Sushi Den – a treat to Denver

We found ourselves wandering around the area during dinner time and realized this sushi place has got hundreds of raving reviews, we were like, SOLD, no questions asked.

I ordered a hand roll of uni (sea urchin) that is supposedly flown in everyday fresh from San Diego. As far as sushi went, we had tuna firecracker roll, rainbow roll and rocky mountain (smoked trout) roll and the array of sushi rolls is displayed as below.

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So the sushi rolls were very good, very fresh tasting as they should. In recent years, I have found myself grew more and more out of sushi rolls where things get stuffed and rolled — I crave more raw fish, in its simplest and raw-est form — a slice of prepared premium cut on top of a small perfect cooked rice ball. Nothing more. I regretted a little that I did not order a sushi platter or just an array of sashimi instead.

A good way to tell how good any restaurant is, is to order something basic, simple yet sometimes either hard to make or needing to be extremely fresh. A good cheaper alternative is to order something as basic as agedashi tofu or egg rolls (tamagoyaki). Traditional Japanese egg rolls/omelets only has egg and salt or sugar in them — the authentic ones should have eggs and eggs only. However, Sushi Den’s egg rolls contains pork and vegetables, so I opted out. A video tutorial teaching how to make tamagoyaki.

Therefore, I ordered Uni hand roll. Good uni should taste like clean deep ocean yumminess with a custard texture and a light, slightly sweet flavor with a hint of brininess. And the uni hand roll was great considering we were in Denver and my tummy was quite pleasantly surprised although my wallet was not. Lol. It cost $14 (mkt price, probably winding up to $17 including tips and tax, lol) that night to have one small hand roll! Ehhh, what the heck, my tongue and my stomach was happy and that is all that matters. Here is a nerdy article talking about “why uni tastes so good?!”.

http://echinoblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/why-sea-urchin-sushi-uni-tastes-so.html

We cleaned the plate of sushi and my hand roll and at that moment we were in the mood for something warm. I asked the waiter about their tonkotsu ramen and he said the chef went to Southern Japan to learn how to cook the ramen. We went ahead and order their tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu ramen is a specialty in the area of Kyushu with Hakata style being particularly famous and popular. The dish usually comes with a few slices of marinated pork, sea weeds, a half hard-boiled egg, garnished with some vegetables and spring onions. The key to umami is in the broth made from pork bones (aka tonkotsu), that is usually a cloudy white thick broth cooked for tens of hours to even days. The picture below was taken when we were halfway done with the noodles, lol.

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The ramen was quite good with a plus on the flavor of chashu pork. The broth was close to what I have had in East Asia, but not quite as good, which was sadly expected. To be fair, since we live in such a health-obsessed area, Boulder/Denver metro, I cannot tell if it was done at the chef’s best or it was on purpose so that most customers will not complain about how “greasy” or “fatty” the noodles taste. On a different note, I totally disagree with the whole mentality that “fat equals bad” and “oh my gosh my cholesterol is shooting above the roof just because I had this bowl of noodles” stupidity.

Overall, the experience was quite positive and I would go back again for sure. Just be aware that what you order might not be actual authentic version of the food.

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Dagabi Cucina – revisit for Paella

Dagabi cucina has Paella Mondays, which features a paella special every Monday for $12. A couple weeks ago, husband and I went to go check out the paellas.

I had their regular seafood paella, “Paella de Mariscos”, which had shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, red peppers, peas, artichoke hearts and Calasparra saffron rice in the plate. The portion was generous, 1.5 -2 meal worth of food for my appetite. Everything was cooked well and fresh tasting except that I thought they needed to add another kicking in spicing up the dish.

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The husband had their special paella of the night, which featured a giant chicken leg, peas, bell peppers, chorizo, and saffron rice. Husband liked it but also said something along the line that the dish needed a little more spices.

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Overall, the dish was good for quantity and quality to some extent, but we were not wow-ed. Need to revisit to try something else next time. 🙂

Spicy and sour rainbow trout

I noticed a few of the Thai hot peppers turned red in the garden today and decided to pair the hot peppers with the tail of rainbow trout I had.

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These Thai hot peppers are quite spicy so I only use a few of them whenever I cook with them.

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Ingredients:
Two finger sized ginger, thinly sliced
3 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
3-5 Thai hot peppers, chopped
4-5 tbs of Chinese cooking wine
2 tbs of soy sauce
2 tbs of chinkiang vinegar
2 tsp of sugar
4 tbs of sesame oil
Salt and pepper

Clean up the fish guts if you are starting with a whole fish. Cut a line along the fish belly. Cut a few lines across the fish body on both sides. Sprinkle salt over the fish and massage the coat of salt well into the cuts. Stuff the fish belly with ginger slices, chopped hot peppers, and chopped garlic bits. Pour 2-3 tbs of the cooking wine and 1 tbs of the vinegar over the fish and let the fish marinate for about 30 min to 1 hr. Take out all the ginger, hot pepper and garlic bits and pour everything together with liquid residual into a bowl for future use. Set the fish aside.

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In a hot wok, add sesame oil. Add the fish and sear both sides (each side takes about 1-1.5 min in high heat) until the white part of the skin turns golden. Add soy sauce, rest of the cooking wine, rest of the chinkiang vinegar, and the sauce bowl with ginger, garlic, hot peppers into the wok. Add 1-2 cups of water so that the whole fish is almost covered. Add salt, pepper and sugar. It is important to note that in the curvature of a wok, it requires less sauce to cook the fish just due to the way the fish is bent; in a flat pan, the ratio and the amount of sauce needs corresponding modification. Cook the fish in the broth in medium low heat and add water as needed. It takes about 10 -12 more minutes to cook the fish and use a ladle to pour sauce over the top side constantly. If you are curious whether the fish is fully cooked, you can make a cut on the top and see if the flesh is cooked there.

This is a slight change from a famous dish in China: sweet and sour river/lake fish. Adding some spiciness to this dish is a quite pleasant discovery. The fish turned out very tender, juicy and it went wonderfully with the broth. There was some de-boning action while eating, so it was not the prettiest eating scene but it was finger licking good!!! Lol. Try pouring a few spoonful of broth to rice (if you are eating with some kind of carbohydrates), it will blow you away! 🙂

Enjoy!

Zongzi-making Attempt to observe Dragon boat festival

Dragon boat festival is a day dedicated to famous ancient Chinese poet, Yuan Qu and is celebrated with zong-zi making/eating, dragon boat rowing, and other rituals. This is a festival not only observed in China, but also Japan, Korea, etc.

It has long past Dragon boat festival (June 12th this year), but I had stocked up all the ingredients needed to make my favorite kind of zongzi – so I am observing the tradition much later, in July. Lol.

Ingredients: yielding ~15 zongzi, 1-2 can fill one person up

Pork belly, 1lbs, cut into 2cm cubics
Preserved egg yolks, 15 count
White glutinous rice, 2-2.5 lbs of rice
Dried large leaves for zongzi (banana, bamboo, etc.), 30 count
Ropes, 1 spool

3/4 cup of Soy sauce
1 3/4 cup of Aged soy sauce
2 teaspoons of Chinese yellow cooking wine
1 teaspoon of five-spice powder
3 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper
Sesame oil

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In a bowl, mix soy sauce, 1/4 cup of aged soy sauce, cooking wine, five-spice, sugar, salt, pepper and sesame oil. Marinate the pork cuts in the mixed sauce for at least 8 hrs to a day.

Wash the glutinous rice before using. Drain the water and slowly add 1.5 cup of aged soy sauce to the rice and mix well using hands. Wait for about 2 hours until glutinous rice takes on a darker color. Add water or drain excessive amount of liquid if needed.

Boil water in a large wok. Throw in the bamboo leaves in batches and pull them out when the leaves become soft and appear greener. Now the wrapping leaves are ready too.

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Use 2 bamboo leaves per zongzi. Add rice, then add a yolk, add 1-2 pieces of pork (be aware that pork belly shrinks a lot after cooking and the rice expands 2-3 times of its original size) and add rice to desired full-ness. Wrap the zongzi up with leaves and seal with tied up ropes.

This is my first time ever wrapping my own zongzi, and boy, they were not good looking ones. Lol. It takes a lot of practice to wrap them well.

You can refer to this Youtube video to get an idea how to wrap zongzi. It is much harder than it appears.

Once you have made a big batch of zongzi, you can freeze them and cook them later. To cook them, bury them in boiled water and cook for about 5 minutes and turn the heat to low and cook for another 2-3 hours. Add more water when the water level is low.

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The zongzi turned out to be a little bit dry on the meat and the egg yolk, maybe I should have marinated the rice a bit longer and cooked the zongzi with even lower heat. But overall, it was quite good – with fresh high quality ingredients and so much love, it is hard to “completely” screw it up.

Even though this trial is nowhere near perfection, but it was a great start! And it was such a labor intensive product that I felt the urge to blog this tremendous amount of effort going into making this happen. Lol. To taste that wonderful flavor again, I will try again sometime. 🙂

New Canton BBQ in Aurora, CO

In Denver/Boulder metro, my favorite Asian grocery store is the Hmart. A supermaket owned by Koreans but really, you can find all kinds of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Southeastern Asian stuff as well as Korean groceries. It is a “grocery zoo” for me and every time I go, I try to make the most out of the long trip. Although indulging myself in produce of a great variety and sauces/pastes only common in Asia is a great treat in itself already. Lol.

Long story short, I discovered this New Canton BBQ right next to Hmart after shopping. They have just been open for a little over two months. Last time I tasted anything remotely resembled the true Cantonese BBQ was at R&G Lounge in San Francisco in 2012. And this time, the BBQ and the rest came out pretty darn good!

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We ordered BBQ pork and wonton soup to go. As soon as I saw their way of wrapping wonton and the color of the traditional Cantonese noodles, I knew I could be in for a treat!

Talking about Char-siu (BBQ pork) first, Cantonese char-siu need to be dark red and crispy outside, and pinkish-white inside. The meat needs to be half fat and half lean, which brings out the wonderful flavor of the pork. It is marinated and roasted/cooked in oven for long hours. The juice along with the marinating sauce coming down from the pork is the best and char-siu is usually served on a bowl of rice or a bowl of noodles with light broth. The pork from New Canton was really good and definitely lives up to my standards as good char-siu even after sitting in the car for over an hour.

The wonton noodle soup is another story. Cantonese wontons have a completely different look than “cat ears” that I usually make. They are supposed to have thin skin, plentiful filling and goldfish “tail”. The filling needs 30% fatty pork and 70% of lean pork, and one tail of shrimp, all hand chopped and mix together. The size of the wonton is just about one bite. The noodles have a clear yellow tint due to the use of duck eggs or duck/chicken egg mix in the noodle making. The noodles need special treatment with “zau gan (走枧)” for a few days, literally meaning “going through something baking soda/powder alike”. The resulting texture will be smoother and crispier. The broth of course also needs a lot of attention which I will skip since every chef has his/her own recipe. Topped with some vegetables and here is the wonton noodle soup. The wonton noodle soup I had was quite authentic, from the taste of the noodles to the filling of the wontons.

It is so rare for me to find any Chinese restaurant/diner in the US that lives up to my standards and I am very glad to find out about this place! This tiny place on South Park Rd. in Aurora, CO is quite a drive from Boulder but I will definitely make my way back some time soon!

Beijing-style Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce

It was 4th and I had been quite busy in the kitchen whipping up more food experiments. So, the long over-due Beijing-style cold noodles with sesame sauce recipe is finally here. 🙂

Ingredients: 2 serving bowls
Thin noodles, 16 oz
1/2 Cucumber, chopped into thin strips, on the side
1/2 Carrot, chopped into thin strips, on the side
A handful of thinly sliced Chinese BBQ pork, on the side
1-2 Green onions, finely chopped
A handful of cilantro, finely chopped (if available)
3 tablespoons of pure sesame paste (sesame paste was quite tricky to find for me, I had to go to a larger Asian grocery shop that is much farther away than the usual one I go to.)
4-5 tablespoons of water
1.5 teaspoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoons of Chinkiang vinegar
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
A pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper

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Mix salt and pepper, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, water and sesame paste until they all become liquid-y sesame sauce. Add/reduce water to yield preferred texture. In a boiling pot of water, toss in the noodles and cook for about 5-10 min depending on the noodles. Stir occasionally. Once the noodles are soft enough, drain the hot water and run the noodles under icy cold water for about 30 sec. Sprinkle chopped green onions and cilantro on the top, add the sides such as the cucumbers, carrots, pork slices, and pour the sesame sauce onto the noodles.

And… Ta-dah! Here you go, a bowl of cold noodles, thoroughly enjoyed throughout the summer!!!

the Mediterranean scene – Dagabi Cucina

At Tuesday nights, Dagabi Cucina in North Boulder right by Lucky’s market serves tapas at happy hour prices all night. So, that means, we are not going to miss that one! Lol.

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This is a hidden gem serving Mediterranean food. We ordered a table full of food: bread with balsamic sauce, steamed mussels in tomato-chili broth, croquetas de pescado, sauteed button mushrooms, fried calamari, assorted cured meats, sauteed Venus clams, and Pizza Focaccia. Everything was very good, but not exceptional. A few broth and sauces were flavored really well as far as I recall. But definitely, value beyond price. For how much we paid for the dishes, it was a great deal. I have to admit, this might have to be put there among my all-time favorite happy hour to-go places.

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For dessert, we picked zabaglione, an Italian chilled custard. Think pudding if you are curious about the texture. It was really good. Not overly sweet, quite light, delightful!

Since both of us were completely stuffed after sharing all 8 tapas and 1 dessert, we are going to have to come back again for the proper food on the menu. We will have to come back again for seafood paellas!

Xinjiang-style Lamb Kebabs

I have this beautiful cut of lamb round top of about 1lbs and am going to chime in this post about lamb kebabs that I made at home the other day first. This is a super easy recipe, the only thing that is a little annoying is that it involves some planning (a day ahead).

Ingredients: yields about 8 skewers with generous portion on them, definitely fills one person up; but with other side dishes, you probably can make 3 meals out of them.

1lbs Lamb round top, chopped into 1-2 cm cubes
10’s of Bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for at least half an hour before using
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cumin

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Mix all the spices and soy sauce. Marinate the lamb with the sauce for at least 8 hours. Keep the meat in cool places. Assemble the lamb kebabs with the water-soaked skewers.

Turn the oven on to about 500 F. In a flat baking sheet, lay down the skewers respectively and cook each side of the skewers for about 10 minutes. Every time you turn the skewers, sprinkle some more cumin and paprika on the top. Turn the oven down to about 400 F and cook each side for about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle more cumin on the skewers if you would like. Serve immediately.

Lamb x (cumin + soy sauce) = Yummy!!!!!