Sunday, January 22, 2012

A DreamCheese Deferred, and Korean Chicken Salad

Well, I was going to try my hand at making paneer (Indian cheese) today, based on a recipe from Food Network Star Season 6 winner Aarti Sequeira, but we got a piddly 4 in. of snow today, and since the town decided not to plow my streets 'til 3:00 pm, I never made it to the store, and plans got changed. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, my house-bound lunch was a sandwich made of the last of some Korean chicken salad I made a few days ago, and should've blogged about then. Here's the deal: I've mentioned before that my family loves the Korean pulled pork wraps with kimchi slaw and sesame mayo that I swiped from my friend Andy, right? What they really love the most about it is the sesame-garlic mayo, and over the Christmas break, I discovered that it also makes a fine condiment for hot dogs and burgers... so I decided to make a batch of just the mayo, and park it in the fridge in squeeze bottles.

As it happens, I have some canned chicken that I bought as emergency supplies last year in preparation for Tropical Storm Irene, and since we didn't eat it during the storm, I've been thinking about ways to use it up. I've decided to experiment with various kinds of chicken salad, for sandwiches to take to work for lunch, and last week I fired the first salvo: I made a Korean-influenced chicken salad. I don't have a proper menu, because everything is "to taste": Just put the chicken in a bowl and start doctorin' and tastin' 'til it's good. But here are the things I used:
  • Canned chicken
  • Homemade sesame-garlic mayo
  • Kimchi, chopped
  • Sriracha
  • Coarse black pepper
  • Kosher salt

The kimchi I used was storebought (but apparently house made) from Je Mart Asian market in East Hartford. I selected several thick cabbage pieces and diced them, as a stand-in for the celery traditionally found in "normal" chicken and tuna salads.

This is by no means Korean food, but the combination of the sesame mayo, kimchi, and sriracha produces a distinctly Korean-influenced sandwich filling. To complete the sandwich, I used some whole pieces of the kimchi to substitute for traditional lettuce. Yum!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Food TV: Top Chef: Texas "Restaurant Wars"

OK, to begin with, why, oh why, in the suffering world did the geniuses at Top Chef decide to make this season's Restaurant Wars a "battle of the sexes" (or "boys versus girls," if you prefer the cheftestants' own cutesieness to the producers' war metaphor)? And why did the "boys" (Chris, actually) have to make it worse by immediately calling the "girls" catty (not that the women didn't seem to be doing their best to embody that invidious stereotype)?

To the show's (very minimal) credit, they didn't go on to pound on any masculine versus feminine tropes in discussing the decor, service, or food... but that's small comfort. The most charitable interpretation is that they ended up at RW time with an even split between the sexes, and just thought it would be "fun" to pick the teams that way... but even that points out that sex-based segregation remains a (sadly) socially acceptable trope well after separating people in other ways has become taboo: Would Top Chef have considered, even for a second, putting Ed, Paul, and Bev on one team and calling it Asians vs. Whites? Of course they wouldn't... but somehow they can still pull the trigger on a Battle of the Sexes. Grrrrr.....

Beyond that disappointment, I found the episode a bit perplexing: Both restaurants were appealingly decorated (I liked Canteen a bit better, though I think the open kitchen was a bad idea for a one-night popup restaurant), and their menus seemed like I would enjoy them, as well. Even though both had problems with service, what we saw of the judges' and guests' dining experience seemed mostly positive, with Canteen having an edge on the overall dining experience, Half Bushel having an edge on food, and Padma declaring that the judges had a tough choice.

So I was surprised to find that, at Judges' Table, the competition didn't seem to be close, and the critical comments were so much harsher than they seemed in the event. Did the diners' survey data come out different than they expected? Did the judges' positions harden with time (and I must say that the consecutive-nights format seems to give whoever goes second an advantage, especially since they got to dine in their opponents' restaurant)? Or did the producers simply edit the in situ comments to make the contest look closer than it ever really was, for the sake of preserving the suspense?

In any case, I was happy that Beverly won, and less happy that her team did, and for the same reason: I thought her teammates abused Bev, basically treating her like a sous chef or less instead of a colleague and teammate. I had thought the bullying would stop once Heather (who seemed to have a particularly personal beef with Bev) was eliminated, but apparently not. Bev doesn't appear to be the best cook in the group, and who knows, maybe there really is something lacking in her work ethic... but I find myself rooting for her, both because I fell in love with Korean food years ago when I lived in Seoul (so how could I not love a contestant whose cast bio says if she were a food, she "would be kimchi since it is funky, spicy and addictive which matches [her] eccentric, yet soulful personality."), but also because I think she's been treated awfully, which gives her story the underdog appeal. Amazingly, after celebrating their victory with approximately 12.72 seconds of hugging, the Half Bushel team went right back to glares and recriminations. Lindsay (did she really mention having been prom queen as an example of how driven she is?!?) seemed visibly pissed that Bev had won; she scares me just a little.

I've been rooting for Ed, too (though his attitude has tested my patience at times), so I was glad he (seemingly) "won" among the chefs on the losing team. He did, however, fall into what I'm beginning to see as a universal cooking show trap: Giving your dish a name it doesn't live up to. Based on the comments, his dessert may have been the single best dish at either restaurant, but because he called it Almond Joy, he got more rips for not enough coconut than compliments for how good everything else was about it. IIRC, one of the judges (Emeril?) even said that the name was the only thing wrong with that dish.

The other dessert (along with an apparently passive effort) seemed like it would send Chris "Let Me Mention Moto One More Time" Jones home, but Tom Colicchio was obviously in his corner, resulting in the departure of Ty-Lor Boring (can that possibly be the name his momma gave him?)... or at least his short trip to Last Chance Kitchen (which I haven't watched yet... shhh; no spoilers!)

[Edited to correct a misattribution.]

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Quick Update: Goong Korean Restaurant

I reviewed Goong, the Korean restaurant on Silver Lane in East Hartford some time ago, and have mentioned it in passing a couple other times since. Recently, I was pleased to see a very favorable new review in our "alternative" weekly paper, the Hartford Advocate. Now you don't have to take my word for it anymore!

The fried chicken dish mentioned in the review KhanPoongGhi — is something I've never seen before, and I can't wait to give it a try. The review also mentions that Goong is planning to expand into a neighboring space, which makes me happy because it suggests the business is on a good footing financially, and I hope Goong will be around for a long time.

Even better, Goong now has a website (which it didn't when I wrote my initial review) and a Facebook presence, so you can scope it out for yourselves.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Slow Start After a Nice Christmas

Notwithstanding my dire expectations, my computer upgrade went well, but even so I'm already getting behind on my intended blog reboot(s), as I've lamented elsewhere. To try to ramp up, I'll review the foodie portion of my Christmas.

First, the gifts: In addition to the cool molecular mixology kit I already mentioned, I got as gifts...
  • Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher. When I launched this blog, I intended to devote some of it to writing about beers... and I did so, but I quickly realized I didn't have the knowledge or vocabulary to comment usefully. So I put this on my wish list to edumacate myself. Look for a review when I'm done reading.

In addition, I cooked our Christmas dinner, making (at the request of my family) Korean pulled pork lettuce wraps with kimchi slaw and sesame-garlic mayo, according to the recipe my buddy Andy published. I sense a brand new holiday tradition in the making!