Monday, October 31, 2005

Aloha Aloha! Day Seven

Tuesday, October 25th

With only 2 hours to return the car and head to the airport, there wasn’t enough time to try the popular Eggs n’ Things on Kalakaua Avenue. We had driven by many times to see hordes of people blocking the door away. I was bummed that I didn’t get to try it. Instead I resorted to McDonald’s local breakfast plate. A Styrofoam plate with 2 slices of Spam, 4 slices of Portuguese Sausage, scrambled eggs and rice. This was actually very tasty. I really wish McDonald’s supplied you with Furikake packets. Does anyone know where I can get Portuguese Sausage?

As I sat on the plane for that 5 hours, images of Hawaii flashed by me. Images of…

Waikiki Beach
Ezogiku Ramen
ABC Stores
Macadamia Nuts at the ABC Store
Foie Gras
Shrimp Truck
Hanauma Bay’s Turtles
A really hot girl I saw at the beach
The ABC Store by Rai Rai ramen
Shaved ice
Shaved ice
Shaved ice
Portuguese sausage
The Poki Pines at Alan Wong’s
The ramen menu at Ezogiku
A turtle waving at me
$100 bill
Macadamia Nuts
Our shitty car rental
The ABC Stores at the airport

And as I saw the familiar lights of Los Angeles, I became depressed knowing that in a few hours, I would be stuck in traffic, smelling the smoggy air of Los Angeles, sitting
in front of the computer hammering away at ads, emails and instant messenger. I absolutely dread coming back to the workplace and reading through the armada of emails.

But I’m delighted to provide you with this detailed article on my wonderful trip to Oahu. I will definitely be back soon. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Six

Today was the last day we would be able to have a full day, since we would be leaving on Tuesday morning. Instead of going to Three Tables or Shark’s Cove, we wanted to make sure that we were able to snorkel… and see Sea Turtles. Sure enough, we saw two, feeding away off the coral reef like they were at a Las Vegas buffet. Looked good, but it couldn’t have been as good as the Angelo Pietro restaurant, who manufactures my favorite salad dressing. It’s off Kapiolani Blvd. and sort of tucked into a corner. I was so full from lunch but I HAD to try Angelo Pietro’s. They only had locations in Hawaii and Japan and I certainly hope they open up one in Los Angeles.

I ordered the raw potato salad topped with radish sprouts and their signature Sesame-Miso dressing. It was so refreshing and good. Probably the freshest vegetables I’ve had so far in Hawaii. Tempura and macaroni salad DO NOT COUNT. I also ordered the bacon/pickled vegetable spaghetti which was light and flavorful. Nothing difficult to make. I really prefer eating Japanese-style, Italian food as opposed to traditional Italian because I think it’s lighter. Yum. I’d go back here again.

And to end the trip with a bang, we decided to have an exquisite dinner at Alan Wong's. We crossed off Roy’s and Sam Choy’s because they have locations in California. We ran late because Alan Wong’s was hidden inside a non-descript building. 30 mins after our reservations, we were seated in the nicely decorated restaurant. The chefs worked quietly, yet efficiently in the open kitchen. The waiters buzzing around our table like bees in a hive. It’s rare that I treat myself to exquisite dining, and I think Alan Wong’s was a great place to experience Hawaiian-fusion and end the trip. The 11 of us decided to order appetizers and entrees and share with everyone. Here's what we had... (getting drool towel ready*).

Ahi Tuna Tartare. Basically it was a poke-pie with soy sauce and wasabi. Light, crispy and intensely flavorful .

Sushi. I didn't try this but I'm sure it was good. I had my stomach space reserved for bigger and bolder things.

Kiawe Grilled Maui Cattle Company Rib Eye. This dish was served with mushrooms, green beans and a port wine sauce... it was so good. Steak was too simple and plain for me to order though.

Poki-Pines. One of Alan Wong's specialties. Wonton skins were shaped into miniature pineapples and stuffed with ahi tuna poke. So good! This recipe is available in Alan Wong's hawaiian cookbook.>

Broiled Lobster and Abalone with Aioli. This one was one of my favorites. Eaten together with the aioli, the meat just melts.

Macadamia Nut-Coconut Crusted Lamb Chops. Awesome. The reduction sauce was a little too sweat and thick though.

Da Bag. Clams and kahlua pork are steamed in a large foil bag and served in flavorful clam broth. Nothing really special. I did enjoy the broth though.

Butterfish with Foie Gras. This was my favorite dish of the night and also my first time trying foie gras. I'm gonna try my hardest to replicate this dish .

Duck Salad. Moist pieces of duck served over greens. Bland..

Crabcakes. I thought these were sort of dry.

After dinner, I started to think my career options. I figure I can only do advertising for a few years because I am more interested in the culinary arts. Before Hawaii, I was talking to a few chefs from Café Pinot in Downtown Los Angeles. I expressed my interest in working there part time and they encouraged me to send in my resume. I like pretentious and haute dining. I like that they treat a white plate as as though it’s a canvas, with food as the form of art. I'm crossing my fingers as we speak because I'd be overwhelmed if I got the job. They told me I wouldn't have to start on dishes, so that's good to know. haha. I'll let you guys know what happens. Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Five

Sunday, October 23rd

Before another day of hanging out in North Shore, we decided to make it quick and headed over to Zippy’s, Hawaii’s fast food restaurant. This place is truly a stoner’s paradise. Looking at the menu, you can virtually anything you want. From chili fries to katsu, saimin to gravied loco-moco. Zippy’s is known for their chili. A friend of mine was telling me that he’d FREEZE their chili in a container to bring it back to the mainland. Nuts. The chili was pretty good, but I still prefer Wienerschnitzel’s! What I liked most about Zippy’s was there assortment of baked goods and pastries. I bought 10 rolls of garlic rolls, which were drenched in garlic butter. Yummy. And by a friends threatening suggestion, I had to try their Boston Cream Pie. Again, I dislike desserts, and this was extremely sweet. My cheeks were tingling after one bite.

This by far, was the best day I’ve had in Hawaii. We got to Sunset Beach park around 12 and stayed for the sunset. 5 guys, 2 girls, how romantic is that? Haha. For reals, I took another long nap and started taking photos with my Holga camera, the $18 wonder that takes beautiful, saturated photos. There’s a whole photography movement based on this camera called “Lomography”. Check it out. It was also fun watching the over-confident body-boarders ride the 8 foot swells. Seriously, they looked like clothes in a washing machine.

Dinner? Guess what we had, AGAIN? Haha. But this time, we were recommended to Rai Rai ramen by the waitress at Irifune. In accordance with Reid, the ramen was mediocre. I don’t think I need to get into their ramen. It’s all the same menu. Ezogiku reigns supreme in the ramen battle.

Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Four

Saturday, October 22nd

Today was the worst day of the trip. After three lovely days of warm sun and water, we were hammered by the rainy, tropical climate. It rained throughout the whole island and we found ourselves driving around the WHOLE island (125 miles) looking for a dry spot. None to be found.

For lunch, we drove to the town of Haleiwa for more shrimp trucks and alcohol. A friend recommended Giovanni’s over Romy’s. Tucked underneath some trees was the graffiti-ridden Giovanni’s truck. Well, it was more of people autographing the truck. We didn’t have a Sharpie on us to write any lewd messages though. Like Romy’s, it’s 10-12 pieces of shrimp for $12, and it’s also fried scampi way with ample garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.

We then headed over to a local market to buy a Styrofoam cooler to store our beer and stumbled upon a grill that’d you see in a Food Network BBQ festival. Ray’s serves up their Kiawe Broiled Chicken in this trailer, broiling 25 chickens at a time and selling a whole chicken for only $8. It tasted good, but wasn’t any more interesting than the kind you get at Albertson’s.

We finally got back from our excursion at around 5 pm and headed for dinner at Irifune’s. Started in 1975, this hole in the wall is still a hole in the wall. I seriously would’ve driven by this restaurant if I hadn’t known the address. It looks like a garage! This place is nothing less than mediocre but is famous for their garlic ahi tuna and BYOB rule. Before we got to Irifune, I had called them about the BYOB rule.

Me: “Hi, I heard you can BYOB.”
Irifune: “Sure, can.”
Me: “Umm. How about a cooler full of beer?”
Irifine: “Go ahead.”
Me: “Nice.”

We started off the dinner with the breaded tofu, suggested by our extremely nice waitress. Firm tofu pieces were deep fried and served with a teriyaki sauce. Pretty good, but nothing spectacular.

We all ordered combo plates that with the famous garlic ahi tuna, tempura and miso soup. The garlic ahi tuna was actually delicious. They weren’t kidding when they said it was full of garlic.

But what we really came for was the Poke, pronounced poh-kay. Poke consists of sliced ahi tuna, mixed with maui onions, soy sauce, ogo (thin seaweed, almost like sea moss) and sesame oil. My friend had been raving about poke for the longest time and said that he liked Irifune’s. This was my first time trying out poke and boy, was it good. I believe they used soy sauce, ogo, sesame oil and some kind of mayonnaise. Something similar to that used in spicy tuna roll. We devoured this dish in about 7 minutes. I was very tempted to order another one. Checkout Kirk's and Alan of Ma’Ona’s blog on poke. There are hundreds of ways to make your own Poke, and I will be trying this out very soon.

Irifune, overall, is a down-to-earth, un-pretentious place for simple, Japanese fare. The service was great and I would definitely go back for seconds. It was definitely nice to eat somewhere away from Waikiki Beach.

Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Three

Friday, October 21st
Yesterday, we went over to the Mega-Walmart to buy snorkeling gear and alcohol. Our safest best for snorkeling was Hanauma Bay, although Shark’s Cove seemed to be the favorite of the locals. Once we paid for our entrance fee of $5, we were forced to watch this terrible video on the history of Hanauma Bay. It even had this Disney-like song where the girl sang about reefs and corals. So stupid.

We didn’t want to leave the bay and ended up eating at the snack bar. $4 for shaved ice sans vanilla ice cream and beans. Boo. The garlic fries were good, but not as good the Gordon Biersch ones from Dodger Stadium. But I’ll tell you what made my trip. I found $100 at Hanauma Bay! All of a sudden, the crappy shaved ice, mediocre garlic fries and horrid Disney video were long forgotten.

On a sad note, upon arriving at Hanauma, we stepped onto the set of Baywatch. A few lifeguards were setting up the CPR equipment on shore and watched as another lifeguard on a jetski cruised down from the mouth of the bay. He was towing a lifeless woman on a gurney and bounced on the waves like a flag on a windy day. They spent a good 35-45 minutes on her, and sadly, I don’t think she made it. I’m not sure what happened out there. God bless her.

Dinner? Take a wild guess. We decided to take L&I to that awesome ramen shop, Ezogiku, because they had missed out. They loved it.

Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Two

Thursday, October 20th
With the company of a crappy, soccer-mom van and a friend who just moved out to Honolulu, we were out for a gorgeous day at the beach and better direction in finding good eats. We decided to head away from Waikiki Beach, and traverse the world-famous North Shore. We hopped in the car, rolled down the windows and immediately turned the radio to KCCN 100.3 FM for local Hawaiian music. We drove by the Dole Pineapple Plantations but skipped that once we saw the many tour buses there.

Our first stop in the North Shore was Romy’s, a small shack situated on a shrimp farm. We had to pullover because the scent of the garlic/chili was overwhelming. Romy’s is known for their garlic/chili shrimp with soy sauce over rice. At $12 for about 10 pieces of shrimp, it was quite pricey. I don’t know if it beats the Chinese fried shrimp with green onions and salt though. (Jeew Yeem Ha) I had the fried shrimp, which was basically shrimp wrapped in egg roll skin and submerged in oil. Now that was tasty. Overall, everyone was content with the meal.

We then headed to Shark’s Cove, hoping to snorkel, but the water was way too rocky. We then stopped over at the beautiful, Waimea Bay and hungout. After that, we headed to the small town of Haleiwa for some traditional Hawaiian shaved ice at Matsumoto’s. Matsumoto’s has been around since 1951 and has been punching out their famous shaved ice to fanny-packed tourists like me.

For $2, you can get the large shaved ice cone with any assortment of syrup, vanilla ice cream and beans. The vanilla ice cream serves as the condensed milk in the Taiwanese version. I don’t like sweets at all, but Matsumoto’s proved to be quite a delectable treat. I only wished they served it at the beaches. Where can I get this in the LA area? I’ve heard Gardena and Torrance has it.

For dinner, we were sans automobile. My lovebird friends decided to deprive the three of us and took the car to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for exquisite dining at the beautiful Hoku’s. I actually don’t know if it’s beautiful, since our friends deprived us of transportation haha. Just kidding L&I. Congratulations to them. After the dinner, L proposed to I after waiting 11 years! We then headed to Tiki’s Bar & Grill on Kalakaua Avenue for a few drinks. This tourist trap serves a nice healthy plate of Kahlua Pork Nachos. Awesome. I couldn’t sleep because I was so full.

So while they were eating delicious food, we trekked down to Ezogiku for, you guessed it, more ramen. Now this place was awesome. It was setup like a diner with the servers in the middle. The menu was simple to read and had a good variety of ramen. They were best known for their Miso Ramen, a huge bowl of chasiu pork, bean spouts and miso-flavored broth for $7.89. Ezogiku also has some killer combos for the hippos like me. For $9.89, you can get a bowl of ramen, 4 pieces of gyoza and fried rice. Awesome. We ended up eating here TWICE. Sorry, Ramenya & Kinchan’s, this place whoops your @$$. Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day One

***Please bare with this long entry. This is a 7-Part blog.***

For the longest time, the thought of Hawaii has crossed my mind. Teasing, tingling my mind. At 27, I’m probably the last person on earth to have traveled to Hawaii. When I told people that it would be my first time, I was given a puzzled expression. What? Are you from another planet or something? Yes I am. And I am broke.

The First Calling
I remember sitting in some shanty business office, like something you’d see at an auto body shop, watching the 13” black and white TV while waiting for my car. It was always some lame program you didn’t want to watch, like NASCAR. And the remote control was nowhere in sight, and it would’ve been too audacious of me to get a chair to reach up for the channel buttons, in case the other patrons were interested in NASCAR. Perusing through the limited magazine selection, my eyes caught that ubiquitous sweepstakes box. The kind with the out-of-ink-since-last-year pen TIED to the box. I didn’t know that Bic pens were in such high demand. They freaking cost a dime anyway. “Win a Free Trip to Hawaii!” it screamed. The box had a stock image of this couple obviously from the late 80s walking hand in hand down Waikiki Beach, besides a photoshopped palm tree. The guy had a slight mullet and wore some black Vuarnets and yellow trunks, and his new wife wearing a leopard-skin, one-piece bathing suit. I don’t believe in sweepstakes because I know it’s just a way for companies to send you crap you don’t need. Bored out of my mind, I said, “Why not?” I wanna be wearing black vuarnet sunglasses and yellow trunks with my freshly-grown mullet.

The Second Calling
A while back I had to take my mom to the hospital for a checkup, and again I found myself situated in the waiting room with other people who didn’t want to be there. With my iPod on me, I laid back and watched the 20” color tv. A man got up and politely asked if he could change the channel… “John Johnson… come on down!!!” Yep, it’s everyone’s favorite game show The Price Is Right, with the still living, Bob Barker. What is it about this show? The contestants only consist of two species of human life: old people and military people. I can’t help but cheer for them though. The way they run down to the bidding booths and bounce around like they’ve never seen a Montgomery Ward or Sears catalog. So this guy that gets the winning bid, ends up in the next stage, where the prize is, you guessed it, a trip to Hawaii. It was great how the showcase transformed into a faux-Hawaii setting with the models playing beach ball. I suddenly envisioned myself on that bidding booth winning that trip to Hawaii. Yeah, I’ll admit it, I probably would’ve bounced around like I was on ecstasy and maybe even threw in a few backflips. I needed to go to Hawaii.

The callings finally took me and my friends to Hawaii this month. It worked out perfectly because three of us were Hawaiian-Island virgins. The others had been a few times and knew exactly where to take us.

After a quick 5 hour flight, we landed. Okay, keep in mind that I had MANY expectations in Hawaii. I’ve obviously been exposed to too much television and sweepstake boxes. Expectation #1: UPON GETTING OFF, I expected to get lei’d. (Yes, laugh you dirty people.) I was like, where the hell are the two beautiful Polynesian beauties with the purple orchid leis? I wanna get lei’d. We then checked into our 2-star craphole we got off Expedia. My package was about $500, so it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t planning on spending most of my time vacationing in the hotel room anyway.

I couldn’t complain though, Waikiki Beach was directly across the street from us, but intensely crowded. And that leads to Expectation #2: the water is warm, but not crystal clear!!! Waikiki Beach is way overcrowded by tourists wearing fanny packs, including myself, and has gradually become dirtier over the years.

Wednesday, October 19th
On the first day, with no car, we were limited to the surrounding restaurants on Kalakaua Avenue, the main street in Waikiki. And I was glad to know that there were plenty of Japanese restaurants to dine at. After passing about 19 ABC Stores in that 5-block walk, we decided to head to the International Market Place for the food court. They had every type of cuisine imaginable but I already had my mind set on ramen.

I ate at this place called Hokkaido Noodle House, a Vietnamese-runned ramen shop. I expected it to be a bowl of heaven. Nope. A pure bowl of crap. I don’t know if any type of soup noodle can taste good if it's served in a styrofoam bowl, or any food in general. I won’t be eating at the International Market Place again. We didn’t have any means of transportation, so we had no choice really.

For dinner, again with no car, we relied on our own instincts and ended up at this so-so sushi joint called Run, which is right by the Tiki Bar. If it weren’t for the conveyor belt gimmick, I don’t if this place would last too long. I ordered the $10 platter of sushi, which looks good, but as the saying goes… you get what you pay for. My friend had the ramen, which was as bad as Hokkaido’s, but without the savory taste of Styrofoam. I couldn’t wait for the next day when we would have a car.

***A note to Kirk and Reid, the Hawaiian-natives, I know you guys are shaking your head at me right now haha. I know, I know, I should’ve done the research with you guys BEFORE I landed. But trust me, the food gets better!

Read more!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Currently working on Charts & Graphs...

in Hawaii! I'm prepared to engorge myself in Hawaii's good eats. I'll be back next week to provide a full report. Have a good week. Read more!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lord of the Ribs - Manna Korean BBQ

Genghis Khan. A term that means “universal king”, was given to a young man named Temujin. Temujin was successful in uniting all Mongol Tribes in the year 1202. By the year 1227, Temujin had led the largest allied army in the world, invading Russia, China, Southern Asia and Eastern Europe. Quite a feat for one man. Amidst all the fighting, Genghis Khan must’ve stopped along the road and said, “Man, I’m f*&!king hungry.” Interestingly enough, if it wasn’t for the Mongolians, we wouldn’t have a few favorites within the Asian Culture.

During his reign, he invaded Northeastern Asia, which neighbors Shandong and Korea. Because the Mongolians were almost always on the road tormenting armies and villagers, it was hard to lug a kitchen stadium through the Gobi desert. So what was their oh-so-clever, response? Slap the metal shields over the campfire and grill meat. Thus we have Mongolian BBQ, which I assume led to everyone’s favorite, Korean barbeque. Another interesting fact. Genghis Khan went as far south as Vietnam and carried with him many types of spices. Two of them being cinnamon and star anise. And as we all know, what’s better than having soup in a cold winter after bludgeoning and dismembering a whole army. Soup! The Mongolians would use their helmets as pots and boil soup with their spices. Another assumption that the Vietnamese adapted this recipe to produce another favorite for hungover people, Pho! (Which uses star anise and cinnamon sticks.) Thank you Genghis for heavenly barbeque, shabu-shabu hot-pot and soup!

778 years later, people are still employing the genius cooking methods of Genghis Khan. Well at least the 11 of us were. As well as the owner of the unbelievable Manna Korean BBQ on Olympic Blvd. For $14.99, Manna unleashes a smorgasbord of all-you-can-eat-before-you-puke beef, pork and chicken.

On Friday, we all met up at 8:30 pm and waited a good 45 minutes before being seated. I seriously felt like I was in Asia. A canopy hung over a hall of 300+ carnivores, drinking, laughing and smoking. It was a beautiful scene of barbarianism.

We started off with the essentials: Hite. Lots of it. And let me tell you, the food may be $14.99, but Manna gets you on the alcohol. So drink in moderation. We had 3 grills to ourselves and 3 settings of baan chaan.

As soon as the beer started pouring, we caught eyes on the pink, marbled meat being brought to us. We ordered the kalbi beef, which did not come with bones, and thin-sliced beef (I think it’s ‘cha-dol-peggi’). The kalbi beef isn’t flavored and just tastes bland. Nix to that. The real stuff is the thin-sliced beef. I personally like it because it’s the same cut of beef from Yoshinoya. Only that Yoshinoya probably uses zebra meat. (Joke.) I stared to stuff my face with 5-6 slices of beef at a time, dipping it in the salt/pepper/sesame oil sauce generously.

Gary then told me the better way to eat it. Take the square-cut rice noodle and add beef, lettuce, bean paste and sesame oil. Eat it like a taco. Now that was good looking out. I figured I should trust the guy since he almost ate at Manna 3 times in one week. He’s currently on P.E.T.A.’s most wanted list.

A great joke to play on unsuspecting people is the erroneous birthday song. We picked the weakest, most vulnerable-to-clowning of the pack and told the waitress to sing him a song. Haha. And within 5 minutes, a terrible, Korean-techno version of “Happy Birthday” blared through the Radio Shack speakers. It was awful. And to think, someone ACTUALLY bought this off iTunes for $0.99. Our waitress then came out with a candle and cheap champagne. She lit the candle and shook up the bottle to give some to the birthday boy, but instead, ended up giving one of our other friend, Dan, a nice cheap-champagne bath. The next thing we know, the whole dining hall starts clapping and cheering for him. It was hilarious. Gosh, drunk people consider anything to be entertainment. They might as well have brought out some midgets and balloon-shaping clowns.

After 13 plates of beef, 21 beers and cheap champagne, our bill came out to about $33 a person. Manna is definitely one of the better Korean barbeque buffets. If you’re in Orange County, you can read up on Seoul Garden in Tustin. I think we did some major damage to Manna, as well as our stomachs. I won't get into the details of the rest of my night, but let's just say, my body hates me. The original plan was to go bowling. Yeah right. Half of us didn’t even know where the hell we were. We had been so disoriented by the exorbitant intake of beef. Our blood had rushed down to process the intestinal madness going on, leaving us quite comatose. I am not going back to Manna for a good year. The thought of beef is unpleasant right now.

But as we drove back to West LA, I looked up into the heavens, and I saw a helmet-and-axe-bearing, Asian man, smiling and giving me the thumbs up

Genghis Khan: “Good shit, huh?”
Me: “Yeah, good shit.”

Manna Korean BBQ
3377 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 733-8516 Read more!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Notorious N.R.M.

No, it’s not the latest rap act out on the streets talking about making some c$sh and getting some @$$. Just a lame excuse to dress up the acronym for one of my favorite Chinese noodle dishes. NRM stands for “Niu Ro Mian”, literally ‘beef-noodle’. Kirk of Mmm-Yoso! and I decided to do a synchronized post on NRM. Like Vietnamese Pho noodles, NRM recipes vary by province. For example, Shanghai style NRM is bloody spicy – with the soup almost looking like lava. I can’t handle the heat so I devised my own recipe. I took the common ingredients and I guess I made it more Cantonese style. The broth is a little bit sweeter, heavier on star anise and five spice powder. I usually judge the quality of a restaurant by their ability to prepare NRM. Same goes with a Vietnamese restaurant’s ability to make stellar Pho. If they can’t get that right, chances are, the other stuff on the menu won’t fare too well. But that’s just me.

Here are the ingredients I’ve used:

??? of water
2 lbs. of beef shank
2 cloves of garlic
5 slices of ginger
2 green onions (smashed the white part with my knife)
Shaoxing rice wine
soy sauce (used for flavoring)
dark soy sauce (used for coloring)
star anise
five spice powder (wu xiang fen)
salt & white pepper
black vinegar
chili bean paste

Kirk also uses similar ingredients, only he uses dried chili peppers and peppercorns. I should definitely try that next time once I develop an iron stomach.

Start by adding salt and white pepper on the cubed shank meat. Mix it in a bowl with a little bit of Shaoxing rice wine, dark soy sauce and oil. Let that marry in the fridge for about 15 minutes. Heat up the pan and make sure it’s smoking hot. Add oil, garlic, ginger slivers and green onions, and let it brown for 1 minute. Add the marinated meat and cook till it’s a dark brown color. Fill up the pot with water and boil it on high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium. You’ll start to see a raft of impurities floating on top. This is where you have to baby the NRM and check upon it every 15-20 minutes. You don’t wanna be drinking the ‘floaties’.

Next add soy sauce to taste, star anise, five spice powder and let this boil for 3-4 hours. I usually start cooking this pretty late at night, so I have to cook this over two days. So, a total of about 6-8 hours, depending on how tender you want the beef to be. Now after a few hours of boiling, the water will obviously evaporate, so you’ll have to keep refilling the water. This is my preference. Some people like to keep the soup a little bit thicker and full-tasting. Garnish with green onions, cilantro, Chinese pickled vegetables and hot sauce. Add your favorite greens on top and let it cook in the broth.

This is not the type of NRM you’d see at a restaurant. Kirk’s definitely looks way more authentic, and I’d suggest you try his before you try mine haha. But, if it helps, I have plenty of satisfied customers including my family. I like my soup less stocky and full of flavor. If you like a thicker broth, add corn starch to the beef marinade before you brown the meat. I also prefer thick 1/4” dried noodles over the skinny, spaghetti style noodles you’ll sometimes see at a restaurant.

In addition to making NRM, I have to have my side dishes – Chinese ‘Baan Chan’. A popular favorite is the spicy, garlic cucumbers. Simply use Persian, Japanese or hot house cucumbers or pickles and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add salt, white pepper, garlic (lots!), chili bean paste (any kind of hot sauce will do) and sesame oil to taste. If it’s too salty, counter balance it with some sugar.

Same goes with another one of my favorites, shredded bean curd. Garnish with cilantro and thin slices of carrots. If you like rice vinegar, it’s a good addition.

This is a great dish to have during the winter. And during hangovers. Enjoy. Read more!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Neighbor In Need

Ever since I moved into West LA, I made it a point to try and meet as many of my neighbors as I could. You know, just in case, I make a little too much noise after a night of partying, they’re less inclined to call the cops. My one neighbor, Luke, is probably the most hilarious and interesting of them all. Born in Michigan, he moved to LA to pursue a career as an actor. How cliché. He and I run into each other at the oddest times, usually late at night. It’s true, the freaks do come out at night. I’ll be smoking outside and he’ll be walking down the street, usually equipped with a trucker hat and unusual, artery-clogging snacks from 7/11 up the street. We often hangout on the curb, drink beers and talk about important things in life: like women. He had been dating a girl from San Diego and told me that their relationship, sadly, only existed through the phone because of a priority conflict. A few weeks ago, he came by and knocked on my door with a serious look.

“Hey man, what’s up?”
“What’s up?”
“So you know that SD girl I was telling you about?”
“Well she’s finally coming down to see me and I wanna do something nice for her.”
“Like what?”
“I wanna make her dinner at my place.”
“What’s wrong with the 7/11 hot dogs? Haha.”
“%*$# you. Haha.”
“Let’s do it.”

So he came over later that week and I told him we could do a practice run. She liked chicken so I wanted to pick something tasty, yet easy to cook. I didn’t want him to risk burning down his kitchen. I suggested Prosciutto & Cheese Stuffed Chicken with a White wine, shallot sauce served with grilled asparagus (my favorite) and basmati rice from Trader Joe’s.

Most people have a fear in using chicken breasts because of its tendency to taste dry and bland. But if it’s seared in a pan and thrown in the oven, it’s super tender and flavorful. I don’t suggest pan-frying chicken breasts, but if you do, cut them in half so that you get two thin pieces of breast meat. Cut a slit on the side of the breast and stuff it with two pieces of prosciutto and one slice of provolone cheese. Salt and pepper both sides and sear them in a skillet. (Go easy on the salt, the prosciutto and cheese have plenty of sodium as it is.) As soon as it’s browned, flip the breasts and throw it in the oven. 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, and once it’s done, let it sit outside so that the juices are re-distributed.

For the sauce, deglaze the skillet with any kind of white wine and scrape up the flavored bits from the chicken. Add some shallots and butter (garlic if you like), and let the sauce reduce. If you’re impatient like me, just add some flour and use a whisk to dissolve the flour. Add sugar if the sauce is too sour. This dish took no more than an hour to prepare and was pretty good. Most of all, Luke was able to pick it up pretty quickly. Not only did I get free food, I got a six pack for helping him out. I’d say that’s a fair trade.

A few days later, I saw Luke.

“So, how’d it go?”
“It went well.”
“She didn’t throw up right?”
“So you guys had a good time?”
“Yeah we did.”
“So when did she leave?”
A smile quickly formed on his face.
“The next morning.”

I nearly shed a tear in joy. Read more!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Good Time for Thai

My father’s side of the family comes from Laos and Thailand. And with them, they brought an interesting addition to the, already vast, world of Asian cuisine. My parents trained us to develop a Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese palate, and to this day, I’m still preparing myself for chicken feet at dim sum restaurants. Or even live octopus. Maybe if it was included in the final stage in one of those Fear Factor episodes with an open view of $5,000 in a briefcase, then… maybe.

It’s always interesting to visit other countries and see what they like to eat. Especially with snacks. When my sister and I were younger, we often got dumped off at the relatives while my parents ran errands. Because they were immigrants, they were obviously not going to be stocked with ‘safe’, American-made snacks for us to munch on. Not a single sight of Funyuns, Corn Nuts or candy. It was always something bizarre like, Calbee shrimp chips, cuttlefish jerky or dried salted prunes in a plastic, heart-shaped container. If you could just imagine the sour face I wore for a good amount of years. I actually grew to love these kind of snacks, but my elementary school classmates didn’t. My pack of seaweed, haw flakes, white rabbit candy, cuttlefish snacks and soy bean milk were never even considered for trade. I usually just got a lot of odd glares from them, as they lunched on Doritos, Fig Newtons and Capri-Sun. Bastards.

Well, when you’re stuck in a foreign land, you’ve gotta adjust somehow. Time to borrow MacGyver’s brain. A-ha. At my aunt’s house, there was an endless supply of Kung-Fu instant noodles – the ones that come with a beef-flavored packet that were strategically placed to give the noodles a ‘food-like’ taste. Brilliant. We’d then crunch up the noodles while the bag was still sealed and made sure the noodles were crushed into bite-sized morsels of crap. Sauce time. First went the food-flavored powder. Then the spicy powder. Shook it up and shared the wealth with everyone. I remember going thru a good three to four packs in one day.

Laos borders Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The languages are similar in tones, as with Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese. Almost all Southeast Asian countries shared the same ingredients in the kitchen. Fish sauce and shrimp paste being the most common. And let me tell you, this stuff is STILL pungent in my opinion. My palate has definitely grown but nothing can prepare you for the dual potency of fish sauce and shrimp paste -- combined. And you’ll be glad to know it’s in the ever-so-popular Thai Papaya Salad.

It was only recently, that I started to eat more and more Laotian and Thai food. For 20 years I stared at my relatives in disbelief as they ate fish mixed with coconut milk, eggplant with shrimp paste, etc. You get the picture.

So now that I spend a good amount of the week cooking, I thought I’d cook a sympathetic meal for the ones I gawked at. The Chinese partake in a ritualof presenting actual dishes of food in the backyard, called "Bai-Sun", for the ancestors to eat, as a gesture of respect. I guess I’m doing the same, only I don’t have any incense sticks on me at this time. It’s my way of saying, “Oops, I’m sorry I disrespected your food. Maybe I should’ve tried the food when I had the chance, because now, I love it.”

I started out with Thai chicken curry. A great dish that leaves a spicy, yet satisfying coat of heat inside your stomach. I used regular chicken leg meat and marinated that with fish sauce, white pepper, sugar, corn starch and rice wine. After 30 minutes in the fridge, I fried the chicken and added Thai curry powder (available at all markets. You can even use Indian curry.) I threw in some garlic, Thai chilies, red bell pepper, basil leaves, onions and sautéed them till they still had some bite to it. Then I added some coconut milk and fish sauce and let it simmer for 30 minutes. That’s it.

This next one is a take on the popular Chinese dish, Sauteed Green Beans with Garlic and Chilies. In Cantonese, it’s ‘gon-bean-say-gwai-dao’ (sautéed, four-season green beans). I deep fried the beans for about 30 seconds, took them out and patted them dry. I then sautéed some ground pork, Thai chilies, garlic and green onions. Instead of just using salt, the Thai recipe calls for fish sauce. Warning: turn on your overhead fan. Heat and fish sauce are not good.

Almost every country in Asia will have soup noodles. Thai cuisine is big on beef ball noodle soup. In most Thai restaurants, you can find the Thai Boat noodle soup. It got its name from villagers that would make a living by providing a kitchen on water. If you’re hungry, you simply flag down your ‘restaurant’ and they’ll pull right up to you and serve it right there. Kind of like a roach coach that is at your mercy. Here, I simply made a broth with fish sauce, chicken bouillon, sugar, white pepper and fried shallots. I used Vietnamese ‘banh pho’ rice stick noodles.

For appetizers, I made two types of salad: Papaya salad and Thai beef salad. Both of which use the same ingredients pretty much. Luckily at my 99 Ranch Market in SGV, I can buy pre-grated papaya. Only $0.79/lb! I’m not about to buy a machete and hack my way at the papaya. I mixed micro-planed garlic (if you’re a regular on my blog, you’ll see that ‘micro-plane’ term a lot. I love this tool.), lime, chopped-up Thai chilies, crushed red pepper flakes, fish sauce, shrimp paste and white onions into the grated papaya. Mix it up and throw it in the fridge. I personally think it tastes better cold. For the Thai beef salad, I used all of the fore-mentioned ingredients EXCEPT garlic and shrimp paste, and added green onions. I used round steak and cooked it in the oven till it was pink in the very center. I sliced it up and let it cool off and hand-squeezed any remaining blood. Mix it up and chill as well.

My last dish is a simple pork mixture that has fish sauce, pickled vegetable and one egg on top. Simply steam that for 30-45 minutes and devour.

By the way, I used way too many chilies. My stomach is KILLING me. Thanks for reading. Thai noodles such as pad kee mow, pad thai and laat nah (raat nah) are next on my plate. Read more!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin