Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spring Skiing

We didn't end up trying that lamb dish. Instead, E. brought home two liberty duck legs and made an INCREDIBLE meal with them. The secret was to pan-fry them first and then bake them for about 1/2 hour.

The St. Patrick's day party on Friday night was a huge success. I had no idea we had that kind of draw. Or, maybe people just came for the five pounds of brisket we made! We also braised some cabbage and roasted about ten pounds of potatoes. It was absolutely great. The only problem was that our ~40 guests were so ravenous that we barely got to taste the food.

I decided that it was o.k. to continue the beef eating all weekend. I do this about once or twice a year, usually around this time. I usually don't eat beef because a: I don't prefer it and b: Reagan deregulated the beef industry in the 1980s, thereby opening up the floodgates (as it were) for bovine fecal matter's being allowed into beef. Remember all the people getting e. Coli from Jack in the Box in the nineties? They weren't eating the chicken sandwiches, folks.
Anyways, since I was food-slumming, I decided to get the slummiest of the beef choices out there. E. and I went skiing/snowboarding for the weekend, and to energize myself for a day on the slopes I ordered chicken fried steak and eggs with biscuit and gravy at our new favorite restaurant in the central Sierras, Bear Ridge. It was awesome. However, it was so huge I couldn't finish it and had to leave most of it. Then at the lodge around lunchtime I ate a hot dog. I don't know why I like the hot dogs they serve there, they are just pretty damned good.

And what skiing!! Saturday and Sunday dumped two FEET of snow on the central Sierras. Monday morning came and so did the sun, so we high-tailed it up there to enjoy the scads of fresh powder. We were such wimps though, although we both work out every day we could only handle about five hours of skiing. We also took a few rough tumbles so that added to the fatigue. All in all it was the best day of boarding I've had all winter.

Tuesday night we returned home. We decided to go out to dinner since we won't be doing it again soon due to budgetary constraints. I re-discovered an old favorite, Phuping Thai in the 99 ranch mall in El Cerrito/Richmond. The food was as incredible as ever. When we got the bill I remembered why I haven't been there in years. For four dishes and two beers it was seventy dollars. Ack!

I did not get a chance to try my pomegranite curry this weekend. I realized I would like to do it Chu-Chee style, but no one sells Chu-Chee curry paste. Therefore it must be a variation on some kind of paste (probably red or panang). I will look into recipes.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Erin Go Blog

Happy fookin' St. Patrick's day! Today your humble host plans no imbibery. However, my partner in crime has come up with a lamb dish that we're going to try out tonight. Usually I wouldn't cook something off of foodtv, but this actually looks good!

Lamb Shoulder Roast

We'll have the digital camera on hand and will post with our results.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Poppin' Caps in your Puddin'

A two-post day! Wow.

I forgot to mention that last night E. and I made Yorkshire pudding. Yes, despite what you've heard, there is good English food out there (apologies, it's bash England week what with St. Patrick's day coming up and all), and yorkshire pudding is about the best of it.
I remember having a really good one in London in about 2002. There was a nice pub near my sister's place that, like all pubs in London, closes at 11 p.m. sharp (though I hear they're extending that to 12 now). The food was mostly unpalatable, and it was an especially high risk time for BSE (although you'd never know it by talking to the crowd I hooked up with the minute I hit the street there. "Have a steak! They're really good!" No thanks, but I'll let you buy me another beer, mate). In England they cook Yorkshire pudding the old fashioned way, in a sort of pie tin so that you get one huge pudding. This ain't the pudding your gramma makes out of a box either. It's salty, eggy, and floury. Matter of fact, add milk and butter to that and you've got all of the ingredients.

A big ol' trad English Yorkshire Pudding

I managed to get mine served with a circular pork sausage inside. It was awesome. When we were young and stupid and ate beef all the time, we would put pieces of beef inside the pudding and eat it like a sandwich. Now that I'm oh-so-grown up and don't eat beef much, I had the idea to cook them with a bit of lamb. To E.'s delight, this did not affect the plumping process at all, and the result was delicious. Of course, this is not a weight watchers' meal at all. I didn't eat between 4 and 10 and worked out for an hour and a half just to justify eating six of these puddings last night.

Now on to the criticism. I'm nothing if not a critic.

On the foodie blog Culinary Epiphanes, a sugar-coated romp through various baking procedures and clearly a halfway house for post-Mollie Katzen refugees who woke up one day and remembered that they actually liked butter before Ol' Moll Katz led them up the enchanted broccoli path, there was a discussion of what they termed "popovers". Now, as a budding linguist, and especially one who studies language change over time, dialects, and the like, I am perfectly willing to accept that this may be what the name for Yorkshire pudding is becoming in these here lower 48. However, in a bout of schoolmarmly "It's 'whom' not 'who'", I have to point out that the American nomenclature is not the correct, original one. Rather than thralling you with a diatribe on my opinions regarding the subject, I'll instead just reproduce what I wrote on the site:

Posted by Dr Five Pints @ 03/11/2005 07:15 PM PST
Using this recipe, these are actually mini-Yorkshire Puddings.
We made them this way (in the popover pan) my whole life, and
now as a grown-up I make 'em that way too. The traditional way
to grease them was to cook them beneath a beef roast and let the
fat drip down into whatever reservoir you would be using to cook
the puddings until it was 1/8 to 1/4 full. Since I hate beef (and since
no one cooks that way anymore), I just put a pat of butter in the
bottom of each. Or, if I'm cooking duck, about a teaspoon of duck fat.
They are MM-MM good. I forgot to mention...for the problem Julie
is having, the solution is simple. First, DO NOT open the oven, ever,
until they are done. The 30-minute rule is a fallacy. Do what you have
to do to make that oven window clean enough so that you can tell if
they're a-poppin' or not. Also, as with so many things, keep the batter
nice and cold until the minute you put it into the hot pan (yes, you should
heat the pan to melt the butter, please see my other comment).
Furthermore, an alternative cooking method (one my grandmother
doesn't approve of but I've been having quite a lot of success with) is to
skip the changing of the heat and just cook all the way through at 350-
375. Try these variations and you'll have success!

Sure, I wrote that entry in a much nicer tone than I wanted to. Sure, I'm dismayed that someone like me who hardly bakes at all can make this dish better than my mother, my grandmother, and all of these women on the Culinary Epiphanes site who apparently have nothing better to do than gab about baked goods. But what really bugs me is the etymology of the term for these hot little babies. It's like everyone thinks they were dreamt up in the American south by someone who was short on ingredients and had to feed the chillin's less paw not return with a hunk o' bear. It's like how people think Italy invented noodles, or that the French have always used tomatoes. Irksome. Some sources will call them "Popovers Yorkshire Pudding", some "Popover Puddings". I like to call them "Yorkies" but that makes people think of eating dog ("Oooh! Did you find the meaty treat in your Yorkie? Woof"). This woman is supposed to be an expert, and the photography on her site is excellent. So excellent, in fact, it shows how crappy her puddings are. They should never fall like in her picture. The best thing about the Culinary Epiphanes' coverage of these 'popovers' is that it has a photo of them as they should really be:

Image used strictly without permission.

But all dissing aside, these are some very good little popover-like puddings to make and enjoy. I guess I got hostile because this is considered a family specialty, rather like all those people who get all hot under the collar if I don't like their recipes on the Asian homestyle cooking list I'm on. I'm sure they have nuances that their grandmother taught them that I could never guess at. That's how I am with this dish--none of the recipes you find will convey to you what ol' granny Ryan passed down to me.

Instant MSG Me At Lunchtime

It's a dreary day out. Luckily a woman in the office has set up an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet day to benefit the Leukemia/Lymphoma society. So, today, we get to eat well.
The best dishes included: Bean Sauce Fish (my favorite), Yard Long Bean with Pickled Vegetables, Bean Curd and Shiitake, Szechuan Eggplant, and dim sum desserts. This is not too exciting an entry, I know, but this weekend's meals promise to be a thing to remember. In a rare bout of beef consumption, Friday night in celebration of St. Patrick's day (no I'm not catholic, I just always like it when a Celt escapes the Britons) we're cooking a 3 to 4 pound brisket. The last one I cooked was about twice that size--this will be more manageable. They shrink to about 75% of their original size anyhow. Then on Saturday we're off to the mountains to snowboard, kayak, and cut wood. I may be trying out my new pomegranite curry in a little log cabin at 4500 feet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

chili peppers burn my gut

Went to a new taqueria today for lunch. Had a carnitas burrito. Doesn't sound too exciting on its face but this place's salsas were GOOD. So good, we didn't even mind them frying up about a pound or two of cabesa and the accompanying smell emanating throughout our meal.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Monday, Monday...

It's Monday and I'm back to work. Translation: time to blog on the clock. Well, not literally, but it is the company's internet I'm using.
It was a rare work-free weekend for me. So, I painted the house and did a bunch of yard stuff that had been waiting for me to get to it. Foodwise it was unremarkable, except for two meals.
Friday night we went to Yuet Foo, our favorite seafood restaurant. Instead of the usually frosty reception we're used to we were greeted with smiles and drinks in hand. I guess the constant good tipping is getting noticed! We ordered fried oysters (Oysters can really only be done two ways in my book - fresh or fried. Screw the BBQ version. If you have an oyster that's so big it needs to be barbecued, you've got too big an oyster), two geoduck clams (one with XO sauce and one with ginger/scallions) and "Salt and pepper calamari" (which turned out to be deep fried calamari). Yuet Foo never disappoints in the food arena. The only thing we've had there that we didn't really like was the fried jellyfish. Such a weird texture. I'm sure millions of people love it, but if you didn't grow up with it this probably isn't for you.
Then, last night, we had a small barbecue. We made more of the stock-and-water rice (but this time used all golden rice), and I 'cued one brine cured pork chop (regular pork chops are a snooze, but these are incredible) and two boudin blanc sausages. E. made a stir fry with kael, bok choy, leeks, onions, garlic and oyster sauce. I added some Yank Sing hot bean sauce because she likes it spicy. Everything turned out great and we both have enough for lunch today.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Bad Porn

Nope, it's not Jenna Jameson in her declining years. It's BAD FOOD PORN. The bone I have to pick (so to speak) is with Specialty's Direct®, and the pukebrimming chokehold it has on office folk everywhere in the Bay.

First of all, what is up with that name? It's not as if people mean to say "Let's go to that place that Specialty opened....nice fella, Specialty. What's it called? Oh yeah. Specialty's", as if it were a Mel's or a Denny's (which despite its attempts to pretend otherwise it really is). And it's not as though it means "Specialties Direct" as in numerous specialties forced directly down your waiting craw. My guess is that the originators of the brand did not know the distinction between the possessive "y's" and the plural "ies" and used the possessive for the plural. Your sure that there not to smart when they're spelling is so confusing. So when the time came to incorporate and all that, they already had so many napkins and menus and whoknowswhatelse printed up that they had to stick with the original, embarassing handle.

Now to the food. Like, what is this thing?

Well duh, I can tell it's a tuna sando. But what it really adds up to is a stained shirt and heartburn. What we have here is none other than some Bay Area businesspeoples' (note the possessive usage of the apostrophe) interpretation of what would seem appealing to bay area office workers, but is really so much of the same SE Rykoff / SYSCO that we're all so fond of. Enveloping this crapwich is Specialty's Direct®'s own bread, something they pride themselves on. In fact they pimp themselves as a bakery slash cafe, so we should all be wowed by the freshness of the bread they use. These oversized shingles that they call bread are substandard (while conforming to Bay Area pseudofoodies' notions of what necessary bread configurations should be) and reek of dough conditioner. What you get there is a huge gloppy mess a quarter of the way through the sandwich, because the circus tent of doughey joy has been made so structurally unsound by the pound of mayo-laden tuna, italian dressing, ranch, unripe tomatoes, half-pickled pickles and another layer of mayo on the bread that if it isn't already on your lap/shirt, it's gonna be. Forget about asking them to place the lettuce on either side of the fillings so you can save half of your sandwich for later and not be confronted with sandwich soup when you're hungry at the office at seven p.m. again; it's too complex. Furthermore, don't expect them to leave out the salad dressings and give them to you on the side in the hopes that you can use them later on those carrots you brought from home. Nope. What you'll get there is charged for two sides of dressing. This is the same problem I have with most pizza places. If you are ordering a pizza and one person wants cheese, the other pepperoni, don't even think about asking them to put ALL the pepperoni from a regular pizza on one side. No siree. We're happy to charge you for a whole topping, though, for intruding on our day and only making us work half as hard on the toppings. I worked at pizzerias long enough to know this to be a bullshit response.
The first time I tried Specialty's was at the behest of coworkers, who insisted it was convenient and tasty. Not only is it neither of those, it is also expensive and the ordering process cumbersome. Walk in, and some guy will take your order at the door. Even if you are standing in front of the register with no one in line, the older high school dropouts do not trust those young enough to still be in high school to write down "#10 No Salad Dressing" as well as ring you up. Hell, they don't even have to be able to spell, they actually only write "#10 NSD", so what gives?

On to the salads. These are so rank I would rather eat one made from miner's lettuce from a dog park. Who the hell is impressed by "hearts of romaine"? Isn't that another way of saying "pit of peach"? Yeah guy, your salad has a fancy name. But what it contains is the junk part of the GMO Lettuce Product® that is fit for nothing more than my compost bin. Scratch that, since it's GMO even the gaping maw of my compost bin would snap shut when it got a whiff of it. Who they save the green part for I don't know. Probably those who are fool enough to order the full caesar salad (which I believe they spell cesar). They know that these are the good customers, because they want a product drenched in salad dressing (jubilant cries of "#17 extra ceeeesar dressing!"), topped with overcooked, processed "chicken" and then topped with some of their wonderful cheese. I don't know where they get their cheese from, but Jaques Papin or anyone else who's ever had good parmesan wouldn't look at it twice. In an attempt to make their croutons seem 'fresher', they do not cook them long, resulting in that spongy sogginess that I, and I'm sure you, gentle reader, love so much. YOU BAKE BREAD. WE GET IT. It doesn't make you artisans. It does make me sick.

So just to show I'm up on current events, I'll say "Happy weekend to you all" (those of you who don't have to work on the weekend anyway. And if you do have to, what the hell. Call in sick. It's gorgeous out).

Scallops St.Techamuanvivit

I read on Chez Pim the other day about a recipe for braised scallops with a curry sauce. We invited my girlfriend's mom and dad over to try it. Amazingly, dad had already read the blog on the scallops and so it was a case of convergent evolution towards dinner. Here is (part of) the photo from Chez Pim:

Her recipe sounded really tantalizing, and her description of how she came up with it sounded very organic. If you want to read about it check out her site. It is essentially rice cooked with stock instead of water (you can substitute some water for the stock, we did 2:1 stock to water) incorporating some lightly caramelized leeks (we also used shallots because we only had two leeks), braised scallops with a curry sauce, and flash-fried leeks garnishing all.
The curry sauce in the recipe is identical to the basis for the curries I make, essentially the Thai standard: coco milk, fish sauce, curry paste, sugar. I was out of palm sugar so I used brown instead, it was just fine. It's important to use a good quality fish sauce as well. Cheap, second-pressing versions will make you regret their purchase. Pim wants you to reduce the curry (always a good idea) prior to use.
We all enjoyed the rice heartily. I used my special blend of Indian Jasmine, Thai Black, and Chinese Golden rice (so a long, medium, and short grain) which all gets stained purple by the Thai Black rice. The oh-so-European instructions to caramelize the leeks and then briefly fry the rice with them before putting them in the cooker had very good results.
All four of us are scallop people. We picked up the scallops at a local Japanese grocer, and they were definitely of sashimi quality. I was barbecuing some eggplant and salmon as well, so I let E. cook the scallops. She did a good job, but I think all four of us thought they ended up a little fishy. One person commented that they may have been better off left as sashimi!
That was probably too strong, because the scallops were good as they were. Also the garnish of flash-fried leeks was wonderful, and added the extra dimension of flavor and texture alluded to in Pim's original article.

On a side note, Dr. Five Pints didn't imbibe at all last night. Thus begins day three of a non-drinking binge. The reason is this: I am voluntarily going to have my liver tested by doctors in about a month for reasons only tangentially related to health. I don't want the doc to echo the one in The Pianist when he said "Liver the size of a football, but he'll live!". SO...with the extra funds I won't be throwing at beers of the world this month I'll be able to consistently use the best ingredients.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Body Movin'

New digs! The Joy!

We finally moved out of the upstairs unit I've inhabited in one way or another for the past several years and into a real house with a huge backyard, garage, and two bedrooms. Check it out:

It may not look like it's all that, but give it some time. I just got there and have been busy painting the inside, not to mention devoting all my finances to travel and a new stereo system. I scored a bunch of paint for free so will be painting the outside soon as well. Considering what I was able to do with my last place,
I think I'll be able to work something up for this one. We've already had some excellent barbecues. Last week I used the last of the miso paste (not soup base) that I bought in Shirakawago and barbecued whole trout on magnolia leaves. They were superb. The miso paste from the Hida-Takayama area is not what you would call sublime either--it's punchy, crunchy, and stimulating. I used what was left over and 'cued up a boneless leg of lamb which I've been enjoying for the past few days.

Blazing Knifehandles

Knives are of utmost importance. Most of my best I've acquired in Japan.
Tim has a famous blog that talks about the importance of knives, check it out:

Fire and Knives

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I think I'll call him "pinchy"

Pinchay Langosta is one of my favorite things to cook or eat. Everyone freaks out when you bring out that big, red beast and drop it onto a plate. Even people who don't like aquarium fish will find themselves slurping the connective tissues out of these babies.

This particular lobster was made hor mok style, where all the meat is removed from the tail and blended with crab or shrimp and a host of other things then steamed into a custard. Anyone who thinks this is a waste of lobster should be reminded that the claws are still there, and I think they're the best on the lob anyway.

So hor mok is a Thai moniker, indeed most of this meal was Thai in derivation. Thai has become the bay area's comfort food for certain. I myself have gone from knowing nothing about it seven years ago to being one of the best honky Thai chefs I know. In general, a Thai meal by Dr. Five Pints will include one or two curries, one or two appetizers, and a special dish such as soup or hor mok. I am planning a new curry that I'll post about when I've made it.

What does it mean?

By now you may be asking, "what is this blog for or about?", and of course the answer is not entirely forthcoming from the blog so far. What I intend it to be about is food - it will be another regional east bay foodie blog, to be sure. But I intend to make it a panafroamerasieruopaussie food revue.

By this I don't just mean reviews. I'm a bourgeois bohemian 30-year old male who prepares and enjoys extremely good food and spirits from all over the world. So, I'll be posting loads of things that I enjoy creating, eating, drinking, and seeing all over this planet.

In the past year I've enjoyed comestibles and beverages in Mexico, Hawai'i, Tahiti, Mo'orea, Japan and all parts of California. I've prepared literally hundreds of meals for groups that range from just me to nine or more people and have had a great time with it. Furthermore, I've been able to enjoy getting sloshed while doing so. Cooking is great that way - there's no danger because you're not leaving the house, so you can have five pints before dinner if you want to.

I'm sure all the other foodies out there will enjoy reading along and contributing as I continue on my quest to rid the world of its vegetable, meat, and liquor resources.

One pint, two pints, three pints, floor.

I have a question. If you had five beers, one to represent each continent, which would you pick for each? Here are my picks:

Asia: Sapporo
Europe: Guinness
Australia: Foster's
Africa: Tusker
America: Bud realistically, but preferentially Sierra Nevada