Thursday, June 23, 2005

Surf N Turf

A night at the Sizzler with steak and fried shrimp? Not at my house, my friends. What I'm talking about here is two nights of excellent eats with seafood and land mammal themed dishes.

Sunday was fondue night. E and I picked out some emmenthaler and chardonnay at a local procurer. Next door we picked up some pancetta and boudin blanc sausage, a baguette and some fresh organic California asparagus. I don't have any photos of the creative process but when it was through we had this to deal with:

Tough work, but we got through it all right! If you are ever tempted to buy one of those premade fondue packs, don't do it. Just do it right and buy some good cheese and wine and you'll be glad you did.

That was the turf. Now how about the surf? I hope you like tako (octopus). We picked out a few choice legs from a local Japanese grocer and I butchered them at home with my Shikoku knives:

Our wiggly little buddy. Click to enlarge.

I managed not to eat all of the tako before it got to the dish. The last time I ate this much eight-legger was in the mountains above Kochi City on the island of Shikoku in southwestern Japan. A buddy and I bought a couple legs, cut them up, and ate them with an incredibly simple sauce that we made. I think it was soy sauce, mayo and wasabi or mustard but I can't quite remember. I almost went crazy trying to make it again and didn't exactly succeed. Plus, this tako wasn't as fresh as I would have liked, but I dealt with it.

What we were on our way to making was Okonomiyaki (literally "what you like grilled"), a tasty potato pancake-style concoction of Japanese origin. It varies greatly from region to region, and mine is definitely Tokyo style. I decided to take special care with each of the ingredients so the final dish would be as good as it possibly could. First I fried the mushrooms in my brand new lodge cast iron frypan.

These pans are the BEST. They hold heat really well and you don't ever have to worry about scratching them. For E's birthday I bought her a couple of Calphalon pans which she really adores. They are really great, not even in the same ballpark as my lodges. But you can't use any metal implements with them, which is a drag. You could drop my pans off a ten-story building and not damage them. Using them, I also fried up the pork that was to top/fill the okonomiyaki. I mixed some of it in with the dough as well as the remaining tako, the mushrooms, some scallions, katsuo (bonito) flakes and cabbage. Halfway through they looked like this:

They need to be flipped to cook all the way. So I flipped 'em. It's at this point that you want to put some toppings on them, so I put pork, katsuo, scallions and cabbage on top:

The finished product, as it should, looked something like this:

We paired it with a light saké and garnished with kagome 'ketchup' and kwepie 'mayonaise'.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Die with a "T"

Bring us a shrubbery

Blog=Weblog=Diary. A public one. "Dear internet: today some bullshit happened to me and you're the only one I can talk to about it. " Perfect, right?

Not going to happen on the five pints.

I want to update you all, however, on the status of my diet.
  1. The vegan thing lasted about a week
  2. The small meals thing is only possible during the work week
  3. I quickly lost about ten pounds, then gained back about five

People in my family gain and lose weight very quickly, so I'm not surprised by this yo-yoing of my waistline. Also, my exercise regimens lately have focused a lot more on weightlifting than on cardio, so I'm burning calories but not as much as in past months--just putting on mass on my arms, not taking it off of my gut.

E and I are, however, about to go on a forced week of veganism. We're going backpacking in Tahoe and won't exactly be in the business of carrying around meat. Unless I catch us some fish in those pristine, chilly lakes it's going to be tasty bite and instant rice for five days straight.

Over the fourth of July weekend, E and I are going to my cousin's cabin in Mendo for some recreation. I am not a playa dust junkie. You will never see me at burning man or anything resembling it. But, this yearly expedition to the mid-north of California is my burning man, as much as Star Wars III was my superbowl. It is a chance to get together with my family and friends and cook huge meals, drink huge kegs, and practice my four wheeling and shotgun shooting.

This is how we liberal elites advocate for policy change.

Whenever E and I attend this event we do so with the intention of making some awesome food, and that's what we do. Towards the beginning of the festivities I'll make something crazy like a whole leg of lamb slowly roasted or a whole bunch of Cornish game hens. After four days of eating little else but meat, all the campers go nuts when we break out the vegan dutch oven stews, composed of fresh organic produce purchased along the way up to the cabin. Moderation? Not in the wilderness. It's all or nothing, one or the other. Can't wait.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Crazy Canard

By now many people are familiar with "drunken chicken" or "beer butt chicken". What you do is cram a can of beer in the cavity of a chicken, stand it on its feet on a grill and grill away. The beer boils, making the bird's insides juicy and delicious, while the coals coax the outside to give up its moisture. It's a win-win situation for the consumer.

One variation on this theme that I thought of would be to use Cornish game hens instead of chickens and prop them up on the tiny ("housewife size") cans of Sapporo that are sold in Japanese markets. I still haven't tried that out. What I did try out, however, will blow you away.
First, I went and bought one of these:

They call it a chick-can and its purpose is obvious--it holds the beer can as well as the bird up and prevents your meal from getting charcoal-flavored when it inevitably falls down. Inevitably, that is, if you don't have one of these. Then, I secured my bird: a three-pound whole liberty duck! I marinated the duck overnight in a water-based stew of roasted spices, onions, and garlic:

Glamorous, eh? I turned the duck several times during the night to ensure even distribution. Daffy here was on his way to becoming more delicious than he ever dreamt of. My next modification to the standard drunken chicken plan was to use good beer. Most people who make this dish use budweiser or some such truck. I figured the beer should match the bird, so after emptying a 20oz. Three Horses, I filled the can up with Chimay, reserving the rest of the trappist ale for later use. I started a bunch of Lazzari mesquite coals on my grill. A note about grilling: I almost never use gas. The one thing I use the propane for is to start my mesquite, then we're off and running. It is so important to the flavor of the dish.

Here we see the duck cooking in about a 400 degree environment. The pie pan beneath it collected enough duck fat over the course of the preparation to fill my 3 cup pyrex measuring cup. I saved the fat and ended up making french fries with it a couple of days later. Fantastic.

Back to the bird. I kept adding chimay to the can. It was boiling off pretty quickly so I plugged the duck's neck-hole with 3 fresh bay leaves and rosemary and marjoram from the yard. As he cooked, his pride swelled. It's curious to note how the duck looked dumpy in the photo above and then straightened out into the tasty soldier below:

The bird, about halfway done

Meanwile, E was busy cooking up several salads for the guests that had trickled in to join us for these, our memorial day festivities. She found time to whip up a blood orange, tequila, and coriander seed sauce for the bird that was excellent. Before I butchered the duck and after I took it off of the grill it looked like this:

I am no expert at carving, but I took pretty good care of this crazy quacker. In the end everybody got a generous serving of drunken duck that I challenge anyone to improve upon. Towards the end, the wings did get a little singed, so I recommend wrapping them in aluminum foil when you are about 20 minutes out from done. But let's face it - when it comes to duck it's not about the wings! With the indirect-heat method I used I estimate it took 2.5 hours to cook the fowl.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Oh ño you didn't

On Isla de las Mujeres, the island to which Mayan women used to make a pilgrimage before Europeans introduced them to the wonders of poverty and products sold in plastic containers, I came to love the habanero pepper. A few miles' walk from our room was a restaurant on the beach (playa de los tiburones) where E and I ate a whole barbecued barracuda twice during our one-week stay on the isle. The toothy fish came with a generous helping of a very wet habanero sauce and while not being fancy was anything but ordinary. I can still taste those little green devils to this day. We brought back a bunch of Yucateco habanero bottled sauce but it just isn't the same.

Click to enlarge (if you dare)

Flash forward to 2005 and I'm back in California. I don't know how many times it has happened to me here, but all too often some idiot who took a couple of years of high school Spanish (or didn't) thinks they have perfect pronunciation of every word in the Spanish language. We're talking about hot chilis and I mention that something I made or something we're eating contains habanero. Inevitably, the ignorant (while thiking itself informative) response: "Habañero?" "That's right", I'll say, "Habanero".

Look here, folks, I took ten years of French in high school and college and I don't for a minute think that I speak French without an accent, or that I could look at any French word in existence and know its pronunciation. So why do people whose education in Spanish consists of Taco Bell menus think they know best?

There seems to be a cult of misunderstanding in Northern Californa regarding the pronunciation of the name of the world's hottest pepper, the habanero. OF NOTE: there is no tilde (~) over the N, as in the word jalapeño. This might could even be called a folk etymology. If they want to take the analogy that far, then we may as well spell the word jabañero, since everything about it seems to need to mimic its plumper, greener, milder cousin in the minds of northern Californians. This bullshittery has gone so far that I found crushed habanero on sale the other day labeled habañero. This must be stopped before the truth is completely obscured by nucular jabañero foilage.

Sweet irony!

Imagine my surprise when, off the coast of Quintana roo I found everyone pronouncing the name of this pepper without the Spanish enye pronunciation. After about one day I figured out that I was pronouncing it wrong. Some of these northern californians probably think they need to go correct the Mexicans in their pronunciation of their own word (which probably has Yucatec Mayan or Olmec roots anyway, being a new world pepper, and so by definition could not contain an enye unless its pronunciation was modified by Spanish speakers). And why not tell them how to pronounce their own word? We already tell them what Mexican food should taste like by selling Taco bell in Mexico.