Friday, December 31, 2010

Chopped Up Omelets Are Not Scrambled Eggs!!!

I just got home from my trip up to San Francisco and Napa in time for New Years Eve. I had a lot of really good food during this trip that I will definitely be blogging about for the next week. But there is one thing I just wanted to get off my chest before the year's over. For some reason the people up in Napa Valley thinks chopping up an omelet equals scrambled eggs.

At first I thought it was just this one place, but apparently it's a common occurrence. I suppose I can't say it's exclusive to Napa as I have experienced it elsewhere before. It just became very apparent to me how some restaurants end up serving chopped up omelets as scrambled eggs while on this trip.

(Butter Cream Bakery & Diner Small Breakfast)

On Wednesday morning, I went to a popular local breakfast eatery called Butter Cream Bakery & Diner. I'll actually blog more in depth about the rest of the experience in a different blog. As a part of my breakfast, they served scrambled eggs. I sat at the counter so I had a wonderful view of the part of the kitchen that was a part of the dinning area. I saw the way they cooked the ham, the toast, the hash brown and yes of course, my scrambled eggs. Basically they poured the battered eggs onto the hot plate. They let the egg completely harden and then chopped it up and served it as scrambled eggs. That is just plain wrong.

(Butter Cream Bakery & Diner Kitchen)

Needless to say I was a bit unsatisfied with my scrambled eggs that first morning in Napa. I like my eggs really scrambled. If I wanted an omelet, I would have ordered that and chop it up myself. I wouldn't have needed them to scramble it. So this morning, I went to the hotel restaurant where I stayed at since they gave me a $10 gift certificate. I ordered another meal that came with scrambled eggs. Again my eggs were served in that say manner, chopped up omelet served as scrambled eggs.

(Gaia Restaurant Buckwheat Pancake Sandwich)

Scrambled eggs is supposed to be scrambled while it's cooking. If you don't scramble the eggs while it's cooking, it taste like a chopped up omelet. There's a huge difference. Real scrambled eggs should be soft and fluffy. You can't just cook the eggs as a sheet, chop it up and expect it to turn out good. I petition that all restaurants must rename their scrambled eggs to chopped omelet if they do not actually scramble their eggs during the cooking process.

Happy New Year!!! A good scrambled 2011 to you all!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Old Country Cafe Isn't So Old

I have been church hopping on Sundays for a few months, but the last couple of weeks, I have been returning to a couple of churches some of my family attends just to be in familiar settings during this Christmas season. Last Sunday I went to my brother's church Chinese Mission Bible Church in Alhambra. Generally after church I would eat out with my brother and his wife, but this past Sunday his wife was busy and so it was just my brother. He suggested that we go to Old Country Cafe in Alhambra.

After so many years here in the San Gabriel Valley I am always surprised to discover some new hole in the wall places. There are just so many and some of them can be quite good. Where we ended up eating at was quite delicious. The draw back was that since it was a little chilly on Sunday, the place wasn't heated and a tad bit cold for my liking.

(Old Country Cafe)

(Japanese Comic Books For Patrons)

The place was actually split into two rooms. The main room had two large tables and a bar while the small room had a few other tables with huge shelves of Japanese comic books free to check out while inside the restaurant. The place really isn't very nice despite their attempt to be hip. The furnitures were a bit run down and in desperate need for an upgrade. The positive was that the place was clean, especially for a hole in the wall type restaurant. I didn't feel completely disgusted touching the furnitures and that's all I can ask for.

(Boba Milk Green Tea)

(Papaya Milk)

My brother ordered the boba milk green tea. I personally don't like milk green tea. It just taste too watery for me. If I add milk to tea, it has to be black tea. But some people like that so I'm not going to judge. I decided to order a papaya milk instead. It's been a while since I've had one, and it's actually a childhood favorite of mine. Papaya milk is an exclusively Taiwanese drink. It's actually quite simple in concept, blend papaya with milk and you have papaya milk. This was just that and it was a great and healthy drink.

(Minced Beef Over Taiwanese Lettuce "A" Choy)

To my surprise, my brother ordered a minced beef over Taiwanese lettuce, which is also known as "A" choy. It's similar to romain lettuce but has a slightly hint of bitter quality to it. The dish was well made with a small amount of oil. The lettuce still had a little crunch to it while the minced beef was marinated on the lighter side. I actually prefer them lighter. I find too many Taiwanese restaurants smothering their minced beef with so much sauce that it drowns out every last bit of beef flavor. This was a balanced little appetizer dish for the upcoming main dish.

(Deep Fried Chicken Rice)

On the recommendation of my brother, I ordered the deep fried chicken rice. My brother actually ordered the same. It's the dish he always gets when he dines at this little joint. I've had a few other Taiwanese style deep fried chicken and pork. This one beats them all. The crust was almost flaky. Too often the crust of these fried chicken or pork are so hard it's a little too crunchy. But this was just right. It almost melted into the chicken when I bit into them. Of course there was still enough of a crunch to it to remind you that it's still a deep fried dish. Fortunately it didn't retain too much oil making the dish much easier on the stomach.

The dish had some mixed Taiwanese style veggies and half of a marinated egg. They were all done pretty well, but they weren't the best I've had. The sour veggie was slightly too sour and the other one could use just a little more flavor. The egg though was well marinated and flavorful.

This joint is definitely worth revisiting just for their deep fried chicken rice. My brother is actually right, for a change. Alright, he has been right on many occasions and this is definitely one of them. I highly recommend if you are in Alhambra and in the mood of something deep fried without feeling like you just drank a gallon of oil, Old Country Cafe is definitely a place worth checking out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Dipped Fruits

Last week I started making a few batches of chocolate dipped fruits. I wanted to do a little post specifically on them.

I'm all about giving things a try. One of my best friend this Christmas received a batch of chocolate dipped chilled dried mangos from a friend of his and said they were fantastic. So I immediately went out to make a batch of this for someone I was dating. The things I would do for my dates. Truth be told I would do this for any friend if they happened to be there and they are willing to be my guine pig.

(Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas and Apples)

I figured it would be pretty simple, just like chocolate dipped strawberries that I already know how to make. My chocolate dipped creations aren't as fancy as the ones you can by at the store yet, but I plan on getting them better looking as I do this more. But even without all the fancy stuff, these little creations are easy to make and turns out to be quite delicious.

(Chilled Dried Mangos)

(Melted 72% Dark Chocolate)

(Chocolate Dipped Chilled Dried Mangos)

My first batch were chocolate dipped chilled dried mangos. I kept them simple without adding walnuts or pecans. I plan on using those in the future. But even without the little crunch, these chocolate dipped creations make for a surprisingly tasty treat. The chilly gave the chocolate a little bit of a sting, intensifying the bitterness of the chocolate. I used a 72% dark chocolate from Trader Joes. It's their store brand called Pound Plus. I actually only used about half of it on this batch and used the rest on the next batch two days later.

I melted the chocolate by steaming in a small pot over a boiling wok of hot water. I find steaming them the most effective way to melt chocolate without burning them either by directly placing them on an open fire or inside a microwave. The chocolate melted in a very consistent manner and I didn't have to stir at all and worry about burning it. Just remember not to cover the pot to avoid water from being mixed in the water.

After melting the chocolate, it was just a matter of dipping the mangos in the chocolate and taking them out, placing them on parchment paper to let dry. I experimented by dipping them in a little bit of sipping chocolate. I think next time I would sprinkle them on instead of dipping. It didn't quite work out the way I thought it would. But it still tasted pretty good.

(Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas)

(Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas Drying)

(Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas)

I made the dried mangos on December 23. On December 25, I had the big family dinner. I went snowboarding in the morning. I wasn't planning on making anything. But when I got home, I felt like I should make a contribution to the dinner aside from the the bottle of Riesling I got. So I decided to make some chocolate dipped fruits. We didn't have any more chilled dried mangos and Trader Joes was closed on Christmas Day. All I had were a couple of bananas and apples at home. So I decided to cut up the bananas into smaller chunks and dip them in chocolate. I figured since they sell chocolate dipped frozen bananas at the beach, so they must be good. I actually have never had one in my life. I did also dip a banana while making the mango batch and it tasted pretty good. So I decided to give it a shot.

I melted the chocolate the same way by steaming. I actually used leftover chocolate that was already melted during the first batch but I kept it in the pot and set it aside afterwards. The chocolate was still perfect after this second remelting. It was mixed with the remaining bar of chocolate I had and the consistency of the chocolate was great.

I dipped each piece of banana and apple slices inside the chocolate and then picked it out with a toothpick. I deliberately poked the toothpick on the top of the banana which resulted in a little dimple. It was actually quite cute. I left them on a parchment paper to solidify for about an hour. After the chocolate hardened, I placed the pieces on a plate and then placed it in the freezer to freeze them. I served them about four hours later.

Frozen chocolate dipped fruits are really easy to make and much healthier than other frozen treats. The frozen banana tasted almost like frozen ice cream balls while the frozen apples tasted like a frozen icicle. Personally I think these are much better and healthier alternatives than having actual ice cream and icicles. I am definitely going to be doing a lot more dipping in the future. Next time though I will start decorating the chocolate with nuts and white chocolate swirls to "fancify" them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Day Dinner Extravaganza: Vietnamese Style

Wow, where do I begin?

I have a lot of uncles and aunts around the world. My parents' siblings and their descendants span across four different continents. My Dad's parents actually live right here in Los Angeles. On occasions some of his siblings would come in town and visit. One aunt of mine from Canada visit quite frequently since she's rather close. I always look forward to her visits because I know I would get some really good homemade Vietnamese foods. The irony is that I generally do not crave Vietnamese foods, though lately I ate a lot of Vietnamese foods because I dated a Vietnamese-Chinese guy for a short while. This year since my aunt is in town for Christmas, we decided to do a half Vietnamese and half Chinese meal for our big family Christmas day dinner.

(Shrimp and Vietnamese Cold Cuts Spring Rolls)

(Shrimp and Vietnamese Cold Cuts Spring Rolls with Fish Sauce and Vinegar Dipping Sauce)

One of my absolute favorite Vietnamese dish is the Spring Rolls. I am a big fan of rice products, especially thin rice noodles. Rice paper is used as the skin to the wrap. The content varies from person to person making it. My aunt uses rice vermicelli mixed with a little oil and chive to keep the strands from clumping, shredded lettuce, shrimp and Vietnamese cold cuts as the main ingredients. Half of the batch had an assortment of mint inside while the other half had a long strand of green onions. My Dad made the dipping sauce with fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, chilly pepper and a little bit of sugar. This is by far one of the best appetizers on the planet. It's light and I can eat this all day long. I stuffed down at least six of them since 4pm in the afternoon.

(Taro and Pork Eggrolls with Cloud Fugus)

To compliment the spring rolls, my aunt made egg rolls. I found out the secret to a good and non-oily egg roll is in the skin. My aunt bought some amazing egg roll skin and it was the least oily egg roll I have ever had in my life. There was no need to use a paper towel to soak up excess oil. It was perfectly crunchy without oil dripping everywhere.

The egg rolls were stuffed with taro and pork as the main ingredients with shredded carrots and black fungus, cloud ears in Chinese. It's always fascinating how weird foods in Chinese always have pretty names. I wouldn't order black fungus off a menu, but I would consider a cloud ears. I actually love black fungus. It's a jellylike substance that is similar to a jellyfish, only much flatter. Most of the stuffings are normal egg roll ingredients with the exception of the taro. The taro made the egg rolls just a bit lighter than a all pork egg roll, while still retaining a similar texture to an all pork egg roll. An tasty egg roll with fiber inside is definitely not something you can easily find in stores or restaurants.

(Crabmeat and Fish Stomach Soup)

Of course no Chinese or part Chinese meal would be complete without a soup. My family absolutely adores a good crabmeat and fish stomach soup. I have had this so many times in restaurants but this one was fresh and light. The crabmeat were hand shredded from live crabs. The fish stomach was very high quality presoaked and cooked before cutting it up to put into the soup. Fish stomach is also a jellylike substance but with a much less crunch than a jellyfish. Add to the soup a bit of vinegar and it's perfect. However my parents bought the light vinegar which wasn't strong enough to really bring out that vinegar sting. Still the soup was just fantastic and we have plenty of that leftover.

(Pork, Beef and Shrimp Bun)

Bun is another one of my preferred Vietnamese dishes. I generally prefer bun than I do Pho. It's actually pretty simple to make. We used the same rice noodles with oil and chive and shredded lettuce as the spring rolls. We actually had some shrimp and cold cuts left from the wraps so we tossed those in. Then we just add sprouts, pan stirred beef and onions and pan fried bar-b-que pork. Toss a sprinkle of grounded pan fried peanuts and the same fish sauce and vinegar sauce and it's a nice dish. I would say though this wasn't one of the best buns I've had in my life. But it really was almost made as an afterthought while the spring rolls were the main event. The appetizer and the entree really were flipped backwards in terms of emphasis. The whole family ate more soup and appetizers the whole night than the bun and the vermicelli noodles.

(Pan Fried Beef Vermicelli Noodles)

This was our other entree that really wasn't eaten the whole night. Partly it's because we eat this dish way too often as a family than we do the spring rolls and egg rolls. A good beef vermicelli noodle is hard to make at home because it really requires a stove that has a really big flame. We sometimes actually use a special stovetop that can be hooked to a small tank of natural gas to cook this dish. But we didn't do that tonight. I totally understood since the rest of the meal was so much work, it was just way too much trouble to break out that stove to make this dish. The dish basically is composed of vermicelli noodles, beef and spouts. It was good, but the other dishes totally out shined it.

(Pork Ribs, Sea Cucumbers and Portobello Mushrooms)

The pork ribs, sea cucumbers and portobello mushrooms was the final of the three main course of the night. It also had dried scallops inside to add to the flavor. I generally love this dish when my Dad makes it and would eat a ton of it. But the truth is it really didn't fit with the rest of the meal. This dish really required rice for me to eat it. but I had a bit and it was very tasty as usual. Sea cucumbers are best made this way for me. It totally absorbs the juices from the pork and the mushrooms and is just dynamically flavorful. It did take an extremely long time to soak and cook so that the sea cucumber turns into a really soft jelly. I know, the entire night was full of jellylike foods. We love jellylike foods. That and also my grandmother is only willing to eat soft foods. She doesn't like to chew on food because of her teeth. She did eat a few of the sea cucumbers tonight.

(Deep Fried Shrimp Crackers)

Since we were frying egg rolls, my dad decided to fry some shrimp crackers. I really try to avoid this dish because it's super oily. The crackers really do absorb a lot of the oil. I ended up actually not eating any of it at all. 

(Oyster Pancakes)

The oyster pancakes is one of my Dad's best secret little recipe. It's actually hard to find good tiny oysters. This is a very popular Taiwanese dish that can be found at a lot of night markets. But most places smothers it with a ton of sauce and the flavor of the oyster and everything else gets lost. My dad makes it without any sauce and it's just divine. When made right, the edges of the pancake is a little crunchy while the center and the oysters are still gooey. The blend of his secret recipe just makes it a perfect little finale to a great meal.

(Lemonade with Brown Sugar)

Of course no dinner at my house is completely without our homemade lemonade with brown sugar. By using brown sugar, which is slightly healthier than refined sugar, the color of the lemonade almost looks like tea. We generally blend the sliced lemon with the sugar first by crushing the sugar with the lemon before we pour in the hot water to melt the sugar. Then we add cold water and ice to it to make our light and easy to make instant drink. The lemons are also from our backyard.

We also had a bottle of my favorite bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling that I mentioned in another post a week ago. Riesling and I suppose various white wines do go well with lighter types of Asian cuisines. A lot of Rieslings are pretty sweet but this bottle was dry enough so that it didn't intrude in the flavor of the foods. It really worked very well with especially the wraps and the other lighter items. Of course it didn't work as well with the pork ribs and the beef, but then most of us who drank the wine actually didn't eat much of any of that. So we really did enjoy the bottle very well.

(Pumpkin and Taro Sweet Soup)

This was actually the first time I had my aunt's pumpkin and taro sweet soup. There were also a little bit of small tapioca balls inside to give it a little thickening. The soup was lightly sweetened served warm. It was definitely a very delicious way to follow a generally light meal.

(Frozen Chocolate Dipped Bananas and Apples)

(Frozen Chocolate Dipped Bananas)

To finish the entire dinner, I decided to make a little frozen treat for everyone. I actually first did this two days ago. One of my best friend Tim was telling me about how another friend of his made him a batch of chocolate dipped spicy dried mangos. Immediately after that I made a batch of that myself and it turned out interestingly good. I'll actually blog about that experience and the making of this treat in a separate post soon. While I was making the batch of chocolate dipped mangos, I had a lot of chocolate left. I saw some bananas on the table and decided to throw it in and see what happens. I didn't freeze that batch, but it was still pretty good and enjoyable.

I then remember seeing all those frozen chocolate dipped banana stands all my life and never actually buying one. So when I made them earlier today, I decided to freeze them and hope for the best. It actually turned out very well and my family did enjoy them tremendously. I discovered that frozen bananas aren't rock solid It was semi-flaky. Well I only froze it for about four hours. Next time I'll experiment with how the duration will affect the banana. I am also going to add some nuts and even white chocolate swirls to future batches.

All in all the dinner was a great success. Everyone was happy. We had a lot of great food and had a fantastic time. The best part was that this meal actually was light enough that I didn't feel completely bloated. Either that or I just didn't eat enough. Still with so much food intake lately, now it's time to start my New Years resolution early and get all that fatty stuff off my tummy before it latches onto me permanently.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


I was asked here in the comment about what the brand of the egg rolls skin were. Here's the picture. It's called Spring Home.

(Spring Home Egg Roll Skin - Small)

(Spring Home Egg Roll Skin - Large)

Egg rolls often are very oily. I was told that the key towards having non-oily skin is in both having a good skin to begin with as well as to deep fry them in fresh vegetable oil; do not reuse old oil. After removing the egg rolls from the oil, lay them over a sheet of paper towel to absorb some of the excess oil before serving. There will always be some oil whenever something is deep fried, but this combination will help keep that to a minimal and keep them from being oily.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mountain High Rip-Off Chowder Bread Bowl

I was up at Mountain High snowboarding today on Christmas day. I normally don't eat up there cause I know their food is overpriced and nothing spectacular. But today I went with my brother, sister-in-law and her brother and they wanted to get some food. We got to the resort at 8am in the morning. You heard right! I woke up at 5:40am just so we could be on the road at around 6:30am to avoid the crazy traffic if we went any later.

After a morning's worth of runs down the slope, we decided to break for lunch. We saw a few others having clam chowder and my brother and his wife both had had it before. I also happen to love clam chowder. One summer about five years ago during a music festival at Newport Oregon, for a week I had pretty much most of the clam chowder at the restaurants by the ocean. So with their recommendation, I ordered one. We got totally ripped off.

(Mountain High Clam Chowder Bread Bowl)

The clam chowder itself wasn't bad. Sure it wasn't the best, nor was I expecting the best. It was descent and most importantly not overly salty. A lot of places tend to over-salt their clam chowder bread bowls. The problem was that the bread was incorrectly cut into a bowl, which left us with around five spoonfuls of soup. The $8 we spent on the bowl was gone near instantaneously, except for the bread. They simply didn't hollow out enough of the bread itself to get a descent amount of soup inside. I understand this is a tourist trap type restaurant, but I've had other tourist trap bread bowls and none compared to this insanely little amount of soup we actually got. In essence we paid $8 for a piece of sourdough bread with a tad bit of clam chowder as a dipping sauce. In my brother's defense, the last time they ordered the bread bowl, the bread was cut properly and there was a bit more soup. It was simply a matter of inconsistency on the part of Mountain High.

I would generally avoid tourist spots' joints. But sometimes I do enjoy splurging just a bit more for mediocre food because of the environment I'm in. After a nice morning out on the slope, it is nice to sit in a restaurant with fellow snowboarders and eat some mediocre overpriced food. That idea taste good in my mind, as long as I actually get a reasonable amount of what I ordered. C'est La Vie. That's the price I pay for eating at a tourist joint.

Enjoy some of the other pictures from this little excursion. It may help you understand why that bowl of clam chowder looked so good before we reached the bottom of the bowl in a matter of approximately one minute. On our way back to our car, I saw a group eating hot Shin brand Korean instant cup noodles at the back of their car with little tables and chairs out. That's the real way to go to enjoy the atmosphere: parking lot instant noodles. Consolation prize today was a cup of boba milk tea from Quickly's when we got back to San Gabriel.

(Sunrise Drive To Mountain High Via 210 Freeway)

(View On Top Of Mountain High)

(Paul Kwo On Top Of Mountain High)

(Quickly's Boba Milk Tea)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Geoduck Saved My Christmas Dinner

My parents dragged me out to dinner tonight with some friends. To be honest, I wasn't in the best of mood today because of some personal things. It wasn't a big deal, just was a bummer. But I decided to go just to get out of the house and have a good dinner. Fortunately the friends had a kid who is possibly the happiest and most talkative kid I have ever met who managed to make me laugh and cheered me up. The kid was non-stop laughter. Laughter is truly contagious.

The restaurant was pretty busy on this Christmas Eve night. I suppose a lot of families like to do Christmas Eve dinner at home, but we ended up doing it at at East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead. My family's doing our big family dinner tomorrow night at home with everyone. I'm definitely going to blog about that one. We came here because we had Dim Sum here yesterday and got a coupon for a free lobster.

(Ginger and Chive Lobster)

The lobster was small given the fact that it was free. But it was still fresh and the meat came right off the shell. You can tell if a lobster is fresh when they are cooked in this style by their meat coming right off the shell. It wasn't a spectacular dish, but I can't complain since it's free. The quality is pretty much what you would expect your cut-of-the-mill seafood restaurant. Good but not memorable.

Lobster was one of the deals they had tonight. They also had a special for geoduck for $4.99 a pound. Geoducks are clams with a giant trunk that looks like the trunk of an elephant. They are the largest burrowing clams in the world. Naturally the shell was weighted as a part of it so we had to order about 5 pounds worth to be enough. But geoduck is usually over $10 per pound so this is definitely a deal not to be passed. There are a couple ways geoducks are usually served: stir fried, boiled or sashimi. I recommend either the boiled option or the sashimi option to retain its original flavor. We ordered the boiled version since my father doesn't eat sashimi. Actually my mother doesn't like geoduck served as sashimi despite the fact that she likes a lot of other kinds of sashimi. I always worry about eating sashimi in second rated restaurants because of freshness anyways. The head of the geoduck is typically served deep fried, otherwise it would be much more difficult to chew.

The geoduck that was served was actually pretty sweet and had a good crunch to it. It was topped with a little bit of chilly pepper, parsley, green onions, all of which is placed over a plate of sprouts. The sprouts complemented the rest of the dish since it's served sort of like a cold appetizer even though it was just freshly cooked. Even though I had better quality geoduck before, this was still well worth the money, especially since we get two plates for one item.

(Boiled Geoduck)

The meal actually started off with a soup like most Chinese meals. We ordered the corn and egg flower soup. It's a thick starchy soup. The flavor was decent and edible. I'm not a big fan of corn based soup. I suppose a lot of it has to do with the fact that nearly half of the things we eat have some sort of corn in them. I will eat corn, I just don't find them all that interesting. But my mother ordered it so I wasn't going to object.

(Corn and Egg Flower Soup)

We did order one of my favorite dishes at a Chinese Seafood Restaurant: walnut shrimp. This is also one of those items that is almost a guarantee at most Chinese wedding banquets. I don't think I've ever had a plate of bad walnut shrimp, but it's hard to make them amazing. This wasn't amazing. This was your average walnut shrimp. I think the temperature was just not hot enough for it to be amazing. For me, the shrimp needs to be much hotter so that the dressing feels like it's melting when you eat it. When the dressing just taste like paste, it's just that. It's not bad as it is, but it isn't a version that I would say I have to come back to this restaurant to have. I can't recall where I had a really good version of walnut shrimp. I'm just hoping one day I'll stumble across an amazing version again.

(Walnut Shrimp)

We also had the Egg Plant with Cod Clay Pot and the Filet Mignon French Style. I'm not a big fan of eggplant so I actually managed to forget to even taste it tonight. Some food critique I am. Actually by the time I got to it, the kid ate all the egg plants. Kudos to him for eating his veggies, but then of all things he ate eggplant. We did also have an order of sprout leaf too on the table which was devoured pretty quickly. The cod that I did manage to get a bite of was descent. The Filet Mignon was mediocre at best and simply forgettable. It's not even worth my time blogging about it.

(Eggplant with Cod Clay Pot)

(Filet Mignon French Style)

Dinner ended with a complimentary Red Bean Sweet Soup. This one was more gooey whereas I prefer mine to be more grainy. That's just a matter of preference. However it was on the sweet side so my diabetic mother had to pass and I only ate half a bowl.

(Red Bean Sweet Soup)

Honestly the dinner food here was just average. I was hoping for more on Christmas Eve but I didn't pick the restaurant. We came because of the free lobster and that some of the items at Dim Sum were pretty good. Dinner however wasn't spectacular enough to warrant me to come back except for the price point of the geoduck. The competition is tough for these Chinese Seafood Restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. There are quite a few of them and they are all very good; some better then others.

So if you are looking just to get the geoduck while the special is still going, I say go, go now. Having had that geoduck did brighten what would otherwise be a bummer of a day. But if you are looking for a really good Chinese meal, I would say pass this one up and try Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant in San Gabriel instead. I had an amazing but more expensive meal there in October of this year.

Well Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you are all having an amazing time with amazing foods.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cold House; Hot Pot - Easy Meal For A Lazy Day

It's cold outside and it's cold inside. It's just plain cold right now. When it's cold, it's time to bring out the hot pot, also known at a lot of places as Shabu Shabu. Not only is it a convenient way to cook with very little prep time, it also serves as a heater for my chilly dinning room.

It's very simple to prepare. We have a half and half pot. A lot of people do a spicy and a non-spicy soup. We instead did a tomato and non-tomato soup instead. Unlike a lot of fancy restaurants, we don't do anything fancy to the soup base, just water and salt. On one side we threw in a bunch of tomatoes right away so they would be boiled to smithereens to flavor the soup. The other side we just left it natural and let the food we add eventually flavor the soup. We just prefer it this way. By the end of the meal the soup would be way pretty rich with just a plain water base so it's not absolutely necessary to make the soup so fancy to begin with. It could add to the taste if you prefer a specific flavoring.

(Half and Half Hot Pot)

With hot pot, we can add all the things we want or just a very few items. It's almost like a left over casserole except with using a bunch of random raw meats and veggies. It's pretty inexpensive and makes the dinning experience just a bit more fun. It also forces you to actually sit at the table a little longer and get some conversations going since you have to be there to cook your own foods.

(Raw Beef and Chicken)

We always have a plate of raw beef to add to the soup. Beef cooks extremely fast and is just perfect with hot pot. Chicken is good too, but it's much harder to control in the cooking cause it can get overcooked rather easily. We don't get the expensive Shabu Shabu meat that's thinly cut by machines. Yeah those do cook easier but they do also cost a lot more. Instead we thinly cut the beef by hand, marinate it with some soy sauce and some cornstarch. The chicken was also thinly sliced by hand and marinated with salt and a tad bit of cornstarch.

(Seafood and Tofu)

We also got some other items to add to the pot. We got shrimp, one of my family's favorite, squids, sea cucumbers, fried tofu and normal tofu plus a few different veggies. Shrimp is a common thing to add to a hot pot, but I'm just not a fan of boiled shrimp. It just doesn't do it for me. Yes, it taste still pretty good when you dip them in a chilly peppered soy sauce, but I'm just not a fan. This is totally a personal preference though. Squids are good for hot pots, the small ones at least. They were very fresh and had a crunch in them. Dip them in a bit of satay sauce with soy sauce and it's just perfect.

With the sea cucumber, we had a bunch of them soaked in water to get them soft before actually putting them in the hot pot. It takes a long time to prep sea cucumbers and this was actually our first time giving this a try. It really shouldn't be used in a hot pot. Sea cucumbers really have no taste of their own, just a jelly texture. It absorbs the flavors of whatever else it's cooked in. Because of this, especially towards the beginning of the hot pot meal when the soup is still very light in taste, the sea cucumber pretty much had no taste to them. Even in the end, the soup is just not thick enough as a way to add real flavor to the sea cucumbers.

I love tofu. I love the deep fried tofu and the normal tofu. No hot pot would be complete without it. I normally prefer having both the fried tofu as well as silky tofu. With the fried tofu, the soup is absorbed into the tofu because it's pretty hollow on the inside. So you'd have to be very careful when eating them as to void burning your tongue. I prefer the really silky tofu for the texture. I like it sliding like silk in my mouth. But that also can lead to burning of your throat if you're not careful. Some people like firmer tofu.  We had both tonight. Firm tofu is nice when it's cooked long enough to really absorb the flavor of the soup. We ended up with some cheap tofu so it wasn't as silky as it could be. But it was still good.

We had a bit of veggies on the side and udon for carbs. We switch it up between udon, rice noodles and various cuts of vermicelli noodles at hot pot. As with veggies, just grab your favorite kinds of veggies from the market and cook them. You really can't go too wrong with most vegetables. The only thing to consider is if you get veggies that are more fragrant than others that some of your diners may not like. I say eat what you like and avoid what you don't. For the most part it really doesn't matter.

No hot pot would be complete without seasoning. The easiest to make at home would be adding soy sauce to Chinese barbecue sauce, which is also known as satay sauce. But there's a lot of other variations that is commonly done. You can add sesame sauce, sesame oil, peanut butter sauce, peanut butter oil, vinegar, fish sauce, hoisin sauce and pretty much any other sauce you can find in the Chinese market. you could theoretically use anything if you like the taste. One thing that used to be done a lot is to mix all this sauce with a raw egg. Then you would dip your cooked meat and veggies into the egg sauce, pull it out and then eat it. It cools down the meat and keeps your mouth from being burnt. This actually taste very good, but a lot of people stopped doing this because of salmonella scare.

For me, hot pot can be as lavish as you want or as simple and easy as you like. I've had hot pot with crab, live shrimp still jumping around, peeing shrimp, all sorts of different kinds of fish, an assortments of fish and meat balls, a huge range of vegetables and mushrooms, goose intestines, tons of different cuts of meats, Japanese fishcake and pretty much anything you can find in a Chinese supermarket. I've enjoyed it with upwards of thirty or so people at a church function and as few as three people at home many times in the past. It's one of those meals that can't really go wrong no matter what you do. It's just putting the food in the boiling water; take them out when they look cooked; eat. If you're afraid of germs, you can use separate chopsticks to cook with and to eat with. Oh yeah, you do need to learn to use chopsticks if you want to be effective with a hot pot meal. Forks just isn't going to cut it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Love for Riesling

I really don't know much about wine. I've only recently started getting into them. I am starting to enjoy them a bit more than I used to. But I doubt I would ever be a true wine enthusiast. I just like the occasional glass of wine with my food.

But lately I have been infatuated with a specific white wine: Reisling.

(Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling)

The first time I have ever had a bottle of Riesling was earlier this year on a train ride from Seattle back down to Los Angeles after a week's cruise up in Alaska. I was on Amtrak's Costal Starlight for 36 hours. They had a wine tasting at around 4pm each day. The first day they served a Washington Riesling as a part of the wine tasting and I fell in love with that bottle.

I have been looking for Rieslings at my local supermarkets to see what they carried. It turns out the selection is very small. There are a few bottles of German and American Rieslings and that's it. A friend of mine got me a bottle of Riesling last week at my quick get-together from Trader Joes. It was a much drier bottle than the Rieslings I've had before. My friend is much more experienced with wine and prefer drier wines. I'm starting to understand why. I did enjoy that bottle very much. I probably had the most wine I've actually drank at one sitting that night.

Well two nights ago as I was doing a little grocery shopping with a friend at Ralphs for a late night snack, I saw a whole shelf of Rieslings prominently on display. I have never seen this many bottles of Rieslings at a supermarket before. Only Bevmo actually had a shelf of various Rieslings. I opened up my iPhone to search for Chateau Ste Michelle and found out that they are the largest producers of Riesling wines in the country. It was on sale so I bought a bottle to try.

We got back to my friend's place. I took out his Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler and grilled some extra firm tofu and bell pepper. It was a quick marinate so the flavors weren't completely penetrated. It didn't really matter though cause we just wanted a quick late night snack. I just added some soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and olive oil to the tofu and bell pepper for a few minutes. Then we put it on the griddler and it was done in under ten minutes. It was tasty enough and went perfect with the Riesling. I wish I actually took a picture of that dish though.

I have to say Riesling is my favorite type of white wine for now. I really don't like Chardonnay and that's probably why I never got into wine. Perhaps some day I will try a different white and end up liking that one more. But no matter what, Riesling will always be the wine that got me into wine in the first place.

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