In re: 15 minute meals?

While my wife and I do a lot of home cooking, I often don’t do it in the simplest, quickest, cleanest manner.  I often use a lot of pots, pans, bowls, spoons, plates and produce a dinner that takes up a good chunk of the evening.  Part of it is over ambition and part of it is failing to prioritize time over product.  Every now and then we plan out something and put together a quick dinner or on nights after a big production when we are just warming up the leftovers.  But scratch cooking in a quick time wasn’t always our strong suit (or at least mine).  I wasn’t evening thinking about my wife’s goal of speeding up dinner on some weeknights when I stumbled on a tv show by Jamie Oliver (oddly shown on CBS on saturday mornings) called 15 minute meals.  The show is a british show from a few years back which has been edited for the US (mainly by adding warnings to not do anything he does, i.e. chop food quickly, put your hands near a hot pan, or really anything with the slightest risk).  Not being a show intended solely for US audiences is generally a good thing as from what I’ve seen, the UK has some really good cooking shows and I am really confused why we don’t get more of them shown here? (Nigel Slater’s shows and Hest Blumenthal’s both come to mind).  Regardless despite being a show focused on finishing prep start to finish (minus his tea kettle boiling water) in 15 minutes, it’s actually pretty good.  Now I don’t think most people could actually make these meals in 15 minutes unless they start timing after they rounded up all the ingredients and set them out, but still makes for a quicker meal than many we do.  So using that mind set and some inspiration from one of the show’s we made an Asian beef noodle salad.  As you will see in the picture, the salad is a casual affair, setting piles of ingredients out next to each other on a big platter.  Part of the appeal for me of Jamie Oliver’s cooking style is showing people how casual they can be with putting something like this together.  Grate a big pile of carrots right onto the platter and one, move on.  The salad consisted of rice noodles, lettuces, cucumbers, watermelon radishes (which look just beautiful sliced thin on a Japanese mandolin), pickled ginger, cilantro, cooked onions, diced thai chilies, some steamed wontons and beef with five spice rub.  (The steak I used was frozen so I cooked it sous vide to rare to both thaw and precook it, I then seasoned and seared it on a cast iron griddle – not exactly a 15 min meal, but the sous vide is unattended.)  To serve we just grabbed what we wanted and dressed the salad on our plate with a dressing that was pretty similar to a vietnamese Nước chấm (fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, water, garlic) but we changed up the ratio a bit with some rice wine vinegar to make it a bit more like a salad dressing.  Ended up being a great dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day.  Hopefully we can keep the fast (but good) meals mindset up as having some more time in the evening is definitely a nice thing.

 

 

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Nước chấm

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In re: Vegetarian Cooking

[This was an unpublished post from over a year ago – still trying to eat more veggie only meals. Haven’t posted in a while and figured I throw this up as is]

Vegetarian eating at good restaurants is pretty easy, especially if its at Indian restaurants where I don’t often see the need for meat (we still often get Butter Chicken/Makahani Masala – but the rest are veggies). Cooking good vegetarian meals night after night can be a little tougher though. (As I’ve mentioned I’m not a vegetarian and currently not planning to be one, but I am trying to eat less meat and more vegetables for the countless reasons Mark Bittman and others have pointed to).

Making vegetarian doesn’t need to be hard of course, lets look at the standard spaghetti with marianara, served with some vegetables you got yourself a meal that even vegetarians wouldn’t mind. The problem isnt’ that there aren’t many veggie pasta dishes, pizzas, or the like, its that if you want to branch out into broader menus you kind of find that veggie cooking requires a bit more thought – at least to someone who isn’t used to doing it.
I think of it this way, in the classic world of protein, starch and vegetable, you don’t need to do to much, you can sear a steak, a cut of chicken or pork and add potatoes and a vegetable and without much fuss most people see a meal. Take out the meat though and replace with another vegetable dish and you don’t have a meal, you have a trio of sides and suddenly it seems boring. Before with the meat you could have steamed broccoli and some mashed potatoes and that worked, I think without it your into boring territory.

So what do you need to do to make a good vegetarian meal? Well at least in my opinion it means adding more components, either ingredients and/or sauces and/or layers of flavors. This can take any number directions but generally it means adding more little elements, but doesn’t necessarily mean more work.

As an example vegetarian meal I like is patacon (I first became familiar with patacon at El Arepazo, here in Columbus a Venezuelan/Latin American restaurant). Patacon is basically a fried plaintain covered with meat, cheese, and some veggies and at El Arepazo you have to top it with cilantro sauce.
They do a great vegertarian version where rice, beans and some grilled veggies get added in place of the meat. Its a filling, delicious dish, that doesn’t make you think your missing anything.

I do a similar dish at home that uses brown rice, black beans, fried plaintains, sauteed zucchini and onions, a little cheese, lettuce, some corn salsa (from Trader Joes), cilantro sauce and anything else that strikes my fancy at that moment.

Its a lot of elements and it means having one frying pan to make the plantains, one to cook up the veggies, a pot for beans if your cooking them from dried, a rice cooker or another burner for the rice. So potentially your looking at a four burner recipe and a lot of different elements. It can be somewhat simplified however, putting the rice out of sight and mind in a rice cooker right when you start of course makes things easier and clears up some space (you still gotta wash it of course…) and cooking up the zucchini and onions first and putting them aside works fine and then using the same pan to fry up the plantains. I like to use dried beans if possible, but if I haven’t planned ahead using a can works and means I might just microwave them up.

The sauce takes a few minutes and messing up a blender or food processor – but trust me the dish is nothing without it. I’ve written up a version of the sauce before on here, but I have made it more recently as more an herb vinaigrette without mayo/sour cream. The sauce using vinegar and/or lime, garlic, jalepeno, and whole lots of cilantro makes a very tasty sauce. Yogurt makes a super tasty sauce and can replace the oil to switch it to a creamy sauce.

So once your done making all these elements you layer up the dish, with all the elements and drizzle on the cilantro sauce over the top. It’s an amazing dish, hearty from the beans, rice and plantain, each bite has little elements of the various components and flavors and is quite flexible, you could leave out the rice, or the beans, change the vegetables involved make it more like a salad with a lot of lettuce or less.

In re: homemade ginger ale

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A few months ago I saw an episode of Good Eats that on Ginger. (For years I was a religious Good Eats viewer but I somehow stopped watching as often and eventually not at all, but have intermittently seen a few episodes over the last few months. The gags are a bit more annoying then I used to think- but still I have a soft spot for it. Also doesn’t seem like the show is on very much anymore, oh well the food network basically sucks these days.) At some point after seeing that I was over at the Asian market (one of the three in basically two or three blocks) I can’t believe I don’t shop there more – great prices, amazing stuff – like huge pieces of ginger at cheap cheap prices. So back to Good Eats, saw an episode on ginger and thought why not. So while not being that into the ginger cookies he was making and the stupid ginger bread man story the show was operating around, thought the ginger ale he made looked pretty good and amazingly simple. So that night after dinner I whipped up a 2 liter bottles worth and in 2 days we would get to taste the results.

The recipe/process from Alton Brown is pretty simple, you start by essentially making an infused simple syrup with grated fresh ginger. After you make that and let it steep for an hour you add this along with water, lemon juice, and a tiny bit of yeast into a clean 2 liter bottle and wait for the yeast to do its thing and carbonate it.
(The recipe from Alton Brown is here

So that first batch turned out to be pretty good, it was nicely carbonated, it had good flavor and it was amazingly easy. It was missing something though: more ginger flavor,(disclaimer though – I am a fan of the Bahamian ginger beer (Barritt’s is one of the classic brands – available even here in Columbus), which gets put to good use a dark and stormy – an amazingly simple drink of the aforementioned ginger beer and Goslings Black Seal Rum with a lime for a garnish).

So with all that in mind I had planned to double or triple the ginger the next time I tried it. The other thing that wasn’t quite right in that first batch was the flavor the yeast imparted that made the drink taste reminiscent of bread. It wasn’t as off putting as that might sound, but it wasn’t quite right. The only problem was I didn’t ever get around to making it again, despite being so easy.

Last weekend though I finally remembered we should make homemade ginger ale. Just as before we had in the fridge a giant piece of ginger (this time from an Indian grocery store) but this time I happened to think of making ginger ale at just the right moment – while I was standing in the wine making shop in Clintonville. We had stopped in the store on the way back from the farmers market to look for a good summer beer kit and to finally brew our first batch of beer. As we were checking out with a kit for summer ale I thought of asking about yeast for ginger ale. The clerk recommended champagne yeast and with the little packet in hand we were ready for batch 2.0.

The results were stunning. I doubled the ginger (although it could still use more) but the flavor profile and the bubbles were amazing. It still couldn’t be easier. I still basically used the Alton Brown recipe with the doubled ginger, and of course champagne yeast and two days later we tasted an amazing batch of homemade ginger ale with a clean taste of ginger, a slight hint of the heat and great carbonation. Thankfully a packet of champagne yeast has more then enough for several more batches.

In re: Fried Chicken

Chicken and buttermilk biscuits

I don’t have it too often (fortunately or unfortunately), but fried chicken is one of those foods that while seemingly incredibly simple and common, can and often is, so much more.  Thomas Keller makes it and so do plenty of gas stations, which makes it kind of democratizing meal of sorts – but rather than get too philosophical about the food (others have and its a topic worthy of it) I just wanted to write up a few recent fried chicken dinners I made here at home.

The first was a few months back and featured chicken that followed somewhat the recipes and techniques of Thomas Keller (from the Ad Hoc cookbook) and from Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty (Also see Ruhlman’s post on fried chicken here).  Ruhlman worked on the Ad Hoc cookbook and claims his is better – a bold statement (unfortunately we didn’t try making both head to head – I have made the TK version before and knew it was amazing).  Instead the recipe I used started with a brine mostly like Ruhlmans, one that has a lot of rosemary, the predominant flavor he likes in fried chicken.  In addition I had lemon and some other herbs (thyme and parsley), but not quite as much as TK uses.  The brine was left overnight before taking out the chicken to air dry on a rack in the fridge.  (The brine is really the biggest difference between amazing fried chicken and fried chicken and cannot be skipped).

After drying the chicken gets dredged in seasoned flour – I used a mixture of cayenne, paprika, black pepper (a bunch), salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of baking powder (TK doesn’t use BP, Ruhlman does)

Next is a dip in buttermilk and back into the flour mixture, before frying it up, and finally topping w/ some fried rosemary and some lemon zest.  (Actually some of it sat for a while in a 250 oven on a rack – dark meat especially actually benefits from this and lets you do the chicken in advance, something I should have done rather than frying huge batches of chicken with my friends standing around – oh well next time.)

Even though this chicken was of the American variety, I served it with some sauces that are somewhat asian if people felt like it (this chicken doesn’t need anything and really your just gilding the lilly, but I do like sauces…) One of them was Momofuku’s Octo Vin (a reverse vinagrette with a lot of garlic and ginger.  The sauce/dressing’s full name is shortened from Octopus Vinaigrette, and was intended to stand up to octopus and has the reverse ratio of a vinaigrette with the oil and vinegar amounts flipped, the stuff is amazing and goes with fried chicken amazingly well, among other things).  I also served a korean style sauce (discussed again below) and siracha honey which is amazing on fried chicken and is as easy as combining the two.

Fried Chicken

zesting a lemon onto the chicken

Three sauces for chicken

octo vin, siracha honey, korean sauce

chicken, quick pickles, biscuits

Quick pickles (fennel, carrots, cukes), fried chicken and biscuits

[Thanks to Ham Sandwich Indicted for the above photos as well as for the amazing biscuits that featured homemade cultured buttermilk – those could have been dinner alone.]

Fast forward to yesterday and I tried out David Chang’s recipe for fried chicken in the Momofuku cookbook (which is not the fried chicken they serve at Momofuku I might point out as they serve a breaded version there – amazing I should also add – but the one in the cookbook has no breading and is sauced with the octo vin).  Anyway the gist of DC’s version is that the chicken is brined (simple sugar and salt brine for several hours) and then steamed for 40 minutes – thats right its fully cooked by steaming.  The idea is clearly inspired by Asian preparations such as crispy duck where hot oil is used at the end to get a crispy skin, but the steam is used to cook the meat and cook and render the skin so that it is ready to quickly crisp. After steaming the chicken, take the chicken out and put it onto a rack in the fridge to dry / chill.  After a few hours its ready to be fried and as you can guess it doesn’t need long. Word of warning have a splatter shield or at least be careful frying this chicken (I learned the hard way and was hit with quite a few large oil pops).  Not being a scientist I assume this has something to do with the way moisture was trapped in the cooked chicken versus raw chicken, but just consider yourself warned.

The chicken crisps up quickly probably takes only about 5 minutes or so at 375.  After draining it I tossed in the octo vin (and served more on the side of course).  I also tried dipping some of the chicken in a  thin (Korean style?) batter, basically cornstarch, AP flour, some salt/pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and very cold seltzer water (I guess that part is maybe Japanese).  This battered batch I tossed with a sauce made from gochujang (the amazing fermented Korean chili paste), garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey and siracha.

The results were amazing and compared to the breaded versions a whole lot less work, way less mess and means you can essentially precook the chicken and fry it up at the last moment.  It isn’t quite the same thing however and is really its own dish as the intense chicken flavor that comes from frying chicken isn’t quite there due to the steam cooking.  Don’t’ get me wrong though this is a dish worthy in its own right, just not quite the same thing.  In case you were wondering I served this with some cabbage/fennel slaw and some beans from rancho gordo (Yellow Indian Woman – one of their heirloom varieties) that were cooked slowly all day with onions, celery and bay leaf, salt and pepper, which leads one not in the know to think there is meat in the dish as they are so rich tasting and flavorful.

Just out of of the fryer

Fried Chicken a la David Chang

Dinner

In re: Bánh mì

Okay, so been a Vietnamese kick recently as the post on Pho may have hinted at, today I’ll turn our attention to bánh mì:

Bánh mì in Vietnamese refers to bread – specifically the baguette that we can thank French colonialism for introducing to Vietnam, but the name bánh mì at least here in the States also speaks to the amazing sandwich that is served on the crisp airy baguette. The basics of the bánh mì tend to include pâté spread on to the bread on one side, mayonnaise on the other, some kind of meat or protein, and a variety of veggies- often cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots and diakon radish and here in the US jalapeños as well as a splash of Maggi seasoning.  The sandwich may sound a bit odd if you haven’t encountered it before, but trust me this is one of the most amazing combinations of flavors and textures that is not quite like anything else.  If your in downtown Columbus you can get a pretty decent one in the North Market or if you head up to Mi Li you can get a really great one.

For whatever reason I haven’t ever really tried making my own, without really planning it out I suddenly found myself with the ingredients to make my own version.  It all started when I was cleaning out a chicken to roast for dinner and wanted to do something with the liver.  Having just made a fresh baguette that was still cooling on the stove (it was Presidents Day so I had the day off and had time to bake baguettes and roast chickens and make a bánh mì.  So back to the liver, I quickly whipped up a simple pâté using the liver in a mini food processor with some bread crumbs, milk, salt, pepper and a little duck fat.  I baked the tiny pâté in a ramekin in the toaster oven in a water bath for 30 minutes and then chilled it.

Meanwhile I made some pickled carrots by slicing match sticks of carrots and putting them in a vinegar, sugar and salt mixture to quickly pickle.  My bánh mì didn’t feature a main protein (and really it doesn’t need one I learned) and if the pâté was replaced with a mushroom pâté it would be a great vegetarian sandwich.

So once everything was ready, carrots having sat in the fridge for an hour I was ready to make the sandwich.  On one side of my freshly toasted baguette I spread the pâté, layered on cucumbers, a layer of pickled carrots, some pickled hot peppers from our garden, and a bunch of cilantro.  The other side got some Kewpie mayonnaise, I didn’t have Maggi seasoning so I put a few drops of soy sauce on top of the contents and combined the two haves together.  This improvised version of bánh mì  turned out pretty awesome and was pretty simple to pull off.

bánh mì

In re: Pho

Faux pho

A couple weeks back when my fiancé was feeling under the weather and was making up some ramen (including the little packet – something I never quite developed the taste for) I decided I’d go a bit more for the flavor of Pho, but without having many ingredients or the time to make it for real, I came up with a really quick pho that was pretty good in a pinch.  With the right ingredients this could easily have turned into a bit less faux pho without much more work.  Really all I was doing was infusing stock (in this case chicken, but for pho bo, my preference you’d use beef stock).  Into the chicken stock I put in some of the standard elements (the ones I had on hand) – cinnamon sticks, slices of fresh ginger, star anise, fish sauce and sugar and let that all simmer on the stove.  I didn’t really have any of the garnishes aside from some cilantro and dropping in the ramen noodles and splashing on some hoisin sauce and siracha but in a quick pinch it filled in for pho.

Pho

So also on the pho front here in Columbus I’ve had a couple recent trips to Pho Asian noodle House & Grill (1288 W. Lane Ave., Columbus, OH 43221 – info on yelp) which is a mixture of mostly Chinese food (despite the name) and Vietnamese.  The people who run it are super nice and despite the building being an old Taco Bell the place transcends its former self (I should mention that they still have the drive through and its operational – yes you can get Pho, good pho at that, through a drive up window).  Anyway, its quick, pretty cheap and good.  The roast duck noodle soup is awesome as is their standard pho and their pad thai (I guess they do have more than Chinese and Vietnamese) was good as well.

 

Buckeye Pho Asian Kitchen (761 Bethel Rd. Set E195, Columbus, OH 43235 in front of  the Micro Center )  – seems to be a recent addition (not sure how old it is the place appears to be brand new – the interior is spotless and super bright) to the thankfully growing Vietnamese dining scene in Columbus I think I heard it was somewhat related (relatives or the like) to the owners of Mi Li Cafe a great spot for awesome Bahn Mi and while Buckeye Pho comes through with really good Bahn Mi (like Mi Li they make their own mayo and pate and it all comes on the super crispy baguette to seal the deal).  The difference from Mi Li are pretty obvious starting just with the name, which is carried through on with a wall covered with buckeyes and an OSU color scheme.  The other thing that sets Buckeye Pho apart is the sports bar appearance of the place.  3 huge TVs overlook a long bar in the middle of the place – but don’t let these throw you as it is decidedly not a sports bar and the food is awesome and the owners/staff are super nice.  Their special pho was fantastic, including all the various types of beef they have (you can order specific versions with just what you want if your trying to avoid something, like say tripe which comes in the special version).  So far it seemed like they have a nice reception, the night we were there it was packed but with quick service they were turning the tables over quickly so we barely had to wait to get seated.

 

 

In re: Conquering the New Year

So it’s a new year and a lot of folks are trying to live up to their resolutions. I’ve never been that into them, maybe its the cliche nature of the whole thing, but this year I’ve come up with a few basic ideas of things I’d like to try and do and hopefully cliche or not I can stick to some of them. One of course is going to the gym. Having quit my last gym when I moved a year ago its been quite a while since going and its hard to get back into the routine (when you get into the routine its great – it’s amazing how hard it can be to break the cycle and get going again, seems like the new year is my chance). Found a place near where we live that seems like a good value and not too crowded. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

The Wall Street Journal had a funny list of 27 Rules of Conquering the Gym – which while often unsaid are pretty spot on.

15. If you’re motivated to buy an expensive home exercise machine, consider a “wooden coat rack.” It costs $40, uses no electricity and does the exact same thing.
….
19. If a gym class is going to be effective, it’s hard. If you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself, you’re at brunch.
….
27. There is no secret. Exercise and lay off the fries. The end.

One of the other things I’ve been aiming to stick to in the new year is following some of Mark Bittman’s advice about reducing meat intake and going to a more veggie diet. While I don’t intend to become a vegetarian (just yet at least) making vegetarian meals more often is part of the plan as well as making other meals more veggie focused. To aid in this effort grabbed the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian Edition iPhone app and flipped through it (also plan to buy the paper copy as despite sharing the material they aren’t exactly substitutes). I am surprised to learn from friends that they aren’t that familiar with the original How to Cook Everything cookbook and am always thrilled to point them to it as a reference. Its the first place I usually go for basic dishes and everyday simple things. I’ll probably posting more on some of the new dishes I try out so heads up on that.