Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slo Mo Bento

It's getting to be that time of year, holiday season. Which means a bit of a slow down on the bentos since there are a ton of things happening around family and friends. As usual I'll post up what I get and any neat food related things I run into.

Anyhow, with all this work and experimentation with my new sous vide contraptions and trying out various temperatures to perfect my cooking debut, I got this idea to make a bento where the theme would be all slow cooked/Sous vide prepared items: Slow Mo if you will. It played out great in my head, I'll just throw a bunch of stuff in my two crockpots, vacuum up a few pouches and all I'd do is wait for magic to happen. I'll have a free day to do anything I want! Didn't quite work out that way. Yes, everything took hours to cook but I was chained to the house since everything had different timings and if I wanted to make sure everything popped out at roughly the same time all of it had to be prepared in stages. Anyhow on with the post.

Sous Vide cooking still amazes me in the type of texture you can achieve. I'm still learning about the process and the scientific procedures in which usually fly in the face of what I've always learned about preparing food (and I am not a chef so not all that much learning there). Yes, in the end of the day you're vacuum sealing a bag of food and dumping it in water. I still had to do some homework to understand why it was OK to cook a pork tenderloin at 140F for four hours as opposed to the normally accepted temperature of 160~165F for pork. I certainly didn't want to get anyone sick.

Here's the quickly researched answer that I know (so far). Above 130F you are pasteurize your food (killing an optimally safe number of the nasty bugs) given you hold it to temp for a sufficiently long enough time. What's long enough? Well depends on how thick the meat is (there are tables). According to the rules if served right away or immediately quick chilled (what I did) this is considered "safe". To be extra safe and get that nice crust that we all know and love as the Maillard Effect we give it a quick sear in the cast iron over the stove (around 500F). This really does two things one: gets that caramelized crust quick and two: one more chance to burn any of the little bad things to death. (ok my post has just earned it's yammering tag) As to seasoning I simply treated the pork with a bit of salt, pepper and ground ginger before it's water bath.

Next up I crock potted this creamy potato. This took about seven hours of total cook time and not exactly "healthy", but I figure everything else was pretty ok and it's the holidays right? Slow cooker recipes tend to be pretty easy things to put together, this had a lot of attributes to make it more of a potato casserole. Either way it was a big hit, it tasted like a really loaded baked potato. I think it would have been awesome with some bacon and green onions as a topping.

For a healthier veggie entry, I pulled the recipe for fresh green peas by none other than Richard Blais of Top Chef (season four) fame. This is actually the first time I played with vegetables in the sous vide supreme. It's a simple dish, I had to go with frozen peas as it's not easy finding fresh green peas, dropped in some olive oil, lemon zest, salt/pepper and a bit of garlic powder. 185F and 40 mins later, WOW. I mean you really get that hit of that flavor of green peas. It tasted really fresh as compared to other times I've worked with frozen peas. I think part of it is not losing any flavor to a cooking liquid and letting the peas heat to temperature and squeezed right up with the seasoning. The color wasn't spectacular, but the flavor was great. I'll have to try other vegetables sous vide side by side with traditional preparation to see the difference.

Technically even though this dish comes in the dessert slot it was meant to be eaten with the pork. I cooked down a big batch of apples and put in a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon. I went with a granny smith (green apple) I felt that it would hold up it's texture since it's pretty firm and that sour component paired with the sweet brown sugar would be a bold flavor to add to the pork which is very modestly seasoned. I got a "wow this was just like my Grandma made it", always a great compliment since we all know grandmas do some of the best cooking.

Anyhow nice to get out a post. Thanks for reading!

Box Contents:
  • Ginger Spiced Pork Tenderloin
  • Creamy Potato casserole
  • Fresh Green Peas
  • Cinnamon Apple Sauce

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Guest Chef experience at the Flying Carpet

Whew. I'm starting this post at midnight here after a shift cooking at the Flying Carpet Moroccan Burger trailer. I'm beat, I served 79 people a four course dinner over 2.5 hours. Right now there's a shower and a nightcap waiting for me.

(Seffa - Couscous with ground almond milk, honey and cinnamon)

"Wha wha?! rewind splain that again?" Ok some background for everyone. The Flying Carpet features Moroccan burgers (normal, vegetarian or vegan) down on South Congress Ave. You *must* go it's amazing stuff. When Abdou puts that tomato sauce that he learned from his grandmother on the grill you're gonna start salivating. Anyhow, I digress, Maria wife and co-owner of said amazing Chef Abdou started following my humble blog and asked if I'd be a featured chef for them. This was part of the "South Congress First Thursday" event that happens every month where artists and musicians come out and it's a big street party. She told me for her trailer it was an artists type movement to give local foodies and chefs a chance to showcase their cooking and take over their trailer showcasing their Moroccan based concepts. My first reaction was, "um. me? You know I don't do this for a day job right?". She reassured me it would be fine. It sounded like an interesting challenge so I went ahead and said "ok, let's do this". I designed a menu based off my blog, usually I go full traditional menu to expose my bento-ers to the food of the region. This time I decided, two strict traditional and two my own concept dishes (let's flex those culinary muscles).

So the rest of this post, which will be sprinkled with pictures, will be a background (you just read), prep before hand, insanity moment, and what I learned. First the menu:
  • Moroccan Take on Eggs Benedict - Toast with Kefte patty, Tomato Harissa sauce and sous vide poached egg
  • Traditional Beet Root Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
  • Japan Meets Morocco Roll - Saffron rice rolled with sous vide chicken breast spiced with Moroccan spices, fried in a panko crust with dynamite sauce
  • Seffa - Couscous served with almond milk, dusted with cinnamon and honey

(Japan Meets Morocco roll - saffron rice, sous vide poached chicken rolled up and panko crusted served with dynamite sauce)

Ok if any of you reading know me then you know I plan. My sister jokes about me having clip board on hand and planning... *everything*. I planned, I dropped a really serious amount of money on infrastructure in equipment, I rolled out sushi rolls and coated them in panko weighing before and after to understand a per unit cost of *every* dish I made. (and yes I was wrong about a lot of it, game day changes a lot of things). I think I ate the same food for three weeks in a row testing, re-testing, plating, re-plating every dish I've done. (the nicer pictures you'll see are the trials not the day of) This was my first kitchen debut and it had to be perfect. I stressed over how to sous vide 100 eggs (yeah, ok it was an excuse to buy a new sous vide rig). And the day before I was in the commissary and prepping like a mad man. Afterward I took a moment to post to facebook stating, "Somedays I ask myself if I've bitten off too much to chew. This is one of those days" (by the way the reply was "keep on chewing!". My ricecooker died on me (Bessie survived, just overheated) but just as the day looked like it was gonna die, I powered through and 14 hours later I made it the prepping madness. But for all the prep, I knew the day of event was gonna be huge unknown of working in a trailer .

Just so you know my parents owned a restaurant. I started working the moment I could stand on a chair and take money, imagine tiny Chinese kid on a chair counting out change to you (isn't there a law against that?). I've worked every part of a restaurant, I've cleaned, prepped, taken money, and for one precious day my dad let me handle full service cooking (he didn't want me to like the restaurant trade too much). Let me tell you right now, IT IS NOT THE SAME! In the trailer you are confined by space. I could only multi task on two servings at once (my fault for a four course ambitious menu). This completely does not work when you have a horde at your doorsteps. Maria counted it up and (thankfully) did not tell me there was a 25 ticket queue that I was behind on (thanks Maria for making sure I was hydrated and keeping me focused and not freaked out). I'm real sorry to those that had to wait during the busiest hour, I was doing my best but again I've never done this before.

Now I was very happy to see flashbulbs going off on the plates I was dishing (on the side is the plate, I had to use ring molds to steady the egg for service). And I got really good feedback that my food tasted good. I'm especially flattered that some Moroccan friends of the Chef did show up and were very happy with the food, and they were traditionalists on the food front. I'm glad they pulled their punches and gave me a thumbs up. (I think I won them over with the sous vide poached eggs but that's just crediting the gear). I also heard that I did a really good job on the Seffa. I also overheard a few folks that thought they only got one course for the price and were happily surprised and quickly lured in that I gave all four courses for eight bucks. Special thanks to the owner that let me price the "bento" to what I charge my bentoers. I tried really hard to limit the food costs to bare minimum to make sure they made as much as possible despite the fact they said "price was no option, this is about the art". Well to me, this was as much about livelihood, these folks entrusted me to deliver delicious food and not tarnish their good image. Abdou and Maria are an amazing team and I wasn't about to let them down.

So what did I learn? Well trailer cooking is it's own breed. Limited space puts a huge constraint on you. If I did this again I would factor that into the menu. As you can see the trailer is pretty small, I joked with my coworkers, "yup, um it's smaller than my office here at work". You don't understand the implications until you're there. I call it "game day", for a novice chef it is beyond what you expect it to be and the luxuries of a kitchen are not there. Water use is limited, plating space is limited, and if you take one step you will likely bump into someone. I managed to turned on the robot mode and powered through it but it was a lot more overwhelming than I expected. I apologize to my buddies that showed up to support me and I couldn't go out and say hi. I was slammed every moment of that service, SLAMed! And I thank everyone of you that came by and ordered food. Hopefully I delivered a nice meal for you.

Wow! Super thanks again to Maria and Abdou for having me and entrusting their trailer to me on the eve of the Gypsy Park Event(Go see them this weekend). This was a bunch of fun (and a good reminder not to go into the food biz). It was good to get away from the normal rut of cubicles and email. It was also super gratifying to see folks enjoying the meal you produced. And of course seeing my friends come and support me, I hope you guys had a good meal! I'm sure you'll tell me about it tomorrow.