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red, red meat: harissa tri-tip roast

20 Feb

Red meat. It’s arguably the most controversial of all meats, second only to foie gras, of course. There’s just something about tearing into a huge slab of bloody steak that makes a lady really feel like a lady.

Submitting to my carnivore cravings, an affordable yet hearty tri-tip roast made its way into the shopping cart. With a quick tap through the Epicurious app, I found an intriguing recipe for Harissa-Crusted Tri-Tip Roast.

Normally, I’m not much for African food. I always think of  blobs of mashed meats you have to eat with your hands shaped like a cup–no thanks! Harissa, however, is a spicy chili condiment that comes from Tunisa, which borders the Mediterranean and has a cuisine more akin to the Middle East than the Ethiopian African cuisine I tend to think of.

Making harissa appealed to my pseudo ethnically diverse culinary explorations–and doubly interesting because this particular recipe utilizes one of my very favorite Asian chili pastes, sambal oelek, cousin of more famous sriracha. Oddly enough, when my harissa was all blended it up, it tasted reminiscent of Taco Bell mild sauce. This is a truly international recipe, indeed!

As for how the harissa tasted on my tri-tip roast… it was hot, garlicky, tomatoey meatliciousness! Loved it. And, it added an appealing red slather atop my beautiful slab of red meat.

harissa-crusted tri-tip roast
red, red meat

* 1 3/4 teaspoons caraway seeds
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 6 garlic cloves
* 1/4 cup sambal oelek
* 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
* 1 1/4 teaspoons chili powder
* 1 1 3/4- to 2-pound tri-tip beef roast, most of fat layer trimmed

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toast caraway seeds in small nonstick skillet over medium heat until seeds darken and begin to smoke, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add olive oil and garlic cloves to caraway seeds in skillet. Cover; remove from heat. Let stand 1 minute. Pour caraway mixture into processor. Add chili paste, tomato sauce, cumin, and chili powder and blend until garlic cloves are pureed. Season harissa to taste with salt.

Sprinkle beef all over with salt and pepper; place beef, fat side down, on rack on rimmed baking sheet. Spread with half of harissa. Turn beef over; spread remaining harissa over top and sides. Roast beef until thermometer inserted into center registers 125°F to 130°F for medium-rare, about 35 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes. Slice and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

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choco ‘stachio bark

3 May

I’m pretty much obsessed with my Canon S95 camera (thanks again, J!). It’s a slick black point-and-shoot with a ring around the lens that you move to control the manual settings. It’s super high tech AND retro cool…. dream!

The S95 also takes kick ass macro shots like this one of chocolate pistachio bark. Now I can cook food that looks like caca and it still looks stunning!

Speaking caca, this bark was not a sparkling culinary achievement. I used too much of a semi-sweet chocolate that tasted like Hershey’s, and birthed a tooth-disintegrating saccharine stump versus delicately shattering cocoa bark. Waaah!

Alas, I will share the recipe, but it will be up to you to buy the right kind of chocolate — I’d go bittersweet if in doubt!

layered pistachio bark
go green

* 17 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped and divided into two equal portions
* 7 ounces high quality white chocolate (Lindt or Perugina)
* 6 ounces roasted pistachio meat, coarsely chopped
* 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
* fancy sea salt (fleur de sel, if you’ve got it)

Turn large baking sheet bottom up. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Mark a 12″ x 9″ rectangle on foil.

Combine half of the bittersweet chocolate and 3 tablespoons of whipping cream in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and pour onto foil. Using a spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle and sprinkle with half of the pistachios. Lightly press pistachios into chocolate and refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.

Melt white chocolate in double-boiler or medium metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water. When chocolate is melted and smooth or candy thermometer registers 110-degrees F, remove from heat. Cool to lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour white chocolate in long lines over the dark chocolate layer. Using a spatula, spread white chocolate into an even layer. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

For final layer, repeat dark chocolate process: Combine remaining half of bittersweet chocolate and 3 tablespoons of whipping cream in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and quickly pour in long lines over the white chocolate layer. Immediately top with remaining pistachios, press into chocolate, and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt. Chill until just firm, about 20 minutes.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using a metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto the work surface. Cut each strip crosswise into three sections and diagonally into two triangles.

Serve immediately or store in a tupperware in the fridge for up to two weeks. Bring back to room temperature before serving. Yields 36 pieces. Adapted from Bon Appetit.

stocking stuffer pork loin

23 Dec

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with playing an iPhone game called Tiny Chef. As you’d suspect, this game involves cooking — rather, restaurateuring: Deciding what the kitchen will cook, serving dishes as they finish (before they spoil), decorating and expanding your restaurant, etc. It’s a bit like Farmville — absolutely ridiculous and yet inexplicably addictive.

In my real life tiny kitchen, I recently cooked up a festive stuffed pork loin with spinach and grape tomatoes. I had seen this dish on an episode of Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way on PBS. In this Fast Food series, Pepin orchestrates a pseudo fancy three-course meal in the span of 30 minutes with very little prep help (take that, Rachel Ray!). I’ve always found Pepin’s style of dressed-down French cooking idyllic and charming reminiscent of A Year in Provence.

I found the stuffed pork loin needed more salt than called for, but I think it’s because I used a very mild cheddar cheese. I’d go sharp if I were you. All in all, a great 30-minute dish that would impress folks if you were to serve it for a Christmas feast. Happy Holidays!

stuffed pork tenderloin with grape tomatoes
what’s red, green and porky all over?

* 4 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1 package (7 ounces) prewashed baby spinach
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 1/4 pounds)
* 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
* 1 box grape tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pints)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the spinach, pushing it down into the skillet, and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Remove the lid and cook, uncovered, until the liquid from the spinach has evaporated. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Trim the tenderloin of any fat and silverskin. To butterfly the tenderloin for stuffing, lay it flat on the cutting board so one end is close to you and the other end is near the top of the board. Holding your knife so the blade is parallel to the board, cut through the long side of the tenderloin, stopping when you are about 1/2 inch from the other side. Turn the tenderloin so the uncut side is closest to you and make another parallel cut below the first one, again stopping about 1/2 inch before you reach the other side. Open up the butterflied tenderloin and pound it a little to extend it to about 12 inches long by 7 inches wide.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange half the spinach mixture down the center of the butterflied tenderloin and top with the cheese. Add the rest of the spinach, fold in the sides, and roll the tenderloin back and forth to evenly distribute and encase the filling. Wrap 2 strips of aluminum foil, each 1 to 2 inches wide, around the tenderloin to secure the stuffing inside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof nonstick skillet. Sprinkle the outside of the tenderloin with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Place the tenderloin carefully in the skillet and brown it, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the foil strips from the tenderloin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes, when it will be slightly pink in the center. Transfer the tenderloin to a plate, cover, and keep warm in the oven while you prepare the tomatoes (the pork will continue to cook as it sits).

Add the tomatoes and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper to the skillet in which you browned the tenderloin and sauté over high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until just softened. Divide among four warm plates.

Slice the tenderloin crosswise into 8 medallions and arrange 2 slices in the middle of the tomatoes on each plate. Serve.

Serves 4.

roku. chow. pork.

15 Nov

In an effort to quit evil Comcast cable, I recently acquired Roku. For $80 (less than I would pay for a month of cable), I snapped up a lower-end HD hardware box about the size of 3 stacked CD jewel cases. What sold me on Roku? Well, it’s cheaper than Apple TV, Boxee, Google TV or a dedicated PC, plus they seem to have solid content partnerships.

Honestly, I had higher hopes for the level of free content available, which currently consists of old b&w movies, bad internet programming, a zillion Pandora-esque stations, and porn (if you are so inclined). I’ve resigned to using it purely as a Netflix-streaming watching box (and Hulu Plus, whenever that gets released). The Vimeo and YouTube channels could be good diversions, but are inconvenient to search and navigate.

I do appreciate that Chow has a free channel on Roku. Sure, it’s no replacement for the Food Network, but it does have fun videos including a Celebrity Go-To Dish section with a Steamed Ground Pork with Salted Fish recipe by Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame.

In the video segment, Phan improvises his favorite family comfort meal — a rustic pork patty studded with dried Chinese salted fish (haam yee) and steamed to juicy perfection. Most Chinese folks (myself included) grew up eating this simple to prepare home-style dish served over rice. Unlike Phan, we never “ground” our own pork with dual cleavers, nor spiked the pork with Vietnamese fish sauce.

Inspired by Phan’s fancification, I set out to recreate the dish one Sunday evening. Instead of fresh mushrooms, I rehydrated a fistful of dried shiitakes and opted for a 50/50 mix of fatty and lean ground pork from the local butcher. At the Chinese market, I grabbed a nice and stinky dried mackerel sold in hanging plastic bags with the tail exposed.

I’m not old school Chinese, so I don’t own a wok or bamboo basket steamers. Phan describes how to fashion a steamer from foil and a skillet, but I prefer to use a heatproof footed ceramic bowl carefully set it into a large lidded pot with half-inch of simmering water. My grandparents always used this bowl-steaming trick to maximize surface area — simply push the ground pork up the sides of the bowl with uniform thickness to form a cup-like patty.

steamed ground pork with salted fish
umami in a bowl

* 1 pound ground pork
* handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and finely chopped
* 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon fish sauce, plus more as needed
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch
* Salt
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 2 (2-by-1-inch-long and 1/2-inch-thick) pieces salted mackerel
* 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, then cut into very thin matchsticks

Fill a large wok with 1 inch of water and place a large bamboo steamer inside. (The water should not touch the bottom of the steamer.) If you don’t have a wok and a bamboo steamer, try my bowl-steaming method. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat.

Place pork in a medium bowl. Add mushrooms, shallot, fish sauce, cornstarch, oil, and a large pinch each of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Check mixture for proper seasoning by forming a small, thin patty. Pan-fry it until the center is no longer pink. Taste, adding additional fish sauce, salt, or pepper as needed, keeping in mind that there will be additional salt in the dish from the salted fish.

Place pork mixture in a slightly rimmed (to contain the juices) heatproof dish about 8 inches in diameter. Press the pork across the dish to form a large 1/2-inch-thick patty. If using salted mackerel, place it in the center of the pork patty. If using anchovies, scatter them in a single layer on top of the pork patty. Evenly sprinkle with ginger. Carefully place the dish in the bamboo steamer or into pot. Cover the wok or pot with a tightfitting lid or a sheet of aluminum foil and steam until the mixture is just cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with rice and vegetables.

Serves 4. Adapted from Charles Phan recipe.

google made me cry

3 Sep

I’m sure by now you’ve seen it via a friend on Facebook — Arcade Fire and Google Chrome’s HTML 5 interactive music video for “We used to wait” called The Wilderness Downtown. You input the address of the house you grew up in and it builds an animated video of a hooded figure running through your neighborhood using images from Google Earth.

At the climax of the song, the hooded figure ends up at your exact home address and spins around for a 360-degree street level view. I knew it was coming as soon as I saw the green and white siding of our neighbor’s house, but I wasn’t prepared to see the vacant carport and “For Sale” sign that now adorns my childhood home. I was crushed. My heart ached to be there one last time — in my bedroom with the blue carpet and glow-in-the-dark galaxy on the ceiling.

But that’s the point, right? As with all things, computers have come full circle, and what was once as impersonal, robotic and predictable as we could make it is now a new magical box capable of stirring the deepest of emotions.

I’ll admit it — Google made me cry, but just a little.

what’s old is new again: panos

26 Jul

labyrinth at land's end (click to enlargen)

Growing up, I had a friend who was always had to be the first to get whatever was trendy and new. She was the first to wear Z. Cavariccis. She had a see-thru pager (more expensive than the black kind). When everyone was into Gameboy, she was growing a pet tamagochi. She also owned a mini disc player.

One of the coolest things she introduced me to was panoramic photography (pre-digital cameras). Her parents had given her a special wide-angle lens camera with a switch to shoot in panoramic format. We marveled at the giant prints that wouldn’t fit into the normal drugstore photo pouches and instead arrived jutting out of huge envelopes.

aqua tunnel, academy of sciences (click to enlargen)

There’s just something about taking in a 180-degree view from another’s perspective that I find particularly captivating — as if standing in their shoes contemplating one’s smallness on earth.

As you may know, I hate the Hipstamatic iPhone app that gives photos a vintage look complete with tattered edges. It’s about as dumb as tearing holes in and acid washing your jeans. I am, however, a huge fan of the Pano app that stitches together photos into a glorious panoramic.

What’s cool about Pano is that while taking consecutive photos, it shows you a ghosted visual of your last shot, so you can line up the seam perfectly. It also does alignment and color adjustments for you through the magic of algorithms. Props to Pano for bringing back the old school, new school style.

A collection of my latest panos – CLICK TO ENLARGEN:

osprey sanctuary, maine

grand view park, overlooking golden gate park

view from sausalito facing angel island and sf

fourth of july from outer mission rooftop

ropeswing at billy goat hill

modern cartography

6 Jul

One of my nerdy pleasures of late has been building custom Google Maps for summer trips. Call it anal, but I appreciate knowing exactly where I’m going from hotels to bakeries to hiking spots. Moreover, who would visit a place like Portland, Maine without mapping the twenty best restaurants in town?

Memorial Day Weekend Maine Food and Hiking tour. I love the customizable location icons — fork and knife for food, backpackers for hiking, plus you can include driving directions from one place to the next.



Favorite meal of the trip? Besides dinner from the farm at Primo in Rockland, our best home-cooked feast included grilled Maine lobsters purchased live from Three Sons Lobster & Fish, sweet summer corn, and a sour cherry pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery for dessert.

Grilled Maine Lobster

* 4 live lobsters (1 – 2 lbs each)
* 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
* 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
* 2 teaspoons minced chives
* Sea salt and pepper
* Lemon wedges, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare an ice-water bath. Generously salt boiling water and return to a boil. Plunge lobsters headfirst into boiling water and cook for 5 minutes; immediately transfer to ice-water bath to cool.

Meanwhile, light charcoal grill. In a small bowl, mix together butter, parsley, chives, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; set aside.

With a large knife, cut cooled lobsters in half lengthwise. Place cut side up and brush cut side with butter mixture.

Transfer and grill until lobsters are cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve immediately with lemon wedges.