Pork belly — red-ooked style.
It’s no secret that the Chinese love the color red, which is festive, and symbolizes prosperity.
We also love our pork.
And no cut quite so much as the pig’s luscious belly.
Combine all three and you get “Red-Cooked Pork,” an iconic family-style dish of pork belly that’s cooked in a soy sauce-laced braising liquid that’s not really more brown than red. The “red” in the name, though, comes interestingly enough from the fact that the Chinese language doesn’t really have a character to describe “brown.” So, apparently, they opted for the next best color — red.
So writes Kian Lam Kho in his new cookbook, “Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy. The comprehensive book just won the prestigious “Julia Child First Book” award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The book’s poetic name pays homage to the Chinese characters used as synonyms on Chinese menus for chicken feet and Chinese broccoli.
Indeed, if you are interested in learning more about Chinese cooking, this book is a must-have. Kho of New York City is a private chef, culinary instructor, and creator of the blog, RedCook. He’s written a book that deftly explains the fundamental cooking techniques of Chinese cuisine — from pan-frying to light frying, from flash-poaching to oil-poaching, and from simple steaming to flavored steaming.
Tots and bacon-wrapped dog at Stumpy’s.
Over the years, Chef Jim Stump has run many restaurants in the South Bay.
Stumpy’s is his tiniest.
The veteran chef and restaurateur, who helped founded the Los Gatos Brewing Company, now draws in the crowds at The Table in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood and his just-opened Campbell bar, The Vesper. Coming soon will be his seafood restaurant, Forthright in Campbell.
In 2014, he opened Stumpy’s hot dog and burger joint on Willow Glen’s well-trafficked Lincoln Avenue. It’s a slip of a place, with just enough room to order your food at the counter and load up on a few condiments at the back station.
Order the food inside; pick it up outside at the window.
When your order is ready, you pick it up at the window outside. There’s really no place to eat inside Stumpy’s. But the old movie theater next door has a few patio tables set up so you can enjoy your food there. Or you can opt to get it to-go and take it home, as I did when I paid my own tab there recently.
A bright-green risotto — that you barely have to stir.
I admit I was dubious. I was skeptical. I was bordering on being a non-believer.
Could one really make perfect risotto on the stove-top by pouring a load of stock into a pan with the rice, turning the heat down to the lowest possible setting, then leaving it pretty much alone except to stir it twice? Yes, twice.
But I should have never doubted J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
After all, he’s the man. He’s so meticulous and precise that he’s like a one-man Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen (where he used to work, by the way). The San Francisco-based managing culinary director of Serious Eats, Lopez-Alt is a restaurant-trained chef and the author of the “Food Lab” column, as well as a regular columnist for Cooking Light magazine.
His new book, “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” (W.W. Norton & Company), of which I received a review copy, is a must-have on your shelf. In fact, this past Sunday, it was named “Cookbook of the Year” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
The Asian charcuterie platter at Cassia.
SANTA MONICA — When my friend and talented cookbook author Andrea Nguyen raves about a place, I know I have to try it.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold deems the food “brilliant,” I know I’m in for something extraordinary.
Indeed, that’s how superlative Cassia in Santa Monica is.
This expansive restaurant is run by Chef Bryant Ng, who has cooked with Daniel Boulud and Roland Passot, and counts Nancy Silverton as a mentor.
How pretty is this lemon cake from Sycamore Kitchen?
Sure, they serve lunch, but I was there for the baked goods. But of course.
Husband and wife owners Quinn and Karen Hatfield cooked for a spell in San Francisco, before departing for Los Angeles to open Hatfield’s. In 2012, they also opened the Sycamore Kitchen, an urban cafe and bakery with a large outdoor patio.
Karen is a long-time pastry chef, so it’s no surprise that the pastries excel here.
How good are they?
Let’s start with the buttercup ($3.50), the renamed version of a kougin-amann. It’s buttery alright. It’s also the closest kouign-amann I’ve found to that of Belinda Leong’s of B. Patisserie in San Francisco and John Shelsta’s of Howie’s Artisan Pizzeria in Redwood City (he trained with Leong). It’s golden and crisp, with airy layers that are just a smidge heavier in texture than Leong’s and Shelsta’s versions. It’s a dream to nibble on.
The buttercup (kouign-amann).
Yup, this is a babka.
Then there are the cookies. At first glance, they look incredibly flat and thin — almost as if they were a mistake. But take a bite of the rice crispy cookie ($2.50) and the oatmeal toffee cookie ($2.25) and you know they were baked with purpose. The thinness means they are somehow crisp and chewy through and through. Brilliant.