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Saturday, January 24, 2009

On snobbery

Today's post is on wine (I'm going to write about wine because Dr. Ricky is off in Outer Mongolia, playing beach volleyball, and he can't stop me until he gets back). Oh, and I'm going to write about snobbery. I'm an intolerable food snob. It's true. I won't eat pasteurized processed cheese products. I can't stand corn beers (like Budweiser). Most of my friends are aware of my snobishness (and tease me about it). But I surprised myself today...

The mini-McBardo and I ran errands today. We hit our neighborhood butcher, picking up another brisket, some chicken (that we grilled tonight, YUM!), some ground kangaroo meat that I hope to post about next weekend, and several pork bellies. Then we went to Costco for the regular stuff - laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent and... in California, Costco carries wine. It's very odd to see it sandwiched between the garbage bags and the butcher's department (as a further digression, Costco often has great meat, priced very well). I often buy wine at Costco, and we've done quite well with our choices. But today, they had something new that I had never seen before... Kirkland brand wine. Kirkland is the "generic" Costco brand. We use their plastic wrap and garbage bags, but I never would have imagined a Kirkland brand wine...

A miniature battle played out in my head... does the snob win? or the guy who likes to save money? Today, with the economy in shambles, the money-saver won. I bought a bottle of Kirkland Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. $12. Costco says:
Kirkland Signature Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is impeccably balanced and graceful with layered aromas of blackberry and plum followed by complex flavors of dark fruit, cherry and cocoa. The combination fill the palate with sweet, toasty notes and present and a full bodied example of Cabernet Sauvignon which is crafted to be a structured fruit forward wine with rich body.
We opened it tonight. It's pretty good. Not discernibly oaked, multiple interesting flavours in it and a nice finish, we'll buy it again. With another label in another state, this would be a $17 - $18 wine (right around our cutoff). Colour me surprised.

But this begs the question, of course, can you serve Kirkland brand wine to guests?

Friday, January 23, 2009

More bacon

I seduced the Mrs. McBardo with bacon some number of years ago now. (I'm not sure if seduction is within the purvey of this blog, but what the hell, Dr. Ricky is playing beach volleyball in the Peruvian Andes, and can't stop me). Mrs. McBardo's favourite dish that I make is a bacon salad. It's quite yummy, and adapted as a less precise version of this recipe from Gourmet magazine. It's even better when the bacon is homemade bacon.


frisee lettuce (or endive)
red wine vinegar

It's quite simple. Chop up the bacon into small lardons, which can be fried until they're crunchy on the outside, yet slightly chewey inside. Fish out the lardons, sprinkle them on a bowl full of lettuce, and fry the chopped shallots in the bacon grease. When they're soft, translucent and smell delightful, deglaze the pan with red wine vinegar. This part should only take about 30 seconds. And watch out for your face, because if you get a face full of boiling vinegar vapours, you'll feel like you've been punched in the nose. Literally. I'm speaking from experience here. It's quite unpleasant.

The only tricky part to this salad is that while you're making the deglazed salad dressing, you're also poaching one egg/salad. You'll place the lightly poached egg on top of the bacony lettuce, and then drizzle the deglazed bacon grease-shallot-vinegar mixture over the salad. Sprinkle on a bit of salt (I use fleur de sel, but kosher salt will also do).

Serve immediately. The egg, when broken, should ooze yolk over the salad, which adds further richness to the dressing. This is utter decadence. Bacon grease salad dressing will stop your heart, but it's *really* tasty.

Make some tonight. And if you're single, make it for the woman of your dreams, and you'll win her heart forever.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Makin' bacon

Dr. Ricky has graciously offered me the opportunity to blog here while he's off playing volleyball in outer Uzbekistan. I'll try not to damage anything while I'm here.

While Dr. Ricky visited us here in California, we made bacon. Oh yes, bacon. This was my second time creating bacon from Michael Ruhlman's book, Charcuterie. Previously, I made the basic bacon (Dr. Ricky and I used the first batch in soup discussed here):

1 lb kosher salt
13 oz dextrose
3 oz pink salt (salt + sodium nitrite)

Take 1/4 cup of that nice dry cure, and rub it all over a pork belly. Cure it for 1 week in the fridge (in a ziploc bag). It'll dry out, and a fair amount of liquid will accumulate in the bag. At the end of the week, the pork belly will become firm to the touch. Wash it off, and put it on your smoker. Smoke for several hours (takes about 3) at 150-200F, until the pork belly gets to 150F internal temperature. Then chill in fridge, and slice off thinly.

I screwed up the first batch of bacon. It was still yummy, but I forgot to peel of the rind. You're supposed to peel it off while the bacon is still hot, otherwise when you slice it, each slice of bacon will have a thin piece of skin on it.

So, the first batch was yummy, but I thought I could do better. Dr. Ricky and I tried something new with the second batch - we each made our own bacon. Dr. Ricky made the savory bacon - with garlic, bay leaves and pepper, and I made the sweet bacon, with added maple sugar. Cure as normal, and smoke as normal.

So, how did they taste? The savory bacon was fantastic. All kinds of rich flavours in there that weren't in the previous bacon. What can I say, I love garlic. The maple bacon was... disappointing. It was still better than an average grocery store bacon, but there was no discernible maple flavour. Just bacony, porkish goodness.

Re-reading, I realize that even the maple bacon was fantastic. And easy. If you have a smoker, there's no longer a reason to purchase bacon. Homemade is sooooo much better. And cheaper. And really, not that hard. The most challenging part is slicing the bacon thin enough (I confess, I now have meat slicer envy. Mrs. McBardo isn't super excited that I'm lusting after meat slicers now, but that's another post, for another day).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sous blogger

In the short while that I have since I started this blog, I think there is a steady audience that reads it. Thank you all of you for reading. I am about to take a short break away from the grid, and be amongst the meatspace for a little while. Not to worry, I'll be gathering information to blog about.

In the meantime, I'll leave the blog in the capable hands of the patriarch of the great Western Casa McBardo, he of the Bacon Conquest, as guest blogger. Thanks, greglor, and have fun.

Funny tale of crossed cultures

I was at dinner last night with some friends in a Chinese restaurant. One of whom looked at the listing of Beijing style steamed buns, and said,

"I've had those before. They're like the ones in the Vietnamese restaurants, right?"

I looked at her quizzically, and she explained that she was expecting a bowl of vermicelli.

To which I explained that no, this is a Chinese restaurant, and when they said bun, they meant bread (Incidentally, the Vietnamese bún is pronounced with a long U sound - "boon").

Monday, January 19, 2009

Leguminous variety

What exactly is the point of the multiple bean soups? You've seen these mixtures on the shelf - 7-bean soup, 9-bean soup, 13-bean soup - it is like a bizarre game of upmanship. I did the experiment of plugging in increasing numbers into a Google search, and only petered out after 21-bean mixtures (oddly enough, I had a problem finding 20-bean soups, but 21, sure thing). Of course, when I read the ingredients there, I am at loss to find exactly which 21 kinds of beans went into the mix. I am not really certain how one is able to distinguish between the different beans in such a mixture. How much of a difference can there be between a 13 bean and 15 bean soup? The more beans there are, they more similar they will be, right?

What this really says, though, is that each bean type is interchangeable with any other in such a soup. An attitude, I fear, that disrespects the true potential of the ingredients. After all, the amount of cooking a dried black bean that will bring it to tender palatibility will convert a lentil into mush.

The proper thing to do, of course, is to cook each type separately before mixing to get a true melange of flavors and textures - but who is going to have seven pots of beans cooking to track them all?

Pictured is my version - a four bean stew...except all four are the same bean. Just in four different forms. I used green edamame, silken tofu, fermented soy paste, and soy sauce to make this spicy stew with mushrooms and Sichuan peppercorns. Essentially, I did a ma-po tofu recipe, substituting mushrooms for the meat, and bolstering with edamame.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stock your pantry

I'm not sure if it is at all the HEB locations, but the mega-HEB on Bunker Hill and I-10 is offering a heck of a deal - buy a bag of frozen meatballs (which are pretty good, actually, I've had them before) for around $8, and get a bag of pasta, a can of pasta sauce, a couple of loaves of bread, and a bottle of soda for free. The soda is worthless to me - I'm trying to dispose of it - but all told, it wasn't a bad price for versatile freezer and pantry ingredients for many things to come.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Maybe is the cold weather, but meat is so much in the news. For example, I like listening to KCRW's Good Food podcast out of Los Angeles (we need a food podcast out of Houston), and their blog posted this totally charming picture posting of cleaning pig trotters. It credits Jon Shook of the restaurant Animal, which I suspect has some cognate cuisine to the local Feast restaurant. Not that I have ever eaten at Feast - I tend to get my roasted pig from Viet Hoa on Bellaire.

And then there is the bizarre competition for commercially viable in vitro meat, bankrolled by PETA no less. The logic behind tissue cultured meat is a little flawed, though, in case you didn't know, to grow tissue in vats, it requires supplementary compounds and growth factors best provided by...well, serum. In other words, in order to grow meat in culture, you have to sacrifice a few other animals. Granted, they'll come in either a powder or a liquid form neat and tidy, looking no more like an animal than a box of Jell-O (which is, in case you didn't know, a product of boiling down dead animals).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dining at Daniel Wong's

Recently, I ate at a Houston institution, Daniel Wong's Kitchen (the website is wonderfully and woefully sparse). We were there for a special occasion, and chose it as a safe place for people who are a bit averse to "authenticity". Most reviews of the place are quite old, dating back as old as five years ago (12 years ago, even), but somehow, I think they hold their place.

The usual telltale warning signs are there. Not one ethnically Asian client walked in the door outside of our party. The menu was blissfully clear of calligraphy, and was in well written English. Tables were set with forks and tea cups had handles. Chopsticks are provided only on request, and begrudgingly at that.

This place reminded me of the "Chinese" restaurants targeted at Jewish clientele when I used to live to New York City. Touted as one of the best restaurants in NYC, I was invited along for a celebratory meal, and was (quietly) disturbed by the westernization of the food. The prices were outrageous, the serving sizes miniscule, flavoring was tepid, and they served sugar with the tea, and rice in dainty little servings (with a separate cost). And my hosts were impressed and in awe of the exotic nature of the meal. I bit my tongue hard, and blatantly lied about my opinion of the meal.

Daniel Wong, however, proves that gwailo Chinese food doesn't have to be bad. The trademark Road Kill Pork, I found, is nothing more than char sui pork sauteed with garlic. But it was good char sui. Not overly sweet, and an appropriate appetizer (my inner quest for authenticity was clamoring for jellyfish and pi dan eggs, but I resolved to keep an open mind about the meal). All in all, the food was in general quite good. Yes, no knock your socks off impressive stuff, but really, you can tell that care was given to the choice of ingredients and the overall flavor of each dish. Vegetables weren't incinerated or mushed down as per Western norms, rather kept crisp and fresh. The Rio Grand Valley beef was very good, not only with the introduction of fresh oranges, but the beef itself was good quality, tender, and flavorful. Serving sizes were generous, and the service was fast. We never got around to trying any of the turkey dishes, which is innovative for a Chinese cuisine restaurant, but it does lead to my only major complaint about the meal. The insistence on using chicken breast meat for all the dishes results in some unrealized potential. Not that white meat isn't acceptable, the more succulent dark meat just holds up better with some of the dishes.

I can tell that a bunch of regulars frequent this place, and I can understand the appeal. The staff obviously know their regulars, and greet all as if they were guests to their home. Which is probably the case.

As if on cue

By way of Slashfood, an article about racoon as the next meat source.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dining on creatures

Last night, I was musing over the term vegetarian. Being allergic to crustaceans, my usual strategy when I am in a country where I am not familiar with the language is to order the vegetarian meal as a safe option. In Germany, though, this strategy backfired as I was presented with a platter of pasta covered in shrimp. I think the problem comes down to whether your understanding of vegetarianism is one of inclusion or exclusion. The German (Continental European?) view of vegetarianism is a practice of not eating meat (specifically, land meat, I guess), and so, anything else is fair game. But really, perhaps it is a little easier if we make our definitions around what is included rather than what is not.

Of course, scientifically, the categorization is artificial and a matter of human convenience. We see what we eat as either animal or vegetable, when in fact, on the great tree of life, these are fuzzy definitions cornering very tiny twigs in the biodiversity of the planet. The vast majority of categorizable life is not even multicellular, and feeds the largest creatures of the planet. For example, many vegans will conveniently consume mushrooms even though, biologically speaking, they are more closely related to animals than plants. That's not even bringing in the issue of horizontal gene transfer in the form of transgenic foods, where, for example, an antifreeze gene from a fish is transferred to tomatoes for frost resistance makes is somehow no longer a vegetable. Of course, tomatoes were never vegetables in the first place, they're fruits :).

Even those of us who consume animals are primarily focused on vertebrates, when most animals are invertebrates. The patriarch of the Western Casa McBardo has made it his New Year's resolution to consume as many different creatures as possible this coming year - we rang the year in with chicken, pork, beef, buffalo, and duck. No doubt elk, deer and rabbit will make it to the plate soon enough. Here are a list of "off the beaten path" animals that I know some precedent in being eaten, and thus, are suggestions:
  • frog (and more rarely, tadpoles - the Ifugao eat those raw, but they are so starved for protein these are cherished as a delicacy).
  • guinea pigs, or cuy as they are known in Ecuador
  • bats, stir fried and spicy in Thai cuisine
  • snakes (I've had snake - it isn't anything to write home about)
  • alligator - easily procured
  • eel - also easy to procure
  • hagfish (a bit more difficult, although a great deal of this slimy jawless fish are harvested here in the US and shipped to Korea for consumption)
  • peccary or javelina - relatives to the pig, these are supposedly tasty
  • ostrich
  • kangaroo
  • whale
  • seal
  • yak (well, yak butter at least. There's a sherpa run restaurant in Boulder, CO which may serve this. In tea. Really, that's traditional Tibetan food.)
  • ptarmigan - I hear this tastes awful.
  • horse, dog and cat - I suspect we usually draw the line there, but infamy dictates :). The limitations are usually about taboo rather than availability.
Hmm, that list is looking really heavy on the vertebrates. Let's diversify:
  • sea cucumber
  • jellyfish
  • abalone
  • sea urchin
  • sago worms
  • there is the whole field of entomophagy which promotes the eating of insects. Which, if you think about it, are just really tiny lobsters :). The definition does get a little blurry when they include eating spiders and scorpions, which aren't insects.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

While we're on the subject

Recently, I've been reading about how people are shopping at Ikea for food as a way to conserve money. If you're not familiar with it, Ikea is really a furniture store. I'll admit, I like getting stuff from there for cookware and kitchen items. Most items are relatively inexpensive and practical, albeit not really meant to be passed from generation to generation.

Being a Sweden-based company, Ikea food has become sort of a stereotype for Swedish food, starting with the famous Swedish meatballs that are served in most Ikea cafeterias. And they sell prepackaged frozen meatballs and lingonberry preserves, too (well, the local Houston store has a food section just before leaving the store for getting these Swedish goodies). Personally, I don''t know of any other source for elderflower drinks, or the ever nummy Punschroll.

And then there's my latest discovery - they sell pretty good tea. There are only two teas, they're both black, organic, and flavored, and at $2.49 for 100g, quite inexpensive. While this will not compete in subtlety and complexity to a fine Ti Kwan Yin, these are perfectly serviceable loose leaf black teas, superior to the generic teabag brands in most supermarket shelves. The flavoring takes away from the versatility of a tea, but it'll do very nicely for most things. Specially for the price.

Monday, January 12, 2009


One of the few times we actually went out to eat in San Diego while visiting the Western Casa McBardo was at the Stone Brewing Company (the website strangely enough needs age validation). A brewery with a family friendly restaurant which has regular growler refills - it's a very interesting place. The food was pretty good, if a bit of a safe bet. But there was one aspect which bothered me a great deal. And that is that they served us tea from a French press.

First of all, tea can't be treated like coffee. By pressing down on the leaves, the waiter extracted the bitter compounds from the leaves, thus making the initial pour all right, but subsequent pours undrinkable. And what's worse is that this is a press that had been used to make coffee before. The carryover contamination is unmistakable. And distasteful for people (like me) who don't like coffee.

(Tangent: Coffee carryover is notoriously difficult to get rid from from just about any vessel. I knew right away at work when someone used my mug for coffee because it smells of coffee even after many significant washings. Coffee drinkers, however, can't seem to detect this carryover, which leads me to suspect that coffee deadens some olfactory and taste receptors. )

I do think that this is just symptomatic of cultural false dichotomies. Many French chefs will automatically prepare eggs for someone who is vegetarian, because that is the obvious alternative to meat. If you don't like wine, of course you must be drinking beer. And if you don't like coffee, you must be having tea.

Problem is, places like Stone, which is a nice establishment, don't get me wrong, don't understand or respect tea as an ingredient in its own right, and requires treatment of its own. Like in many stores, tea is lumped in as the poor deprived cousin to coffee, languishing in the aisles as cheap tea bags are sold next to gourmet whole beans complete with presses and espresso makers. Tea in and of itself carries a history of optimized preparation; not that one should expect a Japanese Tea Ceremony every time, mind you.

I'll bet that if customers complained about a bad capuccino, management will readily do it over, but bad tea is a shrug, sorry that's the best we can do problem.

Never mind the Starbucks attempt at tea "lattes".

Incidentally, I've been to three teahouses in Houston: Te House of Tea, Path of Tea and Serenitea. It's high time I repaid a visit to the the last one.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Food on the tube

I remember when I first got the Food Network on my cable TV lineup. I seemed to keep it on all the time. It was the default channel, I would leave it on that no matter what time of day I happen to turn the TV on. It was entertaining, educational and delectable. Show after show of incredibly educational people who cooked onscreen. Iron Chef, despite being a spectacle imported from Japan, was nonetheless equally entertaining and bizarre. And stupendously educational - aside from learning about the predilections of cuisines through the Japanese lens, I got a crash lesson in Japanese words.

Fast forward to present day. Food Network has taken the MTV approach. The majority of the shows focus on spectacle, and eating - but so little on food any more. The downfall of Food Network (like the enshrining of Sandra Lee) is written about with better prose than mine by veterans like Anthony Bourdain.

Fortunately about today, we have the internet. I personally haven't regularly watched live television in a long time. Content is being provided free by studios, and more importantly, the borders of country fall away on the internet. I am free to seek out food related programming away from the meager offerings of Food Network.

Others are already liveblogging the "reality" competition show Top Chef, and running funny snarky commentaries about it. Well, I figure I'd look at some other less mainstream (to Americans) shows.

One of my new favorites is from Australia: Food Safari. This one is a delight to watch. First off, they tackle a different ethnicity in every episode, and I believe are on their fourth season without repeating. The format tries to address first the basics and fundamentals of each cuisine, from ingredients to equipment, before bringing in the recipes. We get to meet immigrants to Australia who relish in their historical cuisine, and the host, Maeve O'meara comes across as both knowledgeable and eager to learn. Plus she looks like she eats with relish. That is attractive in a food show. Then again, there's the cinematography. I don't know if they employ food stylists, but the closeups of the food is luscious. I seem to come away wanting to try the items being highlighted, and that is the effective measure of the show.

If you haven't seen it yet, do try to find and watch an episode or two.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cereal. Cold cereal.

I had a great breakfast today. I finally got around to making my own whole wheat bread from the freshly ground wheat from HEB, made a sunny side up egg (chicken this time), some cheese, some honey, and a cup of hot cocoa.

Breakfast, however, is the meal that seems to stymie a lot of people. For many, breakfast implies certain types of food groups, and in fact, certain dishes are probably taboo on the breakfast table (starting with beer, but I may be getting ahead of myself). On my recent airplane trip, we were handed these single serving cereal bowls with a carton of milk - I declined mine. Mainly because of the milk. But cold cereal is a mystery to me. It is one of the most processed "foods" around - I daresay this is, as Michael Pollan will put it, the poster child of an "edible food-like substance".

The cultural cachet of cold cereal is amazing, though. It's considered an essential part of so many diets, carrying the kind of mythical sensibility that Gatorade provides. Which is to say, not really sensible in reality. Nutritionally speaking, I wouldn't put most commercial breakfast cereals at any better footing than corn chips with a helping of candy (for many parents, it's just a way to get kids to consume milk).

The best idea I've seen for breakfast cereal is to just use popcorn. Popped corn has about the same ancestry as corn flakes, yet isn't often thought of as breakfast food. And the latter isn't served in movie theaters.

I used to live in New York City. I have to admit, this is an amazing use of a very small space, an apartment that is only 10x16 feet, and yet manages to have a kitchen and a library. I'd have to think about what foods can be prepared in such tight quarters, I figure some inspiration from submarine galleys would come in handy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When green brightens the yellow

One delectable item I got to play with while at the Western Casa McBardo was a tub of pure indulgence - aka, rendered duck fat. Although I must admit, my admiration for the flavor the different animal fats bring to the stove is growing. At home, I have slowly braised pork belly in peppercorns and star anise, and have kept the skimmed off flavored pork fat rather than discarding it.

But what do we do with it?

There are all sorts of things you can do with the fat, but I'll start with one of the easiest: stir fried greens. Of course, a problem I have with the average American mega-grocery is the anemic selection of greens worthy of cooking (not to say that I won't indulge in mustard greens or kale - one of my favorites). For this application, I turn to the Asian aisle, where we found gailan - "Chinese broccoli". Which is an odd translation, because broccoli is native to Italy.

Gailan is pretty much all edible, so I trimmed off the woody parts, and sliced into bite sized portions. It doesn't reduce down like spinach, having more heft. I also chopped about two cloves of garlic. Heat up a flat saute pan with a lid (you can use a wok, but I find that most stoves aren't hot enough to really do wok cooking), and throw in about a tablespoon (or two) of the duck fat - this should get pretty blazing hot. Sprinkle in a bit red pepper chile flake, and after about 10 seconds, sprinkle in the garlic. Keep stirring at this point, after about another 10 seconds, put in the gailan, toss it around a bit, and clamp on the lid. After about 2 to 4 minutes of steaming in its own juices, open up the pan, salt with some coarse sea salt, and toss some more. You can finish with a sprinkling of lemon juice, or, if you are feeling a little indulgent, a little more duck fat.

The technique will work with most any fat that doesn't burn at high heat (I don't recommend butter unless it is clarified - although the finishing step can use unclarified butter), and a number of other greens (yu choi, kale, brussels sprouts, etc).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Science and food

So, are you done unwrapping your holiday presents? Because here's one idea that escaped my attention. Not a regular cookbook, but the Hungry Scientist Handbook. Okay, well, that's a link to the website, but seems to be chock full of ideas for kitchen fun. The Amazon reviews seem a little disappointed in the science content, but I already like the idea of fizzy fruit (here demonstrated from NPR).

Addendum: guess what is the ingredient of year? Bacon! More yummy links behind that link. Bacon certainly featured greatly in my recent sojourn to the Western Casa McBardo, and boy, am I glad. Two new batches are incubating, and should be born in a couple of weeks' time. Sadly, I'll not be there to taste of it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The dream fulfilled

Sweet pounded glutinous rice cakes are traditional for the lunar New Year in most East Asian cultures. Probably best known as "mochi" off the Japanese version, they are served really year around, but hold a special significance for the New Year. I am not really sure why. The texture is particularly revered, and one that I really enjoy. I am accustomed to purchasing prepared mochi, but really should make it myself more often - it isn't that difficult now that mochi flour (mochiko) is readily available. Specially since sometimes, a certain mochi product may not be readily available on the store shelves.

Like, say, the moffle.

Well, once more in Casa McBardo, we create the real thing - the actual moffle - by taking a slab of mochi dough, and cooking in a waffle iron. Took a couple of tries to get it right (mochi dough grills well, but can take quite a bit of high heat), but it's a success. A moffle has a crunchy exterior and that addictive interior stickiness that is at once comforting and filling. Maple syrup, however, is not prescribed - doesn't seem to work, flavorwise. A simple sprinkling of sugar does.

A version I am going to investigate in the future is coconut milk mochi, which is then grillled, and served with fruit. Sandwich moffles are also a possibility. I'll have to prowl around for a waffle iron.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The incredible "endangered" egg

Day 3 at Casa McBardo.

When we went to the store to renew our stock of eggs, I beheld a sight I haven't seen before - not even during Hurricanes Ike or Rita - a completely empty egg section. Not an egg to be seen anywhere. That's when I learned that aside from the passage of the repugnant and oppressive Proposition 8, Californians also passed Proposition 2, which regulates the "cruelty to farm animals", and thus, includes language about the size of pens for egg laying hens. Thus, a sudden shortage of eggs, probably until they figure out to remain profitable. Egg costs may go up in California.

But what was cooked last night for dinner? Well, we started the night with some candied jalapenos with some sour cream on crackers as the wine was opened.

We started off with bacon wrapped dates. These were a hit for New Year's eve as well. Medjool dates, stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped with bacon, and broiled until crispy. The ones on New Year's eve were done with home made, hand cut, bacon, and consequently, superior to these using store bought bacon. But these were still good.

But that home made bacon made it's appearance in the next dish, where the remainder was cut into lardons, and rendered for it's fat. That fat, along with the left over roasted Okinawa purple sweet potatoes, were cooked into a soup, spiced with cloves, nutmeg, ginger, orange zest, chipotle, celery, carrots, and topped with the lardons.

Spiced purple sweet potato soup

On to the main course. We had some beautiful muscovie duck breast, which Greg proceeded to steam, marinate in honey and tea, and smoke for an hour. On the other side, I had prepared a batch of pain l'ancienne (aka, no-knead bread), and roasted poblano peppers for a poblano and pomegranate salad. We had purchased some kurobuta pork in the form of a chop, and I decided to pan-roast it simply with salt and pepper to maximize tasting the pork flavor.

Poblano-pomegranate salad

Smoked duck breast, resting before carving.

The final assembled plate.

The Kurobuta pork was a revelation. Juicy, flavorful, porky, in this simple preparation, it really shone. Not a morsel escaped, the bone gnawing flavorful experience.

We ended the meal with a simple chocolate mousse. Which, unfortunately, doesn't photograph well.

Friday, January 2, 2009

There's no crap in scrap

Day 2 in Casa McBardo.

In items that are traditionally discarded in the process of cooking lurk opportunities for new flavors and dishes. Or rather, more likely that one cook's trash is another cook's culinary find is an appropriate dictum. Particularly when we cross cultural boundaries. I've bemoaned that one difference between the incarnation of Iron Chef America from its Japanese predecessor is that the Americans think nothing of preparing just the choice bits of an animal (more often the filet of the fish) while the Japanese cook everything down to the scales. Taking that to heart, we tackle:

The fish head stew! I've been admonished to write down how this was prepared, and I must admit I take inspiration from Malaysian flavors. First of all, about the fish - larger fish are preferred, something like salmon is about the smallest I'd go. Be sure to ask your fish monger to remove the gills - more likely best accomplished by actually splitting the head.
see, doesn't that look friendly? We salted both sides of the fish well, and fired up the broiler (though not without seriously considering using the grill instead). Oh, well, with the heat coming from above, we started broiling cut side up.

The goal is to get a good bit of caramelization on the fish. After a nice broil, we flip the fish over, and kept on broiling until this stage

Nice, a few charred parts. Perfect. That was thrown whole into a large stock pot, and added enough water to come up to halfway to the fish.

Then the aromatics: 3 sprigs of celery, roughly chopped, a knob of sliced ginger, about 8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped, a good bit of dried lemongrass (I would have preferred fresh, but I can't be too choosy), about five cloves, a tablespoon of chili garlic paste, a bit of ground turmeric, cumin, and black pepper, a few dried shiitake mushrooms, a can of coconut milk, and some additional water until it is just about covered. We brought it up to a boil, and simmered for about 40 minutes. We adjusted for salt, and added some cider vinegar to balance the richness, and to bring out a bit of tang. At the end, we added a couple of fresh tomatoes.

The resulting soup was a riot. The fish flesh itself is toothsome when it is this close to the bone. Certainly, we could have strained the soup (as the broth itself is redolent with flavor and unctuousness), but we opted to be rustic about it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What is traditional to ring in a New Year?

I don't know if the regular New Year carries any particular kind of tradition in food. Certainly, we can borrow, for example, the celebratory foods of the lunar calendars, be they Chinese or Jewish, but a cursory glance at the solar New Year mostly focuses on drinking rather than eating, champagne for toasting being the focus. In the South of the US, I learned about the tradition of eating black eyed peas and cornbread for the New Year, although the meaning and significance escapes me at the moment.

Here, in the Western Casa McBardo, we rang in the New Year in grand style, preparing a "tapas" style meal in rolling form. As planned, we did small dishes, but also cooked and served them a la minute, as people finished up the prior dish, and kept on drinking. I wish I had the foresight to photograph the different things we prepared, but here's a listing of the different dishes we did:

Greg's home made bacon made its way in several applications. First, we made bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. That was very well received. Then, chicken in fermented black beans and szechuan pepper corns, with silken tofu and roasted Okinawa purple sweet potatoes. Then mushroom "scallops" - seared Korean "king oyster" mushrooms. Then a batch of spanakopita - little pockets of phyllo stuffed wth spinach and feta. Pied de cochon - pig's feet with caramelized onions and fleur de sel. A loaf of pepperoni cheese bread with marinara sauce made it's rounds. Pao de quiejo - South American tapioca cheese breads. Sauteed maitake and hojimeshi mushrooms on bread rounds. A custom take on turon - ripe burro plantains cooked with gula jawa (palm sugar), wrapped in spring roll pastry and baked to make crispy pies. And dessert - sabayon with broiled blackberries.

I'm pretty sure I am missing a course or two in there.