Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The rant that started this weeks rantings.

February 16, 2012

Evil but honest but I am not sure if it is true.

This weekend I watched “Sara’s Weeknight Meals episode 215”, and was really surprised. She was talking about how critical of her husband and how that drove him not to cook anymore. Being how critical she was about food and how highly she was trained in the culinary arts, I was surprised she was drinking Pinot from a glass similar to the following at the end of the show.

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It is funny since trying to find that image of her online, I found the following two images.

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Maybe I am over critical but you would think people who represents wines would want the wines to be shown in its best light. Are they saying that all we have been told is false? E.g. There is no aromatic bouquet to be enjoyed or that storing wines upside down to prevent the cork from drying and oxidizing the wine is silly?

Being how critical and highly trained Sara and her staff was, I was surprised to learn that she did not know what Mu Shu Pork was. It is not just the dishes flavor but what it is made with. Sure there are no wrong answers in cooking but if she understood the meaning and origins of this dish, it would have helped her in choosing her ingredients. Mu Shu Pork, roughly translate into “wood shed pork”. It is because the dish has shedded pork and wood ear in it. Wood ear does not taste or look like wood but is a crunchy black fungus. Hence if she was looking for a crisp texture, I would not have gone with vegetables such as bean sprouts since it gets wimpy and releases water when it is heated for prolonged periods. There are many ingredients that will remain crisp when heated and not release as much water such as wood ear, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts (to name a few).

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Vine ripened, really?

February 15, 2012

Maybe it is me but does this look natural to you?

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Although this is a good price, I have never seen any fruit ripen like this (e.g. Triangular green spot).

Is there truth in advertisement? Or is this a new truth that I do not understand?

Oh my, America’s Test Kitchen does Shu Mai!

February 15, 2012

I am beginning to think ATK really does not think highly of Chinese food. Sure many of today’s Chinese cooks do a lot of short cuts and use the ingredients he listed but I would hope there was some more investigation and explanation before they claim why their approach was better.

Shu Mai, is not a dim sum I normally order, since like Mr. Kimball eludes to, that it was once considered an after thought. I have heard that it was once made from the kitchen’s cutting board scrapings, but I do not believe this is the case in the USA. The chicken bullion powder and MSG are shortcuts to increase the flavor of meats sold in the US. Unlike pork in Asia, most chiefs feels that the meats in the USA lacks the natural flavor, which I have also seen echoed in some food documentaries. Hence we see a call for the slow food movement and eat local. The ad I believe that illustrates this message the best was the Chipotle ad featured during the 2012 Grammys (featuring Willy Nelson singing “The Scientist” by ColdPlay).

Like making hamburgers, we also try to utilize all the parts of the pig as possible. And not all parts are equal. Some are really fat and some are really lean. Hence we grind the lean parts with the fat parts but I never heard of mixing lard directly sine it is harder to keep this in the meat after cooking.

Although I have seen some of the ingredients such as soy sauce and ginger added to ground meats, I do not believe it is done in a restaurant setting. Depending on the restaurant’s burn rate those ingredients can affect the meats texture and flavor. If you had a Chinese (Canton) styles poached chicken with the ginger onion dip, you will know that storing the dip with chicken will change its texture overnight . In a sense, it is continuing to breakdown the cooked meat. Soy sauce will cause the meat to taste a little sour, if it is mixed and cooked improperly. So I do not really agree with their assessment.

Although they mention a lot of ingredients that add flavor and texture, they also missed a lot of characteristics of a good Shu Mai. Like good Asian fish or meat balls, there is a texture and mouth feel that the meat should have which, is developed similar to kneading bread. Another questionable decision or recommendation they gave was to use spring roll wrappers for the skin. The reason is that the spring roll wrappers are usually thicker and cooked. Normally we use wonton wrappers. And why not steam with strips of lettuce instead of paper? Although there are many alternatives to the bamboo steamer, it is really preferred. Bamboo being natural, is composed of many fibers which prevents the condensation from falling back on the product.

I am sure their Shu Mai might be tasty and is a good alternative to many home cooks but please have some humility and say so like the basil chicken segment and call it like it is, an alternative.

The philosophy of Philz Coffee in the Bay Area

February 1, 2012

I have heard and read about Philz in a while and in some ways I agree with his philosophy that with a right mix of things a greater outcome can occur.

Today I stopped by the San Jose State branch of expanding empire of Philz and now believe I truly see the respect that the owner gives to his coffee. The experience I had there was unlike the ones I had at other coffeehouses so far. Sure there are many that brew one cup at a time (e.g. For a unique machine you might want to stop by a selected few of the Starbucks which has the Clover machine. Then there are the infamous siphon/vacuum brewers. But what takes more time than a cup of Vietnamese phin brewed coffee besides cold brewing. Philz like Blue Bottle or Pete’s uses filter drip.), but they are truly a full service bar. This was the only time I was asked if the coffee was to my liking. However the care goes beyond the blends and brews, it goes all the way to the cup. So what is so special about a cup?

Like Ruffles the cup has ridges. I do not believe it is the first but, it is the first I have seen at a coffeehouse. So what is special about these ridges? Well like what Steve Job’s dad said, to truly care about and take pride in what we do, it is not about doing things that people notice but do not notice, as well. The ridges in my opinion are really innovative because they offer three functions. First it acts a sleeve to prevent the temperature of the coffee effecting the hand. Next it provides extra rigidity to the paper cup. But the most important feature to me, is that help keep the temperature of the coffee.

Thanks Phil for your enthusiasm!

Please pheel free to let me know what you think.

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Fruitless fruit.

January 24, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Recently my family did the traditional trek to find some good oranges for the Chinese New Year. This year we got lucky and found the following brand we bought at Luckys several years back. And Luckys for reason is still not carrying it again this year. I guess they do not value their Chinese customers.

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As you can see we buy a lot of oranges and this brand has special meaning during the Chinese New Years. However after eating several of these sweet delicious oranges, I noticed that they are seedless. They are in a sense a bunch of fruitless fruits. How do they grow and farm these fruits? What happens if something wipes them out, how does one try and rebreed this? It also makes me wonder if I am a fruitless fruit if I do not have children myself. Did Luckys take this into consideration, when making the decision not to carry this item? This is still a really good orange and I recommend it to anyone not too wrapped up in this conundrum.

Respect the wine!

January 18, 2012

Finally a store that cares enough to respect the wine.

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Although not all wines needs to be stored this way (e.g. Twist caps and boxed), they have made more effort than most to store corked wines correctly to prevent oxidation. Now if we can keep them at the right temperature.

Thank you Niles Liquor
34359 Alvarado Niles Rd
Union City, CA 94587

Is that too much?

Rise of the RoachCoach

August 19, 2011

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Sorry if I offended anyone but “roachcoach” is my enduring term for these infamous “gourmet” food trucks.

Tonight I stopped by the Walmart in Union City for the weekly roachcoach gathering and found many many vendors. Unlike other gatherings (e.g. Edgewood Eats or Off the Grid) the selection is much smaller and there are repeats in the type of venues offered.

I went there in part because I saw CBS’s Eye on the Bay. However I believed they sort of missed the mark on that segment. Sure, I would not classify all the foodtrucks featured as gourmet but all of them are a newer breed of roachcoaches. Instead of being a jack of all trades and a master of none, they narrow their focus. However it does not payoff for all of them but if you follow the foodie scene there are some extraordinary ones.

These new breed of vendors remind me of the street vendors in the east coast and Asia, where they only sell one thing and try their best to be the best at what they sell. Too bad this might not be true for all these new breed of roachcoach vendors. Some just repackage the ideals of others and do not contribute any new ideals. Then there are those that are there just to cash in on this trend and do not put their hearts into what they make.

Enough with the new, what about the original roachcoach vendors? They invented fusion before fusion existed. Where else can you get a spaghetti meat sauce fried rice breakfast burrito? The old timers were all about the customers that this new generation misses. Some even had an alternating gourmet menu on the side. Have you had a fresh bowl of beef stew won ton noodle soup from a foodtruck before?

The fish taco I had tonight was good but I did not find it amazing. It cost $9 for two and was bigger than tacos I have had from taquerias before. But was this worth the price? I have attached and embellished photo above for your review. Tell me what you think about this trend?

New Big Brother Cafe 大哥大茶餐廳 in Union City California

August 16, 2011

Big Brother Cafe
大哥大茶餐廳
1640 Decoto Rd, Union City, CA 94587

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Recently I noticed a lot more of these Hong Kong cafes opening up and the latest one of these is Big Brother Cafe. It is more like Cousin’s Cafe in Newark or Cooking Papa in Santa Clara versus Venus Tam’s in Newark. They have 12 yelp reviews but you can tell those people do not know what they are talking about. These cafe are a lower middle class establishment in Hong Kong which resemble their upper class British tea rooms, that is why we see a lot of Chinese dishes that seems to resemble European dishes (e.g. Milk tea, custard tart, baked pork chop…). The variety is smaller than Cooking Papa but the seating is very comfortable and it is opened late. If you like this place you would like Cooking Papa (in the south) or Ming Tasty (in the north).

The first thing you look for in a 茶餐廳 is the tea, it is in the name. True enthusiasts would also look for the pastry then the fusion dishes such as the baked pork chop over rice. Many of these places, even in Hong Kong, no longer make or serve the pastry. But if you are into the pastry then I recommend going to Lido in Richmond BC. No pastries here and I did not have the plain tea but I did get then baked pork chop over rice and Singaporean Chow fun. I drank the yin yang red bean (some fad in Hong Kong) but the coffee over powered the whole drink, so I need to drink the milk tea by itself. The Singaporean Chow Fun is not to spec (e.g. Not all the standard ingredient are there) but was acceptable for what it had. Most of these cafes do not make the curry they use to cook with and this is true for this cafe as well. So the curry is not good but it is probably as good as it can be given that curry. Regarding the baked pork chop over rice, the first thing I am looking for is a good egg fried rice at the bottom of the dish. They were acceptable to me but it could be better. The rice was not loose, did not have a taste of the Wok, and did not have an aroma of egg. They did not add anything extra (e.g. Peas and carrots) to the sauce, it did not have cheese on the top, and it seems to be thickened with cornstarch instead of a roux (which makes it easier to brown). It was less vinegary and more sweet than most of the cafe of this type. The pork chop was pretty standard as well, I would have liked a juicier and more tender chop.

I would say that is worth a second look since the service is friendly, it is open late, and has comfortable seating. But if it wants to stand out in a sea of these cafes it needs to be more than standard and have something (not necessarily everything) extraordinary. Interestingly the name of this cafe is the same as a popular dish at Venus Tam’s Cafe, but I cannot find that dish in this cafe, why is that?

Cooking Papa Restaurant
2830 Homestead Road
Santa Clara, CA 95051
http://www.mycookingpapa.com

Ming Tasty
1652 East 14th Street
San Leandro, CA 94577
mingtasty.com

Wat Buddhanusorn Thai Buddhist Temple

March 13, 2008

Wat Buddhanusorn
36054 Niles Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 790-2296
www.watbuddha.iirt.net

What makes a dining experience great can be different for different people. For me it is not just about the food, but it can be many things. I have been to many church bazaars and many Buddhist Temples, but this one stands out for me so far.

Unlike many bazaars, which feels more like people doing business than volunteering, this place is very different. It made me feel like I am actually on a street with many food stalls. The use of the Tokens gave me more comfort in spending money there, because it was meaningless to haggle with the vendor. Many of the volunteers and attendees were very jovial and welcoming, even though no real money was really being exchanged.

If you are using price as meter, I am sure you can find cheaper food somewhere else. American Buddhist Cultural Society in Fremont probably can be cheaper , since donations are not monitored and many attendees can refill as many or as much times as they want, until the food runs out. The people in ABCS are very friendly as well, but they do mainly speak Chinese (Mandarin) and is pretty serious about etiquette and decor. The banquet is also held only on Sundays, as well, but it starts at around 12PM till about 2PM. Although it does not seem to be required, many do attend the service, which starts at 10AM, but it is in Mandarin only. They serve a vegetarian fair (non-strict because they had cake which probably contains eggs), compared with Buddhanusorn, which serves shrimp, chicken, and pork.

You probably can get better quality (in my opinion) Thai food at The Original Krung Thai Restaurant in San Jose, because the curries are much thicker and food more spiced up. Quality is a very subjective trait. However, I can say objectively, that the ingredients are very fresh and are handled with the utmost care. I felt that the volunteers were cooking for their own family members, which is not how many restaurants are ran. A good example of this is how they ran the Pad Thai station, because they refused to cook as many orders as possible at once, and only cooked one order at a time. I also found the Thai Iced Tea really good, because I found the spice to be not as overwhelming as the ones in the restaurants.

This is definitely a good place to stop for a visit, if you are looking for a unique dining experience. The food is authentic and the environment is unique. The people are welcoming and easy going, so you do not have to worry about being converted if you do not want to. It is almost like traveling to a small piece of Thailand without the price of airfare.

Here is how my list of places to get Thai food:
1. The Original Krung Thai Restaurant (in San Jose)
2. Wat Buddhanusorn Temple (in Fremont)
3. Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe (in Berkeley cost a little more than Thai Basil, but better atmosphere)
4. Chiang Lai Thai (in Berkeley simular to Thai Basil but hidden)
5. Thai Basil (in Berkeley in the Asian Ghetto, too crowded)

What is your opinion?

Thanks,
H.

Is it me or does nobody cares about “Tea”?

March 1, 2008

Being Chinese (and once British controlled Hong Kongnese), I love my tea. I love it pure, I love it mixed, but I can only have it one way and not the next.

I am a traditionalist when enjoying it pure. No tea balls or filter needed except nice pure tea, hot water and a porcelain cup or dedicated clay tea pot. But where can you buy real tea today. It seems everyone is selling it and no one appreciates it. I love “Eye On the Bay”, but when I saw how they served up Oolong as Kung-fu tea, it made me wonder who can I trust, even the tea shop was sacrilegious.

In pure Chinese teas there are different ways to enjoy different teas. You always heat up the containers that will contain the tea, so that the temperature change is minimal. You do not want to scald the tea, but the aroma is in the tea’s steam. Some teas require a rinse (i.e. Kung-fu teas) , while most is just a steep. When the tea is ready to drink the leaves automatically fall towards the bottom, so there is no real need for a tea ball or filter. Also depending on the tea, some are packed into the pot and they let it sit, and mix the concentrate with hot water to enjoy. In some parts of China nowadays, they do have tea bar in which they do let you sniff the emptied glass cylinder to check out the fragrance like sniffing the cork of fine wine.

To have expensive teas in Bay Area Dim sum places is just a waste (even though once upon a time I used to enjoy it at Koi Palace in Daly City) since the food items are so heavily spiced. Most hot Chinese teas, do help in digestion, especially if the food is greasy, which seems to be the case in most Chinese restaurant around the bay. Although you can drink pure teas plain, they can be paired. With some expensive teas like Golden Monkey Tea the flavor is light (but the finish is smooth), you can only pair it light flavored dishes (i.e. almond tofu?) to get the best out of it.

In areas in and around Hong Kong the milk tea is made with a blend of Western (anything to the west since Europe does not produce) teas. It is a copy of the teas the British drink (ironic the Chinese are copying something they probably drank first, which maybe a copy of the yak tea drank in Western China and introduced to Marco Polo). Most producers use two pot of boiling water and something close to a pantyhose. In Hong Kong the best milk tea is referred to silk pantyhose milk tea. Although most do not use a pantyhose today, it is rumored that it used to be made with a pantyhose as a filter, giving it a smooth finish. The tea blend is poured into the filter and dipped in the first pot a couple of times to rinse it. It is believed that the tannins of the tea gives it the sour bitter tastes and a rough texture finish. The goal is to rinse it enough to remove the tannins, but leave the maximum flavor. Sure some can hide this flaw with cream, but then you lose the intense flavor of the evaporated milk, some even use condensed milk (not original as well). I do not know why they prefer evaporated to fresh cream, but maybe the weather down there inhibited it. This is the drink that most SinoWestern dishes are served with, the other drink is the YinYang, which is half coffee and half milk tea.

The YinYang is simple yet complicated, because both flavors have to come through. So far I have not found a similar YinYang in the BayArea as in Hong Kong. I have tried to make it with good coffee such as Columbian or Sumantra, but the coffee over powers the flavor of the tea. Any suggestions?

Tapioca in everything was curious at first, but where is the value? Sure if the tapioca is done correctly it gives me some interesting texture and flavor, but it still can be dangerous or cumbersome at the end. I really do not see the novelty in it anymore. The adding of flavors, like adding flavor syrups to an latte is cute, but milk tea to me is still about flavor and texture finish.

What about Chai? Well I can not compare it with HK milk tea or Thai Iced Tea, because the specs are also different. Maybe because I am Chinese I prefer the Chinese pure and HK milk tea more.

As teas go I like them in the follow order:
1. Pure tea
2. HK milk tea
3. Taiwan milk tea
4. Chai
5. Thai milk tea

Top 3 Taiwan milk tea places:
1. Tea Station (on Cedar in Newark)
2. Tapioca Express (on Decoto in Union City)
3. Fantasia (on Cedar in Newark)

Top 5 milk tea places:
1. Venus Tams Cafe (on Jarvis in Newark)
2. Tea Station (on Cedar in Newark)
3. Cousin Cafe (on Cedar in Newark)
4. Tapioca Express (on Decoto in Union City)
5. Fantasia (on Cedar in Newark)

What’s your fav? How do you rank them?

Thanks,
H.