Archive for the ‘eating’ Category

The upcoming unagi (eel) boom in the US

Saturday, September 6th, 2003

I think the US is ready for a big-time Unagi (eel) boom.

I foresee an immensely successful chain of unagi restaurants. Of course, we’ll serve the basics, like una-don (grilled eel on rice) and kabayaki (plain grilled eel). Then we’ll have Bob’s super-duper unagi sandwich: unagi with mozzarella in a focacchia, grilled to perfection. And of course Unagi mousse.

Unagi mochi as well.

For dessert: unagi pie, of course. No—not what you think. It’s a Japanese confection, crisp savory sweet biscuits, just coiled in the shape of an eel—hence its name.

We’ll focus on the nutritional benefits of eel. It’s an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fatty fish oils. Then, of course, our marketing geniuses will figure out how to make the appeal for the so-called “stamina” properties of eel—in other words, it’s a great aphrodysiac!

Kobushi — world\’s best kushi-age restaurant in Shinjuku

Sunday, July 27th, 2003

Sakiko took me to the world’s best kushi-age restaurant in Shinjuku—Kobushi, where she ate a decade or two ago. Don’t get confused. This is not kushi-yaki, which is a variety of yaki-tori. The “age” of “kushi-age” means deep-fried, a basically Kansai (western Japan) dish (where it’s called, confusingly, “kushi-katsu”); Kato-san told us there are only a dozen kushi-age places in all of Tokyo. His is certainly one of the best.

Address is Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku 3-21-3, Katou Bldg. 2F, 03-3354-7605. Access from Shinjuku higashi-guchi (east exit), B-12 (Mitsui-Sumitomo) stairway.

We made some notes about what we ate. We started off with the basic course of ten items. The pork was tender and succulent. Shiitake mushrooms were fried up perfectly. Chicken and celery were an ingenious combination. Ebi (shrimp) were wrapped in shiso, the incomparably aromatic Japanese leaf. Kuruma-ebi are the huge, juicy Japanese shrimps. Hotate-gai are scallops. Renkon—the crunchy lotus root. Kisu, a tender white fish. Asparagus works perfectly when deep-fried. Uzura are the quail eggs, the perfect candidate for kushi-age. Finally, another piece of fish—isagi, a tender white fish.

Mr. Kato has been running his store for 25 years. Initially thought he would do tempura, since that was what his family did, but then decided he would try something else. As Shinjuku changed under and around him, he has just continued doing kushi-age for nearly three decades. Judging from the name of the building, he made at least one smart real-estate decision, which probably made him more money than any number of years of frying sticks would.

Each stick is deep-fried individually and lovingly. The oil is part of the trick; the composition is changed seasonally, to give a lighter taste during summer, for instance.

Ten years or so ago Kato-san renovated the inside of the store. But business is still not that good. Problem is that he is a little bit expensive (2,500 yen for his basic meal) for people looking for a quick bite, but he’s not hip enough to attract the cool crowd (and probably doesn’t want to anyway). Since the building he built around his store is probably worth two million dollars I suppose he doesn’t care that much though.

Mastro’s Steakhouse

Sunday, June 22nd, 2003

Visited this posh steakhouse in the heart of Beverly Hills. Pre-dinner martini was fabulous. The soft-shell crab appetizer was heavenly. Then we split the bone-in rib-eye, cooked to perfection. Great big red Cabernets recommended by the house—Hess and St. Francis.

The valet told us that recent celebrity visitors included Brad Pitt and his wife (who’s that?), and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Japanese dining renaissance

Thursday, June 12th, 2003

May be old news for some, but the progress in the Japanese restaurant culture over the last ten years is truly remarkable. Time was, Japanese eating out was either sushi, or “izakaya” (bistro-type) fare, or the brain-damaged Japanese version of French or Italian or, worst of all, generic Western.

The wellsprings of the culinary revolution in Japan lie squarely in the izakaya tradition. But they’ve branched off in every aspect imaginable: menu, presentation, and decor. And this trend is by no means limited to Tokyo, where “new-style” izakaya-inspired restaurants have proliferated to the point of being slightly scary; during a recent trip to Shizuoka we wandered into Gazen, a fine exemplar of the movement.

Here’s some of the dishes we enjoyed there:

  • Pork toro, herb cresson sauce
  • Mozarella cheese with Japanese dressing and yuba crackers
  • Home-made zaru-dofu
  • Genmai risotto with Saikyo miso

Pork toro (in Japanese, “ton-toro”) is a rich, fatty cut of pork. We’ve seen it in new-style izaka-yas everywhere. The mozarella cheese dish exemplifies another interesting trend: cheese, cheese everywhere. At another restaurant, for instance, we saw “cheese yakko”, using cheese as a replacement for tofu in the old stand-by “hiya-yakko”—unthinkable even ten years ago.

I’ve had a number of wonderful tofu dishes in the new types of restaurants. Common thread is that it is smooth, creamy, and creatively flavored. The zaru-dofu we had at Gazen was a fine example.

Yuba (a sort of dried soybean product) occupies a prominent place in the new restaurant culture. We’ve also seen a lot of duck. In general, there is an emphasis on the provenance of ingredients—be it fish, condiments, or even vegetables. Of course, great jizake accompanies all these meals.

One can only hope that this highly positive trend continues. Of course, being Japan, the probability is that it will degenerate before long into mere superficiality and we’ll have to wait another twenty years for the next breakthrough. Before that happens, though, perhaps some of this new great food can be exported to the US? The “hip” Japanese restaurants in the US, whether it be Nobu in NY or Katana in Los Angeles, actually come in quite low on the creativity/culinary interest scale—they seem to be more about cool decor and just mildly titillating culinary experimentation. There’s hope: I’ve heard that Gonpachi (where Koizumi famously took Bush to eat) is soon coming to LA, almost within walking distance of my house!

Cheese-broccoli corn strudel

Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

Recipe from Nancy Robrecht.

  • 1 cup part skim ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 10 oz package frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
  • ½ cup (2 oz) shredded fontina cheese
  • ½ cup frozen egg substitute, thawed
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 2 oz jar diced pimento, drained
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 24 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • butter flavored cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 teaspoon margarine, melted
  1. Combine cheeses, stirring well. Add broccoli and next 7 ingredients.
  2. Place 4 sheets phyllo pastry on wax paper, keeping remaining phyllo pastry covered with a slightly damp towel. Coat phyllo with cooking spray, and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons wheat germ. Top with 4 more sheets; coat with cooking spray and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons wheat germ. Top with 4 phyllo sheets; coat with cooking spray.
  3. Spoon ½ of cheese mixture lengthwise down half of phyllo stack, leaving a 1 inch margin on long side and a 1 ½ margin on short sides. Roll up phyllo, jellyroll fashion, starting with longest side. Tuck ends under, and place, seam side down, in a 9×11 inch pan coated with cooking spray. Brush with margarine. Make diagonal slits about 1/4 inch deep, 2 inches apart, across top of pastry, using a sharp knife.
  4. Repeat with other 12 sheets of phyllo pastry and rest of cheese mixture.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Yield: 7 servings

Four-grain stuffed chicken

Monday, March 25th, 2002

Recently I made a new recipe: “four-grain stuffed roast chicken”, for a guest of mine. It turned out reasonably well.

Basic starting point is simply putting a chicken in the oven and roasting it for oh, 35-45 minutes (if you have a meat thermometer it should read 160F). You can try variations such as first browning it on all four sides on the top of the stove for five minutes or so, or turning it on different sides while it is in the oven, but the basic principle of simply applying heat to the bird works perfectly well, as it does for many other pieces of meat.

The bird I used was completely keyword-compliant: organically fed, sustainably raised, free range. Whatever.

This time, I tried stuffing the bird with a mixture of the major grains which have driven human civilization. I took 1/4 cup each of rice, barley, teff, and quinoa; added 2 cups water; and boiled it for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Use chicken stock if you prefer, or add butter or salt. To the cooked grains, which should still be slightly undercooked since they are going to be cooked inside the chicken, add some spices to your liking, be that rosemary, thyme, cumin, what have you; I also added some softly sauteed onions.

One cooking book I have recommends “brining” the chicken”. That involves soaking it in a mixture of water, salt, and sugar for about two hours. Can’t hurt, right?

I then stuffed the chicken, front and back, with the grain mixture. Also, take a half-stick of butter and mash it in your hands with a handful of the grain mixture (fun), and stick that in the bird as well. Then stick it in the oven in a pan with some melted butter. Baste it every 10-15 minutes. Should be done in about 30-35 minutes. Carving it is your problem; try calling on the senior male member of your household.

Oh, I made a sauce by deglazing the cooking pan with a bit of chicken stock, some vinegar, and some sherry and reducing it. Serve the sauce over the chicken and the grain mixture. Good.

We served the chicken with a ceviche and squash soup. The ceviche is trivially simple and truly good. Take some good seafood (we used scallops); add citrus juices such as lime, lemon, grapefruit, or orange; onions; peppers; perhaps some salt and pepper; and give it an hour or two in the fridge. The citrus juices “cook” the seafood, in the sense that they cause a chemical transformation similar to the one that happens when actual heat is applied. This is a staple of Pacific-rim countries such as Mexico and Peru.

The roast squash soup I made by simply cutting up some pieces of squash, laying them on a cookie sheet, dirzzling them with some oil, and leaving them in a 500F oven until they started to brown, about 30-40 minutes. Then I dropped them into a food processor and chopped them up with some cream. Add milk, sour cream, stock, water, or whatever else until you get the soup consistency. You probably won’t need much seasoning, but use salt, pepper, or whatever else as you please.

Quinoa recipes from Bob

Sunday, December 16th, 2001

You might be acquainted with quinoa, the Andean grain. Obtainable in natural food stores and even many supermarkets these days. This was the cereal eaten by the Incas. Every time I think about the Spaniards arriving in Peru in the early 1500’s, I am amazed at how foreign, literally, the whole country must have appeared to them. Every plant and animal would have been unfamiliar, starting with the llamas; of course, the Spanish horses were equally unfamiliar to the Incas, who had no better way to refer to them than to call them “large llamas”. Another unfamiliar plant: the potato, which originated in the Andes, and which experts consider to represent one of the single most major impacts which the Andean civilizations had on Europe and the world as a whole (another being the gold found in the Andes, and its impact on European economies).

Quinoa can serve as the basis for a number of interesting dishes. (One plan is to take couscous recipes and adapt them for quinoa.)

Basically you can cook quinoa by sticking it in water or stock (try a 1:2 ratio) and boiling until the water is absorbed. Probably best to wash the quinoa first. A useful variation is to sort of roast the quinoa by itself for a few minutes before adding liquid. Or, saute some onions in a bit of oil and then add the quinoa after the onions have softened and cook for a few minutes. In any case, the result will be three times the original volume of quinoa. It’s hard to screw it up.

A recipe I invented early on was quinoa with bell peppers; try a combination of red, yellow, and orange peppers, julienned or something and then sauteed; the color is fabulous, the texture inviting, and the taste remarkable. Or if you’re so inclined, roast the peppers, either on the grill or in the oven; or puree them and mix them with the quinoa. Or, try quinoa with asparagus tips—fabulous. Although all of these approaches lack in historical veracity, since the Incas had neither peppers, nor asparagus.

They did have peanuts, however, so by all means let us add peanuts to our quinoa and get that crunchy texture and earthy flavor. They also had trout, swimming in their mountain rivers, most notably the Apurimac River flowing through the middle of Cuzco, the capital of ancient Imperial Peru, and then, 80 miles further north, along the bottom of the towering slopes on which Machu Picchu lies. So by all means let’s add trout of some sort to our quinoa, perhaps baked and crumbled; the Incans almost certainly did, although there is no definitive record of their doing so. Of course, the Incan emperors also had the system of the chasquis, or runners, waiting by their stations every 5-10 miles along the fabulous Incan road system, ready to convey the latest military or other information from the regional commander to their ruler or vice versa. But guess what: these chasquis were also used to bring fresh ocean fish 400 miles inland to the table of the ruler himself, in less than 24 hours, directly up the mountain slopes. So we can easily conjecture that at least the ruling classes had fresh ocean fish to eat alongside, or most likely mixed with, their quinoa. Let’s mix it in too—how does tuna sound? Or Sea Bass? We do not know exactly what greens the Incas used, but hey—throw in some chopped parsely, or cilantro, or how about even mint?

The Zen Mountain Center where I just spent a week publishes a cookbook called Three Bowl Cookbook, the name derived from the ancient custom of Zen monks taking all their meals using a set of three bowls. This book gives a couple of quinoa recipes. One, which I made recently, adds cucumber, onion, parsley, lemon juice, oil, feta cheese, and olives, and calls the result “Quinoa Tabbouleh”. This was good.

Here’s some other ideas to play with: mix quinoa and mashed potatoes and deep fry them! Or just view quinoa as a sort of rice replacement and make quinoa pilaf. I have a recipe that puts cubed cooked chicken together with quinoa, which sounds quite good, although I have never tried it; and of course, let’s not forget that quinoa is a grain, which means it can be ground up and made into bread (although there is no record of the Incas ever having done this). So grind up quinoa (your blender should work OK) and try it in your next bread recipe!