Wednesday, July 16 2003

Foods nature never made

No, not the genemod stuff. Frankly, if I could find a grocery that sold produce that was guaranteed genetically modified, grown with artificial fertilizers, sprayed with pesticides, and then irradiated, I’d shop there every day. Modern technology has done wonders for the quality and safety of food, contrary to the claims of people who confuse natural with safe and healthy. Don’t even get me started on their abuse of the word organic.

No, I’m talking about the single-serving can of fruit I’m holding in my hand. The label reads “raspberry-flavored peaches.”

What were they thinking?

Saturday, August 9 2003

Life’s little pleasures

After taking a week off to drive to Washington and back, I resumed my quest for a Browning Buck Mark Classic Plus. As I suspected, the only store who had one was 100 miles away, and thanks to California’s silly-ass gun laws, I have to make the trip twice, once to fill out the federal and state paperwork and supply a thumbprint, and again ten days later to claim my property.

(Continued on Page 1513)

Monday, September 8 2003

Big food

A relatively constant factor in my life is the weekend gaming/cooking session with friends. We have a large stable of entertaining games from companies like Cheapass, Steve Jackson, and (pre-Hasbro) Wizards of the Coast, and an Xbox or two. The recipes come from a variety of sources, including my still-under-construction online cookbook, built from assorted MasterCook-format archives.

This weekend was at my place, which gave me an excuse to do some massive house-cleaning and show off my newly-completed landscaping. Since I had so much cleaning work to do, I insisted that the meal should be relatively simple, which meant steaks.

(Continued on Page 1576)

Wednesday, September 10 2003

The Devil In Rachel Lucas

Psssst. Rachel’s making deviled eggs. Go thou and do likewise.

Mine are almost ready. Wish me luck.

Update: …and I saw that they were good.

I went with Alton Brown’s painless steaming method to prep the eggs, and then mixed the yolks with mayo, dry mustard, and Lone Star Steak Rub. Could have used a tad more spice rub, but they were still quite tasty. Of course, now I have to spend an hour on the cross-trainer to compensate for the calories.

Sunday, December 14 2003

Quick pantry meal

My recent bout with the flu has left the refrigerator a bit bare, and I haven’t restocked yet, so I needed to throw dinner together from what was left. This worked out nicely:

  • half a ham steak, cubed, from a Costco bulk pack
  • half an onion, chopped large
  • half a package of Simply Potatoes hash browns
  • a small can of diced green chiles
  • a fifteen-ounce can of diced tomatoes

I put three tablespoons of ghee in a 10” pan, put it over high heat, tossed in the ham steak, onion, hash browns, and chiles, seasoned liberally with my usual Lone Star Steak Rub, and cooked it all until the potatoes were nice and brown, stirring occasionally. Then I added the tomatoes and their juice, turned the heat down, put a lid on the pan, and let it all cook together for a while.

Pretty tasty, and quite filling. If I’d had some bacon, I’d have cut it up, fried it first, then used the grease to cook the rest (sprinkling the bacon bits on top at the end), but I was out. Next time.

Tuesday, January 20 2004

Pocky and Pretz for everyone!

Just received a large order from This is not a porn site.

No, the box contained a large stash of Tomato Pretz, Salad Pretz, Vegetable Curry Pretz, and Pocky G, flavors I can’t find at my local Albertson’s or nearby asian groceries.

I’m particularly fond of Tomato Pretz, and if I’d known how much I was going to like them, I’d have bought a lot more when I wandered into Uwajimaya in Seattle.

Great stuff, and unless you’re one of those Carb-Fearing Atkins Disciples, you’ll find that most flavors are quite compatible with a losing-or-at-least-not-gaining lifestyle.

Thursday, February 19 2004

Darn good cookware

Calphalon One is not hype. It really is good stuff, better than their previous non-stick and hard-anodized lines. It browns beautifully, deglazes nicely, and cleans up with little or no effort. I bought the 4-Quart Chef’s Multipan to try it out, and now I’m seriously considering replacing my comprehensive collection of older Calphalon cookware. About the only things I really need to keep are the cast-iron skillet and the Le Creuset casseroles.

Wednesday, March 3 2004

McDonalds drops supersizing, fails to replace it with “cooking”

The most annoying thing about this story is that it repeats the bald-faced lie that Michael-Moore-wannabe Morgan Spurlock’s propaganda film somehow qualified as a “documentary”.

That and the fact that his crap flick not only won an award, but is scheduled for wider release this spring. That leaves a worse taste in my mouth than most fast food.

Tuesday, March 16 2004

Luxor Steakhouse

So how did we manage to stay in this hotel twice (three times for me!) without eating at their steakhouse? What, were we stupid or something? I have never had a better steak. I have never had a better baked potato. I don’t think better desserts exist.

I like the Hilton Steakhouse, which was damn good eight years ago, and is still damn good. I despise the Treasure Island Steakhouse, which takes excellent beef and treats it with less respect than your local Sizzler would, which, come to think of it, also describes their service.

Luxor Steakhouse? Unbelievable. After tipping 30%, filling the comment card with glowing praise, and vigorously thanking everyone we could on the way out, we were still wondering if we’d done enough to express our appreciation for the food and the service.

The only way they could improve the place is to hire the hostesses and waitresses away from Fiamma Trattoria across the street at the MGM Grand. [which is a fine restaurant, but they have so many pretty women working there that they could spare a few for a good cause]

On a related note, we discovered that slot tournaments are just as ridiculous as they sound, but when the party afterwards includes filet mignon from the Luxor Steakhouse, suddenly it seems like a good idea. A really, really good idea. I have no idea how they managed to get 400+ perfect steaks out the door in about fifteen minutes. We felt sorry for any vegetarians in attendance.

Oh, and the player’s club hosts at Mandalay Bay are assholes dedicated to making a mockery of the chain’s “One Club” advertising. I really wonder how much business they’re driving away; their attitude Sunday night certainly convinced me to stop playing there. [I suspect it’s a deliberate attempt to drive away the wrong kind of customers, defined by qualities unrelated to their gambling habits…]

Saturday, March 27 2004

Fire good

Officially, my Weber natural gas grill (Silver B) is defective. They even came out and replaced the guts of it once, to try to bring it back into spec.

The problem? It’s too darn hot. Fantastic for steaks, miserable for anything that requires “low and slow”. The built-in thermometer gave out on medium, and with all three burners on high, I didn’t own anything capable of recording the temperature of the cooking surface. I just knew that it regularly burned the seasoning right off of the cast iron grates.

So, I picked up one of those spiffy non-contact thermometers, which even comes with a small laser sight to tell you what you’re measuring (toy alert! toy alert!). A friend came over yesterday for lunch, and just before we slapped the t-bones onto the grill, we took a few readings with it: 780° Fahrenheit.

Every time I think about having Weber come back out and fix it, I grill a steak, and change my mind. Who needs “low and slow,” anyway?

Tuesday, April 6 2004

Poppy Honey and Daisy Boo?

Okay, I was originally just going to post a link to the story about The Naked Chef burning his penis while trying to cook naked, but then I read it, and discovered that he and his wife named their two daughters ‘Poppy Honey’ and ‘Daisy Boo’. And he’s getting ready to pack up the family and move to the US.

If those are indeed their legal names (and with a mother named ‘Jools’ it’s likely they are), I suspect they’re in for a fair amount of abuse in American schools. At the very least, I see them starting each school year with grim determination, desperate to keep the teacher from reading their names aloud while taking attendance. Much like my school friend Augustus MacLeod Freeman III, who managed to make it all the way to ninth grade with everyone convinced his name was actually ‘Sandy’.

Thursday, April 15 2004

Truth in advertising?

Apparently these came out a few years ago, but I just saw them for the first time in a local Safeway:

Homemade cookies for Dummies

I guess the instructions on all of those other cookie mixes were too complicated for some people…

Sunday, May 16 2004

Organic minerals

Okay, the food-faddists have hit a new low: Certified Organic salt.

There are apparently three different (European) agencies willing to certify that table salt has been produced in a manner consistent with traditional methods and modern marketing.

Thursday, June 17 2004

Fish. Barrel. Smoking gun.

In the latest research into the obvious, the University of Minnesota reports that “organic” produce grown in manure is more likely to test positive for fecal contamination than conventional produce.

Remember, you are what you eat. Personally, I’m a synthetic pesticide.

Friday, June 18 2004

Great ways to end a phone call…

I received an unwanted call this morning that fell into that gray area of “maybe I’m a telemarketer, maybe I’m someone who’s exempt from the do-not-call list,” and I hung up on them with the following statement:

“Sorry, gotta run, my ham’s exploding.”

It was, too. Little cubes of ham were flying out of the skillet onto the counter and floor. Guess they weren’t kidding about that “water added” on the label.

Tuesday, July 27 2004

Cup Noodle Curry: surprisingly tasty

Bought this stuff on a whim at Mitsuwa Marketplace, and it’s pretty good. 420 calories, for those who follow such things, and I’m sure it has enough sodium to choke a food-faddist, but it’s quite edible. Available online from Asian Munchies.

Cup Noodle Curry

Wednesday, August 18 2004

Ippeichan Yakisoba Noodles: pretty tasty for instant

Acquired from the usual suspects (available online here), this stuff’s pretty good, and pretty filling.

Ippeichan Instant Yakisoba

It’s funny; after all the time I spent in college living on mac & cheese, pot pies, and ramen noodles, I was sure I’d never eat any of them again, and for twenty years I was right. Either the stuff has gotten a lot better since then, or I’ve finally gotten over it. Maybe both.

Tuesday, September 21 2004

What a Jiffy scam!

Just got back from the grocery, and happened to notice the recent carb-faddish Simply Jif line of peanut butter. I was picking up a jar of the regular stuff, and on a whim I decided to compare the nutritional labels.

A standard two-tablespoon serving of regular Creamy Jif: 190 calories. Low-carb Simply Jif: 190 calories. Reduced Fat Creamy Jif: 190 calories. It’s the same for their entire product line. The reduced-fat version eliminates a whopping 4 grams of fat but compensates by adding 8 grams of carbohydrates. The low-carb version removes a majestic 1 gram of sugar.

(and, yes, I know they round off the calories to the nearest 10)

Wednesday, September 22 2004

This company understands me…

The Evil That Is Sqyntz

Sqyntz are evil. Sqyntz are tasty. Sqyntz are addictive. And, fortunately, they’re low-calorie. Unfortunately, they’re also hard to find in stores. In the Bay Area, I’ve only seen them at Nob Hill and REI. And the way we go through them during gaming sessions, I buy an awful lot of overpriced little tins of the stuff.

So when I decided to write up a brief article in praise of the best darn sour candy on the market, I went to their web site to snag a picture of the tin. And I found an online store selling them by the six-pack, and they even had a flavor that I’ve never seen in stores. Cha-ching!

Update: they shipped promptly, but while I enjoy being able to stock up on Tropical Fruit Sqyntz at a discount, I am saddened to report that Orchard Blend Sqyntz aren’t nearly as good. They’re decent candy, but they’re just not irresistible.

Monday, October 18 2004

Random thought for the day

Dinner tonight was based on a curry mix I picked up at Mitsuwa. I think all packaged foods should include the instructions “break sauce into pieces”.

Tuesday, November 9 2004

The first one’s free

Just got back from lunch at Patxi’s, and discovered that Connie had never heard of such a thing as “Chicago-style deep-dish pizza”. Of course, I had to share the leftovers.

There was much rejoicing from her office.

Wednesday, November 17 2004

It’s lasagna season!

I haven’t made my favorite lasagna for a while, so it’s going to be this weekend’s gaming dinner. Soon enough, the advance of the rainy season will lead us to make pot roast and lazy chile colorado as well. We already had the meat loaf last weekend.

Sometime soon I should really revisit my online cookbook project. I actually rewrote all the library routines about a year ago, but never got around to rebuilding the search engine to use them.

Tuesday, November 23 2004

For the man who has everything…

breast variety pack

Monday, May 9 2005

Bacon on the grill

I woke up this morning with the sudden realization that I have never attempted to cook bacon on an outdoor grill. My first thought was that the large amount of grease would cause dramatic flare-ups. My second thought was that, like some other foods, it might not work well on the coarse-grained grates of my Weber Genesis Silver B. My third thought was that bacon comes out best when it has time to render out the fat, and my grill is, well, nuclear.

My fourth thought was to fire up that bad boy and give it the old college-dropout try. I’m glad I did, because not only did the bacon come out perfect on the first try, it didn’t spatter anything with grease, and the cooking odors stayed outdoors. Obviously, there was no leftover bacon grease to cook other things with, but I never really used the stuff anyway.

By preheating the grill on low and turning the heat up to medium after the grease started to render, I was able to keep the cast-iron grates from leaving burn marks. This also kept the bacon from sticking to the unseasoned cast-iron grates (unseasonable, really; at the setting I use for steaks, the grill surface is close to 750°, which quickly burns the stuff off).

Monday, June 6 2005

Fear of a Cup Noodle

Often when you open packaged foods, the underside of the lid contains something useful, or at least entertaining. A coupon, a contest entry, a “fun fact” that’s occasionally true, that sort of thing.

My latest package of Cup Noodle Curry, on the other hand…

(Continued on Page 2321)

Friday, July 8 2005

A new taste

Had a going-away dinner Wednesday night with friends and co-workers (they can decide which are which…), at a small, low-profile Japanese restaurant in San Mateo called Oidon (71 E. 4th Ave, second floor). A Good Time Was Had By All, and the sake was as good as the food.

I stopped by Mitsuwa on my way home this afternoon and picked up a bottle:


I’m sure I’ll find a use for it.

Update. The calligraphy leaves me only 90% certain about the second character in the name, but I think it’s 酔鯨 (“Suigei” for the kana-impaired, meaning “drunk whale”). $40 for 1.8 liters, which is downright cheap compared to a good single malt scotch.

Sunday, July 17 2005

Salmon teriyaki

I’ve been looking at Japanese cookbooks recently. The first one I bought, 英語でつくる和食, is fun to read, since it puts both the original Japanese recipe and an English translation on facing pages. After trying out a few things, however, I’ve come to suspect that the English versions were never tested by people who only spoke English.

So, a few days ago I picked up The Japanese Kitchen, which is meticulously organized by ingredient, and gives sample recipes for each. One of the examples for soy sauce was salmon teriyaki, with homemade teriyaki sauce.

Most teriyaki dishes I’ve had have been pretty awful, and the sauce had a lot to do with that. Obviously, they weren’t using homemade. If you have access to a gourmet or asian grocery store, you should be able to find what you need:

  • 3 parts soy sauce
  • 3 parts sake
  • 3 parts mirin (sweet cooking sake)
  • 1 part granulated sugar

(comparing this to the list of ingredients on a few bottles of commercial sauce explained a lot) Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat, and simmer until the sauce has reduced by about 25%. Let cool.

Making the salmon isn’t any harder. Heat the oven to 350°. Cover a baking sheet with foil, put a wire rack on it, and lay the salmon fillets (4-6 ounces each) skin-side down on the rack. Baste with the sauce, put it into the oven for five minutes. Repeat until your trusty digital thermometer reads about 145°. Pour some more sauce on the fillets and serve.

I might try grilling them next time, although that’s risky on my nuclear Weber. I will try grilled teriyaki beef kabobs with this sauce. Maybe that’s Monday night’s dinner…

Thursday, January 5 2006

Globalization is just peachy!

I needed to restock the pantry, so I made a late-night run to the local Safeway last night. I was passing through the canned-fruit section when something peculiar caught my eye:

デルモンテ イエローピーチ

These California peaches, canned by Kikkoman for a Japanese audience, somehow ended up on the shelves of a California grocery store that serves a largely Hispanic community.

Tuesday, January 17 2006

Fischer Adelscott Peat-Smoked Malt

I’m not a beer drinker. When I drink at all, it’s usually single-malt scotch or sake, and not often. About ten years ago, though, I stumbled across one I liked, and would like to find again. Online reviews are all over the map; it seems to be a brew that is either adored or despised, without much middle ground. It doesn’t age well, by most reports, which makes the 1996-dated bottle in my hands worthless as anything but a reminder (and a source for a picture later…).

Last time I asked at Beltramo’s, they remembered it but didn’t stock it any more. That was a long time ago, though, so it’s worth asking again.

Sadly, the defining booze of my college days seems to have disappeared from the market, remembered only in mixed-drink recipes: Hot Shot Tropical Fruit Schnapps, from the Hot Shot Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky. I suspect that these days I’d find it cloyingly sweet, something I may test someday with the almost-empty bottle on my shelves. Still, I wouldn’t mind having a few bottles around for a reunion.

Saturday, April 1 2006

Things you never want to see in a recipe

This looked like a reasonable introduction to Japanese-style curry, until I hit this “basic tip”:

Scoop lye on the surface.

I guess I wasn’t paying attention during those school field trips to Mostly Faithful Recreation Of How People Used To Live Town, because the only things that come to mind when I hear the word lye are “harsh soap” and “drain cleaner”. As a way of finishing off your curry, it strikes me as a way of finishing off your guests.

Friday, April 14 2006

0 * 6 + 0 + 0 * 6/8 = 31?

I haven’t blogged about the specifics of why my doctor ordered me to work out more, but when that information is combined with his other order to cut way back on sugar (and, to a lesser extent, all carbs), it should be pretty obvious.

Mind you, I’d already cut back a lot on sugared soda a few years ago, just as part of a general desire to lose some weight and get in shape, and I’d found a few low- and zero-calorie drinks I could tolerate, but I didn’t go cold turkey. Now I have. [and things are going quite well, by the way; down from an average 250 mg/dL to ~125]

Not long before the doctor forcibly changed my lifestyle, I had acquired a taste for Arizona Iced Tea’s Arnold Palmer. While this is significantly lower in calories than the Lemon Tea we used to buy in massive quantities, it’s still filled with sugar. (I’ve never seen their Splenda-sweetened diet drinks in stores…)

So, armed with my New Best Friend Splenda (note: unless you’re a biochemist, please don’t send me any links about “the dangers of Splenda”; I’ll just point and laugh), here’s a pretty decent “zero-calorie” Arnold Palmer:

Mix, chill, serve.

Note that I’ve put “zero-calorie” in quotes because I cannot determine how many digestible calories are actually present. All three of the powdered ingredients contain maltodextrin, but the serving sizes used allow them to round the calories down to 0 on the Nutrition Facts label. (see update below)

Basically, if each of the three powdered ingredients contains the maximum amount of maltodextrin that can still be rounded down to 0 calories, then an eight-ounce serving of this “zero-calorie” drink could contain as much as 31 calories, or nearly 8 grams of sugar. I’d like to think it has less, but I honestly can’t tell. The USDA Nutrient Database has data for Splenda packets (which also contain dextrose), but not the granular variety, and they’ve got nothing on the Lipton mix. The Kool-Aid mix is fine, at only 0.6 calories per serving, but it’s by far the smallest contributor. I think I’ll cut the Splenda in half for the next batch and see how it turns out.

While I’m on the subject, Lipton Iced Tea To Go is sweetened with Splenda (and maltodextrin…), and the Lemon flavor is pretty good. I don’t know who thought Green Tea with Mandarin and Mango was a good idea, but it’s at least drinkable, unlike the incredibly nasty Green Tea with Honey and Lemon. The other three flavors are apparently too new to be in wide distribution, but I’m not interested.

By the way, it would be nice to try sweetening with pure sucralose, the truly-zero-calorie active ingredient in Splenda, but I can’t. Unless your middle name is “Pepsico”, it’s unlikely that you can afford one of the 10 kilogram cartons that they ship the stuff in. Why not? Because the stuff is so ridiculously sweet that a carton is equivalent to more than six tons of sugar (if I’ve calculated correctly…), and priced accordingly. They cut it with maltodextrin and dextrose to bulk it up to a size that can be divided into consumer-friendly portions. There are some syrups available that are sweetened with the pure stuff, but they’re either expensive or a bit dodgy.

Update: ah, Google; the amount of maltodextrin in granular Splenda adds up to a total of 96 calories per cup, reducing the maximum possible calorie count per glass from 31 to 15.6, and establishing a lower bound of 12.7. Not bad at all.

Monday, June 5 2006

Outdoor cooking, Bad Haiku Edition

A leftover steak!
Kosher salt, black pepper, and
a really hot fire…
In the hornet nest,
an oppressive heat begins.
Hey, it’s my grill, guys.

Saturday, August 19 2006

Worst. Nutritional. Advice. Ever.

Pardon me while I point and laugh:

High water intake reduces fat deposits and rids the body of toxins. Simply drinking eight 16 oz. glasses of water throughout the day, cooled to 40 Fahrenheit, will burn 200 calories; that’s equivalent to running 3 miles!

I have no words.

Friday, November 10 2006

Needs more sprinkle…

They’re off to a nice start, but I think some more of these slogans would be improved by replacing words with “sprinkle”.

Tuesday, December 19 2006

Now that’s a spicy meatball!

Not the most significant, but certainly one of the most amusing major-media corrections for 2006, courtesy of The New York Times:

“Because of an editing error, a recipe last Wednesday for meatballs with an article about foods to serve during the Super Bowl misstated the amount of chipotle chilies in adobo to be used. It is one or two canned chilies, not one or two cans. Click here for the correct recipe.”

I think my friends would be willing to try it as written…

Friday, December 29 2006

Why can’t more journalists be like this?

An in-depth, carefully researched exposé of a company fraudulently marketing a product at outrageous prices.

I suspect the answer is that the reporter actually knew something about the subject, and thus smelled the bullshit.

Friday, January 5 2007

Vegas, in short

Luxor Steakhouse: not what it was a few years ago. The meat isn’t as good, and with the loss of their pastry chef, dessert has descended to the ordinary.

Nobu: just say “omakase, traditional”, and you will be rewarded with something wonderful. The nigori sake was also quite tasty. Cover your ears when the American employees attempt to shout “irasshaimase”.

Mandalay Bay: the cocktail waitresses are now in dresses. If this is progress, I want no part of it.

Wynn: it seems there’s a second tier of cocktail-waitress outfit, reserved for special places and exceptionally well-formed employees. I enjoyed the brief exposure I received, but on a future trip, I’ll have to find out where they keep them. Perhaps the next time they send me a cheap room offer, they won’t have filled up by the time I’m able to accept it.

Other than that, the free suite room was nice, the scenery was reasonable, and I remain only lightly bound by the laws of probability.

On the way out, we once again were pleased to find the middle-of-nowhere bonsai dealer on highway 58. Sadly, he wasn’t there on the way back, possibly due to the ridiculous winds between hither and yon, so we didn’t buy any.

Also, in a moment of pure serendipity, we discovered that there’s a Jersey Mike’s on Paradise. Jersey native Dave was stunned by this, especially since he’d just finished saying “is there any chain that doesn’t have a restaurant around here?”. A quick check of the phone book dug the knife in even deeper: this place that is home to mysterious delights peculiar to the Jersey shore, and which cannot be found within 100 miles of the Bay Area, has six locations around Vegas.

Saturday, February 10 2007

Dear AriZona Beverage,

Okay, I’m on your web site. I’m in your online store. I’m even in your shopping cart, preparing to make a purchase. So why are you still hitting me with animated banner ads for your products? Do I seem somehow unmotivated as a customer?

Wouldn’t it be more useful to advertise your products on other sites? Perhaps if you informed people of the full range of your product line, distributors and retailers would actually order more than the five flavors they usually stock (only two of which are drinkable).

Given the glucose tolerance, I would cheerfully drink myself to death on your Lemon Tea and Arnold Palmer, but these days I need the Splenda-sweetened stuff, which I simply can’t buy in stores. I’d really like to try it once before ordering a case from an online dealer I’ve never heard of before (like the one whose employees seem to have been recruited from a phone-sex service).

Friday, December 14 2007

The perfect ginger candy

(all vacation entries)

We bought them in the Gion district in Kyoto. A little bag of ginger candies wrapped up in a label that read 「まいこさんのおちょぼ口」 (for the kana-impaired, that’s “Maiko-san no Ochobo-guchi”). It means “the maiko’s [apprentice geisha] tiny mouth”. They’re darn tasty, and the farther away we got from Gion, the more I wanted to go back and fill my suitcase with them. I didn’t.

But surely I can find them in Japantown in San Jose or San Francisco, or at least order them online! Or maybe not. It turns out that “Maiko-san no ochoboguchi” is a cliché, and 99% of the references you’ll find online are of the form “even a maiko’s tiny mouth could eat this”. Which is of course why they were called that in the first place.

This means that even explaining what I’m looking for will require visual aids. Better snap a photo of them before they’re all gone:

Maiko-san no ochobo-guchi

I’ll try to find them locally, but realistically, my best shot is finding someone who’ll be in Kyoto and giving them a copy of the photo and detailed instructions on how to find the shop. It looks like this, and it’s about a block and a half west of the main entrance to Yasaka Shrine, on the south side of the street [Google Maps].

What does autumn taste like?

(all vacation entries)

According to a stand at Kyoto Station, it tastes like this ekiben:


Monday, December 17 2007

The novelty of bread

(all vacation entries)

The Japanese still haven’t really figured out bread. They’re good at pastry, but rice is the grain that goes with meals, so breads tend to be snack foods, such as the ubiquitous melonpan, whose name comes from the melon-ish shape rather than the contents.

Speaking of shape, care to guess what kamelonpan looks like?

(Continued on Page 2842)

Thursday, January 24 2008

Attractive Nuisance

No, not this one, even if she is small enough to store conveniently:

Mari Yaguchi

No, I’m referring to this delicious sesame-covered rice cracker, sold under the name Tsubugoma (粒ごま):


(picture taken from the appropriately named Senbei Dai-Suki blog)

It’s the sort of snack where I have to ask myself, “will one bag last all the way home?”. Admittedly, the only store I’ve found them at is over an hour away from my house, but it takes a real effort of will for me to stop eating the damn things once I’ve opened the bag.

Tuesday, January 29 2008

Tonkatsu Tonki

(all vacation entries)

Most guidebooks will tell you that Tonki has the best tonkatsu in Tokyo. After eating there, I’m willing to believe them.

The trick is finding the place. These pictures are descriptive rather than scenic, so they go below the fold:

(Continued on Page 2900)

Sunday, March 23 2008

The return of Sqyntz

The best damn sour candy in the world disappeared from every store in my area quite a while ago. Then their web site went offline. Last week, on a whim, I googled, and found that their online store was back. There are a number of error pages where they’ve deleted part of their product line but left the links in place, so I’m guessing they’re adjusting to the consequences of expanding their line without adequate distribution.

Naturally I ordered 5 display cases, for a total of 30 tins of concentrated, sugar-free joy. That should last me a few weeks, unless I share (“Hi, David!”).

Note: ordered on the 19th, arrived with free shipping on the 22nd. Good thing they didn’t show up in the morning, or I’d have had to share them with my friends. :-)

Tuesday, April 1 2008

Either they got me, …

…or they picked the wrong day to announce this:

Subject: Pizza Hut is now Pasta Hut!

Our new Tuscani Pastas are so good, we decided to change our name to Pasta Hut. Try both delicious flavors - Meaty Marinara or Creamy Chicken Alfredo.

Finally, restaurant quality pasta delivered right to your door! Feeds 4 and comes with 5 breadsticks for only $11.99. Dinner’s done!

They updated the web site, too, but I’ve seen that trick before!

[Update: their web site is still Pasta Hut, so it was just their total lack of awareness that “April 1” means something other than “beginning of new fiscal quarter”, especially on the Internet]

Saturday, April 5 2008

Random notes

  1. Pizza Hut’s new meat pasta is pretty good. I’ll be eating it for another two days, since they only deliver a family-size portion with breadsticks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  2. I always thought the name “Rune Soldier” was an invention of the team who translated the anime for the US market, since “Magic Soldier Louie” sounded too similar to “Magic Knight Rayearth” and similar series. Nope, page six of the first novel glosses 魔法戦士 as ルーンソルジャー. Pity, really, since the change ruined a decent joke in episode 18.
  3. Constructs of the form AたるB, where both A and B are nouns, are a bit of grammar that’s hard to find a good explanation for in English. Historically, there were three different conjugations for adjectives, but for the most part only the -i and -na types still exist; there are only a handful of true -taru adjectives in modern Japanese. This does not stop people from occasionally attaching -taru to a noun to make an “A-looking B” or “A-like B” expression.
  4. Speaking of -taru adjectives, I find this one charming: 死屍累々. Shishiruirui, it’s like the “que sera sera” of carnage. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sing the correct lyrics to that song again.
  5. Speaking of songs we’ll never be able to sing correctly again…
  6. Nobody ever told me that Pixel Maritan had a webcomic.
  7. On a vaguely related note, the trading figures for Moe yo! Tank School are, um, interesting.
  8. And while we’re following dirty links at Amazon Japan, I can see where the artist was going with this covergirl from MC Akushizu (“the hyper bishoujo military magazine”), but, anatomically speaking, he made a wrong turn.

Sunday, May 25 2008


[Update: Replaced the store link; I hadn’t realized that was now wholesale-only.]

One of my regrets from the trip to Japan was that I didn’t bring home more ginger-flavored crack(ers). I hoped I’d be able to find them in the US, but the only name I knew to call them by was a Kyoto cliché.

Today, I avoided the con crowd by heading up to SF Japantown, and while browsing through a grocery store, I found two different brands of Shouga Tsumami (“ginger pinch”). They’re a little thicker than the ones we bought in a Gion candy store, and not quite as fresh, but they’re still darn tasty, and they’re available online.

Monday, June 23 2008

The DFC Discontinuity

With my mind already broken by the folks at H!P, today was not the day to confront me with a contradiction. I give you メロンパン Flat Pretz:

Bakery Flat Style Pretz - Melon Pan Fuu

Yes, these Pretz possess both delicious flatness and melonpan-fu. The mind boggles.

Thursday, October 9 2008

Please don’t disappoint me…

[Update: threw them away. They may have used the right flavoring, but they used maybe half as much as they should have, on an inferior chip.]

This had better not be one of those “New Coke” deals. I get mean when somebody replaces a classic with inferior crap.

Taco Doritos Live?

PS: Never visit The term “steaming pile of Flash” was coined specifically to refer to that sort of content-free bullshit.

Friday, October 24 2008

Tasty breads

The folks at Boboli have a new line of flatbreads under the Ambretta label. I picked some up at Safeway last night, and this morning’s breakfast consisted of their rosemary flatbread, toasted and combined with roast beef and cheddar cheese into traditional sandwich form. The house now smells like rosemary and butter, which is never a bad thing.

Saturday, January 24 2009

Fun with loanwords

In the children’s novel 魔女へようこそ (“Welcome to the Witch’s Mansion”), casting spells involves cooking. There’s a particular recipe that’s very important to the story, and is printed in full at the end of the book. It took me forty minutes to figure out what it was called.


For the kanji/kana-challenged, that’s “Warui Mahou o Fuuji-komeru U A Ra Neeju”. The first half is a straightforward prenominal phrase, “…which confines evil magic”, but what is it?

First clue: it’s a dessert recipe.

Second clue: the ingredient list consists of eggs, sugar, cornstarch, milk, and vanilla extract.

Third clue: the recipe requires separating the eggs to make メリンゲ (Meringe) and カスタードソース (Casutaadosoosu).

Fourth clue: the end result involves placing the poached meringe on top of the casutaadosoosu.

Answer below the fold…

(Continued on Page 3233)

Wednesday, March 11 2009

Stonemill Kitchens Three Cheese Pepperoncini Dip

This is good dip. I’m sure it has applications beyond spreading on crackers (preferably Pepperidge Farm Harvest Wheat), but so far it hasn’t lasted long enough to test this theory.

Friday, April 17 2009

Babe Noodles

Okay, they got me. I don’t buy a lot of instant noodles any more, but there are a few that I have a weakness for, including Donbei’s Curry Udon and Ippeichan’s Yakisoba. The last time I was in Mitsuwa, I picked up a few of each, and saw something I hadn’t noticed before:

Beppin Udon

The curry udon is now also “beppin udon”, where most dictionaries define “beppin” as an informal term for a beautiful woman. My J-J dictionary also offers “particularly fine goods” (特別によい品物). My big J-E dictionary only offers the “babe” definition and matching kanji 別嬪; Kanji Sonomama’s J-J offers both meanings, with goods getting the more appropriate kanji 別品 (one that’s not suggested by the Mac IME); JMdict applies both kanji to the “babe” meaning in its English version, but has both meanings in German.

Turns out Donbei is playing with both meanings while creating a third: “particularly straight”. They claim this year’s dried udon and soba rehydrate into a less tangled, better-looking product.

Friday, May 1 2009

This can’t be good

Vegan Soy Jerky:
Really, if you’re going to eat something that isn’t meat, you’ll enjoy the experience a lot more if you don’t extrude it into a pretend-meat product. Me? I’d rather have the meat. This looks promising…

Saturday, May 9 2009

“Somebody, anybody, please buy our apples”

Just got back from Costco, where I was surprised and amused to discover that every apple in the place was “certified organic”, at the same price they were selling conventional produce last time I visited. My usual response when I see “organic” produce is to search for the conventional alternative, which is larger, cheaper, and safer, but there weren’t any.

It looks like at least one major Washington apple grower is taking it in the shorts as people reassess their willingness to pay extra for a sticker on the label.

Friday, May 29 2009

Food, redefined

I made a sandwich for dinner tonight. The label on the bread proudly announced that it contained no high-fructose corn syrup, and the sliced chicken proclaimed that it was gluten-free. When I got to the mayo, I was honestly surprised that it didn’t boast of being low-carb.

The bacon, of course, laughed and shouted, I am flavor!

Monday, June 1 2009

Thighs, Ponzu, Spam, Steak, and BiscuitPeachGingerCrack

My sister’s in town for business, so…

No, wait, let me start again.

My lovelytalentedarticulatestylisheducatedsensiblesuccessful sister’s in town for business, and arranged to come in early so we could spend Saturday together in San Francisco, and Sunday down at my house.

Friday, while working from home, I prepared for her visit by lighting up the smoker and preparing a double batch of spicy smoked chicken thighs. I think she’d have disowned me if I’d shown up at the airport without them.

Saturday, I picked her up at SFO and handed over the chicken, then we bummed around Japantown and Chinatown for a few hours (praising the heavens that our mother was not along to see the everything-must-go final-auction-starts-at-noon Chinese antique shop), sat impatiently in the bar for several hours while the hotel prepared our rooms, and then headed out for dinner and Spamalot. Since both hotel and theater were in the theater district (which should be renamed the theater&bum district), all we needed was a good place to eat, and a Zvents search turned up Ponzu, an asian fusion place that has some delicious food. Whatever else you get there, order the kalbi beef and the fried chickpeas, and eat them together. Trust us on this one; we ordered a second helping of the beef to use up the leftover chickpeas.

After that, it was off to Spamalot, which Ticketmaster shamelessly lied about the cast of, but the touring cast was by no means a disappointment. It’s a terrific show, very Python but hip, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came back to SF for a longer run in the future.

Inexplicably, the rows in front of and behind us emptied out completely at intermission, and we heard one of the groups complaining about John O’Hurley’s inauthentic British accent. In Spamalot. Monthy Python. Farce. They just couldn’t get past it. Either they were season-ticket-holding Serious Theatre Patrons™, or they inhaled a bit too much of the pot smoke that was drifting in from the nearby exit door, and were just friggin’ high.

Sunday morning, it was off to my house, which, for a change, was quite clean in the rooms that weren’t sealed off. More chicken was consumed, and for dinner, giant juicy Costco steaks, coated with rub and tastefully incinerated on my nuclear grill at a safe and comfortable 725°. Served with cheesy toasts and wine, life was good. Also surprisingly grownup-like, with candles and music and a centerpiece and both of our laptops shoved firmly to the side. Not at all like my usual combination of a frozen dinner and a web browser.

Dessert was the fresh peaches she brought from Chicago, sliced, sugared, and milked, on freshly-baked canned biscuits, topped with crushed Shouga Tsumami (aka “Ginger Pinch”, aka “Ginger Crack”, aka “Ohmygodthesearegoodgivememore”).

Tuesday, February 2 2010


If I were offered the choice between a box of Honeycomb and sex with a supermodel, I’d have to ask which supermodel.

Tuesday, March 9 2010

Got salt? The fine is $1,000…

…or will be in the state of New York, if the dumbest state legislators in American history can manage to pass their new bill.

Not kidding:

“No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises.”

The “in any form” really puts the crown on these king-sized asshats. It’s amazing they managed to write a complete sentence, much less an actual bill.

Thursday, June 10 2010

Well, of course!

What else would they be?

(Continued on Page 3575)

Friday, August 27 2010

Things that are surely worse than coffee

I am not a coffee drinker. Growing up, I liked the smell, but the taste was always awful. I take my caffeine cold and sweet, and while there are ways to adulterate coffee to the point where I like it, they generally involve adding enough sugar and fat to turn it into a meal (I briefly acquired a taste for the Caramel Frappuccino, in the days when 60 grams of sugar didn’t earn a scolding from my doctor).

Still, I think I’d rather drink day-old truckstop paint-stripper coffee than dandelion, brown rice, or black soybean coffees, all available in Japan.

[dandelion root has apparently been used as a coffee substitute for a long time, but I guess I never knew anyone desperate enough to try it]

Thursday, August 4 2011


The haves and the have-nots of Frito-Lay

I confess, the one that caught my eye was the pig. I think a pork-positive icon would be more informative, given that most of their brands do not at first glance conjure up the image of delicious bacon fat. Indeed, in most product lines, almost everything has a no-porcine-enzymes icon on it, and many of the ones that are missing the icon are still listed on the pork-free page.

I’m not complaining about the detailed nutritional/allergy/religious information on their web site, I’m mostly just amused by their attempt to represent complex concepts with “clear” icons. In particular, the Baked icon that looks like Bacon, the nearly-identical Lactose-free and MSG-free bottles, and the Additive-free drop of oil.

Monday, September 19 2011

Note to self…

Never order the “taco hamburger” in Japan.

…because it’s made with tako.

(actually, it looked pretty good on the cooking show, basically a small okonomiyaki patty, but I can’t vouch for the texture)

Sunday, December 4 2011

Ridiculously good gyoza

Tenka Gyoza, located here in the Dotonbori neighborhood of Osaka. If you can’t read hiragana, it’s basically impossible to find without a picture of the sign and the knowledge that the entrance is in a narrow alley. A restaurant employee less than 60 feet away claimed she’d never heard of the place, but perhaps she was just jealous.

They’re open from 5:30pm to 11:30pm, and serve gyoza, beer, and shochu. It looks like the sort of tiny hole-in-the-wall place that fills up with businessmen who drink heavily, but we were the first customers of the day, and had the place to ourselves. The gyoza are bite-sized, nicely crisped, and incredibly tasty. I think we each had around 50. The woman running the place spoke no English, and the menu was in hand-written kanji that I couldn’t make out reliably, but all you need are three words: “gyoza, omakase, beer”. Oh, and “mo hitotsu” when you realize that you need more.

Their location on Google Maps is precise, but even if you’re using a smartphone with GPS, there’s enough interference to make you unsure of your location. Nellie and I had been shopping separately all day, and navigated separately to the right location, but since she couldn’t read the sign, she circled the block three times until I showed up.

So, assuming that most people I know will be coming up from shops in DenDen Town, let’s start at the Bic Camera on Sennichimae-dori. Cross the street to the north and enter the shopping arcade. Turn left at the third alley, walk about halfway down, and look up for this sign:

Tenka Gyoza entrance

Go in, and take the elevator to the third floor.

Wednesday, May 2 2012

The Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Diet

Doctor’s orders. The science is settled. I need more cholesterol.

So, basically, I get to google for “high cholesterol”, avoid all the foods they recommend, and eat all the foods they say to avoid. I love modern medicine.

Wednesday, June 27 2012

I will never understand Japanese snack foods

Mini Asparagus-shaped Black Sesame Biscuits

Monday, August 13 2012

Famous Last Words

“I hate to just waste the rest of this can of chipotles, so I’ll use them all.”

Tuesday, October 16 2012

“But without the bun…”

“…your hands would be covered in meat and cheese!”

cheeseburgers gone bad

“Okay, we’ll look into that.”

Friday, January 25 2013

“is believed to”

I love the wording in the description of Korean Roasted Bamboo Salt:

“The cooking process is believed to burn off the bad elements of ordinary sea salt transforming it into a new mineral.”

(apparently it’s graded by how many times it’s been roasted; also, it’s a folk remedy with the usual random list of curable ailments)

Monday, June 24 2013

Three weeks to T-Day

Twinkies return to the world on July 15th.

I plan to celebrate by buying exactly twice as many as I bought last year. So, zero.

Still, I expect there’ll be a large dish of Twinkiemisu at our next dojo party; the generic brand Chow used for the last party just wasn’t the same.

Friday, November 29 2013

What is this “turkey” you speak of?

My leftovers didn’t come from no bird:

Ribs from my smoker

(sadly, while Costco usually trims the silverskin, they apparently got too busy the day before Thanksgiving, so while these are delicious, the smoke didn’t penetrate the underside as thoroughly as I’d like)

Thursday, July 31 2014

Midwestern Paleo

Midwestern Paleo

Nothing says “born in Ohio” like processed meats, purchased in the middle of the night at Walmart.

And, yes, it’s one of my guilty pleasures, and after 20 years of not finding it in California groceries, a little light bulb went on and I tried the local Walmart. They also reliably stock the jalapeno bologna, so I can pretend to a more sophisticated palate.

I passed on the giant bag of Honeycomb cereal snack food, though. That’s a guilty pleasure that would earn a scolding from my doctor.

Friday, April 17 2015

Comfort food

Last time my sister and I were in Japan, one of her happiest discoveries was the nearby restaurant that served Katsu Curry Udon. Indeed, next time we’re in Kyoto, I suspect it will be at least a daily event. Sometime after, I casually suggested that one of our other mutual obsessions would work in this dish: Gyoza Curry Udon.

Gyoza curry udon

Oh yeah, that worked. I did cheat a bit, though:

(Continued on Page 4575)

Thursday, October 8 2015

Chef Paul, RIP

Paul Prudhomme has died at age 75, leaving behind a whole lot of good food. Make yourself a batch of “those potatoes” and think of him fondly as your arteries harden.

Monday, January 4 2016

Holiday In Review, Food Edition

As I mentioned earlier, it was nice having parents and sister for the holidays. The three weeks of cleaning and maintenance before they arrived were a bit frantic, though. And my fridge, freezer, and pantry are pretty darn stocked for a while; I kept telling them that if they didn’t eat a lot, I wouldn’t have to shop until Valentine’s Day.

Still, even with the place stocked up, we made some outings, in which we discovered such things as Envy apples (tasty, long shelf life, doesn’t brown when left out), Robata Grill Japanese restaurant in Carmel (terrific karaage, and how can you go wrong at a place that sells baconmaki appetizers?), and something I can’t link to, the Stonemill Kitchens Pretzel Bread Ring, which appears to be a Safeway-only item so exclusive that Stonemill’s web site doesn’t acknowledge it yet. And every time I buy one, the clerk is shocked that the store has such an item.

Also, not a new discovery, but we recommend Jamie Oliver’s Beef and Guinness Stew with Dumplings, although you probably want to increase the quantity on the stew; the dumplings absorb a lot of liquid. Also Vicolo Corn Meal Pizza Crusts, which I stocked up on for quick dinners.

Thursday, February 11 2016

Sous Vide and the Accidental Paleo Diet

A couple of weeks ago I bought the Anova Precision sous vide immersion circulator. Then I stopped off at Dong Vinh Restaurant Supply for some large plastic bins to hold the water, and Ikea for a few cheap accessories.

Since then, I’ve made terrific steak, roast beef, burgers, chicken breasts, eggs, and wings, all in convenient single-guy-living-alone serving sizes, and the larger bin will be filled with steaks for friends this weekend.

And, hey, it’s on sale on Amazon today for $140 instead of the usual $180:

Thursday, February 25 2016

Coffee and Wings bathing together

One of the interesting things about sous vide cooking is that if you’ve got the water at a certain temperature for a lengthy cooking session (such as 2-3 days for tough cuts of beef), you can toss in something else that cooks well at that temperature for a few hours (like steak or burgers).

It turns out that buffalo wings and coffee are compatible, although I suspect few hardcore coffee-drinkers are willing to wait two hours. But at least you’d have something to drink while the wings were getting crisped in the deep fryer.

Alternatively, the recipe also recommends one hour at 185°, which allows you to have coffee with your french fries.

Thursday, March 31 2016

Fuck you, Rachael Ray

The award for Most Annoying Verbal Tic On A TV Food Show has to go to Rachael Ray for constantly spelling out “EVOO” and immediately following it with the complete phrase “extra-virgin olive oil”. Made me want to drive a steak through her heart any time I accidentally flipped past one of her shows.

She didn’t invent the acronym, which predates her first cooking show by at least ten years, but she certainly made it trendy, to the point that things like this exist:

Evey oh-oh

Note that my local Safeway didn’t put this stuff with the salad dressings or the olive oils, instead squeezing it in between the cooking sherry and the balsamic vinegar. Probably not a top seller.

Tuesday, February 28 2017

Gevalia vs Starbucks

My preferred form of coffee is best described as “liquid pie”. That is, a sweet hot creamy beverage with a mild coffee flavor. Gevalia’s Mocha Latte k-cup with “froth packets” is perfect for this, once I’ve added two Mini-Moos and two or three Splendas. When I stir it all together before hitting the go-button on the Keurig, it looks and smells exactly like cupcake batter.

Suddenly, Safeway stopped carrying this. Coincidentally, Starbucks (which has a mini-store in every Safeway around here), has recently released their own direct competitor.

Since it was there and the Gevalia wasn’t, I tried it. Despite having twice as much sugar and twice as many calories, it wasn’t sweet, or creamy. In fact, it tasted exactly like cheap, gritty dark chocolate powder mixed with burned coffee. Which it is.