Burger Month at Belcampo

August is burger month for Belcampo, a 5 year old meat company based in Oakland and run by Anya Fernald. Belcampo is a corporation that includes a farm, a processing plant, butcher shops, and restaurants that together supply sustainable and organic meat. The Belcampo farm is located up North in Gazelle, California and the butcher shops and restaurants are located in Larkspur, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica.  
There was a period of time in my past where I only ate grass fed beef. Generally, I enjoyed the taste of corn fed beef more because it was more fatty and flavorful. I think when beef is grounded for burgers, grass fed beef tastes better so I was excited about burger month at Belcampo.

During burger month, Belcampo has been offering promotions to bring in more customers and create awareness. I introduced a friend in Los Angeles to the BOGO week where if you bought one burger, you would get the second one free. My friends participated in the offer and enjoyed their burgers. One review I received was “moovelous!” Another review was “freaking delicious!”  

Photo by Christy Smith

For a company based in Oakland, it’s unfortunate that there is no Belcampo butcher shop and restaurant very close to me. I didn’t want the month of August to go by and not get a chance to get a burger deal. Today was the last day for a 100 Day Dry-Aged Burger, Fries, and a Drink for $15 deal. They were marketing the special for burger connoisseurs so I went for the challenge. 

I drove out to Larkspur with a friend. My 1/2 lb burger was a blend of Wagyu and Angus meat with Raclette cheese, watercress, and caramelized onions on a sesame seed bun. My medium rare burger was served to me on a wooden platter with French fries. It was then spritzed with 100-proof whiskey in front of my eyes. This burger was definitely well thought out, including the use of watercress that provides a peppery bite. The burger was rich, juicy, and full of flavor.  

My friend ordered the Belcampo burger which is their standard 1/2 lb grass-fed beef patty, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, butter lettuce, house-made sauce. Cooked a perfect medium rare, she ate every bite as well.  
There are still ten days left for burger month and I’m excited to hear what specials Belcampo will offer next. You’ll have to follow them on Facebook to find out. Rumor has it that Belcampo will open a shop in Jack London Square in Oakland, but no date has been identified.

Dumpling Empire: A Taste of Shanghai

photo by Donna Hui

It was this photo from my friend @cwpiequeen that lured me to try Dumpling Empire, located in South San Francisco. This is a dish of green onion pancake, a popular savory snack from Shanghai. When the batter is cooked, it turns into thin flakey layers filled with a depth of onion flavor. I don’t get to eat them often, but the green onion pancake here was cooked to a perfect crispy golden brown that could conquer any empire.  
The small restaurant is called Dumpling Empire, so of course I had to have some dumplings. Shanghai soup dumplings or xiao lung bao are filled with pork and soup and are my favorite kind of dumplings in the whole wide world. These were pretty solid as only one was missing soup. Having experienced making these before, there is a high level of difficulty in cooking xiao lung bao. The burst of broth always gives me a heavenly feeling.

The second dumplings I tried were the Shanghai pan fried soup dumplings. They had the similar meat and soup filling of the xiao lung bao, but the outer layer was a doughy bun that was pan fried. I thought the inside of the dough was slightly undercooked and it was not crisp enough on the outside. I would likely skip these next time, but there is a list of 21 additional dumplings on their menu.  

I also ordered the mustard green noodle soup which includes hand made noodles with thinly chopped mustard greens and pork. I enjoyed the fresh chewy noodles and the subtle infusion of the mustard greens in the entire bowl. The simplicity and the flavors of this bowl brought back memories of when I visited Shanghai.

I made a special trip out to Dumpling Empire and thought it was worth it. If you happen to be near the San Francisco Airport (SFO), I highly recommend making your way to Dumpling Empire for a taste of Shanghai.

Imperfect Produce: I Eat Ugly

My BFF introduced me to a company called Imperfect Produce based in Emeryville that offers fruits and vegetables subscriptions. The produce they offer does not meet the gold standard set by grocery stores because of the way they look. The fresh fruits and vegetables may have cosmetic defects compared to their siblings. They could be irregular shaped or have spots on the outside, which does not negatively impact the flavor of the produce.  Sometimes they can even taste better!

Why wouldn’t I just want to have perfect produce? Buying into imperfect produce allows you to save about 30% compared to the grocery store. It also allows you to make a positive impact on the environment by reducing food waste and water usage. It’s a win-win situation. For me personally, it allows me to afford organic fruits and vegetables as it is not always an option I want to pay for when I shop at the market.  

I went online and customized my first box and it included organic cantaloupe, peaches, plums, pears, grapefruit, tomatoes, arugula, mushrooms, and potatoes.  
The first evening I had my box I cooked up some of the vegetables. After peeling and chopping the vegetables, I could not tell they were “rejects.” Could you?
My first box was heavy on fruit by choice. I found that they were perfectly sweet and juicy. Two colleagues standing several feet away could smell the aroma of my peach that I bit into. Later in the week with my abundance of plums and peaches, I bought some puff pastry dough and made a weight watcher friendly dessert. 
Imperfect Produce serves and delivers to the East Bay and has select drop-off spots in San Francisco, Lafayette, and Concord/Walnut Creek. You can also pick up from their warehouse located in Emeryville which is what I did. The best advantage for my BFF is that she gets her box of fruits and vegetables delivered to her door and doesn’t have to step foot into a grocery store.  This way she has more time to travel, geocache, and blog.
With my Imperfect Produce subscription, I am not only incorporating more fruits and vegetables into my nutritional diet, but I am having fun with it. It’s like playing a creative game of Chopped.  Imperfect Produce is a beautiful thing!

Agave Uptown:  I Just Can’t Get Enough

I haven’t been this excited about a new restaurant opening in Oakland in a long time. Serving cuisine from Oaxaca (pronounced WA-HA-KA), Mexico, Agave Uptown is a beautiful place that brings happiness to my soul. Within the month that Agave Uptown has been open, I have eaten there four times. I just can’t get enough! 
Named after the plant used to produce tequila, Agave Uptown has a bar shaking up cocktails centered on the distilled beverage. Mezcal is the smokey cousin to tequila, which is a Oaxacan specialty and one that their bartenders focus on. If you aren’t big into mezcal like me, just ask to substitute tequila.

Having eaten through about a third of the menu at Agave Uptown, I will recommend my highlights. First off, I suggest eating with a group so you can explore more of the menu. 

What is better than a bowl of chips and salsa is an endless bowl of chips and salsa. The light crispy chips and homemade salsas go well with cocktails and gives everyone at the table time to figure out what they want to order.

Go ahead and add guacamole to the mix as you can trust you are getting guacamole made from experts here. It’s always nice to have more things to dip those chips in.

I have tried two of the salads and one just blows the other out of the water. The Agave salad is a mix of petite romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, pumpkin seeds, heirloom tomatoes, red and orange peppers, onions, cilantro, and chipotle vinaigrette. The mix of grilled peppers and onions add a nuttiness that match well with the freshness of everything else.
It’s hard to find a good ceviche, but look no further than Agave Uptown. The fish which has been marinated in lime juice and onion is a classic and simplistic dish that offers a fresh and clean taste. They also provide a generous portion which is perfect for sharing.

Good for a group is the Tlayuda aka Oaxacan pizza. Think of this as a gigantic tostada. The crust is like a tortilla cracker and is covered with so much goodness including chorizo which was the topping of choice.  

I have enjoyed three different types of tacos at Uptown Agave – Rocky’s chicken, shrimp, and fish. All were excellent, so it really is a matter of preference. However, if you want something a little different, the seafood tacos are topped with cabbage, mango, and avocado giving you somewhat of a tropical taste.
I had Cecina for the first time and it was delicious. The pork is marinated in a Oaxacan adobo mixture. The flavor has a familiar taste of vinegar that I am accustomed to in Filipino adobo. The meat is uniquely sliced thin and then grilled to perfection. The specialty comes with rice, black bean paste, and tortillas.  
The domain of Uptown Agave would be the Mole Negro de Oaxaca. I enjoyed the chicken variety and it was to die for. Apparently, Mrs. Diaz, Chef Octavio’s mother makes the famous mole at her shop, Case de Mole in Healdsburg and they use it at Agave Uptown. The mole is slow cooked with Chilhuacle chiles and twenty other secret ingredients.  
I often have trouble leaving room for dessert at restaurants where I want to eat everything. But if you have a small gap left for something sweet, I recommend the tequila ice cream with fresh berries. It’s fairly light and definitely pleasurable.  
On my way out on one visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Diaz. I was not only drawn to the chef behind the fabulous food, but his friendly and down to earth nature. He even sent me and my friends home with a container of mole.  

So what did I do with the mole? I finally cooked some chicken in bacon fat. I then heated the mole and poured it over the chicken. I can pat myself on the back because I was taken back to Oaxaca in my own home. Thanks Chef Diaz and Mrs. Diaz! I’ll be visiting you both soon!

Easy to Make Jerk Chicken Wings

It has been two years since I joined the cooking club “Foodies by the Bay.” The theme last night was Jamaican cuisine. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Jamaican food is jerk chicken. Since I love chicken wings, I decided to make jerk chicken wings.   
I stopped by Minto Jamaican Market in North Oakland this past Friday after work. I was looking for a jerk spice rub and found an imported bottle of Grace Jamaican Jerk Seasoning in a bottle. It is more like a paste and the ingredients include Jamaican scallions, salt, hot peppers, pimento, brown sugar, black pepper, thyme, garlic, vinegar, spices, and vegetable oil. My experience with jerk chicken is that it could be really spicy, so I bought mild.
The instructions on the bottle said to use 1-2 tablespoons of seasoning per pound of chicken. I massaged 6 tablespoons of seasoning into the 4 pounds of chicken wings. I then transferred the chicken into a gallon size Ziploc bag and left it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. 
Grilling is probably the ideal way to make jerk chicken, but I used the oven for ease.  When it was time to cook, I spread the wings onto a large pan and baked them in a preheated oven of 400 degrees. After 25 minutes, I turned the wings over and cooked for another 20 minutes. The sauce had caramelized and left golden crispy patches onto the chicken wings.
The party (including our host pictured below) agreed it was one of the top dishes of the evening and wanted to know what sauce I used. I highly recommend Grace Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. I made the right decision to use the mild sauce because it was still quite spicy. This is one of the easiest dishes I have ever made and the results are juicy and mouth watering goodness that packs a punch.  Yeh Mon!

Noodle Theory Provisions: Oodles of Noodles

Noodle Theory Provisions is an Asian fusion noodle shop that opened a few months ago in North Oakland. It borders the City of Emeryville and is a haven for noodle lovers like me. Noodle Theory Provisions is chef/owner Louis Kao’s second restaurant after many years committed to Noodle Theory on Claremont Avenue. I have dined at Noodle Theory Provisions (Provisions) twice since it opened and the food has been impressive both times.
On the appetizer list, I wanted to be healthy and tried the seaweed tofu salad with bean sprouts and mung bean noodles. This cold noodle dish pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed the cold appetizer and found it refreshing especially for a warm day. I may even try replicating this dish this summer.
Provisions has a list of soup noodles as well as saucy and sautéed noodles. The soup noodle bowl I enjoyed was the grilled Niman Ranch spicy pork loin ramen in a peanut lime cilantro broth. For some funny reason, the bowl brought back fond childhood memories of eating Top Ramen at home with leftover pork chop. Of course this tasted a million times better, but the comfort felt the same.

On one occasion, I had the Panko crusted Cod over warm ginger scallion noodles. Ginger and scallion produce two of my favorite flavors and together it creates the perfect harmony for the noodles to sing in. With that said, the cod was slightly overcooked and left me a little disappointed.  

After eating the grilled Korean marinated short rib over a kimchee chow mein the first time, I ordered it again on my second visit. I will probably have it on every future visit because it’s so good. I mean, who doesn’t love Korean BBQ short ribs? It is a perfect combination with the spicy and tangy kimchee noodles. I often see kimchee fried rice, but kimchee noodles is genius.  

On my second visit, I had dessert which was the Calamansi Lime Icebox Pie. The extreme cold and creaminess gave it the feel of a frozen ice cream, and the citrus flavor and graham cracker crust reminded me of a key lime pie. The blackberry sauce added another dimension. I was amazed at how delicious this was.  

If you are a noodle fan, check out Noodle Theory or Noodle Theory Provisions.  

The Best Corn on the Cob comes from Brentwood

I drove out to Brentwood yesterday afternoon, the city in Northern California, not the Los Angeles neighborhood. It was about a 50 minute drive East of Oakland. There was an event called Brentwood Harvest Time Festival. Brentwood is well known for their agriculture and farming. Summer time is when I think about Brentwood because I crave their crops of cherries and corn.  

The Brentwood Harvest Time Festival is a small community event held in the historic part of town with wine, beer, food booths, and other activities. I searched and searched for cherries, but there was none to be had. Apparently, I was five weeks too late. I guess the window for Brentwood cherries is small and I missed out. Luckily, the cherries from the State of Washington are plentiful and just as sweet.
Corn on the other hand was all over the festival. There were corn shucking competitions as well as corn eating competitions. I knew I had to get my hand on some corn from the food vendors.  

My first corn was from a food truck called Elisa’s Catering – Flavors of Cali. Their special of the day was Mexican southern street corn. This version has a buttermilk mayo herbed dressing smeared on it and then sprinkled with cotija cheese and southern spices.  

I have had plenty of elote asado and have even been successful at making it which I posted on my blog. The fresh and crispness of this Brentwood corn shined through with all the flavors. I ended up cutting it off the cob and enjoying mouthfuls of goodness.
After a very short break, I was on to my second cob. I went to the main vendor selling roasted corn on the cob. It was nonstop roasting happening in a cool mobile roaster.  
There were a couple of varieties of butter to choose from.  Fresh from the roaster and out of its husk, I was excited as the vendor glazed the cilantro lime butter on the corn.  
The aromatics of this corn on the cob filled the air. The cilantro and lime flavor was very subtle which I appreciated because I didn’t want the natural sweetness of the corn to be overpowered. The butter infused the crisp kernels with a creaminess to it. It was hands down the best corn of my life. I look forward to an abundant corn season this summer.