May 14, 2020 § 2 Comments
I’ve been going back and forth about whether to post about my first—and what has turned out to be only—visit to Nam Vietnamese Brasserie in Redwood City. Initially, I had planned to write a short post about the restaurant’s February 25 opening-night dinner service—not the usual deep dive, just a quick look at the opening-night experience of this new and much-anticipated, fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant from Anne Le Ziblatt, former owner of Tamarine in Palo Alto and Bong Su in San Francisco.
Generally, I prefer to visit a restaurant a couple of times before writing about it. You never know when a server or the kitchen might have an off night, so I think it’s only fair to average the experiences. And opening night, while exciting, can be rife with kinks that need to be worked out. Nam’s opening night was frenetic but appeared successful: a line out the door, a packed house, and runners doing their best to drop dishes at the right tables. The noise level was crazy. Things got so busy that runners stopped delivering a special amuse-bouche an hour or so after service started.
The space, formerly occupied by The Striped Pig, is small—seating about 40 people—and at the center are two communal dining tables that seat 14 people each. A dining bar fronts the kitchen, separated by glass, so that diners can watch the action. Two-tops along the front window and adjacent wall round out the seating. I arrived 45 minutes into service, and diners ahead of me were hanging out, waiting for space to open up.
In its incarnation as The Striped Pig, this space on Main Street was dark and cozy, with a linger-awhile vibe. Nam’s decor is bright and modern, blending elements of clean-lined mid-century modern with Southeast Asian touches, such as the woven-basket light fixtures above the communal tables. Eye-catching murals fill wall space in the dining area and near the restrooms.
My friend Kye, who joined me for dinner that night, and I each ordered a dish from the three menu categories—Soup, Grill, Sides—so that we could try as many dishes as possible. At the time, the menu offered five soups in two sizes; most of the soups on the menu were gluten-free, and one was also vegetarian. The small size was a substantial bowl, especially if you’re ordering other dishes.
My soup choice was South (Nam Noodle), which had a pork and chicken bone broth with rice noodles, prawns, and slices of pork.
Kye opted for the Udon, which had the same broth, but with rock crab and nicely chewy tapioca noodles. Additional condiments customized the flavor of each soup, giving the Udon a spicier, richer flavor and the South a lighter, slightly saltier flavor. Both were memorable, and each would be a satisfying standalone meal.
The Grill section of the menu had four options (tofu, chicken, pork, beef) which could be paired with one of three bases: rice, vermicelli, or greens. The tofu and pork options were gluten-free. We ordered the crispy chili-lemongrass tofu over greens and the Hanoi pork with rice. Portion sizes were main-course sized and could be shared family-style.
We rounded out our tastings with the Spring Rolls and Imperial Rolls from the Sides section of the menu. Both contain pork and shrimp, but could be made vegetarian on request. Only the fresh spring roll is gluten-free.
At the end of the meal, I decided to hold the post until I could make a visit in March to take additional photos and try a couple of dishes again. I was curious about how the menu and clientele would settle out in the coming weeks. I think you know what happened next. We were starting to see the effects of COVID19 at the end of February, and during the next couple of weeks, things changed rapidly. I wasn’t able to get back to Nam before the Bay Area’s Shelter-in-Place (SIP) order came down.
With the uncertainty that followed, it didn’t make sense to post about the dine-in experience at a restaurant that could be closed indefinitely. I backburned the post. Also, like a lot of people, I was just trying to find my groove with the SIP. There were adjustments to make to life as we knew it, and the first couple of weeks were a bit of a daze. Since then, like a number of other Bay Area restaurants, Nam moved to a delivery/pickup model. The online menu has evolved from the opening-night menu I saw back in February, and dining in isn’t an option (obviously).
As I was reviewing my notes and photos from that night in February, I was struck by what we’ll likely now refer to as “the old normal”—sitting elbow-to-elbow at a community dining table, standing in line without being six feet apart, sharing tastes with friends without hesitation. No masks or gloves. Employees and diners alike, leaning in close to hear each other talk above the din.
Yesterday, I was working on a Spanish assignment with a classmate on Zoom. We were practicing a new verb tense by asking each other questions and coming up with answers. Her question to me: what I would do right now if COVID19 didn’t exist? I didn’t really need to think about it. I told her I would go to a restaurant and have dinner with a friend. For her, it would be having a coffee with a friend—at a coffeeshop. Almost nine weeks into sheltering, the Bay Area is slowly moving into Phase 2 of reopening, but dining in restaurants is not yet an option. At this point, it’s hard to imagine getting back to that place. In the meantime, we might just have to rely on memories.
What: Nam Vietnamese Brasserie
Where: 917 Main Street, Redwood City, CA 94062
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 4:30–8:30 p.m.
November 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
This is the final of a three-part series covering my food adventures during a roadtrip to California’s Central Coast this past summer. Need to catch up? Check out #TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO and #TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo.
Generally I don’t like to bring my personal stuff to the blog, but hey, this is a food blog and that means writing about food issues. So, true confession time: what I’ve been a bit cagey about in these trip reports is the fact that prior to hitting the road back in July, I was retooling my personal diet to deal with a slew of moderate food allergies and sensitivities.
By “moderate,” I mean that none of my food allergies are of the must-carry-Epi-Pen kind (although I do own one), but they’re enough to be uncomfortable, and in some cases, require a Benadryl stat. Dealing with this sort of thing as a culinary professional and someone who loves food has been, well, a pain in the ass. I’m fortunate, though, in that my reactions are manageable and not life-threatening (so far).
This past summer I decided to see what life was like when I 86-ed the biggest offenders: nuts, uncooked stone fruit, avocados, as well as wheat, barley, and rye-based products. Of course, how to manage those choices on the road became an interesting project, but I like a good food challenge. I’m always keeping an eye out for dietary options that extend beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes or fast-food approach.
San Luis Obispo had been a sweet surprise in terms of food options — from the meatiest of meat options for omnivores to the variety of alterna-diet-conscious restaurants for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks. I’d had a couple of big days out food-wise, already, and as I left SLO and headed to the coast, I was looking for more casual, walk-in fresh food options. Here’s what I found along the way. (Important to know for gluten-free diets: I didn’t ask these restaurants how they’re managing potential gluten cross-contamination, so if you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, be sure to contact them directly for more information.)
Mon Ami Creperie Cafe, Pismo Beach
Through some interwebs searching, I found this small cafe, which offers savory and dessert crepes, as well as paninis, smoothies, and coffee drinks. The space has a casual, coffee-shop hangout feel, and the staff is super friendly and accommodating. Crepes and sandwiches are made fresh to order, and there are gluten-free options!
I went with the gluten-free crepes filled with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese (a variation of the vegetarian panini filling).
The crepe was cooked perfectly, and while I was concerned that a gluten-free crepe might have a gummy texture, this was absolutely not the case. The crepe itself was thin and light. The filling had an equal balance of sauteed vegetables and melty mozzarella cheese. The dish was light, yet filling, so I had no room to try the dessert crepes (wom wom), but that’s just another reason to plan a future visit.
Duckie’s Chowder House, Cayucos
For a small town, Cayucos has a good variety of food choices, from upscale dining to gas-station tacos. I spent two nights in Cayucos, which wasn’t nearly enough to try all the places I discovered in town. Sticking to my plan for budget-oriented, casual meals, Duckie’s Chowder House was my first stop.
Duckies is a family-friendly seafood-focused spot where you line up to place your order and staff members deliver it to your table. Touristy? Yep, a bit, but it’s also a solid seafood-based restaurant located across from Cayucos Beach. If you’re looking for a beach-town experience, this is it. The restaurant packs out during warm summer evenings, so if you can’t find a spot to sit, or don’t want to wait for a table, you can always take your order to go.
The menu is broad, American-style and has options for most diets: salads, fried or grilled seafood options, as well as sandwiches. Vegetarian and vegan options include salads and the ubiquitous Gardenburger, as well most of the sides. If you’re a DIY type, you could easily assemble a gluten-free, vegetarian dinner by ordering sides of rice, black beans, steamed veggies, and corn tortillas.
Of course, if you’re pescetarian, Duckie’s is a no-brainer. There are plenty of fried seafood options, but if you’re eating clean or gluten-free, choose the shrimp cocktail, fish tacos, or Duckie’s Bowl. Duckie’s Bowl includes your choice of protein — shrimp or blackened, sautéed or grilled fish — served over rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.
Sebastian’s Store, San Simeon
If you’re visiting Hearst Castle, you’re a captive market when it comes to dining choices, and my primary recommendation is to take your own food and picnic in the parking lot. However, if you’re feeling peckish after touring the castle and didn’t BYO, skip the high-priced options at the visitor center and head down to Sebastian’s Store on Highway 1.
The historic building sits in a quiet, pastoral spot on the ocean side of Highway 1, about a mile north of the Hearst Castle Road entrance. (Note that Sebastian’s cafe also shares space with the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting bar, so you can always opt for the liquid snack, if nothing on the food menu suits you.)
The blackboard cafe menu includes an assortment of sandwiches and salads, and is definitely meat-heavy, with a focus on burgers made with Hearst Ranch beef. Vegetarian options include the Greek salad, Black Bean Veggie Cheeseburger, and possibly a special request to make one of the sandwiches (turkey, perhaps) vegetarian style.
Pescetarian options are limited to the Swordfish Sandwich and Grilled Fish Tacos. I went with the fish tacos, which are served on corn tortillas with a slaw and creamy sauce. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh. The staff is friendly and service is brisk, and this cafe comes with a good serving of history, not to mention a lovely view.
Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
There’s no lack of fish tacos in Cayucos, but Ruddell’s Smokehouse serves some of the best on the Central Coast. This tiny, lunch-only place serves sandwiches, salads, and soft tacos. The kicker? They do their own in-house hot smoking of the meat and fish used in their dishes.
Meat and fish lovers will be happy with the variety of deliciousness, with the taco category providing the largest range of options: choose from shrimp, albacore, ahi, salmon, pork, or chicken (yes, all smoked in-house) for your tacos. Vegetarians get an option in each category, too: taco, sandwich, and salad. Pickin’s are slimmer for gluten-free folks and vegans, as you’re limited to a salad. However, if fish is part of your diet, you must try the house-smoked salmon in some form or another — it’s that good.
I went with the Smoked Salmon Tacos. They’re dressed with a creamy sauce and a “salad” of apple, carrot, celery, lettuce and tomatoes that provides crunch, sweetness, and a bit of acidity that offsets the complex, rich flavor of the smoked salmon. As I mentioned, Ruddell’s is tiny, with only a couple of tables out front for seating, so most people take their food to go. I found a nice spot across the street at Cayucos Beach where I could people watch and enjoy the warm sunny day along my new favorite fish tacos.
All in all, my roadtrip to the Central Coast and back was a great getaway: perfect weather, a good dose of California history and landmarks, and some memorable food. A couple of towns in particular have captured my heart, and I’m looking forward to future visits (and more fish tacos!).
Have you visited California’s Central Coast? Share your food experiences in the comments below.
February 28, 2015 § 3 Comments
I love cookbooks. Some people collect animal figures, vinyl records, or jewelry. Not me. Nope, I collect cookbooks. Not intentionally. I mean, it didn’t start out that way, but after 30 years of acquiring cookbooks, I think it’s fair to say that I have a collection. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the possibility that exists within cookbooks: a pretty cake that might taste even better than it looks, the slow-cooked scrambled eggs that I’ll linger over on a Saturday morning, or the yeasted waffles for Sunday night breakfast-for-dinner dinner.
When I was about seven years old, I discovered the cookbook section in my local library, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Poring over each colorful baking book was not only about what I might make, but also what I might learn. Without Food Network and the interwebs to rely on for visuals (it was the olden days), cooking was a trial-and-error experience. More often than not, it was error, but cooking is something that you learn by doing — and often screwing up — not just by reading about it.
I know people who are fearless cooks — those who will dive right in and try a new recipe on the first read-through or just throw ingredients together without any attachment to the outcome. I’ve never been that kind of cook; I like the guidance of a cookbook, the framework of a recipe. I’m a researcher and a preparer, which is why the sweet kitchen has always been my thing (plus, you know, all those kitchen toys tools rock).
My cookbook collection can be divided into three categories. First, there are the kitchen “bibles,” if you will: the go-to’s, the must-haves. These are the books I’ll recommend or give as gifts because I know the recipes just work, such as Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible or Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Then there are the specialty books, usually purchased for a project idea or a skill I want to learn, like canning. (Uh, still working on that. Canning cookbooks purchases to date: 3. Actual jars of jam made: 0). The last group is what I’d call personal connection, whether it’s the cookbook of a restaurant I’ve admired or enjoyed (Boulevard) or a chef who’s inspired me (Emily Luchetti!), these books are reminders of certain points in my life or milestones in my cooking experience.
Before I started culinary school at the CIA, I took a chocolate class at Ramekins in Sonoma, taught by Alice Medrich, Bay Area chocolate guru and James Beard award-winning cookbook author. (And oh hey, did you know that Alice Medrich has a 650 connection? Her Cocolat chain of shops in operation during the 1980’s included an outlet at Stanford Shopping Center.) She’s written 11 sweet cookbooks, many of which focus on chocolate (of course). Her most recent project, Flavor Flours, explores baking with gluten-free flours, such as rice, sorghum, and teff. After hearing her talk about the book at a JCC panel event that also included Beranbaum and Luchetti, it was a must-buy.
I’m not linear when it comes to cookbooks. Some people can cook right through from first page to last, but I like to skip around and make the things that look most interesting first. So, I’d been waiting for an excuse to make Medrich’s Peanut Crunch Brownies — which is basically a fudgy brownie on top of a peanut butter cookie. Yeah, you read that right. Then came National Chocolate-Covered Peanut Day this week. Chocolate brownie covering peanut cookie? Works for me.
Well, it did, but honestly, not without a bit trepidation and a second run-through. Yes, even after years of baking, working with new ingredients and techniques meant that I was a little uncertain about the outcome. Would the baking times be accurate? Did I really have to bake these brownies in the upper-third of the oven? (still not sure) Could I use a smaller baking pan than the recipe called for? (Answer: yes, but there’s math involved. I don’t recommend it for first-timers.)
What advice would I give kitchen novices or those who have a bit of cooking fear when it comes to trying new recipes?
Read the recipe twice. I usually read through once to get a feel for the recipe, and a second time for details and techniques. Turns out that this recipe was really two recipes — a peanut butter cookie/crust recipe and a brownie recipe — that come together at the end.
Make sure you have all ingredients. One of the ingredients is crunchy, salted, natural peanut butter. I had two jars of peanut butter: both of them creamy, unsalted. *sigh* Did I really want to make a run to the market for a jar of peanut butter, of which I would use 160 grams and leave the rest in the back of my refrigerator for eternity? No. But I did have roasted peanuts, salt, and a food processor — and that was enough to make my own natural, crunchy, salted peanut butter.
Mise en place. Can’t say this enough times: weigh or measure all of your ingredients and revisit the ingredient list to check them off before starting to cook. You’d hate to find out that you forgot to add the sugar as you’re sliding those brownies into the oven. Pro tip: get organized by corralling all of your ingredients on a sheet pan.
Skip the substitutions. When it comes to baking, don’t make any substitutions the first time you make a new recipe, unless you’re really confident. Substitutions can affect weight, moisture, and in some cases, specific chemical reactions are required for a good end product.
Use baking times as guidelines. Any cookbook author will tell you that there’s no way to test every recipe in every oven. Baking times are usually accurate to within a couple of minutes, but not always. The first time you make a recipe, test it at the low end of the time range first, then give it more time if necessary. The peanut crunch layer, which bakes first, needed some extra time in my oven, as did the brownie layer.
Use an oven thermometer when baking. If your oven temperature is off, your baking times will be off. Knowing whether your oven temperature is accurate means adjust time and temperature as necessary for a better outcome.
Make notes. Afterwards, make notes either directly on the recipe or on a post-it note attached to the recipe about what worked, what didn’t, cooking times, and changes you’d like to try next time. For this recipe I would distribute the brownie batter more evenly for easier spreading. It’s a bit stiff and working it too much will pull up the peanut crunch layer. I’d also make sure that the peanut crunch layer isn’t too thick in the middle, pressing it up the sides of the pan more for even baking.
Give it a second try. Unless there’s something tragically wrong with a recipe (yes, there are bad and untested recipes out in the world), or you really can’t stomach the result, give a recipe a second go. I did make a second batch of these brownies because my first version was sadly underbaked, despite letting both the peanut crunch layer and brownies bake an extra few minutes beyond the recipe’s instructions. The second time around I pressed out the peanut layer so that it was thinner and baked it until golden brown, which made for a firmer base and a better texture. Muuuch better.
Usually I have to make a recipe three times before I have all of the notes down and add it to my repertoire. How do you approach trying new recipes? Are you a fearless cook who jumps right in or are you a methodical note-taker? Share your experiences in the comments below.
June 5, 2014 § 3 Comments
It’s been one of those weeks: delays, fixes, and do-overs. Nail in the tire of my car (amazingly, same time as last year’s nail in the tire — what’s up with that?!). Clogged drain. Leaking shower. Browser that keeps screeching to a halt, forcing reboots. You get the idea: one step forward, two steps back. If you subscribe to theories about the state of the Universe and all that, Mercury retrograde is already in effect. Yeah, it’s been a bit of a rocky road this week — especially with the nail in my tire. So, in the spirit of re-visits, re-do’s, and fixes, I’m fulfilling a reader request for the recipe for my Easter Rocky Road.
As I mentioned a couple of months ago, if you’ve got tempered chocolate, marshmallows, and roasted nuts on hand, you’re good to go. I like to add a little dried fruit to the mix for flavor and texture. You can buy or make the marshmallows, all you need to do is cut them into smaller pieces. You can also buy already-roasted nuts, or roast them yourself. The only real prep work you need for rocky road is to temper the chocolate. If you’ve tempered chocolate before and are comfortable with the process, then feel free to skip ahead to the recipe. If not, you can follow the tempering instructions on food writer Aleta Watson’s blog (adapted from a class I taught at Gamble Garden House).
The process of tempering chocolate could take up a post all unto itself (which is why I’ve referred you to Aleta’s), but if you’re new to tempering chocolate, have no fear! It’s something that you can easily learn to do with practice and patience. What is this thing called “tempering chocolate?” you might ask. In short, it’s the process of heating and melting chocolate to a specific temperature, then cooling it to a specific temperature while stirring, so that you can mold it or coat other ingredients with it. That’s it! You’re basically using time and temperature to change the structure of the chocolate so that you can shape it the way you want. (You gotta break it down to build it back up.)
Summary of the geeky, science version? When you melt chocolate, you change its crystalline structure and its physical properties. It becomes “unstable,” losing firmness, shine, and snap. Tempering is the process of re-establishing a stable crystalline structure that returns those properties of shelf-stable chocolate: crispness, shine, and snap. Want more details about the science of chocolate? Check out this article by my favorite food scientist, Shirley Corriher.
Ok, enough about tempering chocolate. Let’s hit the road!
Recipe: Easter Rocky Road
Yield: 16 pieces (2″ square) or 64 pieces (1″ square)
What you need:
8 x 8 baking pan
Note: When it comes to working with chocolate, I really recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, rather than relying on volume measurements.
1¼ pounds of dark chocolate, 61 – 70% cacao
4.5 ounces (about 2 cups) dried sour cherries
4 ounces (about 1 cup) roasted almonds
4 ounces (about 2 cups) ½-inch marshmallow pieces (vanilla or passion fruit)
- Roughly chop the cherries and almonds. Cut the marshmallows into approximately ½-inch pieces.
You’re not going for perfection here, just aim for ½-inch pieces or slightly smaller. Marshmallow pieces sticking together? Dip them in potato starch or corn starch, then shake off the excess powder in a sifter or sieve.
- Cut two (2) pieces of parchment paper: 8 inches wide by 12 inches long.
- Fit one piece of paper into the baking pan so that two sides are evenly covered.
- Turn the pan 90 degrees and fit the second piece of parchment paper into the baking pan, making sure that the sides are evenly covered.
- Temper the chocolate.
Use your instant-read thermometer to make sure that your chocolate is at the correct working temperature (generally, 89-91ºF). If you need to, test that your chocolate is in temper by wiping a bit of liquid chocolate from the tip of your spatula onto a piece of parchment paper. The chocolate should set up firmly, with shine, within 3-5 minutes.
- Fold the nuts, dried fruit, and marshmallows into the chocolate with a rubber spatula, until combined.
Keep in mind that the temperature of your ingredients — cherries, almonds, and marshmallow pieces — will be colder than the tempered chocolate. Once you add these ingredients to the chocolate, the chocolate’s temperature will drop, which means it will start to set up. Work somewhat quickly, but don’t rush. You need to combine the ingredients and transfer everything to your pan before the chocolate gets too fudgy, or you won’t be able to spread it evenly in the pan.
- Transfer rocky road mix to the prepared pan.
You can see in the photo below that my mix is already starting to get fudgy along the edges — that’s the chocolate setting up (cooling and becoming firm).
- Holding both sides of the pan, bang the pan on your work surface to even out the mixture and release air bubbles.
Seriously, pick up the pan and with a bit of force, tap the bottom of it on your work surface a couple of times, while holding onto the pan. Don’t drop it from four feet up, à la Emeril. Don’t get all medieval on its ass. Just hit it hard enough to help distribute the rocky road mixture evenly and remove any air bubbles.
- Put the pan in the refrigerator (top shelf) for about five minutes.
You’re helping the chocolate set up to a point where it’s less liquid and more fudgy because you still need to cut the rocky road before it hardens.
- After about five minutes, remove the pan from your refrigerator.
The rocky road should be firming up around the edges and fudgy in the middle.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the rocky road into either 16 pieces (4 x 4, or 2 inches square) or 64 pieces (8 x 8, or 1 inch square).
The chocolate will continue to harden as you work, just keep that in mind as you cut, so don’t dawdle. Again, no need for perfection. Also, if you need to wipe down your knife in between cuts, make sure the blade is dry before making additional cuts. Getting water (even a small amount) in your chocolate can cause your chocolate to seize. You don’t want that.
- Once the chocolate seems firm (but not hard) in the center, remove the rocky road from the pan.
Hold the sides of the parchment paper and pull the rocky road up and out of the pan. It should come out in one piece.
- Again, using a sharp knife, go over your cuts, making sure that the knife goes all the way through, and that you can separate the pieces.
- If your kitchen is on the warm side, put the pieces on a sheet pan (cookie sheet) and return the rocky road to the top shelf of the refrigerator for five minutes to help the chocolate finish hardening.
Otherwise, let them continue to harden on your work surface. Or, you know, start enjoying them now. Just know that the chocolate will continue to harden.
- Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to four weeks.
June 2, 2014 § 3 Comments
It seems that I have a problem when it comes to citrus — oranges, in particular. After taking a quick inventory of my refrigerator recently, it turns out that citrus (mostly of the orange kind) has taken over both of the crisper drawers. As in, the drawers are so full that I can barely open them. You’d think I’m hoarding oranges for the end of the world or something. How did this happen?
The good news is that an excess of any ingredient is always an opportunity for a little creative problem solving in the kitchen. Aside from the obvious — juice those babies for mimosas (I’m not sure I can round up enough champagne for that) — there’s always my Sunday Morning Scones and Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits. Unfortunately, making both of those recipes wouldn’t come close to fully using all of those oranges, and I’m looking to minimize food waste with whatever recipe I use. Most recipes that call for oranges want the juice or the zest, meaning there’s a high likelihood of waste (in fact, depending on your recipe, 50-70% of the orange can go to waste).
If you’ve read this blog a bit, you know that my heart (and experience) are in the sweet kitchen, so I was immediately thinking about candied peel. It keeps for ages, and I can use it for holiday fruit cakes later this year or dip it in dark chocolate as a gift for my father’s birthday. I was also thinking about making a confit that I can use for filling cakes or as a mix-in for ice cream. Given the abundance of oranges I’ve accumulated, I’ll likely make both! Ok, so that covers the outside, but what about the inside?
The ice cream/confit idea got me thinking: it’s been a long time since I’ve made an ice cream or a sorbet. Maybe I could try orange sherbet, but that would mean buying milk (ugh, another trip to the grocery store). And then inspiration arrived courtesy of Fine Cooking magazine: an article about sorbet! Funny how inspiration seems to show up just when you need it. Skimming the article reminded me that I have all the tools and resources that I need at home to make sorbet (although Fine Cooking breaks down the process into bite-sized chunks and author Zoe Francois has some tasty ideas for add-ins). Ta-dah — orange problem solved!
Sorbet is simply fruit juice or purée combined with a sugar syrup, spun up in an ice cream maker, and then frozen. The most important part of making sorbet is getting the right proportions of fruit juice/purée and sugar syrup. Too little syrup, and you basically end up with rock-solid, frozen juice that’s too hard to scoop. Too much sugar, and the mixture won’t freeze, and you’ll end up with a slushie (which could be delicious, but isn’t the point of the exercise).
So how do you know when you’ve got the right combination of fruit juice/purée and syrup? Well, if you’re addicted to kitchen tools like I am (I’m pretty sure that’s why I went to culinary school in the first place — all the fun toys), you could use a refractometer or a saccharometer to measure the density of the sugar in the mixture.
A refractometer measures the light refraction of sugar using the Brix scale. You just place a drop of your solution on the plate, close the plastic cover, and look through the eye piece. Super-easy to use — and to clean. A saccharometer is a long, narrow glass tube — with a weighted bottom — that measures the gravity of the mixture using the Baumé scale. You need to physically place it in the solution you want to measure, which means you need a tall, narrow container in which to put your solution. I find it more challenging to get an accurate reading on the saccharometer because you have to eyeball it in the solution you’re measuring. (In short: I think it’s a pain to use.)
Unless you make beer, wine, or a lot of sorbets — or work in a professional kitchen — you probably don’t have a refractometer or saccharometer stashed in a drawer somewhere (and if you do, we should hang out). But there is something that you likely have in your kitchen that will help you check the sugar density of a sorbet mix: an egg.
You read that right. The old-school, tool-free technique for checking the density of a sorbet solution is to place an egg (yup — a whole, raw egg, in the shell) in the mix and see whether it floats. There are a few things you need to know before trying this technique:
- Your egg should be fresh, so check the date on the carton (Need to know how to find the packing and sell by dates for your eggs? Check out this article). An old egg will not float as well and won’t give you an accurate “reading.” Trust me on this; I learned the hard way. An old egg will float the same whether you have too much or too little syrup. No fun.
- Make sure there are no cracks in the shell.
- Wash your egg with mild dish soap, rinse it well, and dry it before placing it in the sorbet mix.
I’ve never used the egg test before, so I decided to try it out — in tandem with my trusty refractometer. I’ll save you the suspense and let you know that the egg test worked for me — and it’s reliable as long as your egg is fresh! So, if you’ve got a sorbet syrup (recipe below), fresh orange juice, fresh lemon juice, an ice cream maker and an egg, you can make delicious, sweet-orange sorbet at home!
Another tip: I’ve found it easier to make the sorbet syrup first, let it cool completely (which might mean overnight), and then go on to prepping the fruit, making the sorbet mix, and spinning it up. Sorbet syrup keeps in the refrigerator for about 10 days. After making sorbet, you can use leftover syrup to sweeten ice tea, homemade lemonade, and cocktails.
Recipe: Sorbet Sugar Syrup
Yield: About 2¾ cups
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America
If you want to get all technical, this is a 65º Brix sorbet syrup. Just, you know, in case anyone asks you. Including corn syrup or glucose will prevent crystallization of your sorbet syrup and give you a smoother sorbet.
1½ cups sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup (or glucose)
- Combine ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil.
- As soon as the syrup comes to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the saucepan and allow the syrup to cool completely.
- If you’re making the syrup in advance, transfer it to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the sorbet.
Recipe: Orange Sorbet
Yield: About 1 quart of sorbet
Inspired by Fine Cooking Magazine, June/July 2014
What you need:
Ice cream maker
1-quart container, preferably at least 6″ tall
Narrow whisk (not a balloon whisk)
Fresh egg in the shell, washed and dried (or, if you have one, a 0-32º Brix refractometer)
Container for freezing sorbet, 1 quart or larger
3 cups of fresh orange juice (from 10-12 oranges or about 4½ pounds)
2-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (1-2 large lemons)
1 cup sorbet syrup (recipe above; keep extra in reserve, in case you need it)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (I used a microplane zester)
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons of orange liqueur (I used 3 tablespoons of Cointreau, although an aged tequila or good vodka could work, too, depending on the flavor you prefer)
- Juice the oranges, reserving the rinds for zest or other uses.
I used the juicer attachment on my food processor, but you can go old-school and use a hand juicer or reemer. I stored the orange rinds in a freezer bag in the coldest part of my fridge for future use (candied peel and confit).
- Strain the orange juice through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any seeds or large pieces of pulp.
Small pieces of pulp are ok and add flavor and body to your sorbet.
- Taste the orange juice so that you can determine how much lemon juice to add.
If the oranges are very sweet, start by adding 2½ tablespoons of juice. Add up to another ½ tablespoon if you prefer. If the orange juice is less sweet or slightly tart, add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Why add lemon juice? Because it can enhance the orange flavor, making it “brighter.” You just don’t want to add so much lemon that you detract from the orange.
- Pour the orange juice into a tall, narrow 1-quart container. Using a narrow whisk, stir in the lemon juice, zest, and alcohol (if you’re including it).
Note that adding alcohol will change the density of your mixture, so add it before you start adding the sorbet syrup.
- Whisk in ½ cup of the sorbet syrup and test the density of the mixture by gently lowering your egg into the container (or taking a refractometer reading).
Note: If you’re using a refractometer, your goal is 24-29º Brix, depending on how sweet and firm or slushy you like your sorbet. The higher the reading, the sweeter and softer the sorbet.
- If the egg goes right to the bottom, you need to add more sorbet syrup.
- Adjust your sorbet mix by stirring in 2 tablespoons of syrup, then try the egg test again. Continue until the egg floats, and you can see a 1-inch circle of shell sticking up out of the sorbet mix.
Make sure you taste the sorbet mix as you add syrup. It should be orange-y and sweet, but not cloying (as in, it shouldn’t burn the back of your throat).
- If the egg floats, and you can see a 1-inch circle of the shell, your mixture should be ready for churning and freezing. If not, continue to whisk in small amounts of syrup and float the egg until you see a 1-inch circle of shell sticking up out of the sorbet mix.
When my egg floated with a 1-inch circle of shell showing, my refractometer reading was 24º Brix. As I was going for a less sweet (and slightly firmer) sorbet, I stopped adding syrup.
- Chill the mix in your refrigerator for about an hour.
Your sorbet will churn and freeze more quickly if the mix has been chilled.
- Pour the mix into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Mine takes 25-30 minutes to churn. Your mileage may vary.
- While the sorbet is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container for the sorbet in the freezer.
You want to transfer your churned sorbet (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
- Freeze the sorbet for at least four hours before serving.
So here’s a really cool thing (yes, pun intended) about sorbet: you can always melt it down, adjust it, and churn it again. Let’s say that after a couple of weeks in the freezer, your sorbet is getting icy. Or, maybe you wish you’d added a bit more sorbet syrup for a softer, sweeter sorbet. No problem! Just melt the sorbet back to liquid form, make any adjustments (whisk in more syrup or add another tablespoon of liqueur — just be sure to run the egg test again), churn the sorbet in the ice cream maker, and refreeze.
Well, I’ve solved half of my orange problem. Stay tuned for part deux…
Have you made sorbet? Did you use the “egg float” test? Did it work for you?
May 21, 2014 § 2 Comments
It all started with the Sexy Fries: waffle-cut sweet potato fries smothered in melted cheese, grilled onions, a spicy sauce and cubes of Indian cheese called paneer. That was my introduction to CurryUpNow’s “Indian street food” at Off the Grid a couple of years ago. The weather was typical for an August evening at Fort Mason: cool, headed toward freezing. My sister was visiting from Alabama, and we were in the midst of a weekend-long food-palooza. I barely remember what else we ate during our extensive sampling of other food trucks at OTG. But the Sexy Fries? Yeah, baby. Those were memorable. I have been in lust with CurryUpNow ever since. (Not to mention the fact that the biz name is cute enough to make me smile every time I hear it.)
Open since 2009, CurryUpNow is a Bay Area success story. In addition to four food trucks, they now have three — count ’em three — brick-and-mortar locations: one in San Francisco and two in the 650 (San Mateo and Palo Alto). I recently had dinner at the Palo Alto restaurant to see how the brick-and-mortar vs. food truck experience compared. Would it be CurryUpNow as I remembered it — food-truck food, but without the truck — or something completely different?
Turns out the restaurant has the same casual-dining approach and fast service as the food truck, without the truck’s long lines and lack of seating. My dining companion and I scored one of the outdoor tables — in front of the restaurant — perfect for enjoying an extra-warm Palo Alto evening. There’s also plenty of indoor seating, too. Ordering is a bit more posh at the restaurant: you place your order at the counter, take your number, and restaurant staff delivers your order to your table.
CurryUpNow’s menu is a fusion of classic indian dishes and Asian/Mexican street-food presentation. What the heck does that mean? Well, imagine that tikka masalas, saags, rice, and indian-style flatbreads become burritos, quesadillas, and rice bowls. Trust me, it works. Oh, you were expecting a “traditional” Indian food presentation? Not to worry, CUN has you covered. Order the 8-item Thali Platter option, which comes with your choice of two entrees (choose from 13 options), white or brown rice, garbanzo beans, pickles, salad, and flat bread.
One thing that I really appreciate about CurryUpNow is that the menu accommodates almost any diet. Meat-eater? Vegan? Gluten-free? No problem! CUN has something for all of you. Aside from the main menu, which lists all options, vegans and gluten-free folks can peruse menus specifically made for them. There’s also a special Kids’ Menu that lets you customize options for your small humans. The menu consists of eight different “bases” (burrito, quesadilla, rice bowl, and so on) — including vegan and gluten-free choices — and three protein choices. All items on the Kids’ Menu are $6.
With so many options, the big question during my recent visit was: what to order? Sexy fries? Natch. But it’s also good to try new things. I was up for a little sumpin’-sumpin’ from as many categories as possible: vegan, gluten-free, and traditional thali platter. So what did we eat?
Hella Vegan Sexy Fries
Honestly, Hella Vegan wasn’t my first choice for the Sexy Fries, but I’m glad we tried them! The sauces were flavorful, the fries are delish (disclaimer: I haven’t met a sweet potato fry I didn’t like), and the tofu and vegan cheese added more flavor and texture to an already flavorful dish. The full order is enough to share as an appetizer or for one person as a meal.
Gluten-Free Kathi Roll with Aloo Gobi
If I could have ordered every dish with Aloo Gobi, I would have — it’s one of my favorite Indian dishes (saag paneer is my other favorite). Wrap it, stuff it in something, put it over a bowl over rice…whatever. A flavorful “dry” dish, it’s made with potatoes, cauliflower, onions, and spices. The Kathi Roll’s gluten-free flatbread reminded me a bit of a cross between a tortilla and African flatbread called injera. The roll idea was interesting, but as far as I’m concerned, it was an aloo gobi delivery device.
8 Item Thali Platter
Here’s your traditional Indian “buffet plate,” served in the traditional, lunch-tray presentation. We chose Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer (cooked, pureed spinach with cubes of paneer cheese) for our entrees. They were served with the standard thali accompaniments: garbanzo bean stew, papadum, paratha (flatbread), pickles, and raita. The gluten-free thali comes with gluten-free flatbread, and doesn’t include the papadum.
The CurryUpNow menu also includes an assortment of Indian beverages, including three variations of lassi, the traditional yogurt-fruit drink (mango, rose mango, and mint mango) and chai tea. I had the mango lassi, which was deliciously fresh, sweet, tart, fruity, and yogurty. It’s also filling, so there was no room for dessert, which was bad planning on my part. CUN’s dessert menu offers an assortment of traditional dessert items, such as gulab jamun (deep-fried dumplings made of reduced milk, soaked in rose syrup), kulfi ice cream, and (yes!) Hot Balls on Ice — gulab jamun on kulfi.
Now that’s definitely going on my list for the next trip to CurryUpNow: Sexy Fries, followed by Hot Balls on Ice. What more could a girl want?
Have you tried Curry Up Now? Food truck or restaurant? Which dishes were your favorites?
Where: 321 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 11:30am-10pm; Sun 11:30am-9pm
Bar: No bar per se, but beer on tap