Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why Chinese is done as take out.

Thursday night I learned the hard way why most people order the Chinese food as take out, rather than cook in. It is because, while delicious, homemade stir fry is messy. Make no mistake, it is also delicious. In fact, it was much more delicious than any version I have ever ordered take out. But also make no mistake, you kitchen will be covered in a light mist of frying oil, and you will smell stir fry for days.

Last weekend Sam and I watched America's Test Kitchen on our local PBS station, and they were making stir fry. In 1/2 an hour they made two of the most delicious and easy looking classic take out dishes. "Piece of cake," we thought. So we bout a bunch of pork, beef, and rice, invited some friends over, and got to stir frying. Then we realized we had been duped by the television. A process that looked quick, tidy, and simple on TV was in reality, lengthy, meticulous, and messy in the home kitchen. Damn you television! You fooled us.

However, some things you see on TV are indeed true. America's Test Kitchen carefully reviewed how the traditional non-stick skillet is indeed the best piece of equipment for stir frying on a traditional American cook top. It turns out that a wok is not well equipped for the heat source of our modern ovens, but the skillet can maintain the high, consistent heat needed to stir fry. Despite the mess, I do have to give the show credit for teaching me how to create tender, non-chewy, flavorful stir fry meat.

At one point in the stir fry process, Sam and I were moving about our tiny, tiled kitchen, and both of use were slipping and sliding across the floor. That is because everything was covered in a fine mist of cooking oil and sputtering stir fry meat. It turns out that a 500 degree skillet kicks off a lot of grease. By the time I sat down to dinner, I was so OVER stir fry at home. But then, as I ate, I became reengaged. This is a darn good recipe.

So, if you are interested in stir frying at home, I implore you to learn from my mistakes. First, don't try to double this recipe. In order to accommodate the larger recipe, we had two skillets and all of our burners going at once, and it was too much. With only one pan it may be possible to wrangle the oil and smoke just a little bit better. Two, this is probably best made in a kitchen with a fan that vents externally. If you can flip on your fan and suck out the smoke and oil, I expect you will be a happy stir fryer. With these simple modifications, plus a quick gander at the America's Test Kitchen website, you too can have delicious stirfry cook in, and maybe even without the mess.

Teriyaki Stir-Fried Beef with Green Beans and Shiitakes
From Cook's Illustrated.
Published November 1, 2007.

Serves 4 as a main dish with rice.

You can substitute 1 tablespoon white wine or sake mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar for the mirin.

4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar plus an additional 1 teaspoon
12 ounces flank steak , cut into 2-inch wide strips with grain, then sliced across grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms , wiped clean, stemmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces green beans , ends trimmed and halved
1/4 cup water
3 scallions, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, white and light green pieces quartered lengthwise

1. Combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sugar in medium bowl. Add beef, toss well, and marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring once. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, broth, mirin, pepper flakes, and cornstarch in medium bowl. Combine garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon oil in small bowl.

2. Drain beef and discard liquid. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef in single layer, breaking up clumps. Cook, without stirring, for 1 minute, then stir and cook until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer beef to clean bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in skillet and repeat with remaining beef. Rinse skillet and dry with paper towels.

3. Add remaining tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and heat until just smoking. Add mushrooms and cook until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and cook, stirring frequently, until spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add water and cover pan; continue to cook until green beans are crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Uncover skillet and push vegetables to sides to clear center; add garlic-ginger mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Combine garlic-ginger mixture with vegetables. Return beef and any juices to skillet, add scallions, and stir to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 30 seconds. Serve.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Guest Blog: OH! My Aching Heart

Anne and Blake survived their bacon Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day, and OH! My Aching Heart
By Anne Eden

Why, one might ask, should a girl as lucky in love as myself have an aching heart on Valentine's Day? The answer my friends is bacon fat. Sweet, sweet bacon fat.

My lucky, loving husband Blake and I spent Valentine's preparing a feast that we hoped would echo the excesses of our love for each other with an excesses of delicious-ness. I think we succeeded nicely, and I'm proud enough of the meal to share it with the world.

Feeling sentimental at the grocery store, Blake and I decided to re-create one of the tapas items served at our wedding. We settled upon the one dish so delicious that, by the time we were able to sit and enjoy a bite to eat at our reception, we shared the very last one (saved by the caterer and hidden in the back). What treat could cause wedding guests to devour an entire reception's supply in twenty minutes? Bacon-wrapped dates!

So for Valentine's, we prepared large dates by stuffing them with salted almonds and Amish blue cheese, then wrapped them lovingly in half strips of bacon. As we never got to enjoy these treats at the wedding, we decided to go for it and prepared six for each of us. Which means, of course, that as an appetizer we each ate a full serving of almonds, half a wedge of blue cheese, six dates, and three strips of bacon. We topped that off with a lovely Argentine Malbec, reasoning that as red wine is good for your heart, finishing the bottle would help balance the heart-healthiness of our meal.

Wandering into the kitchen, we found a lovely vat of bacon fat staring us in the face, begging to be used creatively.

Blake and I rose to the challenge. On the dinner menu were twice-baked mashed potato casserole, filet minon, seared baby tomatoes, and herb salad. Taking stock of our remaining ingredients, we decided that nothing takes filet minon from great to sublime like a bit of bacon fat. We seared our steaks in the pan, and then grilled them to medium rare. Now faced with a pan full of both bacon AND beef fat, we did the only reasonable thing possible. We used that yummy fat to fry up our baby tomatoes with garlic. We nestled each dish onto the plate, tucked up against an herb salad with sherry vinigrette.

The end result was a perfectly flavor-balanced meal, with each dish highlighting and complimenting the flavors of all of the others. The tang of the tomatoes against the creamy, cheesy potatoes made each bite of steak seem that much richer. The vinegary salad dressing cleared the palette and readied the mouth for the next bite. It was the kind of meal where each bite makes you moan "Oh, this is SO GOOD".

And, at the end of our meal, as I listened to my heart struggling against the saturated fat, the lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub of my heartbeat began to sound like love-love, love-love, love-love...

Ah, for an aching heart on Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Where's my old fashioned sewing circle?

I am in desperate need of an old fashioned sewing circle. I mean, ladies of the great and wide sewing world, seriously, how did you learn to sew? Were you lucky enough to have a mother or grandmother to teach you? Are you better at reading the Vogue Sewing books than I am? Or have you given up and just headed to Anthropologie to buy your overpriced but super cute blouses off the rack? Where oh where can I find an old fashioned sewing circle? And how am I supposed to learn to sew without a full blown sewing circles of mothers and grandmothers and godmothers and great aunts all sitting around giving sage advice on things like mitered bias facings.

The cool fold over collar on the above 1950s Collar Confection Blouse needs to be attached and finished with a bias strip binding. And in order to wrap around the 105 degree corner you see, I have to make a mitered corner. These mitered corners have me flummoxed. It is supposed to be simple. In fact, so simple that my pattern instructions merely have a little step "miter the corner" for the instructions, as thought I will just instinctively know how to miter a corner.

But the thing is, I don't know how to "miter the corner" and I can't seem to find a solid resource to teach me.

I though Youtube might stand in my my old fashioned quilting circle, but no. Two annoying placemat videos later and I still have a lame looking non-mitered corner. I just want to sew this blouse. Seriously. What's a girl gotta do to learn to sew?

The collar, with the bias tape folded over. It almost looks decent from the front. but then... see the back. That is not a mitered corner. I know that much. Fumble as I might, I am not making those neat and tidy little corners like I am supposed to. Yikes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

1950's Collar Confection Blouse: Pattern Alterations

That pattern featured above is my newly altered Decades of Style 1950's Collar Confection Blouse, tissue fit and modified to (hopefully) perfection. I spent a long morning with Marilyn, San Antonio's premier Palmer/Pletsch fit instructor (the same woman who worked with me a few months ago on my custom fitting lessons), and together we have updated this pattern for my own little (or rather, large) figure nuances.

You can see the original pattern laying on top of the larger, modified pattern. The biggest alteration was, of course, a full bust alteration and the addition of a dart. The FBA was a whopping five inches, so we did a Y-full bust, which added a dart. The additional of the dart indeed changes the design ever so slightly, but it is a necessity.

New to me during this fitting what the realization that I may require an alternation for a "hollow chest." Apparently, hollow chest is a posture problem characterized by a depression in the upper chest area above the bust line, as a result of shoulders pulling forward. My hollow is not really much of a depression, but rather it is just a tiny concave area where the line of my profile dips in toward my body before jutting back outward where the breast starts (As opposed to a straight grade from bust curve into shoulder area). The hollow chest causes fabric to lay off of my body in this area, and wrinkle. Only by pulling my shoulder blades tightly together can I stretch my chest to a point when the "hollows" stretch to an even plain of chest. The quirk causes clothing to fall in horizontal folds across the chest and the grain line to drop at center front. You can see an illustration of a hollow chest here.

Marylin has never dealt with a hollow chest before, so she suggested taking an angled dart in at the shoulder to gather the extra material. You can see the draft of the alteration below. It worked in tissue to pinch out this extra fabric, because a tissue fit is already lumpy and wrinkled. However, having started to mock this blouse up in muslin, I am not convinced this is the appropriate alteration. Adding a dart leaves a weird, pointy protrusion above my bust that is unflattering.

I am beginning to recognize the hollow chest will be a constant figure issue for me. Remember the trouble with Everybody's Favorite Claire McCardell? Have any of you dealt with a hollow chest? Can you offer any pointers?

p.s. That yellow fabric is my muslin fabric. It is an old sheet. I perceived it to be soft and drapey when I first choose it, but now I wonder if a sheet is actually a bit stiff for a blouse. How do you think the fabric choice will affect the fit of this blouse?

I also leave these images of the darted muslin for your review and comment. Adding the dart shifted the side seam line in a way I did not expect (and have not seen with commercial patterns). I simple trued the seam from the armpit down to the side seam, as you can see, but it shifted the side in an extra inch or so in some areas. I wonder if this will affect fit?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

more of the D.U.K. #7

D.U.K. #7
February 4th, 2010

Chef Jason Dady Presents:

We drank 10 bottles of wine.

Lucy and Kipp arrive as a very cute couple.

The table, before any eating. I used yellow butcher paper as a table cloth. We threw down crayons to encourage creativity.

Butter poached toasts, awaiting heirloom tomatoes or goat cheese and figs.

We had a mandatory toast (or two) with every course. Here, Anne toasted to pescatarians. We humored her.

Brussels sprouts and a veal stock reduction sauce with pears and tarragon and other delicious flavors.

Me, laughing after dinner.

Chef Dady describes how he butchered and prepared our NY strip into semi-rectangular (aka parallelogram) cuts of sous vide wonder.

Sam eats brioche french toast dessert.

The fearless assistant Josh was injured by a wine stem in the line of duty, and his bravery is commemorated with a table portrait.

Learning our lesson from D.U.K. #2, we only drank one bottle of port with dinner. It was a good choice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The D.U.K. #7

Sometimes, in moments of grumpiness, I have been known to stomp my foot and declare my life awful. But seriously, after an event like last night, I should never be so silly again. My life is full of wonderful things - a warm and cozy home, a fun husband, good friends, great food, and last night the one-of-a-kind opportunity to spend time with a talent chef and his assistant. And all in the intimacy of my own kitchen. Last night Sam and I hosted D.U.K. #7. D.U.K. stands for Dady's Underground Kitchen, a private dining experience hosted by local chef and restaurateur Jason Dady, and his fearless assistant Josh. It's considered underground, because he sends out the dates at random on his Twitter feed, and the first to respond get the date. We provide the kitchen. We bring the wine. He cooks a five course meal, and we eat it. Yum.

We were part of D.U.K. #2, hosted at friends John and Lauren's home, last fall. #2 was a special dinner, because it was our first, but #7 was extra special for me, because Sam and I hosted the event in our apartment. Our home is a far cry from a professional kitchen, and we warned Chef Dady about the tiny space and wealth of weird kitchen quirks, but being ever kind and adaptable, he said it would not be a problem. And I guess we undersold our place, because he confirmed that we had more than enough room. The disposal may not work, the oven runs hot, and we do not have a microwave or any ice, but that did not stop any of the food from being amazing.

Hors de oeuvres
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Magic Pop and Nutella
Rabbit Terrine with Dijon and Butter Toast
"What's in Your Fridge"

Appetizers are one of the great pleasures of eating. They are small, diverse, and arrive exactly at the moment when you are most famished and ready to eat. So the hors de oeuvres course remains one of my favorites at all meals. Pleasantly, we ate four different hors de oeuvres last night, including one conceived and constructed on the spot from food from our own kitchen pantry and fridge.

In case you were wondering, what was in our fridge to choose from was a lot of delicious stuff. We had some Nueske's bacon (the best!), lemon creme fraiche, goat cheese, fresh cauliflower from the CSA, and a variety of Bon Maman jams and spreads (we are officially addicted). But interestingly enough, Chef Dady opted not to go the easy route, and rather made something completely unexpected. He used some dried pineapple, old mint, and keffir lime leaves, and made a tasty Thai pineapple salad which was served on cucumbers. I wish I had been paying more attention to what else went into the dish, but honestly the bubbles of the prosecco and the thrill of using John and Laurens Nikon digital SLR had gone to my head and I was a little distracted at the moment of hors de oeuvres.

The rabbit terrine was a hit. Tiny, furry little animals are so delicious. And there is no denying that there is almost nothing in this world as delicious as warm goat cheese with fig preserve. Chef Dady "poached" the bread in an obscene amount of butter before adding the cheese and figs, which seriously doubled the already exceptional level of taste bud pleasure one might expect to experience eating goat cheese grilled cheese. And as for the Magic Pop and nutella, well, as we learned at D.U.K. #2, there is really nothing that isn't better with nutella.

1st Course
Heirloom Tomato 3 Ways:
Yellow Tomato-Buttermilk Bisque
Classic Orange Tomato Bruschetta
Fresh Tomato with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Most in the food world agrees that a perfect heirloom tomato is one of the more perfect foods to come straight from nature. I am not always a tomato person, but I have to agree with this assessment of tomatoes if they are utilized the way Chef Dady used them for our first course. Chef Dady prepared the tomato three ways, ranging from au natural to pureed into a creamy buttermilk soup, with a bruschette in between. He served the soup chilled, tangy with buttermilk and drizzled with pureed tomato. The sliced tomato on its own was beautiful, like a warm sunset with streaks of pink and red running through the hearty yellow flesh.

2nd Course
Crab Lasagna with Side Salad

Early in the evening, when Chef Dady arrived and was prepping in our kitchen, he pull from the depths of his giant chef's cooler a very heavy looking casserole dish wrapped in foil. Setting it in the over, he declared it the part of the meal he was most excited about serving, and told me how he spent all morning preparing a crab lasagna. He made fresh pasta sheets which were layered raw with a white sauce, fresh ricotta, and loads of crab meat. It all baked together into an insanely rich, cozy dish. He served us portions big enough for a dinner on its own. While we were all warned not to finish the entire piece in order to save room for the courses to come, we all ate it up anyway.

3rd Course
Butter Poached "Sous Vide" of NY Strip with Brussels Sprouts, Sunchokes, Celeriac and Pear "Demi"

Underneath the grilled cheese, in that big bucket is a package of delicious beef, cooking to perfection. If you watch Top Chef, you are familiar with the sous vide style of cooking. Basically, it involves cooking food sealed in a vacuum pouch in a bath of warm water. The benefit is that the food is brought to a perfect, uniform temperature throughout, meaning nothing gets overdone or underdone. The cooking method also eliminates liquid loss, and allows food to be almost poach in any liquid and marinade sealed into the vacuum. Sam is absolutely obsessed with a new home-kitchen immersion circulater model currently on the market, so we were thrilled when Chef Dady brought his own.

He prepared his favorite cut of steak, the NY strip, and he did it in the most interesting way. I assume he purchased the cut unbutchered and carved it himself, because he cooked and served the NY strip cut in these amazing semi-rectangular shapes. For cooking the beef was sealed in a pouch filled, and I mean filled, with giant pats of butter and other aromatics that infused the meat as it cooked. When the sous vide was finished, he seared the meat on every side. ON EVERY SIDE people. So not only was it perfectly medium rare and flavorful, but we each had four sides of charred, caramelized crust. And it sat on a bed of roasted, caramelized Brussels sprouts, sunchokes and celeriac (whatever that is) drizzled in a reduced veal stock sauce.

For our pescatarian friend Anne, Chef Dady poached scallops in yuzu, although he joked that he cooked pescatarian begrudgingly. Sam, who loves scallops as much as he loves tender baby animals, beef, and meat of all kinds, convinced Anne to share and scored a taste of the scallops, to much approval.

4th Course
Brioche French Toast with "almond" Blackberries and Meyer Lemon Chantilly

Alongside appetizers, desert is a high point in a meal for me. I have a sweet tooth that dominates my entire palate. And who does not love breakfast. So imagine my delight when dessert was based on breakfast's classic french toast, and served in excess! I do not know if there was a miscount, or if perhaps somehow Chef Dady knows how much I adore the dessert course, but at the end of the night, there were 11 desserts plated for only 10 diners, and I got to eat two! Of course, by that time I was so full I really almost couldn't handle one, let alone two, but full or not the moment represented the fulfillment of my great glutenous desire for extra dessert, which was a dream come true in itself.

D.U.K. #7 ranks as a five star meal in my book. Good food, great friends, and a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Of course, it doesn't hurt that there are still two pieces of crab lasagna and a hunk of sous vide NY strip in my fridge for leftovers this weekend, leaving me with a great memory and a treat to anticipate.