Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tribe of the glutinous rice

Although mochi is traditionally associated with the Lunar New Year, the Japanese really eat it pretty much year around in various forms. Made from pounded glutinous rice flour, mochi is often thought of as a sweet item, stuffed with adzuki bean paste. Then again, that sticky chewy texture which only glutinous rice can provide is much prized all through Asia.

Here are a couple of different variations on the theme (both readily available here in Houston. The multicolored item is a Filipino dish called sapin-sapin - the top layer is flavored with coconut, the yellow layer is supposed to be flavored with sweet corn, and the lower purple layer is flavored with a purple tuber called ube. Ube is worthy of a discussion of its own another time. While I am uncertain if this version was colored with food coloring, usually the striking purple color of ube is quite natural.

The brown sprinkling on it is a unique item - it is a by product of making coconut milk; the caramelized proteins that come from cooking down the coconut milk to produce the oil. It's quite delicious, if a bit rich and oily.

Of course, glutinous rice cakes figure in other cuisines as well. Here is a version from the local Vietnamese community which is stuffed with cashew nuts in place of the usual bean paste. The cake itself is very sweet, and best eaten with hot unsweetened tea.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Religious diets

A local televangelist (and do we have many of them) recently had comments for his flock about the dangers and evils of eating pork and shellfish, eliciting many strong reactions and thoughts. The allegedly vitriolic reactions are a bit puzzling, since many religions easily dictate dietary traditions (and some cultural dietary traditions don't even have a religious backing, but breaking them is well nigh taboo - like having ice cream for breakfast - even if it does have eggs). Given the proximity to Lent and Passover, I'd like to revisit my idea for a restaurant. One I'd like to name "Sacrilege" - where dishes are so constructed specifically to break or defy religious strictures.

For example, we'd like to serve Lamb of God with Mint Jelly. But, oh, we can go so much further. For Passover, how about Gefilte Lobster? Served, of course, with cheesy toasted matzoh nachos. With bacon. Always with bacon.

Bacon cheeseburgers on bagels.
Mussamun Pork Tenderloin (for those of you not aware, Mussamun curry derived from Islamic immigration into Southeast Asia)
Beef Bhaji (or Pakora) - I am thinking dried beef, like machaca, and dipped into the same type of lentil batter.
Buddha (meat)Balls
Cocacola Mormon Cake

Oh, the ideas should be out there. I used to think that I can only carry this idea out in New York City, but I think there may be an audience in Houston.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fried pastry cream? Yes, thank you!

I'm a rather different kind of cook than Dr. Ricky. While he likes to create new dishes, I am content to stumble my way through other peoples' creations. I love cooking, but I won't take any creative license until I feel like I've truly mastered a dish. Like many home cooks of this variety, I have quite a number of cookbooks. This month, I added to that collection, purchasing The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller.

When purchasing a cookbook, I look at the 5-star reviews in addition to the 1-star reviews. I often find the 1-star reviews more revealing:
Despite the beauty of the photos and layout, this book is only usable if you have all day to spend in a professional or gourment home kitchen. I mean really, who has time to spend hours making stock for one recipe ... ?
Yep, I knew this book would be for me. I love to spend 12 hours tending the fire to make smoked brisket. Spending hours making a single stock sounds GREAT!

So this past weekend, in addition to having a bacon extravaganza (which I won't write about, as I promised earlier), I made a dessert from the French Laundry Cookbook. I made the "Pineapple Chop", described well at French Laundry at Home. First, you cut the pineapple into two "racks" to resemble frenched rack of lamb. Then you fry and roast them in a butter/vanilla mixture.

While roasting the pineapple, you prepare a caramel butter sauce, and fried pastry creams. The fried pastry creams are simply ridiculous. You make what is essentially a custard on the stovetop, except that it has flour in it. You reduce this custard until it's thick, then pour it into a bread tin to chill it. Pop out rounds of chilled custard, bread it with Japanese panko, and deep-fry it. DEEP-FRIED CUSTARD!!! What can be better than that?

So in the end, you serve this delicious caramel-glazed pineapple chop with a bit of the sauce, and the pastry cream, and a dollop of rapidly-melting whipped crème fraiche. Simply absurdly delicious.

I even screwed up the recipe on multiple levels - I didn't roast the pineapple long enough (I got impatient, it was late) so it didn't fall apart the way it was described. I also didn't chill the custards properly, so they didn't hold their exact shape through the breading process. Finally, I overheated the caramel sauce, and it broke.

Nonetheless, despite these errors, it was still the most delicious dessert I have ever cooked. Once I fix these small details, it will be outrageous. With one recipe, this book has proved its worth.

Next week: Lemon Sabayon-Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream. YUM!

Sweet stews and Savory cakes

Recently, Mark Bittman over at the New York Times has been blogging (and vlogging) about having savory breakfasts, and he brings up the point that cultural conventions hamstring us with regards to what foods are acceptable in different situations. As he correctly points out, what exactly is wrong with pizza for breakfast, or oatmeal for dinner?

The logical extension of that, of course, is that even the forms for the different courses of a meal are also set by convention. Take, for example the somewhat cautious reaction to the idea of sweet soups for dessert. Of course, there is no reason not to extend it by having a cake for the main course.

On a tangent, I have been offered some boar meat by a friend who hunted three of them this past weekend. Hmm, what shall I prepare with that?

Maybe bacon ... mayo?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ornament or food?

Put this on the list of meats worth trying: Buttonquail.


Okay, maybe that's going to be a long shot. But maybe there is something to the idea - after all, wasn't there a movie ("The Graduate"?) where part of the plot is some kind of dinner club where everyone gets to dine on endangered species? I seem to recall Matthew Broderick babysitting a komodo dragon for this purpose.

But to dine on something simply because it is endangered seems a bit too unsophisticated. For example, if I were to ask to taste an endangered meat, I'd probably say coelacanth. Which is, incidentally, consumed in remote regions of Indonesia, although I hear the meat isn't so tasty.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The gadget has it's use

It's an ad for some kind of gadget for microwaving bacon. But don't you see the real use - it generates nice hot bacon grease in a pitcher! Pour that over your waffles, hot biscuits, mashed potatoes, roasting chicken...the possibilities are sooo tempting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pre-pressed burgers?

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

Recombinant food

Gee, how much science can I cram in a food blog? Let me finish on an exciting piece of news - Japanese scientists last month published the successful production of bacterially expressed functional miraculin. Why is this interesting? On a couple of fronts:

  1. If we are to produce large quantities of any kind of recombinant protein cheaply, we need to do so in bacteria. This is how insulin is commercially prepared, for example. Now, why haven't we done this so far with miraculin? Because it is a glycoprotein.
  2. What is a glycoprotein? It's a molecule that is part protein, and part carbohydrate. How glycoproteins are made in most cells is that a core of protein is made, and then carbohydrates are added to the outside which can add or modify functions for the protein. Unfortunately, bacteria aren't very good at the carbohydrate addition steps, so glycoproteins aren't particularly well made with them. Recombinant miraculin has been cloned and produced in fungi and plants before (like tomatoes), but those are still not commercially viable. As it turns out -- the functional part of miraculin doesn't require the addition of the carbohydrate! The bacterially produced stuff is functional.
Okay, I know I am excited about the prospects.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I've been having great fun introducing people to the wonders of miraculin - as reminder, it's a glycoprotein found in the fruit of the miracle berry bush which somehow messes up tastebuds, so that sour and bitter things taste sweet. There's nothing like the facial expression of someone on miraculin for the first time biting into a lime wedge - it's like a revelation to them. The subsequent orgy of tasting often called flavor tripping.

Granted that the effects of miraculin is rather variable -- some of it depends on people's initial preference to begin with -- but among the over 30 people I have introduced to flavor tripping, I've met one person on whom miraculin has no effect whatsover. This was so curious that I had to test it out three times, and definitely no effect.

While curious, this is by no means surprising. After all, we've always known that there is a genetic component to how people taste things. For example, some people are "supertasters", with readily measurable markers, to whom vegetables taste particularly bitter (kids, this is no excuse to be picky - supertasting is a legitimate genetic phenomenon, and most people are not superstasters). But as I peruse the literature, I find that there is remarkably little research into the genetics of taste perception. Which is a tremendous shortcoming, because how one tastes food directly affects the health of the person. After all, that is perhaps why it's easier to eat chocolate cake than broccoli, although perhaps derivatives of miraculin can make broccoli taste like chocolate :).

So, I am inventing a new term: genomakase. I dub it the future of molecular gastronomy. The word is a fusion of the word genome (the sum of genetic information in an organism), and omakase, the Japanese word for "let the chef decide". Ever heard of personalized medicine? That is the dream of having medical treatments so precise that they can be tailored according to each person's genomic information. Likewise, if such genomic information is available, there is no reason why we cannot understand how the person's taste receptors are populated, and even more, what particular nutritional deficiencies their physical makeup is likely to be prone to. Thus, to a very talented chef, armed with the computational power and the right kitchen, can make the most exact fusion of flavors and textures for a meal tailor made for a specific diner. Never mind foams, gelees, colloids, and deconstructions - this will bring dining back to the diner.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Food on the tube: Anime

One of the things that really impressed me about the Pixar movie "Ratatouille" was how technically accurate it was. The norm in American productions is to denigrate animated features as kid stuff, and not bother with things like thoughtprovoking design and storylines.

But I did find, watch, and enjoy a Japanese anime series called Yakitate! Ja-pan. I do believe there is also a manga (illustrated comic book) which goes into greater detail than the anime, but either one is rather enjoyable for the food fanatic. First, being that it is a Japanese humor based animation series, this one needs some significant explanation (many of the jokes are based on puns in Japanese), but more importantly, it gives pretty good insight to the Japanese culture. Notably, the attitudes towards food, contests, and traditions.

That is because the series is about bread, centered around a boy who has the miraculous genius towards baking bread. And bread is a Western foodstuff that is interjected into Japanese culture. The anime explores, pretty much one at a time, the different ways by which bread merges into Japanese mores and concerns. And I do believe that some of the ideas make their way into real life recipes (for example, the squishy fluffy texture of steamed breads is much prized in Asia, but rather denigrated in Europe).

The title, by the way, translates to "Freshly Baked". Bread came by way of French influence in Japan, hence the Japanese word for bread is pan. Thus, the title adds the pun - this is the quest for true Japanese bread - Ja-pan.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ending the season

I contemplated the last Meyer lemon off the tree last night. What to do with the lone fruit, after a bountiful harvest.

So I made pasta.

Basically, I dressed hot al dente spaghetti with Meyer lemon zest and juice, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, salt, grated pecorino romano cheese, and roasted tomatillos.

Fresh ground pepper, and a few slivers of canned ventresca tuna (I got it on clearance from Central Market recently) completed the dish.

Not classically Italian, but it works.

By the way, Happy Darwin Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Before I forget, I wanted to post about dinner last night - which was an adventurous sit at the bar and go with the flow meal at Sushi Jin. Arguably, the best fish to be had in the city of Houston. I wish I had a camera with me, as the meal was so pretty. I sat with a friend who asked me to do most of the ordering. Which isn't too difficult, since all I had to do was ask what was good, and went with it.

The place started us off with a complimentary amuse-bouche of seared escolar. Nice, tasty, but the fatty nature of escolar makes it a forgiving fish.

We started with an order of hamachi sashimi. It came with a couple of portions of belly slices in addition to the silky smooth well cut portions. Very nicely handled, complimented with the daikon and the perilla leaves.

On to sushi - first, nigiri style. We each got a piece of bluefin, then chu-toro (fatty belly tuna), and finished with a side of aji (Spanish mackerel). The fish was impeccably fresh, well cut, and properly layered with wasabi. The rice, oh, just nicely done sushi rice.

We followed then with some maki rolls. The sushi chef recommended the scallops as an inside out roll. I requested umeboshi/shiso rolls (pickled plum with perilla leaves) as a counterpoint.

Finally, we ended with something that I haven't seen in a Houston sushi restaurant before - pressed sushi. In this case, the fish was saba (pickled makerel), laid on a box of sushi rice, and a layer of sweet kelp on top, before being pressed, and then sliced into rectangular cubes. Very nice.

Pricing was not bad for the meal, including beer and tip, came to well under $40 a person. Highly recommended.

Southern Carnivory

I was thinking that there is something about the cuisines of the Southern hemispheric countries that has a predilection for grilled meats. If you think about the cooking in Argentina, Australia and South Africa (Is South Africa in the Southern hemisphere? Maybe I have that wrong.), grilled meats - very good grilled meats - figure in heavily. Of course, for different reasons, and with different animals. In Argentina, it comes from the farming of cattle, South Africa eats up the spoils of big game hunting, and Australia - well, the barbie is where things coalesce.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Part of my travels in outer Nastrovia (yes, I made that up - it's really a toast in Russian), I had a chance to participate in entomophagy. What's that? Technically, it is the practice of eating insects, although for some reason, things like worms and spiders and scorpions are lumped into that category. Oddly enough, the same people who would likely find the practice disturbing have no problem chowing down on lobsters - despite the phylogenetic relationship. Just imagine them as small lobsters. Small, terrestrial, flying lobsters.

In this case, we had the chance to try some fried grasshoppers (chapulines) in a mezcal shop. The critters were crunchy, a little sour ... not really all that appetizing, really. I understand that they're usually packaged with cheese in a taco. But for a first shot, I was a little disappointed. We have a place in town that sells crunchy fried mealworms - that doesn't appeal to me all that much. I'd really like to try sago grubs some time, though.

No, I am not sure I am ready for a cucaracha cocktail, though.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On the issue of wine snobbery

Greglor was sneaky enough to come in and write an article about wine. An apt choice, as I probably wouldn't have broached the topic. Then again, he didn't just write about wine, but about attitudes toward wine - the internal snobbery, if you will. This cultural cachet of elitism in wine is one that I don't understand, particularly since, scientifically, we've proven that the perceptions of wine quality is pretty fluid. For example, the perception of wine quality can be affected by the perceived price of the wine. A more recent study demonstrates how poorly reproducible wine reviews can be. Expert reviewers seldom give the exact same wine, opened on the same day, the same rating, and can call it anything from ambrosia to swill.

Something to think about as you sip the two buck Chuck :).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What passes for first class

Yes, indeed, I have returned from my travels, and I thank Greglor for his insightful maintenance of the blog. The decor in the place has...changed a bit, but I like it. He is, of course, welcome to continue posting his culinary adventures.

One bright spot of my travels came at the very end - I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to first class on my return trip to Houston. This was after I had already settled into a coach class seat, so I was thrilled to see what pampering can ensue by the upgrade.

Case in point though, this is the current, more austere airline industry. I already knew that most airlines eschew meals for certain trips. Certainly, though, in the luxurious leatherclad first class cabin, I'd be offered a choice of a meal selection. Would it be sushi or pasta? Chicken or duck?

The stewardess leans over to me, and asks:

"Would you like the deli plate? Or not?"

Wha? I guess that's a choice. Literally.

As you can see, while the presentation on china and metal utensils was cute, the food itself is lackluster. Nothing more than rearranged "lunchables". Urg...

At least when it comes to food, flying First Class is nothing to write home about. I still prefer bringing my own food onboard. Or check out what other airlines are carrying at

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Dr. Ricky has left me alone with the keys to the blog. Who knows what he's going to do once he returns from his volleyball vacation in Swaziland. LET'S TRASH THIS JOINT!!!

I managed to get some ground kangaroo meat at my butcher the other day. Score! I had planned to cook it for the Superbowl, but life intervened. So we had it tonight.

Kangaroo meat is dryyyyyy... No fat at all.Check out this photo of the precooked meat:

After consulting with the clever folks at Chowhound, I decided to make plain, old burgers. Kangaroo burgers, that is. But to overcome the lack of fat, I added chopped up, fried bacon. (Conveniently, I had some leftover homemade bacon that was perfect for the task at hand). So I fried it up, and I added rather a lot to the 1 lb of kangaroo meat.

Next is the formed patty. I didn't season it at this point. I wasn't sure how much salt the bacon would impart, and I didn't want to add anything else for fear of missing out on the kangarooey flavours. Note the little bacon chunks in there:

And finally, the grilled burger. It was tasty. Woodsy even, if that makes any sense. Not gamy, like venison (or moose). It was distinctly non-beefish. And really quite good (Even Mrs. McBardo, who was rather reluctant agreed that it was tasty).

However, I will do it differently next time. First, more bacon. Or butter. Or something fattish. One gentleperson at Chowhound suggested soaking bread in milk and adding that. Whatever I do, I need to add more moistness. The burger didn't sizzle much on the grill, and it was a tad dry (though not as dry as I had feared it would be). So next time, we'll add more fat.

Second, it needed salt. I won't be frightened to salt it a bit in advance (though not too much, or I'll dry it out). But other seasonings? Not so much. It doesn't need it. It comes pre-made with kanga-seasoning.

We'll be eating this one again.