Thursday, December 18, 2008

Comfort Food

I've been pretty sick with a cold/flu lately. So besides matzo ball soup, I've been making myself simple meals to help soothe. This dinner of steamed rice, seaweed soup, a bit of boneless kalbi, and a bit of kimchee is great when the weather outside is frightful and the body feels that way too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Work Gyro

I've discovered a new way to immediately cancel out all good that my torturous Bar Method sessions do. There is a Greek deli across the parking lot from the Bar Method near my work and along with the usual Italian and Greek items, they have gyros. I miss the gyros from Big Nick's in UWS. These were not too shabby in comparison. The meat was the right tender texture, not dry, and full of flavour. The yogurt sauce packed in the onion taste.

Tomato, Shrimp, and Egg

More common homestyle Chinese cooking learning from Chef A-Chi. The tomato is pre-deep fried as in the tomato shrimp. The key here is to make the egg, the tomato, and the shrimp all cling together. The egg and the shrimp can't be overdone either. All ingredients should be cooked to the point of "just" done. I think I did pretty well in that endeavor and the taste was divine. I had this with rice porrdige over the past weekend when I was feeling the threat of a cold.

Here's the video if you'd like the instructions. It's in Mandarin, though.

Quack, Quack

Here's a picture of the elusive duck blood that is keeping my home made renditions of Sichuan hot pot broth from hitting its full potential. I have no idea where to find this item in SF.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hot Pot Imitation As High Flattery

Ever since our TW trip, I've been thinking about that wonderful ma la hot pot we had at Tao Ho Dien. While I don't have access to the duck blood to help out the broth, I've been experiementing with broth composition in trying to duplicate that experience at home. Aslo, I've been trying out Tao Ho Dien's method of only adding broth to scallions as dipping sauce method While I wouldn't say I'm quite there yet (damn lack of duck blood), this night's rendition was a pretty good showing. I started off with a store bought Sichuan broth base, added some other spices like crushed fennel seed, bay leaf, and marjoram to give it a bit more of an herbal taste.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beef Break

Driving on I-5 is pretty mind numbing. Thank goodness for Harris Ranch. The always reliable and tasty break mid-trip. I had their version fo a french dip this time. The beef was, of course, outstanding and the au jus light and not too salty. All I can say is we need that bullet train between SF and LA. In the meantime, we have Harris Ranch to save us.

Muff On The Plane

I was in New Orleans for Sherri and AT's wedding in October. More food entries on that to come. I didn't get to Central Grocery but picked up this muffaleta for the plane ride home from John's Po'Boys. Pretty tasty.

Burmese House... No, Really In Someone's House

Wil and I went to LA in mid-November that was intended to be a food tour but was mostly a bust except for this meal due to the fires that raged in the Greater LA area that weekend. Wil's cousin took us to a really "underground" Burmese restaurant. When he said that only the insiders of the local Burmese community knew about the place, I just assumed that it was a small dive. Actually, it was someone's house that they've converted into a "restaurant." Basically it was the driveway or space infront of the kitchen that had an awning over with some plastic chairs and fold out tables. Basically, we could have been in an Third World country. The food was great and very authentic. I have no idea what each of these dishes are called or even what they are, but they were all very tasty. I think Wil needs to chime in.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Training by Chef A-Chi

Chef A-Chi is the head chef at my aunt's hotel in Taipei. He's been the chef for previous Presidents, etc. I've been watching his cooking shows on Youtube and man, has it made a difference in my Chinese cooking! Admittedly, my Chinese cooking skills have always been the the worst of my repertoire and I have been trying to gain technique in this genre. But it really is all about technique. And maybe fire power... but that's for another day. I made this wonderful whole shrimp in tomato sauce now a few times. It's deceptively easy, but so-oooo good.

1/2 lb of shrimp with head and shell intact
1 small to medium tomato
1 tablespoon of minced scallions
1 cup vegetable oil
White Pepper

Take the tomato and score a cross on each end. Heat the oil in a small saucer. Then fry the tomato quickly. You can deep fry it ideally but that uses up too much oil, so I just angle the pot and dunk the tomato in. Then I flip the tomato around so all sides get fried. This seals in the juices and concentrates the taste of the tomato for some reason. After you remove the tomato, the skin peels off easily. Roughly chop the tomato. Heat a bit of the oil used for frying the tomato. Toss in the garlic and heat until fragrant. Add in the chopped tomato. Cook until the tomato liquifies a bit. Add the shrimp and a bit of mirin. Toss in the scallions. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir fry until shrimp turns pink (about 3-5 minutes) and voila!

Friday, October 17, 2008

TW Tour: Last Supper, TPE

Our food tour of Taiwan was over. Our "Last Supper", fittingly, comprised of some of the greatest hits we had on the trip - we had XLBs, BNS, and ramen. While none of these representations were anything to write home about, they were better or equivalent to versions we have in the Bay Area. That's airport food, folks!

Of course, we washed this all down with several rounds of that watery Taiwan Beer which we will not miss. But hey, when it's THAT hot and humid... Song long Taiwan, for now... until our next food rendezvous. And thanks, Taiwan Tourism Board for your Magnum Opus of an idol drama, "Waiting Here For You" and all the information we gleaned from it for our trip planning - Taiwan did "Touch Our Hearts"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TW Tour: Old School Ice Sheets, Taipei

Taiwan is a place where it's in a state of constant flux. Shaved ice is traditional and old in these parts. But in Taipei these days, traditional shaved ice exists mostly as a nostalgic factor... sort of how we have '50s Diners. Most places serve Western style ice cream instead. There was a time, maybe in the 70s and early 80s,when people's taste wanted a Western ice cream but milk was still an expensive item, when the ingenious Taiwanese invented ice sheets as a compromise. It's basically water with a bit of milk thrown in to it give a slightly milky taste. We had the hardest time finding this confection and got lots of raised eyebrows for asking for it. Apparently we didn't get the memo that it was now passe and gauche.

We finally found a place near Shihlin Market that still sells it and it was divine. We got the tea flavoured with red beans. A bit of condensed milk tops it all.
The plain, undressed shaved ice sheets.

TW Tour: Lai Lai Soy, Taipei

After that pinnacle meal at C'est Bon, the next morning we were back to a divy, roadside joint for breakfast. I mean, we had to keep up our dan bing consumption rate!

Lai Lai Soy is one that is famous in Taipei and right across the street from our hotel (who offers complementary breakfast of more the sterile, Western ilk). There were steamers and griddles full of goodies to choose from. It one of those places where you go up and order what you like, grab an empty table, and wait for the feasting to begin.
We had (from top, clockwise) dan bing, scallion pancake, steamed shrimp dumplings, taro cake, pot stickers, chive pocket all washed down with cold soy milk.
I also ordered a salty soy milk for the table. it's full of fried cullers (Chinese donut), preserved vegetable, and scallions. The soy milk curdles a bit in contact with the other ingredients and the vinegar and produces a wonderful mixture. Wil, Melissa, and Janet all loved this. A correct version of this seems also rather difficult to get in the SF Bay Area for some reason.
Inside of a chive pocket.
Oh and as if this wasn't enough, we decided to order a beef pocket too.
This was probably the best rendition of breakfast fare we had all trip outside of that memorable dang bing in Alishan and a Top 5 Meal. All four of us were stuffed for a measly NT240 (~$8)

TW Tour: TW Intellectualized @ C'est Bon, Taipei

One of the advantages of our itinerary of going to more rural, old Taiwan before coming to the modern, capital of Taipei is that it gives one an understanding of Taiwan's past and how it led to its present and its extrapolated future culturally. To save C'est Bon, a modern Taiwanese restaurant employing molecular and Western techniques, for our last "Big" meal of the trip allowed us to have experienced all the down-home, historical tastes and dishes that have lent themselves to this crystallization of modern Taiwanese. C'est Bon is located in a tiny alley street in the Song San district of Taipei. It is a spot of modernity amidst a block that looked more like Taiwan of the '70/'80s.

It's a set menu for NT2000 per person. We also ordered some wine which we'll cover at the end of the post. The space was modern and sparse and we spotted another table eating there which we later found out to be the owner/head chef and some folks dining with her. It was a little too brightly lit for our tastes, but the lighting helped us to see very clearly the beauty of each dish presented.

Course 1: Bamboo and Fried Oyster
The frying on the oyster was perfect. The insides were barely cooked and sweet. The bamboo was really fresh and spring-like.
Course 2: Shrimp 2-Ways (Head with Uni and Body Wrapped with Pineapple with Coconut Shavings)
The server shaving freeze dried coconut over our dish.
The beautiful presentation. I had forgotten to inform the staff prior to our meal commencing that I am allergic to pineapples so I didn't have any of the body portion. I will say the head was divine... the sweetness of the flesh and the musty of the uni really offset each other. I will allow others who ate the full dish to comment here. I think it was Wil who also said he liked the symbolic meaning of the dish: shrimp cooked whole with the skin edible is very Chinese, the head is covered with uni (very Japanese) and the body is covered in the tropical elements (very SE Asian). The sum of which is Taiwan in a nutshell.
Course 3: Abalone with Caviar and Seagrass in Aspic
This was another combination that was amazing to taste. The abalone was perfectly tender and its oceanic flavours brought out by the caviar studded on top. The aspic was light and seagrass.. well, all I can say it's unique and you gotta taste it to believe it.
Course 4: Steamed Fish Stuffed with Salted Winter Melon
Again, very much the flavours of Taiwan combining its love affair with seafood and vegetables. The texture of the fish was silky beyond belief.
Individually plated.

Course 4: Jade Melon
This melon had been poached in liquid for days in low temp. The result is something that you can eat and pierce wit ha spoon but not mushy. The broth was exquisite. I wanted to lick the bowl. This was my favourite dish of the evening.

Course 5: Pineapple Stewed Pig Trotter
I couldn't eat this and will let others comment but it looked amazing.

Course 5: Lion's Head Meatball
My "entree" as I couldn't have the pig trotter. The meatball had the most succulent, juicy pork mixed with chunks of crab meat and roe. The broth was a crab reduction. Eat your heart out, Shanghainese restaurants everywhere.... this is what Lions head was destined to become!
Course 6: Egg Flower Chicken Soup
The most refined egg flower with a thickish, guen (Taiwanese thick pottage) style broth.

Course 7: Sweet Potato with Honey and Preserved Plum Sauce
As Janet said, "This is Taiwan on a plate." All the down home flavours of all the fruits, vegetables, tea beverages, smoothies, shaved ice was distilled into this one plate of perfection.
The inside of the sweet potato.

The lowest points of the meal were the wine service and selection. Our first bottle was not what we ordered but we decided to stay with it.
We went to a red later in the progression of the meal. Neither were anything to be excited over.
Our cost for the entire meal was NT12,100. Remembering that the food was NT8000 total, that mean we spent NT4100 on these two bottles of mediocre wine. This meal was admittedly our most expensive of the trip.... but it was also the most memorable. I would definitely love another visit to C'est Bon in future TW trip - maybe this time taking my relatives and seeing what the natives think.

In case there was any doubt - this was one of our Top 5 Fav Meals of the trip too. Oh, and the NY Times thought a lot about C'est Bon too. They wrote about it shortly after we came back from TW.

23 Lane 33 Chung-Shang North Road, Section 1
Their blog

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TW Tour: Afternoon Tea near Sogo, Taipei

Some things don't really translate as well. Like this fruit flavoured tea granita (this was a size small) and the tea flavoured toast thing below. Hmmm....

TW Tour: Mall Food @ Sogo, Taipei

We went to Longshan Temple in the morning and had every intention of going to explore the small eats in surrounding Wan Hua area when we were beaten again by the weather. This time, it was the heat. So we did what any self respecting Taiwanese would do - go to the mall!

As you can see the offerings at the mall aren't too shabby either. From the Japanese style teppanyaki rice box to the Taiwanese street fare.
The bakery also held a lot of interest for us.