Sunday, March 26, 2006

Car? Neat. As...? (Under Pressure 2)

Tried making Carnitas tonight. Couldn't find a recipe that "felt" legitimate to me, except a few on Food Network, which required slow-frying the pork in two pounds of lard. Given that I didn't have two pounds of lard, or the desire to fry pork in lard, I searched around for a "less traditional" recipe, since I'd made something similar in the past in the slow cooker.

Ended up going with this, which is a mix of a couple recipes:

  • 2 oranges, sliced
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 5 lbs. of pork shoulder (butt - don't ask me why the shoulder's called the butt. I don't get it.)
  • ground cumin
  • coriander seeds
  • a fistful of cilantro
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Rubbed the meat with the cumin & coriander, salt & pepper, and browned on all sides. Put the fruit in the bottom of the cooker, and plopped the meat on top. Poured in the chicken broth, closed the cooker, and cooked for 18 minutes. After 18 minutes, removed the meat to find it nearly uncooked on the inside. Realized that I needed to cut the meat into chunks. Cut the meat into chunks, cooked for another 10 minutes, then shredded the meat with forks, and fried the shreds in a cast iron pan (enough fat still in the meat that additional fat was not required).

Ate with black beans, tortillas, cheese, salsa, and guacamole (all but the cheese bought from Trader Joe's).

The mistake in the recipe was that instead of the oranges, I should have used limes. The orange-yness of it is too strong, and not as acidic as limes would have been. In retrospect, the first time I ever made carnitas, it was with lime rind. So, I should have known better. Alas! It's still pretty tasty, it's just a little bit odd. Good texture, and good pork flavor. What's weird is that even the first burst of flavor is good, and the aftertaste is good - it's just a weird note in the middle that tastes distinctly orangey.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pan? Nice.

For my thirtieth birthday, Ei-Nyung took my mom and me to Chez Panisse. I'd heard about it for a long time, and even being someone who really enjoys good food, I'd never been. The dinner was excellent. Not the life-changing experience that was our dinner at Morimoto, but a spectacular meal overall.

1.) Halibut - this was a raw cut of halibut pounded flat. On top of the halibut was a mix of herbs, and the whole thing had some sort of lemony butter or oil drizzled on top. The lemon was really punchy, and really nicely complemented the delicate flavor of the halibut. Hands down the favorite course of the night, it was light, bright, delicate, and perfectly balanced. I could have eaten this one dish, and paid the full price of the meal, and been satisfied to some degree. It'd have been expensive, but still worth it on some level. That it was just the first course... well, that's quite a treat.

2.) Ravioli - this was some sort of game hen ravioli in a consomme of some sort. Oh yeah! There's some accurate describin'. Three ravioli, basically stuffed with a smoky, slightly herby mix of dark meat, in a thin, very delicate consomme. Again, the thing that I find most appealing about really "good" food is the balance of flavors - this is what sets Angelfish apart from other Sushi restaurants, or the quality that made the dishes at Morimoto extraordinary. The ravioli & the consomme worked beautifully together - the texture of the ravioli was meaty - the filling was still chunky, not smoothly pureed. Each bite had a slightly different consistency and flavor, depending on how much of the consomme, or the pasta you'd managed to get with the filling.

3.) The main cours - honestly, this is the only part of the meal that was even a marginal disappointment. It was a fire-roasted quail, with a salad, artichokes, and some potatoes. The basic issue I had with the dish wasn't really the flavor, just that everything felt greasy - the quail, the dressing on the salad, the potatoes - it all had a bit of a sheen to it. It tasted great, but some contrast would have been good - if the salad had a bit of the punchiness of the starter, in addition to the smooth, smoky flavor of the quail, I think I would have been a bit more able to appreciate it. As it was, it was like hitting a note, and just hollding it for a while. Not bad, but not my favorite dish of the night.

4.) Dessert - maple profiteroles, with a chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce was like getting hit in the face with a chocolate bar. Really dark and rich. The ice cream and the pastry were very delicate - the pastry remained crispy, and the ice cream had a mild, subtle flavor that let each part of the dessert bring its own flavor to the party. The caramel-like drizzle over the top was crunchy and sweet, the chocolate brought a slight bitterness, the pastry had an almost wheaty earthiness, and the ice cream was ... er... creamy, and again, sort of earthy in its maple flavor. There were some glazed nuts that added to the variety of textures and flavors. Everything worked like a charm. Ei-Nyung had mentioned it was my birthday, so mine had a small candle, and a paper cutout of a banner that said, "Happy Birthday".

All in all, an excellent meal, and for what it was, even reasonably priced. I'd definitely go back for a special occasion.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Under Pressure

Last year, I discovered that I could replicate my mom's braised short ribs almost perfectly. Each time I've cooked this dish since, it's taken me 2-3 hours of actual cooking time, not even including the prep time.

Enter the miracle of pressure cooking. My mom always makes that dish (among others) in the pressure cooker, but I never knew exactly how much time she was saving. I called my mom last week and spoke to both my mom and my sister, who have different pressure cookers, to get their opinions on how long I should cook the ribs for. My sister said 8 minutes once pressurized to the right psi; my mom said 18.

Whoa. Really? Because they weren't sure if my pressure cooker would be more like my sister's or my mom's, they advised me to cook the dish the first time for about 10 minutes.

I cooked this dish last night, and after 10 minutes, the dish was like it was after an hour in the oven. I wanted the meat to be more tender, even though the potatoes were perfect, so I locked the lid back on and gave it 7 more minutes. The dish came out like it does after 2.5 hours in the oven. Whoa.


Awesome. I love the pressure cooker. Even if I only use it for this one dish (which I won't), just that makes it all worth it. Woo hoo!

Next time, I am totally going to cook the meat & turnips w/ sauce for about 8 minutes then, after depressurizing, add the potatoes & carrots for the last 9 minutes under pressure again. Oh man, I can't wait.