Shisito and Thanh Son tofu

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A snack: stir-fried shisito peppers (from H-mart) and slices of lemongrass/chili tofu from SE Portland’s Thanh Son Tofu. This is a perfect lager beer nosh, in my humble (and often wrong) opinion.

If you haven’t checked out the seasoned tofu from Thanh Son, you’re really missing something special.

Thanh Son Tofu

103 NE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97220-6004
(503) 517-9902

Martin’s Swiss Dressing: made in Portland

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I first tasted this Martin’s Swiss Dressing about 15 months ago when they were doing an expo at Uwajimaya. I sampled the dressing as a nice coat on simple mixed greens, and immediately experienced priapism of the taste buds.

“Wow,” I thought to myself. (That is the extent of the dramatization).

I quickly grabbed a bottle of Martin’s Swiss Dressing and placed it in my shopping cart. At $5.99 for 8 ounces, it was rather pricey. But for somebody who tosses as much salad as yours truly(!)—I eat a large salad every weekday—this was simply a down payment on deliciousness.

Soon after, as I returned to Uwajimaya for subsequent bottles of dressing, I realized why this dressing had so much influence on my life. Swiss = umami proficiency = the motherland of Maggi. Imagine if the very core essence of Maggi umamish fortitude was somehow emulsified into a velvety smooth nectar suitable for drizzling onto leafy greens (aka “salad dressing”). You would have Martin’s Swiss Dressing.

It very much reminds me of the incredible concotions I ate growing up, whereupon my Mom undoubtedly added a few splashes of Maggi to her Saigon-infused “caesar” salads—replete with a beaten raw egg cracked over the romaine just prior to a shower of grated parmesan before serving.

I used to be mostly a fine olive oil and red vinegar guy, but Martin’s has pretty much changed my life. Packing plenty of saline je ne sai quois, it is the only dressing with which I don’t feel like I need to additionally salt my greens to bring out their true flavor.

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Here’s the story behind Martin’s.

I will go on record by saying this is the best commercial salad dressing available on the free market today (and perhaps the salad dressing black market as well). In the year+ since I’ve been buying this stuff religiously at Uwajimaya, the dressing has cropped up in the refrigerated dressing aisles of Portland area New Seasons and Lamb’s Thriftway, as well (the dressing apparently is required to maintain a cold temp).

Martin’s Swiss Dressing

Available at Uwajimaya in Beaverton, Portland area New Seasons, and Portland area Lamb’s Thriftways.

Choripdong Jjambbong

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I picked up these “fresh noodle” Korean soup packs during a recent trip to Hmart. As you can see on the package, that broth is red. Red = good.

Choripdong is proving themselves to be quite the reputable brand of imported Korean foodstuffs, so when they were on sale it was a no-brainer. Plus, there was a demo table set up, dishing out small cups of jjambbong that I found it to be tasty enough, ungussied and overboiled, to purchase for home consumption.

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As you can see, this version of “instant” ramen does not have the inflated fat content, due to the freshly frozen noodles.

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The noodles are packaged separately in a frozen block. Seems straightforward enough, until you flip it over…

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…and witness the bounty. The most impressive part of Choripdong’s Jjambbong is the breadth of companion garnishes included with the noodles. There’s an abundance of seaweed and woodear mushrooms, slices of spicy fresh chili, strips of squid meat…

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…and even an entire shrimp, head and all. What a wonderful time to be alive.

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The sauce/soup packet is quite impressive in its heft and the fact that it’s sludge-like and most-likely perishable, which is why the product is sold frozen. And check out that first ingredient (well, after “Sauce”): Squid Extract!

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Gussied up with fresh veggies and shrimp and garnished with fresh scallions, this is one of the better instant noodle soup preparations available on the market today. The noodles are fantastic, thick, toothsome, and slurpable. And that broth…it’s red. Korea’s foodstuff manufacturing industry is really something to behold.

Whole Foods: Downsize

Whole Foods Warns of Layoffs and Smaller Stores. (The Stranger)

Blaming a tough economy, Whole Foods executives sent an ominous letter to all employees in its Pacific Northwest stores last month that warns of potential layoffs, announces a hiring freeze, and says new stores are on hold.

“Many teams are clearly overstaffed for their current sales and are at the point where labor needs to be reduced…” the memo says. It adds that as “sales soften,” the company has accumulated $59,000 in labor deficits. “Team sales and labor will be reviewed in January and tough decisions may be made if we are unable to achieve sales to labor balance by that time.” The memo says no layoffs will occur before January.

Apropos to this and this? I dunno. I ended my boycott after a few hours as I needed some salad dressing.

Better living without chemistry

I ran across this stuff while searching around on the Interwebs for dried provisions to stock up on in event of nuclear winter or the eventual systematic decay of civilization, which I am estimating to be approximately at the point we realize we’ve shot our oil load and the polar ice caps have inexorably passed the half-way melting point and U2 releases their 16th album.

I decided to use it as a “reddening” agent for my cha sui pork recipe (using country style ribs), in lieu of low-rent commercial product replete with food dye.

Verdict: it works! It adds a slight flavor accentuation that’s hard to describe, but I’d use it again in a pinch.

Good Taste Pork

Good Taste has two restaurants: one in NW Chinatown (4th Ave. location pictured above) and the other located in SE Portland (82nd Ave).

Both locations feature hanging meat you can buy.

Including this roasted side of pork, with its layers of lean meat unctuously braised from the fat drippings bloomed from the deliciously crisped, salted fatty skin layer. They will ask you if you like it chopped, which will result in perfect “popcorn chicken”-like equivalents of meat crack.

Chens Good Taste Restaurant

18 NW 4th Ave, Portland
(503) 223-3838

Good Taste Noodle House

8220 SE Harrison St, Portland
(503) 788-6909

Associated Press: **** my salad

Apparently, the Associated Press now charges for any excerpt (fair use conventions notwithstanding) for nesting more than four words of their original content in a <blockquote> tag (and linking to them, even).

If the AP wants to do a story on the “blogosphere” reaction to their fantastic new policy, and wishes to quote this blog (not that they would, but just in case), I’ll provide a redacted nugget that they can lift gratis:

“AP: Suck my left ****”

(Via this blog).

Trader Joe’s Handmade Tortillas

I’ve always harbored a bit of doubt about the handmade corn tortillas I’ve seen over the years on the shelves at Trader Joe’s. They seemed too thick, too…stone ground to be a good foil for the taco meats I prepare in my home. I feared that — as fat and earthy as they appeared to be — the tortillas themselves would be too toothsome and dry, like eating whole kernals of raw corn.

Boy, was I wrong.

These are suprisingly great tortillas. They need to be heated on a dry, flat pan, over high heat, for at least 30 seconds per side. Flip and back and forth to get good reheat coverage.

Here they are enveloping some recent carne seca tacos (recipe to come soon). With many taqueria-style tortillas, it’s essential to double up the flats in order to have them hold up throughout the meal to the fillings and garnishes.

These TJ tortillas hold their own as a singular entity.

Even on the last taco, at the mid-taco event, the tortillas still are doing the job. I believe they would perform the heavy lifting for a good huevos rancheros.

Trader Joe’s Handmade Corn Tortillas

Available at a Trader Joes near you

Starbucks ditches breakfast

Starbucks axes sandwiches as part of fix. (AP/Yahoo! News)

The scent of ham, eggs, cheese and bacon will soon stop competing with the aroma of coffee in Starbucks stores as hot breakfast sandwiches become the first casualty of the company’s battle to win back customers.

The sandwiches, which will disappear by this fall, boost a typical store’s annual revenue by $35,000, so pulling them off the menu will cost at first. Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Schultz said that proves the company isn’t letting the soft economy distract it from committing to big changes that will pay off over the long haul.

“The decision and the courage it takes to remove something when there’s pressure on the business — like the sandwiches — is emblematic that we’re going to build for the long-term and get back to the roots and the core of our heritage, which is the leading roaster of specialty coffee in the world,” Schultz told The Associated Press on Wednesday after the company released its financial results for the first fiscal quarter.

Whatever.

Mirage

Aquafina labels to spell out source – tap water. (CNN)

PepsiCo Inc. will spell out that its Aquafina bottled water is made with tap water, a concession to the growing environmental and political opposition to the bottled water industry. According to Corporate Accountability International, a U.S. watchdog group, the world’s No. 2 beverage company will include the words “Public Water Source” on Aquafina labels.

People are fucking idiots. Fuck bottled water.

Is that a cucumber in your Pepsi, or are you just happy to see me?

Sorry about that lame joke.

Via Blogtowncucumber-flavored Pepsi.

“Pepsi Ice Cucumber” hit the stores this week, but it doesn’t actually have any of the green gourd in it. Instead it has been artificially flavored to resemble “the refreshing taste of a fresh cucumber,” said Aya Takemoto, spokeswoman of Japan’s Pepsi distributor, Suntory Ltd.

“We wanted a flavor that makes people think of keeping cool in the summer heat,” Takemoto said. “We thought the cucumber was just perfect.”

Just as I would switch to Mr. Sparkle for all my clothes washing needs, I would totally go for one of these.

Cold noodles

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It’s June. That means the return of the heat, and the start of the cold noodle season. Unless you find yourself living in Phoenix, at which point you should kill yourself.

There are two brands of instant cold noodles I frequent during the warm months. You can certainly buy dried noodles, such as chuka soba, and make your own dressing. Go ahead.

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The first brand is Myojo Chukazanmai. This is a Japanese style, and the noodles cook up like conventional ramen noodles. Myojo, incidentally, is the Cadillac of instant ramen. Their broths (for their shoyu, hot bean paste, and XO lobster flavors) are unparalled.

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Unlike many instant noodles, the noodle block — dried, hard, and brittle — is not fried. The instructions on the packet call for a cooking time of 5 to 6 minutes, but I wouldn’t take it a second further than 4 and half minutes, especially if you like your noodles al dente.

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The dressing (which features soy, sesame paste and oil) is fantastic. They include a diminutive companion pack of hot mustard. Incidentally, if you get the prepared cold noodle dish in the deli case at Uwajimaya, this is what they are using — the unopened packets are right there in the plastic container. These noodles, prepared by the Uwajimaya staff and featuring egg and a few slivers of cucumber and roast park, are sold for $5.25, but you can pick the dried packets up on their shelves for $1.99. You do the math. You can also get Myojo at Fubonn for $1.39.

The second style is from the venerable Korean conglomerate Wang GlobalNet. Wang is a fine name in Korean foodstuffs, and their cold noodles are excellent.

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You can find Wang in the freezer aisle at Uwajimaya, and it’s very affordable — $1.59 for a two-pack serving.

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Once you defrost the brick hard noodle block, the strands are more similar to conventional fresh noodles. They cook up to a perfect toothsome consistency in just 3 minutes.

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The dressing packet is a completely different style than Myojo, and like many Korean products, it is devilishly incendiary, red, and spicy. I find the dressing to be a bit too thick, so I’ll add a couple splashes of rice wine vinegar, and drizzle of sesame oil, and a squirt of soy to loosen things up a bit.

So what to put in/on/around your cold noodles? The packages themselves have some very helpful suggestions, and you can gleam some ideas from the photos featured on the packaging as well.

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My mise place. In this case, sliced tamago egg omelette, sliced Japanese cucumber ($2.99/lb at Uwajimaya — small, slender, with a very thick, somewhat bitter skin), chopped green onions, julienne carrot, browned and sliced English cottage bacon, and chopped Italian parsley (I like the fresh, grassy essence it lends). Other suggestions: cilantro, various, delicious sliced hams of assorted styles and origin, Chinese-style BBQ pork (char siu), tomato, even celery.

Wang-Noodles

Buffalo burger

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I ran across these buffalo patties in the freezer case at Costco. They come 8 to a package (5 oz each).

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As you can see, the copywriting on the back of the package educates on the plight of this poor animal, detailing the rough and tumble history this noble creature has endured over the centuries, fighting off near extinction just so we can eat it today. What a cruel, cruel fait accompli. We are all grim, macabre, and willing merchants of death.

One selling point for buffalo meat is the relative lean meat it provides. A 5 oz patty in this case has only 12 grams of fat, whereas a typical ground chuck burger would contain around 30 grams. At 9 calories per gram of fat, that’s a quite a savings. So much of a savings, in fact, that…well, you know those burgers, that are like, double burgers? Yeah.

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Verdict? Meaty. Big. Bold. Substantial. It tastes as if you took Montana and stuck it between a toasted bun and dressed it with sharp Tillamook cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and distilled vinegar sauces.

Kettle Spicy Thai

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In honor of National Potato Chip Day, I’ve decided to pay homage to a recently introduced, heavyweight contender.

Rarely does a chip come around that punches you in the solar plexus and makes you stand up and take notice.

Kettle™ brand Spicy Thai is such a chip. It is a snack that screams “Notice me! Behold me. You can’t ignore me. I am your muse. Your raison d’etre.”

Spicy Thai has really taken the industry by storm and has almost singularily redefined the snack landscape. Not since the combination of fancy nutmeats in an unguarded moment of peanut exclusionary packaging has the snack world been shaken from its complacent doldrums.

The flavor profile is simultaneously intricate, subdued, and bold. At first you’re hit with what is almost a cloying sweetness. This is simply Kettle toying with your emotions. You’re then clobbered over the head with a rush of ginger, and then a distinctly potent slow burn.

Kettle is based here in Oregon (Salem), and they do much that is to be admired. Witness the delicate prose extolling the chip on the backside of the packaging:

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A Chip That Travels Far for Flavor
As true chip innovators, we love a challenge. So when a fan suggested that we take Thai cuisine’s complex balance of flavors — sweetness, spice and salt — and balance it on a chip, we reached for our passports. We’ve incorporated the refreshing sweetness and snap of ginger and the red peppery pop of Thai spice to create a collision of East and West in the crunch of the world’s most worldly chip. Have Kettle™ brand — will travel. No passport required.

Under the dominion of any other corporate stewardship, this would be mere treacle and hyperbole. In this case, truer words have never been inscribed. I would personally like to meet and thank the “fan” that compelled Kettle™ brands to conjure such a masterpiece. He/she deserves accolades and adulation, and is worthy of bestowal of the highest honors we accord to those who advance humanity and progress to the zenith of benevolent accomplishment (hint: Nobel Prize).

A note on Maggi

A note on Maggi. I commonly use this liquid MSG incubator when I eat things with rice or when I need something to soak my sandwiches.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. There are two types of Maggi. One looks like this:

…and is manufactured stateside. Notice the label, how they suggest that only a few drops will do. Yes, this is unnecessarily preachy. That is because we are America, a nanny state. We can’t be bothered to allow our citizens to exercise free choice and sentient will; we are sheeple that need to be prodded and poked, lectured and proselytized to. We consider commercials broadcast in the first half hour of the Super Bowl to be a cultural high water mark, and suburban strip malls overwhelming barometers of the prevailing zeitgeist when multiplied by the activity coefficients of a Starbucks and an I Sold It on Ebay franchise.

This is what the European version looks like:

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This is the good stuff, and it costs twice as much as the stateside produced Maggi. Notice the much more subtle messaging.

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The compelling argument to use just a couple dashes is buried on the side of the bottle. This is what a thousand years of intra-continental warfare, colonization and subjugation of foreign countries, religious and ethnic cleansing, genocide, and systematic classism gets you. You become a bit more laid back and the mommy message lives on the side label.

So is the imported Maggi worth it? My mom swears so, and I listen to my mommy.

The pleasures of emulsified forcemeat

In last month’s issue of Gourmet, Michael Ruhlman — who recently guest-blogged at Megnut’s place and whose writing I respect — penned an ode to hot dogs.

He claims the best hot dogs in the world are Vienna Beefs, and having had a Chicago-style dog last year at O’Hare on my way to Rochester, I can’t say I’d put up a firm argument.

Hot dogs, he explained, are part of the meat genus we call “emulsified forcemeat”. I’d never heard of that term before, and in addition to conjuring images of a Nordic death metal four piece (or a gay S&M fetish flick), this reductive term sounds a little less than appetizing. But as every professional athlete inevitably says in the course of a cliche-ridden press conference (and as Pope John famously pronounced when asked about Mel Gibson’s Jew-baiting movie), “it is what it is.”

I ran across an article (via Ruhlman via NYTimes and I made a short post here previously about it but I’m too lazy and thick with enchiladas to bother linking to) about how the organic franks from premier beef producers were making a splash on the hot dog scene. Instead of the pessimistic nitrates used to artificially preserve the meat, they used celery juice. See, nitrates also give the dog its nice, pinkish hue, and nitrate-free dogs have a really nasty brown tinge to it, like cardboard. Celery juice to the rescue!

I stopped by Trader Joes shortly after reading the article and picked up what I consider to be the best hot dogs in the world – Niman Ranch Fearless Uncured Beef Franks.

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They come four to a package, and each one weighs in at a hefty quarter pound. I checked the ingredients list, and lo and behold celery juice was listed. If you haven’t had these hot dogs and consider yourself a hot dog fan, pick up a package next time you’re at Trader Joes (I’m not sure where else to buy them). They are actually leaner than many 1/4 franks I’ve seen – with 19 grams of fat – I’ve seen other dogs such as the Sinai Kosher’s at Costco run 30 grams. For post-cooked weight, that’s actually less fat than a raw 80% ground beef burger.

Here is a full metal jacket Chicago dog I’ve recently had, starring a Niman Ranch uncured.

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