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A United States Coastie

26 Mar

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My dad and I share a lot of “likes”: smoked salmon with dill and capers, classic rock, unplugged alternative rock, a good beer, a great wine, The Lawrence Welk show, dancing, going to bed early, stars, and road biking, to name a few. Biking stands out as a long-time memory, as I grew up watching my dad strap on those funny shoes and click away on some race he was doing that weekend, 50, 65, 100 miles no problem. I, too, eventually had the biking itch, and while I never rode competitively, I think I can hold my own on a bike.

On some long rides, as we clicked in and started down the pine and eucalyptus-lined greenbelt to reach the road leading to the hilly, California beach canyons, Dad would sternly remind me, “Eat before you’re hungry, and drink before you’re thirsty. Or else you’ll bonk.” Eating on a bike isn’t exactly gourmet, but calorie quality is a necessity.  Bananas, granola bars, and peanut butter M&Ms are all perfectly unbonkable foods.

When Rob became a serious fixture in my life, Dad was quick to ask if he rode. He did, and was quite good in fact. Even when Rob was “out of shape” he could fly passed me up a hill in a lower gear no problem.  I think even my dad was impressed.

So last weekend when we decided to take a leisurely 10-mile ride to try out the new fixie Dad has worked for me, it was odd to see Rob almost a quarter mile behind us, peddling like the dickens.  He had just gotten a new chain, and was giving it a test-ride as well. But there was no reason for such a lag, especially on these flat, Jacksonville country roads.

When we arrived to our destination (Chili’s for lunch), Rob realized his brake had been rubbing on his tire the whole time.  A convenient excuse!  But a legitimate reason nonetheless.

Lunch, sans bananas and peanut M&Ms, was nice and filled us a little too much to feel extremely comfortable on a road bike.  As we pushed through the gut-bomb feeling and picked up the pace (this time, Rob right in line), it seemed all was smooth sailing.  That is until I heard Rob’s voice from a ways back.

“We’ve got a problem!”  he yelled. I echoed the same to my dad a couple feet in front, and we slowed, turned, stopped, clicked out, and looked back. There, with another legitimate reason to fall behind, was Rob, holding his brand new chain, hanging limp, completely snapped.  There was no way to fix it (the guys tried as I watched), and they finally came to this conclusion:

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Well, they don’t call Rob a Coastie for nothing!

After the eventful ride, a good dinner was definitely in order.  Rob has started to take a liking to shrimp (Yay! Woohoo!  Hallelujah!), and of course, anything fried in these parts warrants a decent meal.  But to keep things on the lighter side, I got a little creative with my Boom Boom Shrimp.

Using a local U-15/20 shrimp (these are good medium-sized buggers, weighing in at under 15-20 shrimp per pound), I peeled and deveined them myself.  There’s something about sitting on our back porch in the early spring sunlight, peeling shrimp, sipping tea, with Sig at my feet watching the golfers go by; definitely antebellum-esque.  After the shrimp – and my hands – were cleaned, I lightly drizzled over some beautifully green grapeseed oil, and more liberally sprinkled Old Bay. Yep, we went old school, folks.

After a relaxing seasoned and oiled spa treatment in the fridge, the shrimp were ready for the jacuzzi – a quick and very light douse of s&p seasoned flour, and into a shallow, coconut oiled cast iron pan they went.  Coconut oil is 1) healthy, 2) tasty, and 3) holds a shallow pan-fry well because of its high smoking point (however, I would not use it for deep frying.  That’s when rice bran oil or peanut oil get their 15 minutes of fame).

Taking only a minute or two per side, the shrimp get pink, plump, curled, and crispy. It’s amazing that only a tiny bit of flour and a good quality oil can produce a “fried” shrimp that could probably stand up to other beer-battered Boom Booms of these parts. We had a trio of sauces; my favorite was my Strawberry BBQ sauce, while Dad and Rob loved the Asian-inspired sweet ginger sauce.  With a not-so-Southern cole slaw on the side, the meal was perfect, and filling – especially after such a hard ride!

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Boom Boom Shrimp
(serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. medium shrimp (go for a local, wild source, not farmed), peeled and deveined (keep the little tails on for easy grabbing and eating)
  • 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
  • ¼ c coconut oil
  • 1 c flour
  • s&p

Put the cleaned and deveined shrimp in a large bowl with the grapeseed oil and Old Bay. Mix well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

To prepare the frying process, heat the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pan (I use my cast iron skillet) until the temp reaches 320, and season the flour with s&p.  Lightly dredge the shrimp in the flour, shaking off the excess before placing in the oil. After about a minute, flip the shrimp, and then let cook for another minute until curled, pink, and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, and quickly season with a sprinkle of salt. 

Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce, and an unoaked chardonnay.

Enjoy!  

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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!  

I Think My Detox is Making Me Fat

23 Feb

So I originally planned this “detox” to cleanse my body of all the heavy foods I’ve been indulging in over the last month.  Temporarily going back to my vegetarian ways, I’ve even sided more on the vegan outlook, minus the sweet touch of honey now and again.  I must say, this diet change has been revitalizing!  Rejuvenating!  I feel born again into the wonderful world of herbivores!  So why, with this plethora of fruit and veg, is my belt tightening?

Because I have a problem – a cooking problem.  Can anyone else subscribe to Indulgence Anonymous?  Anyone?  Here’s the situation: I so LOVE cooking and food and eating that I am tastifying stereotypically dry nut-and-berry diets, thus filling myself to capacity.  Maybe I can coin the next fad diet: Overeating Detox.  Hmm… kind of sounds like Jumbo Shrimp.

Take, for example, last night’s Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  All raw veg – carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, red peppers, iceberg lettuce – accompanied by a peanut sauce.  Sounds pretty blah, right?

Rob and I were *this* close to licking the plate.  There is something so innate about enjoying fresh food straight from the ground – it’s difficult to equally compare it to a grilled steak.  And Rob was so sweet to give me the leftovers for lunch today, not that there was much leftover. We both ate way more than our share.  Our meal was healthy for sure, and a cinch to whip up, but our overindulgence negated any healthy change we were initially aiming for.

With our bellies full and warm (from the addicting spiciness of the peanut sauce), we slept like babies and woke up excited about what today’s detox cooking adventure would bring (well, at least I was excited).  Next up, Spicy Black Bean Burgers.  I’ll try to be more European in serving size, but with such lovely fresh ingredients, I can’t make any promises!

Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps (serves 4, about 2-3 wraps each – well, it’s supposed to, but if you eat like Rob and I did, you won’t have much leftover)

  • 1/2 a small Napa Cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • about 7-10 crimini mushrooms, wiped, stalks removed, and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, leaves carefully removed 1 at a time.
  • 1/4 c hulled peanuts, roughly chopped (cashews work well, too)
  • Sweet and Spicy Peanut Sauce
  • lime wedges, to serve with wraps

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Sauce

  • 2 tbsp all natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (or more for more heat)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lime

To make the peanut sauce, add all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.  Taste for seasoning (if too strong or pungent tasting, add a bit more olive oil).

Pour sauce into a salad bowl and mix with the chopped veg and nuts.  Taste for seasoning.

Serve with a plate of refreshing lettuce leaves, to act as a perfect fresh wrap for the sweet and spicy veg.  Pile them high, squeeze over some lime juice, and lick your fingers of any dripping sauce.

ENJOY!


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