Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Critics Have Spoken! Portland Food Coma Is A Hit!

The Reviews are In!
Thanks Everyone For a Great Year!

"This guy is a friggin gluttonous moronic pig to say the least....Now it looks like we'll be footing his medical bills because of his lifestyle choices!!! Hurry up and croak!"

"He has been awarded the Jeffrey K. Monroe Lifetime Achievement Award."

"Generation ZERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
-heyjoe (number one fan)

"Maybe he's not so stupid after all. I think he might be looking for a piece of that 4.3 million that we just got to fight obesity."

"looks like he idolizes Belushi...the dead one."

"eeewwww.. he is just gross"

"Justin Ellis and is continual persona of the stupid and mundane still pervades this rag... Get some real articulate writers of the human condition instead of gluttonous Neanderthals that portend to be food experts... This is really the bottom of the barrel!!!!"

"Belushi plus Farley equals dead. The guy has a coke habit that is going to kill him. Do we celebrate the homeless alcoholic addicts in Portland? Not a fan."

"This guy is a moron to say the least. He is the reason why so many Mainers are overweight. When eating out, I always ask for a "to go" container when they bring my food. The servers don't like this but I don't eat out that often, but when I do, the food is going home with me. If they would lower their prices, and serve smaller meals, they would also have more customers. But this guy is just a "pig" and to think that I as a taxpayer will be paying for his medical bills now. So wrong, have a heart attack and die and save us all the money."

"There is a huge difference between enjoying foie gras and wine, and blowing a rail of cocaine the size of my arm and pounding vodka straight out of the bottle. He's an addict and an embarassment to the Portland culture scene. Disgusting."

"The point is that he's disgusting and ready to die. The coke, hard alcohol and other excesses should not be celebrated. Have a good time, enjoy food, but don't make a mess out of yourself. Which he does. Do you think the staff at Maine Magazine are aware of his cocaine habit? I have SEEN him do more coke in one sitting than I have ever seen in movies. There is a problem. It is undeniable. He isn't going to live past 33 like Belushi. Blood Pressure and cholesterol pills ain't going to help this guy!"



Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't You Worry About Buddha, He's "Taken Care Of...."

Day 3

As the final day begins, we all enjoy our schedule being radically fucked up from daylight savings time. All it really meant to me was that I was cracking open an ice-cold Schlitz at 10:30 instead of 9:30, which was brilliant.

Karl arrives and starts our lunch, smoked pork banh mi sandwiches with a side of mustard greens. As if these weren’t delicious enough, he poached a few eggs to give it more of a “brunch” feel. We have one round of sandwiches with toasted buns (that he got from Kim's), and then another with a soft bun, because Karl decides that the toasted ones weren't good enough. This lunch pretty much de-rails us for about a half hour and we meet in the living room to digest and discuss the game plan for the day. I also take this opportunity to declare my new-found love for Schlitz, with a kiss of the hops. We’ve got the whole team at this point – Drew, Nolan, Karl, Dietz, and myself – so the work gets done quickly.

What’s interesting about BJOTW (I’ll call it that from now on) is how many times each of the elements is cooked. For example, the daikon, bamboo shoots, and carrots are all blanched in oil, simmered, and then steamed. The meats get stir-fried with aromatics and then also get simmered before being added to the final pot for a steaming. The quail eggs are boiled an then deep fried to garnish the finished dish, and all of the “luxury” ingredients (shark, abalone, dried scallops, and Yunnan ham) are wrapped in cheesecloth together and steamed a second time.

The day goes at a fairly leisurely pace, with occasional intermissions to watch Rocky IV on the big screen upstairs. After Creed is killed by Drago, Karl needs a tissue because "the air is so dry in here" - which I think is adorable. We continue to drink the only Chinese beer available in Maine right now, Tsing Tao, but quickly abandon the "authentic" feel for other Asian beers such as Singha, Ki-Rin, Asahi, and Sapporo.
When it comes time for final assembly, the braising liquid from the meats and birds goes into the pot, and then a rack. On top of the rack goes bamboo leaves, then the meats, the “luxury” ingredients, and the vegetables. The entire pot is topped off with a big louts leaf and left to steam for an hour and a half.

The meats and vegetables are removed to a platter, and the broth goes into a tureen. The traditional Chinese way of serving is each plate of food gets a little broth poured over and you are given an additional cup of liquid gold to sip.

You’re probably wondering, after 4 posts, how this fucking thing tasted.....

I’ll go play by play:

1. The Broth
The aroma is what got Buddha over the wall in the first place, and holy shit was this good. Meaty, complex, and some of the best I've ever had.

2. Chicken & Duck
Perfectly tender and flavorful, especially the chicken.

3. Lamb & Pork
The flavor was great but some of it got a little dried out during the last steam. The broth took care of this problem, though.

4. Shark’s Fin
I have to say this tasted amazing, with a pleasant gelatinous texture.

5. Abalone
This had great flavor and a lot of snap to the texture, I really enjoyed it.

6. Dried Scallops
Better for flavoring than eating....

7. Yunnan Ham
Also a component that added flavor to the final dish but not great to eat on it’s own due to drying out.

8. Daikon & Carrots
I was amazed at the fact that they were cooked perfectly, I thought for sure they would be mush. I’m assuming the blanching in hot oil had something to do with this?

9. Bamboo Shoots
Fresh bamboo shoots taste a lot like fresh corn with a very creamy texture – I loved these.

10. Pig’s Feet
I like gnawing on pig’s feet, because it’s fatty and wonderful and it makes me happy. So fuck you.

The Sides

1. Snow Pea Shoots with Steamed Mushrooms
The mushrooms, after being soaked, got steamed in a bowl with chicken fat, stock, soy, ginger, scallions, and gin. They were a wonderful accompaniment to the pea shoots cooked in garlic oil.

2. Choi Sum with Yunnan Ham
The choi sum was delicious stir-fried in onion oil, but as mentioned earlier, the ham got dried out. I think next time I might substitute steamed Chinese bacon here.

3. Mustard Green Stems in Sweet Mustard Sauce
This dish is so easy, yet so delicious. The mustard sauce was just colman’s powder, water, sugar, salt, and sesame oil. It was a perfect match for the stems stir-fried in coriander oil.

4. Lotus Root with Pickled Peach Sauce
We made the executive decision here to deep-fry the lotus root, and it definitely paid off. The pickled peach sauce was good even though the quality of peaches available wasn’t stellar.

5. Steamed Buns
Perfect for sopping up the insanely-good broth.

All in all, it was a delicious feast and an amazing experience. I can’t encourage you enough to get involved in ridiculous cooking projects like this, you learn so much and it’s a great excuse to be drunk for three days. A highlight of the party was my friend Stephen showing up with a 1981 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco. It’s old whites like this that keep me interested in wine, with so much funk and layers of flavors. I would almost describe it’s flavor as “pears served with barbeque chips,” very cool.

Josh Potocki gives me my birthday present at this point: a 6 pack of PBR, a bag of Jack Links “prime” beef jerky, and the latest issue of Penthouse Magazine. Have you read Penthouse lately? It’s actually more enjoyable to read than shitty men’s magazines like GQ or Esquire, and I’m not just talking about the obvious reasons. The articles made me laugh a few times, and they swear a lot – which I enjoy. The bottom line here is: I think I want a job writing for Penthouse.

Everyone is now drunk and wearing lotus leaves in creative manners, such as "The Cabbage Patch Kid," "Ming the Merciless," and "Lotus Ga-Ga." Things start to wind down at this point, I think due to lack of hard liquor.

I love waking up in a house full of leftovers, especially these kind. I fired up some chicken stock and simmered a few pieces of smashed ginger in it, and then tossed in some leftover pork, duck, and chicken. I then added black soy, salt, chopped mustard greens, and scallions. I finished the soup by poaching an egg in it, and served with cracked black pepper and Japanese red pepper flakes (togarashi).

Though Buddha seemed to have taken off, I did find some leftover beer in the refrigerator crisper. Hot soup and ice-cold beer are Nirvana enough for me....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Buddha Says, "Pass The Courvoisier"

Day 2

As Buddha jumps over the wall enters the second day of production, I feel a strange calm about the situation. I strain and de-fat the stocks while Dietz puts together the game plan for afternoon. Nolan arrives and we immediately tell him “how amazing this new shaoxing wine is” and how “he needs to try it, he isn’t even going to believe it.”

Nolan’s reaction to the unpleasant orgy of bitterness makes me feel a little bad, but I’m too busy laughing hysterically to do anything about it. With the initiation into club Buddha out of the way, we begin the next step in preparing the shark’s fin. It needs to be steamed with superior stock, shoaxing, scallions, and ginger for about thirty minutes.

The abalone gets steamed next, with superior stock, lard, wine, and ginger for about two hours. The shells are gorgeous, and I feel like they will really help complete my Little Mermaid costume, so we boil them to clean. This afternoon consists mostly of prepping meats for the next day, as well as soaking dried mushrooms and simmering the fresh bamboo shoots.

I’m especially excited about the beautiful piece of Lamb top-round we’ve procured from Pat’s. That gets broken down, along with the pork shoulder and Yunnan ham (after a bit of simmering) and goes into the fridge.

Lunch is always a big deal during extended cooking projects, as we have many delicious components at our disposal from the task at hand. We make barbeque pulled pork out of the stock meat, which we add fat and sauce to. We serve this over French fries, with a side of chili & ginger broccoli. We also make kind of a ghetto chicken confit by taking the leftovers from the stock and adding the strained fat to it. Why the fuck not?

That night we break down the chicken and the duck so they can be put into a brine overnight. I have to say I absolutely love my Chinese meat cleaver I got in Boston for like, 14.95. We decide to have a snack of duck livers and chicken oysters to make the job more worthwhile.

Tomorrow is the final day, and we will have the whole team together to make it happen. One major dish, four side dishes, and steamed bread to pull it all together. Rather than make a production out of wines, I’ve opted for simple – Tsing Tao beer and Tea.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Buddha Is All Like, "Hey! What's Going On Here...."

Day One

The actual cooking begins. I spend all morning shopping and tying up loose ends because I know my friend Jess is taking me out for lunch to ply me with Margaritas. I needed to make sure I had everything I needed, while I was still fit to drive.
The first stop is Pat’s Meat Market, where I pick up three large chickens, a five pound pork shoulder, three pounds of lamb top round, a five pound duck, two pounds of chicken wings, and three pounds of smoked ham hock. I really can’t say enough about the service and quality here, everything is top notch. I then have a minor “pig’s feet-tastrophe” when Haknuman Meachey, my usual go-to, is out. Hannaford’s randomly saves the day, not only having the trotters but also splitting them up for me.

Now that my fridge is overflowing with meat, it seemed like a reasonable time to have several Margaritas. This puts me in the mindset to begin making stocks when I get home. Buddha jumps over the wall calls for two, a chicken and a “superior.” Both contain fried vegetables, where the infused oils are reserved for use in the main dish later.

The Two Stocks:

Superior Stock (Chiu Kop Seung Tong)

4 pounds pork neck bones
3 pounds pork butt
1 six pound whole chicken, cut into six pieces
2.5 pounds smoked ham hocks
½ pound fresh ginger, lightly smashed
1 bunch fresh scallions, trimmed and cut in half
¼ cup fried shallots
½ cup fried scallions
2 gallons cold water

Chicken Stock (Gai Seung Tong)

1 eight pound whole chicken (including giblets), cut into six pieces
2 pounds chicken wings
7.5 quarts cold water
½ pound fresh ginger, lightly smashed
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch fresh scallions, trimmed and cut into thirds
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
¼ pound fresh cilantro, cut into thirds
¼ cup fried onions
½ teaspoon whole white peppercorns
¼ pound dried boxthorn fruit (wolfberries), soaked for ten minutes

Both stocks call for all the meat to be blanched to remove impurities and then you combine everything in the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer partially covered at a very low heat for at least 6 hours. Strain, allow to cool, and skim the layer of fat off of the top. These are very good all-purpose stocks, which is why I included the recipes.
I find that a good thing to do while you wait is go to work. After a very busy night at Miyake, and complimentary pizzas from the owners of Pizzeria Otto, Masa makes me my birthday cake – Dashi Tomago, a Japanese egg omelette (which I love), with Nato beans and minced Daikon radish (which I’m not so into).

My house smells amazing when I get home, and you can start to see why Buddha may have been tempted. Karl from Miyake now joins the fray to do a little prep with Dietz and I. We pull the stocks off the stove and begin prepping the abalone, which is brought to a boil, simmered, and then left in liquid overnight to soften. The shark’s fin goes into a mixture of rice vinegar and water, also to hang out overnight.
A note about shark's fin: I know this is a highly un-ethical industry, and honestly I do feel bad about using it. However, I also feel that every element of this dish needs to be authentic, and I promise no more shark's fin after this....

We open a bottle of Rene Geoffroy Rose Champagne, and start hard boiling the quail eggs. Next up is prepping the dried scallops, which immediately dispels the nice meat broth smell in the kitchen in favor of shaoxing wine mixed with low tide, which probably caused Buddha to go back over the wall. Though they may not be great now, you can definitely see how they will enhance the dish.
It is at this point that Dietz decide he is going to do a taste comparison of the two shaoxing wines we have on hand. The first, the cheapest, reminds him of overly sweet and cheap sherry. He then tries the “nicer” of the two and immediately runs to the sink to spit it out. I think he looked like he was going to vomit for about five solid minutes, as he described the layers of bitterness that kept “going and going.” I guess my quest for “drinkable” Shaoxing continues...

Tomorrow Nolan joins team Buddha as we push forward towards some kind of fucked-up culinary Nirvana. The first manner of business is to subject him to the "Shaoxing taste test."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Buddha Begins....

With my 31st Birthday coming up on Friday, I have a assembled a small group of cooks to help me cook what many Chinese people consider to be "the ultimate feast." That's right, we are going to attempt to prepare "Buddha jumps over the wall."

There are many versions of the story behind this dish, but my favorite involves a traveling scholar who set up to cook it one night outside of a Buddhist temple. Allegedly the aroma was so intoxicating with meats that it caused many of the vegetarian monks to say fuck it and climb over the walls to eat. It is said that the dish is so good that even Buddha himself would jump over the wall to devour a huge bowl.

Well, there are no vegetarians invited to eat with us, but I may reconsider if their willing to convert. We are using a recipe from “The Chinese Kitchen” by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. It contains over twenty components, including a host of side dishes, and takes three days to prepare. The meats are presented on a platter, and the broth is served in cups.

Just to give you an idea, some of the ingredients are:

Shark’s fin
Dried scallops
Two separate stocks (requiring lots of meats)
Yunnan ham (like a Chinese version of Smithfield ham)
Whole chicken
Whole duck
Pork shoulder
Lamb top round
Dozen quail eggs
Bamboo leaves
Lotus leaves
Fresh bamboo shoots

The traditional side dishes:

Snow Pea Shoots with Steamed Mushrooms
Choi Sum with Yunnan Ham
Mustard Green Stems in Sweet Mustard Sauce
Lotus Root with Pickled Peach Sauce
Chinese Steamed Bread

So it began this morning, when Drew and I headed down to Chinatown for some of the harder to find ingredients. We perfected an amazing move at the toll booths on the way down, where Drew would roll down the window and hold his hand out as if we were paying cash, then I would fake them out with the EZ pass. It’s the little things sometimes.....

We start out at Penang Restaurant for a Chinese breakfast soup known as “Bak Kut Teh.” It’s has rich and aromatic broth, a perfect balance of sweet and medicinal. It contains pork ribs, belly, trotters, and intestines. Washed down with an ice cold beer, I can’t think of a better way to begin my day.

Immediately I can see why this is such a special occasion dish, as the dried scallops, shark’s fin, and abalone alone come to 150.00. I find a quality bottle of Shaoxing wine at the liquor store, which i’d been searching for because the Asian markets in Portland can only sell the ones marked “cooking wine.”

Other finds include fresh bamboo shoots, dried boxthorn fruit, quality dried black mushrooms, lotus leaves, choi sum, yunnan ham, lotus root, and a fuckload of peanut oil (we’re going to need it).

With shopping phase one complete, I can officially say that I’m going to be really pissed off if this doesn’t come out well. On the other hand, cooking with four good friends for three days is fun no matter what the outcome.

I'll keep you posted each step of the way....

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Re-Make of "The Lion King"

Sometimes you just need a vacation, even if it’s only one night.

Such was the case last week when Ms. Katie Schier and I embarked on an epic journey to see just how much damage we could do to ourselves in one evening. In order to properly pull this off, you’re going to need a great hotel with assorted animal-print robes and ridiculous d├ęcor. The Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge fit the bill perfectly, so I booked a large suite as our base of operations.
The ride down featured us belting out Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” to absolute perfection. We performed it so well that for the duration of the song, it was as if I myself were “The Flame.” I may or may not be listening to it right now as I write….

The suite was fairly large, around 542.6 sq. ft., and at first we were delighted to see that it had a telescope. This turned to frustration, as we couldn’t figure out if it was broken or not, so it pretty much became a prop for a late-night photo shoot. We came to the conclusion that if someone’s house were decorated like the room, we would hate that person. For our purposes, however, it was perfect.
The leopard robe was my first choice, but unfortunately the zebra robe was more suited to the “plus-size” individual. I’m a total asshole so I brought appropriate stemware for each of the wines, as if it were going to matter after bottle number four. Dietz and I officially endorse Spiegelau brand stems for all of our drinking needs, by the way. They are much better than the base level Riedel, and less expensive (because shit gets broken).

The first wine:
NV Rene Geoffroy Rose de Saignee Brut, Champagne

According to Terry Thiese, this is what “strawberries would taste like if they had orgasms.” I would have to agree and it lasted all of 20 minutes before we downed the whole bottle. It was at this time that Katie mentioned to me “that she hadn’t eaten all day.” This was going to be interesting…

We head off to the East Coast Grill, also in Cambridge, for dinner. I love this restaurant, especially on the two nights a year that they do “Hell Night.” On these occasions they change the lights out to red ones, play metal, and serve insanely hot food. They charge ten dollars for a glass of milk, and feature the “pasta from hell” – a habanero Bolognese with habanero-spiked sausage. It is, to this day, the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten. The Mr. Bungle track “It’s not funny my ass is on fire” comes to mind.

This wasn’t hell night, but the regular menu is delicious as well. We plow through a dozen oysters, and then move on to sweetbreads, pork belly, and the pu-pu platter – the best element of which was the smoked duck spring rolls.

With the oysters we drink a bottle of:
2007 La Droissy Vouvray, Loire Valley

This was refreshing and had nice acidity to compliment the oysters. Loire Valley whites are up there with German Riesling for me as wines I constantly gravitate to on lists.

We drain this quickly and move on to a bottle of:
2007 Trimbach Gewurtztraminer, Alsace

The intense aromas of honeysuckle and lychee made me feel like a total shithead when I started talking about them. This is a mass-produced but consistently decent wine, so it’s a safe choice, and it goes very well with the elements of the pu-pu platter.
At this point I’m getting pretty lit up, and am starting to entertain, or horrify, the staff (see picture). Katie has her ridiculous camera out and is snapping pictures of me pulling up my shirt to show off my bacon cross tattoo. One of the servers, who actually knew about this blog, takes me into the kitchen for more tattoo-time, and then Katie knocks over a glass of wine.

This seems like a perfect time for two enormous shots of:
Herradura Blanco Tequila

We decide not to overstay our welcome and call a taxi. The cabbie is listening to reggae, which prompts Katie to start a ridiculous conversation with him that I don’t remember. What I do remember is that after we paid and got out, he came driving back, rolled down his window, and said he wanted to give us a “gift.” He produced two Newport cigarettes out of nowhere, thanked us, and then headed off into the night. I’m still mildly confused about this whole incident.
We decide to get stoned and then the drinking continues back at the room, but not before we don our robes again.

Next on the list:
2006 Domaine Sorine et Fils Santenay, Burgundy

A great finesse-wine for a situation that was completely devoid of finesse. I would normally drink this wine with food but on this occasion I would have to settle for a mini-dance party. As we finish this bottle, Katie’s status is questionable.

Nonetheless, we move on to:
2006 Chateau des Tours Cotes du Rhone

Even as drunk as I was, this is truly one of my favorite wines. It’s got this almost Dr. Peppery-funk to it that paired quite well with the seven dollar bag of Kettle Chips from the mini-bar. As Katie fades in to sleep, I decide that I need to order “The Hangover,” for fourteen dollars on the pay per view, even though I’ve seen in a million times. I promptly pass out in a zebra-clad heap after the first half hour. During this time, Katie wakes up and has her way with me, photographically, in this state.
Around 4 a.m., something amazing happened. We both woke up at the same time, actually feeling fairly refreshed, all things considered. We toss the idea around of opening the bottle of Riesling I’d brought, but decide to get stoned instead and go back to sleep. Katie decides that she needs the can of honey-roasted peanuts from the mini bar, so I grab handful and shovel them into my mouth.

What I learned is that you should never:
1. Wake up dehydrated from drinking
2. Get stoned, causing you to have brutal cottonmouth.
3. Eat a handful of honey roasted peanuts and then pass out before you finish chewing them

I awoke about an hour later with one of the most awful and abrasive feelings in my mouth than one could ever imagine. I immediately stumble to the bathroom and start vomiting splinters of honey-roasted peanuts mixed with red wine into the toilet. Because I was so dehydrated, it was like I was some kind of honey-roasted peanut wood chipper, which was quite painful. Plus I don’t have my contact lenses in so I do a fairly poor job cleaning up to boot, so when Katie asks what the hell happened the next day, and why there were traces of red wine touching the bathtub, at least I was prepared with an amazing story.

We check out and start the ride home. On the way, in Saugus, we stop at Bill and Bob’s (right next to Kappy’s liquors) for one of my favorite sandwiches of all fucking time: The King Beef. It’s a stack of paper-thin roast beef topped with melted cheese, mayo, and Frank’s Red Hot. All of this on a toasted onion roll – fuck yes.
I proceeded to stay drunk for about 7 days after that……