Friday, August 21, 2009

Wednesday Night Test Kitchen - 8/19/09

So I know I’ve been bad about posting some of this stuff, but my test kitchen stuff has been relatively disjointed due to just testing of partial recipe ideas and techniques.  This week seemed to work out pretty well as I got hold of a nice chunk of pork belly and decided to cure and smoke it into bacon.

See the smoking action here:

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After a long cure, I did a slow low temp smoke of apple and mesquite chips for hours until the bacon got to an internal temp of approximately 137-140 F it seems.  I let it rest for a bit and then carved out the browner smoked out portions for some necessary tasting.

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The bacon was smoky, salty and crispy with the wood flavors that I had complete control over.  If you have a yard or space in the back, you need a smoker just so you can smoke your own goodies.  It’s also important to have a collection of wood/woodchips so you can appropriately give each item the right type of smoke flavor.

With bacon in hand, I did two items for my bacon themed test kitchen.  How can you beat that?

Menu:

-24 Hour House Bacon Sous Vide, Niabell Grape Gastrique and  Mushroom Medley 

-Roasted Whole Red Banded Rockfish in House Soy Stuffed with Bacon, Ginger, and Green Onion

The 24 Hour Bacon was a big cut that was cooked at approximately 150 F for a full day in the immersion circulator.  The second component of the grape gastrique was a tame carrot madras local honey.  The mushroom medley consisted of lobster, oyster and trumpet mushrooms – all unique textures, but none of them overpowering when compared to the other.  Instead of saute, I may have chosen to put them in the oven first next time.

All in all the plate was what I expected out of it.  The smokiness of the bacon wasn’t particularly overwhelming and actually the long cook process drew up more subtleties with the smoke flavors that I expected.  I thought I could have used a little more grape gastrique, so I drizzled a tiny bit more later on.  I think however that if it went further, it would overwhelm the taste of the mushroom.  The bacon could have used a tiny bit of black pepper, but I’m nitpicking.  Of course, you could cut the meat with a butter knife.  That’s some texture.

Pics:

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The fish was less of a designed piece.  I pretty much just wanted to eat fish and thought a rockfish would taste good coming out of the oven given that it had such nice and soft flakey white flesh.  Sorry, I didn’t consult my sustainable guide, but I didn’t think small Pacific rockfish would be an issue.  The house soy is actually part chicken stock (oddly w/sage) and part Chinese House rotisserie braising soy stock (brown sugar, star anise, lemongrass, cloves, green onion, garlic, etc).  The bacon, green onion and ginger was stuffed in the fish and also incorporated in with butter to be dressed on the fish prior to roasting.  The soy was placed on the bottom for moisture to start and also basted onto the fish later on.  It also serves as the sauce when you start sectioning and eating the fish. 

I’m beginning to switch to a more anti-fillet philosophy with fish.  The joy, skill, and experience of eating whole fish is much more fun.  And, it tastes better.  Who doesn’t love sucking fish head.  Yum. 

Pics:

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Portland, Je T’aime – Part 2 Day 2

 

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When I got back to my fabulous room at the Nines hotel, I was quickly passed out and found myself in a nice deep sleep for a wonderful 8 hours – which for myself, is really quite rare. 

I woke up invigorated with an excitable, but relaxed demeanor.  It was Friday morning and I had some awfully good plans lined up for city exploration.  First things first, a beautiful morning requires a beautiful cup of coffee, so we started our seemingly familiar route to Stumptown.

 

Friday Morning: Bijou and Nobody Else

En route there, we happened to feel a little hungry so we started poking around to try to find a nice patisserie, but our efforts yielded no results.  Instead, I remembered a recommendation from someone regarding Bijou Cafe, which was conveniently located right next to Stumptown.  It was fate.

We were quickly sat in the comfy breakfast diner/cafe and promptly served by a quirky older waitress who seemed a little jumpy.  Trying not to ruin the good appetite for lunch, we decided to split a couple of plates amongst the three of us.  And since, they served Illy coffee (a favorite amongst our group), we fulfilled our coffee fixes at Bijou as well.

For our meal, we ordered a big stack of pancakes (3 total) and an oyster hash, which sounded like it would probably be on the lighter portion size.  That turned out to be an incorrect assumption, see for yourself:

The oyster hash was wonderfully textured and fried.  It’s not mind blowing food that will numb your brain, but it sure was tasty good comfort breakfast.  How can you possibly go wrong with good caffeine and a nice libido kick.  It puts you in the right place and the right mood for love, baby.  Portland love that is.

 

Friday Lunch: Castagna

After walking around a few corners and visiting a little modern gadget boutique store called Canoe, we went back to the hotel to catch a little break.  At around lunchtime, we hopped on a cab and crossed the river down Hawthorne and stopped at Castagna (cafe to be exact, the main restaurant is not open for lunch). 

Castagna was this trip’s equivalent of Zuni Cafe I guess.  Portland Northwestern cuisine served and cooked beautifully with nothing but what seems to be local and seasonal produce in mind.  The wonderful thing about Portland is that it seems to not particularly dabble in label marketing for their restaurants.  They cook locally, seasonally and focus on simplicity, but they don’t care to start putting up the franchising on the terms “Northwestern” or “Portland cuisine.”  It’s refreshing to see people not stress out about pointless particulars, labeling and semantics.  Sometimes, you wish people would just shutup and eat it.  Myself included.  Oy.

Well, anyways, we spent a good 2+ hours having lunch, which again was very Parisian.  We went all out and did a full 3 courses each with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir to accompany our meal.  I don’t think I had a nice lunch meal like the one at Castagna in a long time.  It was a fantastic lunch and even though I enjoy street food, cafeterias and In&Out, let’s not confuse a real meal with a park bench. 

Standout dishes: almost cracker crust on pizza, scallops, berry coulis trifle (of sorts), Alsatian sausages and crimini robiola sandwich.

Pics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Afternoon: Wandering With Hot Lips, Beers and Coffee

After waddling out of Castagna, my friend and I did the Hawthorne stretch and along the way found some nice little spots to taste some local goodies.  The first was the Hot Lips Pear Soda which, as advertised tasted exactly like carbonated pears.  Sugary goodness…

The Hawthorne neighborhood is one filled with little independently owned stores and shops, mainly selling a bunch of trinkets/jewelry and other things that bring joy but have absolutely no use.  It had a bohemian hippy feel about it, which caused a slight distaste in my mouth, but I realized I hadn’t run into any crackheads or street lounging bum hippies, so it was quite an enjoyable way to burn off the big lunch.   It’s like a nicer Haight neighborhood if it was ten times cleaner, ten times prettier and had 99% less unsavory types wandering aimlessly. 

During our big stroll around town, we stopped for a stout and ale at the Bridgeport Brewery and eventually walked up to Belmont St. where the Stumptown Annex (where all their awesome coffee beans are available for drip).  We also came upon Pine State Biscuits, but they were unfortunately closed.  I had heard stories of their greatness, but it seemed that fate was not on my side that day.  Ah well. 

Some Pics:

 

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Friday Dinner: I Wish I Could Pok All Night

After a nice buzz of beer and coffee, I decided it was time for dinner.  Even though my watch was reading 5:45, I felt it was a necessity to pull a geriatric special because of the possible long wait that would happen at my restaurant of choice that night. 

My restaurant of choice, also the 2nd most anticipated meal of Portland was:

You probably guessed from the section title, but if you were clueless, Pok Pok was the one.  Pok Pok is a Andy Ricker’s ode to a Northwestern twist on authentic Thai regional dishes.  Yes, while it may seem unfathomable that a white guy would be putting out better Thai food than a Thai guy, people should start getting used to the fact that race has absolutely nothing to do with devotion and quality of cuisine.  There are going to be Asian guys killing it in French restaurants and there are white guys killing it in Japanese restaurants (Sebo anyone?).  The quicker you get past that idea, the happier your stomach will be.  Oh yeah, Pok Pok’s probably won about a million awards and critics because they are just that Pok-in’ good.

Vis-à-vis, you can go pok yourself for not liking my lame pok jokes.  They’re witty and funny to me.

Unfortunately my friend wasn’t a particularly adventurous diner so she limited her choice to the Kai Yaang game hen, which in turn limited my ability to steal food and order more plates.  I, however, could not resist ordering Fish Sauce Chicken Wings and the Hoi Thawt, which is broken crepe with mussels, eggs and all kinds of good stuff. 

Pics:

I’d say without a doubt, the best meal was Le Pigeon, but my favorite meal was definitely Pok Pok.  I wish I could have ordered everything and ate all night long, but the portions were not nearly as “sharing” as they said they were.  These were not your SF “share plate” portions – they were clearly superior as you can see.  Pok Pok itself is a reason to go to Portland. 

Why did I enjoy it so much?  Bistros, French, American and Southern cuisines may be beautiful, technical and indulgent, but ultimately that’s all a little too familiar and boring sometimes.   What I crave is passion and excitement.  I want SPICE, I want adventure, I want ethnic and I want the blood to rush from my brain to my loins.  Is that too much to ask for in a meal?  It’s enough to be stuck in a cubicle at work, don’t stick yourself in one during a weekend meal.

Pok Yeah Baby.

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(to be continued very soon)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Western/Eastern Approaches To Hosting Dinner at Home

Betty can make me dinner anytime.

Cooking dinner is a challenge that is not lost on me. I am not talking about cooking dinner at a restaurant, but rather simply cooking a meal at home for family, friends or random guests. Growing up in a traditional Asian household, meals are approached from a "family" style cooking method. At any given night for a hosted dinner, a collection of 6-10 plates will appear before the table. Sometimes if the number of dinner plates is superstitiously bad, the host may even add some sort of easy starter side to "even" things out.

Myself? I try to cook more along the basic lines of Western cuisine. Starter, salad and or soup, entree and then dessert. Most of the time, I won't go beyond a 4 course dinner for certain reasons. The looming question here is, what is a better way to host dinner as a cook?

The family style format allows everyone to sit and eat at the same time, reducing any necessary trips back to the kitchen for this or for that. The coursed way allows for the food to be served properly and likely at the right temperatures without having items sit on plates for long periods of time. Both formats seemingly are deeply flawed to most people and often result in some menu planning maneuvering.

For family style, you would likely not cook hot sauteed items until the very end and the cooking time will have to be very short. If you choose to cook hot items early, then they will change with reheating or simply get cold. Many times during these dinners, the first item cooked is all but a vague memory of how it was made prior to all the waiting. Unfortunately, cold items are not a staple in many Asian household classics. Most families use a wok to sizzle almost anything and rarely have a desire for a baby gem salad.

For a coursed meal, if you plan on serving the food and dinner properly, you should plan on not eating or being part of it. Each course change will require time to cook/heat the next. The food comes out right, but you now must prepare for the next course. Running back and forth in the kitchen likely keeps the cook uninvolved and unable to entertain the guests at the table. As a result, most people who cook this style always serve cold salads and easily heated soups to start. By menu planning this way, you are also severely limiting your options for hot items. There are also many faults here as well.

I'm not sure what is right or wrong, but all I know hosting and cooking a nice dinner for more than 2 people at your house is always a big challenge. What are your favorite ways to deal with this situation and what considerations do you make when you are approaching a hosted dinner? Is there something you are never willing to do as a starter because it simply requires too much time and or heat?