Monday, June 16, 2008

Experimental Food Diary

Mrs. Red Shirt has been out of town along with the Little Red Shirt, visiting her family while I slave away during our busy time getting ready for a field test. Whenever the missus is out of town, I get creative in the kitchen (Mrs. Red Shirt doesn't like it when I cook not because the food isn't tasty, but because I'm a messy cook). It was from these experiments that I learned last year to cook Thai Red Curry, which is now one of my personal specialties (one the wife even lets me cook from time to time!), so it's all for the better.

Anywho, what follows is a post facto diary about my current series of experiments.

Wednesday: Pepper-crusted salmon with green beans. Best. Salmon. Ever. I take one salmon filet with the skin still on one side. I liberally coat each non-skin surface with finely ground black pepper, and a dash of kosher salt. Then, in a small non-stick pan, I heat a couple tsp. of oil on medium heat. I drop in the salmon, skin-side down, and let it just sit there for about 6-7 minutes. Then I turn, and let each of the other three sides cook for 1-2 minutes each. The pepper crusts up and seals in all the tasty flavor. I garnish with lime, which adds just the right bite to each... well, bite. I like doing this one while the wife is away because she prefers her salmon a bit more well done than I like mine, and I have a hard time getting more than one piece "just right" if the criteria are different. The green beans, with a light asian sauce, were courtesy of Wegman's. Complemented very nicely with a Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde (don't laugh; they're tasty!).

Thursday: Pho Bo, a Vietnamese rice-noodle soup. This was a favorite of mine when I lived in Seattle, and there's only one place in town that serves it here, where it is under-portioned and over-priced. To do it "for real" requires the boiling of beef bones for many hours to produce just the right broth. Having neither beef bones nor many hours available, I found a recipe online that called for properly-seasoned beef broth instead, and tried this. Let me just cut this little story short with two words: culinary fiasco. Actually, it was the worst thing I've ever cooked. I couldn't find completely unseasoned beef broth, so the resulting mixture did not even really approximate the desired result. Way too salty, AND I apparently ran out of hoisin sauce, which is typically served in Pho restaurants as an add-in which sweetens the typically salty broth a bit. So the result tasted pretty awful. Which makes me sad, because I was hoping to use this to provide myself with Pho on a regular basis.

Friday: Left-over stir-fry. Actually very tasty. I combined some chili-garlic paste, cilantro, and scallions as the base, and stir-fried that with some soy-sauce-marinated thin-cut sirloin, and served it over rice with a side of kimchi (I always buy kimchi, a spicy Korean fermented cabbage dish, when the wife is out of town, because she can't stand the way it smells, which is, admittedly, quite pungent). This turned out vastly better than the previous night's meal -- actually, worth preserving in recipe form. I ended up not using the cilantro the previous night (cilantro is a common Pho garnish), so it flavored the beef quite well. I only had a small amount of the chili-garlic paste left, so it didn't overpower. The scallions and cilantro were the primary flavors, which complement each other very nicely. Accompanied by Spaten Optimator (pardon my lack of umlauts), a nice dark German beer.

Saturday: Pizza and beer. Papa John's "All the Meats" and some more Optimator. (Sorry -- "guy's night in", with pizza, beer, and Settlers of Catan -- no time to cook!).

Sunday: Italian-breadcrumb-encrusted fried "fresh" mozzarella slices. I took one of those big logs of "buffalo" mozzarella (the kind you typically find as big balls floating in water), sliced off some "medallions" of cheese, coated them in Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (using buttermilk as the binding agent -- I swear by the stuff for all my frying needs!), and fried each side in a relatively small amount of oil for maybe 30 seconds apiece. Very tasty, although I had the oil too hot, which had the two-fold effect of a) setting off my fire alarm, and b) causing the outsides to get very hot while leaving the innermost cheese still slightly cool, which was not a particularly pleasant effect. Next time I'll lower the oil temperature and let them cook longer to yield thorough heating without meltage.

Monday: Sushi! I've never tried to make sushi before, so this will be interesting. It's what I had planned the previous night, but the rice I had had gone stale, AND the sushi-vinegar was expired. Oh, and the local fishmonger was all out of sushi-grade fish. That's still a factor, but I figure, for my first attempt, I ought to take it easy, so I'll be making avocado and cucumber rolls. I'll update if all goes well.

Update: Sushi was a rousing success, and surprisingly easy. I bought a bamboo roller and some sushinori (the seaweed wrapper) (chef's note: buy the cheap, separate ones (about $2 each for the roller and a pack of a dozen or so wrappers), NOT the "sushi kit", which is a pathetic ripoff). I used some pre-made "sushi rice seasoning" that Wegman's sells over by their sushi section, which is really just rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Anywho, I cooked the rice, about 2 cups uncooked, and spread it out in a glass dish and poured about half a cup of the vinegar mixture over the (approx) 4 cups of cooked rice and let it cool. Then I sliced up some cucumber, avocado, shrimp, and shallots and combined them in varying ways in about 5 or 6 rolls. I even made a spicy shrimp roll with a squirt of Sriracha that turned out to be very tasty. My favorite, though, was the shallot-and-avocado roll, which had a creamy and subtle flavor thanks to the avocado, with the shallot adding a nice oniony kick. A dash of soy sauce and a pinch of wasabi later, I was stuffed, with lots of leftovers.

Thus we are at an end to my temporary bachelorhood (I fly out to the field test in a couple days), and my culinary experimentation. Final score: 3 hits, one miss, and one old standard that never fails (the salmon). And pizza-and-beer.

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Anonymous Marty said...

Salmon also goes well grilled with brown sugar on one side, or with a jalapeno (or other hot pepper) jelly.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I'm not huge on sweetening meats other than ham -- just a personal taste. But a pepper jelly... my curiosity is piqued.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

Old cooking maxim:

Salmon and ham
Stand up to the jam

Actually, I just made that up.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

PS: One of the best pork chops I ever had was at one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurant's in New Orleans. It was stuffed, and had a sauce made from molasses and pecans.

2:47 PM  

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