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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thai Party Time!

Last weekend we celebrated the birthday of a good friend. The idea was to have a Thai inspired meal and the obligatory bucket of KFC! As you can see his daughter was quite pleased with the spread. Frank and I made the majority of the dishes, as that was our gift to the birthday boy. A quick note on the "bucket". We seem to always have one now at our parties. I am not sure how this tradition began, but in fact it isn't a party without it. The secret to this Thai party is that most of the dishes I learned from my Lao mother in-law. In particular the Laap. It's so easy to prepare. The downside is that it is a lot of prep work, but I have never had a bad batch so it's definitely a keeper in my book! The rest of the dishes are as follows; Lemongrass Marinated Flank Steak, Thai Crab Salad, Chicken Lumpia (Store bought. I need to try and make these, but the ones we bought were really good!), Coconut Shrimp from Trader Joe's (also tasty), fresh mango with mint and pineapple. One thing that is also a "must" have at any event is the crudities platter, which at this one also served as a vehicle for the Laap. Oh, and of course Jasmine rice.
A word of note on the Laap. You can use any meat you like as long as it's in small ground pieces. Last night I made a "vegetarian" version with ground "Quorn" which is a fungus based protein. It ends up tasting like a version of Laap made with pork! It's not a true veggie version as I still used fish sauce, but if you know of a good alternative then try it out! Chicken Laap recipe follows:

Chicken Laap

1 lb ground chicken
2 tbsp canola oil
3-4 garlic cloves minced
2-3 stalks lemongrass minced
2 tbsp ginger minced
3-4 scallions chopped
3-4 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
1 cup each fresh basil, mint and Thai or Vietnamese basil coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce (this is really based on personal taste so add a little and then see if you think it needs more)
chili paste or fresh Thai chilies to taste
1/4 cup ground toasted glutinous rice

1. Stir fry the chicken in oil until cooked through then set aside to drain off any excess fat and liquid.
2. Briefly stir fry the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and kaffir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Combine with chicken in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add fish sauce, lime juice, chili paste and toasted rice to taste. Don't add all the liquid at once. Try it with about half of the amounts first as the quantities I have given are based on my taste preferences. You may like yours saltier or more sour.
4. Set the mixture sit for a minimum of 1 hour.
5. Just before serving, taste to adjust the seasoning and add the fresh herbs and scallions.
6. Serve with sticky rice or plain rice and cucumber slices and lettuce.