If I didn’t already love Andy Ricker and his stand-out Pok Pok restaurant in Portland, he cemented his placed as a hero in my brain for the following excerpt from his Pok Pok book:
“I’ve used volume for liquid ingredients, but also for those that are grated, minced, in powder form, or otherwise fine enough for volume to be an accurate measure. I’ve included weight for most solid ingredients. A good digital scale costs twenty dollars. Splurge. Calling for “2 small shallots” or a “medium daikon radish” just won’t do (one person’s small is another’s large). Nor will “1/4 cup thinly sliced lemongrass,” whose impact in a dish will depend on the thinness of those sliced and the cook’s tendency to pack those slices into the cup measure. It may sound fussy to call for “3 grams of garlic,” but it’s simply more precise……”
Reading recipes that call for “1 large” anything drives me insane. You’re going to get different results depending on your perspective, or where you live in the country. I have taken other bloggers to task recently for not recognizing that what is gospel or works for them isn’t necessarily the same for someone else. I will try not to do that with recipes I share and try to be as precise as I can, and help out answering questions when asked with a hopefully non-biased and non-condescending answer. Take me to task when something is obviously wrong or not as I described it.
I haven’t even gotten to the recipes in the book yet and I’m already in love with this book having merely read to page nine.
There is something empowering about creating your own recipe from scratch based on an idea from a previous experience you loved. That was today’s task for me.
On New Years Eve (2013), some friends, my wife, and I decided to head out to a small Moroccan restaurant in Wilsonville, OR called Dar Esslam to enjoy a leisurely meal without the kids in tow. While there, we were treated to both outstanding service and a delicious meal. This is a rare thing to find in today’s restaurant industry where you’re more likely to get one or the other, and sometimes very little of either. I had Lamb Shank tajine served with the “Spicy Raision” sauce and some wonderfully tender pita bread. It was sweet and spicy, and the lamb shank was wonderfully juicy and falling apart. After finishing the meal, I put a note in the back of my head telling myself to reproduce this dish.
So, while being stuck in the house this weekend with six inches of freshly fallen snow recently glazed by another quarter inch of freezing rain, it was time to pull this rabbit out of the hat. What we ended up with was “Dragon Chow” Braised Lamb Shanks with Spicy Onion & Raisin Sauce. The title was inspired by this view out my front window.
To start, I pulled together the ingredients out of the pantry and freezer. The lamb shanks were a recent discovery from a local Halal Market not very far from my house. They have a great selection of lamb, goat, and chicken at reasonable prices. I appreciate the responsible food practices associated with the Halal belief system in the Middle East. The animals are treated with respect when raised and killed, and then butchered thoughtfully I think these shanks were about $6/lb and the total meat bill came to about $12 for three of them, enough to feed all four of us easily.
The golden raisins had been languishing in the pantry for some time already and were just screaming to be used for something interesting. There’s always a pile of white and yellow onions in the pantry, but this dish seemed to call for white onions to cut through some of the anticipated sweetness of the final dish. I’ve taken to stockpiling our own stash of dried chilies also. We’ve got bags of dried Guajillo, New Mexico, Anaheim, and Ancho chilies just asking to be abused and consumed. After a quick sniff of each bag, I decided that the raisiny sweet Guajillo would best bring out the flavor profile I was hoping to make.
Olive Oil Baking by Lisa Sheldon is one of our go-to cookbooks for easy baked goods that aren’t full of hydrogenated fats and other unnecessarily over-processed ingredients. The Almond Poppy-seed Muffins, which I have taken the liberty of morphing into Lemon Poppy-seed Muffins, is the basis of many muffin recipes in the house. The Chocolate Chippers cookie recipe is also a winner as you can see from the photo below. This recipe creates chewy chocolate chip cookies that aren’t too cakey or too heavy. The quick bread recipes in it are very nice as well, although we are still hunting or playing with variations of the recipes in the book to create a banana bread we love.
Also, I often use this book as a base starting point to deviate from when I’m looking to re-craft an existing recipe that contains butter into one that’s oil based. This book is just a great jumping off point to get yourself started on the path to removing or reducing dairy butter from your baking experiences.
I made it a point this weekend to try to not remember that the Super Bowl was a thing. I was almost successful, but caved and bought a bag of chips and some salsa to give an imperceptible nod to the entity that is SB. Ignoring the massively overblown spectacle becomes easier when attempting new recipes and finding other things to do with your time, even if it was cleaning the garage.
The clams with black bean sauce I made for dinner on Sunday were nice. I served it with a nice loaf of locally produced French baguette from one of my favorite stores in the Portland metropolis – Pastaworks on Hawthorne. This is my favorite of the two in the area, but they all deserve a visit. The Hawthorne location gets a bump because there’s a great cookbook store next door.
The clams recipe needs some work though. It didn’t carry the weight or blend of sweetness and funkiness that I’ve gotten at other places. Maybe my expectations were tarnished by the wonderful ones I’ve had at a local Dim Sum restaurant with a thicker sauce studded with nicely sauteed chunks of onion and bell pepper. Sorry Huber Keller & Ming Tsai, but this recipe didn’t speak to my soul the way it should have. It was missing something, and I even altered it a bit trying to fill this gap that I had perceived even before starting.
I added some oyster sauce (4 tablespoons) and some ground pork. Even so, the sauce needed more body. Maybe it would have been better with more oyster sauce and some more corn starch for additional thickening. Also, the acidity from the vinegar didn’t work well for me. Maybe the recipe was written wrong and should have called for Rice Wine instead. The detailed instructions referenced Rice Wine rather Ricw Wine Vinegar, so this was a bit confusing. Having the recipe instructions not reflect the ingredients list is one of my pet peeves. The chives called for in the recipe are listed in the directions rather than in the ingredients list AND the instructions. Other recipe examples I uncovered used the vinegar, so I figured it was a needed thing. Cooking is about learning, so I guess I did learn something.
But, I did like using the fermented black beans. They added a hint of funkiness to the dish. This made me keep wanting to eat more. I’ll need to find some more uses for these.
More clams may have to die for perfection to be achieved in this realm. Excellent Clams with Black Bean Sauce will be mine…..someday.
I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the character of Mordred in King Arthur mythology, but he’s the bastard child of Arthur and his half-sister Morgan. Arguably he causes the downfall of Camelot., although I think that Guinevere being a bit of a skank may have had something to do with it too. Mordred’s dastardly plans are sprinkled throughout the latter chapters of many pieces of Arthurian literature. The reason I’m bringing up this evil little bastard is that Kraft Foods seems to be playing his sort of manipulative games trying to increase sales of the questionably “cheesy” Velveeta product.
How do you accidentally have a shortage of one of your flagship products a few weeks before the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl? I know they’re denying it and claiming the shortage to be a result of a factory move, but what corporate nincompoop plans a factory move at this time of year when demand for your product is near its peak? What knave also didn’t plan ahead and stockpile factory output to help accommodate any production deficiencies? It’s not like a product with a half-life similar to that of spent nuclear fuel would spoil before it could be sold.
Maybe I’m wrong, but this stinks of market manipulation at its sleaziest. There is a reason I don’t buy or cook with products like this. It used to just be about the fact that it’s not what I’d call “Food”, but now the reasons for staying away are getting more insidious.
Would anyone like a recipe for a tasty goat cheese based game day dip? Speak up and I’ll speak to Merlin and whip something up.