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Last night we dined on some pulled pork shoulder that I made. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to serve it, but when Yuki was on her way home from work she stopped to grab some tortillas and oiala, lemongrass carnitas were born…and devoured…and still getting devoured as there is a ton of it in our fridge.

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I started this dish off the day before since flavors develop over time on braised dishes. I picked up a 4.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, diced a tomato and half onion (shown in my little mini food processor container), three stalks of lemongrass outer leaves removed and tender middle chopped up (I reserved the tougher top portions for the braising liquid), a 2 inch piece of ginger chopped, 10 cloves of garlic chopped, the juice of 1 lime, three good pinches of sugar, about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 15 or so cracks of black pepper. Everything except for the pork went into my little food processor and I turned it into a wet rub.

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I covered the pork shoulder with my marinade and let it sit in my large pot with the reserved lemongrass stalks for about an hour to let the juice start to penetrate the meat.

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Then I poured in about 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of cooking sake, and then filled it with water till the liquid covered about 3/4’s of the shoulder. I brought it up to a boil then covered the pot and turned the heat to low. I let it simmer for about 6 hours. After it was done simmering I let it cool down a bit and then put it in my fridge to sit overnight.

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Yesterday afternoon I took it out of the fridge, scooped up the thin layer of fat that hardened on the surface, and took the shoulder out.

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I pulled the pork apart. Best way to do that is to just get your hands dirty. Let’s be honest here, is there anything wrong with having your hands smell like lemongrass pork? I think not. Speaking of lemongrass, I discarded the tough parts that were in the braise.

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I put the pulled pork back into the pot with the braising liquid and brought it back up to a boil.

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I let it boil down for about an hour to let a majority of the liquid evaporate. What you’re left with is a rich, flavorful heaping pile of swinealicious meat that drips down your hands as you slap it on a tortilla. Again, there’s nothing wrong with hands that smell like lemongrass pork.

I served these carnitas with cilantro, white rice, steamed bok choy, and sautéed chinese eggplant, green onion, and yellow bell pepper. Avocado would’ve been pretty good with them too. Topping them with diced tomato and onion wouldn’t be bad either.

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We had picked up some squid the other day, about a pound, that needed to be eaten before it went bad. I had always wanted to try stuffing squid and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Always the opportunist I went with it.

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First thing I did was make the stuffing. I picked up about a half pound of ground pork, a quarter onion diced, and minced 3 garlic cloves.

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I sautéed the onion and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 7 minutes and then added in the pork. Once the pork was fully cooked, about 5 more minutes, I seasoned with salt and pepper and then let it sit for a couple of hours to cool down to room temperature.

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After getting some work done on my computer while the stuffing was cooling down I got the spaghetti sauce ready. I used a half bulb of fennel (fronds saved for garnish), a carrot diced, 3 cloves of garlic minced, a quarter onion diced, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and a quarter cup of chicken stock.

In my hot pan I poured in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then sautéed the garlic, onion, carrot, and fennel for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Then I poured in the chicken stock and let it boil down for about 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes. I seasoned with salt and pepper and gave it a taste. I saw the need for a little more flavor depth so I poured in about 5 to 6 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.

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Here are my little squid. I threw the tentacles into the spaghetti sauce.

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I started stuffing the bodies with the pork mixture. That was not an easy task. None of my regular spoons were small enough to fit into the squid, my utensil is too big (I wish)! So, I tried using one of Otis’ feeding spoons. That was too big too, but did get some pork stuffed in. I ended up just using my fingers, still a difficult task as the squid kept slipping out of my hand. Slippery little suckers.

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After I got ten of the squid stuffed I realized that I was short on time and had to go pick Otis up from daycare. Since I only needed three and a half servings (dinner for all three of us and lunch for Yuki) I thought that 10 was enough. So I cut the rest of the squid into rings and tossed it into the spaghetti sauce along with the rest of the pork mixture.

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To get some green into dinner I took a big handful of haricots vert and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

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While my noodles were cooking (I really wanted black squid ink pasta, but couldn’t find any so I used spinach spaghetti and just boiled it according to package instructions) and sauce re-heating I heated up my griddle pan to med-high, salted and peppered my squid, drizzled a little olive oil on the pan, and cooked the squid for about 4 minutes per side.

I will say, this dish was a success. It was a bit time-consuming trying to stuff those little sea aliens, but well worth it. They were soft, juicy, and very tasty. I would definitely make this, or something like it again. Actually, next time I think I’ll do a togarashi spiced squid and serve it with Japanese noodles in a dashi broth. The possibilities are endless!

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As you saw from my last post, we had Thanksgiving in Merida this year at my mom’s. Since we’re not a traditional posse, we decided not to do a traditional meal. But let’s be honest here, turkey was not on the original Thanksgiving menu, a feast that lasted for 3 days and included seal, deer, fowl (most historians think it was actually duck and goose), lobster, and other seafood creatures. So, are we the non-traditional family or are all of you who eat turkey?

With that, being a Jewish family, we decided to make brisket. Being the best cook in the family I was charged with braising the bovine. However, back to the non-traditional thing, I did not do a traditionally Jewish-flavored brisket. Since we were in the Yucatan I decided to do a Yucatecan-flavored brisket, something that every Mayan Jew in the world could enjoy. In Spanish brisket is called faldo de res, pibil is traditional Mayan seasoning (sour orange and achiote), hence, we ate Faldo de Res Pibil.

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My ingredient list included 5 tbsp achiote paste, 1.5 tbsp dried cilantro, 1.5 tbsp peppercorns, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 cups sour orange juice, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp salt, and 2 tbsp minced garlic. Oh, and 3 pounds of faldo de res.

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Really simple, I mixed everything together in my mom’s braising pan, drowned the brisket in it, covered it, and let it slowly braise in the oven at about 275 degrees for about 6 hours or so.

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I also made Yucatecan pickled onions. I sliced up 7 small onions and boiled them for about 10 minutes.

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After that, I strained them and let them soak in a mix of 1 cup of orange juice and the juice from 1.5 limes. I put that all in the fridge and let it rest until serving time.

While everything was in the oven we all decided to head out to a festival being held in the town of Tekanto, about 45 minutes from Merida. They had set up a bull fighting ring in the town center. I have never been to a bull-fight, and while the night we were there wasn’t the actual fight, it was very interesting to see the Matador understudies and the entire culture surrounding the bull-fight.

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If you ask me, I don’t quite get the fascination with the whole thing. It’s really not fair to the bull seeing as it gets poked and prodded before being taunted for all to see. If you want a fair fight, poke and prod the matador too. Then we’ll see survival of the fittest as nature intended.

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Before taunting the bull they paraded a heifer around and sliced its throat for all to see. That brought on some major cheers. Again, I just don’t get it, but it is a sight to see, no doubt about that. These guys had that thing butchered down to the bone within 20 minutes, I’ve never seen such fast knife work. I thought about inserting one of the photos I took of the butchering, but it’s pretty graphic, so use your imagination. I hear that the meat is donated to feed the less fortunate, so I’m cool with that, but it’s still rather inhumane.

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When we got back to mom’s the brisket was ready. I let her do the carving. Unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of a sparring match with Montezuma so I didn’t get to enjoy a full meal. I did taste some of the brisket though, and it was delicious! If I ever make it again I would probably cut the sour orange juice down by a half cup and replace it with more water as it was a strong flavor, but it was a good flavor, especially seeing that it was my first attempt at something like this, something that may never have been done before since pibil dishes are usually marinated and then cooked in banana leaves, not braised. That’s the fun of cooking, trying something new and learning as you go.

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Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but for all of my faithful reader (I know there’s just one of you), here’s what I made for Thanksgiving last night. We decided to stay home and just have a quiet dinner and I didn’t want to just roast a turkey breast, so I did something a little different. I made Turkey Paillard. Now, I did have to include a couple of the traditional (I say traditional, yet turkey wasn’t even served at the first Thanksgiving meal) ingredients on the plate being sweet potatoes and cranberries. Otherwise, I kept it pretty simple.

The first thing I did was make the stuffing for the paillard. I used about 3oz of baby spinach, 3.5oz of shimeji mushrooms, 3oz of oyster mushrooms, about 1/4 onion diced, 3oz of goat cheese, and three cloves of garlic minced (didn’t make it in the photo).

In my hot pan I poured in a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil and sweat down the onion and garlic for about 7 minutes. Then, I tossed in the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were in I decided to add a sprig each of rosemary and thyme to add some depth to the flavor. As the shrooms were softening, I decided that some butter would be a good idea, which it was. I added a tablespoon and then seasoned with salt and pepper. When the shrooms were soft, about 5 minutes or so of cooking with the butter, I added the spinach and cooked that down just until it wilted, about 2 minutes. I removed the rosemary and thyme and then let the mixture cool down.

For the turkey I used 1 cup of chicken stock, some rosemary, thyme, and a 1lb turkey tenderloin that I butterflied open.

I opened up the turkey and spread the mushroom and spinach mixture all over the inside, leaving about a half-inch border around the edges. Then I put chunks of the goat cheese all over that.

I rolled it all up and tied it with some kitchen twine, then seasoned it all over with salt and pepper. I will say this, it may be the ugliest rolled piece of fowl in the history of Thanksgiving. However, it was so ugly that it had to taste good! I simply put too much stuffing in, but hey, it’s Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to be glutinous.

I heated up my pan, poured in a few tablespoons of olive oil, and gently placed the turkey in. Had I done a better job tying the turkey I would have turned it so that the outside seared all over. I didn’t want it to fall apart though, so I just poured in the chicken stock and tossed the herbs on top. Once the stock was boiling I turned the heat down to low, covered the pan, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the turkey was cooking I whipped up my two sides. One was a simple pureed sweet potato. I simply steamed two sweet potatoes cut up in cubes for about 15 minutes and then blended them in my little hand blender with a few spoonfuls of the turkey’s cooking liquid.

The other side was pan roasted haricots vert with onion and dried cranberries.  I used a handful of haricots vert, about 1/4 onion thinly sliced, and a handful of dried cranberries.

I heated up my saute pan over med-high heat and poured in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then added the haricot vert and onion. I let them cook for about 10 minutes until the onion became slightly carmelized and then added the cranberries along with some salt and pepper. A few more minutes and this dish was ready.

When the turkey was done I set it aside and tented it with foil. I took 2 tablespoons of butter cut into smaller pats and added them one at a time to the chicken stock that the turkey cooked in with the heat turned up high. Well, first I removed the rosemary and thyme sprigs. As the sauce reduced a little more I added more butter until I had a nice, silky gravy to spoon over the turkey.

That was all. A very simple Thanksgiving dinner for two. It didn’t take a ton of time to cook, I didn’t have a ton of clean-up afterwords, and it was much better than a regular old roasted bird. In fact, Yuki even commented that this was the best tasting turkey she’s ever eaten. I noticed that she didn’t say the best looking.

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I had a half of a butternut squash in my fridge that I wanted to use up last night. The first thing that popped into my head was a puree. Squash puree’s really well, especially when you add a little ginger and garlic. So, Otis and I walked down to Trader Joe’s and grabbed some pork tenderloin to grill up for the protein.

Making a puree out of squash is one of the easiest things you can do. I took the squash and removed the seeds and skin then chopped it up. Along with that, I skinned and chopped one medium red-skin potato, 1/2 inch of ginger, 3 garlic cloves, and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. The potato is simply to add a nice smooth texture.

In a sauce pan, I threw all of the ingredients together and simmered them over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, until everything was soft but not mushy. I let it cool down and then pureed it in my little blender. I set about 5 tablespoons aside and then salted and peppered the rest and let that sit aside ready to reheat just before serving.

While the squash was simmering I marinate the pork in 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, 1 tablespoon mirin, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/2 inch of ginger grated, and 3 garlic cloves grated. I had 2 lbs of tenderloin and let it marinate in the fridge for about 2 hours, then let it sit out for about 45 minutes before grilling.

For my grill, about 10 minutes on each side at medium-high cooks it nice and medium with just a bit of pink left in the middle. I let it rest, tented in foil, for about 8 minutes before slicing it up.

To counter the Autumn sweetness of the squash I sautéed some asparagus with sliced shiitake, 1/2 an onion sliced, 2 garlic cloves minced, 1 tablespoon of butter, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.

In a medium-hot pan I poured in a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil. I sweat down the onion for about 7 minutes. Then I added the garlic and shiitake. I let those cook for about 5 minutes before tossing the asparagus in. Another 8 minutes and I added the butter and soy. I let it all cook together for a few more minutes. so the butter could coat everything, then served it up.

Pan roasting asparagus and shiitake with some butter bring out more of the woodsy notes rather than more sweetness.

White rice was on the side of course.

The night’s triumph, however, was that it was Otis’s first successful adult food feeding! We tried some sweet potato a couple of weeks ago, but it didn’t go over so well. He just wasn’t quite ready. With all the butternut squash puree, we gave it another shot. Remember the puree that I set aside before adding salt and pepper? (babies shouldn’t eat added salt) I mixed in about 2 oz’s of breast milk, not from my breasts or he’d get nothing but a hairball, until it was really smooth and thin enough that he could just swallow it down. Sure, his bib got fed too, but he ate the whole thing. I’m sure I’ll have a fun mess to clean up today because of it. But he’s worth it.

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Carnitas…the mere thought of that word brings tingles to my tongue. Bits of juicy, yet crisp little pork pieces topped with cilantro, onion, and salsa, then wrapped up in a warm blanket of corn tortilla. I, myself enjoy being wrapped in a warm blanket of corn tortilla. However, as much as I enjoy that, I far prefer to stuff my face with carnitas. When my buddy Nick invited us, as a few others, over for some homemade, backyard carnitas there was absolutely no way to turn down an offer like that. To say I jumped at the chance wouldn’t be quite accurate, but it was something along those lines.

To do carnitas the kind of justice they deserve, you have to use lard. Pure, creamy white, rendered pork fat. What better way to bring out the flavor of pork than with the flavor of pork? No double-negative here, just heart-stopping bliss. Nick picked up, I think 6 lbs of lard? Maybe it was 5. Whatever it was, he wasn’t screwing around.

He brought the big pot from his turkey fryer in to his kitchen and scooped all of that lard right in. I didn’t look like much while it was solid, but looks can sometimes be deceiving.

He rigged the fryer up to the propane tank on the concrete section of his backyard, lit that sucker up, and let that lard melt down into a 275 degrees pork hot tub. As he told me, the trick is not to deep-fry, but to keep it at 275 and let it simmer in the lard for about an hour or so. That’s how you get the nice golden crust with the juicy center. If the oil’s too hot, the outside will burn before the middle is cooked.

Look at that! Approximately 5 lbs of pink, fat-strewn hog heaven. How can you not want to maul that down with some cilantro? Nick sliced the chunks about half way through to give more surface area to brown in hot lard. That means more flavor!

One by one he carefully lowered each piece into the hot lard. (Hot Lard, that’d be a great band name)

No stranger to greasy knuckles (that’d be another great band name), he constantly checked the temperature with his handy frying glove. Like I said before, he wasn’t screwing around. He takes his lard simmering seriously, as he should.

You’re eyes are not playing tricks on you, this does look delicious!

After about an hour he took the pork out. He tented it in foil while getting the tortillas steamed. This allowed all of the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat.

Once the onions and cilantro were chopped, salsa (his was home-made, I think chipotle, not sure but definatley some sort of roasted and dryed chili) poured into serving dish, and tortillas nice and warm, he shredded the pork and we proceeded to carnitas like we’ve never carnitas’d before.

I wish I had a turkey fryer now. These were so tasty all I can do is wait until he decides to buy more lard. Until then, fond memories will have to suffice.

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