Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Strawberry Cooler for the Summer

On our trip to Napa Valley last month, Karen enjoyed a wonderful pre-dinner cocktail at our visit to Redd. The drink, Strawberry Blonde, was very refreshing and a wonderful thirst quencher, perfect for a warm summer day. Karen was talking about the drink for days afterwards so I decided to see if I could get the formula for this cocktail. Guy, the general manager at Redd, was kind enough to share the recipe with us.

The recipe calls for 3 parts of strawberry-citrus infused vodka, 1/2 part lime juice, 1/2 part Velvet Falernum, and a splash of simple syrup. These ingredients are mixed together, topped with club soda, and served on the rocks in a highball glass. The drink is so smooth that you barely even notice the alcohol.

Of course, in order to make this cocktail, you need to have some strawberry-citrus infused vodka on hand. Since you'd be hard-pressed to find such a flavored vodka at the liquor store, you'll have to make it yourself. A few weeks ago, I picked up a magnum of Ketel One vodka which would serve as the base for the drink. We decided to simplify the recipe a bit by focusing on the strawberry component of the flavoring, so I brought home several pints of fresh berries. After washing and hulling the berries, I cut them in half, dropped them into a glass spigot jar, and poured in the entire bottle of Ketel One. I sealed the jar and placed it into the refrigerator to allow the flavor of the fruit to infuse into the alcohol.


After a surprisingly enjoyable but exhausting hour of trampolining, we decided that we needed a drink to cool off. We had only infused the vodka for a week, but we thought that we'd give our homemade concoction a try. The cocktail really hit the spot. It was very clean and refreshing, and went down far too easily for a drink with that much alcohol in it. The flavor of the vodka was good, though we both thought that another week of infusion with a fresh batch of berries should up the flavor to the desired level. Nevertheless, the cocktail was excellent, good enough for us go back for a second drink. We are looking forward to enjoying the summer with our new cocktail.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Garlic Crab Noodles

A while back, Karen and I went out with a few of our friends to celebrate the beginning of the dungeness crab season, which starts in mid-November and runs well into the new year in this area. We chose to have dinner at PPQ Dungeness Island (2332 Clement Street; 415-386-8266), which specializes in this crustacean delicacy. The restaurant features several different preparations of crab, including roasted, drunken, and curry versions. As tasty as the crab is, a necessary component of the meal has to be a big plate of garlic noodles. The version served at PPQ Dungeness Island is very savory and pairs wonderfully with the sweet and delicate crab meat. Karen just loved these noodles and ate so much at that dinner the she coined a new phrase, garlic noodles full, to describe her state of being afterwards.

Last night, I decided to surprise her with a little treat by making her a crab dinner which included, of course, a large plate of garlic noodles. I thought that it would be an interesting twist simply to add the crab directly to the noodles to create a plate of garlic crab noodles. Yesterday afternoon, I dropped by Costco to pick up some Phillips jumbo lump crab, but they apparently were completely out of stock. Luckily, their Seafood Roadshow was taking place at the store this weekend, so I was able to obtain several nice looking king crab legs.

When I got home, I took half of the crab legs, cracked them, and removed the meat from the shell. (Helpful hint: A pair of kitchen shears come in quite handy for this task.) I would use this crab meat for the noodles. For the remaining legs, I would prepare them using the Alton Brown recommended cooking method and served them alongside the noodles. On my way home from Costco, I had picked up some fresh egg noodles from 99 Ranch Market. I prepped the noodles by quickly dunking them in boiling water, rinsing them with cold water (both to stop the cooking and to remove the excess starch), and draining them in a colander. Now I was ready to made the garlic crab noodles.

I set up my wok on medium-low heat and melted a generous amount of sweet butter. After the butter had melted, I threw in about six cloves of minced garlic and cooked them until they were just about to turn brown, about 3-4 minutes. Next I threw in the drained egg noodles and jacked up the heat to medium-high. Quickly stirring the noodles to mix in the garlic and butter, I poured in about a 1/4 cup of oyster sauce, and a small amount of granulated sugar which I mixed in with a bit of nước mắm, a Vietnamese fish sauce. I stir-fried the noodles for several minutes until they were thoroughly heated through before the final step of mixing in the king crab. Since the crab was already cooked, I didn't want to toughen the meat by overcooking, so I was careful to take the wok off the heat as soon as it got up to temperature. Here were the results:


Karen and I both really liked the noodles, but the next time that I make the dish, I think that I'll make a few tweaks. First, I'll add in some more garlic. I was afraid that I would overpower the crab so I held back a little, but I think that the dish can handle some additional cloves of garlic. Also, I might use an extra-virgin olive oil and butter mixture instead of straight butter to give the flavor a little more depth, though I'm not sure how the taste of the oil will mix with Asian flavors of the oyster and fish sauces. I also wonder if it would be good to add a few flakes of dried chiles to add a little kick to the dish. I guess that we'll all know the next time that I make garlic crab noodles.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tsunami Revisited

Last night, Karen and I dropped in for dinner at the restaurant where we had our first "official" date, Tsunami Sushi (1306 Fulton Street; 415-567-7664), in the NoPa neighborhood of San Francisco. We had thought about ordering take-out last night, but the evening weather was pretty nice, so we made the short walk from Karen's place over to the restaurant. As an added plus, we brought along a $15 gift card from our CozmoDeck that we purchased earlier this year.

The interior at Tsunami is cozy and the decor is very trendy; with the contemporary music playing in the background, you almost feel like you are in a nightclub rather than in a sushi bar. We didn't have reservations, but luckily there were a couple of open seats in the lounge area. We started out our dinner with an order of Tsunami fries, rectangular planks of yams lightly coated in tempura batter, deep fried, and served with a small dish of red salt. To accompany our meal, we decided to order a bottle of sake. Tsunami is well known for its extensive selection of sake, all imported from Japan. We settled on a bottle of Tedorigawa Daiginjo "Chrysanthemum Meadow", which was fragrant and floral.

After polishing off the tasty fries, we moved on to the main attraction: sushi and sashimi. Our first main dish was a Scorpion maki roll, which had tempura shrimp, kani (crab), and cucumber topped with unagi (freshwater eel) and avocado. The roll was big (8 pieces), which was good as we both really enjoyed this dish. After we finished off the roll, the empty plate was cleared away and replaced by a platter with all of the sashimi specials of the day: waloo (escolar from Hawaii), seigo (Japanese sea bass from Nagasaki), Kona kampachi (amberjack from Kona, Hawaii), hirame (halibut from the East Coast), and aji (horse mackerel from Japan). We split the sashimi right down the middle with each of us getting one of the two pieces of each fish. All of the fish selections were very fresh and flavorful. While each type of sashimi was quite good, we both really liked the waloo, which had an amazing texture to go along with its fine and delicate flavor.

After the sashimi, we moved on to nigiri sushi. We ordered some unagi (our usual) and a plate of amaebi, raw prawns served with their deep fried heads on the side (which is the real reason for ordering this dish). Both orders were good, especially the amaebi head, though I was a little surprised that the unagi didn't come coated with the usual sweet sauce. I was still a bit peckish, so we ordered a second round of nigiri consisting of an order of hotate (scallop) and broiled bincho (albacore tuna). Both dishes were good, but the broiled albacore didn't taste much different from the non-broiled version that I'm used to.

In between the two rounds of nigiri, our server (whose name unfortunately escapes me) brought over a small tokkuri of umeshi sake, on the house. While the gesture was nice, we normally eschew warm sake, so we continued drinking our daiginjo. However, after the bottle was empty, we decided to try the complementary sake, which cooled off to room temperature. Boy, were we surprised! The sake had a pleasant aroma of almonds, which was strong but not overpowering. It was very smooth and quite sweet. Normally, I can only tolerate so much in the way of sweet alcoholic drink, but the amount of sake that we had was just right. It was a really nice way to cap off our dinner.

Karen and I both had a good time last night at dinner. Each time we have been to Tsunami, the food has been great and the service friendly and attentive. The complementary sake was very nice as well. In addition, they gave us a gift card from the CozmoDeck to the sister restaurant, Nihon, which I thought was another nice touch. We'll definitely have to make another return visit to Tsunami.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pizza and Beer

Ah, pizza and beer - a pair made for each other, right? If you think so, you might want to check out the new brew coming from the land of Bill Swerski's Superfans, pizza beer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Menu - Revealed

Last week, I wrote about a menu that I created for Karen for our first home-cooked meal together. At the end of that post, I posed a few questions about the menu for you readers out there. Due to popular demand, here are the answers to those questions:

Our first dinner: Oven Roasted Chicken and Cheesy Grilled Polenta
I was a bit disappointed with my polenta as I didn't allow the grill to get hot enough before I threw on the slices of polenta. The result: very sad-looking grill marks. As Karen says, it's not grilled food without the marks. My bad. I have since done a better job with grilled food items.

Dishes that I had never made before: Maryland Crab Cakes, Cheese Filled Triangles, and Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Nope, no entrees, just a couple of the appetizers and one of the sides. If I would have known how easy it is to make the crab cakes, I would have made them earlier.

Dishes that I have yet to make for Karen: Grilled Garlic Cilantro Sea Bass and Smoked Standing Rib Roast
I haven't made the former due to the depletion of the population; okay, that along with the price and availability of the fish, but given that Whole Foods is carrying it once again (albeit for a pretty penny), I may give this dish another try or use a different type of fish, such as halibut. I haven't made the latter because of the amount of food that I would prepare. Perhaps it's time for a dinner party so that we can enjoy a nice smoked prime rib. Mmmmm....

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Guest Blogging: Party with Paella

Tonight, Karen writes about our most recent cooking experiment: paella.

Growing up, I never celebrated Christmas or waited for Santa Claus to come down the chimney bearing gifts (instead I partied with Hanukkah Harry over eight glorious nights). Late December wouldn’t mean much for me if not for the unique New Year’s Eve celebration cooked up by my parents.

It all started innocently enough. When my brothers and I were young, my parents went out and celebrated New Year’s Eve in the traditional manner. They hated it. Paying exorbitant prices for the same entertainment they could get on any normal night of the year, worrying about drunk drivers, and leaving the kids back home was not their style. So they decided to defy tradition and do up New Year’s Eve their way.

And thus was born the New Year’s Eve family feast. Meals generally started around 7ish and the final course never finished before midnight. Dick Clark was often on in the background and the menu was always gut busting. Hors d'oeuvres were varied and plentiful and included rumaki, cheese, chips, artichoke dip, spareribs, and cheese puffs. The appetizer was usually shrimp cocktail (with homemade cocktail sauce). Paella stole the show as the main course (although in later years Beef Wellington was sometimes served). Without fail, dessert was a layered parfait of fruit, whip cream, and nuts. In true celebratory fashion, sparkling wine was free flowing for all. In our younger days we were served the sweet goodness of Asti Spumanti (until we grew up and learned to appreciate finer champagne).

Thanks to the New Year’s festivities, paella holds a special place in my heart. So it came as little surprise that among the gifts my parents brought from a recent visit to Spain was the Spanish Bar and Restaurant Cooking cookbook full of paella, tapas, and sangria recipes. Taking the hint, Loren and I decided we should get down to business and cook up a storm.

We decided on a paella mixta (mixed seafood, sausage, and chicken) with serrano ham added in for good measure. The recipe was fairly extensive and included clams, garlic, onions, tomato, red pepper, olive oil, chicken, paprika, rosemary, thyme, cumin, rice, chicken broth, saffron, chorizo, shrimp, and capers. We seasoned and browned the chicken as well as the garlic, onions, tomato, and pepper. Then we sautéed the rice, added the chicken broth, and sprinkled in the saffron. Here was our first mistake - we used saffron threads but did not steep them first. As a result, the paella never got that deep yellow color we were expecting.

Next we were to transfer the rice into a paella pan (which we didn’t have) and mix in all the other ingredients. I don’t think we were prepared for the massive quantity of food resulting from the recipe but did the best to distribute among the closest paella type pans we did have. We then baked the paella in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven and waited. Here was mistake number two - we needed to bake the paella far longer than the recipe indicated (probably because we were using two pans). Initially the rice seemed hard and as if it would never fully cook. But our patience was eventually rewarded and we took the paella out to finish on a high heat on top of the stove to crisp up the rice and create the socarrat - the crisp, caramelized, golden rice that sticks to the base and sides of the pan. In attempting to create this toasty goodness we made our last mistake - the aroma of toasted rice coming from the pan signals a socarrat has been achieved. The point between socarrat and burn is slim, we ignored the smell and left the pan on high heat a touch too long. The rice and paella were still edible but just not perfect.

Here in all glory is our first attempt at paella. While no new traditions have yet to be born, I am sure we’ll be trying this again soon.



Posted by Karen

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is It Over Before It Even Begins?

Reports from Japan suggest that hot dog eating champion Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi may skip the annual Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest this upcoming 4th of July. Apparently, Kobayashi has not trained in months, having taken a sabbatical from competitive eating after his mother passed away earlier this year. If this is the case, the contest organizers might as well just give the Mustard Belt to Joey Chestnut, who recently shattered the world record, set by Kobayashi in last year's contest.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Spam Wars: BK v. McD

Did you know: Over 6 billion cans of Spam are sold every year?

It looks like Burger King is going head-to-head against McDonald's in a battle over breakfast in Hawaii. Both of the fast food giants are now offering breakfast platters featuring slices of Spam served with eggs and white rice in their Hawaiian locations.

Now while I am, in fact, a fan of Spam - yes, I believe that you can call yourself a foodie and enjoy canned spiced ham - I wonder how well these breakfast platters will sell against the various types of loco moco-style plates sold by local eating establishments.

Goodies in the Mail

Today, I received a package in the mail. Inside the padded manila envelope were two copies of the Zagat 2007/08 San Francisco Nightlife Guide. Apparently, my blog caught the attention of one of the Marcom guys at Zagat, who sent me a nice email last week and offered to forward a couple of complementary copies. I actually have a paid subscription to Zagat.com (not that he knew about that) so I already had online access to all of the content in the book, but it's still nice to have a physical copy that I can leave in the car.

I'd like to send out a big thanks to Michael in Corporate Communications, not only for sending me the guide (which is very cool!), but also for keeping in touch with the blogosphere and reaching out to their constituents. You can count on me to renew my subscription next year.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Menu

When Karen and I first started dating a few years back, one of the first things that I wanted to do was to prepare a home cooked meal for her. Knowing that she is also a foodie, I thought that it might be more fun to have her select what she wanted for dinner. So, I created a dinner menu, from which she could select the dishes of her choosing. Here were her choices:


Appetizers

Maryland Crab Cakes
With a side of homemade aioli
Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts
Marinated in soy sauce and rolled in sugar
Florentine Artichoke Dip
Served hot with crusty French bread
Cheese Filled Triangles
Spinach and cream cheese filled phyllo triangles

Entrees

Grilled Rib Eye
Rubbed with Montreal seasoning and seared on the grill
Baby Back Pork Ribs
Cured with a spice rub and glazed with homemade barbecue sauce
Thai Coconut Curry Chicken
In a spicy green chili sauce over steamed jasmine rice
Oven Roasted Chicken
Smothered with a lemon zest garlic pepper paste
Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin
Marinated in a spicy habenero paste and grilled
Smoked Standing Rib Roast
Infused with garlic silvers and slow smoked over hickory
Barbecue Pulled Pork
Slow cooked for ten hours in a hearty homemade sauce
Smoked Chicken
Hot smoked with hickory wood
Grilled Garlic Cilantro Sea Bass
Chilean sea bass marinated in an Asian-style sauce
Home Style Meat Loaf
With a honey tomato glaze

Sides

Sesame Garlic Asparagus
Grilled Zucchini and Yellow Squash
Scalloped Potatoes
Cheesy Grilled Polenta
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Wild Rice and Sausage Casserole
Baked Squash

Dessert

Dessert of the day

To make it more interesting, I put a few dishes on the menu that I had never previously made and that I would make for the first time for her dinner, if said dishes were selected. (Of course, I didn't tell her which ones they were.)

In the past few years, I have made all of these dishes for her, save two. Do you know which ones they are? Also, can you guess which dishes are the ones that I had not made prior to the creation of the menu? Finally, can you guess what I did make for her for dinner?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Swinging Steaks U.S.A.

What I thought was a passing fad appears to be a national trend. As you might recall, I recently posted about two festivals, one in Wisconsin and another in Utah, celebrating what is probably one of the more famous 'cuts' of offal, namely Rocky Mountain Oysters. Well, it seems that there are many other such events taking place all over the country. I was able to find the following:

Past events in 2007


Upcoming events in 2007I'm sure that the list goes on and on...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reality Food TV

I told myself that I wouldn't do it, but I'm getting sucked back into watching reality food TV. Last night, I watched the special Top Chef All-Star Challenge pitting selected chefs from Season 1 against competitors from Season 2. I know that I said that I wasn't sure if I would watch that series again after the stuff that went down at the end of last season, but I did. Was it just me or did that show appear to be rigged? What a marvelous coincidence that the antagonists from each season (Stephen from Season 1, Marcel from Season 2) were selected to lead each team and then were set up against one another in a head-to-head battle! Or how about each season's winner (Harold from Season 1, Ilan from Season 2) duking it out over "Battle Duck"? In my opinion, the best thing that came out of that show was that a deserving charity got a $20,000 donation.

Tonight, I caught a rerun of the premiere episode of this season's The Next Food Network Star. I found it oddly entertaining, though certainly not a demonstration of culinary excellence. After watching the episode, I had a feeling that I just watched a slow-motion train wreck. A two hour train wreck. Nevertheless, like a rubbernecker staring at the scene of an accident, I was sufficiently drawn in to continue watching for the time being. Not so sure about this season's Top Chef though, but then again, I might change my mind.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Taste of the Nation: San Francisco

Join Traci Des Jardin, chef/owner of Jardinière, as she hosts a fundraising dinner for Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation event in San Francisco. The dinner will take place on Thursday, June 21, 2007 at her Acme Chophouse restaurant located at AT&T Park and will feature cuisine conceived by Des Jardin, Tyler Florence (newly settled in the Bay Area), and April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig restaurant in New York City (and a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef in 2007). Also attending will be Chris Cosentino of Incanto, Citizen Cake's Elizabeth Falkner, Loretta Keller of Coco 500, and Acme Chophouse chef Thom Fox. The event will honor Chuck Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma.

Proceeds from the dinner will be donated to benefit the Foodrunners and Sports 4 Kids charities in the Bay Area. Tickets for the dinner can be purchased online from the Taste of the Nation web site.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Will the Mustard Belt Be Back in American Hands Soon?

In today's Southwest regional qualifiers for the 2007 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Bay Area's very own Joey Chestnut shattered the world record by eating 59 1/2 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. The previous world record of 53 3/4 dogs was held by Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi, who set the mark during the 2006 event, held annually on the 4th of July on New York's Coney Island.

With his amazing performance, Chestnut is probably the odds-on favorite to take the title this year. He may be the best chance that the United States has had in years to bring the Mustard Belt back to American turf. The title has been claimed by Japanese contestants the past seven years, with Kobayashi winning the past six contests. Not since Steve Keiner won the event in 1999 with a measly 20 1/2 hot dogs has an American held the title for the crowning event of the International Federation of Competitive Eating.

Go Joey, go! Eat Joey, eat!