Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Really, It's Gourmet: 1000 Year Old Egg

This installment of “Really, It’s Gourmet” will acquaint you with a traditional Chinese delicacy that has been around since the Ming Dynasty about 500 years ago.

The Century Egg , also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, and thousand-year-old egg, is a Chinese culinary ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. After the process is completed, the yolk becomes a dark green, cream-like substance with a strong odor of sulfur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavor or taste. Doesn’t that sound yummy boys and girls? Sulfur and ammonia, I’m sorry, is that the description for food or the public restrooms on Fisherman’s Warf?

As putrid as this may sound to most people, even today this method of preserving eggs is widely practiced. Modern understanding of the chemistry behind the formation of century eggs has led to many simplifications in the recipe. For instance soaking the eggs in brine of salt and for 10 days followed by several weeks of aging while wrapped in plastic is said to achieve the same effect as the traditional method.

There are many ways to eat Century Eggs; on their own as a side dish. As an hors d'oeuvre, the Cantonese wrap chunks of this egg with slices of pickled ginger root. The most popular seems to be to cut them up into tiny cubes and cook them with rice porridge to create Century egg and Lean Pork congee. A popular street food in Hong Kong consists of whole century eggs coated in fish meal, breaded, and deep-fried. Here in the US a popular way to eat 1000 year old egg is to have it force fed to you because you lost a bet!

There are many strange and wonderful gourmet dishes prepared around the world, some we simply embrace and other we must say “Really, It’s Gourmet”!

Recipe: Century egg and Lean Pork Congee

2 century eggs
8oz lean pork
8 cups of plain rice porridge
1 tbsp sliced ginger
1 tbsp chopped spring onion
1 sprig of cilantro

pinch of pepper
1 1/3 tbsp salt
dash of
sesame oil


  1. Remove the shell of the century egg and cut into small cubes
  2. Marinate the lean pork with 1 tbsp of salt
  3. Cook 8 cups of plain rice porridge
  4. Add the century egg, lean pork, ginger and the seasonings
  5. Cook a further 5 minutes

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: Cascal - Spirited Pan-Latin Cuisine

Cascal Restaurant in Mountain View, CA is the subject of this Last Bite Restaurant Review.

Upon arriving at Cascal we were surprised at how full the place was. I would expect this type of crowd on the weekend, but not mid-week. The restaurant was two thirds full and the bar was at capacity. We actually had to stand at the bar as there were no seats left. We managed to squeeze into a small spot on the side of the bar closest to the entrance until a couple of seats opened up.

The bartender was on his game and greeted us within a minute of making our way to the bar. He recommended a Mojito or Capyrhania or a glass of wine; however no specific wine was offered. I order an Iced Tea and my guest ordered a Capyrhania. The drinks were wonderfully presented with muddled fruit in the Capyrhania and fruit garnish on the iced tea. Both the cocktail and the tea were fresh and delicious tasting.

The cocktail was served with two tiny straws. This made the beverage a little difficult to consume since the muddled fruit was constantly clogging the straws. I offered my larger straw; which I was not using, to my guest and this problem was eliminated. While we enjoyed our drinks and the newly claimed barstools the bartender came back and asked if we would like to order any food. We mentioned that we would be eating in the dining room shortly.

The bar remained at full capacity the entire time we were there. I even checked upon leaving and there was only a single stool opened. This place was jumpin’ for sure!

When we finished our beverages I got up to have the hostess get our table ready. My guest stayed at the bar while I went to see about our seats in the dining room. When I returned with the manager, who was seating us, the bar tender offered to transfer our tab. We thanked him and moved to our table. I am already impressed at the way the staff here interacts. They all work together supporting each other’s roles and it is making for a very pleasant experience so far!

For an appetizer we ordered the Crab & Corn Soup. It was presented simply yet attractively in a ceramic crock. The soup was creamy, sweet and smoky all at the same time. It was garnished with a medallion of lump crab meat in the center.

The flavors of this dish worked together well. All the flavors were subtle and enhanced the complexity of this dish. I felt there was an element of texture missing as the whole thing was a little mushy. I did find a little bit of crab shell in the soup. While it did not completely put me off eating the soup; it was somewhat unpleasant.

The Mexican Bar tapas was served simply on an oval platter. There was a spicy dipping sauce on the platter for flavor enhancement of the individual items in the sampler. The sampler was quite boring to look at, and the empanada and quesadilla were completely devoid of any garnish. The sopes were garnished with a sprig of flat leaf parsley, and the taquitos with some crumbled queso blanco. This entrée tasted fine; however, my guest was forced to spit out a long thin chicken bone that was hiding in one of the sopes.

The Puerco Cubano was extremely delicious. It was presented simply with an accompaniment of white rice, black beans, plantain and sweet potato mash.

I felt that the pork itself was outstanding and the rest of the dish was just ok. The pork was perfectly seasoned and fork tender. It was moist and delicious and a pleasure to eat. I felt it was just a little fatty in spots but not enough to put me off.

The side dishes; other than the sweet potato mash were somewhat bland. The rice was served plain, the black beans lacked seasoning. Even a little salt and pepper would have helped with the flavor of the sides. We both felt the outstanding nature of the pork made up for the weak side dishes on this meal.

The entrees were delivered in the appropriate amount of time and were served at the proper temperature. Portions seemed to be adequate and neither of us felt like we were still hungry afterwards.

For dessert we ordered the Tres Leche Cake. It was presented wonderfully; with a sprig of mint in the center. The topping of flavored sweetened condensed milk was either broiled or torched for a caramelized effect.

While we both felt the caramelized topping was a little too sweet; overall this was a wonderful dessert. There was a layering of flavors and you could clearly pick out tones of coconut, vanilla and lime. The cake itself was moist but not soggy and this dessert was a pleasure to eat. We ordered some coffee to help cut the sweetness of the topping. The strong coffee they were serving was a perfect pair to this dessert.

The overall appearance of Casacal was very clean and well maintained. The building itself had a new appearance. The property seemed well maintained and there was no sign of any lapse of maintenance anywhere on the premises. The lighting inside was dim yet appropriate for the ambiance that they have created. Outside was also well lighted and inviting.

We did however find the noise level inside to be almost unbearable inside. The venue was at capacity and patrons seemed to almost be yelling to carry on their conversations. Above all that, the music could still be heard. Perhaps the reason for the loud environment was the music level. It’s hard to tell.

Our server was very pleasant and attentive when he was around, with the exception of keeping my iced tea full. We enjoyed the service that he provided. While he did seem to be very knowledgeable of the menu items, no suggestions were made other than pointing out the wine section of the menu. When we asked pointed question regarding menu items he was able to provide some guidance.

He did check back with us a few times; sometimes he simply glanced over as he walked by making sure we were happy while we ate.

Bussers kept our table cleared of excess dishes at all times. They were very effective and after our entrees were completed the busser even wiped down our table as if he was crumbing it. We felt this enhanced our dessert and coffee experience.

If you’re looking for a great Latin food experience and you don’t mind a bit of a crowd we highly recommend Casacal Restaurant on Castro Street, Downtown Mountainview, CA.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Barbecue Recipe: Beer Can Chicken

Here's a great way to break in the grill or barbecue this season. For those of you in the warmer climates that have already been BBQing; you get to cook outdoors again and drink a beer while you do it. What could be better?


1 (4-pound) whole chicken
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 can beer

Option: Substitute your favorite dry rub for the salt and pepper

Remove neck and giblets from chicken and discard. Rinse chicken inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Massage chicken lightly with oil then rub inside and out with salt, pepper or dry rub. Set aside.

Open a beer can and take several gulps (make them big gulps so that the can is half full, if you accidentally drink too much, try again until you get it right). Also make sure you are using a standard size beer can, after all, your poor chicken has to straddle that thing! Place the beer can on a solid surface. Grabbing a chicken leg in each hand, fit the bird cavity over the beer can as shown in the above image. You can use a special beer can rack or just balance your bird Sumo style on the can. Transfer the Chicken Sumo Warrior to your grill and place in the center of the grate, balancing the bird on its two legs and the can like a tripod.

Cook the chicken over medium-high, indirect heat (no coals or burners on directly under the bird). If you should have any heat source directly under the bird you will likely end up with an incinerated chicken tripod, and the recipe will be renamed Fire Extinguisher Chicken. Keep the grill cover on, for approximately 1 1/4 hours or until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees F in the breast area, and 180 degrees F in the thigh, or until the thigh juice runs clear when stabbed with a sharp knife. I prefer to use a thermometer; stabbing is so violent! Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Suggestion: Serve with some Gourmet Barbecue Sauce on the side for dipping.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Review: Shipp's Barbeque Sauce

Hey Foodies, time for another sauce review on The Last Bite.

Tax time is finally behind us but gas is up to $4 a gallon. Luckily barbecue season is in full swing; so save some cash by staying home for some great BBQ instead of eating out. We’ll try to point you in the right direction with some product reviews.

Today I tried “Shipp’s Barbeque Sauce”. I checked out their website where you can buy their sauce using paypal. It had the following information to share:

“Shipp's BBQ sauce has been a big hit with family and friends for many years (since 1968) and now it's available to the public. It's great on hamburgers, steaks, ribs, chicken, just about anything! Give it a try - it's time you tried a new barbeque sauce anyway!”

Initial Impression: When I got the bottle of Shipp’s Barbeque Sauce in my hand I sort of had mixed feelings. I was excited about having a sauce from a family owned business all the way from Arkansas, but the plastic bottle and the wrinkly label had me questioning the quality before I ever got to the contents.

Appearance: I really liked the way this sauce looks. It has a deep reddish brown color with little black flecks; my guess is coarse black pepper. The consistency of this sauce is a bit thin but it would do well as a mopping sauce near the end of cooking. I would expect to use a lot of napkins if you are using it on a sandwich. Now I’m getting excited about tasting it!

Aroma: The aroma is very tangy, almost vinegar like with most dominant scent being tomato. Not too unusual for a barbecue sauce. I get a little garlic and black pepper in the bouquet, but you really have to get a big snoot full to get past the tangy tomato scent.

Taste: I always like to have a taste before trying any sauce on food. Sometimes the incredible complex flavors surprise and amaze you. Well, I was surprised but not amazed in this case. Celery and black pepper are the flavors that jump out up front. As a matter of fact I’m sure I have never tasted a barbecue sauce that had that much of a distinct flavor up front. It’s as if the sauce was built around the black pepper and celery. I found it to be somewhat out of balance. Sweetness was a bit of an issue for me as well, I found this sauce to be very sweet.

The Food Test: It just so happened that on this particular day my smoker has been stocked full of dry rubbed beef brisket. What better test for a BBQ sauce than this? I must say Shipp’s BBQ Sauce is better applied to a well seasoned and smoked brisket than it is out of the bottle. The overpowering flavors and sweetness seem to be absorbed by the meat. Other than the bite of the black pepper there is no detectable heat. As I predicted earlier it is a bit thin for sandwich application, maybe as a dipping sauce?

Conclusion: “Shipp’s Barbeque Sauce” is ok in my books. I enjoyed it on my brisket sandwich and on my shirt and on my jeans! If you want a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce with plenty ‘o’ black pepper you have found it. Their friends and families have been lovin’ this sauce since 1968 and now you can too.

Packaging 3/10 – Wrinkled Labels
Aroma 6/10 – Tangy, Tomatoey
Appearance 7/10 – Color, Black Flecks
Taste 6/10 – A Bit Out of Balance
Heat 1/10 – No Heat.

Overall 5/10