Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chinese for Lunch, Italian for Dessert

I was in Chinatown at Lichee Garden for a Dim Sum lunch today. They have amazing pork Siu Mai and a meal there is ridiculously inexpensive. The same Dim Sum lunch that costs $60 at Yank Sing is only $20 at Lichee Garden...for two. We still go to Yank Sing from time to time to get their signature Shanghai pork dumplings, however. They are that good.

Here in San Francisco, the Chinatown and Italian neighborhood of North Beach have been encroaching on each other for years, resulting in Chinese markets residing next to Italian bakeries. And so after my lunch at Lichee garden, I paid a visit to Victoria Pastry in a quest for my favorite Coconut Macaroons. Unfortunately, today they had none, but I did walk away with some tasty information. As I was deciding what to purchase in lieu of the planned coconut macaroons, settling on some almond cookies, an older Italian gentleman walked in and declared what the almond cookies I was buying were called (I could not repeat what the heck he said, but it was very Italian sounding). He proceeded to tell me how they were made remembering his mother's recipe from his childhood days in Miami, Florida. I quickly asked him if he knew how to make the coconut macaroons. His mother's were an egg-white only recipe and I questioned to clarify that they were in fact made with only egg whites and no yolks. He thought they were. I asked if he ever had Victoria Pastry's macaroons and he didn't think he had. I told him they were amazing and a bit richer than the usual macaroon and that I thought they had some egg yolk in them. The woman behind the counter confirmed that indeed they were made with the whole egg. Finally a breakthrough. It only confirmed what I already suspected, but at least I know I'm barking up the right tree. Now I need to figure out how they get their cookies so chewy. I asked her for more information on the recipe, but she only smiled at me. I'm not sure if it was a "you can't have the recipe" smile or a "I don't speak that much English" smile. So I paid for my cookies and left with the little bit of information she afforded me. So far, I've done two trials using whole eggs which have tasted good in their own right, but have not yet come close to the delectable coconut macaroons at Victoria Pastry. One day I shall prevail.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Avocados and a Breakfast Burrito

Avocados are in season and we have been eating our share. Lou is especially partial to these green gems-he particularly likes them on his breakfast burritos. The problem with avocados is you rarely buy them already ripe, in fact, they unlike other fruits, can not ripen on the tree. The avocado tree gives off a chemical that keeps them from ripening. They are often picked and shipped and in your market well before they are ready to eat and so you have to plan ahead and ripen them yourself. This in the past has not been a simple task in our household. You see, Lou can be slightly impatient and there were a few mishaps of trying to pry the pit out of the hard, dry flesh of an unripened avocado. I was letting him man the management of the avocados since he was the primary eater, but I soon realized I needed to intervene. He'd leave them all in the refrigerator and wonder why none were getting soft. Then set them all out of the refrigerator and lose track of them after a week of waiting when suddenly they were all too ripe. I suggested putting one or two avocados in the fruit bowl, where the other fruit live together in harmony giving off ethylene, an important chemical to the ripening process. The fruit worked its magic and Lou is still enamored by how fast an avocado can ripen. While those are being primed for eating, we leave the remaining avocados in the refrigerator and pull them out with adequate time to ripen before we (or he) plan(s) on eating them. And so our system has worked and Lou is maintaining a steady supply of fresh, ripe avocados.

So, how do you keep the unused portion of an avocado from turning black? For thos few times that I don't use a whole avocado, I leave the pit in the unused half. Then, place the skin of the used half (flesh removed) over the pit, covering the exposed flesh of the unused half and put the avocado in a small storage bag tied with a twist tie or wrap the avocado half tight in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator.

Lou's Fast and Simple Breakfast Burrito

One large burrito sized flour tortilla
Queso Oaxaca (Mexican string cheese), shredded
(use Mozzarella if you don't have the Mexican variety)
2 eggs scrambled, seasoned with salt and pepper (leftover herbs don't hurt)
1/2 Avocado, salted
a handful of fresh spinach leaves

You can probably figure out how he puts this together, but I'll tell you anyway. Place some of the shredded cheese on the cold tortilla on a plate and microwave for a few seconds until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is warm and steamy. Top with eggs, avocado, spinach, and salsa. Roll it up and you're done. The important step here is salting the avocado. Salt brings out so much more of the fruit's flavor.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Green Tea

I love green tea. It's a stimulating, yet soothing drink for an afternoon pick-me-up or to wash down an asian-inspired fusion meal prepared by yours truly. Lou and I drink it often and believe in the claims that green tea has antioxidants that are good for you. As Lou puts it, it's a lot better for you than soda. So, when I heard the news that the FDA announced that green tea consumption does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular desease, I was somewhat perplexed. Why in the world would they be picking on green tea while Americans continue to consume fast foods and transfats-things that are known to PROMOTE heart failure? Shouldn't they be re-focusing their efforts? Then I looked into the claim and understood that it was in response to a request from a green tea conglomerate who wanted the FDA to announce "that drinking at least five ounces of green tea a day may reduce the risk of heart disease", obviously in hopes of boosting sales. In light of these circumstances, I'm pleasantly satisfied that the FDA did not make that claim. Imagine if they had. American companies would start to market green tea drinks with added sugar and artificial flavorings and, of course, a miniscule amount of actual green tea. They'd likely charge upwards of $1 for a bottle of a green tea-based concoction that may taste good to the main stream American palate but bear little resemblance to it's antecedent. A bottled beverage with so few remaining antioxidants, who in their sea of additives, would be of no value to the reduction in the risk of heart desease . Not to mention all those bottles that would just add to our land fills. Did you know tea bags are compostable? And cost about 10 cents.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cinco de Mayo

Last night we had an impromptu get together for Cinco de Mayo. A friend of ours offered to fish for some fresh bass for fish tacos and for those non-fish eaters, I opted to also make Carne Asada. Lou of course nominated himself bartender and received rave reviews from our guests on his Margaritas. It was not a recipe he developed over time -he asked me at 7:00pm last night how to make a margarita. I told him the classic recipe and he ran with it-measuring the ingredients, shaking the concoction with ice and straining it into cocktail glasses. He couldn't keep up with the demand. We went through 25 limes 2 bottles of tequila, and a bottle of Triple Sec. It's amazing how good a drink can be when you just go back to basics.

Drink Recipe-Margarita
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
1 part Triple Sec
2 parts Tequila

If desired, rub a slice of lime around the rim of a cocktail glass and dip into a dish of salt. Measure the lime juice, Triple Sec, and Tequila into an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake, then pour into the prepared cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime. Measuring the ingredients ensures a drink that is not too sour or strong. I think that was the key to Lou's success.

Carne Asada
2 -2 pound flank steaks
1/2 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cloves of garlic

Trim excess fat from the flank steak and slice each of them through the center into 2 thin steaks. Mix the remaining ingredients and marinate the meat for 30 minutes. Drizzle olive oil over the steaks, then grill them on a hot stove-top grill pan or outdoor grill. Serve sliced steaks in a warmed corn tortilla with Guacamole, Salsa Fresca, and Salsa Roja or bottled hot pepper sauce.

4 avocados
1 to 2 limes
2 teaspoons kosher salt, to taste
4 green onions
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Mash the avocados, then stir in lime juice from 1 or 2 limes. I like a strong lime flavor, but some people prefer less. Mix in the salt and then add more lime juice if desired and salt to taste. The salt will counteract the acidity of the lime. Add the green onions and cumin and mix to combine.

Salsa Roja
I love this stuff. the pan roasting creates a smokey flavor that makes the meat taste like it was barbecued even when grilled indoors on the stove-top. It's nice and spicey too!

1/2 cup dried chiles de arbol
2 tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Remove the stems of the chiles and toast them in a skillet over medium heat, allowing them to blacken. In a small saucepan, just cover the tomatoes with water and boil just until softened. Place the toasted chiles in a blender or small food processor (leaving out any seeds that fell out of the pods and blackened) and cover with tomato water-you won't use all the water. Add the tomatoes and salt and blend until smooth.

Fish Tacos
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 Tablespoons hot pepper sauce such at Tapatillo
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 pounds white fish (We used bass and tilapia) cut into 1 inch pieces

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Mix marinade ingredients and pour over fish. Marinate for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.

Mix together flour, baking powder and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a shallow bowl. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add olive oil to cover the bottom of the hot pan. Dredge the pieces of fish through the flour mixture and pan fry, turning after the under side is crisp. Serve in a corn tortilla with Baja cream sauce and shredded cabbage.

Baja Cream Sauce
1/3 cup crema mexicana or creme fresh
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup ketchup

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Fancy Food Show at Copia

This past Sunday, we visited Copia in Napa. It is a food museum that I had heard much about and I was anxious to see what it was all about. We went especially for the Fancy Food Show. It is essentially a convention for the food business. Copia brought some of their favorites from the show back to the museum and in turn showed us what new products they liked best. Unfortunately, the food is not always all that fancy. This year, the chefs at Copia seemed to like seasoned skewers an awfully lot. They gave some away for correctly answered questions and raved about how shipments are backordered due to high demand. I'm not sure how a flavored stick in the middle of a piece of protein can season it throughout (I imagine you'd want to at least salt and pepper the outside surface), but they seemed to think it worked. Personally, I'm going to stick with a marinade or a spice rub the few times I use skewers, but if you want to check it out, you can buy them at Seasoned Skewers.

Lou won a bottle of Soy Vay's Wasabiyaki. He tried a little on our chicken with green beans that we stirred up yesterday in the wok. It was a little sweet for my taste, but Lou seemed to like it. I would just as soon use the individual Asian sauces and ingredients to come up with my own flavors, but for a busy family, which is who their target market is, Wasabiyaki might spice up some weekday meals.