Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Monday, August 31, 2009

A portent

There's something about a pile of garlic waiting to be mashed that is a sure sign of deliciousness to come. At least, for people who cook :).

Friday, August 28, 2009

What do you cover a pig?

When presented with the challenge of what to serve alongside a 50lb roasted pig, I thought about it long and hard. If the main course is as large, porky, and unctuous as roast pork, then the sides cry out for fruit and acid. Sadly, we didn't photograph those as much, as we were too enrapt with the pig itself.

The first item was a home made ginger plum sauce. Couldn't be easier to make. Cut up, and de-pit some purple plums (we got some somewhat underripe ones from 99 Ranch - they're perfectly okay - the pectin will help a great deal). Cut into manageable sized pieces (we did quarters, but perhaps sixths would be better), and pile them to one side. I think we did 20 plums.

Next, in a large heavy non reactive sauce pan, heat up a little bit of neutral oil (canola or peanut are fine), and just toss the the plum in. Don't worry if some of the plums don't reach the bottom of the sauce pan, the variation in texture will be great. Meanwhile, grate some fresh ginger - for the amount we did, I used about 1 cubic inch of peeled ginger on a microplane. As the bottom plums liquify, stir in the ones from the top, and then the ginger. Keep cooking covered on low to medium heat until you get this great thick sauce, with chunks of cooked fruit. Stir in some Chinese five spice powder, a bit of salt, and some agave syrup to adjust the sweetness (sugar or honey can be used here, of course...but the agave worked well).

Cool it a bit before serving with the pig.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grocery Story: The strange fruit

During my late night restocking of the fridge run, as I finished checking out, the cashier confronted her next customer with a,

"Not again! What are these things called?"

I turned to find that the customers behind me don't seem to speak English, and have bought just a bag of fruit. And the cashier didn't know what they were, they didn't have those little stickers on them with the ID numbers, and she was desperately riffling through the book to find out how to enter them into the system.

Fortunately, the fruit had a distinctive silhouette, and I identified them immediately: some rather sorry looking rambutan. I spelled it out for the poor rattled cashier, and went back on my way.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

El Puebelito, the facelift?

El Puebelito Place is a restaurant in my neighborhood that has recently undergone a facelift, and rechristened El Puebelito Patio.

Certainly the decor was impressive - the tables are all these beautiful mosaics, and they served their signature pineapple salsa before the meal. It's quite good, but not too amazing. Note the vibrant yellow tortilla chips - I am not sure if that is because they are colored, or if that is the color of the corn. No matter, because...

crumbs show up really easily in the crevices of the mosaic! that's the problem with having unsealed mosaics for table tops - you can't really clean them easily.

How about the food? Well, this is the redfish with lime butter sauce.

Fish was nicely cooked. Tomatoes were fantastic, grilled but not mushy. Salad was generic meh. The roasted carrots were nearly inedible. The lime butter sauce was almost tasteless.

So, it is a neighborhood joint, and hits the middle ground. I suspect that they're trying to push more into the "drinking and partying scene" though.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Just a couple of observations

We are currently in the midst of Houston Restaurant Week.
  1. Which lasts two weeks.
  2. Ostensibly to benefit charities that fight hunger in Houston. A city that has previously topped the "fattest city" category for at least a couple of years. I wonder what exactly is the size of the hunger problem in Houston -- I'll have to do some extra research on that. The same charities are likely really important for when the next hurricane strikes.
Just a couple of observations. It is geared toward the "fine dining" crowd, after all.

Simplicity is easy

Knowing that the main course is one big roasted pig, planning out the accompanying dishes presented an interesting challenge. They should complement the flavors of the main event, not supplant yet, yet should stand well on their own, as we weren't sure if the pig would be ready when everyone got there (I don't care what the cooking guidelines you have for making turkey, that doesn't apply to a 50 pound pig). Moreover, they shouldn't be so involved that we cannot devote attention to the pig itself (good thing, too, as a later anecdote will tell.

We chose simplicity and seasonality.

Above is pictured an edamame dip; it's a really simple dish. Blanch a package of frozen shelled edamame in salted boiling water (I actually let the beans thaw on the counter, but really, you can do that straight from the freezer), about 2-4 minutes. Drain, and put it directly in the bowl of a food processor. Then add the juice of one lemon, a couple of garlic cloves, half an onion (we were out of those, so I threw in an shallot instead), a handful of fresh mint leaves, a good squirt of sriracha hot sauce, and some some salt. Pulse to get the grinding started, scrape down the sides, and start processing, and pour in olive oil until the right consistency (should mound up easily on a stick of celery). Adjust for seasoning, and then, it's ready to serve with crudite and crackers.

Really, it took longer to cut up the celery and carrot sticks.

What else should go with the pig? We're looking for acid and fruitiness...and it's summer in Southern California, so tomatoes were in full force. We got these gorgeous heirlooms, and supplemented them with some from the garden. If you have tomatoes this good...don't mess with a good thing. We did a simple carpaccio - cut them up, lay them out on a plate, sprinkle some fresh herbs in it (thyme and basil here), drizzle some olive oil over, and just before serving, some good coarse salt (I brought in volcanic Cypriot salt the McBardo household).

Lay these out, and it's easy to keep everyone entertained should the pig be late.

But it wasn't late. Not by a long shot.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A bowl of noodles

It may look humble, but a small bowl of shio ramen from Santuoka in West LA is revelation in umami and toothsomeness. I think I'd like to eat a bowl of this while watching the movie Tampopo.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The post pig aftermath

It's the day after the major pig feast here at the Great Western Casa McBardo, and pictures and other details are forthcoming. We'll be tandem blogging over at Indirect Heat, and it should be great fun in the days to come. Much simpler menu this time:

1. Edamame dip with crudite and crackers
2. Heirloom tomato carpaccio
3. Home made plum sauce
4. Grilled bread
5. Caja Pig (and we mean pig)
6. Braised cabbage
7. Mexican corn
8. Dessert
8.1 Grilled white peaches
8.2 Peach clafouti
8.3 Chai ice cream

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Missing Lolita

Been having some posting problems here which doesn't explain this picture.

While at the Santa Monica farmers market, I chanced upon some nectarines of a variety called the Lovely Lolita. These were amazing, very low acid, fragrant, yielding in texture, and freestones to boot. After devouring one, I shared the other (albeit begrudgingly) and resolved to return and buy more. Peaches and nectarines were everywhere in the market but apparently only one vendor carried it. Sadly, only return, I found only an empty basket where Lolita once populated.

The woman behind me also sighed her disappointment. I am glad to have tasted Lolitas, and hope to do so again.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two Buck Choc?

I dropped by the newly opened HEB Buffalo Market just to check the hubbub, and decided to try out the bakery. Given my recent posting on cupcake-specific bakeries, I spotted this little beauty for $1.99 on the counter. It's impressive - they even make the plastic case for it specific for one cupcake:

Put that in your nonbiodegradable injection molded pipe and smoke it.

Well, how was it to eat? The cake itself was nothing too spectacular - kind of like what I found in Sugarbaby's. For only half the price. The gimmick is a blob of fudge in the middle of the cake:

Sugar overload.

The cap of frosting was made with cream cheese - now that was interesting. It was okay, but somehow clashed a bit with the chocolate. At least the sprinkling of shavings tasted of real chocolate.

You know, I didn't mind so much because it was cheaper than those boutique cupcakes, and tasted almost the same (which isn't saying much). So far, no craving for these things - I'll settle for a Jungle Cafe pastry instead.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cupcake buffonery

Out in New York City, there's a place called the Cupcake Cafe. It's still there, I believe, and has the most beautiful cupcakes and cakes, decorated in realistic icing flowers. Moreover, the buttercream icing is tastefully executed, and the flavors complemented the cakes well. Even though this was in the heart of Manhattan, cupcakes were reasonably priced, with monstrous sized versions selling for around $4.

Enter the LA Sprinkles Cupcake, which credits itself for starting the "haute cupcake" craze. Which seems to mean charging an awful lot for middling product by packaging it trendily. Here in Houston, we have a couple of places that are pure cupcake businesses: Sugarbaby and Crave Cupcakes. I don't understand the popularity of Sugarbaby - the frosting is horrendously sweet, the cakes themselves are middling, and each cupcake sells for around $3. And they are so popular that clients are rationed.

The above is a strawberry cupcake from Crave. In this case, though, the frosting is more judiciously applied, but again, the cake itself is so soft as to hold no integrity after the paper is peeled off, and while it's an acceptable cake, the cost of $3.25 per cupcake seems to border on extravagant.

Perhaps the appeal of a cupcake is the ability to maximize the frosting to cake ratio, for those of you who believe that the only real role of a cake is to convey frosting. In which case, you'd love a Three Brother's cupcake:

I believe there is as much frosting as cake in this case. Neither of which were particularly good.

So, when it comes to cupcakes, I say the standard to beat is still the Cupcake Cafe in New York City.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who's the genius that came up with that?

I spotted this once in a sporting event. It's an artficial coconut made of plastic. To put drinks
in. Which, I think, completely defeats the exoticism of having a cocktail in the tropical fruit in the first place.