Friday, December 30, 2016

Classy Local Brunch

My first full day during my Hawaiian holiday visit, mom and I met some friends of the family for brunch at the Kings View Diner in Kapa'au.  Good place, I recommend it if for some reason your travles take you through my hometown someday.

This is the Kings View's spam, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich. I have a native (by birth anyway) Hawaiian's deep affection for spam, although I don't eat it very much nowadays. And the sheer incongruity of spam on a croissant made this choice a no-brainer for me.  However, I've realized too late that this photo is a failure, because you can barely see the spam.  On future brunches there I will think more carefully and open the croissant before snapping the picture.

For the record, it was absolutely delicious.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Christmas Babka

Way more photos than usual in this entry, but (a) this was a pretty involved thing, (b) I'm inordinately proud of my Christmas babka achievement, and (c) I was joined by a very special sous chef for this Hawaiian holiday cooking adventure, my niece Bella, who is 5 and a half.

Let's rewind.  When I first saw Ottolenghi's Krantz cake recipe in Jerusalem, it was the kind of recipe where my immediate reaction was "no way will I ever cook that."  Partly that's because I don't have a stand mixer, but partly it just looked hard.  And for all that I'm an ambitious and sometimes even daring cook, I'm also fundamentally a pretty lazy one.  Hence no-knead bread.

But I'd had it in mind, and when I was thinking about what I might want to try out on my family over the holidays, and my mom said we were volunteering to bring dessert for Christmas dinner, it seemed an opportune moment to attempt the Ottolenghi babka.

I don't know why I do these things, it's the height of arrogance or dumbness to try something, especially something complicated, for the first time for other people.  But, I was on the hook, so away we went.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and dough needed making.  
Were it not for the Kitchenaid, much time 'twould be taking.

Here it is freshly mixed, and again after resting
With much sugar and flour and some lemon from zesting.

We'd be making two babkas, not three and not one,
The first filled with chocolate, the other, cinnamon.

It was Xmas day and the babka dough rolled
When into the kitchen my little niece strolled.

She surveyed the scene and my own furrowed brow,
And she said "Uncle Joe, can I help you somehow?"

So together we decorated the freshly flat dough
With nuts and the toppings strewn to and fro.

And carefully I rolled a tight babka cigar,

And a split and a twist and voila there we are.

Into pans for a rest and a rise then the fire

All the work and attention had caused us to tire.

It was messy but easy, well, less hard than I thought,

And in the end vastly better than had we store bought.

Admire the crumb, look at that great braid
And this my dear readers, is how a babka is made.

Humble apologies to Clement Clark Moore and Dr. Seuss both.  I didn't really think I was going to end up in verse the whole way through.  And thank you to my sister Joelle, who documented the event.  And to Bella, for being a great assistant. Merry Babka!

The Poké Case at the Supermarket

I previously wrote about my first New York poké experience.  Here's why I find it kind of funny.  As I said, I grew up on the stuff, more or less.  But these days there is SO MUCH poké to be had back home... supermarkets have a poké case along with a deli case.  Photographic evidence from Foodland in Waimea on Hawai'i.

It's a little tough to tell as some things in the case aren't poké (there's some picked garlic, and edamame) but there are something like 20 different kinds to choose from, and the really good stuff will run you about $18.99 a pound on manager's special (if you have your Maika'i Card with you).  The other thing to note is that poké is really popular!  This was from a late afternoon trip to the market, and popular flavors do sell out.

While I admire the amount of effort New York City is putting in to close the poké gap, I conclude that it still very much remains tilted in favor of my native land.

Monday, December 26, 2016

One of my favorite things about my annual trip to visit my family is the opportunity to cook stuff I wouldn't otherwise make, for a willing audience of eaters.  For Christmas Eve, that thing was my first ever porchetta.  Hawaiian food culture excels at slow-roasted, super tender pork, but doing it Italian style is uncommon there.  Cook's Illustrated has an excellent recipe, involving a super-herby, garlicky paste, an overnight in the fridge to make sure the flavors get fully diffused into the meat, and a long, slow roast in the oven.

Several things went awry with this, most notably that I misread the pork shoulder we bought; I thought the B/I was a B/L.  Really easy mistake to make, who would label something that way?  But anyway, although a boneless roast would've cooked faster and been easier to carve, that was a small thing in the grand scheme. (And Big Boy, the family dog, got a nice treat in the bone.) Also I got a much later start getting it into the oven than I would've liked, resulting in a late Christmas Eve dinner.  My thanks to the family for their patience.

However, the wait was amazingly worth it.  I wish I always had time to cook like this!  The meat was just, well, perfect.  One of the best pork roasts I've ever had, anywhere.  Tender but not too tender, so flavorful, and the drippings made a phenomenal gravy.  And we had just a ton of leftovers, too.

I roasted some potatoes and onions and made a simple salad to go alongside.  And there was bread.

Like I say, this wasn't a fast recipe, and it was somewhat involved.  But it wasn't hard, and you can't argue with results as tasty as this.  I'd totally make it again the next time I need to impress people with a large hunk of flesh, perfectly roasted.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Macabre Espresso

Not much food related to this story, but I made myself an espresso today in my usual fashion and really looked at my espresso cup and sugar spoon for the first time in a while and realized how... me... they are.  The cup features Damien Hirst's famous diamond skull, printed on the saucer, with a mirrored cup reflecting it.  Gift from my friends M. And L.  And the spoon is one of a pair that was also a gift, from one of my sisters.

It is pretty awesome how well they go with one another, and how well they suit me.  And it's good to be reminded, or see with fresh eyes, things that make us happy.  Caffeine and shiny skulls are two things on that list for me..

Friday, December 16, 2016

Carbon Steel Skillet, One Year Later

How time flies.  My carbon steel skillet arrived on 23 January of this year.  It was shiny and new (well, duh, of course it was).  And I thought with just about a year's use under my belt, it was time for an update.  Below are current photos.  It's built up an amazing, dark seasoning, just as you'd hope it would with repeated use and moderate care.  For the first few months I diligently oiled and heated and wiped it as part of the cleaning process each time I used it.  But at this point it really doesn't need that any more.

It is absolutely my go-to skillet, and it works like a charm.  It conducts heat beautifully, is practically nonstick (I don't really like fried eggs, but sometimes I'll cook a fried egg in it just to watch it slide out), a breeze to clean, and generally has been one of my best kitchen investments ever.

Once again my hat is off to Cook's Illustrated, without whom I would still be sauteeing in ignorance, not realizing there is a third way between the fussiness of cast iron and the delicateness of nonstick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How to Get a Head in New York City

The Cannibal.  Conjuring images of human steaks and a high risk of catching kuru, I love this beer-and-meat-centric pub, sister restaurant to the late lamented (by me anyway) Resto, and the second best food thing about working in Murray Hill (proximity to Kalustyan's is number one).  I was there a couple of months ago with some work friends and we made a plan to come back for the half pig's head. Because when you see half a pig's head on a menu, I think you're sort of duty-bound to order it.

It took a while to schedule, but today was the day for it.  And it almost didn't happen!  In the interim the Cannibal took it off the lunch menu; normally it's only available as a dinner item now.   Good to know. Fortunately, the server helping us out asked in the back and they had one head (like, two half-heads) that they could make for lunch, if we were willing to wait.  And we were willing to wait.  We ordered some sausage and Brussels sprouts and other stuff, and some beer.  And lo and behold, in due course this beauty came and joined us at the table.

The Cannibal does their half pig's head General Tso's style -- lots of peppers and green onion and a sweet-and-spicy sauce with anise and Szechuan peppercorns and whatnot.  And served with some greens and thin pancakes for wrapping in. 

Wow.  I've had whole pigs a couple of times, but never dug into a head (or half a head)--we focused mainly on the rest of the animal.  And those were suckling pigs, not a grownup.  Half a pig's head is  daunting.  And carving something's face up to eat it can't help but evoke, let's call them "Lecterian" thoughts.  Especially given the name of the establishment.
Once we got going though, wow.  My second reaction was, it was surprisingly fatty.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, jowls and all.  But lots of fat.  Almost to the point where I'd say belly has nothing on face.  It was interesting from a purely anatomical perspective exploring the head to find the meaty bits (the underside, like I guess the bottom of the jaw muscles?, was particularly good.  And cheeks of course.).  I didn't really love the ear.  I have had stellar pigs' ears before, and was looking forward to this one.  But it was a little too chewy for my taste -- I like them when they are super super crisp.  Maybe a pig versus piglet, size thing?  The skin was phenomenal, though.  Despite the glaze, it was crisp and flavorful, absolutely perfect. 

Lastly I'd say that if you ever want to follow in my dining footsteps, bring a group.  We were four and ordered several other things, and the head was plenty for us.  A smaller group would definitely have had leftovers.  And as with other major carnivorous experiences, I found that all I really want for the next 24 hours or so is, like, a salad or maybe a little sushi.  Balance must be restored!

My sincere thanks to M., E., and L., for their dining adventuresomeness.  Looking forward to eating with you again!