Saturday, April 29, 2006

Beefy Goodness

When my hubby and I go to our favorite Korean restaurant for their buffet, it seems that I am never offered any kalbi. Neal can bring back platesful, but nobody asks me if I would like some. So I decided to make some of my own. Or a variation thereof.

David Chang, of Momofuku Noodle Bar, in Manhattan, has been featured in the Times on a regular basis these past few weeks. Earlier in the month, I found his recipe for what seemed like a cross between kalbi, and nikujaga--a Japanese potato and beef stew. We've been having blissfully cool Spring weather, so I decided to have one more hearty food feast before it starts getting unbearably hot here in Baltimore.

I don't think I've ever used so many pots, pans, utensils, and plates in cooking a single meal before. I needed the Dutch oven (1) to brown the meat; because I did so in two batches, I also needed a large bowl (2). The meat then went into a large glass casserole (3) that was placed on a cookie sheet (4), for stability. The cooking liquid was prepared in a non-stick saucepan (5). After four hours in the oven, the meat went into another large bowl (6), and the cooking liquid went back into the already washed non-stick saucepan (7) to be reduced. The meat and reduced liquid met again in a large saute pan (8) with lid (9). The potatoes and carrots went into a square baking dish (10), and into the oven, since it was already heated and I wasn't in the mood to saute them. The green onion garnish went into a small bowl (11) but the cilantro was left on a paper towel. Tongs (12), various spoons (13-15), and a bowl to collect the oodles of grease floating on top of the sauce (16), were also employed, not to mention the salad plates, dinner bowls, and wine glasses for the rest of the meal. Whew! A lot of washing up!

But it was worth it. The sauce was rich and sweet and garlicky, and the meat was spoon-tender. Definitely restaurant-quality flavor. I especially enjoyed the contrast between the carrots that were cooked with the meat and sauce, and the ones I oven roasted with the sliced potatoes.

Braised Short Ribs
Adapted from David Chang
Originally Published in the New York Times, April 5, 2006

1½ cups pear or apple juice
1 cup sake
1 cup mirin
½ cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed
4 to 5 pounds short ribs
2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
8 to 12 small potatoes, preferably fingerlings, trimmed
½ cup chopped scallions
4 cups cooked white rice.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, combine juice, sake, mirin, sugar, soy sauce, about 20 grinds of pepper, both forms of garlic, sesame oil and 1½ cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer.

2. Put corn or grapeseed oil in a large ovenproof braising pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add ribs, seasoning them liberally with salt and pepper. Brown well on one side, moving them around to promote even browning. Turn, add onions and half the carrots, and brown other side, stirring vegetables occasionally.

3. Carefully pour braising liquid over meat and bake, bone-side up and submerged in liquid (add water or juice if necessary), for 3 to 4 hours, until meat falls from bones. Cool ribs in liquid for 1 hour, then remove; strain liquid. At this point, ribs and liquid can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

4. Remove bones from ribs. In a pot, combine meat with braising liquid; heat to a boil then simmer, reducing liquid until syrupy. If it seems too thick, thin with a bit of water.

5. About ½ hour before you are ready to serve, put butter in a skillet and add potatoes and remaining carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally and seasoning with salt and pepper, until browned and nearly tender, about 20 minutes. Add to meat. Taste mixture and adjust seasonings if necessary, then garnish with scallions and serve on rice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Food Television

Television shows about chefs and food seem to be all the rage these days, and not only on the Food Network. There's Top Chef, on Bravo, a copy of last year's Fox show, Hell's Kitchen, and NBC's Celebrity Cooking Showdown, the Iron Chef wannabe with a twist. And let's not forget the two seasons of Rocco DiSpirito's trainwreck NBC/Bravo show, The Restaurant, that we were treated to in 2003-04. And in the one show that doesn't seem to be a contest, lovely chef Tony Bourdain eats and imbibes his way around the globe on No Reservations on the Travel Channel.

In addition to all their regular semi-food-related programming, the Food Network is also full of competitions. Every Sunday night there is a new batch of competitors vying for cash prizes with their towering sugar sculptures and fancy cakes. And Iron Chef America. And for the last two years, Who Will Be the Next Food Network Star?. Now I say - who cares?

I don't watch food programming for the personalities...I watch it to learn about food. I'm sorry, but my favorite punching bag and yours, Rachael Ray, ain't gonna teach me anything about cooking. She knows little or nothing herself. And Sandra Lee, with her craptastic not-even-semi-homemade garbage? (Never trust a skinny cook.) So why do we need another non-chef showing us how they gussy up a can of baked beans but don't they look damn perky while doing it? These "Food Network Star" people all have assloads of personality, but are they going to show me something I don't know? Something that will make me want to run to the kitchen and concoct a fabulous meal? Granted, the dude who won this year, Guy Fieri, does have a restaurant, and he seems to have some cooking skills, but his show is going to be all about him and his ridiculous bleached 'do and oddly-shaped van Dyck (rhymes with "bike," and I'm referring to his beard.) Yeah, it'll be some x-treme cooking. Uh-huh. :::eyeroll::: At least he'll be in the kitchen, rather than the new style food shows that has a chef (or Rachael Ray) traveling the world and tasting other folks' cooking or eating restaurant food. Apparently Alton Brown is even getting into the act with a new show this summer. Enough! Get your asses into the kitchen and cook for me, dammit!

But I digress.

So why are shows about food so popular these days that they show up on so many networks in prime time? Is it the whole hunger for "reality" television? Or is cooking becoming a sport for a country that is growing increasingly more obese (I ask, as I take a bite of my donut)?

If you figure it out, do let me know.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Creamy Desserts

I love custard in all its forms - creme brulee, creme anglaise, flan, quiche. Custards are liquids that have been set or thickened by the coagulation of egg proteins. But there are other desserts that are quite creamy and rich and very custard-like...but that contain no eggs. Blancmange is one, and Panna Cotta is another.

Panna Cotta is originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, and the term literally means "cooked cream." I ate it for the first time at Della Notte, and thought it was one of the finest things one could do with gelatin. It was creamy and sweet, but not too too, and the cool slippery texture was a real treat after a heavy meal. I decided this would be a fine thing to concoct for Easter dinner.

Unfortunately, the recipe I used, from the Joy of Cooking, turned out a pudding that was far too rich and sweet for my taste. It called for 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, 1 cup of whole milk, and 1/2 cup of sugar. When garnished with fresh berries and a drizzle of lemongrass honey, it was delicious, but did not have the lightness I was looking for. With that much heavy cream, how could it?

So I've done a little investigating on the Web, and have so far only found super-rich versions of panna cotta with oodles of cream. I sent an e-mail to Della Notte, requesting the recipe, but I'm afraid what they'll send back will feed an army. So...it's time to experiment. First, I'll cut the amount of cream and sugar by half. I'll keep you posted as to my progress.

The rest of Easter dinner was a big success - roast leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary, potato pierogies with butter and onions (a nod to my Polish upbringing), braised radishes, and a medley of peas--sugar snap, snow, and English. What to do with all the leftover lamb now?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dietary Laws

I found this article from last week's New York Times fascinating: It's Passover, Lighten Up. I've long pooh-poohed dietary laws as archaic, as health rules that may have been necessary to prevent disease in the past, as quirky misinterpretations of holy texts written in ancient languages, what have you. Raised Catholic, for many years I made sure to avoid meat on Fridays during Lent. I think Neal made Swedish meatballs last Friday, which I devoured AND enjoyed, without guilt. I can't imagine a life spent without tasting pork, or shellfish - no bacon? No shrimp? Ahhhh...it's too horrible to contemplate!

It's interesting to see how the word "chometz," which means sharp, or sour--as in fermented, like sourdough bread--has been taken lo these many years to mean leavening in general.

I sorta understand the want/need to emulate a group of people to celebrate a holiday of religious significance, as those who celebrate Passover do. Jesus may well have not eaten meat on Fridays too, but I have a feeling that he didn't eat on most days.

I'm not even going to get into the whole dry religion/Welch's grape juice at communion when Jesus turned water into wine thing, although that gives me a good chuckle.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm Stuffed!

When you hears the word "stuffing," you usually thinks of Thanksgiving turkey, right? But as long as you have a starch, a fat, and seasonings, you can make stuffing.

I decided that I was going to make pork tenderloins for dinner tonight. Ordinarily, I would rub them with some spices, Patak's biryani paste, for example, and bake them. But today I decided I wanted to stuff them. I had never butterflied a pork tenderloin before and wasn't even sure it could be done successfully, but once I get an idea in my head, it's hard to change my mind.

So now that I had decided to stuff my pork, the question became - what with? I opened my magic pantry and discovered some sundried tomatoes. What else did I have? Hmmm...there's a can of abalone mushrooms purchased from the Asian food store a couple weeks ago...and some walnut halves...and there are two slightly stale hot dog rolls...and some chopped frozen onions! That sounds like stuffing to me!

Pork Tenderloins with Kitchen Sink Stuffing

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, not in oil, rehydrated in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup frozen chopped onions
drizzle of olive oil
handful of walnut pieces
two Martin's potato rolls, crumbled
2 abalone mushrooms, chopped, from a 15 oz can
salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, chopped fine or pressed
1/4 water
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
splash balsamic vinegar
honey

Add frozen onions to a skillet and salt generously. When they have thawed, add a splash of olive oil, the sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms. Sautee for 10 minutes, until browned and fragrant and all moisture has evaporated. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning. I found the mixture to be a bit bland, so added approximately 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a generous drizzle of honey. This made for a nice flavor balance. Toss in parsley, crumbled bread and water, stirring until bread is most. Remove stuffing to a bowl; cover and chill until cool.

I cut my pork tenderloins in half widthwise because I wasn't sure if I had a knife long enough to butterfly them whole, then cut each piece into a wide strip. When the stuffing was cool, I mixed in the walnut pieces. I then mounded the mixture onto the pork and topped the stuffing with slices of hard goat cheese. After rolling up the meat into fat logs, I secured them with wooden skewers, placed them on a foil-lined baking sheet, and drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper.

They cooked at 375 for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, since I was doing something vaguely Italianate with the pork, I decided to make a side dish of polenta. I had some medium-ground cornmeal, and some grits.

3 cups water
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup grits
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in the cornmeal and grits. Stir continuously, on medium heat, until the mixture thickens and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Stir in the butter, salt and pepper, and grated cheese.

For a green veg, I nuked some frozen peas in salted water for 4 minutes, drained them, then added a knob of butter. Easy peasy. :)

The stuffing was rich and mellow, and went well with the somewhat bland pork. I think it would also work well for chicken breasts, or perhaps some turkey tenderloins as well. Heck - beef too! The stuffing was also quite moist (but not at all wet) and precluded the need for any sauce or gravy. The "polenta" was flavorful, but not too dense, and the peas were a nice touch of green. Although a simply dressed arugula or other green salad would be quite appropriate as well.

The stuffing could have been made with any number of ingredients - perhaps chopped dried apricots and prunes instead of the tomatoes, or even dried cherries or cranberries. Pecans could have substituted for the walnuts; no nuts at all would have also been fine. Fresh basil would have been a welcome touch, but that will have to wait a few months until I can get my container garden started. And I could easily have substituted pre-cooked rice for the stale rolls, or maybe that last piece of cornbread hanging out in the fridge.

Stuffing doesn't have to be just for Thanksgiving, and doesn't have to come out of a box, either. If you have the the right ingredients on hand - and "right" is pretty limitless - you can stuff just about anything.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chocolate Pasta?

Ever have chocolate pasta before? We bought a bag of Chocoholics chocolate radiatore pasta a while back, on a whim. It sat in the cupboard for a long time; we weren't quite sure what to do with it. Then, as I was trying to decide on what to make for dinner tonight, that pasta caught my eye. I was feeling somewhat Tex-Mex today, and as we still have some of that yummy Trader Joe's mole sauce in the fridge, I thought I could make something interesting with the pasta.

I added a few tablespoons of the mole to 2 cups of chicken stock and brought it to a boil. Turning the heat down, I added a handful of chopped cilantro and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, I sauteed 1/2 onion, chopped, in some olive oil until transluscent, then tossed in about 6 oz each of bay scallops and raw shrimp. And cooked the pasta. I took the thickened sauce off the heat and whisked in 3 oz of sour cream, then added the onion mixture.

The sauce went over the pasta and was garnished with shredded cheddar and monterey jack cheeses, chopped cilantro, and chopped fresh tomato. It was tasty; the pasta had a definite cocoa flavor. And suprisingly, the whole dish was deceptively light yet extremely flavorful. The sauce on its own would have made an excellent soup, and I may just try that again sometime, sans pasta.

Yeah, it was interesting, but really just a novelty. The world really doesn't need chocolate pasta. Brownies, on the other hand, are a necessity!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Thai at Home


I adore Thai food - the aromas, the complex flavors, the colors. We have a favorite Thai restaurant in the area, Bangkok Place. It's not much to look at, with it's 70s former-bar yellow leaded glass windows and cracked burgundy pleather booths, 80s pastel floral wallpaper and shocking pink wood trim. But the food is consistently delicious, and they prepare the best red curry I've eaten anywhere. (Lots of places tend to make their red curry a bit too sweet for my tastes.) Our favorite dishes are found on the Special Appetizer Platter A: fishcakes, or Tod Mun Pla, served with a tart and sweet cucumber salad; chicken sate, with peanut sauce; and a crisp, noodle-filled spring roll with a sweet dipping sauce less cloying than some others.

I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it. Good then that I have leftover Thai-inspired soup for lunch.

Our local Giant supermarket has expanded its International foods section to include Indian and Thai groceries. Neal picked up a can of Tom Yum soup and a jar of sate sauce, plus some fresh cilantro. With this, plus some pantry staples, fresh cucumber and carrots, and leftover linguine, he prepared a Thai feast.

To the soup, he added a Knorr fish bouillion cube and two cups of water. He also added some chopped onion, fresh mushrooms, and three tablespoons of powdered coconut milk.

The linguine got coated with the satay sauce and were garnished with chopped cilantro and a handful of crushed peanuts.

Sliced cucumber and julienned carrot, with a little honey, sesame oil, chopped red onion, and rice wine vinegar became a refreshing salad.

Together, everything was wonderful. Cooking ethnic food at home doesn't have to be complicated!
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