Redmond Lights Festival, Chain Restaurants and Indians

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 9, 2008 : 8:05 pm

Last night, I headed out to the Redmond lights festival, which is a walk along the Burke Gilman/Sammamish River that ends up at the Redmond Town Center. I’ve been a little leery of RTC lately because of some political issues lately, but they’ve seemed to be getting better according to a popular Redmond blog that I keep up with.

Anyhow, the festival was fun, with the sparkling of blinking red lights that everyone wore, holiday music, and general holiday mood. With the sour economy, it was nice to see everyone just out and having fun. Of course, it helped that there was free food involved, as there were lines 50 people deep for even some simple foods like Panera Bread cookies. Even though the lines were long, we (Steve, my girlfriend and I) had no problem waiting around and enjoying the scene. If we can camp out at Black Friday at 3am, we can wait 10 minutes for free food. :)

Most of the food vendors were those directly in Redmond town center, like Thai Ginger, Mefil (I always wondered if this name was a clever play on “Me Fill”), Ruby’s, that new sandwich/soupy Italian chain that replaced Cosi (THANK YOU), and Todai. Also there was Canyons, Azteca and Qdoba, which are close by.

For various reasons, we don’t review chain restaurants as a rule on Chef Seattle, but it’s events like these that tend to put some things into perspective on the roles of big food chains. What I mean is that when a large business gets involved, they have a marketing budget to sponsor events like the Redmond festival, because marketing and branding is what chain restaurants do best. Small, independently owned restaurants often don’t have the budget, manpower or – and I think this is the primary reason – foresight to sponsor these type of events. I love my small restaurants, but having talked with many chef/owners, I say it with love when I say they know food, but suck at self-promotion.

The only independent food vendor passing out free food here was Mefil, while every other one was a chain of some kind – though Thai Ginger and Canyons are both Seattle-based chains. I’m going to single out Mefil for a second, because as an Indian restaurant, I have to say that of all the various ethnic restaurants owners, Indians are the best pound-for-pound marketers. There’s often a good reason for that though, which is that many Indian restaurant and business owners are often highly educated individuals, with MBAs or other post-college education.

When I was volunteering at a food bank warehouse a few years ago, I had an eye-opening discussion with an Indian fellow – Gugan, I think his name was – who was working off 20 hours of community service. He told me he sold liquor to a minor, as it was Superbowl weekend and his store was packed with people out the door.

Explaining, he told me he owned seven convenience stores and managed all of them by himself, employing friends and family. Apparently, he had an MBA and wanted to start an integrated chip design outsourcing business when he came to America, but found he could do quite fine selling drinks and snacks to the masses. When I asked him about restaurants, he was pretty adamant that it was the same for that niche as well, with many well qualified owners doing it because they money made it worth it.

After he left for the day, he offered me free Slurpees anytime at his stores, though I never quite took him up on that offer. :)

Pad Thai with Prawns – in Pictures

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 26, 2008 : 4:46 pm
Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

I know, it’s close to Thanksgiving and I’m somehow putting up pictures of pad thai that I made last week of all things. Truth is, I have never actually cooked an entire turkey, partly due to the fact that I’ve never had the need to: it’s always been cooked by someone else at whatever party or event I’ve gone to. The major reason though, is that turkey is huge and I tend to pick and fork my way through rationed amounts of food – which is why I know pad thai and not giant birds. :)

So, here’s pictures and my pseudo ingredients for pad thai. While I’ve been making pad thai for quite some time, I’m constantly adjusting the recipe and have drawn much inspiration was drawn from various websites, especially Chez Pim. Ironically, I have two Thai cookbooks that have pad thai recipies, but both raised my eyebrows for a lack of tamarind (I call it the Thai secret spice) and a complete lack of proper stir fry instructions.

Not everyone is a big fan of fried tofu, but I (supposedly) hear it’s commonly used by the street vendors in Thailand. You can get the tofu at any Asian grocer, like Uwajimaya or even some places like Central Market. Whole Foods and PCC have tofu, but not the light and fried kind. Note: In my experience, tofu goes bad very fast (even with my Sub Zero), so plan on using it soon afterward.

Rice sticks soaking in water

Rice sticks soaking in water

First, soak thai noodles / rick sticks in water for about 45min or until limp but not soft. This alone might be one of the most important aspects of pad thai, as taking out the rice sticks too early leaves you with cardboard like noodles, while soaking too long makes for an incredibly difficult stir fry that clumps together like play dough. I use about a quarter of a packet, which serves 2 and is just the right amount for a wok to handle. If you are cooking for more, soak half the packet.

In the picture, I have the “pink” packet as I like to say, because the common distributor around Seattle seems to come in pink or blue. Blue is the slightly wider rice stick and pink is the smaller one. I normally use the “blue” noodles, but it’s more of a preference than anything. You can also buy the shopper friendly “Pad Thai Noodles” package that they sell at all the major grocers. It just costs about double what you would pay otherwise for the convenience.

Pad thai ingredients

Pad thai ingredients

Next are the ingredients, which include: fried tofu, green onions, sliced white onions, thai chilies, lime wedges, freshly shredded carrot, mined/diced garlic and bean sprouts (not pictured). I don’t measure ingredients, but I can say that about 1/3 cup of each is what you’re aiming for, short of the chilies, garlic and limes.

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

I call this the holy trinity of pad thai, as these are the most important elements of pad thai! You’ll often see substitutions, like white rice vinegar instead of tamarind or peanut oil instead of fish oil, but you’ll never quite accomplish true thai flavor if you go that route. Even worse, some recipies like Chez Pim points out, call for ketchup or as I’ve seen, peanut butter. Never, ever, do that! I admit in my earlier cooking years to trying one such heinous recipe when I was ravenously hungry, but quickly ruined any appetite after a taste of bastardized thai. Don’t even get that quick and easy “Pad Thai Mix” that rests in a nice little squeeze bottle container; it will just never compare.

The sauce is simply half cup each of cane sugar, fish oil and tamarind paste. If you use white, refined sugar, take it down to about 1/4 cup. Having experimented with the sugar amount, you can increase the ratio of sugar, which is what many Thai restaurants in Seattle do, but I think it makes pad thai far too sweet. That’s one reason why I use cane sugar instead.

You can find both fish oil and tamarind at Uwajimaya (I swear they are not an advertiser for us). The tamarind is often not labeled in English, so ask your friendly clerk if you can’t find it. Be sure to get the paste and not the root for purposes of this dish.

Mix well, then heat in small sauce pan on low heat. Keep it ready, because you’ll be using it soon.

Tofu and onion stir fry

Tofu and onion stir fry

I start with a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil on a high heat wok. I’ve done olive oil before, but you need to keep the wok on med-high so you don’t burn the oil, though that depends on your burner and what type of olive oil you’re using.

Tofu tends to take awhile to warm up, so I like to toss that in first along with the onions. As with any stir fry, work the wok fast so the food doesn’t stick and burn. If you have chicken, you can toss that in after about a minute or so after the tofu. I used prawns, which are far more heat sensitive, so I added that farther into the dish after the tofu and onions were cooked. With such a hot wok, I don’t like to add garlic at first because it quickly caramelizes and turns into bits of burnt coal if you’re not furiously stir frying. Right before adding the noodles is often when I add garlic, as that’s when I also turn down the heat to med or med-high.

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

After about 2-3 minutes, I add my prawns, garlic and a bit more oil if necessary. Splash a few spoonfuls of sauce onto the mix and stir fry until shrimp is almost (but not quite) pink. At that point, turn down heat and add rice sticks.

Adding rice sticks and green onions

Adding rice sticks and green onions

When adding the rick sticks, I turn down the heat a little because I have an enormous problem with my noodles sticking together at highest heat on my burner. You may or may not encounter this problem, but if you find that you do, try turning down your heat. You can also add more oil or a splash of water to help aid things along as well.

At this time, I also add the green onion and about half the sauce and stir pretty vigorously, getting it mixed in. The trick of the game is that the longer the noodles stay in, the softer and mushier they get, so you want them in and out fairly fast while getting them cooked. Keep the heat high as possible and stir for about two minutes, then add the rest of the sauce.

Adding egg to wok

Adding egg to wok

This part is optional, but you can lift the noodles and crack an egg to one side of the wok and let the egg cook. When it’s fairly opaque, you can put the noodles back over it and then gently stir it around at first, then faster when the egg is cooked through.

Plated pad thai dish

Plated pad thai dish

Plate and garnish with shredded carrots, bean sprouts, red cabbage (not pictured), lime and if you really want to be authentic, a banana. I added some lumpia rolls that I um, er, undercooked, which I found out a few hours later (oops), but otherwise, a successfully made pad thai dish! :)

Oh yeah, since I won’t be posting tomorrow, Happy Turkey Day!

Sushi Class at Uwajimaya

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ May 28, 2008 : 10:28 pm

Sushi class at Uwajimaya

Sushi class California rolls

Inspecting my hatchet job of the innocent sushi rolls above, I may just be a little more humbled the next time I see some perfectly cut sushi at a Japanese restaurant. Luckily, our sushi teacher Naomi from NuCulinary, was far more lenient of my aesthetically challenged California rolls, given that it was an introductory sushi class.

NuCulinary is a Seattle based Asian cooking school that offers classes for Thai cooking, Indian, dim sum as well as sushi classes of various skill levels. While I’ve eaten plenty of sushi in my life, I thought it would be neat to gain more knowledge of the skill and art that is sushi. Today was part one (basic sushi rolling) out of a three part series that culminates in learning the art of nigiri directly from chef Hajime Sato of Mashiko in West Seattle. Each class is $65 and lasts for 3 hours, which is a fairly reasonable deal as far as cooking classes go.

Not having rolled sushi before, everything being shown to me was going to be brand spanking new. I learned the proper way of making sushi rice (always important), selecting the right nori (seaweed sheets), ingredients to use and of course, how to roll sushi. As you’ve already seen though, even with years of Playdoh experience behind my fingertips, it’s not quite as simple as simply tossing ingredients on a bamboo mat and rolling it into circles. But, the good news is that looks aside, sushi is easy enough that anyone who can follow a recipe can easily pick up sushi rolling as well. As for nigiri, well, that’s a totally different story unless you happen to be accustomed to gutting and filleting 30 pound fish (and even then, that’s still a stretch!).

Some interesting tidbits I learned about proper sushi etiquette that I’ve heard before, but never “officially” until now, is the right way to eat your sushi. Apparently, the common American tradition of drowning those poor sushi rolls in vats of soy sauce is a serious faux pas to a genuine sushi chef. To the chef, this signals that the sushi apparently isn’t good enough on it’s own that it needs to be marinated in salt in order to be consumed. So just like you wouldn’t put A1 on your filet mignon at The Metropolitain, hold the soy to a minimum when possible. To impress your sushi chef, use those fresh and ample slices of ginger to soak up the liquid, then dab your rolls with the sauce to show that you know the fine line of moderation.

Another way to become part of the sushi elite is to hold off on the wasabi as well. This might not make sense, given that you are always offered a large green dollop with your sushi, but sushi purists only use as much wasabi as the chef has already put into the dish. Normally, there is just enough wasabi to help glue the fish to the rice, which avoids any overkill of wasabi flavoring. So in a nutshell – trust your chef and you’ll gain his/her respect.

If you haven’t rolled sushi before, it’s definitely good fun, so give it a shot either through a class like this one or pick up one of the many books on the subject. At the very least, it will give you a much better appreciation of your sushi chef when you’re sitting at the bar eating omakase (prix fix) style!

Thai Ground Pork with Pineapple (Sorta)

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 25, 2008 : 9:28 pm

Thai Pineapple Turkey

Thai Pineapple Turkey, 2

Ingredients:
1 lb ground pork (I used ground turkey)
1 ripe, medium pineapple
1 cucumber
2 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
mortar and pestle
(optional) 1 thai red chili pepper
(optional) small bunch of cilantro
(optional) small bunch of sliced carrots

I know, Grant isn’t posting about geek stuff for a change. After so much eating out, reviews and coding, I’ve decided to take some time off over the next month. I’m going to re-acquaint myself with some long lost hobbies- namely, cooking!

This my interpretation of a common Thai dish that is easy to make, healthy and tastealicious to boot! It has the nice variety of textures and taste that transition from the aromatic meat, to juicy pineapple and ending with the crisp crunch of fresh cucumbers. It’s traditionally cooked with pork, but I substituted ground turkey as I generally don’t eat red meat when eating at home (blame the BSE).

First, grab that mortar and pestle (or a shiny food processor) and pour in the chopped garlic, chopped cilantro, pepper and 1 tablespoons of olive oil. Grind to a nice paste- I find crushing vs swirling motions works best- and then set resulting cilantro paste aside.

Next, take a medium wok or skillet and coat with 1 tbs of olive oil. While the wok is heating, mix the cliantro paste with the meat evenly. When the wok is hot, put in the meat. Let the underside sizzle a little bit and brown a bit before stirring. Repeat process and break apart meat clumps until no longer pink. The cooking should be relatively short, around 3-5 minutes.

If cooking with ground turkey: Those familiar with ground turkey or ground chicken will know that using it as a substitute for ground pork or beef is always a challenge. The texture (and taste) don’t always travel over. In this Thai recipe, I had quite some difficulty breaking the turkey apart after hitting the wok as the meat simply clumped into large, play dough sized balls of meat. Mmmm… clumps of meat, how enticing! What I did was take the meat out while there was still a little pink and place it on a foil covered tray. I then covered the top with tinfoil and beat the chunks with a meat tenderizer (make sure you use the FLAT side). After a bit of pounding, take off the top foil and viola – nice little meat bits. Put back in wok and then cook until done.

Turn off the heat and set wok aside. Now take the pineapple, cut off the top and bottom and then take off the sides. Slice the rest into slices using a hexagonal pattern around the center core, then cube into pineapple chunks. Next, slice cucumber into slices.

Plating is very easy- arrange cucumbers around in circular or square pattern. Line the inside with a double stacked row of pineapple chunks, forming a little center to place the meat. Optionally, before placing the meat, you can put in some long carrot slices for garnish. After that, scoop the meat into the center of the dish into a mound that eventually pleasingly spills over the pineapples and cucumbers. It should look like a nice volcano of juicy meat. Garnish with fresh cilantro and also sliced red chili and serve!

Web 2.0 vs Jakob Neilson

Categories: news — Tags: — Posted by: Grant @ March 4, 2008 : 1:42 pm

Let’s get ready to ruuuuummmbbbllleee!!! (Warning: massive geek speak ahead)

In the left corner, we have the web designer favorite Web 2.0, weighing in at 200k, sporting a stylish CSS cape, Flash 9 boots and large JPG tattoos. Web 2.0 is known for delivering a mean AJAX left hook and has no mercy for dial-up users, older browsers and the handicapped.

In the right corner, we have usability favorite Jakob Neilson, weighting in at 30k, wearing nothing but a jock strap and fist wraps. Jakob is a grizzled, text-book HTML fighter with a clean style and can take on any browser.

Round 1: Fight!

Web 2.0 comes lurching out of it’s corner, but is noticeably slowed down by it’s huge Flash cape getting caught on the ropes. On the other side, Jakob rockets out of his corner with fiber-optic speeds and connects with a direct cross to Web 2.0′s jaw. Web 2.0 is used to taking quite the server throttling however and immediately counters with an mean 40k JavaScript library into Jakob’s face. The crowd gasps as the library bounces harmlessly off Jakob, who glees as if to remind Web 2.0 that he has JavasScript turned off. Jakob squares his shoulders again and lands another solid punch into Web 2.0, without any more effect than the last.

Round 2: Fight!

The crowd is stirring and looking for some action as the bell rings again and the fight is off. Jakob again looks to repeat his speed daemon charge when wait- what’s this? It looks like Web 2.0 has equipped itself with a DSL rocket pack and cable attachments! Web 2.0 makes a beeline straight for an unsuspecting Jakob Neilson and lands a King Hippo uppercut to Jakob’s groin! The crotch shot flips Jakob straight over the ropes and backward onto the cold HTML 1.0 floor, while Web 2.0 triumphantly flies around the arena tossing out animated ‘DIGG IT!’ GIFs to cheering fans. As Jakob gingerly recovers from his crash, Web 2.0 suddenly starts smoking in the middle of the ring! Oh no, it looks like Web 2.0′s web server has frantically committed sepuku under the maddening crush of Digg visitors! Bad mistake for Web 2.0!

Hold on, what’s that Jakob has? Is that… a TABLE? Yes, I believe it is! Jakob has sneaked in a TABLE into the ring and is now menacing down on Web 2.0, who is just now recovering thanks to a bleary eyed twenty-something patched in through a SSL Blackberry connection in Thailand. Jakob brings the TABLE smashing down on Web 2.0 like a Zangief piledriver on a defenseless Chun-Li. Stunned, Web 2.0 lets out a roar as it suddenly realizes that it conforms perfectly in all browsers and plays well with IE because it looks like a LEGO bot. The humiliation.

Final Round: Fight!

Now that the gloves are completely off (though Jakob has been half-naked to begin with), the crowd is wildly anticipating blood! Jakob pulls out an Aerosmith Revolution-X arcade machine from “My Documents\Current Year\” and volleys a stream of AOL 9.0 discs, disabling Web 2.0′s DSL rocket pack. Web returns with a flurry of XML bombs, which doesn’t phase Jakob, until he realizes they are hiding XSL style sheets which he hasn’t turned off! To Jakob’s horror, the XML bombs render into hundreds of MySpace friend requests from nubile females with God awful grammar. Web 2.0 drops a shoulder and charges Jakob, who is now hopelessly cursing some guy named Tom. Not an instant before being knocked senseless, Jakob shields himself with a 800×600 monitor, forcing Web 2.0 to screech to a halt and scroll horizontally.

Sensing his bid for time dangerously short, Jakob’s reaches into his jock strap and pulls out the Mother of All Show-Stoppers: Internet Explorer 6. Web 2.0, finally able to see Jakob again, recoils in sheer terror like a female on Xbox live for the first time. This is going to be painful.

In Matrix slow-motion fashion, Jakob counts to three and shoves this Holy Browser Grenade down the pipeline directly into Web 2.0′s meta matter. The crowd gasps as Web 2.0′s visage distorts, breaking well tuned DIVS into erratic bits and random chaos as if hit in the head with a Tron Disc. Slowly breaking off into floating parts, Web 2.0, with it’s last dying open window, jams a small object into Jakob’s foot. Jakob looks down and slowly realizes he’s been embedded with a video feed.

Jakob suddenly sees two girls.

They’re holding a cup.

Falling to his knees with clutched ears and squeezed eyes, Jakob’s visual and auditory senses are simultaneously overloaded with foreign stimuli incomprehensible to him as a web standard or as a human. In a moment of epiphany, Jakob suddenly realizes that across the web chasm, there is a hell far worse than embedded 8-bit MIDI. Choking on a lack of bandwidth, Jakob is forced to watch and listen to the popping video as he slowly blacks out and passes out.

Final Score: Draw!

Well, it looks like Jakob and Web 2.0 had a good fight, but neither came out on top this round. Perhaps again in the future they shall duel again and it may be finally determined, who is the real winner.

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