Friday, September 28, 2012

Oktoberfest Burger

I was all set to give you a Trader Joe's post today and I had one last item I was going to consume for dinner last night, but then Elizabeth announced that she was going to go to dinner with a couple of her clients, and my mindset changed. Such evenings are good opportunities for me to make dishes that, well, can get a little carried away. (My Onion-tended Consequences Burger is a good example.)

And this was definitely going to be a meal I made at home, because I have been looking forward to this day for several weeks. Two years ago - actually, tomorrow will be two years ago to the day - I wrote about my anticipation for Ken Burns's Baseball, calling it the TV show I have most anticipated in my life. And that is still the case. However, over the last few months, a new show has made it firmly into the #2 slot: Last Resort.

Created by Shawn Ryan - creator of The Shield, my favorite show of all time - and starring Andre Braugher, one of my three favorite television actors ever (I don't believe I have ever enjoyed a character more than Frank Pembleton), I was hooked even before I heard the plot. (Which also sounded great.)

A few weeks back I saw an ad for Red Robin's "Oktoberfest" burger. Parts of it intrigued me: beer mustard onions and a pretzel bun. But parts of it did not sounds good: beef patty and ham? I decided to make my own burger.

Here are the items we'll be using this evening:

I wanted some German mustard so I went to a few stores. (Remember what I said about getting carried away?) I could not find any. So I decided to use the "My Friend's Mustard" IPA mustard. I diced up a Vidalia onion, sauteed it for fifteen minutes, then added a spoonful or two of the mustard.

Brooklyn Brine Co.'s Whiskey Barrel Sauerkraut: hand-cut cabbage fermented with lemon and spices and aged in oak whiskey barrels.

At the bakery I bought a pretzel bun, still warm. 

At Paisanos I purchased a bratwurst, which I removed from the casing and, using my burger press, formed it into a patty.

At a local market I spied a roasted red potato salad, made with goat cheese and herbs. 

And, because I needed something to drink to accompany this burger, I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler. From their website: "As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show." 

The ale is brewed with several kinds of malt and is an outstanding example of brown ale. It tastes of roasted coffee and, to me, caramel toffee. It's not a strong flavor but it's perfect for an early-autumn evening.

I grilled the patty for a few minutes, placed a slice of Swiss cheese on top, and covered it loosely with foil.

After placing it on the roll, I added a few shreds of red cabbage. I'd considered making a red cabbage slaw, but with the soft onions and kraut, I figured some crunch from the cabbage would be welcome.

Next came the sauteed onions with the whole mustard seeds.

And then the sauerkraut.

Yeah, it was pretty damn good. I could go into more detail and throw around adjectives, but I'm not going to. It was awesome, let's just leave it at that.

Have a great weekend. One day next week I'll put up the Trader Joe's post. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ozu Japanese Cuisine & Lounge

I don't seek out new Japanese restaurants with the same vigor that I do Chinese; when I find a Japanese restaurant I like, I am pretty loyal to it. So, with both Iron Chef House - one of the best Japanese meals I have ever had - and Nanatori close by me, I have not felt any desire to try new places.

But just a block away from Iron Chef House is Ozu, and one evening we decided to give it a try. It was pretty empty inside, but then again it was a Tuesday and after 9 o'clock. (In some - probably most - parts of the city that means nothing, but Brooklyn Heights is a sleepy part of town.)

There were plenty of specialty rolls on the menu as well as the usual assortment of appetizers and classic rolls.

I had a large Sapporo; Elizabeth had a smaller one.

There was no way I could pass up something called wasabi shumai. I've never had anything quite like this before: tucked into the skins of the wontons was plenty of wasabi, the sinus-clearing, eye-watering kind. I loved it. I could have eaten two or three plates of this as my dinner and been just fine.

Another item about which there was no doubt I would try was the rock shrimp tempura with spicy yuzu aioli. There are almost no foods I like more than fried shrimp, and rock shrimp is my favorite kind. Yuzu is an Asian citrus, similar to a Mandarin orange.

These were good, but not great. The chef was pretty heavy-handed with the aioli, applying it everywhere. If the shrimp had been left alone, perhaps even with the aioli on the side, they would have fared better. But I had no regrets about ordering this and we finished the plate.

We ordered two rolls: the spicy crab roll and the Spicy Girl (deep fried shrimp and avocado topped with spicy lobster). The former was quite good but the latter was terrible, the kind of soggy, not fresh roll that feels slimy in your mouth and you can barely force yourself to eat the bite you took. When the waitress came to take our plates she asked us how it was and I told her I thought it was terrible, hoping she would remove it from the bill. She did not.

If there were no other Japanese or sushi options in town, I would return to Ozu, but I have plenty of choices. And being that it is one block from one of my favorite Japanese restaurants I have ever been to, there is no chance I will be back. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cheesesteaks, Part 1

Sometimes nothing in the world sounds better than a cheesesteak sandwich. I'm not going to say it's the perfect food, but there is no food on this planet - including pizza, Belgian fries, lobster tail and Double-Doubles - for which I get a bigger craving. There are times when I simply need a cheesesteak. The other day was one of those times.

At Paisanos I found a hanger steak marinated in cilantro, parsley, garlic and olive oil. This will certainly do, I thought to myself. 

I did not feel like using the indoor grill, as I had just cleaned it a day earlier. So I heated up the Greenpan and slapped the steak down. Two minutes on one side, four minutes on the other. Then I removed it from the pan, wrapped it in foil, and left it alone for ten minutes.

What do you think? Does this look like something you might enjoy? 

Hanger steaks come from the plate section of the cow; they "hang" down from the diaphragm muscle. Running down the center of the steak is a tough, inedible piece. I cut the meat away from that piece.

I piled several pieces of meat into a soft, long roll, topped it with a few slices of American cheese, and placed it in the oven for two minutes to melt the cheese. 

I topped the meat and cheese with sauteed onions and peppers.

This was one of the best sandwiches I have ever made. The steak was wonderful: buttery with only the slightest hint of the marinade. I probably could have eaten this steak on an old, stale roll and it still would have been a good sandwich. As it was, with the soft roll perfectly containing the insides of the sandwich, it was just awesome. The onions and peppers, which weren't strictly necessary, were nonetheless tasty.

Coming next week: Part 2.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Golden Fried Dumpling

As you can probably tell, I love Chinese restaurants, and it doesn't matter how fancy or authentic they are. New promotions from Panda Express (usually) elicit the same excitement as grand dim sum palaces in the San Gabriel Valley. I love the Szechuan spicy beef at Chang's Garden; I love the hole in the wall Chinese joints that also sell tacos.

So when I passed a small storefront called Golden Fried Dumpling in Downtown Brooklyn and peeked at the menu of impossibly cheap dumplings, buns, and pancakes, my only thought was: I want some. 

I ordered the chive and pork fried dumplings for one dollar, and the "little juicy buns," 6 for $2.50.

The woman behind the register handed my food to me in less than ten seconds. I'm not exaggerating; there were two containers on the counter next to her and as soon as I paid, she grabbed them and handed them to me. Were they were sitting there before I ordered? The only other possibility is that the person working in the kitchen heard my order and placed the two containers on the counter in less than five seconds.

The fried dumplings were very good. Maybe not on par with the great dumplings I have had at places like Luscious Dumpling or the occasional freshly-fried number at Empress Pavilion, but then again those didn't cost a quarter each and they took longer than ten seconds to receive.

These were slightly crispy on the outside and juicy inside, with a delicious dipping sauce. I could have eaten a whole bunch of them, and one day I plan to return and do just that. My only knock on them is that they were cooked a while earlier and thus weren't nearly as good as they would have been if freshly fried. I imagine the reason I received my food so quickly is that lots of the menu items are already cooked and packaged up.

The buns weren't as good. I don't know how long they had been sitting in the styrofoam container, but it was long enough for the dough to cool down into a gummy, unpleasant texture. The interior of the buns, the barbecue pork, was okay, though it would have been better if it were warm. I would get these again if they were fresh and hot, but I would never again try these room-temperature things. I ate two of them then left the other four in the park for someone else to (possibly) enjoy.

I'm sure I will try Golden Frid Dumpling again, though they are quite busy at lunchtime so it becomes something of a Catch-22: I don't want to deal with the crowds so I'm only going to go again during off hours, but I want to try the food when it's fresh and it appears the only way to guarantee that is to go when it's busy.

I can't really complain at these prices, though.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Football Eats 5: Mini Brisket Rolls

The first day of fall. I know back in Pasadena it's hot, but it's just about perfect here: the summer is over, no extreme heat and no humidity, but it's not yet cool. It's just sort of mid-70s, sunny with a slight breeze.

And what a lineup of games on Saturday: UCLA-Oregon State, USC-Cal, Michigan-Notre Dame, LSU-Auburn, Clemson-Florida State, even Arizona-Oregon, kicking off at 10:30 PM. And two baseball games I was looking forward to: the Angels with their backs completely against the wall, no margin for error, taking on the White Sox. And the Yankees and A's: for the first time I can remember, I was truly pulling hard for the Yankees, needing them to beat the A's for the Angels to have any chance at the postseason.

So good food was needed, but nothing that required too much effort - no assembling egg rolls or delicately placing ingredients into tortilla chips - as I wanted to keep my eye on the TV for 18 hours straight. Good food and no effort? Slow-cooker time.

I stopped cooking brisket for a while when I arrived in Brooklyn because there was always too much food. I don't mind some brisket leftovers, but it had gotten to the point where there were enough leftovers for several people. But the market directly across the street from me starting selling thin-cut briskets, between one and one-and-a-half pounds, which is perfect. I picked up one of those Friday night, rubbed it with some pepper and let it sit in the fridge.

Saturday morning I seared it on the fatty side and placed it in the slow cooker on a bed of onions, with a cup (more or less) of water. I considered using a beer or Dr Pepper, but the brisket here was only going to be one of the flavors, so I didn't worry about it. I rubbed some ketchup and a little brown sugar into it .

For nine hours I let it cook while I watched sports. The smells were fantastic.

In the morning I made simple pickled red onions: I sliced the onion and put it in a small pot with red wine vinegar and white vinegar. I cooked it on medium until boiling (about five minutes), let it boil for one minute, and emptied the whole thing into a jar. (I just rinsed out one of my almost-empty Brooklyn Brine Co. pickle jars.)

When we could wait no longer for dinner, I pulled out the brisket, scraped off the small amount of fat gathered on top, and sliced it up. As usual, only the smallest amount of effort was required; at this point the meat wants to fall apart on its own.

I had a package of Martin's "Party-size" potato rolls. Imagine a slider bun but even smaller. I carved a small valley in the top of several.

Into each roll I placed some shredded brisket and topped it with grated Manchego cheese. (I had planned to use Cotija but they didn't have any at the market. No big deal; Manchego is even better.) A few slices of pickled red onion went on each roll and then a drizzle of horseradish aioli.

Damn these were good. The bun was sweet, the meat was juicy, the cheese buttery, the onions tart, and the aioli spicy. I even squeezed a wedge of lime onto the last one for some extra flavor; it too was good, but not necessary.

I would not hesitate to make these again.