Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Filet o Fish

With plenty of ong choy left over from last night, all I had to do was fry up some fish tonight.

Simple, yet oddly alluring and causes salivation...much like me.

Bought a 10 oz. piece of seasoned salmon from Whole Foods for pan frying to make a quick, no-frills dinner. Because I love fried salmon skin, I scaled the filet with this lovely tool. Now sans scales, heat some oil in a pan on medium high heat. As soon the oil is hot, put the fish in skin-side up, i.e., skin facing you. Let cook for 2 minutes. Flip and fry for another 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 2 minutes before eating, which happens to be a great time to snap some pictures.

The middle will be medium-well when removed from the stove and then the carryover heat will finish the cooking process. This cooking method gives you a piece of salmon that's crispy on both sides and very moist and tender in the middle. And the best part is it took very little time. With scaling including, it only took me 15 minutes to cook up. If there was an Olympic event in speed cooking, I think I'd have a shot.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Asian-Chilean Shrooms n Pot

Though the sea bass my wife made last week was great, she wasn't quite happy with it since she thought the recipe was a bit off and the sea bass wasn't the freshest. So we went out and caught a fresh sea bass steak from our neighborhood Whole Foods. Besides the price sometimes, this place doesn't disappoint.

Who knew cooking in dried dirt could be so yummy?

12 oz Chilean sea bass
1 bunch Chinese noodles
4 oz of brown pearl mushrooms, halved
2 stalks green onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon microplane-grated ginger
¼ cup sweet soy sauce
¼ cup rice wine
¼ cup chicken stock
2 teaspoon hot (spicy) sesame oil

Though she baked the fish like last week, the approach was completely different. Mix the sweet soy sauce, rice wine, hot sesame oil, ginger, garlic and green onions. Pour over the fish and let marinade for 30 minutes. Soak the noodles in cold water. Insert the clay pot with its lid into the oven and preheat the oven to 400ºF. Once preheated, carefully remove the clay pot onto the stove top. Now create a bed for the fish by first adding the chicken stock, then the noodles and finally the mushrooms. Lay the fish on top of this edible bed and pour all the marinade onto the fish. Cover and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.

The noodles will turn brown since it absorbs the marinade and any of the fish juices. The excess liquid will steam the fish and mushrooms. What you'll end up with is a flaky chunk of fish with plenty of salty, sweet noodles that taste much like what I would expect of Chrysomallos' golden fleece.

To add some color to our diet, I whipped up some garlic stir-fried ong choy.

Enough to make Popeye proud.

This is an extremely yummy and easy dish to make. It's also healthy for you or so I was told as a kid...maybe my parents made me eat it because they didn't want to...either way, I love it now. Buy a large bunch of it at your local Asian food market. (If you ever been to one, you know why I don't have an specific amount listed). Clean it by cutting off about 2 inches of the thick stalk ends, submerging and gently shaking in a large bowl full of water to remove dirt. Then snap each stalk into 2-3 portions of equal length and put the smaller pieces into a separate dry bowl. Once you've snapped all the stalks into pieces, like all those hearts your broke in high school, discard the dirty water and repeat washing (not snapping) once more, just to be sure. Once done, mince 4-6 cloves of garlic, depending on how much ong choy you have. In a large wok on high heat, add oil and garlic and stir until aromatic. Then add all the ong choy and gently stir until all the leaves wilt. Serve with dinner like below.

What you don't see is the little puddle of drool at my feet.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bánh mì & mignon


Met a good friend for lunch today at Les Givral on Milam. With sandwiches for $4 or less, this is a great place to get full for cheap. They're famous for their Vietnamese sandwiches called bánh mì, which literally translates to "bread."

Handheld heaven

This particular one is the "đac biet" or "special." Stuffed inside a warm, baked-fresh-daily French baquette are sliced meat (BBQ pork, chả lụa and French ham), pâté, pickled carrots, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, butter, mayonnaise, soy sauce and ground black pepper. As if this wasn't already enough mm-mmm in a bun, I add a couple of spoons of chili garlic paste to make my forehead sweat. The last two sentences just made my mouth water.

As I always say, if it doesn't have kick, it ain't worth a lick.


On the commute home from work today, my wife and I agreed to not work out. So to celebrate our reaching an agreement, we made steak and scallops for dinner.

Yes, the sea scallops really were that big.

This 10 oz filet started off just under 3 inches thick but after cooking it shrank to roughly 2 inches...shrinkage sucks. I cooked the steak just like I did on last week's post. As you can see, I delivered on my promise to have steak again this week. Correcting last week's mistake, I got a thick cut and broiled it for 3 minutes each side, after searing of course. The result was a perfectly medium rare steak. Yay me!

The huge sea scallops were seared on medium high heat for about 4 minutes each side. The fleur de sel with dried basil and garlic was sprinkled on after cooking. The spinach, onion and mushroom mixture was also prepared just like last week.

This time around, I added tomatoes, both for added veggies and for more color on the plate. Thoroughly wash and wipe the plum tomatoes dry (this will reduce oil splattering later). In a hot pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of dried basil; toss to evenly coat the pan. Add the tomatoes and constantly shake to keep the red rounds moving. Continue until the skin on all the tomatoes have burst, about 5 minutes. Serve dinner.

So before you start your own scallop and steak dinner, I leave you with this closing thought: If scallops were blue, would it be called "smurf and turf"?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Food-filled weekend

Good food has many effects such as happiness and misery, depending on how much you ate. Another effect is extreme lethargy, which affected me most of the weekend. So now I have 3 days worth of good food to post about. Off we go!


I joined some friends for a long lunch at one of my favorite steakhouses here in Houston called Taste of Texas. This place has been around 30 years now and has only one location. As its name suggests, it's full of Texas pride. As you walk in, you enter what all non-Texans expect a Texas living room to look like: large fireplace, huge Texas flag hung with care, firearms and other paraphernalia hanging on the walls. Living here most of my life, I can say that not all living rooms are like this...though they should be.

After ordering the 6-oz filet mignon, I headed to the AYCE (all you can eat) salad bar. The salad spread itself is decent enough to appease any vegan. Ironically, however, it's famous for it's warm bread, flavored butter and enormous cheese wedges. That's right, ToT's venerable venue of veggie variety for devouring is better known for its cheese and bread. Shave off as much cheese as you think you need, grab as much bread as you'd like (there's rolls, jalapeño corn bread, cheese rolls and more) and your favorite butter (plain, apple or cinnamon honey). Usually, I have a hard time finding space for any veggies on my salad plate.

Even though my salad plate was mainly filled with bread and cheese, the mere act of walking through the salad bar line made me feel less guilty about the steak I was about to inhale.

Isn't she a beaut?

ToT serves its steaks with the option of two seasonings, which you can have one or the other or both. I chose both. The first seasoning is a dry lemon-pepper rub and the second is a sizzling lemon garlic butter. Neither seasoning are mandatory as far as flavor, but since there's no additional charge, why not? Ordering the butter will have your steak come out on this cow platter, which puts me more in touch with my prehistoric ancestors, who I'm sure ate directly from the side of animals with knives and forks. My filet was cooked perfectly and, as always, disappeared within 5 minutes.

Then came time for dessert. Good thing I ate my steak so fast because I had time to digest some before ordering the Snickers Pie.

How do you top off a meal of fatty red meat? With fatty sugars of course!

Fans of Snickers and cheesecake will enjoy this pie. The description will read whipped cream on graham crackers on cheesecake on Snicker crumbs on chocolate, but what it leaves out is "smile on your face." I personally can do without the whipped cream and cheesecake, so I eat it with the skill and dexterity of a surgeon performing heart surgery.


The wife and I trekked to favorite Houston sushi place, Kaneyama. We went for lunch thinking that we'd be frugal and save some money. Yeah right. As soon as we looked over their menu, our eyes lit up like Brangelina in an orphanage. So $70 dollars later, here's what we had for lunch.

Seaweed salad starts about 90% of our sushi meals. The simple, clean taste helps our palettes prepare for the seafood to come.

Gindala, or miso-marinated cod, is another favorite appetizer of ours. The cod filet is marinated overnight in a miso mixture and then broiled. Great salty flavor and flaky texture.

Chawanmushi is listed under appetizers, but since it takes longer to prepare, it always ends up being served with the main dishes.

Clockwise from top left: hotategai (whole scallop), two uni (sea urchin), tobiko (flying fish roe), unagi (fresh-water eel), masu (sea trout), ika (squid) and sake (salmon).

Amaebi (raw sweet shrimp).

Most the time, this is prepared from frozen shrimp. However, sometimes we're lucky and there will be live shrimp. The difference in freshness is distinguishable, but frozen shrimp doesn't ruin the experience. This piece was from a frozen shrimp.

Nothing wasted: the head of the shrimp used for amaebi.

The best part about ordering amaebi is that she'll eat the tail and I get the shrimp's head! It's lightly battered and fried so the shell turns brittle and essentially becomes a crispy seal locking in all the good stuff inside the shrimp's head. IMO the better half of the order.

Sukiyaki, the food not the 4 P.M. song.

This was my first time trying sukiyaki. The description enticed me by listing "yam noodles" as an ingredient along with beef, tofu and veggies (napa cabbage and green onions). The broth was sweetly salty. The yam noodles, translucent and slightly chewy, weren't quite what I was expecting, but I wasn't disappointed. I not sure how exactly yams were included in its making since I didn't taste yam nor saw evidence of it. The wikipedia listing has a picture that doesn't look like the noodles I had. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the mix of just a few ingredients that worked well together. I would definitely get this again.

Sunday breakfast

Met some friends for breakfast at Avalon Drug Store and Diner. This was my first time here in all the years we've lived here. Since my wife and I were running late, we asked our friends to order for us. So here's what we got:

Pecan waffle

The waffle looked and smelled great and had the crispy, cakey texture expected. However, it was sour. Not slightly sour, as if it had buttermilk or sour cream, but overpoweringly sour. I'm not sure if this is intentional or if I got a bad batch. Needless to say there was a lot left over. I then turned my attention to the following.

Chorizo quesadilla, bacon and eggs

I'm a huge fan of chorizo. Like everything else, some chorizo is better than others. This chorizo was good, but I would have like to see twice as much in the quesadilla. BTW, it was my first time having quesadilla for breakfast.

The highlight the meal was definitely the bacon, which was cooked exactly how I like it, mostly crispy with a few pieces of chewy fat. I was tempted to order another 4 orders of the cured belly bliss.

Sunday lunch

The wife and I met with her father for lunch at his favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Tay Do. Whenever meeting him for lunch, he either chooses this place or a buffet. Lucky for us, after the breakfast above, he chose the option of less gastric misery.

Steamed chicken with ginger soy sauce

This is one of my and my father-in-law's favorite Vietnamese dishes. This order was served warm topped with green onions and cilantro. We received about half a chicken skillfully chopped. There's nothing more annoying than chicken chopped with little shards of bone scattered through the dish. The ginger soy sauce is actually diluted with other sauces, but the ratio of dilution and the other sauces are usually a guarded secret. One thing the soy sauce is definitely diluted with is chicken fat. The resulting dish tasted like juicy meat drenched in angel tears.

Canh Chua (literally translated to "sour soup")

This is one of my wife's favorite dishes. The broth is a tamarind base, hence the sour. This order was made with catfish steaks, celery, tomatoes, bean sprouts, okra, Thai chili peppers, pineapple and coriander. All these ingredients amalgamate into a spicy, salty, slightly-sour soup with tender catfish and enough veggies to satisfy a hobbit.

In conclusion, I had a weekend spent with friends and family over some delectable delights. All the ingredients for a great time. Hope yours was the same!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dry ramen noodles?

Lived like a college kid tonight and made ramen noodles. But for a guy who grew up on this stuff, a package of ramen noodles is like a canister of Play-Doh where you're limited only by your imagination. This time I prepared it "dry" with tomatoes and onions and poached eggs.

My version of comfort food.

1 package of ramen
1 large egg
1 small roma tomato, diced
¼ onion, chopped
2 cups of boiling water

My instant ramen of choice is Mi Hai Cua, which translates to "two crab noodles." Now whether this means it's supposed to have the flavoring of two crabs or just to one-up the lonely Mi Mot Cua, who knows. It for sure doesn't taste like crab. However, all that matters is that this ramen helped me survive my gluttonous teenage years, though it might have also stunted my growth some...

First, crack the egg into the boiling water and poach until desired doneness (5 minutes for soft, 8 minutes for hard). Turn heat to medium otherwise it'll boil over. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked egg to a bowl.

Now discard enough boiling water so that there's only about ½ cup left in the pot. Put back on the stove. Add only half of the seasoning packet. Remember, since this is "dry" ramen, it'll much saltier than usual. Add the ramen and onions and cook until done, tossing constantly. The ramen will absorb the water and any liquids from the onions. Once cooked, remove from heat, add the tomatoes and toss until even. Adding the tomatoes sans heat serves two purposes: (1) merely warming the tomatoes retains its nice texture and prevent extra liquids in the ramen, and (2) it instantly cools the ramen slightly so that it won't burn your mouth.

Add the cooked ramen to the bowl with the egg and enjoy. Like I said, it's a culinary canvas limited only by your imagination. Add your favorite veggies or meat or nothing at all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spinach, onions and steak, oh my!

My wife and I commute to and from work. On the commute home today, neither of us could remember the last time we had a good steak. Fearing our lack of red-meat consumption would throw off the circle of life, we stopped into our neighborhood grocer to pick up a steak. Of course this meant we had to forego our workout, but it's a small price to pay for el círculo de vida.

Healthy? Of course! There's spinach.

Here's how I prepared the one-pound cut of bone-in cardiac arrest.

1 lb of bone-in ribeye
½ yellow onion, chopped
1 cup of mushrooms, chopped or halved
2 cups of baby spinach
seasoned salt
garlic powder
ground black pepper
cayenne powder
cooking oil

Fire up the oven broiler and heat up a cast-iron skillet on high. Season one side of the steak with as much of the seasonings listed above. I wish I could give you measurements or some ratio, but I always eye-ball it. Just remember, easy on the salt since it can always be added later. Once the skillet is hot, add oil. Just before the oil reaches its smoke point, put the steak in seasoned-side down on the fire. Sear for one minute. While searing, season the other side of the steak, which should now be facing you. Flip and sear again for one minute. When done, put the entire skillet under the broiler.

This part is a bit tricky since the cook times depends on the thickness of your steak. My steak was only an inch thick and I mistakenly broiled it for 5 minutes each side. I know what you're thinking, but it's been a while since I made steak. At one point in my life my apartment's electric stove and I could turn out 6 steaks all cooked to different orders without even using a timer. The corporate world takes away so much of my life.

This steak came out medium-well and, by the time I started eating, it was well-done. I should have broiled it for 3 minutes each side. If you're making this with a 3-inch thick cut, 5 minutes each side should give you a steak that comes out medium rare but is medium by the time you start eating. Make sure to let your steak sit for at least 5 minutes after cooking before cutting into it. Luckily, since it was a ribeye, all the marbling kept it tender enough to enjoy. I'll take a stab at it again in a week or two...pun intended.

As for veggies, I sautéed spinach, onions and mushrooms in the pan drippings while letting the steak rest. After eating this, I needed a rest...*rimshot*... Simply put the skillet back on the stovetop on medium high heat, transfer the steak to the plate, and add only the mushrooms and onions at first. They'll be flavored with the fat and seasonings that came off the steak. A few minutes before the onions and mushrooms are done, add the spinach and toss until the leaves wilt. Serve with your favorite beverage. It was a Bud Select for me tonight since I'm watching my calorie consumption.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Surf and Chippy Cream

To be truer to my blog's purpose, I'm posting larger pictures from now on.

Tonight, my amazing wife made a wonderful dinner: sea bass with baby spinach and mushrooms. And she did all that in the time it took me to jog 2 miles; whether she's really fast or I'm really slow, I'll let you decide.

The sea bass was baked in a foil pouch on top a bed of baby spinach. To the fish, she added olive oil, soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, herbs, lime juice and fleur de sel with dried garlic and basil. This bag o' happiness was baked at 400ºF for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, she sautéed mushrooms in a buttery red and rice wine sauce. The result: a drooling husband.

Happiness does fit on a plate.

Then for dessert, she made some Nestlē chocolate chip cookies baked to perfection. But it didn't stop there. To the two warm, fresh-baked, ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookies, we added a plenitudinous dollop of Jet-puffed marshmallow cream. The ooey-gooey factor increased exponentially. I dub this the Chippy Cream Delight®. Thank goodness for the 2-mile jog. Now I only need to jog another 4 to burn it off.

As you can see, I put the top cookie on upside-down. This was the outcome of two factors: (1) my excitement about the Chippy Cream, and (2) my wife yelling, "Hurry up and take the picture! I want my cookie!!!"

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tongue in Cheek

Tonight we tried a small, family-owned place that just opened this week. It's called Tropical Crazy Fruits and More (no website yet). We actually stopped in earlier this week, but only ordered a couple of their many fruit drinks. Tonight we ordered food. Though we weren't hungry, we ate anyway to show our support to a local business.

Having grown up with entrepreneurs as parents, I warmly smiled at the nostalgic sight of 4 family members gathered around the business' credit-card machine trying to figure out how it operated.

First off, the drinks were delicious and refreshing. So far, we've tried mango, papaya and tamarind. Both the mango and papaya were merely fresh fruit, ice and bottled water mixed in a blender. The tamarind had a little sugar added, but that's expected with the sourly sweet fruit. I understand that this sort of drinkable simplicity may be lost on those accustomed to sugar-laden baked goods. For us, however, it was a welcomed blast from the past, since we both grew up with this type of fruit drink as our primary form of dessert (though this might explain my seemingly insatiable sweet tooth as an adult).

As for the food, we each ordered a taco; my wife got beef fajita and I got tongue. That's right. I ordered a beef tongue taco and enjoyed least I thought it was beef could have been pork tongue. Either would have been just as succulent. Tongue is an under-appreciated meat. It's very rich and more difficult to ruin than other cuts of meat in the cooking process. Case in point, though the diced tongue in my taco was slightly charred, resulting in an overly crisp exterior, it still was very tender. If this were beef flank, the meat would have been ruined. But I digress.

Both tacos were served on warm, toasted flour tortillas and topped off with freshly chopped onions and cilantro, which did a great job of cutting through the buttery tortillas, enhancing the flavor of the meats. The accompanying sauce seemed to be a spicy lime mixture meant to add a zesty kick to the tacos. IMO, though it did add a subtle zing, it's not a must-have topping. All in all, this is one mom-n-pop shop that can count on our return business.

Behold the crazy tongue taco. Since both tacos looked nearly identical, I only posted the tongue taco.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sautéed Sardines

You're probably thinking, "Is he serious?" Yes, I am. Everyone should try everything at least once. Foodies try everything twice.

The following dish was taught to me by my pappa. In tried and true male Vo cooking style, it's simple, quick and involves canned goods.

One can of sardines
2 stalks of green onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
ground black pepper to season
cooking oil

Heat the oil in an appropriately sized pan. Once hot, add the onions and garlic and cook for a minute to bring out their flavors. Add the sardines and gently toss in the pan for 3-5 minutes or until warm. Serve with your fave carb.

All the ingredients before "cooking."

The sardines after "cooking." A treat fit for King Poseidon himself.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

CRAVE the Good Life

Dolce Vita

As part of our endless quest for good food, my wife and I tried a new pizzeria for lunch today (new to us). Hearing it's Houston's best pizza, we had high hopes. Long story short, Dolce Vita's pizza delivered (no pun intended).

To accomplish a casual dining atmosphere, it's set inside a quaint historic house, where the first floor serves as the bar and the second floor as the dining room. The windows are the original antique glass, providing a slightly distorted view of the neighboring shopping center. White kitchen towels are used as napkins. The floors and stairs creak. The result is a step back in time to turn-of-the-century Houston.

Though we only had a few dishes, we didn't regret what we ordered (except the dessert). Dolce Vita's food is as simple and aromatic as what we enjoyed in Italy. Their focus on fresh ingredients avoids a dependence on spices. Each of our dishes were a balanced combination of a few natural flavors, which doesn't confuse the palette.

The restaurant's dining room. Warm and homey like grandma's house.

Pickled anchovies with marinated bell peppers, capers and Italian parsley. Unlike the anchovies on pizza, these pickled ones are slightly tart and salty and has a great meaty texture to balance out the soft, sweet peppers. The capers are overpowering, so avoid getting too many mixed in with each bite.

Eggplant and fresh basil in agro docle, a sour ("agro") and sweet ("dolce") sauce. Though I wasn't craving eggplant at the time (my wife's order), I could appreciate the preparation. Served chilled, the purple plant had been cooked just right. The agro dolce was also a nice balance, neither too sweet nor too sour, that complimented the eggplant instead of masking its flavor.

Taleggio pizza with arugula and pear in truffle oil - sounds weird, tastes great! No tomato sauce here, exactly how I like it. The thin crispy crust reminded me of Naples. This was our first time eating warm Taleggio. We're big fans of the cheese, but until now have only had it cold or room temperature. Though we refer to it as a "stinky cheese," its flavor is much milder than its smell. Serving it warm brings out more of its flavor, which seemingly reduces its saltiness. The mildly bitter arugula coupled with gently sweet pear on top of mildly salty Taleggio cheese worked wonderfully.

Pistachio, dark chocolate and mexican vanilla bean gelato. Despite sounding and looking good, the gelato wasn't great. The waffle cone was stale. The gelato was full of ice crystals, taking away from the creaminess we've come to love. However, the gelato had the expected density and rich flavors. Nevertheless, next time we'll try one of their other desserts.

Since my wife and I have an unhealthy need to end a meal with sweets that meet our satisfaction, the disappointing gelato lead us to try a new bakery in Houston that only makes cupcakes. We've been burned before by not-so-great cupcake-only places, so we approached this one cautiously.

To our surprise, the cupcakes are very moist and delicious. So moist in fact that, when peeling the paper off the cupcakes, a thick layer of cake sticks to the wrapper. This resulted in me spending several minutes scraping the residue off with my teeth. Also, another pleasant surprise was a crunchy ring around the edge of the cupcake just under the frosting where batter had overflowed and hardened on the pan. The additional texture increased the cupcake's Mm-Mmm Factor ®.

Our only quibbles are that (1) the frosting is too sweet and (2) there's too much frosting. We know we're in a small minority that enjoy mildly sweet desserts; but with such great cake, the frosting dulls the palette and takes away from the meticulous baking. After our first bites, we simply scrapped off the "excess" frosting.

Again, these are mere trifles in comparison to the deliciousness that is CRAVE.


Dark chocolate