Friday, March 27, 2015

Street Food in Playa del Carmen

El Rey del Taco in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

We recently spent a blissful two weeks relaxing at the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. When we weren't swimming in the ocean, chances were that we were getting something to eat. Playa is super touristy right by the beach, but you only have to get a few blocks inland to mostly get away from that.

We really enjoyed the street food in Playa. These are some of our favorites out of the spots we found.

El Rey del Taco
Arrachera and Campechanos El Rey del Taco in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Pictured at the top of the post, El Rey del Taco serves up a variety of tacos, including arrachera (skirt steak) and campechanos (steak with chorizo). They are located on the southwest side of the parking lot of the Mega supermarket on 30th. They start business around 4pm, but there is a similar cart on the opposite side of the parking lot earlier in the day.

Kuni in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Also located on the southwest side of the Mega parking lot is Kuni, a seafood taco cart. Most of their business is making very tasty shrimp tacos:

Shrimp tacos at Kuni in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Their fish tacos are also good. I'm not sure of their exact hours, but they were usually there around mid-day and didn't seem to go very late into the afternoon.

Salbutes in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Salbutes are freshly deep-fried discs of dough (a mixture of masa and flour, I think), topped with a variety of condiments. We stumbled across a stand on Avenida 25 across from the Walmart that makes very fine examples indeed:

Salbutes in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

These ones are topped with shredded chicken (they also did ground meat and egg versions). We enjoyed these for breakfast twice - we found this place late in our stay or we would have eaten there even more. They also do empanadas - the same fried dough, but with a filling inside. We never got past the awesome salbutes, though...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Smoking a Picnic Ham

Smoked Picnic Ham

While grocery shopping this past holiday season, we found ourselves unable to resist buying a lovely, and inexpensive, fresh pork picnic "ham". I say "ham" because it wasn't ham yet, but it was soon to be.

The picnic cut is the shank end of the pork shoulder (the other half of the shoulder is the pork "butt" - the cut often used for pulled pork). The meat on the picnic is a bit darker and tighter, and is perfect for turning into ham. The picnics we've used have been around ten pounds.

Smoked Picnic Ham

The process is actually quite simple. The first step is to put it in a salty brine in a cool place (we use a cooler in our beer-chest at about 45 degrees F).

The brine is 10 liters of water, 500g kosher salt, 100g pink salt (curing salt), 75g sugar, 75g brown sugar, 1 T black pepper corns, 2 t coriander seeds, 1 t yellow mustard seed.

We boil part of the solution for a few minutes to soften the spices, add water to reach 10 liters and cool to 40 degrees F before adding to the pork.

Smoked Picnic Ham

After six days in the brine, take it out, rinse it, dry it off well and put it into the refrigerator uncovered for two more days. This allows the skin and surface to dry a bit which allows it to take up the smoke more readily.

Smoked Picnic Ham

After brining and drying, it is time to smoke. We use our Weber Smokey Mountain with apple and pecan wood smoke for 7 to 8 hours. Keep the smoker at about 180 degrees F for the first couple hours, then up to 215-230 for the next four-five hours, finishing at 240-250 degrees the last hour or two until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Here is what it looks like when it comes off of the smoker:

Smoked Picnic Ham

Make sure you plan to feature the ham in a meal the same day you smoke it - it is super good hot off of the smoker.

Smoked Picnic Ham

No need to do anything fancy - just slice it and eat it. Yum!

Smoked Picnic Ham

The part of the ham under the skin has a nice fat layer that is reminiscent of pork belly:

Smoked Picnic Ham

We've  found that these fattier slices make a nice substitute for chashu in ramen:

Smoked Picnic Ham

Ham is now solidly in our list of things we make instead of buy. If you've got a smoker, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Homemade Fermented Rice Wine

With just a few simple ingredients and a bit of time, you can make your own homemade rice wine. It is very easy to do and it tastes delicious. All you need is glutinous rice and a special kind of yeast. The resulting wine is fruity and slightly sweet. It is nice to drink straight, and can also be used in cooking where you would use mirin or sake.

The key ingredient (apart from the rice, of course), and probably the hardest to find, is the yeast. Specifically designed for making rice wine, it come in little balls like this:

We got ours from the 99 Ranch Asian supermarket. They were sold in a package containing a few dozen individually wrapped pairs of yeast balls, and were labeled "Rice Cake".

The preferred rice to use is glutenous rice (also known as "sticky" or "sweet" rice). It gets prepared just as you would for eating - we used our rice cooker. For our 2 liter jar we started with about 650g (3 measuring cups, or 4 rice-cooker cups) of uncooked rice.

After the rice is cooked, spread it out on a sheet pan. Once it has cooled, it is time to put in a container to ferment.

Put a yeast ball in a bowl and smash it into a fine powder. Scoop a layer of rice an inch or two thick into the container and sprinkle some of the yeast powder on top. Repeat this process until the container is filled.

That's it! Now it is time to wait. After a day or so, you will begin to see signs of activity as the yeast get to work. Carbon-dioxide gas bubbles will be generated as the alcohol is produced, so don't seal it too tightly. As the yeast break down the rice, the liquid wine will begin to pool at the bottom of the container. Here is what ours looked like after two days:

Try a little taste of the wine every day or two as it progresses - it tastes good straight from the beginning and it definitely changes over time.

Here is our wine after four days - you can see how much more liquid has pooled at the bottom:

This is a taster we poured at the four day mark. The wine is fruity, slightly effervescent, and really enjoyable:

We let this batch go for a total of 14 days. At this point the wine had lost its effervescence, but remained fruity, slightly sweet and creamy, with a pleasant alcohol kick.

We poured it through a square of cheese cloth to remove the rice hulls, transferred the wine to a bottle, and refrigerated it for storing and serving. The resulting rice wine will be fairly cloudy at first, with fine rice particles mixed in. If you let it stand in the fridge, it will clarify and separate with a dense layer of white sediment at the bottom. You can pour the clarified wine off, but it isn't necessary to do so.

After our success with this first test batch, we did a much larger batch using a beer fermentation bucket. The process was the same - just with a larger volume of rice.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holidays 2013 - A Fishy Feast and Other Treats

We've had relaxing and tasty holiday season thus far. We kicked things off Monday evening with happy hour at California Kebab. We'd had their current batch of Pig Nose Pale at the recent Bikes, Boards and Brews festival here in Pacific Beach and were happy to find it on tap at the brewery. Pig Nose is probably my current favorite low(ish) ABV west-coast-style IPA.

And the view never gets old:

View from California Kebab

Christmas Eve we had our annual "Feast of the Seven Fishes" dinner. This year we did a Korean meal.

We started out with Shrimp and Kimchi Jeon:

For banchan, we had Odeng Bokkeum (fried fishcake), along with cucumber pickles, and kimchi:

The main event was a Seafood Jjigae. We've been making Jjigae at home for a while, now, but we've been cheating by using soup mix packets. This was our first time making stock from scratch - a mixture of dried anchovy, kombu, onion, garlic, shiitake and a few dried shrimp:

After straining you end up with a nicely savory stock:

For the Jjigae, we heated minced garlic, onion, and Korean chile powder in our individual Jjigae bowls:

We added a cup of the stock along with a bit of soft tofu, our fish and seafood (white sea bass, squid, bay scallops and asari clams), and some kale for color.

It turned out really well. Spicy, savory and rich with seafood flavor.

For Christmas dinner, we roasted a pork shoulder in the oven at low heat for 5 hours. The house smelled amazing, and the pork came out perfectly moist and sticky.

Last night we used leftover seafood and anchovy stock to make Chawanmushi:

We also have a few ongoing food projects. We brewed up a batch of our Imperial Stout earlier in the week and it has been happily bubbling away.

We also couldn't resist picking up a 10lb pork picnic shoulder roast to transform into a ham. It is currently brining in our beer fridge, and will later get smoked. It is our first time doing a ham, and we are really looking forward to the result!

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Baja Cheese - A Visit to La Cava de Marcelo

La Cava de Marcello

We spent the day last Saturday on an expedition down to Baja with Queso Diego. Our destination was La Cava de Marcelo, a small dairy farm and cheese making operation located about 45 minutes east of Ensenada on the road to San Felipe.

As is often the case in Mexico, the trip down was a bit of an adventure with some bumps (some figurative, some literal) along the way, but we eventually found ourselves in a lovely setting - glass of wine in hand.

We took a tour of the operation, complete with the requisite calf-petting station:

La Cava de Marcello

a visit to the cheese-making area:

La Cava de Marcello

and, of course, some tasting - ricotta (good) and butter (great!) on smoky grilled bread:

La Cava de Marcello

The cheese cave is set down into the basement of one of the buildings:

La Cava de Marcello

The cave also doubles as a tasting area where we tried the pressed cheeses - plain and three flavors - basil, black pepper, and rosemary. We also tried the same basic cheese, but aged 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years.

There is also a restaurant on premises where we enjoyed a very nice dinner from their interesting and varied menu.

La Cava de Marcello

We picked up a round of their cracked pepper-flavored cheese to take home with us:

La Cava de Marcello

Cheers to Queso Diego for organizing the trip!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Making Homemade Tofu

Homemade Tofu

We picked up Andrea Nguyen's excellent book, Asian Tofu, on a whim a couple of years ago. We haven't historically eaten a lot of tofu, but the idea that you could make it at home seemed intriguing.

Why make your own tofu? It is just better than what you can buy at the store. It tastes better and has a nicer texture. And once you get the hang of it, it really isn't that difficult to do. Our first batch was a revelation, and ever since then we've been making fresh, homemade tofu on regular basis.

It all starts with soy beans. Soak them overnight and they turn from hard little round balls into the familiar bean shape:

Homemade Tofu

They get blended with cool water:

Homemade Tofu

until you have a smooth, frothy milkshake type mixture:

Homemade Tofu

The bean puree gets put into a pot with some additional water and heated over medium high heat until a thick foam layer forms on top - similar to fluffy, beaten egg whites. You need to watch the pot carefully here, as the foam forms suddenly and rises quickly toward the top of the pot. It's pretty obvious when the change occurs - take it off the heat at that point.

Homemade Tofu

Set a colander over another pot and line it with fine cheesecloth or butter muslin. Ladle in the cooked mixture and let it drain.

Homemade Tofu

Once the solids have cooled enough, you need to twist, prod, and squeeze the mass to extract as much soy milk as you can. It's the soy milk that will eventually be made into tofu.

Homemade Tofu

Inside the bag you have the ground up soy bean solids, called the lees. They get a little more water added to them and then the cheese cloth gets squeezed again, removing even more soy milk. The lees can be discarded or cooked in other products. They're grainy and don't have much flavor, but still contain nutrients.

Homemade Tofu

The resulting soy milk gets cooked at a very low simmer for five to ten minutes in order to make it fully digestible.We don't typically use soy milk directly, but if you do then at this stage you have your own homemade version.

Finally a coagulant needs to be added, causing the soy milk to set into curds, similar to making cheese - but easier! We've used a couple different coagulants. The one pictured below is gypsum, a water hardener purchased at our local home brew supply shop. It's a fine white powder mixed with water before stirring into the soy milk.

Homemade Tofu

More recently we've been using nigari, a clear liquid of salts made from sea water. It can be found at Japanese supermarkets. In our experience, the nigari makes a more smoothly textured tofu.

The warm soy milk gets strongly agitated while blending in the coagulant, then it is set aside to rest for about five minutes. A little more coagulant is added to the surface, and after another five minutes or so, milky curds will have formed and separated from the clear, yellowish liquid. At this point it can help to gently press the curds in the pot and scoop out as much liquid as possible before attempting to deal with the curds.

Homemade Tofu

For the block tofu we've been making, the curds need to be ladled into a cloth-lined mold for shaping and pressing.

Homemade Tofu

We don't have a traditional rectangular tofu mold, but we happen to have a wooden sushi box press (an oshizushi mold), and it has served us well. You can also use a lined colander or other mold - it just needs to have outlets to release the excess liquid.

Homemade Tofu

Depending upon the firmness you desire, pressing only takes 15 to 30 minutes. Of course the time is also dependent upon the amount of weight applied. As you can see here, we've been a bit creative in our selection and application of weights...

Homemade Tofu

We generally press the block to about three-quarters of its original height. Then it gets submersed in cool water to help it set before moving it to a storage container.

Homemade Tofu

We've had good success with keeping it fresh in the refrigerator for more than a week - the key is to keep it completely covered with water, by at least half an inch. However, this tofu is so good and tasty that it rarely lasts that long!

For exact instruction for making various styles of tofu, along with a host of great recipes for using it, I highly recommend the book that got us started - Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu.