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Eating In

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Modernist Mexican

consumed 3/3/12

I’m in love with my new Modernist Cuisine at Home cookbook (thanks Mom!) and learning many things about equipment and specialty foods.  It also prompted me to buy my new favorite kitchen item: a Fagor Duo Pressure Cooker. This thing is magical and is going to transform the way I cook. Tamales? Done. 20 minutes. Pork so tender it shreds upon stirring? 30 minutes. Why did I not buy one of these sooner?!

After hours of poring over the cookbook I chose a Mexican theme. I was drawn to the corn tamales recipe made with masa and lard. At my local Mexican market I discovered they only sell lard in 10 pound buckets, but I had a tub of duck fat in my fridge (duck fat popcorn!) and used that instead. The trick is to really whip the fat so it’s light and airy and blend fresh corn into the masa, which gives it a deep, layered flavor. Decadent and delicious.

Because I managed to find store bought achiote paste and skipped the process of making the stock, the carnitas were very easy to prepare. I simply pressure cooked the meat in the broth and then stirred in the annato-based seasoning.

The recipe for the “Refried” Bean Foam looked a little iffy as it only called for 1 2/3 cups liquid and a cooking time of one hour. Sure enough, the first batch of beans were burnt to a crisp. Luckily I had time to try again–this time with copious amounts of water. Also, after the beans were cooked and blended there were still large chunks of tough bean skin that I knew wouldn’t make it through the whipping siphon. So I added a step of pressing the puree through a fine sieve before it went into the canister. So basically, this recipe was crap, but with a few modifications it turned out great.

I rounded out the meal with my favorite Caesar salad with buttery croutons.

The dinner was a huge success and I can’t wait to cook more from this book… next up might be a chicken wing party.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

A McSweeney’s Thanksgiving

consumed 11/22/12

A week before Thanksgiving my brother and I were still trying to figure out what to cook. Then he came across McSweeney’s Thanksgiving Gallimaufry–a collection of decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving recipes.  (I had to look up the word “gallimaufry” and it’s now my new favorite word. It means “A confused jumble or medley of things.”)

The final menu:

Corn with Miso Butter & Bacon – I wasn’t sure about this dish, as the recipe was written in haikus and was confusing to follow. But it turned out great and was a nice change from creamed corn.

Chinese Broccoli with Garlic & Chorizo – This was less of a recipe and more of a suggestion. How can you go wrong with Spanish chorizo as an ingredient?

Charred-Scallion Sour Cream & Garlic Confit over Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes – An extravagant departure from scalloped potatoes. This was delicious but we messed up on the temperature and the dish was served on the cold side. The bites with garlic confit cloves were the best.

Cornbread Stuffing – The was fairly straightforward and was one of the best stuffings I’ve had.

Biscuits w/ Butter – Oddly sweet biscuits that didn’t rise, but tasted great.

Burnt Miso Butterscotch Topping – This was a bit strange. I’m not sure I could get over the fact that I was spooning miso over ice cream.

The “Chinese turkey” recipe in the booklet was actually a duck so we decided to go traditional. I used the tried and true Roast Crisped-Skin Turkey with Giblet Gravy from Cooks Illustrated. Delicious, as always.

We also added in MFK Fisher’s petits pois a la francaise from How to Cook a Wolf. Ridiculously simple, but oh so good and buttery.

We made all this food for only four people. The leftovers were insane.

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Weekend with Mom

consumed 5/9 – 5/12/12

Mom came to Los Angeles for a visit and we did lots of good eating…

Thurs AM: Woke up early and made mom Maple Bacon Pancakes – a great and easy mix from Bacon Freak.

Thurs PM: Scored last minute dinner reservations at Mozza. Our awesome waitress steered us right, starting off with burrata, leeks & charred bread and affettati misti with gnocco fritto: prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks packed with truffle butter, beautiful cuts of house-cured speck, pancetta, and sopressata eaten with pillow-y, fried potato puffs. For mains we had a delicate, light & buttery halibut with ramps and Ricotta & Egg Raviolo with browned butter.

Fri AM:  Loteria Grill  at Farmer’s Market: CHILAQUILES in poblano mole with eggs. What? Yes.

Fri PM: Kyochon Fried Chicken, pickled daikon, orange butter rice (made in my donabe), and a mango/strawberry galette.

Sat AM: Beautiful, light and crisp fish and chips at Malibu Seafood.

Activity highlights included: RadioLab @ UCLA, Felix in Hollywood walking tour, and sea lion watching at Point Dume

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Salmon & Spaetzle

consumed 5/28/11

My two new favorite recipes: Slow-Cooked Salmon and Spaetzle with Panko

The Slow-Cooked Salmon recipe is from the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook and is absurdly simple: Preheat oven to 200 and place a pan of warm water on the lowest rack. Brush both sides of the salmon fillet with olive oil, salt & pepper. Place salmon on a baking sheet and cook for about an hour. I had a not-so-fancy cut of salmon and it turned out like butter. Mmm butter.

I served it with Spaetzle & Panko. The spaetzle was hearty, buttery and crunchy. And not so hard to make if you have a handy spaetzle maker.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Molecular Gastronomy – Attempt #1

consumed 1/2/10

My first brush with molecular gastronomy was eating at WD50 back in 2007. We were invited into the prep area and it looked more like a laboratory than a kitchen. It was intimidating. Then after watching seasons of Top Chef the idea of trying it at home became more reasonable. Then I came across the Experimental Texturas Kit and it was on.

Our evening started out with doughnut soup, which as it sounds, would have been better suited to dessert. My friend made HOMEMADE rice milk (yum) from sushi rice and mixed it with cream, coffee, cinnamon and poured it over doughnut crumbs—glazed Krispy Kremes that had been processed lightly in the Cuisinart and then toasted until super crunchy. Freaking delicious.

Next up was lamb “pasta” with avocado foam. We added Gellan to lamb consumé, poured it into a sheet pan, let it cool and then sliced it into strips, like fettuccine. The weird thing with Gellan is that you can heat it back up and it will retain its form. We served the re-heated pasta with diced onions, tomatoes, julienne of basil and avocado foam (avocado and milk charged with N2O). This dish was a textural fail—the noodles were crunchy and glutinous at the same time. A little like eating soggy rubber bands.

We then had a spinach salad with delicious homemade Green Goddess dressing, fresh grapefruit and… spherical Mozzarella! I think out of everything we tried with Texturas, the Mozarella turned out the best. A little like burrata, with a creamy liquid center.

My friend then made mini-eggs by doing things with a syringe and Xanthan gum. Not quite sure what he did, but they turned out great served on Parmesan crisps with blanched kale, a touch of white balsamic and smoked salt.

The next thing we tried looked pretty but after the lamb aspic hot mess we had to dare each other to eat it: re-hydrated morel mushrooms and broth mixed with Kappa and poured into heart-shaped molds. Yep, tasted like mushroom jello. Gross.

My favorite dish of the night didn’t involve any molecular trickery. It was thinly sliced lamb shoulder and top loin steak  “grilled” table-side on a Himalayan salt block. The block, made entirely of compressed salt, was heated in the oven at 475 for an hour, then transferred to the table where we seared our meat. As it cooked, the salt melted a bit and mixed with the juices imparting a deep salt flavor.

For dessert #1 we tried to make ginger & lychee ice cream “caviar” with Algin and Calcic. I think we got the measurements wrong as it didn’t gel up and the pearls melted into the water bath. Boo.

Dessert #2 was another foam, this time with pineapple juice, meringue powder and long pepper. Success!

The last dessert involved Miracle Berries, which make sour things taste sweet. We raided the kitchen and ate preserved lemons, limes, grapefruit juice and salt & vinegar potato chips.

And just to be fancy, we drank soda water with pearl dust.

It was an exhausting but super fun day in the kitchen!

Monday, June 9th, 2008

EGGS

consumed on 6/8/08

I’m on Whidbey Island for the weekend, driving towards Double Bluff when I see a simple, hand-painted sign announcing “EGGS.” I’m in a (modern day) foraging-for-food kind of mood so I pull up the drive.

I see a man in the window staring blankly out at me and wonder if I’ve got the wrong house. There are no signs indicating eggs, only a sign that reads “Hippies Enter Here.” I’m having a slow morning and it takes me a second to realize that it’s pointing to the only entrance to the house.

The first thing I see is an old, bearded man wearing a dirty wife-beater, tooling around in a Hoveround chair. The second thing my eye goes to is the naked lady wall calendar and I’m unsure if this is actually a place to by eggs. My attention is diverted back to the man when he says “I know what YOU want…”

My fight or flight instinct has been on the fritz lately and it kicks in. But before I have time to make a decision, the man follows up with: “EGGS! I got ‘em in dozen or 18-packs.” He then motors off into the back room with me calling after him “Eighteen please!”

I’m trying to avoid eye-contact with the lady in the calendar so I look up and find a really great collection of old beer cans lining the top shelves. I pointedly examine them until he returns.

He is carrying a styrofoam tray on his lap and smiling so much that I’m instantly disarmed and charmed. Before I can pay he opens the carton to show me a gorgeous array of pearl, green and brown eggs. He is obviously (and rightly) proud, which leaves me feeling honored that he is sharing his eggs with me. I hand over $7 and continue on to the beach looking for more adventures.

———————

The next morning I announce that I’m making fried eggs with hollandaise sauce. I was expecting enthusiasm but am met with silence. No one actually said “But, we don’t have any bread” or “That sounds weird” so I take their silence as permission to proceed.

Awhile back my mom found this great, fool-proof recipe for hollandaise that, oddly enough, is from a Cuisinart manual. It is SO easy, but I manage to fuck it up.

First my butter explodes in the microwave, coating every surface in a deluge of grease. Then the butter that’s still left in the dish cools too much, so when I pour it into the Cuisinart it doesn’t thicken the sauce. I switch to the stove top method, but with less than 5 seconds of heat it’s the consistency of spackle. My fried eggs are done at this point and since no one really wanted the hollandaise to begin with, I don’t attempt to fix it.

It turns out that crazy thick hollandaise still tastes great. Although it is weird to eat egg sauce over eggs with nothing else. The best thing was the color. The yolks were so fresh that they produced a hollandaise the color of marigolds. Beautiful.

607

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Gyoza

consumed on 12/3/05

My uncle goes through phases of cooking where he focuses on one thing until he has it perfected. So when he called asking if I wanted to come over for gyoza… that wasn’t a hard one to answer.

There was no cheating; all the gyoza were sealed by hand and the pleats were perfectly uniform (and he’d gotten to the point where he was FAST at closing them up).

They had a pork and shrimp filling with garlic, cornstarch and a touch of wine. He told me about a place in Japan that puts a little lard in each packet so that it fries from the inside as well, which sounds brilliant. Like soup dumplings, but even better.

The revelation came during cooking time. I’ve always fried my gyoza on both sides, but the trick is to pan fry them on just one side, turn the heat up to high, add water, turn back down and steam, covered for a few minutes, then uncover and let the remaining water evaporate. This cooking method really affected the overall texture and the gyoza had a great balance of crisp and soft.

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Indian Goat Stew (a.k.a. Disaster in the Kitchen)

consumed on 9/18/05

I absolutely love Indian food. Love, love, love it. Which is why I’m crushed that I’m so bad at cooking it. About once a year I’ll try to make an Indian meal, and without fail, I have near catastrophic results. I used to blame it on the recipes, but now I’m starting to see the common denominator in all these failures: me.

Laura at the Seattle Weekly recently turned me on to Suvir Saran of Devi in New York; she compared him to Vikram Vij of Vij’s in Vancouver. I’m a huge fan of Vij’s so I was excited to learn about Suvir’s latest cookbook, and was even more excited to see sample recipes posted on his website—a perfect Indian menu handed to me on a platter.

This is where I’d like to state that even the best recipe can end up horribly wrong when executed poorly… or if you start making weird substitutions.

My first mistake was to substitute goat for the lamb in the Lamb Curry with Coriander, Garam Masala and Coconut recipe. (Yes, I actually had goat in my freezer from my last trip out to Exotic Meats.) The goat was way too fatty and overpowered everything in this dish. Plus I didn’t grind my spice paste enough so it was grainy and caught in the back of the throat.

The second mistake was making a half recipe of the Rice Pilaf with Standing Spices, but forgetting to halve the amount of oil. Oops. The rice was barely edible because of the greasiness, but it would have been incredible had I followed the recipe properly.

My third mistake was buying the wrong yogurt for the cucumber raita. Somehow it was too thin (or my cucumbers were too water-logged) and the raita ended up anemic and thin. Next time I’ll get some thick, creamy, goat milk yogurt. Mmmm.

The Carrots with Cumin and Lime recipe was probably the only thing that I made properly. The only problem was that the recipe called for curry leaves. I managed to find them at Uwajimaya but I have to say that curry leaf is one of the most unusual and bizarre flavors I’ve ever tasted. I’m at a loss for words to describe the smell or the taste—except to say it is pungent. Curry leaves rank right up there with the likes of asafoetida and Szechuan pepper in terms of strangeness. The weird part is that I can’t even tell if I love them or hate them. I suspect that I will grow to truly love them over time, but for now I have to take baby steps and use smaller amounts until I get used to the taste.

The last mistake never even made it to the table. This was a recipe for tamarind chutney, which I planned to serve with the papadams I found at PFI. The chutney was actually incredible. Until I burnt the hell out of it.

It’s been over two years since I’ve had a dinner go this wrong, but it was a good lesson for me not to try five new recipes in one sitting. Especially in a cuisine where I’ve proven myself to be completely incompetent.

Friday, October 14th, 2005

The Last Summer BBQ

consumed on 8/18/05

As I’ve said before, I love BBQs. I’m not sure if it’s because they epitomize summer or if it’s just the classic grass-is-greener syndrome since I live in an apartment and don’t own a grill. Either way, when K invited me to her family barbecue I was excited to squeeze in one more before the end of summer.

When I arrived, K had already put out a really delicious salmon and cream cheese spread with crackers and her mother had made these cute little appetizers of cherry tomatoes, marinated bocconcini and basil, which were skewered onto toothpicks. It was a brilliant and portable twist on the Caprese Salad.

For the grill, K had purchased chicken drumsticks and tenders from Trader Joe’s and then slathered them with a bottled BBQ concentrate sauce. This was such a perfect (and easy) idea because it was a mid-week BBQ and there were lots of kids who appreciated the boneless cuts. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t; I made a sandwich out of the chicken tenders and it was great. I had brought along some duck sausages from Exotic Meats. They were a little heavy on the liver taste, but otherwise very juicy and flavorful.

For sides, K made a beautiful (pink) salad of beets and cucumbers that were marinated in pickling spices. Considering that I’m not really a fan of beets, this dish was pretty good. K’s dad made a fantastic potato salad with tender purple and red potatoes, lots of capers and bits of celery.

As delicious as all the food was, the highlight of the evening turned out to be dessert. K has wheat allergies so she’s always making things with spelt. This time she made a plum galette. It had a crust of spelt flour, lemon yogurt and lots of butter, then a layer of frangipane filling topped with fresh plum slices. The flavor was nutty and rich and it had an unbelievable crunch to it—almost like a hard-cooked puff pastry.

Even though I’m sad to see summer go, this was a great send off.

Friday, October 7th, 2005

Doufeu Lamb

consumed on 8/20/05

After a very successful doufeu debut with pork, I decided to try the doufeu out on lamb. I was feeling a little reckless (… or was it lazy?) and opted not to use a recipe. I chose some survival spice, coriander and cumin out of the cupboard and applied a nice coating to the lamb. I sautéed some onions, ginger and garlic and the browned the roast on all sides. I added a few cups of chicken broth and slid the doufeu into the oven to let it do its thing.

After a few hours I pulled it out of the oven and inspected the lamb. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but when I tried to slice the roast it fell into shreds. Honesty. I never knew lamb could get that tender, but it was also odd because the meat was dry. I think I made the mistake of cooking it like it was a pork shoulder, but the lamb didn’t have nearly enough fat content to cook that long.

Luckily, the flavor was great—although next time I’d use way more survival spice and less cumin (I went nuts with the cumin). I served the lamb shreds with truffled mashed potatoes (potatoes with Casina Rossa Truffle & Salt) and beautiful yellow beans with butter and Sel Gris with Herbs.

Stick with me; this is where it gets good. The next day I thought, “What can I do with leftover lamb shreds and mashed potatoes?”

Shepherd’s pie was the natural choice.

I mixed the leftover stewing juices with the lamb and layered them into the bottom of a casserole. I topped it with a thick layer of mashed potatoes and a fresh sprinkle of truffle salt. Then I spread a layer of panko on top and drizzled it with melted butter. The combination of the crisp topping, creamy potatoes, lamb and truffle salt was outstanding. Plus the potatoes completely masked the fact that the lamb was dry. Rarely have I ever said this, but… the leftovers blew the main dish away!