Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Going to a sushi bar!

California Highlight #3

Of all the food that we got in California, Sushi Lovers in Milpitas had me actually trembling with glee. I could hardly contain my excitement as a girl in a shiny pink kimono led us to our seats at the bar. Jaunty little boats, carrying various types of sushi, floated by right in front me. I waited with great anticipation for my raison d'etre: the quintessential California roll, made with a creamy mayo sauce with chopped crab meat (not the krab with a "k"), avocado & cucumber, all in a deliciously large maki roll. It didn't take me long to spot the food of desire; unfortunately, it didn't take others long either. California rolls are so tasty people upstream kept grabbing them. But I was not detered, and my patience was rewarded with a healthy dose of California rolls, California deltas (like the roll but in sandwich form), and plenty of other of tasty dishes. My hands trembled the entire night until my belly could take no more.

As if sheer tastiness wasn't enough, Sushi Lovers is also downright cheap. You pay per plate design (note the large stack next to me). I despise how restaurants in the US always overcharge for sushi; it should be fun and inexpensive, but I've only found it so in California. Sushi Lovers is easily one of my top five restaurants of all time. It meets all the criteria: magnificient food, delightful atmosphere (you did notice the little boats floating by with food, right?), and a great price. Come on, sing with me ... I want to go a sushi bar! (I don't hear you!) I want to go with you!

Monday, September 29, 2003

Chicken pot pie: $15
Meeting Goofy: Priceless

California Highlight #2

Normally lunch at Disneyland consists of quick burgers from an outdoor stand or leftover bagel sandwiches sneaked out from the Embassy Suites free cooked-to-order breakfast. Not this time. This time, when we went to Disney's California Adventure, we dined at Ariel's Grotto. Instead of a $7 burger in the hot sun I had a $15 Ship-Shape Cheesy Onion Soup and Cove's Chicken & Biscuit Pot Pie (both huge though a bit salty), really good sourdough bread (probably made at the on-site sourdough factory, which has tours and free samples; there was also a tortilla factory, which was much less interesting and gave a pretty untasty sample), and a pile of after-dinner cotton candy in air-conditioning and a table with a view. Between everyone, I think we got almost all of the entrees on the menu, and they were all just fine. I am chagrined to find out only now that the child menu items can also be ordered in adult-sized portions: I could have gotten the Ursula's "Octa"-dog with Mac 'n' Cheese!!! What a missed opportunity.

But enough about the food. The really fun thing is, of course, the Disney characters that visit/pose for pictures with you during the meal. It was our first time at one of these character-dining places, and, I'm not ashamed to say, I liked it. I couldn't quite bring myself to pose with what we suspect is a career Ariel at the front who gets wheeled into the back at the end of her shift, nor could I squealingly ask Chip (or was it Dale?) and Pluto for their autographs, like the trio of fully grown Japanese women at the next table did. But it's a whole 'nuther thing when Goofy comes around. As you can see, Foodgoat was more than happy to make the sacrifice and be the one behind the camera.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

We're back!
And we had a splendid time in sunny California, with many adventures with my family. After a day in the Bay Area, we drove down to Los Angeles, with the traditional stop for lunch at Pismo Beach, for a long weekend, taking in the sights of Anaheim and Santa Monica, and then it was back to uber-suburb Fremont for a week. As for the food-related adventures, where to start? With too many to remember, we'll just share one vacation highlight a day, in no particular order.

California Highlight #1
The sign for it seems rather incongruous in this rather bleak landscape, but there is was, just as my dad said it would be, on the way home from the lovely and desolate Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco. We turned onto a rocky white road and came upon Johnson's Oyster Farm. It didn't seem to be anything more than a couple of shacks along the marshy shores of Drake's Estero. A scruffy guy in hip waders told us that the nearly foot-tall oyster shell on the shelf had taken four years to grow. We bought two dozen medium oysters from him.

Outside were huge piles of empty oyster shells, and a fine white dust over the cars. We realized that the strangely white road was actually paved with crushed oyster shells.

Back home, Foodgoat scrubbed the oysters, and my dad put them in a pot and poured boiling water over them. They went head to head on the oyster-shucking. Dad won hands down: he was much better at both holding hot oysters and shucking them quickly and without chipping the shell. The man seems to know his oysters.

And so everyone sat down to as-fresh-as-they-come oysters, with a little salt, a choice of olive oil, melted butter, or lemon juice as accompaniments, and a lot of anticipation (witness my sister). Fifteen minutes later the two dozen oysters were gone. The "medium" oysters had been huge, with the meat filling up the entire insides, delicious, delicate and not a bit chewy. Did I already say they were delicious? I'm craving more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

And they're off!

Foodgoat & I go to California tonight! Ten days of visiting my pamilya, driving my brother to UCLA, going to Disneyland ... *happy dance* (Foodgoat saw his family in Tampa in June ... did you see the pictures?)

Posting will likely to light until the 28th, but never fear, we'll report on our food adventures. Among the things that await us:

-Krispy Kreme donuts from the Great Machine
-Banana cream pies (that's PIES, as in more than one) from Nation's
-Big juicy burgers, with grilled onions and cut in half, from Nation's
-A 2x4 from the secret menu at In-N-Out
-At least 18 orders of California rolls from Sushi Lovers
-Lots of Filipino food
-More bubble tea!

Monday, September 15, 2003

Taking the plunge
We finally broke down and bought a coffeemaker this weekend.

It was time. After a long time on the wagon, Foodgoat is a full-blown addict again. And I am well on the way, ever since I learned of caffeine's appetite-suppressing capacities (I don't eat breakfast much).

Foodgoat already has a coffee grinder and a very nice espresso machine, but it's a lot of labor for 8 in the morning. So the addiction was being fed by break room coffee at work. And there's only so much one can take of that stuff.

So we went out and got a Bodum 8-cup French Press, the kind where you pour hot water right over the grounds and then squish them down, because people who like coffee like French presses, since you can control the water temperature, brewing time, and tasty coffee oils aren't trapped in a paper filter. I like it. It makes just enough for two. It's much less trouble than the espresso machine, but not much more trouble than the drip type. And I like that's it's really low tech.

Now we can have EVEN MORE coffee EVERYDAY!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Weird and potentially dangerous cooking of the day
It's very exciting when one finds new ways of eating yummy things. Case in point: sweetened condensed milk. My mom used it for fruit salad. I liked it so much that I used to eat it spread on bread or (surreptitiously) straight up by the spoonful. I also vaguely remember my dad talking about how he would cook up an unopened tin of sweetened condensed milk, resulting in a solid mass you could slice. But since he never actually demonstrated this, I was left with the fruit salad and a spoon.

It's even more exciting when you find out that you can make something at home which you previously thought was impossible. Case in point: dulce de leche. Last week, people on egullet mentioned doing the same thing my dad did: putting a can of the sweet stuff into a pot of boiling water and opening it up to find caramel/toffee/dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche? I had to try it.

You take the label of the can and scrub the glue away. You plunk it into a pot and cover it completely with water. You let it boil for about four hours. You check obsessively to make sure the water is always covering the can. If you are like me and particularly nervous about explosions (the label explicitly says not to cook the can without opening it), you do this in a crock pot so as to somewhat contain the potential shrapnel.

After cooking it for five hours (just to be sure), we let it cool. The next day, we opened it.

Foodgoat took one taste of it, and said to me, "You're doomed." It tastes just like caramel. Yummy. Foodgoat wants to make little balls and cover them with chocolate. I want to dip apple slices in it. What possibilities!

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Fruit drink of the day
It looks like summer is over, so I guess that means no more melon drinks. Good thing I got one last one in.

A melon drink is basically strips of cantaloupe in sugar water, and some milk if you feel like it.

I used a nifty gadget to create the strips of melon, but as it's found only in obscure Filipino stores, one could also use a grater or lemon zester to get the same effect. I also thought I'd get all gourmet on it and use Ohio wildflower honey, but take my word for it, plain old white sugar tastes best.

I wish it had a more interesting name. One Filipino cookbook calls it "Iced Melon Drink," which is not much better. The best I could find was "Melon Sa Malamig" but since that just means "cold melon" in Tagalog, I might as well just keep calling it a melon drink.

Monday, September 8, 2003

My favorite food host

It was only a matter of time before someone made a drinking game out of Rachael Ray, silly, giddy, and entertaining Food Network host of "$40 a Day" and "30-Minute Meals." I often think that Rachael Ray has been nipping at the cooking wine herself.

It would be a short trip to drunkenness anyway if all the game consisted of was taking shots when she says "Yum!", "How cool is that?", or "That rawks!" Quicken the pace by drinking every time she mentions EVOO. If you throw in a drink every time she giggles, you'd be done for by the first commercial break.

I think she's the one who is having a bad influence on my family. I've heard that they (who have always been just shy of being teetotalers) have been drinking beer with dinner lately. Very weird. If they start saying "Beer is delicious" I'm officially reporting an alien abduction.

Friday, September 5, 2003

And so it begins

What better way to kickoff the football season than big, fat burgers?

Foodgoat's hamburgers are made, according to him, like big flat meatballs. But the real keys are the surrounding goodies: bacon, onion rolls, grilled onions, lettuce, all kinds of condiments, and lots (and lots) of cheese. And of course, they should be cut in half.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

An unintended theme

I just realized that last night I watched a couple episodes of Six Feet Under (about a family that runs a funeral home and my new favorite) ... and then we ended up eating a Tombstone frozen pizza. Spooky!

I haven't had frozen pizza in a really long time, so I wasn't expecting much. But the yet-another-Kraft-owned-brand Tombstone Supreme was better than I thought it would be. It had a nice crisp crust.

I wish they'd bring back the "Whaddaya want on your Tombstone?" ad campaign, though. Maybe with pirates instead cowboys this time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The bottom of the British barrel

Our adventures into British food, never what you would call wild successes, pretty much hit bottom when we tried the Marmite.

Marmite is very British. A now 101-year tradition that is something of the equivalent of peanut butter, it is spread on bread and served to kids because it's full of B vitamins, though it's not limited to the kiddies. They have Marmite-flavored potato chips and everything. Ex-pats and hostages in foreign lands, homesick for Britannia and the white cliffs of Dover, long wistfully for it.

It doesn't really speak well of the British. Because the stuff is noxious. For your own good: stay away!

I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Marmite is made of spent brewer's yeast. And, it looks like, and is, a sticky black goo that lasts, opened, for years. Those really aren't good signs.

The, ahem, distinctive taste is something like salty, yeasty and very bad beer. It makes bagoong (which is surprisingly good on fresh mango, but that's another story) seem downright subtle.

Would anyone like a nearly-new jar of Marmite?


Monday, September 1, 2003

Some desserts are so good that it seems a shame to wait until the end of the meal to eat them. At least, that's how it is with plum dumplings. It's a traditional Hungarian dessert but it's so tasty my family always has it as the main course.

Plum dumplings follow my favorite rule of food: you can't tell what's in the middle of it until you open it up.

This is pretty difficult as recipes go, but it gets easier with practice. On the plus side, everyone will have a hard time turning down second (and third) helpings of plum dumplings.


The night before ...
1. Boil about four Yukon Gold potatoes in a pressure cooker with the skin on for 40 minutes or so.
2. Run them under cold water, peel them and put them in a bowl. Mash them up with your hands or a ricer.
3. Stick them in the fridge until the next day. (I like to do an extra-big batch of potatoes in advance, using the extra to make gnocchi the same week.)

The day of ...
4. The next day (or once cooled), smash the potatoes to loosen them up. Add an egg and enough flour to give it a sticky but heavy consistency. (For gnocchi, you add as little flour as possible but here you add much, much more.)
5. Flour a big cutting board, make balls of dough, flour them and roll them out. Cut out squares, approximately 3 x 3".

Meanwhile ...
6. Start boiling a large pot of water.
7. Cut prune/Italian plums (the small ones) in half, remove the pits, and cover them in melted butter and a cinnamon sugar mixture.
8. In a skillet, toast a lot of bread crumbs in 2 T of butter on low. This is best with electric skillet, if you have one.

Putting it together ...
9. Put half a plum in the middle of the dough square. Fold the dough up, roll it in your hand so the plum is in the middle, and use hot water & a finger seal any holes in the dough.
10. Drop the dumpling into boiling water until it floats for around 5 minutes.
11. Take out the dumpling and roll it around in the bread crumbs until coated. Keep it there until you've finished them all.

Serve ...
with (generous amounts of) melted butter, cinnamon sugar, and cottage cheese, like my mother does. My grandmother serves them with olive oil & sour cream, but I like my mother's way best.