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).