Friday, February 29, 2008

Sorrento European Bakery



Occasionally, after a lunch at Pho Viet Cali, we like to walk next door to Sorrento European Bakery for pate choux and other pastries.

Pate choux is a French-influenced Vietnamese pastry. Actual choux dough doesn't resemble this delicious bun at all. The Vietnamese version is a puff pastry bun with a meatball in the middle. The meatball is seasoned with peppercorns and onions. Chief likes to clean out their supply for the day.

They have a variety of Western-style pastries along with pate choux and banh mi. The owner told Chief that he trained in Sweden. I suppose that's why princess cake is a specialty of the house. I took pictures of the two refrigerated cases, but missed the princess cake on the top shelf. It was to the left of the cake in the top left corner. A slice was cut out of it to show the cross-section and it looked lovely with the pale green fondant, white sponge cake, and berry filling.

The other case holds more pastries than cakes.

I love their meringues, although I prefer the sweetened ones over the flavored ones. The flavored ones tend to have too much extract added, leading to a cloying burst of flavor. I had a meringue with chocolate streaked into it.

Cross-section of the meringue. It's perfectly crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside.

I also had the rum wafflor (I think that's a typo), which is a crispy and sugared flaky pastry with rum buttercream sandwiched in the middle. There's a bit too much shortening in the pastry, making it slightly greasy, but it's very crisp and flaky.

The cream filling is very good.

I picked up a banana eclair for D. He commented that it was ok. Not quite an eclair, but the banana cream in the middle was all right.

The business is family-run and everyone's really nice. I enjoy our visits there and we'll keep trying everything in the case.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pho Viet Cali's Pho Ga



I wouldn't say Pho Viet Cali's the best Vietnamese restaurant ever. Ok, it's pretty mediocre, but it hits the spot for lunch. Nothing there is terrible, but nothing is fantastic, either.

Until now.

A fellow Chowhound turned me on to their pho ga (thanks, Cgfan!) and it has become an obsession. I'm surprised... no, make that floored, to find how good it is. To be more specific, it's pho ga with the chicken on the bone. No white meat boiled to cardboard. Freshly poached chicken on the bone with the skin.

This time, the chicken was perfect. The last time I had it, the chicken was a little dry, but this time, it was moist, smooth, and flavorful from the fat in the skin. The broth was pretty good. Some bouillon, but only the small amount necessary to boost an already good broth. It's simple, but so very good. The way chicken noodle soup should be.

The noodles were overdone, unlike last time when they were perfect. Knowing this restaurant, I have the feeling that each time I have pho ga, it will be different. Last time, they didn't give me a dipping sauce. This time, they did.

I was strangely addicted to this mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and garlic. A bit too much sugar, but I think that's why I was drawn to it. The sweetness went well with the fatty richness of the chicken. Can't wait until my next bowl.

Tomorrow's post: Part Two of the best lunch ever... a visit next door to Sorrento European Bakery.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Layout



While I love color, I really like the look of the stark white layout. The minimalism really brings out the colors in the pictures. Change doesn't have to be forever, so I saved the old template. If this new one is universally hated, I'll switch back.

I'd appreciate any and all feedback!

Recipe Testing: Siu Mai



The second recipe from Pat of The Asian Grandmothers' Cookbook was siu mai. It's a dim sum staple and I was excited to try it. A little daunted, but excited.

The project began with shelling/deveining shrimp and soaking the shittake mushrooms. I'm so slow at shelling shrimp. Water chestnuts added a nice crunch to the siu mai. I was walking through the produce section at 99 Ranch and saw a huge bin of fresh water chestnuts.

Once peeled, they have the texture of jicama. Crunchy, like an apple, but without the moisture. The chestnuts were minced, along with scallions and the shittake mushrooms. As for the mushrooms, I must say that shittakes should not be skimped on. Buy good-quality mushrooms (usually sold dried). I bought one of the cheapest packages because I don't usually cook with them, but I should have splurged for better. However, it didn't seem to impact the outcome seriously, so no harm, no foul.

The ingredients added into the mixing bowl. The shrimp, once shelled/deveined, are minced.

The mixture is mixed with cornstarch, sherry, sugar, salt, sesame oil, soy sauce, and white pepper. The photo's a bit blurry.

I was also a little surprised to find siu mai wrappers at 99 Ranch. I'm glad I did. They were square, but trimming off the corners allowed the formation of even, open-topped cylinders.

First, the wrapper is wet down by running a finger dipped in water along the edge. Then, use the thumb and pointer fingers to form an "O" (like you're about to tell someone it's A-OK). Place the wrapper on top of the "O", place a tablespoon of filling on top, and push it through the "O" to form a cylinder. Press the wrapper into place gently, but firmly, to form a basket shape. Afterwards, crimp the top edge into pleats. Here's a video.

video

After they were wrapped, I steamed them using pie tins and a steam rack in a stockpot.

I was inspired by a Good Eats episode on steaming. If I wanted to do them all at once, I could stack the pie tins with biscuit cutters in between. Here's the end result:

I goofed and accidentally omitted the last step, which was to brush the tops with oil. This would have kept the tops more moist and given the meat a bit of a sheen. Still looked pretty good. I thought they tasted fantastic. Again, as with the Thai Basil Pork, I probably would have seasoned the pork a little bit (salt, black pepper, sesame oil... let sit for 20 minutes) before starting. It might be the ground pork shoulder I bought, but it needed something to bring out its flavor.

Thanks, Pat! I had a great time with both recipes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Recipe Testing: Pad Gkaprow Mu (Holy Basil Pork)



Many thanks to Pat from The Asian Grandmothers' Cookbook for giving me the opportunity to test some recipes for her upcoming book. The first recipe was for pad gkaprow mu, which required bai gkaprow, or holy basil, but bai horapa (Thai basil) is easier to find in Asian markets, so I used that instead. This dish is fabulously easy and I'm glad to have another dish to add to our weeknight repertoire.

The mise:

The most powerful component of this dish were the Thai chilies. I couldn't find red ones, so I used the green ones. It's basically a husk filled with tongue-numbing seeds. Don't be fooled by their small size. These peppers pack a punch.

The recipe starts off with toasting shallots and garlic in hot oil.

The pork is added and cooked lightly. Fish sauce, oyster sauce, and brown sugar are added.

The Thai basil goes in last and everything is stirred until the basil is wilted.

The finished product:

Served with freshly cooked white rice:

D. and I enjoyed the dish quite a bit. The one thing we would want to see changed is the strength of the sauce. It tasted really good, but it was understated. Increasing the amounts of fish sauce/oyster sauce/sugar should do the trick. Seasoning the pork before cooking and adding more basil would help, too. I used fewer peppers than the recipe asked and it was still a bit overpowering. We reheated it the next day and it was awesome. After sitting overnight, the pork absorbed all of the flavors and had a more pungent kick to it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Noodle Town



Chief very generously treated us to dinner on Friday night. I haven't really had a lot of Korean BBQ in San Diego, largely because it can be quite expensive and it's hard to risk that kind of money on a bad meal. Noodle Town was definitely had plenty of bang for all the bucks. Fantastic staff. Friendly and extremely attentive, it definitely added to the convivial mood at the table.

The restaurant itself doesn't have grills, but 4 months ago, they added a BBQ patio. It seems you have to ask to be seated at the patio. In fact, it's not readily obvious that there is one, as the patio's fence is covered with bamboo fencing, blocking the view from the parking lot. It's accessed by a side door behind the cash register that splits off into the patio and the kitchen.

Each round table, about 4 feet in diameter and less than 3 feet high, is ringed with backless stools. Quite crowded and vaguely uncomfortable after a while, because you eat dinner hunched over the table. Definitely not a place for weak backs or low-rise jeans.

The panchan consisted of kimchee, seaweed, pickled daikon/carrots, and marinated onions.

The dipping sauces were oil, reddish thick chili sauce, and soy sauce with slices of chilis.

Chief also ordered tofu steamed in a cast-iron bowl (excellent) and octopus braised in a spicy broth (a bit too chewy, but very good). The octopus was devoured before I could photograph it, but here's a spoonful of the tofu.

The meat is incredibly good. We started with thick slices of black pork belly (left side of plate), which had tender layers of meat in between the rich layers of fat. Once grilled, the fat was smooth and delicious. On the same plate as the belly were strips off fatty beef. I'm not sure about the cut, but they were long and thin slices with a thick strip of fat in the middle (right side).

Next came slices of beef tongue (top of pile). Thinly, but not too thinly, sliced, they had a bit of resistance to the bite and were extremely flavorful. Thick slices of skirt steak and ribeye came next (front, on the bottom). Lean cuts, but they didn't toughen up when grilled. We went for seconds of the pork belly and tongue.

I should note that none of the cuts were marinated. At most, there was a tiny drizzle of oil to keep the meat from sticking to the grill. Every dish came with a thick slice of onion, which they used to season the grill before plopping the meat on it.

Rice is ordered separately, which were large bowls. Good thing, because I like lots of rice. All of the meat dishes were piled on a small side table. Chief ordered a small bottle of Korean vodka. It tastes antiseptic (I admit to being a bit of a lightweight) and is an excellent start to an evening of copious meat and chili consumption for those who can handle it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cheesecake Factory



Were those gasps of horror? Dear God, Moo! Why would you write about a... *gasp*... chain?!

I have written about chains in past posts and there's already one about Cheesecake Factory. Yes, it's true that I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to chains, but I'm a strong believer in moderation. One can neither snub them entirely nor choose them as their only dining option. I do enjoy them occasionally and I have a soft spot for Cheesecake Factory. Well, there's also a soft spot for Outback Steakhouse, but you'll find out why in March. Cheesecake Factory does what chains do best: serve their food consistently. D. and I refuse to wait a few lifetimes for a table, so we'll drop by CF at odd hours. We were in Mission Valley running errands and it was 8:15pm, so we decided to see if the rush was over. It was, indeed, and we waited only 10 minutes for a table.

Our server brought a basket of house bread, including their brown bread. Charlie's Best Bread in Pacific Beach, our favorite bakery, carries a bread they call SQUAW bread. It's very similar to CF's brown bread.

The other loaf is sourdough. For the first time in my visits to CF, the bread was not very good. They tasted ok, but the sourdough's crust was overbaked and the brown bread was smushed flat. I ordered my usual Thai Chicken Pasta. Really, they should call it Thai-inspired pasta, because the only thing remotely Thai about this dish is the peanut-based sauce. Well, that and the bean sprouts. I don't know who thought that a large pile of raw bean sprouts would be a good accompaniment to cooked pasta, but taste-wise, it's a little jarring. However, the sprouts do lighten the heavy pasta and sauce a little bit. Also, they scream ASIAN!!!

I do enjoy that peanut sauce, though. The portions are huge and this plate made for dinner and the next day's lunch. Now, the whole chain-knocking aside, Cheesecake Factory's cheesecakes are mostly very good. Yes, there are a ton of wacky flavors, but almost every single piece I've eaten has been done well.

I was too full to have a slice in-house, so I ordered a slice of Adam's Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple to-go. Now, whoever dreamed up this cake is a fucking genius. In fact, s/he might be a fucking genius who is my long-lost twin. They may as well call it Everything-That-Moowie-Loves cheesecake.

They don't mess with the actual cheesecake. For the most part, it's left alone and they mess with the crust and add toppings. The cheesecake itself was exceptionally good this time around. It was light and creamy. Delicious. The flavors were nicely balanced. Now, for the awesome add-ons. The crust is a Oreo-esque chocolate cookie crust. They put Butterfinger chunks on the crust and on top of the cheesecake. Lots of drizzled chocolate and topped with a swirl of peanut butter icing. Like I said, it's everything I love.

There will be no James Beard awards for CF. Nor should there be. For what it is, I absolutely love it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Moo Moment: Things I Currently Find Amusing



On this rainy Friday, I figured I'd take a moment to spout about the things that I find comforting. My current favorite things, if you will.

  • Strawberry jam on Jewish rye for breakfast.
  • Red wine, especially the Spanish or Argentine variety.
  • The three ABs on TV: Anthony Bourdain, Alton Brown, and Alec Baldwin.
  • Knitting... that scarf will be ready by summer. Dammit.
  • Running with Bear. Moo runs. Moo staggers. Bear power-walks. It's sad that the dog's in better shape than me.
  • Pho ga... there's nothing like good chicken noodle soup.
  • Trying to cook Indian food. Yes, you just heard the collective horrified gasp of many Indian grandmothers.
  • Pilates with J. You know it burns so good when it hurts to cough afterwards.
  • Eating vegetables. I hate beets.
  • Tinkering with my new espresso maker.
  • Pondering what to do with the rest of my life. Eeek!
  • Working through seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In the 90's, I gave up on it after the original first season. I had no idea DS9 turned out to be so good. Second only to The Next Generation, methinks.
  • American Gladiators. I would totally apply to be on that show if I wouldn't be smushed like an insect by the gladiators.
  • The Other Boleyn Girl. Trashy, dramatic, riveting... wait, it's the English monarchy! The book was great and I expect the movie to be pretty good. Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana are the icing on the cake.
And that's it for now. Perhaps I should turn this into a Dr. Cox-ian rant and end it with "... and Hugh Jackman." Scrubs fans, you know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Red Rice



Ah, old rice. Once cooked, it lasts for a couple of days before drying into a gross and grainy hunk. It's perfectly fine reheated, but Chinese people like to use old rice to make something fresh. It's said that old rice makes the best fried rice. In my experience, it's true. Since you're adding a ton of moisture through eggs and other condiments, freshly cooked rice would turn mushy. Soy sauce is popular for fried rice, but I'm a purist. Eggs, salt, pepper, and scallions.

However, there's another way to do it that's easy and rather tasty. It's simply named "red rice," and I'm used to seeing it served with roasted cornish game hens.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tablespoons of oil, any kind is fine
  • 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (use most of the can... exact amount not important)
  • 3 cloves minced garlic (can be adjusted to taste)
  • 4 cups cooked rice, at least one-day old
  • 2 Tbsp. butter (can be adjusted to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
If the rice is crumbly or difficult to work with, warm it in the microwave.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or wok. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and sautée lightly. Do not burn the garlic, as it will taste bitter. Add the tomato paste to the oil and stir with a spatula. The tomato paste will not soften too much, but the oil and garlic will be incorporated. Add the rice immediately. Stir frequently to incorporate the tomato paste mixture.

If rice is still very stiff, dribble (no more than one or two teaspoons at a time) chicken stock or water into it and mix very well before adding more. This would only be necessary of the rice is really dry.

Once the tomato paste is largely incorporated, add the butter.

Incorporate the butter thoroughly, then keep tossing the rice until it is a uniform red color.

Season with salt and pepper, then serve.

It's an easy way to dress up leftover rice. Alternatively, this can be done with uncooked rice. Follow the same steps with uncooked rice, then put it in the rice cooker, add an equivalent amount of water (equal to the cups of rice) and run the rice cooker like you normally would.

It can be served with anything, but it tastes best against skin-on chicken that's roasted until the skin is crispy. It doesn't have to be cornish game hens.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Red Velvet Cupcakes



After all the talk about red velvet cupcakes, I was seriously craving one when the long weekend rolled around. At first, I was thinking about going to Elizabethan Desserts up in Encinitas. However, Encinitas is a haul for me. I realized that, if I wanted to satisfy the craving, I'd have to suck it up and bake them myself.

Many thanks to Alice Q. for posting that cream cheese frosting recipe from Sprinkles. D.'s eyes lit up when he saw it and we definitely had to try it. All I can say is: Wow. I don't normally enjoy cream cheese frosting, but I liked this recipe.

I used the same recipe from the Star Trek party, which came from Bon Appetit's June 2006 issue. I omitted the coconut and cream cheese frosting and subbed the Sprinkles' frosting.

It was a lovely day for baking. We opened the kitchen windows and the back door. Bear was roosting outside and D. was cleaning the BBQ. I grabbed all of the ingredients, except for the buttermilk, and put the mixer next to the cutting board. We have an awesome bar-esque counter that sits lower and makes a great prep area.


After I creamed the butter/sugar, added the eggs, vanilla, and food coloring, the sifted flour and cocoa powder were added alternating with buttermilk. Once all the dry ingredients were thoroughly mixed, it was time to create the leavening for the cake. This particular method warms my heart, because it's an acid-base reaction. Buttermilk is somewhat acidic, but it serves as a medium for baking soda (NaHCO3) and vinegar (CH3COOH) to evolve CO2 gas, which forms bubbles.

Wikipedia's article on sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, includes the chemical equation of the reaction between baking soda and vinegar (acetic acid).

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → CH3COONa + H2O + CO2 (gas)

Ok, enough geekiness. The completed batter is red and almost fluffy in its lightness.

My only complaint about this recipe is that the resulting cupcakes are crumbly. They're extremely moist and tender, but they crumble very easily.

D. was very kind to sift 8 cups of powdered sugar (we doubled the frosting recipe) and add it to creamed butter and cream cheese.

The final product. Lots of frosting required. Yummy. I'm a happy camper.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Petition to end cruelty to farm animals



I will not be too soapbox-y on this blog, but I have to put this out there. Please consider this issue and, if you'd like, help it make the November ballot in California.

End Cruelty to Farm Animals

It's really easy to buy that steak, that pork chop, or those eggs without thinking about where they come from. The supermarket's a middleman and they're not going to spend a lot of time or money divulging where they're sourcing their products. Also, we don't think about how those animals live, how they're treated, and how they die. Hey, there's nothing wrong with not dwelling on it... unless you live on a farm, there's not a lot of reasons to ponder livestock handling (husbandry?). Well, the time has come where everyone, no matter where they're from or what they do, should probably give it a second or two.

This isn't about not eating meat. I'm the last person to advocate giving up meat. I'd make the worst vegetarian alive (well, second to D.). It is, however, making choices about what kind of agricultural practices and vendors to support. Gestation crates, veal crates, and caging egg-laying birds aren't necessary to bring meat and eggs to our tables. We don't have to give up much for ending these practices and the animals don't have to suffer to be our dinners. It's been said that animals that are not stressed or abused tend to produce better products (i.e. that omelet will taste damned good). I won't go too deeply into it, but I'll ask this: How would you feel if you were crammed into a box barely bigger than you and forced to stay in it for months, if not years, at a time?

Or consider this (quoted from Humane California's website), since it's a great analogy: "Basically, you're asking a sow [female pig] to live in an airline seat. . . "

We bitch plenty about airline seats and how airlines skimp by taking away those precious inches (I'm looking at you, United Airlines) and making us sit in those seats for 10-15 hours for an international flight. Now there's proof that conditions like deep vein thrombosis, which can result from sitting in one position for too long, can kill you. Well, imagine animals living their lives in those conditions. Joint deterioration and lameness come quickly. Sure, we eat them and they do die eventually, but if we still have the same products by eliminating these methods, then aren't we abusing them for the hell of it? For our own convenience?

All right, thanks for bearing with the rant.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sushi Deli 1



D. and I took a break from our vow to eat out less. We started Sunday with Chicago on a Bun/Wired and ended it with Sushi Deli 1. We met up with D.D. and D.B. for dinner, then headed back to our place to watch King of California. Good movie, by the way.

I haven't been here in about 8 months or so. Sushi Deli 1 is a prime example for being very good for what it is. Cheap and fast Japanese-American food. No, it's not going to win awards for authenticity or innovation, but it fills its niche very well.

The first of three Sushi Deli restaurants, this location is constantly crowded. The service is good and the ambiance is a deafening roar inside the restaurant.

D. started with the fried gyoza. They're not bad. Lightly fried all over, they taste pretty good and are nicely wrapped. D. wonders if they're made on-site or if Sushi Deli purchases frozen ones.

I ordered the Ume Combo. For $6.99, it's a lot of food.

Small sushi platter with CA rolls, cooked egg, and shrimp. Nothing adventurous. It's decent and quite fresh.

My favorite part is the croquette. It's essentially a fish stick. Flavorful white fish mashed with veggies, shaped into a "stick", and rolled in panko crumbs. Then, it's fried until it's light and crisp. Great stuff.

Their teriyaki is ok. It's kind of gooey and a bit too sweet, but good with rice. They switched to using more dark meat. It keeps costs lower, I think, and I like it. Dark meat stays more moist.

Basic iceberg salad with miso ginger dressing. Not bad. Fresh greens with good tomatoes, so it's not bad at all.

D. had the beef teriyaki combination for his entree. The combinations come with miso soup, rice, and salad during dinnertime. For lunch, it's the above plus a drink.

I ended my meal with two pieces of nigiri. Some of you out there might be wondering why I'd order nigiri at a place like this. However, I find their ikura (salmon roe) is pretty good. Fresh and salty, it's a delicious and rather large piece of sushi.

The crowds are the only thing that keeps me away from this place. It's a fabulous lunch spot, but it's too far from work to justify the trip. They're not open for lunch on weekends, but how I wish they were.