I like to cook on New Years Eve, mainly because I’m selfish. (‘Tis the season for being self reflective, so why not be honest with myself?) I like to choose what I’m going to eat, where I’m going to eat and with whom I’m going to eat on this holiday, no matter how much work it requires. While I cringe at reading the starkness of that statement, I can’t help but admit that it’s at least 92% true. There’s a softer side to it, though: I love to entertain. I love to spend time around a table with friends, old and new. I love being at the table, together.
I was conflicted about what to cook for this past New Year’s feast, but only for a second. I knew that I wanted to do vegetarian fare and I was also itching to do something with the pork belly that’s been holding my freezer shelf intact for the past six months. (When pork belly is what holds a shelf up in your freezer, it’s time to hit Sears. Or wherever it is that homeowners buy appliances.)
I flipped open Bittman’s book of worldly eats for inspiration, and saw a recipe for okonomiyaki and it was decided. I would make whatever I felt like. Which was, of course, a completely vegetarian meal with the exception of five pounds of pork belly.
To go along with my theme on contradiction, I decided to make sure that none of my dishes would come from the same place. My pork belly would be Chinese, my potatoes from eastern Europe and my greens, middle-eastern.
Once I embraced chaos (which, in a deeper way, was like choosing to embrace myself) I continued to add dish upon dish to the menu. Soup. Salad. Tater tots. (Tater tots were added and crossed off the list three times.) This, friends, is how a meal is born. And, with the exception of actually sitting down, wine in hand, to enjoy the meal with my guests, it’s my favorite part of the process. Planning.
Kale, yogurt, salt, garlic and cayenne came together in a dish that I’ve seen Laddan make a million times. (She was adorably surprised to find that her go-to dish actually had its own recipe, though I think she slightly disapproved of the fact that my method involved boiling — not sauteing — the greens.) I love this recipe, and if I ever stop eating fast food this year, I will make it again, and again, and again.
Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage-laden pancakes) makes an excellent hangover snack. These guys (packed with peas and shiitake mushrooms) greeted my guests as they arrived and fulfilled my New Year’s Day need for cabbage. So long as shredded cabbage equates to sauerkraut and bacon equates to pork in the “Good Luck Handbook,” 2011 is going to be a good year. Though, to be honest, I can’t imagine any year that begins with that adorable Kewpie Japanese Mayo being in my fridge not being a good one.
And now for the pork shot. Slathered in fermented bean curd (the most disgusting thing on earth), roasted, then broiled, this pork belly fulfilled my dead animal quota for the meal while simultaneously reminding me that I need to sharpen my knives. I used kitchen shears to cut through this meat.
As I wandered throughout the Japanese market searching for the Chinese ingredient (yes, I’m that girl), I fell prey to impulse buys and used my Pocky and other random desserty-type things as centerpieces. Not quite Martha Stewart, but I daresay my guests loved the phallic-shaped treats.
Now, for those who’ve made it this far, my resolution for 2011. I want a year of pleasant contradiction; of pork belly on an otherwise vegetarian table; of middle-eastern dishes followed by homemade apple pie; of running followed by cheeseburgers and drinks at Mouton followed by Taco Bell. Cheers!
Recipes to be added at a later time.