Archive for March, 2010

17
Mar

Carnitas

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in course, dinner/lunch, hors d'oeuvres, non-vegetarian, Recipe

So I have found out via Rick Bayless’ twitter (he’s one of my favorite people to follow!) that the way I make carnitas is not authentic. If you want authentic, go to his recipe.

Because this is slowly cooked in liquid, it might be helpful to think of my carnitas as more in the pulled pork family of swine goodness.

Instead, when I set about to find a recipe after I went to San Diego and decided that this was something I’d have to try more often (but this was before I was on Twitter), I searched recipe and found a huge variety – some cooking in stock, cola,orange juice, beer, milk, or even water… but none in lipids (not that I knew I should be looking for lipids back then).

So I picked a recipe (water (which I partially replaced with stock) and citrus zest with spices and peppers) and followed it and loved the result. If you want a strict recipe, that’s a really good one. Then I tried it again from memory. And I’ve slowly been paring it down to one of those dishes can just be made from whatever’s hanging out in my refrigerator.

I have a lot of trouble going through a quart of orange juice, so I usually pull this out when I start nearing the orange juice expiration and need to use it up.

Carnitas

Meat
Yeah, so you’d think that you’d want a nice fatty shoulder for ideal flavor. But I started with a cheap ass pork loin with no fat at all, and I loved the results. This will still get tender and juicy and lovely even if you buy the cheapest and leanest option out there (don’t you love when those two occur together?).

When I buy a whole pork loin, I usually cut it into three large roasts and freeze them. So I usually work with a 3-4 pound lump of meat.

Feel free to put it in the soup pot without even defrosting it.

Liquid
Add some orange juice (1-4 cups)

Add some stock (I have quarts of vegetable stock right these days)

Add a splash of wine or beer or tequila – whatever makes you happy.

Feel free to squeeze in a lime

With this much flavorful liquid, you can add some water if the roast still isn’t covered.

You do not need to add any extra fat/oil

More flavor
If you like onion, you can either half an onion and plan to remove it later, or cut up an onion decently finely so it won’t be stringier than the meat.

Mince up some garlic, if you like. Oddly, I usually skip it.

Feel free to grate in some citrus zest. My first recipe that was heavy on the zest ended up with a slightly too strong citrus flavor, but I still like some – whatever I have that’s easy.

pinch off the head of a couple cloves (the spice) and crush with your fingers into powder

Add some cinnamon, if you like it.

I like to add some ground oregano and some ground thyme. (If you have fresh cilantro, either wait until the dish is ready to serve or add just the stems, finely minced, this early in cooking)

And you can add some crushed pepper now, but I recommend waiting because it’s important to realize that just a little bit of pepper will accumulate a lot of heat the longer it cooks in wet heat.

Cooking
So bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

An hour or so later, when the meat it thoroughly thawed, carefully pull out the roast (let it drip a bit) and move it to a cutting board. With a large knife, cut it into 1″ to 1.5″ slices – against the grain. This will keep it from getting too stringy as it disintegrates.

note: if you were starting from fresh meat, you could have done it at the beginning, but it’s fine to wait, too.

Return the meat to the pot. Check that you still have a pretty mild simmer going on.

And hour later, come by and start poking at it with a wooden spoon. See if you can just poke a hole through the slices – or break them into halves. Just start encouraging it to fall apart.

Check your water level – it’s probably still scarily high and you’re wondering if you’re going to have to drain the meat later. Be patient.

But about now I start checking at half hour intervals – but that’s because I like poking at my food.

Hey, now would be a good time to add a conservative amount of crushed pepper, if you want.

Cook, cook, cook.

Is it starting to fall apart? Pinch off a bit and taste it. If the flavors are good, but a bit mild, that’s perfect.

Cook, cook, cook.

Okay, start paying attention to the level of liquid when it starts being stew-ish, rather than soup-ish. Stir more frequently and make sure you’re in the same room so that you can tell when it starts to smell drier (I know this sounds odd, but watch the liquid and smell – the sound of the cooking will also change a bit).

Okay, once it’s mostly dry, it’s a fairly harrowing time. Well, if you have fancy enameled cookware, just keep going until you get a little burny crisp around the edges.

I, however, have cheap, thin nonstick cookware, so I don’t want to go that far. Sometimes I have the right combination of attentiveness/patience to get it just perfectly dry without burning. Sometimes I drain it a little at the end – with pulling out not more that a cup or so of liquid, you really do want all those flavors absorbed into the meat (and then I use the liquid of tasty joy to make rice).

More cooking?
You can put it into batches and freeze now. Or you can crisp it up some first.

This is the time to add salt, pepper, and lipids.

Get a big casserole dish and put an inch thick layer of pork (you might have to do more than one batch) – pour over some olive oil (or, you know, bacon fat) and salt and pepper it.

Roast in a 375F oven (Hella hot, but not so hot you have a fire, because that would be bad) until is starts to crisp up.

Take out of the oven. Stir. Put back in the oven. Crisp. Out. Stir. In. Crisp. Out. Taste. Moan.

Seriously!

ETA: I have since come across this recipe for cochinita pibil, which (with the addition of annatto) might be a more direct antececent of this dish

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new literature vs old literature

I read Hound of the Baskervilles when I was young, probably for school. And I promptly gave up on reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Because this is the one (and, yes, I’m about to spoil the ending for you) where you are going right along trying to figure out how these fantastic things are going to end up with perfectly rational explanations, and then Sherlock Holmes whips a dissertation on ash out of his ass. Really – no way to see that coming.

And I pretty much threw the book down right then. Because I hadn’t realized that this whole story was getting explained inside Sherlock Holmes’ head – and that I hadn’t been invited to the party! I had been reading along thinking that if I needed further data, it would be provided in the nooks and corners of the prose. But, no – a dissertation. On ash. Well why am I even reading, if I don’t get to be a party to the fun part of the figuring things out process?

So yeah.

And then years later, there came Neil Gaiman. And he’s this weird rockstar literary figure, and people make noise about him transcending genre and crossing over audiences and whatnots. But you know what his trickery really is? He makes the audience feel smug about being smart and in on the joke.

He pulls in enough far reaching references to obscure folklore than no matter what your youthful obsession, you find one of the nifty things, which you’d been nurturing close to your breast, put out there and explained as the lovely thing you think it is. And you get to accumulate other, new, nifty things and banter them about as if you’d been treasuring them all along. There’s a wink and a nod and an offer of complicity.

And after I read a few of his things, I sought out others.

new dining vs old dining

I was reading an article in Philadelphia Magazine about Georges Perrier, who is credited with premiering fine dining in Philadelphia and how he just had to close a restaurant, is having trouble filling seats despite great deals, and is being squeezed out by the younger chefs and their lack of respect for tradition.

So when I was little, my mother would talk about how we should some day eat a really fancy meal at Le Bec Fin, but we never did. And I was always fairly sure that it was a bit out of our price range.

But there was a sportier bistro opened up. And one day I had a friend from out of town visiting, and I figured it would be a good place near where she’d be to meet for dinner. So I called up to make a reservation for that evening. And I was told, quite plainly, that this was Brasserie Perrier, and one could not make a reservation any less than a week ahead.

Right.

So my friend had heard of another restaurant. It turned out to be right next door. And run by Stephen Starr, one of the older new chefs with too big britches. Alma de Cuba. And it turned out to be one of the more memorable dining experiences I’ve had (with tempura avocado salad!), so I had no complaints. It was expensive, but I’ve gone back a couple of times, with people, alone, and I even took my parents. They are still doing well, but Brasserie Perrier… well, it’s closed.

Stephen Starr, however, is a chef who gets a raised eyebrow from me, though, because his concepts don’t always impress me. On the other hand, let me talk about someone Georges Perrier cursed quite a bit in his interview – Jose Garces. This is the chef who championed tapas to the city. And in the article, Perrier compares the price of his prixe fixe with an incredibly expensive meal he had dining at on of these tapas restaurants. And you know what? Yes, I try not to ever go to a Garces restaurant starving. Because I can’t afford it. But I’m not committing to the starving person’s price. I only have to commit to a $9 plate. Or maybe 2 or 3 of them.

But what Garces really has going, at least at both of the initial two restaurants (not so much at the third, and I haven’t had time to get to the most recent two), is atmosphere. It’s just the right balance of dark and airy to be elegant without being overbearing. And it’s service. The first time I went to Amada (on a whim, before a movie), they were so full that there was only room for a single person at the bar. And I had the bartender come over and take the time to explain the menu and offer me a cocktail that would match what I was eating (and was this amazing pear thing with pear nectar she said she had infused herself, and I’ve never seen there since). The next time was restaurant week (a time when restaurants are crazy crowded) and I was sad that the whole week would go by without trying anything, and I’d called a couple of places to see if they had tables after I got out of work at 9pm (yeah!), and Amada not only was willing to seat me, but also had wonderful and attentive service, even late at night. And the food was every bit as tempting and delightful as the first time, even though it was the end of the night at the end of a grueling week.

I like being welcomed and encouraged to enjoy along with.

10
Mar

Eggs – you’re doing it right

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in adoration, breakfast, course, Food

It has been a few months since I read about double-boiler scrambled eggs, and I’m still a bit flabbergasted by the whole discussion.

So it’s possible to get eggs wrong – they can be burnt or impossible to scrape out of a pan or unevenly cooked in a way you find icky. But once you get past that – you’re doing it right.

There is no single perfect platonic ideal of an omelette for all occasions. There’s the thick, sometimes browned, 2 egg omelette of the buffet line; there’s the thin, custardy French rolled omelette; there’s the even thinner folded short order grill omelette; and there’re even the scrambled eggs you were hoping to serve as an omelette, but which are still tasty just the way they are.

Seriously, I don’t care whether you pre-mix your scrambled eggs or just break the yolk in the pan. I don’t care whether you turn with a spatula, fork, or just swirl the pan delicately. The eggs are still going to be delicious.

But here’s the true secret to delicious eggs. It’s the one thing that makes someone’s fancy egg demonstration taste so much better than yours. The secret – the really important secret – is that you have to convince whoever is eating the eggs that the rest of the food is unimportant, and that they should be standing around – fork in hand – waiting to eat the freshly cooked egg the moment it leaves the pan. That, more than anything else, improves the eggy experience.

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Saturday
I was late leaving for my grandmother’s because there was amazing weather this weekend. I love my back porch so much.

I spent some time cleaning out my refrigerator and pretending that counted as cleaning out my apartment. I’d pull together something out of bits and ends and then I’d eat it on the porch in the sunshine. Whee!

I finally left the house around 1pm. I got to my grandmother’s just in time for dinner. We ate. I tried to make conversation. I think her hearing it going. Then we came back to her apartment, and she sat for an hour or two nodding off before going to bed. I read a little, napped a little, watched the season 2 finale of Being Human, and then changed and went to sleep obscenely early.

Sunday
Going to sleep early meant that I was up at dawn-ish, so I grabbed a beach towel for some traction and did a wee little bit of yoga. Just enough to get circulation in my shoulders and to loosen up my lower back. Then I put the towel away and pretended to still be asleep.

My grandmother’s aide was late, but she was clean enough that I felt no guilt about just helping her select clothes and get dressed. And then we made it to breakfast a little late. You’d think the timing wouldn’t matter, but the dining room gets crowded and louder, and so conversation still didn’t so much happen. But we smiled at each other and had bonding time.

After breakfast, my grandmother fell asleep. I napped and read until noon, when I got her up to go downstairs for a cup of coffee. I tried to entice her into a quick walk around their garden area, but the sun didn’t quite reach into it and there was a breeze, so she begged off. And then, since she was going right back to sleep after coffee, I left around 2pm. But I didn’t go straight home because I’d heard rumor on Twitter about a DoctorWhoNY event involving an intimate (which just means limited to 100 people) Q&A with Russell Tovey, from Doctor Who/Torchwood and Being Human and stuff. And, hey, they scheduled for a day I’d already be in the city and it was only $20. So there.

But I had four or so hours to kill in New York City without wanting to spend too much money or acquire baggage. Eh, so I wandered a bit. I found a nice sunny ledge by Union Square and read there for an hour. And then I found a restaurant a couple blocks from the venue that didn’t seem to expensive. I walked around a little bit more to kill more time and to make sure I’d made the best restaurant choice, and then I circled around back.

Tamarind
So they don’t have their hours posted on the outside. At first I thought I’d heard that their dining room didn’t open until 4:30, but it turns out they actually said 5:30. No matter, because they have a tea room right next door. I tried a lovely, dark tea from southern India, Nilgiri, which is apparently also carried by Whole Foods (they would have told me a package of it but were out of stock). And despite appearances, their small teapots held three cups worth of tea. It came with cute little dishes with rough hewn sugar cubes (brown and white) and a small dish of honey, just wide enough that the spoon looked like it would not fit but did easily. And cream. This was a good visit for tea.

I also ordered a chaat. I was worried that it would spoil my appetite, but I forgot to account for NYC level of prices. It was just the perfect size for pre-dinner nibbling.

So 5:30 rolled over, and I bopped over to the main dining room. I think they figured I was interested in food as they seated my opposite their theater kitchen, which just serviced the tandoori ovens and a grill. I still have no idea how the different bread got made – one of them ended up rolled into a spiral… and then pressed flat? But it was nifty and pleasing to watch. I ordered a soup and dal makhani.

The cauliflower ginger soup… was a lovely idea, but off a bit. For one thing, it was an oddly large portion for the rest of the scale of the restaurant, but I guess that’s not a complaint. It was also perfectly smooth (as if the cauliflower had been pureed and then strained) with small grains of ginger (there were cumin seeds, but I think some of the chewy bits were also ginger). I think I would have rather also had some small pieces of cauliflower, too. I asked for a salt shaker, and that perked it up a little. But I think what it really needed was a sour note – possibly a lovely contrasting swirl of tamarind chutney.

Dal Makhani – So there’s a restaurant near me with amazing dishes with Makhani sauce, but there’s another with only a bland brown dal makhani. It seemed like a good way to judge the restaurant as well as being the cheapest thing on the menu. Now, I’ve had a few restaurants in London charge separately for rice and everything, but they were also noticeably cheaper pricepoints – at $12.50 for dal, I was surprised to be asked whether I also wanted to order rice. I didn’t – I went with a roti instead for more joy. And, yes, their makhani sauce was very like my favorite, rich and reddish. Very well done, and I would eat there again.

I did not order dessert because I managed to just perfectly hit the time I was aiming for.

So I walked the few blocks to Cafe 50 West. This also looked like a good place for dinner – with casserole dishes of macaroni and cheese or artichoke dip. Their soups looked delicious. I just ordered a hot tea, and that was pretty darn impressive. It was a british style tea (broken leaves, and a high ratio of tea to hot water – water added to tea bag at the right temperature), but they even thought to pre-warm the mug! \o/!

There was a cute Q&A with Russell Tovey, which was taped, wherein there managed to be lewd appreciation of his professional nudity while still respecting his craft. After all, he was the one who suggested that one of his dream roles was to play a rent boy (right after wishing to get to star in a remake of The Goonies, but nevermind that). I have a few more of his past roles I now want to find (it’s well overdue for me to watch The History Boys). There was a queue for his autograph. That went well, and I got to talk to a couple friendly people. And I was also reminded why I pick my fannish associations rather discriminatingly. Russell was friendly in line as well, and he seemed to be having a decent time.

He was mentioning that actors in the UK aspire to get to act on American shows because having the larger budgets and whole teams of writers sounds so glamorous. The audience of anglophiles was trying to dissuade him. The most cogent explanation was given by someone pointing to a specific character point for him where he was, as a protagonist, allowed to win the end of the episode’s plotline by becoming more morally ambiguous instead of less and how awesome British shows are for having the courage to do that. And the woman by me nodding her emphatic agreement was the same one who had earlier told me that she hadn’t watched the whole latest bit of Torchwood canon because she didn’t agree with what they’d done with the characters and she didn’t want her shows to be anything less than light and happy. And I’m sure she wasn’t the only one with no internal irony alert.

And after the autographs, there was a viewing of the first episode of the second season with Russell giving commentary. He said some obvious things. Mentioned that the later love interest for one of the other main characters was an ex of that actor. But in general it was pretty tame stuff, so I didn’t stay until the end of the episode.

I walked back to catch the Chinatown Bus home.

5
Mar

Planning a trip to Rome

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Food, travel

Trip to Rome

So I’ve scheduled all of the side trips, and written up the itinerary for my parents. It feels to me like it’s not covering nearly enough, but when my parents looked at it, they thought it was mostly within their limits possibly a little challenging. Let me know if you have any suggestions of places to see/eat. Or just stuff.

We have flight reservations with British Airways

leaving PHL (BA0068) at 21:00 Saturday
arriving Heathrow 09:30 Sunday

My parents vote not to leave the airport – OMG. I might need to get out and do something.

leaving Heathrow (BA0558) at 18:15 Sunday
arriving Fiumicino 21:45 Sunday-ish

They have hotel reservations at Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora

I also have a reservation at a hostel.

All of the necessary Marriott points have been converted into codes for points redemption on the stay and travel.

Monday
After arriving in Rome at the butt crack of night, we shall spend the morning relaxing. If my father wakes up and feels perky, he and I shall have a jaunt exploring the city and finding restaurants to eat at the rest of the week.

That night at 8pm, we shall all three take a bus tour of Rome by Night

Tuesday
Now that we’ve had a rest, let’s start with the hard part (so if we need to split this is up into multiple days, that’ll be fine.

So I’ll pick up a picnic lunch on the way over to your hotel. You’ll have a leisurely breakfast.

We’ll try the subway and see how stressful it is. We’ll ask the Concierge whether there is an easy path through the Villa Medici grounds to get the to Metro-Spagna stop. Otherwise, we’ll walk about 600 yards to the Metro-Barberini stop (by the Spanish Steps). We’ll transfer at Termini from the A line to the B line, go two more stops, and then get out at the Coliseum.

The alternative bus line is the 117. It runs along the southwest side of Villa Borghese and down a road of many names (Via del Babuino, Via del Due Macelli, Via del Traforo, Via Milano), it will make a right turn onto the Via Panisperma, a left on to the Via del Boschetto, a short right onto the Via Leonina, and a right onto Via dei Serpenti, just after you turn left onto Largo Gaetana Agnesi there’s the stop for the Coliseum.

It’s a couple blocks farther to walk to get the bus than the train, but no tranfer.

We’ll explore the forum (walks card #20-24). If we haven’t seen anywhere with decent food (fairly likely), we’ll pay admission to the Coliseum, find a nook and have a picnic. Maybe more forum after?

Pretty much everywhere is steeply uphill from there. So we might just catch a cab back to the hotel.

If you are up for an uphill walk on the far side of the Coliseum, we can aim for the Via Labicana and San Clemente (open Mon-Sat 9am-12:30pm; 3-6pm), which has Byzantine mosaics. Then, hopefully, there will be food near there, and I can explore the basements of San Clemente (walks card #25, which include a Mithraeum (admission 5 euros).

If you are feeling more energetic, the uphill just to the left of the Via Labicana is the Via della Domus Aurea. It should lead to an entrance to the excavations of the Domus Aurea (walks card #28), open for guided tours (by appointment) Tues-Fri 10am-4pm for 6 euros. (06 3996 7700).

And then either catch a taxi or back downhill to the Coliseum for the ride to dinner.

I’m putting the uphill walk at the end of this trip because I am considering it optional. If you want to change that priority, we can put it first by taking transit to the Coliseum and then immediately catching a taxi. And then walking down the hill to the Forum/Coliseum.

And then an early night.

Wednesday
This is a slightly more laid back day. If you are antsy in the morning, I recommend a stroll around the Borghese gardens or the Spanish steps. Possibly even the nearby Piazza Navona (walks card #12-13), full of bustling tourism with cafes and shops.

We’ll want an early lunch (11ish-11:30) so that we can comfortably be back at the hotel by 1:30pm.

At 2pm, we’ll be waiting for a shuttle pick up before going on a tour of the Roman Countryside.

Thursday
Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel

The 116 bus starts right by your hotel, jiggles all around the city. And then ends at the Vatican Museum. It should be a fun ride.

And then in the evening, we can catch the 116 bus across the river. We’d get off the bus right after it turns off the Lungotevere, to a small road, and then onto the Via Giulia.

And then go to La Taverna Di Martin for dinner

Then we can go back to the Via Guilia and walk along it (walk card #39) touristing until we are tired of walking. The 116 runs all along the street, and goes back very close to the hotel. After the stop we got off, the next pick up is between Via di Sant’Aurea and Via della Barchetta.

Friday
I vote we grab one of the on/off buses and take a full loop around and see what we’ve missed.

We can catch more of the Forum. We can hit the Jewish area (walk card #30) and Isola Tiberina (walk card #31). All sorts of fun.

There’s also the Piazza del Quirinale and the Trevi Fountain (walk card #7)

Saturday
Get picked up very early in the morning for the Tivoli trip.

Sunday
national holiday this day, so many things will be closed

I say we leave the day open for a) wandering the gardens, b) wandering the city, c) getting massages, or d) something else suggested by the concierge. Possibly a day of napping.

If we haven’t yet had a day of rain, than this is the day for the Pantheon (walk card #9-10). Even on holidays, they should be open 9am-1pm. And if they aren’t holding to a holiday schedule, then they should be open until 7:30pm.

early night

Monday
leaving early in the morning for Pompeii

Tuesday

A very early plane departure. Make sure that by Saturday, we have made shuttle/taxi reservations.

leaving Fiumicino (BA2545) at 07:30 Tuesday
arriving Gatwick 09:10 Tuesday

~flail~

leaving Heathrow (BA0069) at 16:15 Tuesday
arriving PHL 19:30 Tuesday

Things not on this specific list:
Ara Pacis

Info about riding the bus
http://www.venere.com/blog/rome-bus-system/

5
Mar

Garden planning

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Gardening

Went out and measured the lot behind my apartment today. It’s roughly 100′ x 40′. I’m willing to sacrifice the front 20′ x 40′ to random maintenance vehicles parking.

When I was mostly through measuring, the neighbor guy across the way, who was also interested in gardening there, came out to help with the measurements and to talk about planning.

Monday morning, we’re going to have trashbags and start cleaning things out. Including the copious dogshit. He’ll try to talk to the block captain to see if more people want to help (or are exciting in the gardening process).

I totally claimed dibs on the sunniest area for tomatoes. In exchange, I allowed that there could maybe be a couple trees on the lot casting shade on my tomatoes.

The side without a fence will have a berm of hostas and lilies such as we can acquire for free. And I will try to figure out how to create a raised bed to discourage vehicles and people with dogs from getting into the gardening.

Next time I’m at Ikea, I shall purchase a holder for plastic grocery bags so that people can pick up after their dogs. He’ll call the local city people and see about getting a trashcan than people who are not us shall empty.