Saturday, July 31, 2010

Firm Retreat to New Mexico

I don't know what's gotten into me; I've had a baaaad case of blogger's ADHD, lately. I'll process the photos for one post, then by the time I get around to writing it, something else interesting has happened and I'll want to post about that, instead...with the result that I don't post anything at all. Perhaps there's something about July; I only managed to eke out a few posts this month last year, as well.

At any rate, I'd promised myself that I'd sit down and write a little something before this month was up - and I've got two hours left of July, so here I am.

We just returned from a lovely trip to Santa Fe for my firm's office retreat. Despite the fact that it rained on us for much of the trip, we had a marvelous time. For four days, the seventeen of us ate, rafted, squelched through the mud, admired New Mexico's finest scenery, talked about how to improve upon our office systems, and ate some more (my firm family loves to eat, too; I was not destined to be skinny). We even got to sneak in a little side trip to see our dear friends Dick & Elizabeth, and I also had what might quite possibly have been the best massage I've ever had (ask for Wanda...she magically made even the most persistent knots in my back disappear - and they are still gone, five days later). It had probably been fifteen years since I'd been to Santa Fe, and I'm already ready to go back.

Here are a few shots from our trip:


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One of my favorites, a Hipstamatic shot of the Rio Grande Gorge.

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The koi pond at Ten Thousand Waves.

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Amazingly tame hummingbirds at Dick & Elizabeth's house. I was just a few inches from these little guys, and they were oblivious (if you want to see a truly gorgeous hummingbird photo, click the "Coyote's Camera" link to the left of this page).

Best thing about New Mexico: the evocative skies, so beautifully framed by the terrain -

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The Land of Enchantment, indeed.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Brazilian Beef Empadinhas

It's summertime, which means that it's time once again to indulge in Brazilian meat. Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, honey (or is that my mind...?); I'm talking about my friend Phillip's annual churrasco!

You may remember that last year, I strayed from the theme and made cupcakes for the occasion. Well, Phillip decided to put a nix on that this year and instead asked me to bring Brazilian empadinhas.

Empadinhas are similar to empanadas, except that the Brazilian version is akin to a meat pie as opposed to a half-moon turnover. According to Wikipedia, larger, entrée-sized versions are called empadas, whereas the appetizer-sized ones are called empadinhas. Since Phillip had the main course covered, I was tackling the latter.

I had never experienced the real thing and wasn't quite sure what I was going for, so I really wanted to start with a base recipe. I was surprised to find that nearly every recipe for meat empadinhas published online was in Portugese; just when I was trying to wrap my brain around how to convert deciliters to something I actually had the ability to measure, a Google scholar friend finally pointed me to this one from Blazing Hot Wok (thanks, P!).

I enlisted Chris' help, and we made a double-batch of the crust following Blazing Hot Wok's recipe exactly, except that our food processor was too small to handle it and we ended up mixing it by hand. For the filling, I had my heart set on beef, so I substituted ground beef, nixed the olives, and used beef broth rather than chicken. I went with the hearts of palm rather than the artichokes in the recipe, as I thought they would let the beefy flavor shine through a bit more.

All in all, I was very happy with the results, but since we didn't have official empadinha molds, we used mini muffin tins, which aren't really very well-suited for this process - mostly because they're so damn small. It was a *$#(@ putting the tops on the little pies and we ended up cutting the dough with biscuit cutters, then rolling each little circle out further by hand, which meant that both the dough and us were a little overworked. It took three hours for the two of us to make four dozen of these babies.

Were I to make these again, I'd make entrée-sized versions (which would be a cinch) or I'd thumb my nose at Brazilian tradition and make turnover-shaped ones. Tradition aside, I think they would be just as delicious.

The recipe, as adapted from Blazing Hot Wok:

Brazilian Beef Empadinhas

For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 1/2 oz cold butter, cut into pieces
2 eggs, divided (1 whole egg + 1 yolk for crust and white for egg wash)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
cold water, as needed

For the filling:
16 oz ground beef
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup finely chopped hearts of palm (fresh or in water, not marinated)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 T all-purpose flour
2 T tomato paste
about 1/2 cup to 1 cup beef broth
salt, to taste

Blazing Hot Wok suggests making this crust with a food processor. However, ours was too small, so we did it using a couple of butter knives.

Combine the dry ingredients with the butter and pulse until the butter is cut into the flour. Add one whole egg and the yolk of the other and pulse until they are incorporated. Pulse while adding enough cold water to just bring the dough together. Transfer to a clean surface and bring the dough together into a clump. If it's too sticky add a little more flour. If it's too dry, add a little more liquid, but do not knead it. Wrap the clump in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge while you make the filling.

In a skillet, sautee the garlic and onions in olive oil until soft. Add the raw ground beef and sautee until it is cooked through. Add the hearts of palm and tomato paste. Mix well. Sprinkle the flour on top and stir to incorporate it. Add the broth slowly in increments. Mix well after each addition. Use just enough liquid to get a pasty filling. Heat through and season with salt.

To assemble the pies, roll out the dough to fit into the mini-pie pans so there is a little overhang. Since we were making mini-pies and I didn't want the crust to be too thick, we rolled ours out, cut it with 4" diameter biscuit cutters, then rolled each round out again a little further.


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Filling the crusts. It is a LOT easier to put the tops on if the is a fair amount of excess dough on the bottom.

You'll also need a top (again, we used biscuit cutters for these, and just didn't roll them out as much afterwards). If necessary, sprinkle a little flour on the dough as needed to keep it from sticking. Use enough of the meat mixture to fill a little over the level of the mold. Place the top on and pinch the top and bottom crusts together. To keep the pies from popping open, roll the seam inward. Brush lightly with egg white and bake in 375F oven until golden, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Army o' meat pies

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Uno

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Yummy, meaty goodness!

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Uchiko

I feel quite sure that Uchiko must hold some sort of record for most people served before its actual opening day. I don't know that I have much to add to the clamor of tweets and blog posts already in existence, but since I took a ridiculous number of photos at this meal (57), I figured I may as well post them, along with my brief comments about each menu item I tried for those of you who may be headed there in the future.

Interior by Michael Hsu, who seems to be the go-to guy for restaurant design these days. The space is larger and more open than Uchi's, and has a nice-sized private room that would be great for accommodating a swanky private or corporate gathering.


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Uchiko has a backwards-L-shaped interior; this is the top part of the L.

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The sushi bar, with kitchen behind it.

I was excited to be joined in this first venture to Uchiko by my friend Liz, as we share similar food tastes (and she puts up with my ridiculous picture taking). After agonizing over the menu, we ended up ordering eight things to share, plus two pieces of nigiri each and a dessert. With the food at half off, we couldn't miss the opportunity to try as much as possible. Note that the prices listed below are the actual menu prices without the soft opening discount.

First we selected our drinks - I had a couple of pan am's ($12) - sake, agua fresca, granny smith, rosemary. Light and refreshing without being too sweet.

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Pan Am

Our meal started out rather benignly, with a bowl of edamame ($3):

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Yeah, I know. Kind of a yawner.

Next up, the kai jiru ($6) - Atlantic mussels, celery, and basil blossom in an heirloom tomato water bath. The glass appeared to be tiny, but there were actually six mussels in our serving - plenty to go around. I liked this dish, but it didn't blow me away the way some of the later dishes did.

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Kai Jiru

Then the koviche arrived ($19) - raw day boat scallops served over tomatillos with kalamata, black lime, and white pepper. I started to swoon after my first bite. Absolutely amazing; the tangy, salty, sharpness provided a wonderfully balancing zing to the fresh, mild scallops.

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Koviche

At first blush, the tempura nasu ($4) seemed boring in comparison to the utter delight that was the koviche. But the tempura was truly a perfect specimen - not at all greasy and so expertly fried. I was impressed, although neither Liz nor I were fond of the sweet chili sauce that was served with it and opted for a drop or two of plain soy sauce, instead.

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Tempura Nasu

Our nigiri arrived next. I had chosen a piece of gyutan ($3) - grilled beef tongue with fish caramel and maldon.

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Gyutan nigiri

The mere thought of this bite still leaves me a bit short of breath, over a week later. Although I tasted many fantastic things during this meal, the flavor of this particular morsel has for some reason been the one that has lingered most vividly in my memory: slightly smoky and tender, with barely perceptible hints of sweetness from the fish caramel and the rice that caught me by surprise. Fan-freaking-tastic.

The description for my other nigiri choice, the hirame ($3), sounded intriguing: Atlantic flounder combined with black lime, shiso, and quinoa candy. Alas, it didn't turn out to be as good as it sounded; it was far too mild overall, and if there were any interesting nuances, I was unable to detect them.

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Hirame

Liz had ordered a piece of nasu nigiri ($2) as one of her two pieces - Japanese eggplant and sumiso, which my Googling leads me to believe is a mustard-miso dressing. Happily, they brought us an extra piece. I would never have ordered this, but I definitely would again. Tender, flavorful eggplant over sushi rice is a fine, fine combination.

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Nasu nigiri

Our lone sushi roll of the evening was the umaso ($9) - hiramasa with negi, lemongrass oil, avocado, and myoga.

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Umaso roll

There was nothing bad about this, but it certainly did not stand out, either. I found the lemongrass oil to be too...oily (go figure), and the flavor overall just didn't seem like anything special. I wouldn't order this again.

Are you getting full, yet? Believe it or not, we were still going strong at this point. But we're professionals. Don't try this at home. Just kidding...I strongly encourage you to try this at home. Please invite me. Especially when you eat our next dish, the Bacon Sen ($18) - Berkshire pork belly paired with fried apple puree and apple kim chee. Yes. Apple kim chee.

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Bacon Sen

Truth be told, you really can't go wrong with pork belly, in my book. But I have to give a thumbs-up to the whole apple kim chee idea. Ingenious.

The Ao Saba ($12) was our next selection. Norweigan mackerel was grilled and paired with bluefoot mushrooms, onion, juniper, and huckleberry.

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Ao Saba

Honestly, I think this was my least favorite dish of the meal. The flounder was fishy, the onions were sharp and very raw, and the huckleberry was too sweet. It just wasn't working for me (although I did help with finishing it, so...).

Fortunately, we got to chase it with this:

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Behold the Usagi Yaki ($18), a rabbit torchon topped with a poached egg and a simply lovely pear mostarda. The meat topped with the egg was so rich and succulent, and the pear mostarda was able to cut the heaviness just enough without interfering. Truly wonderful.

As with so many of life's great things, our meal had to finally draw to an end. We topped it off with Uchiko's sweet corn sorbet ($9) with polenta custard, caramel salt, and lemon. Not too sweet, with a surprisingly crunchy crust and a mild but interesting flavor.

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Sweet Corn Sorbet

All in all, this was an excellent first outing, particularly considering the fact that we were still within Uchiko's soft opening period. Service was remarkably attentive; we were waited on by no less than five different people (we did have one main server, whose name I somehow failed to get), all of whom were very friendly and obviously knowledgeable about the menu. The only minor concern I have about this system is that it lacked a little bit of continuity; for example, the server who brought our dessert told us it was on the house, but when our main server brought the bill, we had been charged for it. We didn't feel right about complaining, particularly since the food had all been half off, but it was a little disappointing, particularly since we'd read so many blog posts by other diners who had received 2-3 dishes for free.

But in the grand scheme of things, that's clearly a minor complaint. We were so grateful to be able to experience Uchiko at half the regular price and before the long waits that accompany a visit to Uchiko's sister restaurant, Uchi, had arrived. And now that I've sampled so much of the menu, I'll know just where to point my chopsticks next time.

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