Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fun with onigiri: Japanese rice balls

Among the things I picked up at Ichiban Kan in Japantown were molds for making onigiri. I thought I'd do a sweet version first, cooking sushi rice with coconut milk and stuffing the rice balls with mango. A version of my favorite Thai dessert.
Nothing could be easier: put a little rice in the bottom, mango in the middle, more rice on top.
Cover and press,
and this is what you get!
If you want, you can get fancy with your decorating. Or in my case, lame with your decorating.

The rice I made turned out not so good. I think I skimped too much on the liquid. But the mango was super-ripe and juicy, so I made several onigiri that were mostly mango with just a little rice top and bottom.

I thought they were very tasty. Sophie thinks they'd be better with meat. I'll try that next. Maybe with spam!

Dinner at Speisekammer, Alameda, Calif.

Still catching up on my SF photos. Saturday night we thought we'd try Havana again, but there was at least a 45-minute wait, so we went around the corner to Speisekammer, where a two-top happened to open up just as we walked in. I was all geared up for a Havana mojito, but got talked into caipirinha instead. It was OK, but no, I still wanted a mojito.

We started with the potato cakes with homemade applesauce. Oh, very crispy and good!
My companion opted for the sauerbraten, or, as the menu describes it: Sauerbraten mit Preiselbeerkonfitüre, serviert mit Rotkohl und Spätzle (Braised Beef Tri Tip marinated and aged in Red Wine served with Red Cabbage & Spätzle). Delicious.
I was still feeling a little full from the quesadilla and fried mochi earlier in the day, so I chose a "lighter" dish: Gemüsestrudel gefüllt mit Paprika, Spinat und Schafskäse mit Karottensoße (Vegetable Strudel stuffed with Roasted Red Pepper, Spinach and Goat Cheese served with a Carrot Sauce).
Let these pictures be a lesson to you: Always adjust your white balance, even if you think there's enough natural light coming through the window behind you. Can you say jaundice? Yech.

Now, the thing about Speisekammer is that you have to throw your preconceived notions about German restaurants right out the window. Yes, the fare is heavy on the heavy. MEAT! POTATOES! But the strudel was nicely done, especially the velvety carrot sauce. And yes, you can get a mojito there and damn the cultural disconnect.

Speisekammer even has Pirate Night (Arrrrrr, mateys!) once a month. I don't know what that's about, really, but the last time we were there we saw a lot of bandannas and eye patches. German pirates? Um, OK.

But even better, Speisekammer has really great music. I am not kidding you. Not oom-pah-pah but jazz and swing. As we were nearing the end of our meal, the Frisky Frolics fired up. "Uh-oh," I thought. "Noise time." But nein! This little Tin Pan Alley-esque combo played some real toe-tapping, catchy swing tunes, and the amplification was just right.
What's with the balloons? you may be wondering. I have no idea.

The Frisky Frolics are there most Saturdays, and if the other bands that play there on other nights are of similar quality, I'd say you can't go wrong checking out the Speisekammer for a hearty meal and some entertainment the next time you're Alameda.

Sprinkler season

Warmer weather is a mixed blessing. It's more pleasant for me, but Sophie gets parched easily. Soon we'll be walking at night instead. In the meantime, we appreciate the sprinklers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rice cake machine

When I was at H-Mart I bought some funny puffed rice cakes because I liked the samples they were handing out. What I didn't realize is that they are made with a really funny machine.

Check out this video – the cakes just explode into existence!

The cakes are just very slightly sweet, and they dissolve into almost nothing in your mouth, since they are mostly air, though they look solid enough. They're a good snacky food when you want to munch on something without spoiling your appetite (or loading on the calories).

I wish I could get these without driving across town, since I'm always wanting to snack at work. If paper were edible, I'd have the cleanest desk in town. How well do you think this stuff would hold ink?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Silly kitchen gadget No. 1

In the comments of my Cooks are dumb post a couple of weeks ago, White on Rice Couple suggested I do a "silly gadgets" series, highlighting some of the goofy kitchen implements we've all run across. Herewith, my most recent find, at H-Mart on Saturday: IQ Chopsticks!

These silly things are designed for children (I hope) to learn how to hold and used chopsticks, despite the fact that millions and millions of Asian children somehow manage to do just fine without such training wheels. What really amuses me is that they also are good for "improving intelligence." It says so right on the package!

So if little Johnny or Susie isn't doing well in school, you know where to go!

(Click on the "silly gadgets" tag below to see other examples.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Powderface: Beignets by the Bay

I've been in Oakland's Fruitvale Bart station many times, but I always enter from the street side, so I never before noticed this place just on the other side, in Fruitvale Village.
Powderface? Is it a beauty shop? Wait ... beignets?? Really? Must get some!

If you've been to New Orleans, you know beignets, like rectangular donuts heavily coated with powdered sugar. I've been to New Orleans once, but for a funeral, so I never got to try them there. In Denver, there's a Cajun restaurant, Lucile's, that makes excellent oversized ones. (If you need a good place for brunch, Lucile's is the place to go.)

Powderface beignets are made to order. Here's the dough, cut and ready to go.
It gets tossed about a bit,
then goes into the fryer.
Then from the fryer to the powder. Lots and lots of powder.
If you can, you should eat them right there while they're still warm. If you take them with you, you will have to resist the urge to eat them in the car. Seriously, do not open that bag or you will get powdered sugar on everything.
When you're ready, you will want to eat them outside or over the sink! They won't last long, trust me. They are very good.

And check your face before you go out again. They don't call it Powderface for nothing!

The "H" stands for "Holy cow!"

I was googling around to see if there were any places in Denver that sell bento stuff (shut up. I am not obsessing on it), and saw a mention of H-Mart. It's over in Aurora, east of Denver, and has been there four years, but this is the first I've heard of it. I usually do my Asian shopping on the west side of town, which tends more toward Vietnamese. (H-Mart is Korean, though it covers all the Asian bases, plus Hispanic and some Middle Eastern.) The place is huge.

They have lots of greens:
Including bac ha (which you may recall me wondering about after my visit to the Berkeley Bowl). Good to know I can get it here and don't have to beg White on Rice Couple to send me some.
There's also burdock and banana flowers. I took note of the burdock because I saw a recipe recently from Habeas Brulee that I want to try. But what do you do with banana flowers?
There was, of course, the obligatory durian. Frozen so it doesn't stink up the whole store.

I confess, I've never eaten it. Should I buy one to try? What should I do with it? Eat it straight or try to cook with it?

Maybe make durian ice cream?
I also did not get the sweet tamarind, which I saw a post about the other day on Lunch in a Box. Wherein it is called "poop fruit" by the 3-year-old taste tester.
There are some things there I will have to research. What the heck are Job's Tears?
The store has a lot of convenience foods, including one I'm sure I will return for: ready-to-grill bulgogi, both beef and pork.
If you like kimchi, you can buy it in small containers or several pounds' worth.
Among the prepackaged foods were delicacies such as octopus. Which I really like, but it was a little too expensive.
They had regular snails and these larger ones, though I wonder about the "cooked" part. Why cooked? Why not fresh?
The produce here wasn't all that great, really, but the seafood just goes on and on.
And on and on.
The prices are really cheap, too. Isn't monkfish supposed to be expensive?
And the shrimp! I'm going back for the shrimp, at these prices.
And maybe one of these days I'll cook goat, too.
The store also has some kitchen goods, but the selection is just a hodgepodge and not very comprehensive.
But wait! There's a "shopping mall" inside the store, too. There's a massage place, sushi restaurant, Verizon store and Western Union, a quilt store, a gift shop ...
I picked up the Hello Kitty chopsticks. And then I put them down again.
I did get a lot of good stuff!
H-Mart has a lot of buy-one-get-one-free specials and other sales.
  • Two big packages of organic soba and somen noodles.
  • Grapeseed oil was $8, which is cheap! I like it because it has a very high smoking point.
  • Fermented black beans (because I still plan to make Steamy Kitchen's Steamed Spareribs in Black Bean Sauce one of these days.
  • Cheap fennel! (99 cents.)
  • Kinda wilty yu choi, but I've been craving some.
  • Dumpling wrappers. Must make jiaozi.
  • Water chestnuts! I haven't had fresh ones since China. They were my long-distance-bus-ride snack.
  • Pomegranate molasses. From Lebanon. Go figure.
  • Yasai Fumi Furikake and Goma Shio Furikake, which are seasonings for rice balls or french fries. The former has sesame seeds, carrot, spinach, pumpkin, celery, Japanese mustard plants, potato starch, sugar, salt, and seaweed. The latter is just salt and roasted sesame seeds. (Oh! I forgot to upload a photo of the Pokemon furikake. I'm guessing it's little packets of seasoning to go in kids' lunchboxes. If you know for sure, please tell me!)
  • Coconut milk and coconut cream, for making sweet rice. I'm going to put some mango in it.
  • Rice.
  • Beautiful radish sprouts.
  • Mandarin oranges.
  • Kewpie mayonnaise. I was all out!
  • Puffed rice things that are a good snack. (Is there a specific word for these?)
  • Last, but not least, a BOGO purchase of Lotte ChocoPies. Think mallomars, but with less marshmallow. I've already eaten four.

Total cost: $47. The spices, molasses and the grapeseed oil were the most expensive items, but they also last a long time. The perishable stuff was all pretty cheap.

Guess I can get a bento lunch or two out of it!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Checking out H-Mart

Asian superstore

Potato, leek and ham gratin

So I bought a couple of leeks at the SF farmers market as big as my arm. (Much like the kale big as my head.) I loved the braised leeks with cod, and I still had some heavy cream left from that (minus a splash or two in my coffee – wicked rich). I also had some sliced ham in the freezer, left over from the holidays. A nice gratin seemed just the ticket.
Here are the ingredients:
  • One really big, fat leek (you can use two or three smaller ones), trimmed and sliced very thin. You'll need to wash the slices thoroughly in a sieve if they're at all gritty, as leeks often are. Happily, these weren't.
  • Two and half pounds of golden potatoes, peeled and sliced thin.
  • A cup and a half of heavy cream, or a combination of cream and milk (I used a half-cup of milk)
  • A half-cup of chicken or vegetable stock or broth. Yes, I use canned. Sue me.
  • A bunch of cooked ham, sliced in matchsticks
  • A bay leaf, a smashed garlic clove, salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • A bunch of grated Swiss or gruyere

You put your liquids in a pan with the bay leaf and the garlic clove, bring it to a boil, then take it off the heat to steep while you prep everything else. Preheat your oven to 350.

Once you're done with all that peeling and slicing (boy, I sure do hate peeling potatoes), you layer everything in a gratin dish or casserole:
First a a third of the potatoes, then some salt, pepper and nutmeg. Then half the leeks and ham. More potatoes, more spices, the rest of the leeks and ham and a final layer of potatoes.

Pour the cream over it, discarding the garlic, sprinkle it with the cheese and bake loosely covered with foil for half an hour. Then take the foil off and bake for another 30 to 45 minutes. I basted it halfway through, just spooning some of the liquid from the sides to the top. I don't know that it was really necessary.

Oh! I just looked out the window and it's snowing. Criminy.

OK, this is a good hearty dish for a cold, snowy day! Sorry, the photos aren't so great. It was the middle of the night and I just wanted to eat and go to bed after spending many hours weeding and cleaning house.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shopping at Ichiban Kan, San Francisco

Many years ago I visited Ichiban Kan. I don't remember what I bought there, if anything, but I do recall an orange plastic hand-cranked paper shredder that I regretted not buying. It was very cute! And at the time, electric shredders were expensive and not very common for household use. Now they're de rigueur.

Anyhoo. Ichiban Kan was exceedingly packed on Saturday, which prevented me from doing a meticulous inventory, but I found a few fun things.
I love the idea of bento lunches, and Ichiban Kan is just the place to get the little plastic containers to do it right. They don't have everything, but they've got a lot.
Mainly I've been inspired by Biggies' posts at Lunch in a Box. She packs up the most amazing little lunches for her pre-schooler, and documents them thoroughly. He's enrolled at a Japanese immersion school, so no one thinks his lunches are "funny," lucky kid.
I wish I had someone to make up such tasty lunches for me! But no, I have to do it myself. My lunches tend to be a hodgepodge of this and that, anyway, so the things I got are really just to facilitate packing more efficiently. I don't plan to become an obsessive bentoista. (Though it's tempting!)

I did find some other useful kitchen things, too, like this little container that will be good for keeping coarse salt in next to the stove. I also got a small ladle.
A frivolous purchase was these egg molds. You boil your egg, peel it, then press it in the mold and put in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. Silly but fun!
The long plastic box on the right has a little rack in the bottom, perfect for storing fish or asparagus.

I also got some molds for rice balls. I like rice! I will see how they work with regular rice. I also have some sweet rice, so they could make fun desserts.

I did not get this bento box below at Ichiban Kan, but at a stationery store down the mall, Kinokuniya. That place is hugely dangerous, too, but I resisted most of the temptations there. Cards, pens, paper, stickers!

But I have so much stationery already that I just couldn't justify it. Plus a companion who was getting antsy. So I contented myself with this.
It has little chopsticks in the top, and two containers, one with a movable divider, and an elastic strap to hold it together.
Another useful item, for language students: mini flashcards. As noted on the covers: "This goods is convenient to memorize a word."
I speak French and Chinese, and I'm studying Spanish, so flashcards are key for me. These little ones are perfect to carry anywhere.

Everything here (plus another divided plastic container, some small sauce containers and the little cream jars shown in the main photo) cost $15 total. The little bento box was $12.

Ichiban Kan has an online store now, but they're still working the kinks out. They do say they've got a big shipment of bento stuff coming in soon. So if you can't get to the SF store, you might find some fun things online.