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.



IMG 1020

Nước chấm


In re: Marketing veggies

An interesting article in the New York times by Michael Moss whose book on processed food I’ve been meaning to read. In this article they get an ad firm to create an ad campaign for broccoli and see what it would look like and the results are pretty good I think. He also explores why veggies are more expensive and not a bigger part of our diets.

Government spending mirrors the private sector. Greens and leafy vegetables, for example, together get only $13 million from the government in research funding; corn receives $121 million.

via Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover –

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: Backyard figs

Early last summer while walking into a Lowe’s hardware store we saw fig trees for sale. Not being an expert on figs I assumed that being native to the Middle East they weren’t something for Ohio’s climate but upon further reading of their detailed tag that indeed the variety of Chicago Hardy was listed as fit for Ohio’s winters. We took home one tree and planted it, and it barely looked like it did any growing over the course of the last summer. Now I wasn’t expecting fruit anytime soon, but amazingly this summer after moving the tree to make room for our eventual wood fired pizza oven that we were digging the foundation of, the tree took off and really grew nicely and put out two figs. Amazingly they grew and ripened and the other day, at the end of a rough day we cut the two little figs in half and ate them. They were quite good, better of course having picked them feet from where we were eating, maybe not the best figs ever, but something I never expected to be eating in Columbus fresh from the tree.



In re: Picnic in the commons


Yesterday was the ‘official’ grand opening of the new stage at Columbus Commons, the park in Columbus on the former site of City Center Mall.  The park is an amazing addition to downtown and the new stage makes it just that much better.  To open up the new venue a free concert of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and Michael McDonald.  After some mild convincing my fiancee agreed to go see the yacht rock show on what was a perfect weather night in Columbus.  One of the great features of these shows is the ability to pack a picnic, sit on your blanket on the lawn – meaning if its a show you didn’t really feel like seeing, its still a good time.  

I was trying to figure out what to pack in the cooler when I stumbled on this post from a few years back by Mark Bittman on 101 Picnic Dishes to Make in 20 Minutes, the roast beef sandwich sounded appealing, so after a quick stop to Weiland’s made up some sandwiches with blue cheese, horseradish, some tennesse tomatoes that looked really nice and some lettuce from our garden.  Grabbed some pasta salad and a bean salad that was already prepared, grabbed a blank and some drinks and we were off to downtown.  We got lucky snagging a meter right by the state house and in no time we were spread out on the lawn enjoying the Jazz Orchestra and our dinner.  The lawn was packed but not painfully so and it was quite the cross section of Columbus who came out for the show.  All in all a very good time, can’t wait to pack up another picnic and get back to another show.

In re: All American: Cinco de Mayo

You can’t get much more American than the Fifth of May, better known as Cinco de Mayo.  Cinco de Mayo’s origins are not surprisingly Mexican and come from the State of Puebla, where they celebrate on May 5: El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, commemorating the Mexican army’s victory over the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla.  As many of you know by now, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s independence day, let alone  national holiday – yet here in America it has grown into a holiday not just for Mexicans in quite an American way.  The origins of the American celebration go back to the year after the battle, with Mexicans and Latinos living in California being the first to celebrate in the US.  What has followed is what happens to most things that get tossed into the cultural blender that is the United States – mutations and mixing ensue and what emerges is wholly American.  So instead of some tame holiday remembering a battle, what we now have is a day for Mexican restaurants to make out like Irish bars (and every other bar) on St. Patricks day.  Cafeterias get to serve tacos, bars stock up on tequila and in general a lot of people get to have a good time.

This isn’t that different that what has happened with what we think of as Mexican food has gone through.  This past week the NY Times had an article (How the Taco Gained in Translation) discussing a new book Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano about how Mexican food became part of the mainstream American cuisine.  I haven’t read the book yet, some of the authors ideas I think I am going to disagree with (he has a problem with Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless –  without having read all of what he says about it yet I think I am going to disagree there – as I think educating Americans on non-fusion, regional Mexican cooking is a good thing).  The book still does sound interesting for its accounts of how Americans (primarily white Americans) have been able to take Mexican ideas and turn them into successful American staples (fritos, tortilla chips, salsa and of course Taco Bell).

As we continue to fuse more and more cultures and cuisines into our repertoire (think Korean tacos, Califonia rolls and all our sushi with cream cheese, Chinese American food and heck spaghetti and meatballs) and continue the melding of older ones.  The new Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos – which despite what I may thought about the thing based on their advertising- is apparently doing amazingly well and may be a bit more complicated in its origins than I would have guessed.  Soft tacos from Mexico turned into crispy fried tacos and tortilla chips here in America, where years later down in Tijuana street food vendors turned Tostitos corn chips into a dish called Tostilocos: a base of Tostitos chips covered with things like jicama, pickled pig skins, tamarind candies, peanuts, cucumbers, fruit, chilies or anything else one could think of  (See Tostilocos, Tijuana Street Food, Hits the Mainstream – NY Times).  That kind of miss mash then turns around and comes back to us as Locos Tacos as Taco Bell.

So this brings me back to Cinco de Mayo and what made me think of all this in the first place – the following ad I saw from Donatos.  What could be more American?

Donatos Cinco De Mayo

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