Category Archives: dinner

Braised Cider Short Ribs with Herbed Spaetzle

What is spaetzle? It sounds like some horrific German monstrosity somehow related to spaying Cocker Spaniels, but instead it is a pasta like dumpling hailing from Alsace.

The pancaked like batter of the spaetzle with fresh tarragon and chives

I had never had spaetzle before let alone made it. At first I thought it was going to turn out horribly and I had no hope that it would taste good. I thought people would chew and pretend to like it saying oh well you know I’ll eat anything. This was not the case. It was universally liked; there were no ah’s and ooh’s of amazement, but no one pushed it around their plate pretending to eat it. I would definitely like to try making it again to see if I could do a better job and next time I would leave out of the tarragon because I have learned that I do not like tarragon (the smell reminds of something akin to toothpaste).

The spaetzle was not the main centerpiece of this meal though it was the perfect complement to these braised cider short ribs. I love braised meats. Well, frankly I like braising anything. Slow cooked to tenderness with deep, fully developed flavors and charred bits of yummy things stuck to your teeth, what could be better? Plus braising lends itself well to cheap meats and cooking with alcohol.

The alcohol of choice this time was Old Rosie’s Scrumpy Cider. Scrumpy refers to small batch or home-made ciders as opposed to mass produced ciders. This was a particularly tangy cider that I was unsure about during the cooking process. The broth took on a very sour flavor at one point that I thought was going to turn out fairly rancid tasting, but after messing around a bit with some vegetable stock and brown sugar I came out with a flavorful, intense sauce with only a bit of tang after nearly three hours of cooking.

The first step with any meat braise is to brown your meat. I started with four fairly large short ribs from Whole Foods and browned them in about three tablespoons of olive oil in my cast iron dutch oven.

The browning process takes about twenty minutes and you don’t want to rush it. You want every side of your meat to be evenly browned. This is not a quick cooking process and you will need to take some considerable time and attention out of your day to do it.

Next you want to remove the meat from the pan and then four chopped shallots (or onions if you’re one of those people). Cook until soft (about five to ten minutes) then add the meat back to the pan.

After putting the meat back in, add one cup of cider and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about an hour then add three tablespoons of brown sugar and two cups of vegetable stock and cook for another hour and a half.

Beer Beef and Barley Stew

In October I made a number of meals based on alcohol. I generally don’t drink a lot of alcohol or cook with it usually. Usually when cooking with alcohol it is wine or in desserts. I don’t like to drink wine so why would I cook with it?

This recipe is based on Sam Adams’ Pumpkin Ale, a beer that I would never drink but turned out wonderful as a base for hearty beef and barley stew. The broth of the stew ended up tasting like the gravy in Shepherd’s Pie. It was incredibly flavorful and filling.

I started with pre-cut stew meat from Safeway and chopped it into smaller pieces. I browned this with shallots and carrots in some olive oil. Then I added a bottle of Sam Adams’ Pumpkin Ale and a cup of vegetable stock. I brought this to a boil then added a half cup of pearled barley. I brought it down to a simmer and let it cook for about forty-five minutes or until the barley was completely tender.

Laili Restaurant Review

On Friday night Andrew and I ventured into downtown Santa Cruz to catch a movie at the Riverfront Twin. We were planning on seeing 50/50 since we’re Joseph Gordon Levitt fans and Seth Rogen is generally amusing. We eschewed the typical pizza, taqueria, or falafel choices that we usually make and decided to check out a restaurant that’s been around for about a year: Laili. It is located on Cooper Street where I believe there used to be an apothecary, but I’m not certain. They have indoor and outdoor space; we chose to sit outdoors since the weather was nice and indoors was fairly noisy and dark. The patio area is beautiful: ivy growing everywhere, tea lights, etc. The only way you were reminded that you were next to Pacific Ave were the drummers outside of O’Neil’s which quieted down about fifteen minutes after being seated.

 

Afghan Chai

The waitress got our drinks ordered quickly: Andrew ordered a beer (typical) and I ordered a chai (also typical). Our drinks came quickly and then we ordered our appetizers and entrees. The chai was an Afghan chai, sweeter and not as spicy as Indian chai. It was also pinkish in color. I really enjoyed it and it had these beautiful bubbles on top that I really wanted to photograph.

While we were enjoying our beverages, a waitress came by and tried to give us someone else’s entrees. Then another waitress came by and dropped off an appetizer that we didn’t order, but we couldn’t exactly remember the names of what we ordered so we started eating it anyway. The Pumpkin Boranee is stewed pumpkin, qurut yogurt, mint, and garlic. It was a very pretty dish that sounded good, but the texture of the stewed pumpkin was slimy and stringy.

Pumpkin Boranee

Next came the appetizers that we did order: the Silk Road Plate and the Pumpkin Bolani. The Silk Road Plate was a selection of hummus, tabbouleh, babaghanoush, and cucumber yogurt dip with “naan”. Their idea of naan was not typical of the naan that I’ve had: it was simply a flour tortilla grilled, completely tasteless and not naan. The hummus was good and the pumpkin bolani was absolutely delicious, crispy on the outside and sweet, spicy pumpkin on the inside. Along with our appetizers, we ordered a prawn salad with arugula, fennel, seasonal fruits, and pomegranate vinaigrette. This was a completely overpriced salad with (18 dollars) with about six prawns, the pomegranate vinaigrette that did not taste of pomegranate at all, and maybe about three strawberries.  Total disappointment.

 

For our entrees, I ordered Chicken Kabob and Andrew ordered Anar Chicken. The chicken kabob was moist and tender unlike a lot of chicken kabobs that I’ve had. It was served with saffron rice, steamed vegetables that were overcooked and undercooked (a definite low point in the meal), and several different chutneys that really helped add flavor to the meat which was slightly bland. The Anar Chicken was a half roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Andrew said it was very good.
 Anar Chicken with Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Kabob with Saffron Rice

The service was definitely off. They tried to serve us food that wasn’t ours, served us food that wasn’t ours which we ate anyway, and there was nearly forty-five minutes between being served our apps and being served our entrees. The staff were friendly when they did stop by, but they were simultaneously overattentive and not attentive enough. Overall, the food was good, the service mediocre, and definitely overpriced for the amount of food and quality of that food.

Weddings, Gardens, and Aquaman?

I found these on my computer and realized that I had not shared them yet on my blog. They are on Facebook, but not in my blog. They are not things that I have cooked, so that is probably why they have not made it over here, but they are things that I have eaten so they deserve a place here.

One set of pictures is from the Concord Farmer’s Market. Concord is a city near Walnut Creek in the East Bay (east of Oakland, up the 680). My friends Cindy and Eric live in Clayton which is outside of Concord. We were visiting up there and in between painting a garden shed and attending a fantastic wedding reception in Emeryville, we went to the farmer’s market to enjoy tamales, berries, and gelato.

Strawberries and blackberries. I’m lamenting the end of blackberry season.

Chicken tamale with salsa verde and crema.

Pork tamale with salsa verde and crema

I did not get any gelato pictures. It was tasty, especially on an incredibly hot day.

Later we walked around Cindy’s garden and admired the artwork, such as the sculpture that I have dubbed aquaman.

He’s some sort of mermaid fish dude. My friend Eric made him while he was in art school.

The rest of their backyard is made up of trees, a vegetable garden, a green house, and a number of fruit trees. It’s really impressive for a suburban backyard. I miss having my garden. We have yet to start on our new one here in Santa Cruz. It was the one nice thing about our apartment back in Santa Clara.

The rest of the day was spent at a friend’s wedding. I had never met the person whose wedding it was. Isn’t that always awkward? Congratulations on one of the biggest moments in your life, it’s so nice to meet you. So I did what any self-respecting, awkward individual does, I drank a lot of wine and ate chicken heads.

Why yes the bride on top of the cake is about beat the groom. And yes this was a beautiful cake, but unfortunately it did not taste as good as it looked. It was like one of those Safeway bakery cakes if you had left it out on the counter for a couple days and then some sort of cake Bunnicula came by and stole its cakey essence.

That didn’t make any sense. I’ve been up since two in the morning, ever since my neighbor woke me up to chanting to the full moon.

The rest of the meal was fairly traditional Chinese wedding food (I think) with the exception of my favorite dish of the night: the lobster thermidor. For once, I actually enjoyed lobster. Plus, the view from this restaurant (located on the Emeryville wharf) was fantastic.

The view of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline from Hong Kong East Ocean restaurant.

An assortment of bbq meats including char siu pork (one of my favorite things on this planet, especially when put into a steamed bun).

Some sort of seafood salad in a crispy noodle bowl.

Some sort of crab croquette claw thing. It’s like a tribble ate a crab and then was deep fried. The batter around the outside (tribble flesh) was disgusting, but crab claw was alright.

The “not” shark fin soup. Fake shark fin soup. I took about one bite of it and couldn’t eat the rest.

Abalone and mushrooms. I’m skeptical that this was real abalone, but whatever it was it was one of the better dishes of the night.

I believe this was lobster thermidor. Whatever it was it was absolutely incredible, especially after three or four glasses of wine. Best dish of the night and the only time I have ever enjoyed lobster. Of course it would be a French dish at a Chinese restaurant.

The chicken head that I hate. Not bad.

 

 

Mini Buffalo Burgers on Whole Wheat Pita

One of the foods that Andrew regularly subsists on is ground buffalo. While I enjoy buffalo, its beefy flavor with less saturated fat, I don’t like it necessarily for burgers. I’m more down on turkey burgers than buffalo burgers. I prefer ground chuck for my burgers: moist, flavorful, and a nice greasy touch. However, we had ground buffalo in the fridge and I decided that if there were going to be buffalo burgers made this week I was going to make them.

There are three differences between the way Andrew and I cook burgers: 1. I use worcestsire sauce and paprika while Andrew mostly uses a mixture of dried garlic, salt and pepper; 2. I  use a well oiled cast iron skillet and Andrew uses a non-stick skillet. The non-stick skillet means less grease, but you don’t get the nice crust around the meat that you get with the cast iron skillet. Plus cast iron is badass. 3. I cook mine to medium-well with a touch of pink in the middle and Andrew does his well. We will talk more about this issue later.

By the way, I am not saying my burgers are better than Andrew’s; they are two different beasts that cannot be compared. We just tackle our meat differently.

I served this cute little burgers on mini whole wheat pitas with spinach and feta cheese.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

I used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I can’t express enough how much I enjoy Mr. Minimalist’s books. You can find this recipe on pg. 719 of that book if you would like more conventional directions.

1. Mix together 1 1/2 cups each of all-purpose white flour and whole wheat flour with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

If you don’t like the taste of wheat baked goods you can make these entirely with all-purpose flour. You do not want to make these entirely from whole wheat flour. Baked goods made entirely with whole wheat flour are heavy and dense something that you do not want for pita.

2. Proof your yeastie beasts. You want to two teaspoons of yeast or one packet of active dry yeast. To proof yeast drop them into about half a cup of 110 degree water with a pinch of sugar (they need to feed) until they are foamy and yeasty smelling (about five minutes). Then add to the flour mixture along with another half cup of water.

3. Mix with a rubber spatular until combined into a slightly sticky ball. If it is dry add water one tablespoon at a time until it is a nice ball. Knead for a few seconds on a well floured surface then put back into the bowl and cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap.

4. From here I put my dough outside in the sun to rise because it is actually “room temperature” outside my house not inside. You can also put it in the fridge if you can wait approximately seven hours. At room temperature wait 1-2 hours. I waited about two and a half hours and it had more than doubled in size.

5. When your dough has doubled in size, pull small balls off of it. You can make these balls as big or as small as you like. I wanted to make mini burgers so I made mini pita. This recipe ended up making about twelve mini pita. Once you tear off your little dough balls put them on a floured baking sheet, cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap, and let rise for another twenty minutes.

6. Roll each ball out to about a 1/4 of an inch on a well floured surface. After rolling out each ball into a disc cover again and sit for another twenty minutes while you prepare your cooking device.

There are multiple ways that you can do this. I opted for the cast iron skillet on the stove top method because the other two methods are as such: do it in the oven on a pizza stone (don’t own a pizza stone) or do it in the oven on a baking sheet (umm..boring!). I chose the most badass, time consuming way of cooking these bad boys: on the stove top with a dry cast iron skillet. You can also do these with a griddle (like the kind you would use for pancakes) on your stove top.

If you are going the route of cast iron badassery (how many times can I use that term in one blog post?), heat the skillet to medium-high with no lubricant. No butter, no oil, nada. You want dry heat here. Don’t worry if your skillet is seasoned correctly nothing will stick. Once the twenty minute resting period has elapsed and the skillet is thoroughly heated toss one pita on the skillet. Let it sit. Don’t touch it. It will start to bubble and it will be beautiful. After about four to five minutes (this depends on the size of your pita) flip over and cook another two to three minutes then put aside and start over again with the next one. Continue until all pita are cooked.

Now you have pita!

Mini Buffalo Burgers

This is purely my own recipe, no measurements here. I’ve learned what I enjoy in a burger and what works for me. What works for you will be different. I get tired of people saying they make the best of something or you have to do it one way for it to be a real whatever. Food is about personal taste.

I mixed a pound of ground buffalo with worcestshire sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, dried minced shallot, and a dash of Frank’s Red Hot sauce. The worcestshire is incredibly important. It is incredibly flavorful and adds a much needed dose of moisture to the buffalo which tends to get dry and crumbly when introduced to high heat.

I heated up the same cast iron skillet I used earlier for the pita bread with a nice coating of olive oil (here one of those places where Andrew and I differ) on medium high heat. Once heated through, I patted a little fistful of my meat mixture into a small burger patty and tossed two to three of them into my skillet. Heat for about five minutes on one side until browned then flip over. Do not squish with your spatula, do not fuck around with your burger. Let it get that nice caramelized meat crust. After about three minutes your burger should be done depending on how well done you like it.

Here is where I will note Andrew’s misinformed opinion about how long to cook ground meat. Ground meat does not need to be cooked so long that it turns into a gray lifeless mass. It is okay to eat it medium or medium well. Hell if you got your meat from a reputable source you can eat it raw if you like. Andrew cut open his burger and sniffed pooh-pooh at it because there was the tiniest tinge of pink in the middle and said “Ground meat needs to be cooked completely.”. All he needed was a stern, “No, medium well is perfectly fine”, from me and he realized that he was incorrect or was just placating me. He inhaled four of these burgers.

I served them on top of the whole wheat pita with spinach and feta cheese.  You could make little mini burger buns and serve them as sliders.

The Best Restaurants Are Always in Strip Malls

I’ve realized living in the San Jose area that the best restaurants are in the most run-down looking strip malls next to the dumpiest donut shops and porn stores that you can find. Yas Restaurant is no exception to this. Located in Maple Leaf Plaza on Saratoga (at Williams) it is in the same shopping center as a medical marijuana clinic, a donut shop, and an excellent burrito place. The exterior leaves a lot to be desired. It is incredibly non-descript with the exception of a blue and white striped awning. If I didn’t know it was a restaurant I would have assumed it was a strip club. All the windows have blinds. The doors do not have windows. It is made of white cinder blocks. Frank Lloyd Wright did not design this building.

The interior is not much better. The walls are a pept0bismal pink, the color of the bed pans I used to make barbie doll houses out of as a child. Our white table cloth was dirty. Food stains. This was not starting off on the right foot. The blinds were those folding mini-blinds that I hated as a child. Those off-white spotty kinds that never work. Ugh.

They start you off with free lavash bread and a shy, stuttering gorgeous waitress with a heavy Iranian accent. She was perfectly attentive, answering our questions freely, but probably had not expected us to have so many. The lavash bread was good for lavash bread. I personally find it a little dry and uninteresting.

For appetizers we ordered Ash-E Reshteh, which their menu describes as a “Traditional Persian soup. A combination of herbs, vegetables, lentils, garbanzo beans, and noodles”, and Falafel. I found it creamy and full flavored. The yogurt swirl in the soup added a sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing touch. I thought the yogurt taste would be overwhelming as I tend to find yogurt, but it added a necessary amount of tang and creaminess. I only had a small cup and I would have loved the entire bowl. The falafel were very hot and fresh. They were a little dry because we ordered them without the yogurt sauce. They had a great, freshly made herby flavor. Another excellent dish.

For the main dishes, we ordered Shireen Polo and Kabab Barreh. Their menu describes Shireen Polo as “Orange peels, almond, pistachio, and saffron rice syrup fixed with basmati rice with chicken”.  I found the dark meat chicken pieces, which were on the bone, as incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. The sauce was a tomato based sauce, but I could not taste any tomato only the spices that they used, which I liked. The rice they served with it was a little on the sweet side, but it was fluffy and fragrant with the additional texture of pistachios and almonds.

BBQ Chicken

Yesterday I had my second round of interviews with the Monterey Peninsula School District. I got home around eleven in the morning and decided to walk to the Safeway on 41st. We live less than a mile from the store, so it was a nice afternoon walk if I limited the amount of groceries I bought. I kept it to two bags and it wasn’t so bad, except for the bunch of middle-aged motorcyclists who decided to stop and check me out. Weirdness.

I was craving BBQ chicken like mad. I couldn’t stop thinking about the sweet, smoky carbonized sticky chicken skin. Skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs were the cheapest cuts of chicken available at Safeway, though I tend to enjoy white meat more than dark. Dark meat does tend to stand up better to the high heat of the grill. Andrew got the grilled started up and then I got the chicken on.

To start with, toss the chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper. Do not put the sauce on the chicken yet. Andrew wanted to put the sauce on straight away and this is a mistake. You will end up with a bullet proof carbon shell around your chicken before the inside is even cooked. Once you put the chicken on the grill put the lid on and cook for about fifteen minutes, turning and flipping occasionally.

After about fifteen to twenty minutes, it is time to add the sauce. You can make your own sauce or you can use store bought. I purchased Baby Sugar Ray’s BBQ Sauce for 99 cents. 99 cents for more than a pound of BBQ sauce. Much lighter and cheaper than carrying all the makings for homemade BBQ sauce. Homemade is always appreciated, but so is a light grocery bag and a small bill. Slather the BBQ sauce on with a brush and continue to baste until the chicken is cooked. It took about twenty more minutes for my chicken to cook mostly because I’m terrified of undercooked poultry.

We served this with asparagus and grilled baby new potatoes.