Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lemongrass-Sugarcane Roasted Pork w/ Purple Sweet Potatoes

A few weeks back D and I found ourselves in Flushing, Queens. Flushing is the China-Korea-Thai Town of Queens. Larger and more crowded than New York City's, it seems to extend into Elmhurst and almost reach Jackson Heights where the Indian and Pakistani shops begin to mix with Columbian and Irish. We were in Flushing for Shabu Shabu, or hotpot.

In Japan they call it Shabu Shabu because of the sound the cooking food makes when it hits the water. In Korea it's called Shin Sul Ro, and is often a spicier creation, based in kimchi. In China it simply translates as "hotpot." All forms date back thousands of years from Emperors' banquets to Ghengis Khan's soldiers sharing a meager meal.

It's essentially one and the same: a steaming bowl of water or mildly flavored broth (today kept warm with a hot plate, not fire) brought to diners with added accoutrements: crab, tripe, chicken, fish balls, duck, vegetables, for example-- or a taste of all of the above. Various seasonings/ sauces from salty to sweet to spicey are added to your delight.

Originally, the hotpot was a shared dish and in China you can still find hotpot establishments "in the old way" with one pot for all diners (I have only seen it in China). Today it is more common that everyone is provided their own pot, as it was the day we were in Flushing.

Hotpot is the perfect cold weather meal. It warms the soul, fogs the glasses and leaves you full and as satisfied as Buddha.

The last time I took D for hotpot he was mildly terrified. We had just started dating and I took him into the depths of New York City’s Chinatown, under the Manhattan Bridge. His glasses fogged immediately as we entered the steamy dining room and being unable to see, and unable to understand the language around him, he meekly walked to the table pointing unconvincingly as he ordered pork from the waitress. I happily showed him the sauce counter, explained how to mix items, how long to cook them for and suggestions for mixing sauces.

Needless to say, when I suggested it again, he wasn’t too thrilled. I convinced him by offering to buy him some frozen handmade dumplings at the grocery and we were good to go with an explorative gourmand friend, R, in tow.

This time it was D explaining to R what he was in for: Jumping in by ordering extra fish balls, hitting the sauce station first and explaining how to best put creations together. We left, D received his 10 lb bag of dumpling reward, and I became mesmerized by items in the grocery aisles (which is none too difficult for me).

D and I scoured the soy sauces until we found a boutique variety without caramel coloring. We watched eels swim in their containers and crabs being tossed back and forth. In the fruits and vegetables I fought over plump kumquats and Korean pears on sale 4 for $1 (everyone else was doing it so why not join the fray?). I ogled the massive selection of seaweeds, keeping them in mind for a future visit and grabbed up some lemongrass.

I told D to keep a lookout for purple sweet potatoes. We had them at a restaurant once (where they called them Okinawa sweet potatoes. I was so fascinated by their rich color I could not believe there was no dye in them. He found them hiding behind a beige skin and we grabbed two large specimens. As we headed out my eyes landed on sugarcane sticks. My mind wandered to mojitos served with cane “straws” and I grabbed a package. Finally, D cut me off.

The next day we picked up a pork shoulder and remembering all my new treats in the fridge, I suggested we make a tropical glaze for the pig. I used the lemongrass, sugarcane, a lime and a bottle of cheap Brazilian beer to extract the flavors. I think allowing the meat to marinate in the resulting liquid would have been more successful, still, the pork turned out sugary sweet around the edges and perfectly juicy inside. While roasting, we wrapped a purple sweet potato in tin foil and threw it on the pan for baking.

The purple sweet potato is truly unique. It is sweeter than traditional sweet potatoes we are used to here in the U.S. with more of a honey overtone. It makes a beautiful presentation and would be perfect for a special Valentine’s Day meal. A few days later we sliced the second potato thin and fried it in some reserve bacon fat. The result was deliciously light and reminiscent of the Terra vegetable chips one can find in the markets.

Cook time= about 3 hours
* 1 pork shoulder, about 5 lbs
* 3 sticks lemongrass
* 2 sticks sugarcane, about 5 inches long, 1 inch thick
* ½ a lime
* 1 inch cube fresh ginger
* 2 Tablespoons honey
* 1 bottle lager beer

1) Using a sturdy blender, like a Cuisinart, puree lemongrass, sugarcane, lime (rind, juice and pulp), ginger. The result will be a mealy, fibrous consistency.
2) Warm a skillet on medium heat. Add puree and cook about 4 minutes, stirring often, until aroma begins to fill the room. Add beer and bring to a simmer. Cover and turn heat off, allow to sit 10 minutes. Warm again until just a simmer then remove from heat.
3) Line a large bowl with cheesecloth and place lemongrass-sugarcane puree into cheesecloth. Strain liquid, pressing the cheesecloth tight.
4) Warm an oven to 350F.
5) Wash and pat dry pork. Slash 2 inch diamonds along fat. Cover with ample salt and pepper.
6) Pour about half the lemongrass-sugarcane liquid over the pork, making sure some remains on top and inside the fat slices. If you have a syringe, inject some of the liquid into the pork. Reserve ¼-½ the liquid for later basting.
7) Bake on middle rack, basting 1-2 times, until pork’s internal temperature is 165F.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to me!!!
D and I are low-keying it today with a brunch out and lobster dinner at home. Okay, maybe that's not totally low-key.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Truffles of Love

As January comes to an end our thoughts are set for Valentine's Day. While I am not totally rah rah for the Hallmark Holidays, I must admit I am a fan of the odd bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates (what gal isn’t?). D and I won't be doing anything "special" this Valentine's Day (at least not that I know of), but I am sure others will. For that, I present two delectable truffles, the chocolate kind, not the mushroom (though some think the mushroom intoxicates the senses). To really woo a person, a homemade treat is an amazing declaration of love.

Aphrodisiacs have been around since the ancient Greeks and Romans (and possibly before). The name is attributed to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. For centuries, people have been known to hit the streets hawking potions that will make them fertile, randy, attractive or powerful over the opposite sex. Today we have the internet and hundreds of spammed Viagra adds to pick up the slack.

Chocolate is probably one of the oldest known aphrodisiacs. Much of this is due to the fact that it was once so hard to come by, the price was set for the well-to-do only. Times change, cacao is easier to come by, and thankfully most people can enjoy chocolate's deep, rich flavor-- though you can still find outrageously priced confections to prove your love.

An even older aphrodisiac is seafood. Possibly due to the fact that some believe Aphrodite was birthed from the seas, most anything that has come from salted waters has been thought to have powerful sexual powers at some point; from anchovies to clams to oysters.

Ginger is known to open the taste buds and therefore offers higher sense pleasures.

Chili pepper and garlic, both bring color to the face that match the color of “bed” time.

Honey is thought to be an aphrodisiac, apparently the birds and the bees really knew what was going on.

Also, anything that resembles either male or female sexual organs can hold aphrodisiac powers. You name it: figs, carrots, strawberries, cigars, starfruit, Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, etc.

Finally, wines and champagnes are known to loosen people up and allow them to lose inhibitions. Careful though, liquor is a depressant and too much can do just the opposite of what you may be looking for in a Valentine love-filled night.

Whatever your plans are for Valentine’s Day, gift the one you love or yearn for something sweet. These two truffle recipes are surprisingly simple. The first was taken from The Cook’s Book edited by Jill Norman. The book is a fantastic collection of tips and recipes from some of the top chefs around the world. The recipe is from pâtissiers Pierre Hermé (as it appears in The Cook’s Book). They are a unique combination of flavors and absolutely melt in the mouth. The other recipe is adapted from They produce beautiful looking truffles whether you have a pastry bag or not. Both recipes are easy enough for beginners, though Hermé’s requires some drying time.

Makes About 50.
* 1 lb best quality bitter chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids)
* 7 tablespoons butter
* ¾ cup crème frâiche
* 2-3 limes
* 2-½ tablespoons acacia honey

for the coating
* finely grated zest of ½ lime
* ½ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
* 1-1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

1) Prepare the coating the day before needed. Mix the lime zest with the sugar and rub between palms of your hands. Spread in a thin layer on a nonstick baking sheet and let dry overnight at room temperature. Before mixing with the cocoa powder in step 8, check to be sure the sugar is completely dry.
2) The following day, chop the chocolate into small pieces with a serrated-edged knife and place in a large heatproof bowl. Cut the butter into walnut-sized pieces, place in a bowl, and let soften to room temperature.
3) Pour the crème frâiche into a pan and bring to a boil. Finely grate the zest from 1 lime into the crème frâiche. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let infuse for 10 minutes. Return to the heat and bring back just to a boil. Remove fromo the heat again.
4) While the crème frâiche is infusing, squeeze the limes to yield 3-½ tablespoons of juice. Put the lime juice and honey into another small pan. Warm without boiling.
5) Pour half of the hot crème frâiche over the chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon, starting at the center with small circles and moving outward. Add the rest of the crème frâiche and repeat the stirring process. Add the lime juice and honey mixture.
6) Once the chocolate mixture is smooth, add the pieces of butter, a few at a time, stirring them in gently. Chill until the ganache has thickened, at least 30 minutes.
7) Stir the ganache gently before pushing it into a pastry bag fitted with a No. 9 round tip. Pipe balls of ganache onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 2 hours.
8) Mix the cocoa powder with the dry lime-flavored sugar and spread over a tray. Using a fork, roll the balls of ganache in the coating mixture. Remove with a slotted spoon, then shake gently in a strainer to remove any excess coating. Store in an airtight container.

Makes About 60.
* 2 tablespoons heavy cream or crème frâiche
* zest of ½ a lime
* ½ cup (about ½ pint) fresh raspberries, washed and patted dry
* 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa), chopped into ¼ inch pieces
* 1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
* ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (100% is best)

1) Place cream and lime zest in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir often, and bring to a simmer (do not boil). This will take just a few minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces. Stir until smooth and dissolved. Stir in brandy.
2) Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Place ½ the raspberries into the ganache. Using two small forks, coat each raspberry individually in the ganache, remove and place on the wax paper. Do not let them touch. Continue until all raspberries are covered in the same fashion. Chill truffles for 1-2 hours.
3) Set the cocoa powder in a shallow bowl. Remove truffles from wax paper and drop into the bowl, coating with the cocoa powder. Remove and shake off excess cocoa.
4) Truffles should be kept refrigerated until ready to eat. Because you are using fresh raspberries, truffles should be eaten within 1 week, any truffles that will not be eaten immediately should be frozen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Quick Chicago Trip

*Just Braise has moved. Please visit me at!*

D and I had a short stay in Chicago this past week. Herewith, a quick and dirty foodie roundup.

The purpose of the trip was to spend a day in the kitchen of Charlie Trotter.

You read correct. My mother, being so generous, happened to attend a silent auction. There she spied, as she likes to call it, the perfect "target gift" for my upcoming birthday (next Wednesday, ehem). A bidding war broke out and she lost. Still, I spent a fabulously hectic day at CT's. Other delicious adventures ensued, making this one packed week:

It began with dinner at Rick Bayless's, Frontera Grill. Those of us without cable may know Rick from his PBS cooking show. Inventive margaritas, savory sauces and I must admit, disappointing guacamole. Rick emerged from the kitchen, tan after two weeks with his staff researching cuisine in Mexico (a nice employee perk). I bought his first cookbook and got it signed. Some delicious Mexican cuisine in the future is guaranteed.

The next tres gourmet stop was to Hot Doug's for his famous Duck Fat Fries (only served Fridays and Saturdays). We met Sir Doug, on his way with fiancée (or was it wife or girlfriend?) to see Tom Jones in Vegas (or as he called it, to do inventory for the restaurant-- "all those mustard packets must be counted you know"). The special hot dogs of the week were delicious, intriguing combinations, a Tuscan wild boar with smoked mozzarella and a garlic beef dog with a garlic sauce. Still, the favorite was the original char dog (with that neon green relish, half a tomato, pickle, mustard and onion).

D and I assume that if you live in Chicago you feel the need to break from perfection. The Duck Fat Fries were deliciously fatty good. Not that they tasted "ducky" or "gamey," more so they were pure. I also reason that because they are made with a natural fat and not partially hydrogenated bits, they are better for me than other partially hydrogenated fries and I should eat them more often.

Charlie was next. (Abriged)

I arrived prompt at 2pm to find most of the staff already present and accounted for. I received an apron, jacket and hat and was ready to go.

CT's offers juice pairings with their meals. I made a carrot-kohlrabi juice under the guidance of Mary (or Molly?). A small but peppery CIA graduate with burn and cut marks up her arms. Next, I shucked oysters with another sous chef (name forgotten). Then I cleaned them. Mid-cleaning I began to hint that the innards we were tossing away were really much more delicious than the speck of meat I was retrieving.

We broke for a communal lunch of hamburgers. Mind you, these hamburgers were "whatever meat was leftover" from previous meals. Meaning they were more like veal-Kobe beef-pork feet-3-inch thick-6-inch diameter-burgers with organic tomatoes, fresh cheese, hot sauce on top and perfectly seasoned fingerling potatoes on the side. Mine tasted slightly of oysters.

Back to cleaning oysters. Staff meeting at 3:30 where I found which table had a proposal, which was allergic to shellfish, and which former employee would dine with us that evening. Oysters.

Sliced a root vegetable (name tk) that looks like a muddy stick but once peeled resembles a parsnip.

Made a green apple and fresh wasabi sauce to top the Hamachi. Was told how expensive fresh wasabi was. Tasted it. Spied a bucket of black truffles and a baseball sized white truffle. Threatened to steal all.

They served me champagne and wine.

Seating began. I helped plating the appetizers with Big Mike (only name remembered because it had Big in front. There also seemed to be at least five "Chefs"). I was good. No action photos because I had celeriac juice up to my elbows as I was busy making veal heart ravioli, tasting my marinating oysters, devouring spoonfuls of buttered truffles and snatching bits of Kobe hot off the grill.

As the dinner progressed to main courses I platted and dressed sherbets and caramels.

I left the kitchen around 9:30 to sit and dine with the family. Work has never gone so quickly. Still I didn't realize how tired I was until I sat down.

Every diner receives a tour of the kitchen where D was kind enough to snap some photos for the viewer as the staff was scrubbing the beautiful (imported) stove clean.

The disappointment of the night: Charlie was apparently present but I never met him because I was too involved with my tasks. We share a high school alma mater. We should have met.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Queens Chronicle Eats

If you live in Queens head to your local supermarket (or street corner news box) and pick up a free copy of the Queens Chronicle. I have a review in the Dining Out section.

If you can't get your hands on a paper, follow this link:

Queens Chronicle Dining Out.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke) Salad

Last year, I read so much about the little Sunchoke that I grew overwhelmed with joy when they finally appeared at the market. I bought a bunch and made some hearty soup that whisked away cold days. The sunchoke is hearty, sweet and not only tastes great raw, but is a great substitute for the potato.

Over the holidays I was around San Francisco visiting family. My uncle is taking a Master Gardening class and over the years built a substantial garden on his property. It is one that I am extremely jealous of and if he happened to have an avocado tree I would seriously consider moving in. Still, it does include blueberry and raspberry bushes, plum trees and strawberries all for my grandmother to make jams from (nothing but fruit and sugar, not even water she'll proudly tell you multiple times), tons of nasturtium flowers (that my uncle says proliferate like weeds), herbs of all kinds, artichokes, sunflowers, grape vines, tomatoes, a massive worm farm for compost, roses, a myer lemon tree and sunchokes.

He showed me around his garden saying most of what he has is just for play: he plants things and watches how they grow, rarely harvesting anything. One morning, I nabbed one of the last non-flowered artichokes for myself and boiled it up. I don't think there is anything more tasty and satisfying than eating something straight from a garden. He showed me the sunchoke bin, telling me they grew so robustly that the bin almost burst. He dug some up to show me there was literally wall-to-wall sunchokes growing underneath the dirt.

The next day while sauerkraut and ham was being served, I ran out to the garden and grabbed a handful of sunchokes and clipped some lavender leaves. I sliced the sunchokes thin and sauteed them until crisp with lots of butter, garlic and the lavender. My grandmother and mother were both pleasantly surprised at this previous unknown vegetable and refused to share them with anyone. I was pleasantly surprised at the mild taste of the lavender with the sunchokes.

My uncle gave me a bag of sunchokes to take home and plant in my own (pathetic in comparison) bucket garden. They are perfect because from the outset they appear to be weeds-- perfect in a city where old ladies steel my tomatoes and chicken wire. They are safely hibernating and will hopefully produce well come harvest next fall.

In the meantime, it's difficult to let a bag of fresh organic sunchokes go untouched. I made this salad for dinner the other day and D surprisingly applauded it (when I initially told him the ingredients he said the salad sounded like "weird girly veggie mush"). I'm not totally sure I know what that classifies as (I think zucchini is on the "veggie mush" list though), but once he ate this he assured me he would eat it again-- especially the sunchokes!

This is a visually stunning winter salad. It is hearty and really shows off that winter food can be just as beautiful as summer food. It also has fabulous texture layers and an interesting array of flavors. If you are dexterous you can cut down on cook time by sauteing the mushroom at the same time as frying the sunchok (since the sunchokes only take about 2 minutes in the oil).

Sunchoke Salad
Serves 2. Active time= about 30 minutes.
* 1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch spears
*1 head endive, sliced thin
* 1 yellow pepper, left whole
* 1 portabello mushroom, sliced into 1/2 inch shoots
* 1 cup vegetable oil (more or less depending on pan)
* 1 sunchoke, well scrubbed and sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
* 1 tablespoon goat cheese
* 4-6 grape tomatoes

1) On the serving plate/ bowl, arrange green beans and endive.
2) Prep: Set a paper bag in a bowl aside. Set paper towels on a plate aside.
3) Roast the yellow pepper: Using long metal tongs, set pepper over burner set on medium-high flame. Rotate the pepper until all sides are blackened, about 6 minutes total (this only works with gas stoves as an open flame is needed. Another option is to dry roast the pepper on a non-stick pan until blackened). Place the pepper into the paper bag and seal. Set aside. This completes the pepper's cooking.
4) In a small pan on medium heat, saute the portabello mushroom. While the mushroom is cooking, put the vegetable oil in a medium sauce pan on high heat. While oil is warming, finish the mushrooms, cooking until reduced and darkened, about 8 minutes. Arrange the mushrooms on the serving plate.
5) When the oil is hot, fry the sunchokes quickly, removing when they turn brown around the edges. About 2-3 minutes total should turn them crisp. Remove from oil, place on the napkin covered plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.
6) Remove the yellow (now blackened) pepper from the paper bag. The skin will begin to flake off. For fast removal, place whole pepper under lukewarm water, gently rubbing ashes from the pepper. Dry off and slice into 1/2 inch spears, add to serving plate.
7) Sprinkle grape tomatoes over salad arrangement. Add goat cheese in a single lump. Spear sunchokes into the goat cheese to allow the sunchoke chips to stand verticle. Top salad with olive oil, a light sprinkle of salt and a spritz of lemon (optional). Any more dressing would ruin the flavors in this salad.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Time Out News Flash!

If you live in the Chicagoland area, head over to you local newsstand or bookstore for this week's (Jan 4-10) Time Out Chicago. Check out the "Singles Scoop" section for a little sizzling event I penned.

If you're not in the Chicagoland area, or are simply too lazy to pick up the magazine, go to the link below.

Time Out Chicago Sizzling Singles Piece

Happy reading! Truffles to come...

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