Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 20 - Cauliflower with Bechamel, Pork Ribs with Barbecue Sauce, Banana with Lime

Okay, I'm going to say it. I was scared that Chef Adria was reaching down into the American South for some inspiration. The South is quite a long ways from Spain. And I have a feeling that most of Chef Adria's interaction with our country has involved the coastlines, specifically New York and LA. So I was scared. So scared I used bottled barbecue sauce instead of braving the book's recipe. I might come back and try the barbecue sauce later, but I like that Chef Adria is fine with us using whatever makes us happy. So understanding.

This may be the least shopping-intensive meal I've made in a while. Maybe. Cauliflower was even on sale. A little half rack of baby backs was waiting in the butcher's case like it had my name on it. Banana? Banana? Yeah, that's not ubiquitous or anything. Shopping done.

I love cauliflower smothered in cream sauce and melted cheese. Heck, I love pretty much anything smothered in cream sauce and cheese. It's like bacon. Everything just tastes better. Even though the recipe for two said to leave out the onion and clove when preparing the sauce, I still got out a quarter of a small onion and a little clove and tossed them right in. The thing I really struggle with in these applications is how much salt to add. You salt the sauce, but then the cauliflower is totally unsalted, so it needs even more salt to compensate. But then how much salt is too much?? It shouldn't be this stressful! Basically I just kept tasting everything, tiny little bites, until it seemed right. And I got pretty darn close. I will definitely be repeating this one.

Nothing really to see here. Ribs. Smothered in barbecue sauce. It's not how my mom makes them. And frankly, I think she does a better job. I had to cook these longer than indicated to really get that falling-off-the-bone tenderness. And the amount of barbecue sauce called for is pretty laughable. I lacquered those puppies. Good, but mommy knows best in this case. Except I'm totally swiping the orange-zest-on-the-top idea. It just works.

I'm about to admit another food prejudice. I hate ripe bananas. Yes, I'm that weird person who eats green bananas. But for this dessert, I let my bananas sit out on the counter until they were super yellow and had brown spots blooming all over them. Somehow I managed to refrain from trashing them. I did NOT think I would like this dish. Chef Adria keeps surprising me though. Something about the lime juice mixed with the Jamaican rum mixed with the vanilla bean I sacrificed...it just works. It cuts into the sickly sweetness of an extra ripe banana and just makes it good. And you have to use the vanilla bean! It is not optional, as it may appear in the book. Trust me on this!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 9 - Lime-Marinated Fish, Osso Buco, Pina Colada

Another first for me, the open-minded eater, tonight. How is it that I have gotten through life eating ostrich and camel and octopus, but not osso buco? Oh, right, the price. This dish was always in that scary part of the menu that my parents told me not to even look at. Because every dish was over $20. I think I just got out of the habit of looking at that part of the menu. Meh. But you know what? I'm an osso buco convert. A super-tender, almost sweet, rich-marrow convert. I think I need a better paying job.

Once again the fish mentioned does not swim in US waters. Or any waters that the US apparently trades with. So I used stripped sea bass again. Hey, it was a recommended substitute. And having fish shipped is basically impossible. This is where I draw the ridiculous-ingredient line, in case you were wondering. The veal was also a bit of a trip, as the butcher at Central Market didn't want to cut me the pieces I needed because I was asking too late and he had "already cleaned the machines", whatever that means. So, a separate trip the next day was required. I happily used up the remaining pineapple from the other night's dinner (remember the pineapple with molasses and lime?), so I was happy that wouldn't be something I would find a month from now growing a science experiment in the back of my fridge.

I'm a big fan of raw fish. I will eat sashimi and sushi like it's going out of style. And I'm not talking about California rolls. I'm talking eel and fluke and some buttery white tuna. So I'm pretty cool with ceviche. It seems to be the compromise between completely raw and completely ruined. Yes, I said it. Cooked fish, for the most part, now seems so wrong to me. So I was good with this first course. Until I realized I was buying fish on Sunday night. Fish that had probably arrived on Friday at the latest. Hey, we all need something to challenge our immune systems every now and then, right? Plus, the fish guy seemed pretty sure it should be fine. Possibly. Well, it was pretty delicious. The fish just barely turned from semi-transparent to this white opalescence. The sauce just made the fish even silkier than it already was alone. And the lime added that little ceviche bite. Really good.

So after a plate of meat, I moved on to...another plate of meat. I think I'm seeing a trend here. Hey, I'm not complaining! The veal basically gets browned and then braised in this wine/tomato sauce/mirepoix/beef stock mixture and comes out the other end super tender and falling off the bone. The recipe says two hours, but I got tender action after one. So tender I had trouble getting it out of the pan in less than five pieces. And I just want to say that I love the gremolata. Terrific. I'm really starting to like having citrus on all my food.

This pina colada was really strange to me. 1) I didn't see the need in straining everything the least bit textural out of the drink. 2) There wasn't enough coconut flavor to balance against the pineapple. 3) It needed about 2-3 times the rum, but that may just be me. Plenty refreshing though. And since I couldn't find meringue cookies (why is every ingredient I look for suddenly absent from every grocery store in the city???), I sprinkled the top with some sweetened flaked coconut.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 22 - Peas & Ham, Roasted Chicken with Potato Straws, Pineapple with Molasses & Lime

I hate peas. My mom tries to convince me that when I was a baby, my favorite baby food was pureed peas, but I'm not sure I believe her. Those squishy little globes are the bane of my existence. I even pick them out of fried rice. Yes, I'm that bad. So why, I'm sure you're wondering, did I even bother to make this menu? That's a good question. Probably because I figure if anyone can make peas palatable, it would be Chef Adria. This is your last chance, Peas!

I got serrano ham from the deli case at Central Market. I couldn't believe I actually found ham fat, but there it was, near the serrano. It was labeled lardo, and it looked like it came from Spain. It was pure white and fatty looking. Good enough for me. I never thought I'd find ham stock, since I'm not going to make my own for 1/3 cup, but I got the last jar of Better Than Bouillon ham stock concentrate at Central Market. I bought the smallest chicken I could find, about 3 pounds, since I figured that in Spain, their chickens aren't the same steroid-enhanced super chickens you see in our meat sections. Everything else was pretty normal and easy to find.

These peas are a revelation. They are amazing. I tasted them just to check the salt levels, and I almost couldn't stop myself. I was shoveling them in my mouth as fast as I could. They didn't even seem like peas anymore. They were just sweet oniony, hamy, cinnomony, minty, fatty little green things. This may be the best thing in the cookbook so far. Hey, if it can get me to eat peas, and lick my plate, you know they're good.

Even though Anthony Bourdain has listed roasting a chicken as something everyone should know how to do in his book Medium Raw, I will admit that I didn't until this past year. I either got a rotisserie chicken, or I didn't have roasted chicken. They never seemed to turn out right. The thigh was pink when the breast was done, or the breast was dried out when the thigh was done. Too much trouble. I even tried Mindy Fox's A Bird in the Oven and Then Some. It was pretty good, but not quite there. But this chicken was amazing. Tender and juicy, with a crisp and flavorful skin. And the gravy... I've never made gravy either. If it only gets better from here, I'll be set. The little potato straws were salt and vinegar flavored, which I originally had some concerns about, but the vinegar just blended into the lemon flavoring of the chicken juices, and all was right with the world.

Nothing can top the peas and chicken. At least no basic fruit dessert. Chef Adria, please, I need an amazing dessert. I know that all those cakes and cookies are leading to an epidemic of obesity, but you can't end a meal like this with....pineapple. Or can you? The pineapple was super sweet and ripe, and the lime zest just did something. It took the pineapple somewhere else entirely. And I was a little scared of pouring straight molasses on the fruit, but it all just melds together somehow.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 24 - Garbanzo Beans with Spinach & Egg, Glazed Teriyaki Pork Belly, Sweet Potato with Honey & Cream

Ah, bacon. Bacon makes everything taste better. I think you could even put it on dirt, and it would make the dirt taste awesome. So what could be better than a big piece of bacon, smothered in teriyaki sauce? Answer: nothing. I'm going to have to disagree with the whole lamb neck in, pork belly out. Pork belly is most definitely in. My stomach, that is.

Pork belly, despite its multiple years of chef-inspired fame, is still pretty much nowhere to be seen. I got my slab from the Chinese grocery, where it was much cheaper than the independent butcher who had some. Unfortunately, I had to buy a whole slab, but that's okay. That just means I have more pork belly goodness hiding in my freezer for later. The sweet potato, as you might notice when you scroll down, is not a regular sweet potato. I got a Japanese sweet potato in the vegetable co-op crate, so I just went with it. Everything else was easy to find.

I wasn't really looking forward to this chickpea/spinach dish since it had one of those dreaded 3 minute eggs plopped in the middle. And I remembered what a fiasco the last eggs had been. So I did my research, and found out that if you put the eggs in the cold water in the pot, bring it to a boil, then set the timer for 3 minutes, you'll get an egg that actually comes out of its shell, but still has some liquidity in the yolk. Hey, it's better than nothing. And organic cage-free eggs aren't exactly cheap. This means limited experimentation. The chickpea/spinach mixture was pretty tasty, probably due to the smokiness of the cumin. I did have some trouble with the whole tomato-draining-through-a-sieve step. The tomato mass pretty much sat there and did nothing until I came along and stirred it with a spatula. The end result was tasty and probably pretty healthy. The yolk of the egg swirled into the veggie mixture and added a creaminess it didn't otherwise have. Pretty good, pretty good.

But nothing beats pork belly. Pork belly smothered in a sweet teriyaki glaze. Pork belly that melts in your mouth. Even though you know you should probably cut the fatty bits off because it's going to give you coronary artery disease, you don't. You suck it all up and let it melt on your tongue. So good, and yet so bad. Chef Adria, for this you are evil.

The sweet potato was...meh. Maybe it would be better with an actual American sweet potato. Maybe I'll try it again that way. This just seemed starchy. And the whipped cream just melted off the potato into a puddle on the plate. And the honey just melted off the potato and got on pretty much everything in the vicinity.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 12 - Potato Salad, Thai Beef Curry, Strawberries with Vinegar

When I first looked at this meal, my thought was....what? German potato salad, Thai curry beef, and Italian vinegar and strawberries. Very weird. How does one come up with this kind of combination? I'm wasn’t seeing the flavor complements. And I was frankly a little scared. I mean, there's a friggin' frankfurter in the potato salad. And yes, I used frankly on purpose. See what I did there? Groan.

Apparently Thai Kitchen does not make yellow curry paste. Just red and green. How do I know? I searched every grocery store in town. I finally realized I should probably try the Chinese market, and of course there was a tub of yellow curry paste sitting on the shelf. This cookbook is starting to feel like a scavenger hunt. Since I didn't want to use a regular ol' ballpark frank for my potato salad, I went to Kuby's and got a wiener out of their deli case. The little gherkins came out of the bulk deli pans (near the 30 different types of olives) at Central Market. Everything else was pretty normal.

I couldn't figure out why there was a frankfurter in the potato salad. I've never had potato salad with a pressed meat stick in it. Have you? But then I remembered a German girl I knew in Austin when I was going to college. She put hotdogs in pretty much every salad she made. So maybe this is a German thing. Just like putting a soft boiled egg in every bowl of soup is probably a Spanish thing. The Yukon gold potatoes held up really well after cooking, and I loved the little gherkins and capers. They really gave a nice tang to the salad. And the frankfurter was actually kind of good. A little smoky and chewy. This salad was one of those things where you're sure you're going to hate it before you take a bite, but then you chew, and you kinda like it, so you're completely conflicted on the final opinion. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I liked it.

The failure of the Thai curry beef is probably completely on me. First of all, I don't have a pressure cooker, so I had to make it in the oven. Second, I didn't trust the amazingly small amount of curry paste used, so I just did my own thing. FAIL. When I pulled my pot out of the oven after 3 hours, there was not one bit of liquid left. No sauce. Nothing. Being a pretty seasoned cook, I probably should have realized exactly this circumstance would occur, but I was feeling lazy. So, no, I didn't add liquids along the way like I should have. Plus, Chef Adria didn't tell me to. Maybe I should blame it on him. The beef was tender though. Really spicy (due to my heavy teaspoon with the curry paste), but tender. This one definitely needs a do-over once I get my hands on a pressure cooker. And it almost seems like my camera knew this was a failure because I don't have a single picture that is actually in focus. This is the only time this has ever happened. I think there are higher powers at work trying to tell me that I should learn to follow directions.

I'm not sure what to make of the strawberries. The recipe calls for Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, which sounds like at least $20 per bottle, so I used the recommended substitute of balsamic vinegar. Hey, that's an actual dessert, right? Strawberries in balsamic vinegar? Well, it doesn't work here. I made the caramel syrup, which looked and smelled and tasted good, but after I added the balsamic, the vinegar killed everything. It was all you could taste. Sigh. This one may need a do-over, too. With Cabernet Savignon vinegar this time. Even though the vinegar will then sit in my pantry for the next 10 years without being touched again. Ah, the travails of cooking.