Monday, April 18, 2005

Fish & Chips & Profiteroles

Originally uploaded by eingy.

If only the chips were battered, then we'd have a theme of everything being encased in a dough or batter... Dang. My camera was out of commission (low battery), so I took a pic with the only thing I had handy: the Treo 600. I wish the damn thing had a flash or something.

The pic of the fish & chips (and two home-made sauces -- a cocktail sauce and a tartar sauce) came out too dark, sadly. The batter was really tasty, and the fish was very delicate and moist. I don't know what they used as the batter, but when we get adventurous enough to cook non-salmon fish at home, I will ask them. I think that there was cornstarch and eggs in it, but not sure what else. I think baking soda may have been singled out to be mentioned because it seemed unusual, but my memory is fuzzy. I think Uyen was a bit worried that the batter was cooking a bit dark, but it gave it that awesome flavor that comes with slightly browned things (you know what I mean) and a nice slightly crispy (yet not jaw-breakingly hard, like some over-eager KFC batters nowadays) texture. That crispy texture really combined well with the tenderness of the fish. When asked what kind of fish it was, Charles dead-panned, "Sam's club." Hee. That dude has some poker face.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that the fries were not just fries. No, not at all. They were garlic fries. Mmmm, mmm, good. I love garlic fries. They put in a heaping amount of garlic and parsley (I think -- but maybe it was something else?). I shovelled down so many fries, in addition to a second helping of the fish, that I felt like an absolute glutton afterwards. The home-made sauces really *ahem* kicked it up a notch. Hee. Don't kill me. But seriously, it brought the meal to a whole other level of goodness. Fries + tartar sauce = lip-smacking goodness. Somehow, I managed to squeeze in a dozen or so profiteroles afterwards.

The best part of it all was that they cooked for us on a Friday night, so we were able to have a homecooked meal with great friends on a weekday evening. That is a luxury that does not come often.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

F&F III: Addendum

The French Laundry has a recipe called "Yabba Dabba Doo," which is named for the Flintstones, naturally. It's basically a double-cut beef rib, that's essentially shallow-fried in butter. The result is a steak-thing that's got this incredible, golden crust around the entire thing. It's like encasing a steak in pure deliciousness. One of these days, I'm not going to half-ass it with like 2Tbsp of butter, I'm just gonna toss a whole stick in, or follow their recipe exactly. The problem is that piece of beef is *not cheap*, and I'm terrified of screwing up an expensive cut of meat. At the market today, they had a piece of meat that would have made three of these steaks, and it was $67. I decided to pass, and went with the NYS which was $5/lb, which indicates my level of risk vs. cost for food at this point.

Food & Friends III

Klay, Nana, Uyen & Charles came by for dinner, then we added Colin for a couple insane games of pictionary. We had New York strip steaks (which were on sale at Safeway), Garlic Rosemary mashed potatoes, and grilled zucchini, along with some salad greens. The steaks turned out ok - some were mildly overdone, 'cause they happened to be a bit thinner than the rest, but by and large, not too bad. I still haven't really figured out in practical use what the "good" cuts of meat are, and what the "bad" cuts of meat are. These had a good amount of flavor, but had some gristly connective tissue - not much, but it was definitely there. I liked the texture and the flavor - we just pan-seared them with butter, and broiled 'em in the oven. One thing - tomorrow, I'm going to find a decent probe thermometer, dammit. Ours now doesn't read properly, and I'm so used to using the probe that I'm used to not paying attention. Probably a bad habit, but if the technology's there, and it's more accurate than my perception, why not use it?

The grilled zucchini was simply coated in olive oil, with salt & pepper, and put onto our grill pan (a cast-iron griddle/grill pan from Lodge) and cooked 'till it looked done. We had a bunch of brown mushrooms that I sliced, and used them to deglaze the pan - the mushrooms give off enough moistrure on their own, but I hit it with a shot of vermouth, then mounted it with a couple dabs of butter. Not bad, I think. The mashed potatoes were pretty standard - peeled, diced, boiled, mashed with butter & cream. Then I figured we've got rosemary, and garlic, so I put a glug of olive oil into our small saucier, minced a couple cloves of garlic, chopped up some rosemary, and sauteed that for a bit, then added it to the mashed potatoes. I probably needed triple the amount of garlic & rosemary for it to really have packed a punch, but it was subtle.

All in all, feeding 6 people for <$50 ($48ish) ain't too bad. The pictionary that ensued afterwards was awesome, and I have to remember to explicitly consider the housemates when we do these sort of things. I only bought 6 steaks, and felt like an ass about it while cooking - fortunately, he didn't happen to be home during dinner, but that may have been a causal thing. I hope not, but in the future, I'll be more considerate. :P Just one of those things that happened organically, but still.

Anyway - a good time was had by all, I think. I certainly couldn't think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening. Well, maybe sans allergies, which were a total, unmitigated disaster for me today.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

But I did promise that I'd post a pic of the ugly dessert I made for Seppo for his birthday.

Indeed. Delightfully ugly.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The New Best Recipe

We've cooked a bunch of things from Cook's Illustrated, or America's Test Kitchen (depends on your preferred medium), and everything they've put up has been incredible. So, when I saw The New Best Recipe at Barnes & Noble the other day, I had to get it. 1,000 recipes, compiled over the last decade or so, all done in the inimitable Cook's Illustrated manner. That is, tested to death, to the point where every detail has been scrutinized, and optimized. The book's full of useful reviews of equipment, ingredients, and various hints and tips. We've got three of the America's Test Kitchen books, which serve as companions to the show, and a subscription to Cook's Illustrated, but The New Best Recipe is far and away, the best bang for the buck, short of the TV show, which is free.

Definitely worth a look.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

My New Favorite Pastime...

... is having dinner with friends. Recently, we've gone out of our way to invite over our friends for dinner. Last Friday, Joe returned the favor, and Joe, Becky, Alan, Steve, Ei-Nyung and I had dinner at Joe's place. We hung out until after midnight, just talking and laughing and eating, and just having a fantastic time overall. Definitely something we have to do more often as a group. Later in the weekend, we got a gang together to have dinner and go see Sin City. We ended up feeding ... something like 10 people, then going to catch a fantastic movie - again, one of these things that started at 6ish, and went 'till close to 1.

No, it's not like partying until 5am, but frankly, I never really enjoyed partying 'till 5am anyway - I'd much rather sit around and just hang out with people, good food, and have a great time.

Secret Ingredients...

For something to legitimately be a secret ingredient, it either needs to be the crux of an episode of Iron Chef, or it has to be the mysterious, unrecognizable ingredient that gives a dish the spark that defines it. For the Mochiko chicken, the secret ingredient is garlic. We didn't have any (which is *really* unusual for us), and we forgot to put it in regardless, and the first batch which was fried up tasted a little odd - not bad, but a little sweeter, and a little more eggy. We also didn't marinate the meat for nearly as long (24 hrs previously vs. 7 this time) - but the main difference was the garlic. We added garlic powder to the remaining marinade and let it sit for a few minutes, and the difference was astonishing.

Even garlic powder did the trick - it brought all the flavors into perfect balance - the sweetness of the sugar, the saltiness of the soy sauce, and the bite of the scallions and the garlic formed this perfect harmony of flavors that complemented the chicken perfectly.

Friday, April 01, 2005

How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Fry the Egg

OMGWTFBBQ!!!!11!!one1! I totally just fried up the most perfect egg in my 12" All-Clad pan. It was as slick as oil on glass, with nary a hint of stickage in sight. Even though I had already warned that proper preheating was absolutely necessary, I had not been following my own advice, which is why I had always ended up with a messy glop when it came to eggs. I present to you the steps to ensure that your pan is properly preheated:
  1. Put your pan in the stove with a little bit of oil (if you won't be using oil, just put like a teaspoon in anyway and wipe it off before throwing on the food) and turn the heat to what your final flame setting will be. Do not set it to full-blast then turn it down.*
  2. Depending on the heft/conductivity of your pan, the time will vary, but I waited around 6-7 minutes. Before, I always jumped the gun at around 2-3 minutes. The idea is for the entire mass of the pan to heat to the same target temperature to the degree that reality will allow you, given that various parts of the pan are under different conditions (duh).
  3. Around this time, you will see wisps of smoke coming off the pan.** I used to think I was seeing wisps at around 2-3 minutes, but I assure you, I was not. When you see them, you will know. Don't wait for it to smoke up your kitchen either, you big schmoe.
  4. Throw your meat/egg/pancake/whatever into the pan.
If you did it right (and you were cooking eggs or pancakes), it should really be just as non-stick as your best non-stick pan at the time of purchase. If not, stop cursing the pan and let it pre-heat longer. If it looks burnt, it was because you thought pre-heating it at a higher flame setting would help you. I laugh at your burnt eggs.

There is also a "butter-test" method that Calphalon suggests for their hard-anodized pans. For those pans, they suggest that you should start with a clean pan, pre-heat until the edges of the pan seem hot (but still tappable without severe burning), then put a pat of butter on the pan. If the butter melts and foams, with the foaming disappearing soon after, then your pan is ready. If it browns, it is too hot. If it doesn't foam and turn clear, then it is too cool. I haven't succeeded with the Calphalon pan yet, but I only tried once so far. I will conquer it, I vow.

*You may think that heating it up really high for a bit will save you some preheating time, which could work for you, but you end up taking some chances. You have to lower the heat and wait again for the entire pan (or as much of it as possible) to hit the target temperature. If you are really good with timing, this could help you. Or if you screw up, you have to wait even longer to wait for your entire pan to cool down or just be more uniform in temperature throughout the pan. It is just more fool-proof to just leave it at the target flame setting you want, because you can be doing some prep work for your food without worrying too much about overheating the pan and scorching the oil.

**There is something interesting going on with the whole "heat on medium", "heat on medium-high", etc., business. It seems that all the recommendations I've read/heard are that the pan is ready when the oil shows wisps of smoke or the butter foams, which seems to indicate that regardless of if I'm cooking on low heat or high heat, the pan is ready when it hits a certain temperature, i.e. the smoke point of my oil. That means that my food hits the pan at the same temperature. What the flame setting helps in determining is the heat exchange rate during the cooking process and how long it takes to hit the smoke point, but not the initial cooking temperature. So I will go back on my first note and say that if you want to blast the heat at the beginning, you may do so, as long as you crank down the heat to a tiny flame just before it hits the smoke point, then you can throw on the meat, wait a while and them turn the flame setting back up. If you can master this in such a way that the chart of the pan temperature over time matches the profile of a pan that is heated and cooked on the proper flame setting for the duration of the cooking process, then you can totally ignore the first note.