Thursday, June 30, 2011

FAIL: Cookies

I hate baking. I feel like there's this little gnome hiding in the oven with a crowbar, waiting for me to close that door so he can bash my cookies and pastries in. Ugh. Anywho, I tried out Merrill's recipe for Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was short half cup of the rolled oats and I was also out of both aluminum foil and parchment paper. What's a girl to do? Just stick it in! And this was the mess that resulted. Still tasted good.

crispy oatmeal chocolate chip cookie fail

Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)

Chinese broccoli is one of those contradictions I will never understand about Chinese food. So much Chinese food is prepared in such a way so that it's easy to eat with chopsticks, a spoon or a combination of chopsticks and rice bowl. Meats and vegetables tend to be cut into small pieces. I've been scolded many times in my childhood for using my fingers to touch anything at the dinner table. It's "barbaric." That didn't last long.

garlic sauteed chinese broccoli and summer squash

The thing with Chinese broccoli is that the stalks are generally prepared whole. That means if you're using chopsticks, you have to either stuff the whole thing in your mouth like some greedy whore or strategically bite pieces off, occasionally getting caught on a piece of the fibrous skin. It's silly.

chinese broccoli, branches removed, stems peeled

But thank goodness for my parents. They never order it in restaurants and when my mom prepares it at home, she does us all a favor and cuts it into manageable pieces. She even peels the stems so that you get the crunch without the fibrous skin, much like some folks peel asparagus.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Egg Salad, Tomato, Watercress

Had a sudden craving for egg salad: 6 hard boiled eggs, 3 tbsp mayo, 1 tsp madras curry powder, 1 tbsp finely chopped celery, 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro, salt, pepper (and some of my old quick pickled carrots, finely chopped). Ripe summer tomato, watercress, toasted sourdough.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Crackers in the South

I made crackers from scratch! Now to get the seasonings right and figure out some spreads.

pate and homemade crackers

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bitter Melon + Pork + Fermented Black Beans

Bitter melon (bitter gourd) isn't one of those ethnic foods I see crossing over into the American mainstream. It's not only bitter, it's also ugly. The green surface is described as "undulating and warty." We're more likely to see bitter melon featured as a television cook-off challenge than a serious component of a meal.

bitter melon

But I grew up eating the stuff. My parents would hail the medicinal qualities of the melon and insist that we eat at least five pieces before leaving the dinner table. From reading the Wikipedia article, you would think that it was a drug and not something to be enjoyed. I did hate it as a kid, but over time the aromatic combination of the pork and fermented black beans began to feel natural, almost heightened, with the bitterness of the bitter melon. One extreme brought out another.

fermented black beans, minced ginger, minced garlic

Even so, the bitterness needs to be alleviated somewhat. The typical method is to salt the melon slices to draw out the water and some of the bitterness. Adding sugar to the salt will help as well. When I first began to prepare bitter melon on my own, I would add a lot of sugar, but I've found myself adding less and less with each preparation. Chinese fermented black beans (actually soy beans that have been salted and fermented), minced ginger and minced garlic provide the stage for the meat and melon.

bitter melon with pork in fermented black bean sauce
Every time I see bitter melon at the Dekalb Farmer's Market, I want to buy some, but it takes a special craving to legitimize the purchase without the risk of forgetting them in the fridge. That craving happens maybe once a year, haha.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cantaloupe Caipirinha

Not a caipirinha by any means, but I had cachaça and a very ripe cantaloupe laying around. Add some limes and crushed ice and it's a party. By myself :(

Cantaloupe Caipirinha

Pureed half a cantaloupe in the blender and strained it for the juice. I didn't need very much sugar at all because the cantaloupe was so ripe, so rather than muddle limes, I just squeezed them into a glass. I then added 2oz of cachaça, some ice and topped it off with the fresh squeezed cantaloupe juice. Stirred that baby and it was ready.

Actually, it needed some more cachaça to cut the sweetness but that's just me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pork Chops avec Fish Sauce (ew)

Fish sauce is some scary shit. My family never cooked with it at home, but the vast number of Vietnamese restaurants in Atlanta has really opened my eyes up to the foul, but tasty stuff.

caramelized pork chop platter!

I had been looking for an excuse to use the bottle in my pantry when I came across this recipe for Caramelized Pork Bánh Mì at Food52. Didn't have any baguettes, mayo or pate on hand, so I decided to just use the marinade for some pork chops. Epic idea! I ended up broiling the pork instead of pan frying with the hopes of minimizing the smoke. Worked, but the fish sauce still stank.

fresh kirby cucumbers from today's Midtown Market

Topped off the platter with some quick pickled carrots and kirby cucumbers and I was good to go! I make a lot of meals similar to this, but the marinade for the pork made this one really unique and delicious. Definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

FAIL: Poached Snapper

It looks better than it tastes. How many times have you heard that?

rice bowl with dry sherry/soy poached snapper, ginger scallion oil, sauteed summer squash

I'm really not so well versed in preparing fish, so it's going to take a few tries failing before I feel comfortable serving it to friends. Poaching just seems like that really easy, straightforward way of preparing a fish fillet, but when you're like me and you ignore half the recipes you read, something's bound to go wrong. My poaching liquid was composed of soy/dry sherry/water at a ratio of about 1/1/2. It really didn't do anything for the fish, so I think next time I'll increase the amount of soy and perhaps add some miso paste. The ginger scallion oil did wonders for it, though, so that was an easy fix. For the summer squash, I did what I always do with fresh vegetables: sautee it with minced garlic, salt and pepper. It's stupidly simple, but there are some nuanced steps that might give me some ideas for a future blog entry. Till next time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tacos, Butts and Booze Oh My

The Holy Trinity of Summer '11. You're likely to get something like this if you invite me over to your pool. Add a glass of blueberry lemonade (Blueberry Stoli + lemonade) by the water and we're golden.

roasted pork butt tacos

I brought the butt. Errbody else brought errthing else. This butt has been so successfully versatile since it debuted last year... lettuce wraps, noodle soup, rice bowls, tacos... I dunno what's next. It has been aptly described as "meat candy" due to the glorious crust of caramelized brown sugar that tops the last 10 minutes of cooking. After the all the juicy, tender meat was gone, scraps were being peeled off the bone. My food has generally been popular, but never has it elicited so positive a reaction as the butt.

salted caramel ice cream with caramel topping

Johanna also made salted caramel ice cream with caramel sauce (also from scratch). It was some of the most intense ice cream I've ever had. The caramel with sea salt fad can be forgiven by this ice cream- that's how good it was. Had to eat it quickly, though. It was melting rather fast, probably due to the salt content bringing down the freezing point.

Friday, June 3, 2011

One Bird, Many Ways

Years ago, I took it upon myself to learn how to roast a whole chicken because it was a cheap and delicious way to prepare a week's worth of food on a Sunday. Dark meat goes great with pasta or rice dishes. White meat gets chopped up for salads. On the low end, a whole bird could cost $4 and on the high end, maybe $10. For the frugal, that's pretty damn awesome.

Basic Roasted Chicken, Garlic Roasted Asparagus

In my previous post, Bourdain's quote is referring to chefs/restaurants and not the home cook. I'm inclined to agree with him. When I go out to a nice restaurant for the first time with friends, I'll often opt for whatever roasted chicken they have on the menu. First, for economy (it's usually a cheaper option) and second, to see what the chef is all about. If a good restaurant can't roast a chicken, something is terribly wrong.

But despite Bourdain's objections, a brined bird can get away with a preparation as simple as salt and pepper with some olive oil. Garlic goes a long way and a melange of chopped herbs is an upgrade. Dijon mustard makes it majestic. If the bird is butterflied prior to roasting, the backbone can be saved in the freezer for making homemade chicken stock.

At the end of the day, we're talking about how resourceful we can be in the kitchen. What are we eating, what are we re-using, what are we throwing away? We're a little more independent when we can control those processes at home. I'm not trying to suggest that we have to carry this over into how we consume all animals, but a chicken is manageable.

Anthony Bourdain

“If you can’t properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron,”