Tuesday, June 26, 2007

El Loco Woodland Seafood Taco Truck Misadventure

I would like to apologize to the vast number of readers who peruse this blog on a daily basis. I have been going through a massive career alteration in the past few weeks which has been very discombobulating. Luckily, these events have given me the opportunity to use one of my favorite words….. discombobulate. Anyhow, I am now on a temporary leave of absence from grad school and working at my favorite Biotech in Woodland. No offence to any Woodlandese folks out there, if y’all have computers, but the only good thing about Woodland is my Biotech and the taco trucks. Naturally, I have been venturing out to different taquerias and taco trucks on an almost daily basis. I haven’t blogged them so far because we all know how incredible taco truck food is, so there is no need to rehash how fantabulous they are. However, yesterday I made a wrong turn into a particular empty lot inhabited by a taco truck. This was no ordinary taco truck; this was a seafood-only taco truck, in Woodland. Woodland. In a truck. Seafood. Woodland. Yes, I am referring to the so-called “city of trees” ten miles down the road from the opulent bubble I call Davis. I exited my vehicle to look at the menu and noticed it consisted of shrimp, octopus, and oysters. I must have sounded like a loco gringo when I asked a local yokel if all they served was seafood while I was staring at the menu in front of a truck that smelled like the wharf in Monterey Bay. In Woodland…. Indeed, all that was available from this roach coach was seafood. I tried to pretend that I was contemplating the menu for a few seconds while I slowly backed toward my car so I could burn rubber out of there. I thought I was a seasoned taco truck connoisseur so I wanted to save face and just disappear before they noticed. As I was the only vehicle parked in the whole acre of dirt that surrounded this roach coach, my retreat didn’t go un-noticed. “What, you don’t like seafood” the taco truck man asked? With a nervous grin I replied, “well, sometimes, (in San Francisco….) what do you recommend?” Trying to conceal a suspicious grin the taco truck man recommended the octopus and oyster tostada. I will happily venture octopus and oyster at a sushi joint, but not from a taco truck in Woodville. Anyway, it was too late, he roped me in, I couldn’t wuss out, so I ordered two shrimp tostadas. I got them to go since there wasn’t even a curb to eat them on and I wanted to douse it with the stash of El Yucateco habanero sauce that I keep at work. Not to mention the harbor-like smell that is very foreign to me in the central valley. It seems that I ordered some variation of Ceviche on a hard flat taco shell. It was cold, as I suppose tostadas and Ceviche should be, but I prefer that my taco truck food be heated to at least 168 degrees. This fishy tostada really wasn’t my scene but I can imagine that others might find it tasty, so I will keep myself from trashing it furher. Look at the number of shrimp on those tostadas! That is a lot of shrimp for $2.50! I want to know where they get their shrimp for so cheap. Wait a tick…..No I don’t!
I’m about to hit my standard taco truck today, I need something reliable. Maybe I can start blogging about more high brow food since I am now being paid the wages that I deserve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Crepe of some sort....

My most recent cooking experiment has been an attempt to recreate from memory a dish I ate 3 or 4 years ago in France. It was at a small bistro somewhere in Nice, I don’t remember the name or exactly where it was, but it was quite memorable. This meal was unforgettable in more than one way. My friend and I were seated outside, as I prefer to dine during all seasons except nuclear winter, and we were entertained by the most amazing street musician I have ever encountered in Europe. He was a young man playing piano in the square next to us, a full size upright piano, which I later witnessed him pushing down the cobblestones up-ended on a dolly toward the site of his next performance. I have no memory of what I ordered, but my friend ordered a crepe, I don’t know what it was called but it was incredible. It was a grilled patty of ground beef in a crepe (I don’t know what cut of beef it was, but it was much higher quality than typical ground beef), covered with sautéed mushrooms and onions and a fried egg on top. It doesn’t sound like anything terribly noteworthy, but it was one of the best dishes I encountered on this trip. I don’t know how the French accomplish this culinary feat, but I finally had to endeavor to duplicate it myself….

1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1tsp. finely chopped parsley leaves
½ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground pepper

Whisk together egg, milk, parsley, and butter until well combined. Add flour, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Heat a large pan or griddle (Unless you are cool enough to have a crepe pan) over medium high heat and brush with vegetable oil or butter. Pour a few tablespoons of the batter into the pan, tilting and rotating it quickly to cover the pan with a thin layer of batter. When the bottom is nicely browned, flip it and brown the other side.
I had no idea how ground beef could have been so good so I attempted to hand chop my favorite piece of meat, ribeye, and form it into a patty with some garlic, shallots, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I cooked my ribeye patty to medium and placed it into the crepe.
Next I sautéed mushrooms and shallots in some butter, lemon juice, and Sauvignon Blanc and piled it onto the ribeye patty. I don’t think asparagus was pat of the original dish, but I felt that something green was needed so I placed some steamed asparagus on top of the mushrooms and shallots. Finally, I fried a single egg to finish the dish.
The finished dish was very good but I can’t say that it lived up to my expectations based on what I ate in Nice. I think the main downfall of my attempt was the beef patty, which was key to the dish. I thought a ground ribeye would be great considering the unmatched flavor and high fat content that I believed would result in a tender patty. I was wrong; the ribeye patty was lacking the phenomenal flavor of a grilled ribeye and its toughness was unprecedented. If I can just improve the beef patty, I believe that these ingredients combine synergistically, resulting in a wonderful dish. My tough beef patty must be an artifact of my proud Irish heritage. It isn’t a common problem for me, but the Irish have an uncanny ability to transform even the most tender cuts of meat into leathery hunks of gray protein. I think I will try ground sirloin and get into the mindset of a French bistro chef for my next attempt. I will forgo bathing for several days and cook with a cigarette dangling out of my mouth while cursing that “Stupide Presidente Americain.” Don’t let my Irish meat preparation shortcomings deter you from this dish, if you learn from my mistake I think you will be in for quite a treat.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mexican food and flying chairs? (El Toreador, SF)

Last week I experienced some of the best Mexican food I've ever eaten at El Toreador. When discussing where to dine, a friend said "Hey, let's go to this great Mexican place in SF." After living in the city for a couple years, I discovered that just about everyone I knew thought their favorite Mexican restaurant was the best ever, yet I had never been blown away. 'Sure,' I thought, 'let's go to this restaurant and have the same plate of enchiladas/fajitas/fill-in-the-blank with rice and beans that I've had at every other Mexican restaurant.' I was not expecting a unique experience, but that's not a bad thing; good food doesn't need to be special, just good.

Wow, I was blown away right when I walked in the door! The place is small and decorated with brightly colored... well, everything! And it was all suspended from the ceiling! There are lights made from colanders, water pitchers and bowls, bright mini-chairs are everywhere, and who knows what else! It looked like a piñata exploded, and actually made me smile; this place is so colorful it's almost dizzying. In addition, there is a massive bottled beer selection displayed in the entry. The server was friendly, but because the place was bustling with both eat-in diners and people dropping in for take-out, he was moving fast! Our thin, super-hot salsa came in a carafe, and was very tasty. The soup that came out before our entrées seemed visually unremarkable: it was a small cup of red broth with a piece of bread floating on top. The flavor was anything but boring, laden with intense flavors of tomato, cilantro, garlic, onion, and that bread was great...I think it was fried, so it was a little crispy and had soaked up more soup, one very mouth-watering bite! The next time I have a cold I'm ordering a gallon of that soup, it'll cure what ails ya!

The menu had the standard staples, but a few other items that were intriguing. A helpful menu note: the items are numbered, so if you don't know how to pronounce something you won't feel like an idiot. My friend ordered spinach enchiladas that came with steamed white rice and black beans, and I had the Molé de Cacahuate, 2 chicken enchiladas smothered in peanut molé sauce. Our entrées must have come out 7ish minutes after we ordered them, despite how busy they were! My friend's spinach enchiladas were filled generously with freshly sautéed spinach (I was already impressed at this point) and covered in delicious tomatillo salsa. My enchiladas were served with refried beans and mexican rice, and the molé sauce was a bit salty for me, but paired perfectly when wrapped up in a bite of the whole enchilada (I couldn't resist the pun;)). Both enchiladas were wrapped in house-made corn tortillas, which had a more pleasant, tender texture than the standard store-bought fare. At the end of this meal we were both stuffed, very satified, and I had put El Toreador permanently on my list of favorite restaurants. Though Brooks may not like this place because it's not located in a catering truck with flies buzzing around, it's definitely delish! So far it's the best Mexican food I've had in the City.

I wasn't able to find a website, but copies of their menu are posted at restaurants.com
El Toreador
50 West Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127
(415) 566-2673
*thanks to yelp.com for photos!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Before you is a picture of my birthday steak. I don't really have much to say about it; It was a majestic Ribeye that stood 2 inches tall and weighed 2 pounds. It was really more of a novelty item than a practical piece of meat. However I view it as a demonstration of love, unfortunately he was not of the ideal gender, so I just shook his hand when it was unveiled before me. The Budweiser can is present for scale. Most foodies are likely thinking that Budweiser is a trashy beer. They would be wrong! Eventually I will write a blog about why Budweiser is the the highest quality beer available from the standpoint of a fermentation scientist. Budweiser is the beverage of choice while standing around a hot grill pointing at meat and making grunting noises at it, but I enjoyed eating this Ribeye with a fine Cab.

Treatise on the current state of culinary affairs in Davis

During the past few weeks I have had a long string of bad eating experiences in Davis. I haven’t written about them before now because I don’t want to just trash restaurants and I don’t want to be the author of a whole string of negative blogs. I have no problem being brutally honest; I just like to avoid being a negative person in general. After my dining experience on Saturday night, I can no longer contain myself. It seems that there has been a conspiracy against me lately. Therefore I will attempt to purge myself of all of my negativity, climaxing with the worst.

It all started at Kabul, not the city which that Dumbo-eared fool George W. decided to bomb into the stone age, it’s also an Afghan restaurant in Davis. The reception was great. We were promptly seated in the area where you get to take off your shoes and sit on pillows on the floor. This is where I met the first beer that I didn’t like (I can usually find at least one good quality of a beer). Its name was “Karma.” I am an experienced fermentation scientist and I still have no idea how they made this beer. After pondering where the “liquid smoke” flavor might have come from, Kristen had an epiphany; it tasted exactly like cold carbonated miso soup! I like miso soup, but this was the most unrefreshing beer I have ever had. I actually needed another beer to quench my thirst after every sip of Karma. Needless to say, I still drank the whole beer. I don’t waste beer, I consider that alcohol abuse.

At this point we were graced by the presence of a bellydancer named Mychelle. I generally don’t enjoy being confronted by bellydancers when I am trying to eat. I just find that it is an uncomfortable situation to deal with while trying to eat and chat. Mychelle is a great dancer though. Now for the food…. I ordered Mantoo – “Steamed dumplings filled with seasoned ground beef and onions topped with homemade yogurt and special beans-pea sauce.” When this plate appeared in front of me the first thing that I noticed was the offensive odor of dried mint. I love fresh mint, so much so, that I try to make my mouth smell like it all day long. For some reason I have a particularly strong aversion to the smell of dried mint, and it was blanketing the surface of my food. I recognize the aversion to dried mint may be particular to me, but why are they using dried herbs anyway? Besides the mint, the rest of the dish was pretty ordinary, not terrible, but “blah.” I was able to force three out of seven of the dumplings down my throat. Kristen tried them and commented “there is a reason why dumplings start with “dump.” Another one of Kristen’s epiphanies. Unfortunately I could only wash it down with my cold sparkling miso beverage. I also noted that the “special” beans and pea sauce was clearly made with canned green beans, peas, and carrots drowning in some sort of light orange matrix. Maybe I am just ignorant and the Afghani word for “canned” is “special.” Why are they using canned vegetables??? I really hate to cheapen our blog with the juvenile dialogue that you are about to behold, but the special sauce and vegetables looked like initially fresh beans, peas, and carrots that had been eaten and subsequently vomited directly onto my plate. I apologize, I just don’t know how else to describe it. I took a picture on my friend Sean's cell phone to document it, but he is a Chico grad and can’t figure out how to send it to me. I emailed him again, pleading him to figure out how to send me the picture and I just received the following reply only minutes ago: “DUDE…..WTF, Barf and take a picture of it... it will look the same.” Sean's colorful reply negates any need for photographic evidence. Kristen and Sean's food was unremarkable so I won’t describe it further

The second bad experience was at Bistro 33 in Davis. I have been to “Bistro” many times and will happily return many more in the future, but only for the drinks and atmosphere. I love the ambiance of bistro; they are located in a beautiful historical building and have a spacious patio complete with owls and a gas bonfire (the fire contributes to the ambiance but you have to be rotated on a spit above the flames to actually feel any heat) I could write volumes about my numerous dining experiences, but the food is generally unremarkable. There are a few dishes that I can count on when I do dine at Bistro. On Wednesday, Kristen and I dropped by Bistro for a late afternoon beer and appetizer on the patio before we prepared the chicken adobo. We ordered calamari and a couple brews and sat on the patio. The beer was great, as beer has a tendency to be. When the calamari arrived our attention was immediately drawn to the accompanying aioli type sauces. Judging by the gelatinous skin that had formed on the surface, they had likely been sitting in the serving vessels since lunch. Maybe we are too persnickety, but we don’t like off-color oxidized skins on our sauces. As for the calamari, I don’t know what they use to make the breading, but I am sure it would be an incredibly useful material for cleaning up a beach after an oil spill. The breading was soggy and completely saturated with oil. Kristen has ordered calamari at Bistro several times in the past and it has been great. The inferior quality this time may have been due to poor attention to complete breading, not frying at a high enough temperature, or not shaking enough oil off when it came out of the fryer. The odd thing about fried food is that one feels compelled to eat it even if it isn’t good, (like Pringles, I hate Pringles, but once I “pop” I can’t stop because MSG is powerfully addictive) so we kept eating. We returned to my place to experiment with the chicken adobo, but our grease-laden stomachs quenched any motivation to prepare a fatty chicken dish. I’m confident that the chicken adobo might have turned out better had we not been ambivalent about our cooking after apps at Bistro.

The third and most egregious dining experience took place Saturday night at Little Prague in Davis. I wanted to go to Little Prague because they have a great outdoor patio area and breakfast has been good in the past. We were seated promptly outside and ordered beers (Hoegaarden), apps, and entrees. Upon tasting the appetizer we believed that we were surely in for a treat with this meal. The appetizer was breaded deep fried duck. We didn’t have particularly high expectations, but it was surprisingly good. The breading was very crisp and dry (impractical for oil spill clean up) and the duck contained within was moist and flavorful. It was served with a light fresh tasting homemade BBQ sauce. Though we were pleasantly surprised with the duck, the experience spiraled precipitously downhill from there. For my entrée I ordered venison with strawberry/blackberry reduction (If only I had listened to the little voice in my head that was suspicious of this sauce….) and some sort of fried potato-spinach croquettes. Kristen ordered a Smoked Grilled Pork Chop with Czech Potato Pancake (with several other items but they were irrelevant and inedible so they won’t be mentioned). We don’t have much to say about the actual flavor of Kristen’s dish as only 5% of the dish was consumed. This was the saltiest dish I have ever encountered. All of the components of this dish burnt our taste buds. The pork was the worst, Kristen said it was really salty but I had no idea until I tasted it. I was speechless after tasting the pork, mostly because the salt wiped all of the moisture out of my mouth and instantly crystallized, obstructing the ducts of my salivary glands. I had to drink half of a beer just to re-dissolve the salt crystals and get my saliva flowing again. Between the two of us we could only eat one cubic inch of the pork. The potato pancakes were as salty as the other elements and were like disks of rubber. It is uncanny how tough they were. Kristen gave up and pushed the plate to the middle of the table after five minutes. Kristen’s food may have been good with less salt but mine was just plain bad. I actually added salt to mine in a vain attempt to make it taste better. I don’t know what the Croquettes were specifically, but I was more interested in knowing how they managed to extract every last bit of flavor before serving. They were tough, had no flavor, and an unpleasant texture. How does one make something fried taste bad? I thought that frying usually improves texture and flavor. The venison had an off flavor (not gamey) and the texture was soft and mushy. I wish I had asked what animal this “venison” came from since this term can refer to any animal of the Cervidae family. I’ll have to see if Opossum is part of this family because this “venison” tasted like something that folks in the Ozarks named Cletus eat. As for the strawberry-blackberry reduction: I don’t know what to say because Kristen suggests that I refrain from saying what I really want to say.

The manager finally came to the table and inquired as to the problem and Kristen replied that everything was over salted. The manager proceeded to defend his restaurant, retorting that they get the pork like this from the store and they don’t add any extra salt. A restaurant should be responsible for what ends up in front of the customer; after all they are charging you for it. I understand if their supplier of brined pork had over-brined it, but in that case I would expect to be thanked for bringing it to their attention. I also think its odd that they don’t brine the pork in-house, but to each their own. At least own up to the food you’re serving. I was dying to ask him why he is serving us some poor thirsty pig that had obviously died of dehydration, but I got the feeling that the manager had the sense of humor of a brick. He did however say that the dish would be removed from the bill. As he was removing the plate of Sodium from the table he turned to me and asked if I would like to take it home to which I replied with a laugh: “No…. the salt actually burned my mouth.” Needless to say, I was definitely more amused with myself than was the manager.

Finally the bill came. I was happy to see that the salt disguised as pork had been removed from the ticket, but my jaw dropped when I saw a charge for Kristen’s salad. Though they removed the pork entrée from the bill, they felt the need to nickel and dime us for the cost of the ordinary salad that was included with the meal. I guess the fact that the “soup or salad” question was even asked should have been a red herring to the “classiness” of this joint. As my eyes scan down the bill I see something that causes my other jaw to drop; my inedible Ozark meat cost $29.99! Venison may be expensive but the portion size, presentation, and flavor did not warrant that price. This is not fine dining in San Francisco, this is down-home peasant food in Yolo County! In my opinion, the only restaurant in Davis that might be justified in commanding $30 for an entrée is Tuco’s, and that is even a stretch. We begrudgingly paid the bill and left a moderate tip since the service, though slow, was acceptable (they are Europeans so I don’t expect the same speediness). The servers were friendly and promptly moved us inside when we decided that it was too cold to sit outside. As we ambled out of the restaurant the manager says, “come again!” Sure thing…. I’ll be back to eat you pork-encrusted salt if I ever start developing a goiter.

I feel much better after that purge and I sincerely hope that I don’t have to do this again. Now that my rant is over, it just occurred to me that these three meals were all accompanied by beer, which is rare for us. I think I will focus on eating “wine food” in the future and see if my luck changes. The last agreeable dining experience that I can remember was at Woodstock’s pizza. It was great, but that’s rather sad. I just want to eat good food. Davis, why hath you forsaken me?

Friday, May 25, 2007

The cure for Brooks' chicken phobia?

"But I don't LIKE chicken." This is what Brooks said when I suggested we make filipino adobo with chicken. Why, you ask? Because he was emotionally scarred as a child when his mom forced him to consume "Lemon Yogurt Chicken" at least twice a week. I've known this almost the entire time I've known Brooks, but I thought it was time he got over his fear. The following is a paragraph describing Brooks' aversion to the offending chicken:

"I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but I'll break it down for you. It's a dried chicken breast with my favorite part removed (the skin) slathered with gelatinous lemon yogurt, the kind with sugar and artificial yellow food coloring. It was coated with some kind of bread crumb crap that made me pray for shake-n-bake. Biting into it was deceiving; my teeth hit the false surface and sank down to gum level in yogurt before I hit chicken. After my teeth cleared the yogurt and I got an actual bite of chicken, I masticated it like a cow preparing it for the rumen. My face must have looked like George W. after someone asked him the definition of sovereignty. I slyly wiped my mouth with a napkin and deposited a bollus of lemon yogurt chicken, then stashed it in a secret compartment under the table to be taken care of by Alex or Gordo, the family dogs. I think this was a period in my mom's life when she was tired of cooking every night and wanted to f*** with us. This was particularly vexing because my mom is actually a very good cook. This meal worked out well for my high school wrestling weight loss regime. It pretty much tasted like ass with lemon squeezed over it, and enlightened me as to why chicken is referred to as 'fowl'."

Brooks grudgingly decided to go along with the chicken adventure, and as you can see from the pic, I don't think he's quite sure what to make of it. He told me he actually got confused with the chicken anatomy at the supermarket! He's still not sure where chicken thighs come from, even though it seems obvious. All in all he said he's not completely opposed to eating chicken any longer, however he much prefers the "small, juicy pieces like drumettes", which happen to be the meaty part of the wing butchered so it looks like a small drumstick.

As far as the adobo goes, it was pretty good, but I have to go with a "mid-brow" on this one. The method was three fold: marinating, braising, and finally frying. The reason we chose to make adobo is because Brooks just made a mexican adobo that turned out great, and this filipino version peaked our interest because it has completely different ingredients. It seems like the french equivalent to brining, but it's also braised in it's brine. The vinegar and seasonings keep the meat very moist, tangy and flavorful. I found this recipe in Martin Yan's Asia, and I was drawn to it because of it's simplicity. I don't usually use recipes when I prepare savory food (ALWAYS with baking), but I've never made adobo before, so I thought it prudent to do it right the first time...I can mess with it later. We took a little liberty and added ginger to the marinade, but we did everything else by the book:

Chicken Adobo, Martin Yan's Asia
3/4 cup palm or rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 T. minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 each chicken legs and thighs
3/4 cup water
2 T. cooking oil
2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 T. water

Marinate: Mix vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf, sugar, salt and pepper and marinate chicken for 30 minutes in 3 quart pan.

Braise: Add 3/4 cup water to the marinade and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from sauce and pat dry with paper towels. Strain remaining sauce into another pan, add the cornstarch mixture and simmer until thickened.

Fry: Heat a clean, dry pan over medium heat. Add oil, let it come up to temp, then place the chicken skin side down. Fry for 5ish minutes until crispy on all sides. *Brooks and I had problems with this step and our chicken didn't turn out crispy at all, I'm sure due to something we screwed up...maybe our chicken wasn't dry enough, our oil not hot enough, not sure but it was still yummy. Add the chicken back into the sauce to coat, and serve with extra sauce for dipping.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kabob-e Barg

Recently I decided to venture into the world of Persian cuisine and learned how to make a dish recommended by a friend called Kabob e Barg. Kabob e Barg falls into the larger category of Chelow Kabob, the national dish of Iran, which consists of rice, kabob, and grilled tomato. Apparently the men of Iran pride themselves on preparing this dish, so the challenge was on! I know what Kabob is, but I still don’t know what an “e” or a “Barg” is. Barg is pronounced more like “bag” except there is a very slight R sound. Kabob e Barg is beef tenderloin or lamb that is basically marinated in grated onion. There are a few other flavors like saffron and garlic but the onion flavor is pervasive. I tasted the marinade after preparation and it was awful! Needless to say, it took great courage to drop $25 of fillet mignon (from the Meat Science Lab) into the bag of foul tasting marinade. Obviously I am not doing a good job of selling this dish, but something mysterious that could only be explained by Agent Mulder happened during the marinating process and it turned out great! The kabob is served with Basmati rice sprinkled with Tah-digh. Tah-digh is rice that has been fried in butter to form a golden rice crust at the bottom of the pot. From what I understand, Tah-digh literally means “bottom of the pot” and bread as well as other items can be used to make Tah-digh. I also served this dish with a Barbequed tomato that had been brushed with the marinade. Here is how I did it:

½ cup olive oil
3 Onions, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp saffron
Tenderloin cut into strips about 1cm thick

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade and place into a large zip-lock bag. Slice the tenderloin 1cm thick and marinate 6-24 at 4°C. Thread the meat onto a skewer, folding the longer slices of meat on themselves to form a compact kabob and cook over a hot grill. The outside should be somewhat blackened but the inside must still be pink. As you can tell from the picture, my grill wasn’t hot enough; I would have liked to blacken the tomato a bit as well.

Rice with Tah-Digh
2 quarts water
1½ cups Jasmine or Basmati rice
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp salt

Bring water and salt to a boil. Add rice and boil for 10 minutes. Drain rice in a fine colander and rinse with warm water. The rice will not be completely cooked but it will be cooked in it’s own steam during the next step. Next make the Tah-digh rice; melt the butter in a saucepan, and spoon the rice over the melted butter. Place a cotton dishtowel over the top of the saucepan, place the lid over the dishtowel, and fold the edges of the dishtowel up over the lid. This keeps the moisture in the rice rather than allowing escape or condensation of steam. Cook the rice over low heat for 30-40 minutes until a golden crust is formed on the bottom. Spoon out the loose white rice first, then you can remove the Tah-digh rice and sprinkle this on top of the white rice upon serving.
According to my Persian friend my first attempt was very successful and I could put some Persian men to shame. Her main suggestions were to marinade the meat for a shorter time (I marinated for 24 hours), and use a hotter grill to blacken the outside a bit more. I have made plenty of Kabobs in my day, but they were merely chunks of steak cooked with vegetables. I always wondered why I would cut steaks into chunks and BBQ them on a stick when I could just BBQ a steak and cut it as I eat. This Kabob is truly different and opened my eyes, now I have a much deeper personal understanding of the Kabob. Though I still can't articulate the meaning of Barg, I now know.....

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cutting Edge Science With Bologna Proves The Efficacy of "The 5 Second Rule"

We have all done it. You are cooking something, maybe a steak, or something else that you can’t bear to part with, it slips off of the spatula and splat……hits the ground. You are confronted with 3 options: Be a civilized human and throw it away, be a Cro-Magnon and put it back on the plate and reserve it for yourself, or be a Neanderthal and pick it up and serve it to one of your unwitting guests (for the record, my nickname when I was on the wresting team in high school was Cro-Mag. They were almost right.) I am usually thinking “As long as I pick it up within five seconds, I can serve it to Kristen and she will never be the wiser." But ask yourself; do you really believe in the five second rule? Do you honestly believe that if the food in question is picked up within 5 seconds, somehow, the transfer of bacteria to food will be substantially less than if it were left on the ground for longer than 5 seconds? I for one, have always followed the five second rule, though I didn't really believe that it made a difference how long the food was left on the ground. Cutting edge science had now actually demonstrated that abiding by the five second rule can substantially diminish the risk of contracting a food borne illness. I came across an article in The New York Times written by Harold McGee, the author of the must-read food science book On Food and Cooking, where he addresses this question. Harold McGee’s article is based on a scientific research paper published in The Journal of Applied Microbiology. To make a long story short, adhering to the five second rule can substantially minimize the transfer of bacteria to that tasty morsel that you drop on the floor. The authors of the study apply a controlled amount of Salmonella to tile, wood, and carpet and quantify the transfer of Salmonella to bologna and sliced bread. The interpretation of the data is not strait forward though, it is dependent on how long the bacteria has been present on the surface of question.
To make a long story short, as the bacterial residence time on a wood surface approaches 24 hours, ten times more salmonella was transferred from wood to bologna when they were left in contact for 30 sec. or 60 sec. as compared to 5 sec. The results are similar to bologna dropped on carpet except that the 10 fold difference in contamination level is observed as little as 8 hours after inoculating the carpet with Salmonella. Eight hours after inoculation of ceramic tile with Salmonella, the transfer of bacteria to white bread (not that any of us would own white bread….) is approximately five fold less if in contact for 5 sec. as compared to 30-60 sec. After a residence time of 8 hours on tile, salmonella transfer to bologna after 30 sec. and 60 sec. is increased 5 to 10 fold respectively, as compared to 5 sec.
The bottom line is that the five second rule is now backed by hard scientific evidence demonstrating that adherence to this rule can minimize bacterial contamination two fold. Now my guilty conscience will not drive me to call Kristen and casually ask how she is feeling the day after serving her dropped food.

Dawson, P., I. Han, M. Cox, C. Black, and L. Simmons. 2007. Residence time and food contact time effects on transfer of Salmonella Typhimurium from tile, wood and carpet: testing the five second rule. J. Appl. Micro. 102: 945-953.

Monday, May 7, 2007

If I had only known I could be a Meat Scientist.......

One of the little known gems of UC Davis is the Meat Sciences Laboratory on campus. This facility is used for teaching and research activities, and since they process 600-800 animals per year, they have a lot of extra meat to sell to you and I! As you walk through the door of the non-descript “Cole C Facility” you are blasted with a powerful overhead fan to blow all of the bugs off of you (mainly for people that live with a pride of cats). Look around the small room that is accessible to the public and you will notice a large rack of meat hooks, a small table with a cash register (cash and check only), two doors leading to the guts of the facility (no pun intended), and a lone refrigerator. I imagine it looks very similar to the room in Abu Ghraib where the extraordinary renditions take place that our fearless leader denied knowledge of. You might even witness someone walk through wearing a bloody shirt and rubber boots. Its called ambiance…..Its a far cry from shopping at the Nugget or Whole Foods, the facility itself is not very appetizing, but the high quality meat sure is. The refrigerator contains a random selection of vacuum packed steaks, but most of the meat comes from behind one of the doors. They have a “menu” of what cuts are available and there is someone there to go back and personally see what they have for you. The meat may be fresh or frozen depending on how recently it was harvested. So far I have purchased Hanger Steaks (again, no pun intended) and Ribeyes and they were both excellent quality. I was particularly pleased to find hanger steaks there since they are hard to come by elsewhere. The ribeyes are beautiful, everything I look for in a steak. You can also special order almost anything. I placed an order this week for the very tip of the tenderloin, something else that I can’t find in most stores. Next week I am also picking up some filet to experiment with the French tacos that I may soon be writing about. The only way that the meat lab has let me down is by refusing to sell me blood. Apparently it isn’t fit for human consumption because they cannot harvest it sterily. Acquisition of fresh blood is the only thing that is holding me back from wowing you all with an experimental blood pudding blog. I already blew my cover, but if you want to buy blood try telling them that you are a mosquito or leach researcher
Although I have only been eating their steaks, I hear that they make great sausage as well, I may get around to trying the sausage after my first heart attack.
So why would you buy meat from a shady building on campus rather than a grocery store or butcher? Because like a taco truck, its good quality and quite inexpensive. For instance, ribeyes are $10/lb and tenderloin is $13/lb. This may not sound like an incredible deal, but it is actually a bargain considering the high quality of steaks. They are open Thursday and Friday 1:30-5:30 so you can get your meat fresh for the weekend.

I have to mention that I like my animals more than I like most people but, If God didn't want us to eat animals then why did she make them out of meat?


Friday, May 4, 2007

The best bread EVER

I grew up eating this bread toasted with butter every morning for breakfast as long as I can remember. My mom doesn't like to cook much, but she's passionate about this bread, for which she created the recipe. It has a lot of what my grandpa calls "garbage" in it: grains, healthy stuff, lots of fiber, etc. It doesn't stick together too well for sandwiches, so it's pretty much exclusively for toast.

I've always been disinterested and even intimidated by baking for one main reason: I don't like measuring, and I know when it's crucial I'll probably screw it up. It always seemed to me that baking didn't allow much wiggle room for creativity because it relies so much on chemical reactions for leavening, creaming, and lots of other things I'm ignorant about. I was especially intimidated by THIS bread because my mom always made it, it was always there, and it seemed like magic...I thought nobody could make it except my mom. Until now. Why, you ask? There was no bread, and I wanted some. Necessity is the mother of....motivation? I definitely didn't invent this, but I was hungry enough to take a stab at it, so I called my mom for the recipe. It turns out that this bread didn't involve as much measuring as I thought, which was initially even more daunting as I don't trust my baking instincts, but this venture was ultimately successful. My mom has never written this down, it was all in her head and her hands. Here, for the first time ever written down, is my mom's bread recipe...you may find some of the instructions and descriptions a bit odd, but I'm taking no creative liberties putting this down, it's exactly as she instructed. She also mentioned it's a little different every time, and the ingredients are dynamic: modify all you want.

1 Loaf of the best bread EVER:
*essential tools: big bread bowl, wooden spoon, bench scraper, loaf pan, tea towel

the liquid mixture:
2 cups warm water (bathwater temp)
1 T. active dry yeast (instant)
1/4 cup brown sugar (can sub molasses)
2 T. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup quick oats
1/3 cup cracked wheat
1/3 cup wheat bran
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
*at this point taste the liquid for seasoning (salt and sugar)

Here's where the measuring ends. Once you have this liquid mixture and you're comfortable with the seasoning, add whole wheat flour until you cannot stir the dough anymore with a wooden spoon. Really try hard to stir, because this determines how "wheat" your bread will be. Once you can't stir anymore, turn the dough out onto a clean, dry surface. At this point my mom is very particular about method: soak your bread bowl in warm water...you'll see why in a moment.

Knead white flour into the dough until you cannot get anymore into it. This should take about 10 minutes, and it's a great upper body workout. If you're lucky enough to have a 4 or 5 quart mixer, use the dough hook for 10 minutes. You can't fit a double batch into a 4 quart mixer, I found that out the hard way. Back to the recipe: once you're finished kneading the bread, go back to your bread bowl soaking in the sink. Rub the dough off the inside of the bowl with your hands, if you use a sponge you'll have to throw it away, dough sticks to it.

Once your bowl is clean and rinsed, use a dry tea towel to dry it, and hang on to the towel. Lightly oil the dry bowl, coat your dough ball in the oil and set in the bowl. Cover it with the damp, warm tea towel and let it rise for an hour and a half.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and turn it back out onto the cutting board.

Press it out flat and roll it up tight into a loaf, then place in a loaf pan greased with shortening...apparently shortening works better than other non-stick methods.

Place the pan in your oven and cover again with the tea towel to let it proof (2nd rise) for 20 minutes...do not turn the oven on yet.

Once the time's up, take the tea towel off, turn your oven to 375 (yes, I know it's not pre-heated, that's part of the magic), and bake for 50 minutes. Ovens vary a lot from house to house, so if you know your oven runs hot or cool, make the necessary adjustments.

Ta-da, that's it! You now have the best bread EVER! Well, of course that's subjective, but give it a try:-) The method makes it sound complicated and time-consuming, but it really isn't...there's just a lot of waiting to rise, etc., perfect for if you're hanging around the house anyway doing chores. This bread is extra delicious when you cut a thick slice with a sharp serrated knife while it's still warm (even though that's not usually allowed) with a pat of cold butter that melts as you eat it. I've also gotten a recent serving suggestion from a friend: sub avocado for butter, he says the earthy flavors compliment each other. mmmm. -K

SF pastry tasting: Miette Patisserie

Some friends and I picked up some desserts at a high-brow San Francisco patisserie, Miette, to indulge a little...actually, a lot. These desserts were among the best I've encountered, and each one was beautiful, obviously created with lots of love and attention to detail! They skillfully packaged the pastries to preserve their flawless appearance, which obviously had us drooling to taste. We had macaroons (both chocolate and hazelnut), a fancy chocolate cupcake, chocolate pot de creme and a lime tart.

The macaroons surprised me-- I'm used to them being dry, airy and unsatisfying, but these were the polar opposite. The meringue was soft, glazed for extra yumminess, then glued to another meringue with buttercream. The chocolate macaroon was so rich and soft, I actually couldn't resist eating it before I took the picture *sorry:-)*

I was curious how the pot de creme would be packaged, as it needs to be in a container. It was in a small glass jar, allowing the customer to view the chocolaty goodness they are about to experience. The cream on top was only slightly sweetened, so I was anticipating a super-sweet dense chocolate goo underneath...not so! The pot de creme was also only slightly sweetened, which was perfect because the sugar didn't overpower the chocolate. The thick, creamy texture was still so rich, as intended, that the small portion went a long way!

We were given instructions to only consume the cupcake at room temperature...these people are serious about dessert! The cupcake was so pretty I was a little afraid to touch it with it's pretty little red candied peanut on top. Though the cake was moist and chocolatey, and the icing soft and creamy, I found this cupcake to be rather ordinary. I think a more apt word is probably "classic". I also must confess that I'm not the biggest fan of cake products.

The lime tart was the piece de resistance. I usually don't even consider non-chocolate desserts, but I knew I had to diversify a little...OMG this was by far my favorite! The lime curd was tangy but not too sweet, the housemade marshmallow cream on top was heavenly, and the graham cracker crust paired perfectly with the acid in the lime...I was expecting the standard pate sucrée, but this crust was definitely a better match for this dessert.

If you're ever in the city and craving sugar, this place should definitely be on your list! Their pastries are very reasonably priced, and they use organic and sustainably produced ingredients whenever possible. Miette definitely goes on my high-brow list! -K

Miette Patisserie

Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop 10
San Francisco, CA 94111

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

al Pastor Revisited

I am still on a mission to make tacos al pastor fit for a “roach coach”. I am closer to mastering this fine pork preparation than ever. I have cooked and eaten pastor every week since my first pastor blog and my piles of meat have come a long way. I still want to work on this recipe but I am temporarily losing steam considering the amount of Pastor that I have consumed in the last 3 or 4 weeks. This is what I have come up with so far:

5 dried Gaujillo Peppers
5 dried Pasilla Peppers
8 cloves Garlic
3 Bay Leaves
5 Cloves
½ tsp cumin
I tsp Mexican oregano
1cup white vinegar
1cup crushed pineapple (unsweetened)
Salt to taste

Heat the coarsely chopped dried peppers, bay leaves, cloves, and Mexican oregano in vinegar on the stovetop until the peppers are hydrated and soft, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and puree in a food processor until smooth. Transfer the mixture back to the stovetop and simmer until a thick pasty texture is formed.

Slice a pork shoulder into thin slices, about 3/8 inch thick. I had to postpone my pastor making one week and froze the pork shoulder, which worked out great because it is much easier to get uniformly thin slices when the meat is still partially frozen. Do not trim off the fat! There is a reason why we are using such a fatty piece of meat. Coat each slice of pork with a thin layer of sauce and stack the slices on top of each other. One reason why I cannot make entirely authentic al Pastor is because I don’t happen to own a vertical rotisserie which is used to cook sliced pastor stacked on a vertical spit. Instead I marinate the pork slices stacked on top of each other for 4-12 hours. Then I fry the slices in a hot pan with oil until the pork is well browned and crispy. Finally, Chop up all of the cooked pastor pieces into more taco-appropriate pieces. Serve with chopped cilantro and onion, lime, and El Pato hot sauce. If you want to be really authentic, don’t forget the paper plate.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fun with Farmer's Market

I LOVE shopping at the market on Saturday mornings and getting whatever tickles my fancy, especially when I have no idea what I'm going to do with it all. It's fun to challenge myself to find new ways of preparing and pairing seasonal ingredients. Spring provided me with the usual suspects last week: asparagus, strawberries, beets, spinach, mushrooms and fava beans among others. I also had to pick up my favorite cilantro pesto from the afghan/italian booth to munch on during my culinary adventures;-)

Here's what I came up with to cram all this produce into one meal: Sautéed chicken breast, crispy white-truffle polenta triangles, mushroom-asparagus sauté with roasted beet relish and warm fava beans. The spinach and beet greens ended up in a lasagne the night before, so they won't make an appearance in this blog.

As you can see from the picture above, one booth had kumquats, but they didn't make it into the meal.... they peaked my curiosity as I have never worked with them before and they're so pretty! Beets and citrus are a classic combination, so I was planning to somehow pair them, but I was foiled by gigantic seeds, so I gave up...I had enough other stuff to work with!

The beets and fava beans needed a little advance prep. I roasted the beets in the oven with water, evoo, a cinnamon stick and some cloves, but you can steam or boil them also. I was excited to taste that white beet you see in the pic above because I've never encountered one, but I soon found out why: it was bitter, and I think it was just an unripe beet...it got tossed. When the rest of the beets were done I peeled and quartered them, then marinated in shallots, dijon and champagne vinegar. Fava beans are quite a feat of prep, but I was inspired because I only get a fleeting chance every year to work with them. I took them out of their super-padded pods, then blanched the beans in boiling water for 30 seconds, shocked in icewater, then slipped off the skins. I got about 1/2 cup of fava beans from 1 pound at the market...yes, this is a LOT of work for such a small yield, but hey, they're special. To warm the fava beans I just tossed them into the chicken jus after I was done cooking everything, just before service. I will spare you the chicken prep because I don't want to insult your intelligence; it's sautéed chicken, enough said.

For the polenta I boiled 3 cups water and added 3/4 cup of polenta while whisking (4:1 ratio for firm polenta). As soon as it was cooked and pulling away from the sides, about 20-30 minutes depending on grain size, I added 1 tsp. white truffle oil, 3 T. butter and a good handful of grated Parmegiano Reggiano, s & p...don't season with salt until after you add the cheese, it's pretty salty. I spread it out in a shallow plastic container (no need to grease, cookie sheet works too), cooled until firm, then inverted onto a cutting board and cut into triangles. To 'crispify' I dredged each triangle in flour and fried in olive oil until crispy.

I prepared the asparagus and mushrooms simply, sautéing with shallots and garlic. I had regular button mushrooms, shiitakes (my favorite), and oyster mushrooms...I asked the mushroom man at the market why they're called "oyster mushrooms". He told me that they have a slight shellfish aroma, and I thought he was pulling my leg, but he was right! Needless to say a big, steaming pile of sautéed garlicky mushrooms and asparagus is pure spring comfort food, yum!

The dinner was great, but I took my time preparing it because I was catching up with friends, so some of it was COLD, a cardinal culinary sin! Still good, but I learned my lesson: catch up over eating, but get the food on the table! I think it will be another year until I'm ready to spend that much time on fava beans again:-) -K

Monday, April 9, 2007

I used to be enraptured by chefs who could make good Thai curry. It was an utter mystery to me how something so wondrously tasty could be concocted. Today, I am no longer impressed by the chefs who prepare Thai curry. I have done it myself, the mystery of Thai curry preparation may very well be the biggest hoax ever played on mankind. I have discovered that it is almost as easy as making pasta and dumping some of that bottled red stuff on top. Even an Irishman could make Thai curry (Speaking of things Irish, If anyone can tell me where I can get some fresh blood, you all will be in for quite a treat with the resulting blog....) . The key is the curry paste. That may have been obvious to most, but I can be a bit slow sometimes as Kristen will attest to. Instead of buying the American made curry paste which comes in a little bottle for $4, I went to an Asian supermarket and found some curry paste strait ‘outa Thailand (A big container for $1.99). I will just say that the American “Thai curry” paste that I used to buy had the word “Thai” as part of the brand name. Would real Thai curry have use “Thai” in the title? I don’t have a clue what the name of my new curry paste is because it is actually written in Thai, but I will wager that “Thai” isn’t part of the brand name. I feel a little guilty about using curry paste, like I am cheating by using this pre-prepared product. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that most Thai restaurants use Thai curry paste rather than make their own though.
There isn’t much to it, I just heated up two cans of Coconut milk, added 3 or 4 tablespoons of curry paste and brought the mixture to a simmer. Then I added green beans, red bell pepper, yellow onion, and sliced raw steak. I happened to have the king of steaks, a Ribeye, in my refrigerator so I tossed that bad boy in. I felt a little bit silly chopping up a fine Ribeye to dump into curry, but I had no regrets after I tasted it. Instead of the chewy chunks of boiled beef that I usually encounter at the local Thai restaurants (This was where I finally understood what Holden Caulfield meant when referring to "chewing the fat"), the Ribeye retained the soft and tender texture for which it is praised. It is definitely worth a few extra bucks to use a good piece of meat even though it is going to be boiled. I hope there are some British people reading this blog. You all must boil some part of the cow’s anatomy that doesn’t even exist on American cows. They most likely send the Ribeyes, New yorks, and Filets, to the dog food companies while keeping these “special” cuts for their cauldrons of boiling water.
As an aside, I decided to do some research on Thailand in order to broaden the horizons of my blog and came across a fine product that is made in Thailand. It is a George W. tissue dispenser. I like the Thai people even more now!!! Someone finally found a good use for George W. At least he is doing something for healthcare now!!! I think a toilet paper dispenser would be more appropriate though.
Food blog, not politics………Once all your veggies are cooked, but not too soft, spoon the curry over Jasmine rice, no other rice will do. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the rice before cooking to remove the excess starch that leads to stickiness. I’m not a big rice fan, but I think that jasmine is the best rice for about any meal, except maybe for Kristen’s fancy “Forbidden Rice,” but my morals don’t permit me to partake in the consumption of such a rice.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

My new goal: Making my ideal Tacos al Pastor. I have never had this hypothetical al Pastor because it does not exist as far as I know. I have scoured the bowels of Woodland and the Bay Area for the perfect pastor. I’ve visited the shadiest of taco rolling establishments, on a solid foundation, and on wheels. There are many fine al Pastor tacos out there, hence my obsession with this blessed form of pork, but none of them have all of the qualities that I desire in one tortilla. I am looking for the perfect flavor matched with the perfect texture, it’s hard to find both. Considering the price of near perfect Tacos al Pastor, I don’t know why I want to make my own. Contrary to most foods, I firmly believe that the quality of Mexican food is inversely proportional to the cost of the food; I have found very few exceptions to this rule. Tacos should cost no more than $1 and burritos no more than $4, $5 only if it is big enough to beat down George W. (To the FBI Agents illegally utilizing the Patriot Act: Brooks takes full responsibility for this statement, these are not “necessarily” the views of Kristen).
I did some preliminary research and formulated a recipe that I will try first based on the collective wisdom of others. I procured all of the ingredients so I could make “Tacos al Pastor al Brooks” for my taste testers, but could not find my food processor anywhere! I don't think I have moved it from my old place in the land of Roach Coaches yet. So why am I writing this if I didn't wasn't able to make the adobo sauce? I still had to feed my friends so I cheated and used the adobo that is used to pack with chipotle peppers in the little cans from Mexico (Embassa, La Costena, Herdez). If it is in the little cans from Mexico it is tasty stuff, but just barely qualifies as adobo. I don't want to talk about this attempt much more because it was a failure. It tasted pretty good and my friends didn’t complain, but I don't think they have ever eaten a taco from an establishment that: 1) Is on four wheels 2) Harbors more flies than a barn 3) Only sells Coke in reusable bottles from Mexico 4) Likely sells the other kind of coke if you go to the back of the truck 5) Offers curbs for seating 6) Serves food on paper plates (and it isn’t that classy “Chinet” stuff)……. If the particular establishment is not on four wheels, then I expect to be watching Mexican soap operas or soccer while waiting for my tacos. These are the characteristics of a fine Mexican restaurant.
As usual, I caught something on fire. This time it was my hands, if only figuratively. My hands were in adobo sauce for about five minutes while attempting to squeeze every last drop of adobo sauce out of the peppers. I will be wearing latex gloves from now on. For two hours, my hands felt like they had been ruler slapped by a mid-century British schoolteacher. I should have learned my lesson a few years ago when I had a bad experience after chopping up Habaneros. This is a family blog, so if you want details on that particular story then we will need to communicate via private email.
If I ever come up with my perfect pastor recipe I will let you all know ("you all," referring to our enormous base of daily readers.) I think if we ever get a reasonable amount of readers I will organize a "Woodland Taco Truck Crawl." Kristen has been dying to do this for some time now!
Although I love the shady Taquerias, I am a little bit choosy on where I go based on the fact that I also love cats. Though I have some issues with the food animal industry in general, I prefer to stick with making tacos from the standard food animals. On another note, don’t forget about our friends from south of the border who man our taco trucks and are also indispensable behind the scenes of our fine dining establishments.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Saturday Sushi Party (part 1)

I have semi-weekly Saturday night "dinner dates" with some of my friends, and each time we have theme for our menu. In the past we've done taco/salsa bar, fondue, farmer's market cornucopia, but this week was sushi, and we were all excited about it because sushi is, well...awesome.

We decided on our ingredients ahead of time so we could split up the shopping responsibility. In the interest of time I made the rice ahead...this made me realize that I need a new rice maker. Aside from the rice being slightly overcooked, I still seasoned it with rice vinegar and it worked just fine. Keep in mind this was our first shot at making sushi. We also had Ahi tuna that we sliced up into sashimi and chopped small to make spicy tuna. Our incidentals included avocado, cucumber, asparagus, spinach, cream cheese, cilantro, wasabi and pickled ginger. I realize several of these ingredients aren't traditionally sushi-worthy, but the rolls turned out excellent! We ate a huge pile of sushi (pictured, and no we did not use a pairing knife to slice the rolls), maybe 12 rolls between 5 people...needless to say we were stuffed. That didn't stop us from going out for ice cream an hour later, though!

Here are some tips to make sushi-rolling easier:
-Have all your ingredients sliced and ready to be rolled (mise en place)
-Keep a bowl of water near you to keep your hands from sticking to the rice
-Press rice on 2/3 of the nori (seaweed wrap), and put your filling in the middle of the rice
-Wrapping your bamboo mat in plastic wrap keeps it from getting sticky
*Check out this site for everything you need to know about making your own sushi

This was so much fun that we're planning another sushi party, but we've decided on a few improvements for next time: more sushi mats (3 was not enough, everyone wanted to roll), rice that's not overcooked, and a little more variety in the proteins...maybe some unagi (BBQ eel) and shrimp tempura. We also agreed that beer would have been a much better accompaniment than wine, so we're going for Sapporo next time. -K

Friday, March 30, 2007

Spring has sprung!

*Disclaimer: This blog is about gardening, but I do almost none of this gardening myself (no patience), but I'm blessed to have family who enjoys it...I get to walk out and reap the bounty like I'm in a grocery store!

Spring is the best time of year for veggies...well, right now I say that, but I'll say it again at the turn of every season. Everything is so green, the weather has been near-perfect, and we have a whole new selection of produce to choose from! I'm lucky enough to live where I can have a garden to "shop" in...check out these pics! This is a large pot of cilantro just getting ready to be used...we go through this stuff like crazy: burritos, anything on the grill, salads, pesto. Davis Farmer's Market tip: the Afghan/Italian food booth has awesome cilantro pesto if you aren't into making it yourself.

The garlic is taking it's time, and because I'm impatient I just chop up the tops or dig up some green garlic to add to whatever I'm making. This works well for soups/stews, stirfrys, you can sub it for pretty much anything you would normally use fresh garlic in. We're also sprouting our first round of corn for summer, strawberries are almost red, pea tendrils are everywhere, and it seems like we might have tomatoes and lettuce till the end of time! They're not ready yet, of course, but all that summer stuff has to start sometime.

I love walking through Farmer's Market and seeing all the spring standards: asparagus, strawberries, morels, green garlic, leafy greens, baby carrots....I'm so overwhelmed sometimes that the only thing I can do is make the oh-so-cliché "pasta primavera" (which means 'spring', so it's ok)...I end up with so many bright, delicious veggies in the pan that I don't have room in my tummy for the pasta! I also love spring vegetables because they don't need much in the way of prep: you can walk out into the garden and dust off whatever you want on your jeans and take a bite!

I was really bummed after the bad freeze a couple months ago because we lost all our oranges and meyer lemons, but fortunately the trees survived. Obviously that cold snap had a negative effect on citrus, avocados and strawberries, among other produce....this lower market quantity has led to higher prices for what's left, but it doesn't seem as bad as I thought it would be. The good news is we're getting into warmer weather and a HUGE selection of produce...my head is spinning from the culinary possibilities! I love going out to eat and seeing what other people come up with. It's amazing that new and original dishes are always being created...that's the nature of Spring!

Oh, and I've included a picture of my buddy Mr. Lizard...or maybe it's one of the other 3,000 lizards who live out here. They like to rustle around under the last of the dried leaves and scare the kitty, whose name is Monster....go figure. -K

Monday, March 26, 2007

Steak Frites!

We all know that the French make the best food. Some people may think that they like Italian food or Mexican food, these cuisines are great as well, but I guarantee that the French can cook any country’s cuisine better than the chefs of that particular country. I was inspired to make Steak Frites tonight. This is one of my favorite meals because I get to eat steak and French fries, while not feeling like white trash for eating French fries for dinner because they are frites, not fries. See? I’m not going to talk about my steak too much, there isn’t much to it considering I don’t like it cooked very much. I prefer ribeyes, while Kristen prefers the New York steak. When it isn’t barbequing weather, I fry it in olive oil until I feel that it is just approaching microbiological safety. This is very French as well, since a rare steak in France is room temperature and purple 2mm below the surface. I only require that it be hot enough to properly melt all of that wonderful marbled fat.
The fries are a little more labor intensive. I like them thin to maximize the caramelized crispness that I aim to achieve. I cut the taters to approximately 1cm squared crossectional area and soak them in ice water for 30 minutes to remove extraneous starch (Is there such a thing in potatoes? Curious…..it makes a better fry anyhow). Then I blanch them in Peanut oil at 270 degrees for about 8 minutes until they start to get translucent. Remove the blanched fries and allow them to cool before frying at 375 degrees for a few minutes until they are crisp and browned. The first step actually cooks the fries while the second step caramelizes the outside and delivers the crispness that French potatoes deserve. My deep fryer conked out a while ago so tonight I thought I would just use a pot of oil on the stove. This experience served to remind me why I bought a deep fryer in the first place…..I enjoy having eyebrows. If I had some marshmallows then I would be blogging about roasting them over the bonfire in my kitchen. I wish I could have snapped a picture of the inferno in my kitchen, but I was too busy packing up my valuables. Anyway, this method results in a perfectly cooked French fry with a delightful crispness. If you like the Flaccid “Freedom Fries” commonly found in Dumbf@$kistan then just plop some chopped taters in hot Pennzoil.
If I have a high quality steak I don’t like much on it other than salt, pepper and maybe a little Worcestershire (I like pure Worcestershire directly in my mouth as well, and am looking for some Worcestershire based drinks if anyone knows of any) (come to think of it, I think I will learn how to make my own Worcestershire and blog about it. I’ll make it all fancy with white anchovies and then wrap it in a brown bag like a 40 of Old English). However, tonight I prepared my steak with some blue cheese butter, or maybe I should say beurre de fromage bleu. This is easy to make and great because it adds some nice flavor, but it doesn’t mask the flavor of the steak. Just mix unsalted butter, blue cheese, shallots, garlic, flat leaf parsley, salt and pepper. You all know what you like so I am not going to give any specific amounts. If you really like blue cheese, then you will probably want to add a lot of it, etc.
Et Voila! Half of your plate is covered with steak and the other with two kinds of fries. The top layer is nice and crisp while the bottom layer is soaked in steak juices. Fry flaccidity is acceptable only if it is due to absorption of steak juices. I would pair French fries with a nice Rhone wine, while Freedom Fries are best paired with a 60oz Mountain Dew or Bud Light purchased at a NASCAR event. Considering the political climate these days, I think I’ll be paying homage to French cuisine for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I love America, I just want all our troops to be able to enjoy French food like Kristen and I do. I’m signing off before I get too fired up about politics.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fox and Goose (part 1)...eh

I went to the Fox and Goose earlier this week for lunch with friends and was disappointed...I have actually never eaten there before, and I'm not a raging fan of English food, but we arrived with open minds. We ordered off the "British Specialties" section of the lunch menu, thinking we would get an accurate slice of British cuisine and the best the restaurant has to offer. It's possible we did, and if that's the case I still don't like English food.

The items we ordered sounded interesting on the menu: Vegetarian Pasty (like a pot pie in the shape of a calzone, pictured above) with welsh rarebit sauce, Welsh Rarebit: an english muffin smothered in welsh rarebit cheesy beer sauce, and Fish and chips: pretty self-explanatory. I thought the welsh rarebit sauce was a cheesy, greasy, pungent goo rather than a sauce, but smear cheese on anything and it can't be that bad. The vegetarian pasty was plain: just chopped veggies cooked with some herbs, rolled up in pie dough and baked...nothing to call home about. It was also rather dry.

I couldn't believe the appearance of the Welsh Rarebit, but I've never seen it anywhere before, so maybe that's what it's supposed to look like: literally an english muffin on a plate with that cheese sauce drowning it, garnished with red onions and sliced olives. I have to say my friend really enjoyed it, though...she liked the pungent quality of the sauce, a self-proclaimed "stinky cheese lover". Don't get me wrong, I love me some stinky cheese, but I found that sauce....well, see the description above.

On a positive note the Fish and chips was incredible! The batter was perfectly crispy and freshly fried, and I think I would have eaten a paper napkin if it was fried in that batter! The tartar sauce didn't blow me away, but the dish was great none the less.

I owe Fox and Goose another try, and I've heard many people rave about their breakfast and beer selection....that's two more trips if I don't want beer with pancakes. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, and I'm definitely bringing Brooks with me to check out the beer selection.

Fox and Goose Pub
corner of 10th and R st in downtown sac

*On a blog note, I am working on my technique when it comes to lighting and focusing with the pics...bear with me:-)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Clean-out-the-fridge Cobb Salad

One of the best ways to clean out a veggie drawer or fridge is to make Cobb salad, as long as your produce is still in good shape, of course. On Friday I used almost every scrap of vegetable I could find left in the fridge, and the salad turned out pretty good! Slightly blog-worthy, only because Cobb salad is so picture-perfect with its neat rows of whatever you want to put on it. I should mention here that the plate the salad is on is one I think is very ugly, but almost unbreakable, which is a priority with a toddler in the house.

On to the ingredients:
Romaine and iceburg lettuce, red onion, english cucumber, roma tomatoes (yes, I know they're not in season), hard-boiled eggs, smoked gouda and honey ham (yes, the kind at the deli counter), and the all-important avocado. Remember, I used what I had...I know Cobb salad should have blue cheese and bacon, and I should probably keep those ingredients in my kitchen in case of emergency, but I don't. I made a quick vinaigrette with shallots, garlic, dijon, red wine vinegar, olive oil and s&p, which I tossed the lettuces in before plating the salads. I also drizzled more vinaigrette on top of all the good stuff. When I have red onion on a salad, the only way I can enjoy it if it's super-thin, or else it seems to overpower other flavors. I love english cukes because you can eat the peel and seeds without gagging, plus when the peel is left on cucumbers I'm able to more easily identify my food, and it looks more like how nature made it. Now about those out-of-season tomatoes: I know, I know, spare me the lecture....there are two things I prefer to have tomatoes on, even when they're out of season: sandwiches and salads. It's just a vice of mine, I always have to have the tomatoes. I got pretty lucky this time, at least they weren't white in the middle and crunchy.
I worked in restaurants for a few years, and one of the standards that stuck with me was the perfect hard-boiled egg. I can't stand to see a blueish-green ring around an overcooked yolk. I brought water to a boil, put a few large eggs (straight outta the fridge) in for 15 minutes, then pulled them out into an icebath. To make peeling easier I cracked the shells in a few places as I put them in the icebath...I think this allows water to go between the membrane and the meat, which would allow for easier separation. It definitely makes a difference.
I also had honey ham to use up, a good sub for bacon on salad, so I sliced it into ribbons. It worked well as a salty, smoky element, which was repeated by the smoked gouda. The avocados have been sitting in my fruit bowl all week waiting to ripen...they've been on super-sale lately and I couldn't pass them up, even when they were hard as a rock! They were perfectly ripe by friday, and as you can see in the pic there's not much more beautiful than a perfect avocado. That's my trusty 10" Wustof, Bob, in the background. I also have a perfect saucing spoon named Phil, but that's a story for another day, and I'm getting off track. I ran outside and grabbed some chives and flatleaf parsley to chop and garnish the salad, but I don't think they really added much. I think it would have been better if it was a nicoise salad and I tossed the potatoes in herbs. Anyway, all in all it was one of my better clean-out-the-fridge dinners, inspired by the warm weather lately so conducive to salad enjoyment! -K

Sudwerk, Shmoodwerk.....

I went to Sudwerk in Davis the other night, which I have always looked forward to in the spring. I used to love sitting on the patio with a liter of beer and some fried food as the days get longer and the nights warmer. Lets just say that I don’t think I can look forward to this any more. Late last year, Sudwerk changed ownership and it seems the quality of food and beer has gone down ever since. Sudwerk was never known for incredible food, but it was good for what it was….glorified German pub food. I usually opted for your average fried pub food and was quite satisfied. Everything has changed… It used to be good for bar food, but even the hallmark of bar foods, hot wings and fries, has changed for the worse. I won’t take the time to describe the perfect hot wing, but I had to choke them down this time. The calamari is now served chewy and soggy. I can’t speak for the regular dinner items on the menu because I don’t dare order real entrees at a place that only knows how to make bar food, or used to. The new owners have tried to make the menu feature more fancy “California” cuisine, but if they can’t master the use of a deep fryer then I am hesitant to try any real cooking.
As for the ambiance and service, the patio is still nice but I think it might be hard to enjoy while the thug bouncers are pestering you to pay a cover charge as you finish dinner. I actually witnessed the bouncers harassing some diners to pay a cover charge for “dollar pint night” as they were trying to finish their dinner. The bouncers gave them ten minutes to finish up and leave or pay the cover to remain at their table. I guess freeing up a table to sell dollar beers to the frat boys is more important than letting people enjoy their poorly fried food.
As I mentioned before, the food was never anything to blog about even in the past, but the beer was usually great and a liter cost little more than a pint at other establishments. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more. I had intimate experience with their beer in the past when I went to brewing school in a room right above the brewery where we had beer piped up to the classroom for our enjoyment during lecture. The beer they are serving lately is old! Most people don’t realize that beer goes “stale.” This is why self respecting breweries date their beer and ensure that it never leaves refrigeration. One should always be wary of the discounted beer that is piled up outside of the refrigeration unit in stores. Heat, oxygen and time are beers worst enemy (like wine, except time my be beneficial or detrimental depending on the particular wine). Instead of dumping the old beer down the drain I suspect Sudwerk attempts to recover every penny of their cost.
Bottom line, In lieu of satisfying customers with friendly service, fine beers, and quality beer drinking appetizers, they seem to be more concerned with getting rid of their old beer, bullying out diners to make room for beer swilling college students, and pretending that they are something that they are not in the food department. I think I will be spending more time on the Little Prague patio when I want beer and apps……

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pork and Potatoes

I can't believe it's warm enough in March to barbeque! Well, I guess it doesn't have to be warm to grill, but it sure helps get me in the mood. I had some beautiful fingerlings in different colors from farmer's market that were begging to be rubbed in rosemary and garlic and slapped on the grill with the pork loin chops. The picture doesn't do the purple potatoes justice...believe me, they're not burned, just deep violet. There were also some cool red fingerlings with crimson-swirled flesh. Too bad I went on a veggie binge yesterday, I wish I had some shrooms and asparagus left to grill! I'll have to stock up again on Wednesday...I love spring! -K