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Barkitecture Doggy Trailer House

7 Nov

The spirit of the Austin food trailer movement was captured at Barkitecture this Saturday, a family and pet friendly event benefitting various rescue groups happening just across the river from Gypsy Picnic.

Happy Lunar New Year!

14 Feb

A peek into how we ushered in the Year of the Tiger at my folks’ last night:

Dad’s spring rolls filled with napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and pork in the fryer.

Fresh out of the fryer spring rolls, great with a little soy sauce and black rice vinegar dipping sauce!  The Shanghainese also enjoy these with what they call “spicy soy sauce,” which is a sauce that is a cross between Worcestershire’s sauce and soy sauce due to the city’s long history of western influence.

Five spice roast beef and eggs, another one of Dad’s specialties and a perennial favorite around the house.

Sichuan Basa

Dad trying out something new: basa fish with dried chili peppers, pickled Sichuan chilis, and garlic over napa cabbage.  It’s similar to the water boiled fish dish at Sichuan style restaurants but this preparation doesn’t require quite as much oil.  A fish dish is always present at a Chinese New Year’s dinner because the Mandarin character for “fish” sounds exactly like the character for “surplus” (homonyms), thus eating fish is a wish that the rest of the year will be plentiful.  During tougher economic times in the history of China, when families could not afford real fish on New Year’s, a carved wooden fish (painted red for good luck) would be plated for the feast as a hopeful symbol of more bountiful times to come.

And a favorite from the Jiangxi Province where my mom is from: Jiangxi rice noodles (round instead of flat like Hong Kong style chow fun) with pork, onions, and green and red chilis.

The grand finale, the Doughmonkey Underground Patric chocolate cake foursome by the great pastry artist Rhonda Ruckman:

  • 70% Rio Caribe Superior chocolate cake
  • 70% Venezuelan Coffee chocolate cake
  • 70% Madagascar and Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey Chocolate Cake with Tasmanian Honeycomb
  • 70% Madagascar Sambirano Valley chocolate cake

Happy New Year to all!  May the Year of the Tiger bring you peace, prosperity, and most importantly, plenty of adventures in good food!

Cooking Tips from the CIA

14 Dec

Between the luggage fees, lack of peanut/pretzel snacks, and early 90’s TV monitors, I didn’t think anything could be enjoyable about my flight back from Puerto Rico.  But if American Airlines can’t do anything else right, the monthly American Way Magazine remains a trusty source for in-flight entertainment.  The November 15 issue featured an article about the Culinary Insitute of America in NYC with a useful list of cooking tips.  A few that I’ll be posting on my fridge:

  • Keep your knives sharp.  Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp knives.
  • Salt after, not during, sauteing for better browning (salt draws out water).
  • When boiling potatoes, start them in cold water so that the outsides don’t cook faster than the insides.
  • When you turn over a piece of meat or fish, set it down in a new spot on the grill or pan.  The previous part of grill/pan will not be as hot and will cause the meat/fish to stick.

Link for the rest of the cooking tips.

Happy Thanksgiving!

25 Nov

I won’t be having turkey on Turkey Day this year.  Instead, I’ll be indulging in some good old lechon in Anthony Bourdain’s #3 spot in the Hierarchy of Pork, Puerto Rico. 

I didn’t completely miss out on my favorite holiday, though.  This past Sunday, I cooked my very first whole turkey for a Thanksgiving potluck with a group of friends.  I was nervous about roasting the giant bird, but following the steps to this Bon Appetit recipe led to a juicy bird with great flavors of sage and apples.  I didn’t make my own turkey broth like the recipe recommends, just used some store bought chicken broth combined with the pan drippings to make the gravy.  If this is your first year doing the Thanksgiving bird, try this relatively easy recipe as it yielded a plump and moist turkey without any crazy tricks.

And thanks to the great friends who brought over all the trimmings (green beans, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, corn bread stuffing, and pumpkin pie), I’ve already had my awesome Thanksgiving feast.  Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Real Ale Coffee Porter

24 Nov

I brought home a six pack of this seasonal brew from Real Ale Brewing Company down in Blanco out of curiosity after reading its description, “brewed with organic barley and organic fair trade coffee from Katz Coffee Roasters.”  Caffeine and alcohol, two vices in one potent potion, how could I not try it?

The dark beer has a rust red tint when held up to light and smells strongly of roasted coffee.  The body is not as full as its nutty and caramely aroma would suggest, and feels a bit watered down.  The finish is mostly smooth with a tinge of bitterness like tasting that last cup from the coffee pot.

I’m no beer connossieur but this was an interesting product to try at least once.  For a fridge staple though, I’d much prefer Real Ale’s Fireman’s #4.

New Menu Items at RA Sushi

11 Nov

Last week, I was invited to RA Sushi at the Shops at Legacy to try out some of their new menu items.  RA’s menu tends towards Japanese/new American fusion, and the new menu items creatively follow that theme.  Since my exposure to Japanese cuisine is limited to restaurant experiences in the US, I invited along a friend who has an active interest in Japanese cuisine with multiple trips to Japan logged in his passport for an added perspective.

First up, RA Chips (fried wonton chips) and Salsa (spicy tuna tartare mixed with cucumber, avocado, and fresh salsa):

Ra Chips and Salsa

I’m usually a skeptic of fusion concepts, but this one won me over.  The crunch from the wonton chips and the refreshing, cold, slightly spicy burn from the tuna tartare “dip” truly gives the same texture and taste thrill as digging into a big bowl of freshly fried tortilla chips and zesty salsa.  Someone get me a margarita and a football game on TV, stat!  My personal preference is a little less sauce on top of the tuna, as I found the sweetness nagging.  But overall, a very successful concept that left me wanting more.

Coming alongside the chips and salsa was the Kaisen Ceviche with cooked shrimp, scallops, and squid mixed with fresh tomato, avocado, and salsa.

Kaisen Ceviche

Whether or not there’s anything Japanese/Asian about this dish except for the fried spring roll wrapper base is debatable, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the spot on texture of the scallops and squid, tender and not overcooked and chewey.  The dish needed more acid to feel like a true ceviche, and when we squeezed some extra lime juice on top, did help that aspect a bit. 

The next course had us switch gears from cold and refreshing to a hot mess, literally.  The menu item so lovingly named “Hot Mess” is actually deep fried rice balls topped with a spicy king crab mix topped with jalapeno and cilantro.

Hot Mess

The plate was a visually stunning presentation with the bright purple beet juice soaked tempura flakes set against the green jalapeno and cilantro.  I really wished the flavors were as clean and distinct as the look.  I understand the idea behind the dish, crunchy fried rice squares topped with creamy king crab and mayonnaise mixture with an added kick from the jalapeno.  But the rice squares were more callous than crispy, and it was nearly impossible to manage each little stack in one bite.  The concept has potential, and perhaps with smaller rice balls and less frying time, could achieve stunning texture as well as presentation.

Next up were items from the new RA Tapas section of the menu.  The plates consist of crudo-style thinly sliced sashimi with various dressings and acid and spice.

Sweet Onion Salmon: Salmon with marinated onions and sweet onion dressing topped with microgreens.

Sweet Onion Salmon

Sesame Lemon Whitefish: Whitefish (tilapia) with sesame dressing and lemon topped with microgreens.

Sesame Lemon Whitefish

Garlic Citrus Yellowtail: Yellowtail with citrus garlic ponzu sauce and scallions topped with microgreens.

Garlic Citrus Yellowtail

Crispy Onion Albacore: Seared albacore with garlic ponzu sauce, crispy onions, and wontons.

Crispy Onion Albacore

Seared Tuna (so named though not seared on this plate): Tuna with a creamy soy dressing, sesame seeds, and Japanese rice cracker bits.

Seared Tuna

These dishes were my favorites at lunch, the kind of fusion concept whose flavor doesn’t get muddled underneath all the added condiments and flair.  I particularly enjoyed the smooth silky tuna in the mild soy dressing with a pop of crunch from the rice cracker bits and the flavor combination of the salmon slices with the sweet onion vinaigrette.  The crispy onion albacore, in addition to having explosive textures in each bite, presented slices of of velvety smooth pleasure, no stringy fish here.  A couple of the dressings leaned towards too sweet for my taste, I’m just a stickler for acidity when it comes to raw seafood.

We ended our meal with the Banana Split Maki.

 Banana Split Maki

The banana maki roll pieces consisted of chocolate stuffed bananas inside a spring roll wrapper, all fried and topped with kiwi, mandarin orange slices, whipped cream, strawberries, and drizzed with raspberry and chocolate sauces.  The dessert, surprisingly, was just the right amount of sweetness for me, achieving balance between the rich chocolate and the fresh fruit.  The fried stuffed bananas didn’t feel heavy at all inside those airy crisp spring roll wrappers, a perfect ending to our lunch.

Overall, I think the new menu items are great, creative additions to RA’s menu.  I’m particularly excited about seeing the RA Tapas sashimi styled dishes north of Dallas proper, presented with such style and originality.  Service was impeccable, with a staff well versed in the menu offerings and quick to accommodate special requests.  Despite my aversion to the tendency towards sweetness in fusion dishes, I think RA has proven that fusion doesn’t have to feel forced, it can simply be fun.

RA Sushi
7501 Lone Star Dr (Shops at Legacy)
Plano, TX 75024

Dallas Chefs and Restaurants Recognized as James Beard Semifinalists

13 Feb

The James Beard Foundation Award semifinalists were announced this morning and several local chefs received recognition, including:

Outstanding Chef:

Stephan Pyles of Stephan Pyles

Best New Restaurant:

Tei An (how cool is that?  I love this place.)

Outstanding Pastry Chef:

David Collier, The Mansion

Best Chef (Southwest Region):

Sharon Hage, York Street

John Tesar, The Mansion (even with the recent announcement?)

Visit this page for a complete list of semifinalists.

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