Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If you simmer some peanuts in your leftover smoked pork stock until they're as soft as cooked beans*, and then smoke the peanuts and stock for a few hours, and then use those smoked, salty, porky peanuts as the bean element in your chili ...

... you make a chili that tastes (in a good way) a lot like a chili dog.

Sooooo now you know how to do that.

*I've mentioned this technique before - simmered nuts, anyway, not specifically in smoked pork stock. At some point I plan to simmer some cacao beans.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Recent Boston food adventures!

Bon Chon Chicken

The Korean fried chicken franchise. Fried chicken strips - crispy and excellent. Skewered hard-boiled quail eggs wrapped in bacon (from the kushiyaki section) - terrific. Bulgogi bibimbob - also terrific. Volcano roll from the signature makimono section - good, but the weak point. It sounded interesting - salmon, kimchi, and cucumber in the roll, topped with mayo, mozzarella, and tobiko, broiled, and topped with chili sauce and onion chips. But the salmon ended up cooking, and that's just less interesting than raw, and mostly what you taste is slightly spicy salmon and a little cheese.

The main thing about Bon Chon is how expensive it was - almost twice as much as some other places we've tried in Boston.


A barbecue joint that makes the best fried chicken I've had this far north. That alone is going to bring us back. The fried chicken was just absolutely amazing. It's a shame they only fry up wings. I suppose they have a reason, but when you can fry chicken that well, it's a shame to limit it. But yes, it's a barbecue joint, and we got other stuff too -- brisket served in chunks, in a sauce that made it taste like smoky chili; ribs that were properly smoked (still clinging to the bone as they should); smoked sausages; and croquettes of fried macaroni and cheese. Now, the interesting thing about the sausages is that, because it's Boston, they were spicy Italian sausages that had been run through the smoker. Trust me, that's not what they mean by hot links in Texas, nor anywhere else in the South as far as I know. But it's the kind of sausages they can get here, I guess. Still very good! But it wouldn't satisfy a hot link craving.

Mt Everest Kitchen

Nepali food! Boston actually has multiple Nepali restaurants. Because Nepal shares a border and a lot of history with India, there is a similarity to Indian food, and a lot of Nepali restaurants - Mt Everest included - serve some non-Nepali items like naan to offer more food that's familiar to people who are used to Indian joints. As it turned out, the garlic naan wasn't very good, and the lentil soup that comes with most of the entree orders was bland. But the rest! Oh man. We ordered a goat dish because we both love goat and don't see it on menus very often -- in this case it was pieces of goat on the bone, in a stew that was slightly spicy, somewhat reminiscent of Indian curries but not as strongly flavored, with some cilantro. Very good.

But even better was the quatee and the momos. Quatee is also spelled quantee some places on the internet, and apparently there are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions. Ours was vegetarian -- a curry of 16 different kinds of beans, in a spicy sauce that I don't know how to describe. The menu refers to "Himalayan herbs" -- there was a fresh herb that tasted a little like mint, and one (it may have been the same herb) that tasted a little like lemongrass, and I don't know what else. It's not often that I run into flavors that are completely new to me, as opposed to being used in new ways and new combinations. But this was such an occasion. It was delicious, and I'll definitely order it again.

The momos were steamed dumplings filled with chicken (pork and vegetable are also available, and they can be pan-fried instead of steaming), with a chutney dipping sauce that, again, I don't know how to describe except to say that it was delicious. In fact the quatee and momos were both so good that I can't imagine getting food from Mt Everest and NOT getting these two things.

Flour Bakery

We stopped by the Cambridge location on the way back from a movie, mainly to get the famous sticky buns - which certainly earn their fame. Covered in pecans and infused with caramel goo. Fantastic. The pain aux raisins (a brioche spiral with raisins), brioche with creme fraiche and cinnamon (like a danish, kind of), and "homemade pop tart" were all good too, but the sticky buns are something I'll get every time.

Central Bottle

A wine shop next to Flour, but we weren't there for the wine. We were there for the fantastic cheese selection. It may not look like a lot at first - the grocery store down the street from me has more kinds of cheese. But then you look at what they have, and it's like a greatest hits collection mixed in with some well-chosen deep cuts. For instance, they only have a couple cheddars, but one of them is the Cabot clothbound cheddar. I was happy to see that they sell O'Banon, made by folks in Indiana (Capriole Farm) who I used to see at the farmer's market all the time when I lived in Bloomington.

We got small amounts of lots of cheeses:

a very old (I would say 3 year) gouda.

Bijou, from Vermont Butter and Cheese, which is now my favorite goat cheese - incredibly flavorful and creamy, with absolutely none of the pungency you get from the rind of so many young cheeses. The texture is a lot like fudge. Yes, I now have a goat cheese I like better than Humboldt Fog.

Pecorino Ginepro. Oh my God! Okay, one of the discoveries for me the last couple years has been realizing how much I love Pecorino Romano, so I keep an eye out for other Pecorinos (a family of hard Italian sheep's milk cheeses). "Ginepro" here is juniper - the cheese is submerged in balsamic vinegar and juniper berries. It's not as aged as Pecorino Romano - it's a little crumbly, and not too salty to eat straight. It's amazing. I love this cheese so much.

Some brie-like fresh cow's milk cheese I keep forgetting the name of, which was great on sandwiches.

They have some stuff made in-house, too, like mozzarella, ricotta, broccoli raab pesto, and chicken liver pate. I was hoping to find burrata, but they didn't have any that day.

They also have a good selection of Italian and Spanish cured meats -- including jamon iberico bones, which you can use in soups and beans and whatnot. I love it when people sell that sort of thing instead of letting it go to waste. Now I'm wishing I'd bought some to cook with greens! Ah well. What we did get was lardo (flavored with lots of black pepper), guanciale (Italian jowl bacon), and nduja (soft spreadable salami).

I hadn't had any of the three before, though I'm familiar with them, and when I lived in Indiana, jowl bacon was quite common. The guanciale was spiced a little differently, but it's still recognizably the same thing.


Caitlin noticed a Korean store on the way to the bus stop from Central Bottle, so we immediately hopped in. Hell of a find. Korean food is one of those things I don't have nearly enough experience with: Asian markets in New Orleans were Vietnamese, in Indiana were Chinese, Japanese, or Filipino, and up here are Cambodian. So I was glad to not only replenish my supply of barley miso, which I'd run out of - and to do so with an imported brand this time instead of a domestic (we'll see if it makes a difference) - but to pick up leek kimchi, sliced cooked pigs foot, corn tea (it tastes like Corn Pops!), kabosu juice (a citrus juice), and some gummi candies (muscat and mangosteen).

I had some of the pig's foot for lunch today - steamed rice in my just-reviewed rice cooker while steaming the sliced pig's foot in the tray, then picked any bones out of the pig's foot slices and mixed them into the rice along with some of the leek kimchi and the hot sauce that came with the pig's foot. Good good stuff.

review: zojirushi rice cooker

Once again CSN has provided me with a free product to review, which I'm late in reviewing this time because, like the deep fryer, I wanted to live with it for a while and see how often I ended up using it in the course of my normal cooking - not just when I'm specifically testing it out for the blog. The answer is ... all the time.

CSN sells all kinds of stuff through various linked niche stores, from home office desks to hot plates. This time, though, I'm talking about rice cookers - the Zojirushi 3-cup rice cooker.

It's almost impossible to mention a rice cooker without some wag saying, "Really? A whole gadget just for cooking rice? What a waste. I can do that on my stove."

But somehow, the toaster sits there without drawing comment, the most ubiquitous single-use gadget around, with some of them -- not the toaster ovens, mind you, just plain old toasters -- costing just as much as a rice cooker, sometimes even more. A whole cottage industry of the convenience food sector has built up around the assumption that if you have a kitchen, you have a toaster.

Toasters and rice cookers are equal in utility: they do nothing you can't do without them, but they do it better and easier.

"What?" that wag goes on. "How hard is it to cook rice?"

How hard is it to make toast?

Sometimes a dedicated appliance simply does a better job of an easy task. Even knowing that, I never got round to buying a rice cooker myself. Oh, I knew and accepted this logic, but it didn't make a rice cooker seem necessary. I read Ebert's widely circulated rice cooker column -- which has been expanded into a cookbook -- and when Matt got his rice cooker and loved it, I made a note to think about getting one eventually.

It just never seemed necessary.

Well, it isn't. But neither is a toaster. Or a blender, or a food processor for that matter.

So this was a good candidate to get for review from CSN. As it happens, I got the same model Ebert is talking about. You can find bigger rice cookers. You can find much, much more expensive ones. But the Zojirushi does a noticeably more reliable job of cooking rice than a pot on the stove does.

The main thing is that in a pot on the stove, the rice on the bottom is being heated more than you want it to be, and can stick. If you've never had a pot of rice turn unexpectedly gummy on the stove, or dry out without fully cooking ... well, I just don't know if I can believe you. Rice is a little finicky, and the better the rice is -- the more you move away from Minute Rice and Uncle Ben's -- the finickier it is.

But here's the thing, it's really a grain cooker. Even before you go off the res and start making soup and things like that in this - which you can, but I don't know if I see any reason to unless you're cooking in a dorm room - you've got the whole breadth of grains available to you. Oatmeal in the morning. Grits with dinner. Wheat berries or wild rice or what have you. The rice cooker doesn't come with instructions telling you how to cook those other grains, but the internet is full of information, and it's not hard to figure out, particularly if it's something you've cooked on the stove before.

You don't need a rice cooker, in the sense that it's not going to unlock anything for you - there's nothing it'll do that you can't do already. But that doesn't mean it isn't extremely handy, and you'll wind up using it a lot. What I particularly like about this model is that the footprint is small - smaller than the deep-fryer, for instance, and about the same size as ... well, a toaster.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The store had smoked pork tails for $3 - the first time I've seen pork tails of any sort in New Hampshire (I always look for them in Little Cambodia) - so naturally I bought some.

And these were very smoked. The smoked ham hocks I buy aren't all that smoky, but these had been smoked so long they'd dried out a bit - I simmered them for three hours, which gave me five nice-sized tails and a quart of smoked pork stock rich enough to gel at room temperature.

The stock, I'll use for beans or greens.

The tails, I waited until they had cooled some, but were still warm so that everything was supple. This makes it easy to find the bones, see, which popped out pretty simply. Not sure how easy it'd be if you hadn't worked with pork tails before, but ... well.

Smoked pork tail tacos


I deep-fried the boned tails to warm them through, crisp up the skin some, and render out some of the fat. Roasting would've done fine too. After each tail was cooked, I wrapped a corn tortilla around it, pinched the tortilla in place with my tongs, and held it in the deep-fryer to cook the tortilla.

The salsas are just a jarred red salsa (I like Green Mountain Gringo) and that garlic/cilantro/avocado salsa I made the other day. Would've used cheese but didn't have any.

The nice thing about these tacos is that it sounds like a lot of work - it IS a lot of work - but only for the clock. I worked while the tails simmered, took a couple minutes to pop the bones out, did the rest a few days later when I was making lunch.