Friday, December 17, 2004


Late night for me tonight, that's OK, playing some music, ripping some CD's now. I bought a whole pork shoulder (picnic-style, meaning the lower/leg part) of about 13 lbs, and a 4.5 lbs. boneless pork butt/shoulder. Rubbed the big 13-lb behemoth with the Wolfgang Puck rub I used successfully the last time, and the smaller one with a 50/50 of the Puck rub and another rub I found on the web.

The reason for this smoking extravaganza? My department is having a potluck tomorrow, and a bunch of people are bringing crummy food, so I figured I'd bring something meaty & good. Incidentally, what makes the whole thing even super crummier is the fact that the two managers who run the department are too cheap to anty up any money for a decent lunch for their staff. Look, they're managers, I'm sure each of them make over $75K, why couldn't they foot a $200 lunch bill and write it off of their own taxes as a business expense? Lame management sucks! I would do that kind of thing if I was the manager, I think it should be part of your responsibility. Anyways...

So in this very windy weather, I had to move the trashcan & smoker near each other to ensure that it doesn't get blown over while it's smoking tonight. Sheesh, when will this insane wind end?
I started the pork butts at around 9:30pm this evening, so hopefully by tomorrow morning they'll be pretty nicely done. Smoking them with 50/50 mesquite & hickory wood chips. I'll have to try wood chunks sometime to see if that works better. It would also be really nice to get an external gas hookup run outside the house so I could fire a BBQ or the smoker using natural gas. I think that would make it really easy to maintain the heat the smoker needs. Oh well, another home project for me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

smokey and the bandit

Burt Reynolds was funny in those 70's movies, damn. Speaking of smoky, I made my chili recipe yesterday, and decided to crack open a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I've heard a lot about these things but never tried them, and I figured if they tasted "smoky", the flavor should go really well with the chili.

Chipotle peppers are simply jalapeno peppers that have been dried, smoked and then rehydrated. You can buy them in a can in "adobo" sauce, which is a red sauce, in most grocery stores, and certainly in any Mexican markets.

I cranked the can open, dipped my finger in for a! Very warm but smokey heat, just like you'd expect from a smoked jalapeno. I blended a couple for two seconds, mixed it in to the chili, and it really added a new dimension of richness & thickness.

Alas, I was missing tomato paste, which I realized after yesterday's chili adventure is absolutely necessary to enhance the "richness" of the chili; you really can't do without it. I also tried substituting shallots for yellow onions (because I have a big bag); it worked fine, but I think onions have a bigger, brighter, "louder" flavor than do shallots. Still, it tasted very good.

On another note, I tried a recipe for Lithuanian rye bread from a cookbook I bought in Lithuania and it turned out abysmally bad. I think the failures were the following:

1. The yeast may be too old. I didn't proof it, but I think I need a new jar, as I remember from my prior pizza making experience.
2. Too much rye flour makes the dough too thick & gummy. Without wheat flour & gluten, it's too dense.

Well, cooking as always is a learning experience.

Friday, December 10, 2004

grandma's bread

Well, well well, it's that holiday time off year again when I take on the tradition of making my grandmother's bread recipe. It's no easy task, because my grandmother did this at least once every week so the recipe was always in her head, never written down. She never bought bread from the grocery store, always made from scratch. My memories of this dark rye bread involve me sitting at my grandma's white formica table in their small 1950's kitchen, the bread coming out of the toaster and being slathered in butter. It tasted like the bread equivalent of the perfect french fry: a little crunchy on the outside and so soft and chewy inside. Mmm. My "mociute" Antonia and my great aunt "Manyte" or "Teta Maryte" would let me help them knead the dough sometimes. I think it was in their kitchen that I learned to appreciate the beautiful smell of freshly baking bread.

Anyway, here's her recipe. When I was in Lithuania, I found a Lithuanian cookbook with a recipe that I think will approximate her bread even more closely. I had some black rye bread in Lithuania that was almost (if not) exactly the same texture and flavor as my grandma's bread. I'm going to transcribe my grandma's recipe word-for-word from Lithuanian, because it's funny & it's difficult to know how she made this bread. Her "cup" measurement could have been a coffee mug, I just don't know exactly: this recipe was all in her head, because she did it every week.

"Musu Duona ("Our Bread")

4 cups buttermilk
3 cups water

Warm in on the stove while constantly mixing, so it doesn't curdle.

Add rye flour until the consistency is like sour cream and set aside to ferment, covered in a warm spot. (I set it aside to ferment at 4-5pm in the afternoon the day before). The next day after it has fermented, I add 1 cup of honey, a large spoon (tablespoon?) of caraway seeds, a large spoon (tablespoon?) of salt, and the yeast. I use 2 packages of fresh yeast cakes (ed. note--this was preferred) or 2 small spoons (teaspoons?) of dry yeast. (First I prepare the yeast with a little flour and a bit of sugar and set it aside to let it rise).

Having combined all of the ingredients, I add 1 pound of rye flour and the remaining white flour (unbleached) so that it would be quite thick. Then I knead the dough for 20 minutes (ed. note--always by hand, she didn't have a stand or bread mixer!!), and I transfer the dough into bread pans, to let the dough rise. When it rises I put it in a 350 degree oven and bake for 1.5 hours. It should turn out good, good luck (ed. note--translated as "Turetu buti gerai. Sekmes")"

Today I'm going to try the cookbook version of this recipe. I'll post it later & let you know how it goes.

warm arugula and potato salad

I lived in West Hollywood for 6 months, on Spaulding Ave between Melrose & Santa Monica Blvd. Interesting neighborhood, Oki-Dog right around the corner, lots of Russians and Jews & Russian Jews, horrible parking (I got SO many parking tickets from stupid street cleaning). I had a tiny studio with hardwood floors, overflowing with packed boxes because my last apartment was so huge. Funny, the boxes never really got unpacked.

For those 6 months I only had a mini-fridge, but it was a good thing that Trader Joes was just down the street, so I could keep in quick supply. One particularily frugal evening I devised this recipe & loved it. It's warm and satisfying, and the pepperiness of the arugula goes nicely with the oil, vinegar, and warm flavors of potato.

Warm Arugula and Potato Salad
Serves 2 persons

1 medium potato
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
4 cups arugula
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, flaked (preferably) or grated
1/4 tsp. Salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice potato very thin (1/8" or thinner). Heat oil in skillet over high heat and add potato slices to oil when almost smoking, arranged in a single layer. Cook for 2 minutes, turn to flip, and then add minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. Allow potatoes to brown slightly. Place arugula in large mixing bowl. Transfer potatoes and leftover pan drippings to arugula. Add balsamic vinegar and toss. Plate, top with parmesan flakes and fresh ground pepper, and serve immediately while warm.

Chin Chin!

Here's a funny anecdote about "chin chin" which is supposed to be a toast:

I think the salad dressing for Chin-Chin's Chinese Chicken Salad is excellent, and here's my attempt at replicating it (I've been digging through my old recipes this morning at home, waiting for an appointment with a phone system repair guy). I did this a while ago (maybe 1998-1999?), but I do remember that it came out pretty damn close to the original (I acually had some of the original and was tasting it as I went along).

Chin-Chin Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing
Makes 1/2 cup

2 tbsp pickled ginger, minced
4 tbsp "juice" (vinegar) from pickled ginger
1-2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp corn oil
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Small pinch red chili flakes OR dash of Tabasco

Whisk ginger, pickled ginger "juice", 1 tbsp soy sauce, brown sugar, corn oil and chili flakes. Taste and adjust soy sauce by 1 tbsp. if necessary to taste (2 tbsp. is salty for my palate). Add pepper to taste & whisk again.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

blustery outside, warm inside

Thanksgiving has come and gone. My first Thanksgiving cooking, with my girlfriend Beckey, and first Thanksgiving in the new house. Beckey's were there and so was my mom, and a big feast was had for all. The menu:

Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash soup
Green salad with endives, pears and a Dijon vinaigrette
14-1/2 lb turkey
Beckey's mom's stuffing
My mom's dressing
Roasted Garlic Mashed potatoes
Roasted Cipollini Onions
Sauteed mushrooms with garlic and onions
Steamed green beans
Canned beets
Canned baked yams with marshmallows
Fresh Cranberry sauce (from my mom)
Pumpkin Pie, Berry Pie, and Pecan Pie
Dinner Rolls

I made the soup, salad, onions, and helped with the Turkey.

The squash soup recipe came from the Williams Sonoma "Complete Entertaining Guide". It's rich, sweet, and spicy, and yet is quite low fat & healthy. Beckey's dad proclaimed "...and I don't even like squash!", a testament to this soup's tastiness. I made the soup the night before, it refrigerated beautifully, and reheated the next day just as nicely.

Serves 6

2 tbsp. butter
3 c. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 c. onion, diced
1 green apple (such as Granny Smith), cored and diced
1/2 green apple, for garnish
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp allspice, ground
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
6 cups chicken stock
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt butter and add diced onions and apple. Cook at medium-low heat for around 15 minutes, until onions are soft. Add nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon, and cook for about 1 minute. Next add diced squash, and add enough chicken stock to just cover the mixture. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour mixture (in 2 or 3 batches) into food processor. Blend with food processor until smooth, about 15-20 seconds per batch. Add salt & pepper to taste, and adjust other seasonings as necessary (nutmeg, allspice, cinammon)

At this point, you can pour it into a bowl and refrigerate uncovered until cool, then cover it. It will easily store until the next day. Just bring to a near boil the next day and serve. Or, serve it in soup bowls garnished by thin apple slices. Mmm...I just had a bowl for lunch, and it was excellent.

Roasted Cipollini Onions

Cipollini Onions are smaller than shallots, and look kind of like a small, flattened white or yellow onion. This recipe comes from Janus Wilder from an old FoodTV episode.

Serves 6
1 tbsp. olive oil
24 Cipollini Onions, peeled
3 tbsp. brandy
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. In a skillet, heat oil and add onions, cooking for around 5-10 minutes or until they get some color. Take skillet off flame, add brandy, and tip into flame (watch out!) to flame off brandy. Add salt & pepper to taste. Transfer onions to baking dish (or cook the onions in a cast iron pan) and cook them in the oven for 45 minutes.

Some holiday cooking hints:

  • For mashed potatoes for a group, estimate about 1 medium or 1 large potato per person. A nice proportion we found was: 6 potatoes, 2 sticks butter, 2 heads (not cloves, HEADS) of roasted garlic. I read in a cooking-related book that a good proportion for mashed potatoes is a 1-to-1 ratio of potato to butter, but my heart almost stopped while thinking about that. Even so, the above proportion made for some very rich, creamy mashed potatoes.
  • Throw in the garlic to roast in the over about 1 or 1.5 hours before the turkey is done, to best coordinate with the completion of mashed potatoes.
  • Apparently it's easier to peel cipollini onions if you blanch them in some boiling water for about 15 seconds.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

the joys of loin flap meat

Honestly, I think loin flap meat is one of the most delicious cuts of beef. I bought about 4.5 pounds at Costco, at around $3.69/pound last week. It is what is used often to make "carne preparada", and for flavor, I think it beats flank steak, or at least is comparable, and much cheaper; to me, it's about as flavorful as rib eye, but not nearly as fatty. It is a thin, quick-cooking piece of meat that does very well in making Mexican foods like carne asada tacos, burritos and fajitas. Something about its flavor screams "burritos" to me, so that's what I made last night.

Aside from damp charcoal (which I had to replace with a new bag from the store), it turned out great on my little Weber "Smokey Joe". I used a new recipe for a marinade I found on Surprisingly, the loin flap meat stood up very well to the marinade for over 24 hours; sometimes leaner cuts get "cooked" or "burned" by the acids in the marinade, and the loin flap exhibited no such symptoms with this marinade.

Anyway, here's the marinade. To give credit where credit is due, you should download it at:

2.5 pounds loin flap meat

1/3 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 limes, juiced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika

Combine all ingredients for marinade in mixing bowl & whisk for until well combined. Place loin flap meat in a single layer in a large casserole dish, pour marinade over, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow to marinade for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours.

Heat up your grill over high heat & grill flap meat about 2-3 minutes per side for medium rare. Slice with the grain and serve with warm tortillas, pico de gallo, chopped onions, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese and guacamole.


Today I spent the day ripping CD's, writing a Javascript application to calculate how long it would take to rip all of my CD's down, and making a big pot of chili. The core of my recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer cookbook recipe for "Chili Con Carne", by has been tweaked based on my friend Mike Reiner's mom's recipe, which adds canned tomatoes and tomato paste. I find the recipe in Fannie Farmer lacks richness, and the tomatoes really add that richness. I also omitted the beef stock; I suppose this would make it even richer, but I want to be able to tweak the salt content myself. I substitute water in this case. Serve warm over pasta or just by itself. Freezes really well too, and I've noticed the flavor really develops the next day.

NOTE: I like my food pretty spicy; if it bothers you, reduce the chili flakes, Tabasco, and cayenne. But really, it's not THAT spicy.

My Chili
Serves 8

2 onions, chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Emeril's Essence (make it yourself)
1/4 c. minced garlic
3 lbs. ground beef, extra lean
2 tsp. salt

1-14oz can whole peeled tomatoes
3 oz tomato paste (1/2 of the small can)
6 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. new mexico chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 tbsp. red chili flakes
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tbsp. worcheshire sauce
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. Tabasco
2 cups water

Heat olive oil in large stew pot. Add onions and garlic and cook over medium-low heat until translucent (around 15 min). Turn up heat to medium-high, add ground beef and brown, stirring frequently, about 7-10 minutes. Process whole peeled tomatoes (including can juice) in food processor 10-15 seconds so tomatoes are only a bit chunky, but not totally smooth. Once beef is brown, add tomatoes, tomato paste, all spices, sauces, vinegar, tabasco & water, and cook over low heat for 1 hour. Remove from heat & serve immediately. For best flavor, reheat the next day.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A BBQ Chicken Pizza from 11/9/2004 Posted by Hello

A Thai Chicken Pizza from 11/8/2004 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

take it back

I've rarely, if ever, sent back food in a restaurant. The only time I can recall was in March or April 2003, I was at a conference in Chico, CA, and two friends and I went to a nice steakhouse. I ordered a porterhouse medium rare and it arrived well done. It was a nice steakhouse, so we were paying premium (maybe $35-40 for the steak), so I sent it back. Thankfully it came back right. Fortunately, they even let me keep the other (over-done) steak too. That's the kind of service I appreciate.

Anyway, I take it back, because the CPK caesar salad dressing actually turned out OK. The problem was that I was making it in a mini food-processor, and I think it didn't emulsify the oil sufficiently. Today I reblended it in our nice Waring Pro bar blender & it turned out nice & creamy. Unfortunately I had "adulterated" it yesterday with additional ingredients because I didn't think it tasted right, so I'll have to make it again to see what it "really" tastes like; I think it will be dead-on. Incidentally, I did a taste test between the Wolfgang Puck recipe & the CPK dressing recipe with Beckey, & she liked the CPK one better. So pizza, caesar salad, and I spent the rest of my evening disassembling CD's from their cases into soft-side multi-CD storage cases to reduce the physical size of my CD collection.

another pizza; more caesars

I'm on a pizza craze. I made the BBQ chicken pizza recipe last night. Turned out very well. The dough rose better (I added an additional 1/2 tsp yeast), but it still didn't rise very strong, even though I let my refrigerated yeast come to room temperature. Maybe the yeast is old (most likely the case).

I also make the CPK Caesar salad dressing recipe. To be honest, I'm not sure if it's the same as what they serve at CPK; I adapted it from the Caesar Salad Pizza recipe in the CPK cookbook.

The dressing was rather overwhelmingly garlicky, and could have used a bit more anchovy, in my opinion. I think the lack of anchovy flavor was due to the use of anchovy paste, which is really mild in flavor as opposed to canned (tinned) anchovies. The dressing also was rather oily, and not very "creamy". Perhaps it didn't emulsify correctly; I did make it in my mini-food processor, not my blender, like I usually do.

I have a Caesar dressing recipe from Wolfgang Puck that I'm rather fond of, as I believe it comes the closest to the creamy, garlicky recipes that I've tasted in various "nice" restaurants. I'll post it sometime soon. Meanwhile, I just enjoyed 2 pieces of my leftover Thai Chicken pizza for lunch. Yum!

Monday, November 08, 2004

experiment in pizza

So tonight after two shopping trips to Costco for meat and Ralphs for produce, Beckey & I decided to complete our saga of Thai Chicken Pizza, CPK style according to the recipe included below. The results were fantastic (you'll see a photo in the next post, shortly). Made two pizzas. The pizzas themselves cook up very quickly, and I am happy to report that the GE range that I have will heat comfortably up to 505 degrees F. and maintain it! The first pizza came out rather "crispy". I left it in for 9 minutes, and it was too much; at 500 degrees, 7-8 minutes was plenty.
Had to dig out the pizza peel and pizza stone, but it all came together in a tasty way. Some notes:

1. Be sparing on the sauce on the pizza, as it is very rich and rather filling. We used about 1/4 cup, and we could've used less...but maybe that's because the dough really didn't rise that much.
In any event, the pizza was so filling, Beckey & I each only ate half.

2. 2 cups shredded mozzarella is about 4-5 ounces of solid cheese, i.e., one small mozzarella cheese.

3. Four scallions listed may be too much, 2 would probably be sufficient, unless you really like green onions.

4. The dough didn't rise as expected. Even after the first rise at room temperature, the dough had barely increased in size by 10-15%. The water temp for dissolving the yeast was fine. I think it was because the yeast was cold (I left it in the refrigerator). So I'm making another batch of pizza dough tonight; except this time, I upped the yeast by 1/2 teaspoon, let the yeast "proof" for around 10 minutes until it was nice & bubbly. I also only kneaded the dough enough for it to come together & to absorb all the flour in the bowl, so it's not smooth; in fact, it still looks pretty rough. So we'll see what happens.

5. 10 ounces of chicken is about 1.5 chicken breasts. I cooked two, and I should have enough chicken left for a BBQ chicken pizza tomorrow. Next time, cook 3 breasts, that's enough for 4 pizzas.

6. If your oven really can hit 500 degrees and you're using a pizza stone, 9-10 minutes might be too much. Somewhere between about 7-9 minutes is the key. At 7 minutes, you should definitely check, and keep a keen eye on it from then on. 10 minutes yields a nice crispy dark crust, but also may lead to slightly burned cheese.

In any event, the pizza was very tasty, and we have 1-1/4 pizzas left over for dining tomorow. Pizza stone & high oven temperature yielded a nice crunchy crust. I will experiment more in the future with the dough recipe, perhaps adding a bit of wheat gluten to increase the chewiness.

On another note, I got my copy of Helen Chen's "Chinese Home Cooking" today. I think that pretty much completes it for my Asian cookbook purchasing. At this point I have a number of Asian cookbooks, mostly with a Chinese Cooking emphasis:

China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp
Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp
The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bey Miller
Time Life "Foods of The World" Series, "Art of Chinese Cooking" (out of print, but available on Ebay)
Chopstix Cookbook by Hugh Carpenter
Chinese Cuisine by Huang Su Huei
Chinese Cuising: Cantonese Style by Lee-Hwa Lin
Chinese Home Cooking by Helen Chen
Blue Ginger: East Meets West by Ming Tsai

guidelines for cooking with wine

A lot of Chinese recipes call for Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry. This is especially used in different meat marinades, because it contributes flavor and the wine acids/alcohols contribute to breaking down the meat, and flavoring and tenderizing it in the meanwhile.

Even so, the Chinese cooking wine (Xiaoxing) I have tasted was repulsive; as the rule goes, "if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it", so 95% of the bottle ended in the trash. Further, I have tasted dry sherry and am not a big fan.

So the next time I cook with wine, I will try a nice Chardonnay or a simple red table wine. Trader Joe's should be able to provide some reasonable alternatives. Here are a few more tips I gleaned from an article at

"1. If you are cooking with an off-dry wine or a sweet wine, the residual sugar will have an effect on the dish. So be aware. Depending on the nature of the dish, it might be desirable.

2. High oak and high tannins will add a perceivable note of bitterness. I generally avoid "monster reds" and "2 x 4 whites" for cooking. I don't like the added acrid notes."

And again, the old standby rule:

3. If you wouldn't drink it, certainly don't cook with it!

favorite eats in L.A.

Tortilla encrusted chicken at Authentic Cafe
Chicken sandwich with fontina at Kings Road cafe
Steak sandwiches at Yuca's
Rib eye at Grace
Any steak at Arnie Morton's, but especially rib eye
Kingburgers "on the char" at Fatburger
Double-Doubles animal-style at In-N-Out with extra tomatoes
Baja burritos with gigantic mounds of pico de gallo and spicy salsa at Baja Fresh
Caesar Salad and BBQ Chicken Pizza at CPK
"Dim Sum and Then Sum" meal at Chin Chin
Crispy Orange Beef at The Inn Place
Wienerschnitzel at the Red Lion
Pastrami sandwich at Togo's
Pastrami sandwich at Oinkster (added 2007-09-11)
Chicken wings, hot & extra crispy at Hot Wings Cafe (Melrose!)
Hot dogs or chili burgers at Pink's
Chili burgers and chili fries at Tommy's
Chili burgers and chili fries at Big Tomy's (Sawtelle)
Eggplant pizza at Mulberry St. Pizza (Beverly Hills)
Chicken crepes at the Farmer's Market
Waffle Combo or breakfast burrito at Uncle Bill's Pancake House
Breakfast Burrito or "French Quarter" at the Kettle
Pepperoni & garlic pizza at Tower Pizza or Wildflour
Chinese Chicken Salad or Blackened Chicken Sandwich at Cheesecake Factory
Bread from La Brea Bakery or Il Fornaio

boy...I am hungry today!

L.A. Restaurants I Miss

Thank goodness there are still some great restaurants in Los Angeles. I few I miss are these:

Gone L.A. Restaurants

Red. Now in the location of Opaline on Beverly Blvd. Red had a combination 1950's retro decor plus a Moroccan tinge. Lots of deep primary colors inside. Great meatloaf, excellent mixed green salad with vinaigrette & goat cheese, tasty vegetarian burger with crispy skinny fries. I also liked how they served wine in stainless tumblers. Not cheap but I enjoyed it.

Boxer. A tasty eaterie on Beverly Drive. I remember eating a delicious rabbit dish, and then some kind of dessert with candied lavender leaves which I thought was amazing.

South Bay Fusion. A smallish place in Hermosa/Manhattan Beach. I had 2 or 3 memorable meals there, back when fusion food really was popular in the mid 1990s. Great bread, all was decorated in white. I remember having some kind of pasta with squid ink or somesuch dish that was outstanding. Oh, and their crabcakes were phenomenal, I would order them everytime.

Great L.A. Restaurants

Grace (Beverly Blvd.) Tasty olives at the bar, great beef tartar appetizer, and one of the best rib-eyes of my life. The dessert was two mini carmel coated apples and some kind of deep-fried ice cream of some sort.

Saddle Peak Lodge (Malibu). What can I say? I had elk tenderloin and it was amazing. The setting is beautiful too.

Authentic Cafe (Beverly Blvd). Their tortilla encrusted chicken with plaintains is a favorite, I rarely get anything else; so are their corn tamales with guacamole. I even bought Roger Hayot's Authentic Cafe cookbook, and was really disappointed that the tortilla encrusted chicken wasn't listed there.

Mandarette (Beverly Blvd) . Went with my mom once for a birthday or Mother's Day or something. Happened to order the special of the day, which was a lobster stir-fry with green beans and a spicy sauce that was ridiculously good.

Spago (Beverly Hills). One of the best meals of my lifetime. First time I had oysters, and they were excellent. "Wolfie" even stopped by our table to check on us. Truly a magnificent dining experience, and a very memorable meal.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Batter up...21 batter recipes

OK, so I did about 1 hours worth of research this evening into different kinds of batters for deep frying. Read & enjoy, and hopefully find one that you really like. If you do, leave a comment and let me know which ones are your favorites.

Batter Recipes

Batter #1

1 egg
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable or corn oil

Combine egg, salt, pepper and oil and mix well. Stir cornstarch and flour into egg mixture a bit at a time till smooth. Add meat pieces, stir to coat.

Batter #2

1 cup flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup water

Combine all and let sit a few minutes. Add meat pieces to coat.

Batter #3 (Low Carb)
1 cup soy flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup water
1 egg -- beaten
1 tbsp oil

Combine all and let sit a few minutes. Add meat pieces to coat.

Batter #4

1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. salad oil
2/3 c. lukewarm water
1 egg white, stiffly beaten
Combine the first four ingredients and let stand 30-60 minutes. Add the egg whites and blend together gently.

Sprinkle food (fish, chicken, vegetables, etc.) with seasoned flour. Dip into batter, drain excess, and deep fry. You'll be pleased with results.

Batter #5

1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 c. milk
1/4 c. vegetable oil

Beat batter ingredients in bowl with hand beater until smooth. Prepare food to be fried. Thaw frozen foods completely before frying. Dry food completely before dipping into batter.

Batter #6

1 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2/3 c. milk
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. melted butter

Sift flour and measure. Add salt and baking powder. Sift again; add beaten egg yolk, milk, then beaten egg whites and butter.

Batter #7

3/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
1 egg, beaten

Mix dry ingredients. Stir in water and egg. Use for fish, or cut up meat, or vegetables

Batter #8

1 c. self-rising flour
1/2 c. milk
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 c. water
Salt to taste
1 tbsp. vinegar

Mix all ingredients together. If too thick, add a little more water. Fry in hot grease.

Batter #9

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon beaten egg plus enough water to make 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon canola, corn, or peanut oil

Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, egg mixture, and oil in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a smooth paste. Set aside.
Dip meat to coat, fry once until light golden brown, remove, drain and cool. You may store (refrigerate) meat this way. Let meat come back to room temperature and fry second time until golden brown.

Batter #10

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with enough cold water to form a paste

Mix about three-quarters of the egg into the meat.
Sprinkle in the 1 tablespoon of cornstarch; then, work in a little of the cornstarch paste with the fingers. Add the remaining egg and the remaining cornstarch paste, kneading them into the meat with the fingers.

Batter #11

3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Combine the two flours of the coating ingredients. Lightly dry off the meat with some of the mixed flours. Add the egg yolks, mix through to coat all of the meat, and then roll each piece of the meat into the remaining flours. Set aside on a plate.

Batter #12

1 - 2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbsp. potato starch*
*Cornstarch can be substituted for the potato starch

Brush the meat pieces with the beaten egg and dip in the potato starch to cover. Deep-fry the dredged meat pieces in batches.

Batter #13

2 Eggs, beaten
3/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 cup all-purpose Flour
1/4 cup Cornstarch
1/2 cup Milk

Mix eggs, salt, garlic, flour, cornstarch, and milk to make a smooth batter. Fry dipped pieces in peanut oil until light brown.
Option: Cool fried pieces after frying, then refrigerate, if desired, and later redip in batter, refry until golden brown.

Batter #14

2 cups Pancake Mix
juice from one Lemon
1 Egg
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Use white ground pepper- you will get the pepper taste without the black specks in your batter. Mix the above items together in a bowl and thin the mixture with water or milk to get the consistency you like (the thinner the batter the lighter the coating). The egg will make this batter crunchy. One last note, you will find that dusting your meat with flour before battering will help keep the batter on your meat.

Batter #15
1 cup all-purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 cup Cornstarch
1 cup Water
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Oil

Mix all of the ingredients together and blend until there are no lumps. Dry the meat with a paper towel and dip into the batter.

Batter #16

Bisquick Mix
Regular Pancake Mix
Club Soda

With wire whisk whip together equal parts bisquick and boxed pancake mix with club soda till it's the consistency of buttermilk. Moisten meat pieces in water and then coat lightly but evenly in flour. Let dry on waxed paper 5 minutes. Coat meat pieces in batter.

Batter #17 (Corn Dog)

1 cup flour
2/3 cup corn meal
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons shortening

1 egg
2/3 cup milk

Mix all dry ingredients together thoroughly. Store in airtight container.
Combine mix with 1 egg and 2/3 c. milk. Dip meat (hot dogs) into batter, coating thoroughly. Deep fry until batter is browned.

Batter #18

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup flat beer (or substiture 3/4 cup club soda)
1 1/3 cups flour mixed with 1 teaspoon salt and pinch pepper
2 stiffly beaten egg whites, optional

Combine yolks with oil and beer. Gradually stir this into flour (it should be thick enough to stick to the food) and beat until very smooth with a few swift strokes. Rest batter, covered, in refrigerator for 3 hours at least so it ferments a bit. Get oil to right temperature. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into batter. Dip the meat in the batter and fry.

Batter #19

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bottle brown beer, cold
Cornstarch for dredging

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in the beer until the batter is completely smooth and free of any lumps. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Note: The batter can be made up to 1 hour ahead of time.
Lightly dredge meat pieces in cornstarch. Working in small batches, dip the meat into batter and immerse into hot oil.

Batter #20

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup beer (or substitute club soda)

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Blend egg and beer, then quickly stir into the flour mixture (don't worry about a few lumps).

Batter #21

1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon hot chili oil (optional)

Beat the egg white and add water. Add flour and cornstarch. Mix the batter thoroughly. Drop the batter into the marinated meat.

Tips for Batter #21
To make it extra crispy, deep-fry the meat twice. This technique is often used in restaurants: staff prepare a batch of fried meat and set it aside. When a customer places an order, a portion is deep-fried again.

To make the meat extra tender, use only cornstarch for the batter (instead of half cornstarch and half flour).

Don't put all of the meat in the wok at once - that will lower the wok temperature. Start with adding about 1/4 of the meat mixture. (If you're new to deep-frying, I have a page of deep-frying tips.)

Mix the batter thoroughly. Test with chopsticks or a wooden spoon - it should just drop without sticking.

fried twinkies anyone?

My research into batter recipes for Chinese cooking this evening produced an interesting article on deep-fried twinkies. For the full article, visit:

Deep-Fried Twinkies
For Twinkies:
6 Twinkies
Popsicle sticks
4 cups vegetable oil
Flour for dusting

For batter:
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Chill or freeze Twinkies for several hours or overnight.

Heat 4 cups vegetable oil in deep fryer to about 375 degrees.

To make batter: Mix together milk, vinegar and oil. In another bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk wet ingredients into dry and continue mixing until smooth. Refrigerate while oil heats.

Push stick into Twinkie lengthwise, leaving about 2 inches to use as a handle, dust with flour and dip into the batter. Rotate Twinkie until batter covers entire cake. Place carefully in hot oil. The Twinkie will float, so hold it under with a utensil to ensure even browing. It should turn golden in 3 to 4 minutes. Depending on the size of your deep fryer, you might be able to fry only one at a time, two at the most.

Remove Twinkie to paper towel and let drain. Remove stick and allow Twinkie to sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6.

Variation: Slice Twinkie into 4 pieces. Flour and batter each before frying. With this treatment, one Twinkie will serve two people if accompanied by a sauce.

Berry Sauce
1 10-ounce jar of seedless raspberry preserves
1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries

In a saucepan, heat preserves over low heat until melted. Add 1 cup of fresh or frozen mixed berries. Heat until sauce just simmers. Cover; refrigerate until served.
Makes 1-1/2 cups.

Secrets of Chinese Deep-Frying

(Editor's updates 2009-09-08: I've learned a few things, so I'll be adding some information to clarify).

My quest for the perfect Chinese deep-fried meat is neverending and insatiable. I have not yet been able to replicate the perfect coating to deep fry chicken or beef like I've had in Chinese restaurants. I have tried lots of different approaches. Here are some ideas I have so far.

The goal for my optimum Chinese deep-fry coating would be described as crispy, crunchy and smooth.

Ingredients for Coated Deep Frying
The coating ingredients are some combination of the following dry and wet ingredients

Dry ingredients
starch (cornstarch, water chestnut starch, potato starch, arrowroot starch)
flour (all-purpose or bread flour)
breadcrumbs (regular unseasoned or panko)
baking powder
baking soda

Wet ingredients
beaten eggs (whole eggs or just egg whites)
baking powder
ice water
seltzer water (club soda)

This is where it gets tricky. One thing is for sure: you want to use a lot of oil (at least 2" or so), and you need to make sure your oil is heated to at least 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest is "magic" as far as I'm concerned. Here are some possibilities.

1. Coat meat in dry ingredients. Shake off excess; dip meat in beaten egg, then coat in dry ingredients again. Fry.
2. Combine all dry and wet ingredients to make batter (thick or thin). Dip meat in batter & fry.
3. Use method 1 or 2 above. Fry meat at a lower temperature (325-35) for a minute or two, remove & let cool. Then refry at high temp (375-380) for another minute or two. This is a traditional Chinese technique called double-frying. If you do double-fry, the first fry should be short (1 minute or so, it's really just blanching, but using oil) and relatively cool, and the second fry should be both hotter and longer.

You also have the option of re-coating meat using method 1 or 2 above and re-fry.

About Coatings and Batters
Too thick of a batter & the coated food will taste too "bready". Too thin and it may become soggy/greasy and lose its "crunch", especially when sauce is applied. The key here is frying at high temperatures so that as little oil soaks into the batter/meat as possible. What the right thickness to achieve the proper crunch is still escapes me. I do believe Chinese restaurants use some kind of batter. If you look closely at a deep fried piece of meat in a Chinese dish, you'll notice the coating is very even across the item, and is very crunchy, yet it is not too thick.

What the Ingredients Do
Eggs: they act as glue to hold the batter together. Especially if you use beaten egg whites, these will add a lot of "lift" and "puff" to the batter.

Baking Powder/Baking Soda: adds lift, albeit through a chemical reaction with the flour. I've seen this in some recipes, but it's not that widespread. Which should you use, baking soda or baking powder? Baking soda uses acid in the liquid to produce leavening; whereas baking powder (which is usually double-acting baking powder) includes baking soda and dry acids (one of which is likely cream of tartar) which will not only produce leavening via heat but also via contact with liquid acid. Baking soda will tend to taste sour, and baking powder tastes more neutral. Perhaps a 50/50 combo? The sourness of the baking soda might help in a batter which is being used in a sweet-flavor dish, such as orange chicken. Otherwise, probably err on the side of baking powder, I would think.

Starch/Flour. The basis of the coating, in all cases. Some people like plain cornstarch, some people like 3-to-1 ratio of Cornstarch to Flour. By themselves, flour & starch have "stickiness" properties when wetted that enable them to hold together in a mass, as in a batter. Starch will taste lighter than flour, because it is finer. If you coat meat in flour/starch before dipping in a batter, the flour/starch will help create a "pocket" of air between the meat and the coating, if you like this sort of thing. I personally like the batter to stick closely to the meat, but to be crispy, crunchy and smooth.

Water. Should be cold (ice water preferred). If your local water is bad, try bottled water. Some people use cold seltzer water (club soda), because it adds additional lift and lightness, kind of like the way beer does in a beer batter.

Salt: really the salt is only for enhancing the flavor of the batter. For each cup of flour/cornstarch, you should use about 2 tsp of table salt. Be aware that the more salt comes in contact with the oil, it will tend to cause the oil to degrade more quickly.

Oil: adds depth of flavor & richness, also helps smooth out a batter.

Vinegar: I've seen this in some recipes; this is most useful when used in recipes with baking soda or baking powder. When they combine, they create a gas effect that can help create lift.

If you find something that works really well for you, post a comment!

A Note About Oil

  • Vegetable oil, canola oil, or corn oil should be used, because it has a high smoke point. Olive oils just won't cut it. Veg/canola oils have a lighter, cleaner flavor; corn oil has a slightly sweeter flavor.
  • Oil can (and should!) be re-used. Only time it shouldn't is if you fry some really stinky fish. Even fish that's battered (as long as it's well battered and mild) won't flavor the oil. In general, save fish frying for the end of your fry process!
  • Strain used oil through a few layers of cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer or chinois.
  • Store in a clean glass container (like a Mason jar or a bottle), and refrigerate.
  • Shortening and lard can be re-used in the same way, if you work with it while it's warm.

Here are some possible recipes to experiment with deep-frying techniques in Chinese cooking:
Szechuan Dry-Fried Beef:
Sweet and Sour Pork:
Cantonese Sweet & Sour Pork:
Sweet & Sour Chicken:

Other Chinese Recipes to Try:
How about Beef and Broccoli? Try this one:
Making your own Chinese chili paste can be an adventure. Try it with this recipe here:
Also, one of my favorites with any Chinese meal is Hot and Sour soup. Try this recipe here:

french fries & freedom

I think the whole thing with "freedom fries" was ricidulous when the French protested going to Iraq, as ridiculous as saurkraut was called "liberty cabbage" during World War II. Thank goodness that whole naming nonsense is over, too bad the war is not, because war sucks.

Anyway, a few years ago my mom & I were vacationing in Desert Hot Springs when we met an old friend of hers for dinner at the Capri restaurant. Turns out he was the owner of a Fatburger restaurant in Palm Springs (by the Palm Springs Airport), and had worked in food service/restaurant management for many years. Somehow we got to talking about french fries, and he divulged an excellent tip, for which I am forever grateful.

Normally, if you just fry potatoes in hot oil, they tend to take on a lot of oil, even if the oil is hot. Hence the result is a french fry that tastes like the kind you get at In-N-Out Burger: very "potatoey" but kind of oily and soggy. Then, if you go to Burger King, McDougals or another burger franchise you will get a fry which is exceedingly crispy on the outside and tender and chewy on the inside. I prefer the second kind, so this tip is very handy.

Here's the tip: before deep frying your french fries, blanch them in a big pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain the fries, pat them dry with towels, and then deep fry as usualy. You will find you have a fry that is much more crunchy on the outside yet fully cooked & chewy in the middle. You will note that many franchise actually pre-cook their fries in a factory, freeze & package them, and then re-fry them in the restaurant. This will give an even crispier outside coating. Enjoy!

Incidentally, always fry in oil that is at least 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius); it's best to push the oil towards 375 degrees, although on most oils, anything much higher than 375 deg. F. (190 deg. Celsius) will cause the oil to start breaking down, i.e., burning. Don't deep fry in oils such as olive oil, they have a much lower burning/smoking point, and you won't be able to get them hot enough to fry successfully. Corn oil or canola oil are good for deep frying. I personally prefer Mazola corn oil; it tastes very clean and smooth to my palate, although not as "flavor free" as canola oil.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

spice essentials

stock up your kitchen with some dried spices & flavoring essentials:

chili powder
curry powder
cayenne pepper
red chili flakes
whole black pepper
white pepper
garlic powder
onion powder
dried mustard (not hot chinese stuff)
kosher salt
whole coriander
ground ginger

If you have some space & can start a small indoor or outdoor garden, do it! I recommend growing:

parsley (italian flat-leaf preferably)

kitchen essentials--part one

OK, I figured I should start a kitchen essentials post to get a solid list together on kitchen minimums. I figure you can find many similar lists online & in cookbooks, but hey, I'll throw my chef's knife into the ring too! This is really a list for people who aspire to start cooking more seriously.

1. Good quality chef's knife or santoku knife. Anywhere between 7" - 10" blade should be sufficient. Spend some money on this, $50-100. With some care it will last you a lifetime, and will not let you down. Spend a few dollars more and get a sharpening steel to keep things cutting sharp. With some care you can do almost anything with this knife.

3. Cutting Board. I found some great, large cutting boards at IKEA for a fraction of what you would pay at a "gourmet" store or a hardware store. Something 36" long x 24" wide would be good. Get a smaller cutting board (9" x 12") too, handy for side projects.

3. A 12" cast iron skillet. Will work as a saute pan or for stir frys. Holds heat incredibly well, and will last your entire lifetime with good care.

4. Pots and pans. I recommend stainless steel, it'll last longer than Teflon although not as easy to clean. Get one big pot for boiling pasta & making soups/stocks, and 2-3 small saucepans for sauces, vegetables, etc.

5. Pepper mill. Fresh ground pepper tasted so much better. Buy a sturdy wood one, looks classy and will last a long time.

6. Utensils: a nice inclusive kit is the OXO Softworks kit. Comfortable to use & handle, built to last. You'll need at least 2 spatulas, 2 big spoons, a grater, a whisk, a vegetable peeler, a can opener, and a bottle opener.

7. Canning Jars. Ball Wide-Mouth canning jars are a cheap and cost effective solution to storing spices, oils and other ingredients in an airtight environment. I like the pint jars for spices & vinegars, the quart jars for oils & dry goods. Jamie Oliver (the Naked Chef) nails the jar lids and screwtops to the bottom of the cupboards in his kitchen, and screws the spice-laden jars into the lids when he's done using them...see, handy!

8. Digital Instant Read Thermometer. Polder makes one that goes up to over 400 degrees F, making the thermometer usable even for checking the temperature of oil for deep frying. Important for checking the temperature of meats to ensure doneness, especially chickens, turkeys and roasts.

Of course, this list hasn't talked at all about baking or other specialty tools you might need. So I guess that's enough for now.

living with the griswolds

I bought a Griswold #8 cast iron pan on Ebay a week or so ago, and it arrived in the mail two days ago. I was actually surprised at how light it was. Nevertheless, in pretty good shape, very minimum rust, which I scrubbed off before seasoning the pan.

I used it to make my Asian-style Spicy Pulled Pork Sandwiches today. I must say that cast iron holds heat very well, cooks evenly, and when it is well seasoned, it really is non-stick! With shipping this antique cast iron pan cost me around $20, about the same as I would pay for a new 11" Lodge cast iron pan at Target. Not to mention it's antique, is potentially collectible, has its own cooking history and will last me probably my entire lifetime. No disrespect to Lodge...just checked out their web site: they have some great products!


I hate Quizno's subs, but their slogan fits, because I have found a brand of great tasting toasted sesame oil.

Spectrum Organics makes a Toasted Organic Unrefined sesame oil which is the best I've ever tasted. I've never tried the Kadoya brand (which I've heard is supposed to be good), but most of the toasted sesame oil I've found in supermarkets in the Asian foods section tastes either burnt or rancid. Shirakiku brand I found to be awful.

Anyway, I bought some of this a week or two ago at Lassen's Health Foods in Camarillo. It wasn't cheap ($4.39 for an 8oz bottle) but worth it. It still has a slight toasted, smoky flavor but tastes very clean and smooth to my palate, not burnt or rancid. It'd be nice if they sold their product online somewhere.

But back to subs...I find Togo's to make the best sandwiches. I love their pastrami sandwich on wheat: the bread is tasty, lots of pastrami, a nice kick with some pepperoncinis, and maybe a bad of Mrs. Vickie's Salt & Vinegar potato chips. One unfortunate policy of Togo's is weighing their sandwiches when they add meat. I like it when the sandwich makers are more flexible, makes for a better tasting sandwich, even if it cuts into the bottom line somewhat.

My cousin used to work for Togos, and did tell me about another unfortunate policy several years ago where the management would require employees to throw out meats like pastrami at the end of the day into the trash, even though it was perfectly edible. My cousin even told me that the managers would watch the employees throw it in the trash, so they wouldn't take it home. That's just so wasteful: why not let the employees eat, or at least make the leftover food available to homeless shelters? How sad. Regardless of their policies, I still think Togo's sandwiches taste so much better than Subway or Quigglers, I mean Quizzy's...what? I mean Quizno's.

variations on a theme from hog

Just got finished with dinner, which was tasty. I had some leftover frozen pulled pork from a few weeks ago, and I decided to make some Asian-style pulled pork sandwiches in the style of Barbara Tropp's Wonton Burgers. So here was my own take. No salt necessary here, the pulled pork is salty enough, especially with the added soy sauce.

Spicy Asian Pulled Pork Sandwich
Makes 4 Sandwiches

2 cups leftover cooked pulled pork
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
3 tbsp garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
4 tbsp Serrano-Lemongrass vinegar (or unseasonsed rice vinegar)
1 tbsp hot chili oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
Optional: 1 tbsp dry sherry or chinese rice wine

4 french bread rolls (preferred) or hamburger buns
2 large carrots, sliced at a diagonal to produce large chips

Heat olive oil and chili oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Stir fry green onions, ginger, and garlic for 30 seconds. Add pulled pork and heat through, about 3-5 minutes. Combine sesame oil, vinegar, chicken stock and optional wine and add to pork mixture. Heat mixture through 1-2 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat, and serve pork on warm french bread rolls with fresh carrot chips.

Yum! There were no leftovers tonight. My girl liked them too, and she can be picky!

Serrano-Lemongrass Vinegar (from Barbara Tropp's China Moon Cookbook)
3 c Rice Vinegar; see note
1/2 c Ginger; see note
1 lg stalk fresh lemongrass; see note
6 Serrano chilies; see note

A: Japanese Unseasoned Rice vinegar, Marukan with the green label or Mitsukan.
B: Ginger, quarter-size thin coins, smashed.
C: Lemon grass, pounded, then cut into finger lengths, 3 inches. Easiest just to smash lemongrass with the butt-end of a knife.
D: Green or Red Serranos, tipped and halved

Combine all of the ingredients in a non-aluminum pot, then bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand until cool.

Store the mixture in a clean glass jar. If you wish, you may strain out the solids before storing, but do not press down on them while doing so. Another alternative is to leave only the chilies in the jar for color. The vinegar may cloud, but its flavor will not be affected.

Monday, November 01, 2004

thoughts of yesterday's pizza

no exciting food today. two packets of apple-cinnamon oatmeal & an energy bar. I've quit eating breakfast & lunch, as I like to work out on an empty stomach at lunch time (been doing that for around the past 3-4 weeks). It's nice, it gives me an energy boost during the day, and working out on an empty stomach helps me loose weight more quickly.

Last night had a few slices of Papa John's pizza. I really like their crust, and I think they are the tastiest chain-delivery pizza franchise. Franchises aside, I do like Tower Pizza in Westchester, CA (although a bit greasy); Wildflour Pizza (in Santa Monica, CA, excellent all-around); and Beach Pizza (in Playa Del Rey, CA, excellent as well).

Saturday, October 30, 2004

feeling your oats

I'm making oatmeal this morning. Here's the recipe, courtesy of

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup steel cut oats
3 cups boiling water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large saucepot, melt the butter and add the oats. Stir for 2 minutes to toast. Add the boiling water and reduce heat to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer for 25 minutes, without stirring.
Combine the milk and half of the buttermilk with the oatmeal. Stir gently to combine and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with remaining buttermilk, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Here's a recipe for Overnight Oatmeal:

1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried figs
4 cups water
1/2 cup half-and-half

In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients and set to low heat. Cover and let cook for 8 to 9 hours.
Stir and remove to serving bowls. This method works best if started before you go to bed. This way your oatmeal will be finished by morning

Friday, October 29, 2004

et tu, brute?

caesar salad is probably my favorite salad. Nice and garlicky with a bit of spicy snap, with garlicky croutons, just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Over the years I've experimented with a few Caesar dressing recipes. I finally stumbled upon one that I really liked. It was based on a recipe from Wolfgang Puck; I tweaked it a little to make it more appealing to me.

I also really like the CPK Caesar Salad, so here's the recipe for their dressing, also from the CPK cookbook.

CPK Caesar Dressing
1-1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1-1/2 tsp minced shallots
1 tsp anchovy paste
1/2 tsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp nonpareil capers, drained (small round capers pickled in vinegar)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients except olive oil in food processor or blender until smooth. Add olive oil slowly while blending to form an emulsion.

Speaking of preparing a Caesar salad, the hearts of romaine that come in a bag from the grocery store I find to be the most convenient, because they last a long time, and they take no time to rinse & cut up. Somehow that always tasted fresher than the pre-cut romaine that comes in the bag.

pica? pitza?

In Lithuania, pizza is written "pica" which I tend to read as "peeka", but it's phonetically correct. There is a big chain in Vilnius called "Cili Pica" (pronounced Chili Pizza) that serves very thin crust pizza with all kinds of interesting toppings. You can get egg on your pizza, you can also get mustard on your pizza.

I saw some funny food things in Lithuania. Lithuanian "cepelinai", or boiled potato zeppelins, traditionally come with sour cream and bacon "gravy", except one restaurant wrote "sour cream and graves". Nobody's perfect, I guess. In Estonia we saw a restaurant menu that had liver with fried "unions"...I think they meant onions, otherwise we know where Jimmy Hoffa was buried.

Speaking of pizza, I couldn't resist another trip to the CPK cookbook for their BBQ Chicken Pizza recipe, because that's my favorite of their pizzas.

I have noticed in other pizza recipes I've read that one key to great pizza is using high gluten flour. If you can't find high-gluten flour (often available by mail order from smaller mills or from King Arthur Flour), you can often find pure wheat gluten in your health food store or in some supermarkets where you find health food or "weird" flours (like rye flour, etc.) Usually a couple of tablespoons mixed in with regular flour will help make your pizza dough more chewy.

Anyway, here's the recipe. See the Thai Chicken Pizza recipe below for how to put it all together.

10 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sweet & spicy BBQ sauce

BBQ Sauce Note: I think Bullseye works well & approximates very well. You might want to try some Bullseye with a bit of hoisin sauce to add some additional sweetness & complexity

1/2 c. sweet & spicy BBQ sauce
2 tbsp shredded smoked Gouda
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 small red onion, sliced into 1/8-inch slices
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Cook the chicken in the olive oil. Let it cool, mix with 2 tbsp BBQ sauce & refridgerate.
  2. Make your pizza dough the night before
  3. Roll and/or stretch it out.
  4. Cover pizza round with 1/4 cup BBQ sauce
  5. Sprinkle 1 tbsp smoked Gouda over sauce
  6. Sprinke 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella over the top
  7. Put 1/2 of the chicken (approx 18 pieces) evenly over the crust.
  8. Put 18 to 20 pcs of red onion on the surface.
  9. Sprinkle additional 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella over the top.
  10. Bake 8-10 minutes in 500 degree F. oven on a pizza stone.
  11. Remove from oven, sprinkle cilantro on top.

piece of pie...errr...cake

That was a great line from 2010, the sequel to Kubrick's 2001:A Space Odessey. By some random occurrence, I actually saw a scene from 2010 being filmed at Leo Carrillo State Beach north of Malibu. It was the scene when Roy Scheider is biking down the asphalt hill in the tricycle-bike. I was camping at the beach with my mom & brother when I saw that scene being filmed.
Anyway, saw an episode of "Good Eats" with Alton Brown (episode entitled "I Pie") that got me thinking about baking pie, which I haven't done in years. I used to really enjoy baking pies, and I have made peach, cherry, apple and lemon meringue. I liked making pies mostly because my mom never really baked sweets, much less pies, and I love pie! I remember reading recipes from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from the 1960's. The crusts always turned out mealy and never flaky, but now I think I know why (I was using butter!) So here are some "crusty" notes I scribbled while watching the episode earlier this week.

  • "Blind baking" a crust means to bake it without filling, then add filling later. This is typically done for meringue pies.
  • Alton recommends all-purpose flour, and not bread flour, unless you want a chewy dough, because bread flours typically have a higher gluten content.
  • Using butter as the "fat" in pastry dough will make your crust more "crumby", not flakey, but will aid in browning
  • Using lard will yield flaky crust because of its high melting point.
  • Using a combination of butter & lard, you get the best of both worlds
  • Before starting, put butter and lard in the freezer for 15 minutes. You need to work with cold fats.

Here's the entire recipe:

  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, chilled
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) lard, chilled
  • 6 ounces (approximately 1 cup) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling dough
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 cup ice water, in spritz bottle
  • Approximately 32 ounces of dried beans, for blind baking

Place butter and lard in freezer for 15 minutes. When ready to use, remove and cut both into small pieces.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt by pulsing 3 to 4 times. Add butter and pulse 5 to 6 times until texture looks mealy. Add lard and pulse another 3 to 4 times. Remove lid of food processor and spritz surface of mixture thoroughly with water. Replace lid and pulse 5 times. Add more water and pulse again until mixture holds together when squeezed. Place mixture in large zip-top bag, squeeze together until it forms a ball, and then press into a rounded disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place 2 metal pie pans in the refrigerator to chill.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Cut along 2 sides of the plastic bag, open bag to expose dough, and sprinkle both sides with flour. Cover again with plastic and roll out with a rolling pin to a 10 to 11-inch circle. Open plastic again and sprinkle top of dough with flour. Remove pie pans from refrigerator and set first pan on top of dough. Turn everything upside down and peel plastic from bottom of dough. Place second pan upside down on top of dough and flip again. Remove first pan from atop dough. Trim edges if necessary, leaving an edge for meringue to adhere to. Poke holes in dough and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Place a large piece of parchment paper on top of dough and fill with dry beans. Press beans into edges of dough and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove parchment and beans and continue baking until golden in color, approximately 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool completely before filling.

Enough for tonight, pie-pie! :)

chicken tonight, tonight

i ate more chicken tonight, tonight...sounds like it could be an old Sinatra song. I was tired & hungry after working out, and this turned out to be a nice light but tasty dinner. Incidentally, I bought 5 jars of Trader Joe's Sun Dried Tomato Pesto because it's so good just slathered on baguette slices or as part of an appetizer. The chicken turned out nice & spicy with a hint of Garlic.

Tonight's Quick Chicken Dinner:

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper oil
1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp. Emeril's Essence
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

5 baguette slices, about 1/4" thick
2 tbsp tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto from Trader Joe's
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 c. frozen green beans
1/2 c. water

In small saucepan, heat water to boiling, add green beans & cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

Spread sun-dried tomato pesto on baguette slices. Top with 1 tbsp. grated Parmesan, and toast under a broiler or in a toaster oven for 4-5 minutes, watching carefully. Remove & set aside.

In a large pan, heat oil, add garlic & saute for 10 seconds. Add chicken cubes, and season with Essence, and cook for 5-6 minutes, until brown and cooked through. Don't overcook. Remove from heat, and mix in 1 tbsp Parmesan cheese.

Plate, serve & enjoy. Yum!

You can find the recipe for Emeril's Essence on You can find the Cayenne Pepper Oil in the "China Moon Cookbook" by Barbara Tropp, which is available on Speaking of Barbara Tropp, I was lucky enough to visit her China Moon Restaurant in the mid-1990's on two occasions on two separate trips to San Francisco. I remember the food was excellent. It's unfortunate that she passed away from cancer; her memory lives on in the Chinese food I like to cook & eat. Her "China Moon Cookbook" was the first Chinese cookbook I ever owned. In fact, it was the 2nd cookbook I ever bought.

Thai Chicken Pizza

slim pickins 'n' thai chik'ns...

I like leftovers; they're very "homey" eating. Yesterday was mac & cheese & a leftover slice California Pizza Kitchen Thai Chicken Pizza. I personally think CPK's food is delicious. My standard meal at CPK is a 1/2 Caesar salad and a BBQ Chicken Pizza.

I came across their recipe for Thai Chicken Pizza as listed in their book (available on, so I thought I'd share it. NOTE: the dough must be prepared the night before for best flavor. Worst case, you can use the dough after the first rise.

Spicy Peanut Sauce
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 tbsp sesame oil (Chinese or Japanese)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Vietnamese chili sauce (like Sambal Oelek?) or dried chili flakes
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp water

1 tbsp olive oil
10 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
Pizza stone

Pizza Dough
2 c. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 scallions, slivered diagonally oriental style
1/2 c. white bean sprouts
1/4 c. Shredded carrot
2 tbsp chopped, roasted peanuts
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

To prepare Peanut Sauce, combine sauce ingredients in small pan & over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil, and boil gently for one minute. Set aside. You will use 1/2 on the chicken and 1/2 on the pizza.

Heat pan over high heat, add olive oil, and cook chicken stirfry-style for 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook. Set aside in refrigerator until chilled through. Once chilled, coat with 1/4 cup of Spicy Peanut Sauce. Return to refridgerator to chill again.

Heat pizza stone in a very hot oven (500 degrees F.) for 1 hour. Shape dough into pizza round, and spoon 1/4 cup sauce evenly over pizza, spreading it around. Cover sauce with 3/4 cup of mozzarella. Save rest of mozzarella for later.

Next, add to pizza in the following order:
1. chicken pieces
2. green onions
3. bean sprouts
4. carrots
5. An additional 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella
6. roasted chopped peanuts

Bake pizza in oven for 9-10 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese at the center is bubbly. Remove pizza from oven, sprinkle with 1 tbsp cilantro.

Pizza Dough
1 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp warm water (105 -110 F)
1.5 c bread flour (preferred) or all purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (for coating)

Dissolve yeast in water and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

Place dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt) into a 4-6 quart mixing bowl. Make a weill in the middle & pour in yeast/water mixture and 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Use a wooden spoon to combine ingredients. Once mixed, lightly oil your hands and knead dough for 5 minutes. When done, dough should be slightly tacky; that is, it should be barely beyond sticking to your hands. Don't knead more than 5 minutes, or the dough could be tough and rubbery; the same goes if you overmix the dough in a electric stand mixer. Incidentally, if you use a stand mixer, use the mixing paddle and not the dough hook for this batch size; the dough hook is too small to be effective for this batch size.

Lightly oil the doughball and the interior of a 1 quart glass bowl. Place dough ball in bowl and seal bowl with plastic wrap, with as much an "air-tight" seal as possible. Set aside at room temperature to rise until doubled; this should take about 1.5 to 2 hours at 70-80 deg. F.

1st rise has been completed. Punch down the dough, reform it into a round ball & return it to the same bowl, covering it again tightly with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refridgerator overnight.

2nd rise has been completed by the next morning. About 2 hours before you are ready to build your pizza, take the dough out of the refridgerator. Cut the dough into two pieces with a sharp knife. Roll the smaller doughs into round balls on a smooth, clean surface. Place newly formed balls in a glass casserole dish, spaced far enough apart to allow them to double in size. Seal dish with plastic wrap, as airtight as possible. Set aside at room temperature to allow them to double in size (about 2 hours). Now they should be smooth and puffy.

The 3rd rise has been completed. You can now carefully stretch out the pizza dough into rounds as desired. Dust your pizza peel in cornmeal, semolina, or flour, and transfer the stretched dough to the peel. Top your pizza with ingredients & bake.

Enjoy the pizza and buy the CPK Cookbook at

chicken wings and things

chicken chicken chicken. Two nights ago, I adventured off into the mystical magical world of chicken wings again. I used a recipe from a bottle of Red Rooster Hot Sauce, with my own twist on it.

Here goes:

Wing Marinade
3 tbsp corn or vegetable oil
1 tsp garlic, finely minced (I like using a garlic press for this)
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tbsp hot sauce (I used Red Rooster)

Wing Sauce
4 tbsp hot sauce (I used 1/2 Frank's Red Hot original, 1/2 Red Rooster)
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp vinegar

2 - 2.5 lbs of chicken wings
Corn or vegetable oil for frying
Carrots, cut into cigarette-size sticks
Celery stalks, cut into cigarette-size sticks
Blue cheese dip or dressing

Cut off the wing tips, and save them for making stock later. Separate wings at joints, rinse with water, and pat dry. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk. Add chicken wings and let marinate at least 30 minutes, but no more than 2 hours.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep pot for frying, or in a deep fryer; about 2-3 inches of oil should be plenty. The key to getting the wings nice & crispy is to make sure the oil is at least 325 deg. Fahrenheit before putting in your wings; 375 degrees is best, but you have to watch it, because the oil will start breaking down & burning any higher. It's best to use a deep fry or candy thermometer to make sure the temperature is right. Any lower than 325, and the oil will cool down too much when you put all the wings in.

Shake off excess marinade & carefully add the wings to the hot oil. Be careful, oil will bubble up rather violently, and if you don't have a deep pot, it could overflow & burn you. Let the wings fry
in the oil for 10-12 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary so the oil temperature stays around 375 degrees.

Around the 6 minute mark of cooking time, make the sauce. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low to medium heat & heat until butter is melted, stirring occasionally. As soon as butter is melted, remove from heat.

Scoop out wings, let them drain on a plate with a paper towel for a minute. Put wings into large bowl, pour sauce over wings, and toss wings in sauce so they are evenly coated. Garnish with carrot sticks and celery sticks. Serve immediately with blue cheese dressing on the side.

Incidentally, I did a hot sauce taste test between Red Rooster Hot Sauce, Crystal Hot Sauce, and Frank's Red Hot Original, to determine which I liked best for chicken wings. Frank's came out the winner, and even though I would say it has a tiny bit of "processed" flavor, it has a nice smooth, somewhat thicker consistency than the other two. Red Rooster came in second, it's got a nice vinegary kick to it, and is about as thin as Crystal. Crystal has the tiniest "metallic" tinge to my tastebuds, so I passed on it, but it might be worth a try too. If I come across something I like better, I'll let you know.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Cooking is great...

...because it's creative.
...because it's peaceful.
...because it's passionate.
...because you can make people happy.
...because it can make you happy.
...because life is short, and food is meant to be enjoyed.
...because it can bring people together to share in something good.
...because good food can heal you.
...because happiness can heal you.
...because a carrot is never angry.
...because you can beat the eggs.
...because you can punch the dough.
...because you can make punch.
...because you're always learning.
...because it requires patience and focus.
...because it can come in useful.
...because you can make it your job.
...because there is so much good stuff to eat!

Two 4.5 pound pork shoulders (pork butts) cooking in the new customized Char-Broil Charcoal smoker. Note hot plate and barely visible smoker box below grate. Posted by Hello

cooking with blogs

I got home from a homeowners association meeting a minute ago, and was about to start cleaning up the kitchen when I realized, "wow, wouldn't it be cool to start a cooking blog?" A couple of weeks ago I decided to keep a cooking "journal" of various food experiments, to see how much I could learn by keeping track of what I cook & what I like.

So here it is, my inaugural entry in the What's Cookin' Now blog. Tonight, I re-heated some pulled pork for dinner, & decided to make some Carolina style vinegar sauce to go along with it, because it was tasting a bit dry.

So here's the sauce I improvised:

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Over moderate heat, bring all ingredients to a simmer in a non-aluminum saucepan. Take off heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Mix with pulled pork and serve. I noticed that it actually tasted more balanced when cool. When hot it was very vinegary and sharp, when cooled the taste had mellowed.

I smoked two pork shoulders (also known as "pork butt(s)") a few weeks ago in a Char-Broil H20 smoker that I bought from Home Depot for $35 and customized with a $7 electric hot plate, a $9 cast iron smoker box, and a $20 galvanized steel trash can (as an insulating cover). My first experience smoking meat, and on a cold, very windy and rainy day: not the optimum conditions for an thin, uninsulated metal shell to hold in heat. I got the hot plate because I was considering building an improvised terra cotta flowerpot smoker a la Alton Brown. Anyway, the smoker wouldn't get up to the "Ideal" temperature setting on the built-in thermometer (which is around 225 degrees). So, I removed all the handles, made a wire loop to replace the cover handle, and covered the whole smoker with an inverted metal trash can. In a matter of 10 minutes the smoker was at the ideal temperature, and stayed there very easily, despite the extremely poor weather. I took out the water pan too, was unnecessary. Now the whole thing works great.

Some choice pulled pork links:,1977,FOOD_9936_26997,00.html

The Char-Broil H20 Charcoal Smoker can be bought at