Archive for April, 2007

More Saso’s and Nacho

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

Here’s a little song to enjoy while you peek at our little site.

Saso’s:  Cati and I had a great evening out on Friday.  We started out at El Mariachi (the mexican place) with a margarita and some chips, and then headed over to Saso’s for dinner around 9PM.  We really like the bartender and servers at El Mariachi; the food; not so much.  Saso’s, on the other hand, has it all.  It’s everything a sushi place should be [swooning].  I am inspired to write haikus about this place, but I will tone down the gushing…ahem. 

Saso-san makes his own tamago from scratch, and the ikura is always fresh and delicious.  These are two pieces of nigiri sushi by which you can judge a sushi place.  If the tamago is bright yellow and rubbery, head for the door!  If the ikura is slimy, make like a bansai tree and leave.  No one does these pieces like Saso’s; incredible.  Herre’s what we had (I didn’t bring a camera):

  • Emiko roll (a delicious roll with yellowtail, avocado and wasabi masago)
  • Negi toro roll (another special that features toro sushi and scallions)
  • Melissa roll (a seasonal roll from Saso-san with mango, and spicy tuna (I think it’s tuna))
  • 2 pc. tamago (that’s the omelette)
  • 2 pc. hamachi (yellowtail tuna)
  • 1 pc. saba (mackerel, very fishy, I like it; Cati, not so much)
  • 2 pc. sake (salmon sushi)
  • and 2 miso soups (with the sushi, not before). 

Here is a photo from the lovely and clever Celia.  I know there is some rookie sushi on the plate, but we were hosting Celia and you can’t go from California rolls straight to uni in one sitting, dig?

saso so good

Also, I have been thinking about second-rate chinese/thai/sushi combo restaurants. 

Here is a great link on how to spot a great sushi place.

They practically describe Saso’s; uncanny, innit?

As promised in the title, here’s the Nach:

always on-guard, always

Risotto and scallops

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Hello all,

I just returned from a business trip in California today. It was a great trip. Fortunately, we went to see friendly customers, who don’t hate us, and there wasn’t an unpleasant meeting in the bunch (been on those too; not fun). The weather in L.A. was phenomenal (not like here; cold and foggy), and I even got to see my dear ol’ friend Lars for a few hours. He was nice enough to drive up to OC from San Diego just to visit. We had a beer, shared some stories, and reached a consensus on the one true meaning of life (but I forgot it). I also finished reading this book. It was a fine read, and I highly recommend it to any American. Especially if you live in the North East as much of it is set in familiar towns. George Washington was, in most ways, a VERY impressive guy. He was certainly a great leader, and larger than life. He’s probably one of few great people who were legends, not only after, but while they lived. Although, it is rather contradictory that a champion of liberty, like Washington, was also a slave-master, innit?  Ah well, that’s why I like Lincoln too.

Anyway, my last night in California, my colleagues and I went to Hollywood and caught a taping of “The Showbiz Show with David Spade.”  The episode airs tonight @ 10:30PM on Comedy Central, after South Park. The sales rep we were traveling with hooked that up for us.  It was interesting to see how these shows are taped and we had a lot of fun.  I do have to say though, the show itself wasn’t that good, and I wouldn’t watch it on TV; it’s essentially a “Jon Stewart Show,” but with so-called “entertainment news.”  Bill Maher showed up for a segment during the taping, and he was pretty darn funny.  So after a few days of airplane and airport food, I got to thinking about the risotto and scallops I made for Team Texas back in March while Cati and I were there.  I made it here a few weeks ago and I took some photos. So without further ado; here be the recipe:

Risotto:

  • 2 med size onion 3 large cloves garlic 
  • 2 TBSP butter (1/4 stick)
  • 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup risotto rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes (sliced into strips)
  • 1 cup frozen corn

Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan on med heat. Sautee the finely chopped onion and garlic until the onion starts to soften. Add the rice to the frying pan and coat the rice evenly with the oil/onion mix. Add one cup chicken broth and bring the mix to a gentle simmer. Be careful not to have this too hot as you want the rice to soak up the broth, and you don’t want to drive it off as steam. After the rice has absorbed the broth, add the next cup, let the rice absorb that, then the last. When the risotto is just about done add the frozen corn and the sun-dried tomatoes.

I like to serve this with seafood; like scallops. Scallops are pretty easy, I drag them through a 5:1 flour and adobo mixture, then sautee in olive oil. Chop some fresh cilantro to sprinkle on top, open the white wine, and you are done. Peep these photos:

risotto 0

risotto 1

risotto 2

coat the rice

getting there

imgp1591.JPG

imgp1596.JPG

imgp1599.JPG

enjoy

 

Wok this way

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Well, last week, we were pummeled by a storm; wet freezing-rain, snow, and all-around terrible weather all day long.  Cati had the Sunday blues.  She felt like this song all day.

wet

 

Inside though, it was warm and nice.  We spent the day with our vicious, ever-vigilant, guard-dog.  Prowlers be warned: 

laptop dog

It was the perfect day to do a little cooking.  And since we had time on our hands, why not undertake a cooking chore of sorts; Chinese food.  Cooking Chinese is a real pain in the neck.  It’s a total hassle from both a time and work perspective.  With the right recipe though, it can be worth it.  I understand how Chinese food places make their money.  To cook Chinese you have to do a lot of chopping, which isn’t fun, and you have to work over a really hot stove all the while.  And I mean hot; olive oil is sort of impossible in Chinese food, as it burns at the temperatures one need to stir-fry.  Add in preparing sauces, and having to stir-fry items separately, and you have one hectic kitchen on your hands (maybe that’s why it always seems like they are yelling at each other at our favorite take-out place ). 

I make a pork and eggplant stir-fry that justifies all the work. Make 1 cup brown rice in advance (you don’t want to wait for the rice after you’ve finished all your stir-frying).  We use the texmatti brown rice and a rice cooker.  The rice-cooker makes it easy (3:1 water to rice), and the brown rice is much healthier than white rice (aka: starch-bomb)

What you’ll need: 
1 bottle of canola oil (don’t worry, you won’t use it all)  
1 large eggplant 
1 large onion (red or white, I used red in my most recent attempt) 
3 large pork chops 
3 cloves garlic  
1 bunch fresh cilantro 
Make sauce in small sauce pan: 
1 cup chicken stock (or half a bouillon cube in 1 cup water) 
1/4 cup soy sauce 
1 TBSP fish sauce (easy with this stuff; it’s potent) 
1/4 brown sugar 
2 TBSP cornstarch  
Add the chicken stock, soy sauce, fish sauce, and brown sugar to the sauce pan and gently heat until the brown sugar dissolves (no need to let it get hotter than a mild boil).  Sprinkle in the cornstarch by shaking/jiggling the a tablespoon over the sauce pan while mixing it in with another spoon all the while (you don’t want lumps).  The sauce should look like a brown glaze.  Set it aside. 
Put on some tunes, and start chopping.  The eggplant should be cubed into 1/2″ cubes.  The garlic should be minced or squeezed through a press right before adding to the oil.  The pork should be cut into fajita-type strips.  The onion should be first sliced in half from end to end, and then cut into nice 1/2″ crescent pieces like so:

The key to good stir-fry is to get the oil nice and hot so you don’t wind up stewing the meat and vegetables into a mushy mess.  Heat 1 TBSP oil on high to med-high heat in a large skillet or wok and add the garlic and onion.  You should get a nice sizzle when you first add the stuff.  Keep moving or mixing until the onion starts to soften, but don’t turn it into mush.  Set the garlic and onion aside (or into the serving dish).  Try not to transfer too much oil into the serving dish.  Add more oil if needed, and allow it to get hot. 

Add a handful of pork at a time so you don’t cool the oil too much.  The pork should make a nice sizzle and should become a bit brown from the searing.  If it’s not browning, the oil is not hot enough.  Remove the pork strips into the serving dish when done, and do another handful.  If you add oil, give it aq little while to heat up before adding more pork.   When all the pork has been fried, make sure there is about 1TBSP oil in the wok/skillet and then add the eggplant.  The eggplant will soak up the oil initially, but don’e worry, it will release it as it softens.  When the eggplant has reached the desired softness, add everything back to the skillet along with the sauce.  Mix well.  Stir in some fresh sliced cilantro, or add it to the top of the dish as a garnish.  The flavor of this dish is fantastic.  I saw the recipe for this on PBS about a year ago, y’know, on one of those lazy Sundays when that’s all they play.  I think it was this show.

Anyway, it’s a great dish, and once you “get” stir-fry, there is plenty of room to play with the ingredients.  Enjoy.  (Phew, even posting about cooking Chinese food is laborious.)

the fud

sauce

cook the eggplant

plated

going going gone

Sweet and so-so

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

This weekend I was in the grocery store (the one we call “Nice Chopper” on 85 in Slingerlands), and while I was walking past the fish case, something caught my eye.  There were some beautiful fish filets that I had never seen before; the fish is called pintado.  I bought two half-pound filets; one for miself and one for milady.  They had just arrived that day, according to the seafood-case manager, and they looked like a combination of mackerel (I like) and sole (I kinda like; too mild).  I looked for advice/recipes on the intrawebs for suggestions on how to cook this fish, and I came up empty-handed.  So I just did something simple; I figured for 12.99/lb, I didn’t want to cook it as though it were some low-grade catfish (i.e. over-season it so that you can no longer taste the fish).  Here is a shot of the filets:

sure looks tasty

Here’s what I did:

Place the filets, skin side down, on a piece of aluminum foil.  Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with adobo (you thought I would cook without it?), lemon pepper, add a few pinches of rosemary, and a little pat of butter.  Seal the foil, and bake at 325F for ~30 min (checking to make sure the fish is nice and fork-crumbly); remove and serve. 

 ready for the oven

The fish was “meh” at best.  Way too mild for my tastes.  We should have lightly breaded and sauteed it (as we do with sole).  I had such high hopes, but alas it was just ok.  I like fish to be, well, fishy.  Give me salmon, yellow-tail, or mackerel any day of the week!  Keep your swordfish, sole, trout, and bland pintado (I’m a regular Patrick Henry here, eh?). 

Dinner wasn’t a total loss though.  I stumbled across a recipe from this guy, and I just had to try it.  Here is his recipe, and here is mine:

  • 2 large red onions (and I mean big)
  • 4 cloves of huge elephant garlic (it’s actually called that)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegr
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Peel, trim off the ends, and quarter the onion (split the garlic long-ways).  Add salt and pepper to the cut surfaces, then lightly brown the onion and garlic on the stove in the olive oil.  Remove the onions and garlic from the frying pan and place in a baking dish so the cut surfaces are facing up.  Mix the honey and vinegar thoroughly in a measuring cup and drizzle onto the onions and garlic.  Place the baking dish in the oven for one hour.  Every ten minutes or so baste the onion with the vinegar/honey. 

Step 1

Step 2

baste

These came out great!  I just with we had a stronger tasting fish to offset the sweetness of the onion and garlic.  Cati thought steak might have been in order; I think she’s right.  They came out so sweet and not at all like you might expect onions and garlic to taste.  The flavors were really mild.  Incidentally, honey and balsamic vinegar (chilled, with some pepper) would make a great salad dressing  (gotta try that).  We enjoyed our dinner with a nice (and cheap; $8) California Chardonnay. 

If you like mild whitefish, the pintado is for you.  I will definitely be making the roasted onions and garlic again (thanks fumbling foodie, whoever you are). 

on the table 

Cati recommended that I eat the leftover roasted-onions and garlic with some polish sausage we had in the fridge.  The sweet and salty combo was perfect; much better than with the pintado. 

It’$ the little thing$

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Cati and I just returned from a trip to TX.  We had a great time visiting friends, eating great food, and well, just relaxing.  Not wanting our little vacation to end just yet, we decided to go to My Linh for dinner on our last day before going back to work.  My Linh is a fantastic little Vietnamese place here in Albany, well; at least the food is fantastic; read on…
They really do have the best Vietnamese food in town, but that comes at a price.  The place is expensive.  The ingredients they use are obviously top-notch.  Our trip to TX got us talking about how going out to dinner is so pricey in Albany, and so cheap in Austin (and most of TX as far as we can tell).  Consider if you will:

 
1.  We went out to a place called “Z. Tejas” in Austin while we were there.  It is a fun, chic, place to have a drink and a bite.  We ordered a margarita (just one; we bought Cati’s at the bar while waiting), catfish tacos appetizer, and the wild mushroom and cheese enchilada entree.  The food was nothing special, but wasn’t bad either (Cati thinks I am being hard on them).  Cati and I did have to wait a while to be served, but the waitress was aware we were waiting, and as a result she took the entree off the bill.  We didn’t even have to ask; and to tell the truth, it didn’t even feel like we were waiting THAT long.  So in essence, our total for the night came to $15.30.

 
2.  We went to My Linh and ordered the summer roll appetizer, the Pho Bo (Vietnamese soup), and split the chicken curry entree.  We each ordered two glasses of wine, and the total came to $70.60 (before tip).  Wow, I know.  Here’s the best part; they were out of the Australian chardonnay by the glass ($6), so they were substituting with another that wasn’t on the wine list.  Turns out they were charging us $8/glass.  We didn’t know that until we had two glasses a piece.  When we called the manager over to let her know we thought we were over-charged, the manger tried to blame our waitress for not telling us.  Fine, I wasn’t interested in placing blame; just take care of it.  Perhaps the manager is at fault for failing to learn the definition of substitution!  Anyway, we paid without making a big fuss, but I think we need a break from My Linh for a while; like a year break.  Boy, cots sure are comfortable…get it “boy, cots,” boycotts…oh never mind.

Below are some pictures from our little trip to TX.  We cooked dinner for our friends on Sunday night.  I made sun-dried tomato and corn risotto, sea scallops, and spinach with pine-nuts and raisins. 

The dinner crew on Sunday night

the morning view

later, pilgrim.
 

looky looky cookies

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

I made cookies, thanks to a great recipe from my baking guru, Nola.  I made these as practice.  I volunteer at a group-home for boys, once a week for two hours a night.  I have been teaching them poker, and hearts for the last few weeks, and some of the boys have been interested, but nothing rouses interest like cookies/brownies.  Here’s the recipe, with a few modifications (Sorry to mess with perfection Nola, but I couldn’t resist.  I hope this doesn’t influence my baking karma, oh wise guru.):

Toll House Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar (tamp it down in the measuring cup)
  • 1 cup crisco, butter, or blend
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 TBSP spiced rum
  • 2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts) 
  • 1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)

Toast the hazelnuts on high-heat in a large skillet until they are dark-brown.  Shake the skillet from time to time to avoid burning them. 

In a large bowl, beat sugars, shortening, vanilla, and rum (or water) with electric mixer on medium speed or mix with a spoon until fluffy.  Mix in egg.  Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt (dough will be quite stiff).  Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. 

Drop by rounded tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheet, about 2” apart.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until light brown.  Cool 1-2 minutes to let them firm up just a bit, then remove to a cooling rack or sheet of foil spread out on countertop for at least 10 min before eating. 

This recipe is from the Betty Crocker cookbook, changed according to Nola’s memory (and Alex’s limited experience).
Here are some photos of the process:

cookie gear

beatin' the batter

before the bake

after

soon to be gone

Also, Cati’s friend, and colleague, Ana stopped by with her dog, Inti.  Inti is a 92lb lab.  He and Nacho got along great and played a game in the backyard.  Essentially, Inti would grab a stick and run around as fast as he could while Nacho chased; barking all the while.  It was pretty cute.  Nacho is a little bossy, and would not tolerate any chasing or rough-housing from Inti.  He’s funny like that.

compare

They make introductions

They play

and play

Look at our little guy go!  Ha, he’s fierce, eh?

For better or for borscht*

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

The first time my wife tried borscht she said, “It tastes like roots.”  Since then she has grown to love this colorful, flavorful dish with which I grew up.  For me, this is the quintessential comfort food.  It reminds me of my childhood, Sunday lunches with my family, my grandmother, and all those cozy memories only tastes and smells seem to trigger.  My mom shared her recipe with me and I have made it a few times.

One of my co-workers had a surplus of beets from his garden and I said, “Give ’em to me; I’ll make borscht.”  He, being polish incidentally, was more than happy to oblige.  I am going to bring him a Tupperware of borscht as payment (if there is any left after Cati has her fill).  Borscht is certainly time consuming, and a bit labor intensive, but well worth it.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Phase 1:

  • 2 or 3 bone-in shank steaks
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1-3 tsps Salt (or even better, adobo)

Phase 2:

  • 1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can tomato paste (6oz.)
  • 6-8 beets
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • sour cream
  • 2 carrots (optional)

Get your largest pot and add about 10-14 cups water.  Add the beef shanks, adobo/salt, and bay-leaves.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 90-120 minutes.  Make sure there is plenty of room in the pot because you’ll be adding beets, onions, etc.  I like to fill the pot 2/3 to 3/4 full.  I taste the broth from time-to-time to see how it’s going.  Now, to make life easy, let the broth cool to room temp, overnight, if possible.  This will cause the fat to harden on top of the broth; you can easily scoop it out and throw it away.

Remove the meat and cut into bite-size pieces.  Trim off the fat, and remove the soup bones.  Throw away the trimmings and bones (or see photo below for alternative use of soup-bones).  We are ready to start what I call phase-two of operation babushka.

Add the entire can of cream of mushroom, and the can of tomato paste, and stir into the broth until smooth.  While you are waiting for the broth to return to a boil, peel and coarsely grate the beets.  Pour a little olive oil onto your hands before you grate the beets, otherwise you will have slightly brown-stained hands for a week.  Grate the onion as well.  If you so desire, you can also grate a carrot or two to give more substance to the soup.  I don’t do this unless I am running low on beets (definitely not the case this time).  The broth will turn a beautiful deep-red color.  Bring the soup to a simmer for about 20 min.  Taste to make sure the beets are no longer crispy.  After the beets are soft, turn off the heat and add the dill and the chopped trimmed meat into the soup.  Ladle the soup into bowl and add a heaping dollop of sour cream.  Sprinkle on a little more chopped dill for an extra splash of color and serve.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!  It’s great for serving to guests as it’s not very common, and the flavor is easy on the palate (i.e. not bitter or sharp in any way).  Have a look at some photos below for a play by play:
 

the gear

The broth

meet the meat

we got the beet

soup-tastic

now serving

twice as nice the next day

Can you hook me up with the soup bone?

they meet

mm mmm good

*In my attempt to create a terrible pun for the title of this post, I considered these honorable mention titles:

“You and the borscht you rode in on”

“You just can’t beet a good borscht recipe”

You got one?  Leave it in the comments.