So I started this blog because of my love of food….a love so deep and misguided that I had to have surgery to avoid an early death. But I haven’t talked about food that much lately because most of my cooking has been of the day to day Suzie Homemaker variety, and most of my dining out has been the same handful of places due to the lack of employment. Plus there’s the whole recovery angle now. Last week’s No Reservations (I just watched it….finally got a DVR!) focused on food obsession and had a segment on food bloggers. Compared to what’s out there, I definitely would NOT call this a food blog…..and that’s okay with me, I like to mix things up, and while I appreciate food blogs for recipes and restaurant tips, many seem to go in a direction I don’t particularly admire. Many of them take things to the level of nerds who love to show their dicks in Intel vs. Athlon arguments, partake in cyber-bullying and oneupsmanship, and very few have anything resembling a sense of humor or irony. As much as I love food, I don’t ever want to come off like a douche, because it is something so elemental and important to me that I can’t stand the thought of taking myself so seriously. I want to have a fuller life than that. eGullet used to be a big part of my internet life, and I DO owe meeting my lurking wife to that website, but either it has changed or I have changed….or both to some degree. It has become as boring as fuck, like a room full of W.A.S.P.-y whites who are chomping at the bit to correct you on some meaningless point, and thereby keep the website (the end all be all of food wisdom oracles) clean, concise, correct…..and so fucking sterile I can’t even think of any decent obscene imagery to describe it. Shit like…”But in your original statement you inferred that BLAH BLAH BLAH, and while that may have been true in reference to the cultural aspect of BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, you forgot to take into account that the translation of the dish, is, in itself, a BLAH BLAH BLAH MOTHERFUCKING BLLLAAAHHHHHHHHHH”. So those types of dipshits turn people off to the website, but hey, they get to feel smart in a vacuum full of boring doppelganger dipshits who also enjoy minutia that jumped the shark the same day someone had the spare time to take it seriously enough to outline a code of ethics. A couple of years ago I would have been giddy at the thought of people from the food nerd community getting a few minutes on Bourdain’s show, but now it’s just annoying….kind of like eGullet can be if you spend too much time there. I mean, if I ever get to the point where I am engaging people in order to wax poetic on a humorless, humorless, humorless eight page thread about the best type of wooden spoon on the planet, please put one in my brain. Seriously. And if I ever approach a level of self-importance where I annoy you with a camera at dinner like it is the sane thing to do, sound like I’m a baseball card collector when I’m reminding you of how many cool restaurant experiences I’ve had, or generally lose the sense of irony that comes with the realization that in a few hours I’ll be shitting out this two hundred dollar meal……then kick me in the nuts one good time before you put one in my brain. Bourdain needs to do that one over……he has a lot of crossover appeal and it would be nice to let the world know that not everyone whose kitchen toys are worth more than their car comes off like a socially retarded douchenozzle when you talk to them about their favorite subject.
SO WITH THAT SAID…..I finally got to cook what I think of as a “real” meal over the weekend. Sure, I’ve cooked some great dishes, God knows I’ve had the time, but a “real” meal to me is one that takes a couple of weeks of cookbook research, followed by a process of elimination to narrow down potential courses, followed by the listing of all ingredients, specialty hardware/techniques that are needed…..followed by….a timeline for all preparation leading up to the meal. If I’m not cooking something two days in advance in order to have everything ready…..then it’s not a “real” meal.
The occasion for Sunday’s dinner was the result of a raffle I may or may not have mentioned in the fall…..basically, I donated a “you name it and I’ll cook it for you” meal for an AA fundraiser, and the people who won it came over this weekend. They were trying to figure out what they wanted me to cook for them, and while we were chatting after a meeting one day it struck them…..Asian. Dammit. I’ve never cooked Asian food before, specifically anything Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese. At least, I haven’t cooked it on a level where I would consider it a “real” meal…..so damn, you know how obsessive I had to get with that sumbitch. Oh, and to complicate matters, I had to take dietary restrictions/allergies into consideration…… no corn syrup, no msg, no wheat….and get this….no PORK! Asian…..and no pork. Oh well, I was up for a challenge, these were super cool and friendly people and I wanted them to have a memorable meal.
Long story short…I did not stick to any strict theme…first of all, they wanted my famous cream of mushroom soup (Top Chef recipe…simple and it rocks), and some sort of rich, chocolatey dessert. So after much pondering, reading and obsessing, I settled on the mushroom soup served with homemade shrimp toasts, my wife would make a Vietnamese rice noodle salad, then lettuce wraps with beef for the main, and finally that mega-insane “Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte” with Amarena cherries.
It took a lot……a LOT….to boil it all down to that list, not to mention shopping for specialty ingredients, which I love to do anyway. Everything ended up being well received, but I said all of that just to have an excuse to talk about my new favorite book…..David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. Total genius stuff….a profanity laced joyride that would be fun to read even if you didn’t cook any of the recipes. I needed a GOOD excuse to cook from it….I’m not overstating my abilities when I say that it’s not for the entry-level home chef. Many of the recipes will have a few tablespoons of something that is a completely different recipe in the book, and that recipe will have crossover too….but I wanted to keep it real and not take any shortcuts. The main dish was the one thing that drew from the book…..lettuce wraps with beef sounds simple enough, but when you are adding half a dozen different sauces and pickled elements it adds considerably to the complexity of the prep work. I did Chang’s sauteed onions that cook for about an hour to get them just right, his famous ginger scallion sauce, and a pickled mustard sauce that requires you to make a batch of his quick pickled cucumbers and pickled mustard seeds. But the big boy, a revelation to my kitchen, was his “ghetto sous vide” technique that I plan to use just about any time I need to prepare any cut of steak. The key to that is having a Foodsaver…it’s one of those things you won’t know how you lived without once you use it. So the steak, in this case flatiron, goes into the bag with an onion/garlic/soy based marinade, and it sits for a day. Then things take a turn for the weird…..the ghetto element of the sous vide. Well, Chang has proven to me that you don’t have to spend a grand on a thermal immersion circulator in order to cook in a bag. Basically, all you need to do is get a pot of water in your sink and run the tap so that it stays between about 120 and 125 degrees….it takes some finesse, and in my case some adjustment to the hot water tank, but when you get it in that zone you put the bagged steak in the water for about forty five minutes to an hour. Check the temp from time to time and you’re good. All you want is for that steak to stay in there long enough to achieve approximately 125 degrees throughout, which in my kitchen is a pretty perfect rare to medium rare. Then you shock it in cold water, take it out of the bag, dry it off and hit it in a ripping hot pan or on the grill for a minute or two on each side. Perfection. Even the usually tough flatiron just melted….I cannot say enough good about this technique. Slice it on the bias and then surround it with the aforementioned sides and sauces, along with a huge garden of assorted sliced vegetables. Everyone loved it. Then the death blow…that chocolate torte.
It was good to get back in the kitchen and do something like that. I do love cooking for people, and I have to admit the ego-boosting accolades do not suck. There is some stress and obsessive compulsive behavior involved, but the payoff is worth it.
Yep, that’s about it. Just wanted to brag in food nerd show-my-dick fashion…….Lost is on pretty soon. Different subject for a different day, but that show has ended up sucking….big time. In short, I think the appeal is based solely on the anticipation the viewer experiences from week to week, boosted by the investment one has to put into the show…which does not allow you to then admit the fucking storyline was written by hitting random items on a dartboard. If you don’t believe me, watch a whole season back to back on DVD….when you do that it’s easier to see the cheesy ridiculousness. It’s just not that inventive or revolutionary….oh, it’s great network TV, don’t get me wrong, but before you scramble off to some weekly discussion to pore over the details of this week’s episode, go read the fucking Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy or something….damn.
I’ll talk to you guys later. Have a safe St. Patrick’s Day…..or as real alcoholics call it….Wednesday.