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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Roses and Vinegar

Roses from my garden + a re-purposed vinegar bottle =

a simple, yet elegant dining centerpiece.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mission 261 (Dim Sum) - San Gabriel

Mission 261, located at 261 S. Mission Dr. in San Gabriel, is my go-to place for a tranquil dim sum experience. That and they give a 20 percent discount on dim sum ordered before noon on weekdays. :)

It's just down the street from the San Gabriel Mission Arcangel, which was built in 1771, and in the heart of San Gabriel's downtown. In fact, Mission 261's rancho adobe architecture is authentic, having been built more than a hundred years ago as San Gabriel's city hall.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cha Gio/Nem Ran (Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls)

Updated from the archives April 8, 2010:

For one of my most popular recipes, it was high time I properly photographed cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls). I remember once helping cousin T wrap egg rolls at her house. I was doing such a horrible job that she asked me not to help. :P I guess my wrapping and photography skills have improved since then. Original post below the photo.

Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls) 1

Isn't it funny how right after I eat something, I keep getting cravings for it again? And so it was that a few days after my dinner at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, I wanted some cha gio (Vietnamese spring/egg rolls). Just imagining the crispy wrapper with the tender pork and shrimp filling dipped in sweet and sour sauce with a smidgen of Sriracha hot sauce made my mouth water.

Southern Vietnamese call egg rolls cha gio, Northerners call it nem ran. But to Southerners, nem is grilled ground pork patties. Is it any wonder sometimes it's like we're speaking two different languages?

This recipe is really intended for non-Asians. I'm assuming if you're Asian you already have your own method. After all, the Chinese have egg rolls, the Filipinos have lumpia, the Malaysians have popiah. But I shouldn't make assumptions so this is as simple a recipe as I can make it.

First off, when shopping look for spring roll or lumpia wrappers. These should be lighter and thinner looking, you don't want the thick heavy pasta-ish kind often sold in the major American grocery stores. If you want to use banh trang (Vietnamese rice paper) like they do in Vietnam, it's best to follow my recipe for Gluten-Free Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls) to see how to work with the rice paper.

Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon)

Updated from the archives, August 3, 2014:

Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon) 5

While tossing out names of Little Saigon restaurants for my friend Ivan to hit up before he moved back to the East Coast, he requested broken rice.

Has he eaten at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Qui Cap yet?


It's my favorite broken rice restaurant!

Not necessarily for the broken rice, but for their Tom Hau Ky (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste Deep-Fried in a Bean Curd Wrapper) and all the other marinated meats. Considering I've been eating here since the late 90s, and that my original post is more than seven years old, I figured it could use a little updating.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thit Heo Kho Trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork With Eggs)

Does your pot make you smile when you cook like mine does for me? What treasure does it hold today?

Tomato Enameled Cast Iron Pot

Thit Heo Kho Trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs) is simply put a peasant dish. So earthy, so flavorful, so comforting. My mom used to make this fairly often when I was little and I always loved to spoon the sauce over rice and eat it plain.

The caramel sauce infuses the pork and hard-boiled eggs with a slightly sweet, deeply rich flavor that can only be achieved by braising for a long time. The fats and collagens in the pork break down into tenderness, the blandness of the albumen absorbs the caramel flavors, the yolk is smooth and rich. Spooned over rice with plenty of sauce, of course, it's perfect comfort food for a rainy day. The caramel sauce is a must for this dish to provide color and flavor to the pork. If you're not going to do this step, then skip the sugar in the recipe as the coconut juice will provide plenty of sweetness on its own. The coconut juice will mostly cook off, leaving behind a slight sweetness to add depth to the pork. If you don't want any coconut juice at all, then simply substitute with water.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Le Cupcake - Santa Monica (Closed)

"I have a surprise for you!" Lil' sis text messaged me.

The next morning on the kitchen counter, I find a large brown paper shopping bag with this sticker on it.


Beside it was this gaily wrapped box.


My brother got to my surprise first! Hmph!

Velvet Rouge, a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting. The menu said "with a hint of cocoa." It must've been a really subtle hint because I couldn't taste the cocoa. But the cupcake was moist and not too sweet, balanced by the sweetness in the cream cheese frosting.

Clockwise, Banana Bonbon, banana cupcake with chocolate frosting. Mmm.

Tour De Carotte, carrotcake with cream cheese frosting. The carrotcake was studded with walnuts and raisins, just the way I like 'em!

Chai Latte, lightly spiced vanilla cake with chai tea infused buttercream frosting.

The cupcakes were just sweet enough without being overpowering. The frostings were a perfect foil for the flavor of each cake, and sweeter but not toothache sweet.

Other flavors on the menu included Van Gogh Vanilla, vanilla cupcake with vanilla-almond frosting; Chocolat, sour cream chocolate cupcake; Parisian Peanut Butter, chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting; and La Coconut, vanilla or chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting dipped in coconut.

A regular-sized cupcake, which is slightly smaller than the standard muffin-tin, is $2.75. Mini size is $1.50.

Le Cupcake began in 2003 in the Washington, D.C. area by Robyn Savage who delivered them door-to-door -- the White House, the Justice Department, and a Senator's Office doors that is. Le Cupcake opened inside the Santa Monica Place Mall last fall.

Are we cupcaked out?

Is there room for yet another cupcake shop in SoCal?

Dunno, but there's always room in my belly for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

Lots of room.

I got my brother back for eating that first piece of red velvet.

That's right, I ate all of the carrotcake.

Le Cupcake
Santa Monica Place Mall
3 Santa Monica Pl.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Friday, January 26, 2007

Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

Every once in a while I get a craving to eat something with lots of sauce for dipping. My recent bread batch was just screaming for some Indian sauces to mop it up. A 4-pound bag of chicken drumsticks waited to be cooked. Per lil' sis's request, half would go toward basic salt and pepper lemon chicken. A quick check of my fridge and spice drawer later, I had enough stuff to make murgh makhani (Indian butter chicken). Ooh, I was salivating thinking of the sauce -- the richness of the yogurt, the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes, the spiciness of the chili peppers, the pop of the coriander seeds.

Murgh Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

Butter chicken is similar to chicken tikka masala in the yogurt- and tomato-based sauce. Legend has it that chicken tikka masala was invented by Bangladeshi chefs in the U.K. when Brits demanded a "gravy" to go with their chicken tikka. But others say, that chicken tikka masala is based on butter chicken, which originated in the Punjab region of India. Or that it was invented out of expediency as a way to use up leftover chicken tikka. Either way, there's no doubt that this is a popular offering at Indian restaurants everywhere.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pumpkins Curry with Shrimp and Bamboo Shoots and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I pretty much harvested everything I could from my garden before the cold weather set in. This pumpkin was one of only two that grew from my sugar pumpkin plant. One plant for 89 cents, two sugar pumpkins. Not a bad investment.

Pumpkin Curry 1

Sugar pumpkins are the kind that get made into pies because their flesh is quite tender and sweet. Squash can be stored for several months so I picked my pumpkins back in October. But ideally, you want to eat your pumpkins when the stems are still green.

The first pumpkin was smaller so I just quartered it; sprinkled butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon; and baked it.

This time around, I decided to make pumpkin curry.

This soup is inspired by Thai curries that I've gotten in restaurants but isn't quite as thick. Not sure how much Vietnamese influence it has either, except for the addition of fish sauce. Vietnamese tend to eat curry with French bread for dipping, but rice will do as well.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Even Easier No-Knead Bread

Months after The New York Times featured Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread recipe, it's still taking the food blogging world by storm. Last week he was on Martha Stewart. I made a whole wheat verison, which turned out so well I thought I'd make another loaf, simplify it even more, and take more photos.

This version is slightly easier because there's less handling of flour or sticky dough. No-Knead means no need to touch either. Hehe, I'm so clever. You can stir and scrape the dough with a wooden spoon. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place a towel on top, instead of letting the towel touch the dough.

No more fancy store-bought loaves for me. This bread features a crisp, crackly crust with a chewy inside reminiscent of European artisanal breads.

Even Easier No-Knead Bread

You'll need:
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (For wheat bread, 2 cups white, 1 cup whole wheat.)
1 1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp of yeast, the kind sold in packets and jars

You can skip this step entirely and dump all the ingredients together in a bowl. But I think this step helps the yeast activate just a little bit. In my simplified version (ie: lazy), turn on hot water tap in bathroom and when it's hot, measure out 1 1/2 cups water. (This is because I don't have a food thermometer but have found the bathroom hot tap water the perfect temperature for yeast to rise.) Add 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Swirl the mixture around a little to activate the yeast. Add 1 tsp salt (more if you want a saltier bread) and flour. Mix thoroughly but quickly. You'll get a sticky, lumpy dough that looks like this.

Cover with plastic wrap and a thick towel and leave it to rise in a warm place for at least 12 hours, ideally 18 or more. Just do it the night before and let it rise while you're asleep and at work the next day. The dough should double in size with lots of bubbles like this.

Liberally flour a cutting board and dump the dough onto the surface, dusting the top again. Cover with plastic and towel again and let it rise for a few hours. You can fold or shape your dough to make it a little more compact but you don't have to. I usually place my cutting board on the stove top where it'll be warmer once I preheat the oven for baking.

Half an hour before you're ready to bake, turn oven to 450 degrees and put your pot in to preheat also. I'm totally loving my 5-quart Dutch oven, but you can substitute with any oven-proof container with lid. A 5-quart size will create a loaf about 10 inches round and 3 to 4 inches high. After two hours, that lump now looks like this.

Take off plastic, dump it into the pot with the lid on. No need to oil the pot, the bread will pull in from the sides and won't stick. After half an hour, take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes or so until it looks like this. Yes, it's not as pretty and round as my first attempt but looks rustic and yummy anyway.

By baking first with the lid on, steam creates these little air holes in the bread that make it like those European breads.
So very easy right? So start your loaf tonight and I'll post some recipes in the next few days for Indian butter chicken and pumpkin curry for you to dip the bread. But it is just perfect warm from the oven and dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or slathered with butter and jam. Or just plain.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oranges Weren't the Only Things Frozen

So on the drive back down south from the Bay Area, I swear I saw orange groves with ice on the trees. And of course, now everyone has heard of the huge loss to California's $1.1 billion orange crop.

My poor garden was so frozen that the flowers looked as if a drought hit. The leaves are all burnt and crispy. I've never seen the like before. This was my bougainvillea just last month. Look at the poor thing now. I have no idea how to revive it. :(

And these were very green and healthy looking cannas and bac ha plants. I'm not sure if I should cut the tops off the cannas and let them go dormant or what. The Vietnamese translation calls them banana tubers and they're edible. My grandma used to dig them up and steam them. They're starchy and taste sort of like a mild potato. I don't really eat them but these are part of the group of cannas I dug from my grandma's garden so I wanted them just to remind me of her.

My garden just looks so dry and sad.

Fortunately, the cold spared my Iceberg rose. Don't ask me how that happened. The rest of my roses have been dormant for the winter.

This weather is so freaky. It ruins oranges with thick rinds, but doesn't damage strawberries with no covering? I decided not to chance another cold blast and picked them then and there. Don't be fooled, these strawberries were tiny - about the size of the tip of my thumb tiny. So they had to be savored s l o w l y. Mmm.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Gelateria Naia - Berkeley

Gelato! Need I say more? How 'bout I just show you instead? Imagine three cases of this to choose from.

Strawberries, chocolate, blueberry, pumpkin, rose, espresso, oh, too many to list. Gelato is much richer and denser in flavor than ice cream, while also lower in fat. Gelateria Naia makes small artisanal batches every day so everything tastes fresh. They also make sorbetto and soy gelato.

You can get it on a cone, or split the flavors into a small bowl. The smallest size is $3.25, or so if I remember correctly. So a little pricey for the size, but evened out by the high quality of the ingredients. And a perfect cleanser after a sushi dinner.

I chose Asian pear and prickly cactus. The prickly cactus flavor was reminiscent of dragonfruit. The two flavors were so refreshing, it was like biting straight into the fruit. A little too sweet though. I couldn't finish even my tiny bowl.

Gelateria Naia (various locations)
2106 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kirala - Berkeley

Can you believe all my previous posts for the last week were only from one weekend? Anyway, I'm done with all the eating I did for last weekend, but had a few photos left over from a trip back in October and since I'm already on a San Francisco Bay Area thread...

This is sushi from Kirala in Berkeley. Looks pretty eh? I'm really bad though at identifying sushi and all I can recognize now is the salmon and some kind of eel roll and perhaps spicy tuna.

A long, long time ago when I lived in the East Bay, Kirala was my local sushi haunt. I have fond memories of many meals here, and still regard it highly, for the nostalgia factor if nothing else.

I just Googled it and lo and behold, on its website, Kirala describes itself as an excellent neighborhood restaurant. It does serve very good sushi, as well as robata and udon. It's not cheap, but what you'd expect from a solid sushi bar. Nigiri sushi is about $7 for two pieces, robata skewers about $4 and up, entrees $15 or so.

It's a small space, tables very close together, lively crowd at the sake bar. There's always a wait, even if you show up right when the restaurant opens. But it definitely has the feel of a neighborhood sushi bar, where patrons know the waiters and sushi chefs, where customers have so much fun chatting with each other at the sake bar, they decline going to their table just then. So sometimes you get their table and the wait isn't so bad after all.

2100 Ward St.
Berkeley, CA 97405

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Merritt Bakery and Restaurant - Oakland

In my family, we plan our activities around meals. And we plan our meals in advance. So when my cousin asked when we planned to head back down south, I said after brunch. He rattled off a list of brunch options. Dim sum. Eh. Pho. Eh. Chicken and waffles. Yes! Merritt Bakery and Restaurant in Oakland, beside scenic Lake Merritt, is the place to go for crispy, juicy fried chicken and crispy, tender Belgian waffles. Sure, we SoCalites have our Roscoe's, but bear with me a moment. And in the interest of good food blogging, does this mean I need to make another visit to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles? I don't know if my arteries can take the hit. Here's the bakery part of the restaurant. Merritt does wedding cakes, regular cakes, doughnuts. But we were here for the waffles so I only gave this a passing glance. Besides, with all the eating I did this weekend, I couldn't afford to be tempted. All decked out for Valentine's Day. Incidentally, Merritt opened on Valentine's Day in 1952. What you can't see, and what I didn't get a good photo of, is that on those heart decorations and in floral decorations throughout the restaurant, was Happy New Year written in Chinese. Well, the Lunar New Year is on February 18. (Say Lunar not Chinese. Vietnamese and Koreans go by the lunar calendar as well. Can you tell my pet peeves?) The hodgepodge decorations were also reflective of the wait staff who were an equal mix of black and Asian American. No diner is complete without the obligatory booths and counter. They even covered the stools in red velvet. And gave us red water glasses.
But what about the food, the food, you ask. The side of biscuit with gravy was nothing remarkable. Sausages were standard. Hash browns were crunchy on the outside.
But the real treat was the chicken and waffles.
The fried chicken was cracklin' crisp, so moist that the juices literally seeped out when I tore into it. I'm a dark meat kinda gal so that part of the chicken tends to be more moist anyway but this was juicy! The thigh pieces were a little on the smaller side, but well worth the sacrifice for the taste.
The waffle was a large, thick Belgian that was crispy, crunchy and literally soaked up the gobs of syrup I poured on top. The whipped butter slathered on top just melted into the indentations. I ate three-quarters of the waffle and then ate my two chicken pieces. I finished off the last quarter and despite it having been I-don't-know-how-many-minutes later and a liberal dousing of syrup and butter, that last bit was still as crispy, crunchy as the first bite.
Waffles and choice of two chicken pieces $8.75.
I've read other reviews where diners have been unimpressed with Merritt's other offerings. But why would you order anything else when you can get chicken and waffles served all day?
They also sell chicken "paks" to go for an order up to 500 pieces for $684.50. Yikes! Other chicken and waffles restaurants: Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles - Pasadena
Merritt Bakery and Restaurant
203 E. 18th St.
Oakland, CA 94606

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Day I Ate Two Dinners: Bun Bo Hue An Nam and Homemade Thai

Seriously, I don't think my friends can think of anything else to do with me except feed me.

After dim sum with my friend, I went to the South Bay to hang out with some other friends. Of course, the first thing they asked me was whether I wanted something to eat. I said I just ate, and was only going to stay a few hours because my cousin's friend was making dinner for a group of us (namely me, my siblings, and assorted cousins). Nonetheless, before I headed back up north, they wanted to feed me anyway and took me to the best bun bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-style beef noodle soup) in town.

Originating from the imperial capital of Hue, bun bo Hue's, dark broth comes from long simmered beef bones, tinted red from chili and annatto seed oil, and intensely aromatic from lots and lots of lemongrass (usually at least half a dozen stalks per pot).

Bun Bo Hue An Nam's rendition was deeply flavorful without being heavy, strongly fragrant with lemongrass, just spicy enough. Although, extra chilis were brought for diners to add more. The noodles were just right -- not too chewy, not too soft. Sliced onions. Chopped mint. Loads of beef flank slices. Cha lua (steamed pork sausage) slices. Beef blood cubes. And individual side plates of sliced white and red cabbage, banana blossom, mint sprigs, and lime. No pigs feet though. And I was in the mood for gelatinous skin and tendons too.

You've got a choice of beef or pork meats. Large or small.

This is the small beef bowl.

Even though I knew I'd be eating again in an hour, the broth was so good I kept slurping anyway.

I'm not sure if there's anything else on the menu. The waiter handed us menus, my friends ordered for me without cracking it open. I looked around and all the other patrons were eating the same thing. My philosophy has always been, if a restaurant names itself after a particular dish, take in their built-in recommendation and order that dish.

Bun Bo Hue An Nam
740 Story Rd., Unit 3
San Jose, CA 95122

Apparently, the same owner has a Pho Ga An Nam nearby if that's your thing.

So after dinner #1, I sped back to my cousin's friend's place so I wouldn't miss out on dinner #2.

Here's his gorgeous new designer dining room lamp.

Crab and cashew fried rice, pad see ew with chicken, steak and shrimp salad.

Yummy shrimp tom yum.

Cousin's friend's girlfriend made a chocolate torte. Very chocolatey, not too sweet. Since cousin's friend is an honorary family member, we all strongly hinted that it would get her in good with the family if she cooked for us. We are so blatantly devious when it comes to our bellies. So worth it though.

My brother's girlfriend makes the best tiramisu ever. Just wet enough without being soggy, still slightly firm, very soft, very good.
A couple of bottles of white wine, a bottle of red wine, a few half-bottles of dessert wine later, we were all stuffed to the gills.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Restaurant Peony (Dim Sum) - Oakland (Chinatown)

Seems like my only social activity when I meet up with a friend is eat. For brunch and for Asians, especially if you're near a Chinatown, that usually means dim sum.

So we headed to Restaurant Peony in the Pacific Renaissance Plaza in Oakland's Chinatown. There was a bit of a wait. Seems like a recurring theme this weekend. The restaurant is huge though, sprawling from one end of the mall to another, so the wait wasn't too long.

Char siu bao - soft, sticky bun, a nice mix of char siu and onions.

Lotus leaf sticky rice was very flavorful.

Siu mai was particularly good with a whole shrimp on top and firm filling.

Can't remember what this dumpling was, shrimp with roe.

Hak gow was firm on the inside, but all of the dumpling wrappers stuck to the paper lining and the dough wasn't that chewy. I ordered two before I realized it though.

Gai lan - my only green, a little on the mushy side. I like my greens crunchy.
Total damage: $31.58 before tip. I just realized, for only 7 items, that works out to $4.50 per item. Yikes! That's twice what I would spend on the same items in the San Gabriel Valley. Well, I also did get chrysanthemum tea (petals only) but really, what happened to cheap dim sum? I can get the same stuff, bigger portions, for $1.98 here. Hmph.

Ah well, it was a chance to catch up with my friend.
On our way out, we heard drumming and saw this...

The show took too long or else I would have grabbed a boba on the way out.
Restaurant Peony
Pacific Renaissance Plaza, Ste. 288
388 9th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(Man, so Cantonese, all those 8s in the address and phone number.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar - Alameda

So here we are at the reason for my little road trip up north - Heavenly Lake Tahoe. It was soooo cold! I had three layers on underneath my outerwear and I was still sooooo cold! Too cold to really take pictures of anything except Lake Tahoe. Too cold for it to snow so all we had to snowboard down was hard-packed ice.
Heavenly - Lake Tahoe - Nevada
And since we got to Heavenly slightly before the lifts even opened, we opted to leave early when the hordes of snowboarders and skiiers crowded the slopes. Not that I was doing much snowboarding. I can barely stay upright as it is, and definitely not on ice. Plus, did I tell you it was too cold! My toes were literally purple when I pulled off my boots. But anyway, we thought we'd hit the casino buffets for lunch. I'm still chuckling at how Harrah's is right at the Nevada state line. But the quickie breakfast stop at McDonald's meant the McGriddles were still sitting in our guts so the buffet wouldn't have been worth our while. We opted for Fatburgers instead because that's so much lighter. Onion rings. Mmm.
Harrah's - Reno - Nevada
So after two fast-food meals in one day, we opted for decidedly less heavy fare for dinner. This is Sushi House in Alameda. A basic large, family-friendly, Americanized Japanese sushi restaurant. It was cavernous and we still had to wait. And though the restaurant says they cater to large parties, our party of 9 had to be split among two booths.
Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar - Alameda 1
Definitely not "authentic" if your sushi chefs aren't Japanese.
Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar - Alameda 2
But then, we're not going for "authentic" here. The menu lists all the basic teriyaki, sushi, nigiri, udon offerings. But we came for the special rolls. Specifically, for the special rolls' mainly $4-$5 price tag.
Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar - Alameda 3
Rock n Roll $4.95. California roll $3.95. California deluxe (with unagi) $4.95.
Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar - Alameda 4
Shrimp tempura roll $5.95.
Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar - Alameda 5
Hot green tea is free. I forgot what else we scarfed down before I remembered to take photos but the $3.95 spicy tuna was super spicy and quite good. The rolls are quite large. I mean, if you're going to an Americanized Japanese restaurant for their cheap rolls, more is better, right? Sushi House Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar 2375 Shoreline Dr. Alameda, CA 94501 510-865-0999