Monday, October 24, 2011

Red-Cooked Pork Belly:

I was seven years old, and I was terrified. I peered down at the water sparkling below the high dive at our local pool and cringed.

I’d been shivering up there for a while, over twenty minutes, while those behind me waiting for their turns shot my parents dirty looks. Finally, the lifeguard climbed up the ladder, joined me on the board, and tried to coax me into jumping off. I refused. I’m sure he tried reasoning with me, but my seven-year-old brain remained set. Too embarrassed to climb back down, and too scared take the plunge, I was stuck.

So he did the logical thing. He shoved me off.

I managed to avoid a painful belly flop upon impact somehow, and when I surfaced, I was stunned to realize that I hadn’t perished in the water.

Note: I am not trying to imply that I am a piece of delicious pork belly

I swam to the ladder and got out of the pool. Then I walked back to the line at the high dive, waited, climbed up the ladder, and jumped again. And then again. And Again. I must have jumped off the high dive over fifteen times that afternoon.

So, what does this story have to do with anything? Hold on, I’m getting to it.

Nineteen years later, on Wednesday morning, I was experiencing a feeling similar to what I experienced on my first attempt at the high dive all over again, though I was nowhere near a pool and wearing substantially more clothing than a swimsuit. I was sitting at my desk, re-reading an email that had just arrived.

This past Wednesday afternoon, I resigned from my job of over four years at a law firm downtown.

It’s a little scary to change careers, admit it. Though real estate law isn’t exactly the most interesting thing in the world, I’m very good at my job. It pays well, provides nice benefits and I like the people I work with. It’s stable and reasonably secure. But it’s never been what I want to do with my life. It’s not even what I went to school for.

So when the opportunity to join a downtown advertising agency opened up, I found myself standing on a different sort of precipice, peering down at the possibility below and reasoning with myself.

A few lingering doubts kept trying to surface.

What if I don’t succeed like I think I will? What if it’s nothing like I imagined?

I countered with the positives.

A job where you’d like what you do and be excited to go to work every morning. A job where you can create new things on a daily basis. A job where your talents can be put to good use. Not being forced to use Internet Explorer.

And I jumped. And then David and I made pork belly to celebrate.

This recipe (also known as Hong Shao Rou) is adapted from Appetite for China, which is in turn adapted from one of Fuchsia Dunlop's books. Red Cook also has detailed tips for perfect red-cooked pork.

  • 1 lb. pork belly
  • 2 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 2 tbsp. cane sugar
  • 1 oz. strong wine (Shaoxing is traditional, but dry Oloroso or Amontillado work too)
  • 1 in. piece ginger, peeled and grated (or 1/4 tsp. powdered ginger if you're lazy)
  • 2 whole pieces star anise
  • 2 whole dried bird's eye chili
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 2 tbsp. naturally brewed soy sauce
  • A few sprigs of green onion, sliced
  • 3 - 4 cups of cooked white rice
  1. Bring a quart of water to boil.
  2. Briefly parboil the pork belly (about 4 minutes). You may have to cut the pork belly in half or thirds to fit in your pot.
  3. Remove the pork and let it drain on paper towels.
  4. When cool enough to handle, cut the pork belly into bite-sized pieces, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  5. In a wok, add the oil and sugar, and set to a medium-low heat.
  6. You must watch the wok intently. When the sugar begins to liquefy and brown, set the heat to low.
  7. Gently swirl the wok and observe the color of the sugar. When it turns a deep ruddy-brown, you are ready to add the pork. If the sugar begins to bubble, foam, or blacken, it's burnt. Throw it out and try again at a lower heat or for a shorter time.
  8. Add the pork belly pieces and stir vigorously to coat in the caramelized sugar and oil.
  9. Add the wine, and turn the heat back up to medium. Continue to stir quickly until the meat in the pork firms up a little and the edges are slightly brown.
  10. Add enough water to cover the pork (about 2 - 3 cups depending on the shape of your wok) and add the ginger, star anise, chili, and cinnamon.
  11. Bring to a boil and let simmer uncovered for an hour (now is a good time to crack open some booze). Every 10 - 15 minutes, check on the water level and give it a quick stir. Don't allow the water to evaporate completely; the sauce will burn and you will be sad. Add extra water if you have to.
  12. Toward the end of the simmer, you may need to adjust the heat up or down to achieve the right sauce consistency. Ideally, it should be silky, but not syrupy.
  13. Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise, and chili pieces.
  14. Add the soy sauce and green onion, and stir to combine.
  15. Place pieces of pork on cooked rice, and drizzle with sauce. Depending on how lean the pork belly is, you may need to drain off some of the rendered fat first.
  16. Stuff your face full of crazy delicious salty-sweet pork.

Stirring the sugar and oil while the wok heats up

The sugar has started to caramelize

The sugar likes to stick to spatulas. You might want to use chopsticks to stir on this step.

Commence face stuffage

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Man Vs. Food Nation, Cincinnati:

In late summer, one of my coworkers, Adam Turer, walked up to my desk looking like the cat who ate the canary.

"Guess what?!" He asked.
"What?" I replied, looking up from connecting the dots on a chain of assignments and merger documents.
"Adam Richman is coming. Here. Izzy's. For me!"
"WHAT!? When?!"

And Adam and I kept our mouths shut about the show until it became public knowledge that Adam Richman was coming. Even when the media speculated about where he was headed, both of us just giggled quietly in our cubicles. It was tough. Adam was nice enough to have lunch with me the other day and answer a few questions about the show. He also let me take pictures of his food. Thanks Adam!

1. Did you learn anything useful about your first attempt at the Reuben during your audition video? What was your strategy going in?

I took a different approach in my first attempt. I ate all the insides (meat, cheese, sauerkraut) first, then attacked the massive amount of bread and potato. I put down the innards of the sandwich, but couldn’t get through all the starch. I finished just over 3 of the 5.5 pounds in that first attempt. That was with basically no training. In my second attempt, and after talking to Adam and local competitive eater Joe LaRue, I stuffed myself at a Golden Corral 2 days prior, and I went at the 110 like a regular sandwich for the challenge. It tasted much better that way and the potato pancake on the sandwich tasted great. I cut the sandwich into eighths and went at it one slice at a time.

2. What’s Adam Richman like in person?

Adam is one of the sweetest, most genuine guys I’ve met. He really, really cares about his show and the people involved in making it. He called me as soon as we were done filming background shots with my son’s baseball team the night before the challenge to make sure all the kids and parents had a good time and to apologize for the amount of time it took. He signed autographs for the kids and his crew played sandlot baseball with me and my boy one day after we were done filming. At the end of a 16-hour day of filming, Adam’s still cracking jokes and making everyone in the room enjoy themselves. He works extremely hard to put out the highest-quality product in each episode.

3. Can you tell us anything about the episode that we might not know (without giving anything away, of course)?

I had no idea how much work goes into filming a 23-minute episode of television. The crew spent almost every hour of four straight days filming all over the city. I was exhausted and I was only involved in about 15 hours of it. I have not seen the episode yet, so I’m not sure exactly what made the cut. I know that a lot of hard work went into it by all involved.

4. What was the hardest part of the challenge?

The time limit. I’ve seen every episode of Man vs Food and Man vs Food Nation and there are not many challenges shorter than 30 minutes, except for the spicy challenges. A quantity challenge like this in half an hour is the biggest obstacle. There really isn’t time to get that second wind and rally in the closing minutes. You have to start and go full speed ahead for all 30 minutes. I think 45 minutes or an hour would be more appropriate for this challenge.

5. Do you still like eating Reubens?

Yes. I still go to Izzy’s about once a week. This experience did entice me to expand upon my usual menu choices, though. I needed to try some different things other than the reuben for a while. That’s one of the great things about Izzy’s; the reubens are the best, but there’s a lot more on the menu. I really like the Mex and the Codfather.

I'm pretty excited to see the episode, which airs Wednesday the 12th at 9 PM on the travel channel. Don't miss it! And no, I don't know who won. Adam's been impossible to crack.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Experience Columbus, Milestone 229:

Last month, David and I joined bloggers from across the country for a mini vacation in Columbus. Over 3 days, we ate, drank and visited more food and drink related establishments than I thought possible. We were thrilled when we were first contacted by Experience Columbus a few weeks prior to our trip, offering to take us on a magical, all expenses paid journey through their city.

It makes the most sense to go in chronological order, post wise, and we have a lot of pictures. Seriously, you have no idea. It took me over 6 hours to edit them all, partly complicated by the fact that editing food pictures is very hungry work and you need to keep stopping for snacks.

Bicentennial Park

We hope that you enjoy our posts about Columbus as much as we enjoyed our visit. Our first stop when we arrived in Columbus was Milestone 229, a contemporary restaurant overlooking the newly built Bicentennial park. The restaurant and the park were very impressive, and it was a great way to start out our trip. After meeting our fellow bloggers and everyone furiously exchanging business cards, we settled in for a drink and a sampling of the menu at Milestone 229. Both my cocktail, named “the greensleeves”, and the all dishes we tried were excellent, as well as creatively presented.

Pimento cheese flatbread with veggies


Some familiar brews on that list

Skillet Macaroni and Cheese

And...out come all the cameras!

Pork Belly

These are the other fine bloggers we had the pleasure of meeting on our trip. I also got to catch up with Julie of Wine Me, Dine Me, who I hadn't seen all summer!


Milestone 229 on Urbanspoon