Saturday, May 24, 2008

 

Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 28 - TV Cooks

When thinking about this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, TV Cooks, I was in two minds about participating. There has been sufficient negative print regarding the post-modern breed of celebrity chefs and cooks that I didn't want to open myself up to criticism (namely, for lack of both depth and individuality). But then, I thought, "Who am I kidding?" The fact of the matter is that television channels like the Food Network and the proliferation of food-focussed magazines, all of which are either driven by or concentrate on cooks and chefs, may potentially curb what appears to be a very dangerous trajectory in the course of consumption - some of us are now questioning the provenance of our food and are thinking about what we are putting into our bodies. If one looks beyond the glossy lives, smooth skin and kitchen gadgets, what is there to criticise? Besides, I'm part of the target audience for these shows: willing and fabulous.

While we're talking about home truths, if it were not for television cooks, such as Nigella Lawson, Tyler Florence, Tamasin Day-Lewis and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I might not be cooking as I do now - regularly and with some respect for ingredients. The appeal of the cooks on television is not necessarily their looks, though that can stop one from changing the channel when one is surfing, but their accessibility. The best tv cooks condense their knowledge into culinary bullet points, perfect for generations X and Y - the Short-Term Attention Span Set. Accessibility is paired with enthusiasm for ingredients and recipes, and each episode often climaxes with a lifestyle plug: food + friends = the good life.

It was the endorsement of a lifestyle I wanted that finally motivated me to work in the kitchen in a meaningful way (also, I had time on my hand as a student and felt guilty watching my angelheart Eric cook after a day's work followed by a typically-hellish Los Angeles commute). As you will note in my earlier posts, cooking centres around dinner with my angelheart Eric or gathering around the dining table with our good friends, most notably the divine poetess Suzanne (now in Paris), the stylish and effervescent Ailene and her husband, the espresso-loving and ruminating Mirko (both now in Colorado). Since leaving Los Angeles, the drive to cook has simmered. At first I attributed this to heartache; and while I think this quite true, I think that holding dinner parties for my Kiwi friends will get the boil going again.

So, moving forward, I am revisiting the cookery books that inspired me so much in the first place. (And I appreciate your patience, having listened to me rattle on about justifying my participation in this month's theme Weekend Cookbook Challenge, TV Cooks.)

What my angelheart Eric and I love so much about Tyler Florence is his enthusiasm for big flavours (heck, the guy even keeps a "flavour journal"!). One of my favourite cookery shows is the old format of Tyler's Ultimate in which Tyler would visit two different people to learn their approach to a particular dish (sometimes going to different countries) and then he'd return to his Manhattan apartment (with its gorgeous brick wall), enlightened and inspired to put his spin on the two recipes and produce the ultimate version of the episode's featured dish (the apple pie, lasagne and paella episodes are particularly compelling and mouth-watering). There is a cookery book of the same name plus two others by this young chef: Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen and Eat This Book.

Eat This Book celebrates big global flavours. The cover shows Mr. Florence in step, powering foward with grocery bags on which are printed Chinese charcters - he is urban, savvy and purposeful. The cover does not misrepresent the contents of the book. Eat This Book places diversity on a pedastal and is a culinary passport of the decentred yet globalised world in which we live.

The recipe that inspires this post highlights Tyler Florence's skills - it presents classically-paired items (pork and apple) and adds his post-modern spin; this is global fusion that is achievable without necessitating a leap of faith from one's comfort zone.

The glory of pork belly is that it is a cheap piece of meat that can be poshed up. It responds well to dry rubs and pastes, and because of its tender structure it is best braised, allowing many possibilities for great depth of flavour. While Mr. Florence suggests serving the dish with a potato and celeriac mash, I have opted for something that is not as soft, for the apple and pork belly offer enough - roasted kumara, cut into chips.

New Zealand kumara is also known as sweet potato. While pre-European Maori are shown to have grown many Polynesian cultivars, the most common kumara is the Owairaka Red, which was developed from a larger American variety of sweet potato. It is rich in Vitamins A and C, and the best thing is that you do not have to peel it (besides, the skin has a special fibre that has special health properties related to both cancer and longevity). Today I have chosen the red kumara for its mellow taste - if I had chosen orange kumara, it might have created too sweet a dish, what with the baked apple on the plate, too. For more information on kumara, go to Kaipara Kumara.

The following menu has been tweaked for a variety of reasons, one of them being that sage is not easily found in New Zealand, so I chose to forgo it altogether, and that I created a slightly spicier apple side by using ginger loaf instead of cornbread muffin, as you will see. Enough for four.

Braised Pork Belly and Buttered Apples
(Adapted from Tyler Florence's Eat This Book)

For the pork belly:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted then ground
2 tablespoons thyme
1/2kg/1lb pork belly (one slice, unsmoked)
salt, pepper
720ml/24 fl. oz cider
1 cup chicken stock

For the kumara:
3 kumara, approximately 900kg/1.8lb, cut into wedges
olive oil
salt, pepper

For the apples:
4 apples (I used early season Pacific Rose because they hold their structure well when cooked and have a lovely pink blush)
56g/1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup crumbs from a moist ginger loaf (or, per Mr. Florence, corn muffin)
1/2 tablespoon thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, pepper
1/2 cup cider

1) Pre-heat oven to 200 C/390 F.
2) Score the fat of the pork belly and pat the entire slab dry.
3) Stir together olive oil, ground fennel seeds, thyme in a small bowl. The idea is to make a paste, but I made mine slightly wetter for extra coverage.
4) Rub liquid all over the pork belly and season generously with salt and pepper.
5) Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
6) When oil smokes, place the pork belly in the pan, fat-side down. The belly may bend, so use tongs to ensure all the fat crisps up. It should only take five minutes for the fat to look resplendent in burnished, autumnal hues.
7) Turn pork belly over and move pan from the heat.
8) Drain fat from the pan, add the cider and chicken stock.
9) Cover with foil or heavy lid and place on the middle rack in the oven until done, approximately 45 mintues.
10) Core apples.
11) In another small bowl, mix together softened butter, ginger loaf crumbs, thyme, garlic and salt and pepper.
12) Spoon the stuffing into the cavities of the apples, and stand them up, snuggled side-by-side in a baking dish.
13) Once the pork is approximately 30 minutes from being done, pour the cider around the apples and bake until soft.
14) On a foil-lined baking tray, place the kumara wedges and drizzle over olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix together, then lay wedges in one layer. Place in the oven on lowest rack.
15) After minutes, turn kumara wedges over and leave to bake until done.
16) Pull saute pan out, remove foil or lid, and place over medium-high heat. Baste the pork belly as the liquid boils. (If you wish, you can reduce liquid to a sauce and serve as a gravy.)
17) Remove pork belly and cut into slices.
18) Check sauce for seasoning.

The Autumn light does not allow for the most beautiful photo of the results, but you get an idea of the dish anyway. The amount of pork belly, here, seems stingy, but I assure you that it is so beautifully rich that one does not need more. And though one does not taste the cider, fennel seed and thyme strongly, there is a sweet herbiness throughout, harmonising with the richness of the meat. I did not eat the crackling, but I adore its tactile quality; it gives the dish presence. (And such wonderful quality pork belly from the guys at Seaview Meats.)

Now I just need to set the table for friends...

Post-edit: Please visit the round-up to see what everyone else made.

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Comments:
Yummy! If you ever get to go to Puerto Rico, you must try the pork belly there. Those guys *know* how to do pork belly!
 
Looks divine Shaun! Love this post and so happy to have you join me for WCC again!
 
Hi Shaun! How have you been. Sorry I haven't been dropping by. =) I love a good pork belly, the glorious textures all layered in one and exploding in your mouth. I think I just like fat. =)
 
Ah, you can tell autumn is upon you, Shaun. Apples, tuberous veggies and pork are a classic trio when the air is nippy.

That's a beautiful rub, simple and aromatic. Fennel is marvelous. And I love tying in the cider to connect the dots.
 
Shaun, my dear

Very good analysis of the effect of today's TV cooks and chefs can have on viewers. The trick is to have an inspiring host, one who draws you into their world.

Unfortunately, for each TV cook who does that, I can probably name two or three who are there just for a certain non-cooking strata of the audience. Sigh.

The pork belly looks wonderful

hugs,

j
 
Hi Shaun,

Thanks for dropping by with your words of encouragement. I feel the block breaking slowly. I figure, one step at a time.

I am an unashamed Tyler Florence groupie. I LOVE HIM!!! I watched his shows (even the repeats) religiously when I lived in the USA and Canada. I'm glad to know that I am not alone :-)

Have a terrific weekend,
x Nora
 
Anthony ~ I'd love to go to Puerto Rico one day, have heard it is very beautiful. That their pork belly is so good is but one more attractive reason to visit. Thank you for the recommendation.

Sara, darling ~ It was incredibly comforting to eat and not at all "fatty," but for the crackling, which was not soft enough to eat, if you ask me (my parents, on the other hand, ate the crackling). WCC is my favorite blog event, and I keep meaning to participate frequently.

Victoria ~ Glad to see that you have not fallen off the face of the planet! This was incredibly moist, and the flavour of the pork was not at all masked by the cider or thyme.

Susan, lovie ~ Yes, apples, pork and fennel seem to go hand in hand (in hand - an argument for an open marriage, if ever there was one). I especially loved the stuffed apple, for the addition of garlic made this side dish completely appropriate and tamed down the sweetness of the fruit, well paired with this most earthy variety of New Zealand sweet potatoes.

Jasmine, honey ~ As often as I am glued to Food TV (the Kiwi option, which has a substantial number of programmes from the US, Canada, UK and Australia), I am only a real follower of a few tv cooks/chefs. I much prefer to read cookery books, but the joy of television is that there is an added dimension, you can see the food cook, as opposed to imagining it or seeing a final photograph.

Nora B. ~ Tyler is a hoot. I love his unabashed commitment to flavour, inspired by his global reach. We have all of his cookery books, and, like you, we watch his shows on repeat. I love that his shows are imbued with his warmth and generosity.
 
A symphony of Autumnal flavours, mmm.
 
Kelly-Jane ~ Autumnal bliss it is, indeed. So filling and satisfying, and a breeze to make, too! A perfect family dinner, I think.
 
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