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!