Feast Four – Chicken with Stewed Vegetables, Twice Baked Eggplant and Basil and Cracked Pepper Bread

May 31, 2009

Finally! I have a kitchen to prepare meals in. there are limitations, don’t get me wrong. i am getting frustrated over some of them, to name a few the fact that the oven is too small for my pizza pan, the stove is situated so close to the wall that i can only use small pans on the right hand burners and the fact that the burners are so close together that my larger frying pan makes three burners unusable.

but hey, it beats not having any way to cook.

this feast is not the first thing i cooked in my new room. that honor goes to a quick, down and dirty bacon eggs and cheese sandwich on a kaiser roll. i like the simple things, let there be no doubt. it was the best thing i had tasted in a long time, finally able to cook and not depend on the skill of others and questionable choices of ingredients. but that is an aside, this is a post about this week’s feast. i wanted this week to be something that was quite tasty, not too touchy (so i could learn my new kitchen) and of sufficient quantity to have leftovers for a few days. this train of thought led me to a one-pot sort of dish, something i could do the prep work for and then just let it roll at a simmer for a bit. i think that chicken is the best suited to this type of prep (with the exception of brisket but as you all know, thats another story). chicken with root vegetables, a nice simple bread and something on the side. that something on the side practically leaped out at me while i was shopping. the eggplants are probably the best i have ever seen. the size and shape loan themselves easily to stuffing. and so i did.

Feast Four - Ready to Serve

Feast Four - Ready to Serve

Feast Four:
Chicken with Stewed Root Vegetables
Twice-Baked Eggplant
Basil and Black Pepper Bread

The longest prep item on today’s menu was the bread. Because of this and the fact that i managed to sneak off to a movie in the middle of cooking today’s meal, i started the bread at around 9:30 in the morning. Baking is an area that i need more practice and discipline. i tend to be a bit too ad hoc for it. there are very strict demands on ratios of ingredients for really good bread and one of these days i will get around to forcing myself to observe them. I even bought a kitchen scale specifically for measuring out bread flour and all that. well, it stayed in the box today. here is how i made this loaf of bread.

3 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 1/4 cup of very warm water
olive oil
black pepper
fresh basil

pour the flour into a large bowl, better yet, sift it in unless you are a bit lazy, like me, then you just pour it in. make a well in the center of the pile of flour. pour your yeast into there. i suppose about one of the little packets would do. i use yeast in a jar so my measurements are decidedly lacking. drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil around the outer edge of your well. then, slowly pour the water around the edge of the bowl. the key is not to let the hot water directly get on the yeast. too much heat and you are going to kill it. around this time, you also want to start your oven heating to 325. mix up your flour and other ingredients until it starts to come together. it should still be flaky and falling apart at this point. very dry. if its moist, you have added too much water, add some flour to even it out.

bread ingredients, pre-mixing

bread ingredients, pre-mixing

sprinkle some flour onto a convenient clean countertop. then dump the contents of your bowl onto the sprinkled flour. you want to work the dough by folding it in on itself and pressing it down with the heel of your hand. do this over and over and over and over until the dough takes on a smooth elastic consistency. it should take somewhere around five minutes. proper kneading is the first essential step to proper bread, don’t skimp on it.

ok, bread kneaded, shape it into a ball and then put a little olive oil into the bowl you used earlier. put the dough in on top of it and turn to cover the surface of the dough with a bit of oil. put this on your stove top covered by a kitchen towel until it has doubled in bulk, likely around an hour. this will take longer in cooler locations, thats why i cheat and turn the oven on.

after an hour (during which i did the first baking of the eggplants and dried out a baguette for the stuffing in the conveniently-on oven), re-flour your countertop and turn the dough onto it. you want to punch down the dough and re-knead it. this is the time that you want to put in any extra ingredients such as in our case today, the basil and black pepper. this would be the perfect time to put it some cheese, dried tomatoes, jalapenos, whatever suits you for bread. as for me and today, i finely chopped the basil and sprinkled it over the punched-down bread. a couple twists of black pepper and then i worked the dough until the add-ins were evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a loaf and cut three or four diagonal slits in the top of the loaf. this will help it get a nice crispy exterior. put the shaped loaf onto an oiled baking pan and put it back on that warm stove covered by a towel for another 30 minutes or until doubled in size. this second rise is often left out and it makes a huge difference. after the second rise, bake in your nice and toasty oven for about 25 minutes or until nice and golden brown on the outside. share and enjoy.

bread ready for the oven

bread ready for the oven

Twice-Baked Eggplant

2 Medium Sized Eggplants
half a leftover baguette
one egg
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

while the bread above is rising, bake your eggplants in the 325 degree oven for around 40 minutes or so, turning once. i used the same baking sheet to brown off some sliced baguettes to make into breadcrumbs for the stuffing, remove the bread when you turn the eggplant so it doesn’t burn. you want them to be soft but not mushy. after they have baked, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. this will save you from burning your fingers too bad. with the eggplants laying flat, slice off the top (not the stem, the top as you see it with them laying down), discard and scoop out as much of the meat of the eggplant as you can without damaging the structural integrity. mix the scooped out eggplant with the nice and toasty baguette pieces, crushed as well as you can manage. mix in one egg, salt and pepper and grated parmesan cheese. you can add more to it if you like, a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to give it a little morrocan flair but it really doesn’t need it. combine the filing thoroughly. i found myself a little limited, kitchen tool wise so i actually used my meat mallet to crush the baguettes into the mixture. worked pretty well, an unrefined mortar and pestle. spoon your filling into the eggplant shells, place in a baking dish and refrigerate until about 30 minutes prior to service. when you are 30 minutes out, put them back in the hot oven and bake until browned on top.

Epplants stuffed and ready to bake

Epplants stuffed and ready to bake

Chicken with stewed root vegetables

8 Chicken Thighs
Olive Oil
1 can chicken stock
2 cans water
3 large carrots
4 small potatoes
2 onions
8 cloves of garlic

ok, one pan actually becomes two here because the chicken really benefits from being browned off before tossed in the pot. take a large stockpot and chop your carrots, potatoes and onions into it. you want large pieces that are going to be substantial and keep their shape during the cooking process. we are making stewed vegetables, not a soup. salt and pepper the vegetable and pour over the stock and water. bring this to a boil and then lower to a simmer.

Browning off the Chicken Thighs

Browning off the Chicken Thighs

meanwhile, in a small frying pan with a bit of olive oil, brown off the chicken thighs in batches. salt and pepper then before cooking and cook skin side down first. you will get a bit of sticking to your pan but thats just flavor there. would have been great for making a pan dripping gravy if i had been so inclined. place the browned off chicken on top of the vegetables in your stockpot, not completely submerged but not really stressing if they fall in. cook the whole deal for about 45 minutes with the lid on. once the vegetable and tender but still firm, dish out, straining as much liquid as possible. and thats just about it.

oh, i did have a nice dark weiss beer along with it. was quite tasty.

Eddie came along again for today’s meal, it really is a fortuitous circumstance to have at least one person here that i get along with well enough to share a meal with. cooking for an audience adds depth to the experience and keeps me honest, no cutting corners with no witnesses. again, the reaction was good, the eggplant was especially well received. i should realize by now that usually the simpler the dish, the better the reception. its just natural that by not poking around too much into a taste structure of a dish that you would be able to better express the natural goodness of good ingredients. i take it as a lesson, remember simplicity and let the ingredients do the talking.

hope you enjoyed, more in the coming week. i have half a notion to do a mexican themed meal next week, more as my fickle wanders to and fro.


Trip to the Market

May 25, 2009

Took a little walk downtown today, venturing away from the main strip out into the areas where the people that actually live here shop. it was, to say the least, enlightening. i have a lot of homework to do. there were a multitude of fresh vegetables, grains, spices, cuts of meat, so many things i don’t even know the names of and have a language barrier in the way of asking what they are. i’m going to go about it methodically, photographing, comparing with reports of what is native to the area, identifying and then figuring out the best way to cook. its going to be an adventure and i relish the idea of setting forth on it. the one disappointment is that the fresh produce prices for the items i was familiar with are not that much different than in the grocery store on the base. i expected a bit of a price drop but maybe i need to venture a bit further away from the base or perhaps be a little more korean to gain a price advantage. perhaps…

in the meantime, here is a picture of some fish. one of these or their cousins will end up on a plate at my leisure. i look forward to it, i’m not experienced at all with fresh fish, just book learning. time to learn to descale, clean, fillet and cook appropriately. fun fun fun.

fresh fish in Songtan market

fresh fish in Songtan market

oh and if i understood the guy right, these pretties are around $5 apiece, a steal as far as i am concerned.

Feast Three – The Results

May 24, 2009

So, i ask myself, how can you have a resounding success while totally brain dumping and missing a key ingredient? well, sometimes the food is good enough that even incomplete, it is outstanding. i can only imagine how the meal would have turned out if i had managed to actually add all the ingredients called for. well, here’s the skinny.

today’s meal was another relatively simple matter, tomato and mozzarella salad and beef carpaccio with some baguette rounds to soak up the flavor. easy stuff requiring no cooking that turned out great.

the carpaccio:

i started with a small cut of beef that looked like a miniature roast. it was a fairly cheap cut of meat that was labeled as a beef eye of round roast. mostly lean with a nice thickness to it. i froze it for around 45 minutes to get it a bit firmer, that helps the slicing process. you want to get the beef sliced as thin as possible so freezing for a short time is essential. while it was freezing, i occupied my time roughly chopping around six cloves of garlic.

chopped garlic for carpaccio

chopped garlic for carpaccio

while none of the recipes i have read specifically call out garlic for the dish, i am a fiend for garlic and thought it would add a nice touch. of course, it did 🙂

next, slice the beef thinly and lay out in a glass bowl or pan. layers aren’t terribly important, its gonna get mixed up in a minute anyway.

beef sliced for carpaccio

beef sliced for carpaccio

ok, now the easy part, drop the garlic over the beef, give it a few twists of salt and pepper to you individual tastes. Squeeze the juice of a whole lemon over the beef. pour on two or three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. stir to ensure all the beef is nicely coated and let rest in the fridge for about two hours.

about 15 minutes before my planned eating time, i quickly prepped the ingredients for the tomato and mozzarella salad. easy enough, thinly slice two tomatoes, slice up some good mozzarella cheese and rough chop some fresh basil. i like to give the basil a good mashing with my fingers to bruise it enough to bring out the oils and flavors. the scent and the taste jump out at you a lot more then.

ingredients for tomato and mozzarella salad

ingredients for tomato and mozzarella salad

to serve the meal, build the salad using alternating layers of tomato then basil and then cheese. three or four staggered layers should do it. give it a quick, light twist of salt and a very very light drizzle of olive oil, job done.

for the carpaccio, i used a bed of baby spinach leaves and four slices of beef per person. seemed about the right amount. and, if i were in my right head, i would have pulled out the fresh parmesan cheese from the fridge and thinly grated it over the beef. but, i brain dumped and the cheese remains in its wrapper and the beef was eaten without. it was great but probably would have stepped up a bit with the cheese. sigh.

carpaccio and tomato/mozzarella salad ready to serve

carpaccio and tomato/mozzarella salad ready to serve

for the baguette rounds, normally i would have toasted them but duh, no cooking ability. so, sliced baguette rounds rubbed with a crushed clove of garlic. subtle, possibly overran by the garlic in the carpaccio but nice for sopping up the juices.

i listened to joe and went with a red wine accompaniment. while i know that a good italian would have been best thematically, the selection here is not great and the forerunner was a young chianti that i wasn’t familiar with so i fell back on one of my tried and true favorites, Blackstone Merlot. its a nice unassuming merlot with a smooth finish that is very suitable to a light meal like this despite the low price tag and the fact that its californian. i try not to hold that against it. personally, i would have opted for a chilean merlot such as casillero del diablo but hey, i’m not exactly in the land of plenty so you deal with what you get.

managed to convince Eddie to come over again and partake of this feast with me, its nice to see a reaction from someone other than myself. i tend to be more critical and notice all the failing while overlooking the successes. having an audience in the form of a guest reminds me of the reason i enjoy cooking which when it boils down to it is making people happy. with food.

3 down, 45 to go. with any luck i will actually be cooking next week. thinking of making a variation of coq au vin but my fickle may float elsewhere as the week progresses.

Feast Three – Cooking is for sissies…

May 21, 2009

…real men eat their meat raw.

this weekend, i am continuing the al fresco theme for one more feast, with any luck i am moving to permanent accommodations on tuesday and will have cooking facilities for feast four. that being said, here’s the thoughts for this weekends endeavors:

tomato and mozzarella salad with basil
beef carpaccio on a bed of greens
sliced buttered baguettes

simplicity has its place and i hope that i can find ingredients that make these dishes shine. i will be shopping this evening or tomorrow morning so more to follow after that.

Feast Two – The Results

May 17, 2009

ah, another week gone. i wish i could say that its going quickly but well, like any man in love, a moment away from my darling is a moment too long. anyway, the food:

i opted to skip the cheesecake for this meal for two reasons. first off, with other things going on during the day, i prepared this feast as a lunch repast and for me, lunch and dessert doesn’t make alot of sense. the other reason is that i am, despite my omnivorous ways and refined(?) tastes, trying to lose a few pounds during my stay here in korea so again, dessert wasn’t an option.

however, the prosciutto wrapped melon and cream cheese smoked salmon wraps turned out great. here is how i rolled it out.

prosciutto wrapped melon:

this one is fairly basic, you slice the melon and wrap prosciutto around it. share and enjoy. i added a personal touch by lightly dusting the melon with ancho chili powder and squeezing a bit of lime over before wrapping with the ham. the three factors, the chill/sweetness of the melon, the chewiness/savory flavors of the ham, and the subtle kick of the chili/lime gave the dish a bit of complexity that i really enjoyed. i also managed to share this meal with my co-prisoner Eddie (whom i know from back in the day in England) and the look on his face when he tried the melon said it all. resounding success as far as i am concerned.

prosciutto wrapped melon and cream cheese smoked salmon rolls

prosciutto wrapped melon and cream cheese smoked salmon rolls

Cream Cheese Smoked Salmon rolls:

for this course, i took a page from the sushi book and used some common flavor/texture combinations with a little liberty of my own. i used some tomato basil tortillas as the wrappers. lay the wrappers out flat and spread a generous portion of cream cheese on it, ensuring that you get some on the right hand edge (to assist with sealing the roll when you assemble). then, a few grinds of black pepper over the cream cheese. fill with smoked salmon, cucumber and slivered garlic. sprinkle a bit of chopped baby dill over and roll as you would a sushi maki. cut into four pieces and enjoy.

cream cheese smoked salmon rolls

cream cheese smoked salmon rolls

while these turned out tasty, the one failing was that smoked salmon is hard to come by here for some reason. i resorted to using boxed shelf stable smoked salmon that had a bit dense of a texture and a little too fishy of a flavor. yeah, i know, its fish, its supposed to be fishy but there has to be some subtlety or you lose the impact of all the other ingredients. my favorite part of this dish is that because of the uneven distribution of ingredients in the rolls, each bite had a different balance with different flavors shining through. some bites had larger amounts of dill, some balanced to garlic. quite nice.

well, thats 2 down, 46 to go, please post your thoughts. i am entertaining the thought of taking it outside next week if i don’t have a permanent location with cooking facilities. i have written an introduction to my opinions on grilling that will be published a few days ahead if that is the case.

more soon…

whisky experience one

May 16, 2009

ok, nothing stellar to report. there is a severe lack of availability here on the base of whisky of any quality. lots of blended stuff but that is not what i am after. at the second establishment i stopped in, they at least had a 12 yr glenlivet which can be counted as my first official scotch whisky tasting. it was nice and soft, well balance. warming to the stomach and pleasant. not as complex as i was looking for but it is my first baby step. i really should have taken up this interest while in england. i mean we traveled to scotland several times for god’s sake. but no, i wait until i am in the armpit of south korea to try to develop my palate.\

i do like a challenge i guess.

zomg pictures!!!

May 15, 2009

title says it all, i broke down and bought a cable for my camera, uploaded some pictures from the feast before the feasts and feast one. i will photograph tomorrow’s efforts as well.