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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ikan Pepes - Indonesian Spiced Fish

When fresh fish and Southeast Asian spices meet, the results are outstanding!

Ikan Pepes:  Indonesian Spiced Fish

Ikan Pepes - Indonesian Spiced Fish in Banana Leaf

When I first visited Malaysia, one of the many dishes that stuck out in my mind was Ikan Bakar - a fresh skate wing that was marinated in a spice paste, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. The sweet and spicy chili paste, coupled with the smokiness of the singed banana leaf, permeated the tender flesh of the skate.  Everytime we go back, I look forward to having this dish.

Here in the Bay Area, we were introduced to Bay Leaf Indonesian Restaurant in Sunnyvale.  They have a dish similar to the grilled skate wing called ikan pepesIkan simply means "fish".  Pepes is the type of cooking process used: wrap in banana leaf, steam until cooked through, then finish off on the grill.  Ever since having ikan pepes at Bay Leaf, I've been meaning to do this dish at home

We called up our favorite fishmonger, Pat from Mission Fresh Fish, and requested he save a couple of snapper for our next visit to the Saratoga Farmer's Marrket.  As with all his fish, these were caught just a couple of days before the market.  He'll even clean the fish right there for you.  The prices on his fish are very reasonable, especially considering the freshness of his product.

Pat from Mission Fresh Fish with Two Fresh Snapper

Pat from Mission Fresh Fish with two snapper

The spice paste recipe for this Ikan Pepes came from "Homestyle Indonesian Cooking":


1 Tsp tamarind pulp, soaked 5 minutes.
2 Tbsp warm water
6-10 large chiles, chopped
1 stem lemongrass (only the inner part of the bottom 10 cm), thinly sliced
5 candlenuts
1 small, ripe tomato
1/2 Tsp ground turmeric
1/2 Tsp dried shrimp paste
1 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp finely chopped palm sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves


1. We scored the fish on both sides and marinated it with some lime juice and salt.  We preheated the oven to 350*F.

2. We then ground all the ingredients for the spice paste together until it became smooth.

3. Since we did not have a banana leaf handy, we used aluminum foil.  Spread out 1/3 of the paste down onto the foil.  Then smear 1/3 of the paste inside the stomach cavity of the fish. Smear the final 1/3 on top of the fish.

Ikan Pepes: Fresh Whole Snapper with Indonesian Spice Paste

Ikan Pepes - fresh whole snapper with Indonesian Spice Paste

4. Instead of steaming, the fish was sealed up in the foil and baked in the oven for 20 minutes.

5. We then opened the foil packet up and broiled the fish for another 5 minutes.

Ikan Pepes: Fresh Whole Snapper with Indonesian Spice Paste

Ikan Pepes - fresh whole snapper with Indonesian spice paste

6. Serve with rice.

This ikan pepes was outstanding.  Not as sweet as the Bay Leaf restaurant version. But also not as spicy (we used some milder chile peppers from our garden) so it balanced out okay.  I liked the basil flavor that was prominent in this dish.  Because this fish wasn't grilled, though, it lacked that smoky quality.

This recipe was entered into the "Waiter, There's Something in My..." Indonesian recipe roundup hosted by Andrew of Spitoon Extra.

Aloha, Nate

Continue Reading: "Ikan Pepes - Indonesian Spiced Fish"...

Monday, September 29, 2008

How do You Top Mum's Popiah? With Kuih Pie Tee

I heart Pie Tee!

Kuih Pie Tee with Prawn

Kuih Pie Tee

No, this has nothing to do with tea, which is something else I heart a lot! Kuih Pie Tee or "Top Hats" (because the shape is sometimes like a top hat) is an appetizer that is popular in Malaysia. It is a wonderful treat--crisp shell, sweet and slightly crunchy vegetal flavors of jicama, carrots, and green beans, and meatiness from pork and shrimp.

I've been wanting to make kuih pie tee since Rasa Malaysia posted her fabulous pictures on her blog. It made me miss home a lot. My 4th grand aunt used to make this every Chinese New Year and I always looked forward to visiting with her so we could indulge in these savory treats.

As you know, my mom is visiting and she brought me a mold (that was given to her by my 4th grand aunt, no less!).

4th Grand Aunt's Pie Tee Mold

4th Grand Aunt's Kuih Pai Tee Mold

And just yesterday, my mom made her famous popiah! When she decided to make popiah, I asked if she would make more of the filling so that I could make pie tee with the leftovers. Making the filling is quite a production but we both agreed that if you're going to go to the trouble, making a bit more is not that difficult.

So with the leftovers in mind, I searched my food forum for a recipe (pretty similar to Rasa's). Boy, frying those shells are really time-consuming. But are they worth it? DEFINITELY!

We made about 80 pie tee shells and in no time at all, we had consumed more than HALF of them (filled, of course - what did you think, we ate empty shells?). We did give some to our neighbors who also wolfed them down in two seconds flat. Seriously, these are such good eats!

Finished Pie Tee Shells

Fried Kuih Pie Tee Shells

The recipe for the batter is quite simple. I used a kuih pie tee recipe that called for the ingredients to be measured in grams. Now, I don't mind that at all really because I have a weighing scale. Unfortunately, many people here in the US don't own a kitchen scale. I HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THIS....I JUST HAVE TO.

Get. A. Scale.

It doesn't really cost very much to get a kitchen scale AND it doesn't take up too much space these days. Most scales are just flat little things that can be easily tucked away. The prices for them are also getting lower and lower. You don't need a fancy one though the fancy ones are cool. As a matter of fact, I own one that I bought from IKEA 5 years ago and it still works like a charm (and trust me, I abuse that poor kitchen scale) and it's so small and flat that it's not an inconvenience in my small kitchen.

I will give you three reasons why you should own a scale:

  1. Most recipes outside the US call for weight measure in their baking and cooking recipes (like Malaysia!)
  2. Alton Brown (I heart him too!), recommends it for flour measures.
  3. And the main reason for me--it saves me from washing measuring cups, extra bowls, etc. I love that I can use one bowl, weigh the first ingredient, tare, weigh in the second ingredient, tare and so on and so forth. Anything that lets me not do more dishes is a brilliant invention. AND, you can even weigh in grams or lbs. Lovely!

If these reasons have not convinced you to go out there and get one lickety split, then I guess I can't do anything for you. But maybe, this recipe will force you to choose to cross over to my side (as it's all in grams!). ^_^

Kuih Pie Tee batter recipe

1 egg
320g All-purpose flour
55g rice flour
500 ml of water
dash of salt

1. Beat egg and salt.
2. Add in half of the AP flour and rice flour and half of the water.
3. Add in remaining AP and rice flour and water.
4. Strain mixture to remove lumps.
5. Heat oil in pan on medium heat (make sure oil level is higher than mold level).
6. Dip pie tee mold in hot oil to condition it, then once oil is hot, dip mold in batter, and then into the hot oil. The first 3-4 shells will probably be ugly and stubborn (as in, won't want to release from the mold). Use chopsticks to assist in getting them out.

Battered Pie Tee Mold

Pie Tee mold with batter

7. Once the mold and oil is at the right temperature, the work will go smoother. You might still need to help the batter release by nudging with a chopstick but they should come off more easily. Take them out of the oil when they are a golden brown.

Nudging the Pie Tee Off

Frying kuih pie tee

When I made this, I found that they weren't crispy enough. So I'm going to try a different batter next time. If you have a sure-fire batter for this, would you share with me? I've already asked my mom to go back to Penang and get the recipe from my 4th grand aunt and hopefully, I'll be able to get that to you later.

But if you find this batter not crispy enough, here's my trick. Just stick it in the oven at 250 F for 10 mins and they crisp up nicely.

Fill the shells with the popiah filling. Nate, thinking about some of the awesome dishes we had at TomatoFest, had the idea to put a whole prawn in the pie tee like a shrimp cocktail shooter, then dressed with some sweet chili sauce:

Kuih Pie Tee with Prawn

Kuih pie tee filled with shrimp

These shells are also perfect to hold all kinds of little bites. They don't have to be filled with the traditional pie tee filling. I'm already thinking that with a little bit of sugar, I could easily make these babies a receptacle for custards, creams and tiny fruit. Or savory little bites of salsa with shrimp ceviche. You can definitely let your imagination take you places with this.

What do you think you would fill these pai tee shells with? Leave us a comment and share your ideas!

I will share the popiah/pie tee filling recipe with you but this post is getting way long. Also, my mom's popiah filling recipe is really worth a post of its own so I'll see you back soon with that ok?

This entry was entered into the September edition of CLICK! The Photo Event.

Incidentally, if you are planning to make kuih pie tee for yourself, you don't need a 4th Grand Aunt in Penang to give you hers. Rasa Malaysia is selling pie tee molds via her website.

Cheers, Annie

Hungry for more savory finger food?

Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest
Mana Bu's Musubi
Secrets to Making Spam Musubi
Pimientos de Padron
Baked char siu bao

Continue Reading: "How do You Top Mum's Popiah? With Kuih Pie Tee"...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mum's Popiah is the Best!

Annie's Mum is visiting us from Malaysia, which means that our house is tidier, the yard is straightened up more, and we are eating lots of tasty Malaysian food.  Mum is a great cook, and one of her signature dishes is popiah. Because everything in her popiah is handmade, you can taste the love.

Mum's Homemade Popiah is the Best!

Mum's Homemade Poh Pia is the Best

Popiah (also spelled poh piah, poh pia, baobing (薄饼)), is a Malaysian / Singaporean dish that's kind of like a fat Spring roll, only not fried.  Think of it as a "Malaysian burrito".  As with all burritos, the filling is what makes the dish so special.

Mum's Homemade Popiah Filling

Mum's homemade Poh Pia Filling

Mum's popiah filling is made from shredded cabbage, grated carrots, grated jicama, finely diced belly pork, finely diced prawns, diced long beans, and finely julienned (yes, julienned) tofu. All of the shredding, grating,  dicing and julienning (is that a word?) was done by hand, not in a food processor.  Mum insists on doing it this way, as the machine method will somehow result in a less tasty mess.  The filling is cooked down for a few hours in a large pot, until all the ingredients are soft and melted together.

Not only is the popiah filling hand-made, but the fixings as well.

Mum's Homemade Popiah Fixins: Blanched Bean Sprouts, Julienned Cucumber, Chili Paste

Blanched Bean Sprouts, Julienned Cucumber, Chili Paste for Mum's Homemade Poh Pia

Here we have julienned cucumber, blanched bean sprouts, and freshly made chili paste.  Notice that the bean sprouts do not have that thin little "tail" that you normally see when you buy bean sprouts.  Mum picked each tail off by hand. Again, her insistence on doing it by hand is to preserve the quality of the popiah.

Mum's Homemade Popiah Fixins: Prawns, Hard Boiled Eggs, Chinese Sausage and Minced Garlic

 Prawns, Hard Boiled Eggs, Chinese Sausage and Minced Garlic for Mum's Homemade Poh Pia

Additional fixings include parboiled prawns that have been shelled, deveined and sliced in half, perfectly hard boiled eggs that have been diced by hand, sliced lup cheong (Chinese sweet sausage), and minced garlic.

The only modern conveniences Mum used was the food processor to make the chili paste, minced garlic, and chopped peanuts (not seen). That, and the store-bought spring roll wrappers for wrapping the popiah.

Spring Roll Wrappers for Mum's Homemade Popiah

 Spring Roll Wrappers for Mum's Homemade Poh Pia

Building the popiah takes skill and practice.  All of the ingredients are tasty, but you don't want to put too much or you will over-stuff the popiah and then it will explode all over your plate once you try to bite into it.  Plus, the perfect popiah will have a balance of flavors.

Popiah Filled with Mum's Popiah Fillings and Fixings

 Poh Pia Filled with Mum's Poh Pia Fillings and Fixings

Watch this video I made of Mum building and wrapping her popiah:

Mum's Homemade Popiah Rolled

 Mum's Homemade Poh Pia Rolled

As you can see in the picture, this popiah has burst open.  Not because it was over-stuffed, but because the skin wasn't freshly made.  A freshly made popiah skin is thin, pliable, and stretchy.  Unfortunately, you can't find freshly made popiah skin here in San Jose.  If you want freshly made popiah skin, you'll have to go to Malaysia or Singapore where the experts are.

Nevertheless, Mum's popiah are the best.  I have had popiah from hawker stalls in Singapore and Malaysia, even in Penang, where you will find the best food in the world.  Mum's popiah beats them all.  It's a perfect combination of sweetness from the flour sauce, the savoriness of the pork and the prawns, the spiciness of the chili and the garlic, and the cooling vegetables.  It's so yummy, you will gobble it down and hurriedly make another without even thinking about it.

Aloha, Nate

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Hungry for more Malaysian food?

Pumpkin Mee with Prawns Recipe

Honeydew Sago Dessert: A Refreshing Summer Treat!

7 Tips for Making Mouth-Watering Char Koay Teow

Hokkien Prawn Mee

"Rotiboy" butter buns

Continue Reading: "Mum's Popiah is the Best!"...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Steel Cut Oatmeal

How about some whole grain goodness for breakfast?

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Craisins, Raisins, Slivered Almonds, Flax Seed Meal, and Buttermilk

steel cut oatmeal with craisins raisins slivered almonds flax seed meal and buttermilk

I used to eat Quaker Oatmeal (the one that comes in the big cardboard cylinder) all the time when I was growing up. I even used to eat the packets of microwaveable oatmeal that come in different flavors (sometimes I'd just eat it straight out of the packet! the things you do when you're in college...). I never knew there was anything else besides rolled oats.

And then I saw the "Oat Cuisine" episode on Good Eats that introduced me to steel cut oats. Steel cut oats are whole oat grains that have been cut with steel knives instead of being rolled flat. They have better texture, but take longer to cook.

After watching that episode, I wanted to get some. But most supermarkets either don't sell it or sell it in small bags like those from Bob's Red Mill. Around here, if you want to get your steel cut oats in bulk, you can find them in Whole Foods Market.

I riffed off of the Food Network recipe and added more stuff than just cinnamon. We always have craisins, raisins and slivered almonds sitting around for using in different recipes like scones, bread, or even salads. I added some flax seed meal for extra fiber. Topped it all off with the buttermilk, and added just a touch of agave nectar for sweetness.

I like this oatmeal because it has great texture and flavor. I also like it because of the extra fiber to clean me out :-)

What do you like to put in your oatmeal? Leave a comment and tell us about your favorite oatmeal toppings!
This post was entered in the Weekend Breakfast Blogging: Grains in My Breakfast roundup, created by Nandia and hosted by My Diverse Kitchen.

Aloha, Nate

Hungry for more breakfast items?

Pandan Waffles
Chantilly Crepes Again
Spam, Eggs, and Fried Rice
Mushroom and Gruyere Omelette, Banana-Nut-illa

Continue Reading: "Steel Cut Oatmeal"...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Charentais au Porto

Alcohol in a melon. No, this isn't about anything as pedestrian as Watermelon with Vodka. The Charentais melon deserves something more refined.

Charentais Melon

Charentais melon

Ever since Annie read "Melons for the Passionate Grower" by Amy Goldman, she was enthralled by the beauty of the Charentais. She even tried to grow it in our yard last year. We got one disappointing, measly fruit. It was so sad looking, we didn't even eat it.

Charentais are true canteloupes from France, with smooth, pale green skin and darker green ribs. They're not very big, as melons go. You can palm a nice-sized one easily - just right for two people to share. Charentais have a deep orange flesh and complex flavor. They have a reputation as the best tasting melon around.

We were at Whole Foods in Cupertino, looking for steel cut oats (that's another post...) and finding Bubbies Mochi Ice Cream (thanks for the tip, Allen!). In the produce section, Annie found organic Charentais on sale and bought one home.

Top Cut Off a Charentais Melon

Charentais melon top cut

The inside of the melon is pretty much solid flesh, with only a small center section where the seeds reside.

Halved Charentais Melon

Charentais melon cut through

Annie scooped out the seeds and sectioned one of the halves. We each took a piece, bit into it, and looked at each other.

The melon didn't have us raving. It was kinda blah, really. In fact, I would have preferred a canteloupe to this (and I don't like canteloupe very much). The flavor was subtly sweet, with almost a bitter note at the end. We were puzzled and more than slightly disappointed.

Then Annie remembered a picture in the Amy Goldman "Melons" book of a Charentais melon with port wine inside the hollowed-out seed section. Amy writes:

"Charentais and Porto were meant for each other. Because port is sweeter and more viscous than Charentais, it accentuates the melon's fruit acid and delicacy."

So we decided to give it a try. We happened to have a bottle of Tawny Port from Messina Hof Winery in Texas. I poured about an ounce of port into the melon.

Charentais au Porto - Charentais Melon with Port

Charentais au Porto - Charentais melon with Port

Ah, now that is better! Amazingly, the port did make the fruit taste sweeter and more like a melon. Annie cut the rest of her half of the Charentais into chunks and dropped them in the pool of port. We eagerly devoured them up, then scooped the remaining flesh from the sides of the melon bowl until there was nothing left except an empty rind.

What's your favorite melon? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

Aloha, Nate

Hungry for more? Read on!

Honeydew Sago Dessert: A Refreshing Summer Treat!

Mochi Ice Cream from Bubbies (Honolulu)

Waiola Shave Ice: the Best Shave Ice in Hawaii

Peach and Plum Granitas

Es Teler - A Cool Indonesian Dessert

Continue Reading: "Charentais au Porto"...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pork and Eggplant Soup with Tomato and Shiso

This may be a soup for Fall, but that doesn't mean you can't still use Summer's bounty.

Pork and Eggplant Soup with Tomato and Shiso

Pork and Eggplant Soup with Tomato and Shiso

We've made this soup before, but we wanted to update it with a proper recipe now. It is an uncomplicated recipe, using ingredients readily available this time of year. The flavors are deep, yet have a clarity to them.

The secret to this dish is the Red Shiso, or Perilla.

Red Shiso and Eggplant

Shiso and eggplant

This herb is in the mint family, along with basil and sage. As you can see, Red Shiso is actually only red on the bottom side of the leaf. The top side remains green. Shiso is eaten in cuisines all over East Asia, from Korea to Vietnam (check out our Vietnamese Summer Rolls and Bun Rieu Cua recipes). Because of its sweet, floral essence, it is one of my favorite herbs.

A friend of ours gave us a potted Red Shiso plant, which we've been caring for in our backyard. Hopefully it will survive the winter!

Potted Red Shiso Plant

Potted Red Shiso plant

Now, on to the recipe...

Pork and Eggplant Soup with Tomato and Shiso


1 onion, sliced
1/2 lb pork, sliced thinly
4 cups water
3 or 4 tomatoes, preferably of a tart variety, chopped
1 large eggplant or 2 Chinese eggplant, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 Teaspoons fish sauce
1 bunch red Shiso, leaves picked from the stems


In a large stock pot, saute a sliced onion until wilted.


Add in the slices of pork and stir-fry until they are browned.


Cover with water and bring to a boil. Add in the chopped tomatoes and stir to combine. (We used heirloom tomatoes from our garden.)


Stir in the chopped eggplants. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the eggplants are cooked through, about 10 minutes.


Add in the Shiso leaves and stir to combine. Add in fish sauce to taste.


Once the Shiso leaves are wilted, remove pot from heat and serve.

This is a very nice soup, with the sweetness of the onion, the tartness of the tomato, the saltiness of the fish sauce, and the fresh herbal taste of the Shiso playing off each other. The pork and the eggplant give this soup textural interest as well.

This recipe is entered in the Weekend Herb Blogging roundup created by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and hosted by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything.

Aloha, Nate

Hungry for More Dishes with Shiso?

Akane Sushi (Los Altos) Part 1

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Bun Rieu Cua

Mana Bu's Musubi (Honolulu)

Have you used Shiso in your dishes? Leave us a comment and tell us what recipe you've used Shiso in!

Continue Reading: "Pork and Eggplant Soup with Tomato and Shiso"...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Heirloom Tomato Tasting at the House of Annie

It may not have been as expansive (or expensive) as TomatoFest, but we managed to have our own heirloom tomato tasting, featuring tomatoes grown right in our backyard.  Our guests were Cooking For Engineers' creator Michael Chu, and his wife Tina.  What did they think of our tomatoes?

House of Annie's Heirloom Tomato Tasting

homegrown heirloom tomatoes


Annie and I met Michael at the FoodBuzz Featured Publisher's dinner at Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas back in June.  When I first saw his name, I totally geeked out.  "You're Cooking for Engineers! I can't believe it!"  (For those of you who don't know, Cooking for Engineers is a food blog that started in 2004, ages ago in Internet time.  It features well researched recipes and reviews, presented in a way that appeals to analytical minds which makes him very popular with the engineer crowd.)

Who's coming to our house?

Michael is a font of knowledge about food blogging and eating well.  We're just blogging babies compared to him.  But he's a humble guy, very engaging, and eager to share.  Annie talked his ear off at dinner about her homegrown tomatoes.  By the end of the night, she had invited him to our house for a tomato tasting.

"Wait, Cooking for Engineers is coming to our house, to eat our tomatoes?"  I hoped we would be able to impress him.

Last month, Michael pinged me to see when we could get together.  I said that our tomatoes weren't all coming in yet, but later in September they would.  Last week, our backyard tomato harvest peaked.  We arranged for Michael and his wife to come over on Friday.

All in all, we had over 20 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes to share:

Dagma's Perfection, Heart of Compassion, Humph Green Giant, Brandy Boy, Orange Russian 117 Black Giant, Indian Stripe, Carbon
Black Krim, Hugh's, Super Italian Paste Granny Cantrell, Grandfather Ashlock, Goose Creek Russian Annie, Chianti Rose, Sakherniy Zheltiy
Virginia Sweets, Beauty King, Little Lucky    

The Rundown

Before we started, Annie gave Michael and his wife a rundown of what tomatoes to start with (the lighter colored ones, followed by the reds, pinks and finally blacks).  Then she had them take a taste of the Chianti Rose.

"Oh, this is a good tomato.  Lots of flavor. Better than anything we've had recently."

Annie informed them that Chianti Rose is indeed a good tasting tomato, but that particular one came from our neighbor, who had over-watered his tomatoes.  (I mentioned that in our Lazy Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho post.  Remember Tip #5: to concentrate your tomato's flavor, you have to restrict watering.) Over-watered tomatoes, while still tasting good, lack punch.

Next, Annie told them to try out one of her tomatoes.  "Oh, my God!  You're right! The flavors are so much more pronounced!" And on and on it went. With each successive tomato, Michael and his wife were wowed by the nuances of flavor going from sweet to tart to even smoky.

Esther tasting tomatoes

Esther tasting tomatoes

Picking Favorites

When he reached back to pick up another piece of Chianti Rose, his wife slapped his hand. "What are you doing? That's the tasteless one!"  "Oh yeah, you're right." He popped it in his mouth anyway. "Oh, it's so bland now, compared to all the others.  It's like a palate cleanser."

They tried keeping tasting notes but gave up early on. They tried choosing favorites, but since each tomato tastes so different from the others, there was no way to choose.  "Taste is subjective," says Annie. "Everyone has a different opinion about which tomato is best."

(As for me, I liked Green Giant, Orange Russian 117, Indian Stripe, and Virginia Sweets.  But don't ask me to choose a single favorite!)

Not Just Tomatoes

Of course, we wouldn't have invited Michael and his wife over for just tomatoes.  We served them a dinner of roasted potatoes, Annie's grilled kapakahi-marinated chicken (that's for another post), and a chopped Greek salad using some of our Sungold, Red Pear and Green Grape cherry tomatoes.

Chopped Greek Salad

Chopped Greek Salad

The Chopped Greek Salad recipe came from the same Fine Cooking magazine issue as the Chopped Mexican Salad.  We didn't have garlic croutons or arugula, so we made do with Romaine.  The dressing was spectacular and worthy of a do-over.

Chopped Greek Salad Dressing

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red- or white-wine vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)
2 Tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon mashed oil-packed anchovies (2 to 4 fillets)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

(I would have done a gapzacho but it was too late for that.  We sent Michael and his wife home with the remains of the tomato tasting plus a few select tomatoes, to make his own gazpacho using our Lazy Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho recipe.)

Later that evening, Michael sent me an email:

Thanks for having me and my wife over. You've really opened my eyes about how GOOD tomatoes can be. Now I don't think I can eat "normal" tomatoes again.

The pleasure is ours! We had such a great time that we're already thinking about the next time we can have them over. I think this is the best part about food blogging: getting to meet other food bloggers who share our passion for food.  Just like our dinner with the Hawaii FoodBuzz Featured Publishers, these meals shared together make the food all that much tastier.

This post was entered in the Grow Your Own #17 roundup created by Andrea of Andrea's Recipes and hosted by Chez Us.

If you liked this post, won't you subscribe to receive all our latest posts in your email Inbox or RSS reader?  It's easy and free!

Aloha, Nate

Related Posts:

Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest

Lazy Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Chopped Mexican Salad

Getting Buzzed at Tokkuri Tei (Honolulu)

Annie's Top 5 Tomato Growing Tips

Continue Reading: "Heirloom Tomato Tasting at the House of Annie"...

Friday, September 19, 2008

La Fiesta (Mountain View)

One Sunday, after visiting the Mountain View Farmer's Market, we were looking for places to have lunch.  We keep our Entertainment Book in the car, and found a coupon for La Fiesta Restaurant, just a few blocks' drive from the farmer's market.  The restaurant has a special menu on Sunday: a champagne brunch for only $11.95. This was perfect, as our 2-for-1 coupon was for entrees up to $12.

Chicken Mole Omelette @ La Fiesta Restaurant

La Fiesta Chicken Mole Omelette

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Whenever we go out to eat at a Mexican restaurant, there's usually two things we eat to determine how good the place is: chicken mole and chile verde.  I know, it's kind of unfair to use these two dishes as a benchmark, but we've found that if we like how a restaurant does these dishes, we'll like other dishes on the menu.  Conversely, if these dishes are done poorly, we won't like any other dishes.

Annie got the Chicken Mole omelette.  It was tender, braised chicken wrapped in an omelette shell and bathed in sweet mole sauce.  Rice and beans are served on the side, along with tortillas (you get a choice of corn or flour but we find corn to have more flavor).  Nice dish - lots of deep flavors but the sweetness stands out.

Chile Verde Omelette @ La Fiesta Restaurant

La Fiesta Chile Verde Omelette

My Chile Verde Omelette was plated in the same manner - tender braised pork wrapped in an omelette shell and swimming in chile verde sauce.  I have to say that both dishes were pretty tasty.  We were quite satisfied by the time we got halfway through our plates, but it was hard to stop eating.

Cheese Quesadilla @ La Fiesta Restaurant

La Fiesta Cheese Quesadilla plate

The kids' quesadilla was quite interesting.  Normally a quesadilla would come plain on a plate, with the cheese on the inside. As you can see, this plate came with the quesadilla smothered in cheese, almost lost within the beans.  A little harder to eat, especially for small ones, but the extra cheese was worth it.

Fresh-Made Sangria @ La Fiesta Restaurant

La Fiesta Sangria

For drinks, Annie got a champagne while I went for the fresh-made sangria.  It was pretty fruity, with watermelon and strawberry the foremost flavors.

Overall, I was quite happy with the meal.  The service was a bit slow but the bathroom was very clean and the bill, with the use of the Entertainment coupon, made this lunch a value.

La Fiesta Restaurant
240 Villa Street
Mountain View, California 94041
Phone: (650) 968-1364

Sunday - Thursday 11am-930pm
Friday-Saturday 11am-1030pm

View Larger Map

Aloha, Nate

Other Mexican Restaurants:

Mi Lindo Yucatan (San Francisco)

Chuy's 183 (Austin)

Goveas Mexican Restaurant (San Jose)

Continue Reading: "La Fiesta (Mountain View)"...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Braised Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

I love food magazines! I love drooling over recipes and pictures and reading about other people's experiences at restaurants or eating in a different country. Two of my absolutely favorite food mags are "Fine Cooking" and "Saveur." They are both quite different but appeal to me for their beautiful pictures, content and recipes.

Having said that, I'm sorry to say that I'm no longer subscribed to either. No, it's not because I don't like the magazines, it's mainly because I have many back issues as I've been subscribed for many years and I don't cook enough with the ones I already own (yeah, I'm one of those who can't get rid of old issues).

Fine Cooking Magazines on Bookshelf

Fine Cooking mags on bookshelf

Nate is always accusing me of wanting to buy more magazines but not using them enough in my cooking. After having Nate tell me yet again that I have so many magazines and I should cook more from them, I decided one day to flip through my entire stack of Fine Cooking magazines.

I started to make a list for myself of all the recipes I plan to try. I actually started a document with different headings for beef/lamb, pork, chicken/poultry, veggies, starches, appetizers, desserts, and miscellaneous. I only made it through a third of the stack, and I already had enough on my list for weeks of cooking without repeating any dish. Scary! And a little exciting as well.

Change up

I realized I had all the ingredients for one of the chicken recipes I was reading. I had waiting for me in the fridge a defrosted whole chicken that I was originally planning to roast. I also had lots of garlic. The rest of the ingredients I happened to have handy as well.

So I scrapped my original idea of a roast chicken and changed up my menu in favor of this braised chicken. The only thing we needed was a baguette to soak up all the goodness of the braised liquids and the oh-so-buttery garlic. Nate was ordered to pick one up on the way home from work.

Braised Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

(recipe taken from Fine Cooking, Vol 92)


3 1/2 to 4 lb chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One-half lemon
1/4 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
40 cloves unpeeled garlic, separated and any loose papery skins removed (about 2 large heads)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup lower-salt chicken broth
Toasted baguette slices for serving


Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 400F.

Trim any excess fat from the cavity of the chicken. Pat chicken really dry and season inside and out with 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Squeeze the juice from the lemon half and set the juice aside. Put the juiced lemon half in the chicken's cavity. Cross the chicken legs and tie them together; tuck the wings under the chicken. Using a small sieve, dust the breasts and legs with the paprika.

Heat the oil in a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven (large enough to fit the chicken snugly) over med-high heat. Add the chicken, breast side down, and cook until the skin is browned, about 2 mins.

Cook Chicken in a Dutch Oven

cook chicken in a dutch oven

Turn and cook the the back and sides until browned, 2-3 mins per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off and discard the oil left in the pot. Return the pot to med-high heat. Add the garlic and wine to the pot, stirring to deglaze the browned bits from the bottom. Return the chicken to the pot, setting it breast side up on top of the garlic. Add the herbs to the pot, pour the broth over the chicken, and bring to a boil.

Braised Chicken in Dutch Oven with Wine, Garlic and Herbs

braised chicken in dutch oven with wine, garlic and herbs

Cover and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook, basting the chicken every 20 mins, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 160F, 45 mins to 1 hour.

Uncover and continue to cook the chicken until the thermometer registers 165 to 170F in the thigh and the juices from the thigh run clear, about 10 mins more. Transfer chicken to cutting board and the garlic cloves to a serving platter; cover both loosely with foil to keep warm.

Strain the braising liquid from the pot into a small saucepan; discard the herbs. Spoon off as much fat as possible. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. Simmer until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 5 mins. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and some of the reserved lemon juice.

Carve the chicken and transfer the pieces to the serving platter with the garlic. Serve with the sauce and the baguette slices.

Braised Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

braised chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

Turns out, this is actually a pretty easy recipe and very tasty! The chicken was moist and flavorful and the garlic was mellow but so mouthwatering! Don't forget to squeeze out the garlic from the cloves and spread it on your bread like butter. Soooo good!

Braised Garlic is Like Buttah

braised garlic is like buttah


Now, I'm more motivated to try even more new recipes from my magazines. I'm looking forward to jotting down more recipes to try as I work through the rest of my stack. Nate will be happy that I'm using my magazines and maybe if I work through enough of them, I'll want to reinstate my subscriptions.

Which cooking mags do you have too many of? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

Cheers, Annie

More "Fine Cooking"-Inspired Posts:

Sweet Corno di Toro Peppers in Mexican Chopped Salad

The Best Cream Scones Recipe Ever

Beer Can Chicken

Roasted Chicken and veggies with lemon asparagus sauce

Creamy Winter Greens Gratin

Continue Reading: "Braised Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic"...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest, Part 2

In our first post on getting buzzed at TomatoFest in Carmel Valley, we talked about the amazing foods and drinks we experienced in the various Chef and Wine Tents.  But that was just the festival part of TomatoFest. Today, I want to talk about the whole reason there is a TomatoFest, the tomatoes.  It's why I really wanted to go to TomatoFest in the first place, ever since I found out about it.

Bucket of Heirloom Tomatoes @TomatoFest

bucket of heirloom tomatoes @ TomatoFest

When I first started getting into tomatoes, I bought seedlings from the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners' Spring Plant Sale and got others from the store.  But once the bug hit me, I decided to try growing my own tomatoes from seed.  One of the first online stores I visited was Gary Ibsen's Tomatofest site.  I was enthralled by the many varieties he offered and the beautiful pictures that accompanied the description of each variety. 

Yellow and Red Ruffled Heirloom Tomatoes @TomatoFest

yellow and red ruffled tomatoes

So I did order some seeds from, and I must say I was very impressed by the service they provided.  See, in my order of 6 varieties, they made a mistake and sent the one wrong variety.  When I emailed Gary to let him know I had received one I did not order, he was very prompt to reply and in less than a week, I not only had my correct variety but also 3 other tomato varieties to make up for the mistake.  On top of that, he said I could keep the variety that was sent by accident (that's 4 extra that I got for free--woohoo!).  Now, that's customer service :-) !

Anyhow, when we got to Tomatofest, I was very excited to look at the Tomato Tasting Tent which had over 350 different heirloom tomato varieties on offer.  I actually did my homework before the event itself by visiting the Tomatofest site and looking at all the varieties they had to offer.  I wrote down the ones that I was most interested to try so that I would not end up being numbed by trying to taste them all. 

Tomato Tasting Table @TomatoFest

Tomato Tasting Table

Nate and I stepped into the tasting tent after we had made our rounds eating all the foods from the chef's tents.  This part was truly fun for me.  I got to talk to others in line who were just as crazy about tomatoes as I was. Where else would you be able to talk about tomatoes and not have people roll their eyes after 5 minutes? 

The tasting tent lived up to my expectations BIG TIME.  It was a sea of color.  There was basically a square space in which tables upon tables were laid out with every conceivable shape, color, and size of tomatoes.  In the center, volunteers were busy cutting up more samples or filling up plates when they ran low.  Every variety had its name written in front of it and some varieties actually had two different sample plates if they were provided by two different farms from different areas (as tomatoes can taste different depending on the terroir). 

Tomato Tasting Table @TomatoFest

tomatofest tasting table

I also got to talk to some people who didn't really know too much about the different varieties but were glad for advice on which ones to try. (I would not recommend trying all in one fell swoop.  That would be tomatoing-out in a BIG way!)

If you've never tried a green-when-ripe tomato, you absolutely must, they are some of the tastiest tomatoes I've ever had. Green Giant and Green Grape would be two examples of very sweet, amazing tasting tomatoes in the green shades. Somehow the green color always turns people off. Don't be afraid -- GO GREEN!  ;-)

Green Zebra Tomato @TomatoFest

Green Zebra Tomato

We actually took a break halfway through to cleanse our palates with some wines before coming back to sample the second half of the tables. Of all the ones I tasted that day, Chocolate Stripes was the winner for me.  Apparently, other people felt the same way.  The evidence is revealed by how few pieces were left on the tasting plate:

Chocolate Stripes Tomato @TomatoFest

Chocolate Stripes Tomato

This Chocolate Stripes tomato was robust in flavor, with sweet notes and complex undertones.  The whole tomato was a beauty too--a medium globe that was a dark, chocolaty red with green stripes. Both Gary Ibsen and Sunset Magazine's Jim McAusland agree - black tomatoes have the richest, most complex flavors.

Japanese Black Trifele Tomato @TomatoFest

Japanese Trifele Black Tomato

Green Grape (which I'm also growing this year) was also very flavorful, sweet but with a nice acidic finish that gives it a real punch.  Other varieties that I thought were worthy of mention include Mandarin Cross, Chinese Tea, Lahman Pink, Blue Ridge Mountain, Cindy's West Virginia, Green Giant,  and Marizol Gold.

You Say Tomato, I Say Toh-Mah-Tow

One thing I do want to note about flavor.  Don't discount a tomato just because it didn't taste that great the first time you try it.  I actually made a point to taste samples of the varieties that I was growing in my own garden to do a comparison.  I found that many of the tomatoes I am growing in my own garden taste better than the ones at the TomatoFest tasting tent.  Other varieties tasted way better than what I was growing.  The difference in flavors could be due to many factors including soil conditions, watering, temperature, etc.

Besides taste, some tomatoes were just beautiful to look at.  Varieties like Costoluto Genovese and Tim's Black Ruffles are defined by the ridges that line the whole tomato giving them an almost pumpkin-like look.  Some of these can be very tasty but I have found most ruffled tomatoes to be drier on the inside and some even have cavities like a bell pepper.  These varieties are especially good for stuffing.

Tim's Black Ruffles Tomato @TomatoFest

Tim's Black Ruffles Tomato

Heirloom tomatoes are not boring.  There are uniquely colored tomatoes (bicoloreds, white, green, purple, and black to name a few), striped tomatoes, fuzzy tomatoes (looks like a peach, tastes like a tomato), and odd-shaped tomatoes (heart-shaped, pepper-shaped, pear-shaped).  All these traits are amazing to me and makes me exclaim in wonder at the beauty of each tomato variety.

Then there are the sizes.  I was tickled by one called Spoon which was sooo tiny that I could imagine needing a spoon to eat them.  I also would hate to be the one to have to harvest these babies--they were the size of tiny peas.

Spoon Tomatoes @TomatoFest

Spoon Tomatoes

And other tomato varieties were so large, you'd need both hands to hold them. 

Burraker's Favorite Tomato @TomatoFest

Burraker's Favorite Tomato

The biggest one in my garden this year (and also very flavorful) is Grandfather Ashlock, weighing in at a whopping 1lb 7oz!

If I had had more time, I would probably have gone around the whole square a second time to try those I missed in my first pass.  But unfortunately, the time flew by and as 4pm neared, my stomach was still so full of tomato that I could not go back to try more even though I really wanted to.

It's All About the Love (Apples)

Today, as I write this, I wish I had been able to try them all to do justice to each variety.  I admired every one and I'm truly grateful that Gary Ibsen has put out a festival that allows people to realize that tasting tomatoes is much like wine tasting.  Each variety has its own distinct flavor with different nuances and tones.  Each is unique, asserting themselves differently to different people.   My love affair with tomatoes continues and Tomatofest is an event that feeds my addiction even more.

Even though Gary announced his retirement from TomatoFest, he is planning to pass the torch on to a worthy manager.  TomatoFest will live on, and we certainly hope to be able to attend again and again!

If you liked this post, why don't you subscribe to receive all our latest posts in your RSS reader or by email!

Cheers, Annie

Related Posts:

Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest

Wild Boar Farms: These Aren't Your Dad's Tomatoes

Love (Apple) At First Bite

Annie's Top Five Tomato Growing Tips

Continue Reading: "Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest, Part 2"...