From Tongue to Tail: Midnight snacks in Shibuya, Tokyo

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Japanese beef ready for the grill. Late night bites at a yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo.

*  If you missed the first installment (where we dined on our first bowl of Japanese ramen at 9am), click here to catch up!  *

Our second evening in Tokyo ended on a serious high note. Koji, a friend of a friend and a native to the city, took us to his favorite late-night spot, a small yakiniku restaurant near the Shibuya Station.

Yakiniku is the Japanese term for grilled meats, and refers to the tabletop grills that many of these restaurants sport. The customer is basically the cook; servers pass off plates of raw meat and patrons are in charge of cooking it to their liking. Each table gets a few pairs of tongs so guests can take turns flipping meat.

Our table top grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the beef. Though most of it went unused as it nearly seemed blasphemous.

Our tabletop grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the cooked beef, though most of it went unused as it seemed nearly blasphemous with such beautiful meat.

Given that we were in a group with several chefs, two things were immediately clear: we were going to eat A LOT of meat and it was all going to be cooked impeccably.

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Homemade pupusas turned me into a greedy food hoarder…

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

In the past few years I’ve gotten really into pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. They have taken over my mind and made me do things like brave a rather shady looking pupuserie that shares its parking lot with an even shadier looking porn store. (Totally worth it, by the way.) I’ve also eaten pupusas from a few food carts around town. Each pupusa journey ended in happiness, but the more I ate, the more determined I became to make them myself.

Finally last Saturday, after spending the morning googling recipes, I decided the time was right.

I picked up a huge bag of masa (I’m envisioning tamales, tortillas and endless pupusas in my future) and some queso fresco. I decided to skip making the typical pupusa accompaniment, curtido (a pickled or fermented cabbage salad), since I had some homemade pickled veggies to use up. I also had some braised beef that needed a good home and so the project was a pretty affordable one — always a good thing when you don’t really know what you’re doing!

But regardless of my inexperience, by following the recipe and instructions from The Kitchn carefully, my pupusa adventure was a delicious success.

Masa!

Masa!

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The curious case of cookies combined with carbonnade…

Beef Carbonnade w. Beer, Marmalade & Gingersnaps

A beef carbonnade made with marmalade and gingersnaps.

Have you been to Gourmandistan? It’s a land known for its food — a place where things are often cooked in duck fat, strange and unusual flavor combinations are discovered and pork is a prized beast. It’s also the inspiration for this post, as I continue to try out one recipe a month from some of my favorite blogs.

Many things that Steve and Michelle (the primary residents of Gourmandistan) cook intrigue me, but when it came time to pick one dish to make, I already had the winner in mind. The title for the original post with the recipe was so clever it gave me some serious blog-envy, but it was the ingredient list that solidified my decision.

Gourmandistan’s version of a beef carbonnade, adapted from a Daniel Boulud braising cookbook, includes the following: Chimay beer, beef, bacon, creme fraiche, orange marmalade and gingersnap cookie crumbs. It’s like a list of my favorite things!

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One Loaf to Rule Them All: Cheese-Studded Kobe Meatloaf

No Need for Ketchup Glaze Here

Usually I am a pretty healthy eater. I eat a lot of raw veggies, dine frequently on farro and try to avoid fried foods (unless I’ve been drinking *ahem*). So when I pulled a pack of ground Kobe beef from my freezer a while ago, I had already made my peace with eating some seriously fatty meaty goodness. And when you’ve come that far, it’s best to just don a pair of sweatpants and embrace it.

So I did exactly that.

While the beef thawed, I rooted around in my massive recipe binder for something new to try. It seemed sinful to waste Kobe beef on something like burritos or spaghetti, though I have no doubts it would have been delicious in either. Then I found the perfect recipe — one I had been dying to make for quite some time and had just been waiting for the heat of summer to dissipate. Which, let me tell you, has certainly happened here in rainy Portland. If there was ever a time for some “hibernation food,” it’s now.

So I set to work on making this masterpiece: Meatloaf with Creamy Onion Gravy from the Nov. 2011 issue of Food & Wine. And oh, sweet Jesus, am I glad I did. I thought I made good meatloaf before — I always make it with sautéed onions, carrots and celery and I often use grated Parmesan cheese in it for extra goodness.

But this meatloaf…it was divine. It was magical. I used the entire three pounds of meat and I think it was gone in a two days. I don’t know what happened. Oh wait — I know. It looked like this:

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Flanken Shortribs for the Grill: Fast, easy and wonderful!

I have always been a big fan of flanken ribs, even before I understood what they were all about. I just knew that they were incredibly tender, with fat so crispy it melted in your mouth and they usually came seasoned with flavors of soy and sesame. I didn’t know where they came from on the cow or what their NAMP number was. Now, because I work as a meat distributor, I actually ended up in a Facebook conversation regarding such things after posting the above picture. That conversation led to all of my co-workers (including our master butcher) discussing it the next day, which just made me laugh later thinking about it. Because, wow, what a group of meat nerds! Seriously!

At any rate, flanken ribs are also known as galbi or Korean ribs, and are usually taken from the shortribs plate or chuck rib section of the cow and cut across the bone. Usually those ribs are cut thicker (like 2-3 inches) and are made for braising, but these guys are cut super thin. Like a quarter of an inch or so. They are typically run across a bandsaw while partially frozen, so the cuts should be nice and uniform. Like this:

This means instead of slow and low, you want to cook them quickly over very high heat. You can also see that the ribs are quite fatty, so you want to be sure to crisp up that section as much as possible. Left undercooked, it will still taste fine but the texture will be lacking. The crunchy fat is the best part!

The next important thing to note when making these ribs is that the marinade is critical. I have tried a few different recipes, and there are still some I am dying to try, such as this one  which calls for an Asian pear to help tenderize the meat. However, I always forget to go shopping before I make these (like last week) and thus I’m left with pantry staples.

Luckily this recipe from Bon Appetit worked out just fine. It called for the all of the basics, which I happily had on hand: soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, lots of garlic, sugar and rice wine vinegar. Since I only had about a pound and a half of meat, I cut the recipe accordingly. Then I took my lovely little ribs and let them soak for 24 hours in the mixture.

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