Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How To Make Cheap Booze Taste Better Chapter 1


Frugality in food can usually provide delicious results, given the right preparation. However, we don't perceive alcohol in the same way. We tend to think it's best when using top notch liquor, but unless it's drank straight or in a minimal cocktail (gimlet, old fashioned, martini, etc.) it's hard for me to find the subtle differences brought by a higher quality booze. Don't be ashamed if your budget is tight and you still want to enjoy a great cocktail.

A large $8 bottle of Gekkeikan provided a great template for experimentation.

I decided on a combination of the following:

white grapes, halved
ginger, sliced (skin on)
quarter lime wedge
elderflower syrup
pinch of salt

Put your glass of choice in the freezer while you prepare the cocktail.

Muddle the white grapes, ginger, lime, salt and elderflower syrup in a cocktail shaker until the grapes have extracted almost all of their juice.

Add ice and sake.

Shake for about 20 seconds.

Take glasses out of the freezer and strain the cocktail over a fine mesh sieve into your chilled glass. Serve up.

This happened to be made using ingredients that were already in my fridge. Make your own cocktail with what you have on hand. The best rules to follow is to have something sweet, something sour and something aromatic. You can also think citrus, syrup and herbs as a baseline for an endless number of combinations.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Green Plate Special

I don't own any blue plates, but this is special nonetheless. A complete lunch or a very satisfying dinner. Meat, starch and greens: just as our mothers intended. Where's my glass of milk?

Chicken breast (skin-on) was marinated in sake lees (kasu) for three days and then fried in salmon fat (from the belly).

Potatoes were peeled, boiled and mashed with butter, coffee, dashi, skim milk, salt & black pepper. Then mixed with green onions. The potato skins were reserved for the topping described below.

The topping for the potatoes was made from fried potato skins, toasted hazelnuts and salt ground to a coarse powder. (I used a mortar & pestle to keep it coarse. It's best to have some recognizable pieces of hazelnut throughout)

Watercress was dressed in olive oil, lemon juice and cinnamon vinegar*. Topped with black pepper.

Oh, and my glass of milk was actually a sake cocktail.

*The cinnamon vinegar was actually just the brine from my pickled beet stems. Because I used a lot of cinnamon for the brine, it tastes mostly like a cinnamon vinegar)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Obligatory (and Belated) Thanksgiving Post

                     Cider-Braised Pork Belly & Sunchoke Mash

Brussels Sprout

Red Curry Squash Soup & Pickled Shiitakes

                                     Brown Butter Salad

A feast for two. 

Before our west coast migration, Christina and I often divided our stomachs between 3 to 4 households: family hopping at it's finest. Sampling the hard work of our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters from Biscayne Boulevard to Bird Road and beyond. We miss them, our families, but last week was a chance to fend for ourselves and create a miniature feast. I thought about autumn, past ideas and recent inspiration to produce a smattering of dishes to gorge on. For the two of us, it was plenty.

Cider-Braised Pork Belly

for the cider:
juiced a bag of cored apples with the skin intact.
simmered the juice of low heat with cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and clove.
turned off the heat and let it steep, covered while I prepared the rest.

for the belly:
cut the pork belly in half (or into enough pieces to fit snugly in the pan)
seared belly in a touch of oil, skin side down first and then flipped to brown both sides.
removed belly from pot.
sautéed 1 large sliced onion and a bit of star anise in the remaining fat from searing the belly until deeply caramelized.
added garlic, ginger and bay leaf while stirring to prevent burning.
added red wine vinegar and fish sauce, just enough to coat the bottom of the pot.
stirred the bottom to loosen any charred bits.
added the pork belly back to the pot, skin side down, so they sit snugly side by side.
strained the still warm apple cider directly into the pot with the pork belly.
added enough red wine and water to cover the pork completely.
brought to a boil and then immediately lowered the heat to bring to a simmer.
simmered for 2.5 - 3 hours or until it was tender. 

for the cider jus:
removed the belly from the pot and strained the remaining braising liquid into another pot.
brought the strained liquid to a medium-high boil and let it rip until it was reduced significantly.
once it coated the spoon like a slick gravy, I knew it was ready.
tasted for salinity and adjusted seasoning with salt and black pepper.

while the liquid for the jus was reducing, I sliced the pork belly into medium-thick slices and tossed it in the jus to coat and keep warm.

Sunchoke Mash

Sunchokes are probably my favorite vegetable, but when making them into a purée they contain too much water for my desired consistency. I could experiment with dehydration and other forms of drying it out, but I decided to add potatoes to the mash to soak up the excess moisture from the sunchokes. After all, potatoes (from a textural standpoint) make some of the best purées and mashes. 

Here's how I made it:

tossed 8 medium sunchokes, whole, in olive oil and salt.

wrapped them in aluminum foil and roasted in a 350ºF oven for about 30 min or until tender. (the way I test for tenderness is by plunging a knife about halfway through the biggest sunchoke you have while its roasting and see if the knife comes out with little or no resistance).

while they were roasting, I peeled, quartered and boiled one large russet potato until tender then strained.

when sunchokes were tender, I removed them from the oven and allowed them to cool, while still wrapped in the aluminum foil.

once lukewarm, I peeled them (not a big deal if there is some skin left over).
I added the sunchokes to a pot with butter and heavy cream and started mashing them with a fork.

I put the strained potato quarters through a ricer onto the sunchoke mix and mashed further, adding butter and cream as needed to make it a preferred consistency (it's really up to you how you like your mash).

seasoned with salt.

(goes deliciously with the cider jus)

Brussels Sprouts

cut them in half.
blanched them in salted boiling water for about 2 min. then transferred directly to ice water to stop cooking.
as I strained the sprouts from the ice water I removed the more tender outer leaves and reserved them for the brown butter salad.

dried the strained Brussels sprouts on paper towels.

fried them in coconut oil over medium high heat, cut side down with out moving them until browned.

flipped them over and then added slivers of ginger, garlic and chili while stirring until fragrant.

added a lemon slice and continued stir-frying.

added fish sauce, black pepper to taste and some leftover ramen broth. cooked for a couple minutes more.

Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

cut 1 butternut squash in half. scooped out the seeds and it's surrounding flesh.
scored the cut sides of the halves and coated in olive oil.
roasted in oven at 350ºF (same time as the sunchokes) for a little over one hour.

while it was roasting I made a quick red curry paste:
pickled red thai chili, deseeded
turmeric root
cilantro stems
toasted cumin & coriander seed

these ingredients were added in order to a mortar & pestle, each pounded with salt until a rough paste was formed.

scooped out the squash flesh into a bowl after it was finished roasting and cooled for a bit.

heated coconut oil over medium high heat.
added the red curry paste while stirring until fragrant.
added brown sugar to caramelize a bit.
added the roasted squash flesh and tossed to coat in curry.
added equal parts carrot juice and coconut milk and brought to a medium boil until squash was falling apart.
puréed with an immersion blender

strained purée and seasoned with fish sauce and black pepper.

served with pickled shiitakes

Pickled Shiitake Brine:
heated white vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander, cumin, clove, bay leaf until salt/sugar dissolved.
cooled down brine slightly and poured over quartered shittakes and whole red thai chilies.
I also the cut half ends of onions to keep the shiitakes weighed down in brine

Brown Butter Salad

baby kale
reserved Brussels sprout leaves
toasted hazelnuts
fresh oregano
toasted pepitas

Brown Butter Vinaigrette:
brown butter
lemon juice
brine from pickled shiitakes
olive oil
black pepper

toss salad with vinaigrette as needed.

• Plan accordingly. Some aspects of a good feast can be made as far as a week ahead. (pickled shiitakes, apple cider, red curry paste)

• Write down your plan with steps and ingredients so you don't forget something at the worst possible moment.

• Try to utilize all of your ingredients in every way possible, preventing waste and adding flavor everywhere. (Onion ends to weigh down shiitakes, pickled chilies in curry paste, fallen Brussels sprout leaves in the salad, leftover ramen broth in Brussels sprouts). I also save squash seeds, sunchoke and potato peels for roasting or deep frying. The strained squash purée makes its own side dish.