Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My attempt at Fried Okra

Growing up in the south, I developed a taste for southern foods. After I moved out west, I didn't realize how such insignificant dishes could be so nostalgic for me. Fried okra is one of those dishes. Crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. And since its a vegetable, you feel like its almost healthy for you. Add a dash of hot sauce and you're good to go.

For this recipe I ran out of flour so I used a pure corn meal coating. This tasted a little too dry and gritty for me. I  think if you deep fried this, it would be okay as the oil would soak into the batter more. Next time I'll try a 50/50 blend with flour. I also used buttermilk plus one beaten egg to wet the okra for the cornmeal dredge. I also seasoned the cornmeal with salt and pepper. Anyhow, this photo looks much better than it tastes.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Homemade Hashbrowns

There's nothing more comforting than the crunch of a perfectly cooked hashbrown. Most diners only brown one side of your hash leaving the other half greasy and soggy. Luckily, making your own hashbrowns is a very easy and rewarding task. The secret is wringing out the water in the shredded potatos. This allows the potatos to fry rather that steam when they hit the hot oil.

2 Medium Russet Potatos
Vegetable Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Start by peeling the potatos. Next, use a box grater to shred the potatos. Place the shredded potatos in a collander over the sink and with your hands, grab a handful of potatos and squeeze out the liquid. Repeat until you've put the squeeze on all of the shredded potato. Then, wrap the potatos in a paper towel and give it one more squeeze. This should remove any liquid on the surface of the potatos. Preheat your cast iron skillet over medium heat (you can use a regular fry pan, but cast iron's the best). Add vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Dump the potatos into the skillet and spread them out to form an even layer and give it a shake to make sure nothing sticks. Add salt and pepper. Then don't mess with it for the next 2 minutes, otherwise the crust wont form. After two minutes, lift the edge to see how your crust if forming. Wait until you get a nice crunch, then start flipping. You don't need to flip the whole thing at once, just do what you can. Now you'll have to add some more oil (almost as much as what you started with) and give it another shake to prevent sticking. I try to keep the oil addition to a minimum. I'll add a little oil to any place that looks dry and likely to burn. Once this side is browned, you can plate and serve.

I personally like to eat mine with ketchup and Cholula hot sauce. To lighten it up, you can add some chopped green onions or chives at the end and serve it with some sauteed tomatoes. To make corned beef hash, just add the corned beef and chopped onions with the potatos and everything should come out fine.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Cast Iron Pans

I keep hearing how cast iron develops its own nonstick surface so I've been renewing the seasoning on my old 12" skillet. First to get off the old seasoning which seemed to be flaking off, I used a 1/4 sheet power sander to get all the seasoning off and smooth out the rough bottom.

I read that seasoning can be done by burning oil onto the surface in your oven at 500 degrees for an hour. I tried it and it makes your kitchen fill with smoke. The surface turned a nice black color, but it still wasn't really non-stick. My latest endeavour is to heat the skillet on the stove and apply a thin layer of oil with a paper towel and tongs and wait for the smoking to stop. This only makes a blotchy seasoned surface. If anyone has a better method, please let me know.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

4th of July in Berkeley

We spent the 4th in Berkeley this year. First we had brunch at Bette's Oceanview Diner, which is famous for their souffle pancakes. They were also featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. That show also featured a menu item called "scrapple" which is ground pork shoulder mixed with cornmeal and spices. We ordered a side of it and it tasted a bit like mushy breakfast sausage patties. They did manage to get a nice crust on it by cooking it on their flattop. We also ordered the salmon hash which was a special today. It was good, but the portion seemed small for what I would consider a diner would serve. The banana rum souffle pancake was excellent and filling, but since its full of air, you'll be hungry a hour later. Next time I go there, I'll have to remember not to order their muffins since the sweet pancakes left me wanting something more salty. If you decide to go their on a weekend, be prepared to wait an hour to be seated. There are plenty of shops around the area to do some shopping while you wait.
Next we went to the marina to get to all the holiday festivities. Unfortunately, if you decide to park there until the fireworks start, you'll be trapped their until they release traffic at 11:30pm.
A couple amusement companies setup some rides on the pier for the kids. Each company has their own tickets so you'll need to be sure you buy the right tickets for the rides you want to go on. If you want to tire your kid out, nothing beats the inflatable slide since they spend 95% of the time climbing to the top of the slide. We left way before the fireworks started and our daughter had a long nap afterwards. 

Strawberry Patch

Back in May we decided to go pick our own strawberries. We went to Chan's Strawberry and Fruit Stand in Brentwood. I have to say, these were the sweetest most delicious strawberries I have ever eaten, period. On top of that, we paid like $7 for a full tray (roughly 5 pounds). There's a sign that says you're not supposed to eat any until you finish picking them, but as you can tell by the stains on her face, my daughter couldn't help herself (nor could we).

Although, the cost of gas would probably offset any discount compared to the supermarket, this is certainly great fun for the family and rewards you with a bounty to take home and enjoy.

Curry Paella

A couple weeks ago. we made this after my wife found several paella recipes in her Japanese magazine. Instead of saffron, we used curry powder. It tasted great but I think we either used too much water or the wrong kind of rice because I couldn't get the rice at the bottom to produce a nice crunch. We still got some a lot tasty browned bits on the bottom so my cast iron skillet still managed to get scraped clean.

Once I nail down the recipe, I'll share it with you all.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

California Academy of Sciences

We visited the California Academy of Sciences this weekend. Of course the museum parking lot was already full 20 minutes after the museum opened. This just affirmed how much I hate parking in SF. We decided to look for parking and eat at our favorite place in that area, San Tung. If you go there, be sure to get the Dry Fried Chicken Wings. I had to get 2 orders this time (they are just that good!). I dropped my wife off to put us on the wait list and start ordering food. Needless to say, she was already half way through the meal before I could park and join her. After that and a short walk, we finally got into the museum.

The museum itself doesn't look so impressive on the outside. On the inside   its a whole other story including a 3 story rain forest biosphere, multiple aquariums, and a green roof (a roof covered in plants). The rain forest is full of butterflies, birds, and plants. The butterflies were a great test for my Canon 70-200 f4L ISM lens. The top of the biosphere, the canopy, provides the most opportunities for great shots as there are plentiful flowers for the butterflies to feed from.
To the left you can see a great shot of the owl butterfly. You can clearly see the eye of an owl in that wing. Some think the eye resembles the predator of the butterfly's predator.

I was lucky to have so much sunlight today because even with an image stabilizing lens you still need a pretty fast shutter speed to shoot at 200mm. I'm sure on a cloudy day, these shots would have been blurry or full of noise.

The bottom of the biosphere is a huge salt water aquarium. At 2:30pm a diver goes in and talks to everyone about the fish there. Afterwards they throw food in so you can see the fish swarm. There are a lot of other underwater exhibits, but the darkness makes it hard to take any photos there.

Of all the amazing exhibits in the museum, my daughter's favorite was the little kids corner which only had some cheap toys and puzzles. To leave, we had to pull her out of there kicking and screaming. Oh well, I guess you have to be a bit older to appreciate a rain forest in an urban city.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Mustard's Grill

After noticing a gradual decline in the quality of the food at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) we decided to try a new restaurant when showing my cousin around Napa. We ended up choosing Mustards Grill for its kid friendliness and recommendations from Chowhound and Napa Valley locals.

Whenever I go to a new place, I try to ask the waiter/waitress what's popular. If you ask them what's best, sometimes they just say what's most expensive. We ended up ordering two of the most popular dishes, the Famous Mongolian Pork Chop and the Grilled Hanger Steak. We also ordered the Grilled Squab and the Fish of the day, which was Black Cod.

We found the food to be fairly good. The pork chops had a sweet glaze, which was deliciously sweet and tender, but some people may find it too sweet. The hanger steak was very tender and juicy, but I did not care too much for the watercress sauce that was on the side. The squab was also quite tasty. The only disappointment for me was the fish, which I actually mistook for chicken when I first tasted it. Overall, I think the food is seasoned a little on the heavy side which tends to mute the flavors of the ingredients instead of enhancing it. I think most Americans actually prefer stronger seasoning in general so you may find the level to be perfect. Also the portions are a wee bit on the small side so you may want to order appetizers if you're pretty hungry.

The service was good, which is average for the restaurants in Napa. We were seated promptly and the waitress was courteous and answered all our questions about the menu and helped us pair a wine with our food. The place is very accommodating to kids, but despite their welcomeness, I would still feel awkward bringing a misbehaving child to any place with white tablecloths such as this.
Value-wise, the food is moderately priced for what you get. For the area, it's probably even on the less expensive side with their most expensive dish being around $27.

I would definitely go there again and probably ask to reduce the seasoning just a tad and maybe start with a few appetizers. By itself, it may not be worth the 1hr drive, but if you're headed out there anyhow, its definitely worth stopping by.

Mustards Grill Photo taken from flickr.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My BBQ Rib Dry Rub Recipe

Just your basic dry rub ingredients here. This doesn't make much, probably only enough for 1-2 slabs of ribs so multiply as needed. I don't add any salt since the Celery Salt has some already in it, but you might prefer more so taste and season accordingly.

3 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp Paprika
1 tsp Mustard Powder
1 tsp Celery Salt
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/2 tsp Ginger powder

Combine ingredients and spread on meat. I try to crumble any brown sugar nuggets that may have developed.