Saturday, February 28, 2009

EZ Tofu Appetizer - Sweet Miso, Cheese And Myoga Yaki

Wanted to share a Tofu Appetizer I made this weekend. I learned about it first at a friend's get together where I'll eventually post pics of on a future Japan Files post (house parties!).

I haven't made this in a while and since I already know I would tweak things differently next time around I will comment about it while writing.

Aside from the Tofu, the three other main ingredients are Mozzarella Cheese, Myoga and the Red "Hatcho" Miso for the dressing. Toasted sesame seeds at the end.

You might have come across these lovely looking buds in the refrigerated produce section of your local Japanese grocer..

It is the Myoga (wiki artical here) and though they grow like weeds in my mother's garden, here they will cost me up to $2 a pop! Still its distinctive floral and crisp flavors are so wonderful that I time to time find them in my shopping basket (and my meals).

The Tofu I used was the medium-firm Momen. While I have used the softer Kinugoshi in the past, the bit firmer Momen with less water content and stronger tofu flavor I feel is better suited for this. Cut the tofu in half (so to make two stubby pieces) and place in an ovenproof dish. (This makes 3~4 servings.)

Since it was straight out of the fridge and quite cold, I microwaved it with a plastic wrap for about a minute or so. This also helps extract some excess water which should be poured out.

I sliced the Myoga in half on a sharp bias. Although slightly undercooked Myoga never bothered me much (since it is often eaten raw) I would cut it on an even steeper bias than what is shown below or simply cut it in thirds so that the bulbs are thinner and less meaty to help cook through.

The slices rest on a bed of grated Mozzarella Cheese. Next time I will use even more cheese with some sprinkled on top of the Myoga as well. The sweet miso dressing is basically to taste but my guess in the ratio of ingredients I used is about 1-Hatcho Miso, 0.8-Honey, 0.5-Sake, 0.5-Water and 0.25-Mirin.

If you have a favorite Dengaku recipe I'm sure that is perfectly fine. You just want something with a syrupy consistency so to pour over. And since the red Hatcho is a rather strong Miso you probably want it to be on the sweet side.

Like I said I would've added more cheese at this point. I have a small convection toaster oven where I set it at 300-degrees F for about 20 minutes.

Since I already warmed the tofu, basically making sure to cook off all the alcohol in the miso dressing is the biggest thing. If you want to be sure you can slowly simmer the miso concoction in a small sauce pan prior to using. Otherwise watching to not burn the Myoga and cheese too much is all you have to keep an eye out for. Toasted sesame seeds goes on top before serving and the dish is best eaten right away while hot.

A photo of the inspirational version my friends had made..

Yep, definitely more cheese and the Myoga looks cooked through better. Next time I will cut it thinner. Still this dish is relatively hard to mess up.

Now if only the price of Myoga would come down....

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lunching On 10th Street - Pokez Mexican Restaurant

I don't lunch in downtown very often because it is rather out of the way from my work. The thought of having to deal with parking isn't that pleasant either. But there are a few spots along 10th Street (a main artery off of South I-5 that will shoot you straight into downtown SD) that I found fairly quick and easy to get to. I just need to remind myself about the quarters for the meter..

Pokez is hard to miss and will be to your right on 10th and E. It's been a while since I visited last but remembered they had pretty good food. Lots of vegetarian dishes if you're into that too. Although the menu can be downloaded as a PDF on their website for the sake of my documenting I uploaded photos of it here.
Typical me, what I had ordered first was on the breakfast menu (served all day). The Machaca ($5.50).

Eggs with shredded beef, sauteed onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. The grill char was so lovely.. You win a man's heart through food? Only partially correct.. That is you win through food with a nice grill char! ha.

I find the free chips and salsa always fresh and tasty. A rather simple thing but something that shouldn't be underestimated to also win customers' hearts in my opinion.

Watch out for the salsa though, it's Very Hot and dangerously addicting.

I used the beans to help subdue the fire in my mouth. It has decent flavor for not using lard and that goes same with the rice. In fact I believe lard isn't used in any of the dishes here.

While I typically like focusing on food on my posts it seems the topic of service is hard not to bring up judging by the many comments I have read on the net about the restaurant.

Basically they are that the service is often slow and inattentive. While I found this somewhat true in the past, at least for the several visits I had recently I found it very fare. The servers may not smile (unless it is the lady) but they play good music which in my book makes up for it. :)

So back to the food.. The second meal I had was #13 listed under Combos called the "You Don't Want It!" Curious. Was it extremely hot? A Gianormous portioned plate? Maybe both? The only thing you are promised is following through with your choice of a meat or veggie version. I chose meat of course and got this messy but yummy looking dish..

Seemed like marinated chicken (again great char) smothered in a spicy green tomatillo sauce, melted cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

It was really very good. The only problem for me was that the YDWI plate supposedly varied by the cook so it would depend on my luck if I ever got the craving for this again. Or so I thought (which I will get to).. I was curious why I was charged much less than the $8.25 listed.

Third visit was the Combo #3 ($8.25).

A Cheese Enchilada, Beef Taco and Bean Tostada (and rice, beans, flour or corn tortillas).
Melty cheese wrapped in a fluffy corn tortilla is never a bad thing. Especially when there is sauce and more melted cheese on top, but I really enjoyed it which was also very fresh tasting.

The Beef Taco despite its Tex-Mex looks was really good too. In the non-greasy crispy taco shell were non-greasy but very moist and flavorful shredded beef.

The Bean Tostada I had to take home. The beans are the same as what is used for the plate sides.

To be honest if I took the time and read the menu more carefully I probably would've chosen the #5 with the Chille Relleno instead. Still I had doused the tostada with the very spicy salsa before boxing to-go and by the time it was dinner it had morphed into a indecipherable tasty food cluster with the additional leftover rice and enchilada sauce. Which reminds me, more often than not I have a small meal to take home.

I know I already mentioned the free chips and salsa were good.. I hate wasting food and food photos.. :)

On the fourth visit I tried the Joey's Special ($6.50).

Your choice of Green or Red Sauce.. (I was recommended green so went for that.) Sauteed marinated chicken, melted cheese and sour cream.. Hmm great but strangely familiar... I think this is what I had when asking for the "You Don't Wan't It!"..

Not that I'd be complaining because the dish was something I eventually wanted to order again. I just felt mixed between being glad that I can now have the tasty green mess whenever but also wondering why the server somehow deemed me unfit for the YDWI.. Now I'm even more curious. Was it my brazen use of my camera and that they wanted to keep the secret under wraps?? :)

Don't know but I also had a Potato, Tofu, Mushroom Taco ($3.50) that tasted good.

Aside from the Bean Tostada that came with my #3, the only vegetarian item I had ordered. It was surprisingly very flavorful, well seasoned with what my very amature description would be as Mexican seasoning.

Time for another chips and salsa photo break.. mmm.

I often see people wave their hands in front of their mouth. So spicy.
The taco was a good size and filled me up more than some. So below was my dinner for the day.

My final most recent visit I had the Steak Ranchero ($7.25).

Strange that I felt only ok about the first few bites..

But as the juices from the sauteed onions, bell pepper, mushrooms and tomatoes started to settle into the gravy, I enjoyed it immensely. :)

As good as it was I was left again with a decent amount to take with. On my way back to work though I had a small driving mishap. My car smelled like Steak Ranchero Sauce for the rest of the day. Wasn't necessarily a bad thing.. ;)

My future visits I'd like to try more of their tacos, oh and definitely get to the bottom of the #13 "You Don't Want It!" Also a few personal wishes would be a Mole type dish and somehow I'd imagine they would do a very decent job with a Burger too.. (Like maybe with Roasted Peppers and sauteed onions.. etc.) Now why would I think that?

Pokez Mexican Restaurant, 947 E Street, San Diego, CA 92101

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Blue Cupcake

Finally went for a long overdue haircut yesterday.. Apparently it was free cupcake day at my salon and my hairstylist had given me this..

Wow, I've seen Red Velvet Cakes but this was Blue! Seemed very appropriate from a coloring expert that she is. Tasted great too. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What's On My Rice - Bunsen Ara!

Need to work this weekend.. :(

So a very quick what's on my rice post.
This particular day on my rice was Bunsen's Ara!. (アラ!- The exclamation point is part of the name.)

Another popular brand is Momoya's Gohan Desuyo! (ごはんですよ!). Strange that both use an exclamation point to express excitement for what is essentially seasoned seaweed paste.. ;)

Savory, sweet, and a whole lot seaweedy. Like a Whole Lot. So if it doesn't sound appetizing to you I would recommend avoiding it. But if it does, you may be happy to know that it is great on rice and offered in many flavors.

Shown is the standard but my other favorite is the Shii-Ara (shiitake flavor). Also available in Shiso, Nameko, Wasabi, and even Matsutake.

Honestly haven't had it in ages. I picked up a bottle out of pure nostalgia while recently browsing through the aisles of Nijiya Market. For the most part you simply top it on rice but I hear it is sometimes used for cooking (if you ever thought whatever you're making can use some seaweed flavor I guess..). Actually adding a little to Natto is very nice.

A Bunsen Ara! commercial I found on YouTube from I would guess the early 70's..

This one of Momoya's Gohan Desuyo! from the eighties I'm more familiar with..

All this is also making me crave a bowl of hot Miso Soup.. :)