Monday, January 31, 2011

Bowl of Red

Seems like everyone is making chili! With beans, without beans, with beef, vegan or whatever! Is it because of the fiery warming goodness on a cold night, Super Bowl parties or just because we love our bowls of red? Talk about subliminal messaging hitting the target, this weekend I had to have me my own.

It's been so long I almost forgot chili beans

Bowl of Red
Chili with beans and cocoa
For Recipe Click More

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The ones that got away in January

And the rest of this month's line-up!
Rustic Split Pea Soup
Rustic Spilt Pea Soup
Like Papa made! Not too mushy with added red potatoes. I use onion, celery and carrot to start, add stock, ham and 2-3 bay leaves to simmer in the good flavors. Add ham pieces and a little fresh thyme, salt and black pepper at the end.

Roasted Chicken
Honey Thyme Brined and Roasted Chicken

Inspiration for this perfectly wonderful way to roast a chicken from Chef Michael Symon's Honey Brined Chicken with Lemon and Sage. I added some lemon-thyme sprigs and black pepper corns to the brine. I also butterflied the chicken and laid it on top of mixture of chopped carrots, onion, and celery Poured in a little white wine and chicken stock, roasted for about an hour at 375 degrees F. Used the resulting pan drippings and veggies as a sauce base. Brining is definitely the way to go from now on!

Pot stickers & Grilled Bok Choy
Pot Stickers with Grilled Vegetables
Pot stickers and grilled Vegetables, just a quick weeknight meal.

Chicken Quesadilla
Chicken Quesadillas
Crispy tortilla, melted cheese over onion, yellow bell pepper, tomato and the yummy left over herb chicken from the other night. Side salad is broccoli, apple, celery and walnuts in a creamy honey mustard dressing. Quick fix after work.

Herb chicken with mustard greens
Herb marinated, pan seared chicken breast on mustard greens
Chicken breast bathed in mustard herb marinade before pan searing. Resting on sauteed mustard greens with bacon, cranberries and onions. A little bit of mashed sweet potato creates a nice juxtaposition of sweet and savory.

Duck Breast with Clementine Sauce
Asian spice rubbed and grilled duck breast with clementine sauce
Lucky enough to get several duck breasts to play with. Asian spice rub, grilled and served over stir fried veggies (cabbage, spinach, shredded sweet potato) Topped with a fresh clementine sauce and segments. I have this one written down in my recipe notebook. Now just to get around to posting. The clementine sauce could also be wonderful on fish!

Stuffed Calamari Tempura

The secret is in the stuffing
Tempura style stuffed calamari
We speak of them in hushed, reverent tones. Eyes look inward remembering the lightning and texture. Nostrils flare as eyelashes flicker to closed lids, focusing on the smells and tastes on the back of our tongue as we reconjured from memory "that perfect dish." This appetizer is homage to that perfect dish created by my Dad back in the late '70s.

More than thirty years has past and I can still taste the sherry cream sauce over a tender calamari body, stuffed with succulent crab and shrimp, nested on classic pilaf with slivered almonds. A time when we were newly married and my parents were enjoying the empty nest. Invited us to dinner.... just like grownups!  Dad was inspired by something he read in Food and Wine magazine, and subsequently served us something worthy of several Michlin stars, in the kitchen, at home. Unpretentious, matter of fact, his gift was one of the best things I have ever eaten. So much so, I have yet to dare it's recreation. But in my own way I am honoring his artistry and creativity. In such moments, this is indeed ... "a good fix."

Like a contestant in a Chopped episode, I gathered ingredients on hand. Fresh enoki and bunashimeji mushrooms from a recent trip to the japanese supermarket, a package of frozen calamari and a little smoked salmon. Letting the creative adrenaline take me for a two hour ride of thawing, slicing, dicing, mixing and frying, we goobled up these delectible morsels. Our eyes slightly rolling as we dipped into the Wasabi Kissed Avocado Creme and took a bite. I did the whole tempura thing with fresh vegetables, but just the calamari and tentacles would make a nice appetizer in less time.

Tempura with Black & Mahogany Rice
Tempura with calamari, fresh veggies served with mahonany and black rice pilaf
Tempura Prep
Tempura Vegetables
Raw stuffed squid

Click More for Recipe

Ceviche Topped Swai with Wasabi Kissed Avocado Creme

Ceviche topped Swai with Avocado Creme
Ceviche Topped Swai with Wasabi Kissed Avocado Creme

Seafood delights every time!

I try to prepare a fish meal once a week. It is healthy, calorie friendly and frankly I just like it! But I do have to challenge myself to bring a different approach so it doesn't end up being the same old thing. In addition, having people in the house that regard fish with some suspicion  requires me to step up my game... so to speak. This week, few fresh ingredients and staples from my freezer resulted in this lovely combination.  I simply pan seared the swai in butter and olive oil, then plated it on top of a smear of the avocado creme, topped with ceviche. Many times, my creations are just "one-offs" that don't necessarily make it back to the menu rotation. Do you have those experiments that just don't make your personal hit parade? I have too many to count. But, I am glad to say, this delightfully fresh ceviche, buttery browned swai and creamy smooth avocado smear with a cool hidden kick is a winner to be repeated! Double bonus is that the left over ceviche was great on my lunch salad the next day and the creme made super dipping sauce for the tempura creation coming up. I hope you enjoy this mixed up seafood delight!

Ceviche with Cilantro and Basil

Makes about 3 cups
1 cup bay shrimp
1 cup crab meat
½ cup squid rings (calamari)
½ serrano chili finely diced
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 shallot, finely diced
4 tbl red bell pepper finely diced
¼ cup tomatoes diced no seeds
2 tbl fresh basil chiffonade
2 tbl fresh cilantro,chopped
1 cup fresh lime juice
⅛ tsp roasted ground cumin
⅛ tsp kosher salt
⅛ tsp finely ground black pepper
Dice and chop finely ingredients, combine in bowl with lime juice, cumin and salt and pepper. Let marinate for 1-4 hours before serving.

Wasabi Kissed Avocado Creme

Makes about 1 ½ cups
1 whole avocado, soft
2 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1 tbl creme fraiche
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp prepared wasabi
½ tsp dijon mustard
⅛ tsp white pepper
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tbl fresh lime juice
2 tbl fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbl fresh basil, chopped

Rough chop fresh herbs and avocado flesh before adding to food processor.
Add ingredients in order to food processor bowl, and blend until creamy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Orange Sesame Beef and One Saucy Pan

Lucky Sauce Pan Ready to GoYou don't know where your next treasure will turn up, do you? I have been on a hunt for a nice 1 to 1.5 quart sauce pan. Man, those babies are pricey aren't they?

On a lark just before Thanksgiving we walked down to the local thrift shop on "Half Off Day."  There amidst the knick-knacks, mismatched plates and other well worn kitchen items was this little blacken sauce pan with brass handle under what I can only describe as rubble. As I picked it up I was completely surprised by the nice heft, the bright interior and the hidden sheen of copper. I thought, this is nice. It will probably clean up pretty well... Let's take it.  So, it came home with us for $2.50, unbelievable! Two-fifty, really!

Heaven's-to-Betsy! This is a vintage Cop*R*Chef sauce pan, with a brass handle! It wasn't until I got home and did some research did I realize my little treasure is worth quite a bit. Now, I am scared that this experience will spawn a whole new obsession. So, now you can see why I have been imagining and preparing so many sauces lately.  My pan has found me!

Lucky Sauce Pan
Now on with today's recipe -- Orange Sesame Beef
My boys love to order Hunan Beef, General Tsao's Chicken and the like when we go out for Chinese food. This is my nod to those fabulous dishes.

Orange Sesame Beef
Orange  Sesame Beef

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lunch Date: Beque Korean Grill

I like cooking (obviously.) But I also like to eat out, get some inspiration, expand my senses and just get some good grub that I didn't have to prepare. My darling dear husband and I decided to try to have a lunch date at least once a month for this very purpose. Yes, I can be extravagant in my choices or wishlists to try, but for this to work for us we decided to be a bit practical. A lunch item is often half the cost of a full dinner and you get to sample some fabulous food. Added bonus, I am hoping to indulge in some specialty food shopping along the way. Today I hit up Mitsuwa MarketPlace and Le Sur Table on the way home! Score!  Both were having sales!

For lunch, I had the baby octopus pictured below, but my darling had the Dak Bulgogi, sliced chicken marinated in specially fomulated house sauce which was just delicious and the layers built the flavors exquisitely. Our server and host were extremely personable and obviously proud of their restaurant. It didn't hurt that we arrived at 2:15pm and the regular lunch crowd had thinned out considerably.  No need for dinner tonight! DDH didn't like the hot tea, I loved it.

Today's lunch -- Korean BBQ/Grill
Location -- Beque Korean Grill, Santa Clara, CA
Ambiance -- Modern, warm, clean, upscale for bbq joint
Service -- Flawless
Food -- Delicious!
Cool Factor -- BBQ ventilation is drawn down underneath the table so that you don't leave with the smoky just grilled smell.
Go Back Factor - Oh Yeah

Korean Style Baby Octopus Meal
19. Nakkal Bokum *
Baby octopus and flour noodles in spicy house sauce.
What do you do or where do you go to inspire your foodie needs?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Comfort food = Stirfry

I can explain, really. Back just after high school my dad started watching Martin Yan and we'd have home cooked fried rice and a variety of stir fried meals. Pretty unusual in a town with limited diversity in the '70s. When I got married, a wok was one of the first wedding presents opened. Chinese and Japanese cookbooks began to appear on my bookshelf.  My family now requests peanut chicken, sweet and sour pork, egg flower soup or home style chow mein for birthday dinners -- or lasagna, depends. Now-a-days, we have all kinds of exposure to different cultures and cuisines. But back then, preparing anything different was pretty unusual. Wow, times have changed, just tune in to any of the foodie channels or check out the international aisles at the chain grocery stores to see how lucky we are! That is the wonderment of culture and cuisine, a rare trip around the world in your kitchen and a bridge to better understanding.

So, when I pull out my wok, I don't think too hard.  I am sure my concoctions are not even close to traditional, authentic or restaurant quality.  Usually it is made it up based on what I have on hand. But what I do come up with is, fresh, tasty and ready in less than 30 minutes, good enough for me.

Shiitake Beef Stirfry with Black Bean Sauce

Shiitake Beef Stirfry in Blackbean Sauce
Homestyle Rice Bowl, Beef, Mushrooms and Blackbean Sauce

Ingredients are the key.
Rehydrate dried mushrooms, 30 minutes in warm water.
I hate to even call this a recipe, but here's what went into this dinner. Key is how well you prep your ingredients ahead of time. I find the slicing and dicing meditative. Everything must be at the ready before you heat up your wok and go!

Peanut oil for frying
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow onion, medium sliced
1 pkg dried shiitake mushrooms or 1 dozen fresh cut in half or thirds
2 cups thin sliced steak (leftovers cooked med-rare)
3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, stems removed
1/4 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 tbl sesame seeds
3 green onions, finely sliced
1/4 cup finely diced orange bell pepper
Sauce (combine in bowl)
2 tbl Sake
2 tbl water from mushrooms
1 1/2 tsp Lee Kim Kee Black Bean Sauce
1/2 tsp low salt soy sauce 
Soak dried mushrooms in 1 cup warm water for at least 30 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid.
Prep your vegetables, slice thinly and uniformly. Heat your wok or large saute  pan over high heat, add about a tablespoon of peanut oil (must use an oil can take the high heat.)
  1. Add the sliced garlic and onion, stir and toss, do not let the garlic turn brown (it will taste bitter) cook about a minute. 
  2. Add mushrooms and continue to stir/toss. Cook another 2 minutes. 
  3. Add thinly sliced beef, continue cooking another 2 minutes to heat (don't overcook steak, it has already been cooked once and you just need to heat.)
  4. Add half of the sauce and toss to coat.
  5. Add spinach and cook for about 3-4 minutes to wilt
  6. Add coarse grind black pepper to taste (DO NOT ADD SALT!)
  7. Add rest of sauce, and 1/2 diced bell pepper continue cooking 2 minutes.
  8. Turn off heat and serve over rice
  9. Top with sliced green onions and remaining orange bell pepper - so pretty and fresh tasting!
Cook's Note: You can use fresh thinly sliced beef, but hey, that is a whole different recipe!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Black Eyed Peas, Cornbread and Cast Iron

Do you have those heirloom pieces in your kitchen? You know the ones I'm talking about.  We feel differently when we cook with them, something magical happens.  Genealogy and memories course through the physical properties and it reverberates with the living essence of those who held them before.  If we talk to our foodie friends about our favorite pieces, inevitably the conversations light up when it comes to our heirloom cast iron. We become animated, we talk and talk about the meals, who cooked them and how perfectly this pan made it work.

I am blessed that I have a few such favored pieces. When I bring down the enormous cast iron fry pan,  it takes both hands just to lift it, it is so heavy! Glossy, black and perfectly seasoned from decades of use.  Just looking at it, I can see my Dad cooking up fried chicken as only he could. I have yet to master his touch.

This New Year's I used the old Detroit gem pan we received from my husband's mother.  Not only celebrating the first day of the year,  but also his father''s birthday and a little southern tradition thrown in. Nothing better to make the crust of cornbread just right, and nothing better than connecting with those no longer with us in this life.

cornbread gems
Detroit Gem Pan  and Alber's Cornbread Recipe - less sugar.
These imperfect pieces of cookware, time worn and loved keep our familial connections alive in our hearts and in our kitchen.

A California Girl's Take on New Year's Black Eyed Peas
Blackeyed peas & cornbread
Black eyed peas inaugural dish for my new heirloom, 3.5 qt blue enameled dutch oven!

Click if you would like to read the recipe.