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Monthly Archives: June 2009

What to Say to Your Friend on a Staycation

Staycation

I have been an Angry Little Girls fan for a while. The series start out with Kim, and the title was Angry Little Asian Girl, but I suppose it soon becomes apparent that there are a lot of angry girls in every color and shape.

They have some cute merchandise too. One day I will dole out money for their cute recycle tote.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2009 in Anime/Manga/Toy

 

Miami Best Pizza Part II

Okay, can I blame it on a pizza-induced stupor? So, this is like a whole week late, but having blogged Part I, life will not be complete without a detailed report of Part II as well.

For the second round of the Best of Miami Pizza Showdown, the chowhounds roamed to the North Miami Beach area. The pack had expanded, not to mention the gluttony was documented by a reporter from NBC.

Our first stop was Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, a local South Florida chain.

Anthonys Pizza

Anthony's Pizza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we couldn’t all fit in the big table, five of us sat at the bar, and orderd specialty pies:

Fresh Mozzarella w Sliced Tomatoes and Basil (no sauce)

 

Fresh Mozz w Tomato & Basil

Fresh Mozz w Tomato & Basil

Broccoli Rabe (subsituted with Aragula) and Sausage

 

Aragula and Sausage Pizza

Aragula and Sausage Pizza

A few minutes later the waitress came back to let us know that they are out of broccoli rabe. We asked to subsitute with aragula, and was told that woud be charged as an additional topping. Now, if we requested to subsitute one topping for another, I may understand having to pay for being a nuisance, but –  Hello? You run out of some ingredient, and you are telling me that I can either forget it and pay the same price, or I have to choke up extra to get something else?

While many at the big table complained about the pies being soggy, ours were fine. I supposed once the kitchen were done with the big order, they could relax and spend a little bit more attention to our two small pizzas?

We were worried that the sauceless pizza would be too dry, but it turned out quite succulent without being soggy. The tomatoes were flavorful enough and the slightly burnt crust delectable, though the mozzarella was just average . The aragula and sausage pie was sprinkled with parmesan, and the crunchy, burnt cheese really added a lot to the taste. I didn’t like the restaurant being noisy as a bar and any conversation difficult; but overall, the pizza satisfies. Best of Miami? Not quite.

Next stop, about a mile down the street, was Pizza Fusion. I have heard a lot about this local pizza shop since it first opened, mainly for its environmentally friendly approach, “Saving the Earth, One Pizza at A Time.”  They build their stores to LEED standard, recycle a lot, deliver pizzas in a hybrid car, use organic ingredients, offer gluten-free and vegan options, use biodegrable disposable utensils, plus a lot more. Noble mission indeed. However, their first store was rather far from my house, and to drive that far for a pizza is, er, not quite eco-friendly, shall we say? So I was glad to learn that not only has Pizza Fusion expanded to Miami, it is now in 10 states already.

Pizza Fusion

Pizza Fusion. Yes, I know, that's a Smart Car, not a hybrid...

Once we walked in, I liked the clean and comfortable place with its soft yet bright lighting and simplistic, modern decor.

Pizza Fusion

Pizza Fusion Interior

They have quite an extensive selection of pizzas and it took some discussion to settle on six:

Organic Pepperoni: Organic pepperoni, tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Bruschetta: Freshly chopped tomatoes, red onions, basil, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic with mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato: Sundried tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic, tomato sauce, goat cheese, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.

Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato

Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato (?)

 

Organic Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella: Roasted Italian eggplant, roasted red onion, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and parsley.
Farmers Market: roasted artichoke hearts, red onion, roasted zucchini and roasted Portobello with tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan.
Founders’ Pie: Free range chicken, kalamata olives, roasted red onion, tomato sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone and gorgonzola

How do I like the pies? Well, as we are judging the best as in the tastiest, and not as best for the earth, I have to be frank: I truly wish I like them as much as their mission, but unfortunately, I don’t. While Anthony’s brought their pizza to your table piping hot, here some are barely warm, even those that started their round at our end of the table. The eggplant I had was especially soggy. Another big problem is that all the pies taste pretty similar, and better on the menu. Usually organic ingredients translate to a more robust flavor, but somehow not on these pies.

I wouldn’t call the pizzas bad, but if I visit Pizza Fusion, it’s same reason I sometimes buy soy ice cream. Not because it tastes better but because it makes me feel better.

Wiping the tomato sauce off our lips, we headed north again to our last stop, Racks Italian Bistro and Market.

I had high hopes for Racks, when I noticed the prosciutto slicing machine featured in one of the pictures on its website. My reasoning being that, if they are willing to invest some money in a slicing machine, they are willing to spend on some good prosciutto and oher ingredients. (Near the entrance, their cold case displayed a Prosciutto di San Daniele. There were also some Mozzarita burrata, for appertizers.)

My high hopes continued as the waiter brought our bread – crusty on the outside, big airy hole inside. I reasoned, if they can make some good bread, they probably know how to make some good pizza.

Bread at Racks

Bread at Racks

Time for some good beer. Our waiter recommended an Italian brand Amarcord, a brand only available, in Miami, at Racks. We ordered the “Pale Ale”, though it’s dubious that was what I got, judging from the beer’s color and the whooping 10% alcohol. It does have a very sweet, caramel like taste which I like.

Amarcord

Amarcord

Racks only have eight pizza options, four white, four red, with relatively interesting toppings.  There was also a special truffle pizza for $34, which we decided against. We tried:

Secchi: Sopressata, Provolone, Fiore di Latte & Goat Cheese

Secchi Pizza

Secchi Pizza

 

Spinach – prosciutto, smoked mozzarella & reggiano
Portobello – truffle oil, gorgonzola dolce & speck

Portobello Pizza

Portobello Pizza

 

Sweet sausage – meatballs, onion, ricotta & grana padana

Racks is the easy winner of the night. My favorite was the Portobello, with the aroma of the truffle oil drifting in from four seats away. By using gorgonzola dolce, the blue did not overpower: it’s barely a hint there, a sweet creaminess. However, unless I have a big group, this pizza may be too rich if eaten more than one slice or two. Several people raved about the Secchi. Unfortunately my sample was only got a corner piece with a dab of tomato sauce (the problem with too many attendees, even though by our third stop, the number had drindled from 28 to 17).

Now comes the question: Racks or Volante? Hmm… that’s a tough one.  I would say Volante has better cheese. And I would give another point for the other ingredients, for trying to go local and go organic (with better results than Pizza Fusion). On the other hand, Racks have more choices, and slightly more interesting combinations, though neither as innovative as Joey’s. Push comes to shove, I will likely give my vote to Volante, for it does seem to have more “heart”. It does’t pretend to be a swanky place, no girl in black corset posing to shove pizzas into the oven and slice the ham. Just honest, budget-friendly, good food. It support local food producers and in turn deserves our support.

The next question is: Can Volante keep the vote? I can’t say. Looks like Part III on South Beach has some serious contenders. All I can say is, look forward to it!!

Read other bloggers’ review:
Miami Dish
Frodnesor
Mango and Lime

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Florida, Food

 

Kasou Taishou

Stumbled upon one of the videos on Youtube and ended up totally hooked. These are short skits performed by amateurs (sometimes the reactions of the performers are better than the performance itself), from students to housewives to people of different professions, in the art of imitating something using props and their body. Many of them employ the use of stagehands, clothed in (invisible) black as used in kabuki performance.  (Though when I first saw them in a kabuki, I found myself watching those supposedly sleathy men in black  more than the performers themselves.)

This one is amazing…

Atsui (Hot)

Massage Chair

A lovely one
Reflection

The reason my girlfriend got mad at me
(midway through the performance, the guy asked, why was she so mad? and the scene rewinds itself to show the reason. Very original!)

This is a medley of 30 years worth of award winners. Kind of wish to see the full version.

This is another collection. A bit sorry for the kid in superman. The girl with the head is amazing, and the Laundry in the Wind is my favorite, with both skill and humor.

This is one that makes one thinks: Crazy Japanese: Skiing

If you’ve watched Shaolin Soccer you’d love this. If you haven’t, this is the trailer, and you pretty much and find the rest of the movie following the related links.

And if you’ve ever played Super Mario, you’d love this too.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2009 in Anime/Manga/Toy, Asia

 

Okonomiyaki (Azuki’s Cooking Series #1)

Today I made some Japanese pancake, Okonomiyaki お好み焼き. It’s one of my favorite Japanese dishes but unfortunately hard to find in Japanese restaurants over here.  In Japan, they have places with a hotplate for you to grill your own. Kind of similar to a make-your-own-pancake place I went to once. Over here in the U.S., I have asked around but have yet found such an establishment. Anyway, I do what I usually do under such circumstances: I tried making my own.

First I make the batter by adding eggs to the Okonomiyaki flour.  I got the flour mix at an oriental grocery store, but if you can’t get it, an (untested) recipe I have calls for 2 cups flour + 1 tsp baking powder + 1 egg + a pinch of salt.  The flour mix I bought has additives such as yam powder, seasoning, fish powder and MSG (so you haven’t heard of the Japanese paradox?  They down more MSG than anybody else and live a good long life.)  (And oh in case you bought the flour mix and can’t read Japanese: it’s a pack of flour + 2 eggs + slightly less than a cup of water.)

Okonomiyaki flour

Okonomiyaki flour

Next I chop up some cabbage and carrot. Traditionally pork, shrimp and squid are used too, but I prefer to skip the meat. Other optional ingredients include cheese, scallion and kimchi. As the name implied, okonomi means “whatever you like” and yaki means grill. So, be adventurous! I also add some corn and julienned ginger.  If you get the pickled one use that if not just plain fresh ginger – do try to use some as it does add to the taste.
 

Okonomiyaki Veggies

Okonomiyaki veggies

Mix everything into the batter.

Okonomiyaki Batter

Okonomiyaki Batter

Heat up the pan with oil, then scope in the batter for a pancake.

Okonomiyaki in Pan

Okonomiyaki in Pan

For the okonomiyaki sauce, the easiest way is to use eel sauce instead. You can also make a complicated from-scratch version using Worchestershire sauce, ketchup, sake, mirin, honey, ketchup and more. Here I didn’t use ketchup. I tried using honey instead of sugar but the taste is weird… different than what I am used to, so I stay with sugar.

Okonomiyaki Sauce

Okonomiyaki Sauce

Next I prepare the seaweed by cutting up the nori sheet. They do sell it in shreds already but I don’t use the shreds often enough, and they get stale faster. I also have katsuobushi, dried shaved bonito fish. That’s the one that looks like live wood shavings on your age tofu, and a major ingredient in Japanese soup stock.

Bonito and Nori

Bonito and Nori

When the pancake is cooked on both sides, I squirt on some mayonnaise (I use the Japanese Kewpie brand in th squirt bottle though of course you can just use a regular mayo), add the sauce glaze, then sprinkle on the seaweed and bonito shavings. It’s ready and looks very nice too!

Okonomiyaki Done

Okonomiyaki Done

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2009 in Asia, Cooking, Food