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April 14, 2006


I have a very, very high tolerance for fast food of dubious quality. And I haven't tasted it, so for all I know it's fantastic. But I'm more than a little disturbed by the most recent offering from the brain trust over at 7-Eleven. P'EatZZa™, "a marriage made in 7-Eleven heaven", is essentially a deli sandwich with pizza in lieu of bread. Currently, there is a turkey and pepperoni version with parmesan ranch spread and a ham and salami version with banana peppers and vinaigrette. A third Greek-style salad version is forthcoming.

Now, I know it'll kill you, but you're only allowed to select ONE... which aspect of the P'EatZZa™ is most disturbing?

A) The composition of the sandwich.
B) The fact that the name more closely resembles a strong password.
C) The fact that it's evidently supposed to be pronounced as a three-syllable word (puh-eat-zuh)
D) That fact that it'll most likely be a wild success.

April 13, 2006

Sugary Pathology

Ordinarily, when you make sugar cookies, you make Christmas cookies, or Easter cookies, or Halloween cookies. Or if you have little ones, maybe you make train cookies, or horse cookies, or pinwheel cookies. But when your wife is a doctor with a cookie obsession who likes to bring treats to her presentations, you sometimes find yourself making...

...neutrophil granulocyte cookies!

April 12, 2006

Tea Tin

Dominic Armato

No story or recipe... just liked how this photo turned out.

April 11, 2006

Shrimp Experiment

Dominic Armato
Well, the shrimp experiment was a success, but I wouldn't call it the wild success that I was hoping for.

Sadly, when I returned home at 8:30, my live shrimp had become... merely very fresh. The best fresh shrimp I've had are the ones we get at Lei Yue Mun in Hong Kong, where they're pulled from the tank at the fish market and on your plate down the street within ten minutes, in a simple, light sauce. So I improvised a little marinade that I thought would be similar, let the little fellows take it in for about an hour, and then tossed them on a rack in the wok to steam. Sadly, their deaths ruined my plan for a drunken shrimp style marinating process. Drunken shrimp, in the most traditional sense, are live shrimp that are tossed in a bowl of sweet rice wine, where they suck up the liquid (actually, I think "breathing" would be a more appropriate term) and get a little loopy. They're then eaten as-is, raw and quite alive. If served the dish in China, I'd absolutely eat it. Once upon a time in Japan, I ate a fish that I'm certain was watching me, and it was amazing. I'm not squeamish about the quality of Chinatown groceries, but I don't trust them that much. So while I had no intention of eating these fellows alive, the idea that marinating them while they're skittering about might cause the sauce to permeate the flesh sounded positively awesome. But since this was now impossible, I marinated them in the more traditional sense.

Dominic Armato
So, while the results weren't quite as transcendent as I'd hoped they would be, I do think they went a long way towards supporting my suspicion that the only difference between the amazing shrimp we get in China and the shrimp we get in the States is the level of freshness. I know it's next to impossible to get shrimp at a retail market that hasn't been flash frozen at some point. And despite their protestations that a good flash freezing doesn't adversely affect the beast at all, I simply don't believe it. For starters, these were far tastier and sweeter than anything else I've managed to find here in Chicago. But what struck me, as I was tearing through them, was that some were significantly tastier than others. I hypothesized that the ones that had kicked off earlier in the day were the merely okay ones, while the hearty fellows who had hung in there a little longer were the tasty ones, and I already have a plan to test this hypothesis. Next time, I'm preparing my marinade and taking it to Chinatown in a big tupperware. I'll buy my shrimp, take them back to the car, and toss them in while they're still kicking. Then, as soon as I get home, into the wok they go! I expect miracles. But in the meantime, here's my simple little improvised recipe, which was quite worthy:

Dominic Armato

1 Lb. fresh whole shrimp, preferably live
2/3 C. shaohsing
1/4 C. soy sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic
soy sauce
Steamed Shrimp, Chinese Style
Makes 1 family-style dish

For this dish, the shrimp have to be alive, or at the very least, megafresh. If they weren't kicking within the past few hours, the dish will still be tasty, but nothing like it's supposed to be. Combine all of the marinade ingredients, and then combine in a covered bowl with the shrimp. Be sure to keep it covered. They'll jump! Let the little fellows get nice and drunk on the rice wine... an hour should do.

Meanwhile, prepare your steaming contraption. For me, it's a wok with a cover and a circular rack. Put the wok over high heat until it gets super hot. Add the rack, then pour in the shrimp and all of the marinade, so that the shrimp rest on the rack while the marinade drips through into the bottom of the wok and boils. Immediately cover the wok and let the shrimp steam for about five minutes, until cooked. Remove from the heat, give the shrimp a quick toss in the steaming liquid, and pile them up on a plate.

Get a small dish of soy sauce, and a big stack of napkins. Tear off the heads, and suck out the juice if you're into that. Otherwise, discard the heads, peel the tails, give them a light dip in the soy sauce and pop 'em. They should be full of potent shrimp flavor and a wonderful sweetness.

April 10, 2006

Live Shrimp!!!

Dominic Armato
Now THIS is exciting!

For years, I've lamented the fact that I can't get the incredible live, sweet shrimp that we get in China. So today, when the APB went out on LTH Forum, I made a little lunchtime field trip. Currently, there's a pound of these little fellows... still quite alive... chilling in my fridge. The still photo belies their liveliness. In the ten seconds between when I dumped them into the dish and when I returned with the camera, four had escaped... two to the floor!

Later tonight, fresh Chinese steamed shrimp... I'm super ultra mega mega excited.

Update to follow...

April 09, 2006

Cupcake Craze

Dominic Armato
Let it be said that I think this whole cupcake craze is a little ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong. I love cupcakes. I mean, who doesn't love cupcakes? My new wife and newly acquired sister are huge cupcake fans, and they've taken me to a few trendy dessert spots in search of the ultimate cupcake. But to me, the craze feels like fashion applied to the food world. Cupcakes are cool this year because we say they are. And I realize that we're probably on the tail end of the trend now, but cupcakes are still press-worthy. The establishments we've visited have been cute, trendy, generally tasty, but nothing craze-worthy.

THIS cupcake, however, is PHENOMENAL.

I'm going to go so far as to call it the best cupcake I've ever had. It's a no nonsense cupcake. No trendy or cutesy toppings or colors, here -- just the absolute apotheosis of rich, moist, sweet cakey goodness. It's not fancy... it's just perfect.

I can't yet speak for the establishment, since my ladylove brought this one home for me. It's called Southport Grocery, and it appears to be a little gourmet store with a bakery and cafe. Clearly, this merits further research. It looks like they've gotten plenty of press, so I'm hardly breaking virgin territory here, but I'll report back all the same.

April 06, 2006

Roast Chicken v2.0

Okay... with the ultra super basic roast chicken in the rear view mirror, it's time to start improvising a little bit.

It's nothing fancy or creative. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's fairly obvious. I wanted to try to enrich the flavor a little bit while keeping it very simple and traditional. But it turned out super tasty, so I figured I might as well write it up. If you ask me, it's all about the mustard. But all of the vegetables don't hurt, either. With the vegetables in the same skillet the chicken wings don't get as crispy, which I miss, but the tradeoff in the richness of the drippings is worth it, I think.

Dominic Armato
4-5 Lb. whole chicken
coarse salt and pepper
1 carrot
8-10 small fingerling potatoes
1 small turnip
1 small yellow onion
1 head fennel, stems and leaves removed
4 garlic cloves
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. very coarse mustard

2 Tbsp. coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

dijon mustard
Roast Chicken and Vegetables
with Mustard and Thyme

Serves 2-4

Preheat your oven to 450º. While the oven is heating up, wash the chicken and, using paper towels, dry it very, very, very well. Water = steam = soggy skin, and who doesn't want nice, crispy skin on a roast chicken? Season the cavity with salt and pepper, and truss the chicken using kitchen twine. Place the chicken in a large cast iron skillet or roasting pan (no rack, I say!).

Wash and peel the vegetables, as appropriate. Leave the potatoes whole. Chop the onion into wedges. Give the garlic cloves a very, very light crush and peel 'em. Chop the rest of the vegetables into large pieces, about the size of the potatoes. If you're feeling artsy, save the fennel fronds. They always look great as a garnish. In a large bowl, mix together the olive oil and the mustard. The coarser the mustard, the better... with big, whole mustard seeds... something like Pommery, maybe. Add the vegetables to the mustard/oil mixture, toss to coat, and then drop in the skillet, surrounding the chicken. Season very generously with the coarse salt, and then add a nice dusting of fresh ground pepper. As soon as the oven is up to heat, throw the skillet in.

Cook the chicken until the meat where the thighs meet the body reads 170º on an instant-read thermometer, about one hour. Remove the skillet from the oven, and transfer the vegetables to another dish. Return the chicken to the oven for another five minutes, then remove. Add the thyme to the chicken drippings, baste the chicken with the drippings, then let the chicken stand for five minutes before carving.

Tuck in, eating the chicken with some good dijon mustard. Or skip the mustard. But I dig it.

April 04, 2006

The Hualalai Grille by Alan Wong

Dominic Armato
The color adjustments necessitated by the extremely low, warm light somehow made this look like a seventies cookbook photo, but this is an anti-seventies dish in every way, with the possible exception that it's both meaty and greasy.

Owing to some minor illness, our plans to plow through the menu at the Hualalai Grill by Alan Wong were curtailed somewhat, but we still managed to have a great meal Saturday night. I could have tried some new items. I probably should have. But I ended up going back to get the full version of two of the tasting items we'd had a couple of nights prior. I've already mentioned his Ginger Crusted Onaga with Miso Vinaigrette, but I didn't get to his "Soup and Sandwich".

This is one of those dishes that seems gimmicky on first glance... a jazzed up grilled cheese with tomato soup... but when you get into it, you realize that it's extremely well-conceived, and that the playful reference is a happy coincidence more than anything. The grilled cheese is made with mozzarella, kalua pork and seared foie gras. It's rich and greasy and delicious and wonderfully paired with his chilled tomato soups. The rice vinegar and natural acidity in the tomatoes cuts right through the sandwich's richness. You take a bite of the sandwich, have a sip of the soup, and realize very quickly that this is not a gimmicky dish.

In my limited experience with the man, this dish is very representative of Alan Wong's cuisine. You look at his dish descriptions, his presentations, his ingredient selections, and you want to write him off as a flashy fusion chef. But to do so is to dismiss him too lightly. Yes, some of his choices are showy, but they're not without merit. His wild and explosive flavors are the result of sound fundamental culinary choices, and as a result they inspire appreciation well beyond their wow factor. I'd have liked to have been able to get through more of the menu, but I suppose you have to have something to go back for, right?

April 03, 2006

Loco Moco

Dominic Armato
It pretty much negates the need for both lunch and dinner, but I've added a new item to the pantheon of breakfast favorites.

The version pictured here is a little gussied-up, especially since its origins are essentially as dive food, but what you're looking at is a Hawaiian creation known as Loco Moco. Much like the Caesar Salad, the exact origins of the dish are slightly fuzzy, but this much is generally agreed upon: It was created in Hilo in the late '40s as hungry impecunious teenager grub, originally consisting of a pile of white rice topped with hamburger, egg and brown gravy. Some of the finer details aren't so well documented. It may or may not have originally been made for a kid nicknamed Loco. It may have first appeared at Cafe 100, or the Lincoln Grill, or somewhere else. And the Moco part may have simply been a cute rhyme, or it may have been slang for snot, referencing the dish's somewhat less than refined nature.

In any case, I like it. The variants are many. In fact, the current Loco Moco nexus, Cafe 100, offers over 20 versions with numerous combinations and permutations of the basic ingredients. Had I learned about Cafe 100 before today, it might have merited a road trip. But as it stands, I can only judge the two that I've had, and this one is my favorite.

The Loco Moco at Pahu i'a takes the basic premise and refines it quite a bit. In place of the plain white rice is shrimp fried rice. There's still a hamburger patty, but it's made with good ground sirloin. Nestled under the traditional eggs are some sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. And in place of an oversalted diner beef gravy, they use a nice sweet and salty teriyaki sauce. It's a great combination that owes more than a little nod to traditional Japanese sukiyaki... sweet shoyu, beef, egg, onions... tasty stuff, and right up the alley of a savory breakfast fiend with a soft spot for Asian flavors.

I ate this dish about 34 hours ago, and I think I can still feel it in my stomach. But in case it doesn't last until my next trip, I'm going to have to either find someplace that makes it, or make it myself. A recipe may be forthcoming if I'm feeling bold one weekend.

April 02, 2006


...the spiny sea urchins should beware of ME.