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Archive for the ‘Food and drink’ Category

Tonight, from Blue Apron, I made shiitake mushroom burgers. The ingredients were simple: some ground beef, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, hoison sauce, and onion greens. That’s it, I mushed them together and then sautéed them on the stove. They turned out really well. I mean, really medium.

While I was doing that, I was reminded of a time when I was living back in Winnipeg when I had a mushroom burger.

For you see, myself and some co-workers one time went for lunch at a place called the Liberty Grill. I had been there several times in the past and never ordered food that was particularly healthy. I was in my mid-20’s at the time so it didn’t matter.

Anyhow, I decided to try the portobello burger. I roughly knew that a portobello was a type of mushroom, so I figured that I’d get a burger with a bunch of fried (or grilled) mushrooms on it.

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I’m not as big a fan of mushrooms as the wife, but I figured it’d be fine since burgers usually have all sorts of tasty (i.e., sweet or salty) sauces on them.

But imagine my surprise when I got my burger. I took a bite and sunk my teeth into it, but it wasn’t a mushroom burger, it was a mushroom burger.

There was no beef patty at all, the patty was a giant portobello mushroom!

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As soon as I got it in my mouth, I said “What is this?”

I opened it up, and saw that there was no meat but instead just a giant mushroom where there ought to have been meat (at the time, I was still 7 years away from cutting back on meat and going partially vegetarian).

I realized my mistake, they really did give me a portobello burger. I hadn’t taken it literally.

I realized I was going to have to stomach it and tried to force myself to eat it. I may have been disappointed, but I was going to eat it.

I couldn’t. I removed the mushroom after only eating perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of it, and gave up. I ate the rest of the bun + vegetables, and the salad (or fries) it came with.

I never ordered it again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Years later I would read about a football player on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Kamau Peterson) who had the same experience as me. He ordered a portobello burger expecting a burger with mushrooms, but realized he was getting something else instead.

He didn’t like it, either.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My shiitake mushroom burger experience was not like that. In fact, it was fantastic. Shiitake mushrooms are full of umami (i.e., they are savory), they don’t taste like regular white mushrooms. They are one of the types of mushrooms that make me understand why the wife likes them so much.

It’s too bad they cost 10 times as much.

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You may remember that last month I mentioned that I am taking an online course in art appreciation.

Well, at the same time I purchased that course, I also signed up for an online class about cooking called The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking.

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This means I am making my way through two sets of online courses, and I do them in the evenings when I have time (which, for some reason, has not been that much lately).

The reason I signed up is because I’ve been cooking Blue Apron meals for about two years now and I’ve gotten better at cooking. However, I’m still very much an amateur without a “philosophy” of cooking. That is, I can follow a recipe, and I know what I like. But, I can’t predict what will taste good together if I were to put something together from scratch.

For example, in magic, I know a lot of the theory and can combine various mini-effects to make one longer routine. For beer, I know the various styles and can predict what something can and should taste like. But for cooking, I don’t know what spices should go together, how to pick between olive oil and butter, how long to cook something, at what temperature, how to pair ingredients, etc. I just know what has worked in the past.

So I signed up for cooking.

I’ve learned a couple of key things:

1. I’ve learned how to pair seasoning and other tastes

Our tongues have five basic taste receptors – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory (umami). When you are cooking foods, you are not supposed to pair like-with-like. That is, if a food is sweet, you shouldn’t pair it with something else that is sweet for a double-shot of sweetness. Instead, you should combine sweet-with-bitter, or sweet-with-salty. That creates a nice mixing sensation (that’s why there is such a thing as sweet-and-sour sauce).

So, when I cook and I want to add seasoning to something, I say to myself – what does this food taste like? Is it sour, bitter, sweet, or salty? Once I answer it, I then say “What spice should I add?” If the food is bitter (like kale), I would add something salty, sweet, or sour. I wouldn’t add another bitter spice.

Or, if the food is sweet like an orange, I wouldn’t add cinnamon but instead either salt, or another non-sweet seasoning.

Speaking of which, a couple of years ago I was at a friend’s place and we were eating watermelon, and I saw him putting salt on it. My friend is a southerner, and I thought he was a crazy person for putting salt on the watermelon.

But it turns out, he’s not so crazy after all (at least not for that). Salt + sweet is a good combination of flavors with contrast to give you a different sensation. What he was doing made sense.

It turns out I was the one who was wrong!

2. There are four different types of cooking techniques

I’ve often hear of roasting, braising, baking, frying, etc. But there are just four main techniques:

i) Dry-heat cooking with fat

I used to put my food in a frying pan and heat it up, and say I was frying it. That’s not right, I was sautéeing it. To sauté something is to add a little bit of oil (e.g., olive or avocado oil) and then heat it up.

Frying it is when you have a deep pan, e.g., 6 inches, and then fill it up halfway, e.g., 3 inches, and then cook your food in it. There’s way more fat involved.

French fries in a restaurant are literally fried. I only sauté things.

ii) Dry-heat cooking without fat

This includes techniques like roasting and baking

iii) Moist-heat cooking

These are techniques like boiling or steaming

iv) Combination

This is self-explanatory, it combines the above

I still don’t know when I would use each of the above techniques, but dry-heat cooking with fat seems to be the easiest and fastest.

I’m still early on in the lesson plan, and I have not yet done any of the recipes that the chef has demonstrated, even though they look fantastic. I don’t know if I ever will.

But, I do know that when I cook Blue Apron, or do anything else, I am now more deliberate about the chopping techniques I have, the cooking technique I use, and the seasonings I add to the food.

And in that regards, the class has been worth it.

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I go through phases. We all do. But lately, I’ve been organizing my own evening or late afternoon snack.

For you see, since I’m currently on a wine kick, this past Sunday I bought a French baguette from the bakery in Fred Meyer. I came home and cut up a few slices, and had it with some basil-flavored olive oil that we bought in Sonoma, some cheese, and a glass of wine.

It was a typical French dessert. I was quite pleased with myself, and I can’t wait to have it again in the future.

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Well, this is interesting.

During the past month (if that), I have preferred drinking wine instead of beer.

What? How’d that happen?

I don’t know. It may have started when the wife and I went down to Sonoma, California where I attended a conference. Sonoma is wine country, and one of the evening events was wine tasting.

We went to the Kunde Winery where I tried 7 or 8 different types of wine. And it was good! So good that I became interested in having wine rather than beer when I got home. So that’s when it started.

Except, even before that, I had been enjoying Riesling, a style of white wine. And I had reduced my beer consumption even before the trip to Sonoma.

I’m not sure what’s driving this (temporary?) wine preference. I’ve discovered that I prefer white wine instead of red wine, but what I think I really prefer are wines that have a “clean” finish; that is, wine that does not have much of an aftertaste. Most red wine lingers on your palate after you sip and swallow it. I’m not a fan of that.

But apparently, there are some red wines that have clean finishes. I discovered some at the Kunde Winery. That made me think “Hmm, maybe some red wines are decent.”

I’m still at the stage where I can’t distinguish between $10 wine and $100 wine. I’m also still at the stage where I can’t really distinguish between different styles of wine.

That is, for the two main types of beer – ales and lagers – I can easily tell the difference between ambers, browns, stouts, and IPAs because those are so distinct. But even within the golden-colored beers, I can distinguish them. Pale ales, kolsches, golden ales, pilsners, hefeweizens, pale lagers… it doesn’t matter because I can reasonably predict what they should taste like.

However, for wine I am not that discriminating. For white wine, there’s Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, and I don’t know what each one is supposed to taste like. For red wine, there’s Pinot Noir (which is the only one I know that is supposed to be reasonably light), Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec… if you gave me one I wouldn’t know what to expect. Nor would I be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test.

So, I am still a rank amateur when it comes to wine.

But, in the past couple of days, I’ve been enjoying having a late evening snack. I have bread, olive oil, cheese, and a glass of wine.

Ça, c’est magnifique!

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This past week, the wife and I got invited to a financial seminar (something about retirement) at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse which is one of the high-end steak houses in Bellevue. We are both going, and I think we are allowed to invite two more people because they sent us invitations for four people.

It’s pretty common for us to get invited to these things. We live in the wife’s parents’ home, and the various marketers know people’s ages around the neighborhood. So they’re always inviting the wife’s parents (by mail) but we go instead (heh, heh, heh) [1]. In the past we’ve gone to two financial seminars, and one for solar panel installations. We’ve never bought anything, but they are still interesting. Plus, you get a free meal. Previous ones have included McCormick and Schmick’s in downtown Bellevue, and Maggiano’s.

Anyhow, the dinner is free (!!!) and we’ve invited 3 other couples, and all three have turned us down due to other commitments. I literally can’t even give these free tickets away for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

 

[1] They are mostly looking for older people. Half the invitations we are not allowed to use because it says "Please, no attendees under 40."

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For most of my life, until the year 2012 when I was 33, I didn’t drink coffee. That changed after we went to Bali and I had some flavored coffee (that I think was mostly sugar). But since then, after getting a home coffee maker, I’ve started drinking it.

We started off drinking coffee from Trader Joe’s but in the past couple of years switched to one of three brands from Whole Foods – Café Ladro, Café Lusso, and Anchorhead coffee. We grind the beans at home, right before brewing.

That makes for some good coffee.

So, I’m okay with coffee now, but one type of coffee I don’t like is Starbucks coffee.

Even before I started drinking it, I would occasionally have Caramel Machiattos from Starbucks, or other sugary drinks. But since I don’t really drink sugary drinks anymore, all I want now from them is a regular drip coffee.

But the problem is that it doesn’t taste good. Neither the light, medium, or dark roast is pleasant, it’s all too bitter.

Why?

I finally did a web search for “What makes coffee bitter?” I found one article that gives three reasons:

1. Putting too much water through the coffee beans. I can’t imagine Starbucks doing this, they have machines that measure it.

2. Using the wrong grind size. I can’t imagine Starbucks doing this, either. They have machines that do it all (unless they are doing it on purpose to save money).

3. Using water that is too hot. Oh, yeah, this is it. Every Starbucks coffee I get is too hot. I have to wait several minutes before drinking it, or add milk or cold water to it to make it drinkable from the moment I receive it. I contrast this to my home coffee, and I can drink it almost straight off the pot.

So if every Starbucks coffee is too hot for me, and water that is too hot makes coffee bitter, and I find Starbucks coffee too bitter, that must be why.

I don’t understand the rationale for making coffee too hot, but that’s my hypothesis.

* * * * * *

I don’t buy coffee from restaurants much, if at all. I just have a drink in the morning. The only time I do is when I am traveling and can’t brew it myself in the morning.

I prefer home brew to store bought most of the time. I think the wife does, too. After we started home brewing, she pretty much stopped going to Starbucks.

That’s weird, because I live in Seattle and Starbucks started here, so I guess I am not that loyal a customer.

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(I’m currently writing this three weeks after the fact)

I recently turned 38 years old.

I know that some people lament getting older, and of course, no one likes it because your body starts getting aches and pains; there’s a cult-of-youth in our society; and it means you are one year closer to death.

But, it also means you are still alive, your mind got a little more mature, you got to experience a bunch of new things (hopefully), and you (hopefully) became a little wiser. It’s actually not all that bad.

For my birthday, the wife and I went out to an estate sale. That’s something we started doing this past year, and we’ve picked up a few things like little paintings, a chair, and a bookshelf. The prices are competitive if you go late in the day towards the end of the sale.

We didn’t get anything that day, but we did see these interesting carvings:

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That may be difficult to see, but they are small carvings of dragons. I might have bought them and given them to a friend… if they weren’t going for $400.

Nope.

Later on that day, the wife and I headed down into Seattle to Café Turko, a Turkish restaurant located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

We discovered this place after returning for Turkey. We were like “Are there any Turkish restaurants in the city?” And there were! We’ve only checked out this one, but we liked it a lot.

The wife asked me where I wanted to go out to eat for my birthday, and there were a few places that ran through my mind. But in the end, I went with Café Turko.

Before the meal, we got appetizers – Rainbow Hummus. This is where they give you warm pita bread (I love warm pita bread) with four different types of hummus: regular, beet hummus, olive hummus, and sweet potato hummus. It is super-good, I can’t recommend it enough.

Then we ordered the main course. I can’t remember what I got, or what the wife got, but it was also good.

What I like about this place is that the food is not overly covered in sauce, but instead the meat, rice, and salad are flavored with spices.

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Finally, for dessert, we had Turkish coffee. If you haven’t had it before, it’s super strong coffee. My mother once likened it to putting a spoon in it, and the spoon standing straight up. We have ours with cardamom; and while it is strong, I like it. It’s not a large cup of it, just a little shot glass-sized cup (I guess this is one of the few times I buy coffee, but in my defense it’s Turkish coffee which is something I would never brew at home).

We went to Café Turko somewhat early in the evening (getting there at 4:30 pm) so we got out of there reasonably early. I can’t remember what we did after that, we may have come home and watched a movie, or perhaps went out to see a movie.

One of those two things.

But as you can see, my birthday was pretty low key. But I like low-key things. It’s not a lot of pressure, and you can take things as they happen.

So, a pretty good 38th birthday.

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