Sunday, March 31, 2013

Limas and Ham

Anyone who grew up eating dinners that featured the Birdseye frozen vegetable medley like I did have no doubt ended up with a serious hate on for lima beans. I know I did. Then during the winter that is coming to a close, my counterpart introduced me to the dried variety that you cook at home however you damn well please. And, in fact, he cooked them in a cassoulet and they were excellent. The difference  between the sad little limas in the Birdseye bag and the ones you cook at home is as stark as the difference between the equally dismal corn in that medley and fresh corn on the cob.

Ham with Limas

This being Easter Sunday, we joined a majority of the Western world and baked a ham - a ham that ended up nestled in a generous bed of large, succulent Jack Rabbit limas, cooked to perfection.

For our ham, Gareth made a quick spicy-sweet glaze on the stovetop out of butter, olive oil, brown sugar, and heavy cream with a little sriracha and a splash of habanero sauce. He seasoned it with a collection of nice earthy spices - a little each of nutmeg, cinnamon, thyme, sage, allspice, and mustard. The resulting sauce was first sticky-sweet and hot with the earthiness rising as the initial flavors receded. He coated the small half-ham generously with the glaze, then placed it on a rake in a heavy baking pan to cook at 350 for a few hours. while he prepared the beans.

Ham, glazed and ready for the oven

If you have a Korean rice maker, this is perfect for cooking beans, even it (like ours) the only thing not in Korean is the Quick Start button. It's actually a very effective pressure cooker. Three times on the 20-minute quick-cook setting, adding water in between each, gives you tender, moist beans. This is how we cooked our unseasoned limas while the ham was in the oven.

Once the beans were cooked, Gareth transferred them to a large pot. He pulled the ham from the oven and nestled it in the bed of limas. He then mixed the drippings with a little can of Goya tomato and poured it all over the ham and beans in the new pot, and cooked everything together cassoulet-style for about another 30 minutes. The limas continued to break down, allowing them to suck up all the ham fat and glaze, resulting in a pork and beans dinner our grandparents would be proud of.

Dinner is served

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Asian Fusion at Ten Ten Bistro: The New Bahn Mi

Bagby's Ten Ten Bistro is rolling out some new items for their spring menu. One of the items they announced via their Facebook page is an Asian inspired Bahn Mi sandwich. Made up of Asian pork meatballs, slices of country-style pork pate, cole slaw, spicy aioli, and their own house-made pickles on a crusty roll, it sounded too interesting to not try.

The Bahn Mi sandwich as presented for carry out

Like all their sandwiches, this comes with a side of either a composed salad, house-made potato chips, or fries - regular or drizzled with duck fat. The sandwich itself was so impressively presented that a separate container was needed for my side salad. And this was a stuffed sandwich - three meatballs, two slabs of pate, a generous portion of cole slaw, plus sliced radishes and fresh cilantro inside a roll smeared with aioli orange with sriracha.

I sampled one of the meatballs first. The ground pork had a nice texture that was slightly firm with very little filler and a slightly braised exterior that gave just a little resistance when bitten. Slightly salty with a hint of soy sauce and something earthy, they were moist and tender but not greasy. The pork pate was similarly seasoned and was edged with a thin skin of bacon. Even though the flavors were very similar, the pate provided a variant texture that added interest to the sandwich while retaining a common flavor theme.

Pork meatballs and country-style pate with coarsely cut slaw and radishes

The cole slaw was creamy and coarsely cut into thick ribbons of green and purple cabbage mixed with a slightly sweet mayonnaise. The slaw was topped with equally course cuts of radishes.The bitterness of the radish, even in thick slices, was muted by the sweet slaw that allowed the zingy flavor of this much maligned root to shine through.

The sriracha aioli added a pleasant spiciness that worked well against the salty meat and sweet slaw. And the fresh cilantro provided a bright flavor that helped cut the salt, cleansed the palate and worked well with the more robust flavors showcased by this sandwich.

While the sandwich itself was quite pleasing both in flavor and mouth feel, the roll it was served in appeared to be chosen more for presentation than for anything else. It was light and flavorless and lacked the backbone to carry the weight of the sandwich. It dropped crumbs on my desk and quickly fell apart, even with the sandwich cut in half. This was not Ten Ten's best bread offering. The rolls they use for burgers and crab cakes are better tasting and solid enough to support something like this.

Overall, I remain a fan of the Ten Ten Bistro. They are experimenting with flavors and traditional bistro fare in an informed and artful manner. This fusion-based sandwich is another winner for them. Hopefully they will reconsider that roll. While it made for a beautiful photo, it also required considerable desk cleaning afterward.

Ten Ten Bistro is located in the courtyard of the Bagby Building at 1010 Fleet Street in Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood. They are open nightly for dinner, weekdays for lunch, and Sundays for brunch.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Shaping Up the Dining Room

We've taken the first half or March off from blogging to do a bit of work on the dining room. Ours was covered in wood paneling - actual natural wood - stained to a dark and dismal coffee brown that has always made our dining room feel like a cave. So this year we decided to do something about it.

Wood paneling like ours lends itself well to the cottage or beach house style of decor. I have always been against this, feeling that the whitewashed wood and deliberately distressed finish associated with it to be pretentious and off-putting a la Martha Stewart. So we didn't do it. We painted several serious layers of white semi-gloss over that stuff and it changed the entire room. We also added a deep forest green around the windows and the toe molding and have created a completely different environment.

White walls and green trim is very beach house, even without the pickling

We also purchased a much-needed china cabinet. We have an abundance of the stuff, having acquired ancestral sets from both sides of the family. Mine is a rosebud Spode pattern that was my great-grandmother's. It is simple, beautiful, and reminds me of where I come from.

Sorting the china with a little help from Gracie

My great-grandmother's Spode

My counterpart's is an elaborate set of Limoge china that one of his mother's forebears brought over from France. It is service for eight  like my great grandmother's Spode, but the Limoge is indeed a full service, consisting of dinner, salad, bread, and dessert plates, plus tea cups and saucers. Each piece has a different scene of provincial French life painted on it, from hunting to gardening to going to market. This set is truly a work of beauty and will take prominent position in the cabinet.

Salad plate

Bread plate

Dessert plate

And as I sorted through my in-laws' heirloom china, placing it carefully in my first china cabinet, in the dining room that I had designed with my spouse, I felt as if I had found my place in the domestic portion of my life. So often I cling to the old #badwife as a part of my identity when it has always masked my insecurities with creating a home, my great fear of failure as a true domestic partner. Today it is all but disappeared.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tacos de Asador

People who have never eaten an authentic taco have no idea what they are missing. There are several varieties of authentic Latino tacos, none of which resemble the Ortega taco kit or typical Taco Bell order. That hard, prefabricated corn shell is an American invention, right there with shredded lettuce and that thick, heavy sour cream.

The form I most often get at home is closest to Tacos de Asador, or "grill tacos". This is taco simplicity - grilled meat and peppers stuffed in a soft tortilla with onions, cilantro, and salsa fresca with a little crema Mexicana on the side.

Tacos de Asador

My counterpart made salsa yesterday, so it had plenty of time to season overnight in the fridge. A good salsa is also fairly simple. He made ours out of those little grape tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are particularly nice in salsa because they allow more tomato skin to be incorporated into it. This is where most of the natural sweetness in the tomato is, and a pint of grape tomatoes add more flavor to salsa fresca than a big old beefsteak tom. He pureed these in a food processor, then added jalapeno peppers, white onion, and a little fresh citrus juice. Typically, he uses lime, but this weekend's salsa included the juice from a sweet lemon we found at the H-Mart during our weekly Saturday adventure. The sweeter lemon juice gave the salsa a light freshness that was almost sunny and accented the spicy peppers providing extra depth of flavor. He used the food processor to combine everything and tossed in some fresh cilantro at the end that he mixed in by hand.

Salsa Fresca con Lemon

For tonight's tacos, he made a simple carne asada out of fresh rib eye steak. He sliced it thin and cooked it on the stove top in a little grape seed oil with sliced jalapenos that were dusted with salt and sugar to accent their spice without adding too much heat.

Carne asada con jalapeno

As spring gives way to summer, we will be well-stocked with soft corn tortillas. For tonight, we used small flour fajita tortillas, folding them around the steak and peppers and cilantro leaves.

Fresh cilantro

Served with the salsa and a bit of rice, this more traditional taco has a fresh taste with a nice zing from the peppers and the citrus-laden salsa. It's much lighter that its American cousin and is good food whether in the heat of summer or while the last gasp of winter attempts one final snowfall.

Beef tacos with salsa, crema Mexicana, rice, and a little grated cheese, because we are Americans after all