Friday, September 10, 2010

When God Gives you Pork Belly…

I cook 2 ways… well maybe 3. Sometimes I follow recipes from cook books other times I open my refrigerator (and pantry) and basically just pull out a bunch of ingredients that I think will go together and make a dish. The third way I cook is if I am in a professional kitchen, although, I am not sure if that is considered cooking or following orders from a drill sergeant. I am not going to lie to you, many times when I pull a bunch of things from the refrigerator and create something the result is subpar. Tonight was not one of those nights; I threw together a fabulous dish that I don’t think I would modify.

One of my problems (that I am trying to fix) is feeling the necessity to use every ingredient that I initially select. But tonight I was (thankfully) able to restrain myself. Do you see that reddish beet in the above photo? I decided not to use it. Mind you, I have never cooked a beet in my life and after I sautéed it in some pork fat, I 86ed it for the night.

This dish was inspired by 3 things: my new favorite Asian market, David Chang’s left over Pork Belly (see Pork Buns post) and Kittichai which is the current (modern thai) restaurant that I work for. In addition to my three muses, I was very pleased to see some German beer in the refrigerator (My pops must have bought it).

The dish was pretty straight forward: Sautéed pork belly lardoons, with bok choy, white mushrooms and kimchi (thanks David Chang). The glaze consisted of about a tea spoon of ginger/garlic paste, Sambal, oyster sauce, a dash of soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil. Oh yeah, remember that pork fat that I saved from the roasted pork belly? Yeah, that was used to sauté everything. No wonder, I enjoyed this dish so much!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Momofuku Pork Buns

So about a week and half ago I discovered the most amazing Asian market. Personally, I have always loved Asian markets because they are always open and their food is always 30-40% cheaper than conventional supermarkets. Another reason, this markets rocks is because they have lots of fresh fish and all sorts of pig parts. I found a bunch of beautiful looking pork bellies and just had to buy one. For those of you who are not familiar with pork belly, it is the same cut of meat that bacon and pancetta is made from. Bacon is usually cured in salt and then smoked, while pancetta is rolled up into a cylinder and simply cured with salt and other spices. David Chang’s pork bun recipe from the Momofuku cook book calls for a quick salt and sugar cure followed by slow roasting the belly. I have cooked many dishes from this cook book and was especially excited about this dish because it is considered one of Chang’s signature menu items. Inspiration for this recipe was not only found in Chang, one of my favorite blogs, momofukufor2 also made this dish.

Before getting started I had to take off the skin. To do this, I basically slid my knife between the skin and top layer of fat and tried to pull the skin away from the flesh in one continuous even slice. I have never done this before so my technique was far from perfect, but I managed to get the job done.

I let my belly sit in the refrigerator for about 10 hours with a salt and sugar mixture, then washed the mixture off and let it sit for about another 10 hours. In the morning, I roasted the belly for about 3 hours at 300 degrees and then finished it at 450 for about 15 minutes to give it some color. I saved the liquefied piggy fat in a pint container for future use. Pork fat, can be used in a variety of ways. It’s basically a meaty substitute for butter.

Once you roast the belly and make Chang's quickly salted Kirby pickles, the assembly is easy. I gathered my mies en plas together, rested my belly and steamed my buns. That’s right. I steamed my buns! I don’t own a steamer so I made a ghetto one. Basically, I put a pot of boiling water on the stove with a metal strainer on top and slapped a lid on it. Sometimes macgyvering it up in the kitchen is so satisfying.

The result was a pretty tasty lunch with my dad. The soft pillowy buns balanced out the salty fatty goodness of the pork. We saved half of the belly for another dish. I am thinking about pork belly Saam next!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chorizo and Eggs

Leaving Binghamton really made me realize how lucky I had it and how expensive the world is. I had it all…. A great job (LDC), affordable restaurants to explore and a nice apartment that I could call my own. The hardest part about living at home is cooking in my parent’s kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, my folks are super cool and I love them (thanks mom!) but a kitchen is a very personal space. In my old kitchen, I knew where every pan, dish and spice tin was. I had them strategically arranged for optimal use… The curry cabinet on the right, the squeeze bottles of various oils above my stove and my dry goods to the left. I have fond memories in that space... Although, my parents have a dope stove and some nice cooking tools they don’t have many items that I have been accustom to using like an abundance of stainless steel mixing bowls and cast iron skillets. Regardless, I try to make it work.

I figured that I would post on something related to my trip to Europe given the fact that I can’t really review restaurants in Binghamton right now. When I was in la boqueria (Barcelona) I picked up about 150 grams of smoked Spanish paprika. This paprika is totally different from the stuff you buy at Wegmans or Whole Foods, it’s beautifully red in color and has an incredible strong aroma. It’s much smokier and aromatic then generic smoked paprika.

Paprika, especially Spanish paprika makes me think of chorizo. So I figured I’d make some chorizo and eggs for breakfast. I had made chorizo once before with a good friend of mine who cooks at a restaurant in Brooklyn called No7. We made a dish that I love from Bourdain’s, Les Halles cookbook called Moules a la Portugaise. It’s an easy dish that consists of mussels, herbs, chorizo, garlic and wine. It’s simple to prepare and usually a crowd pleaser.

Anyway, the Chorizo was pretty easy to make. I didn’t measure anything, but I’ll try to guestimate the proportions of ingredients in my chorizo…

1lb of ground pork
4tbls Smoked Paprika <-- By far the most important ingredient
1.5tsp cayenne
1tsp ancho chili powder
1tsp Turkish oregano
1tsp whole cumin seeds (ground)
1tsp whole green peppercorns (ground)
1tsp whole coriander seeds (ground)
1.5tsp red wine vinegar
Slash of white wine
And a little bit of the two saints (S & P)

Making the Chorizo is super easy. You just put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. Wash your hands and mix and mix and mix. You should let the chorizo mixture set for at least an hour (in the fridge) so that the flavors marry together nicely. Then simply patty up and pan fry. As you can see, my patties are kind of crude and ugly but I was pretty hungry at the time and didn’t really care.

The verdict? They tasted like quality Chorizo! I was very pleased with myself. My pops liked them too. I served them with fried eggs and some bread that my mom made the night before. I was sure to slice the bread up and fry it in the chorizo juice. The bread was tasty and super unhealthy.

Has anyone else ever made sausage? I want to eventually start using casings for my chorizo, any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Travels and Plans

So I have been out of Bingo for a while and I haven’t been posting as much as I would like to. There are a number of reasons for this. I recently finished grad school at Binghamton University and decided to go on a 2 month hiatus from anything involving work. Europe was my destination, food and culture were my priorities. I started in perhaps the most progressive culinary country in Europe today: Spain. The food culture in Spain is huge! Local Markets litter every neighborhood. I must have visited at least 7 different and distinct markets while I was there but there was one that topped them all: La Boqueria. This space is perhaps the most famous market in Barcelona. It encompasses about 1 square NYC block in the heart of the busy Las Ramblas district. Here you can find, everything and anything. From Spanish smoked paprika to offal to beautiful artisanal cheeses and meats. It was overwhelming to say the least, I wanted to learn about everything there. The only problem is that I don’t speak Spanish, let alone Catalan so I couldn’t really ask too many questions without embarrassing myself.

If there is one thing that La Boqueria is known for it is seafood. The seafood section, located in the heart of the market, is completely run by women. You can hear their screams and boastings about their daily catch. Needless to say everything is incredibly fresh. Forget about tuna, salmon and tilapia, here you will find live stone crabs, sea snails, razor clams and rock fish just to name a few of the interesting items up for grabs.

Barcelona was really incredible. It was difficult to find a bad meal. Unlike some of the other European Countries, the Spanish have not tried to westernize their food for the American palate. They realize that their cuisine is exquisite and they don’t try to mask it.
Next up was Paris, I was quite excited to go to Paris… Maybe too excited. I had visions of Escoffier, Jacques Pepin and Daniel Boulud cooking me incredible classic French dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I ate fresh baguettes, smeared with local pates and terrines for pennies and drank great wine for just a few euro’s a bottle. But the markets were not nearly as easy to come by as in Spain. Don’t get me wrong I visited a few markets, but the famed Les Halles has moved out of the city center long ago. Now the largest market in Paris isn’t even in the city proper, it’s located in the Suburbs and is a pain in the ass to get to. Next time I go to France I am going to skip Paris and head straight for the south of France to Aix En Provence and Marseille and then up to Bordeaux in the North West.

A 3 day stint in Amsterdam was next. I wasn’t expecting much from the Dutch besides munchie food, which isn’t really ideal. To be honest, the food in Amsterdam was fare. I had a good meal at a decent Peruvian place but other than that the food seemed overly westernized and simplified. Aside from the abundance of quality shawarma available there was not much else worth talking about. Although, we did have incredible aged Gouda from a local market, the cheese had a nice sharp flavor with little crystals formed from age that contained little bursts of crisp cheese flavor when consumed. And there were the Belgium style French fries that are double fried and served with mayo and Piccalilli… Yumm…

Finally there was Berlin. Although, I sadly didn’t eat any wiener schnitzel I did consume lots of quality beer and ate some really fantastic meals. The first memorable meal was at a small pub. We watched Italy loose to some team (this was during the first rounds of the world cup) and ate wonderful light homemade spaetzle with slowly braised beef goulash. It was super tender, meaty and sweet. The braising liquid was reduced down to a sauce with some red wine and the flavors became nice and concentrated.

The other meal that we had in Berlin was far more refined and gastronomically sophisticated. The restaurant was called Berlin Modern and it had opened recently. To be honest, I don’t remember the dishes all that well because they were too complex for me to remember (and I didn’t think I would be posting a blog entry on this meal). But there was a rustic pork terrine with a micro green salad and painted mustard that was really good. Also, a freshly caught trout dish that the owner/chef assured me was caught in a river about 20 minutes outside of Berlin. The skin was nice and crispy and the fillet was cooked perfectly. Finally, there was some kind of all white dessert, which included lavender ice cream, white chocolate and white foam made out of something (coconut maybe?). Again, the owner told as that he picked the lavender from a church garden down the street (with the priest’s permission of course). He was really enthusiastic about his food and passionate about quality ingredients.
Overall, my 4 country trip proved to be a success. Although, I ate very well, the next time I go to Europe I will research various restaurants and chefs that I want to seek out.

After I went to Europe, I traveled cross country for about 2 weeks on a hitch hiker’s budget, eating canned food and rice daily. It wasn’t good eats but I hiked some beautiful places in Yellowstone and the Gran Tetons. I also beat the house in Vegas! As for me now, I have moved out of Binghamton and I am living the American dream! I’m sleeping on the couch at my parents house! Okay, well it kind of sucks but I got a job at this cool restaurant in Soho called Kittichai and I plan on moving out once I build up some capital. I also plan on making a few more updates to this blog and then start a new one. I have some idea’s for other blogs and projects but I’m not sure which one I will decide to tackle. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Binghamton Take Out: Theo’s, Cosmo’s and Escape State Street

In response to a comment by "Exposing Cinguliar"…

“Sometimes I just want to stop by somewhere and get takeout so I don't have to cook when I get home. But everything I have tried has been, well, horrible. This is my first year in Binghamton and I learned early that the food is not great, so I don't eat out too much, but the only food I have found to be worth returning to is China Lake and Lost Dog, neither of which are take out type places. Does anyone have any suggestions?”

To be honest, I have had the same dilemma many times in Bingo. There are not too many choices for takeout in Binghamton, especially if you are looking for healthy food. But when I think of take out, I think of Theo’s for some reason. Maybe it’s because they are now located in a gas station, making the atmosphere less than desirable for a sit down meal. Theo’s was originally located under the arch on Main Street between Binghamton and Johnson City. For some reason they moved last year but they are still churning out some pretty good southern style food (The original Theo was from Georgia). I have eaten a number of their dishes when they were in their old location with mixed feeling about the food. Now I strictly go there for two things: wings and cornbread.

The wings are much different than your standard deep fried chicken pieces tossed in franks red hot. Theo’s wet batters their wings giving them a thicker, richer and all around crunchier crust. Plus, I would argue that the batter holds moisture in better when submerged under 350º oil. They then toss them in a homemade sauce of your choice, I prefer their ‘sweet and sassy’ sauce but sometimes I opt for the spicier version.

The cornbread is out of this world. It is by far the most buttery moist cornbread that I have ever had. Honestly, it’s better than cornbread that I have had when traveling through the south. You have to try it. They sell it by the piece or by the tray (if you’re having a party). Whenever I have people over for some pulled pork or homemade ribs I buy a tray of Theo’s cornbread because it is that unbelievable. Plus people always rave about it after one bite.

I would skip their ribs, pork products and sides though. They obviously don’t have a smoker anymore so anything they cook is oven roasted, which just doesn’t cut it for me when I think authentic BBQ. But don’t let this stop you from trying their wings and cornbread!

Another decent place is Cosmos, which is located underneath the 201 overpass by the traffic circle. It’s a mom and pop Italian place with decent food and inexpensive prices. They also have pretty good wings and pizza. I wouldn’t say that they do anything the best, but Cosmos is consistent. If you order wings there, I recommend the garlic sauce. Their pizza is very thin, which is nice but sometimes goes limp when it approaches your mouth…. Overall the place is quite interesting; there are a number of odd sculptures on the restaurant property that I can’t even begin to describe, you simply have to see them. Cosmo’s also boasts its own Tiki bar and its own carry out section which is called… you guessed it…“Cosmo’s Carry Out!”

Finally, there is Escape State Street. They are located downtown, in the square off of Washington Street. They are open for breakfast, lunch and late night dining. Their panini’s are the thing to order when going there. Most of their items have clever names like, the Woppa and Russian Roulette. The nice thing about Escape is that they are the only place that I know of that is open late night. Being located downtown, they cater to the college crowd that goes to the bars or insomniacs like myself. Their prices are inexpensive, hovering around $6 and they deliver if you’re feeling lazy.

Theo's Southern Style Cuisine
53 Downs Avenue, Binghamton
607) 352-3201

445 Grand Avenue
Johnson City, NY 13790-2522
607) 770-0020

163 Washington St
Binghamton, NY 13901

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