Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eating on the run. Marination Mobile.

I don't know much about tacos, or taco trucks, but I love Korean food. It brings back childhood memories of grilling marinated beef short ribs over tabletop grills, bowls of spicy kimchee and tangy marinated bean sprouts and potato salad (man, I loved that potato salad), rice sprinkled with sesame seeds. I was addicted to the sweet-salty taste of marinated beef, intensely caramelized at the charred edges of every bite; I even loved the smoky smell that clung to your hair, your skin, your clothes, hours after you had eaten your fill and headed home. That you could find all this tasty goodness wrapped in a tortilla seemed to good to be true.

Back in the Spring I had read about a Korean-Hawaiian taco truck that was about to set up shop in Seattle. Even better, they would be stopping in my neighborhood two or three nights a week, just about halfway between work and home (a dangerous location). I could hardly wait. Weeks went by. I tracked their progress on Twitter. Soon, they promised. Soon. Finally, someone else Tweeted pictures from some super-secret pre-opening party, with photos of ginger-miso chicken and spicy shredded pork tacos in paper boats. The anticipation was unbearable. Two days went by. I left work, ran some errands, had an iced tea and read The Soul of a Chef, and waited for the taco truck to open for business.

I could see various people getting ready from across the street, climbing in and out and walking around a shiny new silver truck (not a cool bubble Airstream like Skillet Street Food, or a Modernist pig on wheels like the Maximus/Minimus truck, which sells barbecue sandwiches). I gave up on pretending to read and walked over. I could see cooks moving around inside and smell delicious things, but they weren't quite ready. The opening hour was moved back half an hour. I was devastated. I walked around the block to Molly Moon and consoled myself with a small scoop of raspberry-mint sorbet (tasty, except I wish they had strained out the seeds) and killed another half an hour. Then I headed back to find a television crew interviewing one of the owners, and a line beginning to form. Any minute now! they tell me, and I stand there hoping that I will not wind up on tv.

Meanwhile the awnings go up, the counters flip down, and a side panel is raised to reveal an ice-tray filled with cold drinks. The menu is simple, the prices are reasonable, if not downright cheap, and I quickly make up my mind: three tacos, one beef, one chicken, one pork. I am the very first customer to place an order, the very first customer on Capitol Hill (the first day of business was the day before, in Fremont, and there were lines down the block), and sooner than I thought possible a paper boat is handed over, filled with tacos heaped with coleslaw, with sliced peppers and lime wedges on the side. I hold my precious cargo with both hands and run home, like a three-year-old with a butterfly caught in cupped hands. While waiting at stoplights I picked out a few bites of beef, which only left me wanting more. Before I knew it I was home and scarfing down my tacos.

They are perfect. The miso-ginger chicken is good, but it is not as interesting as the spicy pork shoulder (although apparently it is not spicy enough for most people, people who were not raised in the same hot-food-free environment as I was). Best of all is the kalbi beef, which is exactly like the barbecued beef I remember. All are wrapped in warm corn tortillas, with a smear of some creamy orange sauce, and a pile of crunchy fresh cabbage and carrots (I think, but I am too busy eating to really pay attention). I can't wait until next week, so I can try the other things on the menu.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Weekend Baking.

On Saturday I woke in a panic. I had a potluck dinner that night, and I had no idea what to make. I had promised dessert, and now I had to deliver. Frantically I turned to Italian Too Easy, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, the owners of the River Café in London. I found a chocolate-almond cake that seemed simple enough, but I would substitute hazelnuts for the almonds. The recipe was clear and straightforward, although I still wonder why they specify "organic eggs." Of course they are preferable to ordinary ones, but what if you did not make it out to the farm where the corgis bark madly from the kennels or over to the farmer's market to buy eggs from the stand that carries all those delicious-looking jams?

Butter and chocolate melted in a bowl over simmer water, hazelnuts were chucked into the food processor - we are like *this* now, my food processor and I, although the bowl is made of a lighter plastic than I would like - and pulsed until finely ground. Actually I get distracted by Twitter and the hazelnuts are a bit sticky, but they will be fine once scraped into the cake batter. Eggs - yes, organic - are cracked, some left whole, others divided, the yolks and whole eggs stirred into the cooled, melted chocolate-butter mixture, the whites whipped until they hold firm peaks. I hold my breath as I fold the chocolate-hazelnut mixture into the egg whites - I don't have a good history with egg whites - and pray as I slide the pan into the oven. Miraculously, the cake rises, slips out easily from the pan after it cools. I place it on a gold cardboard round and stick the cake into a pink cardboard box, tie it all with string, and walk downtown to A.'s apartment with my cake and a pint of homemade salted caramel ice cream.

The cake is a success, the ice cream more so, because for some reason homemade ice cream trumps all else, even cakes made with organic eggs. But then it is Sunday and I have another project before me: chocolate cookies with lime zest and cocoa nibs. K. emailed me the recipe, and whenever she emails me a recipe it is an indication that she would like me to make it for her. As soon as possible. I have good cocoa powder, Droste, and limes, two small instead of the one large that the recipe calls for, and cocoa nibs provided by K. The dough fills the kitchen with its fragrance as I stir it together and when I take a taste I am blown away by how good it is. Soon I am eating a small dab of cookie dough with every scoop I place on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.

I eat a cookie straight from the baking sheet, as soon as it is cool enough to touch. It is soft and warm and intensely chocolatey, with the subtle zing of lime zest and the slightly astringent crunch of cocoa nibs. It is the best cookie I have ever eaten. I eat three in rapid succession, all still warm from the oven, and later, once they have all cooled and I am packing them up for K., I eat another one. You know. Just to make the numbers even. There is more dough in the freezer, waiting for another day.