Monday, August 30, 2010

Travels: London 2010

Work sends me out now and again to our various offices. I'm out currently visiting our offices in London, Paris, and Marseilles. Unfortunately for my London leg of the trip I kept forgetting to bring my camera so you'll have to suffer with my low-res iphone pictures. Above is the child of one of my coworkers that are traveling with me, he sucking on a bag of chicken casserole. Yeah, that was my first reaction "Chicken casserole puree huh". I seem to remember seeing things like pureed peas and carrots, but chicken casserole? There was a suggestion that I do a post on trying some of these. All I mustered was a "um. yeah maybe". None the less it was a cute picture and the "bag o sippy food" seemed like a good related picture.

I've been to London quite a few times so I've hit most of the normal stuff even tracking down some haggis two years ago. The one place I *always* go to is the food hall at Harolds (a really famous department store) they get everything and have the most impressive array of, well, everything from cod roe to cured sausages from all around the world. My favorite is to hit the sushi bar and grab some uni (sea urchin)

I spent most of the time checking out all these gastro-pubs all the rage these days. The food at these pubs are quite amazing, I really hate that I didn't get to snap more pictures of the food we had. Above we'll start with the more common food that you expect out of "pub grub". On the left you see a burger with blue cheese and egg and onion rings on top (I didn't eat that). The thick cut chips were very delicious nice amount of crisp with what tasted like a creamy mashed potato in the center. We were at the Queen's Head in Hammersmith, the guys told me they had the best fish and chip in Hammersmith. I really wanted the braised pork belly or the lamb shank (I got that else where). I really couldn't argue with them, the batter was light yet substantial. The fish was a really thick cut of cod, easily 1.5 inches thick (just the fish).

They also featured some interesting shared plates to the left you'll see a nice plate of snacks, Lamb sliders, serrano ham, mini sausages, hummus with vegetables, gherkins and pita, finishing up with broiled Pork belly (up at the top I managed to snap this photo before they were all snapped up). Next we have a plate of breaded and fried Camembert with cranberry relish. Very rich and something that really needs to be shared.

The visit was a lot of fun, I may have enjoyed the bars a little too much. The office was very hospitable, to the point where we went out every night. (friday hit me the hardest) I bid my Londoner coworkers good bye and stepped onto a train bound for Paris. I'll post about my stay here later (I remembered my camera this time)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ethiopian Bento

So once upon a time, many years ago I asked a friend for a food challenge. I was in the full swing of my life goal of cooking as many cuisines from appetizer to dessert to learn as much as I can about food. Austin, at the time was still more of a college town and food had not exploded to be what it is today. My friend said, "fine Ethiopian food" my response, "well that's not fair, we don't even have an Ethiopian restaurant for me to try the cuisine." him, "you asked for a challenge, and my favorite place in Houston is an Ethiopian restaurant". I wasn't really willing to drive out to Houston so I set to the web. I studied countless recipes and poured over every description I could find and created the tastes in my head. Did I pass? An enthusiastic yes. This turns out to be my favorite cuisine to cook, and I think it was because of the surprise complexity of the cuisine as well as the amount of research I had to do to get there. Anyway, I'm very happy to finally get a chance to do this box, my previous audience was not amenable towards Ethiopian food.

Ok we'll start off with our main entree. Doro Wat is one of the classic dishes you'll find at any Ethiopian restaurant (we now have three in Austin). The base for this dish is onions, lots and lots of onions, it brings a sweetness to the stew, but the real kick is the berbere. I was dismayed at how difficult it was to obtain the spice mix I would have thought it easier to find these days. I resorted to putting the spicy pepper seasoning together and toasting it myself. Basically you put together the base and then stew chicken and hard boiled eggs together for a very hearty stew. It's usually a bit thicker than what I have pictured and that's due to the amount of butter used, I opted to lighten this box up as much as possible so I'll have to live with the thinner sauce.

Next dish is Alicha, it's slow cooked meats usually lamb or goat (I went with Sirloin Chuck shoulder as suggested by my butcher) in a nice flavorful curry. The amount of spices used really gave a really tasty "gravy" to the meat and my butcher was completely spot on in his recommendation for the cut of meat. I think the only thing I did wrong this time around was the sheer volume I was cooking (12 boxes this time) hosed me over so the sauce didn't get a chance to evaporate down as much as I would have liked. That's the beauty of cooking for 6-8 most recipes scale for that size in the same cooking vessels you'd normally use. Double that quantity and instead of caramelizing onions you're steaming them, or instead of a skillet you're using a pot which produces very different results.

For our first side Misr Allecha, it's very reminiscent of a Indian Dal. This is a very simple dish cook some lentils throw in some turmeric for color and add good amount of fresh green peppers (I used Serrano peppers). The relative "blandness" of this dish works well against the flavor explosion of the previous two dishes. I think one of the surprising things about Ethiopian cuisine is how heavy it is. I didn't really have any experience with the food those many years ago, but my thoughts were similar to the reactions I got when I told folks I was going to do Ethiopian bento "what an empty box?". A rather ignorant remark, but it does say a lot about our assumptions of the region which can be a bit unfair. I hope my work will change a few minds.

Finally we have Iab, usually it's made from a local farmers cheese. It's usually served with the meal as a last course, to help quell some of the spicy food. I've also read it to be eaten with food spicy foods to help cut the effects. Just a small layer of it in the injera and grab whatever you're eating. Ethiopean food is generally eaten with your hands using injera. Injera is a spongy, stretchy crepe that has a sourdough-like taste. In my first trials on Ethiopian food I tried four different methods and although some had the texture, none had the color, texture, and taste described. Real injera takes about three days to make and I wasn't feeling quite so ambitious. Now that we have Ethiopian restaurants I simply went down and bought some.

This was actually a delightful easy box to put together. I think it would have gone even faster had I chose not to double my audience for this week. I just had so many people respond, the first set of empty spots were full within the first minute of me sending my email. I also had a bunch of new people sign up as alternates, I decided I had to open another set of slots. Hopefully they enjoy!

Box Contents:
  • Doro Wat
  • Alicha
  • Misr Allecha
  • Iab

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Light Asian Bento

So short post today, it's been tough with all the travel to make food for my folks. The one good thing about travel is that I take the time to catch up on my food magazines and try to get some inspiration for my bentos. For today's creation I found a magazine that focused on recipe makeovers, or taking stuff that tastes great but is bad for you and turning them into something healthy. I took the challenge a bit further and tried pairing together recipes so that I could make even further cuts in the calories and fat department. Without further ado Lunch time!

I start us off with a Kung Pao style chicken breast. The authors used chicken breast instead of the usually cheaper chicken thighs and went with a lighter version of sauce. Not much variation for me here. I like that they substituted fat with a lot of flavor in the form of a more fragrant and sauce thanks to the sesame oil and heavy dose of ginger.

Instead of going with the traditional rice as a starch, I picked up this recipe for a Soba Noodle with Edamame and Citrus Vinaigrette. I halved the Vinaigrette to let it be the "rice" for the chicken. Originally this was meant as a main with shrimp as the protein, cutting the shrimp gave me another 400 some odd calories to work against, the portioning size of the obentec container did the rest.

I found this great side for grilled five spice carrots, instead I kept the marinade and turned it into more of a glaze. The flavorful marinade was something I couldn't just wash down the drain. I'm sure the flame grilled outside taste would have given it a more smoky component but I wasn't willing to sweat it out with my grill to make this side dish happen.

For soup, I went with the Spicy Coconut vegetable soup, again it asked for shrimp as a protein, but I readjusted the recipe and saved some calories by going with some bamboo shoots instead. To my pleasant surprise this is very close to a indonesian soup I've been trying to replicate for some time. The new findings will give me something to work with, but I'll lean on the opinion of one of my diners to tell me how close (we've been on the hunt together for years on the recipe for this soup.)

Finally, I end lunch with a Spicy Coconut Shrimp with Naga pepper Mango sauce. The original called for habenero, but my eaters have a good tolerance for heat, so I used a bit of the naga pepper sauce I had on hand to put a few more heat levels to the sauce. I should have used the blendtec for a better smother sauce. I'm still working on my plating design :)

I'm glad to be back in the kitchen if only for one or two bentos. I hope to churn out one more before my European trip. I did take this Kimchee class this weekend that I'll post about later.

Box Contents:
  • Kung Pao style Chicken
  • Soba Noodle with Edamame and Citrus Vinaigrette
  • Five Spice Glazed Carrots
  • Spicy Coconut Vegetable Soup
  • Coconut Shrimp with Naga Pepper Mango Sauce