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Friday, May 25, 2007

Central Market (Austin)

I remember reading an article once that suggested college students could save money on food by eating lunch at Costco. Not by buying food at the food court, however. But by going inside the store and eating from all the samples!

Now, we didn't go to Central Market in Austin with that in mind. We just wanted to check out Whole Foods' competitor and see what it was all about. But of course we wouldn't turn away from all the various plates of samples left out, like at the cheese counter where we couldn't stop sampling a fantastic vodka currant cheese from Sweden.

Or the beef fajita wrap served hot at another station sampling various meat rubs and seasonings:

Or this wonderful smoked trout paté served on multigrain flatbread crackers. This was so awesome.

Going past one of the bakery counters, the staff person actually ran up to us and offered Daniel and Esther each a frosted cupcake. How's that for service?

We came upon this wrapped prosciutto end in a basket across from the deli meats counter. This is another good way to get deli-style meats for cheap. I wish the stores here would do this...

In contrast, the actual food we got for lunch from Central Market was nowhere near as delectable as the samples.

More pics from our Texas trip at my Ball of Dirt Journal


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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stop, Thief! (Part 2)

Contrary to this post's title, there isn't a foolproof way to prevent a determined thief from copying pictures from your website or blog to theirs. If you put a picture out there for all to see, someone may want to take it for themselves. For the most part, you have to respect your readers and expect them to show you the same respect in return.

Still, you can take steps to protect your pictures from being inadvertently misused. I have started placing watermarks on my photos and also appending a copyright message at the end of the filename. To do this, I use a program called waterMark v2 from PMlabs.

It is a very powerful program that can batch process several pictures or even folders at once. It even puts a menu choice in your Explorer context menu so that you can just select pictures in Explorer, right-click, and launch waterMark. I have my settings saved as a profile so all I need to do is open the profile and then click Start. Voila!

Best thing of all is, this program is free. One downside I noticed is that it adds 100KB to the filesize but that is something I can live with.


Continue Reading: "Stop, Thief! (Part 2)"...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

East Lake Seafood Restaurant (San Jose)

One of the first restaurants I ate at when I first arrived in San Jose was East Lake Seafood Restaurant in east San Jose. It had (and continues to have) a reputation for good Chinese food at great prices. Most nights, if you go at dinnertime, their tables will be full.

Same thing happens on the weekends for lunch. If you don't show up early enough, there will be a line out the door and the hostess will be telling you the wait is half an hour to 45 minutes. So why all the fuss?

One reason is their jook, the humble Chinese rice porridge. Served to sick children (and adults) everywhere by Chinese mothers. But it's not just for upset tummies - it's for hungry tummies as well. East Lake does it just right. You can order it plain, but we like ours either with flounder fillet or century egg.

Of course, don't ignore other dishes like their satay noodles. And who can forget the you tiao, Chinese donut? They come hot out of the oil, crispy and light.

If you're looking for good and cheap Chinese food in San Jose, this is the place to go. Just show up early to avoid the crowds.


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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Williams Smokehouse (Houston)

As I said, I am a barbecue afficionado. When I told some friends in Houston that I was going down there, and could they suggest somewhere to eat, the name Williams' Smokehouse came up. They said it was the best place in town. One of my friends, who happens to be on a championship competition barbecue team as well as a judge, says he'd like Williams' ribs to be his last meal.

We had originally planned on meeting up at Williams' Smokehouse for dinner, but plans were changed and we ended up actually at our friend's house. He picked up the barbecue for us earlier in the day. This turned out to be even better, because we could eat in comfort without worrying about the kids or being kicked out at closing time (7 pm).

This also gave our friend a chance to showcase his own barbecue, in this case some chopped pork butt that he had smoked on his Weber Smoky Mountain. He also provided the cole slaw and buns.

So here on the plate are brisket and ribs from Williams' and chopped pork and cole slaw from my friend Pete.

These ribs were the best ribs I have ever had. Seriously. They were cooked tender but not dry, flavorful but not overly spicy or smoky. The brisket and pork were also delicious. But oh, the ribs!

I'm so sad we ran out. We should have picked up another rack.

More pics from our Texas trip on my Ball of Dirt journal:


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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cranberry Raisin Walnut Bread

We're lucky to have a good, artisanal bakery in the Bay Area known as Acme Breads. We bought (and devoured) a few loaves from their stall at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Recently, they debuted a cranberry-walnut whole-wheat bread that was divine. Annie tasted some during a trip to Lunardi's and immediately placed an order for a boule.

A few days later, when that boule was but a happy memory, she decided to make her own cranberry-walnut bread, based on the "Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread" recipe in "The Bread Baker's Apprentice".

Though the recipe called for 3 cups of white flour, she substituted one cup of whole wheat flour and added some vital wheat gluten. She also added some golden raisins to the mix.

Here is the bread at the first rise after kneading.

She skipped the braiding part and just baked the dough as loaves in two bread pans. Here is the final result.

The loaf lasted just about as long as the Acme bread.


More favorite baked goods: Baked Char Siu Bao, Dinner Rolls, Dutch Apple Cake, Cinnamon Monkey Bread, Portuguese Sweet Bread, Red Bean Buns, Roti Boy Butter Buns, Third Aunt's Butter Cake

Continue Reading: "Cranberry Raisin Walnut Bread"...

Rudy's (San Antonio)

I am a barbecue aficionado. Before my "awakening", I used to think that Tony Roma's was the best place for ribs. But then I found out that true barbecue does not involve boiling or steaming meat to tenderize it before slathering it with sauce and throwing it on the grill. True barbecue comes by slowly cooking meat in the heat and smoke of a wood fire. Sauce, if it is to be served, should be on the side so as not to hide any imperfections but complement the meat's smokiness.

I like to think that I can turn out some pretty good ribs, which rival or beat any restaurant ribs, including specialty barbecue joints. That could be easy to do here in the south SF Bay Area, but Texas is a different story. Texas is one of the hotbeds of barbecue.

One joint that was recommended to us by a friend is Rudy's. My uncle, himself an experienced barbecuer, claims they make the best brisket. So while we were in San Antonio we decided to visit Rudy's for a late lunch / early dinner. We chose to go to the location near SeaWorld.

There was quite a crowd enjoying the barbecue oustide on the tables, and a nice line queued up inside waiting to give their orders. They cook in smoke from oak wood. I noticed three pits in operation - one seemed to be the main cooking pit while the others were holding the various meats in foiled pouches. The cashier would take the order, then one of the pit crew would reach in to one of the pits, pull out and unwrap the meat onto the chopping board, then slice away.

Their menu hanging up over the pit. Notice that the price for lean or moist brisket is the same - $10/lb.

We got a half pound of brisket, a half chicken, and a pound of pork ribs, plus some sodas.

The brisket had a nice smoke ring, but somehow not much smokiness. I also thought it was not moist enough. Definitely needed some sauce, but the sauce didn't match very well.

The chicken was very tasty and moist, and went perfectly with the sauce.

The ribs were so-so. The had a good amount of smoke, and black pepper, but I wouldn't call them awesome or anything. We definitely felt that I make better ribs at home.

The side of creamed corn was great, but the pinto beans nothing to shout about.

Overall, I'd say that Rudy's was a miss for us. We won't go back.

More pics from our Texas trip on my Ball of Dirt journal at


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hoover's Cooking (Austin)

A friend recommended Hoover's Cooking in Austin as a place to get some good chicken-fried steak. We got there in the late morning, a little before they started serving lunch, but were seated promptly.

Annie got the chicken-fried steak and the garlic-cheese grits. The thin steak was breaded in a light batter, then deep fried until golden brown. She liked the breading, but thought the steak wasn't tender or salty enough. The kids liked the grits more than she did.

I got the breakfast taco with eggs and Elgin sausage, with a side of regular grits. I thought it was all right, made better with the fresh salsa. You could taste the difference between Elgin and regular breakfast sausage. My grits were thick and buttery and I ate the whole dish.

Annie wasn't too impressed with the place, but I'd like to come back and try more items from the extensive menu.

More pics from our Ball of Dirt journal at


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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Whole Foods (Austin)

Whole Foods Market is an international chain of grocery stores specializing in organic products. They are quite popular among the more health-conscious shoppers, but we don't normally shop at WF because they are a bit outside our normal driving range as well as our price range.

But since we're traveling, and WF's world headquarters is in Austin, what the heck.

The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car in the parking garage was the distinct smell of oak-smoked barbecue. At first I thought, does all of Austin downtown smell like barbecue? AWESOME! But it turns out that their smoker is somewhere in the garage.

The store is twice the size of a normal grocery store, and even though there are lots of shoppers, the wide aisles help keep it from feeling claustrophobic. We headed for the produce section.

Bluefoot mushrooms sold bulk. I've never seen bluefoots before.

There are counters all over the store selling hot and cold food items. With the location in downtown Austin, there are lots of people stopping in to pick up lunch. Annie scooped up some assorted salads at the salad bar while I picked up a grilled Reuben sandwich at the sandwich counter.

They have tables inside and outside where you can eat. They have all the utensils and condiments and even provide cups for water. Even better, they have free wifi so you can surf the 'Net while you eat. How cool is that?

After lunch we walked around the store some more and stopped at the bulk tea counter. They have various teas set out in little dishes for you to sniff, then you can buy as many ounces as you like. Here is a jasmine and chamomile tea that I thought had a great aroma.

More pictures from our Texas trip at my Ball of Dirt journal


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Stop, Thief! (Part 1)

The food pics you see here in my blog are also posted to the Usenet newsgroup Recently, Fosco discovered a website that was reposting all the content from ABF and presenting it in a discussion forum format. To make matters worse, that website inserted ads from Google Adsense into the forums. If anyone clicked on those ads, the website owner would get a kickback from Google.

Essentially, the website was making money off of my and other people's copyrighted content.

Reposting of copyrighted content is rampant on the Internet, but that doesn't make it right. If you or I post something on a website, blog or Usenet newsgroup, we do not automatically give up our rights to that content. No one can just take our content and use it as they please, especially if they benefit financially from that use.

I used the information found from a timely post on Food Blog S'cool to contact the website's author, the site's hosting provider, and Google Adsense support and asked them to remove my content. Fortunately, the site's admin complied after I informed him that what he was doing is illegal.

I've now added a copyright notice to the sidebar to make it clear that my permission is needed before my content can be republished elsewhere. I'm also taking steps to protect my pictures from being misused as well. Those I will detail in a future post.


Continue Reading: "Stop, Thief! (Part 1)"...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Chuy's 183 (Austin)

We recently took a trip to Central Texas to see friends and family. Our first stop was in Austin, and our first meal there was at Chuy's, a Tex-Mex chain restaurant that is pretty popular with the locals. When we arrived, we had to wait for almost half an hour before getting our table. At least there were free chips and salsa being served by the bar (out of the trunk of a classic car).

Out front there is a shrine to Elvis Presley. Inside, the walls are covered with photos and paintings of dogs. Very interesting decor.

Annie and I shared the Elvis Presley Memorial combo. It comes with three different enchiladas - the beef Tex-Mex, the cheese ranchero, and the chicken tomatillo enchilada, each with different sauces. It also comes with a crispy taco and chile con queso.

Annie liked the chicken tomatillo enchilada but I thought the chicken was too dry. I liked the beef.

Overall I'd say it was all right as far as chain restaurant-type food goes. With such a busy place, the service slowed down somewhat. The crowd and the noise makes it a bit unfriendly for kids.


Continue Reading: "Chuy's 183 (Austin)"...