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Szechuan Beef

You're welcome. And if you're looking for the right flavor (and color it lends to the dish) of spicy heat (La 辣), the ingredient you want is doubanjiang (Chinese transliteration) or doubanjan (Japanese transliteration). Often called Broad Bean Chili Paste or Fava Bean Chili Paste or Spicy Bean Paste or something similar. The characters to look for are (豆瓣酱 - doubanjiang), particularly 辣豆瓣酱 (first character "la" means spicy version) or 郫县豆瓣酱 (first two characters mean that it has come from Pixian area of the Szechuan province).

The Szechuan variety has grades (and cost) depending fermentation length, but cheaper mass-produced non-Sichuan doubanjan's are often made with soy beans instead of broad/fava beans, meaning the flavor will be a little different. Doubanjiang of any cost can be really hard to find in markets if you don't live in areas with a strong Chinese population. That's what I found even with three different Asian markets within 5 miles of where I live. In that case substitute the common sambal oelek or Sriracha sauce together with miso paste; Red "aka" miso is a better choice for flavor than the yellow/white "shiro" miso as it is aged and fermented more.

Sambal oelek or Sriracha together with miso is not the same flavor as Sichuan doubanjiang or even soy-based doubanjiang, but will work in a pinch -- and better than sambal or Sriracha alone.

Jun 01, 2011
quixotequest in Home Cooking

Pre-1980 authentic US Sichuan cookbooks?

Could you be thinking of Eileen Yin-Fei Lo? I've really enjoyed her "The Chinese Kitchen" -- not only interesting dish recipes, but foundation recipes like sauces, noodles and wraps, too. Though she is definitely overall "slow food" more than the quick-prep trend.

May 19, 2011
quixotequest in Home Cooking

Szechuan Beef

In Szechuan/Sichuan cuisine spiciness is described as "ma la" (麻辣). Ma (麻) is the tingly-numbing sensation provided by Szechuan pepper, that also has a distinct flavor with hints of lemon, smoky-earthiness, and juniper pine. But it is beloved especially for the sensation it causes on the lips and tongue. La (辣) is the more expected spicy sensation that you'd get from hot chilies, of which Sambal Oelek is one type of preparation, that lends both flavor and hot-spicy sensation. Sambal Oelek is easy to find in most markets, the peppercorns much harder. While Sambal Oelek lends a uniform Asian spicy flavor, your cooking won't really taste authentically Szechuan till you use the pods ("peppercorns") of the prickly ash shrub.

May 19, 2011
quixotequest in Home Cooking

Mint and Lime Iced Tea

If you cut down the sugar -- which I, like other commenters, prefer -- definitely don't steep 10 min and don't overheat the water by bringing to full boil. Better cooler (150-degrees-ish) than too hot. I prefer about 165 F. (I use a candy thermometer.) Boiling and then letting the water cool back down starves some of the oxygen which blooms the flavor. But still better than steeping at full boiled temp.

I prefer around 3 min of steeping but 5-min for Gunpowder Green works, too. There's less sugar to compensate for the astringent bitterness of poorly brewed tea.

Pour like the Moroccans do -- in a narrow stream up above the cup -- as far as you can get without splashing all over. It oxygenates the tea, improving the flavor. It also foams the tea a little and improves mouthfeel.

Jul 23, 2010
quixotequest in Recipes

Mint and Lime Iced Tea

This recipe is good. Lime makes a nice variation to an (iced) Moroccan Mint Tea, which is what this recipe basically is. For clearer tea, definitely don't press down on the tea and follow instructions to let cool to room temp before refrigerating.

I recommend using about 8 tsp (~16 grams) of Gunpowder Green tea, lowering sugar to about 1 cup per 8 cups of water heated only to 150-170 degrees F. Steeping for about 3-6 minutes, depending on your taste. You'll get a cleaner and much less grassy-bitter flavor than using the bagged green tea and prep recommended in the recipe. Just pour thru a strainer into a pitcher that holds the sugar, stir till dissolved, and cool.

Nice thing about Gunpowder Green is that you can save the leaves you strain from the first batch and use again on a second batch, steeping a little longer the second time. The second batch isn't as luxurious as the first -- less essential oil -- if you taste them side by side. But it should still taste MUCH better than using commercial bagged teas. Mix batches together to make about 1 gal of sweet tea, enough for a party. Very economical!

Jul 23, 2010
quixotequest in Recipes

Leftovers: The Career Killer

I brought this article up with my friends on our nightly walk. One, whose company does legal programming for law firms around the nation, agreed with Helena's assertions. (His point was not that bringing lunch is bad per se, but not going out to lunch denies one the opportunity to socialize and network with management and coworkers.) My other friend, a government environmental economist, tended to agree with my position: that this is silly, but confessed he knows of people in his office to whom he thinks this article would apply. My corporate culture (animation/entertainment company) is more relaxed and if anyone is judged, it is usually people who consume too much soda and eat greasy, unhealthful food. (Not that I condone judging on superficial matters, but it can happen.)

Anyhow, I think BostonCookieMonster said it well: to generalize on macro career behaviors from one's particular corporate or regional culture is shoddy work. And as others have said, it's too much work to second guess what superficial factors one is likely to be judged on or not. Such politics happen, sure, but one's personal performance is the real thing one can control to best affect career success. All the rest will just drive you crazy.

Aug 10, 2007
quixotequest in Features

The Secret Ingredient Every Chef Uses

I also love what anchovies do for dishes. The preserved ones are so easy to blend to a paste and add in on unsuspecting guests. Sometimes I admit to using them, sometimes not. I had a dressing of mine go over huge at a company party, but I just couldn't admit to using anchovies when asked about the ingredients; too many unadventurous eaters around.

I really liked the fresh anchovies we had in Sicily and Venice, but there's no way I could sneak those dishes over on anyone. The best way to enjoy anchovies, fresh or preserved, is to order a dish where it is obvious you are eating them.

Aug 09, 2007
quixotequest in Features

Leftovers: The Career Killer

If this were serious It gives just one more reason to lament why life in America sucks so profoundly in culinary matters compared with Italy. When people see my leftovers they wonder how I can afford to eat "gourmet" every night. (So maybe the image I'm sending _is_ one of success.) I do it because it is more healthful, delicious and budget friendly than ordering in lunch. If I have to give up "success" in order to live this way, then I'm okay with that. ;-)

Aug 08, 2007
quixotequest in Features

Great Grater, and Now Greater Graters

I have not been satisfied with my box grater. I bought it for the larger teeth, and the wider grating area that I thought would make grating faster and more efficient.

However the box grater is clunky large; the clear plastic slider is always getting jammed, and doesn't securely hold in that much material; and since there is only one cover I'm always worried about things in the drawer banging into the uncovered side and dulling it. On the other hand my short and wide handheld Microplanes are divine. The shape is perfect, and each comes with a cover--so I can just toss it into the drawer. The original rasp style I had trouble, due to the length, of rasping my knuckles or fingertips, that the shorter, wider style solved.

Jun 08, 2007
quixotequest in Features

Best wine you've had under $15

I had a Sutter Home 2004 chardonnay on the weekend. It was about $13 a bottle. It was so cool, smooth and refreshing with a wonderful brightness of fruity overtones like peachy appley meloney flavours. It really caught me by surprise; I haven't had a pleasant chardonnay like that for a long time.

Jun 05, 2007
quixotequest in Wine

Venice Cheap!

Don't know if this is too late: we were in Venice a few days in the middle of May. I recommend to avoid pizza in Venice, whatever your budget may say, because 1> Venice is not known for good pizza, and 2> those who do sell it make pizza generrally so abnormally thick as not to deserve to even be called "Neopolitan" style. If you need a modest priced lunch grab a yummy roll from a bakery and then some meat and cheese from a deli, plus a drink if you wish. My wife and I did this everyday and were able to make large, satisfying sandwiches for 3-5 Eur a person. We were able to try out some amazing (and sometimes expensive) cured meats and cheeses this way. Shops like this can be easily found around the Rialto district, which is close to Accademia bridge. Grab some fresh fruit to go with and you are living the good life.

To get the Venice culinary cultural experience hit the osterie (wine bars) and the cool/room temp appetizers (cicchetti). There are wonderful little sandwiches, grilled veggies, sardines (sarde in saor), baccala (cod), and other seafoods that taste good (even if a little strange for the average American palate) and they are comparitively affordable. One night my wife and I made a dinner of cicchetti, the sparkling red wine Raboso, mineral water and tiramisu to share for only 32Eur total for both of us. The place we liked best is near San Marco, called A la Valigia. A short walk from Accademia bridge.

In so many places you can get a glass of good house wine or either of the popular fizzy wines for 1.5-2Eur a glass. That's a better value than a Coke. Just make sure to grab and pay for your wine at the bar, because if you order while sitting down you'll get hit for more than twice the cost. (You're then free to sit down and enjoy a meal.)

If you want to head out for a decent value at dinner go over to the northernmost district of the city Cannareggio. Walk along the main canals streets (Fondamente) like Misericordia or Sensa. Some great little places along there. We tried and loved: Trattoria Antica Mola (on far side of Misericordia in the Jewish ghetto); Osteria Anice Stellato (on Sensa--definitely make a reservation-fresh fish menu changes daily); and a place almost next door to Anice Stellato, but I neglected to write down its name. We were able to eat for 20-25Eur a person, including a starter, one or two courses, and dessert, along with one glass of wine. Sometimes we shared a starter or one of the courses, and always shared dessert, but we were able to eat a satisfying meal and stay on budget. Note some of these places require some of the dishes to be ordered in pairs, like risotto. This area is a much better value compared to most places, especially closer to where we were staying in the San Marco district. The Cannareggio district is great for wandering in the evening--you'll find more affordable gelaterie and souvenir shops there as well. Cannareggio isn't far by vaporetto from Accademia, but you can walk there too. It's not too far, and you can see all the cool little canals, bridges and shops along the way.

Have fun. Maybe there are a few ideas here you can use!

May 23, 2007
quixotequest in Italy

Rome: where is all the good food!

I'll add to the growing list based on my visit to Rome early May 07:

Loved: Trattoria da Enzo located in Trastevere inbetween the river and Santa Cecelia in Trastevere. Few tables, very busy so get early or reserve ahead. No ambiance other than the love that shows through in the excellent food and good house wine. Has been mentioned in traveler guides, but is well recognized among the locals. We were there on Gnocchi Giovedí (Thurs) and it is a great primi. But many Roman specialties abound like the stuffed zucchini flowers, artichokes Judea, lamb, saltimbocca, etc. Yummy from starters to dessert. The only mediocre thing we had were the stuffed olives (olive ascolane). Affordable at 20-25Eur (plus wine) per person for a multicourse meal.

Augusto's is a tucked away osteria in Trastevere on Piazza de Renzi--a less picturesque but "everyday Roman" place near Piazza Santa Maria. Augusto's is more well known, so not quite as good a value, but has excellent quality Roman dishes--and they speak English fairly well just like at Enzo's. We thought the menu was a little less robust than expected. On the other hand they appear to focus on the dishes they're best at. (I like Enzo's better.) But crowded with locals, both in the number who want to eat, and the tight quarters for those who get in to eat. Get there early!

Biggest Disappointment: with the much raved Dar Poeta in Trastevere. Was at the top of my list for pizzerias to try for our weeks in Italy. It was the hype that did it in. Pretty much everyone was a tourist (including us! :-) ) with very few locals. Pizza was good, for sure, with some interesting topping choices. But the "famous" Nutella calzone dessert was sickeningly think and not lightened enough with ricotta. Definitely a tourist-trap concoction. The equally "famous" bruschetta misto was the worst we had in all our Italian travels. The bread was tough, the toppings poorly balanced and seasoned. I will give them props for the daring if way-too-wierd bruscetta topping of fry sauce (ketchup and mayo) and iceberg lettuce.

Preferred the pizzerias Ai Marmi (right on the main blvd in Trastevere) and La Montecarlo (not far from Piazza Navona). Ai Marmi is called "The Morgue" by locals, and was always PACKED with locals. Pizza was served fast, authentically and affordably. La Montecarlo is a particular gem because it stands out from the many average and overpriced eateries that crowd this area of the city. Excellent pizza, and pasta is pretty good (if understandably not their most famous). Good cold antipasta choices, too. It was packed with a good mix of young locals and tourists in a fun, loud atmosphere.

Pleasant surprise: the gelateria Old Bridge near the museum/Sistine queue along Vatican city wall. Not a place at all you'd expect to find a good gelato. But in the afternoon it was PACKED with locals, and we had to find out why. The gelato was very good, even if not artisan, and you got three flavors, plus creme, for only 1.5Eur. And a pretty good selection, too. Definitely the best gelato value we found among the seven cities in which we travelled.

Tried a few other trattorias in Trastevere. All were pretty good, and in total, speak well for the local atmosphere, good food, and good value to be found in this neighborhood--a "must visit" area of the city. But individually many were better at some dishes than they were at others. You can't go too far wrong just to walk over to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere and browse the nearby streets for something that catches one's fancy.

May 23, 2007
quixotequest in Italy

Rome Trip Report: Day 5 - Pizza in Trastevere Roundup

I just have to say ...Ai Marmi is totally the best pizza in Trastevere--almost the best in Rome. It's more unassuming than the more talked about Dar Poeta--which is also in a more charming location. But The Morgue easily surpasses Dar Poeta in authenticity and quality. I say fight the locals for a table at Ai Marmi and let the tourists have their sickening Nutella calzones over at Dar Poeta.

May 21, 2007
quixotequest in Italy

Arancini transform my bad risotto

In our very first lunch in Siracusa, Sicily they served us this funny looking pear-shaped creation. We liked it. We proceded to notice this in the ready-to-eat section of nearly every panineria. There were several variations. Oddly enough they had a "fiorentina" (spinach and cheese) though we never found arancini anywhere in Florence. The ragu with the peas and mozzarella was the most common and our fave. They were always served "cold" (room temp). Even when we found them on menus in a few restaurants they were never served freshly fried. Turns out they are more commonly street food. And that's how we enjoyed them as a lunch on the run.

Found them easily in Naples, and somewhat less frequent in Rome. By the time we hit Florence and further north we never saw them. On returning I found out they are a Sicilian thing. Sure glad we started our big trip out in Sicily. I adore these little oranges.

May 16, 2007
quixotequest in Home Cooking

kombucha in vienna

While in Japan konbucha is a konbu kelp drink and not made from the tea leaf, it is a very valid name to call the fermented tea drink kombucha as kombucha because that is its name--even if in Japan this black tea drink is called a koucha (black tea) kinoko ("child of a tree" or mushroom) drink. And it's a readily available tea in Japan so it's not strange to use Japanese themes in the marketing. Kombucha is the name this fermented tea was known by long before Carpe Diem marketed its beverage. The bacterial culture used to ferment the tea is known as a kombu culture. In Japan it's referred to as a "mushroom" because the fermenting yeast/bacteria colony's resemblence to the cap of a mushroom like the shiitake. But I've heard it said the "kombu" name refers to a Chinese leader who was once treated using the healthful properties of this bacterial strain. Sounds like mythmaking to me to be sure, but it's certainly no modern convention nor error to call the Carpe Diem beverage kombucha.