Sunday, July 15, 2007

Classic Maryland Style Soft-shell Crabs

I love 99 Ranch! This grocery chain has become my go to place for seafood. I am always on the hunt for crabs and can usually find them, but the quality is sometimes questionable and I don’t want to spend a small fortune to get them. 99 Ranch to the rescue! My latest find has been frozen soft-shells from Vietnam. The price was around $17/dozen and they were a pretty nice size, about 4-5 inches. That’s relatively cheap. They were really pretty and fresh looking. Clean white meat, bright blue shells, I almost thought they would start to move, which kind of gave me the creeps. Best thing is that they are individually wrapped and already cleaned. First dish I wanted to try was pan-frying them in a seasoned coating. This is my standard for making soft-shells. Of course it has Old Bay in it.

6 fresh or defrosted soft-shells
1-11/2 c flour
1/8-1/4 c Old Bay Seasoning
2 eggs beaten
1/2-3/4 c Canola Oil
1 tsp water

(Sorry about the measurements on this. I add to it, as needed, because sometimes you need more coating and oil for frying)

1. Pat the soft-shells so they are relatively dry.
2. Mix the flour and Old Bay together and put on a plate for coating the crabs.
3. Whisk the eggs and add a little water to thin out. Place on a separate plate for dipping the crabs in.
4. Coat the crabs, one at a time, into the egg and then the flour mix. This will be a thin coating. Set aside on a plate till ready to fry. Don’t wait to long or the coating will start to break down.
5. In a fry pan heat the oil and when a drop of water sizzles in the pan place the crabs’ shell side down into the oil. Watch out, as the oil will splatter.
6. Fry for about 3-5 minutes and flip gently when golden brown and fry the bottoms for another 3-5 minutes.
7. Drain the excess oil off on a paper towel and serve with lemon wedges.

I made the dish shown above with a side of red chard from the garden that I diced and quickly sautéed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Zucchini Bread with Basil and Golden Raisins

It was bound to happen. I have too much zucchini growing in the garden. All of it sprouted from the soil without any interference (or encouragement) on our part! I must admit that this year’s crop is delicious. The squash has a light creamy flavor. Sautéed in olive oil results in a buttery taste and texture. I think we ate zucchini with every meal for a week and actually didn’t tire of it. I obviously have zucchini on the brain if I happened to notice that one crop we picked happened to look like a value scale. I guess it’s the artist in me!

Last year I experimented with a zucchini bread that wasn’t too sweet and more interesting then just zucchini. I know the classic odd pairing is zucchini with chocolate, but I wasn’t after a dessert bread. So here is my take: Zucchini Bread with Basil and Golden Raisins! It bakes up beautifully. Stays very moist and not too sweet.

11/2 c flour
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 c Canola Oil
2 large eggs; beaten
1/2 c sugar
1/12 tsp vanilla
1 lb zucchini coarsely shredded
1 cup fresh basil; shredded
1/2 c chopped golden raisins

1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a parchment lined loaf pan. Mine is shiny metal not the black heavy kind.
2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients.
3. In another bowl combine the wet ingredients except for the zucchini, raisins and basil.
4. Fold the zucchini, raisins and basil into the wet ingredients.
5. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Do not over mix.
6. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes or until a skewer pulls out cleanly from the center. Remove from pan and let cool.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Birth of the Fuzzy Devil!

Also known as: Where is the drink in this shot? Oh shoot! Quick! Photograph this before it's all gone!

It's lots of fun trying to come up with drinks! I don't know if the reason the final concoction tastes so good is because by the time you've figured out the recipe you've had 2, or 3 or 4... Yikes! We were over at a good friend's place this Sunday killing time before a wedding reception and thought we would have a drink or two. Seemed like as good a time as any to experiment. This is the result. The combination of the pear and the floral aroma of the elderberry (it also edges on being musky) combines into a not too fruity, perfumed delight!

Fuzzy Devil

1/2 oz Elderberry Flower Syrup (this stuff came from Ikea and definitely deserves more investigation!)
1/2 oz Organic Pear Juice
1 1/2 oz Vodka

Combine everything into a martini shaker with ice and shake and serve! Next time, we will remember that a garnish makes a nice accompaniment, but really isn't needed, is it? Well, maybe a pretty pear slice...

I have to thank Vanda for the pretty photo of the half empty glass and for getting me drunk before a wedding reception! She has a nice little blog called Suscito and a great section on films called Moviegrump.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Corn Salad

So what do you do when you have a party and you make too much corn? Corn Salad! After all the cooking from the previous day, I usually get burned out. The only problem is I start to get tired of eating the same meal over and over. I am not a big fan of leftovers... Back to the issue of too much corn:

I had some cucumber and Thai Basil from the garden and just diced everything up. Cut some cold boiled corn off of the cob and toss with the cucumber and basil to combine. Add some good quality olive oil, fresh lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! Refreshing and so easy. It has the possibility of endless variations. Different types of herbs will change the flavors. You could add tomatoes, avocado, peppers and so forth. I would suggest keeping it simple so you can clearly taste the individual ingredients. Maybe too much of something is a good thing.

Southern Fare

We celebrated Frank's birthday this last weekend. I usually like to kick off Birthdays with some kind of fun and unusual feast. For example, my last birthday, we celebrated with a champagne tasting and dishes that would compliment the different varieties. It gets to be a little time consuming and pricey, but I like doing something memorable and food events are fun! I usually pick a theme to organize the menu around. This year's birthday theme was "Southern Fare". I posted a while ago that I wanted to have a traditional Maryland-style crab feast, but for the number of guests it would have been astronomical! So a shrimp boil seemed to be the closest thing. The local Asian grocery, 99 Ranch Market, had some gorgeous looking shrimp, with heads attached, for an unbelievable price. Problem solved! I just followed the recipe that Old Bay has on their web site. Except I omitted the potatoes and cooked the corn separately, oh and definitely use the beer! We also had Corn Bread (Didn't make that! Not enough time!), collard greens made with smoked turkey legs instead of ham hocks, boiled corn (as mentioned before), Garden Salad (from the garden of course!), Watermelon and Yummy Cupcakes Red Velvet Cupcakes! To drink I offered hibiscus juice from a 101 cookbooks recipe and optional tequila. We ate outside on the picnic tables Frank and I made a year ago with the food piled in metal trays and just relaxed. I think everyone had a good time!

Fresh shrimp with heads are a must! I know it grosses some people out but sucking the shrimp heads is the best part!

Finished pile of shrimp and sausage. Don't forget the hot sauce!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Washington DC!

I am a DC girl at heart. We were fortunate enough to fly back for a few days recently. I love being back there! I don't miss the snow or the humidity (well maybe a little!) but I miss everything else! I lived in a small town just outside of DC in Maryland called, Cabin John. We were within biking distance of Georgetown, via the C&O Canal. Nearby, in Glen Echo, was an emerging art community, thanks largely in part to my high school art teacher, Walter Bartman. I can confidently say that I wouldn't have the career I have today without his instruction. He has opened up the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery now that he's retired from the public school system. It's located in Old Glen Echo Park, which looks like it's being restored to its original glory! Wonderful place to visit. Everything is green and lush and there are things on the East Coast, I just can't get anywhere else! A few items are Blue Crab, Yuengling Beer, and Utz's Crab Potato Chips!

One of the first things I wanted to do was have some soft shell crabs, since we happened to be there at the right season. I unfortunately don't have a picture of the ones we had at dinner, but they were every bit delicious. They were prepared in the usual Italian way, coated in a light batter, pan-fried and served with a lemon caper butter sauce. I'm drooling again! I do have a great picture of what Frank's Aunt had waiting for us the next day. A big pile of steamed crabs!!! A dream come true! This trip was off to a great start!

Frank's mission was to obtain some of Utz's famous crab chips, which you can see we did! He talked about filling a suitcase with them but I just couldn't imagine bringing back a bag full of potato chips! A little salty, but every bit of the classic Old Bay type flavor you would expect from a crab chip. Delicious with an ice cold beer! Preferably Yuengling! They say that they are the oldest American brewery. I don't know if age has anything to do with it, but their beer, is rich and flavorful and immensely refreshing.

The other wonderful thing about DC is the Smithsonian Mall. I love it there! It's free and there are amazing exhibits. We had to do a whirlwind tour of the museums since we didn't have a whole lot of time and the rush through was killing me, but we did get to see some extraordinary things. I won't go into detail but if you want to see a fantastic range of art check out the following museums if you ever get there. Hirshhorn, National Gallery of Art East and West, National Portrait Gallery, and the American Art Museum to name a few. One special note is that we had a fabulous lunch at the Garden Cafe, in the West building. I was surprised to stumble upon this. The food at the museums in the past had been mediocre, but this was fantastic! We had Mimosas, Bouillabaisse, and a assortment of artisinal cheeses, as well as a few other delicacies. One dish that was quite interesting was the grilled asparagus with a Passion fruit sauce. Interesting and unique combination of flavors. The cafe was in a serene setting, in the museum, situated around on of their indoor fountains and was off the beaten path so it was quite peaceful. Service was excellent!

Here are a few other photos that Frank took on our trip...

The National Gallery has a very impressive permanent Calder exhibit.

One of the gorgeous marble hallways of the National Gallery West building.

Not Rothko's! Not sure who painted these, but the room glowed from them!

The best and only way to travel in DC, the Metro! I love the interior architecture as well!

Oh, how our garden grows! 3

Frank's been taking more lovely pics of our garden. I must say, that because of his photography, this site has come out much better than I could have hoped for. I try taking the pictures, but I never use them, his just have more "soul" than the ones I take.

This is a Christmas Cactus flower that just bloomed a few days ago. They only last for a day or two, so I watch them with anticipation for when they will open. The flower is quite big, about the span of my hand outstretched. Frank's Mom, Mali planted it and it seems to be doing well, but I think I will move it to a sunnier location.

Beautiful Onion Blossom. Probably a common yellow onion that Frank planted. Whenever I compost an old onion, Frank saves them and tries to grow them. One of our many "orphans" around the garden that we decided to keep. I love the big pom-pom type flower. It reminds me of how artichokes have those big, beautiful blooms from such a thorny start. I need to grow some, next season!

Young zucchini and blossoms. I need to try cooking the blossoms some time!

I plant a lot of lettuce in the garden for two reasons. First, we eat a lot of lettuce, and second, as a living mulch. They keep the ground cooler for our other plants and make the garden look very lush. Only problem is we can't eat them fast enough so they get kind of big. This one reminds me of a green fireworks explosion! Boom!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Unagi Bento - a work day lunch

Frank and I have been trying to pack lunches more often for work. Our reasons are the usual; save money and eat healthier. I enjoy trying to come up with lunches that are a little different. This keeps it interesting for me but can also really add to my time in the kitchen. Here is a pretty simple one, unagi bento. I can’t really say I cooked anything, as the eel goes in the broiler, pre-seasoned and the pickles are pre-made, but someone had to assemble it! In preparation for packing lunches, I purchased some really cute bento sets from J-List. Making the eel bento is really quite simple. I try to approach it as with any meal, where the menu is balanced. With this bento, I served pickled cucumbers, endive with ginger dressing and pickled ginger on the side. I was trying to cut the richness of the eel, with some light and tangy sides. Not shown in this picture are some fresh cut oranges from our tree. When lunch time hits at work, I really enjoy the effort taken, minimal or not!

Deluxe "Urara" Bento Box Set -- Red (Rabbit)

Totoro Lacquered Bowl w/ Bento Box

Monday, May 28, 2007

Baked Eggs on a Monday Morning

I really, really wanted some eggs this morning. Frank was kind enough to run to the store to get some because we only had 3 in the house. Weird to have an odd number like that, when it is just the 2 of us. I had been noticing on some of the food blogs I check out that people were making various types of baked eggs, so I thought I would give it a try. I have 2 All-Clad small baking pans that were wedding gifts and I have never made anything in them after 2 years! This would be perfect! The dish came out really nice, rich but not heavy. Frank took some nice photos for me again. Thanks, Frank! I used a variegated sage from the garden and chives. I would like to try it with some other herbs as well.

4 extra large eggs (I wish I had the duck eggs for this!)
2 pats of butter, unsalted
4-5 fresh sage leaves; thinly sliced
1 small bunch of fresh chives; minced
1/2 cup of milk (I used 2% for this, because that’s what I had on hand)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. In 2 small baking dishes, evenly divide the sage, chives, butter and milk. I had enough milk to cover the bottom of the pans.
3. Place in the oven for about 5-8 minutes, or until the liquid begins to bubble at the edges.
4. Crack 2 eggs into each pan and return to the oven.
5. Bake for about 5-8 minutes or until the eggs have set.
6. Serve, but be careful, the pans will be hot. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Frank and I have also gone a little espresso crazy. We went and purchased a DeLonghi electric moka maker and a traditional stovetop version by Bialetti. We plan on making some at work, so I don’t keep spending money at the local coffee house. Unfortunately, they are not “true” espresso machines, as they don’t create the beautiful crema on top, but I must say the coffee tastes just as good! I just couldn’t justify the cost of a few hundred dollars (or more) for a machine. Especially, since we are saving up to redo our house. We bought some beautiful, oily, black beans from Le Pain Quotidien and some additional classic espresso cups, so I would say we are sitting pretty.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kyoho Grapes

If you are fortunate enough to live near an Asian or specifically a Japanese community, go out and buy some Kyoho grapes. They have a big, bold flavor. Perfect for summer snacking. They are similar to a Concord, but I find them to be more balanced in terms of the tang in the skin compared to the rich, juicy almost wine like quality of the flesh. These things are packed with juiciness, which is exactly what you want on a summer day. The nicest thing about these grapes is that their flavor is so rich it makes you forget about the poor quality of the peaches, nectarines and apricots you find in stores today. I am going to try and grow some, but I will have to see how they do in my region. For more info check out this site: Produce Hunter

Malichanh's Khao Pun

One of our all time favorite summer dishes is Khao Pun! Once you have the sauce made, we sometimes keep it for up to a year, this becomes a relatively simple dish. It’s really using whatever cooked meat you have around. Actually, the whole purpose of our garden seems to be for making Khao Pun. It’s why we grow lettuce, mint, basil, cilantro, tomatoes, well, essentially if you can put it into a salad you can put it into Khao Pun. One thing I haven’t quite mastered is the noodle bundles. My mother-in-law once told me that a potential wife, in the Lao tradition, is based on her ability to make well-shaped noodle bundles. Let’s just say I am working on it! I have good days and bad days. Once I get a photo worthy bundle I will post it and try to explain how it is done. It is one of those things done more by technique than anything else.

The sauce recipe below is from my mother-in-law. The rest of the recipe follows.

Makes 1 quart of Khao Pun sauce.

1. Caramelize 1 cup of sugar, and 2 tablespoon of salt together.
2. Then add four cups of water, 3-4 big cloves of garlic peeled and split in half, 3-4 whole red hot peppers (optional).
3. Bring to boil; stir often to dissolve all the caramel.
4. Turn off the heat, and then add 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce.
5. Cool it off sauce a bit then add 1/2 cup of vinegar (half white vinegar and half apple cider vinegar also good).
6. Now taste it. Adjust the flavor to your liking. I like sour so I put 1 cup of vinegar instead of just the half cup, and add more fish sauce. There are many kinds of fish sauce. Some are stronger flavor than others-just adjust to your taste. I also add some brown sugar for the richer flavor.
7. Finally add a large amount of fine shredded carrots- I usually shred two good size carrots. Also, finely mince the garlic. The peppers can just be left in the sauce but give it a stir every once in a while.
8. Store the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge. Stir well before serving.

As I said above, Khao Pun is essentially anything you have on hand. I often use cold cooked shrimp, leftover steak, and chicken and/or tofu works really well. If you have all of those things then try that too! As for the greens, I usually have lots of basil and mint on hand, cilantro, lettuce, arugula is very tasty, sprouts are great, avocado, sliced cucumber etc. Well, you get the idea…

For the noodles, use somen and make according to manufactures directions. When cooked, drain and put into ice water to chill. Make the bundles by picking up a small handful and in a figure 8 motion drop into your free hand. Place on a platter. Sounds simple right! Good luck! Once you made some bundles, just bring everything out on patters and let guests help themselves. Have large bowls for them to drop everything into and serve the sauce in a bowl on the side so they can add as much as they want. Have fresh cut limes and extra fish sauce available so they can adjust to taste. Frank's favorite way to eat Khao Pun is to take the letuuce leaves and make wraps out of the various fillings. There is really no wrong way to eat it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lemongrass Marinated Flank Steak

This is actually one of the dishes from the Thai themed birthday party in April. It’s a very easy recipe, which is a nice feature if you are making a few things at once. I made it a few hours before the party and served it slightly chilled.

1-1 1/2 lbs flank steak
2-3 stalks lemongrass, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Juice from one lime

1. Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive container. I like to use a large Ziploc bag.
2. Marinate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight
3. Grill or broil to desired doneness and slice thinly to serve.

Oh, how our garden grows! 2

More lovely photos from the garden, thanks to Frank!

Very small handful of blueberries

Head of green leaf lettuce

Basket of greens; lettuce and red chard

Pink mystery flowers

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Red Dahlia Elixir

One of my all time favorite restaurants is Red Dahlia in Carlsbad CA. We used to go for their supper clubs that happened once a month and became the only way to enjoy their food, unless you were going to have them cater an event. The supper clubs haven’t happened for a while now, and I hope they have something soon because it is really a fantastic experience. Before the supper clubs they actually used to have regular restaurant hours and you could go for lunch or dinner. One time with lunch I had the Red Dahlia Elixir, an infusion of ginger, lemongrass, lemon, cinnamon, and mint. Everything comes in a French Press and it steeps at your table. It’s tangy, mint-y and spicy! Here is my version of it using everything from my garden, except for the cinnamon.

Silver mint
Ginger mint
Ginger slices
Lemongrass stalk sliced
Orange zest and slice

Place everything in a French press or infuser and add hot water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey, if desired.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bulgarini Gelato

Okay, here is Altadena's newest and best addition, Bulgarini Gelato!!! They recently opened up a permanent shop, aside from their cart, that would appear in Pasadena. Mr. Jonathan Gold had a few nice words about them. It's been very difficult not going every day after work. I am not a connoisseur of gelato, but I know when I like something and I really like this! The flavors are intense and bold. The texture is smooth and rich, but also sometimes airy, as with the pineapple sorbet, which seemed to evaporate and leave just the taste of ripe pineapple on your tongue. In the photo above, going clock-wise, apricot gelato with pineapple sorbet underneath, hazelnut and coffee gelato and special today was a blood orange granita. The stuff is amazing. We are fortunate enough to live a few blocks away, but folks are driving in from all over town. The owners are so nice and willing to chat and they let you sample everything! I have also had their pistachio, which is so delicious, it taste like they were fresh roasted, as well as their strawberry, cinnamon and chocolate with orange. Everything is just so good!

Pan-Seared Salmon

I love to cook, but I am at a job all day. This makes dinners, and our lunches, a little difficult for me sometimes. I often start to plan our meals when I wake up, or the night before, so I can do some prep work. I will say now, those of you with children who cook wonderful wholesome meals are superhuman! The problems arise, because I begin to think “Oh! I should make this or that, with this sauce or this thing as a side dish!” But, when you start cooking at 8 or later, reality sinks in and we are hungry and can’t wait for the glorious feast I have in my head. So I tend to do a lot of seared pan dishes or things I can put in my Delonghi oven/broiler, which I absolutely love! I use it more than anything else in the kitchen, except for my coffee pot. But, yet again, the cooking bug creeps in and I feel the need to make something in addition to the main seared meat/veggie thing. So, different garnishes or simple sauces usually appear, and one of the best helpers any cook can have is a garden stocked with fresh herbs. This always helps to liven up a dish. I learned a lot about cooking meat from one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s cookbooks that my father had. Unfortunately, I don’t recall which one, or I would buy it. Essentially, it broke down the basics of various common cooking techniques and times, and they have never failed me since.

Pan-Seared Salmon
Serves 2

2 fillets Salmon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small pat of butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a pan heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat till butter begins to turn golden.
2. Place the salmon in the pan skin side up and cook for about 5-8 minutes or until it starts to brown. Watch your heat, and lower if needed.
3. Turn fillets over and put heat up to medium-high and cook for about 10 minutes, depending on how well done you like your fish. We like ours a little on the underdone side of things.
4. Transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In the photo above, I sprinkled some fresh dill and fresh horseradish on top.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Chesapeake Bay Bloody Mary

This has to be one of the meatiest Bloody Mary’s I have ever had! It’s like a meal in a glass with the fortunate addition of alcohol. I have to give all the credit to my cousin Mike who made this concoction for me at one of our family gatherings. My cousin makes some of the best cocktails and pours a mean Guinness. Since there are so many ingredients in this, I figured a picture diagram would be useful.
The ingredients are as follows, going clock-wise:

Blue Crab Bay Co. Sting Ray Bloody Mary Mix (It’s from the Chesapeake, so it must be good!)
Worcestershire sauce
Your favorite Vodka
Old Bay (More Chesapeake Bay goodness!)
Freshly grated horseradish
Pickled green beans (or asparagus works really well), and jalapeno stuffed olives
Fresh limes

1. In a tall glass filled with ice pour 1 part Vodka to 3 parts Bloody Mary mix. Chill Vodka and mix thoroughly before making.
2. Add a dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.
3. Add a pinch or more of Old Bay
4. Add a squeeze of lime juice
5. Sprinkle with a large pinch of fresh horseradish (pre-made works well but it just isn’t quite the same)
6. Skewer 1 or 2 olives and the green bean (or asparagus, or both!) to use as a stirrer
7. Serve!

Note: I made this again but put it into a cocktail shaker and strained the drink. I think it came out much better! No ice to dilute the final results!

Thanks Mike!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Lemongrass Crab

Frank was making me extremely jealous this weekend over his dining experiences while on his trip to Southeast Asia. We were looking at some of the photos he took while on a boat in Ha Long Bay and I started going crazy after looking at the freshness and utter deliciousness of the seafood they were eating. I started to whine and demanded we go get some crab! Now, I am a Maryland girl, so I almost always cook my crabs with beer and Old Bay. The crab he had in Ha Long was cooked with lemongrass and seemed very pure and simple. Actually, aside from the Old Bay, I believe seafood should be eaten simply so you can enjoy it's “essence” as Frank likes to call it. So off we went to get our fresh crab. I like to go where I can pick them out myself, so I can grab the fighters! There is something primal about your food trying to attack you. Not that I have a lot of experience with menacing ingredients, so far it's been just crustaceans. We got 4 rock crabs at a very cheap price of $1.99/lb (they weighed in at about 1lb each) and of course bought some beer to wash it all down. I’ll tell you right now that we didn’t get enough beer. So based off of Frank’s memory, which isn’t so great when it comes to food and his photos, I tried to recreate the dish. I don’t think it was exactly the same, but it was really claw sucking good! I always cook my seafood with a little alcohol, in this case some sake because it seems to enhance the sweetness of the meat. He also remembered that he had some dipping sauce with the seafood, so he found a recipe at Food Lion’s site of all places! I barely used it, but it was a wonderful match and it would be delicious with prawns. You know when you are with the right person when you can sit and have a meal and not say a word to one another for about 2 hours (yes, we are very thorough crab eaters). So here you go, my recipe for lemongrass steamed crab. My next crab fantasy will be filled when I get a bushel or 2 of blue crabs for Frank’s birthday and cook them up the old fashioned Maryland way. I LOVE CRABS!

Lemongrass Crab
serves 2

4 small live crabs (about 1lb each; either blue or rock crab or your favorite)
3 stalks lemongrass cut into rounds
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup sake
1 tbsp canola oil

1. In a large wok, heat the canola oil and quickly sauté the ginger, lemongrass and garlic.
2. When the pan is really hot out in 1/4 cup of sake and add the crabs (I had to do these 2 at a time as they were to big to fit in my wok) and cover with a lid.
3. Steam for about 10 minutes. Watch the liquid level and add more sake or water so the pan doesn’t dry out. I also flipped them about half way through cooking.
4. Transfer to a platter and serve with dipping sauce.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mystery Squash Soup

Ok, so this is actually a soup I made last summer. I froze a batch and we thawed it out for lunch the other day. There is a funny story about this soup. When we started gardening last year we first set up a compost bin in the fall. We are really into the compost experience. I call it that, because Frank and I see it as though we are offering sacrifices to the garden gods. Frank actually really gets into it. I think one of his favorite things in life is to go outside and stir and hack at the compost.
Jump ahead to the spring and there is a squash-like vine growing out of the compost. I said we should chop it up and put it back in, because I don’ know what it is, Frank wants to grow it. He usually gets his way without too much fuss. So the vine grew and squashes appeared, but they didn’t look like any I had seen before let alone eaten. Remember, this is our compost, so we ate the things that went in there. We were at a local Mexican market and they had some squash called “White Squash” that looked identical to ours. Ah Ha! That’s what we must have, even though I never ate one before. I started to figure the squirrels planted it. Actually I am still waiting on the peanuts they hid to start growing.
So home we went and I started picking the squash figuring it was a summer squash variety. It was really very pretty. You can see it here in this photo with other goodies from our garden. It's the green things in the center.

I think the first thing I did was sauté it and it was really very good, with a mild squash flavor, similar to yellow squash. Then I started to give it away because we couldn’t eat it fast enough. Everybody loved it. One family friend couldn’t get enough of them. I think she may have even eaten it raw. I froze a bunch and made the soup you see above. Inevitably some were left on the vine and I forgot about them. I think we became busy with our eggplants. Well the mystery squash transformed into plain old Butternuts, which I eat a lot of! It should have been obvious…

I can’t suggest what to substitute for immature Butternut squash, but if you have some growing try them when young. A good replacement in fact, may be any summer squash.

Large chunks of chopped Mystery Squash (summer variety, pick your favorite, or green Butternut)
Onion chopped
Roasted corn kernels (TJ’s sells them frozen)
Minced rosemary
Minced garlic
Chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp bacon drippings
Smoked sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Black truffle oil (optional)

1. Heat bacon drippings in a large pot; add the onions, rosemary and garlic and sauté till soft.
2. Add the squash, corn and stock till it covers the ingredients. Bring to a boil and let simmer till the squash is soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. When cool, puree in a blender. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth.
4. To serve, reheat and if desired drizzle black truffle oil on top just before serving.

Lamb with Merlot Sauce

We had a little Merlot left in a bottle from a few nights ago so I figured might as well make a sauce for the lamb we were going to have for dinner. This was a week night dinner so I didn't want to spend too much time on it. As side dishes we had long beans sautéed with oyster sauce and some olive oil roasted new potatoes. It was a cool evening so this really hit the spot. I am pretty sure we cracked open another bottle of Merlot (one of our many bottles of 2002 Clos Pegase) because you always need a good red with lamb! This is one of my eyeballed recipes so pardon the lack of true measurements.

Serves 2

4 small lamb chops
1-2 tbsps olive oil
1/4 cup Merlot
2 or so tbsps sugar
1 large pat unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a heavy pan (preferably cast iron) heat olive oil and sear each side of the lamb. After searing the sides, cook about 5-10 minutes on the top and bottom. Cook until it reaches the level of doneness you desire. We like ours more on the rare side. Set aside on plates and season with a little salt and pepper.
2. In the same pan add the Merlot and scrape up any of the fond left on the bottom from the lamb.
3. Cook the sauce down so the Merlot begins to get thicker and add the sugar depending on how sweet you like your sauce. When the Merlot reduces, add the butter and mix in till smooth.
4. Test for seasoning and pour over the lamb.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms with Miso

I used to hate, in fact despise, mushrooms. At a young age, when I became interested in food and cooking I realized when looking through cookbooks that mushrooms appear in a lot of wonderful dishes. I decided that I would keep trying them until I liked them, and so we have it! I can't say I love them outright, but I am in love with the idea of them. They add fantastic flavor and depth to any dish. I have a great recipe for wild mushroom couscous, which I will post at a later time and I even think it would be great fun to go mushroom hunting. I don't think I will be eating a lot of raw button mushrooms, but roasted, fried, sauteed, pureed, I will happily dive right in.
As a child I wouldn't touch mushrooms of any type, especially the ones in Hot and Sour Soup. My parents and I used to go to North China restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland quite a lot. I always loved their soup, but would complain about the large black slippery mushrooms. So, my mother told me that I wasn't supposed to chew them because they were very poisonous and I should swallow them whole. This way I never had to taste them, but this was tricky as they were quite large. I believed this for years to come and I am surprised I never choked.

Here is a simple recipe for using fresh shiitakes. It serves 2 and makes a great side dish for anything!

10 Fresh shiitakes cleaned of dirt and stems trimmed
2 tbsps olive oil
1 rounded tbsp yellow or light miso
2 tbsps sake
2 tbsps mirin

1. In a bowl toss mushrooms in the olive oil.
2. Broil mushrooms for about 3 min/side until they brown a little. Keep an eye on them as sometimes they need more time or less.
3. In a bowl combine the miso, sake and mirin.
4. Remove mushrooms from broiler and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut in half and toss with sauce.
5. Serve immediately. Dress with sesame seeds if desired.

Pan-Fried Duck Eggs

We are extremely fortunate to live near an amazing family that happens to grow and sell beautiful vegetables and duck eggs!
I love trying alternate versions of things we can readily get (and take for granted) and the opportunity to have duck eggs instead of chicken eggs is a must. They are a little richer, but I was slightly disappointed in that I could taste no discernible difference from their poultry cousins. The eggs we get are sustainably raised and I swear this method makes for happier animals and thus tastier food. The shells alone are a sign of the nature of the ducks. They take repeated whacks to crack open! This caused me some concern as I was trying to deftly crack them into a hot pan without any shell bits going in.

For brunch on Sunday we had a meal of the duck eggs, fried up with rosemary and seasoned with smoked salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. On the side, we had applewood smoked bacon, and swiss chard from the garden, sauteed in some of the bacon drippings. It was heaven!

Oh, how our garden grows!

Frank took some gorgeous photos of the garden this weekend. Everything just seems to shimmer. I will let it speak for itself.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lemon Ginger Daikon Pickles

I love daikon! It's really a lovely vegetable. It compliments many foods, is a wonderful palette cleanser and supposedly has many health benefits. Here is a simple recipe that is very easy to prepare. Serve as a side dish to most asian foods.

Lemon Ginger Daikon Pickles

1 large daikon
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp grated ginger with juice reserved
1 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp sweet mirin

1. Peel and slice daikon into 1/8 inch think slices. Put into a non-reactive air-tight container large enough to hold the daikon and pickling liquid.
2. Thinly slice the zest of the lemon and add the zest and lemon juice to the daikon.
3. Add the grated ginger and reserved liquid along with the mirin and vinegar.
4. Mix throughly. Refrigerate the contents overnight or for a minimum of 5 hours. If possible try to stir at least once.
5. When serving, drain off liquid.

Poached Loquats in Blood Orange Syrup

I received a bounty of fresh local loquats from some friends that live in Echo Park. Loquats are all over this part of LA and grow well in most areas of Southern California. We have streets lined with them and some people don't even realize that they are a great source of seasonal fruit. There are alot of varieties out there, but they fall into 2 major categories: white-fleshed and orange-fleshed. In the garden, we have some saplings growing from last year's seeds that came from the Pasadena area. They are tangy with a more citrus-y quality and I am almost certain they are the white-fleshed variety. The gift from Echo Park are the orange-fleshed type and they tasted almost like apricots. So, I was now faced with the dilemma of what to do with them. Most of the recipes I found are in the form of jams and preserves and even though I am starting to have some interest in home canning I am certainly not there yet. I did stumble on one for poached loquats and that got the juices flowing. As usual I wanted to be a little more creative then the original recipe, and above are the results. I decided to poach them in a juice of blood oranges and one or two navels from our garden and a little cinnamon for spice. It actually came out quite nicely, the only change I would make is to add some almond slivers and to serve warm, instead of chilled, and some nice pound cake or lady fingers would be a wonderful addition.

Serves 2

20-30 loquats, peeled, cored and seeded
juice of 3-4 blood oranges
juice of 2 navel oranges
about 1 cup sugar (I used some orange blossom infused sugar that I made from the blossoms on our tree)
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick

1. Bring to boil the water, juice, cinnamon and sugar in a sauce pan.
2. Add the loquats, remove the cinnamon and turn off the heat and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Remove the loquats when tender and set aside.
4. Bring the sauce back to a boil and reduce until it becomes loose and syrupy.
5. To serve, put loquats in a bowl and pour the syrup over.

Optional: add slivered almonds and serve with pound cake or lady fingers. this dish can also be served chilled.