Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Fancy Pork Belly Breakfast.

I've said it before, I'll say it again.  Breakfast is my favorite meal.  I mean sure I am not a morning person so I tend to eat breakfast a little later than most.  To me, there is nothing better than sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits, grits, and ham.  Throw a little cream gravy over the whole thing and I'm in Cracker Barrel heaven.  However let's get something straight, I am not a fan of pancakes, scones, cereal, oatmeal, or any kind of morning sweetness.  I like a little maple syrup with my sausage and I can deal with a good savory chicken and waffle with hot sauce and gravy but that's about it.  It's all about the pork and eggs.

Let's go upscale for a bit.  Sometimes I just want something fancy and interesting.  I had bacon and eggs yesterday but today I woke up feeling fancy.  The day before I made some Seven Hour Braised Maple Ginger Pork Belly.  A beautiful slab of Thunder Hooves organic pork belly marinated for a few hours in soy sauce, maple syrup, coriander seed, fenugreek, garlic, and ginger.  Braised in a 250F degree oven for seven hours with a bit of fresh chicken stock.  The pork was then rested in it's own juices.  Cut into little squares and seared off in a little butter.  This is the most luxurious pork you will ever eat.  It 's crispy on the outside and the inside melts in your mouth.

I served the pork belly with a little reduction of it's own jus which was dark and slightly salty/sweet and some Point Reyes Blue Cheese Scrambles Eggs and a drizzle of white truffle oil.  It sounds like a ton of flavors going on but it worked perfectly.  All of the components lived and got eaten in perfect harmony.  I got all dolled up in my pretty Oscar de la Renta dress and I poured myself a couple of mimosas.  The perfect meal for a fancy kind of day which in my opinion, should be every day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall Cleaning

It's that time of year again where the The Hunger cleans out it's closet and gives you her hand me downs.  No these aren't defective recipes or scraps from the trash.  This are a collection of amazingly delicious dishes that weren't quite pretty enough to get a full blown photo spread.  You know, kinda like the fourth place winner of an Oklahoman beauty pageant.  Pretty, but perhaps one leg is a bit shorter than the other giving you an interesting but unfashionable limp.  Squint until slightly blurry and enjoy these hidden treasures.  If only you could taste through your computer screen.  That would be freakishly odd but at least then you would be able to appreciate how scrumptious these dishes were.

Duck Confit with Braised Collard Greens and Tomato Water Steamed Couscous

Duck confit is one of my top ten favorite foods.  It's duck that has been poached and preserved in it's own fat.  It's such a luxurious tasting food.  The collard greens have been braised with white wine, garlic, and a bit of duck fat as well until perfectly tender.  The couscous in this dish was steamed in tomato water which is basically the strained clear juices from fresh, ripe tomatoes seasoned with coriander and cumin seeds.

Galician Cava Steamed Manila Clams with Spicy Lamb Sausage

I strayed from my usual way of cooking manila clams (which I love) of steaming them in vermouth with chorizo.  I deviated and experimented and it paid off.  A bit more delicate but still packed with flavor.  I loved the lamb sausages (similar to merguez) kick and the cava added a tasty hint of sweet/salty/sour.  I swear you could "taste" the bubbles even though the carbonation was cooked off.  Don't forget the crusty bread to sop up the amazing juices in the pan.

Black Bear Korma with Roasted Peppers and Lemon Couscous

Korma never looks pretty.  At best it looks like a lumpy reject sausage that lost it's casing and at worst it looks like your cat missed it's litter box and found your plate instead.  Essentially korma is a hand formed sausage or dumpling depending on what culture you talk to.  They are freaking delicious.  A mix of earthy toasted spices and ground black bear backstrap, this was a pretty unique and tasty take on a Middle Eastern staple.  Are there bears in Egypt?

Arepas con Fricase de Pollo y Escabeche

Arepas are fried corn meal cakes that you can stuff or top with any type of yummy filling.  I made spicy Cuban mojo braised, shredded chicken thighs stewed with tomato, cumin, adobo, garlic, and onions.  Escabeche is basically pickled hot peppers like the jalapenos you see at the salsa bar at the Mexican restaurant.  Picante and delisioso!  By the way, I already know that I have no concept of where commas belong so shut up you crazy grammar Nazis.  Does, this, bug: you?!

Mediterranean Beet Root and Parsnip Lasagna

The Italians don't have a copyright on lasagna.  Nope, the Greeks have been making their own versions of the layered pasta dish just as long.  I had roasted some root veggies from the farmers market and decided to create my own version of the comforting dish. To counter balance the sweetness of the beets and parsnips I layered in some salty feta and made a spicy Mediterranean style tomato sauce with a little cinnamon and lemon zest.  How do you say mangia in Greek?

Polenta Frita with Spicy Lamb Ragu

Right after you make polenta and serve it up make sure you pour what's left in a shallow square dish.  That way the following day you can cut it into little squares and fry them off in olive oil for crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside polenta frita.  The lamb sugo (which means sauce) is ground lamb sausage, Hungarian hot peppers, onions, garlic, tomato, and fresh basil.  Dishes made from leftovers are sometimes better than the original dishes they came from.  This is one of those dishes.

Gallo Pinto With Fried Eggs and Chorizo

Stewed pinto beans with white rice on a soft tortilla served with chorizo and fried eggs.  The perfect Mexican breakfast.  Make this when you're hungover.  That's what I did.  Uhhh, time to go.  I need some aspirin.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sovereign State #14: Bangladesh

The Menu:
Bengali Biryani (Spiced Basmati Rice with Pike)
Palak Masoor Dal (Red Lentils with Spinach and Fenugreek Leaves)
Chingri Malai Curry (Spicy Bengali Prawn Curry)

Okay kids, open your geology books.  Bangladesh is not part of India.  It was once but it's not anymore.  It was also known as East Pakistan for a while as well.  A couple of revolutions later the Bengali people forcefully freed themselves from the tyranny of the British and Pakistani rule to become their own sovereign nation.  Relatively peaceful since the 1970s the only threats Bengalis have had to face (aside from extreme poverty) are from man eating Bengal tigers and venomous vipers.

The cuisine of Bangladesh takes a few cues  a little from it's neighbors and being a fairly new independent country, it struggles to separate it's own culinary traditions from that of it's former landlords.  However, like any place creating it's own identity, Bangladesh is slowly starting to show the rest of the world it's own unique traditions and culture.  What is authentic Bengali cuisine?  Authentic just means honest in my opinion.  Every country has their own cuisine.  Every region of every country has their own cuisine.  Every cook from every region of every country has their own specific way to make these dishes.  If a Bengali makes a dish that is different than the way her friend down the street makes it, is it any less authentic?  The world is full of uniqueness, and if you stop and look around you just might learn something new.  Or at least rediscover something great.

Bengali Biryani is a tasty dish basmati rice cooked with toasted spices such as green cardamom pods, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon cooked with with fish marinated in yogurt and spices.  Traditionally the Bengalis use a native fish called hilsa but I was not able to find such a fish here in Seattle.  I was told that the closest thing to it here was pike or shad.  I got some freshwater shad and after marinating it for an hour or two in the spiced yogurt I topped the fragrant rice with the de-boned fish and continued to steam until done.  The recipe I found had a few fundamental flaws in it and when I cook this dish again (which I will with some tweaks) I'll pull back on a few of the spices as they overtook any flavor that the fish once had.  I could see the beauty in the dish though and I know it can be great.

Asafoetida (also known as devil dung, stink gum, and food of the gods) is a strange spice.  Primarily used in Indian and Bengali cooking, it sort of smells like a roast beef dinner, salty blood, and ripe cheese all at once.  It also reduces flatulence so it's got that going for it.  Upon first smell asafoetida did not win my heart over.  However when you toast the spice in ghee (clarified butter), something lovely happens.  It takes on a nutty mild flavor similar to sauteed onion and garlic.  My cupboard has been taken over by the smell (which I have to say, it's grown on me) and my other spices are threatening to kick out their new roommate.  A Bengali dish that uses the pungent spice is Palak Masoor Dal, which is a soupy red dal (lentil) with other curry-esque spices and spinach and fenugreek leaves.  The dal is tasty, and unique with a slightly sour meaty taste (in a good way, not in a rotten carcass kind of way).  I'm now curious to cook other dishes with the interesting spice.  Asafoetida ice cream anyone?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

I love me some prawn curry.  Chingri Malai Curry is a tasty version of the dish with a few interesting spices to turn things on their heads a little bit.  The mustard seeds give the prawns a tart pungent kick and the toasted coriander and cumin bring an earthiness that a lot of curries miss out on (no, those aren't rat droppings).  It's a tomato based sauce infused with lemon and hot Indian green chilies.  Spicy, and umami, and sour and delicious.  Chingri Malai is a Bengali dish.  Everyone has a version of curry but this one is unique to Bangladesh.  My version may not have been one hundred percent authentic (but pretty damn close) but the respect and passion for cooking was there and hopefully I did the country of Bangladesh proud.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The republic of South Lake Union.

South Lake Union in Seattle still has a quiet dreariness to it.  Perhaps it's the train-less train tracks that run through the middle of the neighborhood or the uninviting rows of fuel stained loading docks that give the new bustling area it's melancholy air.  But the times, they are a changin' down in Paul Allen's playground.  Things are happening in what I used to call the REI district.  The remnants of industrial warehouses are giving way to new "see or be seen" restaurants and cafes.  Condos are sprouting up like wet gremlins and the mighty Amazon has built it's fortress of quality goods surrounded by a moat of (local) star chef outposts and coffee bunkers.  All you have to do is hop on the SLUT (South Lake Union Transit), and like the useless Westlake monorail, you'll be transported the 6 blocks to Lake Union which you really could have walked if you weren't such a lazy bastard. 

For lunch yesterday K and I went down to SLU and had burgers at re: public.  That's the name of the restaurant- re colon public.  As Miss Clement of The Stranger already announced, re:public is perhaps not the best name ever thought up, but you can't let a bad name fool you.  re:public serves tasty simple food with good ingredients and care.  The space is cavernous and perhaps a bit bare.  A little art on the walls could go a long way.  The service was sweet and helpful.  We were sat at a table right next to the wait staff computer which perhaps needed to be thought out a little better.  They need to make the wall separating the two a little higher or something because I didn't necessarily want to know what the entire restaurant was ordering or that table two needed extra napkins because they were slobs (my words, not theirs).  I needed my obligatory lunchtime booze beverage and my Bloody Mary was stiff and spicy and perfect.  We were both craving simple burgers so we each had the Grass Fed Beef Burgers with Crispy Onions and Horseradish-Black Pepper Crème Fraiche.  I had mine with frites, and K got the soup.  The frites were perfectly crispy, skin on, with classic ketchup to dip.  The burgers, although we ordered them medium rare came a bit more medium than I prefer but were still juicy and tasty.  The beef had a yummy char grilled taste to them and the crème fraiche added a nice bit of tang.  The crispy onions added a nice textural element to the burger and kinda reminded me of Durkees French fried onions which I love.  I really liked the dark fluffy brioche buns.  They held up to the burger nicely and didn't get soggy.  K's soup was (probably) cream of broccoli with a little truffle oil (we were never told what the soup was).  It was nice and flavorful.  Our waitress was nice and when we asked to move from the wait-station table to a different one she happily accommodated us.  All in all it was a pleasant lunch.  I had heard that the portions a bit small but that was not the case with the sandwiches.  I'd like to go back and try some of the dinner entrees sometime.  Amidst the chaos of construction re:public is definitely a place I would re:visit.
photo courtesy of

429 westlake ave n.
seattle, wa 98109

Re:Public on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

食べるとホッとする料理 (Japanese comfort food)

Katsu curry is one the best comfort foods in the world.  It consists of a Japanese gravy-esque curry (I use S&B brand) potatoes, carrots, steamed rice, and fried panko crusted pork cutlets.  Near my home is a sort of junk food type sushi restaurant that I love called Hana and they make the best katsu curry.  So warm and meaty.  On a cool Autumn day the dish is like a porky brown gravy hug from heaven.  It warms your bones and soul and makes you very sleepy. Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much) will be the only words that comes out of your steaming mouth as you shove in another comforting bite.  I love dishes that make you feel like everything will be okay.  Just got dumped or lose all your money in a pyramid scheme?  Eat a steaming bowl of katsu and you'll forget your troubles and afterwords you'll be so full that you'll need a nice long nap. Even more time to forget about how life is terrible.  Katsu curry is like that.  Your best friend in a crunchy fried meaty form.

Foods that comfort is not a unique Japanese idea.  In the states we have burgers and mac and cheese, Israelis have matzo ball soup, the English have shepherd's pie, the French have cassoulet, in Cuba they have arroz con pollo, and so on.  Some foods can hold back tears or rid you of a cold.  Some foods can calm your nerves and relieve grief.  It doesn't necessarily have to be healthy to heal you.  These dishes are full of memories and emotions and every time we eat them, we remember that there is pleasure to be had in this life.  All you have to do is eat.

Katsu Curry

2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons curry powder, preferably S&B
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 white onion, peeled and sliced
1 russet potato, peeled and large diced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 celery stick, slice on bias
1 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed
salt and pepper tt

For the pork:
Peanut or canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
6 thin, center-cut boneless pork chops, lightly pounded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 scallions, thinly slice on the bias
Cooked short-grain sticky rice

1. Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, ginger and garlic until transluscent (4-5 minutes) Add the carrot, celery, and potato and cook a few minutes more.  Mix in the flour and curry powder, turn the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to make a light roux.

2. Stir in the chicken broth and cook, partly covered, over low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If needed, add a bit more stock to loosen the sauce.

3. Prepare the pork: Heat 1 inch of oil in a frying pan and set a candy thermometer in the oil. Place the eggs in a shallow bowl and the panko in another. When the oil is hot, season the pork chops all over with salt and pepper. Toss them one at a time in the egg and then in the panko, and fry in batches until browned, for about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and let rest a few minutes. Slice the pork chops against the grain. Serve the curry sauce over cooked Japanese rice. Top with the sliced pork and sliced scallions.  Serves 6