Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

To whatever readers I may have,

Thanks for following along and reading my food blog.  While I don't strive to be a professional chef, I have been having so much fun making interesting foods and experimenting with creative cuisine.  For 2012, I'll continue to look for new things to try and new places to eat.  I'll balance out the positives with the negatives and make things that anyone can easily make at home.

Enjoy your holiday weekend and we'll see you in the Leap Year.  In the meantime, don't forget to eat some Ozoni tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nostalgia meets Reality

As adults, we often hold foods that we ate in our youths with high regards and increase their exponential yumminess with each year.  So it was for me with Pee Wee's Drive Inn.  As  an early teen just starting out at a new school at the young age of 12, I often went there with my new friends from school to enjoy their daily offerings of Cheeseburgers, French Fries, and a cup of Green River.  To my young uneducated palate, and the fact that I was eating with my friends not my parents, this was the best stuff ever.  To me, those meals were the equivalent of eating at any 3 Michelin star restaurant. 

A few decades have gone by since those days gone by but I frequently find myself driving by the old eatery yearning for their crinkle fries hot out of the fryer and smothered in tangy sweet ketchup.  Ahh the ultimate combo of hot/cold, sweet/salty. 

A couple of weeks ago, I convinced myself to make a stop there to check out the place that has been under new ownership but heard that some things remained the same.  Having pulled up at 8:30am, I didn't really want to eat fries but rather a nice breakfast of eggs, linguica, and rice. 

Very excited, I took my first bite of the rice.

Wait, why is this cold?

I took the food back to the counter and asked them if they usually serve their fried rice cold?  Getting the rolled eye treatment, the counter lady grabs the container from my hand and without a word proceeds to the back of the diner.  Within seconds, I hear "Ssssssssss, SSSSSSssssssssss, sssssssssssss" 

Oh my god, is she grilling my rice on the griddle? 

Sure enough, she returns with all my rice warmed up off the griddle and now with the gift of greasy off-flavors from everything that had been cooked there that morning. 

Needless to say, my nostalgic gastronomic youth was destroyed with a flick of the spatula and the sizzle of the cold inadequate rice.  I'm definitely not going to be returning here anytime soon.

Go there at your own risk.

Thanks for reading

Friday, November 11, 2011

Restaurant Review: Lobster King

Having a mildly strong craving for seafood this week, I decided that this was the time to try the fairly new Lobster King on the corner of King and Keeaumoku Street.   The reason for this choice was the crowds I see every weekend when I pass by on my way to other destinations.  Joined by a fellow foodie, it was with great anticipation that we sat down and awaited our Friday rewards of succulent lobster and other tasty dishes.  Since it was only the two of us, we ordered only three dishes:

1)  Braised Kau Yuk and Taro in Hot Pot
2)  Lobster sauteed in garlic and butter
3)  Garlic Seafood Fried Rice

While there were other specials to choose from hese dishes were specifically chosen to represent that which we had the most reference to, and are fairly standard at most Chinese seafood restaurant.  It is by this watermark that we could make the best evaluation of the food being served.

 I came very close to ordering the deep fried intestine

Our offerings today

Unfortunately, this type of reward was not to be had by my friend at I on this particular location.

Without indulging in too much hyperbole, I can honestly say that every dish was something that could have been on par or beaten by an entree at Panda Express.  Here are my reasons:

1)  The Garlic Seafood Fried Rice had no garlic flavor nor was it fried.  It tasted like it would have used a few more minutes in the wok to get rid of the excess moisture in the rice.  What we received was bland, slightly soggy, and in desperate need of some salt and pepper.

2)  The Garlic Butter Lobster, like the fried rice, lacked the necessary garlic flavor.  While drenched in butter, it was the unsalted type which left the lobster greasy and again needing a little salt.

3)  The Kau Yuk with Taro, while not lacking flavor only yielded one flavor...Star Anise.  The over-indulgent use of this spice took over any taste of pork or taro that should have been in this dish.  It also seemed to need a bit more time braising as the pork belly was still chewy and the fat hadn't melted yet.

Overall,  I was fairly disappointed with the whole meal and feel pretty certain that I will not go back there anytime soon.  If any of you feel the urge to go here, save your money and get some Panda Express.

Thanks for reading!!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Bread Odyssey

Earlier this week, I became hooked on a BBC TV show called Great British Food Revival.  Every episode deals with a local food product or dish that is distinctive British but is in threat of disappearing from the British culture due to lack of awareness and use.  In one particular episode, they focused on artisanal breads and how easy they are to make at home with products you can buy at the store.  Feeling inspired by the show's message I decided to try my novice hand at making the basic White Bread Sandwich Loaf.

Having never made bread before, I had a few items that were missing from my pantry.  The most important ingredient on the list proved to be the most elusive.  Lyle's Golden Syrup is a distinctively British sweetener akin to Karo's Corn Syrup in the U.S. but with a much deeper flavor due to caramelization of the syrup prior to bottling.  As luck should have it, I was able to find a small stock on the bottom shelf at the only Whole Foods on the island.  Could I have used a substitute?  I probably could have but I wanted to maintain the integrity of the recipe as far as I could as this was my first time making bread ever.

(This was worth the search)

With ingredients at the ready, I prepared to make my bread...

Let me reiterate that I have never made bread before so when I encountered the point in the recipe to add my yeast I had no knowledge that the dry yeast I was using was different then the fresh yeast listed on the recipe.  After spending the appropriate time mixing, kneading, and baking, the bread never developed it's rise and what I ended up with was more like a garden stepping stone then an actual bread.  For those interested, I didn't take a pic of the disaster but here is a impression of what it looked like...

What the bread felt like to me

Not to be discouraged, I did my due research online and figured out how to activate my dry yeast (much easier than I thought).  The next evening, I dove back into my flour, yeast, and golden syrup and tried it again.  The second iteration, while "yeast-y", became a victim of my own hubris and impatience.  Because I thought that I had the riddle of my bread solved with the yeast, I overlooked the amount of liquid I was adding to my flour-yeast mix.  I ended up committing the ultimate novice mistake and blindly followed the recipe rather than my instincts about what the product should look like while putting it together.  Using all the liquids afforded to me by the recipe, I ended up with a very runny dough that had the appearance of a grey flour pudding.  While I did get rise from my yeast, and a nice flavor, the end product was a bit limp and retained a yellow hue due to all the butter in the recipe.

 (Looks ok, but. . .)

(. . . it didn't quite meet standards)

With greater knowledge in hand, and a semi-obsessive desire to get it right, I tried it one more time the following evening.  
With this third iteration, I followed the recipe, activated my yeast, and added my liquids slowly to the flour mix til I got what I thought was the right texture for raw dough.  Adding my secret ingredient, patience, I got the appropriate rise from my bread and retained the wonderful flavor that was in the second loaf.  

(Chewy Success)

So was the end result worth all this effort?  I certainly think so.  The flavor that is imparted by the golden syrup and the butter is unlike any bread I've had before and the chewiness of the bread crumb is due to my own kneading of the dough.  Knowing this, I can modify the chewiness in the future as I gain more insight into how to manipulate gluten to my benefit.
Overall, I feel much better about what I'm doing and plan to keep making breads for the household.  With only 6 ingredients in the recipe, it's not only healthier than store bought bread but it's cheaper as well. 

Thanks for reading!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicken Wings Aren't Just Bar Food Anymore

Most weeks, due to a fairly busy schedule, I cook my dinners with the idea that there will be leftovers for at least 1 or 2 nights.  I found myself today with a need to cook dinner that yielded no leftovers since we usually do not eat at home for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and by Sunday I have no interest in eating food I cooked Thursday. It was this premise in mind that I decided to try thisrecipe from Ferran Adria's new cookbook The Family Meal

If' you're a crazy food stalker like me, you'll recognize the name of Ferran Adria as the owner and chef  of the former el Bulli in Spain.  His new cookbook contains recipes not from his restaurant but from those foods that was often cooked for his staff behind closed doors. With this in mind, I decided to tackle this rustic recipe that not only looked delicious on paper but is also budget minded, utilizing the lowly chicken wing and elevating it beyond that of bar food. 

As I proceeded cooking this dish, there were a few thing that I found appealling

1) The transformation from this... this.

And with the addition of a few spices and some cremini mushrooms, I can go from this... this


Overall, the dish takes about 40 minutes to cook, of which 30 minutes is spent cooking the wings on medium heat to get a high-index crispiness that gives both texture and fantastic flavor.  A very simple dish (it only uses 7 ingredients, 5 of which I already had in my pantry), and at $8 for dinner for two , it is certainly worth a try.

Thanks for reading!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chasing Windmills (Star Anise-Ginger Chicken)

Earlier this year we took our semi-regular trip to Taiwan to visit my wife's extended family.  I always look forward to this trip, not for the sights and shopping but for the food, naturally.  Over the years, I have become accustomed to the flavor that can be found here.  Overall it is Chinese food that is simple, slightly spicy, and always packed with flavor.  However on this last trip, I was blind-sided by what I can only attest to being the best chicken dish I have ever had.

Best chicken dish ever

Known to us non-Chinese speaking people as 3 Cup Chicken, it's essentially 3 cups of chicken, 3 cups or garlic, 3 cups of ginger cooked in a sort of soy-flavored stew and served over rice.  What made this dish at this specific restaurant particularly amazing is that they finish the dish in a stone bowl bake it so that most of the liquid has been reduced and you are left with a sticky glaze and lots of chicken, garlic, and ginger (all equally edible due to the long cooking time). 

Having declared it the best chicken dish I have ever had, I have been chasing this flavor since I returned to Hawaii and have been failing miserably in my efforts to recreate this dish.

The other day, I ran across this recipe for Star Anise-Ginger Chicken which by it's description sounded eerily like that dish I had in Taiwan.  Since seeing this over the weekend I took the opportunity to make it tonight for dinner.

My Western version

Overall, the taste was pretty close which I think was due to the addition of honey, which all 3-Cup Chicken recipes I've found online do not utilize.  As for the reduction, while this recipe uses the liquid reduction as a sauce, I decided to toss it with my chicken and use it as a glaze, to see if I could replicate that elusive flavor.

Having come this close, I will probably stick with this recipe and continue to tweak it.  I do think, however, that until I buy some stone bowl to bake in the oven, I will probably still be more far then near.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Restaurant Review (Kiss My Grits)

Sometimes in life things can get pretty hectic.  So it's been for me, which explains my lack of any post or any interesting cooking for that matter.  Still, I did want to put up this quick review on a new Southern restaurant that just opened up in Honolulu.

Kiss My Grits is a small private eatery that is located in the back alleys of Puck's Alley.  Owned and operated by a brother and sister from North Carolina, this is the place for good, heart-warming, comfort food even if you have never eaten this type of cuisine.  With a fairly varied menu, from grits, to fried chicken, to fried green tomatoes, this has quickly risen to the top 3 on my lists of favorite places to have lunch.

I was fortunate enough to pay my first visit with my wife and a bunch of friends.  The benefit of this is that we were able to order a variety of items and share "family style".  For those who want to EAT, get the fried chicken plate and rinse it down with their often sold-out Bourbon Bread Pudding.  For those who are on a budget, I would strongly recommend the chicken tenderloin biscuit sandwich.  At $3.95 this is a fantastic bargain and comes with a side of country gravy that will ensure a full stomach and a smile on your face.

Biscuits and Gravy 

Oyster Po' Boy

Brunswick Stew w/Cheesy Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Fried Green Tomatoes

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Banana Pudding

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Weekday Friend (Braised Shoulder Steaks)

I've always had a love for braised foods.  As a young boy, one of my favorite dishes that my mother made was her Roast Beef.  Even as a 10 year old, I knew that the soft, melting meat on my tongue and the collagen left on my lips were something to be celebrated.  As an adult, I'm always playing around with different cuts of beef and putting them through a nice braise with the same anticipation I had as a young boy.

For this particular dish, I ended up using Beef Shoulder Steaks from Costco.  While being the cheapest cut in the meat department that day, they were also cut into 1 1/2" thick steaks which meant shorter braising time.  With a regular 6 lb chuck I can normally expect a 3-4 hour cooking time.  With these steaks, I was able to cut the total prep/cook time to 1hr 45mins!

Since summer extends a little longer in Hawaii, I wanted to cook these in an Italian fashion and used a braising liquid of tomatoes, oregano, thyme, garlic, onions, and balsamic vinegar.  After searing my meats and putting them aside, I layered all my other ingredients and covered them with my two 1.5lb steaks.

  Left on low simmer, I was rewarded 90 minutes later with a wonderful sauce and that coveted melting beef. 

Next time you are at Costco, consider this cheap meat and why not give it a whirl.  With the colder months coming soon, why not add this to your weekday dinner repertoire?

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Restaurant Review (Hog Island Bbq)

Good bbq is hard to come by in Hawaii ( just like Mexican cuisine) so it was through sheer serendipity that I discovered Hog Island Bbq this afternoon during an also rare opportunity of having lunch with my wife.

Hog Island is a small unassuming place in the back of a strip mall and shares a building with other ethnic restaurants such as an Italian, a Jamaican, and a Himalayan eatery.  Modest in design, there is only a small take-out counter to order from and anyone who wants to eat on location need to go to the few tables available on the second floor

For lunch, I ended up ordering a very delicious Brisket sandwich w/side cole slaw.  The brisket was served at 7oz on a nice chewy French Roll and the cole slaw was done very well having been made in a "chop" style as opposed to the traditional "shredded" style.

My wife decided on going with the hefty Mix Bbq plate which was a 1/4 rack pork ribs, 6 oz pulled pork and two sides (bbq beans and mac/cheese).  While very tasty, the surprise star of this dish was the Mac & Cheese comprised of 4 distinct cheeses with a nice crunchy Parmesan crust on top.

Like any bbq joint, the price for lunch was not cheap ($26 for two) but it is certainly worth a visit once in awhile when the craving for good bbq strikes.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food Challenge Update (Chicken and Peas Tagine)

During the week, I'm usually in a rush to cook anything and usually I look at what I have in the fridge for inspiration for my dishes.  As we are trying to encourage our 3 year old to eat more vegetables, I felt that doing a dish using peas (in the freezer) and chicken (also in the freezer) was the way to go.  Looking online, I ran across this fantastic recipe for Tangine that happened to include ingredients of which I already had 90% of at home.  Most importantly, it gave me a chance to finally use some Saffron in a way that wasn't for a Paella or any ordinary rice dish.

Cooking the dish itself was pretty fun.  As I didn't have an actual Tangine pot, nor did I want to buy one at this time, I just used a Dutch Oven.  While I'm sure, the actual end result was probably different had I actually used a Tangine to make this, the end result was pretty tasty.  What made this particular dish interesting was that I never put my burner higher then the 1st setting and just left it there for 2 hours.  The low heat extracted so much flavor from what amounts to 5 ingredients and 7 spices.

With regards to the food challenge, this is where it stands:

  1. Cardamom
  2. All Spice
  3. Cloves
  4. Almond Extract
  5. Pumpkin Spice
  6. Garam Masala
  7. Vanilla Beans
  8. Saffron
  9. Nutmeg
  10. Ground Mustard
  11. Turmeric
  12. Coriander
  13. Sage
  14. Thyme
  15. Celery Seed
  16. Tarragon
  17. Cumin
I still got a lot of work.....

Thanks for reading

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Restaurant Review: Marukame Udon

Growing up in Hawaii, and for the most part a mile outside of Waikiki, there are certain absolute truths about the cuisine in that area. 

#1- Food is always more expensive in Waikiki
#2- There are no good places to eat in Waikiki

Recently Marukame Udon, a Japan chain, opened up in the center of Waikiki forcing me to change my perception of those first 2 truths.  While most people who visit from the mainland US have a perception that Waikiki is for the Japanese, there really aren't many Japanese restaurants in this area so Marukame is a welcome addition.  Honestly, who needs yet another Cheesecake Factory or Margaritaville?

Marukame Udon is what could be best described as "Fast Food" noodles.  Set up to be served in a cafeteria style setting, they only sell a few things on their menu, udon and assorted tempura.

  To order, a customer tells the counter worker which of the 5 different udon bowls he wants, then moves on down the line to receive their noodles from another counter attendant.  After receiving your noodles, you can choose from about 8 different tempura dishes to accompany your bowl.

It's worth noting that in the front of the store, there is a dedicated worker who's only job is to make the noodles during his entire shift.  This is not to different from the workers I've seen in Old Town, San Diego who spend all day making tortillas in front of their respective restaurants. 

Today, I shared my dinner with my son and we went with a bowl of Onatama Udon (noodles in broth with soft poached egg).  As my side dish, I order some tempura asparagus, fried chicken, and a musubi (rice ball) with dried fish.  Total cost with a soft drink, $7+. 

The taste of the food itself was passable.   The broth was a little on the tepid side, since they go through such high volume, but still very enjoyable.  I ended up only having one bite of the noodles as my son pretty much finished the whole bowl by himself.  The tempura was crisp and the musubi packed a lot of flavor, but he rice was a little too wet.  Still for the price I paid, it was certainly a very good meal that I would go back for, provided I can find free parking in Waikiki.

With Waikiki having gone through a face-lift over the last 10 years, Marukame is certainly a welcome addition for the budget traveler.  Definitely recommended for visitors who want a filling satisfying lunch but don't want to pay too much in Waikiki. 

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Favorite Food Movie: Tampopo

Some weeks are busier than others.  This is one of those weeks where a lot of things are happening at the same time and I barely have time to think about new things to cook or foods to explore.  Still, I don't want to leave the 1 or 2 of you who read this blog without material from me so I decided to share my favorite foodie movie of all time:  Tampopo

Released in 1985, this movie is about one woman's quest to make understand the nuances of making ramen after being told by a passing truck driver that her noodles are terrible and takes her on an adventure of personal and culinary discovery.  What I like about this movie is that it is very quirky and unapologetic about it's feelings on food and foodies alike.  Right from the beginning we are invited in on a conversation between a "master" and a "student" talking about how to approach a bowl of ramen correctly thereby maximizing the eating experience.

As the movie goes along we meet a lot of interesting characters and the camera becomes us in this journey and a few times will move from the main character and change physical directions in the middle of a scene to follow a complete stranger just because they seem to be more interesting at the time.  If you've ever seen someone running and wondered where they were off to, this movie tries to answer those types of questions.

From a foodie standpoint, this is also where I learned about established my love of Omurice.  This particular scene in the movie spoke to me when I first saw it and really illustrates how even the simplest of foods can be viewed as the finest haute cuisine depending on your point of view.

Despite having been released over 25 years ago, I still really love this movie.  If you love food and have some time, put this on your Netflix list and give it a lookie-loo.  If my description still doesn't entice you, how about the fact that the film score are excerpts from Mahler's 1st and 3rd Symphony? 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eat My Perspective (Buttered Toast)

I was craving buttered toast today as I sometimes do since I was a little kid.  It occurred to me that I always toast my bread then add butter, no different then as I would get them at any diner in the US.  Writing this blog has really forced me to look at food in different ways and wondered what would happen if I buttered my bread first before toasting? 

I started with two pieces of white bread from Watanabe Bakery, my favorite place for bread:

Taking two pieces, I buttered one on both sides using 2 tablespoons unsalted melted butter (1T on each side).

(Buttered one on the right)

After toasting in a standard toaster oven for 2.5 minutes, I took them out at the same time.

(Pre-buttered toast on the left)

I then buttered the dry toast with the same amount of melted butter on each side as the first toast and let it sit for 1 minute to absorb the butter

The results were a little surprising as I really didn't think of what I would get from this experience.  I actually didn't think there would be much of a difference, but I was wrong.  

Since butter is essentially fat, the buttered bread ended up being "fried" in the toaster and what I ended up with was a bread that was very crispy with just a hint of butter in the bread.  Can I get crispy bread without the butter?  Most certainly, but this was a whole other level of crispy.  I would definitely use this when eating something light like a BLT or with a pate'.

The buttered toast, by comparison, felt very heavy and the butter ends up getting in the way of the high quality bread.  It also doesn't yield the same crispness that was so appealing with the first toast.   While this is the way I've eaten it since I can remember, I think it was a bit of a revelation how much more I like the butter before toast method. 

End of the day, it's up to the individual but I thought this experiment on a food everyone takes for granted was a good way to perhaps change our perspective.

Thanks for reading!

My First Challenge (Part III) - Pork, Mushroom, Tomato Curry

It has been a couple of weeks since my last Food Challenge entry and I felt the need to take a few more off the board.  Unfortunately, my craving for more curry took over the task of the challenge.

Based on the moderate success (or failure) of my last curry, I needed to redeem myself with another shot at a recipe from Addicted to Curry, the manga that centers around a curry shop and it's curry savant chef.

The one that caught my attention was a recipe for Mushroom Curry.  I am a big mushroom fan and am always looking for a way to include mushrooms into dishes that make sense.  Still, other than Shitake mushrooms, there really aren't many varieties in Hawaii that would be able to stand head to head with the strong flavor of curry powder.  Due to this, I decided to add some sliced pork tenderloin (an alternative to the mainstream beef choice).

 Carmelizing my onions

My 3 mushroom medley (porcinis hidden under the white buttons)

Add spices, tomatoes, mushrooms and cook

The final product (I need a better camera)

At the end of the day, I ended up with a more Indian curry as opposed to a Japanese style curry.  What I liked about this one was the sourness of the tomatoes as well as the use of yogurt (and the liquid from the tomatoes) over a stock as it's soup base.  Visually, it's not the prettiest of curries, but I would recommend it as an alternative over the usual beef curry, especially if your local Farmer's Market is having a sale on mushrooms come this fall. 

As for my spice list, here is the most recent update: 

  1. Cardamom
  2. All Spice
  3. Cloves
  4. Almond Extract
  5. Pumpkin Spice
  6. Garam Masala
  7. Vanilla Beans
  8. Saffron
  9. Nutmeg
  10. Ground Mustard
  11. Turmeric
  12. Coriander
  13. Sage
  14. Thyme
  15. Celery Seed
  16. Tarragon
  17. Cumin
On a side note, I did try to use the Almond Extract with some yogurt the other day (it seemed to make sense), and it tasted awful.  I have the feeling that this one is going to be a bit of a challenge lest I just give in and make some Almond Cookies.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Favorite Things (Roast Duck Kitchen's Roast Pork)

Working on the road as often as I do, it's important to know where to get good, quick, satisfying food.  It's always such shame to spend $7-$10 on a meal and leave unsatisfied, full of calories that you wish wasn't in you. 

Roast Duck Kitchen is located in the Aiea Shoppping Plaza and is tucked away on the 2nd story of a 3 story strip mall.  Those familiar with this mall, it's just diagonal of Koa Pancake House at the top of the escalator.

  My friend recently turned me on to this place due to my love of all things pork.  For some reason, despite the "duck" part of their name, their roast pork is what you want to come here for.

At $8.95/lb you get a succulent and very flavorful piece of pork belly that really makes you understand the true potential of the lowly pig.  Where most Chinese places tend to over-season their pork skin, Roast Duck Kitchen, shows self-restraint and roasts the skin with a nice spice mix that enhances rather than cover the flavor of the pork.  It's also cooked just enough  so that the skin will easily separate from the belly so you can have each piece as individual pieces of gastronomic glee. 

So is it worth the trip here?  If you are one of those who think pork is the ONLY White Meat, then yes.  For the rest of you, stop by if you are in the area.  These porky jewels make for a fulfilling shared snack, a nice side dish, or a main protein for dinner. 

Thanks for reading!