A Close — And Sweet — Shave

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A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

[Full disclosure: I have been acquainted with the owner’s family for something approaching a decade, so make of that what you will. As a for-example, I adore my mom, but she made some of the Worst. Tacos. Ever. Taste and truth trump ties. And if I’m willing to dis my own mother (who also, incidentally, was capable of crafting a world-class roast of beef), you can bet I’m not going to be shy about pulling punches here. Apart from mentioning that the CEO is a 17 year old entrepreneur named Jack Kaplan, I’m going to leave the history of the enterprise for him to tell as it unfolds.]

Kakigori, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is the Japanese version of shave ice (in the “shaved” vs. “shave” ice argument, I come down on the latter for no particular reason except that’s how I learned it). But before you turn your thoughts to sno-cones filled with something that looks like anti-freeze and tastes vaguely of an alleged “blueberry” lollipop, please jettison every childhood image of sno-cones, Icees, Slurpees, or other frozen concoctions. Kakigori is to sno-cones as an éclair is to a Twinkie. Conceptually similar, but light years apart in terms of taste.

Its origins date back to Japan’s Heian period (AD 794 to 1185), where it is mentioned in The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi), a collection of observations and musings written by Sei Shōnagon, a lady in the court of Empress Consort Teishi. [The book was completed in 1002.] At the time, the delicacy was confined strictly to the upper classes, due in part to the scarcity of ice, especially in the summertime. During the Meiji period, in the late 1800s, so-called “Boston ice” arrived by ship from America, and kakigori was made available to the masses. Yay.

Generally speaking, kakigori is not merely a flavouring poured over ice, though it can be. Often times, the ice itself is infused with some sort of flavouring agent (as you will see below). In addition, many recipes may include elements such as sweetened condensed milk, ice cream, fresh fruit, syrups featuring caramel or chocolate, and other sundry goodies, such as sweetened mochi, a confection made from rice paste that takes on a chewy/sticky texture not altogether unlike a soft gummi bear.

It’s not available widely in America at present, but that may be about to change with the debut of Kakigori Kreamery’s mobile unit (seen pictured at top) in Venice, CA, on 25 July 2015. That’s an auspicious launch day, as the Japan Kakigori Association designates that date as the “day of kakigori” because its pronunciation sounds like “summer ice” in Japanese.

Green Kara-Tea

Green Kara-Tea.

At press time, there are nine flavours:
Strawberry Samurai
Green Kara-Tea
Kookie Kabuki
Mt. Fuji
Ginja Ninja
Blueberry Banzai
Mokamania
Konichiwa Kitty
WATA-WATAmelon

Okay, the names are a little goofy, though not to the level of IHOP’s popular “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®” pancake entrées, which I would absolutely refuse to order by name just because. But underlying the frivolous nomenclature lies some serious taste delight. If I might direct your attention to the photo above, do note that the ice is shaved, rather than cracked or crushed, which gives it a texture far more delicate than the traditional sno-cone (and even much of the “Hawaiian-style” shave ice, which frequently is no more shaved than Duck Dynasty‘s cast members). This is the Green Kara-Tea kakigori, which is made from green tea ice, rainbow mochi, and matcha-infused condensed milk. [Matcha, of course, is green tea powder, with its stems and veins removed before processing.] It’s sweet enough for kids to enjoy (and they’ll adore the rainbow mochi), but not an adult-repelling sugar bomb.

I should have taken a shot of the Ginja Ninja, because it was may fave of the bunch (I tried five of the nine flavours, and I’m going back next weekend to complete the date card). With its ginger ice, snappy gingersnap crumble, Maldon salt, and caramel sauce, it’s a bracing and energizing blast of spray from a rousing sail on the Ginger Sea.

WATA-WATAmelon!

WATA-WATAmelon!

Tastewise, the WATA-WATAmelon totally nails it; mint, lime, and basil meld with watermelon the way Kardashians meld with camera lenses. They were made for one another. Its one slight drawback is that the delicate watermelon ice shavings, like Blanche DuBois, tend to wilt in the heat. You have to plow through your portion at speed, or risk the possibility of having a cup of refreshing watermelon drink, rather than an icy delight. That said, it’s something of a small quibble, because it’s pretty great in either state (mine wound up half and half).

But Kakigori Kreamery’s secret weapon in its quest for world domination may well be their Kookie Kabuki: cookies ‘n’ cream ice, crushed Oreos, and condensed milk. This. Is. Irresistible. While the Ginja Ninja is still my favourite, it (much like me) is a little idiosyncratic. The Kookie Kabuki, on the other hand, has its sights locked on a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it target that wants a summertime comfort sweet that hits every familiar note. With a little luck, this might just supplant Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream as the heavyweight champ in the chocolate-meets-vanilla arena. But this is the case only if, of course, you happen to be in southern California. Otherwise… well, Japan is nice this time of year, but a SoCal sojourn might well be both less expensive and less complicated.

You can follow the exploits of Kakigori Kreamery here and here.

If you want to be around for their official debut, come check them out at the grand opening:
7/25 from 8:30am – 2:05pm
Venice Arts & Collectibles Market
13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

And should you care to try a home version of kakigori, you can pick up a Japanese-style ice shaver here, and a recipe for Peach Yogurt Kakigori with Mint Syrup here.

Beware the chicken heart! Not.

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The Deadly Chicken Heart!

The Deadly Chicken Heart!

Seventy-six years ago, the brilliant radio dramatist Arch Oboler wrote a radio play for the NBC series Lights Out called, simply, “Chicken Heart.” The main thrust of the story was that a science experiment had gone terribly, terribly wrong, and what once was a harmless, knuckle-sized, garden variety chicken heart had grown to gargantuan proportions, and was — LUB-DUB, LUB-DUB, LUB-DUB — threatening to take over the world. Good times.

As intended, the story scared the pants off a very young and impressionable Bill Cosby, as well as many others, enough so that the story was repeated the following year and again in 1942. It is still regarded as one of the finest examples of the radio genre’s darker side.

I wasn’t around seventy-six years ago, but I was around in 1966, when Bill Cosby described the depth of his dread on the album Wonderfulness. Like most kids in North America, I wasn’t predisposed to eating organ meats anyway, and Cosby’s riff on Oboler’s play gave me one more reason to avoid the deadly chicken heart.

Inside Mitsuwa

Inside Mitsuwa

Jump forward forty-seven years or so, to August of 2013. I happened to be shopping in Mitsuwa Marketplace, an Asian grocery store complex that’s one of my favourite local haunts. Other folks, when they go overseas, visit temples or museums or strip clubs. I visit grocery stores. [Yeah, and temples and museums as well. Strip clubs, not so much.] In between travel jaunts, I try to find the most “foreign” grocery stores I can, preferably ones that don’t have English-speaking help. Mitsuwa is as close as I can get to Japan without going into the Little Tokyo section of downtown LA.

While there, I came across a bottle of yuzu honey. Yuzu, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is an Asian citrus fruit not seen much in the United States except in extracted form, and that generally only in Asian markets. It tastes something like a cross between a lemon, a grapefruit, and a tangerine. It’s really quite a fetching fruit, so I picked up the bottle of “honey” (at $12.99 for 33.86 oz./980g) and tried to figure out what I might do with it. [I put quotes around the word “honey” because its main ingredient is high fructose corn syrup.]

Yuzu Honey

Yuzu Honey

Perhaps because I’ve been hankering to visit a local restaurant called Corazón y Miel (Spanish for “Heart and Honey”), I flashed on the idea of glazing chicken hearts with the yuzu honey. Heck, if the name was good enough to carry a restaurant, it certainly should be able to carry a meal.

This may come as a shock to you, but the Interwebs are not exactly chock-full of chicken heart recipes; nor were any of the cookbooks that were immediately at hand. The best piece of advice I got was that chicken hearts should be cooked either very quickly or very slowly; anywhere in between is likely to result in a tough heart, and who wants that? I did stumble across a blog called Cooking in Sens, which had an interesting recipe for a Chicken Heart and Pepper Stir Fry, and I took some inspiration, if not a recipe, from them.

Yuzu-Glazed Grilled Chicken Hearts

Ingredients
2 dozen or so chicken hearts
1 cup soy sauce (or tamari sauce)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup yuzu honey (or honey with a blast of 2-3 tbsp. of some citrus juice, with zest from one lemon or orange)
Kosher salt

Wash chicken hearts, removing as much blood as possible (it is a heart after all). Then trim off the gristle-y bit of connective tissue at the top of the heart (you should NOT remove all the fat). [See picture below.]

Heart with connective tissue separated. More connective tissue from a previous heart at left.

Heart with connective tissue separated. More connective tissue from a previous heart at left.

Place cleaned chicken hearts, minced garlic, and soy (or tamari) sauce in plastic bag. Seal, and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the degree to which time is a factor in getting the meal to table.

Marinating hearts.

Marinating hearts.

After marinating the hearts, you have a couple of options; you can either pan fry them, or grill them. I chose the grill because my stove top was taken up with rice and stir-fry veggies, so it was an easy choice. Just season them with a little kosher salt and skewer them on either a metal skewer or a pre-soaked bamboo skewer (don’t want it catching fire or turning to ash on the grill). In either event, you’ll want to pre-heat the grill or the oil in the pan.

A quick grill means a tender heart.

A quick grill means a tender heart.

Cook them about two minutes per side, or just as soon as they can be lifted from the grill without sticking. When you first lay them down, brush half the honey on the top side of the hearts; when you turn them over, brush the remaining honey on the now-browned side. After 4-5 minutes (TOTAL!), you can take them off, and they’ll be perfect.

Hearts a-plenty.

Hearts a-plenty.

Because my sous chef was me, I placed the hearts into a 200°F/95°C oven just to keep them warm while I finished off the stir-fry veg and rice. They were in the oven for about 15 minutes or so, to no ill effect. When combined with the rice and veg (which themselves had been augmented by a yuzu seasoning base), they made a — ahem — hearty meal.

A different way of approaching chicken and rice.

A different way of approaching chicken and rice.

[NOTE: The price on the yuzu seasoning base in the link is confiscatory, and I only put the link in to show you the bottle. It (or something very close) should be available at your local Asian market for something in the neighborhood of three to four dollars or so, if memory serves. For goodness sake, don’t spend $20 on a tiny bottle of yuzu seasoning base. Its ingredients are water, yuzu juice, vinegar, citric acid, orange juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, yuzu oil, and the ubiquitous “natural flavour.” A little lime juice, vinegar, sugar, and water (with some lime zest, if it’s handy) will work perfectly fine as a substitute.]