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Posts tagged ‘Sunday Night Special’

Up in Smoke

New smoker I don’t know a lot about barbecue, smoking, grilling, curing, any of it. And I’m just not wound up enough to learn the nuances. (I ate at Dinosaur BBQ last weekend after seeing the kind of long and confusing Dark Knight in Edgewater, NJ, and I didn’t even feel compelled to update my old write up. Not because barbecued meat isn’t great but because I don’t have much of anything to say about it.)

Smoking meat But James bought a smoker on what I think was a whim. I’m convinced that he’s trying to keep up with a coworker who owns a whole building with a deck and yard. It’s hardly a contest. We had to set this smoker up indoors, downstairs, just near an open door…in the same space my damp laundry was hung to dry. My pants now smell like a campfire. And the coworker with the bigger smoker just up and bought a caja china so we’re screwed.

So, I didn’t participate much in the creation of our smoked ribs. And I don’t even know if we did this right. It might’ve been a disaster but the end result wasn’t too bad, the meat was just a little tough and maybe even a little too smoky, dare I say cigarettey (that woman on Tyra last week who loved eating cigarette ashes would’ve been happy). I think the instruction book was full of shit and had us cook the ribs first. Smoked ribs and corn Are you really supposed to cook meat before smoking it? And do you bake or grill? And if you grill, that's a lot of rigamarole to smoke on top of that process. Does smoking cook meat? I’m totally confused and promise to read up on these matters before a second attempt.

The pork was rubbed with a mysterious spice blend–celery salt and ground mustard were the only ingredients I caught a glimpse of–and sauced with a combination of Daddy Sam's Bar-B-Que Sawce and Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego hot sauce.

The corn was freshly shucked and sauteed with scallions, red pepper, jalepeno and given a squeeze of lime. And no, none of it came from the greenmarket.

This smoking venture needs more investigating. Lamb might be fun, or cheese, maybe nuts? I’m not quite ready for the stuffed and smoked moose heart yet.


Sunday Night Special: Rib-Eye Steak with Pan-Seared Grape Tomatoes

Steak and grape tomatoes

I don’t usually make cover recipes but the July Gourmet’s Porterhouse Steak with Pan-Seared Cherry Tomatoes seemed very simple (it’s been too humid for any serious cooking lately) and gave me the excuse to try the Grazin’ Angus Acres’s beef at Carroll Gardens’s tiny Sunday farmers market. Unfortunately, tomatoes aren’t really here yet (I just ate three cherry tomatoes in my Pret a Manger cobb salad and the tartness was none too pleasing, though the salad overall was better than expected) and I had to settle for regular grape tomatoes.

Yes, it’s a little strange that when food prices are getting out of control, I decide to start paying double for meat. I’ve never been one for organics and this isn’t something I’ll be able to make a habit of, I was just curious about American grass-fed beef after my steak binge in Buenos Aires. I did opt for a rib eye instead of the porterhouse because the latter tends to be large and there’s no convincing myself to spend $40+ for one piece of meat. I kind of justified the $23/lb rib eye because I decided to stop taking a $50 monthly prescription (not birth control pills—heavens). Maybe I can swing a locally raised steak once a month, which is plenty for anyone.

The meat definitely turned out more rare than medium-rare. It’s my own fault for not using a thermometer even though I have two, one digital, the other old-fashioned. You would think that I would’ve learned after six years of using an undercooking Magic Chef brand stove (it is not lost on me that my fancy Carroll Gardens apartment has the same exact lame stove that was in my former crappy Sunset Park apartment. Yes, there’s something sad about paying 3.73 times as much rent and still getting the same cheap appliances and 15 inches of counter space) and countless Thanksgivings with a turkey that takes an abnormal amount of time to reach doneness that I would compensate and cook my meat for longer than recommended (six minutes in this instance).

Grazin' angus acres rib-eye steak

Regardless, this a fitting showcase for pristine beef. I tried to savor each bite and detect differences from the usual cuts I buy from Western Beef. I don’t doubt that I could tell the difference between a grocery store steak and one fresh from the farm; meat isn’t as esoteric to me as say, wine tasting. As I’ve said before, beef isn’t my favorite meat because it’s usually overwhelming, murky and one-note. This steak had a clean flavor, if that makes any sense. I noticed the biggest difference when I gnawed bits off of the bone and the shreds were just slightly gamey, kind of like some country hams and Spanish cured pork. The basil, tomatoes and garlic were slightly sweet without distracting from the meat. 

Of course, Gourmet’s photography is 50 times more attractive than mine. But it's the taste that counts, right?

Sunday Night Special: Chopped Wing Bean Salad & Clams with Basil and Chiles

Sunday nights are the worst. There’s always something vaguely important that I’m supposed to be doing so I come up with a cooking project (or just watch lots of TV—I’m very disturbed that the quippy, marginally humorous talking head commentary concept has been co-opted by home and gardening shows, like you really need little pseudo-comedians yukking it up about landscaping jobs gone bad) to occupy my time instead. I’d probably be rich by now if I knew how to tame procrastination.

I was supposed to be doing my state taxes (I got my tiny federal refund way back in early Feb. because I’m quick to claim cash) and writing a review of the scary renovated Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel, but instead I decided to make my own nam prik pao.

There are a million minutely different variations. I chose one from David Thompson’s Classic Thai Cuisine that’s fairly sweet. I love the palm sugariness but it could’ve used a few extra chiles. After making it, I noticed Kasma Loha-unchit’s rendition used double the dried peppers. Well, he does call his jam rather than the more commonly used paste.

Strangely, I never use blogs for recipes and stick to cookbooks like an old lady. It's an odd bias considering I skim 50+ sites almost daily. But after the fact, I noticed there was a useful nam prik pao recipe on Chez Pim.

Roasted Chile Jam
Nam Prik Pao

4 cups oil
4 cups shallots, sliced lengthwise
2 cups garlic, sliced lengthwise
1 cup dried shrimp, rinsed and dried
10 dried long red chiles, deseeded and chopped
1 cup palm sugar
1/2 cup thick tamarind water
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoon fish sauce

Heat oil and separately deep-fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Add the shrimp and chiles and deep-fry for 30 seconds or until fragrant; drain. Puree the deep-fried ingredients together in a food processor, moistening with 1 cup of the oil from the deep-frying to facilitate the blending. Transfer the puree to a medium pot, bring to a boil, then add the palm sugar, tamarind water, salt and fish sauce. Simmer, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, or until quite thick and tasting sweet, sour and salty. Store in an airtight container.

Makes an insane amount, maybe three cups, possibly closer to four but it doesn’t really go bad and for all the effort you might as well do it up big.

I’m not a Thai food expert, obviously, but I think this not-crazy-spicy paste can kind of be added to anything. You can use it as a vegetable dip, to season soups like tom yum, and a few spoonfuls gussy up stir-fries, too.

I specifically made mine as a component for a wing bean salad (yam tua poo) I’d made a few summers ago. There were leftover rotisserie chicken and green beans in the fridge that needed to be used up, and thought of this recipe No, there aren’t wing beans around these parts but I survived.

I couldn’t even say if this is a legitimate recipe—I’ve never seen anything like it and similar ones online includes ground pork. I haven’t cooked much from Joyce Jue’s Savoring Southeast Asia because it seems more like a coffee table book (that it’s a Williams-Sonoma book weirds me out) but authentic or not, this is a tasty dish.


Tamarind water, fish sauce, fried shallots, palm sugar, fried garlic. I didn't make the shallots from scratch because I only had two bulbs on hand and this plastic tub needed using up.


Chopped shrimp and chiles. I didn't deep-fry the ingredients, but rather sauteed on high heat with a generous amount of oil.


Raw puree


Final glossy product

Chopped Wing Bean Salad
Yam Tua Poo

1 tablespoon salt
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about 6 ounces
1/2 pound winged beans, long beans or green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup unsweetened grated dried coconut
1 red jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced

1/3 cup coconut cream
2 teaspoons roasted chile paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoon fried shallots
1 ½ tablespoons fried garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, crushed
Coconut cream for garnish (optional)

Poach the chicken breast (you don’t need me to detail that) or use leftover skinned, shredded chicken parts like I did. Dark meat isn’t scary.

Blanch the beans, keeping them green and crunchy.

Toast the coconut in a dry pan until it turns golden. Set aside.

Combine chicken, beans and chopped chile (I never see red jalapeños or even Anaheims and used a few tiny Thai chiles instead) in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, mix coconut cream, roasted chile paste (the nam prik pao), lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.

Add the dressing to the chicken and beans and toss. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, fried shallots and garlic and peanuts. Mix before serving.

Serves 4-6


If I didn’t know better I would say that the end product looks like a green bean casserole, canned onions and all. But the creaminess is all-coconutty and Campbell’s free. I would’ve preferred more beans to chicken but I’d underestimated the amount of leftover vegetables and overestimated how much meat was still on the chicken. Sweet and spicy is the overall theme, and it makes for a great not-terribly-carby lunch, if you care about that sort of thing. Even if you don’t, it’s a good lunch or light dinner.

That was all I was going to make but I had picked up a couple pounds of clams the day before, so I searched Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood by Kasma Loha-unchit for ideas and came up with an easy recipe that also used my nam prik: clams stir-fried with roasted chile sauce and basil (hoi pad nahm prik pow).


I would’ve gotten into trouble on Top Chef because there was a tiny bit of grit in a few of the shells. Not enough to ruin the dish, but you definitely don’t want to hear a crunch when eating mollusks. Instead of using the prescribed water or broth I threw in a few tablespoons of the thin coconut milk leftover in the can from the wing bean salad. It upped the richness quotient a notch and mixed with the chile paste and clam liquor created a sauce that was so good I didn’t mind eating it with brown jasmine rice.

Sunday Night Special: Carnitas & Refried Beans


I haven’t cooked anything even vaguely worth documenting lately (there is a Christmas present country ham begging to be prepped for Easter—I’m just not sure what all of the fixings should entail because biscuits seem obvious yet I’m trying to avoid bread, but would one…or ok, two biscuits really hurt?) because I hadn’t felt up to snuff since mid-February. But now I’m back in the kitchen.

I forgot how amazing Mexican food is from scratch (or otherwise) because I tend to put all of my energy into re-creating Chinese and Malaysian dishes, rarely Latin American food. (I think I got seriously burnt out on every land mass south of the border when I was doing ten reviews a month for early last year)

Every step of the process produced something fragrant and appetizing: the blanched, pureed tomatillos, as well as the pork fat that the carnitas created and the spoonfuls I added to the beans. Or maybe I’m the only one enchanted by the meaty smell of pork fat. (Every now and then I take the R to work [it’s a convoluted commute I only do when I’m lazy] and it puts me out at the Whitehall station next to Chipotle, a chain I never visit because I can’t stomach  1,000+ calorie burritos. They must stew carnitas because the corner smells like a roasting pig. It’s way more invigorating than the scent of coffee first thing in the morning.) In a perfect world the tortillas would’ve been fresh of the comal, not stiff grocery store circles, but I’m only capable of so much.


We have legumes in abundance, thanks to a Rancho Gordo sampler than never got given at Christmas. Some of the heirloom beans are esoteric but pintos are easy to deal with. I wanted them refried, which involved a two-step process from Rick Bayless’s, “Authentic Mexican.” (I just discovered that his recipes are easy to find on the web, but you miss all of the notes that way.) First you soak, then you make them soupy, afterward, you mash and cook with fat, oil or whatever. I used a higher proportion of beans to lard so I wouldn’t exactly call them fried, more like sautéed. A crumble of queso anejo on top of the brown mush gilds the lily. I omitted the cheese, though.


The carnitas recipe I chose wasn’t exactly traditional. Brandy? We did have a bottle of Courvoisier sitting downstairs for some unknown reason. You wouldn’t think so but carnitas are kind of like rendang, an unusual cooking style in that you slowly boil in liquid and aromatics first, then brown as the meat dries out. I used a combo of tangerine and mandarin orange juice because I had both of the diminutive citrus fruits wasting away in the refrigerator. Orange is more standard. Restaurants probably use pork shoulder, though a lot of recipes for home cooks recommend country style ribs. Either works; the ribs are just a little more manageable.


I didn’t have the energy for a salsa and a guacamole but was wanting avocado, so I made a tomatillo blend, guacamole picado, also from Rick Bayless. It’s spicy but you can eat big spoonfuls because the mashed avocado tones down the heat. A few dashes of Cholula sauce rounded out the meal.

Sunday Night Special: Super Bowl Edition

Despite having next to no interest in sports whatsoever (I blame it on a Portland upbringing—the Trailblazers were the only pro team we had) our Super Bowl party always ends up being bigger than expected. Even with a healthy-sized apartment, thirty-plus guests can be a challenge.


The problem with hosting parties is that there’s little downtime; keeping the food non-fancy still ends up being a time suck. Buffalo wings have to be cooked in steady batches and even hands-off treats can be a distraction. But then, I’m easily distracted. I didn’t see much of the game or many of the commercials (I did watch the half-time show and was fully expecting "Don't Come Around Here no More") and only ate three measly wings (this was rectified last night when we fried up leftover chicken parts).

I’ve used the same tablecloth and dishware numerous times so if I was to compare Super Bowl parties past there would be uncanny similarities. Life is repetitive that way.


Nearly a quarter of the attendees were vegetarian so I couldn’t let them starve. Spanish-influenced empanadas with Manchego, spinach, almonds and raisins seemed un-boring.


We’ve been overwhelmed with dried goods after James ordered a Rancho Gordo sampler that arrived too late for his father’s Christmas present. I used the included cannellini beans for a healthy-ish bean dip that I livened up with white truffle oil and the recommended balsamic vinegar. I also added chopped sun-dried tomatoes even though the recipe only called for their oil, which apparently is very Mark Bittman. Carrot sticks, red pepper strips and these cheap bruschetta toasts I found at Western Beef went along with the mashed beans.


I’m generally biased against Food Network recipes but for something like hot jalapeno crab dip they seem right on. Do you want a highbrow crab dip?


Buying only two jars of dill pickles was a big mistake because the pickle chips disappeared within seconds. I never understood Costco’s giant condiment jars but now their purpose is perfectly clear. I used another Food TV recipe for the batter and Deann brought buttermilk dressing for dipping.

Cadbury Egg close up

Smooshed Kit Kat

Impromptu candy-frying erupted. That’s been known to happen when the deep fryer makes an appearance. Kit Kats, Snickers and crowd favorite Cadbury Eggs all got the hot oil treatment. We regretted not having cheesecake on hand since it makes a particularly decadent battered, fried treat. I think last year someone tried deep-frying a whole blackout cake, which is proof that drinking and frying are a dangerous combination.


After a handful of drinks, scary fratty cocktails start sounding good. James loves concocting an old ‘90s Baltimore classic, Surfing on Acid. Jagermeister, Malibu and pineapple sound absolutely wretched, though I have to admit the combo is more pleasing than the sum of the parts. Someone cracked open my blue wildberry cherries, and next thing I knew gummy bears were being added as garnish. These were my kind of people—no prompting from me was needed for such garish flourishes. And I wonder why I felt like death the next morning.


I thought this was a chocolate mousse cake and that it had been decimated. I got a tasty surprise last night when I found 3/4 of it in my freezer.  Oh, and it's a chocolate banana tart.


I can't forget the store-bought goodies. Football themed cakes are a must. 

Sunday Night Special: Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts & Flounder with Garlic Sauce

No matter how good they might taste, I have a knack for making my meals look sad and pathetic. This fish never stood a chance. 

This three-day weekend I finally got around to looking over a Christmas present, Jose Andres’s Tapas: a Taste of Spain in America. The same day I found a recipe in the new Gourmet that was very similar to one in the book I had my eye on. Synchronicity.

Jose Andres’s recipe used spinach, apples raisins and pine nuts while Gourmet’s version called for Swiss chard, raisins, onions and almonds. I love the Spanish use of nuts and raisins (especially with morcilla–which wasn’t called for in either of these—I’m just saying). I borrowed from both sources since I prefer heartier wilted greens to wet spinach and had a container of pine nuts that needed using up. Even though I liked the idea of adding a golden delicious and creating a pine nut praline, they didn’t make it into this version.

We already had a fish dish from Cooking Light (low fat isn’t exciting but I try to reign in my impulses during the week) on the roster that incorporated mayonnaise, so it was fortuitous that Gourmet paired their Spanish-influenced chard with a garlicky faux aioli topped halibut (strange, the way they've broken out the new; the chard recipe shows up on while the fish only appears on Epicurious). I had to use flimsy little flounder filets because that was what the original plan entailed.

I could’ve predicted that I’d like the sweet and oily Swiss chard more than the fish, but that’s mostly because I have a fear of mayonnaise even when I know rationally that it’s just eggs and oil. I think my perfect version of the vegetable dish would keep the chard, onions and smoked paprika I used in this one, add the apples and swap the pine nuts for almonds. Next time.

Sunday Night Special: Steamed Taro with Chopped Salted Chiles


My Hunan salted chiles from a few weeks ago were good and fermented (I’m not sure why fermented food seems desirable but liquids not so much. This very second, I’m 1/3 of a way through my first ever bottle of kombucha and I’m not sure if it’s likeable or putrid. I’m having a very tough time not letting the floaties get to me. A friend was raving about it, but then I reminded myself that in college she used to drink apple cider vinegar like it was soda) so I needed a recipe. I still don’t feel like it’s root vegetable weather but steamed taro didn’t sound like a bad idea.

VegetaBut I didn’t end up buying taro, even though it’s not too hard to find disguised as malanga in Caribbean-oriented grocery stores. I saw it at Western Beef Sunday, where I picked up this adorable Croatian packet of seasoning that uses a semi-chopstick-like font.

Recently I picked up a frozen bag of something called ratalu at Patel Brothers. As I’ve stated before, I love all things Swad brand (their microwavable vegetable dishes in a box are only 99-cents–aren't Trader Joe's like $2.99?), so these magenta cubes drew me in. I figured they were taro and I could save all the cleaning and chopping (taro contains irritants—if you recall the Top Chef season two finale, Ilan got taken to task for not cooking his taro leaves long enough).

RataluBut according to web searches it seems that ratalu is a purple yam. I’m not convinced that it’s the same as Filipino ube yet. That was a strange find because just yesterday I decided that I would use my newish ice cream maker to create ube ice cream for a halo-halo experiment and had been wondering how hard it might be to find frozen (fresh is out of the question). Who knew I had in the house already?

I love it when someone else has already typed a recipe out for me. Steamed Taro with Chopped Salted Chile Peppers was posted on Serious Eats back in February when Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunan cookbook came out.

The one thing I’m not clear on is how the taro chunks are supposed to hold up or if they’re even supposed to. I’ve had taro in Chinese casseroles and it stays in squares. This mystery root turned to mush and I ended up just mashing it into a violet paste that tasted much better than it looked. You have to admit that it’s still prettier than poi.

It sounds silly, but the ratalu, whatever it was, tastes lavender. The flesh was barely sweet, more potato than yam and almost perfumey without being sickening like rose water (a personal aversion). The saltiness and mild heat of the chiles and black beans played off this hard to describe mauve flavor and created a dish that would almost go better with grilled meat than white rice. But I’m not one for double starches.

Sunday Night Special: Turkey with Mint and Hot Chiles & Makeua Oop

Sometimes Sunday night is a loose concept. I ended up making these two dishes on separate evenings, though they were originally intended as a single meal. Whenever I cook for myself, I eat less. That’s troublesome, though I know I’m not unique; what I’d always suspected–when a couple moves in together, the man gets healthier while the woman gains weight–was proven by science.

I turned to my trusty, banged up review copy of Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet (it was one of the only perks I got from a short lived online culinary job I had in 2000. Now that I’m all library science I can’t finagle a web job to save my life) because I recalled the book containing a turkey recipe and I’ve been trying to find a use for three drumsticks in my freezer (still on the using up old food mission). I’d much rather experiment with a Laotian salad than mess with tetrazzini or some other abomination.

I’m not sure why I didn’t learn my lesson about trying to poach turkey legs after running into trouble during Thanksgiving. It doesn’t work. They don’t cook all the way using the bring to a boil, turn off the heat and leave with the lid on for an hour approach. And when you get exasperated, then turn the heat back on and simmer for a while, they firm up to near uselessness. I just imagined that the tough meat was approximating a wild Southeast Asian bird.

The recipes from this book tend to be tame with the heat, so don’t hesitate to use more chile. I used five chiles and had to resist the urge to add sugar (I don’t like tweaking recipes I’ve never made before). I thought I already had a batch or roasted rice powder in case I needed to make an impromptu larb, but it was nowhere to be found. Really, it’s no big deal to omit it.  You still get the gist.


Turkey with Mint and Hot Chiles

8 to 10 ounces cooked light and dark turkey meat, roughly cut into ½ inch chunks (about 2 cups packed)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots, separated into rings
½ cup loosely packed coarsely torn coriander leaves
½ cup loosely packed coarsely chopped mint leaves
1 teaspoons minced bird chile, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce, or to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon roasted rice powder, or more to taste

Combine the meat and shallots in a shallow bowl. Add the coriander and mint leaves and mix well.

In a small bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients except the rice powder and stir to mix well. Pour over the salad and toss to distribute the dressing thoroughly. Just before serving, sprinkle on the rice powder, if using.

Serves 4

If you Google “best eggplant dish ever” you’ll find caponata, baked eggplant with mushroom and tomato sauce, szechuan eggplant stir-fry and a few others. The Best Eggplant Dish Ever title is the authors’ not mine. I don’t like to use superlatives, so I hesitate to say best, but I definitely think it’s probably better than any of those listed above.

I could’ve sworn I made this before but I definitely would’ve remembered it now that I’ve tasted it. Mine was slightly bitter, probably because I used small Italian eggplants instead of Asian ones. And I kept wanting to add fish sauce, but stuck with the recommended salt. Perhaps I’m finally getting a handle on seasoning because I thought it definitely needed more than the one teaspoon.

Maybe there wasn’t quite enough moisture in my ingredients or the heat was initially too high but the bottom of the pan got charred with burnt sticky bits, even after periodically checking on the mass. Then it fixed itself like magic. It’s that kind of a dish. Everything seems chunky and disparate, yet eventually melds. 

I’d already finished off my bowl of creamy, spicy mash when James returned from out of town. I was waiting for it…yes, there it was, “it smells like shrimp paste up here” as he promptly turned the air conditioner on. I was trying to conserve energy, not necessarily attempting to recreate a sticky, pungent Malaysian night market in the apartment. Besides, it wasn’t shrimp paste; it was pounded dried shrimp, duh.


Makeua Oop a.k.a. The Best Eggplant Dish Ever

3 Thai dried red chiles, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes to soften
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon dried shrimp
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup ground pork (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 1/2 pounds Asian eggplants, cut into ¼ inch slices
5 to 8 leaves mint or coriander, coarsely torn

Drain the chiles, reserving the water. Coarsely chop them, discarding the tough stems, and place in a mortar or blender together with the shallots, garlic, shrimp, and salt. Pound or process to a paste (if using the blender, you will probably need to add some of the chile soaking water). Add the tomato and pound or blend briefly, then transfer the spice pate to a bowl and set aside.

Place a 3 ½- to 4 ½-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot with oil. Add the pork, if using, and brown briefly, then add the spice paste and optional turmeric. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant slices and stir briefly, cover tightly , and reduce the heat to low (do not ad water). Coo, checking every five minutes or so to ensure that nothing is sticking and to give the ingredients a brief stir, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the eggplant is very tender and shapeless.

Turn out into a shallow bowl and top with the mint or coriander. Serve warm or at room temperature

Serves 4

Recipes from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, Artisan, 2000

Sunday Night Special: Birria de Chivo


It’s fall freezer cleaning time, which means going through all the crap that’s accumulated in both of them (yes, two) since lord knows when and no, not tossing it, cooking it. Maybe I’ll get food poisoned but it looks like I won’t need to buy any proteins (ew, I hate it when chefs and whoever else use that unappetizing term) for a couple weeks. Here’s the gruesome break down:

-Pork ribs were grilled Saturday night
-Chicken wings were buffalo-ized Sunday afternoon
-Lamb roast will become mutton kolhapuri (from a mix—we also have enough dried and canned goods to last into 2008)
-Lamb chops will be barbecued yueyang style
-Beef roast will be turned into rending
-Ground beef will transform into American hard shell tacos with cheddar cheese and lettuce
-Ground pork? I’m not sure yet, maybe ma po tofu

I also found a bag of cheese curds I bought in Montreal Labor Day weekend ’06. Sad as it makes me, I’m not sure how great year-old frozen cheese is. They do sell curds in the neighborhood so my eventual poutine experiment won’t be a total bust.

[written on Sunday] But presently, I’m only concerned with the goat chunks I’m turning into birria this evening. I went with a Rick Bayless recipe, but quickly realized I had the wrong cut of meat. I have bone-in hunks made for stewing while he requires a five-pound solid mass of meat. I’m not sure how well the steaming approach will work with my tougher bits of goat.

[back to the past tense] Well, it succeeded in using up freezer meat and a bag of guajillo chiles that have been neglected for months, but didn’t quite succeed as an amazingly tasty meal. You’re supposed to skim fat from the broth but there didn’t even appear to be any broth; it all looked like orange oil. I did what I could to clean it up. The flavor was there but the meat was like jerky. I almost lost a tooth. Americans seem to hate goat meat, and this use of the gamey flesh would only succeed in scaring most people further. I’ve only eaten birria once in Chicago so I’m hardly a connoisseur, but wrong is wrong. Lesson learned: do not attempt to steam stew meat.

At least my evening was salvaged by the pretty as a pastel rainbow mithai I picked up at Dehli Palace earlier in the day. I love their box decorated with photo collage of the goods.


Clearly, there is no throwing out of food in my household, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that while James was home sick yesterday that he attempted salvaging the birria. After sitting in the refrigerator overnight, the fat had congealed enough to easily remove. That was a start, and then he stewed the whole thing within an inch of its life (after giving up on steaming, I let the meaty bones cook in the broth for about an hour the night before to no avail). And it succeeded. I had un-bad birria waiting for me when I came home from work. A squeeze of lime and a few corn tortillas enhanced the new and improved meal. I didn’t take any photos of round two, though.

Sunday Night Special: Crispy Pancetta, Burrata & Tomato Sandwich


The last thing I wanted was to be a summertime loser. It’s already August and I haven’t eaten a single real tomato (at least not while sitting on my couch watching the increasingly opaque John From Cincinnati). I managed to drag myself up to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket just shy of closing time, and then reminded myself why I’m lucky to live two blocks from Caputo’s.


I had browsed tomato recipes on Epicurious and actually chose three, two for later in the week, but it was the crispy pancetta, burrata and tomato sandwich that seemed low maintenance enough for a scalding Sunday night. I’ll admit that Bon Appetit isn’t on my regular reading list so I had no idea that I was making this month’s cover recipe until I saw the picture on another site’s banner ad. Maybe I’d been subliminally influenced all week?

BonappetitSimple as they are, sandwiches and salads are two things I like to leave to professionals. My versions always end up as weak imitations or when made up by me, just plain weak. You only need to compare my version to the original for a glaringly disproportionate bread/filling ratio. I didn’t think it was a big deal if I substituted pane rustico for brioche but that was a bit of a mistake. The crust was hard on the mouth and the inner crumb kind of dominated.

The only blob of burrata left at Caputo’s was truffle-laced, so that subtly changed the flavor. Not for the worse, though. I will freely admit to being borderline ignorant with Italian food (I hate it when home cooks are all unabashedly clueless with cuisines that I love, though). I wasn’t familiar with panna and had no idea what type of leaf the wet cheese ball had been wrapped in (I think it’s a leek relative).

Truffle_burrataOnce you got past the breadiness, the center was a cohesive blend of all ends of the flavor and texture spectrum: salty, gooey, fleshy, bitter, a little tart and not terribly sweet (using the prescribed egg bread would’ve taken care of that). I made a second small sandwich using the same bread sliced thin, crosswise and it was close to ideal. 

Next mission is to find uses for ripe tomatoes that don’t involve cheese, olive oil and basil. I know that’s a classic combo but I’m keen on this rendition using fish sauce, white anchovies, cilantro and ginger. The strange thing is that I’m 85% certain that I made this dish before but I don’t remember getting the idea from Food & Wine.