Food


Food and Food: Home Cookin'15 Jan 2014 11:22 am

sprinkle pink ombre cake

It’s been oh-so-long since I posted about food matters on here, so I made sure this one was worth your while. Two of my best friends, D+J, are magical friends who happen to share a birthday. Well, almost. They are a day apart, but it works out so well because we have an excuse to celebrate their birthday in big style every year. For us, this means feasting. A lot of feasting.

I don’t really consider cakes within my repertoire of baked goods. Cookies? Absolutely. Pies – for sure, and getting better all the time. Cupcakes, yup. But cakes – nope. Probably because baking a cake for two people is just an invitation to early onset diabetes. And I don’t love cake THAT much, probably because I’ve had one too many slices of Costco slab cake at work parties. Hell, even at my wedding, we did a dessert table of small Whole Foods cakes because fondant gives me the shivers and even thick buttercream kind of disgusts me.

But, I’m always interested in learning something new, and last year I made a cake for D+J’s birthday that, to be honest, left a little to be desired. It was a riff on the 11 layer Smith Island torte, and I ended up doing 8 layers because it just got too crazy after 6 and 8 was pushing it.

I did not think to level it, and my ganache frosting was thick in some areas, thin in others. In transport from Canmore to Calgary (in a milk crate because I’m an adult, god dammit) it kind of began to tilt. Oops. Still delicious though. And obviously, lots of room for improvement, which is great.

My cake carrier is in Edmonton so this is how the cake traveled to Calgary from home. Almost there!

Last year’s cake carrier set-up

I have always been obsessed with all things ombré and love the look of heavy applications of sprinkles, so this year I decided to make a basic vanilla cake with buttercream. I did this all without a KitchenAid or even a hand mixer (stupid, stupid) and without a cake leveller, but everything worked out well.

I think the cake was a bit too buttery and sticky as I prefer crumbier cakes, so I might change up the cake base recipe. Also futzing with the red food dye was the worst and I am going to be investing in gel if I ever do this again as I looked like I had an election red-inked finger.

I worked with two different batches of batter, the first one doing the yellow and lightest pink, adding the food colouring a drop at a time. Three for the lightest pink, and 12 for the darkest. It was easy to get the color gradient, although I likely would go darker with the red base layer next time, even if I need to add cocoa to get it to go dark dark red. The two bottom pinks kind of shade together, I think.

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Levelling the cake layers was serious business, obviously.

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Even without a mixer for the buttercream, it really was a dream to work with. The butter added richness and the shortening kept it light and also very white in color. 2 entire pounds of icing sugar, but never you mind that. Birthdays are meant to be icing sugar heavy, right?

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7 minutes plus another 7 whipping it by hand at each stage. Those calories burnt during manual whipping and creaming just allow you to sample as much icing as you like though. Right?

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And also thanks to YouTube I now know how to level a cake, dam, fill and crumbcoat it before icing, then douse it in sprinkles. Although it turns out rolling probably is the better way than the press and pack method I did.

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Sprinkle Cake - Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen

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I upgraded this year! No more milk crate, instead, a bankers box to transport the cake to Calgary!

Sprinkle Cake - Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen

The moment of truth! I was way too excited to see the inside, as there was no way to judge how it looked until that moment. As you can see, the two bottom layers kind of look the same.

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It is no doubt I will be finding sprinkles all over my kitchen until 2015, but it was worth it and the cake both looked pretty and tasted okay, too. Happy birthday, D+J!

Recipe Links:

Food and Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan28 Apr 2013 02:34 pm

Although the Bow Valley has a large population of Japanese working and traveling through the area, the one place you can get a bowl of ramen at in Banff (Chaya) is just kind of ho-hum. It’ll do in a pinch, but it’s also a good 20 minute drive from Canmore.

Since coming home from my whirlwind trip to Japan in March (oh, I haven’t blogged about that, have I? Well, soon) I’ve been kind of obsessed with home cooking Japanese food. (And juicing, but more on that later.)  I had to explain to a US customs officer on my trip home why I had 5 pounds of Japanese rice on me. “Can’t you just use Minute Rice?” he asked.

SHUDDER

I’ve been making taco rice, Japanese curry, yakiudon and okonomiyaki and all sorts of stuff, trying to fill the void. Experimenting with different condiments, flavours, techniques.

However, the thing I am most proud of is my from scratch ramen which I made this week. Everything except the noodles and kamaboko or fish cake was made by hand. 5 pounds of chicken, turkey and pig parts were boiled for 18 hours to reduce into a creamy tonkotsu soup base.

I broiled then braised pork belly for three hours to replicate Okinawan rafute, a super tender, kind of sweet pork. It’s marinaded and slow cooked in mirin, awamori and soy, along with kokuto or Okinawan sugar cane brown sugar. I soft boiled then bathed eggs in a marinade to get ajitsuke tamago, the runny delicious eggs that accompany steaming bowls of ramen – that is, if you are eating it at any respectable place.

If I’m being honest, I’ll say that the broth had an excellent jellylike thick texture, but I really underseasoned it. But I think the thing that turned out the best was the rafute. It’s something that’s hard to find outside of Okinawa – not just in other parts of the world, also in Japan. I guess it’s similar to char siu pork that often tops bowls of ramen, but yet it’s not.

You should come by and try it sometime. I promise you’ll like it.

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The broth at the start, in our biggest of big pots.

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Bowl of bones, fat and other assorted parts after I was done boiling.

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The delicious finished product.

Food06 Jul 2012 10:06 am

A few weeks ago, Steve at Sobeys contacted me with probably the coolest offer I’ve ever gotten, and may ever get, at this small potatoes blog. He invited me to a look into the world of Sobeys taste testing at a “sensory workshop.” Despite the early 9am start time (requiring a 7:30 departure from Canmore) and the suggestion that coffee be avoided that morning for optimal taste bud operation I eagerly replied with a hearty “I’ll be there…and can my husband come too?”

The session was held at a hotel near the north side of Calgary, and a few of us had gathered to take part on that day, lead by the surprisingly chipper at that time of day John Hale. He’s an experienced Sensory Professional with many years put into taste testing and food science. He moved from England a few years ago to work with Sobeys to establish their testing facility and is currently their Directory of Consumer Care and Sensory. This role enables him to taste up to 3000 products a year using his panel of trained tasters. They work on tasting numerous products, from chili peppers to lemons and chocolate chip cookies. Sounds crazy, right?

John first walked us through the basics of tasting, and our abilities to taste things like sweet, sour, bitter and salt, in addition to the lesser thought of like fatty, umami and metallic. It was part science class, part comedy routine to be honest. John’s a great presenter, and is obviously very knowledgeable in the area.

Then we got down to business. After being asked not to drink coffee, wear strong scented products, lip balms or lipsticks that morning, we underwent our “supertaster screening.” It was basically a series of mini tests that ranked your ability to detect different flavours, recognize different scents, distinguish colours and describe products. You are scored out of a potential 175 points (“No one has ever scored that,” said John.) People who get 140 or higher could be asked to join the panel.

The first test was a sampling of six different liquids. They were one of the basic tastes – sour, sweet, salty or bitter … or just plain water. It’s a bit harder than you think, as they were solutions with quite a faint flavour. I mistook plain water for bitter – oops!

The next portion of the “exam” was smell. As the sense of smell plays such a strong role in taste, it’s important to have a good grasp of it. 10 bottles held 10 different scents, from the extremely easy and recognizable “vanilla” (or as another attendee at another workshop said: “my ex-girlfriend”) to the challenging…at least to some. I was completely stumped when it came to cinnamon, and only wrote down “BBQ smoke or meat” when it came to the distinctly meaty smelling instant beef noodle soup stock. One of the attendees got it right away. “I eat a lot of instant noodles,” he said sheepishly.

This scent test is quite important, as most of our ability to taste comes from smell – a whopping 85%!

And then the horrible triangulation test! We were given three glasses with some more clear solution in it, this time of lime. But the twist was that each glass had a slightly different concentration and formulation, so you had to taste them quickly, then pick the “odd one out.” John encouraged us to “go with our gut” and pick the one that jumped out the fastest. I felt pretty confident as I wrote down the number of the glass I felt was most unusual. Too bad I was wrong each time. This test in particular was to see if the potential taster has a powerful ability to pick up on citric acid, so the glass with the most acidic taste would jump out at them. It’s a sort of discrimination test, and it is one of the most important skills of a professional taster.

Finally we did a colour blindness test, and then wrote a short descriptive paragraph on our favourite food, so as to judge our ability to describe foods. That’s a pretty important part of being on a tasting panel. Your tongue is no good to market research if you can’t describe how those potato chips taste different than these ones.

After being marked (two of us would have been cut from panel, one would have made the regular panel and two others would have been on the super taster panel) we did a few other panel style exercises like describing an apple “Work from appearance through aroma, flavour and texture” was John’s suggestion and sampling soft vs. hard candy to taste flavour differences. We got some free swag in the form of some great new Italian sodas Sobeys has out (the grapefruit is really great with gin, just as they promised!). Considering the percentages are about 65% of Canadians being average tasters, 30% zero tasters and 5% supertasters, our group did pretty well.

Sobeys panels stretch from coast to coast…except for the prairies. The 80-some tasters range in age from their 20s to their 70s, and once they pass their initial screening, they attend a sort of tongue boot camp, where they learn to taste efficiently as well as describe products and tastes clearly. They attend a 12 person, three hour panel every few weeks run by John, mostly in Mississauga, where they may sample any kind of product on a given day, from a soda to yogurt or even something like limes.

While the gig is a paid one, it would not necessarily pay the bills, as you cannot work as a taster for a traditional 8 hour day. Still, the opinions of the panel are highly valued by Sobeys, and can shape a product dramatically. John gave an example where the Compliments house brand chocolate chip cookies were sampled and determined to be “too chocolatey.” So Sobeys cut the amount of chocolate in the cookies, the new product was shipped to stores…and customers agreed with the new product. Sales went up, and so did glowing reviews on the cookies.

John assured us that every product you take the time to complain about to the team at Sobeys is retested as some point, to find out how to make it perfect. Of the products the panels tastes, 80% will make it to store shelves. The other 20% will likely undergo more testing.

And Mr. Hale’s #1 tip for increasing your taste sensitivity? Avoid capsicum pepper! That means avoiding spicy foods as they can kill off tastebuds, and they take about two weeks to regenerate. You should also probably give up smoking, and avoid brushing your teeth and drinking caffeine within an hour of your meal.

Thanks for the super interesting morning, Sobeys. It was a pleasure!

If you are interested in learning if you are a super taster, you could always try this experiment at home. You’ll probably need a person to count and help you, though.

Food and Food: Home Cookin'06 Apr 2012 03:00 am

No, this is not a scene out of my window in Okinawa. This is Edmonton, and I am home. It’s been snowing for 10 hours, and about 20-25 centimetres have fallen so far. So, trapped indoors, what’s a girl to do?

Make muffins!

I made some buttermilk cinnamon sour cherry muffins. They’re light and cakey, and so delicious warm out of the oven with a big cozy blanket and a cup of some amazing Transcend Sin Limites coffee.

I have to tell you, while I LOVED the food in Japan (a reminder to check out my other blog, about restaurants and cooking on Okinawa), I have been enjoying cooking and baking and shopping for food at home even more. Distance makes the stomach grow hungrier.
Or something.

Glad to be home.

Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels09 Aug 2011 11:33 am

We left Okinawa at 3am or some other ungodly hour. Everyone in Japan travels at three times of the year – Silver Week in September, Golden Week in May, and July/August. So my choices for cheap flights were really cut down and our options were leave at 3am or pay $300 one way for a flight to Tokyo.

Arriving at 7am, we hit the ground running and were on a train and headed into downtown Tokyo in no time from Haneda. This is the beauty of Japan.  We grabbed a snack, stored our stuff in a handy locker (they make them big enough for a standard rolling suitcase and a backcountry backpack) and went to pick up the bikes we had reserved with Neil at Tokyo Rent A Bike.  Despite being exhausted, I was elated to have our bikes and be on pedal power the rest of the day. It was exhilarating, and I will absolutely do this again and recommend it to anyone who is traveling to Tokyo.

With a general route mapped out, our first stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market. After visiting Sushi Dai three years ago, Mike had another place (Sushi Bun) in mind, but it was unfortunately closed. No worries – have bike, smartphone and back up plans – and will travel. We biked a short distance to a street in the outer ring of the market and tried to find a restaurant called Uogashi Senryo just after lunch rush.

It is not known for sushi (although they do serve it), but for chirashisushi bowls. It is behind a dried fish shop and kind of blends in with the other shops. The quality is not the best you can get in the area, but it is popular for a reason. I think my two kinds of tuna bowl was excellent, and Mike’s uni ikura bowl was salty, creamy and hit the spot. Just what we needed after an early morning of travel and bike riding, and just what we needed to power us up the rest of the day.

Uogashi Senryo from the street. They do have an English menu.

 

Recharged we rode around east Tokyo, circling back to the bike rental office while hitting a few big sights and neighbourhoods along the way. Again – I cannot emphasize this enough; renting a bike was insanely easy, relatively cheap and very safe. They come with wheel locks so you can park and lock wherever you are, there are bells to ring and let people know you are coming at them on the fancy shopping Ginza shopping street and 6 gears to make climbing hills in Roppongi easier. Most people ride on the sidewalk, and this is accepted and perhaps even expected (pedestrians beware!) Many many people in Tokyo have bicycles, if only to get them to the nearest train station. It is insane to think that the world’s largest megacity is bike friendly to even the lowly tourist, but it is. If the Neil the bike guy had not been going on holiday I would have totally rented for a few more days. Next time, Tokyo. Next time.

Food and Food: Asia and Travels07 Aug 2011 09:49 am

After a sad high tea in Hong Kong, I was eager to get back on the horse in Bangkok, this time having an enjoyable experience. My mom and I strolled down the street to the Sukhothai hotel one day to take in high tea.

The Sukhothai is one of most serene boutique hotels in Bangkok. The grounds and architecture are stunning, and although it is being dwarfed by some nearby skyscrapers, it still retains a feeling of exclusivity and privacy.

We decided on the classic Sukhothai tea set. I got a Mariage Frères Earl Grey French Blue tea and my mom got a coffee. We also ordered extra scones.

The tower came out quickly, but not TOO quickly as to suggest they were sitting in the back ready to go out.

Delicious sannies. There was a smoked salmon croissant, pate sausage baguette, an italian job with prosciutto and provolone and then a few little fingers with various more classic high tea fillings. Everything was fresh and not cold like some high tea rooms.

The pastries were fantastic, with nothing overly sweet, and a good mix of melting, crunchy, chocolatey and fruity. Berry tartlet, orange almond mini cake, fruit cake, truffles and matcha shortbread.

The fig scones! It was kind of a mistake to get an extra order – although they WERE excellent and so were the preserves and slightly untraditional mascarpone. Just too much.

My favourite was the eclair. I still miss the ones I would get from Duchess in Edmonton.

Vanilla creme brulee. Neither my mom or I wanted it at first – we were too full. But then I cracked it and inside was silken filling I could not stop eating.

And then, to finish, “Green Goddess” dragonfruit lime sorbet. Surprisingly light.

Afterwards we strolled around the complex a little bit more. They seem to be doing a lot of refurbishing. There was also a wedding being set up, for a Japanese couple!

 

High tea is in the main hotel lobby Monday through Thursday from 2-6pm. The Sukhothai also does a weekend chocolate buffet for those looking for more sweets and less tea and sandwiches. Both are around 800 baht.

Food and Food: Asia and Travels23 Jul 2011 05:16 pm

Going to visit my mom in Bangkok this May was a game changer for me. Not everyday has been a party this first year in Okinawa, and I was in a pretty low place when I went on a last minute, parent-funded trip to Bangkok over “Golden Week” here in Japan. Mike was very kind and held the fort down alone as rainy season started.

Bangkok is kind of my home base in the east, and comforting in its chaos. I had no particular plans – do some shopping, hang out with my mom, work out, take some photos, sit in the sun … and eat, of course.

My parents have chosen a place near to one of the most famous food streets in Bangkok as their home the past two years – Soi Convent. It is not a long stroll to go up and down as it is just one long city block, and takes about 10 minutes to walk. But you can get a little bit of everything on or around this street at all hours of the day – in actual restaurants or carts that appear.

You can get breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. From Starbucks coffee, Mexican, Japanese and Irish food to baked goods, fruits, noodles, spicy som tam salad … it was so inspiring I wanted to do a post just dedicated to the sights along it.

Carts sleeping during the day

Taxis and tuk tuks whir up and down 24 hours a day, security guards for the hospitals and schools laze in the shade. Street sweepers work up and down with their oddly useless but effective wood brooms. Clientele ranging from ancient grannies to young school kids and nuns, expats living in near by skyscrapers and neatly dressed Thai office workers mix with the late night party crowd.

It is god damned magical.

Durian cart

Mangosteens were also in season

Hand squeezed nam som, or orange juice.

I made a point to walk up and down it at all hours and reveled in the different vendors and people. Early morning, with the blenders somehow plugged in somewhere to make fruit shakes, fried banana stands, coffee and Thai iced tea vendors.

 

Afternoon brings noodle carts, and fruit selllers with their icey sweet pineapple, crunchy green mango with spicy salt sugar mix and deep orange papaya.

 

As the blazing sun falls out of the sky, seafood platter makers appear, as do ka-nom producers with their hot pans for making sweet coconut and banana desserts or roti.

People drink, talk and eat sitting on plastic stools as tourists and Bangkok residents walk through the kitchen of the “restaurant” they eat at. I am certain if you sat here for long enough, you might see everything. Just like this guy, who I saw every day and is a fixture on Convent, with his big beer belly and, well, beer in a wine glass. Breakfast of champions.

My personal favourite stand is the southern Thai fried chicken lady that I have been visiting for over a decade. It has expanded from one lady who used to marvel I knew how to say simple phrases in Thai, to a fully staffed family operation with an English sign. Here they are, just setting up at about 4 in the afternoon.

In motion while arriving…

…in operation…

…in digestion.

Incredible.

I implore you to visit Convent when you are in Bangkok.

Nearest BTS station: Sala Daeng.

Food and Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan10 Jul 2011 02:36 pm

 

We tend to eat sushi out once a week at our favourite easy kaiten (belt) sushi chain restaurant, and it is excellent for the old favourites and some maki choices, but sometimes you like to eat your own creations full of your favourite ingredients. Also, maki sushi is quite different from the nigiri sushi that is often at these restaurants, as it combines many ingredients.

One of the best things about the local supermarket is the fish section. It is stocked with various cuts and preparations of the many kinds of fish, from classic favourites to seasonal varieties. There are packages of pre cut slices for sashimi or nigiri sushi, long pieces for grilling… you can really go to town.

On this occasion, I bought a few things:

  • two kinds of nori seaweed, one for hand rolls and one for the longer maki rolls
  • premade rice (almost as fresh as homemade, but more convenient)
  • salmon, crab and maguro
  • burdock root, and some vegetables

Crab sticks. Not imitation, although that is also available.

Burdock root, or gobo

This mixed pack of sushi grade maguro tuna and salmon was about $5.50

At home I already had what I needed to flavour the rice, as well as cream cheese and various kinds of pickles and other fillings to put in the rolls.

 

As I have mentioned before, I think the rice is one of the best things about living in Japan. My favourite is sushi rice with a lightly flavoured taste of vinegar, sake and sugar. It is tangy and delicious.

I made my own sushi vinegar to add to the rice by combining these items:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (you can use rice vinegar too)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 table spoon of mirin or sake/nihon shu
  • 1/2 tablespoon of salt

Combine these in a small pot on the stove until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Will flavour about 4 cups of rice.

Combine into warm rice by folding it in, being careful to not crush the rice.

Buying rice is a bit of a cheat since the flavour is better when the rice is turned into sushi rice when it is warm and fresh.
You cannot substitute any other kind of rice, or turn arborio or Thai sticky rice into sushi rice by making it gooey and mushy, so please do not do this.

 

Assembly is easy. I did not want the rolls to be too filling because we wanted to try many different combinations, so I did not push the rice to the edge of the nori. Normally you would, otherwise you get…

…sad looking rolls like this. These deflated looking things were really good though.

You can mix and match each rolls. Here, toro chopped and mixed with soy, negi or green onions, crunchy Niigata Prefecture miso daikon pickles that were a present from our Japanese tutor, burdock root dipped in the same sushi vinegar mix I made for the rice and a cucumber. You want to combine the things you like, thinking about taste, smell, texture (crunch!) and color.

There are sushi mats you can use to roll up rolls, like inside out California rolls, but I just hand rolled these nori wrapped rolls. The sushi mats help the rice from sticking and keep a uniform size and look, if presentation is important. But we are rustic here at the ZeeCall household, and we are not so picky.

I also made some salmon, negi, cream cheese, sesame seed and cucumber rolls.

Finally, even more customizable, the hand rolls. You just stuff and fill the little squares of nori with rice, then the fillings you want, roll up and eat.

Crab, cucumber, negi and cream cheese.

Fun and easy!

 

 

Food and Food: Asia and General and japan08 Jun 2011 10:12 pm

When I was about 7 years old, my parents started a birthday tradition of bringing me to the Japanese Village in downtown Edmonton for a little teppanyaki fun. The last year I went – the year I turned 10 – the staff took a Polaroid of me wearing a huge Japanese wig hairstyle thing…and that was the end of that tradition. Partly because we moved to the UK and partly because even at age 10, the idea of wearing a wig thousands of other of people had worn and “wearing” an experience thousands of others of people had turned me off. Yes, I was a snob even an an early age it would seem.

Twenty years on I think I have returned to my roots. While themed restaurants are not my first stop, I am less likely to turn my nose up at them. Perhaps out of nostalgia or out of expat desperation. While looking for a fun experience for my mom’s last night on Okinawa back in January, a friend suggested taking her to one of the restaurants in the Sam`s Group.

These restaurants (owned by three American brothers) tend to be teppanyaki restaurants. As the idea of a chef  “performing” just for us cooking frozen seafood likely imported from another country made me cringe more and more, I decided to take one for the team and see what it was like.

Seafood display at the front of the rather large restaurant

I might be able to sit at that bar for hours if it had the right view

 

I was pleasantly surprised. The Sam’s Group has been on Okinawa since 1970, and they know what their patrons want. They mostly appeal to young American military families going out for special occasions or entertaining and to tourists from mainland Japan looking for an American experience in Japan. It is a really weird contrast in diners.

The location we went to, Sam’s by the Sea Awase, was one of the original restaurants. It is loaded with tiki torches, moais, outriggers, rattan furniture, shells, and all sorts of fun Hawaiian bric-a-brac. It could be tacky and gaudy and messy, but somehow it isn’t.

I think the there were three factors in a great experience at Sam`s.

  1. my expectations were low. I was not expecting much from an Americanized Japanese restaurant idealizing America in Japan. (wrap your head around that one)
  2. we chose to visit the one restaurant in the group that served entrees as opposed to teppanyaki style
  3. we had a coupon and dammit, we were going to use it

Nerdy fun with GIFs and my shark mugs.

The drinks were really good, and we walked away with four free themed cups which brought me more joy than you can imagine. One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure, I guess. My mom got a margarita and Mike got a pina colada. As I was driving, I stuck to the virgin drinks.

I’m not kidding when I said besides my mom visiting and some tacos I made on New Years Day, these cups were the best part of my January.

We started with escargot and cheese tempura. The escargot were fresh, garlicky and buttery. They could have come with a bit more toast for sopping up the butter in my opinion, but they were still delicious. The cheese tempura were basically glorified cheese sticks. But when you have not had cheese in some time, you take what you get.

Then a small salad that was alright, served with our choice from four different dressings. Following that, a bowl of housemade piping hot Indian curry soup. People rave about this on Okinawa web forums, trying to figure out the recipe for when they go home. I thought it was alright – better and more unusual than most standard complimentary restaurant soups.

Finally, our entrees.

Going all out I got the theatrical sounding “flaming sword shish kababs.” Out came the chef with a sword laced in … fuel, and placed my rare steak chunks and veggies on my plate. It was a nice experience, but I wish I had just gotten regular steak after tasting my mom and Mike’s beef. My meat had a sweet marinade on it which was good, but I really love the taste of just straight up beef.

I’d place the steak on a level above the Keg but below Carnevino in Vegas, which was the last truly awesome steak I had in North America. It is probably unfair to even make that comparison, actually. But, this is better than average steak for a restaurant, and the presentation and fun atmosphere make it a great destination restaurant.

With a last minute change of order, I switched my side of bread to garlic rice, at an extra cost. I am glad I did, and recommend it to others, even if you are “riced out” – a situation that does not happen to me often here as the Japanese rice is so good. Sam’s rice was tender and flavourful. The bread was decent at Sam’s, but the butter was tropical fruit infused and was a bit sweet and fruity. At first we thought it was the bread itself, but that was not the case.


Chevron-shaped impressively high coconut cream pie…sadly not as good as I had hoped.

We closed out with a piece of mile high coconut cream pie. I had been eyeing it across the dining room, but it was probably the weakest element of the meal. The meringue was a bit sticky and soggy, not fluffy and light. I would probably forgo dessert next time and just get another tropical drink.

Sam’s has been around on Okinawa for over 40 years, churning out steak, seafood and classic cocktails to soldiers and tourists alike. They are good at what they do, and I know we will return there again sometime in the future.


Sam’s by the Sea, Awase
(other locations in the chain, visit Sam’s Group for more info)

ps: while my photography on the blog is normally standard at best, thank you for sticking through this substandard stuff. Not my best. It was part of the reason I delayed this entry so long, actually!

Food and Food: Asia and japan31 May 2011 07:04 am

This restaurant was one of the first I remember being very intrigued by when I arrived in Okinawa in August. I was wandering around Okinawa’s capital, Naha, and spied the restaurant’s window with three huge cow carcasses in it. When I got over I realized they were the ubiquitous plastic models Japanese restaurants love to use, but it was still impressive. I made a note of the restaurant and vowed to return. The only English on the sign was “From Farm” so we just called it that for a long time.

We finally got the chance in January when my mom visited. We wanted a yakiniku restaurant that was higher quality than average, but still good value.  So we headed to “From Farm.” We finally found last week that it is called yakiniku Wagyu Itoryuo, however. It is a great choice if you want a classier meat grilling experience. We struggled with the menu on our visit. It was was a daily special menu, hand scripted in an unusual writing style with no pictures so it was beyond challenging. But, we got through and my mom still talks about the best meat she ever had.

Daily menu…yikes!

What sets Wagyu Itoryuo apart is that it buys entire cows from ranches, mostly located in the Kyushyu area. It is kind of a wholesale restaurant, I guess. It is able to sell very expensive cuts at better prices because they do most of the work themselves. On the back of the menu they show the serial numbers and rancher’s name for the legit wagyu cattle they bring to the restaurant, so you know what you are eating. They then cut the cow up at the restaurant into the specials of the day and you order off that menu. It was very intimidating to people who do not possess strong Japanese skills such as ourselves, and so we returned with our Japanese tutors to treat it like a mini-Japanese lesson. Conveniently delicious!

Wagyu Itoryuo makes its own complimentary in house beef curry, out of the cows they use. It is really good, and I recommend trying it. At the front they show you the stock and bones and marrow used to make the curry.

We ordered a number of things, including kim chee, rice and noodle dishes, cuts of karubi or short ribs, a cut called zabuton (sharing a name with the japanese chair, but not a cut from the butt as you might think) tongue and so on. They have a guide in the menu that shows you where the cuts come from, which is very handy. You can see the Japanese butchers have way more cuts than North American ones.

Many items come on mixed cut platters so you can try a few things at the same time.

 

Things got smoky. Poor Kase-sensei!

Bi Bim Bap

This restaurant is really good. I hope we can return soon with our renewed confidence and order some new items. The staff are kind and friendly and put up with our Japanese tutors requesting they mostly deal with us for ordering. The booths are a bit narrow and tight for a group of four, but we managed.



Wagyu Itoryou Yakiniku

Omoromachi, Naha
沖縄県那覇市おもろまち4-12-9 SAIビル1F :: map
Open 6pm – 2am

 

Food and Food: Asia and Travels26 May 2011 10:16 am

 

My favourite meal in Hong Kong was the one we had quite a distance out of the main city core. We originally traveled out to eat some authentic bamboo noodles at Ping Kee noodles – a place, yes, featured on Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations where he went to Hong Kong.

 

After a 30 minute train ride and ten minute walk, we reached Tai Po market. It was a large four floored concrete building with many vendors. There was not a lot of English, and I could not recall through my flu fogged haze what the stall looked like on the episode. Additionally, I did not have 3G connectivity for my cell in Hong Kong. Gahh!

Eventually we found a wifi signal and we sussed out which stall was Ping Kee…only to find out it was closed for some reason. I am still not sure if it was a regular holiday or closed for good. There seemed to be a lot of junk in the stall, which makes me worry that it is closed for good.

 

By this point we were ravenous. I started to feel the pressure of three hungry bellies plus mine and was not sure where to go next. Then I remembered I had also noted a BBQ restaurant nearby. The name? Yat Lok. Another Bourdain favourite, this restaurant was a short jaunt from Tai Po market, and happily still had a table available even though it was pretty damn close to lunch and it was far from empty in the restaurant.

Since he was an incredibly kind man, the owner/chef came out to help us with the menu (since it was all in Cantonese) and explain some things in English. We all ordered different kinds of meat, but mostly pork and goose. As we waited it got busier and busier, the ladies behind the counter hurling out cups of milk tea, and the sound of the cleaver on wood and meat at the front becoming more frantic.

Our meals came out quite quickly and were…delectable. Some of the best meat I have ever had, with apologies to my father, Guy Savoy and the Salt Lick in Texas. Mike and I both got mixed plates to sample the pork and goose, and I am happy we did. The crisp sweetness of the skin on the goose gave way to a shimmering layer of fat, and tender meaty protein. I shifted back and forth between the goose and the char siu, unable to determine which I liked best. My appetite was not up to full speed so I did not eat that much rice and I have to agree with Bourdain – there was no need for the rice. Just a plate of meat would have been the best. Additionally the owner sent out some soup on the house. What a great man.

Alas a woman cannot live on meat alone. Although I would, especially if it call came from Yat Lok.

Goose on the left,  char siu on the right.

Why did I wait so long to post about this? It is only making me crave it more. Good thing we had a really delicious yakiniku meal last night.

While I am not sure I would have gone out of my way initially to eat at Yat Lok (I had planned on eating BBQ at another restaurant closer to Hong Kong) I certainly would now. Recommended.

Ping Kee bamboo noodles
2nd Floor Tai Po Cooked Food Market

Yat Lok BBQ
5, Po Wah House A, Tai Ming Lane
Exiting the MTR, follow the signs towards “Tai Po Market.” After a jaunt, you will see Tai Po market infront of you. You’ll get to an intersection with a large building, which is Tai Po Market. To get to Yat Lok, though, head down the street to the right to an open square market kind of area. Yat Lok is on the square there.

Food and Food: Asia and Travels14 May 2011 07:29 am

High tea was definitely on my list as an experience to have in Hong Kong. I enjoy that it is relaxing, provides a nice light snack and feels…historical.

Corniness aside, Hong Kong has a wide selection of places to enjoy high tea, with some hotels even offering two high teas at two different dining establishments on the property. With all this selection, I am really sad we ended up where we did.

Sigh. Oh well.

Hullett House is located near the largest shopping center in Hong Kong, making it a perfect post shopping break for us. Mike and I arranged to meet our parents at Hullett House later – a mistake. I thought it would be easy to find. I suppose it is, if you are coming from the right angle or have a map, but from the place we were coming from it appeared to be hidden inside another building. That is the case, in a matter of speaking, as it is located in 1881 Heritage, a high end historical shopping area. My parents were unable to find the building, but both my dad and I groaned when we drove past the location the next day in a cab and saw a huge sign (think 10 foot letters) advertising Hullett House on the opposite side of the complex.

 

The building Hullett House is in was the former Marine Police headquarters, and is one of the oldest buildings in Hong Kong. As such, it is colonial in style and is very different from the sleek glassy Vuitton and Gucci outlets just across the street. It is quite charming, actually, and as we finally found our way in and ascended the steps, I was looking forward to the atmosphere.

 

 

We arrived minutes before the last call for high tea, and the hostess seated us with a comment about it being last call. Yeah, thanks lady, we’ll hurry. Just the way I like to enjoy high tea.

The patio of the Parlour restaurant was quite empty, save for another couple, and there did not seem to be a lot of staff. Something that become painfully clear when we sat…and sat…and sat. Maybe they were not in such a hurry for last call after all?

Finally we got a server to come over and ordered the high tea set. A three tiered silver server came out with scones and sweet treats, and a plate with savoury sandwiches. The food was okay, with most of the highlights being on the dessert tier, including an airy lychee, fruit curd and whip cream heart cake, a crunchy praline finger and warm flaky scones.

My tea was fine, but Mike said he thought his tasted a bit off. I had to ask for cream, and was brought ice cold milk. At the end of the meal would could not find any servers to bring us the bill, so we went to the front podium where the hostess stood with her back to us, rifling through papers. I think I finally said excuse me and she turned and gave us a blank look/stare, then said “Good bye.” I actually had to ask for the bill.

So despite the key location, high quality pastries and a beautiful patio, the experience was, well, bitter. We should have gone to the Peninsula instead. I would have gladly braved the zoo there if I knew better.

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