Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holidays 2013 - A Fishy Feast and Other Treats

We've had relaxing and tasty holiday season thus far. We kicked things off Monday evening with happy hour at California Kebab. We'd had their current batch of Pig Nose Pale at the recent Bikes, Boards and Brews festival here in Pacific Beach and were happy to find it on tap at the brewery. Pig Nose is probably my current favorite low(ish) ABV west-coast-style IPA.

And the view never gets old:

View from California Kebab

Christmas Eve we had our annual "Feast of the Seven Fishes" dinner. This year we did a Korean meal.

We started out with Shrimp and Kimchi Jeon:

For banchan, we had Odeng Bokkeum (fried fishcake), along with cucumber pickles, and kimchi:

The main event was a Seafood Jjigae. We've been making Jjigae at home for a while, now, but we've been cheating by using soup mix packets. This was our first time making stock from scratch - a mixture of dried anchovy, kombu, onion, garlic, shiitake and a few dried shrimp:

After straining you end up with a nicely savory stock:

For the Jjigae, we heated minced garlic, onion, and Korean chile powder in our individual Jjigae bowls:

We added a cup of the stock along with a bit of soft tofu, our fish and seafood (white sea bass, squid, bay scallops and asari clams), and some kale for color.

It turned out really well. Spicy, savory and rich with seafood flavor.

For Christmas dinner, we roasted a pork shoulder in the oven at low heat for 5 hours. The house smelled amazing, and the pork came out perfectly moist and sticky.

Last night we used leftover seafood and anchovy stock to make Chawanmushi:

We also have a few ongoing food projects. We brewed up a batch of our Imperial Stout earlier in the week and it has been happily bubbling away.

We also couldn't resist picking up a 10lb pork picnic shoulder roast to transform into a ham. It is currently brining in our beer fridge, and will later get smoked. It is our first time doing a ham, and we are really looking forward to the result!

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Baja Cheese - A Visit to La Cava de Marcelo

La Cava de Marcello

We spent the day last Saturday on an expedition down to Baja with Queso Diego. Our destination was La Cava de Marcelo, a small dairy farm and cheese making operation located about 45 minutes east of Ensenada on the road to San Felipe.

As is often the case in Mexico, the trip down was a bit of an adventure with some bumps (some figurative, some literal) along the way, but we eventually found ourselves in a lovely setting - glass of wine in hand.

We took a tour of the operation, complete with the requisite calf-petting station:

La Cava de Marcello

a visit to the cheese-making area:

La Cava de Marcello

and, of course, some tasting - ricotta (good) and butter (great!) on smoky grilled bread:

La Cava de Marcello

The cheese cave is set down into the basement of one of the buildings:

La Cava de Marcello

The cave also doubles as a tasting area where we tried the pressed cheeses - plain and three flavors - basil, black pepper, and rosemary. We also tried the same basic cheese, but aged 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years.

There is also a restaurant on premises where we enjoyed a very nice dinner from their interesting and varied menu.

La Cava de Marcello

We picked up a round of their cracked pepper-flavored cheese to take home with us:

La Cava de Marcello

Cheers to Queso Diego for organizing the trip!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Making Homemade Tofu

Homemade Tofu

We picked up Andrea Nguyen's excellent book, Asian Tofu, on a whim a couple of years ago. We haven't historically eaten a lot of tofu, but the idea that you could make it at home seemed intriguing.

Why make your own tofu? It is just better than what you can buy at the store. It tastes better and has a nicer texture. And once you get the hang of it, it really isn't that difficult to do. Our first batch was a revelation, and ever since then we've been making fresh, homemade tofu on regular basis.

It all starts with soy beans. Soak them overnight and they turn from hard little round balls into the familiar bean shape:

Homemade Tofu

They get blended with cool water:

Homemade Tofu

until you have a smooth, frothy milkshake type mixture:

Homemade Tofu

The bean puree gets put into a pot with some additional water and heated over medium high heat until a thick foam layer forms on top - similar to fluffy, beaten egg whites. You need to watch the pot carefully here, as the foam forms suddenly and rises quickly toward the top of the pot. It's pretty obvious when the change occurs - take it off the heat at that point.

Homemade Tofu

Set a colander over another pot and line it with fine cheesecloth or butter muslin. Ladle in the cooked mixture and let it drain.

Homemade Tofu

Once the solids have cooled enough, you need to twist, prod, and squeeze the mass to extract as much soy milk as you can. It's the soy milk that will eventually be made into tofu.

Homemade Tofu

Inside the bag you have the ground up soy bean solids, called the lees. They get a little more water added to them and then the cheese cloth gets squeezed again, removing even more soy milk. The lees can be discarded or cooked in other products. They're grainy and don't have much flavor, but still contain nutrients.

Homemade Tofu

The resulting soy milk gets cooked at a very low simmer for five to ten minutes in order to make it fully digestible.We don't typically use soy milk directly, but if you do then at this stage you have your own homemade version.

Finally a coagulant needs to be added, causing the soy milk to set into curds, similar to making cheese - but easier! We've used a couple different coagulants. The one pictured below is gypsum, a water hardener purchased at our local home brew supply shop. It's a fine white powder mixed with water before stirring into the soy milk.

Homemade Tofu

More recently we've been using nigari, a clear liquid of salts made from sea water. It can be found at Japanese supermarkets. In our experience, the nigari makes a more smoothly textured tofu.

The warm soy milk gets strongly agitated while blending in the coagulant, then it is set aside to rest for about five minutes. A little more coagulant is added to the surface, and after another five minutes or so, milky curds will have formed and separated from the clear, yellowish liquid. At this point it can help to gently press the curds in the pot and scoop out as much liquid as possible before attempting to deal with the curds.

Homemade Tofu

For the block tofu we've been making, the curds need to be ladled into a cloth-lined mold for shaping and pressing.

Homemade Tofu

We don't have a traditional rectangular tofu mold, but we happen to have a wooden sushi box press (an oshizushi mold), and it has served us well. You can also use a lined colander or other mold - it just needs to have outlets to release the excess liquid.

Homemade Tofu

Depending upon the firmness you desire, pressing only takes 15 to 30 minutes. Of course the time is also dependent upon the amount of weight applied. As you can see here, we've been a bit creative in our selection and application of weights...

Homemade Tofu

We generally press the block to about three-quarters of its original height. Then it gets submersed in cool water to help it set before moving it to a storage container.

Homemade Tofu

We've had good success with keeping it fresh in the refrigerator for more than a week - the key is to keep it completely covered with water, by at least half an inch. However, this tofu is so good and tasty that it rarely lasts that long!

For exact instruction for making various styles of tofu, along with a host of great recipes for using it, I highly recommend the book that got us started - Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cocteles Vallarta in Playas de Tijuana

Cocteles Vallarta in Playas de Tijuana

When we are in a new place and looking for something to eat, I'm notorious with my wife for questing to find that spot that just feels right. Sometimes the quest is difficult and fraught with tired feet and growling bellies. Other times everything rolls easy.

This was one of those easy-rolling times.

We had passed Cocteles Vallarta the day before while wandering along Avenida del Pacifico, and had noted that it looked nice and relaxed. We saw some gentlemen sitting in the corner seats with their view over the beach and I thought - those guys have the best seats in the house.

Cue the next afternoon and we are strolling around the beach looking for someplace to eat, and the best seats in the house ended up being ours:

Cocteles Vallarta in Playas de Tijuana

We spent several fantastic hours eating seafood, sometimes watching the scene at the beach and, more often than not, watching the chef of the mariscos stand do his thing.

It was a lot like watching a really good bartender go about his business. But while a refreshing drink was easily obtained, the business here was not drinks, but fresh seafood.

We started with a tostada mixta - a tostada of mixed seafood. This was definitely up there with the best I've ever had. Super fresh tasting, with lots of citrus. Really good.

Tostada mixta at Cocteles Vallarta

We followed that with some tacos - fish and shrimp. Both were lightly battered and fried - in what I think of as "Ensenada-style". They were great - we hoovered them up before I thought to take a picture.

Satiated for the moment, we sipped on our beers and enjoyed watching a host of orders being prepared for a happy and easy-going group of costumers - ceviches, plates of fried fish and shrimp, and substantive seafood cocktails (made with a fresh base, not the thickly sweet ketchupy stuff I don't like).

It was hard to miss the pile of huge clams sitting on the counter:

Clams at Cocteles Vallarta

We watched them be shucked, sliced and made into cocktails. They were also being made into a some sort of preparation in a bowl. We had been thinking about having another tostada mixta, but my eyes went from the bowl to "almeja preparada" (prepared clam) on the menu and we decided on that instead.

I'm glad we did:

Almeja preperada at Cocteles Vallarta

This was perhaps the single best thing we had on our visit to Playas. Fresh clam meat, elaborated much like a cerveza preparada - with lime juice, onion, cilanro, clamato, hot sauce and a hit of maggi. Much like making a bloody mary.

The result was perfect - bright, tangy, savory and altogether very pleasant to eat. Even amidst all of of the other strong flavors, the clam maintained a definite taste of its own. And its texture was great and varied - with some bits more firm and others softer.

Eating at Cocteles Vallarta was a great experience, and one I just can't imagine having north of the border. We hope to be back soon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tacos Aaron in Playas de Tijuana

Tacos Aaron in Playas de Tijuana

While we didn't specifically plan for our hotel during our weekend stay in Playas de Tijuana to be right around the corner from Tacos Aaron, we were certainly very pleased about it.

Tacos Aaron is a great example of the "Tacos Varios" style in Tijuana. "Tacos Varios" isn't very descriptive, but in Tijuana it means what we learned as tacos de guisado (stew) in Mexico City. While there are a few elements of some tacos that are prepared on the flattop, the majority of the tacos are made from pre-prepared stews. And they are fantastic.

Tacos Aaron sets up shop in the morning, and slings a steady stream of food until they run out - usually around 2-3 in the afternoon. Their most popular offering is probably the birria taco:

Birria Taco at Tacos Aaron

Slow-braised beef in a wonderfully spiced chile sauce.

They also have a "Quesabirria" taco, which ups the ante with a layer of cheese. We were toward the end of service and they were out of cheese, but we got one on a previous visit to their other truck (outside the Calimax in Colonia Soler):

Quesabirria Taco at Tacos Aaron

I think I generally prefer the purity of the straight birria taco, but for pure indulgence it is hard to argue with the quesabirria.

We also had a few of their other tacos. This is the pollo adobado:

Pollo Adobado Taco at Tacos Aaron

It was served with a terrific rich and roasty sauce.

And the milanesa:

Milanesa Tacos at Tacos Aaron

This was probably our least favorite of their tacos, but it was still pretty damned good.

The next morning, we hit up the truck again - this time for breakfast. We got the chorizo con huevo enchilado:

Chorizo con Huevo Enchilado Taco at Tacos Aaron

Scrambled egg in a vibrant chile sauce, with large chunks of tasty chorizo. Really good.

Less attractive, but maybe even better tasting was the machaca con huevo:

Machaca con Huevo Taco at Tacos Aaron

The eggs were luxurious in a fantastic salsa verde. I could easily eat this for breakfast every day.

There are still a few taco varieties we have yet to try. We're looking forward to visiting them again and continuing to explore their menu. You should, too.

Tacos Aaron
Paseo Pedregel, just southwest of the Plaza Coronado shopping center
Playas de Tijuana
Baja California, Mexico

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mariscos Titos in Playas de Tijuana

Mariscos Titos in Playas de Tijuana

Within an hour of arriving for our weekend in Playas de Tijuana we were eating lunch at Mariscos Titos. We'd been there before on a Turista Libre trip, so it made for a comfortable first stop.

Mariscos Titos is located just east of the Plaza Coronado shopping center. Here is their menu:

Mariscos Titos Menu

We started with a fish ceviche tostada:

Ceviche Pescado Tostada at Mariscos Titos

Even though the base had some mayo in it, which I'm not very fond of, it was very tasty.

We also had a few tacos - the camarón enchilado:

Camarón Enchilado at Mariscos Titos

and the pulpo enchilado:

Pulpo Enchilado at Mariscos Titos

Both were good, but a bit more "goopy" than I would like. I think we would have done better to order the simpler tacos.

As I mentioned earlier, we stopped here on an earlier trip with Turista Libre.

Mariscos Titos in Playas de Tijuana

That time we had the "New York Camarón" taco:

New York Camarón at Mariscos Titos

This was a beast of a taco - a bunch of shrimp scattered on top of a thin steak, with a healthy dose of cheese underneath. Pretty much a meal in itself.

Mariscos Titos certainly wasn't the best food we had during our visit, but it was good. The service is friendly and the atmosphere is active and pleasant.

Mariscos Titos
Corales 107
Playas de Tijuana
22000 Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico