Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hot Pot Made Easy

I decided to do a hot pot dinner on Thanksgiving this year.  No turkey, no mashed potatoes, no cranberry sauce and no pumpkin pie.  So it's not the most traditional Thanksgiving meal, but at least it was stress-free.  I just wanted to drink wine and enjoy a great meal with good company without having to spend two days prepping and cooking and fretting over how the bird will turn out.
Hot pot, shabu shabu, lẩu, suki, sukiyaki, steamboat, fondue or huǒ guō is a social event.  Each part of the world has a different version, but it is basically everyone dipping and cooking the pre-sliced ingredients in pot of hot soup base, cheese or chocolate that simmers in the middle of the table.  I have many memories of family meals with everyone spending hours surrounding a pot of simmering broth chatting and eating.
Zion market was our first stop to pick up some ginger, lotus roots, pea sprouts, orange and thinly pre-sliced pork belly, beef tongue, ribeye and brisket.
99 Ranch had the portable camping stoves and cans of butane.  We also got some cuttle fish balls, herbal soup mix, rice noodles, moqua and napa cabbage.   There are lots more items that would be great hot pot additions such as tofu, fish fillets, shrimp, dumplings, any thinly sliced meat, noodles, taro, potatoes, veggies and etc.
At both stores, there were a plethora of induction and electric hot pot sets.  However, I wanted the portable gas version so that I could have the option of doing an outdoor hot pot as well.  Funny how both Zion and 99 Ranch had the portable gas stove, but neither had the pot nor little scoops to go with it.  SF (Thuan Fat) Supermarket had the pot and all the little scoops I needed to complete my hot pot kit.
Thanksgiving day: I spent about an hour or so rinsing and slicing up the veggies and preparing the soup bases.  Depending on the region, the soup bases also vary.  Since I got a half and half hot pot, I did one regular herbal soup base and one spicy herbal soup base,  which didn't take long at all.  To save time, I prepared the soup on my kitchen stove and then transferred to the portable hot pot setup.

Half and Half Herbal Soup Bases:
1 packet of assorted herbs
1 finger of ginger (peeled and chopped into large chunks)
6 cans of chicken broth or homemade broth
6 dried chili peppers
3 dried chrysanthemum flowers (optional)
Pour chicken broth, ginger and half of each herb from the assorted herb packet into a large pot.  Bring to a boil.  Transfer half of the broth to one side of the hot pot.  Add the dried chili peppers to the remaining half of the broth and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Transfer to other half of hot pot.  Put the chrysanthemum flowers in a tea ball and add to the spicy side of the hot pot.  In chinese medicine, chrysanthemum flowers are "cooling" and will balance out the "heatiness" of the spicy hot pot.  The tea ball will help keep the flowers from disintegrating into the hot pot.  Keep hot pot on a low simmer.  

Rinse and strain the pea sprouts and napa cabbage.  Moqua has a texture and taste just like winter melon.  I prefer it to winter melon because it has a much thinner skin and is easier to prep.  It soaks up the flavors of the soup like a sponge.  Peel and slice the moqua into about 1 inch pieces.   Peel and thinly slice the lotus root.  My handy mandolin slicer really made a big difference with the lotus root.  Parboil, rinse and drain the rice noodles.
 Cut half-way into each cuttle fish ball with 3 horizontal slices.  
Turn over to the other side and make one perpendicular slice half-way into each ball.  
That way, there are slices on each side of the cuttle fish ball, while keeping the whole thing intact.  This would help any meat balls cook quickly and evenly in the hot pot.

I laid everything out and we pigged out.  To keep the soup from evaporating away thru out the meal, I add hot water as needed.  The leftovers also made for a delicious noodle soup the next morning.

What about the orange?  That was for my azuki dessert soup.  More on that next time....

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beats N Eats Food Trucks Meet Up

Update - The Beats N Eats Food Trucks Meet Up has been moved to a new location in Mira Mesa.  Information to follow....
I have to apologize for not disclosing the information to the Beats and Eats Meet-Ups that have been taking place each Tuesday for the past summer months.  I was looking through my posts and realized that I never finished this one.  

The location is at the parking lot in front of the Tabe Kitchen off Murphy Canyon Road by Taco Bell, Happy Car Wash and Express Tire.
3690 Murphy Canyon Road, San Diego, CA

The trucks do not sell beverages at this event out of respect for the convenience store that they are parked in front of.  I always purchased my beverage from the convenience store.  Plus, they allow the food trucks patrons to use their restroom facilities.
Tables are chairs are available outside the convenience store where DJ booth is set up.   

This food truck event, unlike some others, do not have an entrance fee.  There is also DJ Kanoya providing the beats, hence Beats N Eats.   

This shingdig happens every Tuesday from 6:30 pm - 9 pm.  I thought this was only a summer food trucks event, but a very reliable source has told me that they are looking for a new location to continue this.  I hope so, it's so much easier than chasing these trucks down on Twitter.

There are usually 4-5 trucks at this event.  Tabe (the event organizer) and SuperQ seem to be the regulars.  Some of the trucks that I've seen on the rotation are Sweet Treats, Asian Persuasion, India on Wheels (no longer in business), Pierogi, SD Street Eats and the Gooch.  Most of these trucks take credit card for a small transaction fee and/or minimum purchase.  There's also an ATM inside the store.
Makes me wish that I had four stomaches, like a cow, instead of just my measly singular human stomach.  Sigh.

Clockwise: Tabe Kobe Beef Slider, Tabe Beef Short Rib Taco, India on Wheels Samosa, SuperQ Beef Brisket Sandwich (mostly eaten), Sweet Trucks Chocolate Covered Bacon

Asian Persuasion Longanisa Rice Bowl
Sweet Treats Tiramisu
Here's what I've tried so far:
Kobe Beef Sliders - A child-sized burger served on a soft dinner roll w/ cheddar cheese and shredded iceberg lettuce.  A pretty good starter or kiddie meal.
Tabe Beef Short Ribs Taco - I love korean bbq'd meat on a taco.  My only complaint is the massive amounts of shredded iceberg lettuce.  I took half of the lettuce off my taco and re-sauced.  
Tabe Asada Fries - Super deliciousness.  Grilled beef marinated in korean bbq sauce over crispy fries.  This is an example of fusion gone right.
SuperQ Beef Brisket Sandwich - This is a meal in a sandwich.  Sorry, I scarfed this down before I even remembered to snap a picture.  It was a huge sandwich.  I-needed-a-nap-afterwards huge.  It's like a sourdough grilled cheese stuffed with tender beef brisket, mac n cheese and sautèed onions.  The brisket was packed full of flavor.  If you like a little spice in your life, ask them to add some jalapeños to your sandwich.  You won't regret it.  Unless you can't do spicy foods, in which case, you will regret it.
BBQ Chicken Salad - This is the most flavorful salad that I have ever had.  Black beans, corn, shredded cheddar cheese, red onions, cucumber, tomatoes, shredded BBQ chicken and ranch served over a mix of greens.  I was stumped as to what was making this salad so packed full of flavor when one of my friends pointed out to me that the chicken is infused with BBQ sauce.  Great big portions and flavor.
Asian Persuasion
Longanisa Rice Bowl - In other words, a longsilog.  And they do it so well.  My egg was a perfect over easy with a runny yolk and nice crispy edges along the whites.  The bite-sized chunks of longanisa were packed full of flavor, as longanisas should be, and had a good sear.  The stir-fried garlic rice had a good wok hay, which means the cook was using a very well-seasoned cooking surface and really high heat.  To achieve wok hay, you have to be able to use really high heat to sear in the flavor of each individual ingredient without burning any of it.  I overheard the girl who took my order speak to the cook in Cantonese.  A chinese cook with true skills is behind this filipino dish.  They actually ran out of this dish one Tuesday at 7pm.
Meat Stuffed Pierogi - There were other items on the menu that were calling to me as well.  Grilled polish sausages, hungarian pancakes and blitzers.  But how could I not try one of the hand-made pierogis from a food truck named Pierogi Truck?   Prior to ordering, I asked what's a pierogi?  One of my friends started explaining to me that it is a pan-fried european dumpling.  The lady from the truck overheard us and stuck her head out to inform us that she does not pan-fry her pierogis.  "It would make the dough tough.  We only boil ours," she said.  Boiling is also the preferred method of cooking for freshly made jiaozi.  Yes, most people probably think that pan-frying is the better way to make them.  However, that's what you do to the store bought frozen jiaozi (which I also love).  But when someone, like say your loving chinese mother (or someone else's loving chinese mother if you don't have one of your own), makes the jiaozi fresh from scratch, the best way to enjoy those as soon as they are made is to boil them. This allows you to really appreciate the texture of the dough.  It is the rest of the batch that are frozen for later use, hence losing that freshly made dough texture, that is pan-fried.  These were boiled, sprinkled with bacon and served with a side of sour cream.  Yums.  Like a european jiaozi. The dough was not too thick, not too thin and had a good "bite" to it.  Much like my momma's.  The filling is juicy, meaty and just plain good.  I could eat about 20 of these in one sitting.  There were also other meatless filling options.
Sweet Treats
Chocolate Covered Bacon - I know, it sounds weird.  But it is one of those weird combinations that are honestly really good.  Someone had made these for a work potluck once and had convinced me to give it a try.  To much of my surprise, I really liked it.  A crispy bacon strip covered in chocolate, probably the same kind that is used for chocolate covered strawberries.  It is not at all greasy.  For some strange reason, the salty sweet combo kinda reminds me of peanut butter and chocolate.  I don't know why no one else gets that.  Try it, it's good.  I promise.
Tiramisu - Pretty good.  I wasn't blown away, just a solid pretty good.  The espresso bean on top was a nice touch.  After all that food, I needed a giant hit of caffeine to keep me awake long enough for the drive home.
India on Wheels
Samosa - I got a potato filled samosa topped with a sweet and savory pesto-like sauce.  It was good.  Too bad they closed down the business.  I guess a vegetarian food truck can only sustain so long when there are competing with meaty, guilty-pleasure fares.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sesame Chicken Wings

These chicken wings are super sticky and flavorful.  They were a big hit at the Super Bowl party I brought them to last year.  
Maltose honey can be found at the asian grocery stores.  Regular honey can be used instead, but the wings will not turn out as sticky.  

Sesame Chicken Wings
12 chicken wings
1/2 cup oyster sauce
1/2 cup hoisen sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup maltose honey*
2 tsp five spice powder
5 tbsp sesame oil
1 stalk green onions, minced
3 tbsp sesame seeds
*Place the jar of maltose honey in hot water for about 15 minutes to soften before use, this will make it easier to scoop out of the jar.
Combine oyster sauce, hoisen sauce, soy sauce, maltose honey, and five spice powder in a sauce pan over low heat.  Stir frequently until the mixture is completely blended.  Turn off heat.  Stir in sesame oil.  Let mixture cool.  Toss wings in marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  
Preheat oven to 350.  Line baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil.  Spread wings evenly on aluminum foil.  Pour rest of marinade over wings.  Bake for 45 minutes or until wings are cooked through.  Sprinkle sesame seeds and green onions over wings. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Steamed Fish w/ Ginger and Scallions = Next Day Fish Flake Jook

My favorite fish preparation is steamed with ginger and scallions then drizzled with a soy sauce and oil dressing.  The heated oil brings out the essence of the ginger and scallions.  Kwai Fei Gai is also prepared in a somewhat similar fashion.  That is also my favorite way to cook chicken.  I guess I'm just a sucker for anything that is steamed and dressed with the scallion and ginger oil.  It goes so well over steamed rice.  Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about it.
Steaming is the best way to enjoy any fresh salt-water fish with a firm flesh.  I don't recommend this recipe for fresh water fish like trout or catfish.  This method highlights the taste and texture of the fish instead of masking it with stronger flavors.  It is best to use the freshest fish possible.  I have always thought that this dish is the reason why most Chinese restaurants have the live fish tanks.  I would not order this dish from a restaurant without those tanks.
My mom used to make this dish with a whole fish that she gets from the market that same day.  Head and tail included.  Since I was cooking for one, I got a single fillet of sushi grade mahi mahi.  

Steamed Fish w/ Ginger and Scallions
8 oz fillet of firm fleshed, salt water fish (mahi mahi, snapper, sheepshead, etc)
1 stalk scallions, minced
4 inches fresh ginger, julienned or grated
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 drops sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce

Place a steam rack in a wok.

If you don't have a steam rack like that one, you can rig one up with two pairs of chopsticks.  Like so:

Add enough water to the wok until it just stops short of where the plate would be placed on your rack.  Heat to simmer.  
Spread half of the ginger and scallions evenly onto a heat proof plate large enough to fit the fish, but smaller than your wok.  Make sure the plate has sides that comes up. 
Place your fish on top of the ginger and scallions.  Spread the rest of the ginger and scallions on top of your fish.
Place the plate on the rack.  Make sure water level is sufficient.  Cover with wok lid and steam for about 10 minutes.
*If you are steaming a whole fish, make sure the fish is cleaned.  Scour both sides of the fish with 3 parallel slashes and stuff with ginger and scallion mixture as well.  Add an additional 5 minutes of steam time for every 8 oz.
Take plate off rack.  Drizzle with soy sauce.  Take rack off wok.  Drain water and dry wok.  Heat oil in wok.  Carefully pour heated oil over fish.
If you have any leftovers, you have all the ingredients to make Fish Flake Jook for breakfast the next morning.  
Fish Flake Jook
From Leftovers:
leftover steamed fish, flaked into bite-sized pieces
leftover steamed rice
water or chicken broth
white pepper
Simmer the leftover rice with twice as much water or broth, stirring frequently until rice is broken up.  Add more water or broth if rice becomes too thick.  I like my jook to be more of a soupy consistency.  Turn off heat.  Stir in fish flakes.  Ladle into bowls.  Add salt and white pepper to taste.

From Scratch:
8 oz fillet of firm fleshed, salt water fish (mahi mahi, snapper, sheepshead, etc), slightly frozen
1 stalk scallions, minced
4 inches fresh ginger, julienned
2 drops sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1 cup uncooked rice
3-4 cups water or chicken broth
white pepper

Thinly slice fish against the grain.  Cut fish into bite-sized chunks.  Mix fish together with scallions, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.  
Bring water or broth to boil.  Add rice.  Lower heat to a simmer.  Partially cover by placing lid over pot, but propping one side of the lid up by placing a chopstick underneath one side of the pot.  Stir occasionally.  Cook for about 30 minutes or until rice is soft and broken.
Turn off heat.  Immediately stir in fish.  The residual heat should cook the fish without overcooking it.  Ladle into bowls.  Add salt and white pepper to taste.  Makes 6 servings.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lazy snacks - Nori wraps

Summers are lazy for me.  Especially when it comes to turning on the stove or oven in an already hot house.  My friend VT introduced me to the idea of lazy nori wraps.  I dare not call it sushi or even categorize it as Japanese food since our ingredients vary so much.  Sometimes it's a snack, sometimes it's a meal.  The wraps are basically nori, a starch, some kind of pickled veggie, and maybe a protein.  The protein is optional.  Make sure all the ingredients are either chilled or at room temperature.  Otherwise, you'll have some burned fingers.

Nori Wraps
sheets of nori
starch ingredient
pickled veggies, cut into small pieces
protein ingredient (optional), cut into bite-sized chunks
Take a sheet of nori and cut it in half.  Cut those in half again.  And cut those in half again.  You should have rectangles that are 1/6th the size of the original sheet.  Or you could also buy the little nori rectangles that are pre-cut to that size. 
Place a scoop of the starch ingredient, a piece of pickled veggie and the protein ingredient in the middle of a piece of nori.  Fold and enjoy.
Easy, right?  Here are some variations that I have tried out.
  • smoked salmon, capers, white rice
  • umeboshi, bún (rice vermicelli noodles)
  • Spam, sushi rice
  • quinoa, cilantro, lightly pickled cucumbers, tomatoes
  • leftover Red Quinoa Salad
  • tuna salad, orzo pasta, capers
  • century eggs, gari, white rice
  • deviled eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, brown rice
  • sticky rice, pork sung

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Go Ahead, Crowd the Mushrooms

Julia Childs stressed, "Don't crowd the mushrooms."  

Crowding would result in steamed instead of the nicely browned mushrooms.  But seriously, who has the time and patience to brown batch after batch of mushrooms?  I have a 14-in pan and each batch barely yields a single side serving.
Crowd the mushrooms, but crowd them in a cast iron pan.
I have found the perfect solution.  Crowd the mushrooms, but crowd them in a cast iron pan.  
Cast iron retains heat well enough so that the moisture from the mushrooms will soon evaporate away, allowing the mushrooms to brown. 
Oh, Julia.  I love you, but I'm breaking your rules.
Do not stir!

Sautéed Mushrooms
8 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or any vegetable oil)

Heat cast iron pan over med-high heat.  Add oil and swirl around to make sure oil covers the entire surface.  Allow the oil to heat for 30 seconds.

Spread the mushrooms evenly in the pan.  
DO NOT stir. I know it's hard to resist stirring, but it is important to the browning process to not stir until after the first layer of mushrooms starts to brown.  

Cook until the mushroom juices evaporate.  

Once the first layer of mushrooms have just started to brown, stir up the mushrooms so that the other layers get to the bottom of the pan.  Spread evenly.

The mushrooms will shrink during the cooking process, allowing more surface area on the pan.

Do not worry about the pan being dry at this point. Let the juices from the other layers evaporate and brown. Do no add more oil.

There you have it, perfectly browned mushrooms even with crowding.

Nicely browned mushrooms :o)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Living It Up...In National City (The Waterfront Grill)

Great view, right?  That was my lunchtime view.  Was I at a fancy yacht club?  Nope, I was lunching in National City.  Yep, far in the background behind those sparkly yachts is the Navy yard. 
I was actually lunching in front of a place that sells yachts!  Yep, those babies are brand spanking new.  And right next to the sales office is the Waterfront Grill (not to be confused with the Waterfront in Little Italy).  
The Waterfront Grill is in a fairly new building on Pier 32 in the mostly industrial area of National City.  It's yacht club posh without the posh membership fee.  

Walking in, the menus were in a basket that hung on one of the columns underneath a sign that directed me to order at the counter.  I decided on the Blackened Fresh Fish Sandwich with a side salad ($10.50) and iced tea ($2.25).  I was handed real glassware and a number for the server to find my table.  There's indoor and outdoor seating.  Since the weather has been so nice and warm, I decided on the covered patio overlooking the pier full of boats located just outside the sales office.  As I wait for my food, I fantasized about owning one of the yachts and being one of those people who spent the day out on it instead of having to schlep back to the office right after lunch.  How cool would it be to drive up on my shiny new boat and have lunch?  Sighs.

My plate arrived with real flatware wrapped in a linen napkin.  The sandwich was open faced on toasted ciabatta bread with the usual sandwich fixings.  Lettuce, tomatoes and red onions.  My fish was indeed fresh and moist, seasoned with a cajun rub that had just the slightest hint of heat.  I was expecting the side salad to just be lettuce and some tomatoes.  Instead, I got a spring salad mix with tomatoes, sections of mandarin orange, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, carrot shavings and a tangy vinaigrette.  Ahhhh.  So this is how the other side lives....

The Waterfront Grill
Pier 32
National City, CA 91950 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Red Quinoa Salad

Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is a grain that is very rich in protein and amino acids.  The taste and texture is similar to a nuttier couscous.  I tossed together a vegetarian quinoa salad that was both refreshing and surprisingly satisfying.  The quinoa packaging instructions say to cook it with  1 part quinoa with 3 parts water.  Some of my friends who are more familiar with this grain also recommend that method, similar to cooking white rice.  I have not been successful with that method.  My quinoa never turned out very fluffy that way.  I recently bought a new cookbook which included instructions on steaming quinoa.  It was genius. My quinoa turned out light and fluffy.

Red Quinoa Salad
1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
3 tsp salt
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
3 tbsp pine nuts
3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
3 tbsp dried cranberries
baby spinach and arugula mix
Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve.  Bring water to boil.  Add quinoa and boil for 10 minutes.  Drain quinoa into a fine sieve.  Fill pot up with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil.  Place sieve with quinoa over the pot of boiling water.  The water should not touch the quinoa.  Adjust water level accordingly.  Place lid over quinoa.  Steam for 15 minutes.  Stirring every 5 minutes for even steaming.  Check water level constantly and add more boiling water as needed.
Let quinoa cool.  Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Mix in pine nuts, feta and cranberries.  Serve chilled over spinach and arugula.

Friday, July 29, 2011


It is pronounced "joke" in Cantonese.   Most Asian countries have their own variations of jook (a.k.a rice porridge or congee).  It is commonly eaten for breakfast or when one is not feeling well.  Some make it thick and some make it soupy.  I prefer the soupy consistency.  There are many version of jook.  Fish flake, chicken, century egg w/ lean pork, vegetarian, etc.   Plain jook can be served with condiments such as fu yur, salted duck eggs, fried shallots, dried salt fish, youtiao, tianjin preserved vegetables, etc.  The plain version is the foundation of all other versions.  

Plain Jook
1/4 cup uncooked rice
3 cups water
Combine ingredients in crock pot and cook for 4 hours on low.
Bring water to boil.  Add uncooked rice.  Cook over low heat for 1 hour. Stirring occasionally.  Add more water if jook gets too thick.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Grill On! Grilled Oyster Sauce Wings & Grilled Balsamic Bok Choy

Although we haven't been having the heat wave that has swept the rest of the US, last week was a little too warm to be cooking in my kitchen.  I invited some friends over to taste test my latest concoction of Grilled Oyster Sauce Wings and Grilled Baby Bok Choy with Balsamic.  This is a great last minute dinner.  I defrosted the wings in cold water and then whipped together a quick marinade.  I usually just drizzle some oyster sauce over my greens, but my marinade already had an oyster sauce base, I decided to use balsamic to balance out the flavors.  This went nicely with steamed white jasmine rice and chrysanthemum iced tea.  I also made a chilled azuki dessert soup, but it didn't turn out like I wanted.  I will post the recipe for that once I perfect the technique in my crazy kitchen lab.  Until then, here are the recipes for the main course:
Grilled Oyster Sauce Wings
1/2 dozen wings
1/3 cup oyster sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp five spice powder
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, five spice powder and garlic in a medium sized bowl.  Toss in the wings to thoroughly coat.  Refrigerate until ready to grill, tossing about halfway through to ensure even marinading.  Place on hot grill, over medium heat.  Brush on 1/2 of remaining marinade after 15 minutes and flip wings over.  Brush on rest of  marinade and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until done.

Grilled Baby Bok Choy with Balsamic
baby bok choy
grapeseed oil or vegetable oil
balsamic vinegar
coarse sea salt
Split the baby bok choy into halves, lengthwise.  This makes it easier to clean off the dirt that is trapped in between the layers.  Rinse and drain.  Lightly brush grapeseed or vegetable oil on both sides of the bok choy.  I used my handy Misto sprayer filled with grapeseed oil, which really does make my life so much easier.  Place the bok choy on the hot grill just until grill marks start to form.  Sprinkle on sea salt and balsamic vinegar just after flipping.  Don't need to go crazy with the balsamic, just a little splash will do.  Bok choy are done once grill marks start to form on the other side.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cubicle Cuisine: Brats!

Lunch during the work week doesn't always have to be confined to frozen meals, reheated leftovers or eating out.  The office break room can become a pretty decent kitchen if you just modify some recipes just a little bit.  In this post, we will be having brats.  There was a lone survivor leftover from the weekend and I decided to bring that in for lunch the following Monday.  Not a dried out precooked brat to be heated up mind you.  I cooked it at work with the handy dandy microwave. 
I'm cheating a little on this post because there were already microwave instructions on the back of the packaging.  As per the instructions, I placed the brat in a container and filled it with hot water, loosely cover,  1 min and 45 secs, flip and repeat.  DO NOT try to nuke your brat without water.  Best case scenario, you'll be munching on dried out brat jerky.  Worst case scenario, you'll spend the rest of the day scraping off dried out pieces of brat that exploded all over the microwave.
After cooking in the microwave, place the brat link next to the bun in the toaster oven if you have one in your office kitchen. The surface of the link should sizzle up nicely as the bun toasts up.  Almost like it's fresh off the grill :o)  Remember, NEVER leave the toaster oven unattended while in use.  Nothing like subjecting the rest of your office to the smells of your burnt lunch experiments for the rest of the workday...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cubicle Cuisine: Scrambled Eggs

Since working in an office, I've reacquainted myself with the microwave quite a bit.  During my first year as a college freshman, I had gotten quite good at microwave cooking.  Yes, it was real cooking, not just reheating frozen meals and corn dogs.  But, I have not really used my microwave that much since I have moved out of the dorms and learned how to really cook.  My microwave at home is left unplugged most of the time.  I'll use it to melt butter or reheat food, but even then I usually use the stove for that stuff most of the time.  I have been getting some pretty good use out of the microwave in the office break room.  I think I have gotten the microwave scrambled eggs technique down to a science.
You will need:
Microwavable bowl
Salt (optional)
Pepper (optional)
Any other seasonings you want on your eggs (nothing raw)

Crack your eggs into the microwavable bowl.  Use as many eggs as you like, just make sure your bowl is big enough so that the eggs don't spill over whilst cooking.  If it does, clean it up, there is no such thing as an Office Mommy.

Beat your eggs with the fork and add 2 tbsp of water for each egg.  Add the salt, pepper and any other add-ins.  I added about a tablespoon of chives & onion cream cheese that were leftover from bagels once and my eggs were herbaliciously creamy.  I've also used plain half & half from the coffee stash instead of water.  Mix all of that in.

Cook in the microwave at 70% Power for 15 seconds and stir.  Repeat until your eggs are cooked to your desired doneness.  The more eggs you use, the more cycles of cooking and stirring.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Point Loma Pho and Grill

Pho is one of my all time favorite comfort foods.  My parents grew up in Hanoi and I used to wake up on the weekends to a big pot of chicken pho that my mom has prepared for us kids to serve ourselves.  It seems that pho has become the new sushi or thai food.  
Point Loma Pho and Grill opened last year near my work.  That means I don't have to far for a pho fix during lunch.  I usually get the #4 Pho with rare steak, brisket, tendon and tripe.  It's an okay bowl of pho that satisfies my cravings.  The steak is thinly sliced and still pink in the center when the bowl arrives to the table.  By the time my sprouts and basil were mixed in, the steak's completely cooked in the hot broth.  Well-done steak is an option, but the meat would overcook in the hot broth and become tough by the time you mix everything together.  The reason for ordering rare steak for your pho is so it would cook in the hot broth right before you dig in.   I enjoyed the tendon, which is tender and a good amount.  The brisket's nice.  The amount of tripe is always disappointing.  I don't think I've ever gotten more than two small pieces of tripe.  Too bad, I like tripe.  The broth is a little too sweet for my taste and lacks the beefy flavor.  It's americanized vietnamese food.  The shrimp pho is a good start for someone who has never had pho before and is put off about trying things like tripe and tendon.   Although chicken pho or pho with just steak are also good newbie options.
Broken rice dishes and boba drinks are also on the menu.  There is also the sizzling beef platter served in a hot cast iron plate.  Marinated beef, onions, and green peppers with a bowl of steamed rice.  Have you ever seen that commercial with the waiter walking through the restaurant with the fajita platter?  Yeah, it's like that.  
The service is quick and efficient as with all pho places.  The staff is friendly and always makes sure our water glasses are filled.  It's not the best bowl of pho I've ever had, but it's a good place to take your friends for their introductory bowl of pho.  I'd still go back for a weekday lunch time pho fix.

Point Loma Pho and Grill
2788 Midway Drive
San Diego, CA 92110

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Wings

Since my lemongrass has been growing rampant in my little container garden, I decided to thin it out and do something with it.  My mom used to make a fish sauce marinade for pork that went with her bun thit nuong.  Bun thit nuong is a cold Vietnamese noodle dish that consists of marinated grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, an assortment of thinly shredded lettuce, cucumber, sprouts, pickled carrots and daikon, coarsely ground roasted peanuts, mint and a nuoc mam cham vinagrette.  It's a really refreshing rice noodle salad that replaces my pho cravings in the summer.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a restaurant in San Diego that measures up to my mom's bun thit nuong.  The grilled pork is just never quite right.
My mom's marinade for her grilled pork was savory, citrusy and slightly sweet.  I didn't have all the ingredients for bun thit nuong, but I did have a huge bag of frozen chicken wings. While the wings defrost in a bowl of cold water in the sink, I began pounding together the ingredients for my marinade.  Unfortunately, I didn't pay that much attention to what my mom threw into her marinade or even the measurements for that matter.  So I kinda winged it.  I tasted and adjusted until I finally got it close enough.  So here's the recipe for my Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Wings, which is inspired by my mom's Bun Thit Nuong.  My measurements are not exact, but hey, it's close enough.

Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Wings
10-12 chicken wings
2 cloves garlic
4-5 stalks fresh lemongrass, white parts only and minced
1 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 tsp sesame oil
juice from 1/2 lime

With a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, lemongrass, and sugar.  A food processor will do if you don't have a mortar and pestle.  
In a small bowl, combine the lemongrass mixture with the nuoc mam, sesame oil and lime juice.  Rinse the chicken wings and pat dry.  In a large bowl or freezer bag, toss the chicken wings with the marinade until completely coated and marinate for at least 4 hours.  Re-toss the wings every hour or so to get them to marinate evenly.
Fire up the grill and cook the chicken wings for about 15 minutes each side or until the meat closest to the bone is no longer pink.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More than just salad

I got some romaine hearts that were on special at Fresh & Easy.  I wasn't thinking salad.  I wasn't thinking grilled.  I was thinking about sauteed.  I was thinking about the way my friend's husband made them.  He is Taishan and an excellent chef, which is good news for my friend because I don't think I've ever seen her cook anything that wasn't Top Ramen.  She does make a very good sou chef, gotta give her credit for that.  When I was visiting one evening, she started washing and chopping 10 minutes before he walked through the door.  After cooking at the restaurant all night long, he started throwing together a simple, yet delicious late night dinner.
The one dish that I still remember is the simplest.  Romaine hearts sauteed with fermented tofu, which tastes kinda like blue cheese made from tofu.  I was skeptical as I watched him prepare this dish.  Up to that point in my life, the only way I've seen romaine hearts prepared has been raw or lightly grilled in a salad.  Plus, fermented tofu???  Really?
He convinced me to give this homestyle dish a try and I was became a convert.   It was light and refreshing.  The fermented tofu added just the right hint of savoriness (I could go fancy and call it "umami") that highlights the seared edges of the romaine.  I am salivating whilst thinking about romaine hearts. Whowouldadunkit?

Umami Romaine Hearts
1 Romaine heart
1/4 cube fermented tofu
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Step 1: Slice the romaine heart lengthwise into 8 pieces.

Step 2: Heat wok or frying pan with 1 tbsp vegetable oil.
Step 3: Add romaine hearts and garlic to pan.  Cook until leaves are just starting to wilt, turning every now and again.

Step 3: Add fermented tofu.  Just 1/4 cube will do, this stuff is potent!

Step 3: Continue cooking until fermented tofu is melted, about 2 minutes.  De-glaze the pan with about 2 tbsp of water in the final 30 seconds if you want some sauce for that rice to soak up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Onsen Tamago

I have always loved eggs.  In my opinion, the yums factor will almost always be raised 2 fold when topped with an egg...3 fold if the yolk is runny...4 fold if the runny yolk is a fresh, free range, golden orangish hue.  Well, you get the idea.
I have recently decided to take my egg addiction to a heightened level.  I am talking about being able to enjoy an occasional onsen tamago without trekking all the way to the hot springs of a japanese spa.  Although, if anyone wants to sponsor me for a trip...
"Onsen" means "hot spring" in Japanese, so "onsen tamago" literally translates into "hot spring egg." The temperature of the hot springs are perfect for soft poaching an egg in it's shell so that the whites are cooked and opaque, but still runny and the yolks are set, but still soft.
Since I live no where near a hot spring, my newfound obsession has been to replicate the onsen tamago method in a home kitchen.
I researched the internet and found some recipes for making onsen tamago in the rice cooker.
Cooking an egg is really a scientific endeavor.  Adjustments had to be made based on the size of the egg, temperature of the egg, the number of eggs and the elevation I live in.

  • I found that large eggs are easier to work with than jumbo eggs.  
  • Always use the freshest eggs possible.
  • Rinsing the eggs with tap water to bring them to room temperature prior to cooking helps minimize cracking and helps the egg cook evenly.
  • Cooking more than 3 eggs at a time has huge effects on the temperature and cooking time.
  • And did I mention, use the freshest eggs possible?
After 2 attempts with the rice cooker method, I was finally able to crack open an egg with runny whites and a softly set yolk over some fluffy white rice drizzled with soy sauce.
I also wanted to try to achieve a runny yolk with the the runny, yet opaque whites.  That proved to be harder to do with a rice cooker.  Either my whites were undercooked or my yolks were overcooked.  The temperature of the warm setting on my rice cooker was not up for the task.
So I decided to come up with my own stove top method for cooking a runny yolk onsen tamago.  This was even more trying than experimenting with a rice cooker.  I went through 5 eggs before I finally perfected the temperature and timing.

Stove Top Onsen Tamago Method:
Stove Top Method - 23 minutes 
Bring a pot halfway with water and bring to a boil.  Take pot off heat.  Bring egg to room temperature by running it under tap water.  Place egg in a bowl small enough to fit inside the pot with the lid on.  Place the bowl inside the pot and cover.  Depending on your elevation, the timing might have to be adjusted.  I found that cracking open the egg after 23 minutes works perfectly for me.  Add about 2 minutes for every additional egg, but do not try to make more than 3 at the same time.

Runny whites and runny yolk
Rice Cooker Method:
Rice Cooker method drizzled with soy sauce afterwards - 50 minutes
Cook rice in rice cooker.  Once rice cooker switches over to the Warm setting, rinse the egg under tap water to bring to room temperature and place on top of cooked rice in rice cooker.  The yolk should just start to set after about 50 minutes, but the whites should be cooked, yet still runny.