I know I promised some food photos from my coastal California road trip, but first a quick and easy recipe for delicious rhubarb jam. Admittedly, it was not really supposed to be a jam, but did you ever have a moment in the middle of following a recipe where you realized, This isn't going to taste very good if I keep going as is... How to fix things before it's too late? In this case, my cooking companion had bought some rhubarb from the fruit market with a special German dessert-thing in mind. Unfortunately, he didn't get to make it in time, so I had to take over.
These were his instructions: "Take the rhubarb, cut it into small pieces, and throw it in a pot with some sugar and cinnamon sticks. Also add a little lemon juice. Stew until it breaks down, then chill and eat with heavy cream." But what's it called, I asked. He never gave me a straight answer, basically saying it has no real name. I did a bit of research (mostly consisting of googling "rhubarb dessert german heavy cream") but to no avail. The closest I came was on Wikipedia, where "rhubarbsauce" was described as being akin to applesauce and eaten cold.
I looked up a few recipes for rhubarb jam, since it sounded so similar, and to give me a feel for a suitable proportion of rhubarb to sugar. It was my first time making jam, actually, so I read a bit about jam-making as well. In the meantime, I discovered a neat website called The Accidental Scientist run by some women from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. They are also authors of The Inquisitive Cook (Accidental Scientist), a book which I have referenced before. In this article about preserves as well as on Wikipedia, they say that a high enough amount of the complex carbohydrate pectin is key for a true jelly or jam texture: "Hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions bind the individual pectin chains together. These bonds form as water is bound by sugar and forces pectin strands to stick together... to form a 3-dimensional molecular net that creates the macromolecular gel."
This process is called sugar-acid-pectin gelling--the pH needs to be low (acidic) enough to extract the pectin from the fruit's cell walls, and apparently sugar prevents the strands of pectin from sticking only to themselves. Rhubarb is naturally a low-pectin fruit and is thus usually combined with other high-pectin fruits or packaged pectin for making preserves.
The vague recipe I used resulted in something "jam-like" but I'm not sure if it would have stay gelled for the long haul, since I didn't add any additional pectin. Tasty though! I used this recipe as a basis for the rhubarb and sugar ratio, also added the water, and a splash of lemon juice instead of orange juice and zest. Also added 1 cinnamon stick and a tablespoon of apricot preserves. I thought maybe the pectin in the apricot preserves worked some magic, but turns out most pectin gels are non-thermoreversible (will stay a liquid if you heat it the second time around).
So continuing from last week's post about my time in Miami Beach, onto the food. As I mentioned before, we stayed in North Beach rather than the more popular and touristy South Beach because of the location of the conference center. This meant block after block of authentic Latin American food places, such as Brazilian and Argentinian steakhouses and bakeries. The enticing layout of sweets above is from Buenos Aires Bakery, which was on the way to our conference hotel. I didn't actually get to sample any of those cakes above, or the flan pictured below for that matter, but what I did have was a quite good ham and cheese croissant.
I know what you're thinking: "You ordered a savory pastry from such a shop, with desserts that looked like that?" I ordered something akin to an Italian "cornetto con crema", or croissant stuffed with pastry cream, along with my ham and cheese. Unfortunately, when it came time for dessert, I realized they had forgotten to give me mine. So all in all, I recommend the place, but don't forget to double check the contents of your paper bag before you leave.
The delectable spread of random meats above is from Campo Argentino, which you might seen billed as "New Campo Argentino" ever since the change in management. My first experience with an Argentinian steakhouse, and we went all out--for lunch of all meals--with a bottle of red wine and the "parrillada mixta", or mixed grill platter. It came with skirt steak, short ribs, sweetbreads, chorizo, chicken breast, and blood sausage.
I had heard stories about both sweetbreads and blood sausage, but both were not as unappetizing as I had anticipated. Especially the blood sausage, which my sister had long ago described to me as "like eating congealed, gelatinous bloody jello". Its texture reminded me more of, say, liver than any type of jelly (to my relief). One of my dining companions remarked that it reminded him of "soondae", which now makes sense considering it can be categorized also as a type of blood sausage.
Lastly, one of Miami's delicacies: the stone crab. We went to the most well-known crab place in Miami Beach, Joe's Stone Crab, and despite the high price tag and aggressive salesmen--I mean waiters--it did not disappoint. Look at the size of those claws! Their thick, ceramic-like shells came pre-cracked for convenience, and the amount of meat in each one makes them worth the price. Even the side dishes were well-made, and the key lime pie (on the house for our party) was heavenly. Highly recommended.
April was a month full of travel, starting with a conference in Miami Beach, FL and ending with a road trip up the coast of California. Well actually, the month started with the craziness of preparing for said conference, then Miami Beach, then California. All in all, despite the exhaustion and creeping guilt of taking time off work, I love traveling. I feel alive, and like the world... it's turning inside out, yeah... (Sorry, I've had this song in my head for days. Just about to say how fun it is to bike to this song, and now found out it was voted best driving song ever by Top Gear fans!)
We stayed at The New Hotel in North Beach, which is about a 20 minute cab ride from the popular and much more bustling South Beach. The hotel itself was perfect--small and cozy, yet with modern furnishings and very friendly and attentive service. And another major perk--Lou's Beer Garden, a bar next to the pool with great beers on tap:
The beer selection during our stay:
First I had the Longhammer IPA from Washington's Redhook Brewery, which was not bad but a little dull for my taste. I prefer more bitter IPAs, the most bitter of which I've had in recent memory was this past holiday season's Celebration Ale. It literally knocked my head back with the first sip... but in a very enjoyable way. Bitterness of beer is measured by the International Bitterness Units scale (IBU), whose estimation takes into account the amount of hops used in brewing as well as how hoppy those hops are (otherwise known as "alpha acid percentage"). As expected, IPAs are on the higher end of the IBU scale than, say, a blonde ale or porter. However, the bitterness of hops are balanced by the sweetness of malt, and apparently the IBU scale does not take into account the amount the bitterness is affected by more or less malt flavor: "For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the latter beer uses much less malt than the former."
Then I tried Dogfish Head's Midas Touch: "This recipe is the actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world! It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas." In other words, worth drinking for the backstory alone. Also, a coworker mentioned that it is quite unusual to be found on tap, so I went for it. I didn't know what to expect, so I was shocked at the sweetness of it. It wasn't sugary-sweet, more like a rich golden honey-sweet, but an interesting beer experience nevertheless.
No photos of them, but the mojitos everywhere were amazing. Huge sprigs of fresh mint, sugarcane stirrers, and limes a-plenty. More about Miami to come (the food next time, I promise)...
In light of my last post about finding certain foods or flavors repulsive, I wonder what percentage of the population finds raw oysters to be disgusting, slimy things that they would never dare put in their mouths? I can already think of one friend (yes you, Jenobi!). But overall, the success of raw bars like Oyster House in Philadelphia already tells me that the little guys can't be universally hated.
I had my first raw oyster in New Orleans a few years ago, and it took some time to get used to the strong ocean taste and soft, fleshy texture. But with a bit of lemon juice and increased exposure (my companions ordered dozen after dozen), I started to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently, people have been eating oysters since "prehistory", and Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster".
At raw bars like Oyster House, they usually offer a few different varieties of oysters, differentiated by the region from where they were plucked. Wikipedia states: "Like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavors that vary greatly among varieties and regions: sweet, salty, earthy, or even melon... Salinity, mineral, and nutrient variations in the water that nurtures them influence their flavor profile." When I went (first photo), the oysters were from Cape May, NJ. During my California trip, I had a Japanese-style preparation of raw Kumamoto oyster most likely from Washington State (photo above) at Shintaro Sushi. The Cape May had more of a salty, ocean taste whereas the Japanese preparation lessened that effect and brought out more of the sweetness. Really delicious either way, although in this case I think I preferred the Kumamoto oyster.
Side note: Oyster House has a nice happy hour special "A-Buck-A-Shuck" (M-F, 5-7pm, Sat, 9-11pm) where the oyster of the day is only $1 apiece and a select draft for $3. I had Cape May oysters and Kenzinger was on draft. Not a bad deal--the combination of fresh oysters and good beer is definitely a winner.
We also had these oyster shooters, which were really not for me. A raw oyster dunked in a liquor-filled shot glass. Blech! Already the look of it was a bit much... reminded me too much of a random organ half-floating in a mini-jar of formaldehyde. Downing it was quite a struggle.