24 February 2011

Chicken fingers

Why is the kid's menu [in restaurants] the same as the bar menu? Have you noticed that? Bbq Jr's favourite restaurant item is the chicken finger. Processed, mealy chicken, breaded in some pasty, gooey mess. Salt. Protein. Fat. But no flavour. Bbq Jr has excellent taste for a five-year old, but he is just five. We're working on expanding that.

For his birthday, we gave him his favourite meal. But with a twist. I whipped up some homemade chicken fingers, but with chicken tenders (the meat next to the breast). And seasoned. And breaded nicely.
chicken tenders (boneless chicken cut adjacent to the breast)
chipotle chile powder
panko bread crumbs
giant pot o' peanut oil
Make 4 separate bowls. One contains milk.  Second contains flour, seasoned heavily with salt, chipotle, and paprika. Third, beaten eggs. Fourth, panko bread crumbs.

panko crumbs

Soak the chicken tenders in the milk while you start heating the oil. You're gonna want the oil at around 375°F. When the oil is close to hot enough, dredge the chicken tenders in the seasoned flour. Shake off excess flour, then dredge in the beaten egg. Shake off excess egg, then dredge gently through the panko. One of the nice things about panko is the texture. Don't damage the texture.

breaded chicken

Repeat with as many tenders as you plan to make (2-3/person is tons).

The trick with deep-frying is to not be afraid of the oil. Lower the chicken tender into the oil so that you don't splash the hot oil on yourself. Your fingers will end up pretty close to the oil surface. Be careful, but *do not be afraid*.

deep-fried chicken

Cook until the chicken tenders are a nice dark brown, and cooked all the way through (I test 1 tender/batch by cutting into them). About four to seven minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the tenders from the oil.

deep-fried chicken strips

Further season with grey sea salt. Serve with plum sauce and homemade ketchup.

Chicken strips

This was a hit with Bbq Jr. "Best chicken fingers, Daddy!" Goes to show, even bar food can be brought up a notch.

22 February 2011

Intelligentsia Los Angeles

These days, when we travel, we inform ourselves. Chowhound. Blogs. Friends. This is how we ensure we eat and drink well while traveling.

Take coffee. Steve at Zumbar has pointed us towards several coffee places that will blow you away. Like Intelligentsia in Los Angeles. Their coffee is superb. Not a hint of bitterness. Their latte is rich and foamy made from a perfectly pulled shot of espresso.


They warned us off the hot chocolate for Bbq Jr. "Kids don't like our chocolate. It's too strong." Hah! Bbq Jr. loved it. "This is the best hot chocolate, Daddy. You should make me this hot chocolate next year for my birthday."

Even if coffee isn't your thing, the location in Venice makes for interesting viewing. The coffee hardware looks like something out of an alchemy lab.

Venice Intelligentsia coffee

Everything is all steel and tattoos. I swear I'm not cool enough to hang out here, but the coffee is so good that I keep sneaking back in. One of these days, they're gonna check me for hipster i.d. and turn me back at the door. But until then...


They get their pastries from Breadbar. Their perfect, buttery, sweet, chocolatey, pain au chocolat.

Pain au chocolat

You need to have a coffee here.

Intelligentsia Silver Lake
3922 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Sun - Wed, 6 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Thur - Sat, 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.

View Larger Map

Intelligentsia Venice
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
Mon - Wed, 6 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Thur - Fri, 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Sat 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Sun 7 a.m. - 8 p.m.

View Larger Map

17 February 2011

Ginger-plum sauce


In the grand preparations for Bbq Jr's fifth birthday, there were sauces galore. My favourite was the plum sauce that we made to serve with his favourite meat (gonna keep it a surprise for now). This sauce was inspired by a previous sauce Dr. Ricky made for a whole pig that we cooked up in 2009.

I started with 7 each of:
lemon plums
red plumbs
Pit and halve them.

Also, shred finely:
3 tbsp ginger
Fry up the ginger over high heat until it's nice and soft. Throw in as many plums as will hit the bottom of the pan. Place them cut side down so that you get a nice sear on the plums. When they're nicely seared, add the rest of the plums and a tiny bit of water. Lower the heat, and simmer until the plums reach a nice saucy consistency (I like my sauces a tiny bit chunky, but you can simmer longer if you want to break it down further).

brown sugar
to taste. Cool and serve. Gingery, plummy goodness. Yum.

plum sauce

15 February 2011


Tomato liquor

When our son was a wee tot (think 1 ½ to 2ish), he was always delighted to have french fries and ketchup, a treat we reserved for our relatively infrequent restaurant visits. For the longest time I thought it was the fat and the salt of the french fries. Until one evening I discovered him dipping his french fry into the ketchup, sucking off the ketchup, and dipping it in again. "Moh ketchup pease!"

Turns out he is a ketchup (catsup? katsup?) fanatic. This year, we made him all of his favourite things for his birthday, including a delightful version of ketchup, adapted from a friend's recipe (who in turn pinched it from The River Cottage Cookbook):
6 lb coarsely chopped tomatoes
4 onions sliced
1 dried ancho chile, halved
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup cider vinegar
¼ tsp dry mustard
one cinnamon stick
1 ½ tsp whole allspice
1 ½ tsp whole cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 ½ tsp celery seeds
1 ½ tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves
pinch paprika
1 tsp cornstarch, mixed into 1 tbsp water
salt to taste
Mix the tomatoes, onions and dried ancho. Simmer all of that material until soft and gooey, about an hour. Push it through a coarse sieve, add in the sugar, vinegar and mustard. Tie the other spices into a nice cheesecloth pouch.

Toss the pouch into the pot of sieved tomato bits and simmer uncovered thirty minutes to an hour. Taste periodically, removing the pouch when it is spicy enough for your tastes. Continue to simmer until thickened. If necessary, use the 1 tsp cornstarch to thicken the ketchup. Cool, and serve with your typical ketchupy items (french fries, burgers, you name it).

The depth of flavour of this ketchup makes it a considerably more interesting condiment than your standard Heinz version. And it was close enough to the standard to delight our five year-old. Tasty.

14 February 2011

Happy birthday, Bbq Jr.

Birthday cake 2011

Once again, we're celebrating Bbq Jr's birthday. He's five today. Just like last year, I sat down with him and flipped through all the pictures of Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  We ooo'd and ahhhh'd over the beautiful cakes, and I was getting excited to be baking an exciting new cake.  I told him, "You can have any cake in here that doesn't have adult drinks in it."

Without any reminder of what I made him last year, my Valentine boy picked Rose's double-chocolate Valentine cake.  "I want the same one as last year!"

Happy birthday, son.  And happy Valentine's Day to the rest of you.

10 February 2011

Sushi Kaito

The first time I stepped into Sushi Kaito, it was nearly empty. Given their reputation, that was a bit of a surprise. We were delighted to be able to sit at the bar. We had heard that omakase was the way to go. When we asked for that, Kazuo-san said, "I can't do that for you. I don't know you. I don't know what you like."*

No menu, no sake list, you order based on what you see and what you like.

We started off with the live scallop, which he showed to us, still healthy in its shell. Shaved thin, it had a sweet flavour. And the outside of the scallop peeled off and fried. Perfect. With that, Kazuo-san asked, "What do you *not* like?" Me: "Nothing." My wife: "Eel".  "Then I will serve you eel tempura." This guy has cajones. His second dish is something we've just claimed we don't like. The tempura was sweet and clean. Perfect texture, perfect flavour. While we were eating it, he explained, "Most places use frozen eel. I have fresh eel. That's why I serve it with the spine, to show you I bought it fresh." The spine had been deep-fried. It was crunchy and delicious. Delicious. To say that I'm surprised that eel spine was delicious... Well, I'll say it, you need to eat some eel spine. As soon as you possibly can.

What followed was the most amazing sushi meal of my life. Kampache. Crunchy, spicy roll (which might just be the best thing I've ever had in my mouth). The strong-flavoured mackerel (saba in Japanese). Dish after dish surprised and delighted.

The sushi at Kaito isn't just great by San Diego standards, this is great sushi by any standard. I've been spoiled for other places.

*these aren't exact quotes, but paraphrasing written as quotes for dramatic effect.

Sushi Kaito
130-A North El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 634-2746
Mon-Sat: 5 pm - close

View Larger Map

08 February 2011

White sandwich buns

The last few months I've been rather enamoured of the no-knead bread of Jim Lahey. It's almost the only bread I bother with. While it requires a bit of fore-planning, it's delicious.  And low effort. But there are other ways to make bread. Today, I bring you my new favourite sandwich bun, altered from Crust and Crumb.

To start, we make the biga. A biga is basically just a pre-fermented bit of dough that gives a boost to the growth of yeast in the bread, and provides slightly different flavours than a younger fermentation. So, for the biga:
2 16 cup (10 oz) bread flour
¾ cup water
1 tsp yeast
Mix the flour, water and yeast.

white sandwich rolls

Let sit, covered, for three to four hours.

white sandwich rolls

Now, retard the biga in the fridge for zero to twelve hours. Basically, by chilling the yeast, you're making it do different things metabolically, which will in turn make the yeast piss different combinations of lactic acid and ethanol into the dough. It results in a richer-flavoured bread. So you don't *have* to retard the dough, but it'll be better if you do.

After retarding the biga, mix it with:
3 ½ cup (16 oz) bread flour
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 ¼ tsp yeast
¾ cup milk at room temperature
½ cup softened unsalted butter
Knead for tenish minutes, until the dough softens. I couldn't do this one in my mixer, it really wanted to climb out and get gear grease all over it. So knead by hand it is.

white sandwich rolls

Cover, and let rise 1-2 hours.

white sandwich rolls

Knead again, let rise again, 1-2 hours.

Split into rolls, and pinch and roll balls of dough, about half the size of your fist. Think small, they're gonna rise a bunch, and expand even more in the oven. Place rolls on a greased cookie sheet, this batch made me 14 rolls.

white sandwich rolls

Cover the rolls, and let rise 1-2 hours.

white sandwich rolls

After final rise, pre-heat oven at 350°F for about half an hour. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes, until they make a nice brown crust, and rebound to a light touch.

white sandwich rolls

Let cool. But not too long. These soft and delicious guys belong in something tasty like a pulled pork sandwich. Yum.

03 February 2011

Spice Station

Spice station

Clearly, I've been traveling more than cooking lately. But I've been finding some cool places in my travels. In Silver Lake in Los Angeles is a several block stretch of funky comic shops and our favourite coffee shop - Intelligentsia (can you believe I've never written about Intelligentsia? That will have to get remedied). On our most recent visit, we found a parking spot a couple blocks away, and pulled up in front of a bright blue and orange sign proclaiming "Spice Station". Well, you know I had to go in there.

This is a neat little spice and tea store. This is a place you can wander around and sniff the the individual containers, before requesting your order to be doled out in the back. I walked out of there with a bright red Turkish pepper called Marash.

Marash pepper

With a bright, spicy smell, I'm sure this is going to be fun as part of a beef or pork rub. I also picked up urfa biber, another Turkish pepper with a smoky smell.

Urfa biber

Both of these are new discoveries for me, and Spice Station lets you discover all kinds of spices, in easy open and sniff bottles. What fun. If that's your thing, they also have a website where you can shop, but really the best part of this place is that you can sniff each spice before you buy.

Spice list

Visit them in Silver Lake.

3819 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Open Mon, Wed, Thur and Fri 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sun noon to 5 p.m.

View Larger Map

01 February 2011

Lucky Seafood

Lucky Seafood

San Diego has a large number of very high quality grocers, of varying ethnicities and types. There are loads of food blogs that review restaurants, and even a fair number that write about San Diego restaurants. My interests center around home cooking - so let's see if we can't stir up something a little original here. I bring you: SAN. DIEGO. GROCERY. STORES! (read that slowly in a deep, loud voice for the full effect)

I drove by Lucky Seafood a lot of times before I finally set foot inside. First off, the outside of the store looks a little grungy, and really, hygiene is key when looking for a fish place. But turns out, Lucky Seafood is not a fish place. Sure, they sell fish here, but it's a small counter in the back.

Fish counter

It's really a general purpose grocery store, with a focus on Vietnamese items. This is my go to place for pork necks and chicken feet (staples for making ramen), both available for cheap in large supply. Indeed, the meat counter has all kinds of cheap cuts, and is a fabulous place to get pork butt.  I'll be picking one up this week for a batch of pulled pork sandwiches for the Superbowl this weekend.

Meat counter

The produce here is crazily inexpensive, and includes the various Asian greens and many Asian herbs. Every time we visit, the produce is in great shape, which to me means that they are good at keeping on top of things.

While many of them are pre-packaged forcing you to buy five thousand little Thai chiles, given that they sell for $1.82, it's really hard to complain. And when have you ever seen veggies that looked so good under plastic? Yum.

Thai eggplant

A nice selection of lovely canned goods adorn the aisles, from bamboo shoots to baby corn, load the shelves.  In addition, a small selection of Asian cooking implements are tucked in the back, and a whole row of various Asian liquors are across the front of the store.

Assorted canned goods

And while I haven't the faintest clue what pickled lotus rootlets are for, I kinda want to find out...

Assorted canned goods

These days, Lucky Seafood is one of our favourite Asian markets in the city, partly due to its proximity to our own home, but also given the cost, quality of the meat and veggies and the lack of dense, angry crowds found at other markets in the city, we go here a lot.

This is an excellent, local Asian small grocer.

Lucky Seafood
9326 Mira Mesa Boulevard, San Diego, CA
(858) 586-7979 ‎
Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day

View Larger Map