Monthly Archives: July 2013

Picán, Oakland CA

Entering an opulent room with high ceilings and live jazz played on a baby grand piano, you hope that the food matches the atmosphere.  When at least two of the senses are intrigued, the others want to play along.  The food on the menu at Picán has flavors that are on par with the visuals and sounds of the restaurant, so tonight our palates were not let down by the soul food with a touch of California heart.

cornbread and honey butter

cornbread and honey butter

Instead of rolls or a sliced loaf of bread, cornbread is offered.  It served well through our meal to sop up the various sauces and dribbles.  With honey butter, it could easily be dessert on its own.

southern mule

southern mule

Picán has a full bar and is known for boasting a broad bevy of bourbon.  Tonight, though, we weren’t inclined to drink alcohol, so our server recommended a non-alcoholic Southern Mule.  Akin to a juice cocktail, this was a mix of ginger beer, lemon juice, and pineapple juice.  It was tangy and only mildly sweet, and the flavor combination of citrus with ginger was very refreshing.

alligator fritto misto

alligator fritto misto

Zach has had alligator only a few times in his life, and this was his favorite version.  August has had her fair share of alligator, and had to agree with him.  Fresh fried alligator bites were served over a smear of caper and fennel tartar sauce.  The alligator was tender with a nice crunchy breading and great seasoning, and the tartar sauce’s particular herb mix was an excellent complement.  On first taste it seemed like a typical tartar sauce, but with the alligator, there was no fooling that there was something special about it.  Laid over the top were fried slices of okra, peppers, lemon, and mint leafs.  The okra, when fried, turned sweet and lost all sliminess, yet that slime was not replaced with grease; this was not an oily dish.  With a medium spicy bite from the peppers, Zach says that “everything was seasoned really well and balanced.”

sea island she-crab soup

sea island she-crab soup

The soup we ordered was unexpectedly split for us, so what you see here is a mini serving.  To be honest, though, the she-crab soup was so rich, that it was the ideal amount to be split like this.  Creamy and flavorful like a bisque with an olive oil floater (not traditional dry sherry), the crab taste was briny and permeated the soup.  The tablespoon-sized amount of crab meat was tender and delicate, while a kick of cayenne made this warm but not too spicy.  Tiny, savory, cornbread madeleines acted as garnish and texture variance, with just a little bit of crunch.

molasses braised pork shank

molasses braised pork shank

August ordered the fork-tender pork shank.  It had a nice crust from searing, with a great caramelized flavor from the Maillard reaction.  The demi-glace was savory and light with rich pork and wine flavors and the faintest hint of rosemary.  Sprinkled over the top was a gremolata of pecans, bringing an earthy nuttiness to this sumptuous plate.

tupelo honey yams with sorghum marshmallow

tupelo honey yams with sorghum marshmallow

The pork shank was served with yams as a side.  These were cooked just right with the slighted bit of give remaining, not cooked to mush like we’re so accustomed to during the winter holidays.  Like the holidays, though, these had a nice array of spices that were reminiscent of the scents of Thanksgiving dinner.  The sorghum marshmallow, while new to us, was nonetheless tasty as a sweet highlight for the yams.

smoked brisket-braised collards

smoked brisket-braised collards

Zach’s entree also came with a preset side, but we needed some roughage for our health’s sake so we ordered these collard greens with bits of smoked brisket.  Like the yams, these were not cooked to oblivion so there was some texture left.  Savory and seasoned with just enough salt, the fact that these weren’t overcooked meant that the vague flavor of raw collards was still there, and was even highlighted by the seasoning.  All too often collard greens come out of a can or are fresh but simply overcooked, so we relished in the freshness here offset by the smoky meat.

southern fried chicken with classic smoked gouda mac 'n cheese

southern fried chicken with classic smoked gouda mac ‘n cheese

Zach’s chicken had a crispy breading that was well seasoned, encasing meat that was super flavorful.  Brining really does make a difference for chicken, not just turkey on Thanksgiving (if you’d like to learn how to brine chicken, follow this recipe).  The drumstick and breast section with rib meat turned out juicy, moist, and not at all greasy.  The mac ‘n cheese was creamy and gooey with loads of smoked Gouda cheese.  The al dente noodles were nearly swimming in the rich sauce.  This is not your typical mac ‘n cheese, but it’s comforting all the same.

Many menu items are identified as vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten-free, so this is a wonderful place to please any eaters.  Server assistant José did a great job at keeping an eye on all the patrons in his section, and we thank him sincerely for his attentiveness.  All the tables in our area were visibly happy with their service, and clearly their food.

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Turtle Cheesecake

turtle cheesecake

turtle cheesecake

Today is National Cheesecake Day!  Even though he should avoid nuts, Zach’s favorite cheesecake is turtle cheesecake.  He makes this one with pecans, which are softer than, say, peanuts, so this is somewhat better for those with conditions like diverticulosis.  If you have no dietary restrictions, then you might have to hold yourself back from eating the whole thing.

Makes one 9″ cheesecake

• For the caramel sauce:

3/4 cup of Straus Family Creamery organic heavy cream

3/4 cup of white sugar

3 tbs. of water

1/2 of the scrapings of one split vanilla bean

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy, thick-bottom saucepan.  Heat on medium-high for 7-9 minutes until it reaches a medium to medium-dark amber color.  Do not stir during these 7-9 minutes.

Stirring constantly now, slowly add the heavy cream and vanilla bean scrapings (save the bean itself and put it in your sugar container to infuse the sugar for future baking).  Cook for 4-5 minutes until the hardened caramel is smooth and dissolved, and the sauce starts to thicken.  It will thicken more as it cools, but wait just a bit before transferring to a glass bowl so that you don’t shock the glass and crack it.  Set aside and let thicken further.

• For the crust:

2 cups of organic graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup of C&H white sugar

5 tbs. of melted butter (from Straus Family Creamery)

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar, and stir so that they’re evenly mixed.  Add the butter and mix until it is fully crumbly and all the crumbs are moistened.

pressed in

pressed in

Press into a 9″ springform pan.  Cover the bottom evenly, and also press the crumbs about 1 1/2″ up the sides.  A dry measuring cup helps to press down (into the bottom, at least).  With one extra large piece of foil, cover the outside bottom of the pan and fold up the edges; this will keep water from seeping in from the bain marie during cooking.  Set aside for now.

• For the filling:

2 lbs. of cream cheese at room temperature

1 1/4 cups of white sugar

4 eggs

2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream (Straus)

2/3 cup of sour cream (Straus)

4 oz. of semisweet chocolate

1/2 cup of chopped and toasted pecans

1/2 of the scrapings of one split vanilla bean

Put the room temperature cream cheese in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix for about 1 minute on low speed, never higher than speed 2, just to get it loose and creamy.  Scrape down the bowl and paddle while mixing to make sure it’s all loosened.

filling

filling

Add the sugar and vanilla bean scrapings (and put this bean bit in your sugar, along with the other bit).  Mix for another 2 minutes, making sure to scrape down the bowl and paddle.  Add the eggs one at a time while still mixing.  Once the eggs are fully incorporated, turn off the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.  Add the sour cream, then mix again on low speed for 20 seconds.  Turn off the mixer, scrape down the bowl and paddle, add the whipping cream, and mix once more on low speed for another 20-30 seconds.

Evenly lay the pecans on the crust, then pour the caramel over the pecans.

pour the filling

pour the filling

Pour in the cheesecake filling, but pour it over the back of a large cooking spoon so that it gently falls over the caramel layer without disturbing it.

Fill a large, deep baking pan with an inch of water.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F with the baking pan with water, to warm the water a bit.  When the oven is ready, place the foil-wrapped springform pan in the water for the bain marie.  Bake for 90 minutes.

Let cool for at least 30 minutes before putting in the refrigerator.  It is recommended that you keep it in the fridge for 12-24 hours before decorating and serving.

fancy

fancy

Melt the semisweet chocolate and transfer to a parchment paper cone (or a sandwich bag with the corner cut out).  Stripe the top of the cheesecake to your heart’s content.  Whipped cream has a similar texture to the cheesecake itself, but if you feel like adding it for looks, go ahead.

Dave’s Gourmet Super Hot Wood Set

The holidays are officially less than six months away.  For some fanatical people, that means it’s time to start shopping for gifts and stocking stuffers!  Any chilihead would go gaga over this quartet of furiously flaming sauces.  Dave’s Gourmet line has dozens of items, from the famous hot sauces to the lesser known snack foods.  We’ve seen many of the products in different stores, and frankly the selection is a bit daunting!  This gift set in a fancy-schmancy wooden crate, then, is a perfect way to treat a friend or family member to a sampling of Dave’s Gourmet without any analysis paralysis of having to make a choice.

The ghost pepper naga jolokia hot sauce is said to have “sweet fruity flavors” that sing above the heat.  The ultimate insanity hot sauce, according to the website, is hotter than the original insanity sauce, which is the only sauce that has been banned from the National Fiery Food Show.  The total insanity hot sauce was a winner at that same show.  It has an intense garlic flavor, and as a cooking ingredient, it’s recommended to use only a drop at a time.  We would recommend using a drop at a time for any of these sauces, and increase to taste as you go along.

Zach, the chilihead in our house, is brainstorming the different recipes that could be complemented by these sauces.  This set is going to stay in our kitchen cabinet to be used in future spicy cooking, and it’s joining quite the collection!  We can think of a few family members who would love to receive their own set as a gift, for a holiday or simply as a nice gesture.  Humanity could use a little more compassion these days, and it would be funny if hot sauce is what brings us together.