Monday, January 16, 2012

I ♥ Santa Fe - Green Chile Cheeseburger @ Bobcat Bite

Visiting Bobcat Bite and having their Green Chile Cheeseburger has been on my "Burger spots to must check out before..." list for some time. While many of my initial discoveries were after purchasing a copy of George Motz' Hamburger America many years ago, it certainly was the primer for the now endlessly growing list.

The pilgrimage to Bobcat Bite naturally came as a road trip, as Santa Fe (NM) was the sole realistically drivable destination from San Diego, at least from the eight locations highlighted in the film. Long overdue, the drive finally realized last weekend along with a friend (aka: spare driver, aka: to whom to split the gas bill). I couldn't think of a better way to spend the three day weekend, though I didn't expect to be there and back in San Diego within 48-hrs, ha.

The drive up was taken much slower, making time for many side stops and ended up crashing the first night in a bargain Motel 6 ($35!) in Albuquerque, just an hour away from Santa Fe. The photo above was taken a couple hours before opening the next day, probably the only chance at getting a clean shot of the exterior without any cars parked up front (or lined people). Things I noticed were that the front driveway was asphalted and that the patio was now covered.

Spent some time in the beautiful historic downtown and when we finally made our way back it was a half hour past opening (11:30AM). Didn't know what to expect fearing a possible wait but seemed the off season helped as we managed to immediately secure a center counter seat surrounded mostly by local patrons.

[The counter with a back lot view at Bobcat Bite.]

By now the soft spoken lady and "chef with the Sponge Bob T-shirt" Bonnie and John Eckre were almost like celebrities and it was really neat seeing them just doing their everyday thing. I was having such a great experience from the incredibly nice and down to earth personable people they were, to the awesomely laid back atmosphere (at least until the crowd hit later on) that by now I probably could've been served a Whopper Jr. and have left moderately happy. We both ordered the burgers done a medium and your meal can take up to 20-mins. There were a few seasonal dishes like the very tempting Chile Bowl that some were having served only during Winter.

[Good food takes time, especially one with a patty this thick...]

But the burger was fantastic and the hype to be believed. Wow, the thing I immediately noticed was how beefy and flavorful the patty was, its size now bumped up to 10 oz. Generously (but perfectly) seasoned and with nice griddle seared crust, the burger juices overflowing from the coarser, daily ground chuck was out of control along with some glistening grease (which I always felt was important to make the distinction).

The buns have also been upgraded not so long ago judging by older photos floating around the net. A perfectly toasted semolina or cornmeal dusted with softer density, yet something with enough tooth to withstand that giant juicy patty. The green chile sauce wasn't too spicy, what I would consider medium in level, though the heat tends to build up slowly and linger.

It along with the completely melted cheese (seemed a mild white cheddar) was a great complement to the burger. I left out the lettuce and tomato in mine shown above. Since this was my first meal of the day and technically breakfast, had with some home fries which were well done but pretty good. I think what made it was its also beefy flavor where I imagined was probably cooked with some of the beef fat.

While the burger proudly stands on its own, the Green Chile Cheeseburger here I felt was one that couldn't be separated from its location and the amazing people who create it. While a trendy joint in cities elsewhere may copy, it would never compare to the one from Bobcat Bite.

Bobcat Bite, 418 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, NM 87505

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Home Kakuni Curry Rice

Although I have a rough basic process for making Japanese Curry, I can't say I've ever made it exactly the same twice. The spirit of experimenting probably comes a lot from the fact that these block curry rues are so bulletproof, you'd actually end up with something decently tasty if you had simply simmered them down with hot water (not that I recommend it). Of course incorporating your favorite vegetables and choice of protein gives the dish the umami depth it really deserves.

Last weekend I felt like doing a healthier pulverized veggie style with also maybe a mild tomato tartness. Used a whole onion, about two carrots and 1/3 can of tomato paste (in that smaller tin). Skipped the long process of caramelizing the onion into that sweet brown paste because I couldn't be bothered the day (though I highly recommend). Instead, sauteed everything into a light sweat, then simmered away on low.

When I felt the veggies were cooked, added the block curry rue. As for kakushiaji (hidden flavor agents) everyone seems to have their little secrets to give it that personal touch. I've heard most of them, from adding shavings of chocolate, to a pinch of instant coffee granules, to leftover Fukushinzuke pickle syrup (particularly seen in the "nothing goes to waste" frugal but bold Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force recipe). Btw, did you know Japanese Curry has its roots from Great Britain (specifically the Navy)?

My recent fascination has been to add whole Cardamon and Cumin seeds. I'm sure the inspiration from some random older Japanese television program. I also add a couple tablespoons of Soy Sauce. After all this is Japanese Curry... :)

Other commonly recommended 101 Basics is to mix two brands of Curry Rue, preferably also in different spice levels. This day I used a blend of House's Kokumaro medium, and S&B's Golden Curry extra hot. Again, gives your curry that little additional complexity.

The Kakuni braised pork belly was an impromptu decision to make Sunday night. (So much for the healthier curry, haha.) I seasoned it with a pinch of Curry Powder instead of Star Anise and ended up being a nice touch for the meal which I'd have the day next. The first plate I enjoyed more the contrast between the curry and flavor of the pork. The naturally sweet veggie centric curry with a slight tomato tartness complemented really well the richer Kakuni that was wiggly soft and chopstick tender. My second, I stewed the leftover 1/2 kakuni block into the curry itself for a more incorporated taste. All good.

My personal method for making Rafte style (Okinawan Pork Belly) Kakuni I'll have to go over on another post. It starts out more as a low and slow simmer than an actual braise, where I finish it in the convection oven in foil.

Stewing Japanese Curry is fun, especially on a lazy Sunday. Tasting the curry throughout the day and witnessing the flavors slowly mature over time. Because I wanted the vegetables to almost disappear into the stew, I ended up simmering this one for an unusually long time. Either way, always will taste better rested overnight in the fridge as it lets all the flavors set. The difference is night and day (no pun intended).

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Early Bird: A Breakfast @ Perry's Cafe (2)

6:03AM. My second early bird breakfast posting at Perry's Cafe. This was just this morning and met up with a coworker friend that lives not too far from me before our way up.

Again, I'm usually not that experimental with my breakfast in the morning but... Shown, two eggs over-easy, link sausages this time, and Onions on the Hash Browns (Woo Ha!), the inspiration got from the visit to Waffle House. Man, was this good. Also rediscovered my love for Rye Bread recently after random enjoyable patty melt and reuben experiences elsewhere.

[Click the image for a drooling close up!]

The friend had the Bacon, Eggs (scrambled), and Waffle plate from the specials menu. To me seemed like a nice fill for only ~$5. Personally can't vouch for everything on Perry's menu but for my standard breakfast fare, I absolutely love the joint, atmosphere especially included. The crispy hash browns are always good. Try it with onions and thank me later. :)

Perry's Cafe, 4610 Pacific Hwy, San Diego, CA 92110

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Garlic Ginger Pork With Easy Shoyu Red Wine Sauce

The meal was easy enough that the subject line almost gives away the recipe. A twist on the standard Ginger Pork (Shogayaki) dish that I came across again on a random Japanese television show. The program was again short and so the instructions on the vague side (a tactic I now see often so to publish and promote a proper cookbook at a later date), but I managed to turn out something pretty tasty despite the day with my ad hoc interpretations.

This particular Shogayaki, the pork slices themselves are seasoned simply and instead is drizzled later with a flavorful sauce. The thinner ~1/8" pork loin slices I happened to pick up at Marukai. I often purchase meats at Japanese Markets only because they conveniently prepare it the way I prefer. Wished nearby Sprouts (formerly Henry's) would regularly shelf Shabu-Shabu style or even pork belly blocks for Kakuni. Would definitely make my life easier.

But anyway, I used extra virgin olive oil, light S&P, and a good amount of finely minced garlic for the initial saute. I happen to only have the large milder Elephant Garlic, so was pretty generous with. Grated a nub of ginger but only used its shibori jiru squeezed liquids and not the pulp. These thinner cuts take no time at all to get done.

Plate them and remove excess oils in the fry pan (leaving a Tbspn or so). Pour a 1:1 drazzle amount of Red Wine and Soy Sauce into the pan. What's a "Drazzle"? For me, it's more than a drizzle, maybe twice so. Add a good pad of Butter, then drizzle a bit of Mirin. Cook off alcohol on medium heat and reduce some (couple of minutes) to a light glaze. Pour over pork.

The Japanese/Asian Potato Salad was also winged but something I came up on my own. Razor thin cuts of white onions (rested in ice water) and crunchy Japanese Kyuri cucumbers. (I skip the Apples that are sometimes included, don't care for them.) Hard boiled egg and only a little Kewpie Mayo, but added some rich goat cheese to compensate. Dang, this Was Good. The batch I have left I may add even more goat cheese and maybe razor thin slices of pear fruit for the next round. Coarse ground black pepper is always my friend, as is the mound of fine shredded cabbage to balance things out as a Teishoku meal. Plate of warm Japonica sticky white rice not shown. マイウー。

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Home Nukazuke - The Start

I've always loved a good Nukazuke. With a nice crunchy cucumber, I can probably put away at least two bowls of rice. Nukazuke are Japanese pickles that are made fermented in a bed of prepared rice bran (Nuka). Below are cucumbers, carrot and Kabu (Japanese turnip). The leaves of the Kabu can be eaten as well.

You need to rinse off the pasty Nuka before cutting and serving. Almost any edible vegetable can be pickled, the flavor hard to describe but has a mildly salty, minerally aroma and taste. Some can describe as yeasty or earthy, but it's very pleasant and usually subtle. Nukazuke can vary in taste though, and older nuanced Nukadoko beds (aka Nukamiso) that are well kept handed down through generations can be highly valued.

The mushy Nuka must be stirred daily for the good cultures to proliferate and prevent spoilage. I've always wondered if I'm really up for it, when after all it's so easy just to purchase the pickles at Mitsuwa like I did this day...

But having my own Nukadoko that I could personalize over time and call my own always just felt very neat. I wasn't quite up for creating a batch from scratch as Kyotofoodie had done but earlier in the year I found this kit at Mitsuwa for ~$13 which comes with its own handy container.

I'll eventually need to buy some of the dry stuff (which Mitsuwa also carries) because you need to replenish the bed time to time. You end up losing a small amount of Nuka as you take the pickles out or even during the maintenance process of daily stirring.

Since I'm a total Nukadoko newb, I'll have to update on the progress.

The pickling itself is easy enough. From what I've read most vegetables seem to only take as quick as 12-hours, up to two days max. So if you bury something in the morning, you can have a nice pickled Nukazuke by time for dinner. Sounds like a good plan.

I noticed Yoko of Umamimart has recently posted on Kasuzuke, vegetables pickled in Sake Lees (a byproduct sediment when making Sake). Check it out.

Friday, January 6, 2012

I ♥ Nashville - Jack's Bar-B-Que (Trinity Lane)

The main Jack's Bar-B-Que is located smack center of "Nash-Vegas," the glitzy strip portion of downtown Broadway with year round traffic of visitors. A quick glance of the location's neon embellished exterior may give some a tourist trap vibe but I've read many online write ups that they are actually far from and worth a visit for those seeking a double dose fun of good BBQ and entertainment.

This was my third work related visit to the Music City but I still somehow couldn't quite make my way in through those doors. Maybe it's some sort of solo business traveler syndrome, or maybe it's just me. But one night I did decide to drive over to their second Trinity Lane location where I've heard the atmosphere was much more laid back and the food equaled. The two locations are only 10-mins apart by car.

Was a cold drizzly November night but the sight of firewood piles and chimney stacks with smoke bellowing strong (even despite the half-hour before closing time) was a comforting reassurance of the good dinner to come.

As you enter there's immediately a cafeteria style setup of steamer trays where I was sort of in a position to choose side dishes before having decided what main I wanted. So might be better to come prepared with your mind more or less made up. (Online menu here.)

The sign below next to one of the indoor cookers actually read "Real Cooks Pass Gas and use Hickory..." but it's funny either way.

Whatever your choice of BBQ may be, you are given a selection of sauces here, all Jack's own bottled brand which you can purchase on your way out. Looked to me that there were three, but I should've done a refresher read of because I didn't notice the additional two bottles set to the side, making them a total of five.

The pork ribs here are St. Louis Style, the rack trimmed square and sans tips. Along with the telltale pretty smoke ring and nice outer bark, I thought were actually not bad eaten as-is, at least the first couple. The amount of smoke flavor to me was just right (Slick Pig's I felt was on the strong side but still very enjoyable). These were also cooked perfectly, the meat still attached to the bone but would pull away clean as you took a bite and gave a light tug. By the end of the second rib I was ready to try some sauces though. There was the tangy Tennessee original, the sweet and spicy hot (West?) Texas, and the Kansas City which was the mildest in heat and also the sweetest. I had fun alternating between them but ended up using their Texas sauce the most.

I'm not sure if the pickle coins are in fact a Nashville thing but by now I'm used to seeing them with my order of Cue in the town. I liked how the baked beans weren't overly sweet. The Mac & Cheese was the creamier kind, pretty basic in flavor otherwise but good and comforting. Buttered Texas Toast sliced nice and thick. Hee haw!

Jack's Bar-B-Que, 334 West Trinity Ln, Nashville, TN 37207

Monday, January 2, 2012

Easy Chunky Tori Soboro Donburi With Aonori Dressing

Soboro typically is a soy sauce seasoned, crumbly, finer minced meat that is usually seen and eaten over rice. This version playfully combines the texture of chunkier chicken thigh pieces with that of ground and is finished with a simple Aonori flavored sauce.

Japanese comedian Yuichi Kimura over the years has stepped up his kitchen hobby into a semi-professional chef status, publishing several cookbooks and even having a few shows focusing on his new founded creative culinary talent. He had casually put this dish together for a guest on a television program and I thought I'd try it since it looked great but also very easy to make. Since it was a short segment the instructions weren't very detailed, so I had to improvise and fill in a few gaps between steps as I went.

To make two serving portions...
- Cut one larger chicken thigh (with or without skin) into 1"~1/2" pieces. S&P.
- Melt 1-Tbsp butter in a pan and cook the chicken over medium heat.
- When lightly colored, add approximate equal amount of ground chicken into the pan. Break up the ground chicken with your spatula into small minces, and continue to do so as it cooks. (Initially separating the thigh pieces with the ground chicken in the pan eases the process.)
- When fully cooked, taste and lightly S&P if needed.
- Spoon generously over a bowl of hot rice.

The dressing starts with...
- Equal parts of Soy Sauce and Mirin. I didn't measure but it was a couple seconds pour each (2~3Tbsp?). The program didn't mention but I quickly cooked off the alcohol in a small pan, then set aside to cool.
- Add Aonori (green lavar) about 1-Tbsp
- A small packet of fine shaving Katsuobushi bonito flakes.
- I felt the sauce was a little strong so I diluted it with a couple tablespoons of water.
- Optional: It actually called for a raw egg yolk but for the amount I was making I would've only needed a teaspoon of it. Since I don't stock quail eggs in my fridge... I just skipped.
- Drizzle over the soboro prior to serving.

[The original kombucha (aka kobucha).]

The best part is halfway through the meal, you can add some Kombucha powder and pinch of wasabi, pour hot water (better would be light chicken broth) and you have yourself a great Ochazuke. A note here that I'm speaking of the Japanese seaweed tea Kombucha (also often called "Kobucha") and not the misnamed effervescent yeast drink that most people here may know the name by.

While the donburi was pretty tasty, I thought the Ochazuke was even better! If I were to do things differently, I probably would've cut the thigh pieces evenly to an 1/2" consistency. That, and drizzle more of the tasty sauce. I personally love Aonori but to others, sometimes could be like Cilantro in that there are strong likes and dislikes for the marine scented condiment (especially within non-Japanese). Like how I feel Aonori is an absolute must on Takoyaki, only second to its sweet sauce, though sadly often left out in restaurants here. But anyway to me, the dressing felt versatile enough to be drizzled over most anything, at least with dishes that I would eat at home. Great to spruce up leftovers and whatnot. Yum.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Abura Miso - Okinawan Seasoned Miso

Happy New Year! I don't have a designated New Year's post so just sharing another that had been incubating in the works. No new resolutions to announce and haven't had the time to do any reflections except maybe that a question on a Chowhound board recently had forced me to revisit one of my older posts from back in 2008 and it was quite the torture.(!) Haha. While I still have a long way to go, at least feeling my writing skills have improved some over the years isn't such a bad thing I guess. Would like to thank everyone that have supported this nerdy blog by taking the time to comment or email. As much as it's been a mostly personal and selfish endeavor, they all really do mean a lot. So thanks.

 I think a current day all-encompassing definition of Okinawan Abura Miso would be a type of seasoned miso, cooked over low heat with some type of rendered fattier meats (or oil with lean protein) and sweetened. The word "abura" in Abura Miso translates to "oil" or "fat." So it sort of means "Fatty Miso" maybe. Traditionally the recipe calls for the island's ubiquitous three-layer pork "san-mai niku," however nowadays, bacon, ground meats and even canned tuna are used. The typical seasonings are Sake, Sugar and Mirin (while further specifying Awamori and Okinawan brown sugar would be a nice authentic touch) but my family had always used honey to sweeten.
Variations aside, they are all the same versatile condiment of sweet/savory/meaty deliciousness. Great from being a dip for your veggie sticks to an awesome sidekick for devouring large quantities of hakumai rice.

Abura Miso is very commonly found on the island as an Onigiri filling (aka Omusubi). So much so it had always been the first to come to mind when I thought of my personal all time favorite. In fact up until only a few years ago I always thought it was odd that none of the Japanese Markets here offered it as an omusubi flavor, ha. There was the salmon, plum, tarako, konbu, but no miso? Scandalous! Funny the things you grow up with only to later realize that it was very locally specific.

[Photo of an Abura Miso filled Onigiri at a Konbini (convenience store) in Okinawa...]

So anyway, I have a rough ballpark recipe below but it's really best to season as you go. Everyone has their sweet spot balance of sweet vs. savory and preferred ratio of meat vs. miso they'd like (though typical recipes call for equal amount protein to miso). It's easy and fairly bulletproof where in fact my sister's recipe for her tuna version only had three ingredients: Miso, canned tuna (in oil) and honey.

Abura Miso "Classic" version:
Notes: Makes approximately 1-Cup. A little goes a long way and the portion shown above is probably a good 2~3 servings. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Three-layer Rib Meat (or pork belly) - small block approximating 1/2-Cup
Awase Miso - 1/2-Cup (This is the standard all-purpose blended miso.)
Sugar - 2-Tbsp (Can be combined with brown sugar, but do not recommend only brown.)
Sake - 2-Tbsp
Mirin - 1-Tbsp
Optional: 1-Tbsp of vegetable oil (in the case meat was leaner than expected).
Very Optional: Pinch of grated ginger. I've seen recipes call for it so just mentioning here.

- Slow boil the pork block in water for 20~30mins. Rinse, dry and let cool. Then dice cut.
- Slowly render the diced pork in a frying pan on low heat. Adding some water in the pan at the start can help. You don't have to render all the fat and be careful not to crisp up the pork since it will become a tough texture in your miso.

- Add Miso and rest of ingredients, saving a portion of the sugar to adjust after tasting. Stir with spatula to incorporate.
- Continue to cook on low / medium-low to burn off alcohol and rid the Miso of its raw flavor.
- Taste and add more sugar or miso to adjust flavor. I personally like it edging on the sweet side.

The results should be a flavorful miso with a nice glaze. If it feels too slushy you might want to simmer longer so to evaporate some of the moisture but not too much since the miso and fat will naturally stiffen as it cools. If too pasty or lacks gloss, you might want to add a little vegetable oil.

The Tuna version I learned can't be any easier. Empty a can of tuna (in oil) into a frying pan on medium-low heat, add approximate same amount of miso. Add honey in increments until you think it tastes delicious!

A bonus photo of a Pork Luncheon Meat (like Spam)/Egg/Abura Miso Musubi...

Some may have noticed but unlike what I refer to as Hawaiian style Spam Musubis where the Spam slice is usually perched atop a rectangular mound of rice and secured with a strip of Nori (like a giant Nigiri), the more prominent Spam Musubi in Okinawa are a style often clamshelled like a sandwich, the ingredients tucked between rice, then wrapped entirely with Nori. Also Okinawan Spam Musubi are usually never dressed with Teriyaki. Either way they're all delicious, and so is Abura Miso!