Friday, December 23, 2011

Oh right, the blog

I give up. I had been counting on a new CSA subscription re-igniting my interest in cooking from the low ebb it had fallen to, but the Teena's Pride gourmet box's the opposite of inspiring? I'm going to go with soul-crushing. Another week of squash and eggplant and herbs. And three small beets. That's great; Thanks for that. There's always either too little or too much and it's never too much of something I actually want.

Blogs always linger on too long either tapering off with apologies for lack of posts of bilious rants about what the blogger used to like. I'm cutting this off before I do any more of either. If I find I have something to share later, I'll try some new social media instead of putting it up here. Blogs are so 2008, anyway.

I'll just end by wishing you all happy holidays and that you can enjoy cooking more than I can at the moment. If you've got a blog or somesuch you'd like to send whatever readers I've got to, please post it in the comments.

Friday, December 16, 2011

CSA week five wrap-up, week six start-up

Now then where were we? Oh yes, last week's share; Did I cook anything interesting with it?

Well, there were the chile rellenos, but I have to admit I made them yesterday. They're actually quite simple, unless you go full-Bayless with them in which case they're extraordinarily complex and take all day. But if you just stuff the peppers with cheese and use enchilada sauce from a can, pretty simple. The one interesting thing is the batter which is made by whipping egg whites then mixing the yolks back in along with some flour. Whipping just two egg whites is difficult so I wasn't able to get quite the loft or stiffness I wanted, but you can see some light blobbiness in the results.

As for the rest, I picked away at the squash and herbs. The best thing I did was roast the squash down along with some onions and peppers and blended it into sandwich spread to use with slow-braised turkey. I probably should have taken a picture of that. I may well make some more and pack it in a jar as it wasn't bad at all. If I do, I'll take a picture.

On to this week, then.

Oh joy. These squash and eggplant are going directly into the freezer in the hope that I'll be happy to dig them out in six months time. Next week's squash and eggplant are going directly into the trash. Scallions are a nice change of pace. I think I'll make a scallion shrimp stir fry with them as that's been successful in the past and makes good use of the copious green bits I've got.

The best bit is the tomatoes, of course (although rumor has it I'll be cursing another batch of them soon enough). Slicing tomatoes plus basil (top right corner) means I'm breaking my mozzarella-making kit. I've used the kit once before and it makes cheese that's not quite as good as store-bought for only a slightly higher cost. I wonder if I can find a gallon of buffalo milk. That might improve it. I should probably hold back some eggplant to go with that too.

Once again, I'll let you know if the muse happens by. In the meantime, you should go back to last week's post to read Meow's comment on how she used last week's share. She wasn't any more inspired than I was, but it's good to get another take on things.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cobaya dinner at Azul

My apologies to those who tuned in for your weekly dose of CSA dissatisfaction and regret. You'll have to come back tomorrow for that. Today, I've got my write-up of last night's Cobaya dinner at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

The event was filmed for the Bizarre Foods television series (unless Zimmerman's got another hosting gig I don't know about. The dinner wasn't particularly bizarre, but I haven't seen more than 15 minutes of the show so I don't know how closely it sticks to its remit.) but it wasn't disruptive at all so far as I could tell. The production crew did take notice of my note-taking and asked if they could film me, but I declined and apologize for depriving you of breathless footage of blogging action. On the plus side, the room was all lit up for the cameras so you'll be getting better photos here.

We started with a couple cocktails concocted by the executive chef Joel Huff. First up was a champagne cocktail with green tea and Asian pear. It started blah, but the flavors came through as it warmed up. Sencha nose, fuity roundness and champagne bitterness. Not bad, but no real improvement over a decent glass of plain champagne to my mind. I didn't catch the multitude of ingredients that made up the second cocktail. Huff demoed how to make it, but the scrum of photographers was too thick for me to get near the front and I feel like a fool holding my camera overhead like a paparazzo. I can tell that that's frozen mint spuma on top, though. I'm no cocktail connoisseur, so I found it a whole lot of effort to make fruit punch. I do like the touch of vanilla, though. Perhaps there were subtleties lost on me.

After the drinks it was time to get seated. It's a nice space. The overly numerous and solicitous waitstaff made me rather uncomfortable. A sign of my lack of class, I'm certain, but I can put my own napkin on my lap, thank you. As we waited for the first course, We got a basket of some really tasty house-baked breads--crisp and slightly warm. The olive bread is especially nice as it is redolent of sweet olive oil.

That first course was uni from Santa Barbara topped with a little fresh horseradish and sorbet made of monstera from Paradise Farms. I enjoyed the separate components, but the whole was much less than the parts. The sweet bubblegum flavor of the monstera makes great sorbet, but with uni? Ech. Maybe if there was more than a couple bites I would have figured it out, but it just did not work right off the bat and that's the only chance it had.

The second course was a pumpkin swordfish tataki. Apparently, "pumpkin" is the variety of swordfish as well as three different components on the plate. There's crisp fried green onion and a little pool of soy sauce (maybe) as well. Pretty presentation, but difficult to manipulate. Lovely flavors, though. Different combinations revealed different aspects, but everything together was the best with the sweet pumpkin jelly, salty sauce and tangy chutney (that's what I'm calling the stuff on the far right) all working with the fish in different ways. Nicely balanced.

The third course--Pickled squash and pumpkin oil--never arrived. If that's because it didn't work and Huff decided not to present it, then good for him.

Instead we skipped straight to beetzanella: beets prepared in a half dozen different ways paired with four or five preparations of Wisconsin blue cheese. This wasn't my prettiest photo of the plate, but I wanted the overhead view so you could everything. Visually stunning and at least as good to eat. There wasn't a unpleasant flavor or texture or a combination that didn't work. A fabulous plate.

And then there's this. Smoked octopus, cauliflower vadouvan. Like the previous course, this tastes as good as it looks. I'm assuming here that you understand that it looks unpleasant and off-putting. Some people at the table complained of tough octopus, but mine was tender which, combined with the overwhelming smoke, gave it the flavor and texture of a hot dog and not a particularly good one either. The big squeeze of mildly spiced goop only adds to the resemblance. Let's just move along.

Now this is much nicer to look at: Carnaroli rice risotto with chanterelles, snails (under the rice) and a poached egg over a bed of forest floor aromatics. The snails were fed on basil which we were told affects their flavor, but I can't say I could tell. Oh yeah, Huff came by to shave white truffle over top but my after-shot was overexposed. I tried to defend this dish to my fellow diners as an inoffensive mushroom risotto, but my table was in open rebellion after that last course. The bland truffle and actively offensive smelly junkpile under the bowl came under particularly harsh attack. The latter was matter of the chef's vision not being well received rather than a problem with preparation. Although, if you want that, the risotto was rather stiffer than I prefer and a touch underdone. The mushrooms were tasty, though.

I should mention at this point that I had the wine pairing and all the wines were pretty good. The pairing with the next course, Morgon Beaujolais was outstanding--easy drinking, but still complex. Not boringly fruity or overly harsh. And a surprisingly good pairing with fish.

The aforementioned fish was turbot, served with preserved lemon, artichokes, sunchokes and a mild perfumey crumble of something we couldn't identify. This was a controversial dish at my table, but I liked it a lot. Every component on the plate worked harmoniously together and none of them, individually or together, overwhelmed the mild fish. Toning down preserved lemon without losing its identity takes a level of finesse that wasn't evident in some of the other courses (unless the octopus was supposed to taste like that).

Next up, a beef duo. 72-second waygu New York strip loin and 72-hour braised shortrib served with seawater potatoes and dots of unidentified green and white stuff. The brown dust by the shortrib tasted of cinnamon which was an interesting choice. Both beefs were juicy and tender, modestly flavorful and distinctly different. They went well with the sauces, but the didn't deliver the wow I know these cuts can. I got they feeling they weren't intended to. The potatoes were about as good as potatoes get and there was a baby brussel sprout I liked too.

Finally, dessert. There's a sesame butter cookie under the strawberry jelly sheet, also strawberry curd, thai basil anise, pickled cardamom sprout, a caramel soy strawberry and one or two other components too. Sorry, I was fairly pickled myself by this point so I didn't get the full explanation and my notes are semi-coherent. I think I liked the flavors but not all the textures if I'm reading this right.

And that was it. It was an oddly schizophrenic meal with wide swings in quality between courses. I'm curious if that reflected responsibility by different teams in the kitchen. Overall, I'd say the highs were high enough that I can forgive the lows. Well, maybe not the octopus. If you were watching Twitter last night, you'll have seen swooningly positive response to the meal, including high praise of the octopus. I'm quite curious to read some alternative views if any get written up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CSA week 4 wrap-up, week 5 start-up

I talked about the eggplant curry already; What else have I cooked?

There was the squash and chard quiche with ham and leftover herb chicken. Not bad, but nothing special.

There was the Thai basil beef where I reduced the beef to a quarter pound and added pak choi, peppers, onions and cilantro. I managed to stir fry the vegetables to just the right level of tenderness and the basil flavor came through surprisingly assertively given how mild it seemed uncooked.

And there was the chili that started out as a green chili with the jalapeños, tomatillos and more cilantro, but turned at least as much red with the tomato paste and red dried peppers I added. Tasty, but seriously hot. It'll mellow in the freezer over time, I think.

I've still got the cabbage and a little leftover eggplant and squash hanging around, plus plenty of herbs, of course.

Let's see what this week brought:

Pretty much the same as the last couple weeks and so buyer's remorse starts to set in. More squash and the six more packs of the same herbs I've already got (basil, mint, dill, lemongrass, chives and parsley) are the last things I need right now. I'm going to start drying and freezing so they don't go to waste. I had to clean out too many remnants of rotty herbs to make room for this new batch.

Greens are easy enough to find a use for, although I could live without the double dose of salad mix and a head of lettuce. The sugarcane is a useless novelty. But the tomatoes are good to see and those poblano peppers look stuffable which could be interesting.

If I come up with something worth writing about, I'll let you know.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vankaya gasagasala kura

or eggplant poppy-seed curry. This strikes me as an odd combination, but it is, aparently, a standard Andhra-syle dish.

Indian poppy seeds are a different sort than the European variety we use in the U.S. For starters, they're white and, although it's tough to tell scale from the pictures, I think they're bigger. That's why the dish can call for grinding them to a paste when all my efforts to grind my poppy seeds came to naught. I have no idea if they taste any differently. Or, now that I think about it, if Indian eggplants taste any diferently from what I'm using. In any case, the dish turned out OK even if it's entirely different from what the author (Sailaja of the Sailu's Kitchen website) intended.


3/4 pound eggplant, peeled, halved and sliced 3/4-inch thick
2 Tablespoons oil

3/4 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

2 cloves garlic
a knob of ginger of similar size to 2 cloves of garlic
pinch salt

2 cups water
4 1/2 Tablespoons poppy seeds, toasted and a good-faith attempt made at grinding them into a paste
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar or that solid chunk sugar if you've got it
2 inch diameter lump of tamarind pulp, dissolved

1. Heat half the oil to shimmering over a medium-high heat and add the eggplant slices, in batches if necessary. Cook on both sides until well-browned and translucent. Set eggplant aside.

2. Meanwhile, mix the cayenne, coriander, fenugreek and cumin with a judicious amount of salt.

3. Grind the garlic and ginger into a paste with a bit more salt.

4. Reduce heat to medium low and add the rest of the oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers again add the mustard seeds. When they pop add the cumin. When those pop add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook, stirring, until fragrant or the garlic threatens to brown whichever comes first.

5. Add the mixed spices, stir and cook until differently fragrant. Add the water, turn the heat back up to high, and bring to a boil. Add the poppy seeds and sugar. Strain in the tamarind. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure nothing sticks to the pan. Be skeptical that this could possibly turn into a proper sauce.

6. Return the eggplant to the pan, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes until the eggplant is falling apart and, wonder-of-wonders, the sauce has thickened to a gravy-like consistancy.

Serve with rice, roti, or, if it's all you've got, naan. Possibly you could get away with flour tortillas.

Not the world's most attractive dish, but curries rarely photograph well. The eggplant is meltingly soft in a thick gravy. The rich flavors of sweet tamarind and mellow spice dominate but the eggplant adds earthiness and the poppy seeds give a toasty aftertaste. Using a piece of naan as a scoop brings out the toastiness and rebalances the flavors nicely. It also hides the gritiness of all those unground poppy seeds. Also, it's pretty cool how the dish makes its own spice-oil condiment as the oil absorbed by the eggplant in step 1 are released, pick up the oil-soluble flavors and float to the top.

So, overall, tasty, but not really presentable to company.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CSA week three wrap-up, week four start-up

As I predicted last week, I cooked a lot of stuff, but nothing so complicated or interesting it was worth it's own post. Mostly, I focused on using the herbs in quantity and in combination.

First off, I had a few herb-heavy salad filled with basil, parsley, garlic chives and tarragon along with the salad greens, but that's boring to look at so I didn't take any photos.

I herb crusted a pork chop and cooked some pole beans with that. If I recall correctly, that was tarragon, thyme and basil.

I stuffed a bunch of herbs under the skin of a chicken and roasted it. I roasted the squash with it, but didn't get a picture. I used rosemary, bay and parsley for this. Too much really as the bird tastes as much of herbs as it does of chicken. The rosemary came out a too strong really, but it's not bad.

I topped pasta with sage, parsley and ham.

I used half the dill to pickle the okra. There are a couple jalapeños, a small eggplant and a small squash in that jar too.

The other half I used for gravlax. Along with the dill, salt and sugar, I seasoned the salmon with a smokey, peaty scotch that added a lot of really nice flavor to it.

And I made an agua fresca from a handful of mint, a cucumber, sugar and lime juice. With a sugar cane swizzle stick.

I left the cabbage alone. It'll keep until a really good application presents itself.

On to week four then:

Another herb-heavy week, but they're varieties easy to use in bulk so I don't mind.

That's a big bag of basil in the lower left hand corner. It's a mild sweet variety, but I'm probably going to go Thai with it anyway. I'm just not a big fan of pesto.

To the right is a bunch of cilantro. Along with the four tomatillos and the jalapeños center top, I could make a tiny batch of green chili. Or I could do some salsa.

Above the basil is mint. That agaua fresca was mighty refreshing with a jigger of rum added so I'm definitely making that again. That uses the cucumber too. Actually, that cucumbers pretty tiny. I'll have to buy some supplemental cukes to match the mint.

Above the mint is another squash and zucchini sampler. I want to pair that with the chard in the upper right corner as they both go so well with cheese and cream sauces. I could do a risotto, but it would be a big batch and it doesn't store so well. Maybe a bread pudding?

A couple eggplants in the center there. I haven't been happy with the texture I've been getting out of eggplant recently by doing the salting, purging and squeezing method. I'd rather roast them until they collapse this time around. Maybe I'll make baba ganoush.

And finally, in the bottom right are a small head of lettuce and a smaller head of pak choy. A salad and a ramen soup garnish respectively.

Of all that, the basil dish might be worth writing up and possibly the squash. That's about it. I'll probably just end up with another wrap-up post.

But, in the meantime, Friday UM's hosting a food truck night. They don't usually come this far south so I'm looking forward it. There's no info I can find on who will be there, but I've got my fingers crossed for Dim Ssam a Gogo and the GastroPOD. Even if I skip lunch I don't think I'll be able to try more than, say, four so I'd appreciate suggestions of which trucks to prioritize.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

CSA week two wrap-up, week three start-up

Lots left unaccounted for from week two.

To start, all that eggplant. I decided to split it up; half went into an Italian pasta bake sort of thing along with a fair bit of the basil. The other half, I tried to incorporate into Vietnamese sugar cane shrimp. Unfortunately, the 50/50 shrimp/eggplant ratio made the resulting paste too soft to stick the sugar cane. Made quite respectable fritters, though.

I left the avocado too long, let it over-ripen and it got watery and bland. It took me a long time to realize that that was my fault and not just the natural state of Florida avocados. They can be good, but you've got a really short window of time you need to use them in. My mistake was putting the avocado in a paper bag with some bananas which accelerated the process rather more than I was counting on. I got to the bananas just in time, but the avocado went to waste.

I should mention the peppers, too. A couple went into the nachos the avocado was supposed to accompany and the others I'm saving to go with the okra. I don't think I've ever encountered jalepenos so fresh and crisp before. Very impressive.

As I just implied, I haven't used the okra yet. I'm sticking with the pickling plan, but held off in hopes of receiving some fresh dill this week. And, hey, some arrived just as I had hoped. I'll be setting them up today, I think.

And speaking of this week, let's take a look at what's newly arrived.

A rather better picture this week. Moving right under the florescent kitchen light and a tighter grouping on the square butcher block both helped quite a bit. You should be able to recognize most everything, I think.

The aforementioned dill is on the bottom mid-left. To the right is lemongrass, mostly stems I have no use for and very little of the actual good stuff. Maybe it's good for making a tea? To the left is a big bag of rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano. Along with all the leftover herbs from the last two weeks (which are keeping up surprisingly well), this is officially way too much. I hope the herb to everything-else ratio goes down soon as this does not serve my needs.

Above the herbs are some generic light greens, grape tomatoes and a cucumber. That's a salad right there to which I can add some of the herbs, I think. Basil, parsley, tarragon--those should all work. Maybe some mint, too. I can use a handful of sage with a brown butter pasta sauce. Rosemary and thyme I can use in bulk with a roast chicken. I'd throw in the tarragon, but I already did that and I've still got leftovers.

The squash sampler pack would be nice roasted along with that hypothetical chicken.

That leaves the cabbage, which I like with pork and/or yakisoba. And the pole beans which look so fabulous (although it's hard to tell through the plastic bag and, I just checked and their color's faded overnight in the refrigerator. I hope their flavor hasn't turned khaki too.) that I'm probably just going to steam them up and eat a big bowl full.

Nothing really blog-worthy in that list, is there? This may be a slow week.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thit Heo Nuong Xa

That would be lemongrass-marinated pork in English.

From the picture it looks pretty complicated, but it's really very simple and easy to make.

It's just a couple thick pork chops or a hunk of pork loin (not too lean!) marinated overnight in a paste of:
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon shallot, chopped
3 Tablespoons lemongrass, white bits finely grated
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon black soy sauce
1 1/2 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 Tablespoon neutral oil. Grill or fry them up and slice it it thin against the grain.

Add grilled green vegetables. I had pak choy on hand. Also sliced tomato and cucumber and a poached egg are nice additions.

Put those over a big bowl of coconut rice:
6 oz rice
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
cooked on a standard rice cooker cycle.
Plain white rice is OK, but the coconut rice does add a nice little something.

and top with drizzles of:
Nuoc Cham
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
125 milliliters water
heated until just about to boil and then mixed with
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 hot pepper, thinly sliced
2 tbsp lime juice
1 small carrot, shredded
and cooled

Scallion and garlic chive oil
250 milliliters neutral oil
4 scallions, finely sliced
1 handful garlic chives, finely sliced
1 pinch salt
1 pinch sugar,
simmered briefly and cooled,

and sambal hot sauce
from a bottle and better suited here than over-hyped Sriracha to my mind.

OK, maybe it is a little complicated, but you don't have to do it all at once. You can make a big batch of the pork and keep it in the freezer, make the sauces a day or two before and cook whatever vegetables you've got to hand.

It's as tasty as it looks. More tasty if you don't think it looks so good.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sorrel tarragon frittata

I went to the Slow Food Miami Lebanese Feast last night, but it was, let's say, problematic, so let's talk about the meal I threw together when I got home instead, OK?

I knew I wanted to use the sorrel complete, but I was concerned that the leaves would cook down and I'd end up with a pan full of stems as I have too many times with other greens. Running it through the food processor with a little olive oil and salt seemed a good plan. I originally planned to just chop things up a bit, but went a little overboard and ended up with a sorrel paste, but I could make that work.

After tasting the sorrel, I gathered a few more ingredients that I thought would go well with it: thinly sliced onion and bell pepper, roughly chopped green olives and a handful of tarragon. I briefly considered making this a pesto-esque pasta sauce, but went with eggs instead.

Once I had the ingredients together, I kept the preparation pretty simple. I sweated the onion and pepper until soft, added the sorrel and olives and cooked out some excess moisture. Once I was happy with a fairly firm texture that wasn't releasing much liquid, I poured it out into a bowl and mixed in a little frozen butter to cool it down rapidly so I could add three beaten eggs, the taragon and a little salt and pepper without starting to cook the eggs.

I left the pan on the heat, hoping to get it hot enough to get a Spanish tortilla style puff out of the eggs, but it didn't work. That's why I'm calling it a frittata instead even though I didn't finish it off in the oven. Maybe it's just an omelet?

Whatever it was, it turned out surprising well given its improvisatory nature. I was afraid the sorrel would be a bit harsh, as some greens can get when you treat them this roughly, but it kept its light citrusy herbal flavor. It blended well with the tarragon and countered the savory egg and mild olive tanginess and gave a pleasantly complex play of understated flavors over the course of each bite.

Not the most visually attractive dish, I'll admit. The red sorrel is at least partially to blame for that, I think. Imagine a spring of parsley on top and I think it's presentable.

The texture was light and buttery, just barely holding together, with a little chew from the onion and peppers and crunch from the olive-bread toast I served it on. Add a minerally dry white wine to cut the richness and it was a lovely late dinner.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's alive!

I'm as surprised as you are, but I'm back. It's for the same reason as last year's return; It's CSA season again, I'm cooking interesting stuff and I don't know anyone who'll sit still to hear me talk about it. I swear, if I ever develop a proper social life, this thing's gone.

I ought to talk a bit about why I was gone so long before I talk about why I'm back. There's the too-hot-to-cook summer doldrums, of course, but I also moved to a new place with a kind of weird kitchen I had a hard time getting used to.

OK, now that I look at the photo, it's actually quite nice. It's just the propane stove and oven that have been problematic. The oven runs about 70 degrees hot and doesn't cool down readily when you turn down the heat. It'll sometimes just keep getting hotter, but I've learned to keep an oven thermometer in there and readjust every 10 minutes.

The burners have been harder to work around. They each have a very limited range. One goes from go from high to very high heat, one goes from very high to very very high and the last goes from too low to hold a simmer to off. I tried adjusting them but only managed to blow a fuse while looking for adjustment screws that aren't where they're supposed to be. Luckily I discovered that if you turn the knobs backwards, in the bit where the flame is just about turning off, if you're careful, you can get low and medium flames, so I can make it work.

Back to the CSA. This year I decided to switch from Bee Heaven to Teena's Pride. There are a couple reasons, but mostly it's because they have a one-person box so I won't have to deal with the weekly vegetable onslaught I got from Margie. I just about managed to use it all, but it was a struggle and I really don't feel like struggling any more. Also, Teena's drop-off point is within easy bicycling distance to my new place which is nice.

This is actually the second week of deliveries. Last weeks box was mostly greens and herbs. I made some chicken in a tarragon cream sauce, Thai lemongrass pork, a chard and sweet potato gratin, steamed some green beans and ate some salad. And I used the arugula in tacos.

Here's this week's box:

Hard to tell what's what with everything individually bagged like that. I'll try to do better next time, but I really don't want to take everything out. They'll be very hard to get back in.

On the right are bunches of mint, basil and parsley. Then a small pak choy and a bag of okra, a stick of sugar cane, a bag of mixed salad greens, several jalapeños, red and plain old sorrel and a variety pack of eggplants.

So, let's see, the basil is spicy, so, along with the mint, we've got Vietnamese condiments. Is sugarcane shrimp Vietnamese or Thai? Works either way since I've got some leftover nuoc cham from the lemongrass pork. I could do something Vietnamese with the eggplants; I think I'll want to use them together despite their differences. I wonder if I'll be able to tell them apart in the final dish. That'll likely use some of the hot peppers in that too.

The okra, I'd like to pickle; that's the best of all possible uses for okra to my mind. I've had some not-so-good pickled beets sitting in my pickle jars for quite some time. Past due to toss them out.

I have to admit I'm not familiar with sorrel. It looks like dandelion, but it's mild and lemony. The red sorrel is maybe a little tough to eat raw, but the plain sorrel is pretty tender. Might be good in a quiche. Maybe I'll just add it to the salad mix which seems a bit skimpy, although that may just be contrast to the lifetime supply of lettuce I'd get each week from Bee Heaven.

Really truly skimpy is the pak choy. There's really not enough there to work with unless I use it as part of a stir fry. The leftover green pepper from last week might go into that too. Both should play well with a black bean sauce.

Anything left? Just last week's avocado that just ripened. I don't see anything here that calls out to be used with avocado, though. Eh, I'll figure something out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cobaya dinner at Crumb with Michelle Bernstein

Last night (May 17th for those of you in the future) was the latest Cobaya dinner and I was lucky enough to get a seat. Like I said up in the subject, our chef was Michelle Bernstein. Frodnesor, in his introduction, said that he was interested in her participating in the Cobaya dinners from the start and approached her back in February and she agreed immediately. The timing, I presume, is due to the opening of her new venue, Crumb on Parchment, a few doors down from Sra. Martinez. It's not listed on her website, but they had menus and a special board up so it must be already open.

No matter; this dinner bore little resemblance to what I saw on that menu, and Chef Bernstein had pulled staff from her other places for the evening so it wasn't even the same folks preparing it. I had problems with my pen so my notes are sparser than usual, but I do have down here that this menu was intended to be playful and she didn't want to kill us with too many courses (unlike Chef Hales of Sakaya Kitchen who comes to Cobayas with murder in his heart). So, just four savory courses, a palate cleanser and a dessert. I got the wine pairing too so I'll talk about those as I go along.

First up, an oyster chawanmushi (in a steamed custard) topped with enoki mushrooms and paired with a scallop and uni ceviche. I found the oyster a delicate and nicely balanced little bite. The creaminess of the custard and chew of the mushroom gave it a nice variety of textures as well. The ceviche was also understated, mostly comprised of tender flavorful scallop accented by the rich uni. There was just a touch of citrus in either component which made the wine, Julien Fouet Saumur 2008 whose grassy nose belied a flavor not too far from sucking on a Lemonhead candy, a really nice pairing. I can't imagine that the folks who were drinking whatever bottle they brought with them enjoyed this course as much as I did. I think the guys across from me were drinking a Cotes du Rhone. I know they're serious gourmets and I don't know how they can play wine-pairing-roulette like that. I'd rather drink water.

The second course was slices of a whole foie gras cooked sou vide then roasted served over fava beans, diced carrot and turnips, I think--spring root vegetables anyway--with a carrot-orange reduction. This dish had something of a hearty meat and potatoes feel to it despite not being quite meat and no potatoes on the plate. All the components were well-prepared and the sauce tied the plate together. The wine, Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec 2006, was mildly sweet and its fruity roundness cut through the richness easily.

The third course was chupe de mariscos, including a prawn cooked sou vide, a piece of fish I believe she said was paiche, clams, mussels, peas and purple potatoes (I could have sworn there were beets in there too but I have been persuaded that I was incorrect) topped with a fried egg and served with squid ink risotto croquetas and aoli (nearly cropped out in the upper right corner of the picture). The rich, flavorful spicy broth was the highlight here along with the crisp-outside creamy-inside croquetas. Nothing wrong with any of the other bits other than maybe the texture on the prawn, but those two components were knockouts. I wish I had been more mindful of the fish but I had forgotten that paiche is such a trendy big deal. A bit of a note problem for the wine for this course; I'm not sure if it was the Mas Sorrer Montant or the Mercy Pinot Noir. I think it was the Mercy. Anyway, it was sharp and tannic and paired nicely with the broth.

Fourth course was New York steak, very slowly cooked sou vide, with a truffle butter demisauce and ricotta gnocchi with celery leaf, chives buds and lily bulb. We were each given a syringe of sauce and instructed to inject small doses into various parts of the steak. Chef Bernstein described this as something she's always wanted to do and as "really cool". It was fun, I'll give her that, but the flavor was lost what with the puddle of the same sauce already on top of the meat. Personally, I thought it could a touch more salt, too. More problematically, I've come to the conclusion that I just don't like the texture of meat cooked sou vide. I like a little chew and various levels of doneness at different depths. It adds interest. Also, maybe it could have been warmer? Good gnocchi, though. I particularly liked the lily bulb with the truffle sauce. If the last wine was the Mercy, that means this was the Mas Sorrer. It was a tart black cherry and rather nice in either case.

Next up was the palate cleanser, a calamansi soup with a chunk of pineapple and a small scoop of mint ice cream. The tartness of the soup was tempered by the slight bitterness of the ice cream and the sweet pineapple.

This, and the final dessert, were prepared by the pastry chef of both Sra. Marinez and Crumb, Vanessa Paz. That's not her with the blowtorch, unfortunately; that's the head chef at Sra Martinez. Check Frod's write-up once he's got it up; he usually has well-labeled pics of all notable participants.

Last up, a disc of puff pastry made with caramel and chocolate, topped with roasted banana, saltay caramel espuma and a little scoop of nutmeg ice cream, served with a couple of chocolate-covered pretzels (one hidden around back) and one of whatever that thin wafer cookie is called. This, unfortunately, didn't really work for me. The pastry was soggy and tough and there was way too much banana which had a bitter edge to it. The rest of the components I quite liked, though, when taken on their own. The nutmeg ice cream was particularly pleasant. I'll have to try making some myself. The final wine pairing was Rock Wall Sauvignon Blanc 2008. It was syrupy sweet with a sour edge to it and I've got to admit I didn't really care for it either.

Despite my faded enthusiasm at the end of the evening, I went away happy. The dinner had a better hit to miss ratio than the last few Cobaya dinners I've been to and those hits were palpable hits. I haven't been to any of Chef Bernstein's places; I really ought to make the effort to seek them out.

I'll link to Frod's post when he has it up. He always has more detail than I can muster and nuanced opinions of the dishes well expressed, so do read his take as well. If anyone else who attended is reading, I'd be obliged if you could post your take in the comments.

As promised, here is Frod's write up. And here is one from Paula of the Mango and Lime and Short Order blogs. No real differences of opinion this time around; we all had a great time.