Eat Drink Style Goodbye to BR... For Now: Five-Spice Braised Pork Belly with Apple/Cinnamon Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Kabocha Risotto

My good friend BR is leaving for New York to pursue her lifelong dream of being an advertising account executive. I really think she's going to New York for the food and bars that close at 4 am. And the 15-degree weather I experienced only 2 weeks ago really adds to the long list of New York's benefits. I first met her at our last agency and since then have become good friends. She's competed with me in the first annual Iron Chef Souplantation competition and shared a Happy Hallmark Day. As a goodbye, I promised to cook her dinner. She was the one after all that hooked me up in 'the restaurant'. Which has led me down the path as a part-time caterer. And she's also introduced me to the wonderful art scene in LA.

Her bf, C, and her arrived at my place around 8, only to find me running frantically in the kitchen. I had become so used to prepping food the night before and underestimated the time it would take to cook this much food. Luckily, a bottle of wine, sake and a trusty connection to YouTube is all you need to ameliorate your guests hunger.

Ika Salad with Sesame-Miso Dressing
We wanted something light and what immediately comes to mind, is anything from the sea. With the help of Angelo Pietro, a simple, yet healthy salad of thinly-sliced squid, mixed greens, thinly shredded scallions (korean style), radish sprouts and mixed greens.

Seared Scallops with Soy-Yuzu Beurre Blanc

I love anything seared and yuzu-endowed. I bought these 'japanese sashimi-grade' scallops from Trader Joe's for $10. Sashimi-grade my ass - maybe this is what Todai uses. I usually get mine from Restaurant Depot in a large paint bucket. I made a simple beurre blanc with shallots, vinegar, soy sauce, cream and yuzu. I was very disappointed with the taste of the seared scallops, but I was fortunately saved by the sauce. Garnished with a few microgreens, this is a light and pleasant appetizer.

Pork Belly: Up Close and Personal
There's nothing I love better than pork belly. I love it braised Chinese style in pickled vegetables. I love it in ramen. I love it seared to a nice crisp. I had a nice pork belly dish in San Francisco's Blue Plate a few months ago and loved how it was the perfect block of meat, cooked tenderly with a generous layer of fat. I started braising this the night before with a simple mire poix (onions, carrots, celery), chicken broth, black peppercorns, garlic, ginger and an aromatic rub consisting of all-spice, coriander seeds, anise and cloves. The smell was great. My neighbor's dog started scratching on my screen door. He wanted a quick taste haha. Sorry buddy... only if you leave town. Anyway, I braised this at 425-450 for nearly 3 hours and simmered it on low right before serving.

To go with this, I thought a nice bitter vegetable would go well with the sweetly-spiced pork. I chopped up some brussel sprouts (mini Cabbage-like veggies) and sautéed them with bruonóised apple-smoked bacon and fresh cinnamon-flavored apples. The combination was great but a little too much on the cinnamon spice. It lingered forever.

As the base, I made roasted kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) risotto. I started getting into risottos after I had them at Japanese-style Italian bistros. Places like Musha in Torrance and Blue Marlin on Sawtelle Blvd. have risotto. To make this, you simply roast some kabocha rubbed with olive oil and a tiny bit of salt. I then took them on a rollercoaster ride in the food processor - adding water and oil to help the purée process out. Simply add the kabocha purée to your delicious risotto and adjust the salinity and sweetness. That's it.

Overall, everyone loved the perfectly tender pork belly but felt the cinnamon was overwhelming in the veggie stir fry. The risotto turned out nicely. Warning with risotto, this must be eaten right away. The second it starts to harden, it won't be as good.

We finished the night with some red wine, sake and more YouTubing. To BR, I wish you luck on your next endeavor and remember, what you think is a cat in the streets of New York probably isn't a cat. Always, Dylan. Thanks for reading.

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