Monday, February 28, 2011

Habana's: Cuban Food

To round out a long day roaming about the East Bay, Matt and I decide to finally pay a visit to Habanas in Alameda. I've heard some really great things about their mojitos (and they have pitchers of mojitos too!), which is incentive enough to go. But most every weekend night we drive by Habanas there seems to be hoards of people at the bar and waiting for a table. Suffice it to say, I was curious as to what all the fuss was about.

Yes, mojitos! Like I said, it's a Habana's specialty and I just love the fresh, clean flavor of mint and lime. Not to mention it tastes like juice...which I guess makes this a rather mischievous drink.

Shrimp Ceviche
I was underwhelmed. After going to Matt's local Border's store closing sale (in an attempt to stock up on cookbooks for 20% off) and stumbling over a ceviche book, we decided to eat here. But, this turned out to be more of a salsa than a ceviche. I'm almost certain that I can count the number of shrimp they put in here on one hand. And they were cut up so small that you could hardly tell if you got a bite with shrimp or not. If it were a salsa, I'd give it two thumbs up, because I really have nothing bad to say about the flavor. However, to my recollection, it was a shrimp ceviche, and it barely had any shrimp.

Fried Plantains with Pineapple Salsa
They're my weakness. I don't know why, but every time we eat somewhere with plantains on the menu, I instantly gravitate towards it. In this particular instance, they don't stray too far from eating rice or potatoes as they are incredibly filling. And the only real flavor they've got is a subtle, and by that I mean VERY subtle, sweetness. But with that pineapple salsa on top, I could call it a meal.

I guess the type of plantains I was after are the softer, more caramelized kind. The kind that soothes a spice from a blacked catfish or a jerk chicken with tons of scotch bonnet peppers or the kind that cuts through the fattiness of a large hunk of braised pork. Akin to that of Eva's in Laguna beach or Felix in Orange.

Although these were good, they didn't satisfy my plantain craving. But even knowing this, I'm almost certain that if we came back here again, Matt would have to drive a hard bargain to talk me out of ordering this.

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
Anything with chimichurri on it, I will eat. I think our obsession with it arose after eating at a Peruvian restaurant that served a large tube of green sauce with their bread. Which we fell in love with and later found out that it was chimichurri, the thing that we've heard so much about on...Food Network(?). This particular chimichurri was okay. I prefer ones with a little more kick and a little less creaminess. Matt and I've made our own version of chimichurri before--the recipe can be found here--which turned out really well and tasted almost identical to the one we fell in love with at Inka's in Irvine. After making our own large squeeze tube on it, we quickly became obsessed with chimichurri and put it on almost everything...and to our surprise (or not surprise) it tasted good on pretty much everything.

Pork Skewers
And what would a dinner be without pork...on a stick?

The Morning After

I do believe that the best cure for a hang over is good food. Noodle soup being at the top of the list and taco truck being a close second.

Super Lengua Quesadilla

Queso Pupusa

A monster Torta

Ice Cream Maker

You don't realize how fattening ice cream is until you make it yourself.
But, I'm the kind of girl that just can't say no to ice cream. Even when it's snowy outside.

As I mentioned before, Matt bought me an ice cream maker for Valentines Day. And as meteorologists predicted snow in San Francisco, we whipped out the ice cream maker and prepared for a snowy night in with movies, popcorn, and homemade ice cream.

Originally, we had wanted to be adventurous and make a fun flavor like lemon and sage sorbet or basil, honey, tart yogurt or a pistachio custard ice cream...but when push came to shove and we were shopping for ingredients we decided that we would just break in the new toy with a simple recipe.

So, we present to you: Oreo Ice Cream

The predicted snowfall never happened (well...a light flurry--so I hear, but nothing like the snowfall in 1976 as I had hoped), but the ice cream making did and now we have 1 1/2 pints of delicious ice cream. And as much as I love eating ice cream, I enjoy making it much more. I can't wait to finish this batch and make a whole new one. Any takers on helping us finish this one up?

I was debating whether or not to include a recipe in this post, but I decided against it. It was just a simple vanilla ice cream recipe with crushed oreos. But next time when we make something a little more exciting, I will definitely include what I hope will be a delicious recipe. (Although, this trial run did churn out a homemade frosty treat!)

Easter in February

I honestly cannot say that I haven't been tempted by all those sweet Easter treats in the grocery stores. The fact that they put them right near the cash register is pure evil.

Well...Happy Easter in February to me. I caved. Peeps and Cream Eggs for dessert anyone?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Meat On The Side

I've really been looking for a place that has good bun bo hue in norcal. For some reason, it seemed almost impossible since Matt and I had scoured the entire OC on only found a handful of bun bo hue places that we really enjoyed. I'm not really warranted to say who makes the most authentic bowl of noodle soup (since...I've never been to Vietnam and had the real thing) but I like to think that I'm a good judge of what tastes good and the noodle soup at Tay Ho in Oakland makes some amazing broth.
Bun Hue Tai

The reason why I love this: It's bun bo hue broth with raw steak (and though hesitant, the waitress relented and let me order with meat on the side. Bonus points). O and the waitress's mom is the one making the noodles in the back, uh hello, new bun bo hue place.

The broth is so rich in beef flavor, not to mention their "medium" was kick-butt spicy. I could not get through the bowl without ordering a soy milk to soothe the pain. But it hurt so good.

Matt's dish

Bun Rieu

The place did smell a little bit dank (especially the walk to the bathrooms), BUT who cares, it's Oakland Chinatown and their noodle soup is really, who am I to complain.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

No Sushi, No Combination Dinner

The namesake:
This restaurant is truly a neighborhood gem. I recently found out about this place from a gentleman I met at the Asiago and Speck luncheon I attended last week.

I don't know how I let this place slip out from right under my nose! But from the moment he described this place to me, I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd pay Kappou Gomi a visit.

*** ***
Above the sign that reads "No sushi, No combination dinner", is the menu in matrix form (if you will). Pick your protein or veggie of choice and then choose a cooking method. Then follow the lines and BOOM...that's the name of the dish you're looking for!

The menu is extensive. They have everything from specially prepared sashimi to deep fried duck--and if you're sick of sushi and bento boxes, this is your calling.

We eat with our eyes first.

There's something that I've always admired about fine Japanese cuisine--attention to detail.
Everything is evenly cut, shredded, and sliced paper thin.
Each dish is kissed with color.
Each dish is a work of art.
Every piece of meat, every vegetable, and every garnish is carefully and methodically presented--a true masterpiece.

Kappou Gomi, is a very good example of that.


I never feel guilty about eating Japanese food (maybe the wallet does, but not the waistline!)

On to the food...

Tuna Yukke
(Can't say, "No" to a raw quail egg)

Beef Tatake

Karaage Chicken

Seafood bowl

Salt Grilled Sweet Fish
(Careful! There are lots of tiny bones!)

Crab wrapped with soba
(The crab is there! It's just hidden under the soba as the name suggests.)

AND of course, despite what the sign says outside, one woman did manage to come in confused as she browsed the menu. "Excuse me, where's your sushi?...The sign outside says 'sushi'".

Monday, February 21, 2011

Homemade Turnip Cake

I had originally published these pics a few days back in my Chinese New Year post but this dish was such a huge part of Chinese New Year (it was the first time I had ever tried my mom's homemade turnip cake--because when she was experimenting with the recipe, I was away at college) that I felt it deserved to stand on its own.

Homemade turnip cake. Man, is this a labor intensive dish!

Not only did my mom have to shave 10 pounds of turnip but also cut each individual ingredient (Chinese sausage, Chinese bacon, reconstituted shitake mushroom, dried shrimp, dried scallop) to a fine dice and then sautee them individually in a dry pan to draw out all the moisture...I have a new found respect for people who make this the right way!

The thing with turnip cake is that Chinese turnips are only in season around Chinese New Year--that's when they're sweet and pack a lot of turnip flavor.

Normally, I'm not a fan of turnip cake. The ones they serve at dim sum are almost always, if not always, all dough and very little turnip (not to mention that they skimp on the other ingredients too!)

My mom made three pans and boy did they disappear fast (they're really good pan fried)! Two weeks later, she taught Matt and I how make the recipe--I thought the first batch was better, but with a little practice and time I'm sure I can conquer it.

This is my grandmother's recipe:

1lb rice flour (jeem mai fun)
10 lbs turnip shredded (either with a box grater or by hand, try to avoid using a food processor)
2 Tbs dried shrimp, soaked in water (if you buy the smallest varietal you won't have to dice them)
4-5 dried large scallops, steamed, shreadded
1/4 cup finely diced shitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, reconstituted in water
4 Chinese sausages finely diced
3-4 Tbs Chinese bacon finely diced (trim of some of the fat if necessary)
2 Tbs oyster sauce, or to taste
sea salt, white pepper, toasted white sesame, and chopped scallions to taste

Soak the mushrooms and the dried shrimp for at least 3 hours to reconstitute them. Reserve the water from both.
Finely dice the mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and Chinese bacon.
Fill a pot with water and place the steaming rack inside. To a shallow dish add about 3 Tbs water and place the dried scallops in the dish and let steam until they become tender. After steaming, shred the scallops by hand and reserve the water.
Wash and peel all 10 lbs of turnip and then grate with a box grater or by hand (you can do half and half)
In a dry pan toast the dry shrimp until slightly golden brown and very dry. And remove from pan. Repeat this step with the mushroom as well.
Render out the fat of the Chinese sausage. Remove from pan and pat dry with a paper towel. Repeat this step with the Chinese bacon as well.
In a dry pan, cook shredded turnip until translucent, continuously and carefully turning them every so often. Remove as much water as you can. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
Add oyster sauce and mix evenly.
Add in mushrooms, dried shrimp, Chinese sausage, Chinese bacon, and dried scallops.
Mix well.
With a sifter, slowly sift in the rice flour while still stirring, adding only a little bit of flour each time.
Add the reserved dried scallop water if it looks too dry, it should be the consistency of somewhere between a dumpling dough and pancake batter--not too wet, but not too dry.
Continue mixing until all the flour has been added.
Pour mixture into round cake pans and steam for about 45mins each. If you have a large steamer, you can steam them all at once for 45 mins.
Remove and let cool.
Top with toasted sesame and chopped scallions.

Next Day:
You can either steam them to reheat, or cut them into little cakes and pan fry them with a little oil until they're crisp and golden brown on all sides. I like to cut them a little thinner so that I get more crust.

This is A LOT of work, so enlist help if you can!

Vietnamese Raw Beef

Yes folks, we're at it again. Matt and I are back to eating raw meat.

Call it barbaric, call it disgusting and unsanitary, call it what you will, but I call it...
simply delicious.

I remember my senior year of high school my friends and I would go out to pho after class or on the weekends, and two of them would always order their steak on the side, meaning served raw and not in your piping hot bowl of pho.

Uhhh...You can do that?

YES! And that's the way I've ordered pho since then. A little squeeze of lime and raw onions, a quick dip in hoisin and siracha and it's like heaven. For me, it's not so much about the flavor of the raw, thinly sliced steak (it's not like they give you a quality cut of meat), it's about the texture combined with the sauce and the slight tang of citrus.

Stomach aches? Nope. (Knock on wood)

My theory is: This restaurant has to be here tomorrow, this is how they make money. They're not going to risk their business and reputation serving your bad meat raw.

I hate to say it, but have you noticed how powerful Yelp is?

Most menus give you the option of having the steak served on the side for an extra fee (but even if it doesn't give you that option, it doesn't hurt to ask.) And thus, if they're going to offer it to you raw, their confident enough to stand by their quality.

So here we go.

Matt and I went to Yummy Yummy on Irving for dinner and ordered their raved about raw beef dish. It was delicious--I'm certain that we could have each finished a plate.

Thinly sliced beef served with basil, mint, fried shallots, raw onions and peanuts, with wedges of lemon and fish sauce on the side.

My attempt at taking a picture of the flame coming out of the hot pot chimney.

The unveil: hot and sour catfish soup. One of my favorite Vietnamese soups. I especially like the taro stem (from what I've been told they're called...please correct me if I'm mistaken), they're like sponges that just soak up all the flavors of the soup. And, uh, hello, there's pineapple in the soup.
Seconds please.

We'll be back to try their five spice chicken DIY spring rolls--YES!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Horrible Combination

I have been noticing that something has gone awfully awry. In an effort to get back in shape by going out ordering all things pork and never working out, my pocketbook is getting slimmer while I on the other hand have gained a few's rather strange isn't it?

Well, noting this unflattering trend, I've decided to get back into cooking so that I can more accurately control what I'm eating. And these have been my cooking adventures thus far.

Skirt steak "pin-wheel" with parsley, garlic, lemon zest center, and a side of roasted brussel sprouts and mushrooms.

Halibut in a pouch: Red bell peppers, Sweet and hot jarred peppers, tapenade, garlic, and of course, halibut

"Parchment paper pouch" is my new favorite cooking method.

Hearts of palm salad.
Lentil soup with Focaccia

All of them turned out pretty well, considering the only recipes I follow are the ones that I concoct in my head while in the grocery store! Hopefully, more will come to me soon.

Giant Hamachi Kama

...Need I say more?

Over-Due Chinese New Year Foods

I guess this post doesn't come at you too late since this weekend is the Chinese New Year Parade! This was one of the best Chinese New Year dinners I have ever had! It was one giant clay pot of duck, fatty pork belly, shrimp, chicken, pork knuckles, taro, cabbage, and o yeah...TONS of whole abalone!
Happy Year of the Hare!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rainy Day Lunch

I like to pretend that spring is here (or almost here).

We were teased last week with beautiful, sunny, 60+ degree weather. But like all sunny days in the city of the Golden Gate...they don't last.
Although some say that this (this rainy, stormy, 40 degree ) weather is what February should look like, and I must agree that this weather is perfect for hearty stews and soups, I've just about had it with the wind and rain. So today, I marched out in my (not so smart) non-hooded trench coat, in search of some spring time good eats.

And this is what I stumbled upon:
Smoked salmon with cream cheese, red onions, and shredded cucumber on rye

So although it was pouring outside, I was indoors staring out of a window and enjoying my little piece of spring. March, I'm ready for you!