Friday, January 22, 2016

Bun Bo Xao and Flight F-I-N-A-L

This recipe was a Matt pick. He always orders this at Vietnamese restaurants and so why not try to make it ourselves? Well, because there are seemingly a million ingredients, that's one reason! But essentially, it is a salad, so of course you're going to need a bunch of veggies. I'm not one of these people who knows what's "in season" nor have we joined a CSA and had to figure out how to use up a month's glut of rutabagas, or whatever. I'm not choosey- if they sell it at the grocery store and it doesn't appear to be near death, I might cook it and I'll likely think it tastes just fine.

But just so you know I do have some standards, I was catching up on old seasons of Project Runway through the Lifetime app and they keep airing commercials for Golden Corral featuring Jeff Foxworthy and they were not tempting to me at all. No, not even the promise of chocolate fountains and Mr. Foxworthy could lure me. Did you know you can pay $2.99 extra and get a to-go box? Thanks to these ads, I know you can! Do Project Runway viewers and GC/Jeff Foxworthy fans have a lot of overlap? That I'm less certain about. But I am not besmirching GC from a place of snobbery, I have eaten there and left satisfied on more than one occasion. But I do prefer if I'm going to a huge, mediocre buffet, that it be at a casino where we've gotten some kind of discount because we've blown so much money gambling that they've taken pity on us.

We also got to utilize some ingredients we don't usually use. I'd never cut lemongrass before, I had to google how. Also, like the true idiot I am, I was surprised that it smelled like lemon! Despite knowing that "thai chilis" were hot intellectually, I balked at the recipe only calling for one and cut up three ("They're so small!") but before I threw them in the dipping sauce actually tasted a tiny bit of one and was like "One it is!" I also just bought too much of everything...I'll be eating shallots and chilis and garlic-I-have-to-chop-myself for a while. We actually did follow the recipe pretty faithfully aside from not using any shiso leaves because I couldn't find them at Ranch 99 or Whole Foods. Also, I don't think I got the meat cut quite thin enough because it was pretty tough just being lightly marinated and cooked quickly. I definitely want to try it when we're grilling because even the 15 minute marinade on the meat made it super flavorful. Matt did most of the epic amount of chopping but I was tasked with "rubbing the meat" which I weirdly enjoyed. I also tried frying shallots; they were supposed to sit in the oil for 15 minutes but mine burned right up in about 5. I do have a ton of shallots left over if I want to try again! It was overall very delicious and the first time I've eaten this dish in my pajamas. A.

It was my turn to choose the record and grabbed something called Flight F-I-N-A-L: A Dramatic Comparison to Death which isn't really music, per se, but rather a 1965 Christian record that tells the story of Jesus flying people to Heaven. It started with some very deep, somber singing that was a real bring down and I almost turned it off but I'm glad I didn't because soon the stewardesses were wielding swords and cutting off people's earthly burdens and an announcement from the cockpit boomed "I am thy captain." It was exceptionally weird but it did not really have a beat you can dance to. Of course, it seems pretty silly and easy to mock but I was looking online and it sincerely affected some religious people so that's nice, too.   B+

Here is a link to the recipe because it is too long to post the whole text here. We started with this NYT recipe because it was basically the first Google result but I took a look at a few others that seemed, maybe, posted by actual Vietnamese people just to see if there was anything else to consider. Also, my kind friend Julie chimed in with some advice because her dad makes this dish! Overall I give this edition of Records and Recipes a solid 4/5 Flights to New Jerusalem on Inter-World Airlines!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Decorators and Skillet Pastitsio

It sounds very fancy to say "Oh we spent Christmas ABROAD in FRANCE" but the truth is we did because we have family living there. We got to experience some of their holiday traditions, eat a bunch of good food, drink a bunch of wine. My two favorite food traditions were buche de noel and racelette. I love cake and log-shaped cake is no exception.  We got a few mini-buches so we could try different flavors - coffee, vanilla, Grand Marnier and Chesnut, all of which were pretty delicious. Raclette is a kind of cheese but also a fondue-esque way to eat a bunch of said cheese. Pictured below, you can see it's kind of little table top stove where you put a tiny personal, color-coded tray of cheese to melt into a gooey heap, which you then drizzle over potatoes and charcuterie meats (you can even crisp up the meats on top of the grill which made it even better.)
The town where they live has a few cool records stores and we always find some interesting things we'd never find in the US (or would cost a ton as an import.) Not only do you find French stuff but also a lot of records from England that don't make it as readily over here which is how we ended up with this Decorators album.  I thought the cover was interesting, I'd never heard of them, and the album came out the year I was born. Sold!

The Decorators may not be well known in the US for valid reasons. The record wasn't bad but it sounded like a mix of a bunch of New Wave, post-punky bands from the same time period, but just not as good as any of those bands. A touch of Devo, a touch of Elvis Costello, maybe a little Television. Some skronky horns. A weird vocal affectation. Again, not bad, per se, but also nothing I'm dying to revisit but also fairly pleasant cooking music (except for when the vocal affectation got annoying.) So that could be seen as me admitting that I made a bad choice at the record store but on the other hand I can  now say "oh you've never heard of The Decorators? Hmm." Their keyboard player was in Dexy's Midnight Runners so there's that. C+

I really like the podcast Spilled Milk but often assume their recipes are going to be too much work for me. I am a pretty lazy cook, especially on weeknights; I have no shame about using pre-cut veggie and jarred sauces and just making frozen pizza if all else fails. But, Records and Recipes gives me an opportunity to try those more complicated recipes because Matt is helping out! He would totally cook more if I asked him to, alliterative music/cooking nights aside, but I do love food and trying new things and do overall enjoy being the household meal planner/maker.

On the recent Lamb episode of Spilled Milk they made a skillet Pastitsio which they described as a lamb mac and cheese and that sounded really good to me. The recipe wasn't that complicated but it still felt like a lot of work...or rather more measuring and chopping than I usually have patience for. I also made a full pound of veal instead of the half it called for and the box of noodles I had was bigger than the recipe so I had a lot more STUFF in the pan, so I upped the liquid a little and just hoped all the noodles cooked. They did! It was delicious but also ultimately felt like a labor-intensive Lamburger Helper. B+

Skillet Pastitsio
From Spilled Milk podcast, episode 209 
(Originally from The Best 30-Minute Recipe, Cook’s Illustrated.)
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 large onion, diced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces elbow macaroni
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup (about 2 ounces) grated pecorino romano
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Cook the lamb in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until brown, breaking it up with a spatula or (try it!) a potato masher. Drain the lamb, reserving 1 tablespoon fat.
2. With the 1 tablespoon fat in the skillet, raise heat to medium-high and add onion, cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, garlic, and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Stir in broth, 1/2 cup of cream, macaroni, and cooked lamb. Raise heat to high, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring often, until macaroni is tender, 8 to 10 minutes. (Feel free to reduce heat to medium-high if it’s spitting all over!)
4. Whisk remaining 1/2 cup of cream with cornstarch and stir into skillet. Cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
5. Add 1/2 cup of cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes (why not watch the below Decorators video while you wait?) Serve.

Overall score: 3.5/5 Lamburger Helper Hands.