Sunday, May 17, 2009

TV dinner bento!

"Now back to your regularly scheduled program. err. sorta" Today I decided to take the idea of returning to theme and apply it to the bento. My inspiration, the noble hungry man salisbury steak dinner. That's right kids, "It's salisbury steak day!". I stayed gluten free, and amped up lunch with a nice twist on what you would normally find in a TV dinner.

I learned if I ground my own chuck roast I could get a nice ground beef for $2 dollars a pound less than buying ground beef! I'm paying someone $2 every pound to ground some meat. Unbelievable! I will say that the fresh ground beef tangibly tasted better than the normal ground I get from the store. Maybe it's the course ground I went with. Either way when you're making a batch of 4lbs of beef that's an $8 savings.

What can I say, salisbury steak it's the first thing I came up with when thinking TV dinner. As a child I treasured the the times my mother would make us salisbury steak. (it was always chinese food at our house) Salisbury steak has some interesting origins, it's not named after a place, it's named after the inventor. Dr. J.H. Salisbury during the Civil war suggested this recipe for soldiers to cure some of their ailments and recommended a dose of 3 portions a day. Either way it's a tasty recipe that stretches the dollar, esp in this current economic environment.

Mashed potato, classic on the TV dinner platter. Decided to mash up some nice white potatoes. Yes, I added a bit of butter and sour cream and then I spied a nice bottle of white truffle oil. Ok it's rare that I fawn over my own food, but this was super delicious! Again very simple dish that twisted the final product with an introduction of something foreign to the foil packed freezer package. The earthy taste of truffle with this traditionally starchy dish came out delicious.

Sometimes simplicity is best. This was no doubt the most expensive part of this bento, and I could have used frozen ears of corn or a canned alternative. Fresh sweet corn however, is by far better tasting, the fresh crunch and delightful sweetness gets lost in the canning and freezing process. A simply saute after boiling the ears you have a fresh snappy corn.

Lastly, I toasted up some almonds and sauted up some parboiled green beans and zested up some lemon. It's just green beans dressed up for a smarter occasion. Again fresh veggies provide a better texture than the processed stuff.

It's nice to be back in the kitchen cooking. It's my "zen" activity if you will. That said, the future of the blog is a bit uncertain right now. I'll try to continue to post but a theme change might be in my future. In the near term I have a trip I have to take for work, you'll likely see some posts from the road. As always, thanks for reading.

Box Contents:
  • Salisbury Steak
  • Mashed Potatoes with white truffle oil
  • Fresh corn off the cob
  • Lemony green beans with toasted almonds

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Soup's on! Thai green curry soup.

Ok sorry for the no posts. Life's taken a tough turn and it precludes my ability to cook and make bentos. Fortunately I had the bug and really was compelled to cook *something*. I've been reading the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, It's a great book teaching you to cook by ratios of ingredients instead of trying to remember recipes. I chose beef stock today, I won't get into the actual "Ratio" cookbook recipe but sticking with the premise of the book, I took his suggestions of what would go into a Thai Green Curry soup and improvised with what I had on hand. I'll post when I've managed to read the whole book, but what I've read thus far has been very useful.

The stock was a 3:2 ratio of water and beef bones (in weight) plus some aromatics and such. Weight? yes water is one of the few liquids that the fluid ounce is equivalent to the weight ounce. Normally the stock cooks for 10 hours, but I really didn't have the time and had to skip to skimming over a medium simmer for 5 hours. The resulting stock was quite good, but as we all know a good stock takes much more time. 10 hours is recommended

This particular recipe is really simple. Soups originated as a simple and cheap food. In fact the term restaurant actually originally meant an inexpensive soup sold in the streets of 16th century France. (if you want to know more go here) So adopting the stance I pulled what I had in the pantry canned baby corn, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts and mixed it with green curry and some fresh ingrediants (onions and carrots) I ended up with 6 quarts of soup for the cost of one bento box.

I really enjoyed getting to be in the kitchen again. Sorry about the dearth of posts. It'll be a little bumpy coming up with some posts from London and Frankfurt as I'm traveling for work. I look forward to a review post on the book "Ratio". See you next time.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Foodblogger Event: Max's Wine Dive

Max's Wine Dive: that's their slogan up there. Seriously, a slogan like that will always get me to try a place. They weren't messing around, literally an hour before we starting the tables we were standing around had not yet been assembled. We're the *first* people this kitchen staff has ever served. I'm a bit speechless as they treated us like foreign dignitaries. It's nice to feel special and they really went out of their way to explain what they were about and show the perfect sampling of food that really underscores what you can expect if you went to Max's. The wine steward was great at explaining the wine selections and why he thought they paired well with the foods on the tasting menu. I'm under no illusions that this is what they want, folks to talk about how great they are. Keep in mind all of these events run a risk, if it goes bad then folks will blog about a negative experience. Personally, I'm not a critic, I'd rather say nothing than to slam someone. That said, Max's was AWESOME. I can't wait to try out their full menu, I have been told the mac and cheese is to die for.

Everyone was so very friendly there. The owners came in from Houston to greet the event. Both Jerry and Jonathan were excellent hosts and explained (please correct me if I got the names wrong) the trials and tribulations of owning and starting restaurants, both very humble and fun loving folks. The open kitchen was fun to watch and will be a nice spectacle for patrons watching their food being prepared. The team seemed to be a well oiled machine despite being day one. Jerry explained that they hired the staff and had them work in the Houston restaurant for a month to get familiar, that still has to be very different than day one of your brand new restaurant and you're assembling racks for plates an hour before an event

Max's, as you can tell by their slogan is about normally comfort foods that are spun out with a touch of class. Where else can you get fried chicken and a nice classy artisan cheese plate. I actually didn't get a chance to try the cheeses, this one came out last and I was already stuffed from the other goods.

These are Max's Famous Fried chicken rolling drummet style. Listed description is, All natural steroid-free chicken with a jalapeno and buttermilk marinade, deep fried slow and low served with chipotle honey. That basically translates in to Yum. Amazing tender fried chicken I was curious about the slow frying as you usually want to fry at a high temperature to avoid greasiness. I'm happy to report the chicken was extremely tender and not at all greasy. The chipotle honey gave the chicken a smokey sweet taste and finish. Definite hit!

The next item was my *favorite* of the night, Buffalo Sliders. It's buffalo meat topped with house made pickles and caramelized onions and a bit of ketchup. This one took a few bites to eat, but it was enjoyable to the last. The bun was very soft, but the hit was the house made pickles, I bet I could sit and just eat a whole plate of them. I didn't detected an appreciable difference between buffalo and normal meat maybe the flavors of the pickle onion and ketchup covered it up for me. Then again the change may simply be that buffalo is suppose to be more lean than normal beef at least I don't have to feel too guilty on chomping down on these suckers.

These are the Nacho Mama's oysters. Grispy fried gulf oysters on aioli and fried wontons topped with a habanero salsa and cilantro. This like everything else was very delicious I braced myself for the habanero to kick in, unfortuneatly it never did. This of course makes sense not everyone likes that kind of heat. I was just hoping. The flavor of the aioli actually was the most pronouced and the oyster was very tender.

These are Berkshire pork baby back ribs with a hoisin glaze. Amazinginly tender, I'm talking fall off the bone tender. A nice rich sweetness from the hoisin glaze. Literally finger licking good (I still could have used some wipes) This was easily my second favorite if not first favorite.

Nice one bite spoon trick here. Grilled jumbo gulf shrimp with a bite of very tasty grits with another house pickle this time in the form of okra. It's a little hard to get this in in one bite and the flavor was just over in a flash. I kinda wished I had a knife and fork so I could have picked apart the flavors. It was a wonderful bite with an explosion of flavors and textures from the grits to the shrimp that finally get to a bit of the sour pickled okra.

For the bloggers they knew we'd want a nice plated picture so they were kind enough to provide us a monster plate with everything that we had that evening. You'd think that a celebrity had popped in, dozens of clicks and flashes were going off. Ultimately, I had to ask them to bring the plate over to a table by the window as natural lighting is always best for this type of stuff.

I had a fabulous time. Every sampling was delicious not a single one was a "eh ok" all of it was "awesome". I can't wait till they actually open so I can order one of everything. Thanks to the staff of Max's as well as the organizers and owners for having me over. I had a great time (if a little abbreviated) and I wish them the best of luck at the new location.

Ok I promise the next blog entry I do will be a bento. This next one will be an easy one. I've got a full weekend and it's been an extremely tough week all the way around.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Haggis it's what's for dinner

Ok, if I've not earned my stripes as a hardcore foodie, then I most definitely earned them last night. I present to you my adventure of making Haggis, no it didn't go into a bento so no haggis in a box. To get the full effect of how this transpired (and to earn the tag yammering) we must start our story from the beginning. My wife was away for the weekend and a coworker was in a similar situation. He suggested that since we're both adventurous with food we should do "some foodie thing". It didn't take long for him to further suggest we make the delicious treat we had in London, Haggis. I tweeted and searched high and low in an effort to find the ingredients for the weekend. Ultimately Addie Broyles from the Austin American Statesman suggested I contact Ryan over at Nose to Tail At Home. Ryan kindly replied with some mixed news. The bad news is the only way to get all the ingredients is to see a butcher in Weatherford, TX (a good 3+ hour drive) even then you don't get the sheep lung (illegal in the US). The good news is that he's already got all the stuff ( minus the lung) and has been meaning to cook haggis as part of his cooking adventure and he would welcome the help and company . Done and Done.

Dear readers, below is not for the faint of heart. You might just want to skip to the end. But where's the fun in that? Onward!

I arrived at Ryans noonish (I got lost) and after a bit of introductions and "what do you do?" "Oh yes Alton Brown is my hero too" "Oh you need to read this" "hey check this out" "did you know about" we set upon our task of making Haggis. Step one: Need to finish thawing the stomachs. What you see at the left here is five pounds of sheep stomach. Apparently you can't buy them any smaller than that. The other pictures show the vacuum sealed liver, kidney and yes brain. mmm brain.... People often ask me "eww.. how can you eat that?", my simple answer is "I'm asian, we eat everything" but truly the more appropriate answer is that I've been brought up to try everything at least once and I wouldn't be much of a foodie if I didn't.

Step two: wash up everything put it all in the pot and boil it, for two hours! Chop some onions.

"Oh crap!" half way thru we forgot the sheep hearts! Doh! Quick get another pot going we can recover. The pictures shows something like eight hearts all frozen together. Fortuneatly we had some time with waiting for the other pot to cool to get caught up with the hearts.

Finally let that cool and then chop it into chunks so that we could then grind it down. Ryan's kitchen aid was a trooper. We weren't sure that it would make it thru when it came time to grind out the suet, there were moments of electrical smells and the poor machine just trying it's hardest to power thru. In the end no appliances were harmed in our procedures.

Now I've never actually worked with suet before it's different than any other fats I've worked with in that it stays solid even at room temperature. Usually chicken or beef fats are not rock solid when it's as warm as room temperature. This proved to be a big challenge to the grinder but ultimately necessary as we had more uniform fat distribution than if we had chopped it in the food processor. For the uninformed suet is the fat found around the loins and kidneys of beef or mutton.

The rest of the process is pretty boring. Saute some onions, toast some pin head oats. Mix it all together and drop in some salt pepper and allspice. Last but not least a bit of stock to moisten things up so that when the oats cook they have some liquid to absorb. Here's a nice action shot for you of me mixing everything together in the giant stock pot. This is a lot of haggis, fortunately we had an army of folks coming over to taste. Oops they all dropped like flies, ok well fortunately there were four of us (eep). We ended up with enough for at least 20.

Now the fun part. Stuffing! Sheep stomach is easily torn so we had to carefully open out a pouch. The picture above is the haggis I stuffed. After stuffing you tie the whole thing up and voila haggis. Ok, uncooked haggis, but haggis none the less. We hit another "oh crap" moment after the second haggis, "we forgot the brain!" We decided to spin it as, "well now we can have two flavors of haggis traditional, and with brain".

In hindsight we needed either less liquid or more stuffing as the haggis with the brain was very liquid-y and the consistency was not as good. I think everyone decided haggis without brain was better than with. It wasn't bad, it was just different tasting and most preferred the taste without brain. In the picture you see our foil wrapped little bundles of joy. We then proceeded to cook these monstrosities for three more hours. Yes that's five full hours of only cooking/boiling time. Fortunately, Ryan had a healthy selection of scotch and a nice DVD selection for us to while the time away.

I don't think my photos completely convey exactly how big these haggises were. So here's a picture of one of them being boiled in a full soup pot. And of course a shot of the finished product (no brains) cut open in the traditional cross as specified by the book.

We mashed up the potatoes and rutabagas that I brought over and served the haggis per the book with a side of dijon mustard. The mustard was perfect addition, it added some zip and tang and help cut the liver taste (for those that don't like liver). Now I know what you're thinking: "What?! That's disgusting don't eat that!" I would only say give it a try before you discount it. It's very delicious and the texture of the oats made it fun to eat.

A big thanks to Ryan for letting me participate in such a unique event (and sending me home with a haggis and extra sheep stomach). I had a ton of fun and we'll collaborate again sometime in the future. Ryan's a great guy and knowledgeable cook. We traded some great war stories (as well as created our own) in his kitchen. Would I do this again? Sure if I had all the ingredients. Would I do it tomorrow? uhh... no thanks.