Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dumpling Inn

Another fab meal at Dumpling Inn. We deviated a little from our usual menu and ordered xiao long bao, which is a dumpling/bun hybrid with a little bit of soup along with the filling. It's blasphemy to not consume the soup. As a kid, I would break the skin and dribble out the hot soup because I didn't want to put it all into my mouth at once. My mother would nearly pass out. Nowadays, I still do it, but dribble the soup into my spoon (Chinese soup spoons are best for this), eat the dumpling, then drink the soup.

The filling at Dumpling Inn's XLB's are ok. They use the same filling for the dumplings as they do for the XLB, which isn't a bad thing. I've had tastier fillings, but theirs is pretty good. Their skin, though, is a bit too chewy. Thick is all right, but it shouldn't take too much effort to bite into them. All in all, they're not bad at all.

We also had our usual potstickers, the pork and pickled cabbage noodle soup, and the spicy garlic eggplant with pork. The eggplant had some real kick... whew! The pork and pickled cabbage noodle soup was hearty and filling, as always. The potstickers were, oddly enough, not a showstopper. The bottoms were slightly burnt and they were surprisingly bland.

I heard another patron ask for the spicy garlic eggplant dish and loudly requesting over and over, "Hold the garlic!" For one thing, the owner (who was taking the order) isn't deaf and I detest people who think that raising their voice would make a non-native speaker understand them better. It doesn't and she understood him the first time. The other thing was that this fool is asking for a dish that is, by nature, chock full of garlic. Without it, there would be no sauce. Hold the garlic. Wow.

Granted, to each their own, but I can't help but wonder if this guy loudly orders things like chocolate cake, hold the chocolate. I was very amused.

T-minus two days to San Francisco! G., K., and I are going to look for Shanghai House, a place that should have food similar to Dumpling Inn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Not much to report this week. We went to Chevy's on Monday. Chevy's is to Mexican what P.F. Chang's is to Chinese and Olive Garden is to Italian. Decent, mass-produced food that is most certainly edible and in a pleasant setting with good service. Authentic? Hell no. We don't go to Chevy's for authenticity, we go for the sweet corn tomalito, which I discovered was of Tex-Mex origins. Corn pudding, people. Masa harina, corn kernels, and sugar.

You really can't go wrong with that.

I like their flautas, which are very nicely fried with great sauces, but my meal Monday night was the 2-item combo crab/shrimp enchiladas and a fried shrimp taco. I had to order the 3-item to get the flauta. Nuts. Their enchiladas aren't the best, as the tortilla is often kind of chewy and, with the cheese, it can be a bit of a chewy blob. The crab/shrimp one wasn't so bad, texture-wise, but there was absolutely no seafood flavor in it. Very tiny amounts of frozen and flavorless crab mixed with bay shrimp. The sauce was cream-based and was quite overpowering. The website says it was supposed to be habanero-pesto. I guess so. It tasted neither like peppers or basil.

I'm crabbing a bit (pun intended), of course, and I did like my meal just fine. The taco was better, with crisp lettuce, a good chipotle aioli (which tasted like peppers and mayo, as it should) and two fried shrimp. They said "jumbo", but they were medium-sized shrimp. Note to Chevy's: bay shrimp are small, tiger shrimp are medium, and jumbo prawns are truly "jumbo". The taco's tortilla was pretty good... light and fluffy. Fresh out of "El Machino," the
most. awful. name. ever. for a machine, but it is fun to watch it crank out tortillas. It's not that hard to pronounce "La Maquina," but I'll leave the quibbling over bad Spanglish for another time.

The tomalito is always the highlight of the dish and they kindly replace my beans with three scoops of it. I also really like their chips and salsa. The chips are super-thin and crisp (flour-based, I think) and the salsa is rich with herbs. Oregano's dominant, giving it a dense, smoky flavor. It mellows out the acidity and the heat of the tomatoes and chiles.

This weekend will be in San Francisco. There will be some good eats!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tonight's dinner: homemade potstickers

Basic potstickers are pretty easy to make. We took ground pork butt, mixed in chives, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and two egg yolks (I had those on hand, but normally I'd use a whole egg). Then, we wrapped them in wonton wrappers. The only reason we use wonton wrappers instead dumpling wrappers was that the wonton wrappers are square and therefore can be wrapped corner to corner.

They're fried lightly in a few tablespoons of oil, then water was added to the pan (about half an inch of water). The pan was covered to fully cook the dumplings, then the lid pulled off to let the rest of the water evaporate. Once the water evaporates, the bottoms of the potstickers will fry some more. Once they're a nice golden brown, carefully remove from the pan.

The finished product:

We had them with Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken, sugar snap peas, and rice. It's found in the freezer section and quite excellent.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Day Trip to L.A.

Today, we took a day trip to L.A. to see family. Two restaurants visited. What resulted was a need for improvement in my photography skills. Can't have much of a food blog if I constantly forget to photograph the food.

The first was Har Lam Kee restaurant.

The food was mediocre, but the service was shockingly good. Located on Garvey Ave. in Monterey Park, it's specialties include wonton noodle soup (and all its variations), rice noodle rolls, and various fried rices and noodles. It's yet another subcatagory under "Chinese comfort food". While Dumpling Inn's food is from northern China, these dishes are from southern China, origin of yours truly. Wonton noodle soup is very popular in Hong Kong. Our menu included:
  • Wonton noodle soup- wontons are a type of dumpling. They're made with a different type of skin than potstickers or boiled dumplings from the north. The skin is wheat based and ironically, I've seen a lot of Italian recipes using wonton wrappers for ravioli. They're filled with prawns and a small amount of pork (if any) and served with gailan, aka Chinese broccoli. The broth is light, clear, and according to Wikipedia, derived from dried flounder. In other words, fish stock.
  • Beef chow fun- A favorite of D.'s, it's rice noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, beef slices, onion, and bean sprouts.
  • Fried rice with diced chicken and diced salted fish
  • Rice noodle rolls- One of my favorite dishes, we had plain noodles filled with dried shrimp and noodles wrapped around "Chinese donuts", which are long strips of fried dough. They're savory, not sweet like American donuts. But, like the donut we see stateside, they're enjoyed as a breakfast treat.
  • Egg noodles fried into a large crispy disk of noodles (like a nest) and topped with chicken in a thick garlic sauce.
  • Egg tarts- these are unusual for this type of restaurant, since they're a dim sum dish, but the family ordered them.
Like I said, the food wasn't excellent, and props to D. for his finely-honed taste for Chinese food. Hehe. I think my mother was very impressed when he offered his critique of this place.

For dinner, we hit one of my favorite places in Arcadia, which happens to be very close to home. Tasty Garden is, very classically, a Hong Kong style restaurant. The service is fast, the food is mainly southern Chinese with a touch of Western influence, and it's all delicious. I stupidly forgot to take pictures, but here's one of my favorite dish all-time. It's Peking-style pork spareribs and these are the leftovers. Even though they're Peking-style, they're done in the Hong Kong way, which is with a thick sauce. True Peking style, as I understand it, would have involved a tomato-based soupy sauce. The sauces taste the same, it's the consistency that's different.

Pork pieces are stir-fried in a sweet tomato-based sauce. It's not sour at all, but it's slightly reminiscent of Chinese-American sweet and sour pork. Onions are added. The pork is tenderized with baking soda, I think.

We also ordered:
  • Salted chicken- brined chicken is boiled and served with a ginger sauce. Simple, but really good.
  • Clay pot rice with Chinese sausage and dried pork (follow this link for a picture... scroll down to "little pot rice", which is about the same thing)
  • Vermicelli with dried shrimp and winter melon
  • French-style beef stir-fry- with onions and thai basil. The beef was tenderized and the sauce soy-based.
Great meal all in all. I will probably go back there soon and will have another report and hopefully more pictures.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pavlova and Pie

Here it is... my demon semi-conquered... the pavlova.

I have been trying for the longest time to make this dessert, only to have pathetically flat meringues as a result. My latest attempt involved Gale Gand's recipe from the Food Network. She's from way back in 1999. Wasn't bobblehead-ish enough, I guess, so she's not on anymore. The recipe's fine, but even cracking the oven door collapsed the meringue. I turned off the oven and went to bed. That resulted in a firmer meringue, but still collapsed.

Next time, I'm going to bake it at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, bring it down to 300 and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes and turn off the oven and let it cool completely with the door closed. Gale's use of cream of tartar and cornstarch helped stabilize the meringue a lot.

The pavlova was topped with a lemon cream (Trader Joe's lemon curd, whipping cream, sugar) and fresh berries. The lemon cream began with 1 cup of heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks. About 1/3 cup (add to taste) of lemon curd was added and the mixture whipped some more. Sugar (3 tbsp.) was added to take the tart bite out of the curd. After all of that, it still didn't seem to have a nice kick, so I added a tiny pinch of salt, which really brought out all of the tart, sweet, and creamy flavors. I whipped it a little more, but it was still somewhat runny when I put it in the fridge. It had about 6 hours to set up and it set up very nicely into a thick, frothy cream.

The berries were from Trader Joe's and were pretty good. Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

The second dessert I made (as backup in case the pavlova totally went to crap) was another apple pie.

One of my best looking ones yet. This one was really easy because I already had the crust in the fridge. All I had to do was peel and slice the apples and make the crumble top. It took half an hour to assemble and 40 minutes to bake. Started at 7am and finished at 8:15am.

The pavlova yielded 6 egg yolks from 2 attempts. Just enough for a tiramisu.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Trader Joe's Couscous Salad

Another lunch report... I can't get enough of Trader Joe's Couscous Salad. It has cold couscous flavored with lime juice and basil, sun-dried tomatoes, cippollini onions (small, sweet onions), cherry tomatoes, dried currants, and arugula.

I can't even begin to expound on how much I love arugula. I can't wait to plant it and have a little bit with chicken or fish. It's peppery and slightly bitter. D. would call it "weedy". When it's fresh, the crunch is amazing. It adds a nice kick to salads or a nice garnish to meat or fish. With this couscous, it contrasts nicely with the sweet and sour of the onions, tomatoes, and lime.

It's $3.39 for a 10 oz. box. It's very light, but the couscous is filling enough to make it a meal. TJ's is full of good pre-made food. I usually have a mini-pizza or a salad. Cheaper than going out, more convenient than cooking.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Anthony Bourdain rocks my world. I agree with his thoughts on the Food Network (scroll down 2/3 of the page). I like his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, although I don't get many opportunities to watch it. He goes all over the world and looks for the local food. He'll eat anything and doesn't try to "dilute" the cuisine to make it more familiar to his audience. We share a birthday, so I guess it's an auspicious day for assholish food snobs. Hehe.

Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt was just on. He was eating soul food in a mom-and-pop place somewhere along the Mississippi. Now I really want to try authentic soul food. I hear Magnolia is pretty good. I doubt I'll find anything completely authentic in San Diego, but I want to try Magnolia for soul food and Bud's Louisiana Food Shoppe for Cajun.

As for Bourdain's thoughts on FN, I couldn't agree more on the tragic excising of Mario Batali from their lineup. I used to find Molto Mario pretty daunting a few years ago, but now I wish I could watch it so I can attempt some of the recipes. I can understand why the show doesn't appeal to a huge audience, but I am growing seriously sick of how FN is full of mindless and useless crap. Those inane "challenges"? The plethora of cleavaged bobbleheads (if you look at the chef bios, all the bobbleheads and Paula Deen have elaborate pages and everyone else has two paragraphs and a bad picture)? The descent of my beloved Giada to the dark side? The dominance of Rachael Ray? While I think it's cool that FN is mainstream and more people are cooking as a result, they shouldn't knock off anyone who doesn't use canned food regularly.

Don't even get me started on Sandra Lee.

Anyhoo, even though Molto Mario's not on anymore, I can sample his cooking (or his sous chefs' representations of his cooking). We'll have a chance to go to New York City and I plan to make reservations at Babbo as soon as I know when we'll be in town. We ate at Lupa the last time we were there and it was awesome. Expensive, but awesome.

Yoshi Sushi

What a great lunch today. Yoshi Sushi in Mira Mesa. This isn't going to be a long review, because it's all-you-can-eat sushi and there are way too many dishes to cover. If you're going to go there and do the gluttony bit, I highly recommend:

  • salmon kama- grilled salmon cheeks
  • agadashi tofu- fried tofu in a delicious tempura-esque soy sauce and topped with dashi
  • veggie tempura- fried to perfection
  • salmon nigiri- fresh, fatty, and they cut large pieces
  • ikura- insanely fresh with that gorgeous salty salmon burst
  • fried california roll- this is pretty awesome. I don't normally prefer california roll, but it's great fried.
  • soft-shell crab rolls- huge roll with a mixture of crunchy and tender

The service is excellent and the pricing more than reasonable ($19.95 for lunch). The fish is fresh and tastes pretty good. No, it's not Sushi Ota, but it's not bad at all.

Yard House

Ah, I love this place for happy hour. Cheap beer with a plethora of choices and cheap appetizers that come in huge portions. I wouldn't go to the Yard House for anything outside of happy hour, as the higher prices are not really worth it. The food is classic chain food, dependable and decent. It's good and for happy hour prices, it's great.

I was, however, slightly disappointed by my appetizer choices last night. I ordered the blue crab cakes. The description on the menu said it would come with a mango-papaya chutney, passion fruit beurre blanc, and tomato oil. All I tasted were bell peppers with a very sour background. It puckered the mouth. The beurre blanc ("white butter"), which is a rich butter sauce, was absolutely bland. It was basically heavy cream, which doesn't make it beurre blanc, and it had no passion fruit flavor. Well, it had no flavor, period. The tomato oil was a small puddle on top of the pool of beurre blanc and the chutney didn't taste like mangoes or papaya. All they tasted like were peppers (even though I didn't see many specks of pepper in it) and was bizarrely sour.

The cakes themselves were ok. They had crab flavor, but the filling looked like canned tuna. It was brown and shredded finely. Tons of bell pepper, which makes me question the taste buds of the person who prepared the dish. Do you really, really love bell peppers? I think this was a chain restaurant's attempt at a very high-end dish. There was tons of potential, but the execution was lousy. Fresh crab chunks would have added so much oomph to the dish. The sauces, made properly, would have complimented the nicely fried cakes (the only good part of the execution was the frying). And to hell with the bell peppers! A little bit is nice, but they shouldn't dominate.

As for the four cheese pizza, it tasted fine, but it was thin and slightly soggy. The cheeses used were mozzarella, fontina, ricotta, and parmesan. The crust was meant to be a thin crust, but the four cheeses made the dough soggy and it was obvious the dough was baked a long time, since the uncovered crust was rock-hard. I'm not sure if fontina is the best choice because like
Gruyère, it tends to separate between the fats and the solids. While it's delicious, I've made mac-n-cheese with it and it results in a oily puddle. On the other hand, baking the ricotta made it gritty. Flavors were good, though. It was just the texture that wasn't very pleasing.

Despite the three-alarm rant about my latest visit, I usually find the appetizers quite good. My usual appetizers are the seared ahi sashimi (not quite sashimi if you sear it) and the garlic noodles. Faux Asian done well. The ahi is perfectly seared with a peppercorn crust. Perfect searing means that only a few millimeters of the steak are cooked. The majority of the meat should be raw and bright red. Yard House uses a good quality tuna, so the dish comes out beautifully. The garlic noodles are basically a stir fry of butter, garlic, chives, parmesan cheese and shiitake mushrooms. They use Chinese egg noodles for it. The butter, chives, and parm definitely make it "fusion", but it's good.

The beer selection is huge, but I don't drink enough beer to say whether or not it's a well-chosen selection. This time, I had the Lost Coast Apricot Wheat, which was a light wheat beer with a touch of apricot. Unlike hefeweizens, this beer wasn't too "wheat-y". I enjoyed it. I like Lost Coast beers. I try to order something new each time. Their martinis are $5 during happy hour and the espresso martini is amazing. Can't have too much of either or else I end up loudly wandering Downtown and lecturing the Ghiradelli staffpeople on how they're making me fat. Don't ask.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Lunch report from Monday afternoon: Spices Carmel Valley.

While I can't vouch for authencity, the Carmel Valley branch always serves a good meal. The lunch specials are priced really well, with huge portions and lots of little side dishes. The lunch itself comes with two egg rolls, two fried wontons, cup of soup, cup of salad, big scoop of rice, and an orange wedge. Check out the lunch menu.

It's basic and delicious. I usually get the panang curry (spicy level: 1) and while there's a ton of coconut milk between the curry and the
tom yum soup that comes with, I'm perfectly content with the meal. This time, I ordered it with the chicken, but I also like the duck. The chicken was nice and tender.

Spices is a local chain and I would avoid the one in Mira Mesa. It used to be really good, but has completely flatlined. The last time I had curry from there, it was basically hot coconut milk with chunks of dry chicken. Gross. The Carmel Valley branch, however, has been consistently good for years. It's especially nice for dinner, because they cater to a business lunch crowd and dinnertime is usually not very busy. Quick to get a table and the service is excellent.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Not too much cooking to be done in this bloody heat wave. Who wants to stand in front of a hot stove when the house is already 85-90 degrees F?

Quick gardening update: Herbs are doing very well, except the heat is a bit brutal for them. The ones more acclimated to hotter and drier climates (rosemary, sage, and mint) are flourishing, but the basil is prone to wilting. Everything else is holding up well. I have purchased Thai basil and will go about planting it when it cools down a little. Maybe towards the latter part of the week. I still haven't planted the arugula and lettuce, but seedlings won't hold up in this heat, so I'll wait.

We had guests this weekend and made dinner on Sunday night. We used a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe from her Giada's Family Dinners cookbook. It's a sun-dried tomato and basil penne with sausage, parmesan, mozzarella, and artichoke hearts. We used Tofurky sausage and served it with grilled corn.

It's been such a good summer for corn. I brushed the cobs with melted butter and plopped them on the grill. If you do it this way, you really have to watch the cobs to make sure they don't burn. It won't take more than 6-8 minutes and they should be turned every couple of minutes. I had some heirloom tomatoes leftover from the pizza making, so I chopped them up with some basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper for a quick bruschetta. It's important to let it sit for an hour or so. The tomatoes will break down and the flavors will blend really well.

It's not bruschetta without bread, so we picked up some rolls from Charlie's Best Bread in PB. The Oregon Herb rolls are out of this world. They're wheat-based with tons of herb and garlic flavor. The sesame seeds are a really nice touch, too.

I can't take a lick of credit for this dessert, as it's inspired by several people. Thanks to B., D., and Aunt L.! Graham crackers smothered with some kind of dairy always makes a good dessert. I did a variation of B.'s pudding cake, only using sugar-free chocolate pudding and graham crackers. I layered the crackers densely, but they still turned into fabulous mush. Yum. Next time, I'm going to do Aunt L.'s cake and make a Kahlua whipped cream, layer the crackers densely, and top with chopped nuts (usually pistachio).

This dessert's perfect for a hot day. No baking, no cooking, and it's incredibly good.

We're heading home for a visit with the parental units next weekend, so I might make tiramisu and drop it off with Unc and Aunt C. Another fabulous no-bake dessert. If I do it, there will be pictures. As for this week: pavlova. The one dessert that I can't even come close to perfecting. Ina Garten has a method I haven't tried, so we'll see how that goes. It's another work dessert, so there will be an audience.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


I have mixed feelings about Rancho's. The good feelings come from its innovative menu, which features vegetarian and vegan versions of most classic Mexican-American dishes. The restaurant is homey and gorgeous, with rustic decor and tons of potted plants, which form a lush barrier from the craziness of University and 30th.

My favorite dish there are the lentil enchiladas. The lentils are cooked down and wrapped in tortillas. They're smothered in mole sauce. I'm not an expert on mole sauce, but Rancho's is pretty good. Or, at least, it tastes good to me. They serve it with rice and beans. I don't care for refried beans, but their rice is awesome. Classic Mexican rice (tomato-based) with corn, peas, and fava beans. I tend to stick to their enchiladas and have had quite a few. A list:

  • Corn and avocado: Good, but I felt like I was eating a bowl of guacamole after a while. It's not as flavored as guacamole. It's basically a fresh avocado mash with some corn. Not bad at all, but can't have too much.
  • Shitake: Good. Can't say too much more because I don't really like shitake mushrooms.
  • Agave: Really good.
  • Tofu: Good.
  • Cheese: Good.
  • Next to try: eggplant enchiladas
I also tried their fish tacos and they're pretty good. Not as good as Cotixan's or even Rubio's, but pretty decent. The fish is somewhat flavorless and there's too much cheese sprinkled in the taco. Overall, the food tends to be lighter than classic Mexican, which is pretty good.

The bad: the service. Not rude at all. The staff is quite nice, but they have to be the most inefficient restaurant staff I've ever encountered. I've had to wait 40 minutes for food the last few times I've been there. Finding your server is a daunting task and the only person who's on top of their game is the guy who brings the salsa and chips. The best thing to do is ask for a pitcher of water so you have enough to tide you over between server appearances. They seem to be moving around a lot, but you don't see a lot done. Meals there are 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, which is annoying when you're hungry.

Regardless, I'll still return. It's a unique restaurant and that keeps my business.


Oddly enough, I'm not the world's biggest fan of Mexican food, even though I live in one of the best American cities for it. It's great, but not something I'd want to eat all of the time. However, when I'm in the mood, I definitely head for Cotixan's. I like the branch on Genesee and Balboa, by the Home Depot. We went on Friday night and I'd have to say that the fish tacos are the best I've had. The fish is freshly fried and crispy and the meat is fresh enough that it's possible to really taste the fish, which is tender and buttery. It's hard to wring a lot of flavor out of white fish (cod?) that usually used for frying, but Cotixan either fries it really well or uses really fresh fish. Or both. The fried fish is placed into two corn tortillas, fresh green and red cabbage, and a light mayo-based sauce. Unlike Rubio's fish tacos (very good, but now #2 on the list), the fish isn't dominated by the sauce.

Their other dishes are very good. Our meal included two hard tacos, one beef and one potato. The taco shell is fried and filled with the filling, cheese, and lettuce. The beef one looked good, but a little sparse on the beef. I had to lift half the lettuce and cheese up to see which one it was. The potato was mixed with mayo, which killed it a bit, but overall, it was decent. We also had the cheese enchiladas, which are smothered with red sauce, cheese, and lettuce. It's easy to OD on the cheese, but the dish is pretty good.

The restaurant is basic, with counter service, self-service drink machines, and bottle of red and green salsas you can take to your table. I usually have a bottle of green sauce on hand to add to everything. Tomatillo (green sauce) salsa is my favorite... it's spicy and tart and doesn't have the acidity that tomato based salsa have. Tomatillos are in the same family as tomatoes, but a different genus, according to Wikipedia.

Service is brisk and efficient and pricing is great. With all of the Mexican restaurants to choose from here, this one tends to stand out from the rest.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One great pre-made item from Trader Joe's: pizza dough.

I usually buy the plain dough, but I decided the buy the garlic herb dough last night. Threw on some Gruyère cheese, ham, onions, and heirloom tomatoes. TJ's now sells a "gourmet tomato medley", which is nice because buying heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market costs an arm and a leg. I didn't add any herbs because the dough already had the flavor. Pizza turned out pretty well.

Next time, I think I'll prebake the dough before adding the toppings. Gruyère's fats separate out pretty easily, resulting in a lot of grease making the dough soggy. Otherwise, the nutty flavor makes it an excellent pizza cheese. No pictures this time, but I definitely won't make pizza dough from scratch when it's pretty good from TJ's.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

One of my best ones yet...

Since I happen to have this picture on my work computer and frankly, it's my best cake to date, I figured I'd post it. It's a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Two batches of batter (remaining batter went on to become carrot cupcakes) and three batches of frosting. Thanks to the gang for their generous gift of Birthday Cakes, an incredible birthday cake cookbook.

The tier was supported by a 6" cardboard round with plastic dowels underneath it. Michael's sells the dowels and a plate that you can attach the dowels to. I had the plate, but realized that I bought an 8" plate for a 6" tier. The dowels were easily snipped with pliers, so I didn't have to resort to buy wooden dowels and saw them.

Jamillah Garden

*Jamillah Garden has closed*

I really like this place, but we don't go often. It's kind of northwestern Chinese cuisine. Parts of China are predominantly Muslim, so the cuisine is a mixture between Muslim dietary requirements and northern Chinese food. Interesting link:

Muslim Chinese Cuisine

We ordered the kung pao chicken, potstickers, and fried onion cakes. Yum, onion cakes. I especially love the lamb and scallion dish that's big at Muslim Chinese restaurants, but I can't finish a whole dish by myself and D. doesn't really like lamb. The service is friendly, if somewhat understaffed, and the restaurant's pretty empty most of the time. That's unfortunate, because the food's quite good. Last night, it was about half full, which is the most crowded we've seen it. They start off each meal with a small plate of slightly spicy pickled cabbage, which is a great palate cleanser. The portions are big and they come with a pot of rice.

I've had better onion cakes, as theirs look like tortillas with onions in them. Taste-wise, they're good, but onion cakes should be in flaky layers and have more crunch to them. The potstickers are big and hearty, but the bottoms could have been fried more. The kung pao is something they do fabulously, with pieces of diced chicken mixed in with peanuts and crunchy water chestnut. The sauce is spicy with lots of flavor. A good meal at a very reasonable cost.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Me: 1
Caterpillars: 0

Looks like my BT culture is still alive. The caterpillars are slowly disappearing, so that's a relief. I have to keep spraying BT on all of the herbs to keep them from migrating, but I'm also thinking of planting a "sacrifical" plant, an herb that they'd like and would focus their attention on. That plant would not be sprayed with BT and they can munch all they want.

Finally planted the basil and mint, which have held up ok in their original pots. The basil has plenty of room to grow and the mint's more restrained in a smaller pot. Mint's growth tends to expand to choke out whatever space its in, so we don't want to have a gigantic mint plant and nothing to do with it.

Next up, the lettuce and arugula. I bought the arugula seeds recently, but the lettuce seeds are over a year old. They've been kept in a cool and relatively dark environment, so I'm hoping they're still viable.

Not too much cooking going on, but that fried chicken reheats beautifully. We had it with some fried rice last night.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday's blow... argh.

Gardening update... figured out what the weird growths on the thyme were. Turns out the lower branches of the plant were putting down roots. So all of those little growths were root buds. Which is a relief considering that my sage is being decimated by the caterpillars. If I had another problem with the thyme, I'd probably give up gardening all together.

Soaked the sage in BT, but I still see caterpillars, so my current stock of BT could be dead. I need to remove all of the dead leaves and thin out the plant a little bit. Sage is tough and I have no doubt it'd recover, but sheesh. There were little green caterpillars on almost every leaf. Talk about an onslaught. I don't want to cut anything off until I know the BT is working, otherwise I would just leave a fresh buffet for the pests.

I still haven't transplanted my basil, which I need to do tonight.

Next dish I'm going to attempt: peanut butter swirl brownies

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dinner party

The first dinner party post! Tonight's was rather impromptu with a small group. We were watching Barefoot Contessa and Ina Garten was making fried chicken, deep-dish apple pie, mashed potatoes, and homemade bleu cheese dressing. Totally had a craving for fried chicken. On the FN website, one of the recipe reviewers offered an awesome alternative to her buttermilk marinade. Ina's recipe says to soak the chicken pieces in buttermilk overnight. Since we didn't have overnight, this alternative worked out beautifully. The reviewer suggested adding salt to the buttermilk. The acidic buttermilk will tenderize the chicken, but the salt speeds up the process a lot more. Plus, the chicken is given a big oomph in flavor. Here's the buttermilk brine:

  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
We used three chicken breasts, cut in half, and 8 drumsticks. The breasts came out a little salty, but the marinade was perfect for dark meat. The drumsticks were cooked to perfection and the meat was moist and falling off the bone. We added Jane's Crazy Salt, cayenne, and garlic powder to the flour for dredging. After the chicken was brined, the pieces were dredged through the flour mixture and fried for a few minutes on each side. Peanut oil is good for frying and in this case, all you need is an inch of oil. The oil has to be quite hot (360 degrees F if you can measure it). Once all the pieces have been fried, they're baked for half an hour. Here's the original recipe:

Barefoot Contessa's Oven-fried Chicken

And a picture of the result:

We didn't use her apple pie or mashed potato recipe. I made a Dutch apple pie with the pie crust recipe from Bon Appetit. Learned a few new things:
  1. It's important to add the sugar/cinnamon to the apples a little before adding them to the pie crust. The sugar leeches a lot of the water out of the apples and breaks down the cell walls quite a bit, making them more mushy after they're baked.
  2. Too much water in the pie crust makes a dough that's easy to work with, but not very flaky. Minimum water and keep everything cold.
  3. For the crumble top, don't mix the sugar and butter (it's sugar, butter, and flour) too much or else it will cream together. I used a food processor to save time, so it creamed them together easily.
  4. Keep everything in the freezer until the last minute, except the apples.
Here's the result... not my best attempt, which would be the two pies I made a couple of weeks ago for work, but not bad overall:

The mashed potatoes were fabulous, the bleu cheese dressing came out really well (also a BC recipe, same episode), and there was a vegetarian option, too. There was a baked squash penne that consisted of squash slices, diced tomato, cheese, and penne. A picture of the feast:

In addition to the salad as a side dish, there was also fresh French bread. I overproofed the bread, but a re-knead worked out ok. The bread was a little chewier, but still turned out good.

My quasi-homemade meal

Tonight was dinner and a movie, so I threw together something "quasi-homemade". I refuse to use "semi" because of that bloody Auntie SLop show. Check out tonight's dinner:

Fresh wild-caught salmon from Alaska, Buttoni's pork/parmesean ravioli, Buttoni's vodka cream sauce, and a little lump of fresh whole milk mozzarella. I overgrilled the fish, but it went well with the vodka sauce. The sauce was jazzed up with onions, rosemary, garlic, and thyme. This isn't a bad meal, but just because I can assemble it doesn't mean I'm competent enough to have my own cooking show. Ahem, SLop. The non-seafood variation of this meal was a chicken breast sliced 3/4 of the way along the flat side. The meat was spread open like a book and filled with onions, rosemary, garlic, and thyme (whatever was left went into the sauce). It was closed to sandwich the spices and grilled.

The topper to the meal was this gem from Costco:

Mexican Coca-cola is made with sugar, not corn syrup. The difference is phenomenal. Case of 24 was around $20, so it's expensive. However, the flavor, plus the awesome glass bottles, are almost worth the cost.

Dessert was Sara Lee butter pound cake with macerated strawberries. Everything was so quasi-homemade that I felt like I should probably match my outfit to the drapes. Next up, tablescapes... oh, shoot me... can you tell that I really detest SLop?

Friday, August 10, 2007

I hate caterpillars. Looked at the herbs this morning and they were infested. I picked off two big ones and two little ones. The patio table's covered with droppings. The sage is the worst off, but the thyme's pretty heavily affected, too. The oregano has droppings, but does not seem to have any physical bugs.

The thyme also has weird growths on it. Some of the branches are covered with root-like growths. I don't know if it's part of the plant or an infestation of some kind. They're not present on the other plants, so they're probably not associated with the caterpillars. Who knows? I will probably cut off a stem and take it to a garden center.

I might also plant a little pot of something that caterpillars love and treat the rest with BT, which is a bacteria that destroys their digestive tracts. I don't want to kill all of them, as they can be useful and lovely (when they turn into butterflies/moths), but they shouldn't be able to eat my herbs before I do.

Anyway, this weekend will be spent transplanting and keeping the little buggers in line.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dumpling Inn

It certainly goes without saying that Dumpling Inn is a favorite of mine. It's what I think of as Chinese comfort food. Basic stir fries, good dumplings/potstickers, etc. Service is decent, food is always consistent, and the atmosphere is homey. I wouldn't go there at 7pm on a Saturday night nor would I go at 8:30pm at any night. That's when they start to wrap up for the night and boy, do they get grouchy. I don't blame them, as I would be dying to clean up and go home. We did it once, knowing we'd incur their wrath, and we were in and out in half an hour. Two other parties that came in at the same time decided to linger and the owner gave us the most grateful look for understanding that they wanted us out.

Anyhoo, our menu for this past Wednesday night:

  • Potstickers
  • Cashew diced chicken
  • Sweet and sour pork
  • Orange chicken
  • Beef chow mein
Everything was quite delightful. The cashew diced chicken is a favorite and I'd kill for a recipe for that sauce. It's slightly sweet with a hint of tomato paste and perfect with the tiny pieces of chicken, water chestnut, and cashews. The sweet and sour pork consisted of large chunks of pork that were battered, fried, and served with chunks of pineapple in the classic sauce. Orange chicken is one of my favorite dishes. Yeah, it isn't really Chinese, but I especially love Dumpling Inn's version of it. It's made with real orange juice, so the sweetness and tartness of orange is dominant in the dish. The chicken is lightly battered and tossed into red-hot oil for a nice crust. They add a little kick to it, so that's a nice contrast to the orange flavor.

The potstickers need no description. Their perfectly fried up with a good pork filling. Pork with a little bit of onions and chives. The skin's a tad thick, but that doesn't really matter in potstickers. Their beef chow mein is ok, but I'm not a huge fan of it. It's a little too greasy, heavy on the garlic, and not enough noodles. There's a ton of onions and bean sprouts in it. I like onions and bean sprouts, but my chow mein should always have plenty of noodles.

Other dishes on the favorites list include the pork and garlic eggplant. YUM. When they make it extra-spicy, it's gut-roasting. The eggplant is placed directly into hot oil. This fries the skin, sealing in the water. It's the only way to ensure that the eggplant is juicy and moist, not soggy. The sauce is oyster-based and they throw in ground pork, scallions, and strips of bamboo. Crunchy, moist, garlicky, and eggplant-y. That's the way the dish should be done.

I also like their pickled pork and cabbage noodle soup, which is basic and hearty. The classic braised beef noodle soup is ok, but Chang's Garden in LA holds the prize for best beef noodle soup ever. Dumpling Inn uses packaged noodles and doesn't use enough spices in the soup, making it a basic beef broth with noodles and meat. It's good, but not incredible.

I'm sure I'll be discussing Dumpling Inn further. We're there at least once a month, if not more.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I really must break my current coffee-in-the-morning streak. Normally, I'll do it for a few weeks, then stop cold for another few weeks, and so on. It's been so hectic lately that I don't have time to make coffee in the mornings. What I really should do is make coffee first thing when I wake up, let it cool, then pour it on ice in my Nalgene.

I like Peet's coffee more than Starbucks (which isn't saying Starbucks is bad), but the price, the parking at the Hillcrest location, and the lines make it hard for me to go regularly. With Starbucks, I'm in and out. I'm not even going to get into the whole making conscious consumer choices thing. Peet's brewed coffees far outclass Starbucks, which tends to char their beans. If I'm getting a brewed coffee or buying a pound, Peet's is my choice. The beans are far cheaper at a Peet's location than they are at the grocery store. Major Dickason's is my favorite blend. Their Anniversary Blend is the best by far, but they don't sell it anymore.

The Starbucks on Richmond and University makes an excellent mocha. The staff is incredibly warm and friendly, save for one slightly dour woman. What she lacks in warmth, she makes up for in technique. I'm not surprised they have her as the barista and not the cashier, because she really makes a beautifully balanced mocha. Slightly sweetened by chocolate, but still packing a punch from the espresso.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Pho Viet Cali

Lunch report... Pho Viet Cali is on the regular rotation. The Mira Mesa eatery is conveniently located in a hotbed of tech and biotech companies. It's packed for lunch, so the best time is to go before or after 12pm. I wouldn't call it the best Vietnamese I've ever had, but it's not bad. Their pho is middling and the broken rice dishes (com tam) are decent. Service-wise, they're excellent. I usually get the com tam cha bo nuong, which is grilled beef slices flavored with lemongrass and garlic, a piece of a quiche-esque pork casserole, and rice. It's garnished with fresh and pickled veggies. Yum.

Broken rice stemmed from the days when people would take the broken, unsellable rice grains and use them for their own meals. I've seen bags of broken rice at 99 Ranch, so I take that it's turned one of those "let's not waste anything" practices to a dish in its own right. That's pretty awesome. Anyway, there's nothing quite like rice and meat drizzled with fish sauce.

The challah did hold up very well to paninis. Made four sandwiches with ham and whatever cheeses we had on hand. Those included fresh mozzarella, brie, and colby jack. Fresh basil from our new basil plants. I still have to transplant them out of their original pots, so I hope the trimming and the transplanting doesn't kill them.

This weekend, to use up more yeast, I'm going to make French bread again. I'm learning that the yeast works best with water at 110 degrees F.

On the gardening list:

  • Transplant basil and mint plants
  • Plant lettuce and arugula seeds
A gardening article in the Union-Trib said the end of August was the best time to start lettuce seed as well as other fall veggies. I don't think I'll grow my own veggies until I have my own home, but in the meantime, lettuce should be ok. Since the neighborhood has more varied plantlife than Costa Verde, the pest problem doesn't really exist. At Costa Verde, my plants were ridden with caterpillars, whiteflies, and aphids. Here in North Park, it's not bad except for the clouds of black flies that swarm the neighborhood. They don't really bother plants, though, so mine are doing ok.

What's exciting is that in September, we'll have tons of herbs to work with. The rosemary's growing the slowest, but it had to be transplanted twice, so I think it's still recovering from all of that. I like using E.B. Stone's Organic potting soil versus the Scott's potting soil. It's much easier to work with and is a finer grain. The only weird thing about it is that it seems to be molding or decomposing. A fine mocha-colored layer appears after it hasn't been watered for a while. It goes away with a watering, but appears again as the soil dries. I think it's mold, so we'll have to watch it carefully.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Chicago on a Bun

Lunch report... went to Chicago on a Bun on Towne Center Drive. I do love their freshly fried potato chips. It's a bit pricey, but quite good overall. $7.40 (not including tax) buys a regular hot dog topped with grilled onions (you can add peppers and relish, but I hear ketchup is taboo), fries and/or chips, and a drink. $8 buys you a specialty sausage, like Polish or a firedog. It's not a place I'd eat at often, but I really like those chips and the hot dogs are always of good quality. Service is not the best, but it's a counter-service place, so you only have to deal with it briefly.

Of course, I could always go to Costco for the $1.50 Polish dog and drink.

Cinnamon Buns and Challah Update

Quick update on the cinnamon buns and challah. The cinnamon buns are a decent start, but they definitely need work. More filling. I seemed to have misjudged Giada's recipe when I scaled it up for mine. The icing needs work, but I knew that since I ran out of confectioner's sugar. So, what I have right now is a decent dough, which I should not knead as much next time, and Giada's idea of using hazelnuts. They're a nice touch. I toasted them, then ground them coarsely in my coffee grinder.

I was really disappointed in the challah, which came out too... gluten-y. I apparently added too much flour. It's good enough for paninis, though, so we'll still eat them. Toasting will also make it less tough.

I'm a little annoyed that all of that work turned out two sub-par results, but that's the way it goes. I'll continue to tinker with the challah recipe and it looks like the cinnamon buns have the potential to be fabulous the next time around. I ended up buying a huge package of yeast and storing it in a jar in the fridge, so there's plenty of yeast for the next two months or so.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cinnamon Buns and Challah

I must be insane to bake for hours on a warm summer's day. The house has no air conditioning and the ventilation leaves much to be desired. Thus, it's been a sweaty evening. But... I did make cinnamon buns and challah tonight. They look pretty good, but I have yet to take a taste test.

The cinnamon buns:

And the challah:

After all of that, I hope it tastes ok. I don't particularly like the icing recipe I used. It's simply sweet and not much else. I know that sweet is the point, but this is just sugar and the added vanilla and lemon doesn't temper or add to it. My proportions must be off.

The challah was a challenge, as always. The recipe I use turns out really well, but I'm convinced that the amount of flour required was a typo. I ended up adding another 6 oz. of flour to the recipe, just to make it kneadable. I'm getting the hang of handling dough, though, and I find myself enjoying things like kneading. Of course, I am a little spoiled by the stand mixer and its trusty dough hook.

I've been watching Barefoot Contessa and I would like to make three of Ina Garten's desserts. One is a chocolate angel food cake. I even went to Great News to buy a angel food cake pan today, only to find that today was the only day they closed early. The other dessert is a lime tart. Looks really easy and I love citrus tarts. The third is peanut butter swirl brownies. A reviewer on the Food Network site said she used Nutella along with the peanut butter, so I'm going to have to try that.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Yet another sleepy Saturday. I'm so glad we've had a few weekends where we had very few obligations. I'm going to attempt making cinnamon buns this weekend. I’ve had quite a bit of practice with yeast breads lately, so the dough should be ok. It’s all about the icing, though. I think I might try Giada DeLaurentiis’ hazelnut filling from her cinnamon bun recipe. It sounds pretty good, even though I’m not a big fan of nuts in cinnamon buns. Perhaps I’ll chop them semi-finely in a food processor first.

This week was a week of desserts. Went to Heaven Sent Desserts in North Park for their excellent crème brulee. I think simplicity is key to that dish and they keep it light and simple. The custard is creamy with lots of little vanilla seeds from fresh vanilla bean. All I could taste was the cream, the vanilla, and the crunch of the burnt sugar. They use bigger granules of sugar for the crust, so it was nice and grainy.

I made apple pie for work. Bon Appetit (July 2007) has a great pie crust recipe. A high-powered food processor made it all possible, so I’m glad D. had the idea of buying one as a joint anniversary gift. The dough’s hard to roll out because minimal water is used to bind it. Still, with careful rolling and minimal water, the crust is incredibly flaky and still tender to the bite.

Hopefully, those cinnamon buns turn out well. That'll wrap up the week, dessert-wise, nicely.