Feast 44 – Decadence and Arrogance

March 23, 2010

I knew this day would come… I have been dreading it but in the back of my mind I knew it was inevitable. I’m not sure why I resisted for so long but even now, afterwards, it just seems tacky… it seems pretentious. But at the core, it’s honest at least. Yes, today is the day I open up my blog with a self aggrandizing statement. Damn, I am good at what I do and damn this meal was one of the tastiest I have ever had, much less made. Ok, there, got it out of my system.

Excessive indulgence is always a gateway to enjoyment as long as it isn’t taken to too much of an extreme. This meal was extravagant and decadent. It far outreached the necessities of an individual’s dining needs. But hey, sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered. This meal centered around a whole leg of lamb, roasted Mediterranean style on a bed of vegetables, offset by cauliflower stewed in tomatoes and spinach with chickpeas. It may not sound extravagant at first read but the divergent flavors, textures and color combinations made for a gorgeous and delicious plate of food. This truly was an amazing feast and I am extremely happy that I have leftovers to last for the next week. Well, maybe they will last, as good as the food was it may not…

All the recipes here were sourced from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food which I will go out on a limb and say is an essential volume if you enjoy food from the region. It’s diverse, well written and accessible. I think I am starting to sound like a salesman but really, you should buy it.

Leg of Lamb with Onions, Potatoes and Tomatoes: This dish proves my constant point about using good ingredients cooked in the proper manner and getting outstanding results. The preparation isn’t complicated, a bit of work followed by a bit of waiting for the roasting followed by a lot of enjoyment. Exactly my sort of thing. Throughout this meal, I made the slightly unusual substitution of red onions for all onions called for in all recipes, this is because to a last one, all yellow onions at my local store were of questionable quality. And by questionable, they were practically rotting in the bins. I have no idea how a produce manager could in good conscience leave poor produce like this out for sale but I have long ago stopped asking silly questions about military stores. Suffice it to say, I used red onions. A leg of lamb is a fairly large piece of meat to work with, probably one of the more unwieldy things I have cooked. The sheer size of this particular leg drove me to have to break it down into two pieces. I am by no means a professional butcher but I do understand a bit about the anatomy of knees so I had an advantage there. This being said, it was still a difficult process of separating the upper and lower portions of the leg to fit in my grossly inadequate pan. It took quite a bit of strategic cutting and muscle to get the job done. But done it was, two manageable pieces that would fit side by side in my cooking vessel. All this digression aside, this dish is dead simple.

Vegetables in the pan for the Lamb

Quarter two onions and spread on the bottom of a roasting pan. Add to this two large potatoes cut into chunks and three large tomatoes cut into large pieces. Take your leg of lamb, brought to room temperature, and pierce the flesh all over, inserting around 15 cloves of garlic all through the meat. Salt and pepper both sides of the lamb and place atop the vegetables. sprinkle liberally with oregano.

Leg of Lamb, ready for the oven

Roast in a preheated 325 degree oven for two and a half hours or done to your satisfaction. Use of a probe thermometer is highly encouraged. I would have but mine is in Colorado with the rest of my life so I had to made due with timing and visual inspection. The last time I made a leg of lamb I had undercooked it a bit so I opted on the other side this time and came away with a beautiful piece of meat with a crispy layer of fat on the outside, wonderfully tender and flavorful. Also, using this method, the vegetables will be slow cooked in the drippings from the lamb, outstanding!

Fresh from the Oven

Spinach with Chickpeas: I have been on a spinach kick lately, something about the vibrant green and slightly astringent flavor, yeah, it suits me just fine. This is a great method of preparation coming out mild and flavorful and quickly done in about 25 – 30 minutes from inception. I used canned chickpeas and frozen spinach but fresh of both can be used as well, just ensure you soack the fresh chickpeas overnight and thoroughly wash the fresh spinach. In a large pan, fry six cloves of chopped garlic with 1 1/2 tsps of ground coriander in a bit of oil until they get really fragrant. Drop in the spinach and put a lid on the pan, dropped the heat to medium low to give the spinach time to mix in with the spices. After the spinach has fully incorporated with the spices, stir in the chickpeas, add salt and pepper to taste, not too much and cook covered for a few more minutes. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon overtop and serve hot (or cold according to the cookbook but I would go for hot…)

Okra cooking away

Okra in Tomato Sauce: Funny story here, well funny to me at least… I had initially planned on making Okra with Garlic and Coriander which is the recipe next to this one but when I made my shopping list, I wrote down the ingredients for this recipe not the one I had originally slated. Strange, I got home and was wondering what exactly I needed a bunch of cilantro for… then I noticed that yup, transcribed the wrong ingredients to the list… improvise, adapt, overcome. I used frozen okra for this dish, whole pods, not the insipid chopped battered ones that I enjoy in a certain frame of mind… I was a bit lazy here as well and skipped the step of chopping off the stems and caps of the okra, choosing to cook them whole and unaltered. Turned out great as well… start with a large onion cut into thin slices and fry in a bit of oil until caramelized. Add four cloves of chopped garlic and fry for another few moments. Add the okra and cook, stirring often until the okra soften. Add 3 large chopped tomatoes, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt/pepper. The recipe called for 1 – 2 tsps of sugar as well but since I used red onions which have a higher sugar content to my taste, I skipped the added sugar. Cook until the tomatoes break down and a sauce forms, around 20 – 25 minutes. Stir in a small bunch of chopped cilantro, cook very briefly and serve…

Meal Plated and Ready

Well, I think I gave a glowing enough review of the results in the opening paragraph that I don’t need to flog the deceased equine.
Suffice it to say it was really, really good and I am looking forward to the leftovers… enjoy.


Feast 43 – Chorizo means love in the language of cooking

March 18, 2010

I am in love with chorizo. That is the simple honest truth. The spicy, greasy, tangy flavor gets me every time. The first memory I have of chorizo, the first time I can say that I ever tried it was the week of my marriage. My supervisor at the time invited my wife and I over for dinner and he and his wife made a lasagna with chorizo instead of Italian sausage. It was a foreign, unexpected twist that probably has some part in setting the stage for what you are reading today. And so, this week, I am making a dish to accentuate chorizo, one of my favorite ingredients. It is also helpful that the bounty I received with Eddie’s departure included a package of chorizo so I had it on hand and needed to use it up anyway…

This week, as usual, is made up of three dishes, Chorizo and Cheese Chili Rellenos, Quelites con Frijoles (Spinach and Beans) and a Cilantro and Green Cabbage Slaw. All three recipes are sourced from the excellent El Charro CafĂ© Cookbook, a wonderful collection of recipes and anecdotes from a family operated Mexican restaurant in Tuscon. I have never been there but through the pages of the book and the recipes that I have tried, I feel like their dining room would be as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans. I don’t mention cookbooks in my blog unless I feel they are worthy of attention so please, if you enjoy my style of cooking and value my opinion, get yourself a copy of the book or better yet, make a visit to Tuscon and try it first hand.

Chilis cooling on the pan

The Rellenos: Rellenos are quite versatile in that you can stuff them with just about any savory ingredient you like, change up the batter to meet your own preferences and top them with just about an compatible sauce you might think of… I went with a fairly basic interpretation here, roasted Anaheim peppers filled with a mixture of chorizo and shredded Mexican cheese, fried and topped with a sprinkling of cheese. Easy peasy and tasty. I have modified the recipe to feed just me as sad lonely greg is eating alone these days… Roast 2 anaheim peppers in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes until the skin starts to blister. Turn once during roasting. Let them cool slightly and then gently peel off the skins of the peppers, doing your best not to tear the peppers and leaving the stems intact. This is much easier if you put the peppers in a brown paper bag for 15 minutes to cool them, don’t ask me why, it just works. I didn’t have a brown paper bag so I just had to be careful. Carefully make a slit lengthwise in each pepper. Meanwhile, it a hot pan, crumble two links of chorizo, skins removed and quickly fry up to cook but not overcook the meat. Break up the meat as much as possible so that it resembles cooked ground beef with a tasty difference of course. Let the meat cool and mix with 1/2 cup of shredded Mexican cheese. Gently stuff the peppers with the chorizo and cheese mixture being careful not to overstuff the peppers as that would complicate your frying… make a batter from 2 eggs, 2 tbsps flour, a twist of salt and pepper, a drizzle of oil and copious amounts of cayenne pepper. This batter will turn out fairly thick and should coat the peppers well. It helps to pat the stuffed peppers dry with paper towels before dipping in the batter. Deep fry the chilis in hot oil until well browned, gently turning once during frying. Its critical to try to avoid the filling spilling out during the frying, I work out this problem by shallow frying the peppers so that they aren’t completely submerged, slit side up during the initial cooking and drizzling a bit of extra batter onto the top of the chili during cooking. This should soft set during the initial frying and create a barrier for when you turn them over. This may be too much work and there is probably easier methods, I don’t do enough deep frying to really claim much expertise in that area. Drain the peppers on paper towels and top with a bit of shredded cheese.

The Spinach and Beans: While on vacation in the states, I picked up some anasazi beans, primarily for their unique mottled coloration. I started the beans around 3 hours before the main meal preparation to allow them plenty of time to cook. Start simply with 2 cups of beans and 4 cups of water in a large pot. Add to this a whole head of garlic, peeled and crushed. A bit of salt, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer over medium heat for 2 1/2 hours. Sweat down a whole chopped white onion in a bit of oil until translucent. Add a package of frozen spinach and stir until the spinach incorporates into the onions. Transfer the spinach and onions into the pot with the beans and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in a 1/2 cup of half and half, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. The original recipe called for additional garlic and crumbled cheese in the beans but I skipped these, opting for a milder side dish to offset the rellenos.

Salad Arranged in Container

Cilantro and Green Cabbage Slaw: I enjoy salads that I can make by prepping all the ingredients, making a marinade and then just shaking the hell out of everything in a large tupperware to mix and coat. And believe it or not, that’s all the knowledge you need to make this dish. Make a dressing from 1/2 cup oil, the juice of one lime, 1 tbsp vinegar, 2 minced cloves of garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. Finely shred 1/2 a head of cabbage and combine with 1/4 cup of minced cilantro. Pour the dressing over the greens and shake in a covered tupperware to combine. Top with diced green onions, sliced cucumber and thinly sliced radishes. Finish off with some lime wedges and dried chili flakes. Chill for 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Meal Plated and Ready to Eat

As usual, this meal provided points and counterpoints of flavors and textures, the key components I aim for when building a meal. The sharp flavors of the chili relleno were well balanced by the creaminess of the beans and spinach. The crisp coolness of the salad were a welcome diversion from the piping hot melted cheese and chorizo. Overall, tasty and well balanced. i hope that you enjoy it as much as I did if you choose to take the time to make it…

Five meals to go…

Feast 42 – These Remains

March 11, 2010

I feel beaten down… long hours at work and poor quality of sleep are taking their toll. This post is late and I make no apologies. I feel bad about it, it has weighed on me since the cooking that I needed to get it transcribed as quickly as possible given my workload, each day weighing heavier and heavier until now, an oppressive force on my back, I will type until the monkey is dismounted.

This meal was intuitive. The thought process was fluid and natural.
This was primarily because the main course was dictate by the leavings in Eddie’s freezer which I inherited upon his departure. It made the choice easy. He left me with a large selection of food, amongst which were a number of pork chops. I don’t have much experience with pork chops, it is not an item that is normally in my rotation given my wife’s aversion to all meats excepting fish and fowl. But, I decided, there will be no waste in this process, cook and see what the result is. I decided on a traditional approach, pork chops with an apple sauce, a veggie dish and a starch, in this case potatoes. However, I’ve never been one to leave well enough alone so I had to spice it up a bit. A bit of thought and here is what I came up with: Beer braised pork chops with a habanero apple sauce, roasted curried cauliflower and gorgonzola potato skins. Tasty just reading it, I’m sure you will agree…

Ingredients in the pan for apple sauce

The Apple Sauce: As you probably have gathered if you follow my blog in the least, I enjoy dishes that involve a bit of preparation followed by unattended cooking to reduce down or fully cook the ingredient. I like the manual labor of slicing and dicing and setting everything up but I also like the leisure involved in slow cooking with the occasional stir and letting flavors develop. Apple Sauce is like that. I peeled and cored three Braeburn apples and then cubed them into 1 inch pieces.
Drop these into a saucepan that you have a lid for followed by the zest of one lemon, one habanero sliced into extremely thin threads, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 a cup of water. Bring to a boil, stirring to combine well. After the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, add a dash or two of cinnamon and let simmer until it reaches a nice consistency. You know, like the consistency of apple sauce… that’s what I would call nice considering that yes, this is an applesauce.

Pork Chops simmering in the Beer

The Pork Chops: Another simple dish without too many moving parts, quite to my taste… take two pork chops and ensure that they are dried well. Salt and pepper both sides, pressing the spices into the meat with the palm of your hand. Sear both sides in a hot pan with a bit of oil. Once both sides are nicely seared, pour 1/2 a bottle of good beer overtop (I used sam adams noble pils because first, it was what I had and second, it’s a damned good beer). Reduce heat and let cook away until the beer has reduced to almost nothing, about 25 minutes. Serve with a nice dollop of applesauce on top.

The potatoes: This was a dish that was born from pure inspiration, there’s nothing to it really, its just a modified baked potato but the gorgonzola makes it quite attractive with a flavor bite that will make you beg for more. Bake a potato at 400 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes until the skin starts to wrinkle and the potato is pliant to the touch.
Remove the potato from the oven and let slightly cool. Slice the top and bottom third of the potato away and discard the center (well, my discard, I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and ate it. How you get rid of trimmings in your kitchen is your business). Give the two potato skins a generous twist of salt and pepper and pile on some crumbled gorgonzola. Run this under your broiler for about 5 minutes until the cheese melts and gets just a hint of brown. add on some chopped green onions and serve immediately. Make extra, you will want them.

Cauliflower tossed with spices

The Roasted Curried Caulifower: This is the only dish that
I used a recipe for this week and it is remarkably similar to the curried cauliflower that I normally make on the stove top when I make Indian food for the family. However, I think I enjoyed the flavor and texture of this method even more so I will probably add it to my standard rotation. It turns out quite nice. I followed this recipe fairly faithfully but added cayenne pepper to the sauce along with the other ground spices because I do like it a little spicier. I’m going to skip the retyping of the recipe, please follow the link to epicurious for the run down. It is definitely worth the time to click through…

Meal plated and ready

This meal is best served with a lager or pils in my opinion and luckily, I had another Sam Adams Noble Pils on hand and it certainly worked. Two more things that I learned this week is that a meal like this definitely sets you up for enjoying a bit of butter pecan ice cream while sitting on the couch and that leftover gorgonzola and proscuitto makes one hell of a sandwich.

Next week, which is sooner that later due to the delay in posting this, I intend on making chorizo and cheese rellenos, spinach and anasazi beans and a cilantro and green cabbage slaw. Check it out, it should be tasty.

Feast 41 – Bittersweet Symphony/Soup and Sandwich

February 28, 2010

The impetus of this meal is friendship. I do a lot of thinking about the past, the present, the future. I can’t help it, I tend to be overly analytical and introspective, pretty much all the time. Sometimes it drives me to distraction. This meal has been weighing on my mind and somehow the timing of its cathartic creation worked out perfectly. The story continues…

I met my very dear friend Cath in Japan, shortly before meeting my wife. We bonded extremely well and became very good friends fairly quickly. Cath and I were having dinner together the night I met my wife. She was there when I had my first “date” if you want to call a night with me DJing and everyone else drinking and dancing a “date”. These were very formative times and her friendship was and still is extremely important to me. we don’t talk often but each of us know that when we need the other, we can reach out and we’ll be there. That’s the soul of a long term friendship in my opinion, knowing that the other person will be there for you.

Kinda deep for a cooking blog I know but I am eventually getting to the point about food. These early days in Japan, I was not exactly a gourmet. I could get around a kitchen and had a knack for food so I still by default was the one who cooked when no one else cared to… while in Japan, there were circumstances that brought Cath to live with my wife and I for a few months. She became a part of the family, along with a seemingly endless rotating cast of friends who wandered through. We quite often would go out on the town together and drink the night away, wandering aimlessly or more often than not landing in a bar called The Globe, owned by our Welsh friend Neil. Good times.

Often, after the stumble home to our blue beacon of hope (a lamp with a blue bulb that was visible through our front window), I would make grilled cheese for everyone. If there is a more perfect post-partying food that is so quick to make, I’d like to see it… they were simple affairs on white bread, cheese and seasoned pepper, grilled and served. A very welcome comfort food that never fails to remind me of those wonderful early years…

And so, years later, in a more developed fashion, I have decided to make a grilled cheese, dedicate to Cath.

But the story doesn’t end there… Balance has been upset here in Korea. I find it ironic that my life here has altered so much coincidentally on the same weekend that I had planned on making a meal based in friendship. You see, my dear friend and co-conspirator on the Feasts, Eddie, has had a family emergency and was unexpectedly flown back to the states, never to return. I have grown so accustomed to cooking for two, bouncing the ideas off of him, judging his reactions and then more often than not, swinging out for a few beers and some games of pool after that I am at a loss on how to continue. My first thought is of course for the health and welfare of Eddie and his family. I am glad he has escaped this trap and thankful he is able to address the issues that are impacting his family instead of being stuck here while it all happens a world away. But at the same time, I can say that I will really miss his presence, his companionship and contributions to the feasts. I mean, I had to buy my own beer this week! What the hell is that all about! 🙂

Ok, enough of the rambling. True as it all is, it focuses more on the why of the meal than the how and the how is what the blog is for. This week, I had originally slated three courses as usual, a tarted up grilled cheese (Croque Monsieur), a Roasted Tomato Soup and a Spiced Carrot Salad. Follow the link for the spiced carrots, I chose not to go with them given the audience of one… it looks like a tasty enough dish but soup and sandwich is quite enough for me on my own this week.

Tomatoes Roasted for the soup

The Roasted Tomato Soup: I followed the recipe for this fairly closely but I did increase the garlic to 6 cloves and used about half of the chicken broth that was called for. I wanted the soup to be thicker, more of an almost chunky vegetable soup than the traditional view of an almost broth-like tomato soup. For a soup as tasty as this, it was extremely easy to make. I sliced my tomatoes in half, placing them in a large baking dish, cut side up. A few twists of salt and pepper and a spritz or so from my olive oil spray bottle, about 70 minutes in a 400 degree oven and that the most work you have to do. Towards the end of the broiling time, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pot and brown 6 chopped cloves of garlic. When the garlic starts to caramelize, add in dried rosemary and thyme, just over a tsp of each. Add to this a bit of crushed red pepper and your broiled tomatoes. Hit that with the immersion blender to get it nice and chunky and add in two cans of chicken broth. Cover and let it cook down for about 25 minutes. Serve hot sprinkled with fresh basil (unless you are in a crappy place where the store doesn’t stock fresh basil all the time in which case you make due with dried basil. No, I’m not bitter about it.)

Sandwich, pre-topping and broiler

The Croque Monsieur: Ok, it’s a grilled ham and cheese topped with bĂ©chamel and cheese then passed under a broiler for a few minutes. If all that is clear to you, stop reading and go make yourself one. Otherwise, melt a knob of butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, add in 2 tbsps of all purpose flour. Stir together and let the flour brown a bit over the heat. Add to this about 3/4 cup of milk, stirring well to combine. Add flour or milk base on if the sauce is too thin or thick for you. It will thicken a bit during the cooking so don’t get too heavy handed with the flour. Add a bit of nutmeg and, in my case, some salt and white pepper. The original recipe called for a bay leaf and that would be good as well but my personal tastes on this particular evening called out for a bĂ©chamel with white pepper. Who can explain the universe and it’s mysterious ways?

I take my half out of the middle!

Build a grilled cheese with thinly sliced sourdough bread and thin layers of gruyere and black forest ham. I did a layer of cheese, then ham, then cheese, then ham and finally cheese. I also ground some salt and pepper on the middle layer of the sandwich for good measure.

First Layers of ham and cheese

Thin layers and not too much inside the sandwich is the key to getting it heated all the way through before the outer surface of the bread is too “well done”. Brush with melted butter and grill in a hot pan until nicely browned on both sides. Transfer to a baking dish, top with bĂ©chamel and grated gruyere and broil for about 3 minutes until the cheese browns and starts to bubble. Serve immediately with the soup. You will need a knife and fork to eat this sandwich and it will be damned tasty.

Plated (and bowled), ready to eat

This meal turned out good, especially alongside the Sam Adams seasonal, Noble Pils which is a damned fine beer. I’ve tried a great number of beers in my time but this one was love at first sip. Try it as soon as you can and mourn the fact that it is only available for a limited time during the early spring. The key ingredient missing from this meal should be obvious. There is not a dish in this world that doesn’t improve in the company of good friends.

Good luck Eddie and keep cooking.

Feast 40 – Crock Pot Osso Buco

February 22, 2010

This meal was what cooking on a Sunday is all about. No one step was all that demanding, each part calling for about 15 – 20 minutes of concentrated effort with a few hours relaxation and slow cookery in between. I am basically in favor of this sort of thing, Sundays are meant for relaxation. With the end result being as good as this, it would be difficult to argue against it.

That being said, this week’s feast consisted of three courses as per my usual bias, Osso Buco with a mushroom sauce, modified to be slow cooked in a crock pot, Fried Polenta topped with a tomato-onion salsa and Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto. Nothing wrong at all with that from where I sit.

Beef Shanks seasoned for the cooking

The Osso Buco: This traditional dish made from veal shanks has been on my mind for quite some time. I had seen it prepared on cooking shows, read about it in cookbooks and magazines, practically dreamt about it…
of course, me being in korea with a limited grocery, I was unable to get veal shanks… beef shanks, beautiful cuts of meat, yes, veal no…
part of me wonders if this is yet another bowing to political correctness, the world veal being identified as an outmoded cruelty to animals, lumped in with fois gras and other tasty, tasty things of that nature. No matter, the last ten months has taught me to not linger, move onward, cook with what I get my hands on.

Onion and Celery browning

I started the meal around six and a half hours before planning to eat, quick 15 minute cooking interlude that consisted of sweating down a thinly sliced yellow onion and two thin sliced ribs of celery in a 50/50 olive oil and butter mixture. Once this starts to brown, transfer into your crock pot. Pat down your shanks and heavily salt and pepper. Place these on top of the onion mixture and turn the crock pot on high. Kick back and enjoy the next four hours of your life. At this point, four hours later, sweat down a mixture of oyster and white mushrooms, both thickly sliced in another pan with a 50/50 mixture of butter and olive oil. Generously salt and pepper and add a bit of dried thyme. Cook these down until the mushrooms start giving off their liquid. Add in 1/2 a cup of white wine (chardonnay in my case) and the juice of half a lemon. Cook this down til most of the liquid evaporates. Turn heat to low and let simmer.
About 15 minutes before time to serve, ladle out a few large spoonfuls of the onion/celery/beef broth reduction from the shanks in the crock pot. Hit this with your immersion blender to liquefy. Pour this into the mushroom mixture and increase the heat to medium to reduce a bit more. Plate the meat and spoon over some mushroom sauce. Serve and enjoy.

Fried Polenta: Reviews for this recipe pointed to it being a bit bland and anyone who knows me probably realizes that bland is not in my culinary vocabulary. Because of this, I substituted parmesan cheese for the edam that the original asked for and also added in three tablespoons of red pepper flakes with the dry ingredients. This definitely perked it up a bit. Also, the original recipe called for this to be topped with a bit of fresh parsley to serve, I upped the ante on that by making a quick tomato salsa with a chopped tomato, 1/2 a chopped red onion, 4 cloves of minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and a generous twist of salt and pepper. Definitely nice. For the fritters themselves, around the time you start the mushroom sauce for the osso buco, bring two cups of milk to a boil. Stir in 1 1/2 cups corn meal, 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar and a twist of salt or two.
Stir to combine well. I found the mixture to be a little thick so I ended up adding a bit of water to make it more manageable. Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese. Spoon into a lightly oiled pan, making a layer about 1/2 an inch thick. Chill until completely cooled in the refrigerator. Slices the chilled polenta into small rectangles and fry in hot oil, about 5 minutes per side until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve with the aforementioned tomato salsa.

Grilled Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto: This is the simplest, tastiest, most wonderful way of enjoying asparagus. It’s also dead simple. About 15 minutes before you want to eat, trim off the woody ends of your fresh asparagus spears and toss them in a bit of olive oil.
Salt and pepper the spears and then wrap tightly with a slice of prosciutto per spear. Run it under the broiler for about 3 minutes per side until the ham starts to blister and turn brown. Serve immediately.

Meal plated and ready to eat

This was another meal that felt heavenly in its decadence. The rich savory mushroom sauce over the nicely tenderized beef shanks was a sure hit. The contrast of the hot and crispy polenta with the chilled tomato mixture made for a great eating experience. Words fail me when I even consider describing the beauty of the asparagus. Slightly sweet, salty and tasty. Everyone should try it. Now. Stop reading and go to the store, get what you need to make them. Now.

The meal was capped off with a passable bottle of bella sera merlot, not bad, very drinkable as evidenced by the empty bottle on my counter.

It’s hard to believe I have only 8 meals left in this project. It’s a relief, it seems like I have been doing this forever, not the 13 months since my first post. It is the highlight of my week, the planning, the preparation, the consumption. It will continue in some form or another, hopefully more developed into a family project with my favorite sous chef helping me with side dishes and other prep work.

Feast 39 – The Meal that almost wasn’t

February 16, 2010

Sometimes, it feels like forces are just aligning against me. this weekend has been one of the most challenging I have had since getting to korea and certainly put doubts on completion of my weekly feast. The misfortune started on Thursday. As per my usual, I was browsing around on the internet, trying to decide exactly what I was going to cook on Sunday. I usually get a rough idea on Thursday and then by Friday afternoon, make a final decision and do the shopping. Well, this particular Thursday, there was a bit of snow coming down. The roads had been declared as dangerous here on the base and an announcement was made that all vehicles would be restricted starting at noon. This was at 11:30. With the forecast calling for continuing snow, there was a very real possibility that the base would be shut down and the grocery store closed. With this in mind, I found it necessary to make a snap decision and quickly rush to the store to shop for the meal. This in itself wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, I do prefer to have a bit more premeditation but I had been browsing a recipe from the January issue of Bon Appetit for a spicy meatball sandwich that seemed to fit the bill.
I hadn’t came up with sides by this point, I figured I would work it out on the fly. So, rush to the store, rush through the aisles, buy the ingredients for the sandwiches, add in a few nice sized potatoes (you can do so many things with potatoes) and on a sudden whim, four large artichokes. I’ve never cooked a fresh artichoke, why not…

Well, panic was for nothing, the snow let up and nothing was closed at all. All that rush for nothing. However, as stated in my previous post, Saturday morning I had a catastrophic computer failure. Not a show stopper for cooking but I do use the internet for browsing recipes and eventually for making posts such as the one you are now reading.
Add another brick to my wall of frustration. Five or six panicked hours later, I am up and running with some semblance of normalcy. I’ve lost all my data, my itunes library, the last 8 weeks of feasts photos and a couple of very nice photos of my wife (wink wink nudge nudge, say no more)… but fine, on track for Sunday cookery as normal.

Sunday rolls around. I have a lazy morning, a nice breakfast, an extra cup of coffee. I like to relax on Sundays but I think that goes for just about everyone. So, around noon, what should happen? Oh, yes, the electricity goes out. And remains out for the next four hours or so.
This, above all, has put a damper on my cookery. Luckily, this being a holiday weekend, I fall back on cooking on Monday. Improvise, adapt, overcome. Instead I spend Sunday searching for the bottom of a few white Russians and more than a few cheap beers. Entirely too many more to be exact. So, Monday morning comes as it usually does after Sunday night and I find myself wondering if I can even bear the thought of food much less the preparation of a nice meal. Long story slightly less long, I found the fortitude to go on and despite these challenges, prepared a mostly decent meal.

Three courses, the aforementioned Meatball Sandwiches, Twice baked potatoes and oven roasted artichokes.

Meatballs in my slightly overcrowded pan

Spicy Meatball Sandwiches (more accurately Pork Meatball Banh Mi, linked here on epicurious. oddly enough, the one problem I had with
ingredients for this meal was the daikon root. Imagine that, an asian ingredient that I couldn’t get my hands on even though I am in asia.
There are a multitude of sources for them off base but see the previous comments re: snow and realize that I was not driving anywhere. Besides, there was beer to drink. Aside from that lapse which I filled by plussing up the carrot content, the only real modifications to the recipe as originally designed was an increase in the amount of chili sauce in both the mayo and the meatballs themselves. I did increase the garlic in the meatballs to 7 cloves but I think anyone who knows me probably already knew that. I do wish that I would have taken the time to bake my own baguettes for this as the bakery at the commissary here is passable at best. These weren’t bad but they weren’t great either.

Twice bakes potatoes

Twice baked potatoes: my wife called me out for cheating on this one.
It’s true, this is something I could make blindfolded as I have been making it pretty much my entire adult life. It was one of the mainstays of my early attempts at treating my wife right, twice baked potatoes, shark steak and steamed broccoli being a fairly routine example of my menus for her. Take two large-ish potatoes, prick them with a fork and bake at 375 for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, slice off the tops (which are great snacks with a twist of salt, pepper and a sprinkle of
cheese) and carefully scoop out the cooked potato, leaving the wall of the baked potato intact. Mix the cooked potato with 2 tbsp butter, salt, pepper, a bit of cheddar cheese and two strips of crumbled cooked bacon. Refill the potatoes and pop into a hot oven for about 15 minutes to get them nice and browned on top. Serve and enjoy.

Artichokes in the pan

Artichokes: my goodness, I am so thankful at this point that these come in cans and jars. This has got to be the most difficult ingredient I have ever worked with, waaaay too much work and effort for the payoff.
I sliced these in half, drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano and baked in a 375 degree oven for about an hour. The hearts did attain a nice flavorful texture but there is so much peeling back of layers and discarding of the woody outer leaves that I seriously don’t believe it was worth the effort. I am determined to learn more about these as the taste was amazing, there just has to be something I need to do differently. Expect artichokes to make another appearance soon, possibly in the form of Poached Eggs
on Artichoke Bottoms with White Truffle Cream and Mushrooms
. if that’s not decadence, I’m not sure what is.

Meal Plated and ready for consumption

I feel a pressure with the impending end of the project to ensure I give it my all, I’ve said this before but I really want to make sure sufficient planning and care is given to my endeavors. I believe I may begin planning on Wednesday to prevent the frantic efforts of last week.

Tragedy (for me)

February 13, 2010

computer crashed around 2am, lost my primary hard drive. all my music, photos of the last eight weeks of feasts, my vacation photos, gone… not terribly happy right not. bought a new drive and am working to get all my apps back installed and configured just so. i believe it is time to take a break from the computer and consume an uncertain amount of cheap beer.