Saturday, October 29, 2011

My point of view.

What is my point of keeping this blog going? I realize that it's a way to measure my knowledge on something that I consider a hobby. I think as I constantly criticize the people that compose half my genetic makeup for having inane hobbies, those same genetics led me to a similar path. However, I could always just keep it to myself. My Myers-Briggs personality assessment tells me that I'm a very strong introvert, and I'm working on that, and I do see the point. I hope to gain insight from others, and share as others do what they like in the world.

I also want better food in Kuwait. Dammit. We have some great food, and as a standard, I think Kuwait's up there generally. However, I notice that our food habits have been exploited by globalism in the form of franchises. Our problem in Kuwait is that we never look at the development of ideas and standards of our own, we like to import everything, both materially and consciously. But as in the case of a rebellious teenager, there is a point in which the rest of the world has to be blocked out. If you keep on learning externally, you may end up being a sponge. If you internalize too much, you may end up being completely alienated in your thoughts. And since the world is never black or white, a compromise is always reached.

Institutions are important, whether individually or socially. Context must be understood effectively and the ideas should attempt to pick the strings of the existing mess and find elements that could be lifted, looked at and improved before being relaxed into reality. Critical assessment, thought, opinion are very important. They not only define the individual point of view, but they relate to the larger mess of things in which everything is interconnected. I firmly believe in the relativity of systems and how one small improvement can mean so much. However, if, like in contemporary pop music, we just fill in formulas based on market assessment, brand strength, then what more than profit are we achieving? of course, any business must be profitable, but if it a direct target, you end up getting plastic, food included. Profit should emerge from how good you are. Educate the market by setting examples of what is possible with what we have, and the demand for excellence will be there.

With that in mind, my next couple of entries will be discussing some dishes I had on my recent trip. Good food is good food, no matter where it is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This is one of Kenichi's classics. Carrot battle. I've watched it twice so far in Ithaca.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Ithaca

I forgot how good food is in Kuwait. Is my point of view a subjective qualification or is it one that reflects adaptation with age? I feel that my micro-culture, the one that extends around me, has fostered a superb appreciation for the culinary arts. I reflect about this as I linger around Ithaca, NY in the evenings, after I'm done with training. I wasn't sure what to expect but all I can say is that I hope the meal I hope to have on Friday will make it better. I went to a place that advertised itself as "Korean BBQ" on its entrance, however was disappointed to find out that their recommendation was fried rice with beef. I was too hungry, I ordered it. A plate with rice, frozen chopped vegetables, questionable beef and a black lagoon of stained mushy vegetables. The side of pickled radish (i believe), raw onions and drop of black bean paste/sauce. I ate most because I was starving, and it didn't necessary offend as much as underwhelm. I miss my kitchen, I miss Pataya Beach. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

udupi restaurant, kuwait city. thalis.

Once you find it, Udupi Restaurant, Vegetarian, Deluxe, Welcome. A friend heard about this place so we went and tried it out. Another of the several thali restaurants in Kuwait that I seem to be really liking these summer days. I want to develop a ranking for thali restaurants in Kuwait, more for my own interest than anything else. I really like the idea of the thali. I reviewed Green Land a few postings ago, which is located only a couple of blocks away from Udupi, and I couldn't help but compare the two throughout the meal. I wouldn't necessarily say one is better than the other, they offer enough key differences to allow them to be applicable depending on the situation and the mood.

Located on Ahmed Al-Jaber St. in the city, next to the Warba Insurance company building.
It is open all day, from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. Until 6 pm, I was told, they only serve a thali meal, but I noticed someone at a table nearby eating a dosa, so I'm not sure I was given the best information. After 6, they have more dishes. Walking in for the first time, the man standing at the cashier near the door didn't say hello, he just said "hatha mat'am hindi." i nodded and asked for a table. We were looked at suspiciously, with the staff somewhat bewildered that a group of arabs just sat at a table and plainly asked for 3 thalis.

We were handed the thali tray with what seemed at first a minimum of effort put into the food. You have a choice of chapatis or phuris. Going clockwise in the photo, starting from the left, you have yoghurt, chapati, thali dessert, vegetable curry, soup, creamy lentils, beans/spinach/others stir-fry, hot sauce and phuris in the middle.

As I said, I had some suspicion that the meal wouldn't be that great. But then I started tasting it. Each dish bursting with flavour and seemingly working together quite well. Very balanced individually, with just the right amount of spice, salt. I didn't have a favourite, but I started adjusting each of them with small dollops of yoghurt mixed in, and I seemed to eat the soup the least, simply because it wasn't interactive with the bread, but it was still really good. In general, the food was a bit more spicy than Green Land, but much better than the times I've had the spicy option at Green Land.

The suspicion seemed to wear off as the meal went on when refills started and then after a couple of rounds, some rice that (I hope) wasn't ready earlier. The staff were great, attentive, making sure that your tray was full until you had enough.

And then it was done and it was time for tea. Only tea with carnation milk and nescafe were on offer as after-meal options. The tea was great. Strong and, mixed with the carnation, gave a nice finishing touch for the meal.

Would I go back to Udupi? In short, yes. It's very clean, yet somewhat spartan with the stainless steel utensils. Even the jug of water and drinking glasses were made of the same metal. But honestly, for 1.250 KD per person, 1.000 for the thali alone, and for how good the food was, I was really happy. Fresh food at such a price in the city. And it's timings are very convenient. One thing, though, is that I  like ordering one more dish at Green Land, to add a bit more diversity to the thali, but it wasn't really missed in this experience. Yes, I will definitely go back.

This place is on the upper side of 3.
If you have a thali restaurant in Kuwait that you recommend, please let me know. Thanks.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

my version of korean bbq

I have been to a korean restaurant a couple of times now and it inspired me to take a challenge. I always do this, I go to a restaurant and try out their food a couple of times until something clicks and I say to myself, "i can do this better." and i did.  When I research new foods, I conjure up a mental image of what that food would look like, taste like, smell like. Every time I had the food at the korean place I wanted a bit more. Not in the quality of the food, but in the aromas and flavours. I should note that I am quite particular to my own tastes, I have built up an expectation of what various foods should taste like, this time based on a recipe I tried years ago when I was bbqing a lot at the chalet; if I try something I don't like, I think of what could be added to make it that much better. This was the basis of this experiment. This recipe will certainly be added to my repertoire, whether it is authentic or not.

The great thing about Korean BBQ is that it really doesn't need a long time for marination. In fact, I wouldn't have marinated this meat very long anyway as I intended to braise it and have it with polenta. However, I discovered that the ribs were cut for barbecuing and were too large to fit in my crock pot. Instead of giving up, I decided to chop it up and have a go at my homemade gal-bi (korean for bbq ribs). I was glad to be able to control the doneness of the meat, as in the restaurant it is always served quite well done and as you all probably know by now, I'm not a fan of well-done meat. I removed the meat from the bones, tried my best at removing as much of the connective tissue in order to have tender pieces of meat without the rubbery bits that always remain on barbecued ribs. Poured in some soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, some onions, garlic and ginger. I went by smell on this one. I let it sit for an hour or so before I griddled the ribs to my liking.

I also had some bean sprouts that needed to get used. So i blanched them, added many of the same ingredients as the marinade, save the sugar, ginger and rice vinegar, and ended up with a side salad. Korean BBQ often provides you with a myriad of side items to go along with the meat, but I settled with this sukju namul. In fact, being served on the same plate as the almost-caramelized marinade from the meat made for a fantastic harmony.

This will be a dish I will be trying to perfect.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

review: green land vegetarian indian restaurant

I have wanted to try this restaurant out for a while. Located in the souq mubarakiya area, close to the entrance that faces al ahli bank (29°22'24.63"N,  47°58'29.76"E), green land has been serving good, clean vegetarian food for years. In summary, the restaurant is clean and efficient and I will definitely be coming back for more.

Compared to other vegetarian thali places in Salmiya, green land is cleaner both in terms of the food and the premises. Upon entering, you are greeted by friendly staff. The menu has a vast selection that has menu items described in transliterated english and translated arabic. After a thorough look, we decided to go for the friday special thali.

The thali included several vegetarian dishes and was served with spiced rice, naan and puris. We ordered a saag paneer + veg dish as well as daal makhani. The spinach was excellent, but while good, I've had better daal in a few other places. As usual with thalis, the selection was mostly savory, yet there were a couple of sweet dishes too. The thali goes for 1.500 KD per portion, including refills of rice and bread. I was told, though, that the regular thali, at 1.100 KD is actually tastier. For my first time, I was quite impressed with the food and wish to go back and try their other dishes.

Following the feast, we had fruit lassis. This was one of the most impressive lassis i've had. The balance between sweet and sour was great, it reminded me of really good greek-style yoghurt. With chunks of pinapples and apples, this was a great cap to a satisfying, filling meal.

I would try this restaurant again, but having been at a friday lunch service, I may try it again on a less crowded day. Not that service was at all affected, but with the tables not too far apart from each other, I generally like my sense of space. Or else they could have turned the volume of the music up a little bit.

I generally rate this restaurant 4 out of 5. The food was great, very cost effective. The location is convenient, but finding parking at mubarakiya isn't always easy. The premises were clean, the staff pleasant. I would definitely recommend green land for some good veggie thalis.

white asparagus

Sometimes I pick up random ingredients from the supermarket to see what I can do with them. This time it was relatively well-priced white asparagus at the new Lulu's hypermarket in Qurain. I remembered Heston's tip for cooking asparagus in Kitchen Chemistry, asparagus should be cooked in oil. If cooked in water, all the flavour of the asparagus would dissolve into the water, leaving the asparagus without taste. White asparagus is also interesting. It's basically like green asparagus, but as it grows, the farmers cover it with soil so that it's always growing without exposure to the sun, so photosynthesis never makes the chlorophyll green. Honestly, the result was good, cooked in some butter and olive oil, salt, black pepper. But I wanted more of the oyster mushrooms than the asparagus.


My recent fondness for vegetables developed a particular liking for eggplant. A filling, tasty vegetable that can almost seem meaty if cooked in certain ways. There are so many kinds of eggplants from the big purple ones to the small thai green ones, which can be confused with peas and go really well with green curry.

Above is a very simple grilled eggplant salad / side that goes with almost anything. Lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, dill.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

steak and polenta

At Martin's wine cellar, about three blocks from where I lived for the last couple of years in New Orleans, there was a deli. I used to go there all the time, mostly because they had great sandwiches and fries. But they had specials, and one of those was a steak on grits. Grits are basically cooked ground coarse cornmeal, usually cooked in water and butter. The steak, with some sauteed vegetables, was placed on top of the grits and then blanketed with a sauce.

Polenta is not very different from grits. Often cooked in water as well, it is a staple in Italian food. It can be served, as shown above, as a kind of porridge and goes with almost everything, from meat to chicken to seafood... it has a mushy consistency, as expected, but it has a nice subtle play of flavours that tend to highlight flavours from what you serve with it. It can also be allowed to dry and then be cut into blocks and fried for some crunch.

I haven't played much tennis in the last few weeks, so my cooking output had reduced. Strange how they're linked. But I've started again with dedicated intent and my food production will provide me with the energy I need. The plate you see above is basically polenta cooked with milk and cream, sauteed peppers, zucchini and mushrooms, and steak. The flavours went very well together, as expected. I based this on a recipe from Locatelli's book but changed around some things. His suggestion of some rosemary with the steak was maintained and it helped to marry the steak and the polenta even more. He had another recipe close a few pages off from this one that had a lamb stew with peppers and polenta. I think the extra sauce from a stew will help the experience. The polenta wasn't dry but the consistency of cornmeal and milk needed another flavourful liquid, a stock, a demi-glace or something similar. I will try that next time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

potato salad

i seem to be keeping an interest in side dishes these days. i made this salad recently for a bbq / outdoor food event at my sister's the other day. eating it within minutes of a perfectly grilled burger was great.

just a side note:  about the burger. it was a wagyu striploin burger. i was not eating it like i would any other burger. it's practically a reformed steak. sacrilege to overcook. the red velvet juices soaked up into the standard kuwaiti white burger bun were perfect.

back to the potato salad. mustard in two forms, dill, celery, and the sauce. the mustard seeds explode as you eat them, releasing a haphazard, yet delicate, punctuation to the experience. as do the other ingredients. they are balanced with the undertones of the potato, baby and cooked until just done. i also like this salad with red potatoes.

there is nothing wrong with focusing on the side notes of a meal. in fact, in a true study of anything one must pay attention to everything. understand the composition, the cosmology of the experience. the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, but you have to know the value of the parts first to understand what the whole is. and more specifically, every part of a meal has to be great, from the smallest to the greatest detail.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

gnocchi with taleggio

taleggio has become one of my favourite cheeses over the past few years. in kuwait, dean and deluca had some taleggio every once in a while, but as usual, they'd have a small quantity then nothing for months. then they changed their supplier and the taleggio they have now is pretty awful. carluccio's opened up and their deli has taleggio. i'm a happy man.

pictured above is a meal that took me no longer than five minutes to put together. gnocchi is one of the easiest, and quickest, pastas to cook. i make it myself sometimes, but this was from sultan in a packet. the sauce was basically taleggio, a spoon of milk, a couple of sage leaves, some nutmeg that i let melt in a separate pan. once the gnocchi started floating, i transferred it straight away and let it cook for a minute more, the sauce being absorbed by the potato and flour pillows. shredded some parmesan on top, done. didn't even add salt or pepper, it didn't need it.

taleggio isn't a very mild cheese, nor a very strong one either. it smells stronger than it tastes. but the complexity of flavour is what's great about taleggio - the strong aromas, the salty taste, hints of fruit maybe... i'm not really good at explaining these things. it's texture is also great. by my estimates, somewhere between a double- and triple-cream cheese, this cheese is made for melting. it doesn't need a strong temperature before the barely firm cheese turns into rivers of white, as i would imagine warm marshmallow in the factory before getting cut up into smaller pieces.

recently i had some taleggio and raclette that were going to be going bad soon, so I made some great grilled cheese sandwiches. just with some standard kuwaiti white bread, cooked in a pan with some butter. i though honey would be a good dipping sauce for it, and it was. this cheese also goes really well with leeks on some pastry. it needs that accent, either sweet or savoury, to bring out the subtleties of the flavour.

edit: yes, according to wikipedia, taleggio is 48% fat, which puts it right between double cream (40%) and triple cream (60%)

Monday, March 14, 2011

sides to go with everything

the eating experience should be a balance of tastes, textures, colours and aromas. sometimes you get a beautiful cut of meat and grill it, but you can't just have a steak without anything on the side. steak and chips, steak and salad, steak and vegetables. sometimes I want nothing more than a few of the freshest vegetables simply prepared. lightly marinated with some olive oil, salt and pepper as well as an acidic elements as well - vinegar, lemon juice, etc. in fact i could eat grilled green onions with every meal.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

blood orange sorbet

As promised earlier, here is something I made with an ingredient that's been available for the last couple of weeks. i know i always talk in superlatives, but blood oranges really are one of my favourite fruits, definitely the most balanced citrus. You have to watch out, though, that sometimes they advertise pink oranges as blood oranges. the only similarity is the colour, although barely, but they taste like orange oranges. They are good, but not as good as blood oranges. The juice has to look like this...

All you really have to do is juice it, add about 50 g of sugar for every 250 ml of juice (put the sugar in a pan and put just enough juice to start dissolving the sugar into it) and then put the mix in the machine. Two ingredients, that's it. I could easily just have the juice by itself, but it's really nice in this form as well.

fettucini bolognese

well worth the wait. this sauce took over a couple of hours to cook. first, the carrots, onions and celery were fried in some olive oil. they were removed, then the minced meat was seared before adding the vegetables back and cooking, then adding flavouring, pureed tomatoes and water. then a two hour wait.
served on fettucini and topped with some parmesan. i had more a couple of hours later. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ode to spinach

Spinach has to be one of my favourite all time vegetables. To me, it represents vitality and strength. Maybe I watched Popeye too often as a kid, but I honestly love the stuff. Always did. I love a raw spinach salad with crushed walnuts, some very thinly sliced red onions and a nice slightly sweetened balsamic vinaigrette. Spinach is also one of the key ingredients in my much-beloved shabzi. It's a versatile vegetable that works well in many combinations.

Unfortunately time moves on, seasons come and go. As the season for nice winter greens is coming to an end, I decided to go all out with an italian version of creamed spinach. I love original creamed spinach, flavoured with onions, milk and bay leaves, but this version has cream, some garlic and parmesan cheese.

However, as seasons end, they begin for other things. Tonight I will make one of my favourite desserts featuring an item that just started showing up in the vegetable market last week, or the week before. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 7, 2011

many bites

Sometimes you're feeding a lot of people. What food do people like? In this case, the party was a group of teenagers - I had to be create a diversity of food that would appeal to most. Now that I look at it, bread has a lot to do with party food. Bread makes things easy to handle and allows for a lot of flavour in a small package.

The menu, if I remember correctly, was

  • Mini burgers with balsamic-glazed red pepper / onion compote
  • Chicken curry baguettes
  • Arancini with mozzarella and tomato sauce
  • Goat cheese and roasted vegetable galettes

This was a few years ago, but it's still food that i would enjoy today, although I may have evolved in terms of presentation and portion size. The fervor in the kitchen was uplifting and helped me really grow a fondness for team work in the kitchen. A lot can be accomplished.

Arancini are great. But, as I learned, best served warm unless modified slightly to include a couple of additions. If the pieces were cut diagonally, topped with a small piece of tomato which has been soaked in olive oil and garlic, with salt and pepper. Put a skewer through it and I think it could be a winner. 

Bread. So simple, so humble, so good. 

stereo blogging - cucina update

It wasn't intentional, but since we were sitting on opposite sides of the table, we captured the food from different angles. Stereo blogging. Two points of view, same event.

grilled shrimp

We developed this dish as an appetizer in our old restaurant, amaya. Those really were the good old days. When you have great, fresh ingredients sometimes it's just best to serve them simply. This appetizer called for large shrimp, tail on, peel off, marinated in a very simple sauce with olive oil, garlic, lemon, some herbs and then grilled.  Even though I wasn't the biggest seafood fan, running and developing the restaurant got me to appreciate good seafood. It was great fun coming up with early concepts for the menu. Lots of experimentation and quite a few successes. Unfortunately, because of licensing issues with the location, we had to close down. We are waiting for the day and the opportunity to bring amaya back. She will come back with a vengeance. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

cucina, missoni hotel, salmiya, kuwait.

Always looking for a new place to dine in Kuwait, something that brings more to the table than your average place, I was happy to hear about the cucina restaurant at the new missoni hotel opening up. To be honest, it was more of a discovery through deductive reasoning: I knew the hotel was opening and reckoned that it would have a good italian restaurant. And to be honest it did not disappoint.

Having done some research about the cucina at the Edinburgh missoni hotel, I knew that it focused on well made, simply presented food and that the menu was put together by no other than one of my favourite chefs, Giorgio Locatelli.

This is the kind of food better eaten than discussed, but I have to say that I was impressed by the flavour of the food. In Italian cooking, ingredients are key and the cucina made sure that everything was just as good as it would be at any good hotel around the world. One thing I did miss, however, was a good wine list.

For many more photos, please read after the jump...

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Ask somewhat what they think a good pizza is, you'll get different answers. The thin vs thick crust debate in an eternal one, and toppings are another. Above is a vegetable pizza I tried making, but wasn't my best result. The crust ended up being a bit too thick for my liking, as I was trying to make it as thin as possible. I like my crust paper thin, just strong enough to carry the toppings. This was another vegan experiment but I honestly think some mozzarella cheese would have certainly helped. What do you think is the best pizza? I tried the pizza from Lorenzo the other day and didn't think it was that bad. Quite a few new Italian restaurants opening up these days, I wonder how they compare.

Friday, March 4, 2011

salt and coffee? blue cheese and chocolate?

Do you find some foods too bitter? Add salt. Try it: get a strong coffee, add just a bit of salt to it - not enough to taste of salt, a half a pinch. Taste it before and after. Add some more salt and try it again. You'll be surprised, this actually works. Try it with tonic water as well and you'll see that the bitterness reduces. Apparently, this can't be explained scientifically.

Also, since I had some leftover gorgonzola from my pasta I decided to make a quick dessert out of one of my favourite flavour combinations. Dark chocolate + gorgonzola. You won't believe it until you try it. Apparently, about two thirds of the compounds that make up the flavours of both ingredients are common, so what you end up with is a beautiful chocolate taste with the floral aromas but not the sharpness of blue cheese. If you don't like blue cheese then you probably won't like this, but if you do, then give it a shot. You won't be disappointed.

spaghetti gorgonzola

So I had some leftover pasta from a couple of days ago, when I made the spaghetti with tomato sauce. As long as you immediately rinse the pasta after cooking to stop the cooking process and store it in the fridge in an air-tight container, then it should be fine within a couple of days.

Today's variation was a gorgonzola cream sauce. Melt some butter in a pan, add cheeses (I melted the gorgonzola first before adding some parmesan) and slowly heat. Once the cheese has just melted, add salt, pepper and some grated nutmeg. And of course, add the cream. Allow the ingredients to mingle until properly mixed and then reduce until nice and thick. Then add the pasta and allow it to heat through. Done. So simple, so good. 

vietnamese spring rolls

Lots of different kinds of spring rolls in the world. Some fried, some baked, some steamed, and others raw. I remember the first time I tried these, I was slightly hesitant. But after one bite I understood what the vietnamese spring roll meant. Encased in water-soaked rice paper, filled with rice noodles, a salad of tasty greens, bean sprouts and carrots, offset by the crunchiness of deep-fried tofu, these rolls are a winner. Variations include the addition of some protein, either chicken, shrimp, a combination, or anything else. This is a versatile dish that can be accommodated to your tastes.

The sauce is one that I put together with various influences and happens to be my favourite for these spring rolls. The peanut, mustard, honey, tamarind and chilies work hand in hand to create an aroma that complements the filling of the rolls. It's always good to keep your own portion of the dipping sauce as you really wouldn't want to share. It's that good.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

spaghetti pomodoro

Sometimes all I want is a simple plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce for lunch. Usually a few hours before I play tennis, i go for a portion of these delicious carbs to give me a boost of energy. With a side of simple salad with either a balsamic or lemon juice vinaigrette, this is the quintessential efficient lunch.

I make sure that I use spaghetti of a good brand, usually from Dean and Deluca, that is pressed through brass mould, as opposed to being pressed through a plastic mould. This allows the texture of the pasta to be slightly rough in order to grab onto the sauce, leaving nothing on the plate at the end.

The sauce is made with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, tomato puree and a couple of shakes of dried basil. I also put in a small piece each of carrot and celery that I take out after cooking - they add a nice aroma to the sauce.

Topped with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and it's ready. 

shanks and chips

Dinner tonight was lamb shanks and chips, one of my favourite interpretations of meat and potatoes. I let the lamb shanks marinade overnight and the result was a flavourful, melt-in-your-mouth experience. The marinade included mock-wine (grape juice and red wine vinegar), thyme, bay leaves, two heads of garlic and peppercorns. Before braising in the oven, I browned the shanks after lightly dusting them with flour. I then roughly chopped 4 big onions and let them caramelize in the juices of the browned meat over very low fire. Replaced the shanks, poured over the remainder of the marinade, covered with foil then into a moderate/low oven for a couple of hours.

The chips are cooked in the Heston Blumenthal triple-cooked method. The result is a chip that is fluffy on the inside and glassy on the outside. Yes, glassy. Heston explains that the state of any material when it reaches this state, extremely crunchy and can shatter into small pieces. To me it is the only way to cook chips. It's worth the wait and isn't really as cumbersome as many of his other techniques. First you run them under cold water for about ten minutes, then boil until just cooked all the way through. Placed on a wire rack over a tray, the chips should be allowed to dry out until cooled. After a while, heat oil in a pan until you reach 130 degrees celsius. Fry the potatoes until they look dehydrated, a light skin will develop and they will turn slightly yellow. Repeat the drying process, this time in the fridge. Let them cool down and then take them out to get back to room temperature before finally frying once again at 190 degrees. Each of the frying processes must be carefully controlled because if the oil gets hotter than the temperatures stated above, the chips may burn.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

quality or quantity?

I tend to think of the unique creation, the singular portion, whether for one or a table. But hardly more than that. It's easy to wing it, figure things out on the fly.

I was on a short-haul kuwait airways flight leaving kuwait at around 11 am and was handed a tray containing a muffin, a chicken sandwich, 100 ml each of water and orange juice. I wondered what the manpower and costing of the tray of generic food was. Especially at the bulk rates for such huge quantities. Consistency was guaranteed - pretty consistently pathetic if you really care about it. It's small details that count. And if the details are well done, at the singular scale then theoretically it should be replicated with a higher quality.

I guess, though, that the food was of three(out of five) star quality. Cafeteria quality, generic. The chicken sandwich was actually the most disappointing. The bread was a kind of baguette. Slightly plasticy-waxy on the outside, somewhat soft on the inside, good to soak up a good sauce. The chicken filling was a rather weak interpretation of a coronation chicken. So what would have been a better filling? Considering the same costing... there are many options out there. simple, interesting and unique spices to cater to the markets.

what should an institution that provides you food, of which you have little option, promote in their food? what opportunities are there? could there be something that improves the image of the institution (airline)? Should there be a character, or is cafeteria/generic what people expect and want?

It is this essence that i believe can be looked at in any system. Reevaluation. Determine the balance between quality and quantity. Or between several different qualities. Apply this to airline food or urban planning or music or anything. At least those are the realms i tend to exist in.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

curry comfort

What is comfort food? Something I want to eat again and again. It doesn't matter if I had it yesterday, I could go for it again today. That to me is comfort food. It should have a taste that I never get tired of, it should put me in a mindset that's relaxed, content, satisfied.

Curry is one of my comfort foods. It's really not that hard to make. Just a couple of times to figure out how to get your blender to work the way you want it. Above are most of the ingredients that go into my interpretation of a thai red curry paste. On the plate in front are garlic, ginger (when I can't find galangal), lemongrass and cut up kafir lime leaves. Fresh green chillies, onion, in the mortar coriander and cumin seeds freshly roasted in a pan. Then I add paprika, soy sauce, some lime juice and some crushed dried chillies. I then put a bit of olive oil just to help it bind in the blender.

The resulting paste is the base of flavour in your curry. You should experiment with quantities and perhaps other ingredients until you get the flavour that works for you. I have an intuitive sense for these things and, more importantly, I taste as i go along... or smell in this case, because the paste is quite pungent.

This paste goes well with everything. Today's selection was a purely vegan affair. Zucchini, carrots, sweet peppers, diced potatoes...

As with any kind of curry you're making, the paste goes in the pan until it dehydrates a bit and the aromas are released. Then the vegetables go in and are mixed with the paste for a few minutes before pouring in coconut milk. As it cooks, taste and adjust. I usually put in a tablespoon or so of brown sugar. It works really well in contributing to the sense of harmony in the dish: salty, hot, spicy, aromatic, slightly sweet... Sometimes you need to add a couple of stalks of lemongrass to add more of that flavour - just break up the stalks without tearing them apart and let them seep in the stock while cooking. When the vegetables - or whatever else you're cooking - are done, then the curry is done. Serve with or over rice and enjoy.

This one's about the flavour!

Friday, January 28, 2011

sous-vide steak

It seems that I have been in the mood for steak lately. I satiated that need today with steak cooked the way I like it. I got the steaks from Prime Cuts in Salmiya. 

When I look for steaks, I like them to be marbled with fat to keep them moist while cooking. The fat also adds flavour to the steaks and, yes, sometimes you get a sense that the cows lived happy lives, eating the freshest grass off the field. So how do I get the feeling that I did the cow justice, that its life wasn't in vain? I cook it properly. I want a steak that has the same colour from as close to one edge as the other. It should also have a nicely caramelized, charred surface.

Sous-vide cooking involves cooking an ingredient in a sealed environment in a water bath. The item should be vacuum-packed in preparation for being placed in a body of water that is heated to exactly the temperature that you want the ingredient to be cooked to. Sometimes, additional flavouring can be added prior to vacuum-packing to infuse the ingredient with seasonings and aromas. I saw this technique used on Iron Chef about eight or nine years ago and thought that it was a show-off technique - at the time I was really trying to learn more about flavour combinations - however, a couple of years ago, I tried to do it myself. And I'm more than glad that I did. Honestly, I don't want my steak cooked any other way. While researching this technique for cooking, I found that steak, eggs (for poached eggs) and salmon are typically considered, ingredients that require very delicate cooking to ensure a desired effect.

While I do not own an automatically controlled water thermal bath, and I have been told they are sold in Kuwait in medical / laboratory supply shops, I have figured out how to regulate the temperature myself. It involves a large pot of water, an accurate thermometer and an adjustable stove-top. Luckily, I have both gas and electric hobs to work with, and today I started on the gas then moved to electric, with better and more consistent results (due to lower temperatures).

I like my steak cooked to medium-rare, about 130 degrees F. I have read on other food blogs that others tend to agree with cooking to that temperature. However, I would have to trust the source and handling conditions of the meat to be able to eat it at that level of doneness.

As it goes on, you can see the colour change. The cooking process for steaks as thick as I selected them, or any other steak really, is about an hour. What's good about this technique is that you can be flexible with the cooking time, as you cannot exceed the temperature of the water bath.

There is a limit, however, as excessive heating even at these temperatures will result in a denaturing of the meat and eventually turn it mushy. This limit, though, is several hours, so you place your steaks in the water bath about an hour before you intend to serve... and if dinner is delayed a little bit, you don't have to worry because all you have to do before serving is sear the steak. And it won't go cold while you're waiting. I do this on a very hot griddle pan so that you can achieve the crusting treatment that you want without heating the steak too deeply. I want the meat to maintain the same colour and texture from as close to the surface as possible.

After taking the meat out of the bags, I just cover with freshly crushed salt and pepper and then sear. With this particular cut of steak, I let the trim of fat go first and then sear each side until I see the sear lines that I like. What's nice about cooking the steak sous-vide is the consistency of doneness throughout the steak as well as having the fat cooked as well - it is quite juicy and edible rather than how it usually turns out with surface cooking.

I may consider placing a lifting device (maybe a steaming vessel) or something similar so that the heat of the bottom of the pan does not affect the steak. I have been fairly successful so far in maintaining the temperatures that I require without over-cooking my steaks, but I imagine a fully automated water thermal bath may give some ease of mind as I can just put my steaks in there and forget about them for a while. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

parmigiano reggiano

A couple of years ago I was given one of the best gifts I have ever received, a barrel of 36 month aged organic parmigiano reggiano from a boutique farmer in the region. Well, it was brought to me by a relative who lives in Italy and understands how fundamentally important it is to me. 
To this day, I remember the mature creaminess and flavour. What they say about this cheese is true: it imparts a sensibility of umami, the other sense of taste; it just lifts everything it touches with a beautiful aroma that seems to work with almost everything. When I am given 5 kilos of this delicacy, at first I think of how I could lavishly splurge with the ingredient. I could eat it raw, shaved and dispersed over a dish, or eat a dish in which it is a key ingredient in the cooking. I elected to, of course, eat the pieces that broke off as I was chiseling the barrel into portions for storing, but then I made one of my favourite dishes, parmesan risotto. So plain - rice, the aroma of the stock in the background and the parmesan and butter that are used to finish off the dish. To achieve this simplicity, you need two tools in your arsenal: proper cooking technique and perfect ingredients. Thankfully, this barrel provided me with the latter. 

Biological = organic.

This particular cheese reminded me of some kind of geological formation. With beautiful shards and crystalline-seeming arrangements, this cheese certainly didn't disappoint. It may have been slightly stronger than the "parmesan" we get in Kuwait (which is usually gran padano sold as parmesan). Gran padano is made in pretty much the same was as parmigiano reggiano, but because it's made outside of the designated zone it can't be called parmesan - however, it is more commonly available and seems to me slightly more mellow in flavour and aroma than this cheese.