Product review: Texas Gunpowder

In spite of the name, Texas Gunpowder is actually food. It’s made from 100% pure jalapeño peppers that have been dehydrated and ground up into a fine powder. That’s it. You can use it anywhere you’d be inclined to use black pepper, as well as a number of places you wouldn’t.

A bottle of original Texas Gunpowder I keep stored in my secret underground lair.

A bottle of original Texas Gunpowder I keep stored in my secret underground lair.

” A good solid dusting will burn your face completely off “

Texas Gunpowder was originally created by Whit “Pappy” Pinnell and developed quite a cult following in the 1990’s, which is when I first discovered it. Unfortunately, Pappy passed away some years ago, and so the legacy of Texas Gunpowder was lost. I hoarded as much of the stuff as I could – a mere dozen bottles – and used it sparingly, but eventually my stash (and my spirits) began to run low. Then, earlier this year, I discovered that the rights to produce the spice were acquired by the unfortunately named SuckleBusters company, and there has been much rejoicing in my cupboard ever since.

This little bottle is full of sinus-clearing wonderfulness.

This little bottle is full of sinus-clearing wonderfulness.

A bottle of ground up jalapeños sounds scary, but it isn’t. This stuff is actually fairly mild, believe it or not, and the powdered consistency allows you to scale up the heat in as many little increments as you so desire, from mega-wimpy all the way up to Dante’s Inferno. One tap of the bottle can barely even be tasted, but a good solid dusting will burn your face completely off.

Strangely, Texas Gunpowder doesn’t have much flavor of its own. There’s no salt or vinegar or tang or sweetness or anything else; it’s just pure heat that can be turned as high or low as you like. This means that, unlike most other spices and hot sauces out there, Texas Gunpowder can be used pretty much anywhere. It’s amazingly good in Italian food, especially pizza, and it’s great on salads. Oh, and sandwiches – you have to try it on sandwiches. And eggs, and barbecued steak. And Mexican food. And… well alright, it’s good on basically everything. I haven’t tried it on ice cream but I bet it’s good there too.


Why you should buy this

  • Texas Gunpowder is a simple, natural way to add gentle (or searing) heat to a mind-boggling array of dishes.
  • It’s sodium free. That might even mean it’s healthy. *gasp*


Why you shouldn’t

  • Avoid if you are a weenie (e.g., you think ketchup is too spicy).
  • Invisible particles of jalapeño always, ALWAYS float through the air and into any available nostrils, causing violent fits of sneezing in most carbon-based life forms.


Where it can be found


Also available in red jalapeño, chipotle, and habanero, but regular old jalapeño is still the best though.

Also available in red jalapeño, chipotle, and habanero. Regular old jalapeño is still the best though.

Standard Product Review Disclaimer
No, I didn’t get paid to review whatever it was that I just wrote about. Shortest disclaimer ever.


Kotetsu Ramen

meter-okKotetsu Ramen is a bit of a contradiction. The food is high quality, it’s authentic, and everyone seems to love it. On the other hand, this place is questionably located and largely incomprehensible. I’m sure I’ll figure out what I think of it by the end of my review, but as of right now I’m on the fence.

“Reminder: Lunch” my smartphone declared at me. Well that’s odd. I hardly need help remembering to eat, so the notification must be for… Ah yes, I was supposed to meet my friend Kevin for lunch. “Are we still on for today?” I texted to Kevin, pretending to remember our lunch meeting. “I think it’s your turn to pick.”

“Let’s go to that ramen place we talked about last time, Kotetsu” came the reply.

” It seemed more like fried chicken fat that accidentally included some meat “

I looked up the address, jumped in the car, and started off down the street… and three minutes later I arrived. Well that was quite a bit closer than I thought it was – Kotetsu Ramen gets a thumbs up for convenience at least, assuming you live exactly where I do. Unfortunately, the convenient location just so happens to be a 1970’s strip mall that adorns the side of El Camino Real the same way an old piece of spinach adorns one’s teeth. The mall is not bad or scary really, it’s just ugly. If you’re ever in the market for an abandoned 1988 LeBaron station wagon with wood-look paneling, you’ll often find one or two specimens here.

I met Kevin in front of Kotetsu at 11:25am, right on schedule. “We need to wait out here, they don’t open for another five minutes” Kevin said, the “closed” sign on the door backing up his statement.  Actually, no – scratch that. The sign didn’t say “closed”, it said “close”, without the “d”.

I am confuse.

I am confuse.

Close. Hmm.

Did this mean “close by my house” or “please close this door”? Or was it a misspelling of “clothes”? My eye began to twitch slightly as my brain attempted to process this information and came up with nothing. To my relief, a nice man opened the door from the inside, removed the grammatically dubious sign, and invited us in.

Don't mind me. I'm just some guy taking pictures of you while you eat. Pretend like I'm not here.

Don’t mind me. I’m just some guy taking pictures of you while you eat. Pretend like I’m not here.

The inside of Kotetsu isn’t huge, but it’s well laid out, nicely lit, and absolutely immaculately clean. It really is a nice place to be. A lot of restaurants could learn a thing or two from Kotetsu and keep their dining areas a bit tidier. There’s a distinction between “not dirty” and “obsessively clean”. Customers (e.g., me) can tell the difference, and that’s one thing that really sets this restaurant apart.

The service at Kotetsu was as crisp and flawless as its cleanliness; within 2.8 seconds of being seated we had glasses of ice water and a competent waitperson at our beck and call. I opened the menu and started to browse through it… and immediately I knew I had a problem. Quite a lot of it was written in Romanized Japanese, which is Japanese words written using the English alphabet. This was a bit of an issue because, as you may have guessed, I don’t know Japanese. I gave Kevin a helpless “Please tell me you can read this” look, but he returned it with a shrug that conveyed “What, and you think I’m supposed to be able to?” Super.

I began carefully scrutinizing the menu, scanning for words I recognized and attempting to identify food items from the pictures. Let’s see… ramen…. ramen…  ramen…. Yes, those are all words I know but they are not helpful. Ah, here’s pork… and this one here says chicken. I decided on the least alarming thing I could identify, a chicken plate something-whatever, and Kevin ordered a ramen thing that seemed likely to include pork.

This is the plate of items I must have ordered.

This is the plate of items I must have ordered.

Our meals arrived quickly, and they looked fairly delicious. Well mine did anyway, but Kevin’s frightened me. To be perfectly honest, this kind of food really isn’t my cup of tea. Despite this, it was clear that the preparation was high quality and executed with the utmost care by expert hands. I wasn’t overly thrilled, but I’ll try anything once. My dish did indeed turn out to be not unlike chicken – fried chicken to be exact – and it included mayonnaise, some kind of potato salad, and assorted vegetable bits. The chicken was crispy, light, and had very good flavor, but it was extremely fatty. It seemed more like fried chicken fat that accidentally included some meat instead of the other way around. Kevin seemed to think that fatty chicken was just the style of the particular dish I ordered, which is possible, but I didn’t love it. I made my way through most of it and it grew on me as I ate. It’s still not my thing, but I can see how some people might appreciate it. The potato salad (if it actually was potato salad) was excellent.

"Yes, I'll have the partially submerged meat flower with kelp please."

“Yes, I’ll have the partially submerged meat flower with kelp please.”

Across the table, Kevin was enjoying the heck out of his ramen. It certainly did seem to have plenty of pork – large, flat pieces of it adorned the inner edges of the bowl in an epic fan of meatiness. The cuts of pork contained a fair amount questionable gristly bits throughout, and each was rimmed in a ring of fat. This dish was certainly not anything I would ever order for myself. It was becoming quite apparent, however, that I was the odd one out in the restaurant as far as my opinions went, as everyone else within eyesight really seemed to be chowing away with glee. Indeed, Kotetsu’s ratings on Yelp are consistently high, which tells me that this is a very good restaurant that simply doesn’t serve anything I like.

Coming up with a rating for Kotetsu Ramen is tricky. Objectively I give them decent marks for overall quality of preparation, cleanliness, flavor, and what appears to be a high degree of authenticity – let’s say 8.5 out of 10 pounds of fried chicken fat. On the flip side of the coin, I dislike the location, the menus need a lot of work to make them useable by a wider audience, and I just don’t personally care for the style of food (the latter of course is not the fault of Kotetsu). I’d be willing to go back to this place with the help of a translator, and if I can find a dish I like I have no doubt it will be made very well indeed …whatever it is.

Kotetsu Ramen
2089 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95050
(408) 557-0822
www.kotetsuramen.com
Kotetsu Ramen on Urbanspoon

That's a bowl of stuff alright. Enjoy?

That’s a bowl of stuff alright. Enjoy?


Random revisit: The Gazebo

meter-great-haIt’s no secret that I love The Gazebo‘s crazy breakfasts, so I was a little hesitant to go there for lunch. I wasn’t worried that it would let me down or anything like that – I just didn’t want to miss out on any epic breakfast win. Still, any visit to this place is bound to be a good visit, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Gazebo is only open until 2pm, so the only late lunch you’ll have there is no lunch at all. My wife and I showed up at 1pm to try and avoid whatever crowd may have been present, and we were rewarded with an immediate seating. There were only one or two empty tables in the whole place though, so they weren’t exactly lacking for patrons.

” What’s that rice thing they’re eating over there? “

I’m a big Monte Cristo fan, which figures because it’s probably the least healthy “sandwich” imaginable. For the uninitiated, a Monte Cristo is simply a ham and cheese sandwich dipped in egg batter and pan fried. It’s typically served with powdered sugar and some sort of fruit preserves, so it has the whole sweet-and-savory thing going for it. I scanned the menu in the hopes I’d find one… Bingo! Monte Cristo, front and center. I’m having that.

The Gazebo's version of the Monte Cristo has two kinds of cheese and both ham and turkey.

The Gazebo’s version of the Monte Cristo has two kinds of cheese and both ham and turkey.

My counterpart liked the sound of the BBQ Kahlua pork sandwich, but she had also spotted another dish that got her attention as we were walking in. “What’s that rice thing they’re eating over there?” she asked our waitress, pointing to another table. The waitress told us it was their breakfast fried rice, and that it was still available if we wanted some. It was just too tempting to pass up, so we went ahead and ordered a side of it. There’s nothing wrong with having some leftover Gazebo food in the fridge back at the condo.

Everything but (probably and) the kitchen sink.

Everything but (probably and) the kitchen sink.

Our food arrived and we were just impressed as we have always been with The Gazebo. The Monte Cristo ranked as one of the best examples of the breed that I have ever encountered; it had the perfect amount of batter and wasn’t the slightest bit greasy. The Kahlua pork sandwich was relatively standard but also very delicious, and there wasn’t a trace of any disgusting fatty pork bits that so often plague such dishes. The real star of the show turned out to be the breakfast fried rice – we liked it so much we’re inspired to try making it at home one of these times. It was jam packed with bits of ham, sausage, egg, and who knows what else. We loved it.

The Gazebo’s excellent standing in my list of favorites remains unchanged. They are quite obviously just as adept at mid-day meals as they are at breakfast, and I can’t recommend enough that you pay them a visit.

The Gazebo
5315 Lower Honoapiilani Road
Lahaina, HI 96761
(808) 669-5621
www.mauihawaii.org

Kahlua Pork. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Kahlua Pork. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.



Xanh

meter-goodXanh is a Vietnamese restaurant. The sign outside specifically mentions this, I assume to prevent would-be customers from confusing the place with a Piers Anthony novel. Really though, Xanh is more of an Asian fusion type of eatery centered around Vietnamese themes. Don’t let the extremely posh post-modern decor fool you; there are some tasty eats to be found here.

“We need to get going. We’re meeting people for dinner tonight, remember?” my wife said.

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” I lied. “I was just going to get dressed.” I changed into some socially acceptable clothes, grabbed the car keys, and drove us to downtown Mountain View.

I had no idea there was a night club on board the Starship Enterprise.

I had no idea there was a night club on board the Starship Enterprise.

” We felt somewhat on display as we thumb wrestled crustaceans “

As we walked into the back entrance of Xahn, I was immediately struck by the über-chic decor and the muted beatnik electronica rhythms pulsing through the restaurant’s invisible sound system. The overall ambience is about halfway between a black-turtlenecks-only spoken word coffee bar and a full blown rave. Excitingly hidden colored lights abound throughout the establishment, pointing at all sorts of interesting angles and highlighting pretty much everything.

They’re trying too hard to be hip,” said my better half.

“Well, yeah, but they’re kind of doing it,” I replied. As I looked around the crazy decor I noticed a quiet section of wall where half a dozen Michelin Guide dining awards hung. That was a surprise, and also a good sign.

This particular wall is decorated like an alcoholic police car.

This particular wall is decorated like an alcoholic police car.

The people we were supposed to meet hadn’t arrived yet, so we decided to have a drink while we waited. Although the wide selection of on-tap beers made me very happy, I immediately felt way too old to be sitting at the clinically modern bar. In fact, nearly everybody I know would be either too old to be at this bar or simply not old enough to drink. Take your current age in years and subtract 21; that’s how many years ago you should have hung out here, but certainly not now. If you asked me to describe the bar’s decor with a single, hyphenated phrase (Let’s just pretend like you did), I would call it “techno-sterile.”

We decided that a table would be a better place for us to hang out, so we sat down and began reviewing the extensive menus. “XANH” was stylistically written in large, modern font across the cover of each menu. I couldn’t help but notice that, when viewed upside-down (i.e., from the other side of the table) it spelled “HNVX”, which just so happens to be the sound a Rottweiler makes when choking on a kazoo. It’s an odd thing to print on a menu cover.

Primiti too taa nnz kkr muu?

Primiti too taa nnz kkr muu?

We ordered some crispy pot stickers and Kobe rolls as appetizers, and in just a couple of minutes they arrived at our table; HNVX certainly receives high marks for prompt service. As advertised, the pot stickers were crispy and delectable, the chicken-and-shrimp filling was excellent, and the soy vinaigrette was a wonderful addition. The real star for me were the Kobe rolls, which were very much like traditional spring rolls with the added bonus of delicious steak. The crispy shallots sprinkled across the plate were like miniature oniony potato chips, only better. The provided clear sauce was so mild, however, that it almost had no flavor at all. It wasn’t bad per se, it was just mostly a why-bother type of affair.

Each pot sticker was inexplicably perched atop a weird and stumpy spoon-ladel. Alrighty then.

Each pot sticker was inexplicably perched atop a weird and stumpy spoon-ladel. Alrighty then.

As we finished the appetizers, I noted that our dinner double date was now officially 30 minutes tardy. Suddenly, my spouse declared, “Oh, I just realized that we’re supposed to be meeting them next weekend, not today. Sorry! Should we order dinner?”

Oh for the sake of… You know what though? This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We got to eat at a new restaurant and try a couple things on the menu we normally wouldn’t have. We confided the scheduling error to the understanding and patient waitstaff, booked another table for the following weekend, and ordered some shrimp with garlic noodles (one of HNVX’s most popular entrees) to share.

Release the Kraken!

Release the Kraken!

The garlic noodles were quite good, but honestly they were not the very best I’ve ever had. I would certainly order them again, and in fact I’d recommend that you do so as well, but for me they weren’t a drop-everything type of dish. The shrimp were also very tasty but again, not alone worth seeking out this restaurant for. One of my problems with this entree in particular was how difficult it was to eat. The shrimp themselves were large enough to require license plates, but the only utensils we were provided were a fork, a spoon, and a pair of slippery metal chopsticks. Our options were to A) pick up a shrimp with chopsticks and chew on the end of it, B) stab a shrimp with a fork and chew on the end of it, C) attempt to saw a shrimp in half using a spoon, or D) eat the entire dish with our hands, primate style. None of these options worked out very well (we had a minor noodle explosion at one point) and we felt somewhat on display as we thumb wrestled crustaceans amidst the stylish and surgically clean decor.

In the end I found that I had enjoyed HNVX (ok, Xanh) quite a bit in spite of its idiosyncrasies and “sleepy rave” decor. I rate it 32 out of 40 backlit vodka bottles, making it worth the trek to Mountain View if you’re reasonably near the area. The food was very good, the service was quick, and the bill was reasonable. I’m looking forward to exploring the menu further when we head back here next weekend, but I need to shop for black turtlenecks and glow sticks first.

Xanh
110 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 964-1888
www.xanhrestaurant.com
Xanh on Urbanspoon

UPDATE
This restaurant is so nice I reviewed it twice: Random Revisit: Xanh

These little gems were Kobe-licious.

These little gems were Kobe-licious.


No-knead Dutch oven bread

I love bread. There, I said it. Bread is one of those foods I just can’t get enough of, especially when it’s fresh out of the oven. For some reason, people like to pretend as though bread is no big deal, a behavior reinforced by phrases like “Man does not live by bread alone.” The truth of the matter is that all humans love the stuff way more than they’re willing to admit.

Skip to the short version

” Cut a slice of piping hot bread as fast as you possibly can “

Another strange thing about bread is that everyone thinks it’s hard to make. Yes of course it can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. This recipe in particular uses four ingredients, takes maybe 10 minutes of hands-on time, requires zero know how, and costs about a dollar. Believe it or not, bread is one of the very first things I learned how to cook as a kid, preceded only by grilled cheese and pasta. Don’t get me wrong, I am hardly a master baker, nor do I truly understand the science behind what happens when you mix things together and stick them in the oven. What I am good at is finding a recipe or two I like and making them over and over until they come out right. This particular recipe is an improvement over an old one I used to use. It’s sourced from The Merlin Menu, and it has never let me down.

Before we go any further, let’s get this Dutch oven thing out of the way. About half of you reading this post are still giggling just from seeing the title, while the other half of you don’t understand what’s so funny. The phrase “Dutch oven” has a double meaning, you see. The original, more traditional meaning refers to a versatile type of cooking pot. The more recent and far more hilarious definition involves flatulence, bed sheets, and often a very angry spouse. If you’re interested in the details, I’ll let you read about it for yourself. Trust me though, it is pretty funny.

The less amusing version of a Dutch oven.

The less amusing version of a Dutch oven.

Back on topic… One of the keys to making good bread is keeping the dough from drying out while it bakes. Professional baking ovens have steam injectors that help create wonderfully moist bread with why-doesn’t-it-turn-out-like-this-at-home crust. Since most of us don’t have professional baking ovens, we’re going to cheat. A Dutch oven (Go ahead, get your giggles out of the way. I’ll wait.) creates its own steam when you bake in it, resulting in amazing bread and humorous recipe write-ups alike. Any type of Dutch oven will do (except the funny kind), but make sure yours can handle temperatures of 450 degrees F. Some Dutch ovens have plastic knobs that will need to be replaced before you try this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast (preferably Fleischmann’s original)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a Dutch oven
  • a mixer (or a mixing bowl and wooden spoon)
  • plastic wrap
  • parchment paper
  • opposable thumbs
  • consciousness


Directions

If you have a mixer, attach the dough hook and turn it to the lowest speed. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water (I prefer to mix the yeast with a spoon in a smaller, separate container to make sure it’s fully dissolved) and pour it into the mixer. Slowly add two cups of flour, then the salt, then the final cup of flour. When the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, it’s done.

This dough is ready for greatness.

This dough is ready for greatness.

Tightly cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for six to eight hours. If you want to have this bread with dinner at 5pm, you’d better get the dough mixed by about 9am.

Don't go too much over eight hours or the dough will sometimes deflate a bit.

Don’t go too much over eight hours or the dough will sometimes deflate a bit.

After rising, the dough will be very loose and bubbly. It’ll be pretty darned sticky as well, but don’t worry about that. Lay down a sheet of parchment paper and dust it with one or two tablespoons of flour, then “pour” the dough into the center of the paper. Just turn the bowl upside-down and use a rubber scraper to separate the dough from the bowl along one side – it will pull itself out the rest of the way. Dust the top of the dough with more flour to keep your fingers from sticking to it and start pulling and tucking under the edges to form a rough ball.

Yep, it's a ball alright.

Yep, it’s a ball alright.

It doesn’t have to be perfect; none of us here are Martha Stewart. As you might have guessed from the subtle and cleverly written title of this recipe, you are not required to knead the dough at all. Once you have achieved something vaguely ball-like, cover it with a dish towel and allow it to rise for another hour.

Preheat your oven with the Dutch oven inside it to 450 degrees F. Once it’s fully preheated, remove the Dutch oven (carefully) and, using the parchment paper like a hammock, place the dough ball inside it, paper and all. Take a sharp knife and make three slits on the top of the dough – this either allows steam to escape or makes a fashion statement, I’m not sure which.

Dutch oven bread, apparently sponsored by Adidas.

Dutch oven bread, apparently sponsored by Adidas.

Put the lid back on the Dutch oven, put the whole thing back in the full size oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes, or until you have achieved a mouth-watering golden brown color.

It's ok to admit that this makes you hungry.

It’s ok to admit that this makes you hungry.

At this point, every other baking recipe I have ever seen says “allow to cool”. What a monumentally stupid suggestion that is. Why on Earth would I do that? That’s like saying “Allow your tires to go flat before driving your car.” I just don’t get it.

Because this is MY food blog, I’m going to tell you to cut a slice of piping hot bread as fast as you possibly can, slap a giant wad of butter on it, and send it down the hatch. Now cut another slice, add another wad of butter and this time a drizzle of honey as well, and send that one down the hatch after the first one. Dee-flippin-licious.

You are now officially allowed to proclaim that you a baker, and that you love bread. Enjoy.

Fresh bread, real butter, and lavender honey. Beat that.

Fresh bread, real butter, and lavender honey. Beat that.



tl;dr

No-knead Dutch oven bread

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a Dutch oven
  • a mixer (or a mixing bowl and wooden spoon)
  • plastic wrap
  • parchment paper


Directions

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Slowly add 2 cups of flour, then the salt, then the final cup of flour. Continue mixing until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 6 to 8 hours. Lay out a section of parchment paper and dust with flour. Scrape dough onto paper and form into a rough ball. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise another hour. Place empty Dutch oven and lid in conventional oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Place dough ball and parchment paper in Dutch oven, cover, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove bread from oven, allow to cool slightly, slice and serve hot.