Monday, October 25, 2010

Stir Monday

Wish it were the end of the week...then I could've called it "Stir Fry-day." *sigh*

Tonight was just a simple weeknight dinner, but it was really delicious. I was supposed to be making a cold soba noodle salad, but all of my local grocery stores chose this week to not have any soba noodles, thus making preparation of said salad pretty difficult. So I defaulted to my favorite stir-fry sauce and just tossed all the veggies together. I don't care how inept you are in the kitchen, you can totally throw this meal together. Plus, you can toss the protein right into the stir-fry, thus making a one-pot meal. Bonus.

I took cues from two stir-fry recipes for this: one from the dreaded South Beach Cookbook, and one from a truly spectacular dish (pork with tangerines and bok choy--look it up and make it!). Here's how it goes down:

--Veggies, variously sliced and prepared for stir-frying
--Chinese 5-spice powder
--Sugar-free apricot jam
--Soy sauce
--Minced fresh ginger and garlic
--Chili oil (optional; also could use red pepper flake)

Ages and ages ago, when "cooking show" meant public television programming hosted by Julia Child, Pierre Franey, Justin Wilson, or Lydia Bastianich, I learned from Martin Yan (who, it turns out, can actually cook) that the secret to stir-frying is "hot pan, cold oil." This advice has never led me astray, so I pass it onto you now. Get your wok (or non-stick pan) really, really hot, pour in some cold or room temp vegetable oil (grapeseed oil works great for this b/c of its high smoke point), then add the aromatics: ginger, garlic, scallions. STIR.

After about 30 seconds, you should smell the aromatics. Immediately add the longest-cooking veggies; I started with green beans, trimmed and sliced into 1" lengths. Keep stirring--this is why you need to have all ingredients prepped in advance! After a few minutes, toss in some other veggies and maybe a little more oil to keep it all from burning. I used mushrooms, quartered; I let those go for few minutes, then added 1/2" squares of red and yellow peppers. Push 'em around a bit, then let them hang out. The peppers will give off so much liquid that your veg won't burn if you walk away for a minute or two.

While they are doing their thing, mix together in a small bowl some 5-spice powder (about 1 T) and the apricot jam (1/3 C, maybe??). Loosen it up with 1-2 T of soy sauce. Please do not use low-sodium soy sauce, as you need the saltiness to even out the sweet from the jam. When the veggies are about done, add the sauce and stir. Let it heat through so the jam melts a bit, toss with a small stream of sesame oil and a teaspoon or so of sesame seeds, if you want to be fancy, and serve.

On this particular occasion, I served the veggies with brown rice and very simply broiled fish. But, as I say, you can stir-fry up some thinly sliced meat or other protein, or toss in some shrimp, and it'll all work together merrily.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Epcot Food and Wine 2010 (redux)

I am veering from the usual format today, both to save time and to keep your attention focused on these delectable images.

We did the Food and Wine Festival again last Saturday. We had some truly outstanding dishes, and some Disney-esque culinary disappointments. Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter. I feel obligated to say, too, before you scroll down and see the repugnant amount of food that we consumed, that we both shared every plate (except the cake...we got our own cake) and ate our way through this stuff over a 6-hour period. So it's not as heinously over-indulgent as it might look. Oh, booze. AND an hour-long break while we watched the stylings of one Mr. Howard Jones--bonus throw-back free concert! I've never seen anyone but like John Secada and Taylor Dayne at the Festival, and so I usually avoid that pavillion like the damned plague, so Howard Jones was a fun treat.

Anyway, onto the food!

Chile: Roasted Corn and Farmer's Cheese Empanada
Creamy, sweet, salty, delicious. Not improved by the last-minute addition of chimichurri, which I only asked for because I like to dip shit in sauce, and the empanadas did not feature any such accompaniment. Note: do not follow in my footsteps.

Chile: Grilled Beef Skewer, Bonito Puree, Chimichurri
Delicious on all counts--smoky, good grill flavor, tons of spice/garlic/sass from the ubiquitous Andean herb oil...a win, even for this girl who doesn't favor beef.

Poland (obv): Pierogi, Kielbasa, Caramelized Onion
Unimaginative, perhaps, but still yummy. Onions nicely caramelized, kielbasa smoky and garlicky. Pierogi pretty much in line with the frozen ones, but fine. A good snack for $2.

South Korea: Pulled Pork Lettuce Wrap with Kimchee Slaw
I'm pretty sure this is about as authentic for Korean food as Chicken Chow Mein is for Chinese food, but it was tasty. The pork was bland, but a decent pillow for the flavorful quasi-kimchee and spicy mayo.

South Korea: Braised Short Rib with Cucumber Kimchee
I'm thinking that Disney realized they just have to put some pickled veggies on a plate and call it "kimchee" and everyone will think it's really Korean. This was a hit, though--the rib was tender and sweet, the spice rub and sauce redolent with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and all manner of other things my American palate failed to identify. Dori and I both really liked this, and we vowed to try more Korean food. Maybe even real Korean food!

Spain: A Taste of Spain
Yeah, right. Spain, your pavillion is worse than Italy's!! And that's a horror to me, because I like your food so much better. How can a country that is positively brimming with spectacular cured meats, unique cheeses, and outstanding olive oils possibly be represented by this lame deli tray? Even at $2, this was a FAIL. Canned olives, tasteless chorizo (how do you even make that happen???), dry bread (not, as promised, a pan con tomate), a "manchego" that tasted like dried glue, and some cheap proscuitto masqueradiing as Serrano ham. Blech. If you're going to go simple on a dish, everything must be of the absolute highest quality. This, dear Epcot-Spain people, will not make anyone want to travel to Iberia. And that's a damned shame.

Spain: Seared Tuna with Romesco
Seared, my ass. This was more insulting than the cheese plate. This tiny spit of tuna was grilled to within an inch of its life; it had the color and texture of canned tuna--only drier. Covered in some sort of salty red stuff at I can only assume was intended to recall pimenton, the tuna was not improved by the addition of a decent, if mundane, romesco. True, I am a romesco snob-and-a-half (it is one of the Top 5 Sauces of World Cuisine, in my estimation), but this was pedestrian by any standards. Little of the bit or nutty smoothness of a good romesco, this one just served to moisten that god-awful fish. The microgreens were tasty, though.

Ireland: Lobster and Scallop Fisherman's Pie
This is always so, so delicious. I wrote about it last time, so I won't re-bore you with details. Just, if you go, get this. If there are two of you, consider getting your own. Best part? The surprise of fresh tarragon. It really sets off the lobser beautifully. Other best part: The recipe is in this year's Food and Wine Cookbook. Hell yes, I bought one. Did you really need to ask?? I think this might replace my traditional Lobster Pot Pie recipe on New Year's this time around.

Ireland: Chocolate Lava Cake with Bailey's Sauce
Not so much a lava cake (it doesn't ooze from the center), this is more like an outsandingly fudgy brownie, slathered in a boozy, rich, Bailey's-spiked chocolate sauce. Amazing in every single way. Notice how happy I was while eating it. This is by far the least pornographic photo Dorian took of me mid-cake.

Canada: Maple-Glazed Salmon with Lentils
I guess because Canada also runs the best restaurant at Epcot, it follows that they'd also run the best booth at the Food and Wine Festival. They do the same thing every year, and I'm glad for it, because every item is fantastic. I do miss the little arugula salad that used to top this sweet, perfectly grilled salmon, but it's still top-notch. The maple flavor pairs surprisingly well with the nutty lentils and sweet corn. Simply put, YUM.

Canada: Chipotle Chicken Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta
I know this looks obscene, but it was completely delicious. The sausage was smoky and spicy and delicious, and it was paired with three sweet sides: caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and the titular polenta. I never in a billion years would have teamed up chipotles with so much sweetness, but it was spot-on. We'd never ordered this before, but we'll totally be ordering it again.

Canada: Cheddar-Beer Soup
This has got to be the single tastiest morsel in all of Epcot. I've tried to duplicate it at home with miserable results. How do they get such sharp Cheddar to melt so smoothly? What kind of fan-fucking-tastic beer is that, with its bitter bite? What is lending the back-of-the-throat spice? And, dear lord, are those chunks of BACON in there? Why, of course, they are. Because nothing compliments a healthy bowl of cheese and beer like bacon. Oh, pork fat...I love you.

Dessert Tent: Trio of Flavors
I'd be embarrassed to admit this, but pretty much everyone that reads this is related to me and y'all already know what a glutton I am. We each got our own trio. They are too delicious to share and I was heady from all the food I'd already ingested. I was weak, and the whole plate was only $3. Mostly, though, I just wanted my own pear tart. I've already described these desserts on the last Epcot post, but I will take a moment to remind you that shortbread + pear + custard + crumble = utopia.

Final thoughts: Avoid Spain and Italy at all costs. Try just about everything else. Bring a friend or five so you can taste as many things as possible.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2010

Yes, we have a small child. Yes, we both have the entire summer off of work. But the real reason that we keep our Disney annual passes is so we can go to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival every year. In fact, we renew our passes in October each year, so that if we ever decided not to renew, we'll still be able to go to the next year's festival. This just by way of background.

Friday last was the opening night of the 2010 festival, and we braved the crowds to get an early taste of the food. There were lots of returning favorites and some new booths to celebrate the festival's 15th anniversary. There is also a cookbook, which I am totally buying next time we go.

It's always tough to choose whether to start to the left or the right; this year, we chose right, and It Was Good. Before hitting up a country's booth, we stopped at a random beer tent for some Prosecco and cheese fondue. The fondue was superb: tons of bite from the Swiss, a little extra acid (lemon?) compared to most fondue, and accompanied by chunks of sourdough baguette and fingerling potatoes (also doused in lemon). The Prosecco was really nice for cutting through the richness of the fondue. Now if they'd just dispense with those ridiculous tiny plastic cups!

We look forward to Canada every year, even though their offerings are actually regular menu items from the Le Cellier steakhouse. Technically, we could get that spicy beer-cheese soup and maple-glazed salmon with lentils any time of year, but we never manage to dress up enough to eat there. The line was insane this time around, though, so we'll wait until we can escape to the festival on a weeknight.

Speaking of old favorites, we (rightly) stood in line for about half an hour at the Ireland tent for lobster and scallop fisherman's pie (creamy, rich, and brimming with chunks of sweet shellfish), molten chocolate cake smothered in Bailey's (past its prime as a trendy recipe, but still freaking delicious), and Meade's honey wine (which smelled like honey and tasted like ass).

Primarily, we started to the right this year to ensure we got to France as quickly as possible. In recent years, they have abandoned the goat cheese and caramelized onion tartlets of which I was so inordinately fond, but they still serve garlicky escargot inside three tiny, buttery, crunchy bread bowls. Couple them with a pomegranate Kir royale (or, in our case, several pomegranate Kir royales) and you've got yourself a lovely evening on the water, watching the sunset with the Eiffel Tower at your back.

Reluctantly, we moved on, only to discover that our festival experience took a downturn. I've always cautioned Dori against eating at the Italian restaurant at Epcot, both because I know that institutionalized Italian food has little chance of being decent and because said restaurant is called "Alfredo's"--and no self-respecting, authentic Italian restaurant would go for something that ridiculous. (1) Still, Dori pressed on, and we made our way through the Italian tent for cheese ravioli with bolognese and polpettini in tomato sauce. Seriously. And it was every bit as bland and disgusting and institutional as I'd feared; it was even served in what looked suspiciously like airline-food containers. Ugh.

Stuffed to the gills, but needing something to redeem our faux-Italian experience, so we stopped at the China tent for street-vendor-style BBQ chicken and crispy black pepper shrimp over chile-garlic noodles. The former was a little too dark-meat-y for my tastes, but it was perfectly charred on the outside and tender inside, and had the complex flavors of a homemade 5-spice rub: sweet, smoky, salty. The shrimp were largely unnecessary on my plate (and notable for their complete lack of black pepper), but the noodles on which they sat were tremendously good. Intensely spicy and garlicky, with sharp flecks of scallion and--oh, THERE you are, black pepper! I love you on the noodles, but the shrimp really could have used your help!

The garlic breath was really persistent from that point on, so we made our way to the dessert and champagne booth at the end to balance things out. Unable to properly decide on a dessert, we got all three offerings, plus two more itty bitty glasses of champagne, and took them to the water's edge to watch the fireworks. On our delicious little plate was a delicate trifle of strawberry, vanilla custard, and angelfood cake (Dorian's clear favorite, which surprised the hell out of me, as I'm usually the fruit dessert person), a pear-and-custard tart on an extremely short pastry crust (my favorite, as I'll eat anything with fruit and a buttery, flour-y pastry), and a dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (a yummy counterpoint to the fruit, but nowhere near as good as the pear thing).

Full of champagne bubbles, we settled in to watch Epcot's extremely lame fireworks display (we are so spoiled by the show at Magic Kingdom, which is fucking EPIC) with its stupid floating globe-on-fire, and let our food digest a bit. We headed out before the grand finale and drove home, sated and excited about our next visit, when we will start with Canada, Belgium (moules frites and a fruit-slathered waffle), Argentina (roasted corn empanadas), Poland (kielbasa and pierogies), and the US (bison chili with wild mushrooms). Maybe Australia (last year's barramundi with arugula salad and lemon oil) and another go at France. Haven't decided on South Africa, which kept last year's Grilled Beef with Sweet Potato and Mango BBQ Sauce (Dori's favorite) but ditched, mysteriously, their amazing Mealie (a corn chowder with a lethal drizzle of chile oil). Can't wait.


(1) Disclaimer: I did also openly mock a restaurant in Delaware called "La Casa Pasta" on the same grounds, only to find out that it was the single best and most authentic Italian restaurant I'd even found in the US. So, I can be overly judgmental at times.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

You'll never guess what I made.


No shit. I really, really did. I think I used the fourth bunch of cilantro I've bought in preparation for these damned things, but it happened. We had a full-on work weekend and I didn't go to the grocery store (#CookFail), but luckily...we had all the ingredients for these burgers. Excepting maybe the cilantro, you probably do, too.

Note in advance: This recipe is super-forgiving. Amounts are really not important. And you can add anything you want or top any way you want. You could probably also bake them. And they reheat well!

--Drain 2 cans black beans; add about 2/3 of them to bowl.
--Mash w/ back of fork or potato masher.
--Stir in 1 egg (1), minced garlic, onion powder (2), salt, cayenne, cumin, oregano.
--Gently stir in 1/4 C panko, ton of chopped cilantro, and remaining whole beans.
--Shape into patties (smaller ones don't break up as much).
--Crisp up in non-stick pan, 4-5 min. per side, until they look a little dry.
--Serve w/ cheese, salsa, guacamole, radish slices, lettuce, sour cream...whatever.
--Put them on a roll if you're not carb- or gluten-conscious. Or in pita.

I always serve this with those frozen spicy chipotle sweet potato fries, which are extra delicious if you mix together some ketchup and Sriracha (Thai hot sauce) for dipping (3). A little mixed greens salad is nice, too.


(1) You can use a couple of glops of mayo instead if raw egg grosses you out. It grosses me out, but it does cook while the burgers are in the pan. And literally NOTHING grosses me out more than mayonnaise.

(2) It'd be delicious if you felt like chopping and sauteeing an actual onion, along with the garlic, but that totally ruins the appeal for me, because this meal is supposed to be fast, easy, and virtually mess-free.

(3) And I hate ketchup, mind. So you know this is good if I'll recommend it.