Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I've been on a teriyaki kick lately. My basic recipe for teriyaki sauce is the one that Hiroko Shimbo gives in her book The Japanese Kitchen. Of course, you can find teriyaki sauces with all manner of ingredients in the aisles of your local supermarket, but Shimbo's more traditional version only uses shoyu, mirin, sake and sugar. Using her amounts of 1/2 a cup of mirin, 1/4 a cup each of shoyu and sake, and two tablespoons of sugar gives enough of a yield for two separate teriyaki entrees, but you could also make your own desired amount simply by using two parts mirin, one part each shoyu and sake, and sugar to taste. The ingredients are simmered together: first the mirin and sake over low to medium heat, then the shoyu and sugar are added. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, then continue to simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes. It's important to use drinking sake in this recipe, since the salt in cooking sake will throw off the flavor. I also prefer to use a dry sake in this sauce, since the combination of the mirin and the sugar makes it very sweet. A sweet sake style would be overkill.

You can use this as a simple sauce to dress some meat (as I did with a baked salmon steak the other night), but Shimbo's own teriyaki recipe pan-fries chicken in the sauce (with some orange juice). I ended up adapting her recipe for a small steak (since the steak came out of the freezer, I don't remember what cut it was, but it was probably something in the top blade vicinity). I pan-seared the steak in some oil over medium-high heat, then added the sauce. The sauce bubbled up at first, so I reduced the heat and basted the meat with it; I also turned the steak a few times. Ideally, one would remove the steak and let it rest while the sauce sopped up the fond, but I was feeling too lazy for that step.

When I cut into the meat to check its doneness, it was rarer than I wanted, so I solved that problem by the inelegant but effective expedient of slicing the steak, then turning the meat over in the sauce till it cooked through some more. It would have been ideal to serve this over rice, but since I didn't, I used the leftover teriyaki sauce (now augmented with beef juices and fond) over some udon noodles the following day. My pan-searing technique obviously needs more practice, but this is pretty simple, a nice way to make a special treat for a weeknight (especially if you have already made a batch of the sauce; it'll keep for about a week in the fridge).

I used the second half of that batch of teriyaki sauce for chicken a few nights later; I just simmered some chicken thighs in the sauce, turning them until they were done. Even though these were skinless chicken thighs, by the time they were done they were nicely glazed from the sauce. I can only imagine how good skin-on chicken thighs would look! The next time I do this I'll probably cut the chicken into more consistently-sized pieces so they cook more evenly. Other than that, I really can't complain.

You also can use this teriyaki sauce recipe as a base for for your own variation on the theme. Those bottles in the store can look awfully tempting sometimes, but I think it's more fun (not to mention cheaper) to make your own.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Five Guys

The Fourth of July found me (along with The Lurker and Perfect Tommy) wandering the wilds of Cape May County in search of rare birds. We didn't find any, but had a nice day out all the same, and didn't even hit an unreasonable amount of traffic (kind of astonishing, considering it was a holiday weekend).

We had lunch at the Five Guys in Rio Grande, NJ. As we were looking for a likely lunch pick, I at first didn't understand why my companions seemed so eager to stop at what sounded like an auto supply store. Once inside, Five Guys' true identity as a burger joint was revealed.

I had a regular burger, not realizing that meant I was getting two beef patties instead of one. My chosen toppings were just lettuce and tomato, and of course I got fries. It ended up costing a bit more than I had expected for "fast food," but at this point I was in "investigate new dining option mode," so it didn't matter. The potatoes that made our fries came from Driggs, Idaho, county seat for Teton County (thank Yog-Sothoth for the internet!).

It seemed odd that everything was served in a paper bag, even though we were eating in, but I just ripped open the bag and tucked in. Fries in a styrofoam cup: also odd. But after the first fry, I didn't care. The burger patties were clearly hand-shaped (rustically irregular) but very juicy. When I discovered Five Guys cooks all of its burgers well-done, I was shocked because I don't think I've ever met a juicy well-done burger before. The lettuce and  tomatoes were pretty standard-issue, but very crisp and fresh. And the fries, the fries...it was a good burger but the fries were phenomenal. Crisp, fresh, unskinned, salty but not too salty, piping hot...they were the best french fries I've had in a long time.

After the fact, I came home and searched for posts about Five Guys on the Chowhound boards. I didn't read them all, but there were a ton of them, divided between Five Guys lovers and haters. I should have guessed as much, I suppose; for every good review of a given restaurant, there's a bad one (or vice versa). At least, it seems that way when one trolls for restaurant reviews on the internet.

RIP Tom Yum Goong

Just a quick note to mark the passing of Princeton's Tom Yum Goong, which burned down the other day (NJ Spice post here). I ate at Tom Yum Goong earlier this year with Lala, Phil and The Sherpa, and we had a wonderful Thai meal. I didn't take notes on what we had, but all the food was top-notch, the atmosphere was good and the service was good as well (some posts on Chowhound had noted odd timing in the arrival of dishes). I was looking forward to going back, but now it remains to be seen if they will rebuild or not.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Field trip: Great Wall Supermarket

I'm spoiled since I have a good Asian market near where I live (Asian Food Market in Plainsboro), but there are other Asian markets in the central Jersey area. Today, on a whim, I decided to cruise up Rt. 27 to Great Wall Supermarket in Franklin Park, along one of the mall-ier stretches of the Lincoln Highway. I knew (since I was going to be there on a Saturday morning), that it was likely to be crowded, but did not let that dissuade me, since there are a number of items that the local Asian market has stopped carrying, and I was hoping to find an alternate source (short of going the internet route).

For starters, Great Wall was bigger, much bigger than my local market, the size of a great big supermarket like Superfresh or Stop and Shop (or, indeed, McCaffrey's in West Windsor). Being bigger, it was also jammed with way more people. The checkout line moved surprisingly quickly, however. It was pretty overwhelming, though, and since the layout was different than the local market's, I probably missed some things. Most notably, the local market has specialty sections for Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino and Indian food items, while Great Wall does not break these items out the same way (so, rather than looking for Japanese shoyu in the Japanese aisle, you need to find the Japanese section of the general "seasonings" aisle). It was kind of like visiting a parallel universe where nothing is quite where you expect it to be, but that's more a factor of how imprinted I am on the local market than Great Wall's fault. I also didn't notice any specifically Indian ingredients at Great Wall (such as Maya spices, which I'm used to seeing at the local Asian market, which is next door to a little Indian grocery store).

Digression: it turns out that that little Indian grocery store, Desi Corner, had its moment of blogging stardom in this post from John and Lisa Are Eating in South Jersey.

I'll need to go back during a less crowded time to explore in a more leisurely fashion, but I found some Lan Chi sauces (which the local market no longer stocks) and Mizkan honteri mirin (my latest attempt at satisfying my mirin cooking needs without buying aji-mirin or sugaring up some drinking sake). On the other hand, I found no yuzu juice, nor Shirakata-Denshiro Soten tea (and, although I got Lan Chi's Soy Bean Sauce with Chilli, their Barbecue Sauce was nowhere to be found). The lunch counter looked intriguing (it even had an eat-in section with seating), but that will have to wait for another visit. I picked up a couple of pounds of pork shoulder that was absurdly cheap and threw it into the freezer when I got home. I also got a big hunk of ginger root, some fresh mushrooms and some Bull-Dog Worcestershire sauce (since I've been thinking that it's about time to check out the Bull-Dog mystique: heck, you can even be their fan on Facebook!).

Also noted for future reference were Pho 99 (NJ SPICE review), in the same mall as Great Wall, and a little roadside burrito joint on the west side of Rt. 1 south of New Rd.

Here are some Yelp reviews (none by me) of the Asian markets mentioned in this post: 

Great Wall in Franklin Park here.
Plainsboro Asian Food Market here.

Plus Great Wall (in Chinese) and Asian Food Market's own sites (both are chains).

Friday, July 03, 2009

Summer vacation?

It's a weird thing about being a grad student; you get out of school for the summer and then discover that you need to catch up on all of the things you didn't do over the school year. Like food blogging!

Our story so far...well, you can read the rest of the blog for that. I love cooking Asian food. When I started this blog, I had a lot to learn about that. Now, I still have a lot to learn (since I did not grow up with this food being cooked in my own house), but there is a range of dishes from various Asian cuisines that have become easy for me to cook. In the meantime, I've branched out and started exploring various western cuisines. Also in the meantime, the food blogging community has grown by leaps and bounds and I despair of ever being able to keep up with it the way I did (geezer alert) back in 2004.

That is, when I have time to cook. Temping a full-time job and studying for classes on the side makes a pretty grueling schedule, even without the inevitable chores or need for some sleep. It is all too easy to go for easy food, both in the office and at school. If I had my druthers, I'd prefer to take my time making some good home-cooked food, but such a busy schedule puts a premium on time, too. So the good food gets shut out more often than I would like.

A day in the life: I'm making Chinese chicken stock today, since I've accumulated a good batch of chicken bones from a master sauce chicken (along with some chicken backs from the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers market). Today is a day off, so I have the luxury of relaxing and catching up on non-work things. My garden is full of sweet basil plants from a local farm, along with a patio tomato plant, some lettuce, rosemary, and the apple mint and spearmint that have been with me from day one of this blog, almost. I've been in a salad mood lately; just romaine and tomatoes from the supermarket with some low-fat ginger dressing from a  company whose face is a recently-deceased movie star. I love this dressing, which I discovered while having dinner with The Cruise Director and The Fireman recently. It is almost as gingery and sharp as the wonderful dressing I used to get at Dosanko in Midtown NYC, though it is brown, not the day-glo orange of the Dosanko dressing.

I'll leave you with a couple of items I've noticed today: a great idea to use leftover pasta sauce to make bruschetta from Tigers and Strawberries, and a warning about a major outbreak of late blight that I found via Bug Girl on Twitter.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cooking disaster: fresh lo mein noodles

It's a long story, a long and incoherent story. You really don't need to know all of it. Suffice it to say, last night I tried cooking a dish with fresh lo mein noodles. The dish, coincidentally enough, was pork lo mein.

My main problem, probably, was that I've never cooked with fresh pasta before (though I love pasta and cook it often). Having obtained a likely-looking package of noodles labeled lo mein from the refrigerator case of the Asian supermarket, I proceeded to treat them as I would any package of dried noodles: toss into boiling water and move on with the rest of the dish.

What went into the boiling water was a chunk of relatively firm, brownish, thin noodles. What came out was something akin to an omelette gone horribly wrong; eggy, sticky, with threads of (I guess egg) that brought mozzarella cheese to mind. Not good. Very not good. Not in flavor, so much, but in consistency.

I tried to delude myself that if I had spritzed the noodles with cold water while they were sitting in the colander, all would be well. As I worked on the leftovers today at lunch, I became more skeptical about that. The pork was good (if still a little tough, but that's another post). The shiitake mushrooms and scallions were good (though maybe I'd been a little too enthusiastic on the amount of the scallions). But the gluey disaster that had been the noodles kept giving. Not inedible, just very sticky and not what one would expect from any stripe of pasta or noodles.

Clearly, working with fresh pasta (should I attempt to do it again) will be a work in progress.