Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top Chef Dinner

Corn Sopes with Char Siu Pork and Pickled Asian Slaw

Since Steph and I are celebrating the return of Top Tattoo...err...Top Chef, I've decided I'm going to do my best to make a dish from the cookbook on Wednesday nights. Yes, I'm a geek. No, you shouldn't be surprised. This recipe is from the 1st season challenge that required the cheftestants to fuse two SF cuisines, in this case Mexican and Chinese. It was originally made by LeeAnn and Stephen, so we were expecting greatness, which we eventually reached. However, if all of the recipes are going to treat me the way this one did, I'm going to abandon this idea real quick.

Unlike real char siu pork, which is made with pork shoulder, this was made with center cut pork loin. I used the same marinade as my recipe, instead of resorting to the bottled stuff (longer in the kitchen, I know, but well worth it). The slaw is cabbage, carrot and jicama, cooked in boiling vinegar-sugar solution, then drained and chilled. I really liked the jicama since it maintained its crunch up until we ate. The green sauce is an avocado cream (avocado, sour cream, chili oil, lime juice).

The corn sopes gave me the most trouble. Could it have been that I didn't use fresh masa harina? Possibly, and maybe my lazy ass should've driven to the Mexican grocery...but it didn't. When I put the sopes into the oil to fry, they literally melted away into a mushy, oily mess. Not pleased at all, especially since I had been planning on eating at 6 and it was pushing 7:15. So I busted out a little Martha and found her recipe for corn cakes. Hence, we ended up eating a Southern-Mexican-Chinese fusion dish.

How did it taste? Pretty damn good. Great textures, lots of flavor, with everything in balance. Definitely a keeper, and definitely how I'm going to use up leftover char siu come wintertime.

Why My Wife and Parents Win

Anyone who's known me for any reasonable length of time knows that I'm pretty apathetic towards my birthday. Don't get me wrong, it's not an age thing - in fact, I am pumped for my 30s and I think they are going to be awesome. Nor is it because my parents never made a big deal about my birthday - my birthday was the night where I got to choose the meal (whether cooked or out) and I always had great parties as a little kid. Here's where my problems lie:

1. My birthday is September 4th, and it's just a downright awful time of the year. Summer is over, and everyone is usually away or chock full of plans for Labor Day Weekend. Also, since I'm in public education (as is my wife and many of our friends) it is a crazy & stressful time as we're all scrambling around getting everything together for the start of the school year. To that end, I'm usually too stressed out to relax and enjoy my birthday with my friends. I used to get really upset by that, but these days I'm usually just worried about other things that I don't need a party/dinner out/get-together/whatever.

2. It's a double-whammy of not really wanting people to buy me gifts, and not really knowing what I'd want when people insist. My theory is this: if I really wanted something, I'd buy it. Simple. Unfortunately, this facet of my personality has driven my parents and Stephanie crazy over the years.

So, why do my Stephanie and my parents win? My mother had made a suggestion for a birthday gift, one that I had blown off due to lack of need and lack of storage space. She seemed surprised, seeing this item is something I've always wanted, and have resigned myself to the fact that I won't buy until we move into a bigger house. However, Steph won when she made a suggestion about clearing out some knick-knacks into storage and giving me room for said present. Needless to say, I'm actually getting excited about getting this present.

Here's the challenge: The only hints I'll give you are that it is something for the kitchen (shocking, right?) and I need a good amount of storage space for it. Can you guess what it is? Steph, Mom, Dad, Rory, Mike & Laurie are prohibited from answering ;)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Food Bonanza

Our friends Mike and Laurie, fellow fans of food and Top Chef, had suggested a few weeks ago to get together for the night of the Top Chef Las Vegas premiere and the Top Chef Masters finale, complete with lots of good food and snarky comments about the cheftestants. Having experience with a get-together like this, and the need for pacing and small bites, I planned my contributions accordingly.

Cucumber, Mango, Several Aromatics

This is from the Alinea cookbook, from which I've been dying to try some recipes out. This one has lots of little components (like most Alinea recipes): thinly sliced English cucumber, mango leather (pureed mango & sugar, spread thin and dehydrated), coriander salt & clove salt (salt + ground spices), candied lemon zest, ginger slivers and saffron threads. It also called for juniper berries, which I could not get my hands on, so I just added a few drops of tasty Hendrick's gin. The cucumber takes a 1-minute bath in a vinegar-sugar solution, then gets rolled up with the mango leather, then topped with the aromatics.

To say that this was bursting with flavor is an understatement. When we ate it, we immediately got the tang from the vinegar, followed up by the cool and sweet, but then the aromatics did their thing, and it was amazing that each flavor kicked in distinctly and individually. It really was a wake-up to our taste buds, and an absolutely delicious bite. I'd make them again for sure.

Jicama Slaw

I'd only had jicama a few times before, and I was let down by those dishes. However, this dish provided a nice crunch and a tangy dressing. I liked the addition of the apples, but I still am not a fan of carrots. I'd make this as a side dish for BBQ.

Italian Meatballs with Sweet-Sour Sauce

Mike had found a recipe that had an interesting twist - along with the standard ingredients (meat, parsley, bread crumbs) this recipe contained minced olives. Steph and I are both pretty strong in our dislike for olives (not for a lack of trying, either) but I was not put off by them in this dish at all. I tried the meatball before saucing, and the olive contributed a subtle saltiness and flavor that really rounded out the flavor of the meat. With the sweet-sour sauce (which was good on its own but 10x better with the meat), this was a great course.

Oysters: Raw, then Deep-Fried with Lemon Cream, Tomato, Capers and Bacon

Wegmans loses again because they would not shuck my oysters, nor did they know when the oysters arrived at the store. However, a call to Wooley's allowed me to pick up a dozen oysters delivered that morning, and shucked 5 minutes before I arrived. Win. I only needed 8 for the fried oysters, so we were able to each devour one raw, much to Stephanie's delight. Mike and Laurie had never eaten a raw oyster before, and we were more than happy to open their eyes to this gastronomic delight. They all had a squeeze of lemon, and Mike added a little hot sauce to his at my suggestion. Note: there are only 3 oysters in the picture above because I got greedy and impatient and scarfed mine down almost immediately.

These oysters were deep-fried (not as crispy as I'd like - I blame the batter) then topped with a salad of tomatoes, capers and shallot, and some crumbled bacon. Again, lots of ingredients working together here: briny oyster, tangy lemon cream, smoky oyster - all added up to a delicious bite that exploded with flavor in the mouth. I'd make these again, but (oddly enough) I would not use as much bacon, as the flavor was a bit overwhelming at times.

Lamb "Lollipops" with Saffron Rice

Seared in the pan, then smeared with Dijon and coated with bread crumbs, rosemary and garlic (both from Mike's garden) then roasted to a perfect medium-rare. This preparation, while simple, provided lamb that was ideally cooked, and full of flavor. I've never really cooked lamb like this before, but I'm inspired to try seeing how easy the process was, and especially if it comes out this good when I make it!

Scallop, Potato-Chive Cake, Corn-Truffle Pudding

This was probably the tastiest thing I ate all night, and one of the easiest, too! The potato cake is nothing more than a fancy potato latke formed with a ring mold, then fried up crisp. The scallop is pan-seared until crusty on both sides & about "medium-rare". The sauce was 2 ears worth of juiced corn kernels, heated until thickened, then spiked with some black truffle butter. Sweet, crispy, earthy - great combination of flavors and textures. Did I mention this was also super-easy to make?

Dry Caramel

For whatever reason, I don't have pictures of the result of this Alinea recipe. Essentially, it's a liquid caramel base that gets dried out by mixing it with tapioca maltodextrin, which is a fat stabilizer. What results is small pellets of dry caramel that reliquify in your mouth. These were served in shot glasses with a little bit of salt. A familiar flavor, served in a unique and playful manner that is as surprising as it is tasty.

Dark Chocolate-Peanut Butter Molten Cakes

By the time we got to this course, it was SO late and both Steph and Laurie were fighting off a food coma. However, I was able to convince them to devour this last course. Unfortunately, I did not know where Steph's camera was, so I was not able to snap a picture of this. However, I really do believe that this is one of the best things I've ever baked, and I'm not much of a baker. The batter was very fudge-like, with a big scoop of peanut butter ganache in the middle that melted down in the oven. Served with vanilla ice cream and homemade whipped cream.

By the time we were all said and done, it was 10:30 and we were stuffed! This first Matassa-Rosenwald collaboration was a great success, and we can't wait until the next one to try out some new recipes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Seafood Risotto

Inspired by my blog buddy Rob (whose blog you should all check out), I cooked up a bit of risotto tonight. Normally, risotto can be heavy, replete with butter and cheese, but this recipe eschews the cheese, since it would conflict with the deliciousness of the seafood. The broth gets fortified with clam juice to kick up the flavor, while the saffron and basil give it a bright and fresh flavor. I made it with scallops and shrimp, but you could easily add crab or lobster or whatever seafood you like. With some fresh Jersey tomato and some basil chiffonade, Steph described this as one of the best, if not the best, dinner I've ever cooked for her. I'm glad she approved :D

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pimm's Cup

Read about this stuff in a few nerdy cooking magazines a while back, and I got inspired when I saw it again on Epicurious. According to Wikipedia:

Pimm's No. 1 Cup
is based on gin and can be served both on ice or in cocktails. It has a dark tea colour with a reddish tint, and tastes subtly of spice and citrus fruit. It is often taken with "English-style" lemonade, as well as various fruits including apples, oranges and lemons. It is 25% alcohol by volume.

Apparently, it's also the official cocktail of Wimbledon, equivalent to mint juleps at Churchill Downs.

Here's how I made mine:
2 oz Pimm's No. 1, 3 oz Saranac ginger beer, a sprig of mint, over ice cubes in a highball glass.

How does it taste? It's kind of hard to nail down...I get tastes of plums, ginger, citrys herbs, with a spicy aftertaste (nutmeg and star anise?)...I don't know, it's just plain delicious. I suggest that you all try one next time you're out at a reasonably stocked bar. Good show, Brits!