Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peru Bento 2

Back to Peru, I still have ingredients on hand from the last Peruvian bento so this is still a continuation of my pantry raid. There were so many awesome dishes that I spied from last time I felt it was a perfect time to sling in another Peru based theme. The cuisine is quite rich, lots of starches and heavy meat so I really struggled to make recipe alterations and pick things that would at least feel light. I think since my bento-ers eat these things in two sittings I'm still ok with the healthy theme.

We start with a Seco De Res. I again went with a Chuck Shoulder Roast cut of beef here, I think it's probably the best cut of meat to stand up to four hour slow cooking. I alternated the crock pot between high and low settings each of the four hours hoping to shorten the cooking time but still get the most out of the longer slow braise. I loved the braising liquid, it consisted of two bunches of cilantro pureed down, some aromatics and of course beer (I only had guiness on hand, seemed to work). The beef was melt in your mouth tender and the stewing liquid had a wonderful taste of cilantro. I'm really happy with this dish.

Next in a bid to use up all my gluten free spaghetti and the unopened jar of Aji peppers, I present Tallarines con Salsa de Aji. The sauce is a pureed yellow pepper that is enriched with some evaporated milk. I cut the butter and added a touch of cream and cooked the sauce down really good before adding the pasta and tossing it. The Aji peppers have a nice healthy kick to them, so it should satisfy my current audience that seem to have no fear of the capsaicin. This indeed makes the bento fully gluten free so a happy coincidence. (some of my diners or significant others are GF so it's nice when I can keep it that way.) I was quite surprised at how rich this dish came out, evaporated milk is not something I usually make use of, but seems to be very prevalent in Peruvian cooking. It might have to be something I stock in the pantry since it seems to have some versatile uses.

I looked really hard for some sort of vegetable side that wasn't full of cream or butter or starch and carbs. The best I could do is this Beet, Potato, and Carrot salad. A very simple dish, boiled root vegetables and tossed in with some olive oil mayo and mustard (I opted for both dijon and simple yellow mustard) I liked how it turned out, the beets and carrots added a good degree of sweetness to the dish without feeling too heavy, the potatoes were a nice addition and I like how they picked up stripes of the beet colors while I was cooling the veggies.

Finally for dessert, we have a Raspberry Espuma. I used some evaporated milk and whipped it like I would whipping cream and combined it with a bit of raspberry gelatin. It actually setup a lot harder than I expected. I was thinking a foamy like substance, but it was more like an airy more substantial gelatin. I garnished it simply with fresh raspberries.

Again another super fast bento, I clocked a nice three hours and 25 mins. Not too shabby. I'm gonna have to keep this trend for next week since I'll be cooking for a dinner party later in the evening. Ok enough yammering. Thanks for reading!

Box Contents
  • Seco De Res
  • Tallarines Con Salsa De Aji
  • Beet, Potato, and Carrot Salad
  • Raspberry Espuma

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pantry Raid 2

So I need to empty the pantry again so we have another Pantry Raid! I dug through the pantry and was inspired by the picture to your left. It included canned tomatoes, Gluten Free pasta, various spices, and a bunch of canned vegetables. I still had my regular staples of olive oil, butter, and spices, but I still had to buy a few things to turn out lunch. Raiding your pantry is a great way to turn over some ingredients sitting in the cupboard and supplement it with a few staples like onions, cheap fresh veggies. It's also a great chance to be creative and see what you can improvise given random ingredients. I think this also caused me to create simple dishes. A lot of my discoveries into foreign cuisines result in my picking very complicated dishes to learn new techniques.

For the main it was easy enough to break out the Sous Vide Supreme and bust out a poached chicken breast. I had some seasonings, I picked a nice hickory spice mix with some brown sugar, I figured it would go well with the pasta give it a bit of sweet to offset some heat. I recommended that my eaters don't reheat this chicken breast, when treated at 146F chicken doesn't develop that grainy texture and is amazingly tender. I was going to use a cherry pepper salsa I had bought on a whim, but I didn't want to overwhelm the chicken because I expect my diners will eat the chicken with the pasta.

I had some gluten free pasta, canned tomatos and of course my favorite Tito's vodka. I went with vodka based tomato sauce. There's no way we can do a pantry raid without some supplements, I had to buy an onion and a small bit of cream for this dish. I sauteed the artichoke before hand to give it some flavor and texture and then cooked down a basic tomato sauce. The vodka added a nice flavor and the cream rounded out some of the red pepper I pushed into the dish. I under cooked the pasta and finished it in the sauce, I really like this technique as the pasta has a more cohesive flavor and there's no chance of clumping like you have when you serve it separate. The pasta was great and perfectly cooked and I added a bit of salt to temper the cream/heavy fat taste. I like how this dish really can be pulled together from your cupboard with minimal things to buy from a grocery store.

Recipe requested you'll find it here

I had to use some of the eggs and I spotted this great simple recipe for zucchini pudding. I was able to use some of my left over saltine crackers to boot! This was probably the least "healthy" item to put in, but I managed to cut the butter to make it a bit better.I really loved the texture, the cracker soaked up a good bit of the flavors and acted as a binder that normally is handled by a potato or plain flour. I did have to buy most of the ingredients, but it's good I could still whittle away at my pantry.

Finally I felt a nice bit of fresh vegetables was in order. Since I had so much canned corn I opted for this succotash instead of the roasted broccoli that I was thinking about. The dressing was made of butter milk, thyme and some agave syrup. Sweet sour and a bit of heat from the serrano peppers added to the texture of fresh veggies. I'm glad to have a bit of this left over for munching on this week.

I really enjoy the pantry raid challenge, it makes me think outside the box on what I can do. Improv is a key to cooking, you have to know what things taste like together, granted i'm still a fan of writing down recipes because you need to be able to replicate. Sometimes you have some ingredients and you have to make them work. The challenge for me is I have to decide what will taste good in my head before I cook the dish. I actually timed my efforts because I wanted to see what these effort takes. I've started splitting my cooking into Saturday prep and Sunday cook, it requires a bit of planning, but has made my Sundays enjoyable again. This one took me exactly 3 hours and 40 mins from prepping to completely cleaning the kitchen and having the dishwasher going. Not bad for eight meals with four courses each!

Box Contents:
  • Sous vide Poached Chicken Breast
  • Artichoke pasta in vodka cream sauce
  • Zucchini pudding
  • Succotash with buttermilk sauce

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rosh Hashanah Bento

So on my business trip the NY times reported on the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah. It's pretty interesting learning about a culinary culture that has adapted to all the places it has immigrated to. The concepts of the original dishes remained true, but as Jewish settlers migrated to other places like Northern Africa they made use of spices and ingredients that they had on hand.

We start with a Mustard honey glazed chicken breast. Sweet foods are a big highlight during Rosh Hashanah, the sweetness is the blessings for a sweet new year. The sweet glazed chicken breast came up over and over again during my recipe search. The mustard honey gave the chicken a beautiful color after the oven treatment and I think helped seal in some moisture. My alternative to the chicken was fish. Fish is often eaten to symbolize fertility and abundance. I stayed away from the fish since it tends to not reheat (re: stinks in the microwave) well.

There's not any such thing as light eating in what I've found with traditional Rosh Hashanah food this Broccoli and Potato Kugel is no exception. You start with a base of potatoes that I mashed and blended with egg, mazzo meal, and mayo. I opted for a olive oil based mayo to help try to lighten things up. This was folded together with a bit of onion and broccoli and topped with some panko and baked until it's a yummy perfection. This was probably my favorite of the dishes.

I chose this great Kasha Pareve (kasha pilaf) as an accompanying side. I've never worked with Kasha and it's amazingly difficult to locate. I discovered that it is actually called toasted barley grouts (but that's still hard to find here). Looking at the kasha I expected a nutty harder texture like brown rice, or quinoa so it came as a surprise that a short 12 min simmer produced a soft mushier consistency with a nutty flavor. This will work as a great as a side to eat with the chicken.

For a vegetable side we have this Tsimmes Salad. It's a version that came from the NY times article that featured Tunesian influences on Jewish cooking. I didn't have any harissa to spice up the carrots so I slammed it with a bit of Sriracha sauce so it's a east meets middle east variation on a traditional Jewish dish. The caraway, ground coriander and cumin gave this a great sweet and savory taste, the spicy kick from the sriracha sauce rounded everything out.

Finally we finish dinner with a Kosher Cholent. This is a bean and beef stew that is cooked for about 15 hours. It's a hearty heavy rich dish using the long cooking time to break down the beans to add a creamy touch without using excess fat or cream to thicken things up. I warned my eaters that usually gobble up lunch in one sitting that even the hungriest of them will have a difficult time eating it all at once. It would be smart if you ran a full marathon or did a century ride on your bike before trying to wolf this bad boy down.

I enjoyed my little experiment in learning about Jewish cuisine. There's gonna have to be a bit more of investigation but for now this will do me. Everything was make-ahead-able so this turned out to be a fairly easy bento to make, I'm glad to be able to ease back into my cooking schedule.
I still owe you guys a post on my french food but I promise it's coming :) There's a bit more work travel coming up but I have a few more weeks before that happens. Thanks for reading!

Shana Tova Umetukah (a good and sweet new year to you)

Box Contents
  • Honey Mustard baked chicken
  • Potato and Broccoli Kugel
  • Kasha Pareve
  • Tsimmes Salad
  • Kosher Cholent

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Foodblogger Event: Uchiko

I'm all kinds of jetlagged from my trip to Europe but I couldn't help but accept an invitation to visit Uchiko. Uchiko is the sister restaurant to Uchi, my favorite restaurant in Austin. Chef Cole is a owner here but he's put executive Chef Paul Qui in charge of the endeavor and he was a lovely host. I really love the ambiance and vibe here you can see the influences of Uchi. The restaurant is similar but still stands on it's own on atmosphere, there's a lot of energy the staff were buzzing around and extremely friendly. I've been invited for a return visit next week so there will be a follow on to this post.

Lots of delightful showcases and many of the items we were presented were fanciful ideas and experiments so it's hard for me to map them to existing menu items, but it's a great show case of what they're all about which is taking ideas and experimenting. The first round of appetizers included some "cracklings" of squid in black ink and truffle shrimp paste fried up and served with a black truffle sauce. To the right you'll see their take on Srirachi sauce, the sauce had a nice sneaky heat to it but was at the same time creamy instead of tangy.

We moved on to a dish of scallops with a nice cilantro sauce with a "cereal and milk tulie", I believe this was a slight departure from their koviche, a very tender yummy bite of scallop with kalamata, none the less a beautiful single bite. There was a nice slice of green apple that provide a bit of tartness and helped to deliver a crisp taste. You can see the care and attention to detail on the watermelon and tuna "akami te", the masterful knife work to cut the tuna and the attention to individual ingredients was humbling in that someone would put that amount of care and attention for every single tasting but the results were delicious.

We had two fried entrees the first was the tempura fried eggplant "tempura nasu" with a nice sweet chili sauce. I could only have one since we had so many other delights to sample. The real treat was the fried Tuna tendon that is usually the "leftover" for the kitchen staff. Basically after harvesting the tuna meat you have the tendons of tuna that they fry and let the kitchen staff have as a snack. In my opinion this is one of the best and most delectable "treats", the fish tendon was definitely tempura-ed fish that had a nice "chew" to it, not as flaky or dry as fried fish.

The next appetizers are a yakitori which was quite similar to normal yakitori, perhaps my untrained palate didn't pick up anything distinguishing, very tasty. And Chef Qui presented a nice spring roll with asian pear and pork belly with fish sauce. It was a fun dish but I think there are some kinds that need to be worked out. I didn't get the usual rich tastes of pork belly and it fell apart really quickly.

Ok as I say constantly desserts are lost on me. We had a full court press of tobacco cream, chocolate fury and corn interpreted many ways. All of them were tasty and good however, I was most impressed with the corn dessert. Chef Cole told me that he challenged the staff with the color yellow as a theme and they worked back and forth until they settled on corn. I will say that they represented corn in texture and taste in more ways than I expected and still kept with the idea of dessert. YUM! (that says a lot since I hate sweets) If you go to Uchiko I would highly recommend getting this: sweet corn sorbet, polenta custard, caramel salt and lemon the dried crumbles were some sort of dehydrated corn tossed in with sugar.

As always it was good to see my blogger friends and geek out on new camera gear. Thanks to the staff at Uchiko for such a warm reception and showing off their skills. I'm looking forward to dinner on Monday!

Update: Here's what I had on at my dinner at Uchiko. Superb!

At Left Chef Paul Qui was on the front lines with his army of sushi chefs. My first starter was yokai berry - atlantic salmon, asian pear, yuzu and dinosaur kale. The dinosaur kale is fried and topped with a candied red quinoa. The sour yuzu was a great pairing with the sweet fruits. I was really interested in the candied quinoa what a great idea!

I ordered the Uni sashimi and Chef kicked it up by adding some fresh ingrediants they had on hand, he added some shrimp roe (? I didn't even know that existed) and some very fresh clams. I followed it with ika yaki, fresh squid with korean pepper compressed apple sorrel and red curry. Very tender and delicious. You really can't go wrong with anything you order here.

I saw this beef tongue on their sushi list so I had to give it a go, simply delicious and tender. Took a picture of the case.

My final two dishes. I had to get the ninjin bacon, a grilled pork belly over a carrot puree (the sweet carrots with the granulated pecan/olive dust help cut the amazingly delicious butter like pork belly. I ended the night with a usagi yaki, seared rabbit confit with a slow-poached egg. The egg was heavenly and I had to ask the chef whether it was cooked sous vide (no way you can get that perfect even texture doing otherwise), he confirmed they used the technique. Had I not had this before I would never have guessed but holding the egg at the perfect temp you have a poached egg where the yolk is a perfect custard with no hint of clumping.