Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Pepper Sauce goes well with anything.

Very few things make me nostalgic about anything concerning my childhood. But I have to say that black pepper sauce is of those things that elicit childhood memories.

One of the only childhood memories I have with my dad involves black pepper sauce. We didn't eat well growing up, neither parent had the inclination to bother, and we didn't have the $ to eat out with any regularity.

But, sometime between the age of 4-6, for whatever reason, my mother had one of her extended absences abroad. I don't precisely remember why my brother wasn't around, but somehow my dad and I ended up at a "steakhouse."

Keep in mind, this was in the mid-late 1980s, and Taiwan had barely just emerged from under martial law, we didn't really have THAT much culinary contact with the outside world, so "steaks" were really more like sad little cuts of beef from an old water buffalo or maybe an old cow. It definitely wasn't one of them fancy American or Australian imported steaks.

But it was cheap. For something like $2.50 USD, the "steak" came to your table sizzling on a hotplate, with black pepper sauce, with an egg (sunny side up), vegetables, and pasta. And not just any regular pasta (which we had plenty of in Taiwan), but WESTERN extruded pasta (i.e. macaroni). WOW!

I was a child, and didn't really know how to use this strange WESTERN knife and fork business (where's my chopstick?), so I spent about 90 minutes gnawing on this rather dry little "steak" that sat in a puddle of black pepper sauce. I distinctly remember how proud my dad was that I had finished this thing, even if it took 90 minutes (or maybe it was relief? I was a kid, who knows!).

Objectively speaking the steak was dry and old beef, but for me that was one of the more memorable meals.

With that old country tale being told, let me get to the actual cooking.

You can make your own black pepper sauce, but I didn't bother. I endorse Lee Kum Kee's black pepper sauce. It works, and you can find it at any respectable East Asian food mart.

I sliced an onion. Sauteed it in an oiled skillet at medium-high heat until they're brown, then added a pound of bite-sized chicken.

You can use lamb, beef, or whatever protein that builds your muscles. Saute until the surface of the protein is cooked, and add your vegetables. We opted for peas.

Add some chicken stock, some pepper sauce, and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

You can eat it over rice, or chose to do the "Western" thing and eat it over some rotini.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

"AUTHENTIC" Iron Chef Panko.

I'm a big fan of frying things coated with panko. Panko (パン粉) is basically a type of Japanese unseasoned bread crumb. I prefer it over regular North American bread crumbs because it provides a more crispy texture, and doesn't coat as thick as the silica-texture bread crumbs.

Being a fan of buying non-perishable food items in bulk, I couldn't resist giving Costco's "IRON CHEF AUTHENTIC PANKO" a shot. Admittedly I was a little suspicious at the "authentic" panko, but after trying it on pork katsu, I'm happy to report it works.

I award this product five out of five truffles.

I've talked about the recipe before, but this time I've got pictures. I've also substituted flour with cornstarch. The cornstarch undercoat is more delicate than flour, and does a better job gluing the panko to the pork.

1. Flatten a piece of pork. You can use a heavy skillet, or if you have bear-paws in place of hands or pent up frustration, use your hands. I prefer to work with tools, so I used a hammer. For hygienic reasons, I placed the pork in a freezer bag.

The hammer is my friend. I use it to flatten cutlets of meat,
and strike down upon my enemies with great vengeance and uh... nvamind!

2. Dust the pork (now flattened) with corn starch.

3. Crack an egg. Mix it up. Dunk the flattened pork in the egg.

4. Dunk the pork in a plate full of panko. Coat it evenly but not excessively, shake off the loose panko. Loose panko in hot oil = nasty burnt bits in the panb.

5. Fry in a pan. 



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Japanese "Departure" Assistants are really professional.

I love foreign films. Foreign films often romanticize the "routine," which brings a fresh breathe of air to the unfamiliar/culturally different audience.

The Departures [2008] is one of these films. The film begins with the protagonist, Daigo (Masahiro Motoki), who plays an expensive cello for an orchestra in Tokyo. Life is great, it is his dream job.

Unfortunately, the orchestra doesn't make enough dough, and is dissolved (AWWWWW).

Daigo sells his expensive cello, and moves back to his hometown to live in his childhood home (left to him after the passing of his single-mother). Daigo doesn't remember what his dad looks like, because he is an ass, and left them when he was a child.

Oh I forgot to mention, he is married to a Japanese stereotypical housewife, Mika. She cooks, cleans, and basically provides martial consortium.

Anyway - he has a tough time finding a job, because the demand for cellists in Sakata is like demand for young unconnected foreign attorneys in Pittsburgh. So he responds to a job posting for "assisting departures," thinking it is some sort of travel agency job.

Nope. He is mortified to find that the gig is actually for preparing the deceased for their "departure." He doesn't embalm people, so he doesn't smell like formaldehyde (I can tell you from experience that it does smell pretty bad and stings like hell if you get it in your eye). Basically he cleans, dresses, and makeup the deceased in a ceremony that is witnessed by the decedent's family. The "departure" preparation is very much like a tea ceremony, involving slow, intentional, and delicate movements.

The "departure" assistants dress like American lawyers, only the assistants wear three-button suits, which IMO has a slimming effect for people who carry a little weight, but not suitable for fat people. That is probably why the two-button suit is more popular in North America, because people are fat. But I'm getting off topic, these people dress very well.

<cultural anthropology>
For those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, this might seem like an odd thing, but traditionally, Japanese people really dislike "unclean" things. These "unclean" things include butchering, tanning, etc... basically any job that deals with the dead.

In the old days, these jobs were reserved for people called Burakumin (部落民). Basically outcast people who would live in their own secluded ghettos. While the feudal cast system has been outlawed, you won't find too many people lining up to deal with the dead. Working in such an industry doesn't just mean you're working, but you're actually socially of a lower class.

Ok! Back to the film review!
</cultural anthropology>

Anyway, Daigo begins assisting working in the trade, but he doesn't tell his wife. Because she wouldn't understand, but likes the high-quality beef he's bringing home.

The film sort of shows Daigo slowly mastering the art of respectfully preparing the dead, and usually the decedent's relatives are extremely grateful (even if they initially are wary and annoyed at these "dirty" departure assistants).

Mika inevitably finds out about her husband's "dirty job," and leaves him when he refuses to quit the job. Daigo keeps on working, and eventually Mika comes back after learning she is pregnant (Daigo just assumes he the father, but he does seem like the gullible type).

The climax of the film basically involves Daigo being notified that his father (yes the deserting scumbag) has passed away. He initially refuses to go see his deceased father, but yields to peer pressure. With his usual role reversed, he becomes very upset when watching two amateurs "departure" assistants roughly mishandle his father's corpse. He takes over - prepares his father with precision and grace, and all is well. Awwwww. How cute.

Anyway, there are also several scenes of "normal life" - captured and romanticized for the audience. In one particular scene, Daigo visits this quaint Sentō (銭湯), a public bath, which is privately owned and operated by this elderly lady, who heats the spring bathwater with a wood fire.

The scene also gives insight to the proper Japanese bathing etiquette. A bather is supposed to wash themselves clean before entering the soaking bath. The bath is also not a swimming pool. If you have the opportunity to visit a public bath in Japan, please don't reinforce the gaijin stereotype by jumping into the bath, soaping up, and blowing bubbles. That's just not cool.

Daigo enjoying a friendly chat in a public bath.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Moroccan" Stew with couscous.

When you mix French colonial influence with the culinary and mercantile traditions of North African Arabic culture, you get great food. I've made this particular stew combination with both beef and chicken, either way it tastes great.

        • 1 lb of protein (ground beef, ground lamb, bite sized chicken, mystery meat)
        • 2 onions (chopped)
        • 4 crushed cloves of garlic
        • 2 cups of frozen vegetables
        • 2 cans of chickpeas (drained)
        • 1/2 tsp of salt
        • 1/2 tsp of ground pepper
        • 2 tsp of ground cumin
        • 2 tsp of ground turmeric
        • 2 tsp of paprika
        • 4 cups of broth/stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
        • 1/4 cup of raisins

Heat a large pot. Saute the garlic with the onions until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the frozen vegetables, and saute them until the mixture is warm. Add the chickpeas, salt and all the spices. Stir.

At this point in the cooking process, you'll want to add the protein if it is something like ground beef or dark chicken meat. If you're cooking with white chicken meat (i.e. chicken tender/breast), you'll want to hold off until about 25 minutes before serving.

Add the raisins and broth/stock, and bring the pot up to a boil and simmer for approximately 30 minutes.

In the meantime, you can get started on the couscous.

        • 2/3 tsp of salt
        • 1/3 tsp of ground turmeric
        • 1 cup of broth/stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
        • 3 tsp of olive oil
        • 1 cup of couscous

In a separate pot, bring the broth/stock up to a gentle boil, add the oil, salt and ground turmeric, and turn off the heat. Then add the couscous and stir. If the couscous is a little wet after a few minutes of stirring, add some more couscous. Since the stew will be served over a bed of couscous, it is better to err on the side of having couscous that is a tad bit dry.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dealing with Range Anxiety.

Electrical vehicles rely on motors powered by battery packs for motion. Unlike conventional fuels, one cannot just pull into a fueling station and refill the tank in a matter of minutes. This introduces the issue of Range Anxiety, the concern by the vehicle operator that the battery packs do not have sufficient energy for the vehicle to reach his/her intended destination.

The Chevy Volt deals with this by using a gasoline engine, which basically turns the Volt into a hybrid-vehicle when it is out of battery power. Unfortunately, this solution is wasteful and inefficient. Not only is the Volt constantly lugging around an internal combustion engine, it is also carrying heavy transmission components, a fuel tank, and emissions control devices (think mufflers, tailpipes, catalytic converters). All this adds up to weight, which has to be lugged around and ironically decreases its all-battery range.

When the Volt is out of electrical power, it is estimated to average less mpg than the best conventional hybrids (~37mpg), and basically match the more efficient conventional vehicles (while requiring premium gasoline). The Volt will also generate more carbon emissions than the Toyota Prius, the Volkswagen Jetta/Golf TDI, and other partial-zero emission vehicles.

So what's the better solution?

Rendering by Artistically challenged Artist.
A detachable diesel generator trailer! One which could be detached when the driver is just commuting within the range of the electric vehicle, but that could be hitched for road trip and what not that require additional distance!

A diesel generator will be able to hum along at relatively constant power load, but basically it'll be selected based on the load necessary to keep the LEAF humming along. Engineers can go figure out things like maximum power, prime power rating, load combination, and obviously emission levels. I just do concepts and make poorly rendered drawings.