I've been lax in regards to this blog lately. I can not believe it's been before Thanksgiving (yikes!) since I've posted. I. Am. So. Sorry. I never meant to wait so long, but it was just one thing after another, and they kept piling up. A lame excuse, I know. Since we last spoke (well, I wrote, you read), we've had three holidays. Any other time of the year, and that would seem like it took forever to happen. But it's not called the Holiday Season for nothing. Thanksgiving was kind of a nightmare. It's hard to have a get-together with my family without drama, and it was there in spades this Turkey Day. Work had been stressful for both Ethan and I after Thanksgiving. With both of us being servers, if our restaurants aren't busy, we don't make money. Therefore slow=stressful.
Luckily for us, less than a month after the family fiasco (mine, not his), we went on vacation! Ethan's parents were awesome and gracious enough to take us on a cruise with his whole family (let's make this easy for all of us: his parent's names are Lori Ann and Rick. Ethan is the oldest of their four children. The rest follow in order of age--Cole (21), Grant (17), and Tristin (15) ). I meant to take pictures of the things we ate in port, as well as the meals on the ship, but I totally spaced it until the second to last day. Then I forgot to bring my camera to dinner :/
I fail, I know!! Anyway, the cruise was so much fun. We were on the Carnival Valor, and hit Key West, Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay, Jamaica. There was tons of shopping in Key West, as well as some amazing conch fritters. I had never had them before and was very, very pleasantly surprised. This particular place served them with an awesome Key lime aioli. I died and went to heaven for a minute eating them-- then Grant and Tristin started arguing.
We had a big breakfast before we got off the ship in Cayman, so we just brought some granola bars to the beach with us. Oh, the beach..... God, I love it. I'm convinced I was born in the wrong land-locked state. Any time I'm on a beach, no matter where, I am happy. It's my zen place. You think I'm joking. I'm not.
Anyway, Ethan and I decided to walk along the beach so I could find some amazingly fresh, totally tropical, rum-infused drink (also my zen place). Oh man, did we find it. I had a Cayman Momma, which is essentially a renamed Bahama Mamma. But all the juices were so fresh. It's unlike anything I've ever had. Ethan had a Dirty, Nutty Banana. We know it was frozen. With rum. And banana liqueur. Couldn't tell you what else was in it. But it was good.
The place we docked in Jamaica was disappointing. We only had about 5 hours in port, and because of where we docked, it would take a 45-minute taxi to get to town. And from town, close to another hour to get to a beach. So it wasn't worth leaving the port. Now, in Key West and Grand Cayman, there were tons of shops, places to eat, and drinks to be had all in the area immediately surrounding the port. Not so with Montego Bay. There was a kind of haphazard market set up right off the boat. Nothing special, and nothing to buy. However, I loved the heavy heat of the air in Jamaica. In the middle of the Christmas season, when the temperatures were dropping below freezing at home, I was getting to be in sub-tropical, 90 degree heat. I loved every. single. minute.
We got home on Christmas Eve. I stepped off the plane for our layover in Denver, felt the cold, cold air, and immediately wanted to walk back to the plane and demand they take me back to the tropics.
Christmas was actually a lovely affair with my family. We had our typical holiday spread (green chile cheese grits, cinnamon buns, ham, fruit salad, lil' smokeys sausages), and exchanged gifts. It was fairly modest, as our last 6-8 have been, but everyone got along, which is a massive gift, in and of itself.
After that, Ethan and I went back to my parents and opened way more gifts that I think we were expecting to. Lori Ann had sent some things to my mom, so we'd have a few thing to unwrap from them on Christmas Day- although the cruise was more than enough. She knows we have some organizational issues in our apartment and gave us two great things to get everything uncluttered. I'll include pictures of both on my next blog. She does Pampered Chef, so we got some awesome sauces and spices from them, which I'm thinking of ways to use. My mom got Ethan a really beautiful brown leather coat, and got me a set of crystal red wine glasses, as well as some amazing things from L'Occitane.
New Year's was low-key and fun. My friends Jamie and Jeff went with Ethan and me to a party my friend Laura and her boyfriend were having. We stayed till a little before midnight, came back to the apartment, drank some Champagne, and hung out. It was a fun, safe night.
And now onto the reason for this blog: the food! I had given a lot of thought into what I wanted to post this time. There were more than a few good candidates, but each got benched for one reason or another. At first I was thinking about doing a Chateaubriand. I had never had that dish before, but it was an option on the ship, and it was sooo good. I did some pretty extensive research into it, read about a dozen recipes, went out and got everything for the sauce, and then saw the price of filets. They are close to $28/pound here right now. Which would have brought the whole cost of the meal to over $70. I just couldn't do it. Luckily, I was able to use the other sauce ingredients (the most expensive of them being wine) for other things.
I was also thinking about doing something with fish. But the fish I wanted to use was being elusive, as it's not really its season right now. You don't get to know what it is, but you will find out in a few months, I promise.
Then there was the Japanese hot pot. I have been trying to find a good balance for the sauce, as well as the things that actually go in it for almost a year now. All of my tinkering is to little avail, so far. There's that "secret ingredient" that I'm missing. They've all been good, don't get me wrong, but none have been great. And I'm not going to settle for anything less than greatness. Yes, I do realize we're talking about food, thank you very much.
There were a few others I had been pondering as well, but this is the one that finally got the honor. It's a kind of Vietnamese-inspired thing. Lots of fresh flavors that meld together beautifully. They are Vietnamese Meatballs, a la Madeline. You take ground beef and pork, mix it up with ginger, garlic, cilantro, scallions, brown sugar, sriracha, and sambal oelek. Then you roll all this up in grape leaves and grill them into perfection. Serve with an out-of-this-world dipping sauce, and you are ready to go. These would be amazing served on a cold noodle dish or a salad, but I was feeling lazy the night I made them. I also justified that the grape leaves and all the scallions and cilantro would take care of the night's veggie quota.
The line up: Ground pork, ground beef, carrot, scallions, cilantro, sambal oelek, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, grape leaves packed in brine, fish sauce, sesame oil, shoyu (or soy) sauce, sriracha.
First, you're going to want to peel the ginger and mince about 4 tablespoons, total. Then chop about a 1/2 cup each of the cilantro and scallions.
If you don't have a vegetable peeler, this is going to be the easiest way to peel your ginger.
Put half the ginger and 2-4 cloves of garlic in with the meat. You don't want to mix yet; wait until all ingredients have been added. If you overwork the meat, it will get super tough when you cook it.
Your next step is going to be to remove the grape leaves from their jar. This can be a bit tricky, as they are packed in there pretty good. Just be patient and try not to tear any of them. Next, rinse them well of brine and any grit that is on them. Now you get to start wrapping! Also, if you're going to use an actual grill, this is a good time to get it going. Make sure you have wooden skewers ready to go. Oh, make sure you soak them in water first, so they don't catch fire over the grill. That would be bad.
See those grape leaves on the wooden cutting board right above our pretty one? Those are ones that got ripped on their way out of the bottle. Keep them. Sometimes, a leaf will need to be double-wrapped, or it may have a hole. That's where these guys come in handy.
Next, take those ends that are coming off the center of the leaf and turn them inwards, towards the meat.
Do that on both ends, and roll toward the end of the leaf. Then press down lightly to help seal the fold a bit. You'll want to end up with something that looks like a burrito, kind of. When prepping the rest of the leaves, set them seam-side down on a plate.
Now you can start on the sauce, if you have someone else to man the grill (or in our case, George Foreman).
It's time to throw the meatballs on the grill, if you haven't already. On an actual grill, I'd say give them about 2-3 minutes per side. On the George Foreman, they take about 4-6 minutes, depending on size. Cook them till they feel fairly firm, and not squishy.
Now comes the best part: cutting into them and eating them!!!! The next few pictures are pretty self-explanatory.
This recipe was enough to feed three hungry adults, without a side. If you are planning on using this for a party (it would be a huge hit, I promise), think about doubling it, or if you have a big family, or you want leftovers. I can't make any promises about the leftovers, though. These are ah-mazing.
I also want to thank Jon Kaplan, who did all of the beautiful pictures you see on this post. All said pictures are his property, and used with permission.
You really made them look so good! Thanks, again!!
Also, although I'm totally awesome with making up recipes, this isn't one of those examples. It is lightly modified from the Intercourses cookbook. Which, if you haven't heard of it, I suggest you go out and pick it up today. I have made tons of recipes from it, and every single one has been phenomenal. Make sure to give credit where it's due, kiddos!
I promise I won't go two months without another blog post! I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and that the New Year started off right. Till next week, guys!