Project Food Blog Round 10: Final Reflections

Voting is now open! To vote, click here.

So here we are.

Almost to the day, three months ago, hundreds of us embarked on this crazy journey to figure out who we were as food bloggers. Most of us would be challenged, stretched, (twisted! baked!) beyond what we ever thought we could accomplish. Through this entire time, there’s been laughter, disappointment, excitement, frustration, sleep deprivation, horribly messy kitchens, and expanding waistlines, no doubt.
But at the same time, there’s been tons of encouragement and support, long-lasting friendships that have formed, and the building of a real, true community. Not only that, we’ve all grown. Those of us that have gone through round after round after round, week after week after week, know first hand the insane amount of stamina that is required for a contest like this.

I can’t believe it’s almost over.

For this last post, I really wanted to reflect on this entire contest in general, and revisit what I had written in my first blog post, “Ready, Set, Blog!.” In that post, we had been asked, What defines your blog?” “Why should you be the next Food Blog Star?”

After much thought and self-reflection, I had come up with three key attributes that define Tiny Urban Kitchen.

  • Fearless Pursuit of Crazy, Ambitious, and Fun Ideas
  • A Deep Commitment and Passion for the Local Community
  • A Love of Food, Photography, and Friendship

 It’s been quite a journey since those young, naive days back in September, but I think those three attributes still stand.

* * * *  tour-of-my-travels.html
Throughout this contest I have shared many things with you. I’ve shared recipes from my Taiwanese heritage; I’ve told stories about grandmothers, both from my side of the family and Bryan’s side of the family; and I’ve described stories and dining experiences from my various travels around the world.

Yet here I am, sitting in my home city of Boston as I realize there is a wealth of amazing food experiences locally, none of which I’ve shared with you.

So let’s experience Boston, Tiny Urban Kitchen style.

I. Fearless Pursuit of Crazy, Ambitious, and Fun Ideas

Tiny Urban Kitchen Builds Boston

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

OK, neither was Boston, but when you’re building cities out of fresh produce, you have to build it, photograph it, and eat it within a day. Day old vegetable buildings don’t look or taste nearly as good.

Who am I? What defines this blog? I have always loved art and design, which is evidenced by the crazy bentos (and pizzas!) that I’ve made in the past. I love combining art with food in unusual ways. I also love vegetables, and could probably be a vegetarian were it not for my weakness for sushi.

I also love crazy, ambitious, and fun ideas, and will fearlessly pursue them with a passion.

Enter Project Food Blog Round 10 Part 1:

Boston Veggies Build Themselves A Skyline

Music by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 3.0”

Highlights Of Some Boston Landmarks

* Longfellow Bridge*

One of my favorite jogs (and one of the most beautiful jogs, in my opinion), is a loop that runs along the Charles River and crosses two bridges, one of which is the Longfellow Bridge, also known as the “Salt and Pepper Shaker Bridge.” The vegetable version is made out of daikon radish and carrots. I painstakingly carved out the individual bricks of the towers with a very sharp Japanese knife, and then layered the pieces in between large carrot slices.

*The MBTA*

Boston’s “red line” subway runs on this bridge, so I made little subway trains by carving red radishes to resemble the bi-layered look of the subway trains. The windows are made out of eggplant skins. My favorite part of traveling on the red line is when you cross the Long fellow Bridge. Not only is there an astounding view out the window, you also have a brief moment of cell phone reception!

*The Prudential Tower” and “101 Huntington Ave” (Also known as the “R2D2 Building”)

Known affectionately as “The Pru,” the lower levels of this building is one of the premier shopping areas on Boston. The Pru is covered with over a hundred green beans, lined up in a way to imitate the patterns on the actual building. The R2D2 Building sits right next to the Pru, and is made out of a handcarved eggplant.

*Fenway Park*

I never knew what it was like to live in a city with a national sports team until I moved to Boston. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you can’t avoid getting caught up in the excitement of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. I still remember 2004 when the Red Sox finally won the world series after 86 years of “the curse of the Bambino.”

The whole city was so tired but happy the day after each game in the playoffs as everyone stayed up late at night watching that magical run – this is how dedicated Bostonians are to their team! I’ve made Fenway Park, including the Green Monster, out of a cut out watermelon. The seats at Fenway are red, and the stadium is green, so I thought a watermelon would be the perfect fruit to represent the stadium.

Other Boston Landmarks Featured
Hancock Tower
Boston Common
Public Garden

II. A Deep Commitment and Passion for the Local Community
Where would a food nerd go in Boston?

I’ve lived here for over 15 years, and I have my own little list of favorite hidden (or not so hidden) favorites where I consistently bring out-of-town guests. Here are a few of my all time favorites. For those of you who can’t make it out to Boston, I’ve included some recipes below for how I cook some of my favorite Boston dishes from these restaurants.

1. A Moqueca at Muqueca
Muqueca is one of those little hole-in-the-wall family owned restaurants that everyone wishes they knew about. Unlike your typical Brazilian restaurant, which serve various cuts of meat in the form of a Brazilian Barbeque, Muqueca focuses on moquecas, a delicious Brazilian seafood soup cooked in a clay pot. Your choice of seafood is cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and cilantro. No additional water is added, and thus the liquid in the “stew” is rich full of flavors from the vegetables and the seafood. Moquecas come mainly from two coastal Brazilian states: Bahia (Moqueca Bahiana) and Espírito Santo (Moqueca Capixaba).

All of the moquecas are made on the spot, so you have to wait around 15-20 minutes for your dish, but it’s sooo worth it. Though the ingredients are simple, the resulting combination of flavors is fantastic, and something I could eat over and over again.

2. Toro Truffle Maki at Oishii
Oishii Boston Maki Rolls
After my Round 9 post, more than one person asked me about my favorite sushi place in Boston. I would love to introduce you to my all time favorite sushi roll in my favorite sushi place in Boston.

This roll is decadently crazy, with toro (fatty tuna), caviar, and shaved truffle slices. At $25 a roll, this insane roll does not come cheap, nor should it, considering the ingredients.

Seriously though, everything at Oishii is well executed, so you won’t go wrong no matter what you order. But if you have a chance, definitely try this luxuriously delicious roll.

3. Grilled Octopus at Craigie on Main

Grilled Spanish Octopus from Craigie on Main

Craigie on Main has always been one of my favorite restaurants in Boston. Tony Maws (chef-owner) is a genius in the kitchen. He’s totally a farm-to-table type of guy, and it shows in his food. Not only are his ingredients superb, his dishes are consistently well executed, thoughtfully designed, and artfully plated. The food is fantastic, and I’ve never had a bad meal there.

The grilled Spanish octopus is one of my favorite dishes. The meat is juicy and succulent, while the outside is just slightly charred. Tony Maws’ version is made with grilled cipollini onions, fresh hearts of palm and lemon salad, spiced pumpkin purée.

I decided to try to make my own version of Tony Maws’ dish by using the sous vide technique. If you don’t have a sous vide machine, you can try baking the octopus at low temperature (around 200 °F) for several hours.

Grilled Octopus
Sous vide octopus leg in 1 tsp olive oil and salt and pepper at 190 °F for 5 hours. Remove purple skin and then grill over high heat until just charred. (I used a grill pan). Serve with pureed butternut squash soup, microgreens, chives, grilled cippolini onions and sliced palm hearts.

Home version of Spanish Grilled Octopus

The sous vide technique really brings out the tenderness of the octopus, which was soft and juicy. The octopus itself is already very flavorful, full of savory umami from the sea. The grilled onions and the butternut squash puree add a nice sweet counterbalance while the microgreens and palm hearts balance out the richness in a bright and crisp way.

4. Potage of Spring Dug Parsnips at Craigie on Main

Bryan and I enjoyed this parsnip soup at Craigie on Main during one of our anniversary dinners. That was the first time I had his amazingly simple spring-dug parsnip soup. This soup is super easy to make at home, and is a great way to use up those farm share parsnips! Tony Maws puts pork jowl croutons on top, but it tastes delicious without. Tony Maws has kindly shared his recipe on his website, so I will not reproduce it here.

5. Grape Nut Ice Cream at Toscanini’s
Tosci's Grape Nut Ice   Cream
Grape Nut Ice Cream from Toscanini’s

Toscanini’s is my all time favorite ice cream place in Boston. We used to have one on my college campus and I used to go there all the time (hello “freshman 15!”). Not only is the texture of Toscanini’s premium ice cream uniquely thick and doughy, the flavors at Toscanini’s are constantly changing and are always really, really interesting.

My all time favorite ice cream flavor is Grape Nut Ice Cream. I know it sounds weird, but the Grape Nuts soften considerably once they’re mixed into the ice cream, and they give a wonderfully malty flavor to the ice cream.

Here a recipe to my own version of Grape Nut Ice Cream, which I love making at home in the summertime, or the wintertime, or . . well, anytime, for that matter.

Grape Nut Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half
¾ cups sugar
4 egg yolks
¼ to ½ cups Grape Nuts Cereal

Day 1
Heat the half & half, heavy cream, and sugar in a pot on medium low heat until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Slowly pour the egg yolk mixture into the hot cream mixture while continually stirring.

Heat the half & half, heavy cream, and sugar in a pot on medium low heat until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Slowly pour the egg yolk mixture into the hot cream mixture while continually stirring.

Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon (~8-10 minutes). Optionally filter the cooked liquid and allow to cool overnight in the refrigerator.

Day 2
Pour the cream mixture into the ice cream maker and make ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Halfway through the process, pour the Grape Nuts into the mixture. Freeze finished product for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

III. A Love of Food, Photography, and Friendship
As I reflect upon these crazy three months of sleep-deprived nights, disastrously messy kitchens, and nerve-wracking Friday afternoons, I wonder many things. Was it worth it? What did I learn about food? What did I learn about myself?

I have been challenged and pushed beyond what I ever thought I could do
In life, we tend to get comfortable and stick with things we know how to do. Sometimes, it takes a fierce competition to kick us out of our little comfort zones. Round after round, I found myself stretched, pulled, and twisted in ways far beyond my comfort zone. In each round, I continued to think outside the box, trying to “up” myself every round, even though I had already poured out what I thought was my “all” in each previous round.
Though at times it was painful, I have grown tremendously in so many ways. I never thought of myself as a baker, much less a pastry chef. Yet all of a sudden, I found myself learning to make thousand layer spiral mooncakes – by far not the easiest of Asian baked desserts! Similarly, I had absolutely no knowledge of video whatsoever, yet this competition pushed me to quickly learn and perfect (as much as I could in a week!) these valuable and important skills. Yes, there was a ton of stress at multiple points throughout these last few months. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

In the end, it’s all about the people
Back in Round 1, I described my discovery about how I was relational to the core.

I’ve kept on writing because of the people. I love sharing my ideas with others. I am relational at the core, and I love the interactions, conversations, and support I receive from my readers. I could have all the passion in the world about cooking, eating and photography. Yet without readers, I would have no motivation to write. I have made some amazing friends through this process. 

The support and encouragement of this food-loving community is beyond overwhelming, and I am continually surprised by the humility, grace, and love of the people I’ve met.

This is really what Project Food Blog is all about. Sure, it’s nice to have a big prize at the end to motivate everyone to participate. But what this contest really does is bring people together. We motivate each other to write, to challenge ourselves, to become better at what we do.

In that sense, we are all winners. Whether it be the new skills we have learned, the new friends we’ve made, or new insights we’ve gathered about ourselves, we have all gained something valuable, priceless, and that will stay with us forever.

Despite the sleep-deprived weekends and nerve-wracking Fridays, I will miss this in some ways. Now don’t get me wrong – I am beyond relieved finally to get my weekends back. However, in some ways I’ll miss the camaraderie of the contestants on twitter; I’ll miss the excitement of trying to figure what to do for my next round; and I’ll miss the challenge and energy-filled spirit that any competition brings.

Or maybe I don’t have to miss those things. I mean, after all, those same food bloggers are still around. And why not challenge myself continually by thinking of crazy, fearless, impossible but fun posts to write? It’s not like Tiny Urban Kitchen is going anywhere anytime soon.

Wait, didn’t I say I was fearless back in Round 1?

Fearless indeed.

“The Longest Time”
Written and Sung by Jennifer Che 
(with help from some great friends!)

Again, thanks so much for everything.

Previous Posts
Round 1: Ready, Set, Blog
Round 2: Kaddo Bourani
Round 3: A Luxury Interpretation of China
Round 4: Bah-Tzangs (Taiwanese Rice Dumplings)
Round 5: A Pizza Tour of My Travels
Round 6: A Taste of Autumn
Round 7: Hand Pulled Noodles
Round 8: An Unusual Take On Pumpkin
Round 9: Everything I learned About Sushi I Learned From My Mom … and Kyubei
Round 10: Final Reflections

This is my entry for Project Food Blog Round 10 (!!!).  Thank you so much for all your support and encouragement throughout this entire competition. Voting opens Monday, December 13. Voting is now open! Click here to vote.

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  1. says

    Wow, Jen, you *are* fearless! I used to sing acapella in college, but I still wouldn’t have the guts to sing for my blog (or even PFB!). Your pretty voice aside, you have shown us your many faceted talents throughout this competition and I have always been a fan, even pre-PFB. Wishing you lots of luck in this final round!!!!!

  2. Jessica Lin says

    I love the cityscape! Before I read the details I saw it and just knew it was Boston. I especially loved the red line train which for a second I was just like wait.. is that a T? And I was right hahah and the baseball Domo-kun is priceless! Good luck and it was great watching the entire contest!

  3. Peacebypiece7 says

    OMG, I heard about you/your kitchen/the contest on public radio and then had to read about it. Wow! This can’t be the end for you; you should publish a book/cookbook, go on book signing tours, etc.
    Much congratulations. Your hard work was appreciated by me and I am sure many others.

  4. Katywinker says

    Wow! You outdid yourself! Love, love, LOVE the song parody along with everything about your final post for the PFB competition. You so deserve the trophy!

  5. Linda says

    Congrats Jen! It’s been a delightful read following your projects. And now to hear you sing…wow, just incredible.

    More songs please…and your a capella troupe is wonderful. Bravo to all!

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