Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Simple Summer Solstice Dinner

I love Trader Joe's for procuring quality, well-priced groceries to make simple weeknight dinners. This one took me 15 minutes total cooking time. Bite that Rachel Ray! This is the salmon in chimichurri that TJ's has in their frozen section. Boxed couscous with a bit of cherry tomato and peas added in. Healthy, nutritious dinner is served!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Good 'Loin

For weeknight dinners I like making things that are easy and can produce leftovers that can be transformed into something else to bring for lunch the next day. Here is a pork tenderloin that has been rubbed and marinated with loads of garlic, Italian herbs, and olive oil. I give it a good sear on both sides in a smoking hot pan, then stick it in the oven to finish cooking until the meat is just done with a tiny hint of pinkness left.
Some asparagus dry sauteed to be later added to a risotto.
Dinner is served - Roasted pork tenderloin with asparagus risotto. The next day we used the leftover pork for delicious roast pork sandwiches.

Do As the Romans...

The April issue of Saveur featured recipes from Rome. I was particularly inspired to try my hand at a genuine Roman Spaghetti alla Carbonara. of course as it was spring, I also wanted to add it a bit of the season to it. One weekend at the little Divisadero Farmer's Market the English peas looked particularly plump and fresh so I decided to buy a big bag of it. After and light steam and much peeling, the bag didn't yield that many peas. But never mind, they were very succulent and added just enough local perk to the dish. I followed the published recipe with pancetta from Cafe Rouge and fresh pasta from the Pasta Shop in Berkeley.
A quick toss in the still warm pan with the pancetta, egg, peas, and cheese mixture with a bit of pasta water thrown in.
The result was a rich yet fresh pasta that had us going for a second helping.

Good Luck Piggy Noodles

A couple of months ago, the weather was rainy and cold and made us in the mood for hearty fare. In addition, we wanted to have some good luck fare to create good energy. The Taiwanese believe pig trotters, especially pig trotter mee sua 豬腳麵線 is considered the food to have to sweep away the past rotten luck and bring in future good energy. Once pig trotters came up and the jonesing started immediately. We like all manner of pig trotter prep (okay, maybe not the scary pickled kind in jars at the supermarket), but Taiwanese style pig trotter, slow braised in dark lu 滷 liquid with peanuts, speak to my soul. Of course, this manner of pig trotter is virtually impossible to find in San Francisco Taiwanese restaurants. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's Southern Taiwan style?
Well, if you want, you gotta roll up your sleeves and make it yourself. I went to Ranch 99 and got the ingredients and began a night of braising. This recipe needs at least 2.5 hours of slow braising to get the meat to falling apart delicious.
First I got two smaller-sized pig trotters and cut them into 2-2.5 inch segments. The meat then gets blanched for about 5 minutes in boiling water to get rid of any leftover blood in the meat. I also like to add a few slices of ginger and a splash or two of rice wine to the blanching water to make sure its odor controlling powers are at its maximum. You should see quite bit of scum form. Remove the meat and rinse under cold water.
The aromatics for the lu 滷 liquid are several cloves of whole garlic, leeks, a couple of seeded red peppers, shallots roughly chopped up and scallions in longish segments.
Stir fry all the aromatics with a bit of canola oil until fragrant. Then add to it soy sauce, soy sauce paste, rice cooking wine, five spice powder, rock sugar, star anise, salt and white pepper, and a dash of cinnamon. I added some raw, shelled peanuts. Then when boiling, add in the meat. The liquid should cover the meat sufficiently. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook for at least 2.5 hours.
The pot of braising meat filled the apartment with an unbelievably savory aroma and added a much need warmth to the usual draftiness. When the braised meat is about finish, boil some water to cook the mee sua noodles. Drain and toss with some sesame oil to prevent sticking. You can have these noodles either dry or wet (meaning in broth). As we didn't have any good broth on hand, we decided to serve the dish dry. Below are the noodles awaiting the meat with lu sauce.
When the braise is ready, it should have a shiny, glossy look to it. The liquid has reduced down into a almost-syrupy like consistency sauce. The meat should be fall off the bone tender and the peanuts should be soft.
We ladled some of the meat and sauce over the mee sua noodles and voila... good luck pig trotter noodles!

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Double Dare You...

A few months ago there was the media circus that surrounded the launch of KFC's Double Down. The Double Down is two fried chicken breasts that serve as the "bun" to a sandwich of cheese, bacon, and "Colonel's Sauce." Sam Sifton of the NY Times ate and blogged about it on its launch date, Mark Morford wrote scathing rants about it for weeks on SF Gate, and even vegan blogs made a vegan replicant of it. Overtaken by the hype, Brian and I decided to go try one for ourselves. Verdict - not bad tasting, but so heavy that we could barely manage to finish one order split between the two of us.

While masticating on this piece of marketing miracle, Brian and I noted that it's really just a mass produced, low budget version of a chicken cordon bleu. So prodded by the vegan version and this realization, we decided to take the dish not only back to something more culinarily interesting, but up the dining food chain several notches. Thus launched our brainchild of - Double Down Fine Dining Edition!

We enlisted the help of Wil in this cholesterol heaping adventure and we were off to the races. First off, we had to deal with the chicken breasts. We took recipe inspirations from Ad Hoc's fried chicken and my stand-by buttermilk fried chicken. We paired that with technical inspirations from molecular gastronomy, Korean fried chicken and Taiwanese yen shu ji. Wil procured Mary's Chicken - free range and air-dried - boneless chicken breasts from Faletti's. He trimmed the breasts and then placed them in a vacuum sealed bag with buttermilk, black pepper, salt, marjoram, onions, and sugar. The bagged chicken cooked via sous vide method at 59C for an hour.

The bagged chicken post its sous vide.
If the chicken were to be eaten on its own without further cooking, Wil might have let it sous vide a tad longer. But as is, it was cooked right to the point of just-doneness. The breasts at this point were velvet soft.
Wil trimmed, halved, and sectioned the meat into "bun-like" pieces to prep for frying.
Meanwhile, the other ingredients for our "sandwich" needed to be prepped. The Double Down has cheap bacon, the cordon bleu has ham, so I thought only prosciutto di parma would do for our version. We had the deli slice our prosciutto double of its usual thickness. Then we laid out the pieces on a cookie rack sheet lined with foil on a baking pan.
The prosciutto baked in a 375C oven for 8 minutes to crisp.
The sauce we chose to take the place of "Colonel's Sauce" was a classic mornay sauce. Unfortunately, we don't have pictures of the prep of the sauce. The last main component of the "sandwich" was the cheese. We chose Le Marchel cheese from Switzerland as we thought it would accentuate and complement the Gruyere in the mornay sauce.
The next step was the batter. We selected coarse panko as the crust and added salt, white pepper, and a tiny dash of five spice powder to the panko. The binding agents for the crust were a beaten whole egg wash and a slurry of all-purpose wheat flour, potato flour, heavy cream, and water.
We dipped the chicken pieces in the egg wash first, then into the slurry. We dredged by shaking the chicken piece in the panko mix.
The dredged chicken piece prior to frying.
We had two pots of heated vegetable oil ready as we were going to use a double-frying technique on the chicken pieces. First the chicken gets dunked into the medium heat oil pot for about a minute. If the chicken had been raw to start, this step would be much longer as the meat would need to cook. But as our chicken was already sous vide, so we just needed to allow the batter to cook and set to the chicken.
The chicken piece is then lifted out of the medium heat pot, shaken to remove excess oil, allowed to rest for a minute, and dipped into a pot of high heat oil for the second fry for about 30 seconds. The purpose of the second fry is to force the excess oil that exists in the batter and skin (if any) out and produce a crispy outside.
The result golden fried deliciousness.
The pieces were allowed to sit a bit after frying on a cooling rack. This also allows any left-over, excess oil come off and not pool onto the meat and create sogginess.
Now, it is with great fanfare that I present to you... (drum roll please)

Double Down Fine Dining -
Panko crusted Mary's free-range chicken breasts, crispy prosciutto di Parma, Le Marchel cheese, mornay sauce, pickled onions
The table set for Team Double Down Fine Dining to enjoy our creation. The wine pairing was with a champagne and a rose.
After assembling into a "sandwich," getting ready to enjoy that first bite of our creation.
The result? KFC, you couldn't touch this in your wildest dreams. The chicken meat remained velvety soft and luscious. The crust was unbelievably crispy and light. The mornay sauce and cheese added a subtle richness and multi-layered depth. The saltiness and the snap of the prosciutto provided a nice juxtaposition to the silky, mildness of the chicken meat. The overall effect, despite using so many ingredients that could be overly heavy, was actually rather light and refined. Everyone was quite taken by our version and it was a huge success.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of our Fine Dining version to KFC's to the vegan version.
Of course, it's not fair to compare a piece of material and labour cost-controlled, Middle American corporate food substance to our labour and ingredient-rich, one-off culinary experiment. To put it in perspective, KFC's Double Down is $5.49 with tax. Our grocery/food cost was around $60 that made six, much smaller "sandwiches." So our raw material per sandwich was $10 without even any labour costs added in. The total cost of goods (COG) for our sandwich would be pretty damn high. That led us to a whole conversation about our little cottage industry of turning simple, cheap fare into expensive dishes which is probably a discussion/blog material for another day. Another day, another meal...

P.S. This entry also marks my return to food blogging after a long absence due to personal matters. I hope my audience will find me again and here's to many ridiculously good meals - bon appétit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!