Thursday, December 29, 2016

yesterday's luncheon

My boss and coworker came over for lunch yesterday, the 28th. It went well, all in all, although the tops of the lasagnas were somewhat burnt.* We three sat around and shot the breeze for a couple hours, munching our way through a fried-shrimp appetizer, a lasagna main course with a garlic-bread side, a simple caprese salad, and a dessert that was a choice of either panna cotta or "mouce" au chocolat. My guests both chose the panna cotta; my coworker, who had stuffed himself, was unable to finish his dessert, so it died a sad and lonely death in my kitchenette's sink when I washed the dishes.

For your delectation, then, here are some pics from yesterday's luncheon. Hover your cursor over the images for extra commentary.

We start off with a slightly blurry shot of garlic bread:

I was pressed for time, having decided to leave bread-buying until the last minute to guarantee freshness. With only a couple hours to go before the lunch, I elected to hit the Paris Baguette in my building, thinking that a PB baguette, while not truly French, might pass for a thick sort of Italian bread. But when I went down to the bakery, I discovered to my delight that PB was selling a loaf that had almost the exact look and texture of American-style Italian bread.** I grabbed a loaf and had a humorous exchange with the girls at the counter who, upon seeing that I was a foreigner, struggled to ask me in English whether I wanted my bread sliced. "Cut...ting?" one girl managed to utter. "You can speak to me in Korean," I replied fluidly in Korean. Lots of embarrassed giggling after that.

I eventually sliced the bread to my desired thickness, then buttered it with soft garlic-and-herb butter. I debated over whether to pan-fry the bread or to use my oven's topside burners as a broiler; I eventually went with broiling, which produced the effect you see above. The buttered surface itself was relatively un-browned, but I've had plenty of baked Italian bread that was served in just that manner.

To keep the bread warm (as you'll see in a subsequent photo), I placed the foil-wrapped loaf atop the oven, which becomes very hot to the touch when you use the topside heating elements while baking or broiling. This kept the bread at a decent temperature while I waited for my guests to arrive (they were both fashionably late).

Below: the first of three lasagna-prep pics:

Second of three:

Third of three:

Having made the meat sauce and the cheese mixture the night before, I knew that actual assembly of the lasagna wouldn't take too long. I simply lined three baking dishes up, then glopped and layered away: sauce, pasta, cheese; sauce, pasta, cheese. The goal, for me, was to get at least three layers of pasta into the baking dish. I succeeded. Itaewon's High Street sold only one kind of lasagna noodle, as far as I could see, and it was the presto in forno kind: ready for the oven, i.e., needing no boiling. These are super-convenient noodles: you simply slap them into the lasagna, then they soften up during the baking phase as steam is released from the meat sauce and the cheese mixture.

Next up: a shot of the raw shrimp that would eventually become my beer-batter shrimp appetizer. These bad boys were the jumbo shrimp (20/pound) that you can find at Costco (and no, I don't consider "jumbo shrimp" to be an oxymoron—that's a rant in itself):

A wide shot of the table setting:

Shrimp—done! Remember when I did beer-batter salmon and joked about how that one piece of salmon looked an awful lot like a shrimp, "vein" and all?

A completed lasagna, the biggest of the bunch, avant de l'enfourner:

And here are the lasagnas, baking away, with the foil-wrapped, buttered loaf of Italian bread sitting atop the oven and benefitting from the oven's heat:

Last pic: the caprese. No images of the panna cotta or the chocolate "mouce," alas; I think you've already seen enough pics of that particular dessert, and to imagine the panna cotta, just picture a mousse, but white.

So that's a brief tour of yesterday's luncheon. My boss said he was able to find my apartment thanks to the smell of the lasagna; I had kept my door open for most of the lasagna's baking time. My coworker joked about the over-detailed nature of the directions I had written to get people to my place, but I try to idiot-proof anything I do, so I make no apologies for that.

The boss observed that I had put something other than just Italian sausage into my meat sauce; I congratulated him on his sharp palate and confirmed that I had added chorizo to the mix. It worked out well, I think; my coworker heaped praises on the lasagna, and the boss gave his usual terse "It was good" before my guests left.

*I ignored the sage advice to bake your lasagna covered for about 3/4 of the baking time, then to remove the protective aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time to allow the cheese on top to brown to a pleasant color. With my lasagna, the burning didn't affect the taste, and my guests ate their entire servings, crunchy tops and all, with nary a complaint.

**Americans use the generic term "Italian bread" to describe one very specific kind of bread that we Yanks associate with Italian-American cuisine, but in fairness to Italians, it should be noted that there are, in fact, many Italian breads. Thanks to the arrival of certain specialty breads like ciabatta, Americans are becoming dimly aware that Italy's varieties of bread rival the range found in countries like France and Germany. Yesterday's "Italian" bread was as generically "Italian" as it's possible to get: unlike a baguette, the loaf was wider, and its crust was soft to the touch. This is one reason why I'm almost always tempted to use baguettes instead of "Italian" bread: I'm a fan of textural contrast, and the loaves that Americans use with Italian-American food tend to be too squishy for my taste. But such loaves are a tradition among Americans so, when faced with the choice between a dubious PB baguette or this thing that so closely resembled American-style Italian bread, I went with the latter.

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