now.

Here's a brief summary of where we went on our trip, all to be described in mouthwatering detail in the upcoming posts in this new series: Tasting Tour of Tokyo.

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