Monday, March 26, 2007

Chocolate Nothing

So, I tried making something that I'd heard that has been done at El Bulli. I'm not in any way claiming that this is an original idea, but I didn't find any recipes around for how to do it, so I just sorta figured it must be sorta like this...

* 1 tablespoon dutched cocoa
* 1.5 tablespoons sugar
* .25 cup boiling water
* .5 cup heavy cream
* 1.5 tsp lecithin

Boil the water, and dissolve the sugar and dutched cocoa. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat. Add cream. Using an immersion blender, mix in the lecithin. Whiz air into the mixture until bubbles form on the surface. If the bubbles aren't stable, add a touch more lecithin until they are.

Scoop off the resulting foam and put into ramekins. I put them into cupcake paper thingies that I'd set into the ramekins, but I'd recommend against this. Freeze.

Now, if you've done well, and you've *only* got foam when you scooped off the bubbles, what you'll have is a ramekin full of what El Bulli would call "Chocolate Air." A spoonful of this will taste quite chocolate-y, but when you put it in your mouth, it completely disappears. There's almost no sensation of having eaten anything, except for the substantial chocolate flavor.

I got that on about the top half of the ones I made, but the bottoms were a bit sloshy and dense. Probably could have used more lecithin, as the bubbles of the foam weren't totally stabilized. I'd also bet that a cream whipper would have made a much more uniform, silky foam. Ei-Nyung suggested using the Nespresso's steamer attachment, which would probably also really work well.

I'll be trying this again, for sure. Pictures next time, though really, it just looks like a very airy chocolate mousse.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


So, the place that makes the best waffles in the world is Merritt Bakery. They're crisp, light, tender, flavorful - a great carrier for butter, or syrup, or chicken and hot sauce. Absolutely fantastic.

So it was with some hesitation that I decided to drop $4 on a single square of waffle from the Belgian Waffle Truck that showed up at the local Farmer's Market. But strolling around the market, and being sort of unimpressed with the sea of random greens that all looked sort of the same, I wanted a bite of something new.

One waffle, with powdered sugar.

I could have gotten it with a myriad of toppings, but I wanted to see what the *waffle* was like. Toppings schmoppings. They all sort of taste the same. If the waffle wasn't any good, none of the toppings would matter, anyway.

The guy gave me one of the waffles that had been sitting in the warming area - not too long, but it definitely wasn't fresh off the iron, which sort of disappointed me. But one bite, and I was absolutely sold. This wasn't a Merritt Bakery waffle - it was something entirely different. This wasn't meant to have stuff on it. This *was* the stuff. It was crisp, but it wasn't light. It was doughy - not bready, in the uniform, spongy sense - doughy - like a Babka, or the inside of a cinnamon roll. Just a hint of vanilla, and a subtle, not cloying sweetnes that was amplified (obviously) by the powdered sugar that was dusted over it.

You chewed this waffle - it didn't dissolve in your mouth like air - it had substance. Each bite was satisfyingly elastic - meaty, almost, if you can dissociate the flavor, and just understand I'm talking about how substantial, and satisfying it felt.

It took about five minutes to eat that one square of waffle, and every mouthful was a pleasure. The sweetness never got tiresome, and the texture and flavor of the thing was complex, and interesting enough to keep me engaged for the entire duration of the eating process. This waffle was spectacular, and it had been one that had been held in standby for at least a few minutes before I was lucky enough to purchase it.

If the guy had given me one hot off the iron, I'd probably still be in front of the truck eating waffles.

Manresa 2

So, pictures are forthcoming, but I want to get my impressions down now, so they'll be added later.

Ei-Nyung (and her family, by proxy) took me out to Manresa tonight for the tasting menu. We'd been there once before, and had a spectacular meal, so I was really excited to go back. If you've never been there, it's sort of a modern Californian food - not quite Alice Waters' "let the natural flavors just do their thing," but also not the more insane stuff that a place like WD-50 might serve. It tends to be basically what you'd think of as "normal" fine dining with just enough of a modern twist to be regularly somewhat surprising.

The run-down:

  • Petit-fours "red pepper-black olive": We'd had this the last time we came - same as it was before. The black olive madeline may be my favorite thing at the restaurant. Just a little unexpected, but still absolutely perfect in execution. Everything is in perfect balance - texture contrasts crisp with soft & chewy, and the savory-sweet interplay is just *delightful*.
  • Garden croquettes: These are also something we'd had last time - basically a deep-fried cube of liquid something, that's supposedly garden greens. These are *magic*. They just burst in your mouth - the crisp, fried exterior basically giving way to an intensely flavored liquid center.
  • Oyster in urchin jelly: This isn't exactly the most appetizing-sounding thing, but like everything else we had, the execution was brilliant. It had essentially a seawater gelee, which the oyster, and a small piece of uni were suspended in. The saltiness of the gelee, and the er... oyster-y texture of the oyster were really well served by the creamy uni, and it's the first time I've had uni where I've been completely in love with it. I still haven't had the uni at Angelfish, which is supposedly quite good, but it just worked perfectly here - the creamy texture, a perfect complement to the rest of the ingredients.
  • Arpege farm egg: This is something we'd had before. The last time we had it, my egg was completely out of balance. There's some sherry vinegar, and maple syrup in this egg, which gives you an idea of the balances they're trying to achieve, and in part because I ended up eating it wrong, and in part because I think the ingredients were actually out-of-whack last time, I didn't really "get" this dish. This time, I understood it. The twang of the vinegar contrasts nicely with the creamy egg, and the sweet, lingering hint of maple really makes each bite a whole variety of experiences all in one. Great stuff.
That was just the amuse-bouches (amuses-bouche?) and appetizers. The "main courses" were
  • Beef and oyster tartare, asparagus: This, to me, was the standout dish of the night. A perfectly cooked spear of asparagus was flanked by a bright red beef & oyster tartare, and a canelle of horseradish cream. If I'd seen this on a menu, I'd not likely have ordered it, but when I go back again, I'd *definitely* get this dish. The richness of the cream and the tartare was offset by the asparagus and spicy hotness of the horseradish. Most dishes have a "perfect bite," where you get just the right amount of everything, and it just works the way you're sure the chef intended. This, I felt I could eat in a whole variety of ways. Every bite had a different balance of flavors, but they all worked, and were all interesting and delicious
  • Amberjack, sashimi-style, olive oil and chives: This was good, but I've had things that are similar to it, but better - primarily, the best single dish I've ever had was the hotate hot-oil sashimi at Morimoto. Chez Panisse had a similar dish as well, and neither of them have held a candle to Morimoto. Still delicious, mind you, but it suffers only by comparison.
  • Watercress veloute with cauliflower, green garlic: The watercress veloute was *intensely* green, and somewhat bitter on its own. The cauliflower was a little sweet, rich, and mixed with what I think must have been little fried bits of green garlic. The mixture of everything was excellent, offsetting the bitterness of the watercress veloute. By the end of the plate, when excess veloute was all that was left, it was too bitter on its own. But still, quite good. The only disappointment was essentially how this interacted with the next dish.
  • Slow roasted monkfish, potatoes with anchovy, pine nut: This was a piece of monkfish, some tiny potatoes, and a pine nut puree with a foam of some sort. I thought it was quite good, but the strange thing about it to me was that a lot of the flavor components were very similar to the previous dish, and the way those things balanced together felt very similar. As a result, these two dishes immediately blended together for me, and between the two dishes, the only thing I really remember was the bitterness of the watercress, and the general overall balance of savory, slightly salty flavors. Don't get me wrong - each one was delicious, and on their own, would be excellent at any restaurant - but I think the fact that these two dishes were very similar in the way their flavors were constructed meant that instead of complementing each other, they ended up detracting from each other.
  • Pig's trotters, frisee salad, gribiche: This was a fried ball of pork. I think Ei-Nyung thought it was a little too salty, but I thought mine was fine. Very similar, strangely, to the fried ball o' rabbit we had at the French Laundry, though the rabbit was a really interesting flavor I wasn't used to, and though I don't think I've had "trotters" before specifically, still pork. Not necessarily as interesting, but still delicious.
  • Local spring lamb, carrots with dates, mache: The lamb was awesome - perfectly seasoned, tender, just the right amount of gamey. No complaints whatsoever, and one of the best pieces of lamb I've had. But the weirdly incredible thing to me about this dish was the small piece of carrot that garnished the lamb. Best bite of carrot I've ever had in my entire life. Nicely caramelized flavor, a perfect match for the more straightforward sweetness of the carrot. It was just like every distinct flavor of the carrot had been amplified by the slightest hint of caramel. Awesome.
And that was that for the mains. On to dessert!

  • Grapefruit and tarragon soda, campari: Holy mother of god, this was GREAT. There was a 'tarragon sugar' that lined the edge of the glass. The overall impact reminded me of a dessert we had during Dine About Town at Rubicon two years ago that had a lot of similar flavors. I think grapefruit, in a dessert like this is just a fantastic palate cleanser, and really ends a dinner on a bright, happy note. Lovely. I've gotta figure out how to make something like this.
  • Avocado mousse, gene's mandarins: This was basically a canelle of sweet cream, avocado mousse, and a citrus granita. While I "get" why there's avocado here, honestly, I thought the avocado flavor wasn't necessary, and actually unbalanced the dish a bit. The sweet cream and the citrus granita, to me, were perfect together. Maybe I've got a simpler palate, but there you go. The creamy ... uh... cream, and the bright, frozen crunch of the granita, and the sweetness and citrusy twang were great.
  • Chocolate beignet, hot fudge, and tonka bean ice cream: Whoa. This was great. There was some sort of foam I had trouble identifying on top of the beignet (my nose was partially still stuffed from an afternoon encounter with cats), but the hot fudge was HOLY SHIT CHOCOLATE!!!!! intense. The ice cream, hot fudge, beignet combo was inarguably awesome.
  • Petit fours "strawberry-chocolate": This is the punchline to the joke at the beginning of the meal, a more traditional version of the initial amuse-bouche. Delicious as before, but nothing particularly surprising.
All in all, I really like Manresa. It's likely my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area, and possibly anywhere. It's 95% the quality of The French Laundry at 50% of the price, and with a more laid back, comfortable atmosphere.

I'm not saying that Aperto, or Geta, or any of the various day-to-day restaurants have anything to fear - but if I'm looking for "fine dining," Manresa's got to be at the top of the list for me. Excellent food, excellent service, just relaxed enough to be comfortable, just upscale enough to be special, and an experience I would gladly repeat, again and again.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Flickr seems to have a quite an active community of bento enthusiasts. Inspired by them, I decided that I'd take a bento box to lunch tomorrow.

My bento box has three compartments:
  • A large container that can probably hold about 1.5 cups of food.
  • A smaller container that can probably hold about 0.75 cups of food.
  • A smaller container of the same size as above, except with a little divider in the middle.
I've packed into those respective containers the following:
  • A Pink Lady apple from Saturday's farmers' market
  • Some fried rice
  • Blueberries and half an avocado in the two halves
I think some nuts would be a welcome addition to what I'm taking (maybe squeeze in with the blueberries), but I don't feel like digging around just now.

I'm pretty psyched about trying to pack cute bentos.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fried Rice

Seppo and I are not masters of the fried rice. It always looks so simple, but always ends up a disaster. Sometimes, it's gluey, sometimes, it's too oily, sometimes the vegetables are limp and add little to the dish.

I think I finally broke through our fried rice barrier.

We had rice leftover from one of the days that Seppo made buta no kakuni this past week. There it was, a tub of rice sitting in the refrigerator, getting dryer and harder by the day.

Perfect for fried rice!

Seppo had also purchased some more smoked duck breast this past week, a different kind than the one we had last week. It wasn't as good and had a weird ham-like texture, so we didn't really enjoy eating it straight on a salad.

Perfect for fried rice!

I assembled the following:
  • 4 5mm slice smoked duck breast
  • 2 very small yellow onions, courtesy of the farmers' market from Saturday
  • 1 medium shallot, also from the farmers' market
  • 1 skinny young carrot, swiped from Joe's stash (thanks, Joe!)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup frozen green peas
  • 4 skinny young scallions, from the farmers' market
Everything was diced to about the size of the peas, except the shallot, which was roughly minced.

With this Manresa review fresh in mind, along with my recent attempt at making jap chae, I decided that I'd cook each item on its own, to let it cook the perfect degree of doneness.

First, I pulled out the rice to sit on the counter, so it won't be so cold going into the pan. Then, I sauteed my ingredients in a fake wok-like nonstick pan in the above order, from duck to carrot.

I let the fat render out of the duck breast, which I then used to sautee the onions and shallot (these two were cooked together). The duck breast was started in a warm-ish pan on medium high to high. After they took on a little color and some of the skin crisped up a little, I strained the meat out and left in fat in the pan, which amounted to about one to two teaspoons.

I lowered the heat to medium-high. I added only the tiniest pinch of salt to the onions and shallot, as the duck fat had a decent amount of seasoning already.

After the onions and shallots were softened and had no trace of bite left, but not browned in any fashion, I scooped those out and added about 1/2 teaspoon of oil, maybe less. I added the carrots and a wee bit of salt, and sauteed.

After scooping out the carrots, I added about 2 teaspoons of oil and threw in the rice. I think there were about 3-4 cups of cooked rice.

The key with the rice is to scoop from below and fluff up at every step, almost like the motion you'd use to fold batter or egg whites into something else.

After the rice had stopped sticking together and heated up thoroughly, I added back the cooked ingredients and raised the heat to high, constantly tossing and stirring, never letting things get noticeably brown or scorched. You want to hear a little sizzle, not like the wok action at the real restaurants, since you aren't working with the same equipment. When things looked pretty done, I added the frozen peas and a small squirt of sesame oil and about 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and tossed around for about 2-3 minutes until the peas were bright and cooked through.

Finally, I sprinkled on the scallion, gave everything a final toss, and removed from heat.

It's not high on the health meter, but compared to the average restaurant fried rice, it had the following going for it:
  • A bit less oil
  • A higher vegetable to rice ratio
  • Tastier primary ingredients
  • The ability to control if you want your rice to finish with a little bit of crust or not
  • A tasty way to use leftover rice and bits and bobs of random vegetables
It looked like the real deal and tasted great. Each bite was full of the flavors of the vegetables (and duck). Next time, I'd actually reduce the amount of cooking oil for parts of the process and increase the amount of carrots, which I usually don't like all that much but turned out to be fantastic in the dish.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


So... we've posted about Cuvae before. We've always liked it, but we went there tonight for a nice, quiet dinner for our 9th anniversary. It's a little different - they've rearranged the menu to be more of an Asian fusion tapas style place. Rather than appetizers/entrees/desserts, the proteins and starches are basically split up, so that you can order all sorts of crazy combinations.

Tonight, we got:

* Dry-fried garlic pork ribs
* Shiitake mushrooms
* Chayote squash
* Maple duck breast
* "Poki bites"

as well as a "Crab with a green tea vinaigrette" amuse bouche.

Everything was really good, as it always is, and there were a couple other people in the restaurant, which was nice. The food's never been a problem, but the location's troublesome for the restaurant.

The ribs were great - not really "tender," but had a nice, meaty texture. The sauce appeared to be honey, soy sauce, garlic, and maybe something spicy, like sriracha. The sauce was good enough that once the ribs were gone, we got some rice to mop it up.

The mushrooms were incredibly 'meaty' - which I tend to mean that you could eat them all by themselves, and feel like you've had a complete meal. Heck, you could probably use a vegetable side dish to go with the mushrooms.

The perfect accompaniment to the mushrooms would be the Chayote squash, which used to be one of their vegetable sides for the entrees. I have absolutely no idea how it's prepared, or what they're using to give it the flavor that they do. It's rich - it almost tastes smoky, but the texture is absolutely perfect - tender, but not mushy. It's a combination of the rich smokiness and a very delicate flavor that gives it a great balance.

The duck was delicious - tender meat, crispy skin (it's no Great China Peking Duck, natch), and a nice sauce. I wish I could describe it better, but Cuvae does seem to use a lot of flavors I'm not really familiar with enough to 'deconstruct.' Still, the duck was done perfectly.

The "Poki Bites" are clearly their old ahi poki appetizer, served in a slightly smaller form factor. My guess is that people often wanted more, numerically, to split between larger groups, and that by making them smaller, they're able to maintain a reasonable cost to the dish, while making it accessible to lots of people. Six little bites is a good number, divisible easily by two or three, and enough for (obviously) up to six for larger parties. The only thing that disappointed me was that the ratio of fish to crispy "cup" thing was slightly different, and it just didn't feel as luxurious.

We finished off the meal with a really tasty ginger creme brulee, which tastes more or less like you'd imagine if it were very well done.

It's strange - every meal I've had at Cuvae has been satisfying, but it's clear that the restaurant is never going to be a destination spot. In part, it's the location - I think it's just not a great neighborhood for a restaurant like that, and in part, it's the overall presentation. While I don't mind it, because I *know* about it, I think that just walking by, the restaurant sadly has almost zero curb appeal. The main dining room is in the back of the restaurant, and the kitchen's up front. There's a large patio space to eat outdoors, but that's essentially useless for 1/2 the year.

I'd really like them to succeed (at least enough where I can get in regularly without too much trouble), but at the same time, every time we choose to go, I worry that when we get there, we'll find they've gone out of business.

Salmon Cornets

Last year, we were fortunate enough to dine at The French Laundry.

Last month, we attempted to make our own salmon cornets (which I keep calling "salmon coronets" which... is kind of a disturbing thought). Here is the head to head:

Finished Salmon Cornet

Theirs is of course much nicer looking, but actual flavor- and texture-wise, ours competed quite well.

By the way, don't make the f!@&ing cornets. They take forever and aren't that good. I'm kind of sad that the batch from my test run turned out so much better than the batch I served to the guests.

This entry won't tell you how to make this dish because I don't think they'd like for me to give out the recipe.

The ingredients await my punishment.

Most of the ingredients for cornets

Die, butter, die!


A most unimpressive view of them before they hit the oven:

Before the suckers hit the oven

I didn't take a picture of the rolling step because I was too busy cursing Thomas Keller and trying not to burn my fingertips with the oven in my face and hardening batter in my hands, but here is the finished product:

Finished cornets

I've been reading the blog of a woman who is going to try to cook every recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook. I've been excited to see her tackle the recipes, but so far, she's cooked mostly things we have made before. It's wise, since they are the easiest items from the book, but I am looking forward to the more complex dishes getting documented.

Thoughts About Cooking

I went back and read the post where we blogged about going to the French Laundry, and I'm actually sort of surprised by how much better Ei-Nyung and I are as cooks than we were say, three years ago. Back then, most dinners would consist of rice and some curry, something take out, or just something random and simple. Nothing really terrible, it's just that we weren't really into cooking - it was just something you did when you had to.

But I think it was happening on the Naked Chef (Jamie Oliver) that really begun the sea change. His series, Pukka Tukka (still my favorite of his TV series'), really showed that good, flavorful, healthy food didn't have to be particularly complex. The roast chicken from his first book is still one of the best roast chickens I've ever had (though the butterflied chicken & 40 cloves or chicken with sage & vermouth sauce from America's Test Kitchen are probably better), but more importantly, the recipes were accessible, and his *excitement* about cooking really shone through.

This was essentially the motivator to get us in the kitchen, and fostered an interest in food. After Jamie Oliver came Alton Brown, which was the perfect transition - excitement to accessible knowledge. Alton Brown, in simple, easy to understand terms, began to explain the science of food in a way that appealed to the pragmatic, hacker-y side of me (a side that's not particularly developed, but really entertained by making a meat smoker out of a locker).

So, Jamie Oliver (simple & enthusiastic) + Alton Brown (scientific & entertaining) led to America's Test Kitchen, which was methodical and exacting. This was really good because Alton Brown had given us the basics of the science, while America's Test Kitchen had applied that science with rigor and thoroughness. Their iterative approach, coupled with explanations as to *why* things are they way they are was understandable because of the basic foundation of Good Eats (Alton Brown's show), and by this point, we'd developed enough experience that we could tackle these recipes with confidence.

Around this time, we ate at our first really high-end restaurant, Morimoto. Iron Chef fits in somewhere in here - before any of the other stuff, really, since I'd been watching Iron Chef since high school. Iron Chef, I think, really opens your mind about food, because the things they create are utterly bizarre, fascinating, and you get a chance to really see what skilled people can do, and what does and doesn't work.

But Morimoto was an eye-opener. The balance of flavor, and the unusual combinations of flavors were things that I'd never experienced at that level before. It really was a moment where it took food to the level of art, for me, and raised what I could *expect* out of a great meal. Following Morimoto, we'd been to Chez Panisse, then Manresa, and the French Laundry, then WD-50, and frankly, it was a pretty good progression of restaurants. Morimoto was familiar, in some weird way, because we'd seen so much of Chef Morimoto on Iron Chef. Then, Chez Panisse showed us essentially the mainstay of California Cuisine, which is basically the foundation of all "fine dining" in the area. Following that, Manresa was a bit more experimental, but definitely in the vein of California Cuising. The French Laundry is then its apex, and WD-50 is a good introduction to post-California Cuisine, or as some call it, Molecular Gastronomy.

So, the progression was sensible, sort of in the same way that our interest in food was developed by a sensible progression of shows, and information.

But it's strange - again, that three years ago, a steak would have essentially been the apex of my abilities as a cook, and now, we can competently mimic some dishes from the French Laundry, I'm willing to make decisions about replacing various ingredients, I can understand and attempt to reconstruct certain dishes I liked at restaurants, and in some cases, take a recipe and change it enough that I could say that this is definitely "my" take on it.

I'm not a great cook - not by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm good enough to do some things that are reasonably impressive, I enjoy the hell out of it, and it's a very, very useful skill to have. It's just strange that it's developed by essentially luck, that we managed to find the right information at the right time. I suppose you could make an argument that we found those shows and restaurants and books relevant at the time because of our skill levels, but a lot of it wasn't planned - it was just something we happened upon by circumstance or chance.

Wacky stuff.

New Year's Food, Part 2: jap chae

Jap chae is really easy but kind of time consuming. It basically has four steps:
  • Julienne veggies.
  • Sautee veggies.
  • Mix with sweet potato noodles (which you'll have cooked in a step that doesn't exist here).
  • Season with soy sauce and sesame oil.
It's pretty simple, really. The secret to having an authentic tasting jap chae is in what vegetables you use and how carefully you season.

Ingredient #6: Julienned scallions

I used the following:
  • Onion
  • Scallion
  • Shiitake mushroom
  • Carrot
  • Egg (see previous post)
  • Bell pepper (there was a red one in addition to the green one shown, but it was not fit to eat, sadly)
I didn't have spinach on hand because I forgot when I went shopping. My mom usually makes this with little bits of meat (like used in the last post), but I didn't feel like it this time.

Everything except the onion is sauteed. The onion is sweated. Each vegetable is cooked entirely on its own, with a dash of salt and a little bit of corn/canola/soy bean oil. The shiitake mushroom gets a splash of soy sauce while sauteeing. I think I might even have cooked it with an minced garlic clove or two. Each vegetable should come out of the pan tasting delicious and being perfectly cooked, because you won't do any more cooking.

Make sure you take the vegetables out of the pan while the colors are bright and beautiful. It's best to start sauteeing with the lightest colored vegetables first, moving on to the darker ones later. My order was onion, carrot, scallion (this cooks very fast so be careful) bell pepper (I would have done the red first then the green), then the mushrooms. If you had meat, you'd do that last.

You know, maybe it's not really a sautee. You really don't want to get much hotter than medium on your pan, because you definitely don't want to scorch your ingredients. Maybe something between a sweat and a sautee for everything, then.

It's kind of hard to see, but I swear there are noodles in the pot.

Glass noodles

I followed the package directions, which said to bring the water to a boil, drop in the dry noodles, remove from heat, and let sit for 10 minutes. Ideally, you'd time things so that this would come out of the hot water as you are done sauteeing your last vegetable. I have yet to master this.

The noodles don't expand much. I would guess it grows about 15-20% at most, unlike Italian pasta. I think you'd want to make about as much noodle as the sum of your veggies. Maybe slightly less. I like it with lots of veggies. :D

Almost finished

The picture is just the veggies, before I added the noodles. After adding the noodles, you have to sort of wing it with how much soy sauce and sesame oil you put in. Just add like a teaspoon at a time until it seems right. Sadly, you won't know if it's right, unless you've tasted it before. It shouldn't be salty though, just a little savory, letting the flavors of the vegetables carry the dish.

Eat while warm.

New Year's Food, Part 1: dduk mandoo gook

It was Lunar New Year a couple of weekends ago. I cooked up some food, and finally, I'm getting off my butt to blog about it. We served a bunch of stuff, but the two things I made were dduk mandoo gook (rice cake and dumpling soup) and jap chae (sweet potato noodle with julienned vegetables).

Dduk mandoo gook is a really, really easy dish. The ingredients consist of the following:
  • Rice cake. Like 10-15 slices per person. I could probably eat like 20, but let's show a little restraint here.
  • Thinly sliced stew beef or sliced rib eye cut into pieces about 1 inch squares/pieces. I think about an ounce or so per person is fine.
  • Soy sauce. 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per person.
  • Garlic. 1 clove per person.
  • Dumplings. 2-4 per person. I actually prefer this dish without any dumplings (in which case it would be called "dduk gook" instead, as "mandoo" means dumpling) but I think Seppo prefers it with them.
  • Egg. Optional, but about 1 egg per two people work out pretty well.
  • Toasted (unseasoned) seaweed. Optional, but about 1/4 to 1/2 sheet per person works out ok. I like lots, so I end up putting half in as I serve and the rest halfway through my meal. :D
  • Scallion. I would guess something like a tablespoon per person, according to your taste.
I sadly only took three pictures of this dish.

Rice cake (dduk/ddeok) soaking in water

Start by soaking the rice cake in water, so as to rinse off any residual rice flour. Or if it was frozen, this will let it defrost without developing nasty cracks in it, which is what will happen if you put it in hot water directly from the freezer.

While the rice cake is soaking, mince your garlic and mix with the soy sauce and meat in some sort of bowl-like bowly bowl. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.

While the meat is sitting in the marinade, you might as well beat the egg(s) and make egg "crepes". Don't add any water, just salt it a little.

Egg sheet #1

I was able to make three sheets out of two eggs in a 10 inch non-stick skillet, so that's the level of thinness you are looking for. Start with a medium-low pan and put a tiny bit of cooking oil on it, spreading it around with a paper towel. Pour a small amount of the beaten egg into the pan and quickly pick up the pan and swirl it around. Swirl! Swirl like your life depends upon it! Lower the pan back onto the stovetop and lower the heat even more.

You'll see the egg start to look less wet. Flip the sheet then, and take it out of the pan in about 10 seconds.

Let the egg sheets cool.

While the eggs sheets are cooling, sautee the meat. It doesn't have to fully cook, because it's thin and will cook in the soup later anyway.

Add water. Hmm, how much water? Maybe two cups per person? I have no idea. It's one of those things. Sorry.

Let it start to come to a simmer. While it's coming to a simmer, slice up the egg, seaweed, and scallion. I went all fancy-pants over making scallion curl up in an ice bath this time. Usually, I just make 2 inch slices on the diagonal. I also don't usually bother cutting up the seaweed, but crumple it up into the soup. Ok, I'll admit that I also don't make the egg sheets. I usually stir it in at the last minute, much like you might with egg drop soup.

Toppings for dduck gook

Are you all ready? When the soup base comes to a simmer, drop in the rice cake.

The rice cake will cook very, very quickly, so it's pretty much done as it gets to be tender and floats to the surface, much like fresh ravioli might. This will be within a matter of single-digit minutes, so be ready! When the first rice cakes even remotely look halfway tender, throw in the frozen dumplings (make sure you bought the fully-cooked, flash-frozen kind).

Add soy sauce or beef broth to season a bit.

When things float, serve out into individual bowls.

Top with toppings and eat while hot.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Great China Redux

I can safely say that Great China is my favorite Chinese restaurant. We went back there last weekend with U, and the Peking duck was absolutely mindboggling. I'm going to try to make it sometime this week - probably Thursday->Friday (yes, that's two days - it air-dries overnight), but I know I'm not going to achieve the sheer majesty that is the Peking duck from Great China.

We also had the Ong-Choy with Garlic Sauce (which was good, but more or less what you'd expect), and the Walnut Prawns, which I'm sure you're thinking is the dish you'd order if you're an ignorant foreigner. Well, fine - be that as it may, we got them because everyone's said they were spectacular, and guess what? Everyone was right.

It's hard to describe something when its main selling point is that its flavors are perfectly balanced. It was sweet, but not cloying. The mayonnaise-based sauce was creamy without being overpowering. There was a hint of orange that was welcome, and the walnuts themselves were very subtly candied, without being actually turned into candy.

The large prawns were perfectly fried, the batter crisp despite the sauce. The sweetness of the sauce complemented the sweet, meaty prawns. The crunch of the batter contrasted nicely with the texture of the prawns, and the creaminess of the sauce. I know, I'm sorry - I just don't have the vocabulary to actually describe this.

But if you imagine the dish as a balance of sweet, savory, crunchy, smooth, citrusy, nutty - each of those is a spinning plate, this dish balanced them all, and kept them all spinning at the same time, where every other place I've ever eaten at ends in a catastrophe of shattered porcelain.

This is hands down the best duck you'll ever have, and every single thing I've had there so far has been spectacular. For things I've eaten elsewhere, Great China's versions of those dishes are far, far superior. For things I've never had anywhere else (the 'Double Skin', or the 'Ants on a Tree') the dishes have been delicious, interesting, complex, and entirely worthwhile.

If I ate there every week, I could be satisfied, I would suspect, for years.