May 24, 2011

Restaurant Review: Toyama Sushi

"Oh look, there's a new restaurant. I wonder if it is good. We should go sometime."  Then we typically forget about it. As such, this conversation with Ross probably happened a good 5-8 times every time we drove by Toyama on Shepard but we finally tried it!  Walking in, the restaurant features clean designs, bright colors and several areas for seating - booths, tables and a modestly sized bar. I have to admit, I automatically cringed just a wee bit wondering if this was going to be a Zake or a Ra where they start playing club music to make it a little more hip, but no fear, it wasn't. 

As we looked at the menu, we immediately commented that the menu is glaringly similar to our favorite sushi restaurant, Osaka, on Westheimer. The waiter informed us that they are sister restaurants - queue my big smile and soon to be happy stomach.  

Owned by Shirley Li, who also owns Osaka, Toyama is a nice surprise. It is apparently named after a small town close to Osaka and as I write this, I actually remember my family trip to Japan several years ago where we actually visited this city - touring the castle museum and a sake brewery =).  

As for the sushi, the quality of the fish tastes fresh, sushi roll options are varied but without any fuss and the prices are very reasonable. They also had a 50 percent off sushi and rolls when we went on a late Saturday afternoon.  However, I do have the say that the quality at Osaka is just a little bit better. When we have the salmon sashimi at Osaka, it is like butter and we have a little sigh of happiness. At Toyama, it just didn't seem to be on the same level but I give it leeway as it's a fairly new restaurant.

Here's what was on our menu. The first is a chopped scallop roll - very simple, to the point, no embellishments. One of my favorites simply because I love chopped scallop so much but if you are really want the best chopped scallop that I've tried in town thus far, go to Miyakos.  We also had a roll that was the other favorite of the meal - white fish sushi roll with seared tuna and strawberry. I was surprised by the fresh, bright flavor the slice of strawberry added to this roll and how well it complemented the fish. The crab roll topped with fresh salmon and crunch was also good but out of everything we tried, probably our least favorite. Simply good but nothing spectacular.

Oh, and the added perk of Toyama? Following the tradition at Osaka, we received a complementary appetizer and ice cream with fried banana dessert.  Yes, please!  Overall, the restaurant is a great alternative to Osaka if you are looking for a much less expensive meal, especially if you go during their happy hour.  Service is quite good and they refilled our drinks and cleared our empty plates often.  My only qualm I have is their location and most specifically, their parking lot which I think literally only fits 5-8 cars. You'll most likely end up having to park in the neighborhood and walk to the restaurant.  We've been two additional times since our first visit and we leave with pretty happy stomachs. Check out Toyama or Osaka when you have the chance.  I'm always open to other sushi restaurants so please share!

2802 S Shepherd Dr
Houston, TX 77098

515 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006

May 19, 2011

Easy Creamy Chicken Piccata

My brother-in-law made this dish for me when I stayed with them. He's taught me a few other dishes so it's fitting that I call him Chef Alcaraz. So, what makes this dish?  Definitely the crispy crust and the oh my, oh my, the lemon-y butter-y sauce goodness. This is the type of sauce that you want to pour over everything you have on your plate - broccoli, rice, pasta, whatever. Trust me, it will taste better with this sauce.

Chef Alcaraz made it with chicken breast but I used what I had in my freezer - boneless chicken thighs and it was just as good. I changed it up by using panko crumbs to give it a crunchier bite to the dish and of course, I used cream. Like this sauce, cream makes everything better, smoother and silkier. 

A key thing to note for this is that you should cook your meat on medium heat, not high. If you cook on high, your meat will cook on the outside too fast and start burning before the middle is cooked. When you realize how easy this dish is to make, you'll cringe a little that you've ever spent the $10 plus dollars on this same dish in a restaurant. 

Creamy Chicken Piccata
Adapted from this recipe
Serves 4

4 boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup panko crumbs
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup capers
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup cream
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Zest from one lemon
Handful of chopped parsley

1. On a clean plate, put the flour and panko crumbs.  Make sure your chicken thighs are washed and thoroughly dried with paper towels. If you find that your thighs vary signficantly in thickness, flatten them out between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper.  This helps ensure your meat cooks evenly.

2. Take the dry chicken and evenly coat each piece. 
3. In a pan on medium, heat up the olive oil and 2 tbsp of butter.
4. Cook one side of the chicken for about 5-6 minutes.  Flip the chicken and cook for another 5-6 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

5. Remove the chicken from the pan. There should be plenty of butter and chicken bits left.  If not, you can add in a few extra tbsp of butter or you can do what I do and add in cream. :) Add in the lemon juice, zest, stock and capers. 

6. Once the liquids blend together and you have scraped up the bits of chicken and incorporated into the sauce, add the chicken back into the pan and add in one final tbsp of butter.
7. Remove to serving platter, making sure to add all the sauce and sprinkle the top with chopped parsley.  This is best served with linguine with simple herbs, S&P and olive oil - and even better when you add some of this sauce!  I had leftover rice and that worked well too.

May 16, 2011

So Fresh Edamame Salad

This is a dish I discovered several years ago during a Central Market cooking class. In that class, this salad was served alongside grilled lamb chops. It's such a simple and incredibly fast dish that I love making it when I'm in a bind and need a somewhat healthy lunch. 

I feel like edamame has really taken off in the past few years and is now a much more common snack. It's no longer just the soybeans you have in a japanese restaurants. You find it now incorporated into a variety of non-Japanese food now. 

I typically buy the frozen edamame from the asian grocery store. Nowadays, you can find this in almost any store.  I have found that I prefer the edamame that are still in the pods versus the ones that are already shelled. I feel like the unshelled beans taste firmer and fresher. Just my preference but it does mean it takes a little longer to shell each one. 

Edamame Salad
Serves 3

1 package soy beans / edamame
5 radishes, sliced
1 large shallot, minced
Zest of one lemon
6 slices of prosciutto, sliced in similar size as the radish
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp champagne vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice from one lemon

1. If you have frozen edamame, boil water and then briefly soak the edamame. Shell so you have individual beans.
2. Make sure you thoroughly wash the radish. Slice approximately five radishes into thin slivers.  
3. Mince the shallots. Taking about six slices of proscuitto, I rolled it and slice into slivers. Then take a rough chop so they are smaller pieces. Add to the soy beans. 
4. In a small bowl, mix the mustard, champagne vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk well.
5. Toss the dressing with the salad. Take a quick taste and add S&P as needed. If you need more acidity, add more lemon. I have a tendency to always add an additional splash of vinegar.

May 13, 2011

Party In Your Mouth: Strawberry Cupcakes

I can't resist the overwhelmingly large containers of fresh fruit at Costco. With strawberry season in full force, how can you resist the 8lb container? Not me! However, I can only snack on so many strawberries - plain, with a little sugar sprinkled on top or dipped in nutella - before the freshness starts to decline. 

I found some very odd, unique takes to dishes using strawberries, such as this strawberry risotto. Not tempting enough to make but still very interesting indeed.  Maybe one day I will venture out and try this....maybe. 

I had a cupcake craving several weeks ago and ended up going to the grocery store to buy some.  They weren't great and didn't satisfy my craving one bit.  This was my opportunity and hooray, it was great!  Using fresh strawberries definitely added an additional level of flavor - the bites of baked strawberries in the cupcakes with the combination of the fresh strawberries in the frosting worked well together.  I don't like overly sweet cupcakes so these cupcakes were perfect. If you like sweeter cupcakes, you can add more sugar - maybe 1/2 cup more or added more sugar to the frosting.  I also made a small batch of mango cupcakes and they were just as good. They made the batter a little more moist and you can probably cut down on the sugar as the mangos I had were incredibly sweet.  Sorry, no pictures of the mango cupcakes.

Strawberry Cupcakes
Makes approximately 36 cupcakes

1 3/4 sticks of unsalted butter
1.5 cups sugar
5 eggs
Zest from two lemons
1 cup sour cream
3 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
2.5 cups diced strawberries
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Make sure your butter is room temperature. I like to take mine out at least a half day in advance so it is perfectly creamy when you mix. In your mixer, cream butter and sugar on high for about 2 minute.  
3. For the eggs, I like to bring them out about an hour prior to baking.  Crack into a bowl to make sure you don’t get a bad egg in your batter or any shells.  Add one egg at a time to the sugar butter mixture while it is on medium high. Make sure to stop and scrape down the sides to make sure it is evenly mixed.  
Don't worry if it looks a little curdled. Keep mixing and it will smooth out.  
4. Add the sour cream and vanilla.  You can cut down on the vanilla but I have a tendency to almost always double the amount because I love the hint of flavor it provides. Let this mix on medium slow.  

5. Next, add the lemon zest.  

6. In another bowl, mix together the cake flour, salt and baking soda. You can use unbleached flour if you do not have cake flour. With cake flour, I find that it is just a little lighter and you end up coming out with less dense cupcakes. Add the flour to the mixer in three portions – making sure to turn off the mixture when you add or you’ll have a nice sprinkle of flour on your face and clothes.  

7. Add in the diced strawberries with a spatula and/or fork.
8. With your cupcake pan all nice and lined, use an ice cream scoop and fill each cupcake liner about 3/4th of the way.  
 (I made mini cupcakes too.)
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I put my timer at 18 minutes just in case your oven cooks a little faster. My total time in the oven was 22 minutes.

Meringue cupcake frosting

2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup diced strawberries

1. With a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water on the stove, beat the egg whites and sugar with a hand mixer until it doubles in size and becomes a little frothy.  You want to make sure the sugar is dissolved.  
2. Pour the mixture into your electric mixer with a whisk attachment (you can probably still use the hand mixer if you’d like) and set it on medium high. Start adding the butter 1 tbsp at a time until it becomes light and creamy. Add in the vanilla extract. 
3. With a spatula, fold in the strawberries into the frosting mixture.  Spread a little bit onto each cupcake and enjoy!

May 01, 2011

Beef Short Ribs with Rice

This is a recipe that I tried a while ago but just haven't had the time to pull it together into a post. My Saturday must-dos is brewing a hot cup of coffee, wrapping myself in a blanket on the couch and catching up on my DVR.  To the dismay of my boyfriend, my TV viewing consists almost entirely of Food Network, HGTV, Cooking Channel, Bravo and ABC Family - the latter of which I am not at all ashamed of.  If it were up to him, it'd be in the 1600 channels for the love that is ESPN. 

I've had beef rib plenty of times but had yet to venture and try to cook any type of dish that required this particular cut of meat. Pork ribs, no problem. Those are a staple in my freezer for whenever I have a craving for Pork Sinagang - thanks to my awesome brother in law for teaching me that dish!  Beef ribs, not so much.  Ina Garten has this way of making everything she cooks sound and look like the best thing you could ever make, and this recipe was no different. 

The verdict, the process was a tad complex - not in the sense that it was hard, just that there were several multiple steps, several ingredients and lots of chopping. This is definitely a weekend recipe simply due to time, and my lack of patience on a weekday after work when I'm starving at 630 p.m. and two more hours seems like eternity.  This is a good basic recipe. I think the flavorings with the herbs can be boosted quite a bit, some shallots

Beef Ribs
Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Make sure to look at her recipe first. I changed out a few of the ingredients simply due to what I had in my fridge.

4 beef ribs
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 bottle of red wine
4 tsp of rosemary, roughly chopped
3 tsp of thyme, roughly chopped
4 cups of chicken stock (or beef stock)
2 cups of water
1 tbsp of brown sugar
Olive oil
Garlic Powder
Cooked white rice

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and pat dry your beef short ribs. Place on a baking sheet and season with S&P and garlic powder. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes. Take out when done but leave the oven at 400.

2. Take the next four ingredients and get to chopping, making sure that everything is roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Recall that the recipe asks for 3/4 of the bottle instead of the whole bottle - why? Well, because the cook needs something to drink while she cooks!  :)
3. Heat a large casserole dish that is oven safe and large enough to hold the stock and ribs.  Add olive oil and then the onion - cook on medium high heat. Let them sweat out a little bit until they are glossy and see through. Lightly, lightly season with S&P and garlic powder.  Once done, add in the remainder of the veggies (honestly, you can probably use whatever you have but celery, carrots and onions are the typical staple of a stew and the flavors work really well together).  Cook for a few more minutes and then add in the tomato paste and the garlic. Lightly add another round of salt and pepper.  Give it a good mix and let cook for a few more minutes. 
4. Next, add in the wine and turn heat to high.  Once it is boiling, turn back down the heat to medium/medium low and let it simmer until it reduces in half. This took 15 minutes for me. Add in the thyme and rosemary.
5. Place your roasted beef ribs on top of your veggies and reduce wine mixture. Add in the chicken stock, water and brown sugar. Let the flavor mix for about 5 minutes then cover.  Place in the oven and cook for two hours. 
6. After two hours, take out the dish and place on stove on medium high heat.  Remove the beef and set aside - meat should be falling or have already fallen off the bone.  YUM.  Let the sauce reduce by half and then add back in the ribs.  Make sure to taste and add S&P as necessary. 
7. Served this over a bowl of rice. I think this can even be served over egg noodles.
8. 9:00 p.m. Time for dinner. Very poor planning on the chef's part.