Your Loss, Locavores

Locavore may have been the 2007 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year, but there’s already been a word for those whose diets are restricted to seasonal items grown in their immediate area: That word is peasant.” -Brett Martin in November 2009’s GQ

For years I’ve read about the deliciousness of Hatch green chiles, but had never been able to try them, as they were hard to find except by mail order. I happened to stumble upon them the other day though.

Not really sure what specific variety these were, but I decided to first check them out in a very simple preparation:

Roasted, peeled, cut up into strips and…

Placed on top of a turkey burger which tastes like absolutely nothing (dieting sucks). I did get an opportunity to assess their flavor, a subtle bitterness with heat like a serrano. Also, this 300 calorie dinner gave me a bit of license to go a little crazier the next day.

It’s been a while since I’ve deep fried anything (which has probably helped with my weight loss), but for these hard-to-find suckers, I decided to have a bit of a cheat day. We start with chorizo:

Damn that’s a lot of flavor-y grease…I drained that off though, because I was about to mix it with…

Oaxacan cheese and chipotle chiles. Oaxacan cheese is soft enough to turn the whole thing into a paste-like filling, to go into…

Roasted and peeled Hatch chiles. Going by the Rick Bayless Frontera grill method, these went into the freezer to firm up for an hour. In the meantime, a bit of an arm workout to whip up some egg whites…

Followed by folding in the yolks and a bit of flour to make…

Essentially a souffle batter, which is perfect for…

Chiles rellenos!

Oh man these things looked good. Took some canned black beans and “re-fried” them with cumin, onions, garlic, and the adobo from the canned chipotles.

Tasted good too, but that Oaxacan cheese is maybe TOO soft. It definitely made for easier stuffing of the rather small space in these Hatch chiles, but if I ever make chiles rellenos again I’ll just stick to the bigger poblanos, and use a firmer cheese that has a little more body/stretchiness.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

More fun with meat glue

Pink slime is killing us! Ammonia is poison! What’s that? It’s gross but hasn’t killed anyone or made anyone sick? You’re saying ammonia actually kills bacteria? Ground beef would be slightly more expensive without it? Well fuck that shit…I want my dollar menu to stay a dollar. What else can I be outraged about?

Meat glue? You mean cows aren’t made entirely of filet mignon? If I go to a $10 buffet that has unlimited filet mignon there’s a chance that they’ve reconstructed some of the oddly sized ends in order to make the portions more even and profitable on what is inherently an inferior and overpriced cut of meat anyway? BASTARDS!

Seriously people, don’t blame meat glue or pink slime…we brought this upon ourselves. We demand beef 24/7, and we don’t tolerate high prices or foodborne illness. Hearing about this stuff reminds me of the people on House Hunters International (yes I’ve watched that on occasion and it’s pretty addictive). “Ummm…so I want a three story house that’s on like a secluded mountain but also, like, on the beach, but it’s important that there’s a bunch of shops and stores and fun stuff nearby, but I don’t want to feel like…crowded by a bunch of smelly foreigners. I also want appliances that don’t exist in whatever weird country I’m in…and I don’t wanna pay more than $350 a month. Ugh, why is this place so small?”

Okay that’s a pretty loose way to introduce the fact that I don’t care what people say about it, meat glue is super awesome.

I mean…if I were to cut this thing up and fry it, that’d certainly be great.

But white meat always ends up being just a little bit dry…a little less satisfying than the fatty, juicier dark. So why not de-bone the whole thing, sprinkle some meat glue on it, then roll the whole thing up so that the white meat is protected inside of the slower-cooking dark?

Yes…it’s a tube of chicken. Calling it a roulade sounds more appetizing, just as lean finely textured beef sounds more appetizing than pink slime.

Let it sit all snug in some plastic wrap overnight, then just fry the sucker.

Throw together some pan-roasted carrots and a mint and pea sauce.

And…voila:

David Chang’s brick chicken.

What else can I do with this stuff? I’ve always loved scallops, and associated them with Chinese food. Anytime we would go to Gourmet Carousel and order a seafood dish I would hunt out the little bay scallops like it was my job. I don’t remember the first time I ate one of those gigantic sea scallops, but I probably freaked out. Wrapping it in bacon? Awesome.

The only problem with those bacon wrapped scallops is that you have to compromise. Searing a big scallop lets you get a nice caramel-y crust while maintaining a soft, creamy translucency in the middle. Broiling them is a riskier move, because the second you realize they’re cooked, you’ve gone too far. Bacon helps insulate them to some degree, but by the time the bacon is nice and crisp, all but the most giant of U10 scallops will be toast. Not to mention you have to stab it with a moisture-bleeding toothpick before you even get started.

Or…you could glue the bacon on.

Roll them around in a hot pan to crisp up the bacon:

Which protects that creamy scallop center remarkably well from the heat, then finish them with a sear on each side:

I could’ve seared them more. I was worried about overdoing it, but there was quite a nice amount of warmed but near-raw scallop inside.

Plus look how that bacon stays on perfectly!

If pink slime were this awesome and useful, I’d be writing a whole blog post about it too. So everyone can just go ahead and shut the hell up, but especially about meat glue.

*************************************

Take a look at some updates to the blogroll over to the right. Dead links are gone, and new ones have come in:

My friend Hikaru is volunteering with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and is stationed in Ghana for the next couple years. She writes about it at Hikaru in the Land of Chocolates in simultaneous Japanese and English, but I’m not entirely convinced that she isn’t secretly making fun of anyone who can’t speak Japanese.

If you couldn’t tell, my blog isn’t necessarily a model of healthy eating. I don’t think I’ve gone more than three posts at a time without deep frying something. Lately though, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of what I input (sometimes obsessive) in order to cut down on some poundage, and although I’m down about 10 lbs so far, writing about it wouldn’t be all that interesting (“I ate a salad…with an egg. It tasted exactly what you think it’d taste like.”) I’m not really good at the whole healthy thing, but luckily my friend Diana is, and for anyone who loves food and not being morbidly obese, This is My Brain on Sandwiches is the place to go.

And speaking of health, Alex and Emily are off in Chennai battling diabetes with nothing but their wits and charm…also a computer and internet and whatever else one would need to write their blog, emandalinchennai. Despite the fact that they’ve abandoned me in the heat and humidity of Atlanta for the heat and humidity of India, it’s nice to hear what they’re up to.

Posted in That Thing I Ate | 3 Comments

I’m still eating ramps

Okay yeah, season’s over…the couple weeks each year when every food blog goes on and on and on and on about ramps. I never understood the obsession, or why it seemed that suddenly every fine restaurant had to have wild ramps in some way on their menu. I wrote it off as one of those ingredients that is certainly deserving of fame, but would eventually crash under the weight of its own overexposure (remember when seemingly everything was chipotle this or Sriracha that? Thankfully those have shrunk back into more appropriate areas of usage…as much as I adore those two things, I really don’t need chipotle macarons or Sriracha creme brulee).

Ramps never went away. Year after year, for a couple of weeks…the same adulations on the same blogs…the same fine restaurants with the same thing on their menu. Ramps apparently were the real deal, but since I’ve come to know about them I’ve had neither the money to go to any restaurant that served them, nor the time/interest to scope out the markets every day for the 30-second window in which they are available.

Still, if I were to be in the market to say, acquire my favorite bacon, and they just happened to be there, I figured I might as well buy a few and see what all the fuss is about. So when I did come across them in the market, that’s exactly what I did.

I used a little of that bacon that I had bought and sauteed them. The leaves ballooned up just like everyone said they would, and they didn’t taste like anything I’d ever eaten. It was like a garlic shoot and a scallion got together, rolled around in some dirt, and had a kid…a kid which I then ate, and which made me burp like I had just eaten a Korean radish. My first thought was “this is exactly the kind of breath-destroying thing that Koreans love to eat…and I must turn it into kimchi.”

I did a quick google search to see if there were any good ramp kimchi suggestions out there. Sadly, no. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ramps are a white-person food (think about it…they’re foraged and local and expensive and limited and all that shit), and there aren’t many white people that know about kimchi other than the cabbage kind. So predictably, most of the ramp kimchi recipes out there treated ramps as if they were simply Napa cabbage. Some called for pickling the leaves only…most were mixed with shredded carrot and radish.

But ramps aren’t anything like cabbage…so why should I treat them that way? That glorious stem is where I think most of the business is…and that’s much more like a green onion than cabbage. Green onion kimchi is my aunt’s domain…all I knew was that it involved Korean anchovy sauce in some fashion. So I ended up looking for how to make green onion kimchi. Three YouTube videos were informative. Two by Korean women, and one by some white dude. I eliminated one immediately (sorry white dude…you’re allowed to automatically discount any instructional video I make about fried twinkies or whatnot).

The basic method involved making a chili pepper paste using a base of sweet rice flour “glue” to help it stick, and Korean fish sauce for fermenty salty flavor. I immediately went out and bought more ramps, and the other things I’d need.

The next step was the subject of a bit more debate. Cabbage kimchi is usually “dry” salt brined to pull out some moisture. Green onion kimchi, depending on which Korean lady you believe, either spends an hour in salt water, an hour in undiluted fish sauce, or is not brined at all (that was my mom). Because my genetic programming makes it impossible to disobey an older Korean lady without fear of painful retribution, I did all three:

I decided to brine in a fish-sauce solution for half an hour. (That other bowl you see is actual green onion…I couldn’t afford more than about a half pound of ramps).

Into the glutinous rice flour paste goes a bunch of Korean red chili powder, grated ginger, grated onion, and grated pear for a bit of sweetness, as well as minced garlic, a dash of sugar, and a good amount of Korean anchovy sauce…which smells about 8 times as funky as Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce. In the end it looked like this:

Dredging the leaves in edible paste reminded me of papier-mâché projects of old.

After a few weeks, it starts to exude a little liquid and the stems start to soften up.

The only issue is that the seasoning stuck a little too well…each strand needs to be wrung of the excess a little bit before eating.

But holy crap is it delicious. Ramps definitely have some kimchi-like qualities when raw, so ramp kimchi is like uber-kimchi, meta-kimchi, kimchi plus. A couple months later, and I’ve still got about half my batch left. They’ve hit a perfect sweet spot of mellowed texture and bite, with amplified ramp funk. So I’ve tried ramps now and drank the Kool-Aid, my cult-member status solidified by blogging about them (and my “I Heart Ramps” tracksuit). I’ll definitely be on the lookout next year for when they’re available in Georgia again, but I’m sure the food-blogging crowd will make it impossible to miss.

Posted in That Thing I Ate | 2 Comments

The Ridiculous White Person Request Series, #1

Well, the whole “no one reads my blog except my mom” shtick is starting to no longer be relevant. In fact, I’ve begun to accrue some regular non-family readers. Some dude named “Google Web Preview” has been visiting my blog pretty regularly, and he seems to be a ballin’ jet setter who checks in from all over the globe. But the biggest indicator of my blog’s reach is the fact the number one commenter on my blog, according to WordPress stats, is no longer my mother. In fact, that title was recently achieved by a man who I first met because he is my sister’s college roommate’s boyfriend-turned-fiancé-turned-husband. Spaceballs-like relationships aside, he recently posted this comment in response to the What I Really Eat post:

“This is going to sound like a ridiculous white person request, but maybe you could do a walk-through on kimchi fried rice. I have lots of both ingredients on hand at all times, but shy away from the dish because afterwards my wok is always super sticky/burned on and washing it is a pain in the ass.”

And now, introducing the “Ridiculous White Person Request” series (got it’s own category!): Kimchi Fried Rice.

I’m willing to bet that the crap that gets stuck to the bottom of the pan and makes cleanup a pain in the ass is the caked-on-mess that’s left behind when the liquid of the kimchi juice evaporates. I’m sure about this because the same thing happens to me when I’m too lazy to bother with the following pretty simple solution that I’m so confident works, I’m willing to stake the hard-earned seasoning of my cast-iron skillet on it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. SPAM, hot dog, sausage, or some other processed pork product. Bacon would probably work, and I suppose you could go with a legitimate protein that’s close to its natural state as well.
2. Kimchi that has been, for lack of a better term, juiced. Squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can. A cheesecloth would make things a little cleaner, but you can do it by hand if you don’t mind the smell/mess. Save the juice. Chop the kimchi into small, manageable pieces.
3. Rice. It should be at least a day old, cold, and grains separated. This works for brown rice too.
4. An egg.
5. Sesame oil to help things along, soy sauce, and some sort of rice wine type product.
6. Random other things that could include: Small frozen vegetables, lettuce is pretty good, green onions, dried laver etc.

A quick tip if you don’t have rice from the day before:

Use an instant microwaveable rice bowl. Don’t cook it, just open it up and separate the grains. If you have the foresight to do it, throw it in the fridge long enough for it to be cold, which’ll help avoid it getting too mush and sticky at cooking time.

Speaking of cooking:

Start by browning and rendering the meat. If things are sticking, throw a few drops of sesame oil in there.

Next toss the kimchi in and let it do its thing.

Cooked kimchi takes on a different flavor and texture entirely. It loses some sourness and toasty browned flavors start to take over (you know the ones…they taste like toasty brown).

Once the kimchi’s all cooked, push everything to the sides of the pan (or up the sides of the wok), drop in a few more drops of oil, spread it in a little circle, and drop your egg in.

Let the egg cook for a little bit before breaking up the yolk and scrambling it, and let it cook for a little bit more after that. The rice comes next, so if the egg isn’t cooked enough then everything gets coated in a non-descript and mush-ifying coating of egg, rather than having discrete pockets of egg.

Again, push the egg off to the sides, so there’s a nice exposed heating area for the rice to drop in. At this point, if there’s frozen veggies you want to add then do so now, and if you do add frozen stuff, splash a tiny bit of the rice wine in with them, before pushing them to the side. If the middle of the pan has lost a bit of heat, then let it warm up again, little more sesame oil, and then dump the rice in.

Start by cutting down into the rice with whatever you’re using to mix things around. The goal is basically to separate the grains more and spread them out into an even layer. Then splash in just enough kimchi juice to tinge everything red, a bit of soy sauce, and a little Sriracha if you want. Mix everything up until incorporated. Too much liquid will create a starchy slurry that will also cause a sticky mess, so be careful.

And there it is. Kimchi fried rice, no gunk on the pan. My cast-iron skillet’s predominantly bacon-fat seasoning is still marvelously intact. Just remember to juice your kimchi first.

If you’re white (or not) and you have a request for something Asian or junk-food related that you’d like to see, send it along and there’ll be a RWPR post on it! It’s the least I can do for the fan(s).

Posted in Ridiculous White Person Requests, That Thing I Ate | 7 Comments

I Think Y’all Saw This Post Coming…

Spring Break…the traditional period in which a young person gets drunk and makes regrettable decisions. That is my excuse for what I just ate…only I can’t blame alcohol, and I have no regrets (yet).

Nacho Cheese Doritos are only the third best flavor (1. Salsa Verde, 2. Cool Ranch, end of discussion), but it’s the only flavor you can get in taco shell form.

My love of Taco Bell elicits the range of mild surprise to outright disgust among those who find out (and admittedly…I’m pretty vocal about it). In old school Lafayette, before the rise of fast casual Mexican and the burrito joint, there was El Charro’s (still love it) and Taco Bell (where all the troublemakers would congregate after junior high let out). I’m leaving out Jack-In-The-Box, even though I do enjoy their tacos. There were other options in the greater East Bay area, and my family did go to Chevy’s for a brief period, mostly because my sister liked the fried tortilla ice cream cone and I liked watching the tortilla machine. Sure, high school was a little different. Casa Gourmet Burrito was the go-to place in Lafayette, but the Mucho Grande Burrito (famous for containing more than an entire day’s worth of fat and calories), was one of the unofficial foods of Blueprint deadline weekends.

Only later did the burrito chain come along. I’ve been trying to remember what the first chain I went to was called, but I do remember that the color scheme was heavy on teal, that there were little hearts next to the “healthy” menu options,  that it took me about four tries to get the hang of tearing the foil correctly (there was a handy picture guide they provided).

Despite the evolution of my tastes in food and better access to good Mexican food, my love of Taco Bell hasn’t gone away. When a new product launches, I’m there to try it. Fire sauce? Can’t live without it. Crunchwrap Supreme? Debuted while I was in Amherst, and had to drive 15 miles to the nearest Taco Bell to try it. Volcano tacos? Cantina-style? Beefy crunch burrito with Fritos? Breakfast? Check, check, check, and check. So howsabout these new Doritos Locos tacos?

You can tell that Taco Bell is just as excited as I am…with this deluxe cardboard sleeve ensuring the taco shell doesn’t get destroyed.

Yes indeed…it is a taco shell covered in orange nacho Doritos powder. To really appreciate it, you should probably compare it to a normal taco. Luckily, for completeness of the taste test I had the foresight to do just that. The shell is certainly different in texture from the normal option, but not entirely like actual fresh Doritos. The taste? Not as overwhelming as you might expect. It makes it saltier, and you get a lot of the Dorito flavor in the aftertaste, but it’s not hugely different from your baseline taco bell experience. It’s not as disappointing as the volcano taco, but won’t knock the regular taco out of my order. I would avoid the supreme version (which I recommend for all Taco Bell tacos), due to the excessive amount of sour cream.

Definitely worth trying once, but I don’t think I’ll order it again. If they ever introduce a salsa verde or cool ranch Doritos taco, that’ll require some re-assessment…delicious, fattening re-assessment.

Posted in That Thing I Ate | Leave a comment

Turducken Revisited

Well the last experiment with turducken didn’t go all that well. My mini-turducken roll ended up falling apart as soon as I cut into it, but it tasted pretty good. Stuffing, though delicious, doesn’t quite act as an appropriate way to glue different meats together. So what could?

How about meat glue? Officially known as transglutaminase and manufactured under the Activa brand name by Ajinomoto (the same folks who brought you MSG), transglutaminase is an enzyme that catalyzes the crosslinking of proteins. The bottom line…you can glue protein-y meats together. Transglutaminase comes in different forms, based on what it’s mixed with to help it along. There seems to be some controversy about the stuff, but it really isn’t used to trick consumers into buying frankensteaks that are constructed from scraps, and it’s not some crazy chemical that doesn’t belong in our food. In fact, if you’ve recently had a cup of good ol’ mass-produced non-artisanal yogurt (unlike the $3-a-pop Liberté my sister demands), you’ll likely have ingested transglutaminase, as it is used to enhance the yield and consistency of yogurt. My other question to Ajinomoto was whether this would piss off anti-transglutaminase antibodies in Celiac patients…they said no.

So I got my hands on some of the stuff, but really had no idea how to use it. Thankfully (as mentioned previously), Barnes and Noble had a display copy of Modernist Cuisine, and I took photos of the relevant pages:

Seems simple enough, sprinkle it on, press the meat together, voila…glued. After this whole thing, I remembered that David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook calls for transglutaminase in his brick chicken recipe…and Wylie Dufresne wrote a little piece on the stuff for the book, in which he too mentions the idea of making turducken with the stuff.

Once again, duck on the outside:

Layer of turkey:

Chicken thighs in the middle:

I decided to be bold and instead of actually tying, just go with plastic wrap:

But then got nervous and tied it anyway.

The next day: a nice uniform mini-turducken. I decided I’d proceed like the last time, cook the outside and finish in the oven. Of course I had to have stuffing, so I made some, but stuffing is best when it’s actually been IN the bird, soaking up all the er…for lack of a better term…meat juices.

Solution…throw some scraps from the butchering up the turducken on top of the stuffing then throw it in the oven (stole this from America’s Test Kitchen). Also there’s a little bit of butter…just a little.

I decided to be bold and forgo the ties when cooking, which was a mistake. The skin ended up pulling apart my glued seam between duck and turkey, also it looked a little pale.

This is why you need a proper torch. Not one of those teeny pencil-flame “kitchen” torches you pay too much for at Williams-Sonoma. This thing is a proper hardware store plumber’s soldering torch. It’ll handle a dainty little creme brulee AND throw off enough heat to properly crisp up a big duck skin for about half the price. Seriously…everything is better torched.

Cutting into it, it’s clear that things stayed well glued together:

Just ignore that there’s some separation at the duck layer. I think I was a little heavy-handed with the meat glue on the duck breast, and I really should’ve tied the thing up when cooking. Also…I need to butcher the duck into a thinner envelope to make it more uniform.

Still…the whole thing is pretty delicious, and much more manageable than making an entire turducken. To accompany my mini-turducken, I made a mini-Thanksgiving meal:

Yes…it’s a mini baked potato:

Except it’s not actually baked. It’s a cooked fingerling potato that’s then split and deep fried. I wish I could take credit for that idea, but it was Hubert Keller’s.

Something funky happened further down the roll:

Looks kinda cool right?

The best part of a Thanksgiving meal is the leftovers, and mini-turducken came through for lunch the next day.

I’m sure there are quite a few vegetarians at my public health school. I wonder what they would’ve thought had they seen that my lunch contained four different kinds of meat (five if you count bacon and sausage separately)?

So my first experiment with transglutaminase was fun. It did indeed glue meats together, and I managed not to glue my hands together or my eyes shut.

Posted in That Thing I Ate | 3 Comments

What I Really Eat

The world is often fooled by what I present on this blog and the food that I make for them. That includes family, friends, and you dear reader (and as a reader…you are indeed family. I don’t mean that in an “I care about my readers so much that they’re like family to me” way…I mean it in an “only my family…specifically my mom…actually reads this” kinda way).

One of the questions I frequently am asked is “Hey man, cooked anything new lately?” The answer is very rarely something interesting like:

Chicken chile verde:

Served in a cheddar popover.

In fact, creativity and originality are rare commodities these days, both in my own kitchen and on the interwebs in general. For proof, look no further than the meme phenomenon. One person has a somewhat clever idea, then within a matter of days everyone has copied the idea, and very rarely do they contribute anything more to society, in terms of humor or life enrichment. The world doesn’t need a “Shit that girls taller than 5’9″ who are on gluten free diets say” video. In order to celebrate the fact that the six-picture “What I REALLY do” meme is finally dying down, I’m presenting a “What I Really Eat” post. I’ve instagrammed the photos to create the illusion of significance and interest.

Salad. Everything in this was obtained from Costco. My strategy is to buy salad greens there because they’re cheap, and then I’m forced to eat a lot of salad before it all goes bad. Coupled with some avocado (Costco 5-pack), cherry tomatoes, and the outrageously cheap rotisserie chicken, it accounts for about 4-5 days of meals.

More from Costco. Spaghetti and meatballs. The frozen meatballs were a coupon deal a long time ago, and a box of spaghetti from Costco is like 8 lbs. The limiting reagent is sauce, and three jars lasts about 15 meals.

Good ol’ instant Japanese curry…with meatballs. That surplus of meatballs had to go somewhere, so what better way to use them up then by fusing Italian with Japanese style pseuo-Indian. I do caramelize the onions in there for fun mostly, but other than that it’s basically just one step above instant ramen. Speaking of which…

Yeah, it’s exactly what it looks like. It actually does take some amount of effort to boil the water and all. It’s certainly more time-consuming than:

Rice and kimchi. I always make the full pot of rice and it usually lasts about a week. I’ll either eat it this way or:

As kimchi fried rice. Definitely what I’ll make if I have some SPAM lying around. Rice, kimchi, pasta, and salad account for probably 90% of what I eat on a regular basis.

And now for some one-offs:

A two-dollar Papa John’s pizza. The one-topping was free from that Super Bowl coin toss promo they did (Can you imagine how pissed they were when that happened? I’m sure whatever dude came up with that promo was thinking “Dammit! What are the odds?”). I splurged for two extra toppings.

One time I ate this bag of popcorn for dinner over the course of two nights. It was kinda awesome because I love white cheddar popcorn, but probably not so nutritionally complete…just guessing.

Posted in That Thing I Ate | 5 Comments