Monday, January 31, 2011

Infrared Cooked: Turkey, Lamb, Goat & Beef Ribs

Rachael was provided with a Char Broil Big Easy Infrared Turkey Fryer last fall and brought it to our house for Thanksgiving. 
We used it to cook our Thanksgiving turkey. has an article about infrared grilling. The article says that cooking through conduction is "the direct transfer of heat from one thing to another" like cooking in a frying pan. Cooking through convection is cooking by fluid or gases, like the flow of hot air while indirect grilling. Radiation is cooking by "a form of electromagnetic energy that is directed at the food" like a microwave or radiant heat from a broiler or toaster. Infrared burners, like the Infrared Turkey Fryer, stop airflow to stop convection and produce only radiant heat. They "generate much higher temperatures than normal grills and can heat up much faster." It "causes browning and caramelization on the surface of meats" through a process called "the Maillard reaction." The Turkey Fryer has a metal basket holding the meat and sits inside a metal drum. 
A gas flame on the outside of the drum produces only infrared heat.  
I don't recall the cooking time for the turkey, but it was faster than it would have been if cooked in the oven. It did provide a beautifully browned bird and freed up our oven for other things. 
I personally like really moist turkey. It was cooked a little longer than would be my preference, but it it was very evenly cooked. I did miss have the stuffing that would normally be inside an oven-cooked turkey. 
I asked Rachael if I could borrow it and try some other types of meats. My next project was a leg of lamb. 
The lamb leg was very long and did not come close to fitting inside the Fryer. I finally resorted to using a hatchet to cut-off part of the bone so that it would fit. 
The lamb leg did not fit evenly in the Fryer (it leaned to the side) 
and I was not able to place the thermometer in the meatiest part of the leg as I otherwise would not be able to read it. 
The consequence was that the lamb was unevenly cooked. 
Part of it was quite well done and parts of it were very rare. However, it did cook very quickly and the lamb was great. 
Next, I tried leg of goat. 
I used much of the 
but omitted, intentionally, the inserted garlic and lardoons, and unintentionally, the dry rub that went on it after the marinade. Conscious of the uneven grilling of the lamb, I made an effort to center the goat in the Fryer using sticks and twisties. 
It worked very well. The meat cooked quickly, evenly 
and was amazingly juicy and flavorful. Judy thought the goat taste was a little strong, but I thought it was incredibly good. 
It was nice and rare, the marinade had soaked in and provided great spice, and it was a little stronger than lamb, but I think the flavor was very close to lamb. Lamb is one of my favorite meats, so being able to have goat that tasted like this was a big triumph. Score a big thumbs up for the Turkey Fryer. 
Finally, I cooked some beef ribs in it on Sunday. I did no advance preparation. Right before putting them in the Turkey Fryer, I put Corky's dry rub on several, Commissary barbecue sauce on others, and on a couple, I used banana sauce that was given to me for Christmas by Andrew. I just laid the beef ribs against the outside of the metal basket 
and put them in the Fryer to cook. They cooked evenly and quickly 
and turned out quite well, considering I did no advance preparation like marinade or boiling of the ribs. 
In summary, the Turkey Fryer is a great way to grill. It cooks faster than my outdoor gas grill, it cooks more evenly, and I don't have to worry about the flames burning the food in the Fryer. It is limited space-wise and it does require a little more clean-up than the grill, but I'm hoping I'll be able to use it some more before Rachael demands it back. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quan Hy Restaurant

Friday night, Judy and I were taken out to dinner by Bill and Esmee Tooke at Quan Hy Restaurant, located at 9227 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683 (phone: 714-775-7179). It is something we have been talking about doing for a long time. Esmee grew up in Saigon and her family was airlifted out the day after Saigon fell. She knows I love to try new and unusual foods and she introduced me to durian awhile back. It was marvelous for us as they drove us through the area in Orange County known as Little Saigon and learned that it has the largest Vietnamese population in the world outside of Viet Nam. Best of all, Esmee ordered food for us at Quan Hy and shared her knowledge of Vietnamese food while we all ate. Unfortunately, I did not have a pen and paper to make notes, so I'll do the best I can to piece our meal together. I am discovering that Vietnamese food is full of complex and contrasting flavors and textures. 

First we got an appetizer called banh beo, which is steamed rice cakes with shredded shrimp. 
It is difficult to discern in the pictures, but there is a white rice cake layer on the bottom of each dish with shredded shrimp on top of it. 
Then you add some diluted fish sauce with chilies in it, 
then fold the rice cake over like a taco and eat it. 
I love the rice cake texture. It was very different from anything I've ever eaten before, but I absolutely loved it. It is a gelatinous, shrimpy concoction that just slides down the throat. Good stuff!

Our next appetizer was banh it ram, potstickers stuffed with mushrooms, pork and shrimp on crunchy rice cakes. 
The potstickers were much thicker than the rice cakes, although I assume they are also made of rice, and they mostly overwhelmed the mushrooms, pork and shrimp. It was kind of like eating a huge clump of melted mozzarella. They were okay, but not as good as other parts of the meal. 

My favorite item was the banh uot tom chay, steamed rice paper stuffed with shredded shrimp. 
It came with a dipping fish sauce which was very sweet. 
I could have eaten 100 of them. From the texture of the rice paper, the complementary shrimp taste and the amazing sweet dipping sauce, it is food for the gods. 

For our main meal, Judy and I each got an item and shared them both. One item was Mi Quang, 
egg noodle, Asian veggies, spicy pork, shrimp, peanuts and sesame rice crackers. The rice crackers eventually soaked up some of the juice and developed a wonderful, softer, consistency I really liked. It was a nice combination of sweet, crunchy, salty, noodles and some broth. Out of the main dishes, Judy and I both preferred this one, although both were good. 
Our other main dish was Bun Bo Hue. Hue is apparently a town in central Viet Nam and this is a dish for which it is known. The broth has a bit of a spicy kick to it and there is a variety of meat items that make it fun. For example, it had a large chunk of pork blood in it which wasn't bad (see the upper right side of the bowl below). 
I've previously had some blood sausage that I was not terribly fond of, but this did not have an off-putting blood taste at all. It had a chunk of what one of the Tooke's kids call "good meat," a processed mixture of pork (the front of the bowl above). It had pork foot in it (mid-left of the bowl below), 
some pork surrounded by a ring of fat and skin, which also was good. Then there were other slices of meat with cartilage that I'm not sure where they came from, but it was all good. It came with a side-plate of add-on vegetables and lime, but we pretty much enjoyed the dish as it was. 
For dessert, we shared some che khoai mon nong lanh, which was taro in coconut milk. 
I've had taro several times in Hawaii in poi and have not cared for it. This was good. It was not as wall-pastey and the sweetness of the coconut milk jazzed it up tremendously. We also had some che thach dau xanh, mung bean with jello. 
It was yellow and each taste went through about three progressions of taste. First it was kind of creamy and sweet, but then a moment later an added layer of sweet came pouring in, then it mellowed and left an amazing after taste. It was magical stuff. Our third dessert was che cau do bot loc nuoc dua, red bean with syrup and coconut milk. 
It was red, and unlike the mung bean, the red beans were distinct and identifiable. It did not have as smooth a consistency and was not as sweet, although it was very good. 

Judy and I also shared drinks which I can't find names for. One was a dried lemon which was very potent and had competing sweet and salty tastes at the same time. It was a little too salty for us and we only had a little of it. The other was much better. It was soda and condensed milk and something else. It was very different, but good. 
All together it has greatly increased my desire to have more Vietnamese food and to try other types of Vietnamese dishes. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grilled Eggplant with Pesto and Feta Cheese

Eggplant is a food I grew up believing I disliked. It was not until the last couple of years I've been willing to try dishes that include it in it and I've found I can enjoy it. 
I've had eggplant in a Thai salmon curry, in a Malaysian striped sea bass dish, in a Greek vegetable wrap with hummus,  and in baba ghanoush, all of which I've really liked. I recently took my eggplant precocity to another level. I purchased an eggplant and made a dish that includes it. Eggplant is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. It is a vegetable, but botanically a berry. 
The traditional eggplant I see is a Mediterranean variety with a smooth purple skin. It is white inside with white seeds, 
but rather quickly starts to turn brown when you cut it open. 
It is lighter and spongier than I anticipated. I always thought it was more dense. I found a recipe at for grilled eggplant. I preheated my outdoor grill to medium and seasoned it with olive oil. I cut the eggplant into approximate 1/2 inch slices and rubbed the slices with olive oil. 
I was surprised at how quickly the eggplant absorbed the olive oil. I initially put a few drops on each piece and went back to rub it in. It had all been soaked up. So I put some oil on each slice and immediately spread it around to get some coverage. The recipe called for mixing 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese with a tablespoon of fresh oregano as a topping. I substituted a tablespoon of basil pesto for the oregano and added some salt and pepper. 

Feta cheese is another of the 1001 Foods and I have grown to appreciate it much more since our trip to Greece last summer. After an apparent court battle, since 2007, feta cheese must be made in Greece from the milk of sheep and/or goats to be called feta. The curd is salted and dried for 24 hours and then matured in a brine bath for a month or so. In Greece, it is placed in a large chunk in a Greek salad with olive oil and lemon juice and the taste is amazing. Judy has found it at Trader Joe's for sale in brine and the taste is much more like what we had in Greece. The feta I used for this dish did not include the the best kind of feta, but it was still good. 
Genoese pesto is another of the 1001 Foods. Pesto comes from the Italian verb pestare, which means to crush. Genoese pesto is made using a mortar and pestle and includes Ligurian basil, olive oil and other ingredients such as garlic, pine nuts, salt and Pecorino and or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The pesto I used is from Italy and had all of the foregoing ingredients. 
I grilled the eggplant for several minutes on each side, then put on more olive oil and sprinkled on red wine vinegar. 
Varietal red wine vinegar is another of the 1001 Foods. The name vinegar comes from the French words vin aigre meaning sour wine. Vinegar is formed when the bacterium Acetobacter xylinum converts alcohol into acetic acid. For wine vinegars, the grapes are allowed to ferment into wine and then a bacterial culture takes months after that to do the acetification. It can take months or years for a good vinegar to mature. The better vinegars come from the better base wines. The best red wine vinegars come from "single varietal wines produced in the famous red wine regions of the world," such as Piedmont. I suspect  the red wine vinegar I used was not from a single varietal wine.
Anyway, moving on, I added the feta/pesto combination to the eggplant . The eggplant just soaks in the flavors and takes on the flavor of whatever is on it. The grilled eggplant was soft, had a little grill taste to it, and the pesto/feta combination was good. 
Judy thought it had too much feta and took some of it off, but commented that it was some of the better eggplant she's eat (she too, has not been an eggplant fan). 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam Bar

I recently went to Santa Barbara for a continuing education seminar and went to Brophy Bros., 
one of the top-rated seafood restaurants in town, located at 119 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93109 (phone: 805-966-4418). It is located on one of the piers 
and I got an outside view looking over the harbor. I got a good mixture of things and found the food ranged from mostly ordinary to quite extraordinary. I got some very nice, chilled oysters on the half shell and a hot clam bar combination platter 
with beer boiled shrimp, garlic baked clams, oysters Rockefeller, steamed mussels and steamed clams.
I have had oysters Rockefeller several times and this was the best version I've had, but I've not loved any of the versions. According to Wikipedia, oysters Rockefeller were created at Antoine's in New Orleans and the original recipe is a secret. The green color is easily achieved by using spinach, but it is believed the original recipe did not use spinach, but rather parsley, pureed and strained celery, scallions or chives, olive oil and capers. These oysters were moister and less spinachy than those I've had in the past, but I still don't think you can improve on the raw oysters, except perhaps by adding a little seafood cocktail sauce.
The waitress recommended the garlic baked clams that include some bacon. Again, they were okay, even a little more dry than the oysters Rockefeller, but no match for the steamed clams I'll describe in a minute. The waitress also recommended the beer boiled shrimp as one of her favorites. I thought they were ordinary. They were a little more limp, liked boiled shrimp can get and the taste was not really distinct or savory. One of my favorite dishes is steamed mussels. 
I particularly like to have sourdough bread along with it which I dip in the accompanying broth. The broth was okay, I've had much better, and I did not like the taste of the sourdough bread, and particularly the crust. The mussels were pretty good. They were pretty plump and juicy. In contrast with the mussels we had in Bulgaria last year, which were plump and bursting with juicy flavor, the mussels were ordinary, but better than many I've had. However, their steamed clams were by far the best clams I've ever eaten. 
The clams were relatively large, very plump and exploded wonderful juicy flavor when I bit into them. I would (and will) go back just to eat the steamed clams.
I also ordered a half seafood chef salad. If that is all I had ordered I would have walked away very disappointed. The crab was limp and not very flavorful, the fish was hard and dry and nothing in the combination was particularly good, including the thousand island dressing.
The clam chowder was very good, very thick, but not particularly clammy. A restaurant next door was handing out free samples which were not thick (did not include flour), and full of vegetables, but very clammy. I think I preferred the next door clam chowder. The clam chowder at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo, which is also very thick and creamy, is better. It has more clams and is a little richer. It was a Saturday afternoon and very crowded. I think going well before noon or mid-afternoon would be a better time to go and enjoy the scenery without the huge crowds.