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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fast, Easy and Delicious Can't-Resist Salmon for a Meal or an NFL Game Day Snack

Eating healthy makes good sense and doesn't have to take a lot of time. One of my favorite dishes is a dry rub roasted salmon that makes its own glaze.

Roasting a salmon filet is perfect for a family meal, NFL game day or a party entree. For a pot-luck dinner last weekend with friends, I  made roasted salmon and a Little Gem lettuce salad with carrots. Healthy, nutritious and delicious and oh so easy.
To get the salmon from refrigerator-to-table, all I needed to do was season the filet with dry rub and place it in the refrigerator. Overnight the mix of sugar, salt and aromatics drew moisture out of the fish. The dry rub turned into a wet slurry that became the base for a sweet-heat savory glaze. 

The filet takes 30 minutes to cook in the oven. The glaze takes 5 minutes to cook in a saucepan.

Because the salmon is best served at room temperature, the dish can be cooked ahead of time and served when everyone is ready to eat. Which makes it ideal to make ahead when you know you will be busy before the meal.

For brunch, the salmon can be served with toasted bagels and cream cheese and with scrambled eggs. For lunch, dinner or watching a football game, add a green salad and pasta and you have an entire meal.

Dry Rub Salmon with Brown Sugar Mushroom Glaze

Adding tomato sauce to the glaze mellows the flavors. You can use canned tomato sauce but making your own will taste much better. Roasted tomato sauce is so easy to make, I would encourage you to make a lot and freeze the sauce in 6 ounce air-tight containers. That way, when you want to make a pasta sauce you will have roasted tomato sauce in the freezer.



Yield 4-6 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Marinating Time: Overnight

Cooking Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour + marinating overnight

Ingredients

2 - 3 pounds fresh, skin-on salmon fillet, preferably wild not farm raised, washed

Dry Rub

2 1/2 - 3 cups brown sugar, depending on the size of the filet

1/3 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Glaze

1/4 - 1/2 cup dry rub wet slurry from overnight refrigeration

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon raw onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley or kale

2 large shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, pat dried, stem end trimmed, finely chopped

1 large tomato to make 1/4 cup roasted tomato sauce

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 500 F. Remove the stem from the tomato. Place the whole tomato on a Silpat sheet or parchment paper on a baking tray.
Roast 20 minutes. Transfer the tomato and any juices from the baking tray into a food mill or a fine mesh strainer. Press the tomato to collect the juices and pulp. Reserve skin and seeds to make vegetable stock or discard. Set tomato sauce aside or refrigerate in an air-tight container. The sauce can be frozen if made ahead.
Inspect the filet and remove any bones. Trim off small fins if there are any and discard. Pat dry.

In a bowl, mix together the dry rub seasoning.

Measure a piece of plastic wrap that it is longer than the filet by 5" on all sides. Lay the plastic wrap on a flat surface.

Spread half the dry rub on the plastic wrap. Lay the salmon filet on top, skin side down. Spread the remainder of the dry rub on the salmon.

Fold over the ends of the plastic wrap so the salmon and dry mix are pressed against each other.  Put the package into a plastic bag and seal.

Place the plastic bag on a baking sheet in case of leaks. Refrigerate.

The next day, remove the salmon filet. The dry rub will have become a wet slurry.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

To make the glaze, place the bag in a bowl. Remove the salmon from the plastic bag and plastic wrap being careful to capture all the liquid. Use your hand to scrape off any dry rub that clings to the filet or the plastic wrap. Mix together any remaining dry rub and the wet slurry.

Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and place a small wire rack on top of the aluminum foil. Place the salmon filet on the wire rack, skin side down. Place in the oven.

In a small sauce pan, heat olive oil and sauté onion, mushrooms and Italian parsley or kale until lightly browned. Add dry rub slurry and roasted tomato sauce. Mix well. Simmer 5 minutes. Set aside.
After the salmon has been in the oven 20 minutes, remove. Place a generous amount of the glaze on top and return to the oven another 10 minutes. Reserve any extra sauce.
Remove from the oven. When the salmon is cool enough to touch, use a pairing knife to help remove the filet from the wire rack. Keep the skin on the filet.  When transferring the salmon to a decorative plate, be careful not to disturb the toping.

Serve at room temperature with the extra sauce in a small bowl.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Lot of Veggies + A Little Protein Makes For a Massively Delicious Hearty Meal

I love meat. A big steak. Fried chicken. A rack of ribs. But I also love veggies. Carrots. Onions. Cabbage. Mushrooms. English peas. Spinach. Broccoli. Asparagus. When I want to prepare an easy-to-make meal, I turn to vegetables to help me out. Full of flavor, vegetables cook quickly and get a meal on the table without too much effort.

For today I'm going light on the meat and heavy on the vegetables and aromatics. The portion for each person (pictured below) uses only one chicken leg or thigh and one pork sausage. That small amount of animal protein will add a large amount of flavor that will grab on to the vegetable flavors and bundle them into umami deliciousness.
Vegetables You Love and one Chicken Leg (or Thigh) and one Sausage Per Person 

Sautéing the vegetables, chicken and sausage in seasoned olive oil adds flavor by caramelizing the outside. That lovely browning also removes some of the water, concentrating flavors.

The dish cries out for a starch. Since the recipe will create a sauce, serve the ragout with dumplings, steamed rice (brown or white), pasta or large croutons.
Use any vegetables you love. In many dishes, cutting vegetables into a small dice adds to the flavor but that makes the vegetables disappear. To create a hearty dish, cut the veggies into large pieces.

Pork sausage is best because the fats add more flavor than other sausages. For those who want to avoid pork, the sausage is certainly optional.

Skin on the chicken adds flavor.

The dish can be prepared ahead, even the day before and reheated.
Use cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, English peas, spinach, celery, corn kernels, quartered Brussel sprouts, green beans, slow roasted tomatoes finely chopped or any other vegetables you enjoy. The vegetables should have a crisp quality, so avoid over cooking. Leafy vegetables will cook more quickly, so delay adding them until the end or, if reheating, add those just before serving.

Only use green cabbage. Red cabbage will discolor the broth. Savoy cabbage has more delicate leaves and more flavor than does green cabbage.

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Time to cook: 40 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

4 large chicken legs or thighs, skin on, washed, pat dried

4 Italian pork sausages, washed, pat dried, cut into 1" rounds

1 large yellow onion, root and stem ends, outer two layers removed, washed, pat dried

4 large carrots, washed, root and stem ends, outer skin removed

2 cups green cabbage, preferably Savoy

3 cups mushrooms, preferably Shiitake, cleaned, pat dried, end of stems and dirt removed, thinly sliced

1 bunch spinach, washed to remove grit, drained, stems removed from leaves and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, washed, skin removed, finely minced (optional)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

If using large cabbage leaves, separate the delicate part of the leaves from the thick rib. Finely chop the rib into small bits. The delicate leaves and the finely chopped ribs will be cooked at different times.
Heat olive oil in large pot. Season with a dusting of sea salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional). Add chicken legs or thighs. Remove when lightly browned on both sides.

Add sausage rounds. Brown as with the chicken and remove.

Sauté onions, finely chopped spinach stems, finely chopped cabbage ribs and mushrooms until softened. Add browned chicken parts. Cover with water. Cover pot and simmer 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Check every ten minutes and add water if needed to keep covered.

Add browned sausage rounds,  spinach leaves, cabbage leaves, carrot rounds, garlic (optional) and any other similar vegetables, like Italian parsley, broccoli or celery. Add water to cover if needed. Cover pot and simmer 10 minutes.

Add English peas if using in the last 2 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If broth needs more concentrating, return the pot to high heat and reduce liquid until flavorful.

Serve hot with dumplings, steamed rice (brown or white), pasta or large croutons.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Perfect Soup - Healthy, Delicious Creamy Kabocha Squash Soup

I love soup. A cold soup in summer and a hot soup in winter are wonderful comfort foods. The best soups for me are ones that not only nourish but delight with layered flavors.  In summer a light and spicy watermelon-gazpacho takes the edge off soggy, sultry days. In cool weather, a satisfying soup of roasted squash is filling and refreshing.
With cooler weather approaching, a great many varieties of squash will be available in farmers markets. My favorite is the Japanese squash kabocha. A squat round squash with a flecked dark green outer skin, the flesh can be bright yellow or pumpkin orange. Similar to butternut squash, kabocha is sweeter and cooks more quickly.
I first enjoyed kabocha as light and crispy tempura at Yabu, a sushi bar in West Los Angeles. Included in an order was a sheet of seaweed, shrimp, shiso pepper, shiitake mushroom and kabocha. With only one slice of each to an order, my wife and I divided up the sampling but we always shared the sweet flavored kabocha.

Over the years, I tried preparing kabocha using different techniques. Boiling, steaming, roasting and deep frying. Boiled, the flesh absorbs too much water and becomes soggy. Deep frying is specific to tempura. Steaming softens the flesh. Roasting puts a crust on the outside.

I discovered that combining steaming and roasting created full-of-flavor, firm fleshed pieces. We serve steamed & roasted kabocha as a side dish to accompany grilled fish, chicken and meat. Cut into bite sized pieces, the kabocha is delicious added to soups, stews and braises. Pureed, kabocha creates a deliciously sweet and creamy soup.
For a pot-luck brunch at a friend's beach house, I decided to make kabocha soup. Still out of season locally, kabocha can usually be found in Asian, Latin and Persian markets.

To make a vegetarian/vegan soup, I used homemade vegetable stock. Homemade chicken stock can also be used because of its light flavor but I wouldn't use beef or seafood stock because they are too strong.

Homemade stock is much preferable to store bought because the flavors will be cleaner and the salt content will be much lower. We always have a good supply of homemade stocks in the freezer so I can make soup at a moment's notice.

Making vegetable stock is easy, with a little planning and one important kitchen tool: a food mill. Vegetable stock can be made with a variety of your favorite vegetables. Dice and simmer carrots, celery, onions and mushrooms for an hour with water until soft. Run the liquid and softened vegetables through a food mill to create a delicious stock with pulp, ideal for making soups and sauces.

An alternative method is the one I prefer. During the week I collect vegetable trimmings as I prepare salads and stir fries. I place them into a sealed bag in the freezer. When we have corn on the cob, we put the cobs in the freezer as well. Once there is a large amount collected, all the trimmings and cobs go into a large stock pot. I add enough water to cover and simmer uncovered for an hour or more until the stock has flavor. Then the trimmings, except the corn cobs, go into the food mill as described above. I freeze stock in 16 and 8 ounce sealed containers for times when I want to make a soup or a braise.

Richly Flavored Kabocha Squash Soup

If kabocha is not available, butternut and acorn squash are good substitutes. But they are not as sweet.

If shiitake mushrooms are not available, brown and portabella mushrooms are good substitutes.

The slow roasted tomatoes are easy to make. While you sleep or read or work around the house, the tomatoes cook in the 225 F oven. Slow roasting removes the tomato's water, concentrating the flavors, bringing out sweetness. After the tomatoes are removed from the oven and cooled, they can be refrigerated or frozen in an air tight container. Remove the paper thin skins before using.  The skins aren't edible but they add a wonderful flavor to vegetable stock.

To puree the soup and create a creamy texture, use an immersion blender or a blender. I like the immersion blender because of the easy clean up. When blending, no need to remove all small vegetable bits. A bit of texture is good.
As a topping, homemade croutons or charred greens (escarole, spinach or kale) and onions are good.

Serves 4 (entree) or 8 (starter)

Time to prep: 30 minutes

Time to cook: 60 minutes plus 6 hours to make slow roasted Roma tomatoes

Total time: 90 minutes plus 6 hours to make slow roasted Roma tomatoes

Ingredients

2 large Roma tomatoes, washed, stem removed, cut in half from stem to tip

1 1/2 pound kabocha squash, washed, skin on, quartered from top to bottom, seeds and pulp removed and discarded

1 cup sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitake, washed, pat dried

1 medium and 1 small yellow onion, washed, root and stem removed, skin removed and discarded

2 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed, finely cut

6 cups homemade stock, vegetable for vegan and vegetarian soup or chicken stock

1 cup escarole, spinach or kale, washed, finely shredded

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

Before you go to bed or while you are working around the house, preheat the oven to 225 F. Place the halved Roma tomatoes on a Silpat or parchment sheet on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven 5-6 hours. Remove when the tomatoes are still plump and they have reduced their size by half.
Remove tomatoes and allow to cool. If using immediately, remove the skins and discard or use to make vegetable stock. Finely chop the roasted flesh and reserve.

Place 2" water and kosher salt into the bottom of a large pot. Place a steamer basket into the pot with the quartered kabocha on top. Cover. Bring water to boil. Cook 10 minutes or until a pairing knife can be easily inserted into the flesh. Remove and cool.
Using a pairing knife, remove the kabocha skins and discard. Place the steamed kabocha on the Silpat or parchment sheet covered baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place into preheated 350 F oven. Cook 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Sauté but not do not brown mushrooms, medium onion slices and kale. Cut roasted kabocha into quarter sized pieces and place into the pot. Add stock. Stir and simmer 30 minutes.

Heat a teaspoon olive oil in a small frying pan. Saute the sliced small onion and chopped escarole, spinach or kale until charred. Remove and reserve.

Taste soup. Adjust seasoning with sea salt and/or black pepper. Taste and add cayenne (optional).

Using an immersion blender or blender, puree soup until smooth allowing for some vegetable bits.

Serve hot with the charred escarole and onions sprinkled on top.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

To Eat Well and Eat Healthy, California's Bay Area Chef's Use Flake Salt on Summer's Best Produce

Recently I was invited to take a culinary tour of the San Francisco Bay Area. That meant exploring Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose eating, drinking and meeting chefs. The restaurants were as varied as they could have been. They served pizza, steak, soul food, Mexican dishes, sushi, Portuguese and Vietnamese cuisine.
Two were Michelin starred, San Francisco's Omakase and San Jose's Adega Restaurant.  All were well-known local favorites. I loved each and every one of them.

Looking over my notes and photographs getting ready to write about the trip, I noticed something interesting. In four of the restaurants, chefs had taken special notice of the flavor enhancing qualities of specialty salts.

For years I have been using sea salt and additive-free Diamond Crystal kosher salt when I cook. On this trip I was impressed with the ways in which chefs used flake salts to finish their dishes.

Two chefs curated high quality flake salt

In Oakland at A16 Rockridge, as the pizzas I had ordered were baking in the wood fired oven, Isaiah Martinez, Executive Sous Chef, served me a plate of roasted calamari with deep fried Corona beans and paper thin slices of lemon. I took at bite. Delicious.

Before I could take another bite, Martinez sprinkled flake sea salt on the dish. I tried another bite. The flavors were brighter and cleaner.  At A16 Rockridge, Jacobsen's Sea salt is not used during cooking but as a finishing salt, sprinkled on at the last minute to protect its delightful crunch.
At chef Marc Zimmerman's extraordinary Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco, premium steaks are accompanied with a tray of a dozen+ salts. With my steak from Hokkaido, Japan's northern most island where the weather is cold and the cattle retain their fat to keep warm, I dutifully tasted each salt. Preferring some over others. The clear favorite for me was Murray River Flake Salt from Australia. The pink salt had a clean taste, just like Jacobsen's, but with an added minerality that worked well with the rich flavors of the beef.


Two chefs transformed flake salt by adding flavor

At Craftsman and Wolves, an upscale artisanal bakery and cafe in the evolving Mission District, chef William Werner creates inventive pastries and baked goods. He makes brownies flavored with Marcona almonds and salted caramel. His morning buns are beautiful works of art and inventively flavored with wild bariani honey, vanilla and Meyer lemon.
One of the bakery's most popular items is called The Rebel Within. Secreted inside the breakfast muffin is a whole soft boiled egg. Served with the muffin is a tabasco flavored flake salt. The crunchy, spicy salt works perfectly with the custardy egg and delicately flavored muffin.
Chef Gustavo Romero Veytia created a seasoned salt because he hates waste. At Calavera Mexican Kitchen & Agave Bar in Oakland's Uptown, Veytia uses a lot of roasted tomatoes to make salsas and sauces. He found himself throwing away mounds of tomato skins that were still full of flavor.

His solution was to roast the skins until they were parchment-paper-crisp before crumbling them together with Maldon flake salt. The result was a tomato salt that he sprinkles on special dishes like his Ensalada de Tomate. He dresses a richly flavored sampling of local summer-ripe tomatoes with a light cheese and crumbled chorizo dressing. Scattered along the sides of the plate are tomato flakes. A few of those sprinkled on a tomato and a superior dish becomes an extraordinary dish.

At home

So I could try Jacobsen's and Murray River flake salts in my own kitchen, I ordered them online as soon as I returned home.
At our Sunday Pacific Palisades farmers market, I picked up all I needed to create an easy-to-make feast. I could have used the outdoor grill but I am so in love with my de Buyer carbon steel pan, I cooked the salmon and veggies in the kitchen where I could more easily control the amount of char.

Even if you do not yet have these wonderful flake salts, you can have fantastic results using sea salt at the end to finish the seasoning.

Charred Vegetables and Salmon Filets With Flake Salts

If you have a quality flake salt like Maldon, Jacobsen's or Murray River, all the better, but definitely sprinkle on sea salt just before serving so the salt retains its crunchy freshness.
Murray River flake salt has a delicate minerality which is why it works so well with the steaks at Alexander's.  Made with water harvested from Netarts Bay off the Oregon Coast, Jacobsen's has a lighter, more delicate flavor and a bit more crunch than Maldon's. 

Murray River does not sell its products directly online except in Australia. Jacobsen's is available directly from the company. Both are available online from multiple sources. Maldon Salt is widely available in kitchen supply stores, upscale markets and online.

These salts cost quite a bit more than supermarket sea salt, but you only need a little to add a lot of flavor.
All of these companies sell flavored versions of their salts. I am certain they are lovely, but for this dish, use naturally flavored flake salt.

Serve with a tossed green salad, steamed rice or pasta.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound fresh salmon filets, skin on, bones removed, washed, pat dried

1 large yellow onion or 5 shallots, washed, peeled, stems and ends removed

4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, pat dried, cut into 3" sections

4 medium sized carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into slabs 2" long, 1/2" thick

6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, ends trimmed, cut into thick slices (optional)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon flake salt, Maldon, Jacobsen's or Murray River to taste

Directions

Mix together the two oils and set aside.

Carefully check the salmon filets for bones. Remove any that might have been missed before. Using a sharp knife, create pieces 3" long and 1" wide. That size piece is easy to handle.

Prepare all the vegetables before beginning to cook.

Put the cast iron or carbon steel pan on a high flame with the overhead exhaust fan on. Do not add oil until the pan is hot.

When the pan smokes, drizzle on a tablespoon of the mixed olive oils. Season with a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Using long tongs, sauté the vegetables separately since they cook at different speeds. Start with the carrots. When they are charred on both sides but not burnt, remove and set aside.

Do the same with the onions and mushrooms (optional).

Add more of the mixed oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Put the cut pieces of corn on the cob into the pan.

Turn the cobs in the hot pan until most of the kernels are charred. Work in batches if necessary.

When all the vegetables are cooked and reserved and the rice, salad or pasta has been prepared, add a bit more mixed oil to the pan.
Place the salmon pieces in the hot oil. Work in batches if necessary. Turn each piece so it browns on all sides.

Place the vegetables on a plate. Add the salmon. Just before serving, top with flake salt. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Watermelon Ice Cubes Make A Cool Summer Cocktail


Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge. You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Corn is Back. Let the Feast Begin.

Two weeks ago the first corn appeared in our local farmers markets in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. After the winter months without corn on our plates, we debated should we enjoy our first taste of corn, boiled or grilled? Both are delicious. Both are easy to prepare. We decided to embrace tradition.
We stripped off the husks and silks. Placed the cleaned ears into a pot of water and turned the burner on high. Every couple of minutes we gave the ears a spin so they would cook evenly. Once the water boiled we knew the ears were cooked.

Plucked out of the hot water, drained and placed onto a platter, we seasoned the ears with sweet butter, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Old School, simple and delicious.
Those first ears were good but not yet great. Early in the season, the ears' flavor is balanced between starchiness and sweetness. For the scales to tilt toward flavor-bursting sweetness, we'll have to wait for the summer sun to blast the kernels with more heat.

At the Palisades and Santa Monica farmers markets, corn commands a premium, selling for $1.00/ear or 3 ears for $2.00. When we visit my wife's mom in New Jersey, we shop at Wegman's, a local supermarket with affordable pricing and Whole Foods quality. There, the corn can sell for much less. Depending on the supply, the corn can sell for as little as 6 ears for $1.00. Whatever the price, Jersey corn is famous for being especially tender and sweet.

For July 4th, a friend splurged and brought a dozen ears of corn to our fireworks-watching picnic. With a great many dishes to share, we had left-over corn. I volunteered to transform what was left into other dishes.

Versatile corn

First thing was to cut the kernels off the cobs. Cooked corn can be added to salads, stews, soups and stir fries. I love mixing the sweet-crunchy kernels to egg salad and potato salad. As a side with charred steak or grilled chicken, butter poached corn with a dusting of cayenne is delicious.
The cobs have flavor too. Usually consigned to the compost bin, the cobs can be boiled in water to create a savory stock, perfect as a base for soups, sauces, and corn chowder.

With the July 4th corn, I made corn stock, corn chowder, braised chicken with carrots, mushrooms and corn, corn and parsley salad and roasted corn to use in a green salad.
Even with all those dishes, there were still several cups of kernels available which were easy to freeze. To avoid freezer burn, submerge the cooked kernels in corn stock and seal them with air tight lid before placing in a freezer.
Then, when corn has again disappeared from the markets, the defrosted kernels can be added to a cold weather soup of root vegetables to remind us of summer's bright heat during the darkness of winter.

Corn Stock

If a large number of cobs are not available at any one time, save them in an air tight plastic bag in the freezer. When a dozen or more are available, you can rinse off any freezer crystals and drop them into a pot of boiling water as described below.

Serves 4

Time to cook: 45 minutes

Ingredients

12 or more corn cobs, kernels removed

Directions
For every 12 cobs, place 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Add the cobs. Place the pot on a medium-high flame.

Cook uncovered and simmer 45 minutes to reduce the volume by half.

Taste. The stock should have a mild flavor. Drain and discard the cobs. Use stock immediately or place in small air tight containers and freeze for future use.

Corn Chowder

The vegan/vegetarian version made with corn stock has its own unique, clean flavor. You can also use clam, lobster or chicken stock, preferably home made.
Use either frozen or freshly prepared stock. Do not use powdered or canned stocks because of their high salt content.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups cooked or raw corn kernels removed from the cobs

1 small yellow onion, peeled, stem & root removed, washed, finely chopped

2 cups shiitake mushrooms

1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, pat dried, stems removed

4 cups stock, preferably corn stock or homemade chicken stock

Dusting of cayenne (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on medium flame. Add onions. Stir and cook until softened but not browned.

Add mushrooms and parsley. Stir and cook until softened but not browned.

Add corn kernels. Mix well. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. If desired, add sweet butter and cayenne (optional). Cook 5 minutes to combine flavors.

Add stock. Stir well. Raise heat to a simmer. After 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Reduce flame to medium. Cook another 15 minutes. Taste and make final flavor adjustments.

Serve hot with steamed rice, pasta, buttered bread, croutons or a salad.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fried Chicken, Potato Salad, Carrot Salad, Little Gem Lettuce Salad and More for the Best Ever 4th of July Pot-Luck Party

We're having a party. On July 4th we'll gather in the park opposite our local high school (Pali High) to eat, catch up and watch fireworks. Everyone will bring food and drinks to share and a sweater because when the sun goes down, it gets chilly.
We have been doing this for so many years, I'm not certain when we started. Sometimes the group grows to almost thirty. Sometimes a handful of friends shows up. We've noticed that when the 4th falls on a weekend, there isn't enough time to travel out of town, so our group swells. This year, the 4th is on Tuesday, so our group will be more intimate. Big or small, the gathering is fun.

Everyone is asked to bring a favorite food. Something special. This year I'm making fried chicken the way chef Wes Whitsell (Manuela DTLA) showed me for a cooking video we did last month. His fried chicken is crispy and moist. For the cooking demonstration he made wings, thighs and legs. He doesn't like breasts because they don't have enough flavor. I pretty much agree. For my pot luck contribution, I'm making cut apart wings and legs, the easiest parts to eat at a picnic.
I'm also making carrot salad with golden raisins soaked in lemon juice & seasoned with black pepper, Yukon gold potato salad with charred corn & parsley, a charred corn & vegetable salad, roasted beet salad, garbanzo bean salad with charred onions & Lacinato (purple) kale, salt boiled broccoli florets and a buttermilk custard pie I saw Martha Stewart demonstrate on her PBS show.
I'll also make an Italian parsley salad with chopped vegetables and pitted olives and a Little Gem lettuce salad with carrot rounds and feta cheese, served with whole wheat lavash.
Only recently did I discover Little Gem lettuce. At Glatt, a kosher market, on Pico east of Robertson and then at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market at the Garden of Organic stand. At first I thought they were "baby" romaine lettuces. They have a cleaner, crisper flavor, with less water and more crunch. Wrapped in a damp kitchen towel and placed in a plastic bag, the heads will keep fresh in the refrigerator for three weeks.
Here's the recipe I'll use for the 4th (which is exactly the recipe I use when I make the salad at home except sometimes I'll trade out the feta for blue cheese).

Crispy Little Gem Lettuce Salad

When making the salad, leave the leaves whole so they don't wilt.

For the olives, use any kind you enjoy. We like Castelvetrano Green olives, which can be found pitted for easy use, although olives taste best when not pitted.
Serves 4

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 heads Little Gem Lettuce, leaves removed whole, washed, pat dried

1 large carrot, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into thin rounds

1 large tomato, stem end removed, washed, pat dried, cut into dime size pieces

1 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped

1 scallion, ends removed, washed, brown leaves discarded, cut into paper thin rounds (optional)

1/2 cup feta, pat dried, crumbled

1 medium avocado, washed, peeled, pit and any brown spots removed, cut into dime sized pieces

1/2 cup homemade croutons (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced over a low flame to 2 teaspoons, cooled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Lay the Little Gem leaves in the bottom of a serving bowl. Sprinkle on the carrots, tomatoes, olives, scallions (optional), feta, avocado and croutons (optional).

Just before serving, season with sea salt and black pepper, drizzle on olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar.

Serve with a knife and fork.