Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Perfect BLT

This week, MSNBC is running an article about the secrets to a perfect BLT. Personally, while I love the 'B' and 'T' part of a BLT, I can pretty much do without the 'L', especially if the B_T comes with lots of mayo. I am intrigued, however, by one of the recipes in the article, where the 'L' doesn't stand for lettuce, but rather for liver. Liver, as in foie gras.

Hey, now before you make that Mr. Yuk face, you should give it a try, especially if you happen to be on the Chicago City Council. Who knows, you might even like it. I'm not kidding. A short while back, my girlfriend and I tried the PB&J foie gras sandwich appetizer at Hawthorne Lane (22 Hawthorne Lane; 415-777-9779). Both of us thought that it was absolutely fantastic. I hope that they keep that item on the menu as they go through some upcoming changes.

IHRDb: Baked Squash

Back when I was in grad school, I lived down the street from a Black-Eyed Pea restaurant. The Black-Eyed Pea is a casual, sit-down restaurant chain that serves homestyle comfort food, like chicken fried steak, pot roast, and meatloaf. However, my favorite dish to eat there was one of their vegetable sides - the baked squash casserole, er, I mean hotdish. It was so good that my roommates and I would often get a second helping of squash to go along with the one that came with the entree.

Though I no longer live in Colorado (nor in Texas) where the restaurants are located, I found a recipe that is an adequate facsimile of the original, so I will offer it as the second entry in the IHRDb:

Baked squash hotdish

8-10 medium-size yellow squash
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), plus additional for topping
1 stick butter or margarine, plus 1 tablespoon for topping, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut tips off squash and cut each squash into 3 or 4 pieces. Drop squash into a large pot with enough boiling water to cover. Return to boil, reduce heat, and cook until tender. Drain in colander and mash with a potato masher.

Combine with beaten eggs, panko, the stick of butter, sugar, salt, onion and pepper. Turn into Pyrex dish that has been lightly greased or sprayed with nonstick spray. Mix a small amount of panko with the additional melted butter. Sprinkle casserole with a light layer of buttered panko. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Pulled pork

Beginning in the 1950s, American pork producers tried to change pork's image of being a fatty meat by instituting breeding programs to reduce fat content. While this has resulted in leaner meat as demanded by the U.S. market, the taste and quality of American-raised pork has dramatically declined as well. This is not the case in Germany, where I spent the last week and where the pork is as tender and flavorful as it was a century ago.

In a tribute to pork (and as requested by my friend Heather), I'll share a recipe for crockpot pulled pork. Yes, I know, real pulled pork comes from smoking a pork shoulder over low heat for many, many hours, but for those of us who don't have a smoker handy, this isn't a bad substitute.

Crockpot Pulled Pork

1 Pork Butt Roast (3-4 lbs)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
liquid smoke, to taste (optional)

Place the pork roast in the crockpot, fat side up. Cut the roast in half to get it to fit, if necessary. Cover with the onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients and put on top of the onions. Cook on low for at least 8 hours (preferably 10 hours), until the roast is fork tender.

Remove roast to cutting board. Pull it apart from the bone with two forks. Meanwhile, pour off the sauce into a container. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. Add the sauce to the pork and serve.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I scream, you scream, we all scream for cookies 'n cream

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the cafeteria at work serves frozen yogurt. There are usually two flavor selections, along with the ever-popular "twist" option. Normally, I don't care too much for their flavor choices but today they were serving my favorite, cookies 'n cream, which was in ample supply as they had forgotten to label their selection on the machine. (Most people seemed to opt for the labelled Kahlua flavored yogurt instead of taking their chances. Go figure.)

The main reason why I don't care for the other flavors, which include all-American favorites like Strawberry Avalanche, "Fresh" Peach, and Chocolate Espresso, is that they never taste like the food that they are supposed to taste like. Except, of course, for cookies 'n cream. Unfortunately the science of food chemistry has yet to develop the right mix of esters to reproduce these natural flavors in frozen yogurt. But there's the trick! Cookies are artificial to start with (unless, of course, I've been overlooking those groves of cookie trees growing in the wilderness), so the magic of science and alchemy has been able to replicate the taste precisely, which means good eats for me.

Thank you, Mr. Science!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Share Our Strength's Restaurants for Relief 2

The following is a message from Share Our Strength, a national non-profit organization that inspires and organizes individuals and businesses to share their strengths to help end hunger.

One Night, One Meal Can Make a Difference

"Dine out on Tuesday, August 29th at your favorite participating restaurant and you'll be helping relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region."

"Share Our Strength invites you to dine out on Tuesday, August 29th, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, for Share Our Strength’s Restaurants for Relief 2, presented by American Express. This nationwide event is the organization’s second annual dine-out to benefit Gulf Coast recovery efforts and is organized in partnership with Food Network and the National Restaurant Association."

"Diners across the country can enjoy food and drink at thousands of participating restaurants that are contributing a portion of their proceeds to Share Our Strength’s hurricane recovery efforts. As part of its efforts to end childhood hunger in America, Share Our Strength is helping families in the Gulf Coast region. By dining out on August 29th, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, your support will help rebuild school cafeterias, open summer meal programs, provide assistance for affected restaurant workers, and more."

To find a participating restaurant near you, go to the Share Our Strength's Restaurants for Relief 2 web page.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Review: Sushi Bistro

A couple of months ago, my girlfriend and I were in the mood for sushi and decided to check out Sushi Bistro (445 Balboa Street; 415-933-7100), which was the winner of the sushi category in the Best of Citysearch in 2005. During that visit, we were wowed by the quality of the fish and the creativity in their extensive selection of sushi rolls. Tonight, we decided to go back for a return visit and again we were delighted.

Sushi Bistro is located in a non-descript building in a quiet section of the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. It's an intimate restaurant, having seating for perhaps 35 people, including 10 at the sushi bar, where we parked ourselves tonight. Looking at the menu, you'll notice a couple of lists of unique dishes. The first list, aptly named "Something Unique", has a number of interesting starters and small bites, both raw and cooked. On our first visit, we didn't order anything from this section, so tonight we decided to try a couple of items: Hot Love (baby lobster, avocado, and crab rolled in white fish with a sweet sauce) and Mr. Brown, an inari roll with unagi, avocado, and tofu, lightly deep-fried and served with unagi sauce. Both of the dishes were good, but we felt that they paled comparsion to the items we chose from the "Chef Special Rolls" portion of the menu.

On our first visit, we went for Nemo Found, a roll with sake (salmon), unagi, cucumber, and avocado (they go through a lot of avocado there) wrapped in soybean paper (as opposed to the usual nori wrapper). We also tried the New Legend maki, with shrimp tempura, a spicy aioli, and avocado topped with seared albacore, green onions, and a spicy garlic sauce. Both of these rolls were excellent, having an interesting mix of textures and flavors. On our visit tonight, we only picked one maki roll, the Watermelon-Man, a roll consisting of spicy tuna, mango, and black sesame seed, topped with macadamia nuts and avocado (like I said, they use a lot of avocado there). Though we weren't sure about the mango, the sweet and ripe fruit went extremely well with the spicy tuna - we both enjoyed every bite.

Though we give a tip of the hat to the maki rolls, both my girlfriend and I are all about the nigiri, which shine brightly at Sushi Bistro. On our first visit, we ordered yellowtail belly, unagi, ocean trout (which was a daily special), and aji mackeral (also a special). One of the things that often gets overlooked at a sushi joint is the skill of the sushi chef. On more than one occasion, I've had nigiri and sashimi that fell well short of their potential, despite the quality of the fish, due to a poor job of slicing by the sushi chef. I've even had toro that was ruined due to the shoddy job of cutting on the part of the chef. This is certainly not the case at Sushi Bistro. The main chef, who worked behind the bar during both of our visits, did a masterful job slicing and crafting our nigiri. All of the nigiri pieces that we ate had wonderfully cut pieces of delectable fish. The unagi was wonderfully roasted and covered in a savory sauce - it was best unagi that I've had in a long time (if not ever). The ocean trout nigiri was awesome; a large cut of fish, perfectly sliced against the grain and similar in appearance to salmon, but much better. If it's on the special menu again (it was not listed tonight), we will definitely order it. The yellowtail belly was also fantastic. It was reminiscent of toro, but at $5.25 for two pieces, about a third as expensive. Like the ocean perch, it was exquisitely cut and melted in my mouth - another winner. The aji was good too, though it was a bit oily for my girlfriend's palate. On our visit tonight, we again selected the yellowtail belly and the unagi and tried out scallop and albacore tuna belly. The scallop was very good, again very finely cut for that melt-in-your-mouth experience. The albacore belly was decent, but not quite as good as the yellowtail belly. Still, it was quite nice. All in all, the nigiri, generously portioned, skillfully sliced, and fabulously priced, is definitely a highlight at this restaurant.

Lest you only order from the printed menu, we recommend that you also look at the specials of the day listed on the chalkboard behind the sushi counter. As I mentioned above, the ocean trout nigiri was fantastic. Tonight, we selected the BBQ ahi tuna, which came just lightly seared on all sides and covered with a spice rub. (I picked out celery salt as one of the predominant components of the rub - surprisingly interesting and tasty.)

Finally, I should mention that the service at Sushi Bistro is very solid. My girlfriend noted that it appeared that the sushi chefs and the servers were coordinating the orders in such a way so that each party would get part of their order on a rotating basis. In that way, no one party had to wait a long time to start getting food. Also, this allowed for everyone's meal to be well paced - instead of getting hit with all of the items that you order all at once, you would get a couple of things at a time. Despite the fact that they had a full house for much of the evening, the servers never lost track of our orders and were reasonably attentive to our needs.

Sushi Bistro is definitely a winner in our books. The combination of the fantastic food, great prices, and good service has elevated Sushi Bistro toward the top of my list of favorite restaurants in San Francisco.

IHRDb: Wild Rice Hotdish

The other night, one of my friends suggested that I post some of my favorite recipes here. In particular, he was interested in having me post some hotdish recipes that he wanted. Okay, I know that you are going to ask, what is this "hotdish" thing you speak of? Well, for those of you possessing an inferior education or not fortunate enough to have spent a portion of your life in Minnesota, "hotdish" is the haute cuisine term for a "casserole". Don't argue with me. Pretty soon, you'll be saying that there's no such thing as Peppermint Bon Bon. Sheesh.

So, inspired by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), I have decided to start the Internet Hotdish Recipe Database (IHRDb for short), which will catalog all hotdish recipes known to, well, uh, me.

Without further ado, here is the first entry in the IHRDb, courtesy of my friend Christy, who passed along the recipe to me.

Wild Rice Hotdish

2 cups of wild rice, cooked (see package for cooking directions)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 tsp. soy sauce (more or less, to taste)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (casing removed)
1 4-oz. can sliced mushrooms
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 cup sour cream
1 large onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat and drain. Combine with the remaining ingredients and put into a large Pyrex baking pan. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for 1 hour, or until bubbly.

Actually, Christy's original recipe included bean sprouts, which I have omitted since I don't care for them in this dish, but by all means, include them if you like. Hey, you'll be eating it, not me. For the baking pan, I suggest that you use one that is at least 9" x 13" in dimension, as this recipe will make a lot of food. (I use a 10.5" x 14.75" pan.) Also, you can sprinkle on slivers of toasted almonds after you have pulled the dish from the oven if you desire. It's a very hearty dish and goes well with your typical fall or winter fare. Give it a shot for Thanksgiving.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I want my baby back, baby back, baby back ribs

Last night, I prepared a few racks of Alton Brown's No-Backyard Baby Back Ribs. For those of you not familiar with Alton, he is the host of the popular Food Network show Good Eats as well as the commentator on Iron Chef America. This particular recipe, originally published in his book I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking, is very easy to make and takes very little time; it only takes me about 20 minutes of active prep time to ready three racks of ribs with the dry rub. The most time-consuming part of the recipe is the preparation of the sauce. Depending on how much braising liquid is there, it can take up to 45 minutes to reduce it down to the right thickness. It also reheats very well, which makes it a good option if you want/need to prepare some racks a day or two ahead of when you want to serve it.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing about this recipe if it weren't any good. It's been a hit every single time that I've made it. (And I've made it a lot of times - over the past three years, I've probably made at least 120 lbs of ribs using this recipe.) I've made some small tweaks to the recipe to make it more to my liking - I'll pass these tips along to you:

  1. Remove the membrane from the ribs before you apply the rub. If you don't do this, you'll have a chewy mess - not Good Eats.

  2. Cut down on the amount of honey in the sauce. The 1:1 ketchup-to-honey ratio results in some mighty sweet sauce, too sweet for my taste buds. I cut down the amount of honey to around 1/3 to 1/2 of the amount specified in the recipe. I don't really measure the amounts of the ingredients that I put into the sauce, so that is rough estimate.

  3. Add some liquid smoke to the sauce. I use Colgin brand liquid smoke (hickory to be more precise). Actually, I forgot this in last night's batch of ribs.

  4. Add 2-3 parts of kosher salt to the Rub No. 9. Oh, I find that if one part=two tablespoons (see recipe for what I mean by "one part"), I get the right amount of rub for three large racks of ribs.

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes, definitely one that I recommend that people try at least once.

Monday, August 07, 2006

More anti-diet

I read an article in the San Jose Mercury News about the growing problem (no pun intended) of the American waistline. The article attributes a large part of the blame on the supersized portion sizes in the typical American meal, citing as an example the fare at Romano's Macaroni Grill.

Suppose you head over to the Macaroni Grill tonight and order a simple three-course meal: the shrimp and artichoke dip appetizer, a spaghetti and meatball dinner (with meat sauce), and for dessert, the cheesecake with fudge sauce. Sure, that sounds like a pretty heavy meal but still somewhat reasonable, right? Well, if you licked your plates clean, you'd put away a Kobayashiesque 5090 calories. To put this in perspective, you'd consume fewer calories if you ate 17 Johnsonville brats for dinner. (Note that if you could have eaten said 17 brats in 10 minutes, you would have taken home $250 and 10th place in the Johnsonville brat eating contest!)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Best of the wurst (the bratwurst, that is)

A month after his efforts at Coney Island, Takeru Kobayashi downed a record setting 58 Johnsonville brats in 10 minutes. Unlike the Nathan's hot dog eating contest, it was all meat with no buns.

Checking out the nutritional information label and doing some quick mental calculations, that works out to 16820 calories and 1450 grams of fat, with enough sodium to form a salt lick.

As Homer Simpson would say: "Mmmmm... fattening..."

Review: Bacar

This past Friday, my girlfriend and I both got out of work early so we decided to check out the lunch special at Bacar (448 Brannan Street; 415-904-4100), a trendy spot in SoMa known for its expansive wine collection. Featuring a three story glass-enclosed wine wall, Bacar ("wine goblet" in Latin) features more than 1400 selections from all over the world and 80 wines by the glass.

Lunch at Bacar is a once-weekly affair, available on Fridays only. Thanks to congestion on the Bay Bridge, we almost missed lunch, but managed to find street parking right in front of the restaurant and arrived with 10 minutes to spare. The restaurant was practically devoid of the lunch time crowd by the time we arrived, but we were cheerfully greeted at the door by their gracious host and quickly seated in the airy, three-level space.

The lunch menu at Bacar is a three-course prix fixe, consisting of an appetizer, an entree, and dessert for $21.95. You can also order a pizza from their wood-fired oven a la carte, but we were both very hungry and opted for the featured items from the main menu.

To start, my girlfriend ordered the wok-roasted PEI black mussels, while I opted for the arugula salad. The mussels arrived steaming hot in a huge metal bucket, steeped in a flavorful white wine sauce containing large cloves of softened garlic. The order was enormous, easily big enough to have been an entree in disguise. The arugula salad came with halved figs, candied walnuts, and crumbled bits of blue cheese. I wasn't sure that the blue cheese would work in the salad, but it matched very well with the figs, which were soft and perfectly ripe (we are, after all, smack in the middle of the fig season).

After downing the appetizers, which made serious dents in our once-ravenous hunger, we were presented with our main courses. My girlfriend selected the roasted petit chicken, which came with roasted fingerling pototoes and brussels sprouts. I chose the pan-seared halibut, which came in two generous sized fillets on a bed of mushroom risotto. As is our norm, we split our entrees, switching plates after we had finished our half of the dish. The chicken, which looked about the size of a cornish hen, was mostly deboned and nicely roasted. The bird was flavorful and moist - it was a very nice dish. Even the brussels sprouts, which are among my least favorite vegetables, were pretty good. The halibut fillets were lightly seared on one side. I would have preferred a slightly more developed crust on the fish, but that would have probably overcooked the fillets, which were very moist and succulent. The risotto accompanying the fish was creamy and chock-full of mushrooms. Another fine dish - Bacar went 2-for-2 on our entrees.

By the time dessert (espresso gelato for her, watermelon/strawberry sorbet for me) came around, we were both stuffed. We made some efforts to tackle the sweet offerings, but it was an uphill battle. As we were taking care of the tab, our server mentioned that we were welcome to stay for Happy Hour, which starts on Fridays after lunch ends at 2:30pm. The Happy Hour specials include $1 oysters from the raw bar (yes, you read that right, $1!), and 1/2 price drinks until 6:30pm. Unfortunately, given our satiated state, we had to decline, but we are both looking forward to the next time when we start our weekends early so that we can check out the wine selection and raw bar at Bacar.