Thursday, May 25, 2006

Try a Little Tenderness....Braised Beef Cheeks

To put it in the terms used by our friend Harris, the weather has been a little "schizo" this Spring. When the forecast predicts rain, we are treated to (the always welcome) blue sky. When fair skies are expected, we are subjected to a deluge. One day last week, the evening news weather forecast promised that it would rain the entire following day. Rather than just sit at home and watch the "rain in vain," we decided to make the most of the drearily inclement weather and prepare a recipe that we had recently read for slow cooked beef cheeks. This particular recipe requires the cheeks to cook at a low oven temperature for 8 to 10 hours. What better way to enjoy what otherwise would be a total washout?

Our basic recipe was from Daniel Patterson's piece in the NYT Magazine (5/7/06). We also consulted Tom Colicchio's "Cook Like a Chef" before departing for Staubitz, our nearby butcher where we purchased a pound of beef cheeks for less than $5. After first browning our cheeks on the stovetop, we popped them in a 180 degree oven where they quietly remained for 6 hours the first day and additional 4 hours the next. But, even after 10 hours, these cheeks hadn't reached the tenderness that we were seeking so, we raised the temperature to 350 degrees (taking a cue from the Colicchio method) and cooked them for another 30 minutes. That did the trick! The cheeks were now ready to eat -- very tender but not quite falling apart. We served them with two of Spring's quintessential ingredients, fresh greenmarket asparagus and ramps. When we initally planned our menu, we fully expected to have leftovers for following day but, before we realized it, all that was left was the smile on our faces!

This recipe was very easy to make but, who has the time to stay home and babysit their oven for 10 hours? All that we can say is that if you do, you will be rewarded with a juicy, tender and richly flavored dish that will have you wishing you could do it again the next day.

By the way, in case you were wondering about the weather on those two days that it took for us to cook the beef cheeks.... the sky was blue and we didn't see a drop of rain!

Slow-Cooked Beef Cheeks with Spring Vegetables and Rosemary
inspired by Daniel Patterson's recipe on 5/7/06 NYT Magazine

Serves 2
1 beef cheek
salt and black pepper
olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
3 sprigs rosemary
1 cup beef stock and 1 cup chicken stock
4 asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 ramps, steamed
1 tablespoon minced chives

Season the beef cheeks with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in a braising pan in olive oil. Transfer the meat onto a plate. In the same pan, sautee the onion, carrots, and garlic with pinch of salt and pepper in low heat until the onion is tender. Remove from the heat and add the rosemary and return the meat to the pan. Let stand 15 minutes, until cooled.

Pour the stock into the pan, but not to cover the meat completely. Cover the pan and put in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 180 degrees and cook for 8 to 10 hours, until the meat is very tender. You can cook the cheeks partly, then put them into the refrigerator and finish them later. Raise the tempreture to 350 degrees for 1/2 to 1 hours if you need to, until the meat has reached the desired tenderness.

Cook the asparagus in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes, drain well and set aside. Steam the ramps about 4 minutes, drain well and set aside. Adjust the beef and broth for seasoning, and slice the meat for serving. Place the meat and vegetables in a bowl, and laddle some broth over the top. Sprinkle with chives.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Big Beautiful Brooklyn Box...Fairway Opens in Red Hook

After months of anticipation, we went to the new Fairway that opened in Red Hook, Brooklyn today. Yes, it is huge (52,000 sq. feet) and filled with a multitudinous variety of fresh and prepared foods, including produce, meats (they even have an aging locker for steaks), seafood, cheeses, coffees, beverages of every sort (with an alcohol level below 6%), a bakery with everything from baguettes to bagels, a staff friendlier than Japanese airline flight attendants (impossible?!), and low, make that LOW prices!

We compared and found that many of our staples, e.g. Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit juice, Haagen Daz ice cream, Farmland Skim Plus, and Sauders Organic extra large eggs were all anywhere from 50 cents to $1 less than Key Food or Met Food.

Last night at a sake tasting at The Good Fork we heard that the Grand Opening will be Monday, May 22. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to preside at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Yes, this SUPERmarket is literally a BIG deal! It brings more jobs to what was until recently an underdeveloped area. A few years ago, unless you lived there, Sunny's (or Johnny's as this quirky bar is sometimes known) was the only reason outsiders ventured into this former warehouse-fraught area on the southern Brooklyn waterfront. Now, with the new Cruise Line Terminal and the impending opening of an IKEA, the once modest local economy will get a welcome boost and consumers are winners too.

Getting to the new Fairway might be a bit of a trek for all but those who live in Red Hook. But, with parking for 300, the variety, prices, and quality are sure to draw many more shoppers from a wider included!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Japan's Hottest Hot Pepper

While wandering through Kyoto's Gion District, we bought this small envelope containing "Japan's Hottest Golden Hot Pepper" at Gion Ajikou. Although we'd never heard of the shop or this pepper, the label on the package saying "Japan's hottest pepper," was irresistable. Always seeking a challenge and, to improve our "spiciness tolerance," we bought it. And besides, Japanese cuisine is not known to be spicy we thought, so how spicy could it really be?

This particular powdered pepper is made from a Japanese yellow or "Ogon (golden)" pepper and it is claimed to be 10 times hotter than regular Japanese "Togarashi (red)"pepper. The Ogon pepper is thought to have originated as a yellow hot pepper in Southeast Asia, and its cultivation in Japan was first recorded in the mid-18th century.

Yesterday, we finally opened the envelope for the first time since our return to NY and inside found the innocuous-looking yellow powder. When the mere scent of that "powder" hit our noses, we began to sneeze violently. We dipped a moistened finger, ever so slightly into the powder and gingerly touched it to our tongue....

...which immediately began to blister! The capsacin level was off the chart! If you, like us thought that Habanero was the benchmark for ultra-hot, Ogon sets a new standard. How to use our "lifetime supply" of this hyper hot ingredient? Some about substituting it for the cayenne in deviled eggs? Use it in lieu of the aforementioned Togarashi in kinpira (gobo or burdock sauteed in grapeseed oil, sugar, mirin, and sake), or maybe in spicy fried rice, or in rubs and pastes for grilling.

Ordering this may be a challenge if you haven't brushed up on your Japanese lately...the website is entirely in Japanese. If you're interested in getting your hands on some, let us know!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam

We left Tokyo on Valentine's Day to continue begin the second phase of our two-month journey in Southeast Asia. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the next 10 days, we had planned to travel from south to north leapfroging from HCM to Hue and then on to Hanoi before leaving the country for Siem Reap, Cambodia. You may be wondering why there are no photos with this blog...The reason is that, unfortunately, on our last day in Hanoi, our camera was stolen, so sadly, we have no pictures of Vietnam....

Ho Chi Minh City was chaotic and busy. It was such a shock going from orderly Japan to disorderly Vietnam. With thousands of motorcycles clogging the streets, traffic lights were a rarity in this city. Something as simple as crossing the street took some time to don't wait for traffic to stop or run, just walk VERY slowly and they all drive around you! Once you get to used to it, suddenly you find an order amidst the chaos.

For food, we needed some time to get adjusted, too. At first, nothing at the food stalls on the street looked sanitary, so we were very careful where we ate (mostly in restaurants). We didn't want to risk eating on the street or in the market and get sick. So, we (regrettably, now) didn't try any street food in Ho Chi Minh.

This is not to say that we didn't try to eat any delicious authentic Vietnamese food there. We did. We found a great pho (beef noodle soup flavored with star anise) at Pho 2000 near the Ben Thanh Market and Ham Nghi street. Pho 2000 is a chain restaurant, but it was soooo good. Another popular place Pho 24 is a chain pho cafe, but we found Pho 24's eponymous dish to be not nearly as flavorful as Pho 2000. 2000 is constantly crowded with tourists as well as locals (go to the second floor, it is air conditioned). We learned about the second floor AC on our second visit and there too we saw photos on the wall of Former President Clinton as he enjoyed his Pho 2000 experience.

We also loved the food at Quan An Ngon near Dinh Thong Nhat, the former presidentilal palace. This place seemed popular dining place among young Vietnamese. When we arrived at the restaurant, people were flooded outside of the restaurant, and we didn't know if there was a waiting list or if people were just hanging out. We wedged our way through the crowd to the inside of the restuarant to see if there was a waiting list. The crowd inside was equally as dense and we were told to wait. So, did. Uncertain as to whether they had understood us, we continued to wait in anticipation of something worth tasting. Luckily, we were seated in less than 20 minutes. Sure enough, the food was fantastic, the best (outside of the pho) that we had eaten in HCM! We had lotus salad with shrimp and pork, a shrimp and sweet potato pancake, sticky rice with pork and Chinese sausage, spring rolls with shrimp and pork, grilled beef with toast and chili salt....all very authentic Vietnamese dishes served in a stylish outdoor garden setting (with beers) at a very reasonable 175,000 VND ($12 US)!

Quan An Ngon
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nozomi Bullet Train and Ekiben

After spending almost one month in Japan, it was time for us to leave for Southeast Asia. To reach Narita Airport (outside of Tokyo) in time for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam that evening, we took the Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) back across the country from western Japan.

Nozomi is the fastest train among all Shinkansen (bullet trains). Nozomi, which means "hope" is faster than the train named, Hikari which means "light" so, that may give you some idea as to how fast it is. With an average speed of 261.8km/hour or164mph, it's route begins in Kyushu (southwest Japan) and ends in Tokyo (
map). Since the Shinkansen rail service does not run through Shikoku, we needed to make a connection with it via an express train from Matsuyama to Okayama. Our Nozomi departed Okayama at 12:06pm and arrived in Tokyo at 3:30pm, less than 3.5 hours to traverse the entire country!

A train station in Japan is nothing like its American counterpart. In fact there is no comparison when it comes to both the quality of food and the number of purveyors. At the "eki" there is always an irresistably aromatic bakery, as well as numerous shops selling bento (boxed meals), noodles (ramen, udon, soba), souvenirs (or "omiyage," the all-essential gifts brought back for friends and family by Japanese travelers), and kissaten (coffee shops that offer amazing coffee, baked goods, and light sandwiches). Hard as it may be to imagine from our own experience in the US, in Japan, the train station is a gastronomic fantasyland!

A train trip without "ekiben" (eki=station and ben=bento) is like a visit to New York without eating bagels. If you have never had the ekiben experience, you really must try it at least once. Since train travel is the most popular (and easiest way to get around) in Japan and the Japanese have grown up eating bento since their childhood, it was natural for the culture of ekiben to develop. Each region's ekiben features their own unique and local specialities. This self contained meal is a great value too, costing ony about $5 to $7. Each comes complete with chopsticks, soy sauce, napkin, and of course, a tooth pick (a hopitality fixture in Japanese dining).

It is quite easy to understand the attraction to traveling by train in Japan. The rail system is pervasive and ALWAYS on time. The stations are monuments to cleanliness, organization, efficiency, and most importantly, the place where great food is found at every turn. It's no wonder that every inter-city passenger seems to carry an ekiben with them when they board, no matter what the time of day! We were delighted that our Nozomi experience allowed us the time to indulge ourselves in ekiben, a quintessential source of pleasure that exists only in Japan!

Monday, May 01, 2006


The final stop on our month-long visit to Japan was Matsuyama-city, where Hiroko's grandmother lives and where she went to high school. It was during this "natsukashii" (nostalgic) portion of our trip that Hiroko developed a yearning to eat Youshoku, which means "western cuisine" in Japanese. Although not prepared using traditional Japanese ingredients, Youshoku is loosely based on western ideas which have then been given a distinctly Japanese twist.

One of the most popular Yoshoku is Omuraisu, omelet rice. It is fried ketchup rice wrapped with an omelet. This peculiar dish is a favorite of many Japanese kids, and oddly, Hiroko still craves this strange dish time to time. Many Americans don't seem to embrace the flavor combination of ketchup, rice, and omelet. Although he grew up in a household where the ketchup bottle was always on the table for scrambled egg breakfasts, Rick is one of those who hasn't yet gained an appreciation for this dish. Since his youth, his tastebuds have somehow lost their affinity for ketchup, so he finds it difficult to understand why anyone would want to ruin good rice by mixing it with the wretched red condiment. But, in the name of love for Hiroko and her similar sentiment for this crazy concoction, he yielded to her desire to eat it while in Japan. So, off we went to the cafe where she had gone for her favorite Omuraisu when she was in high school.

When the the plate bearing the fluffy omelet delicately wrapped around the ketchup rice arrived at the table, Rick's curiousity got the best of him so he closed his eyes and tried one bite. As bizzare as this dish had seemed to him, after tasting it he admitted that it was not nearly as bad as he had imagined. His expression of newfound appreciation went virtually unnoticed as Hiroko's attention was focused on polishing off the Omuraisu before he could do further damage.

On this food journey down memory lane, the second Youshoku dish that Hiroko craved was lasagna. We went to a restaurant, which has the reputation for serving the best lasagna in the city. This lasagna, however, is not exactly Italian-style lasagna but rather the Japanese concept. Unlike the oven-baked dish of layered pasta, meat (or vegetable), cheese, and tomato sauce that most Americans recognize, this variety consisted of single layer of pasta, tomato sauce, cheese, and onions, presented to the table grilled in a cast-iron pan. The popularity of this dish has not waned a bit since Hiroko's high school days. When we went for lunch on a cold February day, the restaurant was packed with customers, most of whom were also eating this lasagna. What we didn't know as we surveyed this scene and inhaled the aroma of sizzling tomato sauce and melted cheese was whether they were reliving a memory or building one for the future.