Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In the Kitchen: Mini Tour of Tea

Here’s another demo for you all. This is on one of my favorite topics—tea.

I have to warn you all that I feel I’m especially dorky in this video. I’m a low-budget operation here, so basically I’m working with no script, very little prep, and bad lighting. I mean, this is how it usually goes when I want to do a video:

1) Think of topic, look to see if I have the ingredients
2) Change clothes to look presentable. (Usually picking a favorite T-shirt.)
3) Set up tripod. Press record on my digital camera.
4) Press stop on my digital camera. Erase. Repeat about 5 times per segment.

I find that when I don’t have a script, I end up repeating myself or saying certain words again and again. (In this clip, see how many times I say “basically” and “enjoy.”) But because, again, I have no budget, I can’t afford to spend too much time perfecting these videos.

OK, so I bet you’re all dying to see it now, huh?

I’m not a coffee drinker, so I get my caffeine from tea. I’ve only been drinking tea for the last 10 years of my life, but I drink it virtually every day. Sometimes in the afternoon at work and definitely as a sweetened iced tea with my dinner. I buy a variety of premium tea brands, so the taste and quality are always near perfection.

Oh, I talk on the video briefly about tea bags. I don’t use them, except as a convenience factor at work. I didn’t have a sample to show in the video at the time, but below is a photo of a premium tea bag. A sign of premium tea bags (other than the high price tag) is the fine mesh used and the extra space in the bags to allow for the leaves to unfurl when seeping. You should also get tea bags where the content actually looks like leaves instead of ground spices (which typically means it’s just the leftover tea bits after they placed the full leaves into packages).

OK, enjoy the show. (And please, turn off your cellphones.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I've Turned Into My Mom

My mom lives in Hawaii and for years she’s been bugging me to make myself soup. She’s a firm believer in the fresh nutrients of homemade soup. I always tell her I’m just one person and I can hardly drink all the soup she typically makes in her large pot. But as some of you know, I’m now a big soup person after I got a hand blender for Christmas.

I’ve also become a bit like my mom because I like to make my soup to share. My mom makes soup almost every week, and she’ll often give a pot to my younger brother and his family. Here in the Bay Area, it’s been rainy so a lot of people have been catching the cold (or some nasty virus). When my friend Vera got sick recently, I came up with this homemade chicken soup to help her feel better.

I packed it with ingredients that would boost her immune system or help in her recovery: chicken (for protein, or course), onion (Vitamin A), garlic (Vitamin A and a decongestant), carrots (beta carotene for the immune system), parsnip (Vitamin C and folate, but mostly for the aroma), and tomato (lycopene for the immune system). Besides the nutrients, soup helps you stay hydrated. (When they say drink lots of liquids, it’s not just water. Soup counts.)

What’s also different about my soup than traditional chicken soup is that I puree all the ingredients (except the chicken) because I believe that when you’re sick, you’re too tired to even chew. I also think that if someone’s going to chuck my soup out from her stomach, I don’t want to be seeing all sorts of bits and pieces. (I know, TMI.)

This soup recipe is also the rare instance where I make the broth from scratch instead of using canned chicken broth. I just feel that if you want to make yourself or a friend feel better, do it right and make sure everything is done fresh and clean. I don’t want to be blamed for making someone feel sicker.

Writing this post reminds me of an essay I wrote several years ago when I was working for the San Jose Mercury News. A friend in the lifestyle section asked if I wanted to write something for cold season and I wrote a first-person essay about how it sucks to be sick when single because people are too busy these days to come by with chicken soup. When the essay came out, a couple of people at work were nice enough to come up to me and tell me they’d bring me soup if I got sick. But surprisingly, I had more negative responses from readers. One woman called me, told me I was a whiner, and promptly hung up. Another guy emailed me and asked if I ever went and gave my friends chicken soup when they were sick. I felt spurned by society when all I wanted was some chicken soup, and maybe some comfort.

Sigh. Anywho, I make this soup now for myself to keep myself healthy so I can avoid getting a cold. Try it for yourself, or make it for your sick single friend.

Cold-Fighting Chicken Soup

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy


6 oz. chicken pieces (preferably one breast and thigh with bone, skinless)
2 large carrots, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 tomato, sliced into cubes
1 sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
5 cups water
salt and pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken pieces and set aside. In a large saucepan or pot, warm olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute until translucent but not brown. About 2 minutes. Add chicken thighs and lightly brown both sides (about 2 minutes for each side). Add water, carrots and parsnip, then cover and bring to a boil, immediately reducing to a low simmer. This is when you’ll also have to skim off the “foam” with a large spoon. (The foam actually looks like grayish bits floating to the top.)

Continue simmering your broth for about 35 to 45 minutes until chicken is tender and pulls easily from bone. Remove the chicken meat and bone from your pot and discard the bones. Shred your chicken meat into pieces with a fork and set aside.

Add the tomato to your broth and continue simmering for another 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pot from stove and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Then skim off excess fat floating on the top.

With hand blender, puree ingredients into a silky soup. (You can also place small batches into your blender.*) Add salt to taste. Return chicken pieces to soup and serve warm.

Makes 2 to 3 servings. Garnish with cilantro (optional).

* Do not place hot liquid in blender. Let the stock cool first. And never fill blender or food processor by more than half.

TIP: Skimming the fat can be tiring, especially if you cook the chicken with the skin still on. If you have a lot of time, you can refrigerate your cooked broth overnight. The fat will gel into pieces on top that’ll make it easier for you to skim the fat the next day. Once you’ve removed the fat, warm the soup, puree it, and then add the chicken pieces before serving.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Travel Dish: Pho 24 (Vietnam)

This is the ninth in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.The Starbucks of Pho Honors a Classic
Various locations
Saigon/HCMC, Hanoi, Hue and Danang
Web site

One of the first Vietnamese dishes I ate when living in Honolulu was the tasty pho. I became a quick fan of this light-but-rich broth combined with thin rice noodles and equally thin slices of meat.

So when I visited Vietnam, I was excited to taste pho in its authentic surroundings. Pho, a common breakfast meal, is often eaten by the Vietnamese people from a sidewalk vendor. It’s common to see men and women crouched over a big bowl of pho while sitting on small plastic chairs. Pho sellers would deliver bowls of their precious soup on trays to workers nearby. (I even had pho offered in my breakfast buffet at my hotel.)

Some of you already know from reading my earlier posts about Vietnam that I was a wimp when it came to the heat and humidity of Saigon/HCMC. I rarely ate on the street because of this. So when I had a craving for a warm bowl of pho but didn’t want to sweat off any more weight, I popped into any one of the many Pho 24 restaurants around town.

Started in 2003 in Saigon, Pho 24 has upped the ante on this soup classic. Opening clean, air-conditioned noodle shops selling a variety of pho, Pho 24 has become the Starbucks of Vietnamese soup noodles. Today, there are more than 40 of the green-and-yellow storefronts throughout Vietnam, with plans to open them in the Philippines and Indonesia.

While some might smirk at the commercialism of this traditional Vietnamese dish, Pho 24 provides a consistency and high level of service that makes this country’s first pho chain more than just another fast-food restaurant. The broth is just as good as those from street vendors, and you get the added bonus of an air-conditioned setting. Sure, you pay a bit more than what you’d pay on the street, but I say it’s worth it.

Pho 24 has saved me many times when I came back from a long day of sight-seeing and needed a quick dinner without the fuss. Or times when I got lost in a neighborhood not knowing where to go to eat. I always knew that if I saw the green-and-yellow Pho 24 sign, I could count on a good bowl of pho to satisfy my hunger. (And they seemed like they were literally everywhere. There were two about 10 minutes away from my hotel in opposite directions.)

Pho 24 says it got its name because of the 24 ingredients used in the broth and the 24 hours it takes to make it. I don’t know if this is actually true or just a very smart marketing position, but the broth definitely taste fresh and home-made. Is it different than the level of broth at some pho joints in the Bay Area? No, both are equally well done. I found that the difference often lies in the herbs used to add to your pho.

In the United States, you get your basic thai basil, lime wedges, jalepeno and bean sprouts. In Vietnam, you see a lot more variety of herbs, including pandan leaves and taro strips. The combination creates a freshness that makes you forget about the 90-degree heat outside.

At Pho 24, you can order other extras to add to your pho (the basic beef pho sells for D24,000 or $1.50). Probably a reflection of its fast-food format, it also offers special combos such as a pho-beer-spring rolls meal for D60,000 (or $3.75). While I was there, the chain also launched a new “supersized” pho called the pho to lon (a large bowl with extra noodles) for D39,000 (or $2.45).

Another feature at Pho 24 that you won’t find on the street is a smoothie bar where you can order delicious cool drinks (I had the papaya smoothie, yum!) to go with your pho. They also offer desserts, but I didn’t really try any of them since I was more interested in the pho.

The service was also consistently friendly in my various visits to different locations. Once, the noodle chef took a break from his soup station and walked by my table to point out all the various condiments I could add to enhance my pho experience. But really, with good clean broth you don’t need much to have a great meal.

Pho 24’s popularity, even among local Vietnamese, is spawning copycats such as Pho 5 and others, some even copying Pho 24’s logo and look. Who knew so much fuss could be made about a simple street food?
Single guy rating: 3 stars (perfect for foodies looking for comfort)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Postscript Saigon: Playing Chicken Crossing the Street

If you’re planning a trip to Saigon/HCMC, you’ll often read in guidebooks and hear from tour guides about the horror of crossing the streets in the city. With the multitude of motorbikes buzzing around, you rarely get a chance to cross the street safely. So what do you do? Everyone recommends blind faith: basically it’s like closing your eyes and walking at a steady pace hoping others will skirt around you.

I found crossing the street more like playing a game of Asteroids. I was the moving battleship avoiding bombs coming at me from the bad guys. (The motorbikes were the bombs hurling toward me.) So I crossed the street whenever I saw a pattern of opening in the flow of motorbikes.

But it’s not always this frenetic. More streets corners are installing traffic signals. And while it’s still taking a few Vietnamese people some time to learn to follow the traffic lights, more and more are beginning to stop at red. So when you see a mass of motorbikes stopping, then you know that’s your chance to cross. Some intersections in the tourist areas are manned by “traffic escorts” who will take a skittish tourist or group of tourists across the street while holding up his hand to stop traffic. And you thought New York streets were crazy?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Travel Dish: Temple Club (Vietnam)

This is the eighth in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.Transport Yourself to Old Colonial Vietnam
29-31 Ton That Thiep, District 1
PH: (84.8) 829.9244
Major credit cards accepted; 10% service charge

If you ever want to feel like the Imperial Foreigner when visiting Vietnam, just walk the tiny street of Ton That Thiep that boasts the trendiest block in Saigon. A handful of fancy galleries and furniture stores (which list prices for all their products for sale in U.S. dollars) fill just one block of this short street not too far from the major hotels.

The street’s anchor and star of all that is trendy is the Temple Club, a fine dining restaurant and bar. (It’s situated right across from a Hindu temple, but I’m not sure if that was the inspiration for the name.) The Temple Club is popular among tourists and expats, and last November played host to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who were passing through from Cambodia. (Turns out the famous stars/parents were actually visiting Vietnam to find their next international adoptee, according to latest news reports.)

Situated in an old Colonial building painted burnt yellow outside, the Temple Club transports you to the days when Vietnam was part of Indochine, the French colonial empire of Southeast Asia. The exposed brick walls frame the stylish décor of lacquered wood, faint paintings and colorful lamp shades. Even the silverware was a brushed antique metal that weighed heavily on my California liberal guilt.

It was clear that the Temple Club, with its white table cloths and impeccably dressed servers, would be one of my more expensive dinners in Saigon. Most entrees ranged from D80,000 to D125,000 ($5-$7.80), which was often the total cost of dinner at other places I visited earlier in my trip.

Seated in the enclosed patio overlooking Ton That Thiep, I started my evening with the Young Lotus Stems with Prawns and Pork salad. It had the ubiquitous light fish sauce dressing found on most salads. The lotus stems were light and crisp, like thinly sliced young celery hearts. The nice-sized salad was rounded off with peanuts, prawns, pressed pork, carrots and herbs.
For my main course, I ordered the Bac Po Style Grilled Pork and a side of Steamed Young Cabbage Cholon Style. Now, for a restaurant that caters to tourists, several of the servers had difficulty with the English language. They can understand your orders, but had difficulty taking it a step further if you wanted an explanation of a particular dish. This is why I didn’t really know what to expect with the Bac Po-style pork. (I later learned that Bac Po is the Northern region of Vietnam.)

The grilled pork turned out to be tiny spareribs that were tasty but a bit tough to eat. Still, the sauce carried the essence of star anise and lemongrass in a caramelized sauce. My side of vegetables was a simple dish of baby mustard greens with oyster sauce.
For dessert, the Temple Club offers several typical items like crème brulee and sweet soups. I was tempted by the Homemade Hue Cake with Secret Sauce. (My server nodded in agreement when I ordered it.) Hue is a region in central Vietnam that’s known for its fine cuisine, so I wanted to see what this dessert was all about.

The cake was made from sticky rice flour. Because of that, it was dense but warm and sweet. The “secret sauce” was a pale green puree that had a mild flavor, bordering on being bland. My guess was mung bean.

Overall, it was an elegant evening filled with people watching and tasty morsels. My total bill (including a couple of drinks and a 10 percent service charge for gratuity—the highest fee I experienced at any Vietnamese restaurant) was D396,000 (or $25). If you feel that’s a lot to spend on one dinner in Saigon, then you should at least go to the Temple Club for a drink. It’s definitely a place to capture the romance of Saigon’s past in a modern setting.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (perfect for foodie travelers with an expense account)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Postscript Saigon: Not Colonial, but a Colonel
Traveling as an American, I’ve come to learn that capitalism reaches out to all parts of the world, even in communist states like Vietnam. Whether it’s the golden arches or Starbucks, you can’t escape American consumerism.

In Saigon, I discovered that the favorite American import is the Colonel. Of all the various fast-food joints around town, it’s KFC that seems to be popular with the locals. (I think I maybe saw just one McDonald’s compared to the many KFCs.) Even in this country troubled by the Avian bird flu, people were still willing to buy a bucket of fried chicken with the Colonel’s secret recipe.

I never resorted to eating at KFC (not that I’m against it since I do eat it back home now and then) so I can’t say how different it might be in Vietnam compared to the states. But a tourist I met from Canada raved about how the chicken was more succulent than what she experienced back home. For me, I’d rather have pho.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

For Your Consideration: Babel

Here's my final post for planning that Oscar bash and I end it on a sweet note. (I mean the food is sweet, not the movie.) :) I looked at theme-food based on the five nominated movies for Best Picture and today we end with Babel, the 2007 version of Crash with an international spin.

Babel is my bet to take the Best Picture award, despite it's similar themes of race and prejudice with Crash. Still, I felt the movie is far superior than Crash, provoking more challenging inner issues set against current worldly fears. Above is a scene with one of the ensemble cast, Brad Pitt, who I felt should have been nominated for his role. It was a really different Pitt in this movie. Above, he breaks down silently as he talks to his young son back home in California who doesn't know that his mommy has just been shot and had to ordeal hours in a small Middle East village until finally getting help.

Inspired by Babel and the story line where Brad Pitt's nanny travels with the kids to Mexico for her son's wedding, below is a recipe for traditional Mexican Wedding Cakes or polvorones. These cakes (more like cookies) are so easy to make. It's also similar to what I knew growing up as Russian tea cakes. There were a variety of recipes on the Web, but I've found that many recipes on the Epicurious Web site seems to work well, so that's what I've posted below (with a few minor tweaks from me). Have a fun Oscar party!

Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

The following recipe is from and copyrighted by epicurious. The original recipe called for 1 cup of pecans, but I suggest a mix of pecans and walnuts.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 t vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely ground
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely ground

1/8 t ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans and walnuts. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Whisk remaining powdered sugar and cinnamon in pie dish or deep dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. (Singleguychef note: I thought this was too small so I made my balls about the width of a quarter. You know, size matters.) Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet.

Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared two days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)

Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Serve with spicy hot chocolate.

Friday, February 23, 2007

For Your Consideration: The Queen

Today's Oscar post features the elegant and quietly effective "The Queen." This movie focuses on the changing image of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as she deals with the public-private death of Princess Diana.

The film features the uncanny performance by presumptive Best Actress Helen Mirren. She may not have looked like the spitting image of Queen Elizabeth, but her mannerisms and projected image were spot on. Sometimes watching the movie I forgot it was an actress and actually felt I was watching the queen in action.

During the film, the queen gets upset whenever the new prime minister Tony Blair calls to bug her about something to do regarding Diana. Undoubtedly, it's during the time when she's ready to sit down for tea, that grand English afternoon tradition. So below I've put together two types of finger sandwiches that can be served at your Oscar party, for The Queen.

Photos courtesy of Miramax Films.

Finger Sandwiches Fit For a Queen

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

Cucumber Celery Sandwich

1 English cucumber, sliced paper thin (with skin still on)
1 stalk of celery, chopped into fine slices or bits
8 oz. cream cheese
½ cup of walnuts, chopped into bits
White bread

Salmon with Wasabi Cream Cheese

12 oz. salmon lox
8 oz. cream cheese
1 T wasabi powder
Wheat bread

For the two types of finger sandwiches above, start by preparing the cream cheese mixture. In one bowl, mix cream cheese with celery and walnut bits. Set aside.

In a second bowl, mix wasabi powder with a little bit of hot water (about 2 teaspoon) to create a paste. Wait about five minutes to let the wasabi flavor develop, then whisk in your second tub of cream cheese. Blend well and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the wasabi cream cheese to set, start work on your cucumber celery sandwiches. Spread a thin layer of the celery-walnut cream cheese on both slices of white bread. Place thinly cut cucumber slices in between and cut into small sandwiches.

When done with cucumber sandwiches, start on your salmon. Spread a thin layer of wasabi cream cheese on both slices of wheat bread and place salmon lox slices in between. If you have leftover cucumber slices from your cucumber sandwiches, you can place some of those slices with your salmon. Cut into small sandwiches.

Each recipe makes about 18 finger sandwiches. Serve with black tea such as Earl Grey.

TIP: I suggest two different types of bread for the two types of sandwiches above because I think it looks nice to have different colors on the plate. But you can use whatever type of bread you have available. As always, a proper finger sandwich does not include the crust. So after you’ve added your ingredients, slice away the edges and cut your sandwiches into small pieces. You can make triangles or rectangles; it’s up to you. Wipe your sharp knife on a damp kitchen towel in between slices to avoid smearing your cream cheese all over the place. Also, to make it easier for you to make a clean cut of your bread slices, put the bread in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

WHAT’S UP WASABI?: I’m a big fan of wasabi, especially with fish. But you need to decide how much is enough to get the message across without bringing your guests to tears. You can adjust the tablespoon I recommend above to your preference, either adding more or less wasabi powder. Test on a little bit of cream cheese first to determine your taste. Keep in mind that the wasabi intensity reduces after it’s been refrigerated for awhile. Also, you’re only spreading a thin layer onto the bread so you want enough of the wasabi to be detectable in small amounts.

NO SLICE LEFT UNSPREAD: I recommend that you place a thin layer of the spread on both slices of bread. That’s because the cream cheese will help keep you bread adhered to your main ingredient, whether it’s the cucumber slices or lox. In traditional finger sandwich recipes, some people spread a thin layer of butter to act as an adhering agent.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

For Your Consideration: The Departed

Continuing my special posts on what to serve for an Oscar bash, today I'm playing off the third nominated Best Picture nominee: The Departed. Set in Massachusetts and featuring homegrown actors Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon, this is the movie that many bet (or hope) will win director Martin Scorsese his first Academy Award.

Many people say Scorsese based the film on the extremely popular Hong Kong movie "Infernal Affairs." I didn't see Infernal Affairs, but I can see a lot of Asian cop movie influences in The Departed. Most of it is the continuous onslaught of assassinations that take place in the final quarter of the movie.

But focusing on a better note, the movie drips of New England, in the accent of Wahlberg (and an attempt by Alec Baldwin) and the Irish-influences in the men in blue and neighborhood feel. So I thought, what better to represent New England than clam chowder. That was the first thing that came to my mind. The recipe below is my easy interpretation of the classic clam chowder. Note that I use canned clams because I think buying fresh clams can be pricey and time-consuming. And you know that I'm all about the easy. (But if you want to use fresh clams, go for it! Just steam your clams first and then save the clam juices for the chowder. You'd need to buy at least two dozen clams.)

By the way, I felt Leo DiCaprio's performance in Blood Diamond was far better than his work in The Departed, so it's fitting that he's nominated for his performance in the former. Either way, this pretty boy isn't going to win an Oscar. At least not this year.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Boston-Style Clam Chowder

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

12 oz. salt pork
1 onion, diced
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes
2 cans of clams (10 oz. each)
1 bottled clam juice (8 oz.)
3 cups water
1 pint heavy cream
3 to 4 T cornstarch (optional)
Italian flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper

Dice salt pork into pieces. Place them in a large saucepan or pot and cook over medium low heat to render the fat. About 10 to 12 minutes. Take out the pork pieces and set aside on piece of paper towel.

Using the fat left in the pan, add onions and saute over medium heat until translucent. About 10 minutes. Add clam juice, water and potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add clams and cook for another two minutes.

Take pot off the heat and add cream. Return the salt pork pieces to the pot. Depending on how thick you like your chowder, you can add a cornstarch slurry to thicken your chowder. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with a little bit of water. Bring your pot to a boil and then slowly pour in the cornstarch, a little at a time, until it thickens to your desired consistency. (Pouring the cornstarch in at a boil helps to activate the cornstarch faster so then you can tell if your chowder is thick enough without pouring in too much of the cornstarch slurry.) Salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 regular servings; about 12 for smaller party servings. Garnish with minced parsley on top.

TIP: A lot of the clam chowder recipes I found seemed to use salt pork, which is a really fatty piece of meat that’s popular in Southern cooking. Because I wanted to keep it real, I chose this route as well for my chowder. But you can replace salt pork with bacon if you can’t find salt pork in your grocery store. Or if you’re concerned about all the fat you’re using, you can substitute with Canadian bacon and saute your onions using two tablespoons of Canola oil. Another tip is when I’m done cooking the salt pork, I trim away the fatty parts and place the meaty bits on a tray under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp them up before returning them to the chowder.

ALL CLAMMED UP: I use bottled clam juice because you never can tell what’s in the can of clams you buy. Ideally you want to buy clams sitting in their own juice (or liquor as some recipes describe it, although I find that odd since it’s not alcohol). For this chowder, I mixed two cans of clams. One was whole clams and the other was a can of clam pieces, giving me a nice mix and not breaking my budget by having to buy all whole clams.

IT'S A PARTY: To serve your clam chowder at a party, think of easy cups or glasses that can hold hot liquids. That way it makes it easy for your guests to drink the soup without a spoon. Above, I used tea cups.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

For Your Consideration: Little Miss Sunshine

The second movie for consideration for Best Picture is Little Miss Sunshine, a quirky (how many times do you think this movie has been called "quirky"?) independent film that cost only $7 million to make.

This was one of my favorites movies for 2007, but I feel it lacks the epic, sweeping style that often garners the Best Picture award. So I say this is a long shot and the underdog, so if it wins, it'll be a real upset. The film does feature outstanding performances by virtually all the stars in the ensemble casts (with the exception of Toni Collette, who played the mom and I felt didn't add much to the equation).

As a theme food item for an Oscar party, serve fried chicken nuggets from KFC (popcorn chicken), which was what the family ate for dinner near the beginning of the film. Supplement the popcorn chicken with this honey mustard dip to playoff the yellow theme used in the movie posters and representing the van used in the movie. And remember, no one gets left behind! :)

Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Sunshine Honey Mustard Dip

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

¼ cup yellow mustard
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 T honey
hot sauce from a squeeze bottle

In a small bowl, whisk mustard, mayonnaise and honey until well blended. Using a squeeze bottle, squirt a smiley face out of your favorite hot sauce. (I used my tangy hot sauce that I recently got from Vietnam.)
Makes one cup. Serve with chicken tenders or nuggets.

TIP: I used yellow mustard to get the dominant yellow color for the dip to match the yellow of the Volkswagon van from the movie, “Little Miss Sunshine.” My local Safeway had an organic brand of yellow mustard. But if you don’t like the intense flavor of yellow mustard, you can substitute with dijon mustard.

SAFETY FIRST: Sure, nothing makes a party more memorable than shared food poisoning. But your days of sloppy college parties are over! When serving this dip for a party, do not let the bowl sit out for more than two hours because it contains mayonnaise. Instead, make a big batch of the dip and keep it in the refrigerator. Then get a smaller bowl and use that to serve some of the dip and replenish as needed throughout your party.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

For Your Consideration: Letters From Iwo Jima

Start off any Oscar bash with this smooth saketini (see recipe below) and you've got yourself a party! I thought the saketini would be a nice homage to Best Picture nominee "Letters From Iwo Jima."

This film is the second by Clint Eastwood that focuses on this famous World War II battle in Japan. (His first was "Flags of Our Fathers.") Critics say this second film, almost entirely in Japanese, is the better of Eastwood's two films. I didn't get a chance to see this movie so can't say whether it'll take it all on Sunday (my bet is on "Babel"). But I am a fan of Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, and I do believe Eastwood is so popular with Academy voters that he'll probably steal the best director award away from Martin Scorsese. (You heard it here first!)

In coming up with this recipe for my saketini, I primarily used sake as the chief ingredient. In most recipes I've seen on the Web, they use the traditional gin and then add just a couple of teaspoons of sake to call it a saketini. But I decided to give sake a higher profile. And I guess without the gin, it's not really a martini, but I serve it in a martini glass so does that count?

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

1 shot sake (Japanese rice wine)
½ shot triple sec
juice squeezed from half a lime*
1 maraschino cherry

In a cocktail shaker, add a few ice cubes and then pour in the sake, triple sec and lime juice. Shake well and pour through strainer into a martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Makes one drink.

* If your cocktail shaker yields two glasses, then add juice from a whole lime.

TIP: The whole idea of the maraschino cherry is to replicate the Japanese flag with the red rising sun. So when dropping in your cherry, make sure to remove the stem to create the allusion of the sun.

SHOPPING FOR SAKE: Sake, the rice wine from Japan, has been growing in popularity for the last few years. So much so that you can fine a variety of nice sake to choose from in California retailers. Just like regular wine, sake can vary in taste depending on where it’s produced and the ingredients used.

In Hayes Valley, True Sake is one of the best places to explore the many flavors of sake. The clerks are very knowledgeable and they can explain the different tastes of sake. Good sake can be served cold and doesn’t need to be warmed up like the old days.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Coming tomorrow: For Your Consideration

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to start my special posts for the Academy Awards. Every day for the next five days, I'll post a recipe for a fantastic Oscar party, with each dish honoring the five movies nominated for Best Picture. Get also my predictions for who'll be holding the golden statuette when the award show airs on Sunday.

Travel Dish: Manna (Vietnam)

This is the seventh in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.
Discovering the club scene on a lazy afternoon
26 Ho Huan Nghiep, District 1
PH: (84-8) 823-3978
Major credit cards accepted; tax and service charges

Saigon/HCMC, the largest city in Vietnam, has an emerging night life that might not rival Shanghai but definitely keeps this city rocking into the early morning. But I’m going to be honest with you and say that I didn’t witness this first-hand. Most of my evenings were filled with a nice dinner at a local restaurant, a casual walk back to my hotel, an hour watching the Asia version of “The Amazing Race” and then bed.

Still, that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to check out what was hip. All for you!

One of these places is Manna, a champagne and wine lounge off of Dong Khoi, the popular tourist street in the city. One hot and humid afternoon (which day wasn’t?), I was strolling on Dong Khoi, perusing the souvenir shops and art galleries, looking over countless paintings of Vietnamese women in straw hats and flowing white dresses and seeing how many different items they can make with lacquer. Frog paperweight, anyone?

Then in a moment of exhaustion, I looked up and there like manna from Heaven was the glittery gold sign of Manna. The second-floor restaurant/club has an indiscreet entrance that you might miss if you weren’t looking for it. As I walked past the guard/bouncer (he smiled at me happy to have a visitor in the afternoon) and up the steps lined with lit tea candles, I walked into the stylish interiors of Manna. Other than the staff, there was a couple of Japanese tourists enjoying a drink at a table near the window.

I took a seat near the flat-screen TV, which was showing a Harrison Ford movie with a very young Brad Pitt and Treat Williams. (A Google search later identified this as possibly “The Devil’s Own,” a 1998 film about a young IRA assassin—Pitt—who comes to live with an American family—Ford.) In the background, the music of contemporary Asian bands covering songs from the 80s played on.

Looking over the menu, Manna offered a mix of Westernized and Vietnamese dishes. The prices were slightly higher than some of the other restaurants I tried, and this was one of the few places where they actually charged a tax along with a service charge on your bill.

Since it was too early for dinner, I decided to have afternoon tea. I ordered a pot of Vietnamese jasmine tea and the Warm Pineapple Cake with Banana Ice Cream from the dessert menu.

I should note that even though I was the only customer, the service was excellent as if it was prime dinner service. I’ve been to restaurants where they’ve just opened or are still preparing for dinner and they seem bothered that they have to deal with you. I didn’t feel that here. It didn’t seem what hour of the day, they were ready to serve.

My pineapple cake came with my tea. The Vietnamese jasmine tea was slightly lighter and greener in taste than regular jasmine tea from China, and it was a relaxing complement to the amazing pineapple cake. OK, I kind of buried the lead because I should have led off raving about this wonderfully warm piece of heaven on a big white plate.
The cake had the distinct taste of pineapple, with its sweetness subdued by the warmth and fluffiness of the cake itself. Each moist bite transported me to my childhood smelling freshly baked cakes from Chinese bakeries in Chinatown. The only element that brought my feet back to Earth was the accompanying banana ice cream. I hardly tasted a banana flavor; instead it was more like vanilla ice cream but with bits of ice ruining the smooth texture.

Still, even poorly made ice cream didn’t detract from this wonderful cake. As I sat sipping my tea in the air-conditioned lounge, I plotted future trips where I would come back simply just to have this dessert from Manna. I hope I’m not overselling it, but have you ever cried because you ate something just sooo transcendent? I mean. A river. Right here.

My total bill for this fantastic afternoon escape was D83,000 (or $5.18) and most of that was the tax and service charge. I would have gladly paid double (which is what I probably would have paid in the United States) for that pineapple cake.

Manna, with its hip interior and live jazz music from 9 p.m. to midnight, is also a serene escape from the afternoon heat as you sit on the second floor overlooking the other tourists strolling below on Dong Khoi. And yes, order the Warm Pineapple Cake.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (overall); 4.5 stars (just for the warm pineapple cake)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Postscript Saigon: Taxi that hails you
In Saigon/HCMC, even though it's the biggest city in the country, it does not have a subway system like other big cities I've traveled to (London, Paris, Barcelona, etc.). It does have a bus system, but there are very few buses in the main city corridor. Instead, most people travel by motorbike, which numbers more than 10 million. So other than hitting the streets on foot (which is practical but tiring sometimes in the heat), an alternative form of transportation is a taxi.

Taxis are generally parked in front of most hotels, but you should only catch taxis that are clearly marked with a well-known company such as Saigon Tourist or Vinasun. Others may not be as reliable. What does that mean? It means possibly a meter that hikes up in price near the end of a trip or constant harassment from the driver trying to convince you to take his "hour" tour of the city.

In New York, you have to hail a taxi. In Saigon, the taxi hails you. When you're walking around, you'll hear taxis honking at you. They're not telling you to get out of the way. They're honking to get your attention to see if you need a ride.

NOTE: When leaving the airport, there's a taxi counter before you head out of baggage claim. They'll charge you a flat fee of $5 (yes, they'll take U.S. dollars) to take you to most hotels in District 1. Take the receipt they hand you and head out to the outside and show it to the guy in front of the taxi line. Be sure to hold on to your receipt so the driver will know that you've prepaid.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Travel Market: Adrift on the Mekong River

This is the sixth in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.
To escape from the chaos of the city, I took a detour to the Mekong Delta for two days during my trip to Vietnam. The Mekong River is a major river in Asia that cuts through several countries, including China and Cambodia. It ends in Vietnam before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

It's amazing to see how the people of Vietnam is so dependent on the river. It provides a major transportation highway for people who live along the river. Vietnam is still a growing country, so there is basically just one highway running north to south. So with just one highway, it can be a long road to where you're going. That's why people still rely on floating down the river to get to where they need.

In the two days in the Mekong, I visited the cities of My Tho and Can Tho. My Tho is the first major city along the Mekong Delta and just an hour from Saigon/HCMC. It's noted for its tiny islands that produce a variety of fruits for sale. But the highlight was in Can Tho, the provincial seat of the Mekong Delta. Quite a large city in itself with wide roadways and hotels, Can Tho is also the place you catch a boat to view the floating market known as Cai Rang.

The floating market is this amazing gathering of boats of all sizes, where boat owners are farmers who come in the morning to sell their produce from their boats. People would let others know what they have for sale by tying up the different items on a bamboo pole at the front of their boats, and then if you're interested, you sail on by and barter.

But not everything is on the water. Cai Rang also has a regular street market where sellers work out of booths lining the sidewalks to sell a variety of produce and housewares. It's a real taste of the local river commerce.

Here are some photos from both the floating market and regular land market near Can Tho.

Here a beverage seller grabs on to our boat to sells us some drinks. The sellers can get pretty aggressive, not letting go until you buy at least one drink.

A shopper takes a water taxi home with all her produce.

A little boy and his father sells bottled water.

This seller shows off more than his produce to tourists floating by. Notice the bamboo pole with the various items for sale.

At the street market, this booth sold a variety of flour of different colors.

Isn't it cool how they weave their scallions together for sale? It's almost too pretty to eat.

Pickled cabbage for sale. I used to love eating this as a kid.

This woman has some big pots of piping hot rice soup and noodles for sale.

This is a cool looking root produce. My guess is taro or something similar.

A major produce market at the corner.

Postscript Mekong: Snake wine
One of the unusual items for sale in Vietnam comes from the Mekong Delta. It's snake wine, and as this bottle shows, it's actually a small bottle of wine with a tiny snake inside. This is primarily sold for its medicinal purposes and it has a strong alcohol taste but not in a sweet pleasing way but more like rubbing alcohol. Snake seems to be pretty prevalent in the Mekong. Along with snake wine, the locals eat snake grilled, almost like eel. It's served mostly as an appetizer, not as a full meal. Really, how much meat can it have?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Happy New Year -- You Pig ;-)

Happy New Year to you all. Sunday marks the start of the lunar new year, which is a HUGE celebration among the Chinese. It's also observed by the Vietnamese (they call it Tet) and some Koreans (they celebrate Jan. 1 and the Lunar New Year, I guess the Koreans are the party animals of Asia).

This is the year of the pig, or boar. I'm not really sure what kind of year that'll be, but it definitely sounds like a year for feasting, doesn't it? I haven't actually done anything special for the new year. It kind of crept up on me this year. But I did decorate my home with some quince blossoms (red flowers that are blossoming signals a prosperous year) and set out a plate of tangerines (the Chinese word for tangerines sound very similar to gold -- again with the money).

I like how the lunar new year is tied to the seasons. It represents the coming of spring and is often called the Spring Festival. I hope this spring brings an abundance of great and interesting foods at the markets. Time to chow down or pig out, you choose.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Getting A Bit Mediterranean

One of the gifts I got from my family this past Christmas was this bottle of preserved lemons. My sister in Portland gave it to me and I thought they looked so pretty. I love all kinds of lemons, but never had preserved lemons.

So recently I finally popped the bottle open and decided to make a dish that was a bit Moroccan and a bit Greek. I think dishes from this area of the world always has a very salty taste that's rich and earthy. For dinner, I simply seared a fillet of Orange Roughy and then created a bed of Mediterranean flavors of mint, olives, and, of course, preserved lemons. Yum.

Orange Roughy with Preserved Lemons and Olives

Copyright 2007 by Cooking With The Single Guy

6 oz. Orange Roughy fillet or any other white fish
1 preserved lemon, diced into small cubes
4 oz. pitted Greek olives, diced into small cubes
1/2 cup of fresh mint, roughly minced
1 t cumin
¼ cup white wine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper

Season both sides of your fish with salt and pepper. Warm olive oil in saute pan over medium high heat and then add fish. Brown on both sides (about two minutes per side) and then carefully remove fish and place on papertowels.

Using the same saute pan, add lemon, olives, cumin, mint and garlic and blend well for about a minute. Add white wine to deglaze the pan and let the alcohol burn off. Then add butter to create a sauce.

Place the lemon-olive mixture in the center of a plate. Place fish on top and drizzle sauce on and around the fish.

Makes one serving. Serve with roasted vegetables.

Pair with a glass of Chardonnay.
TIP: Orange roughy is a very delicate fish, but that's what makes it so flakey and yummy. So be careful when flipping it while browning. Use a metal spatula or something similar.

WHICH WHITE FISH: I chose orange roughy for this dish mostly because it was the freshest looking fish at Whole Foods. I should note, however, that orange roughy has a high amount of mercury so it shouldn’t be eaten by kids or if you’re pregnant. And you shouldn’t eat it that often. Also, there’s still questions about whether orange roughy has been overfished. I’m hoping because Whole Foods has a seafood sustainability mission statement, that they purchased their orange roughy from a fisherman who uses good fishing practices. If you’re uncomfortable with orange roughy, red snapper or catfish is a good alternative.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dish on Dining: Pizzaiolo

A pizza worth the wait?

5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Temescal neighborhood
M–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted
Ph: (510) 652-4888

I’ve been dying to try Pizzaiolo for awhile, but I could never get past the idea of waiting up to maybe an hour at times for a slice of pie. When the restaurant recently started taking reservations, the flow of diners reportedly became more manageable. So, table for two?

The restaurant is located on one block of Telegraph Avenue that on its own is trying to revitalize this old Oakland neighborhood with other food favorites like Bakesale Betty and Dona Tomas, the popular Mexican restaurant. But Pizzaiolo (Italian for “pizza maker;” pizzaiolo sounds nicer but doesn’t necessarily roll off the tongue for me) has been the shining star of late, generating buzz and drawing the crowds with its Neopolitan-style pizzas created by Chez Panisse alum Charlie Hallowell.

During my recent visit, I brought with me my co-worker Sue. A New Jersey native, Sue constantly complains about the sad state of pizzas in California. She’s a traditionalist, wanting thin-crust pizza with good sauce and probably that sheen of oil on the top that I always dabbed off with a napkin when living in New York. No broccoli, chicken Caesar, or pineapples can ever touch her pizza. I mean, if you pile on all the stuff ala Wolfgang on your pizza, how can you make the fold?
When we arrived (with no reservations), we didn’t have any problems getting a table, although we were so way in the back I thought we may have to help bring the food out from the kitchen. But hey, no wait!

We were seated against the exposed-brick wall and next to the large table that can serve as a private dining area for a party of 10. Where I sat, I could see an outdoor patio that would be nice for dining when the weather gets warmer.

A sure sign of Hallowell’s Chez Panisse influence, the menu changes daily and he cooks using seasonal ingredients. During our visit, Sue and I started with an avocado citrus salad with fennel. The shaved fennel added a nice crunch to the tender avocado slices and sweet mix of seasonal citrus. But at that small size for $9, Sue could have gotten three slices of pizza instead.

We also ordered the fried polenta with gorgonzola and chestnut honey. It seems that Pizzaiolo is known for many of its fried meals (some foodies still go on and on about Pizzaiolo’s fried chicken on discussion boards). But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of fried food, mostly for health reasons. Still, if I had to eat only one fried food, it would be fried polenta. Regular polenta has the texture of gruel to me, or at least what I think gruel would be like when eaten by kids in an orphanage during the 1940s in old London. (Picture it.) So basically what I’m saying is: no polenta for me. But deep-fry them into cakes stuffed with cheese and drizzled with honey, ooh baby! The fried polenta at Pizzaiolo oozed warmth and tasted light and pillowy. It’s the perfect side to any meal.

Finally, for our pizza, we went the traditional route, for Sue’s sake. We ordered the Margherita pizza (tomato sauce, Mozzarella cheese and basil) with sausage added to it. Pizzaiolo lets you add things to your pizza such as sausage, anchovy, egg, and even rocket (that’s the British green that Jamie Oliver loves to use). We initially wanted to just order the Marinara pizza with sausage, but luckily our server pointed out that the Marinara pizza is just that, marinara sauce on a thin crust. No cheese. (I don’t get how a pizza can be complete without cheese.)

The pizza can easily be shared with two, and it had a nice thin crust perfectly crisped by the wood-fire oven. Sue deemed it “good” and pretty close to what she got back east. I thought it was satisfying, but the flavor lacked that extra ooomp that I easily tasted in pizzas from another Oakland favorite, Dopo.

Pizzaiolo also serves a variety of antipasti and a few pasta dishes. But is its pizza worth the wait?

I think if I went a year ago when there was a considerable wait, I’d probably say no. Like I mentioned above, Dopo serves better pizza and I luckily live equidistant between Pizzaiolo and Dopo on Piedmont Avenue. While Pizzaiolo is still very popular, which could mean a wait, there are times you can go to avoid a long wait. Those are the times when its pizza rises to the occasion because it’s surrounded by a comfortable setting and other more interesting menu items.

Side note: For dessert, I ordered tart with lavender ice cream but without the tart. I don’t get excited about baked goods, but I do go crazy about anything lavender. It was heavenly, with a clear sense of lavender. Sue said she could bathe in it, although for me, I love lavender but I don’t love it that much that I’d risk freezing certain body parts, if you know what I mean. Still, this seasonal ice cream is spot on to cleanse your palate and refresh yourself.

Single guy rating: 2.5 stars (perfect for new foodies)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Pizzaiolo in Oakland