Memorial Day BBQ

For the Memorial Day weekend, Bjorn and I hosted a backyard get together to kick off the BBQ season and celebrate my birthday.  Happy Birthday Me!  Bjorn did some landscaping to make our yard more hospitable for people to hang out in and Yuan came out to Davis to help us cook.  A year ago, we had some friends who moved away but could not fit their smoker in their moving van.  When they never came back to get it, we started using it.   And by using it, I mean we started smoking something (ribs, pork shoulder, salmon) almost every weekend since it started getting nice out.  We visited my favorite pork man and got some ribs to smoke for our BBQ.  I made some potato salad, shrimp salad, and marinated some teriyaki chicken thighs to grill while Yuan made biscuits, Bjorn made a lovely tomato and cucumber salad, and Yuan and Bjorn spent all afternoon drinking beer, smoking the ribs and grilling.

Little Miss picking at the ribs

The spread

The crowd gets some grub.

The weather was great, the food was good and we had lots of friends from Davis and the bay area come out.  Love BBQ season!

Not Your Mom’s Lasagna

Okay, so my mom actually never made lasagna, I’m guessing Yuan’s mom didn’t either,  and granted, I’ve never had Little Miss Mother’s lasagna, but last week, Little Miss, hubby and I made the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten.  Little Miss spent a weekend with me for some r&r and as we sat around, she suggested that we make lasagna.

Back in April 2006, I found the most delicious looking lasagna on the cover of my Gourmet magazine.  This Italian Regional Cooking issue had an article entitled, “Mario’s Excellent Adventure: Five Days in Bologna, 62 courses” where on Day 4, Mario Batali and his crew ate a lasagna described as “ethereal” and so “dramatically redolent and melting in texture that the dish is just miraculous.”  (Oh, Gourmet, how I miss you for the very reasons you are now defunct.)

Lasagna Bolognese
(adapted from Enoteca LaCapannina and Mario Batali, Gourmet, April 2006)

All three squabbling asians have made this lasagna several times, but with its two hour ragu cooking time, besciamella and handmade spinach pasta making, it is definitely a project.  I also had never motivated to make my own pasta, cheating instead by using no-bake pasta sheets.  But Little Miss and I had a whole afternoon free and I have a Bjorn who is on a pasta-making kick with a great pasta maker from Aunt Betty.  I was curious to see if fresh pasta would make a difference compared to the no-bake sheets and it turns out that it does.  The recipe calls for a spinach pasta dough, but we made a plain pasta dough using 00 flour.

Little Miss and I started the ragu with the base for many delicious things – olive oil, butter, and finely diced carrot, onion and celery.

Ragu

  • 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped or pulverized in a food processor
  • 1 lb ground veal (I use fatty ground beef)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (2 1/2 oz)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Heat oil and butter over moderate heat until the butter melts, then cook carrot, onion, celery, and garlic, until tender but not browned, 10 to 15 min.  Increase the heat to high and stir in pancetta, beef, and pork until meat is starting to brown about 15 min.  Stir in tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has evaporated, but ragu is still moist, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Note, we actually cooked it about 1 1/2 hour then put the lid on the dutch oven and cooked it for another 30 min.  Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.  This ragu generally takes about 3 hours start to finish.  It does give you time to make besciamella, have it cool down to room temperature, and roll out pasta.

Besciamella

  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Melt butter over moderate heat and whisk in flour until smooth, then cook, whisking frequently, until pale golden brown, 4-6 min.  I always wonder, “is it pale golden? is it pale golden?”  You can actually tell when it starts to brown up, I find that it takes closer to 6 min.  Heat milk in a separate saucepan (or microwave) until just about to boil.  Add milk 1 cup at a time to butter mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then cook, whisking, for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and whisk in salt and nutmeg.  Cover with a butter round of wax or parchment paper (buttered side down) and cool to room temperature.

Put oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Boil water for pasta and have ready an ice bath with 2 tbsp of olive oil in it.  Cook pasta sheets in boiling water until just tender, about 1 min, and transfer to ice bath to chill.  Transfer pasta onto clean kitchen towels laying flat and pat dry.  (Yes, this is why I had never made the pasta before…)

With all the components finally ready, I layered 1 cup of ragu, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to lightly cover the ragu (about 1-2 tbsp), cooked pasta (can overlap slightly), and 1/2 cup besciamella evenly over pasta (layer will be thin) to assemble my lasagna.  Repeat 4 more times with the final layer of besciamella being 1 cup.

Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and bake uncovered until top is pale golden in spots and sauces are bubbling, about 45 min.  Let stand 10 min before serving.  The recipe says that ragu and besciamella can be made two days ahead, cooled completely, chilled and covered.  Warm ragu over low heat until just stirrable before using.  Lasagna can also be assembled 4 hours ahead and kept chilled, covered.

Literally, 4 hours later, we were ready to eat.  It is probably a good thing you need an entire afternoon to make because I could not stop eating and this is not a low-calorie lasagna.  It is SOOO worth it though!!  Everything just complements each other so well and the homemade pasta really gives it a texture that cannot be achieved with those ready-made pasta sheets.

And yes, I did take a glamor shot of my leftover the next day (above).

Cooking David Chang: Pork buns

I admit, I didn’t want to like David Chang. He’s got an attitude and there was the whole San Francisco diss controversy. So I didn’t really pay any attention when his cook book came out last year. However, after a friend and food writer Jarrett raved about the book here I decided to take another look.

Well my mind is changed. The day I got the book, I stayed up till 4 AM reading it. The recipes are simple but filled me with thoughts like “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “That sounds amazing!” All this before I even made a single thing out of the book.

Since his signature item is the pork bun I decided to try that. Awesome! It has now become a goto recipe. I even made the buns for Chinese New Years to go along with roast duck. I like to serve the pork buns with a little cilantro instead of scallions. The recipe for the pork belly calls for roasting at 500 F and then 250 F but I often ended up with dry and brittle pork (as documented here). I ended up trying all sorts of methods and timing to get that luscious pork belly back with no luck. What ended working was a different cut of pork belly! Typical Asian market pork belly is thin and doesn’t have tons of fat so the pork drys out. I got a fatty piece and it was perfect.

So here they are in their porky glory.

BTW, bacon dashi? Freaking genius!

Noodles!

When the three squabbling asians need quick and delicious fortification, we inevitably turn to NOODLES! In the three squabbling asians kitchen, two of us get very cranky when we are not fed.  You can guess as to which two.  We all love noodles and it’s ready in less than 20 min.  Yuan and I grew up in households where noodles were the go-to meal and keep noodles in our pantries at all times.  As Yuan says, “Having no noodles is like having no rice.” The horror.

Last weekend we all got together in Davis and had a full day of activity and cooking.  Sunday morning, I found duck broth, fresh spinach, roasted pork belly, and Bernie’s backyard Banty eggs in my fridge.  The duck broth was made from the carcass of the roast duck we bought to make duck dumplings.  No part of duck was wasted in our operation.  The spinach was picked fresh from a friend’s garden.  The roasted pork belly was leftover from a self-indulgent pork bun operation the day before.  I reheated the pork belly, sautéed spinach with ginger and boiled some noodles.  I made the broth by putting one small dallop of duck fat, a swirl of soy sauce and ground black pepper in the bottom of each bowl.  Then, right before the noodles were done, I filled the bowls halfway with a mixture of duck broth and boiling water to taste.  I rinsed the noodles and placed a portion in each bowl, then added the spinach, pork belly and fried banty egg on top.  Dericious!

In addition to our cooking projects, we enjoyed the beautiful spring weather by visiting the Davis farmer’s market where we picked up some yummy vegetables and a hunk of jowl bacon.

We also checked out Picnic Day at UC Davis where we watched dogs herd real sheep and wiener dogs run races. No, really, there were wiener dogs racing and/or wandering around in the “Doxie Derby” complete with an announcer, instant replays and custom graphics. Little Miss suffered a giggling fit watching the little dogs running around with their floppy ears and one wiener’s fight with his mortal enemy – orange traffic cone.

We spent an enjoyable and productive weekend in the “country” and kept the squabbling to a minimum.