Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Black Bar 'n' Burger - Anyone feeling Nostalgic?

Having a bad cold can sometimes make us feel nostalgic, and being sick as a dog, thoughts of my mom rubbing Vics on my chest and giving me hot milk with ungodly amounts of honey pop into my mind. Ahh... it was good to be 5 or 6 years old. The world was rather forgiving.

I was just looking at some pictures and stumble upon this one:

That's me, with the blue MJ's style Thriller jacket

Yes, I grew up in Canada in the '80s, by the time Burger King and McDonalds still had that innocent charm and it was cool to do birthday parties there and bring the cake. The employees would put up balloons and even join in to sing Happy Birthday. 
It didn't seem all that bad then and I sometimes wonder what changed.

Today, I don't even like burgers all that much. Or so I thought.

I suddenly had a craving. Not just any craving, I wanted a big burger. Not a sad mushed up Whooper, no, no, no. I wanted a burger that would make me feel all fuzzy and warm inside. The moment I mumbled the word 'burger', my husband proposed me to go out and have one, so my friend (thanks Roni!) shook me around a bit and slapped some senses into me and dragged me to Azrieli.

We sat down at one of the booths at Black Bar 'n' Burger and were quickly attended. My  partner in crime ordered the "chicken burger" and I decided I wouldn't go for any less than the "Schwarzenegger" (220g of meat). For someone who usually takes "happy meal" portions, this was  fantastically big... but then again, so was my appetite.
The burger took a little long to arrive (around 20 minutes), but aside from the fact that the restaurant was packed at 9pm on a week day, I was feeling very forgiving and waited patiently. 
Both plates were very well presented and everything looked nice and fresh. We had an assortment of sauces on a table and when I picked the ketchup I suddenly realized that someone had carefully cleaned all the nozzles of the bottles. No greasy bottles, no bits of dried out ketchup. Nice!

I looked at my friend's chicken patty and wondered why on earth would someone pay 51 shekels for a chicken burger. 
Until I tasted. 
While most of us dread the thought of a  burger made out of anything but beef, this was delicious, moist and full of flavor. I dare to say it was nearly as good as the beef patty. I highly recommend it, specially if your looking for something a little lighter, yet still have that burger craving.

The OffBurger

As for my burger, it was frightening, in fact, I will not display the pictures where it actually looks bigger than my head. I managed to get hold of it and started to dig in as gracefully as I could.
The bread was lightly toasted and warm, as it should, the vegetables were fresh an crisp and the meat patty itself tasted amazing. Just the right amount of salt, not too greasy, yet juicy and medium rare, just like I asked.

I was one happy gal. Yum.

The Schwarzenegger

The dessert menu seemed interesting and we decided to try The Kremlin. Wonder why they call it that way? Take a look...

The Kremlin 

Lots of chocolate in the shape of brownies, mousse, truffles and nuts. Though it was really nice and chocolaty, we felt almost immediately that typical "left in the freezer for ages" taste.
The brownie at the bottom was still frozen and we struggled to break into it. This, in contrast with the soft chocolate mousse on top, made the whole "building" very unstable. Sadly, some of the nuts were also rancid. But aside from this (which is pretty bad in itself), the dessert was nicely presented and the different parts tasted pretty good (once defrosted).

This wasn't the perfect ending to our meal, true. But the burger was the star and ultimately, until I find something to top this, me and Schwarzenegger are going to see a lot of each other.

Score: 8/10

Cheers all!

EDIT: I have heard from several sources that these last weeks, the quality of Black Bar n' Burger has went downwards and the prices have just equally gone upwards. This deserves a second appreciation and perhaps a new rating.  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jalebi - Golden Coils of Happiness

Admittedly, one of the prettiest little things I made in a long time, these sweets are not only an amazing display, they are also very tasty. Unlike other fried goodies, these remain crispy due to the light caramel coating that protects them.
After searching several recipes and tweaking the dough, I realized that there isn't a fixed recipe, so bear this in mind.
The original method calls for fermentation of the batter. Well, for one, I didn't have live curd and secondly, I felt slightly intimidated by the prospect of letting cheese ferment on my counter top. So yes, I cheated a bit. 
Instead of curd, I used what we call here "labane", which is in fact a yogurt based cheese. The problem is that bought "labane" doesn't have anymore live cultures and so, fermentation may not occur properly. So I gave the dough a helping hand and simply added a little baking powder and moved on to prepare them immediately..

Again, this requires individual adjustments!


250 ml of labane or curd
150 g flour
30 g corn flour
safran strands for coloring (or yellow food coloring)
5 g of baking powder
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
vegetable oil for frying

Sugar syrup for dipping

Mix everything until there are no lumps and start heating the oil. The dough should have the consistency of pancake batter. If it's too hard, add more curd, if too liquid, add more flour.
Using a plastic bag with a cut corner or a funnel with a small opening, put the batter in and test the oil. Working in circles, try to make a small coil. It should first go to the bottom and them float to the surface seconds later. If the batter breaks off in the oil, either the oil is too hot or the batter is not consistent enough (both maybe).
Once you get the dough right, fry your jalebi on both sides, until pale golden.
Now that you have a heap of prepared jalebi, make the sugar syrup.
Mix 2 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar, let boil until it just starts to thicken. with a spoon, take a little bit, let it get cold on the spoon and touch it with the tip of your fingers. It should form a little strand, glue like.
Take each of your jalebi and dip in the warm caramel. Lay them on a griddle to cool. A delicious thin crust of caramel will form and keep you jalebi for days (if they last that long!).


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dinner at Yoko Uno - Gourmet, Gourmet, Gourmet...

Picture by Drew Kaplan

This was about to be good.
"All you can eat" sushi, raving reviews saying this was probably the best (kosher) sushi in Tel Aviv... it seemed we just couldn't go wrong.  Right?
After some difficulty finding the place amongst the maze of buildings of Ramat Gan's Diamond Trade Complex, we finally found it and made our way in.
The setting, while certainly trying to convey a sense of austerity and zen, was just gray and gloomy. Also surprisingly... we were utterly alone. The waitress tried to seat us in a what looked like a cubicle and was coincidentally in full view of the kitchen entrance, for her convenience. We politely refused and asked to be seated next to the large fish tank.
If not for the grim sight of a very large dead fish being ravenously eaten away by other fish, this was at least the most lively spot in the restaurant.
We were a bit worried when we were told that the "all you can eat" deal consisted of a small plate of different sushi. We could order that same plate over and over again. But basically, we didn't get to choose anything and were stuck with whatever they would serve us.
Our first round of sushi came amazingly fast and consisted of this:

First plate, minus one salmon skin

2 salmon inside out rolls: salmon, salmon skin, veggies. Served with a nice slab of fatty salmon on top, this was a good start and we wished there wouldn't be just two.

2 tuna inside out rolls: tuna and sweet potato. Very bland and the fish itself, though seemingly fresh, felt pasty in the mouth.  Sweet potato and tuna just don't go together.

2 veggie futomaki rolls: kampio, omelet (not tamago!), pickled daikon, cucumber and carrot. Nice sweet and salty bite. Less rice would have made these much more enjoyable. 

8 makis: mostly made out of thickly caked rice with a tiny piece of cucumber or salmon. Incredibly filling and almost hard to eat. We lovingly called these "The fillers". As a word of caution, try to stay away from these if you want your money's worth.

Since I never had this type of set "all you can eat" platter, I found myself in a dilemma. I didn't like half of what I had been served and asking for another round meant either suffer and eat it all again or leave what I didn't like, which feels a bit rude.
We then decided to order another plate, but asked the waitress not to add anymore makis, since we didn't particularly enjoyed them. She told us that's how the plate is made and could not be changed.
Could not be changed?!
We are alone in a 200 seat restaurant and they could not be accommodating enough to spare us the embarrassment of leaving off 8 rolls every time we ordered?
This was both absurd and liberating, as we didn't feel guilty anymore.

We finished the second plate and 8 neatly aligned makis marched back into the kitchen.
We ordered another round.
As our waitress walked by the restaurant counter and asked the sushi Chef a third order this is what transpired:

Waitress: Another order please.
Sushi Chef: What?! They already ordered two times!

The sushi Chef looked at our table angrily and realized I was looking at her the whole time, wide eyed.
Well, it was clear we would not go back to that restaurant, but we ordered another 5 plates just to make sure she figures out the true meaning of ALL YOU CAN EAT!

As it went, it got worse and slight changes took place, like the missing salmon skin and the sweet potato being substituted for cooked carrot. It was hard enough to eat the tuna roll as it was, now it was plain terrible. Who in it's right mind would put a thick log of cooked carrot in a sushi roll?

We decided to call it quits and asked for the bill and this is what we got:

Since when 2 times 54 equals 118?

YokoUno, with it's standard sushi, second grade fish and cooked carrot shenanigans might impress anyone new to this cuisine, but will disappoint any seasoned sushi eater.

Score: 5/10

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chinese Five-Spice Carrot Muffin


There are muffins... and then, there are Muffins.

No, this isn't about size and these don't even count as having the famed muffin top, but they are so delicious that I thought it would be unfair not to share them with you. 
This one was obviously striked down with a big bite before I could take a picture, but it didn't seem to mind too much and smiled for the camera nevertheless. 

Chinese Five-Spice Carrot Muffin

200 g of white flour
250 g brown sugar
50 g wheat germ
8 g of cinnamon
4 g of Chinese five-spice blend 
5 g baking soda
2 g baking powder
4 g fine salt
2 eggs
140 ml of canola oil
6 medium sized carrots (grated)

Heat oven at 180 degrees Celcius.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs and oil together.
Add the liquid ingredients and the grated carrot to the dry ingredients and stir gently with a spatula until almost all the dry bits are gone. If some are left, it's alright. Don't mix beyond this point!

Fill your greased muffin cups with spoonfuls of batter (I like to use paper cups for convenience).
Cook for about 25 minutes.

Cheers all!

Rambling about sushi...

Salmon, grilled salmon skin, avocado, cucumber and green onion
I don't even know where to start. 
I had my first bite around 12 years ago and it turned into a love affair. This was a whole different world of yumminess I had just discovered. I am still puzzled at how something so simple can be so good... and yet, so tricky.
Everything is important. 
The rice should be cooked just right, otherwise, it will form an unpleasant mass when shaped... if undercooked, it won't hold together. Please, I beg, stay away from brown rice... just keep it for something else, anything else, but not sushi. Don't get me wrong, I like brown rice, but the texture is wrong, it doesn't adhere correctly and the taste competes with all the other delicate ingredients you are about to fill your sushi with.
Finding extremely fresh salmon is harder than you might think. At the best of times, when a fish is caught, particularly Atlantic salmon, chances are, it will have probably already travelled a long way and by the time you buy it, it's already a couple of days old. At best. 
In my case, buying high quality frozen norvegian salmon (whole fillet) is the closest to fresh salmon, since it frozen immediately after being caught. 
Some purists (I am one in many aspects)  might say frozen is the least desirable option. Well, I say your senses will usually give you the answer. It should not smell fishy in any shape or way... only a crisp, fresh ocean's aroma will be detectable. Yes, you heard right, it should smell like the ocean.
When raw, the flesh is firm, plump and fatty. The taste should be slightly fruity and buttery in the mouth. If it feels very oily, the fish was probably exposed to too much heat and the fat (which should remain in the flesh) migrated to the outside. That is not a good thing.
The vegetables, if adding any, are up to you dear reader. 
In sushi, as said before, everything is important. 
Proportion to me, are also something too important to ignore. If making a big roll (futomaki), try to keep the rice between 150 to 200 g for the whole seaweed sheet. More than this and you will probably end up with a mouthful of rice... and not much else. The salmon should always be the star, so don't be cheap. A nice 1cm wide strip of salmon is just right in my opinion. Add your vegetables, be sensible. You just can't cram everything in there! 
me: Of course I can! Watch... ermm... eeee...there... almost.
[cucumber flies like a bullet sideways, avocado whirls out like a wet bar of soap]
Roni:I told ya, now you can't close the darn thing. Nice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mitarashi Dango - Revisited

Just look at them... 

They are so cute to look at, you cannot help but feeling a bit guilty about biting into them. But fear not, these are worth biting into and they were gone before I even had time to say Jack Robinson.
The green dango was a bit out of the ordinary and was surprisingly good! I didn't have any matcha tea, so I used what I had at hand, green tea with roasted rice. It was grinded to a fine powder...

 Here are the uncooked dangos:

Here they are now, cooked and neatly skewered, ready to be drizzled with warm mitarashi sauce...

Compared to my first attempt, this was better in every possible way... taste, texture, look.
I went a bit overboard with the pink dango, which turned out bright red, but the dango itself was delicious, light and ever so slightly sweet. Our panel of tasters felt divided when it came to the sauce. I myself loved it and thought the combination of green tea dango and mitarashi was perfect.  Yum.
Big thanks to Hiro for the great recipe and wonderful tips!
Thanks to Roni for helping me explore the mysterious world of ear-lobe textured doughs.

Cheers all!