Taco Time with Matt and PK

Al pastor features prominently on their trailer. That's NOT Matt or PK in that picture though

Exactly one week ago, I found myself flying to the Bay Area in order to enjoy the annual Chinese New Year potluck feast (more on that in a future post) with family and friends at Cheryl and Cam’s house .   Now,  let me ask you this. What is the best way to whet one’s appetite for the mountain of food that accompanies any Chinese New Year celebration?  Why, tacos, of course!  Fortunately it’s become somewhat of a tradition that whenever I fly into Oakland, if Matt or PK is picking me up, the first thing we do is head over to International Boulevard, home to numerous taco trucks, where we gorge ourselves on tacos.  In this case, we headed to Tacos El Gordo #2 (don’t know where #1 is, but I’m glad to know there are two).    According to Matt (and the picture on the side of their trailer)  it’s known for it’s al pastor (marinated, slow spit-roasted pork) which because of it’s spicy seasoning and roasted crunchy bits has always been one of my favorite meats of tacos, burritos or tortas.  But equally delicious at Tacos El Gordo are the suadero, cabeza and (Mexican) chorizo.  But don’t just believe these written words.  Watch the following video because seeing is believing.


Lahmacun and Sarmale

This past weekend found us taking a culinary trip from Turkey to Romania all from the comfort of our own kitchen.

Saturday Night = Turkey Night

As is often the case, Shefali suggested and I executed.  In this case, she suggested that  I make lahmacun, a flat bread “pizza” with a topping of ground meat  and spices for a potluck party we were attending on Saturday night,.  Now depending on whom you talk to, lahmacun (pronounced: lah-ma-joon) is either of Turkish or Armenian origins.  I don’t  want to get into the particular complications of the conflicted relationship between Turkey and it’s Armenian citizens, but one thing they do share in common is this delicious savory snack/meal (I say “meal” because because once you try it, you might not be able to refrain from eating just a snack like portion).  You can also find lahmacun in Lebanese and Syrian restaurants and bakeries.  I consulted a couple recipes for inspiration: a Saveur Magazine recipe and a recipe from a Turkish cook book by Özcan Ozan, the chef owner of The Sultan’s Kitchen, a Turkish restaurant in Boston.  Then I just kind of did my own thing.  Again proving the versatility of the sourdough starter, I used the sourdough for which I was originally intending to make baguettes and then re-purposed for the flat bread.  It added a nice extra tang and chewiness. Here’s what the lahmacun looked like:

uncooked lahamcun - basically spicy meat paste spread over dough

after baking for about 10 minutes at 475 degrees F. Smelled just like Turkey! In other words, it smelled deliciously of spiced savory lamb

Lamahcun waiting station. Packing them up for the poluck.

Sunday Night = Romania Night

A fun game that we often play in our house is naked twister. But when we get bored of that we play another game called “what the hell should we do with all this cabbage in our fridge?” And fortunately our CSA gives us ample opportunity to play this game.  Case in point, our last pick up we got three different types of cabbage: a red cabbage with which I made my patented cole slaw, a napa cabbage for which I already assigned supporting role duty in Shanghai chow mein.  That left me with one more head of cabbage, an arrowhead cabbage (?) that I had to figure out how to cook.  Solution: sarmale, or Romanian style stuffed cabbage.  I’m dating myself here, but I first sampled sarmale in Romania when I was shooting a “documentary” about the origins of Dracula and vampires,  which served as bonus material  on the DVD release of one of the finest movies ever made: Underworld – yeah that vampires v. werewolves movie staring Kate Beckinsale. Well, at least it got me to Romania where I remember the food being really, hearty, rustic (raw bacon? yes please) and delicious.   Case in point: the stuffed cabbage dish called sarmale.  Stuffing cabbage with meat and other ingredients is not unique to Romania.   According to Wikipedia, sarma as it is also called has it’s origins in the Ottoman Empire which makes complete sense if you consider all the the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have stuffed cabbage.  They were all under the influence directly or indirectly (or just by proximity) to the Ottoman Empire.  Isn’t history cool?  Anyway, I consulted a number of recipes on the web and basically incorporated a bunch of them to suit my needs and capabilities.  Some recipes called for using sauerkraut which I didn’t have, so I blanched the cabbage leaves in water and vinegar before using them to wrap the meat mixture ( a combination of ground pork, lamb and beef mixed with rice, spices, onions, garlic and celery).  The end result? Delicios! (uh, that’s Romanian for “delicious”)

Sarmale - cabbage is stuffed and ready to be cooked

Sarmale in the pot and simmered slowly in broth and a bit of tomato paste

The sarmale after cooking in the oven for about an hour at about 350?.

We cooked for our friends Ben and Maria visiting from out of town. Ben, who's Jewish said the sarmale reminde him of food his mom cooks. Mission accomplished. I always knew I'd make a great Jewish mother.


Kei and Minori’s Katsu Curry!

And now, get ready for something completely delicious. Minori and Kei cook up a batch of Japanese comfort food: Japanese curry and tonkatsu (katsu- for short). And even if you’ve never had katsu curry (I am saddened by the culinary poverty you have experienced up until this point) you will be comforted by the rich and thick gravy  of Japanese curry and the crisp succulent bite of the deep fried pork cutlet. Alright, let’s get down to business. Click on the photo below for the full recipes and amazing cooking videos.

Kei and Minori - drunk on goodness


C’s Beef Stew!

Fall has fallen and that means one thing: the stinky poo smell of gingko fruit as they fall on the sidewalks and get all caught up in the treads of your shoes. On the bright side, you can come home and fill your stomach with rich beef stew. But first of all you have to cook it and I’m happy to show you how.  Click on the photo below for my personal recipe. Believe me, it smells a whole lot better than gingko fruit.

So beefy, so good.


Dumpling House

This past Saturday after Cantonese class, Waine and I made our ritual pilgrimage for some food. We’d had pho the week before and Northern style Chinese hand pulled noodles the week before that, so I wasn’t really feeling the noodles. One word: dumplings. So we headed to the logical stop a couple blocks from our class, the aptly named Dumpling House a well known haunt of Chinatown locals and hipsters alike. It was by no means the first time we’d been to this place but I thought I would take the opportunity to make it the first stop on the newly inaugurated Dumpling Review Page. Check out the full review.