Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pork Belly Banh Mi:

This past summer, David and I made a lot of salsa. This was due in part to a breakfast experiment for David, which included him modifying his morning meals to include a spinach and orange juice smoothie, avocado and can of sardines (yes, really), but that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, the cilantro. Cilantro is one of those things that you don’t realize how important it is in your recipe-and how grocery stores have an uncanny knack for being out of it when you need it- until you attempt to make salsa on a weekly basis.

And the amount it's sold in? Ridiculous. Most of the time it’s only sold either in a little box or a gigantic bunch, the latter of which you’ll probably just use a third of, then forget about in your crisper until weeks later.

So it was with crossed fingers that I made my grocery list for David’s latest welcome back-from-Michigan-dinner.

The menu, after careful deliberation, included Nem Nướng, adapted from the Angry Asian's recipe here, Vietnamese Coffee Jello Shots from the Food Librarian, and Pork Belly Banh Mi with Spicy Cucumbers from the Kitchy Kitchen. And guess what a major ingredient in a banh mi is?

Cilantro. Lots. of. Cilantro.

Luck was with me however, because when I arrived at the store, glorious bunches of cilantro awaited me, sitting pretty next to the Italian parsley.

I made the jello and the dipping sauce for the pork meatballs the night before, and marinated the pork belly in the beer and spices overnight.

I consulted one of my favorite cookbooks for advice on how to serve the Jello shots. What, you don't have a fancy Jello shot cook book? Just me?

I also made David a menu in the style of a treasure map, wetting card stock, folding and crumpling it, then staining it with instant coffee and using sharpie and oil pastels once it was dry to add some color.

I also attempted to make almost no-knead French baguettes. I followed the recipe. I even measured out my flour, which, if you know me, is a big step. This is what I got.


Comically flat and unusably dense, I opened the door of the oven, saw these paddle shaped loaves and began giggling hysterically. Fully anticipating this would happen, I had wisely purchased some back up loaves with the rest of the groceries, and so dinner was saved.

Other than the bread fail, dinner was fantastic. The Vietnamese Jello-shots were rich and strongly caffeinated.

I altered the pork meatballs slightly by adding paté to the mixture of the pork, and we also took the bahn mi to 11 and added paté to that as well. The pork meatballs and dipping sauce were delicious, and the banh mi was even better than I could have anticipated. It is without a doubt, one of the favorite sandwiches ever made in our kitchen, and probably the best banh mi we've had anywhere.

The spicy pickles were very good, though they required the Mandoline to prepare. That’s right, the kitchen implement dubbed in some professional kitchens as “The Tool of Death”.* By being careful and paying attention (and also using the guard that looks like a cowboy hat, always recommended) I escaped unscathed.

#1 maimer of thumbs worldwide
Beware of hungry kitties when you're enjoying your pork belly

*Just ask Dalia Jurgenson

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Experience Columbus, Basi Italia:

“Do you want to try some of this?” Joe asked, his fork hovering over his rigatoni. “Sure, thanks! Want some pork cheek? Who wants pork cheek?” I replied, glancing around the table and pointing to my plate.

“Oh, I’d love some.” Julie remarked, holding her own dish steady while David snapped close up pictures of smoked chicken risotto.

Though most of us had only met earlier in the day, gathered around the table at Basi, I felt like the group of food bloggers (brought together by Experience Columbus for an all expenses paid trip to enjoy the city) had known each other much longer than that. Maybe it was simply the love of delicious food that made me feel closer to my new friends. Or maybe it was the atmosphere that is Basi starting to soak in.

Let's play a game, how many DSLR cameras can you spot amongst the food bloggers?

Basi is in a renovated house with a beautiful courtyard, right in the middle of the Victorian Village neighborhood in Columbus.

The style of cuisine? Mediterranean and Italian. Owners and operators John Dornback and Trish Gentile have set out to create an approachable and friendly restaurant focused on delicious dishes and bringing the surrounding neighborhood together.

We did have a wonderful meal, though I enjoyed some dishes more than others. David raved about his veal ravioli, and I still think about the tender barbecue pork cheek I ordered. I thought the smoked chicken risotto had nice flavor, but the texture was a little off--it needed more liquid and was more a pilaf than a risotto--but that's really the only complaint I had about all the dishes we tried. The honey pistachio flatbread served as an appetizer was amazing, and I could have eaten two of them for dinner by myself.

John's enthusiasm for his restaurant was infectious
It gets hot in the kitchen at Basi

Pecorino and zucchini with toasted almonds
tomato cocktail with Gorgonzola cheese
Smoked chicken risotto with medjool dates, goat cheese and crushed pistachio
Veal ravioli with blistered tomato, arugula and Parmesan broth
Rigatoni with sweet sausage, tomato, raisin, fennel and pine nuts
Penne pasta with Shrimp, roasted red pepper bechamella and spinach
Braised pork cheeks with sweet potato, espresso BBQ and braised kale and Swiss chard.

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