Archive | April, 2011

Endless Sushi, A Bloody Nose, and Lamb Two Ways

26 Apr

It’s been a busy weekend, to say the least.

It all started last Thursday with one of the best days I’ve experienced since moving to Oregon: Momiji’s all-you-can-eat sushi night.  They were celebrating their one-year anniversary (I remember being just as excited when they posted their Grand Opening sign), and Rob and I definitely took advantage.  For about $28 a person, we were able to order and eat as much sushi, sashimi, and cut-rolls as we wished.  Sounds like a great deal, right?  Well, by itself, $28 worth of sushi is still a whole lot of sushi to eat, and we started realizing this as our bellies quickly expanded.  But did that stop us?  Heck no!  It’s all-you-can-eat sushi, baby!

An hour and $126 worth of sushi later, we rolled ourselves out the door, drove home in a foggy state of fullness, and plopped on the couch to let digestion do its thing.  While, Rob can avidly tell you, I was a kid in a candy store in the restaurant, it’s going to be a long time before I eat hundreds of dollars worth of sushi again (by a long time, I mean, like, maybe a week).

As Good Friday called for its traditional Fillet O’ Fish (and late-night helping of moose tacos – not so traditional), and the weekend rolled around, I was given another opportunity to indulge in fantastic food.  After all, it was Easter weekend.  Growing up, Easter was always a big deal in our house.  My sister and I searched the house for hidden eggs, only just a few years past the point of being “too old,” and my mom would always give us a Cadbury Cream Egg, even though she couldn’t stand the sight of them (it looks like a chocolate covered raw egg!).  So this year, while I knew we wouldn’t be searching for eggs, I thought we could still celebrate the season with great food.

There are certain times when I’m in the kitchen, or when watching one of the many cooking competition shows on TV, and think nothing bad better happen right now.  It’s usually during crucial moments of poaching or toasting or can’t-walk-away-from whisking.  Usually, nothing bad happens.  Usually.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel quite right.  The weather had graciously changed for the better, and I was still a bit sinusy from the past week’s cold.  As I was making breakfast – one of my favorites: poached egg on top of mustardy roasted asparagus with English Muffins – I decided to take a moment to relieve some of the pressure in my sinuses by blowing my nose.  So, with water starting to boil, asparagus almost finished roasting, and the English Muffin nestled warmly in the toaster, I quickly ran to the bathroom.  What followed was the definite oh-bleep moment I had in past times wondered about.  A bad thing had happened at the wrong time in the kitchen.

To spare any of my more queasy readers (and, this is a food blog after all), I’ll skip the gory details just to say that I had a nose-bleed of epic proportions.  Simply, it was gross.  Also a mess.  And as I’m standing over the sink trying not to faint from rapid blood loss, the very familiar ring of the smoke alarm sounds, reminding me that 1) I have very specifically-timed food cooking, and 2) I’m about to burn the house down.  Again.

So with tissue rammed against my face, I ran to yank the over-heating toaster cord out of the wall, push some button on my range hoping it turned off the oven, killed the flame on the stove, and started wildly flapping a towel around the air near the alarm, trying to herd the smoke towards the open back door.  Finally, silence.  With a physical and audible sigh, I made my way over to the kitchen to survey the damage.  The only burned items were some small asparagus spears and a beyond-crisp English Muffin.  At which point a second realization kicked in – oh yeah, my nose was still gushing.

After a rest on the couch, and waiting for platelets to do their clotting thing, I tried breakfast again.  This time with success.

Easter diner was much less dramatic, and much more comfortable.  But it did test my skills in the kitchen. We had Lamb Two Ways: shanks braised in red wine, and a leg roasted with herbs.  Simple spring veg of green beans, asparagus and mushrooms in a simple white wine and butter sauce accompanied just perfectly, with a sweet potato and thyme soufflé to round out the meal.  Dessert was also a hit (that is, after a boil-over of butter and milk) consisting of Almond and Cardamom Rice Pudding with Rhubarb Compote.  With enough Easter candy to go round, our friends, their 2-year old son, Rob and I had a great time.  In taste-testing the two techniques used on the lamb, we preferred the texture of the Roast better, but both had amazing flavor.

So, after an exciting weekend, last night was easy: Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with homemade Tomato Soup.  It was fast, easy, comforting and yummy, so I’ll include it here for you to enjoy.  But while cooking, please don’t hope for something bad NOT to happen – you just might jinx yourself and end up with a bloody nose!  Enjoy!

Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (makes 2 sandwiches) 

  • 4 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
  • 1/2 c Broccoli Pesto (recipe to follow) 
  • about 3-4 slices Pepper Jack cheese
  • 1 slice prosciutto 
  • 1 tbsp butter, divided into fourths 

Broccoli Pesto (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 1 med head broccoli, florets cut off 
  • 4-5 bunches fresh basil 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil 
  • s&p 

To make the pesto, boil water in a small pot and drop in the broccoli florets.  After about 1 minute, strain the broccoli and “shock” them in ice-cold water (this is called blanching – it keeps the bright green color of the veg).  After completely cooled, dry the broccoli as best you can, and add it, plus the basil leaves, garlic, and a pinch of s&p to a food processor.  Add some olive oil to get the blade moving, but then slowly pour in the rest of the oil while processing, until the mixture resembles a paste.  Taste for seasoning, and either use immediately, or store in fridge for 2-3 days. 

To make the sandwiches, spread a layer of broccoli pesto on each slice of the bread.  Add the cheese and slice of prosciutto, and top the sandwich with the other slice of bread.  Butter the top of the sandwich before putting on the grill.  Place the sandwich on a hot grill pan, butter side down, with a weight on top (another heavy pan or heat-proof dish).  After browned on the bottom, butter the other side, and flip, and weigh down again.  After both sides are golden, cut and serve with Tomato Soup. 

Tomato Soup (serves 6) 
Note: this is a very bright, tomato-y soup.  If you enjoy a richer soup, roast the tomatoes for about 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees beforehand, and add cream after blending the soup.   

  • 10 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c fruity white wine
  • 2 c low sodium chicken stock 
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • s&p 
  • grated parmesan cheese for garnish, optional. 

In a large pot, saute the onions in the olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper.  Once translucent, add the garlic, and stir (do not let the garlic burn).  To deglaze the pot, add the white wine, and then add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium, and cover, until tomatoes have popped and given off a significant amount of their juices in the pot.  Add the herbs and the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Then, turn down heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  

To blend the soup, either use an immersion blender, or process in a blender in batches.  Once blended, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and serve.  

Enjoy! 

A Fungus Among Us

20 Apr

While I am thoroughly enjoying expanding my palette and cooking technique with Oregon’s abundance of fresh fruit and veg, there is one thing I’ve had a hinkering for that hasn’t gone away: authentic Asian flavors.  I think the craving started when my sister-in-law mentioned Chinese take-out to me, and it’s been stuck in my head (and wanting to be in my belly) since then.  There is something so unique and immediately recognizable about the sweet and salty, spicy and tangy, heat-engulfed-wok-fired food that just can’t be satiated by any other flavor.

Southern California has some amazing Asian restaurants, one of my favorites being a fast-food French/Vietnamese joint that constantly has a line out the door.  Their food is always incredibly fresh, delicious, and has that distinctive Vietnamese flavor with classic French technique that makes every bite worth the wait.  My students would come to school with bags of sandwiches and pastries from this restaurant and would have to wave off the flock of other children almost flying towards them to do “tradesies,” ditching their own bento boxes full of homemade and very authentic Lo Mein and Kimchi.  Having this craving while being hundreds of miles away really only made the craving worse.

So at 6:00pm last Sunday night, after fighting the onset of an I’m-going-to-take-over-your-immune-system-the-minute-you-least-except-it cold, I got off my butt to tackle my umami flavored craving.  In this case, it was the Mushroom Dumplings nestled in a rich broth that did the trick.

One ingredient that is hunted and harvested year-round in these parts also happens to be one of my favorites: mushrooms.  While shroom and truffle hunting has become the newest trendy food fad recently, it’s been around in the culinary world for decades.  With our cool, moist, climate those little fungis grow, well, like a fungus.

Our last trip to Eugene to our favorite little local and gourmet food shop yielded two full bags of fresh Shiitakes and giant Portabellas.  Last week I used the Shiitakes in an easy butter and white wine braised warm mushroom salad, so Sunday night was left with the biggest, meatiest, deepest flavored mushroom of the non-poisonous mushroom world.  While you may think my Shiitakes would have been better in this Asian inspired dish, you may be correct in thinking towards tradition.  But, I wanted the depth that Portabellas impart, and their sturdiness to hold up and give a rich flavor to my broth, so I ditched tradition… (and it’s what I had ready to use!).

So between sneezing fits, and hand-washing, I brushed, de-stemmed, de-gilled, and chopped my mushrooms, and lovingly threw them into my favorite pot with sauteed onions and garlic.  The best thing about this dish is the dumpling filling comes from the same veg used to make the stock.  So the layers of the same flavor vary from fresh and bright (inside the dumpling), to dark and rich (within the broth).  I also find the repetitive folding and assembling of dumplings quite therapeutic (until I get over-zealous and over-fill one, thus causing a blowout of pureed mushroom filling to spill out on the board.  That was not so therapeutic).

Despite the deep mushroom flavor, this meal is quite light, and will definitely satisfy any umami cravings.  The recipe below is how I make it – meaning, spicy (Rob’s spice level is not quite the same as mine, and while he grumbled about his “mouth on fire,” he still ate the whole bowl).  If you don’t care for spiciness, lessen the amount of Sriracha sauce used.  Otherwise, get your chopstick fingers back in shape, slurp up, and enjoy!

Mushroom Dumplings in Mushroom Sauce (serves 4) 

  • 4 large Portabella mushrooms, cleaned, stems and gills removed, and roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c low sodium chicken broth (or use veggie stock for an even more earthy flavor) 
  • 4 c water
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Sriracha sauce
  • juice 1/2 a lemon
  • about 5-6 basil leaves
  • 1 small package of wonton wrappers (about 24) 
  • 1 c shelled, cooked, edamame (optional) 
  • 5 ice cubes
  • vegetable oil
  • s&p 

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onion and garlic in the vegetable oil.  Season with a pinch of s&p.  Add the mushrooms, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, Sriracha, and lemon juice.  Season with a bit more pepper.  Saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Transfer 3/4 of the veg mixture to a food processor, and let sit and cool for a minute before processing. 

Add liquids and the rest of the soy sauce and the basil leaves, and bring the pot to a boil.  Bring down to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.  

Meanwhile, process mushrooms until almost smooth (it should look the texture of a chunky pesto, not a smooth puree).  To assemble the dumplings, put 1 tsp of mushroom filling in the center of a wonton wrapper, and wet the edges with water-wet fingertips.  Fold the opposite corners over and crimp/fold edges together to close (make sure there are no air bubbles).  Really, you can make whatever shape – even a ravioli shape – just make sure they are closed tightly.  In a large hot pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil, quickly pan-fry the dumplings.  When the wontons just turn translucent, add 5 ice cubes to the pan and cover, to steam the dumplings.  Remove dumplings from pan and transfer to a plate. 

To finish the broth, strain out the solids (the leftover mushrooms, onion, garlic, and basil) and return to the pot.  Add in the edamame, if using, and cook for a quick 2-3, just to heat them through.  

Place 5-6 dumplings in a shallow bowl, and pour over some of the mushroom broth.  

Enjoy!  

Smells Anything but Fishy

14 Apr

When my husband and I first started dating, within one of our first conversations, he told me that he didn’t eat fish.  Period.  I would be lying if I said a this-is-never-going-to-work thought didn’t cross my mind.  After all, fish is the main protein in my diet!  And I’m a cook!  What are we going to eat at dinnertime?!  But that thought quickly vanished within the same conversation hearing about what he did like to eat and realizing he had a pretty good palette.  Plus, he’s really cute.

Since then and many, many meals later, Rob’s taste for food has drastically grown and he’s even asking for things he originally hated (i.e. beets).  He’s taken a liking to fish (yay!) but he’s still pretty adamant about not eating shellfish (being a Marine Science major, he says he knows too much about them to eat them.  I absolutely love shellfish, so I don’t ask what he knows).  So as seen in past posts, whenever I decide to indulge in Oregon’s finest shellfish, I usually do so when Rob is out flying that little orange helicopter over volatile seas.

As mentioned in my past posting, I passed on cooking my Cioppino last Friday due to the prior crazy work week.  But knowing this week was going to be another hectic ride (we just finished parent conferences), I knew I couldn’t put off my Cioppino yet again.

So on Saturday, after locking ourselves out of the house, waiting for the locksmith (at least it was sunny out!), visiting the pet adoption agency to see if we could add a 4-legged member to our little family (sadly, our doggie bed still lays cold in the garage), Rob and I made our way to Charleston to buy some of Oregon Coast’s finest: fish.

While our fish monger piled pounds of steamer clams and medium-sized tiger shrimp onto the scales, I could sense Rob’s jaw start to tense.  Shellfish.  Eww.  Because I was making a “white” Cioppino with veal and pork sausage rather than the standard chorizo, I opted out of the muscles – not that it made Rob feel any better about the meal he was about to endure.  The only white fish available that day was some beautiful Dover Sole, which happens to be Rob’s favorite, so despite its delicateness we dared it to stand up to the bold flavors, and planned for its accompanying role in the stew.

Then it was on to cooking.  Cioppino is not a hard dish to make, it just has a lot of ingredients which can make it seem overwhelming.  I am usually pretty good with my mise en place, so after the chopping and set up, bringing everything together as a piece of cake (or a bowl of stew!)

We shared the Cioppino with some close friends, and with a dollop of Lemon Aioli and a chunk of artisan crusty bread, we communed with gobbling and slurping and clanking clam shells into the shell bowl.  Except for the occasional shrimp sneaking its way over to my dish, Rob ate, and thoroughly enjoyed the light, fresh, homey, and slightly spicy fish stew.  The dinner smelled amazing while cooking, tasted amazing while eating, and we were all truly amazed at anti-shellfish boy scarfing it down.

Please don’t be intimidated by the ingredients here; Cioppino really is as easy (if not easier!) to make as most meat stews, and so, so satisfying.  If you can’t find veal and pork sausage, use whatever hot, medium, or mild meat combination you love.  Just adjust your salt and pepper flake seasoning.  If I can get Rob to eat fish stew, then I’m sure you’ll love it!

Cioppino (serves about 6 with leftovers) 

  • 2 lbs fresh shrimp 
  • 1 1/2 lbs steamer or razor clams
  • 2 lbs any mild white fish (Dover Sole, Halibut, Rockfish, even Tilapia will work here) 
  • 4 c fish stock (low sodium) 
  • 2 c dry white wine (Pinot Gris works well) 
  • 1 lb veal and pork sausage (or any sausage of your choice) 
  • 2 c whole tomatoes, strained and hand-crushed 
  • 1/2 large white onion, finely diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 5 large stalks celery, sliced 
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more or less depending on how spicy you like it) 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p 
  • chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
  • Lemon Aioli, recipe follows 

Lemon Aioli (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 2 c good quality mayo (or make it yourself!) 
  • zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 5ish drops of Tabasco sauce
  • a pinch of s&p 

Start browning the sliced, or unencased sausage in the olive oil in a large dutch oven over med-high heat.  Once browned, remove from pot and set aside.  Add the onion, leek, fennel, and celery, some s&p , and saute until soft and translucent.  Add the garlic, and then deglaze with the white wine, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  After about 3-5 minutes, add in the tomatoes, the browned sausage, and fish stock.  Let come to a boil.  Once boiling, add the crushed red pepper and bay leaves, and bring down to a simmer.  Simmer covered for about 30-45 minutes.  

While stew is simmering, clean the shellfish – peel and devein the shrimp, and gently scrub the clams.  If any clams are broken or open, discard (unless it is just slightly open – then hold the clam firmly between your thumb and first and middle finger and tap the clam on the counter top.  If the clam closes, it is still alive and able to be cooked and eaten.  If it does not close, then discard).   Also, cut the white fish of choice into large chunks, similar to the size you would use to make fish and chips.  

Add the fish and shellfish to the pot, cover, and check after 5 minutes.  NOTE: if using a heartier white fish, like Halibut, add the white fish first to cook for a few minutes before adding the shellfish.  When the clams have opened and the shrimp are pink and opaque, the stew is ready to serve.  

Serve in big soup bowls, garnish with parsley, and a large dollop of Lemon Aioli.  

Enjoy! 

(Sorry about the lack of pictures; we got carried away with the cooking… and the eating!)

%d bloggers like this: