Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving's in the air

On TV, in the paper, in magazines, in stores - everyone's talking about their Thanksgiving preparations. It's a little odd since I don't like turkey or pumpkin pie, but I'm a little bummed to be missing out on the festivities. We're off to the motherland, which is Canada and where they've already celebrated Thanksgiving back in early October (same date as Columbus Day in the US). The Canadian version is nowhere near as big a deal as it is here. I've come to appreciate the rigamarole around this holiday, though I still don't get the appeal of Black Friday shopping starting at 4am for a number of stores (midnight at the Wrentham outlets south of Boston).

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Food for Thought - Unusual meats

The Boston Globe surprisingly printed an article on the growing purchases of goat meat, due primarily to the ethnic minorities where goat meat in other cultures is a norm. I was suprised since eating goat is a pretty exotic topic for such a bland, white bread paper like the Globe.  But that did get me thinking on general aversion to exotic meats or even exotic cuts of meat from mainstream animals.

Growing up in an Asian household meant that I was exposed to wide variety of unusual items that nowadays can usually be seen on gross-out food shows like the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. No, we didn't have snake or bugs growing up, but as a kid we pretty routinely ate offal (tongue, heart, sweetbreads) and fish with its head on was a common sight in my household. As an adult I've eaten ostrich (not bad, pretty lean), emu (delicious!), rabbit, goat, elk, moose and deer. I think I've listed them all. I think the only exotic game at Savenor's that I haven't eaten is kangaroo and I have no desire to try that any time soon (not sure if this is true, but the wild animals have a lot of worms so I've been told to only eat farm-raised).

Nor do I have the desire to cook any of these meats myself. Back in Montreal, rabbit is relatively common in French cooking, so we would see whole rabbits, sans fur but with head still attached and eyes in, wrapped in plastic in the meat case. Not exactly the most appealing, but I'm not turned off by the whole pig heads in the meat cases at the Boqueria in Barcelona. I guess I'm just not sure how to deal with a rabbit carcass or a pig head. I definitely don't want to take butchering lessons...

So what's the most exotic meat that you've ever eaten and what do you think you'd be willing to eat?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Little things make us happy

This is our newest toy:


Yes, that's a kitchen faucet. Our new kitchen faucet.

It may seem pretty ordinary to you, but the Blanco Semi-Professional model (because we're only semi-professionals, you know) is the best kitchen item we've bought all year. It beats out the long silicone-tipped tongs (purchased after I realized deep frying french fries isn't a good idea when you have itsy-bitsy tongs and your hands are dangerously close to the hot oil) and the cute jars I use to make pickles.

It's amazing because we put up with a broken builder's basic Delta faucet for a year. Our old faucet was stuck on a weak spray - we couldn't switch it back to the full stream anymore, so filling a pot of water or a watering can was a slooooow process. This new puppy has so much pressure that I was power-washing lettuce to the point that it needed extra spins in the salad spinner.

It was a good thing we got our new faucet installed because it had no problem tackling this glorious mess:


This was my first attempt ever at making baked beans. I violated the cardinal rule and tried this dish for the very first time the day we had guests coming for dinner. We were serving apple-cider glazed ribs with the Barefoot Contessa's roasted butternut squash salad, and it occurred to me the day before that baked beans would go well with the meal. I'm not particularly fond of baked beans so I think the husband was a bit taken aback when I offered to cook this as a side.

I first trotted off to Formaggio in search of salt pork. Turns out it's probably the only pork product that they don't carry. The closest substitution was either pancetta or guanciale. I went for a pound of guanciale since it was the fattier option of the two (and a few dollars cheaper). I was also hoping to buy Rancho Gordo beans, a supplier of dried heirloom bean varieties that reportedly taste far better than the run of the mill varieties. I'm a big fan of heirloom tomatoes, so I wanted to give the heirloom beans a try, but unfortunately they didn't carry the type of white navy bean that the recipe called for. Instead, I settled for a dried New England bean mix from Whole Foods.

I was intending to make a full recipe, but the husband suggested perhaps halving the quantities would still be a hearty amount, given how much other food we had to serve, so it was only half a pound of beans that soaked in water overnight. The next morning, when I started to assemble the rest of the ingredients for the 5 hours of cooking time, I realized the recipe called for a 1-to-1 ratio of salt pork to beans. I dutifully chopped up a half pound of guanciale to match the half pound of beans, but when it came time to put all of it together in the pot, I just couldn't add that much fat to that amount of beans. I ended up adding half of what the recipe recommended, and I'm very glad I did because it ended up being rich as all hell. I like my food to be fatty (though we'll see how my cholesterol's doing at my next check-up, gulp) but even this was a bit too much for me. I added 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar which helped the heaviness, but I think I'll be looking for a more southern-style baked beans recipe the next time I get the urge - I think I'm a sweet and sour, ketchup type of baked bean eater after all.


Boston-style Baked Beans
From Serious Eats

Ingredients


  • 1 pound dried white pea beans, soaked overnight in cold water
  • 6 cipollini or small onions, peeled
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 pound salt pork
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Directions
  • Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and place them in a large saucepan. Cover the beans with water and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, skim off any scum that has risen to the surface, and drain the beans, reserving the cooking water. Set the cooking liquid aside and transfer the beans to a heavy casserole or Dutch oven
  • Preheat the oven to 275ºF
  • Skewer 3 of the onions with a clove each and add them, with the remaining onions, to the beans. Cut the salt pork into 2-inch pieces and add to the beans. Mix the brown sugar, molasses, mustard powder, and salt with about 1 cup of the cooking liquid and pour over the beans and pork, stirring to mix. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to cover the beans and set the remaining liquid aside
  • Cover the beans and cook for 4 hours, checking from time to time to make sure that the beans are always covered with liquid, and adding more of the reserved cooking liquid as necessary. After 4 hours the beans should be just tender, but the cooking time will vary depending on the age of your dried beans; older ones will take longer to cook. Uncover the pan and continue to cook them for another hour to thicken the sauce and color the salt pork pieces. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cooking like an Iron Chef

No, our cooking skills aren't that good. We've never taken a professional cooking class and our knife skills are rudimentary at best. In fact, they're so rudimentary that I started to take a piece off my thumb while attempting to cut a baguette last night.

I'm referring to a (reasonably?) new show on the Cooking Channel featuring Iron Chef Michael Symon. I thought it might be hokey at first, but the premise is simple - pick a "secret ingredient" and cook 3 dishes with it. The episode featuring pork got my attention - he made a pork tenderloin dish in minutes using only one pan.

Not only did it take less than 10 mins to cook (with maybe 10 mins prep, at most), it's really, really good. The sweetness of the dates cut the richness of the bacon with the pork, and the lemon zest adds an unexpected brightness to what could be a very heavy dish. This is one we'll be adding to our weeknight repertoire.

Pork Tenderloin with Bacon, Chile Flakes, Toasted Almond and Parsley 

Recipe courtesy Michael Symon

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons blended oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 (1 1/2-pounds) pork tenderloin, cut into 2 1/2 to 3-ounce medallions
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 thick slices bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds to pan, to toast
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pitted, chopped dates
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • About 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley, leaves picked and chiffonade
  • Kosher salt 

Directions

Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons blended oil. Season the medallions with salt and pepper on both sides. Once the oil is heated, add the seasoned pork to 1 side of the pan and sear on both sides, about 2 minutes each side. To the other side of the pan, add the bacon and allow to start to render.

Once the bacon has started rendering and the pork is flipped, add the almonds and butter to toast. Next add the dates, red chile flakes, garlic, chicken stock, lemon zest, and juice. Allow to simmer briefly then remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Taste and season with a pinch of salt, if needed

Place 2 of the medallions onto a plate and top with the dates, almonds, bacon and drizzle of the sauce.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Food For Thought: Brown Bread Ice Cream?

Welcome to my first Friday's Food For Thought. This is my attempt to be more regimented in maintaining this blog, even though I do this for fun with no pretense of garnering a book deal.

I think I've professed my admiration for David Lebovitz on multiple occasions (particularly for sharing his Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream recipe with the world), but I have to admit when I saw this post of his (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/11/brown-bread-ice-cream-recipe/), the title really threw me off. And it's not because no one calls it brown bread in Boston - I'm just not a fan of whole wheat bread to begin with, so the idea of chunks of it in an ice cream did not appeal. I guess I was picturing a weird bread pudding concoction gone terribly wrong.

In reading the directions, I was relieved to see that the brown bread is turned into small bits and caramelized with butter, sugar and cinnamon. That makes it slightly more palatable in my books, but then I read that the ice cream base involves cream cheese or sour cream, and that turned me off again. It reminds me of the parsnip ice cream I ate at Craigie on Main, served as accompaniment to pear and pine nut perdu (french toast). It wasn't unpleasant, but it also wasn't enjoyable - there are some things that just aren't meant to be made into ice cream. I put brown/whole wheat bread in that category, along with parsnips.

So am I the only one against the idea of brown bread ice cream? Would you eat it?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quite possibly the most entertaining restaurant review ever...

I'll admit I don't know much about the Amateur Gourmet, other than his blog is part of my blog roll and I dutily peruse his postings as they appear. There's nothing like the title "Waiter! There's a Nipple in My Soup! (A Review of Robert's Restaurant at Scores Gentleman's Club by Cole Escola)" to make me stop and read the full piece. This is definitely the most entertaining restaurant review I've ever read! See the link to the full article below.

 Amateur Gourmet Article

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich

Vietnamese is our favourite ethnic food. We love it so much, we plan on vacationing in Vietnam so we can eat the real stuff. Unfortunately, the real deal cannot be had in the Boston area, even if you're willing to risk your safety and head into Dorchester where there are 3 pho restaurants on one corner. Northing here can compare to the Vietnamese food we've eaten in NYC, San Fran, Paris, Montreal and even our little hometown of Ottawa.

So when I had a craving for a banh mi, I knew we were going to have to make our own. A banh mi consists of the following components:

  1. Crusty bread in baguette or sandwich roll form
  2. Pâté(s)
  3. Meat - often roast pork, sometimes chicken or meatballs
  4. Pickled veggies - usually carrots and daikon
  5. Cilantro
  6. Mayo
  7. Hot sauce
This may be the most emblematic example of the French influence on the Vietnamese food culture. Who would have thought French pâtés would be good with Asian veggies and condiments? A lot of liberty can be taken with the meat component of the dish - since I knew we didn't have any roast meat lying around for lunch on Sunday, I decided to go with two types of pâté (chicken liver mousse and a pork version). The two items that you absolutely cannot omit are the pickled veggies and copious amounts of fresh cilantro.

We of course did not have any suitable pickles in the fridge as the type of pickle required for a banh mi is not of the standard dill or Kosher pickle. It's also not the kind of thing that I've found in the grocery store, so I got up on Sunday morning and made my own pickles. I used the following recipe from the king of Asian pickling, in my mind: David Chang of NYC's Momofuku restaurants.

Momofuku pickling brine
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
6 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt

That's all there is to it. The use of the rice vinegar makes for a milder sourness, and the sugar adds a brightness that I find quite tasty. I stirred up a batch of the brine while the husband was making pancakes and cooking bacon, then went looking for things to pickle. I ended up with carrots, red onion, Thai chilis, and cucumber as victims of pickling. I had 4 little bowls wrapped in plastic, hanging out in the fridge, until the husband went out that afternoon and brought back a couple of these adorable little jars:


I think the carrots would have made for a better picture, but we ate all of those before I got around to snapping a shot. In any case, DC recommends that the sit for a few days in the fridge, but they are edible within a few hours if you're in a pinch. Which is a good thing, since I wasn't planning on waiting a few days before I could make a banh mi.

I essentially followed the banh mi recipe found in the Momofuku cookbook. This version uses the two terrine/pâté method, which was easy enough to do thanks to the excellent pâtés made by the talented people at Formaggio Kitchen. DC's instructions call for Kewpie mayonnaise, which required Googling on my part - it's a Japanese creation that's made with rice vinegar that ordinarily would have appealed to me except that it also contains MSG, of which I am not a fan. I was skeptical of the mayo and almost left it out, but decided to make a smallish starter sandwich with a light swipe of mayo. The red stuff that you see in the photo from yesterday is sriracha, an asian hot sauce that can be nuclear if you apply too liberally. My second round of sandwiches involved a heavier hand when it came to the hot sauce and left our lips numb, but in a good way.

So overall, our verdict on our homemade banh mis? Pretty damn delicious. The bread needs some work - the baguettes we've found locally aren't quite the right consistency (so much chewing!), though taking out some of its bready guts helps. The pâtés were delicious if you like that kind of meat funkiness (it's not for everyone), the mayo was actually tasty (that'll teach me to ever doubt DC again), and the veggies+cilantro provided a refreshing balance. No need to travel when we can do a pretty tasty version ourselves at home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

This blog has been terribly neglected...

It's been a rough 6-8 weeks - first vacation, then travel for work, then being totally swamped with work has left me with virtually no time to keep up this site. While the majority of my focus has been on the pharma aspects of my life, I've managed to do the following food-related things:

  1. Make my own gnocchi, for no apparent reason at all and even though I was exhausted.
  2. Spend the weekend in NYC and surprisingly didn't eat nearly as much as we normally do. We made up our lack of eating by drinking - perhaps not the smartest of moves. The highlight of our trip was a visit to Eataly - more on that in another post.
  3. Attend Harvard's Science & Cooking Public Lecture series: the talk I attended was given by the fabulous Jose Andreas (Washington, DC). The topic - gelation. I have no plans to gel anything in the kitchen, but the talk was fantastic thanks to a funny, charming, and genuinely nice chef. Tonight I'm attending "Meat Glue Mania!" given by NYC's Wylie Dufresne of wd-50 fame. For some reason glueing meat to more meat makes me terribly excited, but again I have no plans to do this myself.
  4. Attended a wine tasting at Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square (Somerville): the theme of the night was South of France wines.We came home with 4 new bottles of wine (like we didn't have enough already) and a yummy mild goat cheese from Maine.
  5. Met a cheesemonger from a local fromagerie while having my monthly pedicure at Wet Paint Nail Spa. How random is that?
  6. Found a new iPad app that changed my life. A bit dramatic, you might say, but the Paprika Recipe Manager deserves the hyperbole, in my opinion. We love to use the iPad in the kitchen while cooking, but it's been a major annoyance trying to keep track of all the recipes from different sources. Not anymore! This app is worth the $9.99 price tag when it can download and save recipes from just about any website. It's a little cranky reading blogs (guess they haven't worked out the algorithms yet), but it has a pretty good cut and paste option that does the trick. And no, the company is not paying me to wax poetic - I really like their product and think it's genius!
  7. Ate at Craigie on Main twice in one week. I haven't been there in months (love the food, but it's often too busy to just "pop in") but managed to eat there on Wednesday night and Friday night last week. Had the mussels both times because they were awesome. Need I say more?
  8. Finally, I knew I'd caught up on my rest this weekend when I started taking an interest in planning meals and cooking new recipes. Not sure what inspired me, but my first thought was to re-create a banh-mi sandwich. This is a pic of yesterday's lunch and what will be tonight's dinner. It was as tasty as it looks, if you like that kind of thing. More details to come...
 

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