January 30, 2008

brussel sprout "sauce"?

Having leftover main ingredients can spark a wealth of new ideas. Last week, we had a stash of braised oxtail and some remaining brussel sprouts left on the stalk. Oxtail meat works fantastic for ravioli, but I wanted to incorporate a flavor contrast to the richness of the oxtail. Instead of roasting the brussel sprouts until sweet and caramelized, could I turn it into a sauce?

I sliced the brussel sprouts in half and boiled them in salted water until just tender. Next, the brussel sprouts were shocked in ice water to preserve the bright green color. Once the sprouts were cool, I blended them with a bit of the salted boiling liquid, a touch of honey, salt, pepper and olive oil. The puree was then strained through a sieve. The result? A silky smooth sauce with a focused, lightly sweet flavor of brussel sprouts, and just the faintest edge of vegetal bitterness... a nice counterpart to the ravioli.

Plated with a bit of sauteed spinach and garlic, parmigiano and chili oil to round out the dish... makes me think there's some potential to turn some other vegetables into sauces.

January 26, 2008

some Christmas images of the Bay Area

The weather has been decidedly chilly for some time now here in Seattle, and while we did have nearly an entire week of brilliantly blue, cloudless skies, the temperature has been hovering a little too close to freezing. No better time than now to look back at some final pictures of last month's trip back to the Bay Area.

among the highlights: ricotta pancakes, new guinea roast, sketch (remodeled), absinthe, solano cellars, k&k, dim sum, pearl tea, fpc berkeley, sunny skies.

Some pretty exciting changes are coming up... we're in the last month of our lease in our current apartment (which, unfortunately, is way too cold downstairs), and we'll be moving to a beautiful, inspiring new rental house in south Seattle at the end of February--which has a fireplace and is Built Green!!!

January 23, 2008

Hainanese (Singapore) chicken rice

When we first got married, Lav and I didn't watch too much television. She liked watching ER, and I pretty much only watched ESPN and the occasional cooking show here and there. Then, somehow, she got addicted (in a very serious way) to Lost and we both started watching the Office and 30 Rock. These days, I'm also still pretty hooked on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, which really caught my attention after the episode in Beiruit.

The first episode of this season had Tony romping around Singapore, tasting all sorts of awesome food. The first dish he tried from a hawker stand was Chicken Rice, a national dish of sorts. It's a simple dish, but the component flavors are such principal colors of the palate that it's easy to see why good Chicken Rice is so esteemed.

After reading through a few suggested recipies online and comparing those with what I saw in this episode, I decided to wing it. The basic process is simple: boil a whole chicken until it is done, then immediately shock it in an ice water bath to congeal the remaining fat (for texture) and separate the skin from the meat. Everything else, from seasonings to dipping sauces, is completely open to personal creativity and preference.

My version of Hainanese Chicken Rice

1 4-5 lb. whole fryer, preferably free-range/organic
2-inch segment of ginger, peeled
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 carrot, sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup white rice
sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste
dipping sauces (see later comments)

Slice off the flap of chicken fat/skin from the neck cavity of the chicken and set aside.

Fill a large stockpot with enough cold water to submerge the entire chicken by at least 1 inch. Be sure to leave enough space for water displacement from the chicken. Add smashed garlic cloves, ginger, and the neckbone of the chicken (if included) to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Drop chicken into the boiling water and cover. Bring the liquid back to a boil as quickly as possible and boil vigorously until cooked through, approximately 25 minutes. Be sure to cook chicken thoroughly, but do not overboil. The best way to check for doneness is with a meat thermometer; the meat should be at 165 degrees F). Once chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and immediately place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Keep the pot of water at a boil to reduce by at least 25%.

In the meantime, slice the reserved flap of chicken fat into small pieces and render the fat in a skillet over medium heat to obtain 2 tablespoons of fat. Reserve. Once the chicken is done boiling, stir in rice grains and lightly toast them in the fat over medium heat until the edges of the grains are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice to a rice cooker and use the cooking liquid from the stock pot to cook the rice.

While rice is cooking, add carrot and green onions to the pot containing the boiling chicken broth. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the broth should be mild in flavor (not salty!), with only a delicately fragrant hint of chicken and ginger. Once the carrot is cooked, serve the broth as a simple soup.

Once the chicken has cooled completely, remove the meat from the bone, trying to keep the skin intact. Slice thinly and dress with a light drizzle of sesame oil. The meat should be accompanied by kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper on the side, in addition to your own choice of dipping sauces. Serve with the steamed white rice, which should have a wafting fragrance of chicken imbued into each tender grain.

We made a slew of simple dipping sauces to accompany the chicken, among them: sweetened light soy sauce with chopped jalepeno, chili oil, soy sauce and sesame oil, meyer lemon juice, black bean sause, seaweed paste, toasted nori flakes, and ume paste. Let your imagination dictate the variety of flavor accents to use.

I can't think of a simpler dish that utilizes the chicken so efficiently, with little to no waste whatsoever... a perfect meal for "frugal" January.

January 15, 2008

I feel like I've eaten this before...

Yoda and Sue, two cloned boars... photo taken from ViaGen's website

In case you haven't read the article already, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a ruling/advisory opinion declaring that food derived from cloned animals is safe. I'm certainly no expert in this area, and I haven't really keep myself up to speed on the most recent literature on the subject. Nevertheless, I think it's important to know where your food comes from and how it was produced... which is why I find this aspect of the potential for cloned products disturbing:
The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that milk and meat from cloned animals, such as these cows, should be allowed on the market. That stance has raised a debate over whether food from clones that are raised organically could still carry the organic label... FDA officials have said they do not expect to require food from clones to be labeled as such, but they may allow foods from ordinary animals to be labeled as not from clones.

And from the New York Times article:
The F.D.A. ruling was a major victory for cloning companies, which hope to use the cloned animals primarily for breeding purposes, selling copies of prize dairy cows, steers and hogs. The company putting the most effort into developing the technology is ViaGen, of Austin, Texas. That company and others have already produced scores of clones that live on American farmsteads, though the F.D.A. has asked the farmers to honor a voluntary moratorium on the sale of clone meat and milk.
Hm... it might not be a bad idea to keep a close eye on ViaGen. Somehow, "ViaGen Kurobuta Pork" doesn't have the same ring as "Roasted Kurobuta Pork Loin, Snake River Farms."

January 12, 2008

making some favorites: oxtail soup, chilaquiles and pork rillettes

One of Lav's favorite soups his her mom's Chinese oxtail soup. Full of collagen that converts to gelatin when boiled in water, oxtails make an amazing soup base, full of rich flavor and body. The traditional Chinese oxtail soup, with its carrots, potatoes and tomatoes, is the kind of hearty meal that's perfect on a cold winter day.

For brunch this morning, Lav went for the oxtail soup. I'd been wanting to make one of my favorite bruch dishes, chilaquiles. Chilaquiles were originally created as a way to use leftovers, which worked out nicely as a way to use some of our roast pork shoulder and fromage blanc (which turned out to be a surprisingly adequate subsitute for queso). I like mine with an oozing poached egg.

I've also been meaning to try making pork rillettes. Rillettes are similar to confit in that they are made of slowly cooked rich meat preserved by being packed in its own fat. Really well-made pork rillettes spread on toasted slices of baguette (with some stone-ground mustard and cornichons) are one of the great pleasures in life... a perfect mid-afternoon snack to have on the weekend with a glass of wine. Cafe Prese has a fantastic version on their menu, but even though it'll only set you back $6, that's still off limits for this month. So it seemed like it was finally time to try making it. My cure for the slab of pork belly consisted of salt, coffee grounds (Tully's dark roast), cinnamon, allspice, clove, cayenne, star anise, peppercorns and a crushed bay leaf.

Slow braised overnight in a 235 degree oven for 8 hours with two cups of water, half a red onion, a shallot and 4 smashed cloves of garlic, the pork belly fell apart into a mound of tenderness when shredded with two forks. I remoistened the meat with a bit of the braising liquid, then pressed it into 4 ramekins and topped each off with the separated rendered pork fat from the braising. The "fat cap" serves to preserve the meat from spoiling. As a result, most recipes recommend waiting 2 days with the rillettes at room temperature before eating it. Left undisturbed, the rillettes should last at least a week at room temperature, or two weeks in the refrigerator. I'll break into the first ramekin in a day or two; the rest are going into the freezer.

Total cost of ingredients for 4 ramekins of pork rillettes: $2.50. Not bad.

January 6, 2008

more with octopus and bone marrow

The cold weather is giving us ample reason to stay in and cook, and a couple of new ideas came up for the remainder of our bone marrow and octopus.

Grapefruit is just awesome this time of year, and there have been some really incredible rubies in the markets... bright and pungent with great sweetness and light acidity. I love the combination of arugula, grapefruit and peppery olive oil for a simple salad packed with vibrant, beautiful flavor... maybe with some marcona almonds as well for their richness.

When we were traveling in Greece over the summer, we had a simple, awesome grilled octopus dish. Ever since, I've been wanting to use octopus more, either grilled or seared to try and get the same sweet, smoky char to the flesh. We had just a few slivers of octopus left, so I sauteed them in a bit of olive oil just until the white flesh gained some of colour, then diced them up and tossed them with grapefruit supremes. The mild citric acidity of the grapefruit really brought out the intrinsic sweetness of the fresh octopus. The light salad turned out to be a good counterpoint to the richness of the rest of dinner: a pan-roasted pork chop with parsnip puree and a soft boiled egg with crispy bone marrow on a balsamic marrow jus.

I am absolutely loving working with the bone marrow. For this dish, we simply sliced a small portion from the marrow lobe, seasoned it with kosher salt and dusted it lightly with flour. The marrow was then sauteed in a touch of olive oil over medium heat for about 90 seconds per side (depending on how thickly the marrow is sliced). The result was a crispy exterior with near-molten rich marrow encapsulated on the inside. The crispy marrow served to add a gush of decadent saltiness to season the egg. Egg and marrow seem to be a very natural pairing, both in flavor and texture... seems like there are a lot of possibilities here...

Well, that pretty much does it for our supply of marrow... which is a good thing, because I just read that each ounce of bone marrow has 300 calories, and basically all of that is from fat... dang!


January 3, 2008

The possibilities of bone marrow

"if you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing..."

Few statements exhibit the kind of simple truth embodied in Fergus Henderson's philosophy on food and eating. Armed with this basic premise, and lacking any formal culinary training, Henderson opened St. John in 1994, receiving critical acclaim for his honest, soulful cooking. He eventually spread his "waste not" gastronomic ethos through his 1999 book, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking. How influential was this book? Well, Bourdain called it "the new bible for cooks," and it certainly helped popularize the use of offal in restaurants.

Henderson's signature Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad (although based on a traditional preparation) is legendary. Even Bix in San Francisco acknowledges the importance of his contribution by calling their version Marrow Bones “St. John” with a Parsley, Caper and Shallot Salad; incidentally, one of the most delicious dishes I can recall.

Over the weekend, Lav and I found some amazing cuts of beef leg bones with huge lobes of bone marrow at Uwajimaya... four healthy sized portions for a measly $2. I started to contemplate a few of the ways I wanted to prepare the marrow. We'd definitely do the classic roasted bone marrow with toast points, which took care of two of the bones.

In The French Laundry Cookbook, Thomas Keller recommends removing the marrow from the bones prior to soaking the marrow in ice water for 12 to 24 hours to extract blood from the marrow. This is done primarily to prevent the marrow from spoiling, and you should technically be able to keep the marrow in the bone during soaking and roasting; but removing the marrow prior to soaking may create a cleaner flavor. It also gives you the chance to parboil the empty bones, which helps in removing the tougher connective tissue from the bone for a cleaner appearance.

We used the marrow from a third, smaller bone to make a decadent bite of fettucine. My initial intention was to make a cream sauce using melted marrow. Lav was watching a rerun of No Reservations (in Osaka), and I heard Bourdain going nuts over takoyaki... which reminded me that we had some beautiful sushi-grade slaces of octopus in the refrigerator, a perfect textural and flavor balance for the rich marrow.

This is an incredibly rich dish; portion size is only intended to be one mouthful per person (to avoid palate fatigue... and cardiac arrest). Here is the resulting recipe:

fettuccine, bone marrow "alfredo", octopus

2 ounces dry fettuccine, enough for 3-4 forkfuls when cooked
1 tablespoon fresh bone marrow
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon
thinly shaved shallot
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 slice sushi-grade octopus
freshly grated nutmeg
5-6 parsley leaves, chopped
kosher salt and pepper

Boil fettucine in salted water until al dente, about 7-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a pan over medium heat until foam subsides. Finely dice the fresh marrow and add it to the pan until the marrow is nearly completely melted. Add shallots and garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add flour and cook until a roux develops and turns a light golden brown. While whisking, slowly incorporate milk until sauce achieves the desired consistency and is uniformly creamy. Remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Add the cooked fettuccine to the sauce until pasta is well coated. Dice the octopus and mix into the fettuccine. To serve, twist one mouthful of fettuccine around a spoon and sprinkle parsley on top. Makes about 4 servings.

We have one more lobe of marrow left, and I have a couple of ideas I still want to try...

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January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

So it's January 1, and I have just a few general resolutions relating to food:

1. Focus on simplicity.
2. Cook with a belligerent emphasis on seasonality.
3. Practice making the things I've never been good at, like ice creams.
4. Waste as little as possible.
5. Eat less meat.
6. Keep looking for innovation.
7. Cook more Asian food.
8. Start doing Sunday suppers with friends.

It's also the commencement of our annual "month of frugality." No eating out, no unnecessary expenses... just a small way of balancing out at least a portion of the excesses we have in our lives. For me, January is also a "dry" month -- no alcohol at all, not even the tiniest sip of wine (unless used for cooking... and in that case, the alcohol needs to be burned off).

So here's how the day went. A brunch of simple french toast (made with leftover bread that was just starting to go stale) served with chantilly cream... a stroll around the neighborhood... a constant stream of those delicious Santa Barbara pistacchios... and finally, hot pot with friends for dinner. The commonality between these things? Rich and satisfying in the depth of their simplicity.

Tomorrow, roasted bone marrow with a parsley salad. 2008 is already looking like a great year...