Friday, December 30, 2016

Classy Local Brunch

My first full day during my Hawaiian holiday visit, mom and I met some friends of the family for brunch at the Kings View Diner in Kapa'au.  Good place, I recommend it if for some reason your travles take you through my hometown someday.

This is the Kings View's spam, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich. I have a native (by birth anyway) Hawaiian's deep affection for spam, although I don't eat it very much nowadays. And the sheer incongruity of spam on a croissant made this choice a no-brainer for me.  However, I've realized too late that this photo is a failure, because you can barely see the spam.  On future brunches there I will think more carefully and open the croissant before snapping the picture.

For the record, it was absolutely delicious.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Christmas Babka

Way more photos than usual in this entry, but (a) this was a pretty involved thing, (b) I'm inordinately proud of my Christmas babka achievement, and (c) I was joined by a very special sous chef for this Hawaiian holiday cooking adventure, my niece Bella, who is 5 and a half.

Let's rewind.  When I first saw Ottolenghi's Krantz cake recipe in Jerusalem, it was the kind of recipe where my immediate reaction was "no way will I ever cook that."  Partly that's because I don't have a stand mixer, but partly it just looked hard.  And for all that I'm an ambitious and sometimes even daring cook, I'm also fundamentally a pretty lazy one.  Hence no-knead bread.

But I'd had it in mind, and when I was thinking about what I might want to try out on my family over the holidays, and my mom said we were volunteering to bring dessert for Christmas dinner, it seemed an opportune moment to attempt the Ottolenghi babka.

I don't know why I do these things, it's the height of arrogance or dumbness to try something, especially something complicated, for the first time for other people.  But, I was on the hook, so away we went.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and dough needed making.  
Were it not for the Kitchenaid, much time 'twould be taking.

Here it is freshly mixed, and again after resting
With much sugar and flour and some lemon from zesting.

We'd be making two babkas, not three and not one,
The first filled with chocolate, the other, cinnamon.

It was Xmas day and the babka dough rolled
When into the kitchen my little niece strolled.

She surveyed the scene and my own furrowed brow,
And she said "Uncle Joe, can I help you somehow?"

So together we decorated the freshly flat dough
With nuts and the toppings strewn to and fro.

And carefully I rolled a tight babka cigar,

And a split and a twist and voila there we are.

Into pans for a rest and a rise then the fire

All the work and attention had caused us to tire.

It was messy but easy, well, less hard than I thought,

And in the end vastly better than had we store bought.

Admire the crumb, look at that great braid
And this my dear readers, is how a babka is made.

Humble apologies to Clement Clark Moore and Dr. Seuss both.  I didn't really think I was going to end up in verse the whole way through.  And thank you to my sister Joelle, who documented the event.  And to Bella, for being a great assistant. Merry Babka!

The Poké Case at the Supermarket

I previously wrote about my first New York poké experience.  Here's why I find it kind of funny.  As I said, I grew up on the stuff, more or less.  But these days there is SO MUCH poké to be had back home... supermarkets have a poké case along with a deli case.  Photographic evidence from Foodland in Waimea on Hawai'i.

It's a little tough to tell as some things in the case aren't poké (there's some picked garlic, and edamame) but there are something like 20 different kinds to choose from, and the really good stuff will run you about $18.99 a pound on manager's special (if you have your Maika'i Card with you).  The other thing to note is that poké is really popular!  This was from a late afternoon trip to the market, and popular flavors do sell out.

While I admire the amount of effort New York City is putting in to close the poké gap, I conclude that it still very much remains tilted in favor of my native land.

Monday, December 26, 2016

One of my favorite things about my annual trip to visit my family is the opportunity to cook stuff I wouldn't otherwise make, for a willing audience of eaters.  For Christmas Eve, that thing was my first ever porchetta.  Hawaiian food culture excels at slow-roasted, super tender pork, but doing it Italian style is uncommon there.  Cook's Illustrated has an excellent recipe, involving a super-herby, garlicky paste, an overnight in the fridge to make sure the flavors get fully diffused into the meat, and a long, slow roast in the oven.

Several things went awry with this, most notably that I misread the pork shoulder we bought; I thought the B/I was a B/L.  Really easy mistake to make, who would label something that way?  But anyway, although a boneless roast would've cooked faster and been easier to carve, that was a small thing in the grand scheme. (And Big Boy, the family dog, got a nice treat in the bone.) Also I got a much later start getting it into the oven than I would've liked, resulting in a late Christmas Eve dinner.  My thanks to the family for their patience.

However, the wait was amazingly worth it.  I wish I always had time to cook like this!  The meat was just, well, perfect.  One of the best pork roasts I've ever had, anywhere.  Tender but not too tender, so flavorful, and the drippings made a phenomenal gravy.  And we had just a ton of leftovers, too.

I roasted some potatoes and onions and made a simple salad to go alongside.  And there was bread.

Like I say, this wasn't a fast recipe, and it was somewhat involved.  But it wasn't hard, and you can't argue with results as tasty as this.  I'd totally make it again the next time I need to impress people with a large hunk of flesh, perfectly roasted.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Macabre Espresso

Not much food related to this story, but I made myself an espresso today in my usual fashion and really looked at my espresso cup and sugar spoon for the first time in a while and realized how... me... they are.  The cup features Damien Hirst's famous diamond skull, printed on the saucer, with a mirrored cup reflecting it.  Gift from my friends M. And L.  And the spoon is one of a pair that was also a gift, from one of my sisters.

It is pretty awesome how well they go with one another, and how well they suit me.  And it's good to be reminded, or see with fresh eyes, things that make us happy.  Caffeine and shiny skulls are two things on that list for me..

Friday, December 16, 2016

Carbon Steel Skillet, One Year Later

How time flies.  My carbon steel skillet arrived on 23 January of this year.  It was shiny and new (well, duh, of course it was).  And I thought with just about a year's use under my belt, it was time for an update.  Below are current photos.  It's built up an amazing, dark seasoning, just as you'd hope it would with repeated use and moderate care.  For the first few months I diligently oiled and heated and wiped it as part of the cleaning process each time I used it.  But at this point it really doesn't need that any more.

It is absolutely my go-to skillet, and it works like a charm.  It conducts heat beautifully, is practically nonstick (I don't really like fried eggs, but sometimes I'll cook a fried egg in it just to watch it slide out), a breeze to clean, and generally has been one of my best kitchen investments ever.

Once again my hat is off to Cook's Illustrated, without whom I would still be sauteeing in ignorance, not realizing there is a third way between the fussiness of cast iron and the delicateness of nonstick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How to Get a Head in New York City

The Cannibal.  Conjuring images of human steaks and a high risk of catching kuru, I love this beer-and-meat-centric pub, sister restaurant to the late lamented (by me anyway) Resto, and the second best food thing about working in Murray Hill (proximity to Kalustyan's is number one).  I was there a couple of months ago with some work friends and we made a plan to come back for the half pig's head. Because when you see half a pig's head on a menu, I think you're sort of duty-bound to order it.

It took a while to schedule, but today was the day for it.  And it almost didn't happen!  In the interim the Cannibal took it off the lunch menu; normally it's only available as a dinner item now.   Good to know. Fortunately, the server helping us out asked in the back and they had one head (like, two half-heads) that they could make for lunch, if we were willing to wait.  And we were willing to wait.  We ordered some sausage and Brussels sprouts and other stuff, and some beer.  And lo and behold, in due course this beauty came and joined us at the table.

The Cannibal does their half pig's head General Tso's style -- lots of peppers and green onion and a sweet-and-spicy sauce with anise and Szechuan peppercorns and whatnot.  And served with some greens and thin pancakes for wrapping in. 

Wow.  I've had whole pigs a couple of times, but never dug into a head (or half a head)--we focused mainly on the rest of the animal.  And those were suckling pigs, not a grownup.  Half a pig's head is  daunting.  And carving something's face up to eat it can't help but evoke, let's call them "Lecterian" thoughts.  Especially given the name of the establishment.
Once we got going though, wow.  My second reaction was, it was surprisingly fatty.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, jowls and all.  But lots of fat.  Almost to the point where I'd say belly has nothing on face.  It was interesting from a purely anatomical perspective exploring the head to find the meaty bits (the underside, like I guess the bottom of the jaw muscles?, was particularly good.  And cheeks of course.).  I didn't really love the ear.  I have had stellar pigs' ears before, and was looking forward to this one.  But it was a little too chewy for my taste -- I like them when they are super super crisp.  Maybe a pig versus piglet, size thing?  The skin was phenomenal, though.  Despite the glaze, it was crisp and flavorful, absolutely perfect. 

Lastly I'd say that if you ever want to follow in my dining footsteps, bring a group.  We were four and ordered several other things, and the head was plenty for us.  A smaller group would definitely have had leftovers.  And as with other major carnivorous experiences, I found that all I really want for the next 24 hours or so is, like, a salad or maybe a little sushi.  Balance must be restored!

My sincere thanks to M., E., and L., for their dining adventuresomeness.  Looking forward to eating with you again!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ottolenghi Roasted Vegetables & Tahini Cookies

Had friends over for dinner last night and sous-vided (that's a verb by now, right) a pork tenderloin for the second time.  That may become my go-to main course for company.  So simple, cooks perfectly, and it gives me an excuse to show off the immersion circulator.

Anyway, to balance the easy main, I broke out Plenty and made Ottolenghi's roasted vegetables with vinaigrette.

I had an mild disagreement with a friend recently who complained that his recipes are too involved and she finds herself cutting corners when she makes them, with results that are just about as good. To which I say, is that a criticism or a compliment?  In my mind, if a recipe inspires you to combine flavors you might not have otherwise, or try a new technique, then it's done its job. 

I expect that any of us who are good cooks automatically adapt or alter just about any recipe we make.  Add more of a favorite vegetable, substitute away from an herb we're not partial to or don't have on hand. Reduce the salt or butter or whatever. Or change it if something doesn't quite make sense--for example this dish called for 4 red onions, which can't possibly be right--are American red onions way bigger than British ones? Ottolenghi encourages adaptation and alteration -- he usually suggests ways to change or simplify himself in the recipe intros.

Anyway, red onion overload notwithstanding, this is a terrific recipe. I roast vegetables just fine, thank you (in addition to red onion, this combined sweet potato, parsnip, cherry tomato, and a whole head of garlic along with sprigs of rosemary and thyme). But I've never bothered making a dressing for them before. Ottolenghi tosses these with olive oil, lemon juice, capers, maple syrup and Dijon mustard. Which I almost certainly would not have thought to combine on my own, but wow.  So much flavor, and yet without overwhelming the inherent flavors in the vegetables.  I can't wait to try this again, and I'm actively looking forward to tweaking it.  And as with so many of his dishes, it's beautiful--great color and gusto and verve, and half a head of garlic always adds visual as well as flavor appeal.  And it combined super-well with the pork, too.

I did a variation on his spinach salad with dates, nuts, and pita croutons, which I've made so many times I don't even look at the recipe anymore.  At this point, I think I can claim it as my own, or at least a "Joetolenghi" creation.

Finally, because I was feeling ambitious, or maybe because I opted not to bake bread, I also whipped up a batch of his Tahini Cookies, from Jerusalem.
Exactly as one might expect, they are peanut butter cookies meet halva, a very shortbready sort of crumb with a really nice sesame flavor. About as simple as could be to make, and yet impressively unusual and tasty just the same.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin

Greetings campers.  The unpromising shrink-wrapped thing to the left of this text is a sous vide-d pork tenderloin.  A little seasoned salt, some olive oil and not much else in there with it.  The bend in it is a little weird, I'd be the first to admit, but I don't have super long bags, and I didn't want to cut the raw tenderloin in two.

Anyway, as with all things sous vide (and all things pork tenderloin, too), it's not the most exciting thing in the world to watch it cook.  But here's a shot of it cooking just the same.
Eagle-eyed readers may note that I'm using Celsius on the immersion circulator.  I was feeling European.

And below is the finished product.  One of the sides is a little roasted butternut squash I made myself, topped with some seasoning mix from Kyoto.  The other is some gratineed cauliflower, frozen from Trader Joes.  Not bad, though I'm not sure I'll run out and buy more of it.

Anyway, of all the things I've cooked in a bath so far, pork tenderloins are second only to chicken breasts as far as this is really the only way you should ever ever cook them.  It didn't take a huge long time, the meat came out perfect, and it was quick and easy to get a nice sear going via a quick visit to the skillet.  Total and unqualified success.

I am really looking forward to making another one of these!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

First New York Poké

There is no doubt that New York is in the grips of a poké craze at the moment, and not the Pokémon one.  Or maybe in addition to the Pokémon one. Poké in this sense is the Hawaiian answer to ceviche, raw fish that's been marinated in soy and usually citrus, and often mixed with some seaweed, sesame seeds, or other flavorings.

In my native land, you can get it by the pound at the deli counter at supermarkets, and it's usually eaten straight, as-is.

In the current NYC Poké craze, it's most often served in a bowl over rice, sometimes with other ingredients.  Sort of like chirashi-zushi.  

It's a great idea, and the better places, in addition to having impeccably fresh fish, devise bright and interesting combinations of flavors and textures.

As a self-proclaimed poké expert, it's odd that I haven't sought out any of the city's poké options yet, but it's true.  Today however, I found myself at the new, subterranean TurnStyle development at the 59th street subway station, and Yong Kang Street there offered them, so why not?

My initial verdict, with a single bowl under my belt, is it's not terribly authentic as a dish. That is, I certainly never had anything quite like it as a kid. But the flavors separately do remind me of home, and they go well together.

I like TurnStyle, too, by the way, though I've only eaten there twice.  When I've been there with other people, they say it feels un-NYC to them, like it should be in Melbourne or Hong Kong or a European City.  I think they mean it's clean, eclectic, well-designed, and compact?  NYC developments don't often hit all of those.  Hope it's successful, it's a model I hope gets emulated in other blank and underused spaces in the city.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Nomadic Lunch

Lunch. An underrated meal, sometimes. And too often eaten hurriedly at one's desk. But my very good friend M. was in town from LA for work and asked about having lunch. Normally in my work neighborhood that would be Curry Hill, or Dos Caminos, or Hillstone.  Or Resto if I'm feeling conventionally decadent.  But as it was a Friday and I could escape and I was feeling splurge-y I suggested Nomad, Chef Daniel Humm's restaurant at, well, the NoMad Hotel, which is located in, well, the NoMad District.

If this was a real estate blog I'd be talking about how fascinating it continues to be to me that a neighborhood that used to be just chockablock with tawdry wholesalers is being transformed by a whole set of very cool boutique hotels and their associated shopping and dining venues.

But that's not my story today.

My story today is my three-course lunch at the Nomad, which included the most decadent, wonderful, memorable burger of my life, and it was a chicken burger at that.

I started with the salmon; a sort of terrine or pate, with a mustardy sauce, a quail egg yolk, and rye crisps (and some greens--pea and lettuce).  This was fantastic. Rye and salmon go so well together, and this was an incredibly refined way to combine those flavors.  And the egg yolk added just the right amount of heaviness to what was a very light terrine.  Just great.
But nothing compared to what came next.  Nomad is famous for a spectacularly expensive whole roast chicken, which is enlivened by foie gras and truffles under the skin while it's roasting. For frugal lunch diners, they make a burger version of that.  Yes, this is the chicken burger at Nomad:

I realize, retrospectively, that you can't actually see the burger in this picture.  You'll have to take my word, it was beautiful, and the ground chicken includes a fair amount of skin, along with the foie and the truffle, which should be gross but in fact made for the moistest, most flavorful burger imaginable.  And the fries were top-notch as well.

This is one of those dishes that I ate it and I was full and content and yet I still immediately wanted to eat it again, just so I could keep tasting it. 

I mean.  Really.  Go eat this burger sometime in your life.  Hopefully soon.

Followed that with an espresso and the light and terrific "milk and honey" dessert, with shortbread crisps, crunchy milk bites, and the distinctiveness of buckwheat honey.

I can't say enough good about this lunch.  Though full disclosure, wine was involved as well.

Speaking of which, the guy taking care of us was terrific.  I had mentioned I kept an eye out for Corsican wines ever since my trip there last year, and M and I were drinking a Corsican white they ahd, and so he brought me over a taste of their red from Corsica, just so I could give it a try. So nice!

Actually the whole staff was wonderful.  M and I were both late for our reservation, and yet they could not have been more accommodating.

And you may note that the lighting of these photos is amazing (I mean, if I do say so myself).  Partly, that's just lunches--natural light is around in general in the daytime--but mainly it's because the Nomad dining room is under an opaque but very bright skylight.  It's a beautiful room.

So, in conclusion, go have this burger!  And I need to go back for the whole chicken.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Taste of the Old Country: Haupia

There are a few foods from the land of my childhood that instantly take me home, and that I'll even admit to craving once in a while. Spam is the stereotypical Hawai'i food; I don't crave that very much any more, but who can resist once in a while?

Malasadas (from Tex's Drive In, not homemade), the Portuguese fried dough, do it to me too, even in these carb conscious times. Boiled peanuts, kalua pork, a good poké...

The other day, I got a craving for haupia, Hawaiian coconut pudding. And rather than ignoring, I decided to take action.  Here's the ghostly white result.

I don't understand why I've never made this before.  Sugar, cornstarch, a little water, and a can of coconut milk.  It's pretty fool-proof, and if not the healthiest, not the unhealthiest, either.

It definitely reminded me of my native land, in a good way.  And it drove home to me what a good canvas haupia would be for other flavors.  I'm thinking I should make it again but add some crushed cardamom pods during the simmering phase...  Maybe middle-eastern/Hawaiian is the next big fusion cuisine?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Breakfast in Vegas

Last week I spent a few days in Las Vegas, where I spoke at a conference.  On the advice of a friend who knows these things, I stayed at the Golden Nugget, downtown, well away from the Strip.  In retrospect I'm not so sure of the wisdom of that advice (though the Carson Tower, recently renovated, has great rooms very affordably).

However, it was an opportunity to put to a test the mythical Las Vegas breakfast buffet.  And sure enough, for $14, I had one of the most epically weird meals I've ever had.  Feast your eyes:
In case you need a guide, there's some breafast potatoes with chorizo, an egg scramble with smoked salmon, a cheese blintz with strawberry sauce, a biscuit with gravy, a slice of spam (here's to Hawai'i nostalgia), and off to the side, a quarter of a waffle with a chunk of fried chicken on it.

Not pictured is some assorted fresh fruit.

The only thing that would've made it weirder would've been if they'd had Japanese breakfast items to mix and match; a bit of grilled fish and some sticky rice or miso soup.  Probably they did have those things and I just overlooked them. And probably that's a good thing.

Still, I couldn't have asked for better fuel for a long day of meetings, conference sessions, and racing around a very large convention show floor.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Fancy Persian Rice

It's rare to say that you've had an adventure making rice.  Wait, that's not true.  There's plenty of pilafs that are neat, and paella is about as adventuresome as rice -- or any dish-- can be.

But "normal" rice is usually pretty straightforward.  Yesterday I tried out a Cook's Illustrated recipe for chelow, a fancy Persian rice dish famed for its mix of textures--it develops a beautiful, golden crust to contrast with the extra-fluffy, soft, well, normal rice.

The CI technique was interesting--you soak basmati rice in hot water to parcook it a bit. Then mix half of it with some yogurt and press it into the bottom of a Dutch oven, and gently mound the rest of the rice over the top and poke some butter into it.

It certainly worked--I probably overcooked the crust a little, but it was crispy and tasty.  Great texture.

Like so much of Cook's Illustrated, it's a bit of a fussy recipe, and I like just plain old regular basmati rice, too. 

Is it worth the extra time and effort? Probably not, usually. Still, if the right occasion presents itself, I'd definitely make it again.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Avocado Toast Pilgrimage

Spring is busily springing at the Cloisters, one of my favorite places in New York (and, therefore, the world).  I made a pilgrimage there on Saturday (19 March) to enjoy everything slowly turning green again, and to see their spectacular exhibit of luxury playing cards.

Now that's a death card.  Yowza!

Post-pilgrimage I wasn't exactly feeling like Death in terms of emaciated hunger, but I was a little peckish, so I stopped into the nearby New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tryon Park for a bit of refreshment.  Only to discover that just about the only thing they had that wasn't their prix fixe ginormous brunch was avocado toast.

Like a lot of people, I have a knee-jerk reaction against avocado toast.  It's too...easy, you know?  Avocado. Toast. Done. Too much of an obvious crowd pleaser, too. It's 2016, I want my food to challenge me! I can make avocado toast, for crying out loud.  Why eat it at a restaurant? Those sorts of sentiments.

And yet, and yet.  Avocado toast is so good.  Sometimes it is exactly the right thing.  And this moment, feeling serene and spring-like and art-inspired, was one of those times.  My only regret is I opted to go for a cappuccino rather than alcohol.  A bloody mary and the avocado toast would truly have been food of the gods.

Still, three cheers for avocado toast, judiciously, in small doses, at the right moments.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Carbon Steel Skillet

It's been a while since I treated myself to a new kitchen gadget.  So when Cook's Illustrated raved about carbon steel skillets as more user friendly than cast iron but with many of the same benefits, I decided to spring for one.

(Yes, I know...if CI said the secret to great ratatouille was to jump off a bridge with the eggplant I'd probably do that too.)

Anyway, it took a while before I decided to spring for one, and it gave me a firsthand view of CI's influence:  it was actually pretty hard to find one, particularly their recommended Matfer Bourgeat 062005 - 11-7/8" dia. - Black Round Frying Pan.

Finally found it at  And here it is, newly arrived, heavy and shiny.


Very pretty, no?  Hope I get a lot of happy skilleting out of it.

The other thing that I thought was a little remarkable about this was the packaging it came in.  Here's a look--very, um, makeshift.  There was nothing in there but the padding, no nothing.  I suppose, being carbon steel, it's theoretically indestructable but still.

While I applaud their ingenuity and creativity in packing supplies,  you'd think, being a restaurant supply place that ships stuff regularly, they'd have a suitable box. 

Anyway, it's here, it's beautiful, and I'm looking forward to seasoning it and getting cooking.