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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Veggie Burger continues, I had all those vegetables and needed to do something with them. The mushrooms, a bunch of aromatics, an odd can of chickpeas and that slaw, salsa and avocado sauce. Can't let it go to waste, so I made a few changes to the stuff and came up with a veggie burger. I did add some fish sauce, as I find that a little Red Boat fish sauce goes a long way. And, even though, I personally do not consider this vegetarian, due to fish as an ingredient, many folks consider themselves to be vegetarian even though they eat fish.
Anyway, I mush up the chickpeas, added the mushrooms and the cooking liquid, added some more chopped celery and green onions along with a large egg and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs. This was mixed together and formed into patties, then fried in olive oil. This is a very loose mixture and requires either ring forms or a small saute pan to keep things together. A nice bun, some salsa and slaw and there you go.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vegan Tostada

Today, I decided to go vegan, yes, I know, shocking. I have just had too much pork over the past few days an need to change direction briefly. Tonight, a tostada was just the thing.

I used some hand made corn tortillas available in this area, these are Sonoran style, so they are a little thicker than most corn tortillas people are used to. I like them as they are a little more moist and instead of turning into a chip, they retain some chewy tooth in the center of the tortilla.

The base of the tostada was a saute of mushrooms, in this case, crimini and shiitake, sauteed with onions, garlic a little olive oil and some Lucky Dog hot sauce and tamari. Naturally, some salt and Phu Quoc black pepper freshly ground in.

The salsa was a simple tomato and onion salsa, some cilantro then to add a little upgrade, some roasted Hatch chiles and fresh roasted corn were added. The corn was just colored up a bit over a flame, the center was still cold and fresh.

The avocado is more of an avocado salsa, less of a guacamole. I use some cider vinegar and olive oil, along with some almond milk to make it more liquid and smoother than a guacamole. I like the edge of sour bite that the vinegar gives and a little Lucky Dog hot sauce. I add a little sugar, Phu Quoc black pepper and salt to balance it all out.

The slaw is a very simple cabbage and carrot slaw, a little shredded green onion and cilantro for the herbal touch. Again, vinegar, a little sugar, Phu Quoc black pepper and salt, and a little Lucky Dog hot sauce.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Boot and Shoe Service Cafe

It is probably no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love coffee, I treat it just like many who love wine or beer, I love the complexity and variety, of how the hand of man (or woman if it is one of my favorite roasters) can affect the work of nature and how terroir changes a sibple seed. In San Francisco, there is an oft-rotating 'best coffee ever!' buzz surrounding whatever latest coffee roaster or coffee house is the current darling of the crowd. Lately, Sightglass coffee keeps coming up in conversation of the coffee cogniscenti. So, it was both surprsing and good news when I heard that Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland, Ca. was serving Sightglass coffee as a part of new morning service. They have turned a narrow and very rustic space into their coffee bar.
They are using a small La Marzocco espresso machine which seems perfectly sized for the location. Of late, it really seems all of the coffee I enjoy is made on some version of a La Marzocco, including my ususal coffee from Zocalo in San Leandro.

They do have a little competition, being within easy distance from powerhouse chains Peet's and Starbucks, which I suspect will not be a problem for them. In part, it has to do with the coffee, the espresso, my preferred method for getting to know a coffee shop, lacked for nothing. It had a wonderfuil texture, with a touch of sweetness and a smooth overall mouthfeel. The flavore were berry and fruit forward with a tough of mocha richness on the backside, lingering coffee flavor with no bitterness. The coffee and crema held beautifully with the flavor holding even as the coffee cooled. Look at tha...hey, where did it go?
However, as good as the coffee was, the food really shows it's heritage of being a part of a restaurant. For those not in the know, Boot and Shoe is the second restaurant opened by Charlie Hollowell of Pizzaiolo. The baked goods are handled in-house or at Pizzaiolo and the food is prepared in the kitchen.
The shop also offers house made granola and house made baked treats, we did not try these, as we were inclinded to more substantial fare. But, it is easy to see that they have all the standards people look for in a coffee shop as well as a few other options less often seen. The granola is very interesting looking with a unique color and loose texture.
We had a delicious pork belly sandwich which offered a unctuous and tender pork belly, which must have been slow cooked and a wonderful sauce that balanced the heft of the prok belly fat. The sandwich was certainly a worthy representative and will cause me to come back here again.
The real treat was the crispy friend sweet polenta with honey, this was a wonderful balance of crispy, creamy and sweet which could, and probably should, be served as a dessert. This dish represented one of those hallmarks of a great kitchen, simple ingredients in a simple presentation that tastes incredible.
Anytime I run across food like this, it really makes me want to come back and try out the other items on the menu. Boot and Shoe Service got me in with excellent coffee, but, I will be back for the food coming out of the kitchen.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

San Francisco Street Food Festival

I love street food, real street food, the kind that speaks to the hands of someone who made a few items, things they make in the style of their family, the imperfect world of food prepared for service on the run. There is something about the immediacy of food prepared and served for eating on the move, the lack of refinement and the nature of the cook’s hands making the food from shelf to mouth. It is the purest, and probably the oldest form of food cooked for others.
This past Saturday was the 3rd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival presented by La Cocina, this event occurs in the Mission District of San Francisco and is a great food scene with many of the City’s buzz-worthy restaurants and trucks taking part and supporting La Cocina.  I love the Mission District of San Francisco, although it has it’s seedy side, areas where you are probably best off not being too familiar with, it is also one of the most vital and diverse neighborhoods in a very diverse city. With its traditionally Hispanic population and lower socioeconomic incomes blending with the newer influx of hispters and foodies, the neighborhood buzzes with activity every day. There are precious few places where you can go from a block of three dollar burritos to perfect croissants and pizzas by walking a block or two. In this mix is La Cocina, an incubator kitchen focused on assisting lower income and underserved women with starting food businesses, providing them a place to cook, a source for ingredients and advice and direction in dealing with the codes and requirements of starting a business. This is their way of celebrating the support, food-centric people and neighborhood that has supported their efforts.
Although there were some very polished restaurants at this festival, showing all the glory of cooking in a brigade, all the culinary training, the great sourcing and quality of their ingredients and polish of theior technique, there is still something wonderfully uncontrolled about vending a limited menu, out the front of a truck or tent, that makes this food special. Because this is The Mission, there was also the guy with a tiny hot dog cart, the tinkling of the Mexican ice cream push cart and even the odd entrepreneur selling home baked cookies. What a mix it was.
We got to experience Salvadoran, Asian, American and fusions of all of these in various guises. My eating companions included food journalists and taste makers from around the U.S., as I had the opportunity to eat and visit with the media covering this event. It was interesting to hear their take on the San Francisco food and food scene. There is something very enjoyable about eating and drinking with folks that take this part of our local culture seriously.
Some random images as well.
Even when you live out of a shopping cart, a friend or two sure makes the day go better.
I love these luchadore masks with the great colors
Is there something that speaks to California and Mexican street food than grilled corn?

Who needs hundreds of dollars of portable fryers and steamers when you have a dog cart.
We got two dishes from this cook, the puffy masa cakes with cheese folded into the cake and some corn cakes that would make any brunch better, here she cooks just for us (not so much really)
There were cocktails, as there needed to be, Lynchburg Lemonade
And later, we found a small but sleek coffee shop, with the hot tattooed baristas, and open seats
Lime pangas, this seemed such a great decoration for a food booth in the Mission
Mmmm, fried chicken, and I did not know there were such things as portable fryolators, I feel I will have to get one of these.
This was also very cook, a kushiyaki grill with traditional Japanese charcoal, I got some grilled beef heart off of this little grill.
And looking over all of the festivities, one of the many murals around the Mission District

There was quite the crowd, featuring all of the diversity that San Francisco is so well known for. I was forunate to meet up with my friend Mai from Flavor Boulevard, who had ventured over to experience the event as well. Here is her take on the festival. It was certainly fortuitous that she found me, as Mai is tiny, I would never have found her amongst the crowds. I tend to stand out a bit more.

Where are all the usual close-up food pics and detailed culinary descriptions? Well, for me, this event is really more about people, people and community and a shared passion for the locale. I was glad to be there supporting a good cause and a fine neighborhood, the food was just a part of a great day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Home-made Alkali Noodles

Following up on my ramen post, I decided to make some alkali noodles to complement the level of flavor development that I had with the smoked brisket and bacon broth I used for the last ramen post. The noodles, which I bought, were just not good enough, they were soft coming out of the bag and got softer after a bried cooking. I think ramen needs to have noodles with texture and tooth, because of the hot broth, the alkali noodle is a perfect foil for the broth.

I am basing this on a variety of sources, but, took a large amount on inspiration from Lucky Peach, the aforementioned quarterly from the mind of David Chang. Since I based it upon his recipe, I hesitate to publish the recipe, as you should really buy this publication. However, the real key is simple, you need some form of kansui, an alkaline powder, which lends additional body to the noodle.

I went with a batch using 3 cups of flour and just enough water and kansui to pull a rough dough together. This was then kneaded for 5 minutes, an athletic 5 minutes, to pull together the dough into a not quite smooth dough.
Wrapped in plastic wrap and allowed to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, this results in the time for a second kneading, to further develop gluten, I suppose.
After this, since I was not going to need the noodles today, I split the recipe in two, wrapped the dough balls in plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator. It needs to be in there for an hour at least, so my plan is to chill them for at least an hour, then I will freeze one ball and keep the other one for tomorrow night.
One day later, I rolled and cut the ramen by hand, this was not by choice. I would sure like to know where the heck my pasta rollers have gotten to. How could they get lost? Oh well, ramen rustica I guess. After rolling, I hand cut and floured the noodles.
These were later boiled in hot water while everyhting else was prepared. Since I did not want to do a lot of cooking tonight, I went with a simple 'tare' of Tonkatsu sauce. I happen to like Tonkatsu sauce and it works great to support the flavors in ramen.
Tonight was leftovers, so I at the last of my brisket dashi, fortified with some chicken legs and some furikake I had lying around. A couple of eggs, shreds of chicken and some green beans from last night. Ta Daaaa! Quick(ish) ramen dinner.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peach Pie

I was fortunate enough to receive a bunch of peaches from my friend Chris, who has adopted a peach tree, along with many of her friends, from the Masumoto Family Farm just south of Fresno. They have a progran where you can adopt one of their peach trees. This is a great program and the Masumoto's have an organic peach product that you will be hard pressed to find in a market near you. Harvesting the heirloom variety 'Elberta' peach, you get a soft ripe peach ready to eat as soon as it hits your hand. I got five of them and decided it was time to make a pie.

Here are the five very large peaches, peeled by using a quick blanch, no more than 20 seconds in hot water, then a plunge into ice water and immediate peeling. The skin just slips off. These were sectioned into slices and seasoned with 3 teaspoons of turninado sugar, a spalsh of cognac, 1/2 teaspoon each of fresh ground nutmeg and fresh ground cinnamon and a little mace and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. You need that small amount of salt. I also add 1 teaspoon or so of cornstarch to add some thickening to the peach juices.
A pie crust was made, using my families heirloom pie crust recipe. No kidding, it is an heirloom pie crust recipe. During World War 2, my uncles Roy's father was interned, like many Japanese, but, unlike many of his fellow Japanese, he had run a restaurant prior to the war. The chef assigned to the kitchen in the concentration camp Roy's father was assigned to was the pastry chef from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He had no idea how to cook with war rations and cook for large numbers of people in a cafeteria setting. My uncles father was 'hired' to assist, in exchange, he learned pastry. After the war, Roy's father returned to Fresno and made great pies, running a lunch and pie counter for years. It was a marvel to watch him in his old age making pie crusts by feel, choosing how much lard, shortening or butter, and how much water, to add based on the feel of the flour. I killed all of his bonsai, but, I will keep that pie crust recipe alive!
The crust was brushed with an egg wash, purely ornamental. Then into a 385F oven for 40 minutes or until browned. It may have taken a little longer. This photo points out that I really need some coarser sugar for topping pies. The Turbinado sugar seems to make white blotches onto the pie crust.

Here is the inside showing the peaches. I went with slicing, as the larger slices, as opposed to smaller dices, is because these peaches are already ripe and soft. Although they are canning peaches, they will soften too much (for my palate) if diced or made too small. Anyways, great color and texture, which I hope you can imagine.

And the aroma was incredible, fresh spices and peaches makes for a heady mix. As for the small spreader, it is an odd thing, but, somehow my pie server has gone missing. Odd really.

Grandpa Sahara's Pie Crustnow, there is nothing fancy here, it is a pie crust after all.

9 cups flour
4.5 cups shortening
1/2 T salt
1.75 cups water, ice cold
3T+ sugar

1. You do not sift, you simply toss the flour, salt and sugar together with a whisk. Refrigerate.

2. Cut shortening into small cubes, or large cubes if you are good, I am not good, so small cubes. Refrigerate.

3. On a flat surface, bowl flour and add shortening in middle, cut or pinch shortening into flour quickly, do not let warm up. I use a pastry cutter, my sister uses her fingers, she is better than I am and her pies are better than mine. Dammit!

4. The flour/shortening mixture should resemble a fine meal with chunks of larger pieces. Sprinkle the cold water over the flour lightly, then toss together to pull dough together. Note, it will not look like dough, it will look like larger granular material.

5. Fraisage, which means, taking your palm and flaking the flour, by pushing the dough into large flakes of dough. I do this rather quickly by just pushing down into the dough with my palm, quickly and with a slight smearing action.

6. Assemble the flaked dough onto plastic wrap, this recipe makes six crusts, so you will need six sheets of plastic wrap. Consolidate and wrap tightly, chill for one hour.

7. Roll and makes pies.

I use a mix of coconut palm oil and butter, Grandpa Sahara used Crisco, His crusts were flakier, mine taste better and are more tender. And that is what I am sticking too.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Smoked Brisket Ramen

I have just received my copy of Lucky Peach, a new quarterly from the minds of Chef David Chang of Momofuku fame, writer Peter Meehan and the folks from Zero Point Zero Productions. If you have not read this amazing journal, and you like food, you need to get a copy. It is the best food writing I have read in a long time, maybe ever. The first issue is all about ramen. I love ramen. Suddenly, I need ramen. I think it is a heritage thing, those pesky ancestors of mine driving me to the noodle. Sadly there are no good ramen shops near home; I am left to my own devices, this is never good. But, there is often good food.
First, I need to make a few basics. I need a dashi, which is nothing more than a flavored broth, usually this is either fish or fowl based and fairly light in flavor and texture. Then, there is the tare, this is the intense flavoring that defines the dish, often this is miso, shoyu or salt.  Finally, there is a third item that most folks in the U.S. do not understand, or even realize is a part of traditional ramen, which is the fat.

Yes, the fat, often dressed over the dish, sometimes actually blended with the noodles first. I opted for a smoked brisket and bacon dashi, the tare will be a smoked brisket, bacon and shiitake infused shoyu, the fat is going to be a curried bacon/garlic infused smoked brisket, bacon fat skimmed from the broth, this was inspired by the work of Chef Danny Bowien at Mission Chinese Foods.
The whole success of this dish will rest on the 1/4 pound of smoked brisket point, 1/8 pound of uncured apple wood smoked bacon and the aromatics of 1/2 yellow onion and 1/2 of a large carrot. These were steeped along with a sheet of konbu in three cups of water at 150F for one hour. It must not boil. I then removed the konbu and all but 1 cup of broth. At this point, the remaining one cup was boiled hard for 20 minutes, I had to add a little water, until the meats and vegetables were completely reduce and the broth was milky with protein. I cut the heat, returned the reserved broth and added 1/8 cup of fish sauce and several turns worth of ground Phu Quoc black pepper. This was strained and refrigerated overnight.

The fat was skimmed, reheated with some more bacon (man gotta eat breakfast) and then the fat was turned off and 3 teaspoons of curry powder and some slivered garlic was added. This was allowed to cool. I will toss a teaspoon or so of this with the ramen noodles just after boiling.

Shiitake mushrooms were rehydrated and added to about 1/2 cup of the brisket broth, a shot of sherry, 1/8 cup of shoyu, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a few shots or so of fish sauce. This was reduced by half to create a thick syrup. This would be my tare.

Next, I purchased some fresh ramen noodles. But, next time, I will make them from the recipe in Lucky Peach. Some vegetables were procurred as well. One can't just eat fat and meat and expect good results, you need some fiber.
Well, that photo sort of blows, best one of a series of photos that somehow failed to be focused. What we have here are blanched bean sprouts, seared carrots, curried bacon lard, shiitake mushrooms stewed in the tare and a very soft boiled egg. Here is the bowl with the noodles and other stuff, including the fat, which I dolloped onto the top of the noodles.

Serving is as simple as cooking the noodles, placing them in the bowl and then the sliced vegetables are added, some seared brisket point and then the fat was placed on the noodles. ThenI drizzled the tare, a syrup really, over the vegetables and noodles.  I added a soft boiled egg, really a warmed egg, to the ramen and the dashi was poured over the top. The dashi has to be really hot to make it all work
Look at that bowl of goodness, those seared up slices of brisket point were tender with a wonderful crunch along the edges. The vegetables were also just right. Most importantly, the fat melted into the noodles and the egg got just enough heat to tighten up to a custardy consistency. I have to say, this was exceptional ramen, with a deep complex flavor and each ingredient offered it owns taste and texture, I really love that kind of clarity in food.

And you might say, it is a mish mash of styles and what of this fish sauce stuff. Well, of late, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the idea of authenticity, of what really defines a cuisine and how it "should" taste. I know of no other style of cooking than to take the best of what I have, to cook with it, to make good food. It is authentic to me, it is authentic to this place and time. Will you find this dish in Hiroshima, or Ibaraki, or Gifu, where my family hails from, I doubt it. But, I bet folks there would have enjoyed this bowl.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New Camera and something else

Through the generosity of a friend (Rob Bergstrom of Red Boat) I have a new camera. New to me, it is a slightly used Canon 40D with a 50mm f1.8 lens. I am a happy boy, with a new toy. And so, having secured this new camera, I decided to test it out. Here is my first post shot with the new camera.
And what you ask is that stuff? It is salt. I can't go into much more detail at this point, other than to say that it is salt, from Vietnam.