Friday, April 25, 2008

the art of cooking fish

There must be a section in L'Escoffier's book or an anecdote by M.F.K. Fisher in one of her many memoirs. Maybe it's just common sense but I've never had much talent when it comes to preparing fish. Unless I drench it in beurre blanc or steam it on a bed of carrots and celery with plenty of liquid, the fish turns out dry, undercooked, and/or flavorless. Last night's dinner was no exception. A simple seasoning of salt and pepper with a touch of olive oil and pan seared for about an hour and 30 minutes resulted in a tough, tasteless salmon. Unfortunately, the mistake didn't stop there. The goop in the ramekin is mashed root vegetables - yam, sweet potato, and turnip. Turnip has a mealy watery texture when boiled and smashed; so that's all I tasted. Plus the two pounds of butter. What was I thinking? The green beans were semi-decent, blanched and tossed in a balsamic vinegar reduction, but hardly enough to redeem myself. Quite an unappetizing dinner and I thank Chu for humoring me by saying it was good as she picked away at her plate. Better luck tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

somen chicken salad with sweet soy sauce

Tuesday evening dinner. I had baked some chicken the other night and thought what I can make with it. With the weather being damp and dreary, I thought a nice crisp slightly spicy noodle would surely brighten up the evening. I had some lettuce and bell peppers in the fridge so that's what went in this dish, but any vegetable would work: snow peas, carrots, Chinese cabbage, fennel or celery would lend a good crunch.

Somen Chicken Salad
Serves 2

grilled chicken
romaine lettuce
orange and yellow bell pepper

Somen is a thin white noodle, made with wheat flour. You can find it at any Asian market. To measure one serving, make a ring with your thumb and index finger, about the size of a quarter and the amount of dried noodles that fits between your fingers should be enough for one person. Cook as directed on the package, usually 3-4 minutes. Rinse the cooked noodles in cold water and let all the water drain. Slice grilled chicken into strips. Thinly cut the vegetables, rinse in an ice bath, drain, and pat dry or run it through a salad spinner. Toss the noodles, chicken and vegetables in the sweet soy sauce (recipe below) and mix in several leaves of mint. Plate and serve with wooden chopsticks.

Sweet Soy Sauce

1/4 cup black soy sauce (syrupy sweet soy sauce)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sriracha (optional)
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil
fish sauce, few drops
black pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together until the sauce binds thick. Grating some ginger into the sauce would give a refreshing kick. Add more sriracha for more heat.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

cantina mexicana

The first time I dined at cantina mexicana was two years ago for lunch during a work conference in Crystal City. Located on the block of S 23rd St between Eads and Fern nestled among Italian, Thai, Greek, and Ethiopian restaurants. All I remember were the carafes of sangria floating around the table. And on this particular day, a glass filled with fruit, ice cubes, sangria and a plastic straw was an invited refreshment under the warm sun. The beverage was tame but the fruits were yummy.

My co-worker Que and I took a seat out on the patio under a bright red umbrella; though I had to shimmy to the left every ten minutes. Que picked the Chicken Quesadilla after we had a short Spanish "lesson". How do you say? Kay-sa-dee-yah? I didn't get to taste it but I will say with confidence that it was cheesy and delicious. Their specials were written in pastel on the chalkboard; # 1: Chimichangas and #2:Pupusas, and I went with the latter. The corn meal pancake was crisp on the outside and creamy and delicious on the inside. I would have been satisfied with a plate with just a couple of them. Alright, maybe not. There is no denying my appetite. Something about a dish with rice, re fried beans, smoked pork wrapped in a flour tortilla topped with melted cheese, carbs, carbs, and more carbs. Can't...stop...eating.

The service was great; prompt and friendly. One of the best places to go for Tex-Mex in the area and I definitely want to try out other restaurants paying rent on S 23rd. Let's hope it won't be another two years before I make it back to this gem.

Monday, April 14, 2008

grilled vegetable sandwich with spicy mayo

For the last few weeks, this was my lunch for a couple days a week. I would stand in front of the toaster oven at work and watch the timer wind down for six minutes and twenty-one seconds to make sure I didn't burn the bread or melt the cheese off too quickly. A quick and easy way to put together a sandwich, sort of.

grilled vegetable sandwich

vegetables; I used zucchini and eggplant, but any vegetable you fancy grilling: peppers, squash, asparagus, and even some portobello mushrooms.
olive oil
salt & pepper
cheese; Havarti or Provolone but any cheese that melts well
bread, pumpernickel. I have used challah bread from Trader Joe's and that gives it a nice sweet balance to the spicy mayo

spicy mayo
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2-1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp paprika

Mix ingredients together. The cayenne adds heat and the paprika adds a bit of sweet and smokiness. You can adjust the amounts to suit your taste buds.

Slice vegetables, 1/4" thick for the eggplant and 1/8" thick for the zucchini, to fit your choice of bread. Brush olive oil and season with salt & pepper on both sides. Grill to cook. I had grilled off two zucchinis and one large eggplant which yields about 6 sandwiches. Grill or toast the bread. Place vegetables on one slice of bread with the cheese and pop it into the oven/broiler/toaster oven until the cheese melts. When making the sandwich at the office, I would toast the bread, then add the grilled vegetables to heat through, and top it off with the cheese. Once nice and toasty, slather on the mayo, as little or as much as you like, and eat.

Give it a try and I guarantee you'll enjoy it.


Last Friday evening's temperature gave way to the perfect night to take a stroll outside, dine al fresco, and lick melting ice cream from my finger tips.

Chuti and I headed up to Shirlington to have dinner at the newly opened Saigonique: Authentic Vietnamese cuisine restaurant. It would be unfair to judge on the authenticity of their cuisine, as I'm only versed in the pho bowls and vermicelli; but here is my humble take on the establishment.

The walls painted in deep red with splashes of white table clothes throughout the dining room. The ambiance radiated a feeling of being in a Thai restaurant; whatever that means. Walking past the dining patrons, I looked at and smelled the dishes being served. The aroma was pleasant but my gaze was left wandering. From the glimpses of food on neighboring tables, the portions looked huge so I opted to order an appetizer and soup.

I ordered the banh mi; traditionally a cold cut sandwich with an assortment of pickled vegetables on a french baguette, so when I told the waiter that I had ordered the banh mi and not what he brought me, he said that that was what I ordered. The "finger sandwich" was deep-fried and tasted much like the shrimp cakes Chuti gets at Thai Lemongrass. Not bad, but not what I expected. As for the soup, I chose the Saigon Egg Noodles with shrimp and pork. The broth tasted like it was overseasoned with MSG. I will say this though, they used quality ingredients and points are given for cleanliness. I told Chuti that a revisit would not be imminent but overhearing the next table talking about the "caramelized" dishes being the most authentic dishes on the menu, I may go back for a taste.

As for the service, the FOH staffers seemed eager to please, but unfortunately fell short in the execution and I felt my personal space being invaded a few times by our server. Dude, don't touch my chopsticks! Although it wasn't al fresco dining, they did have palm fans on the ceiling swaying back and forth. I didn't have my camera with me so my phone had to do.

Afterwards, we strolled across to Maggie Moos for some ice cream. I had vanilla bean with Oreo cookies and brownies. I asked for fudge but that meant I would have had to eat it from a cup and where's the fun in that? mm...mooyummy...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

bazin's on church

She began her culinary career bussing tables at Bazin's on Church in Vienna, Virginia. A series of unfortunate events; ripping off a nickel sized piece of skin from her index finer and sipping wine on her shift, and her lack of upper body strength, cut her employment short. But she was not discouraged, she picked herself up to continue working in the food industry as the world's best jalapeno dicer...And so my biography will go. Funny thing, this wasn't my shortest "paid" job. I recall a three-week stint as a contractor with a large IT company a few years back, but I digress.

Located on the Historic Church Street in Vienna, Bazin's is a quaint but chic neighborhood restaurant offering good food and great wine. For a pre-concert dinner, Court and I feasted on a roasted beet salad, pan-roasted black cod, and wild mushroom risotto paired with a glass of red. Court's a zinfandel and mine a malbec. Duo-colored beets came dressed in a passion fruit vinaigrette on a bed of arugula sprinkled with candied orange zest and dollops of goat cheese; a classic combination. Maple-miso glazed the black cod which was served with wasabi mashed potatoes, sauteed baby spinach, and tamari cream. I would have been satisfied with less cream. The risotto was perfectly cooked (I have a tendency of being served undercooked risotto) topped off with punchy parmesan. One caveat, the onions could have been chopped a finer, but that's just a technicality. They would just need to hire me as their prep cook. For dessert, we had the Peanut Butter Mousse tarte; the chocolate sorbet tasted like chocolate flavored water. I like the cream version better. Personally, I prefer my food "bland" and Bazin's doesn't skimp on seasoning. Delicious nonetheless and will suit most American palates.

Now would be a great time to visit, Chef Patrick is planning to give the menu a make-over later this week. I foresee another visit sooner than later.

tyrone wells @ jammin' java

After Bazin's. Got there just in time as Tyrone took the stage. Wonderful voice, beautiful songs (that would make any girl a "jealous woman"), and he's not bad to look at either. A fun show with quite a few laughs, intentional and not. A great venue for "intimate" concerts.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

su mi ma sen

I've lived in Korea for 12 years and had never taken a trip to our neighboring country, Japan. So when I went on a business trip to Korea last month, I decided to give Nippon a try.

I didn't do much sightseeing, but walked a lot through the city; watching people, smelling the streets (smells a lot like Korea), and eating. It was the little stuff that I will remember most about Kyoto.

My first meal in Kyoto: A delicious bowl of Chinese Ramen. A typical hole-in-the-wall noodle house; limited seating, packed with fashionable teenagers and suits getting off work, and a line of hungry people waiting to be seated. As I walked in solo, the host/server/busser eyed couple of empty chairs at occupied tables and asked (I assumed) if I wouldn't mind sitting at a table with another patron. Plopping myself down in the chair, my dazed and confused look and flailing hand gestures must have been an indication that I did not understand him, I found a laminated English menu make its way in front of me. Two minutes after pointing to my selection, I was face deep in the steaming bowl of noodles.

100 yen for a "fairly good" fortune which I keep in my wallet. The quiet oases of temples tucked away amidst the bustling downtown streets.

Tako-yaki. Sake. The smell of fish permeating through the Nishiki Food Market. Not only did Kyoto smell like Korea, it felt like it too. Despite the language barrier, I never felt out of place, except for the time when a waitress at a local pub yelled at me for keeping my shoes on. So when in doubt, remember, "su mi ma sen!"