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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aunt Mary's Cafe

A delayed post. Still, I went and ate, and now I post. Does the fact that you ate it a while back change that you ate it all at all?

A couple of friends and I wandered into Aunt Mary's Cafe on Sunday morning, we had planned on arriving a little early for a Sunday, as most place in the Temescal, like many of the 'chosen' food spots will fill on a weekend morning. I expected good coffee and interesting spins on food. This place did not disappoint, I ordered the Huevos Benedictos. I was greeted with poached eggs, nicely prepared, delicious. What makes poached eggs seem luxurious? Anyways, there were masa cakes, I ordered the dish for the masa cakes, no matter what culture they are from, I love masa cakes. The accompanying chorizo was dark, rich and spicy, a perfect foil for the eggs and masa cakes with cheddar.
I ate it all, I have no remorse.

Pork and Tomatoes

Today (I meant to post this yesterday) was my mom's birthday, I had planned a different cook, but, decided I would cook one of my mom's favorite dishes. My mom was a very good cook and an adventurous eatr. Pork and Tomatoes was one of her dishes. This dish, as prepared by my mom represents a true fusion, one that was very common amongst the food we ate as I grew up. Wherein different foods and techniques found their way into our daily diet. The original recipe has changed a bit since we were kids, in particular to reduce the salt and sugar in the original.

Here are the ingredients, all nice and prepared. Mis en place baby!
 The Ingrdients:
1/2 large or one small/medium onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound thinly sliced pork sirloin
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and sectioned

The Reduction:
1/8 cup each Red Boat Fish Sauce and Bragg's Amino Acids
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Lucky Dog hot sauce
3 teaspoons Stevia/Erythriol blended sweetener

Stir fry onions and celery until translucent. Add the reduction sauce ingredients and the garlic, saute and reduce in pan until celery in melted, onions are cooked down and sauce is reduced by 50%.
The onions and celery will release moisture so this will take a little while. Once reduction is complete, remove vegetables with a slotted spoon or mesh ladle. Reserve reduction and add a small amount of oil, add in pork and stir fry until half cooked, note that the pork will also release fluids, which need to be reduced a it as well.
Return vegetables and reduction to pan and continue to reduce until liquid is nearly gone, add in peeled tomatoes and this forms the sauce for the entire dish. I prefer to use fresh tomatoes for this dish, although the color is better with canned tomatoes. I find the fresh tomatoes add more flavor. If I was making a large batch, I would add both canned and fresh. This is served over steamed rice.
The interesting part of this dish is that when I was a child, tomatoes were a particularly unusual element of cooking for the Japanese-American families, when we ate them, they were either fresh and raw, or cooked in American or Italian preparations. Very few dishes existed that used Asian flavors with tomatoes. The incfuence of the Italian and Portuguese families that populated the town near our home certainly influenced both the tomatoes and the 'sweet and sour' nature of this dish. Naturally, as time progressed, changes occurred.

As a part of my need to address some metabolic issues, I have started to abandon sugar as a sweetener, this dish had much more sugar and salt (in the form of shoyu) in the original dish. I have started to use fish sauce instead of making bonito broth and no longer use the fattier pork shoulder cuts my mom favored, as this allows for a shorter cooking time, mom would braise the pork for 3 hours. I miss the highly caramelized dish of my youth, but, this is my version of one of my mom's special dinners and it is very evocative of her flavors.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The BBQ Grail and the truths of BBQ

My friend and BBQ colleague Larry Gaian is running a search for the 25 Truths of BBQ at his blog, The BBQ Grail, Larry has been running The BBQ Grail blog for a few years now and is one of the most influential BBQ and food bloggers out there. He had not only been a great friend but an invaluable helper in my starting this blog. I encourage you to go on over and see what some folks consider the truth of BBQ.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Soba cakes

Well, I am back to cooking finally, everything seems to be back in place just in time for the June On Our Grill Challenge, complete with new badge for the blog. My hope is to come roaring back with a dish that really shows a little flash. This month, the ingredients are doozies, they are:

Soba Noodles
A vegetable that is not green

First off, I made a turkey sausage, with the following ingredients.

Turkey Sausage
1/2 pound Turkey, give it a medium grind (required ingredient)
1/8 pound thick cut hardwood smoked bacon
1/8 cup fish sauce, as usual, I went with the vastly superior Red Boat 40N Fish Sauce.
1/4 teaspoon each of mustard powder, chile powder, lime powder
1/2 teaspoon plus a little more Todd's Dirt herbal BBQ rub
1/2 teaspoon katsuoboshi furikake (yes, specifically for the bonito flakes and nori)
1 teaspoon apple wood smoked salt (yes, I smoke my own)
1/8 teaspoon Truvia stevia based sweetener
1/2 cup hot water

I bloom the spices in the hot water, everything but the meat. After icing down,  I add the meat, which has to be cold to work correctly. The water aids in evenly distributing the spices throughout the cold ground meat without an additional grinding phase. Since I intend to smoke this sausage without a casing, the added moisture will also create a little more steam, adding to the texture I want for the final plating. I decided to add some chopped onion and parsley to the sausage and gave it a good rub of Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy rub. I think this added just a little more flavor to the turkey.

Carrot Curry Sauce with Almond Milk
1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup almond milk (required almond ingredient)
1 cup water
3 medium carrots (required not green vegetable)
1 small or half of medium onion
3 cloves garlic
Spices...I am gonna use black pepper, white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and curry spice.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Truvia

In small saucepan, dry roast the whole spices to warm the aromatic oils, after the aroma becomes readily apparent, but, before smoking, add the curry powder and shut down the heat. Allow to cool slowly. Then add cooled spices to a grinder and reduce to powder, I use a coffee burr grinder for this. Take carrots and onions and saute until softened, add garlic and heat to sweat garlic. Add 1/2 of spice mix, saute for a minute and add liquids, bring to simmer, add final 1/2 of spice mix and using a blender or immersion blender, process until smooth. Add Almond milk at end and adjust sweetness with Truvia if needed.
 Aloo Gobi a la Kettle
1 cup cauliflower florets (required non-green ingredient)
1 cup chopped sweet potato and russet potato
1/2 cup green onion and parsley, chopped

Cauliflower florets were lightly steamed then grilled, potatoes were roasted over coals. Potatoes were chunked, mixed with florets. I decided to lightly saute with herbs then plate with curry sauce (above) draped over the veggies.

Soba Cake
1/2 cup cooked soba, cooked until done.
1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch for binding and texture

Toss soba with a light coating of the cornstarch, set into ring mold and allow to cool and bind into a cake form. Then fry cake in wok or small skillet carefully turning to achieve a crisped surface to the soba cake. The cornstarch should add a little crisp to the cake.

A final garnish of chopped parsley and green onion to add a little color and crunch texture was just right. The sausage was very flavorful and had a hint of Southeast Asian flair, I attribute this to the fish sauce, green onions and parsley, along with the slight added fish flavor of the katsuoboshi furikake. The potatoes and cauliflower ended up with more curry sauce than I intended, but, the sauce has an incredible depth of flavor so this was fine. The soba cake was crispy and added a much needed textural counterpoint as well.

 Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail - Entry Here
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed on as one of the top BBQ blogs.

Paul Haight of No Excuses BBQ Entry Here
The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author’s goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world.  Somewhere along the way things got out of control…

Jerry Russel of Cooking by the Seat of my Pants - Entry Here
Cooking by the seat of my Pants began life as a way to document our culinary misadventures. Since then it has become our way to encourage people to cook without boundaries or recipes. To just get in the kitchen and cook something from the heart.

Jason Adams of Jason's BBQ Adventures - Entry Here
Started Jason's BBQ Adventures in 2007 and originally fell in love with real BBQ the first time I tried to smoke a pork shoulder and soon after started smoking ribs, brisket and chicken. After a while I started to experiment with grilling and smoking just about anything and ultimately fell in love with the entire cooking process.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bourbon and almonds...perfect!

Well, since I have decided I need to be more healthy, and because I had to make something from almonds for a recent cook (see tomorrow's post) I had some almond milk left around the place. What to do, what to do...hey! there is a nearly empty bottle of medicinal bourbon (it isn't for drinking, it is medicinal after all).

I also wanted to use something that would be cooling with a dinner that was going to have a bit of a kick, yogurt sounded like the perfect thing, so a Bourbon Almond Yogurt frappé it was to be. This was a splendid cooler with a little complexity to boot.

Bourbon Almond Frappé
1-1/2 ounces Bourbon
1/4 cup crushed ice
3 ounces Almond Milk
1/8 teaspoon Vanilla flavor
4 tablespoons Yogurt

Blend until smooth and thickened. Grate a little nutmeg on top. If I was going to enjoy this on it's own, I think I would add about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ultra fine sugar or Truvia. A little honey would also be terrific.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Epic (steak) Birthday

Well, as was documented last post, yesterday was my 50th birthday. My actual plans for celebrating my birthday fell through spectacularly, so my plans included hanging around at home and messing around with stuff. A couple of friends found out about me clever planning and decided this was not acceptable. They managed to get a table on short notice at Epic Steakhouse. All I had to do was bring some wine and the menu was all mine.

Now, not being familiar with Epic Steak, I did a little internet searching and found this place absolutely gets raked by the internet food cognoscenti, especially the ones who seem to be oh so clever. I have to say, that once again, I find myself stunned that anyone could rate this place poorly, at the very least, the food was excellent. I felt we were well served to be here on this night. The food...

Salt, glorious salt, Himalayan Pink, Sal Gris and Black Salt, the Black Salt is rather mild, but, the other two are great table condiments, I love Sal Gris.

Then there was the house-made charcueterie plate (pate, bresaola, salami, duck prosciutto and coppa),  and the appetizer/entree we ordered, a plate of boudin blanc and boudin noir over some truffled mashed potatoes and pumpernickel croutons. Gotta love that whole seed mustard too.
Then there was the steak, I went with the New York Strip, bone on, as it should be. This was cooked perfectly for medium rare and was rather consistent from edge to bone. This was clearly a nice corn-finished beef, as it turns out Angus, dry aged and with a wonderful chew, which beef should have.
 The items not shown, a lovely stone fruit salad with a great olive oil drizzle, a pear and arugula salad, I loved them together, with the bitter edge and pepper profile offsetting the incredible fruit. We also had steak fries and spinach for the table, a nice amuse bouche sandwich and then dessert and a cheese plate. Then these showed up...
Which were then filled with vintage port, which was compliments of the house, it is sometimes good to turn 50. A 2007 Crofts, a 2003 Taylor Fladgate and a 2000 Fonseca, these were very interesting with the younger wines showing a little heat still. The 2000 was just hitting it's stride and was a very pretty lighter style, lots or aromatics, but missing the caramel/toffee notes that I really enjoy. The Taylor Fladgate was more my style, but, needs time. Oh, the wines I brought, The Baron de Rothschild Carruades de Lafite was still a little closed despite decanting, allowed to sit, it opened slowly and by the time the steak was half done, it was really showing some wonderful aromas and complexity, I really need to leave the last bottle alone for a while longer. The Chateau Figeac on the other hand showed beautifully, a full blown Bordeaux aroma jumping from the glass and great layers of flavor. This was an excellent wine. Even more happily, the sommelier and host knew how to handle aged wines, carefully moving the wines to a decanting station, not turning the bottle, there was almost no sediment in the glasses.

(I have to apologize, I don't have a camera that works in these instances, so I had to use my phone. Still, I think the food shows through.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Wine and Optimism

There is an inherent faith exhibited when one chooses to fall in love with anything, not the all encompassing love that we share for family and friends, but, still, the kind of lesser love that is a lifelong passion for something that makes our lives just a little bit better. For me, one of these things has been wine. Especially aged wines, wines that have had time to mellow and grow in complexity. I am an unabashed fan of my home turf, I am an absolute supporter of California wines and all they can be, but, I have always always held Bordeaux in special esteem.

For me, a fine Bordeaux only begins to reach it's potential after 10 years of aging, something that speaks to the inherent optimism, faith if you will, that this wine will spend 10 years maturing, and not turning to vinegar or gathering some form of taint making it undrinkable. Through my many adventures through the health system, cancer scares, surgeries et al...there were those bottles just laying there, waiting. You have to wonder what would possess a person, in the midst of dealing with multiple health issues to buy wine that could take 10, 20 or even 40 years to mature. Yes, I own a bottle that will probably take another 25 years to reach it's potential. Optimism and Faith.

Tonight, I will open at least one of these, perhaps two, and share them for dinner with some friends. These are not my usuals, not daily drinkers in any manner. I have waited 11 years for these to come to a point where I hope they are the expressions of their pedigree and their terroir. A 2000 Baron de Rothschild Carruades de Lafite and a 2000 Chateau Figeac stand ready to celebrate our mutual maturity.
Hopefully this will correct the one misstep of last nights dinner, a horrible sochu mint cocktail that spoke to chewing on mint stems. I know, horrible snobbery, what can I say, I may enjoy spending all night smoking a brisket and eating cherries laced with bourbon, but, I really enjoy a good plate of charceuterie and a little wine.

The Litte Indulgences

If you can't indulge a little bit, or a lot, on your birthday weekend, when are you gonna do it. I am trading services for a couple of wood working projects in exchange for a completely over the top Santa Maria BBQ pit design for a friend. Here is Marty's version of a Weber handle, soon to be on my kettle.
AML Woodart, worth seeking out. I am working on the plans Marty, this BBQ will bankrupt you. He he.


Yep, today I turned fifty years old. In reality, this isn't as momentous as it has historically been, most of us remain vital, productive and healthy folks at this age. It measures us, against our own expectations, I suspect as much as anything, to see how we have done so far in life. We revel, some to celebrate a life well lived, others, perhaps, to hide the now undeniable loss of our youth, with drink, food, cake and excess, others seek family and the joy of drawing our lives about us.

Over the years, my parents, like so many parents, moved to the side and made the day all about me, truly, as I look back, I realize the greatest gift was their daily selflessness shown symbolically by this once a year act. For truly, it is their day to celebrate, to see their child grow and mature, to discover, learn and grow wiser. She was heroic, not in some exaggerated comic book style, but, in the subtle every day nurturing and the knowledge that every day there was someone that loved me as only a mother can.

I am certain that my mom had her moments of doubt that I would ever grow wiser. It has been 13 years since I could share this day with her, the cruelest fate of our birthday, that eventually we will soldier on, celebrating our birth, missing so keenly that most cherished person, who made this very day posible. And yet, I carry her lessons, wisdom and love forward, never being very far from her indeed.

It has been just three years since my dad and I shared this day. Our day. For, my entire life, I shared my birthday with my dad. He would have been 87 today. I am not sure how to explain how 'cool' I thought having our day every June 10 was, to share this most intimate day of the year with my dad. when I was young, I thought he was a hero, stronger, smarter and tougher than anyone else's dad. Then time and hormones took it's eventual tax, he became mortal, a good man, but time takes a little boy's innocence.

As my mom's life was ebbing, and I was caught in the need to earn a living, build a company, live a little, I was despairing that her needs for care was overwhelming me. And he came back, not the mortal man, my dad the hero. It was late winter, a very difficult time for the elderly, especially the heart weak. He showed up at my office, having ridden the bus down. He gave up a lifetime of smoking and beer, he gave up being free to fish, he gave up his freedom. He came back and spent the next 4 years never more than a few feet from my mom.

There is a bittersweet flavor to this day, I guess that is what our lives become, a lovely complexity of life lost to time, of promise yet fulfilled and that small joy of this moment.

Happy Birthday Mom and Dad, thank you for the most wonderful and glorious gift of life.