Aside

I feel like a high school student writing a term paper. Since I know Lynn is going to read this, and she is from Korea. And cooks Korean food. Taught to her by family.

*ahem* Korean food (according to the official Korea Tourism Site) is referred to as hansik. As with Japanese and Chinese cuisine, all these types of food are often lumped into a single “Asian food” category. Anything with a splash of soy, the addition of some fresh ginger, maybe a few drops of fish sauce, and it all becomes “asian food”.

While these foods come from the same continent, it does not mean they all eat the same things. That continent alone encompasses Iran, China, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Nepal, India, and the list goes on. Now that you have a better picture of the vastness, you can relate that to the array of resources available depending on which area. Even within Korea, the exact way a dish is made varies from one region to the next.

There are a few overarching concepts to consider:

1.) The concept of balance, of “yin and yang”

2.) Expanding upon 1, meals are meant to reflect balance amongst the 5 elements (earth, water, air, fire, and metal) through food

Bibimbap is a lovely representation of these traditions, because each bowl contains all the elements. Furthermore, they are arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner to be served, and only mixed right before you begin eating. I will not profess to understanding the finer points of elemental arrangement in Korean food, but I will say the whole process is fascinating. For my own experience,  I attempted to recreate the Maagchi‘s recipe from her website. I love that there is a recipe with ingredients and little sub-recipes on each page along with a detailed video about serving and finishing each dish.

The only ingredient I was unable to track down was the dried bracken fern. Both refrigerated areas and the dehydrated plant section at the asian market near my house were devoid of the plant. Either that, or I missed it since I can’t read a lick of korean. I did however have everything else by the end of the shopping trip.

Once home, everything was cut and placed into its own bowl until ready to be cooked. Each of the bowls’ contents are relatively self-explanatory. The upper right corner bowl has blanched spinach.

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I left everything to the side as I cooked my rice. We purchased a bag of new crop short grain rice on this last trip to Ranch Market. I was a little high on my water to rice ratio this time, but the flavor was good.

Typically,  I can memorize almost all the steps in a standard recipe after reading through a few times. However, sauteing each ingredient in the right combination of canola oil, minced garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and/or sugar was complex enough that I actually made notes for cooking.

A resting place for each cooked component, and each component in its place.

A resting place for each cooked component, and each component in its place.

 

The super food geek in me appreciates the respect offered to each ingredient, as it is cooked individually with the combination of things that bring out its elements. Besides, once you get the pan hot from the first veggie or two, everything else goes quickly. Once the veggies were finished,  I seared some beef. Most of the recipes recommended ground beef, but I kind of have a thing against ground meat. Particularly because it is often comprised of mostly fat and scrap bits. Instead, I opted for super thinly shaved chuck. It tasted great with the garlic/soy/sesame/sugar mix, though I’d probably go for some eye of round next time if I remember to stop by Uwajimaya.

It was at this moment, I realized I do not own a “bibimbap” bowl, or “bowl of larger than average size”. Never to fear, my round tupperware came to the rescue. I laid out the ingredients similarly to Maangchi’s photos on her website, but am unsure whether I managed the right balance of color. It sure looked pretty to me. Everything was topped off with a fried egg.

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I went a hair less-cooked than I typically prefer on my egg, as the egg is really meant to comprise a key component of the “sauce” once mixed. Some people choose to use raw proteins (beef and egg). Were I to buy those ingredients from somewhere like a farmers market or raise the animals myself, I’d be all over that practice. Since that isn’t the case, I’ll be taking them mostly cooked.

The first finishing touch is a drizzle of sesame oil. I had a revelation about the liberal use of sesame oil in Korean food, it was like nothing I had ever known. I have always, always loved sesame oil. The warmth in its flavor, the homey aroma when it heats in a pan, the way it helps ground the flavors of anything it touches.

The final touch is my favorite part of most asian cuisine – the spicy bit. Gochujang is a brilliantly red past made from red chili powder, soybeans, glutinous rice paste, and a few other flavoring all fermented into a bottle of tasty goodness. While it falls under the “fire” element because of its spice, it contains hints of all the taste elements (sweet, salty, bitter, earthy, umami). That is, if you can get past the spiciness. We’re spice-lovers in this house. Alexir’s prep almost always involves toasting whole dried peppers to be ground into malaysian sauces, and we’ve eaten every family meal imaginable doused in sriracha.

Don’t forget the (unpictured) plate of kimchi with sesame seeds as a palate cleanser between bites on the side.

This experience makes me want to buy a korean food cookbook. But then I look at how far my cookbook collection has spilled out into the floor. Maybe I’ll start with a few more trips to the local hot pot place first.

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Bibimbap – The Short Recap

Comfort on a Plate

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When we were in our first week of culinary school, our chef instructor went through the class person by person asking us to respond with our comfort food. Sometimes the responses were culturally influenced (a columbian student said “arepas”, a korean student rattled off a korean dish). The responses were all over the board. Mine was lentil soup with goat cheese and a big piece of crusty bread. But Alexir’s was my favorite. He said “a peanut butter and jelly sandwich”. When reflecting on his response, he was always kind of embarrassed. Yet the truth is we stay truer to our food and our customers as cooks when we retain our humility. We all just want a big old peanut butter and jelly sandwich some days.

 

 

 

There are always going to be a handful of restaurants where you can go out to dinner to get a “wow” factor. Where the chef has his thumb on the pulse of the culinary world, and is running with the pack through every up and coming food trend. Here’s a foie gras foam with brown butter powder and green garlic gel.This herb was grown on the roof in a self-sustaining garden. They are fun, novel, and (usually) expensive enough to limit the number of times you can afford to visit in a month.

For the other days of the week, we seek foods that are comforting to us in a personal way. We’re looking for the foods that remind us of happy times, home, and loved ones. At times such as this, we aren’t necessarily imagining someone from “iron  chef” preparing our food. We’re picturing someone’s mom roasting a chicken and serving it with a fat dollop of mashed potatoes. We’re picturing someone’s grandmother making pasta by hand with no measuring cups and no recipe. We think to the home cooks with faded wood cutting boards and a knife that is far too large or small for the job. This is the food we are drawn to, and it is this feeling that works so well to unify us as people.

This morning, Alexir, Alex (of Bring a Bib blog), and I met up at Arabica Lounge for some coffee. I had never been before, but Alexir frequents the place for coffee before work since it is literally four doors down. When I walked in, I was struck with the typical “alright, typical hipster” vibe from the decor and music. However, then I laid my eyes upon the pastries and completely changed my mind. Cookies, croissants, tarts, oh my! Hello, lovelies!

I spied an uncut lemon tart that called my name. Instead of the standard deep pie crust, it was a shallow shell. The meringue was piped on using a star tip on a piping bag and toasted perfectly. I almost felt bad for asking them to cut it. The barista laughed as he moved to cut it, and said that the kitchen often has to cut the first piece since people are unwilling to let something so pretty be cut. I ordered an accompanying cappuccino, and went to pay my bill. The chef/owner came out to help instruct the barista how to cut it. Once my piece hit the plate, the chef picked it up and asked if he could borrow it to take a picture. Obviously, I understand the sentiment of enjoying the chance to reflect on your own food. He snapped a few shots  with his top-of-the-line camera and handed it back. I waited patiently for my drink before digging in.

In all its lemony glory

In all its lemony glory

The crust was extremely tender, like a shortbread. It was baked a bit less than I typically like, but by being left underbaked, it stayed incredibly tender. The lemon curd was tart without being overwhelming, and shockingly light. Perhaps a trip through a mixer with the whisk attachment? Perhaps one less egg yolk than the recipes typically call for. And the meringue, a story all its own. By being piped, the meringue can be added without allowing the sweetness to become overwhelming. It also increases the exposed surface area, which means almost all of it can be toasted to perfection. Every bight was lemony heaven. And my personal attachment to lemon curd is Alexir, since I made it for the first time with him. The next time we made it as part of christmas gift baskets and delivered little jars of love to our friends and family.

When the chef came by to ask how my slice of tart was, I said “Amazing! Life-changing!” He looked over to Alex (who had consequently bought a slice a few minutes after myself) and said “Well then, you’re apparently in for a life-changing experience!”. I thanked him again when I we left, and let him know I had dabbled in pastry work at different restaurants where I’d worked and had a deep love for all things pastry. He seemed genuinely happy by the praise.

In that mindset, I was able to do my shopping for bibimbap tonight. As recommended by my Korean friend, Lynn, I watched Maangchi’s video on prepping and cooking bibimbap. Seeing a person making a food taught to her by a family member, and showing her passion for the things she spoke of without any pomp or circumstance was lovely. Korean cooking is at once extremely rigid in some ways and quite varied in others.

I’ve been dedicating the rest of my afternoon to researching the roots and elements of Korean food. Somewhere in this apartment, I have a great essay written by Chef Atkinson about to subtle differences between different asian cuisines. I’ll post pictures of my finished bibimbap with kimchi tomorrow or the next day. For now, I’ll leave you to ponder your own comfort food memories and enjoy another picture of that heavenly lemon tart.

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Can’t Win ‘Em All…On to Kimchi

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For anyone not following me on Facebook, the first batch of mead at my house was a bust. On Wednesday,  I saw the bubbling had died down inside the bottle significantly, and went to investigate. I took the inner cap off of the airlock and took a whiff out of the tube that allows air to escape the bottle. What met me nose was a scent reminiscent of blackberries mixed with isopropyl alcohol. Just a hair shy of being strong enough to knock me straight on my ass. I ventured to guess that that wasn’t what things should smell like.

Oh HELL no

After a bunch of research on several types of brewing forums, my conclusion are as follows:

1.)  I had too large an air space when I put everything in the bottle, this allows oxidation of the mixture

2.) Too high an ambient temperature. I thought to myself on the second afternoon “hm..it’s cold in the apartment, better bring the bottle into the bedroom”. This could easily have tipped the temperature up enough to encourage negative bacteria growth

3.) Very high on the problem list: the addition of whole blackberries. I let them hang out in the mixture instead of just pureeing/straining them and mixing in the puree instead. With them hanging out there, they were able to release ethylene and feed it back into the large surface area of the liquid.

Can you tell I was a science geek before I was a food geek? All this prattling on about mistakes during the mead-making aside, I learned some valuable lessons and will start with more research and less variables next time.

 

I moved on a few chapters in The Art of Fermentation, and thoroughly examined the section on kimchi. I then reread this section, wanting so badly to prevent and issues associated with my previous fermentation fail. Katz’s stories are endearing, and his writing engaging. That being said, most of his suggestions are simply jumping off points. I added some additional online research to my arsenal before going out with Alexir to shop for the necessary tidbits.

The premise of kimchi is the same as sauerkraut: salt is added to raw vegetable ingredients, the ingredients wilt and break down, lactobacilli (healthy bacteria) start to eat the sugars in the veggies and cause fermentation. There are hundreds of individual kimchi recipes, and variations on each recipe depending on seasonality. The beauty of this is that using core ingredients and making a few adjustments to my personal preference is not at all forsaking the traditional nature of the dish. I did go for the main core ingredients of a standard kimchi: napa cabbage, daikon radish, and green onion.

I was drawn to a core recipe from the kitchn.com website, as the author had married into a korean family and learned from a Korean mom how to properly make kinchi. I also added some insight from Dr. Ben Kim’s website. I feel very strongly about the food you eat affecting how you feel on a daily basis. That being said, a chiropractor/acupuncturist offering recipes for healthy fermented foods on his website is nothing short of amazing in my eyes.

I’ll break this down into the main steps of prep with numbers corresponding to the pictures for each step. To anyone who is curious: I (obviously) don’t have professional lighting, one of the lights is actually burned out in my kitchen, I take all my pictures with my phone, and I don’t profess to have any skill in angling a shot. So…I can only hope this helps break down the walls of “how the professionals do it” versus being adventurous in your own kitchens regardless of your cooking experience. Here we go:

1.) I cut the cabbage in half and cut out the thick core using a wedge cut. Then, stepped back and admired the cabbage, because I just love all the ripples and bring green leaves.

2.) Each half is then cut into 1×1 inch pieces. You don’t want to go too small, as this is the main body of the mixture and needs a little toothiness.

3.) I washed my cabbage and ran it through my salad spinner. Despite the fact that the brine is supposed to “clean” the cabbage, I just wanted to be sure.T he cabbage goes into a large non-reactive bowl and is sprinkled with a liberal 1/4 C of kosher salt. This part is the best tactile part of the process, because you massage the salt into the cabbage by hand, and can feel it wilting in the process

4.) Enough water is added to cover the cabbage and the mixture is agitated to mix. This is weighted down with a dinner plate, and (in my case) also a bowl and a can of beans. This needs to brine for 2 hours, or until the cabbage had softened dramatically.

5.) During my spare two hours, I had plenty of time to prepare the remainder of my ingredients. I juilenned some daikon radish, and cut a few stalks of green onion along the bias. I also made the chili paste that would be added. It consisted primarily of ground dried pepper (not to be confused with red pepper flakes, which are much spicier), raw garlic, and raw ginger. The ginger is one of the most important components, as it has known antibacterial properties and therefore helps inhibit any bad bacteria from taking hold in your kimchi. Other seasonings included a little raw honey and some fish sauce.

6.) Dr. Kim’s recipe suggests that there is a “secret” addition that helps add depth: a slurry of ripe apple and pear. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and I found a pretty asian pear at ranch market along with a gala apple. Both those were chopped up with the white sections of my green onion and blended with some water.

7.) After 2 hours, the cabbage was wilted and even the thickest pieces yielded to pressure. The water was drained, and I rinsed it about 3 times, squeezing out the water a little after the third rinse. I didn’t actually spin the cabbage in my salad spinner this time, but it did serve as the perfect tool to allow the remaining water to drain off freely for about 20 minutes. Once moderately drained, everything is mixed together. Since this included the pepper paste, I elected to wear gloves for the process. At this point, I tasted the mixture. It seemed rather heavy on the fish sauce, but the salt level was alright. The taste would of course change as things fermented, so I went ahead and bottled everything into a mason jar.

24 hours at room temperature, and I got the “hiss” of air when I opened the jar. Since I was nervous about temperature after the mead fiasco,  I immediately transferred the jar to the fridge. I tried some tonight (day 3), and I have to say it tastes pretty good. The fish sauce dissipated, and just enough burn remains to cleanse you palatte without removing your ability to taste. I’ll try it again in another two days (when I have a day off).

I’ve been thinking about making Alexir and I bowls of bibimbap or bulgogi to serve the kimchi alongside (because, if you give Ashley some kimchi, she’ll probably decide she needs to make a whole mess of korean food to go with it!).

Seeking others to try some kimchi and give me some feedback. I can’t imagine we’d go through a quart mason jar in the 3 week window in which it should be consumed. If anyone reads this and is interested, let me know. Look forward to pictures of bulgogi, chapchae, or who knows what else soon.

Brought Together by Fate, Food, or…..Fermentation?

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A little glimpse into the more hippie/energy-focused part of my life as a cook follows, read on with this warning in mind. I feel very strongly that food trends across cities, and sometimes even across states, come as a combination of someone observing ideas they like and the concept simply being put out into the psychic space.

A perfect example being a few months into my job at Serious Pie. I overheard fellow line cook, Dev say the dining room was a “shit show” (meaning complete and utter chaos, obviously referencing things having “gone to shit”). I had never encountered the term before, but found it hilarious. By the time I remembered his story a few days later at school, a fellow classmate threw out the same turn of phrase. Now I hear it constantly in my everyday life. It was like one person letting that free brought it into my world.

This week, Alexir gifted our household with a copy of “The Art of Fermentation”. This book is essentially an encyclopedia/cookbook/rough recipe guide to the world of fermented foods. It opens with a long foreword regarding the understanding that fermented foods are (as the title suggests) an art, and not a science. Only personal experience can offer someone the nuances necessary to derive such delicacies as a spicy and fizzy kim chi, perfectly brined pickles, or a well-balanced wine.

AOF cover

Feeling inspired after a few chapters, I realized that I possessed all necessary ingredients for a basic mead recipe. Mead is honey wine, or technically fermented honey water. Raw honey contains trace amounts of yeast and bacteria (it is bee vomit, technically) and a ton of sugar. When thinned out with water, more oxygen can reach the yeast, which then feeds on the yeast and changes the pH of the mixture. Ta-da! Booze! I took the book’s base ratio and filled a clean jug with honey and water. After a moment, I remembered that some local blackberries from the summer were hanging around somewhere in my freezer. I dug them out, thawed them, and added them to the mixture. Everything gets shaken until well-mixed and set at room temperature for 7-10 days to allow for fermentation.

I feel the need, the need for mead!

I feel the need, the need for mead!

Staring at the remaining beg of frozen blackberries, I felt the urge to make a blackberry sauce for some kind of fish. This week at work, employees had been given a coupon to get a free piece of sockeye salmon when they purchased one. I felt a perfect fit materializing. The next day, I invited my mom over for dinner and made seared salmon with a blackberry lemon thyme sauce. Watching the half-frozen berries hit the hot pan, I thought to myself, “This is such a Chef Atkinson recipe”. Chef Atkinson is a notable Washington chef who appeared several times on PBS, was the chef at Canlis, owns a restaurant on Bainbridge Island, and was a former chef instructor at my culinary school. Despite him leaving his position the quarter before I was scheduled to have him as my instructor, I was able to glean bits of his knowledge of food and a cook’s life. Much of his teaching material and recipes remained untouched when I entered third quarter, and I felt a strong kinship with his unfussy but difficult to nail down food. The chef had fallen into food while studying other things, and remains a fantastic storyteller in addition to a talented chef. A later revisit of a my copy of Chef Atkinson’s “The Northwest Essentials Cookbook” revealed a recipe for blackberry butter sauce uncannily similar to mine.

Not my finest plating or photography, but everything tasted good

Not my finest plating or photography, but everything tasted good

Jump ahead to the next day at work. I was leaving out the side entrance for my lunchtime coffee fix when my eyes happened upon a sign on the wall with Chef Atkinson’s name. It mentioned something about him doing a book-signing in the store for another one of his (no doubt thoughtful and delicious) cookbooks. I laughed at the coincidence and went on my merry way. When I returned from lunch, I was re-pinning my hair in the mezzanine employee area and glanced down at the kiosk to see none other than Chef Atkinson himself. Apparently, the book-signing was scheduled for that afternoon.

I spent the rest of my shift trying to talk myself into going by and saying “hi”. I felt it unlikely that he’d have any idea who I was, since I had never actually been a student. And I’m still uncomfortable at time discussing my transition from being a line cook to working in a deli. I decided to go for it after I clocked out, if only for politeness’ sake. Sadly, by the time I had finished my shift, his time in the store had ended. I meandered slowly by the kiosk and resigned myself to the fact that he had left.

There were other things on my mind at the moment anyhow. My mead had started the fermentation process full tilt by what was now it’s third day. If I didn’t track down an airlock for my bottle, the building pressure of the mixture would threaten to burst the bottle any day. At luck would have it, Metropolitan Market Sand Point resides on 55th, the same street as Frank’s and Pair. I remembered seeing a homebrew store walking between the two restaurants back when I worked a handful of split shifts.

I pulled up to Bob’s Homebrew Supply and engaged the clerk in a discussion about the in’s and out’s of my first batch of mead. On hindsight, I picked a poor initial fermentation vessel, since I can’t easily scoop out the fruit before I attempt to siphon the mead away from the sludge on the bottom. Ah well, more insight the make the next batch even better. And I found the necessary airlock parts to allow the bottle to “burp” cardon dioxide while keeping the contents from being exposed to the air.

3 piece air lock

3 piece air lock

Whilst mid-discussion with the clerk, another customer had wandered in, and finally walked up to the adjacent counter to pay. I turned to find myself in a mixture of astonishment and yet complete expectation coming face-to-face with the person I had just missed a few minutes before. I smiled warmly with a “Hi, Chef Atkinson”. He returned the warm smile, and said I seemed very familiar. We spoke briefly about my time at Seattle Central CC, and missing my opportunity to have him as an instructor. We spoke briefly of Restaurant Marche (his restaurant on Bainbridge) and that Alexir and I were attempting to dine there soon. He said, “Oh, I wish you would”. We parted ways, me thanking both the homebrew store clerk and Chef Atkinson as I left.

I got in the car and had to laugh out loud. The universe works in such mysterious ways. That chef is so earnest in his dedication to all things food, you can’t help but hang on his every word. Yet in person, he is also an extremely humble and engaging person. These qualities are so rare amongst accomplished chefs, it is refreshing to see some people keep a level head amongst all the attention. The whole experience has put me in a great headspace for the rest of the week.

So come a few weeks from now when my mead is mature enough to drink, you can imagine whom I’ll be toasting. This first one is for you, Chef Greg. Cheers!

Fascinated by Foraging: Homemade Nettle Tortellini

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Two weeks ago, on one of our rare sunny days, I was able to take my dog and hike a portion of the little nature trail that runs behind my apartment complex. It’s kind of amazing to be able to step off pavement and 20 steps later be deep in a sea of trees. While we were wandering, I was lamenting that we were nearing the end of frost season and approaching the early foraging season. Foraging is exactly what you think it is: people (with the proper education and/or guidance) going out into the woods and picking naturally occurring fruits, plants, and fungus to eat. It takes away not only any money exchange, but completely removes the need for labeling “organic”. You can’t get any better than something able to grow itself in the woods.

While mid-thought, I spied an early spring foragable treat: the stinging nettle (urtica dioica). At the time, the plants were just barely poking out of the soil, so I said I’d give them some time to mature a little and return to harvest.

This last Thursday was the day, when I had both my opportunity of sunshine and the energy to get out with my dog to track down some nettles.

Rocky leading the way

Rocky leading the way

And by sunny, I mean it was a downright gorgeous day

Spring is popping up everywhere

Spring is popping up everywhere

After a very short trek, I came across a collection of nettles

My quarry: the stinging nettle

My quarry: the stinging nettle

I feel very strongly about being a mindful forager. This isn’t just a “bust in and rip out whatever you want” kind of affair. You are receiving gifts mother nature had so kindly bestowed upon us, the least you could do is try and have minimal impact on the ecosystem. This means several things to me:

  • When harvesting a plant (like nettles), I pick areas where it has become well established. I won’t harvest from a plant hanging out alone as it may just be starting to develop in that area.
  • When clipping, the best parts to eat are the top 3-5 inches of the plant, so I cut there and down to the intersection where a set of leaves are branching out. This hopefully encourages the plant to spread out or sprout a new top without risking killing the plant completely
  • Even in an area with a large population, it’s only fair to leave one in every few plants untouched so it can fully mature and reproduce. My bag may be less full of nettles, but it means I’m doing less harm.

Keeping that in mind, I managed to fill 3/4 of a plastic grocery bag in about 20 minutes. Nettles obviously do sting, so I wore a set of hot pink gardening gloves to protect my hands. I still got stung once, but I knew it was a possibility and had some hydrocorizone cream ready for when I got home.

Bag o' nettles

Bag o’ nettles

The other respect for foraging comes when using your harvest: celebrate your special ingredient. Cook it in a way that shows off and elevates the best parts of it. For me, this meant the best bet was to make a filling for some homemade pasta.

I was feeling nettles and cheese, so I decided to make some homemade ricotta. The process is so simple, you’d wonder why more people don’t make it themselves. Heat whole milk to recommended temperature, add an acidic ingredient to change the pH (citric acid, vinegar, or buttermilk, depending on personal preference), allow to sit as fine curds form, drain for several hours.

The least exciting part of cheesemaking: waiting for the milk to reach the desired temperature

The least exciting part of cheesemaking: waiting for the milk to reach the desired temperature

After I had set the ricotta aside to drain in a floursack towel, I blanched my nettles in some boiling salted water

Safety first!

Safety first!

Nettles respond to blanching almost the same as spinach. It hits the water, and should be wilted but brilliantly green in about 30 seconds. Immediately, they should be drained and plunged in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and “set” the color. I squeezed out the extra water, removed any thick chunks of stem, and set the mix in a bowl in the fridge.

Next, it was time to set my parmesan broth to simmer for a while. For the parmesan broth, I just use a standard stock recipe and throw in a ton of parmesan rind. You can purchase rinds at many specialty stores’ cheese departments, or otherwise just cut the hard ends off any parmesan you buy. If you go through the cheese slowly, you can simply cut the rind off each time you buy a new piece and store it in the freezer until you have enough to use.

I use a consistent pasta dough recipe each time, as add or subtract flavors as the need arises. In this case, I added about a tablespoon of lemon zest. Other times, I’ve added all sorts of fresh herbs, occasional dried spices, or a little saffron “bloomed” in a little warm water. Even with the same recipe, there is a high likelihood of varied results. The gluten content of the flour you purchase can vary, even when using all purpose flour. Things like ambient air temperature and humidity also contribute to inconsistent pasta dough. The point being that you just have to make pasta several times before you get a strong feel for what may be needed. Sometimes, it’s dry and needs a little water, other times it’s wet and needs some more flour. After having made pasta at home and in restaurants hundreds of times, I still encounter the same obstacles as people new to the practice.

Happy little ball of pasta dough

Happy little ball of pasta dough

As the dough was resting at room temperature, I set about preparing the filling in my food processor. In went the blanched nettles first, pulsed until they were finely chopped

Nettle bits

Nettle bits

I went on to add some of the ricotta, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, and some salt and pepper.

Pulse all the things

Pulse all the things

By the time the filling was done, the dough was ready to roll out. My countertops have weird overhanging edges that don’t support the clamp which came with the pasta roller. So….I got creative at the hardware store and bought some big c-clamps. Keepin’ it classy.

NOT JANKY

NOT JANKY

My hand cranked roller doesn’t go as thin as the kitchenaid attachments I’ve used at restaurants, so I had to roll all the way down to the thinnest setting. Each sheet was hand cut into approximate 4″ squares (approximate being the operative word)

Pasta "squares"

Pasta “squares”

Then each square received a *small* spoonful of filling. As strange as it seems, overfilling is a common struggle with homemade pasta. I always start by filling one and folding it into the desired shape, then portioning the rest of the filling.

Holding..back...urge...to...overfill...

Holding..back…urge…to…overfill…

Some people prefer an egg wash to seal folded pastas and ravioli, but I like just plain old water. Each square is folded in half from point to point (into a triangle). Then the bottom two points are folded together and sealed with water.

Ta-da! Little tortellinis in a neat little row

Ta-da! Little tortellinis in a neat little row

I put the tortellini in the freezer to chill/allow the sealed edges to firm up. At the same time, I strained the parmesan broth and keep it on low. I caramelized some onions with apple cider vinegar and worchestershire sauce for smokiness. I pulled a bit of preserved lemon out of a jar in my fridge and finely julienned a bit. The pasta was cooked off in salted water until tender, then plated.

And this is how it came together: cooked nettle and ricotta tortellini, parmesan brodo, freshly grated parmesan, a quenelle of caramelized onions, a few strands of preserved lemon, some toasted pine nuts, and fresh thyme leaves.

Don't say vegetarians never have anything nice.

Don’t say vegetarians never have anything nice.

I liked how it came together. The broth was very delicate and light, which left room for the slightly grassy and fibrous nettle to remain detectable. The ricotta helped offer some richness. Alexir wished for some spice and maybe some meat (such is the life of a cook at a malaysian restaurant, it’s hard for him to picture things like light french fare). I’d be open to making this again, and maybe adding a soft cooked egg or a big handful of pancetta lardons for even more richness.

I can’t wait for the next foraging season to come around. Morels, sorrel, and fiddleheads on the horizon!

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Mornings of Discontent: Who Burned the Bacon?

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 5am shifts don’t particularly agree with me. You would think after all the 6am shifts I’ve successfully completed that an hour earlier wouldn’t make much of a difference. You’d think I’d already cooked most of the same things at night for all the PM cook shifts I’ve done. You’d think that.

But you’d be wrong.

sleepy dep

 

Working 6am shifts meant that I’d need to be up by 5ish. It was a little hard for a while, and I’d still be tired in the mornings. I’d managed to not nap, or maybe take a 30 minute nap just to power up between getting home and trying to be productive in the evening hours. I’d even usually be able to stay awake to pick Alexir up from the park and ride after he got off the bus after midnight. It was nice, we’d have a chat about our days, maybe have some tea, and I’d fall asleep to the sounds of him on the computer.

The switch to getting up at 4am is like night and day. Trying to convince my body that I need to be in bed and trying to sleep by 10 or 11 at night is an endless, uphill battle going against all the PM shifts I’ve worked in the last year. It’s too early at 4am to put anything in my stomach, but I’d be completely useless if I didn’t have at least some coffee.

The AM cook shift opens the kitchen, which isn’t much additional work but does affect the your timeline. I have to run around to different parts of the store to track down a key for our locked walk in, and get other things for helping people open from various spots. I don’t need to recount every bit of my day, but rest assured I don’t stop to take a breath between 5am and 11:45am. It is a marathon of one task to the next. You’re expected to keep up with your own dishes, which I’ve always helped the AM cook with when I’m on other stations. However, the favor is somehow not really being returned. There is a constant expectation of adjusting where your cart might be depending on who is coming in and needing to accomplish what. It is solely the AM cook’s job to take out the garbage and recycling for the kitchen. Today’s unexpected gifts included the oven repairman arriving at 5:05 to interrupt my morning cooking, a mess left for me at the hot bar to clean up before I could put food out, and arriving back from lunch to find our kitchen being inspected by our executive chef. Did I mention you’re expected to watch almost everyone else take their lunch before you? Ugh.

Urge to kill rising....rising...

Urge to kill rising….rising…

I think things would be easier if I could flop down and get 6-8 hours of sleep. But as it is, I’ve been passing out after for two-hour naps, and then struggling to get tired later. Alexir is working literally the exact opposite schedule as me. I get up when he’s passed out, I get off work as he’s taking the bus downtown to his job, and he gets home right as I’m trying to get to sleep for the night. I’ve been leaving my car at the park and ride and busing or walking home to keep from having to get up. Sadly, Rocky love to bark whenever Alexir gets home, so it isn’t saving me much sleep. After only two days, I feel like I’m living in the same house as my partner and somehow not even seeing him. What the what? I called him on my lunch today just to talk to him while we were both awake and coherent.

My managers keep saying I’m “not much of a morning person”, which I find frustrating. I am a morning person, simply not a 5am morning person. I just jumped back on to a station/shift  I haven’t worked since my first week (which is now almost 3 months ago). I’d like a little bit of credit any time now, higher-ups.

That being said, I’m trying with all my strength to keep some bit of a positive attitude. I crashed and burned pretty hard today, and I know I was being completely transparent about it. As I’ve maintained throughout the short life of this blog, I am nothing if not honest. I believe that everyone should know we all struggle. So, it’s some sleepytime tea and maybe some melatonin for me tonight. I got myself in such a huff that I didn’t manage to get the car to the park and ride yet. Maybe a late night walk will do me some good. I’m hanging in there, just…grumpy. Hopefully one more week of this and then my schedule may change to something a bit more within reason. Maybe.

I can do this..

Sad girl gif

 

Radiator Whiskey: Eating Dinner Face to Face

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A few days ago, Alexir informed me that we had a reservation at Radiator Whiskey with his coworker, Sophie. I had never been before, but had always wanted to try the place out. And Alexir had worked with one of the cooks last month. When Alexir’s chef and other cooks had been on a research trip in Malaysia, they had opened up their space to a “pop-up”  german restaurant (Called Dackel, and owned by Josh from Radiator Whiskey).

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Dackel obviously is the true german work for Dachshund or weiner dog. Dackel’s main focus was some amazing german sausage.

The concept behind a pop-up being mostly self-explanatory: the restaurant “pops up” occasionally at one or more locations throughout the year, borrowing or renting kitchen space to cook their food. This accomplishes two things.

1.) It saves the pop-up restauranteur from the long process of picking a location, buying or renting, employing a full staff, etc. Pop up creators often have full time cook or chef jobs at other restaurants, and the pop up is simply an outlet for a type of food they love.

2.) It often makes use of a restaurant’s kitchen while the restaurant would typically be closed, so it is utilizing the electricity, gas, and so on that is being paid for. And is often generating at least some money for everyone involved.

So pop-ups are essentially re-purposing restaurants that would be closed. It feels like a very Seattle concept, restaurant space recycling.

Unfortunately, yesterday (the day of our reservation) Sophie let Alexir know she was stuck at home with the flu. We decided to keep the reservation, but contact some friends for extra company. Alexir called up his buddy, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Brittany. We carpooled down and popped in just a few minutes after our reservation at 7:30. I had been skeptical about the need for a reservation on a Thursday night, but the wandering crowd by the front door shut me up right quick.

Our table was a nice four top right in front of the kitchen “window”. The kitchen itself was almost completely open, and the restaurant was built/lit in such a manner that it made the kitchen the focal point. As we walked to our table, Josh eyed Alexir and said “hi”. We were greeted by a very nice, mellow, competent server. When we were handed the two menus, it took me a second to recognize which was which. Typically, a restaurant offers a normal 8.5″x11″ menu and a half sheet with a wine and spirit list. Considering the name of the restaurant had “whiskey” in it, I should not have been surprised that the small sheet was the food, and the oversized paper was a list of whiskeys, bourbons, ryes, and other mixed drinks. Brittany noticed, and voiced her shock at the massive booze list, especially since she isn’t much of a drinker. We eyed both menus while nibbling the bowl of popcorn each table received in place of a standard bread basket.

Alexir is notorious for picking cocktails at the last moment, and often letting the last-minute pressure cause him to make a terrible decision. That being said, I was gifted the opportunity to choose for him. Which really only meant I picked something I knew I’d like and ordered him the same thing. Enter the “Phil Collins” – a play on a “tom collins” (gin and lemonade) made by mixing grenadine, bourbon, lemon juice, and soda water. It was darn tasty in my opinion. Alexir was only a few sips in before a male server did a drive by and dropped a cup with familiar dark colored alcohol by the table. It ended up in front of Kevin, who was completely confused. Alexir smirked and took the glass as I made a disgusted face. The mystery drink was fernet: a digestif (after dinner drink) that has permeated the cook/chef drinking culture. Many a cook has bought a round of fernet for the group. However, the anise-flavored drink has people on extreme opposites about it. You either love it and order it anytime you go out drinking, or you have been sick off of it and have vowed to avoid it for the forseeable future. I’m a member of the latter. The cool thing is that seeing a cup of fernet appear, we already knew it was from Josh before our server leaned in and said “that’s from the kitchen”. Alexir sipped away at both his drinks as we continued perusing the menu.

Our central focus was the smoked pig head. Let me stop all of you naysayers right here who may have strong objections about the concept of eating a head or face. Anthony Bourdain wrote a whole article about American fear of this part. The American world is so deluded that people want to convince themselves their ground beef just comes from a little plastic package or between astroturf dividers in the meat department at the grocery store. I’m sorry to break it to the world of meat-eaters, but here’s a little secret: All that meat you eat, comes from an animal, that used to have a head. Every animal we eat used to be alive and breathing. So it is equally as, if not more respectful, to the animal and its sacrifice to eat as many parts as one would allow.

While Kevin’s girlfriend had strong reservations about a “head on the table?!”, the three of us decided it sounded fun. But alas! Our server informed us they were sold out. Blarg! We ordered equally as tasty sounding items and nursed our drinks some more. What’s this? Our server returns and says “the kitchen just informed me that you guys reserved the last head”, you’re fine. Ha-HA! Thank you, Sophie, for adding that to our reservation. Score. Brittany still wasn’t convinced she could eat it, so she ordered the brisket.

As the whole set-up takes about 25 minutes, we ordered a few small plates to keep us busy. A bowl of tater-tots lounging in a mustard sauce with a sunny side up egg on top. A salad of thinly sliced apples with flora’s cheese, pickled raisins, celery, and a sherry vinaigrette.

Soon, the appetizers were swept away and a large kitchen towel was placed across the center of the table. The main course was brought out by Josh himself, who kindly explained each piece. It was so impressive, I bent my “no food pics in restaurants” rule and snapped one.

Eat ALL the bits!

Eat ALL the bits!

I numbered everything so you lovely readers would have a reference. Let’s break this tastiness down:

1.) Spicy fried strips of pig ear. I’d guess they were tossed in some Frank’s Red Hot or similar spicy hot wing sauce. I’m pretty sure we convinced Brittany to try one of these. She was too busy being assaulted by spiciness to freak out about eating some ear.

2.) What immediately became the best blood sausage I’ve ever eaten. There is no way to describe it, you just have to get brave and try some.

3.) I want to say parsley aioli. Some sort of green herby aioli. Perfectly balanced with the other parts of the platter

4.) A fat stack of Mama Lil’s Pickled Peppers, fresh parsley, and chives. Fatty, rich meats should always be eaten with briny, fresh, and acidic flavors to balance.

5.) Stone ground mustard. In line with my statement about flavor balance. Pork and mustard are good friends.

6.) Roasted pork loin. Obviously not from the head, but a nice lean contrast from the other pieces on the platter. Also great for appeasing fellow diners who might not be adventurous enough for the other parts.

7.) Brined pork tongue. As I’ve said before, I fell in love with beef tongue after Alexir made it for his Chef of the Day project. Pork tongue is no different. Prepared just as well, it is dense and rich, but still tastes like a piece of meat. Roast beef is the most similar comparison. Pretty sure Brittany was brave enough to try a little bite of it.

8.) The obligatory toasts. Every soft, meaty, pickled platter needs some good toast for textural contrast. These were not only tasty, but I think drizzled in a little garlic oil. They tasted great with everything.

9.) Last, but not least, the Pièce de résistance: the head itself. Technically, it’s half a pig head. This makes it sit nice and flat on the platter. Not to mention you have more than enough to eat with it. The skin is smoky (from being smoked), but a bit elastic. This was the first piece I went for. I just dug my fork in and twisted to get a nice combination of the skin, some melty fat, and the bits of fall-apart-tender meat.

There were occasionally moments that were a bit weird. Eating enough bit for us to start seeing teeth. And when Alexir ate they eye. Yuuuuup, they left that little treat in place for us. It was smoked however, so it tasted soft and squishy like the other bits of fat according to him. A neighboring table of five or so people kept turning around to look at the head jealously. I was pretty sure they’d arrived before us and been told they were out of heads. One of the men at the table asked if there was any chance his wife could try a piece. Being cooks, food sharing is never weird for us. We welcomed her over and suggested she dig into whatever piece she’d like, we were happy to share the experience. She cut a tiny piece off the top of the head, and thanked us profusely as she was chewing.

They thanked us again as they were leaving. Apparently, they were tourists from Toronto, but came to Seattle twice a year. They’d be calling ahead next time to reserve their own head.

We were so full, I think we only made it through half to 2/3 of our platter. The menu may say “feeds 2-3 people”, but I’d say that could feed 4-5 easily. We saved a little room for dessert, and each couple shared an ice cream sandwich. Just as with the rest of the meal, it was worth every bite. Josh came by and asked how things were, and we tried express our appreciation for everything. The meal was great!

When our waitress brought us the bill, she let us know the neighboring table (the one with the woman who tried a piece) had bought our drinks for us. Talk about returning the favor a hundred time over! We thanked Josh once more, it was truly a memorable meal.

We left stuffed, happy, and accomplished for exposing some friends to new parts of the animal. Interested in joining us for something like this? Let me know, I’m sure we’ll be going back again for more.

What was my favorite part, you may ask? All of it, of course.

Pork Head - Copy

These are a few of my favorite things