Viva Wagyu 和牛萬歲

I've walked by and stared at those blue packages of Australian wagyu at Costco God knows how many times. A bunch of us decided the time has come -- to try the Aussie wagyu. I also got all ambitious and wanted to include Michelin 3-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Molten Chocolate Cake. Overall, I managed to cook all the dishes, but experience is starting to tell me to not be so ambitious -- "you ain't got the professional training to do it both FAST and GOOD!" The result? Everything came out super slow...my guests passed out between meals! Also, the risotto was a little bland (portion too big too!) and first batch of chocolate cake was overcooked -- not so molten. (it was perfect during trial run the night before) What did we say about ambition? Anyway, minus the minor failures, the pictures still look good. Please enjoy the visuals :-)

好幾次在 Costco 買肉時都會在澳洲和牛那區徘徊一陣子,看看油花,摸摸肉質。有天跟朋友在線上討論時,決定該來買這裝在藍色保麗龍盒子的牛排來做做看了。我想到上次 Danny & Co. 吃完牛排時甜點是爆漿巧克力蛋糕的完美組合,所以今晚也想來做 Jean-Georges V 星級餐廳的巧克力融漿蛋糕。今晚菜是都有上,但看來沒有專業訓練的底子還是別亂生自己無法 handle 的菜單,真的無法達到速度和食物都完美的境界,結果當然是出菜超慢,朋友都吃到沙發上倒下了牛排都還沒出 @@ 還有,義式燉飯味道不足 (量也太大),巧克力蛋糕烤過頭第一批沒爆漿。唉就是自不量力... 失敗歸失敗,照片是還拍得不錯...

This is one of those "looks simple but has too many steps" dishes. I should have stuck to either just the flame-broiled salmon or salmon tartare, not both. Doing it "two ways" but without significantly different preparation ends up in a "hmm a little redundant" feel. A pleasant surprise was that the poached egg actually goes well with the raw salmon. AND I forgot the blanched asparagus! Honestly the asparagus was unnecessary. If I were to do this over, I'd simplify it -- frisee, poached egg, and salmon on top of egg, a simple and appetizing stack. Simple is beautiful - gotta remember that.

前菜是盤個看似簡單但步驟太瑣碎的菜,本來想要很酷的試一次 "2 ways" 的作法,但其實生鮭魚韃靼和炙燒鮭魚的味道沒有差很多,會讓人有點重複的 fu。還好水波蛋和鮭魚還蠻搭的。在混亂中連燙好的蘆筍都忘了放,但其實已經太多味道了,不需要蘆筍。如果要重做這盤,可以簡單的將綠捲放下面,上面放水波蛋,然後再把鮭魚韃靼放最上面,加個幾葉山蘿蔔點綴,簡單就是美...

The risotto man the risotto...was worst of the year! A friend talked me into doubling the rice quantity -- never going to do this again. Doubling the rice made it quadruply difficult to cook and season the risotto, resulting in a poor dish. Not much more to say about this.

這燉飯...是今年最差。朋友們說服了我把 risotto 加量,結果是第一很難煮,因為量太多很不容易充分混合來釋放米的澱粉,第二是調味也不容易,本來這飯煮完應該是綠色的,顯然青醬放太少。沒啥好繼續寫的這盤...

DINNER MENU 11 October 2011

Salmon Two-Ways
salmon tartare & flame broiled salmon
poached egg, aged cheddar, mesclun, white wine Dijon vinaigrette
鮭魚韃靼 炙燒鮭魚
水波蛋 英式硬巧達乳酪 生菜 白酒醋芥末油醋

Risotto Course
Pesto Risotto
sauteed shrimps, marinated tomatoes, truffle oil infusion
蒜炒鮮蝦 醋漬番茄 松露油

Meat Course
Australian Wagyu Ribeye
red wine jus, roasted garlic, sautéed baby potatoes, watercress
紅酒醬汁 烤大蒜 煎紅皮小馬鈴薯 水田芥

Jean-Georges's Molten Chocolate Cake
Jean-George 巧克力岩漿蛋糕
strawberry syrup, vanilla ice cream
草莓糖漿 香草冰淇淋

Ok, after bashing on my first two dishes, the good news is the steak did not suck! The wagyu definitely was a lot fattier than any steak I've worked with before. One might think being fatty you'd want to cook longer to render the fat. That is true for large chunks of fat, but for the marble fat that is embedded in the flesh, you'd actually want the opposite -- to under cook it. For some reason, the meat with the marble fat actually tastes much better if it is just quickly seared to warm through. This was definitely one of the best steaks I've ever cooked. The rich fat crisps up the crust of the steak and creates an additional texture and flavor that you cannot find in average choice steaks. It's almost like a bacony smoky flavor. Paired with Thomas Keller's red wine jus and roasted garlic, we had ourselves a great meat dish. Quite happy about it. The jus worked with the wagyu quite well, a definite mutual complement.

還好牛排沒有 suck! 這應該是我煮過最肥滋滋的牛排了,一般人可能直覺都是要加長料理時間把油脂逼出來,大塊的脂肪是這樣做沒錯,但那些混合在肉裡的大理石油花可不能這樣做,我覺得反而是時間要縮短,我猜可能是油脂也容易導熱,所以縮短時間,讓肉生一點反而更好吃! 這應該是我煮過最好吃的牛排之一,因為油脂多,肉的外皮會更酥脆,也容易有個類似培根的煙燻味。跟 Thomas Keller 的紅酒醬和烤大蒜搭配,是個很不錯的主菜,真令人開心。

Last but not least is the molten chocolate cake. I've had this cake a few times at different places before. But nowhere was I more "moved" by it than when I had it at Jean-Georges Shanghai restaurant. I mean, the guy INVENTED this cake, from a kitchen accident. I guess only Michelin chefs could screw up their food and invent new dishes. This is for sure one of my all time favorite desserts. So, I went on the net to search for his recipe, and it is readily available! Best of all, I couldn't believe the simple ingredients involved. The challenge definitely came with greasing the mold and timing the baking time. Too short, and you get a self-exploding chocolate soup in the plate on the way to the dining table. Too long, you get brownie, yeah, brownie, nothing to wow guests. I tried it the night before and thought I got the timing down correctly. When I had to make EIGHT of them at the same time, somehow, the cooking time required was shorter -- i.e. we got a moist brownie on the first batch. Being very discouraged, I put the remaining batter in for a second shot and GOT IT RIGHT! (see pic on top) I'll just have to practice more, and I'm sure my friends don't mind that A BIT!

最後是本來應該是今晚第二高潮的巧克力融漿蛋糕... 我在幾家不同的餐廳都有吃過這個蛋糕,但直到我去了上海 Jean-Georges 餐廳吃到時才真正被感動。Jean-Georges 是發明這蛋糕的廚師,聽說是做一般巧克力蛋糕時意外發明的,我想也只有三星主廚才能甜點沒做好時又發明了新的甜點哈。這應該是我喜歡的甜點裡的前三名,也決定一定要學會怎麼做。上網查詢時才發覺喔這個食譜還蠻好找的,而且都號稱是 Jean-Georges 的食譜,材料也都很單純。我覺得最大的挑戰是如何把蛋糕模子塗足夠的奶油還有拿捏烤的時間。烤太久,就直接變布朗尼,沒啥驚艷感,烤太少,蛋糕會出模子後自動爆漿,也很不 OK。前一晚有先試做四個蛋糕,覺得時間已經抓好。今晚做八個時,不知為何就是烤過頭,沒爆漿,超失望。還好還有剩下的麵糊,再送一個進去烤...果然就爆了! (樓上第一張圖) 以後還是多練習幾次,這些美食團的朋友應該不介意多吃這個吧 :-)

最後是本來應該是今晚第二高潮的巧克力融漿蛋糕... 我在幾家不同的餐廳都有吃過這個蛋糕,但直到我去了上海 Jean-Georges 餐廳吃到時才真正被感動。Jean-Georges 是發明這蛋糕的廚師,聽說是做一般巧克力蛋糕時意外發明的,我想也只有三星主廚才能甜點沒做好時又發明了新的甜點哈。這應該是我喜歡的甜點裡的前三名,也決定一定要學會怎麼做。上網查詢時才發覺喔這個食譜還蠻好找的,而且都號稱是 Jean-Georges 的食譜,材料也都很單純。我覺得最大的挑戰是如何把蛋糕模子塗足夠的奶油還有拿捏烤的時間。烤太久,就直接變布朗尼,沒啥驚艷感,烤太少,蛋糕會出模子後自動爆漿,也很不 OK。前一晚有先試做四個蛋糕,覺得時間已經抓好。今晚烤八個蛋糕時,不知為何就是烤過頭,沒爆漿,超失望。還好還有剩下的麵糊,再送一個進去烤...果然就爆了! (樓上第一張圖) 以後還是多練習幾次,這些美食團的朋友應該不介意多吃這個吧 :-)

As always, happy cooking!



Home Made Pasta, Take 1 手工義大利麵 Take 1

Making fresh pasta is something I've talked about for a long time. From watching the cooking shows, fresh pasta doesn't look all that hard -- looks like egg plus flour. Jon and Sayami have a KitchenAid mixer with pasta attachments. Since they were doing minor house renovation and also wanted to make pasta, they brought the machine over to our house and here went my first time making fresh pasta.

I went on the net and found the pasta mix ratio from Jamie Oliver's recipe: 1 egg to 100g of flour. Working with the dough for the first time is not too challenging, but we did run into issues where the dough was too moist. Adding more flour did the magic. Processing the dough with KitchenAid mixer made pasta-making so much easier. Honestly, I don't know how the Italians do the hand-crank gig...I couldn't even hold the pasta sheet properly with two hands! To thin the dough down, you'd start at dial setting #1, and gradually work down to thickness #8. This was actually tons of fun to do!

Voila - here's the finished product. At this stage, we also had to put a lot of flour on the pasta to prevent it from sticking to each other. The KitchenAid pasta kit came with a flat flour sheet attachment, and two attachments for pasta with different width. We went with fettuccine tonight.

Jon and Sayami's daughter  insisted on helping :-) After making the fettuccine, we had to push ourselves to make fresh ravioli. I threw a simple sauteed mushroom mix together for the filling. AND, I actually bought a pasta cutter from Williams Sonoma on one of the many business trips to California. That's how we got the very professional looking edges. The assembly was pretty straight forward: pasta sheet -> filling -> egg wash -> another layer of pasta -> seal -> cut.

I don't think the ravioli turned out too bad for making this the first time. I think we did mess up the thickness in some of the sheets, though. It's all good learning.

Fresh Home Made Fettuccine with White Cream Sauce and Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms, drizzled with truffle oil

 Some roast chicken is always good for dinner...

Here's the ravioli, with garlic marinara sauce. Of course we needed fresh parmigiano on top.

Dessert: Mango Puree & Fresh Mango with Vanilla Ice Cream

Date: 2011.8.6


Summer Teriyaki Grilled Chicken Salad 夏日照燒燒烤雞肉沙拉

Rena and I love salads, especially in the hot steamy summers. Growing up in Taiwan, there were only cabbage chiffonade (thinly shredded) and sliced cucumber paired with thousand island. It wasn't bad, but got pretty boring. When the burger joints came to Taiwan in the 80s, in came the iceberg lettuce (I think?). Of course it was much later when I found out in the U.S. how many different types of salad greens there are, each with its own distinct flavor and texture. Frisee, arugula, beet root leaves, radicchio, bib...just to name a few.

On this Friday night, I headed down to a pretty local supermarket (全聯) to see if I can whip up a good salad using super basic ingredients, you know, without any exotic European veggies and herbs -- yup I bought the good old iceberg lettuce. The key to making the salad greens good is to make sure you chill the leaves in ice bath then spin dry. This method makes even the most ordinary iceberg taste better. Crunchy icy cold iceberg will beat soggy warm iceberg any day. For the chicken breast, I used a simple teriyaki mixture of 1:1 soy to mirin, along with some fresh ground black pepper. Cooking chicken breast is a bit tricky, but if timed properly, you'll get a juicy and lean piece of protein. I used my Le Creuset grill pan, grilling about 3 to 4 minutes each side. The dressing was a simple balsamic Dijon vinaigrette.

Date: 2011.7.1


It all started with Beaujolais 都是薄酒來惹的禍

It all started with Beaujolais.

薄酒萊趴 - 故事就是這樣開始的。

Since so many friends liked the food at my housewarming in April 2006, I used the November 2006 Beaujolais global release as an excuse to host another wine party at home. The party became "sort of" annual in 2007, and each one got bigger and better, so big that I had to start hosting at wine stores. Work got a little too hectic in 2009 and 2010, so I couldn't squeeze time to continue the annual event (except the 2009 Xmas party at our new condo). Also, another big reason is I wanted to look for a "more formal" location, because I usually have a semi-formal dress code, and dressed up people and laid back atmosphere just...don't mix well.

When Rena found the MoonWine wine store on Facebook in March, I knew this would be the place we would have the next party. The owner Daniel is super awesome, so after a quick visit to the store, we were all set for the party in May. I wasn't sure how many people could fit into the store, so I was trying to limit to about 50 guests for this "trial run."

Party Menu 28 May 2011:

Hors D'oeuvre

Flame Broiled Salmon 
with Wasabi Mayo, Salmon Roe, Slice of Lemon & Dill
炙燒鮭魚佐山葵美乃茲, 搭配鮭魚卵, 檸檬片

Filet Mignon
with Asian Mango Mint Salsa

Lemon Chicken with Pesto & Tomato

Roasted Bell Pepper

Mozzarella & Local Cherry Tomato
馬茲拉乳酪 & 聖女番茄

Prosciutto & Local Cantaloupe
帕瑪火腿 & 哈密瓜

Butter Sauteed Mushrooms

Thai Lemongrass Curry Shrimp

Hot Plate
Grilled Australian Grain-fed Ribeye

For party food, I usually try to go above chips and Ritz just so the wines would be paired in different ways -- makes the drinking experience much more interesting. I prepared hors d'oeuvres for 45 people (gosh that was tiring), with some good helping hands from guests, of course. MoonWine doesn't have a kitchen, but Daniel purchased a new high-end BBQ grill just in time before the party, so I grilled steaks live to go with the red wines - that was a high point of the evening for sure.

Thanks to all the guests who joined us that evening! The next gathering is scheduled for Aug. 27, 2010, less dressy, more summer (whatever that means - use your imagination).

Steaks happily grilling away...

I found these black plastic containers near Dee Hua Street (迪化街), thanks to Apple.

Steaks and red wine are buddies.


Date: 2011.5.28


Steak Only or Surf & Turf 單吃牛排還是來個海陸

After skipping two years, I "resumed" our annual wine party two weeks ago. For everyone who got a few slices of the barbecue grilled ribeye, the consensus was "not enough!" Soon after the party, our new skier friends started this whole steak dinner discussion on Facebook. I was heading out to the Bay Area for a short business trip the following week, so I thought I better have another dinner-at-home gathering soon so we all didn't have to wait too long for big juicy chunks of steak. Now, should we do steak only or surf & turf? Surf and turf of course! What kind of surf? Big prawns or lobster? I thought I'd make up my mind at the market. Guess what? They had fresh small spiny lobsters for US$5 each! Bin Jiang market (濱江市場) is sort of a whole-sale traditional market in Taipei (huge place!), and is where you can find some of the best produce, meat, and seafood in Taipei. Boy this dinner quickly got upgraded big time. Thinking the lobster would be worthy of having its own course, I also decided to throw in risotto, another "component" I've never cooked before. Having lobster and steak separate made it easier for wine-paring anyway, as I found out in the last dinner that these good friends LOVE WINE.

Dinner Menu 11 June 2011:

Orange Teriyaki Seared Tuna
served with yamaimo and asparagus 附山藥 蘆筍

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio 2009
Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot

Seafood Course
Lobster in Garlic Butter
set on mushroom risotto  蘑菇義式燉飯

Perelada Cava 西班牙香檳 (from MoonWine Wine Shop)

Meat Course
Australian Ribeye with Red Wine Jus
truffle mashed baby red skin potatoes and sauteed mushrooms
搭配松露紅馬鈴薯泥 煎鴻禧菇

Kendall Jackson 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
Don David Malbec 2009

Baked Caramel Apple Puff Pastry
with vanilla ice cream 佐香草冰淇淋

    This seared tuna appetizer is something I've wanted to cook again for a long time. I've had good seared tuna in the US, but haven't found anything good in local restaurants here in Taipei. I found a few recipes online and combined the best parts of them to my own liking. The marinade actually has orange juice, yes, orange juice. Raw tuna maguro, unless extremely fresh, doesn't have much taste (of course, toro or tuna belly is whole different ball game). By searing the outside with high heat, the sugar is slightly caramelized and brings much more aroma to the tuna. Mixed with the orange teriyaki sauce, ginger, wasabi, and scallions, this dish packs plenty of punch to the taste buds. Pinot Grigio was a little too light to counter the rich Asian flavors, so we quickly corrected that with a sparkling Chardonnay Pinot (like, not a problem at all when someone screams "drink up we gotta switch wine!"). This was also the first time I used sliced asparagus in a dish, as I think it's a visually-pleasing way of presenting asparagus, with greening outline on the edge of the white slices.

    Yes, I've always thought about making risotto, but never got around to it. A college buddy was so proud when he found out he cooked risotto before I did! With a box of Italian Riso Scotti risotto rice in my pantry and vague memories of chefs making risotto on TV (and horror stories of over-cooking it into porridge), I went for the "challenge" and was really mentally prepared to fail miserably. "If it's bad, I just won't serve it right?" I thought. As it turned out, it wasn't that difficult after all -- slowly ladling stock in, constant stirring, and frequent tasting did the job. I was even able to maintain a bit of bite in the rice core, not bad for first time! Now onto the lobster. I've made grilled and roasted lobsters tons of times before, but I've always used Maine lobsters (with claws). This is the first time I'm working with spiny lobster. I'm a big opponent of boiling lobsters, because I think some of precious juice is lost during the process (probably just a personal myth). Borrowing a cooking method of an Australian lobster farmer I saw on TV, I split the lobsters in half, and seasoned the lobsters in salt and pepper, and sauteed with med-low heat in olive oil and butter mixture, adding garlic and fresh parsley about mid way through the 8-minute cooking process. The result was a wow'ing succulent, sweet, and tender lobster. I know I'm biased because I cooked it, but man I ended up eating the lobster so slowly, enjoying every bite in my mouth. We paired this course with Spanish Cava semi-seco, a good balance of delicate savory flavors and sweetness of the wine.

    Since I had "surf & turf" in my mind, I started Googling for surf & turf plating ideas during the week. Boy there were some ugly plating pictures. Let's say I was quite relieved to separate the lobster from the steak. There're also quite a few ways to present steak, but I think I like the ones that clearly show the medium-rare color of the beef. What sides should go with the beef? Since I was going high-end with lobster already, I thought truffle baby red skin mashed potatoes would be a winner. Baby red skin potatoes have a natural creamy, silkiness texture that, in my opinion, is much better than good old Idaho potatoes. I used to add truffle oil directly into the big pot of mash, but not anymore. I think you taste much more truffle if you drip it on top of the mash in your plate - simply sends sensory systems through the roof. I also had creamed spinach in the plan, but that turned out to be a total disaster, so the sauteed mushrooms was a last-minute swap-out. Last but definitely not least, let's talk about the red wine jus now. To me, the jus was what MADE the dish. I used to cheat and do a bunch of ad-hoc methods to make the steak sauce, with inconsistent successes. I wanted to make sure this steak dish is really steak-house / bistro quality, so I followed the Bouchon red wine jus recipe to the T. Basically, the sauce consisted of standard mirepoix, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, half bottle of red wine, and beef stock, reduced and strained through cheese cloth. Gosh the sauce really elevated the Australian grain-fed ribeye at so many different levels. At that instant, I wasn't missing US beef that much (though I still prefer it). On top of all this, I had a creme brulee torch gun for everyone to char up the ribeye fat on the table, talk about entertaining! This was definitely one of the best dishes ever coming out of our kitchen.

    Sometimes, I amaze myself with the number of decisions made and problems encountered during the course of preparing a dinner. It's all good, love every second of it.

    Dessert has never been my forte. I found a bakery supplier in our neighborhood recently, a store that sells supplies to the bread and cake shops in the city. Simply out of curiosity, I bought some frozen puff pastry without any idea of how I'd use it. What I had in mind for tonight's dessert was an upside down caramel apple pie, but wasn't quite sure if I could do it with puff pastry. I didn't want to do caramel apple without the pastry, so I went for the apple and puff pastry combo without knowing what would happen. The steps were: cut up the golden delicious, stirred into caramel (didn't get as brown as I'd like), put into baking pan, laid pastry over, and baked for 20 minutes - pretty straight forward and simple dessert. Ice cream melting on warm fruit is an formula to make people happy.

    This was one of the best dinners I've cooked in the past few years. I don't want these skier friends to get used to this, because heck the next dinner might get a hiccup or two (or a complete disaster). Alright folks, I'll strive for perfection! Thanks all for another fantastic evening, and all your kind compliments on the food!

    Date: 2011.6.11