January 30, 2007

sometimes things work out, somtimes they don't

Lav and I got back this weekend from our trip to New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity... a really humbling, somber, but uplifting experience. It's been a pretty mellow food month, since January is our self-imposed "month of frugality." On top of that, the relocation preparations have kept me a bit too busy to do too much experimenting in the kitchen.

We saw these fantastic-looking sardines at the market on Saturday. I remember the first time I had sardines that blew me away... it was at Loretta Keller's Bizou (now Coco500)... the incredibly fresh Monterey sardines tasted nothing like the canned abominations at the industrial supermarket. Rather, they were clean and pure, with a delicate sweetness and only the faintest whiff of the sea, like a refreshing coastal breeze. I wanted to try to make something similar; maybe a simple sardine bruschetta, or perhaps just lightly grilled whole with a squeeze of lemon.

For some reason, I waited two days after buying the sardines before deciding to cook them. By then, the eyes had already turned quite cloudy. I also hadn't taken the time to notice that the fish hadn't been gutted yet when I bought them. Huge mistake. I think that must have accelerated the deterioration of the sardines. But I'd been looking forward to making the sardines all day, so I cleaned off the fish and went ahead with the plan to flash fry them in a light panko crust.

It just didn't work. The crust came out almost perfectly... light and crisp. But the sardines were simply not fresh enough to capture the subtly sweet finesse I'd been hoping for. Instead, there was a heavy, fishy flavor... strong enough to make me lose my appetite. Ug... terrible. Lesson learned: when a dish relies so integrally to ultra-fresh ingredients, you cannot compromise.

I had a bit of a comeback tonight though. I've been trying to perfect the texture of braised shortribs. How can I dissolve and extract as much collagen as possible while preventing the meat from constricting? Does it take 2 hours? 18 hours? A light simmer or nothing higher than 68 degrees C? Is there a limit to how meltingly tender the shortrib should be? Should it retain some element of toothsome texture? These are all questions that I'm trying to answer... in the meantime, the 10-hour braise we did overnight seemed to work pretty well. I also broiled a thin layer of last night's mushroom and bacon risotto with a thin layer of panko crumbs on top until the risotto became light brown and toasty. The broiling did a nice job of intensifying the earthy flavors in the risotto.
I guess you lose some, but you also win others.

January 16, 2007

when illness kills your appetite

So Lav and I were psyched for a weekend extravaganza in Seattle (albeit, a bit frigid), involving a decent amount of culinary exploration... until I got hit with a nasty bug. I had no appetite for two and a half days -- actually, the thought of eating made me feel a bit queasy at times... so we missed out on some of our targets (although we did make it to elemental @ gasworks for a uniquely engaging dining experience). It definitely makes you appreciate the sensation of having an appetite. Ah, the sunday supper at Sitka and Spruce will happen eventually...

It also made me think of how, too often, we satisfy ourselves (with things like food, material possessions, or otherwise) when we don't have a true need or appetite... like overindulging at dinner, eating that extra small plate, ordering yet another glass of wine...

Despite my being sick, we still had a fantastic weekend spending time with each other, accompanied by beautiful, clear skies over Seattle (believe it or not)... we caught amazing views of the Cascades, the Olympics, and Mt. Rainier. Maybe that's all we really needed.

Of course, on the morning we left, I was almost 100% healthy again. Go figure.