Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!

No work today curtsy of President's Day, which also fell into Valentine's day weekend and Chinese New Year. No celebrations here but also no complaints for a paid day off. Phoned my relatives in China last night to wish them a happy New Year. Everyone sounded high spirited. Within the last 12 month my two older female cousins have gotten married and short after New Years my male younger cousin will have settled too. That's 3 out of 4 cousins and now the spot light is on me. No plans on getting married here. I used to think I would be a good mom but now no plans of doing that either. Child prodigies are products of creative parents. Having failed at a music career myself, there's no question that I would take any kids I have to countless music lessons and concerts. Although many parents can be found guilty of such thing, including my own, kids are no way to live out my own unfulfilled fantasies. Still, sharing my love of music and many other things with them would be nice. That's a long shot at this point and I can't even imagine getting over the hurtle of having such strong friendship and partnership with another human being.
My cousins told me last year was the worst year for people born in pig year = me. And this is suppose to be a good one. Well, lots of things happened in 09, no point complaining about them now but I'm surely ready for better luck this year!

Happy New Years to all!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Office Space

Are you tired of staring at the same old gray cubicle desktop all day at work? Well, I AM! Without the Elf House, my cube is now flooded with mind numbing florescent light. Thankfully, with help from Rob, at least my work space look just a bit more tolerable with new counter tops...and sand and sea shells from Cancun.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Chili Queen

Corporate life isn't exactly action packed even when one is slaving away from an elf house. So when the word got out on an Superbowl Chili Contest I was in like a mad scientist qualifying for the Nobel Prize. Having only made turkey chili once from left over Thanksgiving turkey, I desperately needed some directions on how to wipe up some real traditional red chili. After doing extensive research online, browsing through any chili recipes I could find and reading hundreds of reviews, I was ready to hit Wegman's to get busy in the kitchen. Practice makes perfect. Dress rehearsal came a week before the contest and coworkers around me became my Guinea pigs. I followed a recipe online pretty closely but found it was a bit too salty and watery. After putting in all the spices and unique ingredients like cocoa, beer and coffee, I quickly came to the realization that a good chili needs to first meeting some very basic expectations:

1. Meat: lots of meat, chucks of steak and ground beef to fill the texture

2. Beans: two dumps, half at beginning to be cooked down and the rest thrown in when it's half way through to preserve shape

3. Tomatoes: same as the beans, too little and too early they get lost in the mix. When chili is served chucks to tomato must be clearly seen. So one 14oz can in the beginning and one towards the end.

4. Turn up the heat! I can't help but to notice that words were getting around that I'll be making things too spicy and some even said it will have no flavor! Well, here's my $0.02, a good chili is suppose to pack some heat and no one signs up to be a chili judge if they can't take the heartburn! I didn't plan on making a spicy chili but I'm never one that backs down from a challenge.

Always thought I was some what competitive but the seriousness of this whole thing even took myself by surprise. One could probably have spotted this coming during the Christmas decoration contest, for which I came in second place for the elf house loosing to whole team of people but still got an ipod nano. Besides, I think boredom really brings some craziness out of me. When nothing else is happening one must make something out of nothing! And I was determined to make the most flavorful chili while going generous on the habanero!

A wise man once said "Learning doesn't happen from failure itself but rather from analyzing the failure, making a change, and then trying again." Three days before the contest I was already getting things started again. Two pounds of top sirloin steak cubed, mixed up with one pound of ground beef, marinate over night with Chinese white wine, salt, pepper, chili powder, oil, and Dinosaur Cajun rub.

Day two, I diced up a huge heap of onions like Meryl Streep playing Julia Child. No tears allowed. Sweating the onions in one pot while browning maple bacon and 3 pounds of meat in another. Sweetening the onions with some V8 juice and deglazing the meat with Guinness and dark coffee. In the meantime, warming up with crock pot with two cans of beans and one can of diced tomatoes. When the liquid is cooked down a bit with the meat I added tomato paste and a mixture of spices: chili powder, cumin, cocoa, oregano, cayenne, coriander, more Cajun rub and whatever else I had in the kitchen cabinet. Mix it all up and dump it into the crock pot along with sweet onions. Then goes some brown sugar, maple syrup, Tabasco and habanero powder. Let it cook all evening and leave it on the porch to cool off.

Day before the contest, heat up the crock pot and add another can of beans and diced tomatoes. Stir often and leave the cover off to get rid some excess liquid. Although this is not very effective with a crock pot so it's better to be conservative with liquids throughout the process. If one prefers, add lime juice and cinnamon for more flavor. Taste the stuff and add more habanero.

Morning of the contest, mix sour cream with lime juice and zest for a refreshing lime cream to be served with the dark chili. Wash and cut fresh cilantro to be scattered on top just before serving. Be prepared and bring emergency kit: salt, lime and habanero. Also some cheese for those who prefers.

By 9 am I had the crock pot on low in my elf house and started waiting anxiously for the contest at half pass noon. Having had chili at a handful of restaurants with no secret family recipe, I can hardly call myself a chili connoisseur. As I watched other contestants coming in with their crock pots full of chili, I can't help but to get a bit nervous inside! Yes, I know it's just a chili contest but I take pride in what I make! There's no question that I have put more effort into this thing than anyone else! My whole team was subjected to tasting chili all week! Their efforts must pay off too! And I realize that by now this blog on chili is getting way too long! If you're still reading at this point, you are almost as crazy as I am!

So hurry up and get to the damn contest. Originally we had planned to have names for for each chili. Mine is called Hail Mary Chili. But afraid that the judges may be impartial, the organizer opted for the number system instead. Mine is #3 out of total 10 contestants. 7 judges from different departments of the company encircled the chili table like some sort of wine tasting event, except there was no spitting and rinsing in between. As I watched intently from the sideline with a wooden spoon in my hand, I was quite concerned that there was barely any attention to my chili from the judges! Then the doubts came in, is it too watery? too salty? too spicy? too much flavor? When the time was up, our VP of accounting took away all the judging papers for an official tally. I thought it was a bit excessive for a simple counting process...but who I am calling excessive!

I dished out the rest 12 quarts of chili to hungry coworkers and received lots of compliments even from one of the other contestants. Hail Mary clearly won the people's choice award and I was satisfied that all the work paid off regardless what judges thought. As I scooped up the last bit of chili from the bottom of the crock pot the results were in!

"and finally.......First Place by an overwhelming majority - Liren Chen



and the prize - a $25 gift card to Wegmans"

Surly, the prize is not enough to cover a batch of chili but being able to brag it on my blog is priceless.