April 26, 2009

It amazes me how little it takes to shake our confidence. This evening, i was prepping for dinner, sushi tonight on the plate, slicing some fish and vegetables for the maki. the same task i do almost every night with some variation. same cutting board, same knife. i make a habit of honing my knife before each use, i had been lazy about it. a sharp knife is a happy knife. but i diverge from the point… confidence.

so, the kitchen is pretty standard for our house, crazy… wife working on her laptop, kids being kids. my two year old is getting a bit grabby, was standing up on a chair next to the cutting board watching me work and waiting for scraps. i’m on edge, terrified of him reaching in as i slice downward. lots of tension. but like i said, its a task i do almost every night. slicing, prepping, thats probably the most enjoyable part of cooking for me. relaxing and rote. mindless repetition, a chance at technical precision.

i’m cutting the carrots… nice bit of crisp to complement the fish in a sushi roll, add it in if you haven’t tried it. i’m distracted, not a good place to be while slicing. the carrot rolls under my knife and i catch my left middle finger under the blade.the nail stops most of it as i let off the pressure as soon as i realized the carrot rolled but my knife is really damned sharp. reaction and training kicks in, direct pressure, elevate the hand above the heart, i rush to the bathroom and with the help of my wife, clean and bandage the finger. its really minor, could have been a lot worse.

but my confidence… i find myself shaking afterwards, the knife in my hand, trying to complete the prep for our meal. it feels unwieldy and foreign. the thing is normally an extension of my hand but now i feel the separation between us.

i guess it was a subtle reminder to never lose respect for the task at hand. when you are working something, work it with all your intentions. half ass efforts need not apply, you are asking to get bit.


Photo Note

April 25, 2009

ok, i’ll admit, this one shows i’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. i’ve taken some pictures of today’s efforts (the feast before the feasts lol) but my USB cable for my camera is well on its way to Korea ahead of me. I reassure you that photos are coming, this project is about to kick into high gear with my departure for Korea a mere 9 days away. sounds fairly unpleasant put that way.

anyway, stay tuned for feast number one, coming soon with photos and all!

Feast Before the Feast – Aftermath/brussels sprouts

April 25, 2009

Well, the easiest thing to say about todays endeavor is that its done. overall, i would rate it a B+, maybe an A-. people left the house full and happy, i guess that’s bottom line. i personally had a few technical issues that didn’t exactly thrill me. i ran into the problem of having only one pan of a certain size so had to cook the majority of the meal sequentially instead of parallel. not a major problem but i thought the corn fritters could have been a bit crispier. the empty platter points to this being a minor issue so i will have to write it off.

and i have to be honest with myself. the eggplant dish was fairly poor. i had issues with the size and shape of the eggplant and modified the prep technique from a deep fry to a pan bake and overall, it left the dish a bit flat. the flavors were there but it could have been cafeteria food in all honesty.

eggplant casserole

spanish style potatoes

the surprise dark horse of the evening was the brussels sprouts. for me, it was a throw away dish, just a quick one to bang out to get an extra green on the plate. i am shocked at how well received it was. one guest who proclaimed to hate brussels sprouts was spotted with not one, not two but three servings of the little leprechaun heads. i call that a result. so, due to popular demand, here is my “recipe”.

there have been a few recipes that i have been embarrassed about sharing. not that they are bad, i just see them as so simple that it seems silly to bother committing them to paper (or electrons). these are the dishes that i make almost instinctively, never referring to a recipe or checking amounts. i just make them. salsa, brisket, mashed potatoes, crepes, stuff like that… these brussels sprouts recipe falls into that category. its hard to call it a recipe but here it goes.

the oddly popular brussels sprouts

the oddly popular brussels sprouts

first off, fresh brussels sprouts. if you are pulling a bag of frozen greens from the freezer, you are probably on the wrong website. rinse them off, dry them but don’t get too hung up on moisture, its not that deep. put the sprouts in a large bowl. generously drizzle with olive oil. sprinkle with salt and pepper. toss in the bowl to get a good coat on all the sprouts. heat a dry pan over medium high until it reaches max temp. toss in the sprouts and cook them, shuffling periodically to try to get a nice blistering on all sides of each sprout. mine usually take about 20 – 25 minutes but i have left them for longer without much negative effect. dish them onto your cutting board, cut each in half and serve immediately. share and enjoy.

empty platters = happy guests

empty platters = happy guests

The Feast Before the Feasts – Brisket

April 24, 2009

I can’t deny it, i am a sucker for a well cooked large slab of beef. and ok, really, who can turn down something that tasty? Brisket is in some ways the ultimate expression of this decadence, slow cooked until its falling apart, the flavor is indescribably wonderful. the prep method is ridiculously simple but for the sake of complete coverage, i will give you a quick rundown.

my recipe for brisket is a conglomeration of methodologies that i have picked up from various and sundry sources. i can’t point to any one cookbook or chef and say “that’s the brisket i make”. like all good personal recipes, it combines the best elements of multiple recipes with personal touches that make it my own.

my brisket is a two stage operation. stage one is quick and easy. take the raw brisket, cut small slits in it, around 6 or 8 per side and insert whole garlic cloves in the slits. generously salt and pepper both sides of the brisket. then, over a moderately hot flame, heat a large frying pan with a bit of oil. sear off both sides of the brisket, just enough to brown the outside. this is just to seal in moisture, the main cooking will happen in stage two.

ok, stage two. this is my absolute favorite use of a crock pot. take two large onions, peeled and cut into quarters. drop in the bottom of the crock pot. lay the brisket on top of the onions. pour in two bottles of beer (i use fat tire amber ale but most people recommend lagers) and enough water to cover. drop in some cayenne, a bay leaf or two and a bit more salt and pepper. cook on low for a minimum of 12 hours. i like my brisket fork tender.

Brisket simmering away

Brisket simmering away

about 30 minutes before you plan on eating, take out around 2 cups of the broth. mix this with enough flour to make a moderately thick gravy, around 1/2 a cupl, salt and pepper to taste and serve over the brisket.

if you are like me, you will have plenty of brisket left over, thats sandwiches for the week so make sure you have some decent bread or rolls on hand as well.

i promise, pictures and descriptions of the other courses are forthcoming soon.

Peach Salsa

April 21, 2009

I’ve always been a fan of blending savory with sweet. i really enjoy the juxtaposition of tangy, sweet and spicy presented in my version of salsa. it’s not the most traditional, it’s a blend of techniques i had seen other people using, most notably my mother-in-law Pat and a guy i worked with in San Antonio some years back. I normally use mango as my sweetening agent but this particular meal i wanted to start and stop with two different presentation of peaches, very different but shades of the same gray.

Ingredients and quantities are extremely fluid with salsa. within a broad range, basically pick whatever appeals to you and toss it in. the below is my basic prep with amounts adjusted to taste along the way.

6 Roma Tomatoes
1 Yellow Onion
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Green Bell Pepper
6 Cloves Garlic
1 bunch of Cilantro
4 Habanero Peppers
2 Jalapeno Peppers
2 banana peppers
1/2 of a fresh peach
sea salt

as stated above, salsa is for the most part a matter of taste. with the above ingredients, i usually make two small batches, one with a little more kick than the other but thematically the same. i use roma tomatoes because i like the surface to mass ratio which is important given that i basically blacken the tomatoes before use. the types of peppers used are fluid as well, whatever looks good and i’m in the mood for gets dropped in the mix.

To start with, i heat my cast iron skillet, dry, over high heat. once the pan is nice and hot, i drop in all the peppers and 1/2 of the tomatoes. let these blacken for a bit and then turn over to blacken the other side. with the tomatoes, a few extra turns are needed to make sure you’ve got a good percentage of the outer skin blackened. its not going to be a solid black mass, just nice burnt spots on all sides. it really adds to the flavor. really.

the rest of the prep is so ridiculously easy that i feel bad even typing it. i’m not trying to insult the readers intelligence, i promise.

drop the whole blackened tomatoes into your blender (or food processor but i find the blender works better) and break down with a wooden spoon or similar utensil. this will give you the needed liquid component to your salsa and avoids the splattering mess all over the counter that would surely ensue if you chopped the tomatoes on your cutting board. add to this half of the onion with the outer couple of layers removed. you don’t want even a hint of the papery outer skin so take off a few layers to make sure you got just the inner goodness. toss in the cloves of garlic and a heavy dash of sea salt. blend to your desired consistency, i like my pretty much pulverized and liquid. i know mine is where i want it to be when there is a little foamy froth on top of the blend.

Here is where the road forks, you have your basic salsa but if you plan on making two separate strengths of salsa, split the base now into equal halves. if you are just gonna go for it and have one type, go ahead and drop in one of the uncooked tomatoes, one of the habaneros, both jalapenos, the sweet peppers and the cilantro. give this a quick spin and taste. keep adding habaneros until its either hot enough or you run out of peppers. its going to get a little hotter over a day or so in the fridge (recommended before use) so don’t go too far overboard. if you’re mix seems too light in color or not tomato-y enough, well, thats why we have extra tomatoes. drop them in one at a time until it suits ya.

once you have the desired heat level, chop up the peach and add it a little at a time, blending each new addition until your taste test gives you just a hint of peach flavor. the sugars in the fruit do wonders to complement the tomatoes. i’m not gonna go crazy with an explanation, just try it and see.

you will probably need a little more salt at this point. again, don’t go crazy, a little at a time and taste in between.

after that, jar this up and refrigerate overnight at least, share and enjoy.

you can use just about any stone fruit for the sweetener if peaches aren’t your thing, like i said above, i normally use mangoes which work quite nicely. you can leave the fruit out altogether but if you do, drop in a tablespoon or two of sugar, it really works wonders to balance the hot with a little sweetness.

additional ingredients you can drop in: Oregano, Fresh Ground Black Pepper, Black Olives, Black Beans (don’t blend too much after these, it turns into a pasty sauce instead of a salsa), pretty much anything in these lines that you enjoy.

i’ll take some pictures of my prep of the salsa and post them.

please post back if you try this dish or enjoy the thought of it 🙂

Feast before the Feast – The Lineup

April 21, 2009

here is a quick rundown of what is on the plate (you see what i did there) for this saturday’s meal. details of each preparation to follow:

Peach Salsa and Corn Chips
Traditional Korean pancake appetizer with 9 fillings

Main Meal:
Beer Braised Brisket with garlic gravy
Spanish Potato Casserole
Stuffed and Fried Eggplant
Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Corn Fritters with honey butter

Broiled Peaches with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and crispy wafers

Longboard Lager

man, i am excited just reading it myself.. 🙂

The Feast before the Feasts

April 11, 2009

Hurray! I have managed to work my calendar is such a way to allow me to cook one last meal for my friends and family here. I’m really excited about it and plan on pulling out all the stops to leave everyone with something that makes them go wow… Saturday, the 25th of JanuaryApril, a select few friends and family will gather here and i will feed them.

menu still in the works but i definitely have dessert pegged… broiled peaches with vanilla bean ice cream and a crispy wafer for texture contrast. some people are pretty damned lucky. 🙂