I’m exhausted and energized in that way you only feel in Las Vegas: the feeling of a untold number of hours without sleep away from the sun or any other indication of the true time. I’m tiered from the near sleepless thirteen and a half hour flight from New York to Tokyo, but as I emerge into the Narita airport I’m vitalized. I’m in Japan. It’s just a short layover extended an hour or so by my connecting flight’s delay–still I’m at least partially in Japan.
I’m not hungry, but it would be a crime against myself to not eat something. The first place I pass is a McDonalds. I’m always curious to see what this sandwich franchise chooses to put forward abroad. The most interesting here is a (from what I could gather with no English as a guide) a double quarter pounder on black/gray bun with a black sea weed sauce. Japan really gets into Halloween by changing up its sandwiches. Seriously, this a Halloween thing. The picture of the burger on the board is next to a grinning jack-o-lantern and above a witch fly a broom. Still, I pass McDonalds. I consider a noodle place or a spot offering something called a spicy hamburger and potatoes (which is depicted as a burger patty, mashed potatoes and what looks like gravy) or some curry. My unhungry stomach is not persuaded. I keep walking until I stumble on a sushi restaurant. I’m skeptical of the sushi spot. Wouldn’t ramen be a better airport food? But ramen just seems like too much food so I grab a seat at Sushi Kyotatsu. I made the right choice.
I ordered a beer an look over the menu. I decide on a sampler and a side order of sea urchin. The food arrives fast. I mean really fast. Before my sleep deprived brain can fully take in the restaurant or the half dozen or so men behind the sushi bar. The plate looks great. Everything in a neat little place. I notice that there is not wasabi to be seen. (Legit sushi establishments pack as much wasabi as they think a given bite needs onto the nigiri or into the roll and don’t let the diner mess up the meal with their own seasoning.) There is soy sauce at the table which I pour, but, after trying a few virginal bites, I decide to go without.
The meal is amazing. Hands down without a doubt the best tuna roll I’ve ever eaten. Flavor (tuna, small bit of wasabi, a little hit of rice wine) is all there. And the texture is perfect. The salmon nigiri is among the best I’ve had. The high quality cut of fish nearly melts in my mouth. The sea urchin is more of a choped solid than the goo I’m use to–a wholly different texture– and of course the flavor hits the mark. The other fish, the roe, and the egg don’t disappoint. At this point I’m full. I don’t need another bite. But I scan the menu for something else to try. Tragically, they are out of octopus so I adventure and order the sardine which is also incredible. The sardine tastes like nothing out of a can has a perfectly prepared amount of wasabi and soy sauce on the nigiri.
This country takes their fish seriously. I can’t wait for the day that I can venture out of the airport and see what Japan really has to offer.
The best feeling in the kitchen is when something comes out so well it’s surprising. I had that feeling while unscrewing the cap on my first bottle of homemade ginger beer. Before I had even taken a sip, I could see the tiny bubbles filtering up through the opaque liquid. Even if it didn’t taste right I had carbonated a beverage using only the power of yeast, sugar, and water. Lucky it also tasted good–maybe not as strong in flavor as I would have liked but the burn grew the lower down in the bottle I went.
A few months back I was doing a road trip through the Midwest with some friends. When we stayed with a couple in Chicago the lovely lady of the house was in the process of starting to brew some ginger beer. I had never thought of doing that but it sounded cool. After talking to her about it she kindly sent me on my way with some champagne yeast to help do the job. The yeast sat about in my kitchen for a good while until I started reading Proof: The Science of Booze (a must read for any one who is at interested in science and drinking). The description in the first few chapters of the magic and history of fermentation made me need to try it myself.
I had misplace the printed instructions my friend and given me and so took to the internet and found this:
2 1/2 cups (600 milliliters) warm, filtered (or pre-boiled) water
1 1/2 teaspoons champagne yeast (the everything store has it)
Freshly grated ginger
Juice of 2 lemons
1 jalapeño, sliced (optional–I didn’t use, but will on a next go)
1 large glass jar
2 to 3 clean plastic soda bottle
Directions (with my own take):
The first step is making a “plant” for the ginger beer. In a glass jar stir the yeast into the water until dissolved. Add in 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, 1 tablespoon sugar, the lemon juice, and the sliced jalapeño, if you’re using it. Stir to combine. (The jalapeño supposedly gives the ginger the burn–I didn’t use it and got some burn, but not as much as I would have liked). Cover the jar with a cheese cloth a rubber band. Place the jar in a warm place.
Every day for the next week you’ll have to feed the plant. Each day add a tablespoon of grated ginger and a tablespoon of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then replace the cloth and put back in a warm place. Don’t worry about being exact at this phase. After week there should be bubbles of a foam on top of the liquid. If you want a stronger flavor keep the plant going longer. The next step is bottling. I used a two liter bottle and a one liter bottle.
Use plastic bottles. Again: use plastic bottles. The pressure can really build up from the fermentation. If you use glass it could explode.
Using a cheesecloth, strain the plant out into a large measuring cup or bowl.
Fill the bottles two thirds of the way with water, use a funnel to add sugar, and shake to dissolve the sugar into the water. Add about a cup of the plant liquid to each clean, dry soda bottle — more if you want your ginger beer stronger, less if you want it less intense. Stir with a chopstick to combine. In adding half the mixture to a one liter and half to a two liter I could taste the extra strength in additional plant in the bottle.
Seal the bottles tightly with their caps and put them back in the a warm place. Every 24 hours, squeeze the bottles to test how they’re carbonating. When they feel like a rock and are impossible to squeeze at all, slowly start to unscrew the cap just until you hear hissing, but do not open it all the way. Let out some of the carbonation, then seal it back tightly.
After about two weeks of bottle time the magic of fermentation should have happened–that sugar will now be booze and it’s time to enjoy. Add more sugar or lemon juice if the ginger beer needs it. Then drink it on the rocks or make your self a Moscow Mule or Dark N’ Stormy. Just make sure you finish the bottle in a few hours–it goes flat fast.
As the hours passed on the train ride from Penn Station to Buffalo, New York, I dreamed of the culinary delights that awaited me. Before planning the trip to visit Carly’s grandmother, I knew of Buffalo solely as the birthplace of Buffalo wings—a food onto which far too little serious praise is heaped. But, in planning the trip, I learned of Beef on Weck: Buffalo’s take on the roast beef sandwich. It wasn’t until on the ground in Buffalo that I learned that the Friday fish fry is held in as high regard as it’s better known brethren.
On arrival, Carly’s grandmother (and life long Buffalo native) picked us up from the train station. As we drove to her home, we got a quick tour of the area. I learned that the denizens of this fine town love their beer (hard to drive a block and not pass a bar), wings, subs, and pizza (at least one of which was proudly advertised on the sings outside of every establishment). On the drive, I also learned that the Friday fish fry was a tradition. I didn’t buy it at first. Sure some people take on the $1 Friday fish sandwich at McDonald’s during lent; but people don’t do the fish thing in late summer–not in 2014.
But, as we we passed bar after bar on our way to My Little Margie’s, I could smell the fish’s frying oil in the air. The smell was thick as we walked through the door of the our dining spot the smell got thicker and nearly patron sat in front of a huge plate of fried fish, French fries, macaroni salad, potato salad, and coleslaw. Our mission was to introduce me to beef on weck, but it seemed criminal to skip the fish fry. And since we were at it we were at it, why not throw in a few wings as well. We ordered our beef on weck (one sandwich each), five wings for the table, and a mini fish fry to share.
The portions were mind blowing. The fried fish alone stretched across a plate covered in fries and all the other aforementioned mentioned sides. The beef overflowed the kummelweck roll (a Kaiser roller topped with kosher salt and caraway). The wings were just a welcomed bonus. So much food. And it all looked amazing.
The food tasted as good as it looked. I started with the wings which were solid–exactly as a wing should be. Next I was on to try my first bite of beef on weck. Yum. After a few bites I added a generous amount horseradish sauce and gravy (not au jus as often done). It was good meat, and a hearty but, all with great flavor. Over time the saltiness of the roll got to me and I was forced to order another beer where Carly’ grandma scrapes of the salt chucks to begin with. But the shocking highlight was the fish.
The fried fish was unambiguously the best fried fish I’ve ever had. A beer batter formed a hard, but not too hard, shell outside of my aquatic friend. The crust had a rich taste. The crunchy texture was almost that of a super sized onion ring. And the white fish hiding inside was perfectly flaky and presented the right level of fish flavor. No fish and chips of my past can compare.
I was sold on Buffalo on the spot. My Little Margie’s’ wasn’t even our original destination (that famous beef on weck house was closed due to unfortunate circumstances). Margie’s was just a last minute spot picked based mostly on convenience. It was just a bar with a few seats and a menu. A place seemingly like so many we passed on the drive from the train station. And it was awesome. Buffalo know how to eat.
The video recommends a serrated knife. I still think a properly sharpened straight edge knife is better–a sharp knife will have no problem with the skin. But, if you find yourself without an nice sharp knife, grab one of your serrated.
Starting last summer, I set a few fun personal goals with a couple close friends. Among my culinary goals for 2014 is baking 20 pies. Each fully from scratch.
The inspiration came from my mother’s Christmas present of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. This book had made it onto my Amazon wish list through lunch time reading of some top cookbooks of 2013 list. At the start of 2014 I had made exactly zero pie crusts from scratch and the idea of trying intrigued me. Once I paged through the book I was hooked. Drawn in by the mouth watering photographs, I knew I had to figure out how to take on this task.The number 20 seemed like a great balance between sufficient practice and achievability.
Since I received the book in the mail about five weeks ago, I’ve made it through four pies: a butter milk chess pie, a pear anise pie, a juniper pear pie, and a lemon chess pie. My first attempt on the buttermilk chess succeed in having a fully formed crust and filling in the shape of a pie. My problem with the maiden voyage was various errors in rolling out the crust (many surrounding too little flour) cause me to over work the dough which resulted in a hard not flaky crust. But with each attempt I’ve learned more (e.g. let the dough rest in the fridge–cold dough is much easier to work) and gotten better results.
As a cookbook, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is a decent stand alone starting source for a pie newbie with 20+ illustrated pages dedicated to technique. The book advises against machine working the ingredients. I was fine avoiding the cost of finally biting the bullet of buying a food processor. Rather, a small investment in a simple hand held pasty blender did just fine. Other than that, I found no other special tools necessary. Just some simple ingredients and I was off baking. [I’m still rolling around the best way to represent the actual pie recipes here.]
And I’m still hooked. I’m able to achieve tasty results (lets face it, even with a mediocre pie crust like my first, a pie is still a pie) but I see room from improvement on each baking (let’s make it look more like the picture, form a more prefect lattice, keep the edge of the crust from browning too much, etc.). And, still paging through the book, I’m dreaming of spring at the farmer’s market and new fresh ingredients.
Living in New York, I miss a car and driving. Day-to-day, it’s great to be able to get on the train, pull out my Kindle, and get to my destination hands free–to not question that last beer at happy hour. But some days I just miss the road. Not just short drives, but the long epic drives.
There is nothing like a road trip. I have great memories of making the six hour drive back to the Twin Cities from Chicago with a car full of debate students (I used to coach) or long drives with my friend Rick to various corners of the Midwest. For Spring break my senior year of college, some friends and I convinced a teacher to give us class credit for a road trip through the Dakotas and Montana if we loosely tied the trip to Native American literature and provided some documentation of our travels. We covered 3,700 miles in six days. These trips are filled with memories of stops at random hole in the wall diners, the crackle of static over 2 am talk radio, the texture of a double cheeseburger that has been “marinating” in the back seat for three hours, and the miles of open road.
So it happened, that when Carly and I discussed our holiday plans, we ended-up deciding to drive our way up from Tampa to New York. Rather than making a straight go, we planned a winding route over four days. Our schedule left us with a night in Savannah, Georgia and two nights in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. We plotted a leisurely pace allow for what ever random food spot or tourist trap might catch our eye.
To started our first leg, we pulled of Carly’s parents’ driveway headed towards Gainesville. We stopped in the home of the Florida Gators so that Carly could show me her college town. Unfortunately, with winter break in full effect, our plan A, B, and C lunch spots were closed. Fortunately, Leonardo’s pizza was not. In a crazy mood, I kicked of my road trip eats with a vegan pizza. The “cheese” left a lot to be desired, but the tomatoes, onions, and veggies were what I craved. The garlic knots were delicious, massive, and filling. I can only assume that Leonardo’s has saved many a drunk soul.
After Leonardo’s, we were on to Savannah, with a small detour to Jacksonville to exchange rental cars. We were on the road for real. We checked into our hotel and were off to explore the city and find some sustenance. At the recommendation of the front desk, we headed to Moon River Brewing Co for dinner. We ordered and shared a feast: shrimp and andouille sausage ravioli, deviled eggs plated tuna tartare, friend green tomatoes with crab salad, and black eyed pea salad. To drink it all down, we delved into their signature brews. The food was inspired even if the beers were unmemorable. Our hunger satiated, we took to the brick and cobble stone streets for a little more drink.
Lured by the sounds of live music, we swung into what appeared to be a nondescript pub. Once at the bar it became clear that Molly MacPherson’s was a Scottish, not an Irish pub. The Scottish heritage of the pub was given away by the dozens of bottle of very fine Scotch whiskey behind the bar. As lovers of whiskey, we started off in this realm (the Bartenders Scotch flight for the misses and a Bruichladdie Bourbon Cask 16 followed by a Springbank 10 for me). Our tastes dulled, we moved on to beers–culminating in a whiskey sour and Bell Two Hearted to go–we just had to take advantage of Savannah’s friendly open container laws.
Our slow awakening was followed by a Southern inspire breakfast at Rocks Grille. Carly fueled for the day of driving with the Rocks Benedict–poached eggs, ham, tomato, spinach on English muffin and added a bonus side of real southern grits. I went the route of the Southern Benedict — biscuit with sausage gravy and grits. After a final walk through Forsyth Park and a drive to pick-up cookies for gifts, we were back on the road and North Carolina bound. Once in the car, we were quickly across a bridge, out of Georgia and into South Carolina.
The drive from Savannah to pilot mountain was my favorite stretch of the trip. As we drove, billboards (mile after mile) alerted us to the approach of South of the Border. Knowing that the quality of any establishment is inversely related to the number of billboard for said establishment (Stephen Hawking discusses this inverse square law in a Brief History of Time) I could tell that this place was going to be cheesy gold. We had to stop. We perused the gift shop. Visited the reptile museum and witnessed a steakhouse in the shape of a sombrero. For my friends in the Midwest: think Wall Drug, but BIGGER and with Mexican theme on the level of Speedy Gonzales! The detour was worth every second, but all good things must come to an end and we were back on track for the mountains.
Our next stop was the Love Shack. (No joke–click the link. Once we found a bed and breakfast cabin in the mountains called the Love Shack, how could we not stay there?!) As we drove and sun set our minds turn to evening sustenance. To take full advantage of our mountain getaway, we stopped by a grocery store to pick-up bread, cheese, veggies, beer, and wine. We were set. Or so we thought. After unpacking and starting a fire we laid out our spread. But, to our extreme disappointment, the bread had gotten lost in the shuffle at check-out. With a critical ingredient missing we had to be resourceful. I snuck my way into the kitchen of the bed and breakfast and pilfered a few slices of bread. Stale bread as it turned out. To save the bread and our meal I impaled the bread on the end of a knife and toasted our slices over the fire. It wasn’t an ideal dinner, but it was the adventure road trips are made of.
The next morning it was time for the breakfast side of the Piolt Mountian bed and breakfast. A main building housed a dinning room and the kitchen I had pillaged the night before. A mother daughter team alternated taking orders and cooking breakfast to order. I opted for the waffles (which I layered in various jams and jellies) and bacon. Carly’s tackled Turkey sausage and scrambled eggs. We were off to very satiated start to the day.
Our lunch spot was the one destination on road trip I insisted we stop at: Leon’s Burger Express, home of “the famous California cheeseburgers.” The website of the B&B list some local dinning options, including this Mount Airy gem. A quick glance and Leon’s website locked me. The pictures of the place and the insanely low prices screamed local haunt. When we arrived, the place was about half full of families and few older folks at the counter with the town paper in hand. Carly and I each ordered the famous California cheeseburgers, she with and order of fries and me with an order of onion rings. I supplemented with a fried bologna sandwich. Sitting at the counter, we watch a middle aged man in a once white apron drop our fries and rings in the deep fryer as he cooked our burgers and my bolonga on a well seasoned grill. Our gaze fell on the home computer printed anti-Obama signs, the Browning wall paper, and the worn counter. The food was spot on. The burgers had been cooked with the onions, preserving moisture. The bologna sandwich was my first data point of that food type fried, but was a winner. In the Pilot Mountain area, this hole in the wall is a most stop food spot.
After Leon’s, we hit candy shops of Main Street and acquired Gummies, chocolate covered Espresso beans , snow caps, and gummy watermelons. After tour of a museum dedicated to the history of the region, we wrapped-up out Mt. Airy excursion with some local wine at Olde North State Winery.
After a nap, we were ready for dinner. It wouldn’t have been right to leave North Carolina without some barbecue, so we hit Bib’s Downtown in Winston-Salem. In the 50’s car dealership turn restaurant, we feasted to the point of discomfort on ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, hush puppies, red slaw, bib’s beans, and Mac ‘n cheese all washed down with large glasses of sweet tea. We then headed to the arts district and settled our stomachs with a little whiskey at Luna’s, a tiny dive bar. But the night wasn’t over. It was time for some live music at the Garage. If you find yourself in Winston-Salem, wander over to the Garage. If you shrunk the place and filled with too cool for school kids you could drop the Garage in the middle of Williamsburg. But the space is generous, the group chill, and the bartender talkative. We chatted with the partial owner/bar tender as folks filtered in and the first band set-up. Per our new friend, the place hosts everything form hard core metal to the country to the chill indie we were about to enjoy. The man exuded nothing by friendliness, pride in the venue, and a love of music. I sipped a couple locally brewed Frostbite IPA as we enjoyed the show.
The next morning it was time for another breakfast in the breakfast room before hitting the road. En route to a train in D.C. for the final leg of our journey, we managed a stop at both Chick-Fil-A and a Cook Out. (Cook Out is a Southern fast food spot famous for their multitude of milk shake options.) And so, road tiered and full of amazing eats, we exited our train in Penn. Station and returned to real life and a few days of kale salads.
[There are a number of pictures that I would love to integrate, but I don’t want to let perfect stand in the way of good–maybe soon!]
In case you’re not in Minnesota, or have been intentionally avoiding television news for the last 3 weeks, let me bring you up to speed; it is brutally cold up north here. I usually pride myself on being someone who doesn’t mind the winters, as though the ability to survive a 6 month period spent entirely indoors somehow grants me a moral high ground. Well, this winter is close to breaking me. A few things to put this winter in context: Over the entirety of my K-12 education, I got two days off; one for snow, and one for cold weather. Halfway through this winter, school has been cancelled
three five times for cold weather (cancelled twice more between the time I started and finished this post!). More than once this winter, it has been -20 when I walked out to my car in the morning. NEGATIVE. TWENTY. So cold that the moisture in my breath freezes on my mustache instantly. So cold that my car creaks and groans when I get in every morning, and the heater doesn’t start putting out warm air until I’m basically turning into my work parking lot. So cold that your eyes water involuntarily, and then your tears freeze to your face.
Suffice it to say, I’m pretty damn sick of this winter, and I needed something to take me away, even if just for the evening. Enter the Asian glazed ribs. This was the perfect recipe for what I needed. The rich, juicy meat was hardy enough for a winter evening, but the south Asian flavors made me feel like I was someplace warm. Also, while you can finish these ribs on a grill (and I am on the record as being an advocate of winter grilling), they work just fine in the oven. This is another winner from the carnivore’s bible, Good Meat.
1 rack of baby back ribs (about 2 lbs)
For the marinade:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup bourbon
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp grated peeled fresh ginger – I ended up mincing the ginger once i realized how slowly it was grating on my microplane.
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
For the glaze/dipping sauce:
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
You’ll need something large enough to hold the ribs while they marinate, and it needs to be non reactive (so nothing aluminum). I didn’t have a glass dish large enough, so I bought a pair of large tupperwareesque things to hold them. You can also cut the rack in half to squeeze it into the marinating dish. They should marinate at least overnight, preferably for 24 hours. Combine all the marinade ingredients and pour them over the meat. Turn the meat to coat, then refrigerate until ready to cook.
The next day, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil, and place a wire rack on top. Put the ribs on the rack, meat side up, blotting off any excess marinade with some paper towels. Roast the ribs for 2 hours, or until tender.
Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine the honey and warm water, then add the brown sugar, stirring until it is dissolved. Then add the lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, red pepper and cilantro. Reserve half the glaze to use for dipping at the table. Note: this is a great dipping sauce for practically any kind of Asian food. I’ll be making it the next time I have potstickers.
Baste the nearly cooked ribs and roast for another 15 minutes, or until the surface s browned and glossy. Turn the ribs, bone side up, and glaze them again, then put them under the broiler or on a hot grill until they are lightly charred. Watch them very closely on this step – there is a lot of sugar in the glaze which will burn quickly. Cut the ribs into individual pieces, if desired, and serve them warm, with the dipping sauce on the side.
I would like to formally add the Dalmore Paterson Collection to my Christmas list. The Paterson Collection is the masterpiece of a lifetime, comprised of twelve unique whiskies from the visionary Richard Paterson, Master Distiller of The Dalmore. The collection is housed within a magnificent bespoke cabinet, along with twelve handcrafted crystal decanters, each adorned with a sterling silver collar and stag. These works of art are accompanied by Paterson’s own handwritten ledger, offering a rare insight into his craft.
For my American readers struggling on the math, the modest £987,500.00 price tag translates nicely to approximately $1,600,000.
I promise a post on each of the 12 whiskies!
Slate recently had an interesting article on the (de)merits of garlic. It captures how I’ve always felt about the stuff–it’s not a substitute for fresh garlic, but has its own place in the kitchen. The article elaborates:
[G]arlic powder acts like glue behind glitter, adding a subtle fullness of flavor that may be more difficult to detect, but nonetheless makes the meal taste better. Like MSG, garlic powder may not be specifically discernable, but in a side-by-side comparison, the otherwise identical dish with added garlic powder will win… I often find myself adding fresh garlic at both the beginning and end of meal prep, and sprinkling powder in the middle. The trick is never to add so much that someone could say, “I taste garlic powder.”
The author goes on to suggest making your own garlic powder. While that sounds fun and all, I’m going to be sticking with my store bought stuff for the near future.