February 25, 2009

Sushi in 'Da Burbs

For whatever reason, I've eaten out more often than usual over the last two months. One place I've returned to several times is Yama Sushi on Rt. 228 in Cranberry/Seven Fields. Overall, the quality of the sushi and entrees we've had has been quite good.

Yama Sushi on Urbanspoon

First, the raw stuff. It's always been respectable, and at times has bordered on excellent. The yellow tail has been the most consistent performer. The tuna and salmon have been uneven, really enjoyable on one or two occasions and unremarkable on others. The fluke was particularly tender and tasty. The few rolls we've had have also been well prepared and fresh.

The apps and entrees. Again, these have been consistently good. The do bin mushi soup was really enjoyable: good portion of seafood and fresh, bright but tame flavors. Same for the nabe yaki udon noodles. Neither bowls you over, but simple and welcoming to eat.

I went for lunch one day and, for some strange reason, got the salmon teriyaki bento box. I say strange because I long ago stopped ordering salmon -- well, cooked salmon -- in restaurants. It's like there is a rule that salmon must be overcooked and underseasoned. And teriyaki just has come to be synonymous for overly sweet and sticky.

But, for whatever reason, on this day, teriyaki salmon sounded good. And it didn't disappoint. The salmon was moist. The teriyaki had a nice balance of tang and savory, and it really complemented the salmon instead of overwhelming it...

Food dork alert: On the Top Chef finale, Stefan just used a curse word and it was not bleeped out. I assume that will be edited out when it's replayed later this week in the middle of the afternoon. OK, back to your regularly scheduled food blog...

Accompanying the salmon were some perfectly steamed veg and a large "cup" of miso soup. An enjoyable lunch, indeed.

There aren't many options for sushi out this way, and Yama Sushi does its sushi and nonsushi offerings pretty darn well. Unfortunately, I've never seen it overly busy, so I hope it survives. I'll be one sad puppy if it doesn't.

A Bean by a Fancy Name...

In the summers, my favorite green bean dish has been grilled "Kentucky wonder beans" with prosciutto and some Parmesan.

Thanks to McGinnis Sisters, I think I've found my favorite winter green bean dish: Haricots verts (aka, skinny green beans) with fried shallots and sage.

Had these with some chicken thighs/legs that I coated in a mix of diced herbs, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few splashes of balsamic and then grilled (gotta love those unseasonably warm February days).

Haricots Verts with Fried Goodies
  • half-pound of Haricots Verts, cleaned
  • 2 tablespoons of sliced sage
  • 3 tablespoons of thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Quarter lemon
Get a small pan of well-salted water boiling. Put olive oil in a small sauce pan over medium/medium-high heat.

After a minute or two, add the shallots to the pan with the oil. After about 2-3 minutes, when the shallots are starting to look like they're moving past tender, add the green beans to the water and put the sage in the pan with the shallots.

When the shallots are starting to brown, approximately 2 minutes, remove from the heat. Beans should be in the boiling water for 2 minutes, max.

Drain the beans in a colander, put in a bowl. Remove the sage and shallots from the oil mixture with tongs or a slotted spoon and add to the beans.

Get about a tablespoon of the olive oil from the pan and add to the bowl. Add a squeeze of the lemon and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve immediately.

February 22, 2009

Respect the Crust

Hey, dude. It's been a while. What's cookin'?

Well, tonight, it was eggplant parm. Pretty good. Last week had this white bean soup with scallions and tarragon. Yum.

Umm, I meant, why no posts recently?

Oh. Duh! Sorry about that. No reason, really. Lazy, I guess. I'll have a few this week.

Good. Otherwise I'll have to keep reading those blogs that actually get some traffic...

Thanks. I think.

Onto more important things. Crust. Pizza crust.

I really never thought I'd have to write something about pizza crust. My wife thinks this is just another example of my food insanity. Perhaps. But I must push on.

We were supposed to eat at Tessaro's on Saturday night, 'cause the wife was in the mood for a burger. Got there at 5:00 and, to our shock, there was a 40-minute wait. [Side note: What is wrong with you people??!! I know they've got good burgers. I know the economy sucks and Tessaro's is a good place to get a quality meal at an affordable price. But the only reason we were eating at that ungodly hour is because we had two 6 and unders in tow. For those childless patrons, might I suggest a martini with a host of olives if you're hungry at 5:00 and then dine at a respectable adult hour, OK?]

So, two hungry kids. Bloomfield. Kid-friendly needed. Good food needed. Pizza? Where? The Strip? Nah. Shadyside? Maybe. Dinette (technically East Liberty?)? Yes.

Excellent choice. An incredible squid appetizer, grilled, with romesco sauce, some charred greens, some little green olives, bits of fried potato. Incredible. My 6-year-old son, whose experience eating fish, with one exception, is limited to frozen, fried forms of various white-meat fish, loved the few bites we were willing to share with him.

He and my 4-year-old daughter mowed on some long, skinny bread sticks and really liked the fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce pizza. The wife and I enjoyed an excellent pie with savoy cabbage, lardons (aka, little pork bits), goat cheese, little bits of sage. The other was, I almost hate to say it, OK. Mozzarella, tomato sauce, anchovie, a few capers, some sliced red chili. It was a little too one-note.

As for the topic of this post, crust. Seated in the corner table were two couples, maybe two years post legal drinking age. At some point I notice, resting uncomfortably on the plate of one said customer, gnarled bits of crust. At the table behind ours an older couple, late 50s, early 60s. As we're leaving, I see on the female half of the duo's plate more gnarled bits of crust.

For a second, I thought maybe we were in a kindergarten cafeteria. You don't like your crust? What, the perfectly charred bubbles of perfectly crisp yet pliant pizza dough turns you off for some reason?

Perhaps you would prefer a Stouffer's with some pepperoni-like bits instead?

Some advice for anybody else thinking of going to Dinette. Eat the crust! It's good. Really good. It's exactly what the crust on a Neapoletan-style pizza is supposed to be. Yes, it's a little charred. But, trust me, it's wonderful. Please. Eat. It.

February 6, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Sciencey Style

A whole bunch of cool, interesting, outraging stuff, starting with a little science.

One thing that I find to be confusing is the extent of peanut allergies in kids. It's like every fourth kid has one. Why? I'm sure there are theories as to why, and I hope to read up on them at some point. But, in the meantime, there is this:

Chicago researchers report the development of a new mouse model for food allergy that mimics symptoms generated during a human allergic reaction to peanuts. The animal model provides a new research tool that will be invaluable in furthering the understanding of the causes of peanut and other food allergies and in finding new ways to treat and prevent their occurrence... Peanut allergy is of great public health interest because this food allergy is the one most often associated with life-threatening allergic reactions, resulting in up to 100 deaths in the United States each year.

As a dorky science writer, this sounds to me like an important advance. Yeah, it's just a mouse. But, as the news release explains, the model does a good job of mimicking what happens to humans who experience an allergic reaction to peanuts. That kind of thing can help, if nothing else, improve the efficiency of this research, pointing to good leads that are worth following in terms of prevention and treatment.

Speaking of kids and peanuts
, the fallout from the peanut recall gets worse:

Peanut Corporation of America sold 32 truckloads of roasted peanuts and peanut butter to the federal government for a free-lunch program for poor children even as the company's internal tests showed that its products were contaminated with salmonella bacteria....
Schools in California, Minnesota and Idaho received the suspected peanut products between January and November 2007, said Susan Acker, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department. Federal officials notified the affected schools last week and told them to destroy any uneaten food, but officials said most of it has already been consumed, Acker said. She said the agency is not aware of any illnesses linked to the peanut products it bought.
Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa expressed outrage during a Senate hearing on the recall. The time for outrage, Senator, is long past. As is the time to finally do something significant about improving food safety. Please reserve your energies for the latter.

Quickly back to a little science. In the biz, this is what you call a really poor news release. However, it's about one of the most essential of cooking ingredients, extra-virgin olive oil, so it caught my eye.

The study has proved the anti-HER2 effect of fractions of phenolic compounds directly extracted of extra virgin olive oil in breast cancer cell lines. They have used solid-phase extraction methods of semi-preparative liquid chromatography to isolate fractions of commercial oils and, later, separation techniques (capillary electrophoresis and liquid chromatography connected to mass spectrometry) to check the purity and composition of the fractions.

Oh, yeah, that' s going to make journalists' brains go all googly with excitement. How about:

Compounds derived from extra-virgin olive oil killed breast cancer cells in a laboratory dish.

So not only is it ideal for making pesto, but it's got that going for it as well!

Two really good recipes
that I can highly recommend:
I was a little stingy with the tomatoes, so the meatballs weren't as saucy as I might like, and I don't think I softened the butter enough, so it didn't work into the cookie as much as it probably should have, so mine were a little crumbly. They were still quite good, though.

Finally, saw this over at Serious Eats, which the SE folks disccovered at AnnatheRed's Bento Factory:

That's right. It's Where the Wild Things Are characters made from real food items (rice, cheese, etc.), packaged all nice and neat in a bento box! Doesn't make me hungry, but does make me wish I had that kind of time on my hands.