Saturday, November 14, 2015

Spice Up Thanksgiving with a Side Dish Straight Out of Mexico

On Thanksgiving I like the side dishes as much as the turkey. Maybe even more. Cranberry sauce, stuffing with dried apricots, pecans and sausage with fennel, Brussels sprouts with charred onions and almonds....I'm getting hungry thinking about those delicious dishes.
And yet.

As much as I'm looking forward to the sides we have every year, I also want to bring something new to the table. A dish that fits in and yet has a new flavor, something that surprises.

For Zester Daily, I interviewed chef Keith Stich in the Red O Santa Monica kitchen, across from the Santa Monica Pier. He did a video cooking demonstration of an easy-to-make succotash that he created for Thanksgiving.
Red O Santa Monica is part of a group of restaurants in Southern California, Chicago and the east coast created by Rick Bayless who has spent his career popularizing the foods of Mexico. His restaurants serve well-prepared, quality dishes with clean, fresh flavors.
At the Red O Santa Monica restaurant, my wife and I are big fans of his menu. We especially enjoy the ceviche, which may be the best we've eaten. The squid, shrimp and fish are fresh tasting. The sauce is lime-tart and hot in just the right way. And the plantain chips are crisp and delicious. I'm getting hungry again as I think about the ceviche.
Ok, back to Thanksgiving.

As part of the Red O menu, Stich serves Mexican street corn as a side dish. If you've traveled in Mexico you've seen street vendors selling corn on the cob from their carts. Charred and covered with flaky cotija cheese and eaten either in a paper tray or on the end of a stick, the corn has a wonderful smoky, salty flavor.
Stich took the kernels off the cob to serve the corn as a side dish to go with a menu focused on seafood and steaks. For a Thanksgiving side, he combines the ideas of Mexican street corn with a fall classic, succotash. Switching out the beans that are traditionally in the dish, he added butternut squash and he included poblano chiles to amp up the latin flavors.

Helpfully, most of the recipe can be prepared the day ahead which eases the craziness of Thanksgiving day.

Please take a look at the article and video on Zester Daily. The dish is really delicious and chef Stich is fun to watch in the kitchen.

Have a great holiday.

Adding Mexican Spice to Thanksgiving Succotash

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Passion Fruit Custard - Easy to Make, Delicious to Eat

Passion fruit are in season.  The small fruit packs a big flavor when added to cocktails, sauces and custards.

When our son lived in Rio, we visited Brazil for ten days. In the time he had spent there going to college, he had become fluent in Portuguese. With him as our guide, we experienced the city the way locals do. We had several meals at his apartment. One of his signature cocktails was a caipirinha made with cachaça, lime, sugar and lots of ice. To a regular caipirinha, Franklin added fresh passion fruit. The cocktail was delicious.
When he came back to Los Angeles, he continued to serve caipirinhas. To make the drink, he would strain out the seeds and add only the juice from the fruit. He would toss the seeds and husks into our compost bin. We used the compost in the vegetable garden and after a few months we had dozens of passion fruit plants growing along the fence. Ever since, we have had passion fruit vines trellised on the fence.
Some years we had a bumper crop of several dozen passion fruit. Other years, like this past summer, the plants produced only a handful. In any case, flavoring the custard takes only two, so we had enough from the garden to make passion fruit custard for dinner last night. And it was delicious.

Passion Fruit Custard
An easy to make custard requiring a minimum of effort. Use quality fresh ingredients, farmers market eggs and good heavy cream. To my knowledge only Trader Joe's sells a heavy cream without additives or preservatives.

The custard tastes the best when it is only 1" deep. Creating a taller custard means the top and bottom will cook but not the middle.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Passion Fruit seeds and pulp soak overnight in custard

Baking time: 45-120 minutes depending on the size of the baking dish
Ingredients

2 extra large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
2 fresh passion fruit, washed

Method

Cut open the passion fruit. Use a small spoon to remove the seeds and any pulp. Set aside. Discard the husk.

Beat together the eggs and white sugar. Add the cream and passion fruit to the sugar-egg mix. Stir well. Cover in an airtight container and place in the refrigerator over night.

In the morning, pour the custard through a strainer and into a bowl. Remove the passion fruit seeds. Use a rubber spatula to scrape off the custard on the bottom of the strainer and add to the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Pour the custard into a large 9" round oven-proof baking dish or 6 porcelain ramekins. Prepare a water bath by pouring 1" of water into a baking pan larger than the baking dish by several inches.

Bake for 45 minutes (the ramekins) or 90 minutes (the baking dish). Every 15 minutes rotate the baking dish and ramekins so they cook evenly. If the custard is browning too quickly, lay a piece of tin foil over the top.

The custard is done when it doesn't jiggle when moved. Depending on your oven, the baking time could be as much as 2 hours or even longer.

Serve at room temperature.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Having a Very Good Time in New York State's Finger Lakes

Last month I went on a road trip in the Finger Lakes. Flying to Rochester, I rented a car. For the next three days I drove south, then east, then north until I dropped the car off in Syracuse. With guides from the county tourism boards, I saw as much as I could on a too-short trip. I had a great time enjoying the lakes, visiting with farmers, looking at the beautiful countryside and meeting people who have lived their whole lives in this very special part of the country.
The focus of the trip was distilleries. Specifically, those distilleries on orchards. These are family owned farms. Those farms were allowed to produce distilled spirits because of law that was passed by the state of New York in 2007.
The Finger Lakes region is well-known for its vineyards. Now there are good products originating in the orchards. For the most part, that means apples. All kinds of apples, which are used to make hard cider. In the past when I tried hard cider, I didn't enjoy the sweetness. The hard ciders I tasted at Apple Country SpiritsEmbark Craft  Ciderworks both in Williamson, the orchard collective at Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken and 1911 Spirits at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard outside of Syracuse were dry and light like champagne.
The real surprise was when I tasted the vodka, gin and brandies made from the products of those orchards. At Apple Country Spirits, I had Tree Vodka, Apple Jack and brandies made from cherries, plums and pear. At 1911 Spirits, I had 1911 Gin and 1911 Vodka. All were very good.
The vodka and gin at both distilleries were made from apples. That doesn't mean the spirits tasted like apples. They were delicious clean tasting and mild.

At the end of the trip, on my last night in Syracuse, I visited Al's Wine and Whiskey Lounge in the downtown area. The bar is relatively new but looked and felt as if it had been there since the turn of the 20th century. Tall ceilings. Brick walls. A pool table in the back. A lounge with leather couches and chairs. And a 35 foot long wooden bar backed by floor to ceiling shelves filled with bottles of spirits. The bar list is as thick as the phone book for a small city.
After a very busy trip, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labors, so to speak. I wanted a cocktail. One made with a local product. The way it works at Al's is instead of reading through a cocktail menu, you tell the bartender how you are feeling, which in my case was tired and what kind of spirit you like, which in my case was either vodka or gin, whichever was local.
The result was a very delicious cocktail made with Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard's 1911 Gin. I wrote up the recipe for Zester Daily. Please take a look. I think you'll want to make the cocktail for yourself. It is that good!

Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin

Friday, September 25, 2015

Figs Tart Up

A chance encounter with a discounted flat of perfectly ripe figs led to a day of baking in pursuit of a great tasting fig tart for a recipe I contributed to Zesterdaily.  
Although it might look complicated, because there are a number of elements (tart dough, custard, roasted almonds, fig confit), each element can be made several days ahead.  

On the day you want to serve the tart, you'll only spend a few minutes putting everything together.  The tart goes in the oven while you're having drinks with your friends.  Easy.

The tart can be made into half a dozen small tartlets (above) or one very large tart that serves a dozen or more.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Shrimp Steam Up and Go to Town with Remoulade and Charred Shallots

Often the most ingenious cooking techniques are the simplest. Years ago I met a Thai chef who graciously showed me some basic cooking techniques. One particular technique I loved was cooking raw shrimp in an aluminum foil pouch. The resulting shrimp were plump, juicy and sweet. Of course the freshest, highest quality shrimp needed to be used.

I loved the technique not only because of the result but also because as the shrimp cooked, the pouch expanded. That reminded me of the way stove-top Jiffy popcorn puffed up.
Long before there was microwavable popcorn, Jiffy satisfied the hunger for easy-to-make snack food. Prepared correctly, the popcorn came out nicely steamed. But if you weren't careful, the bottom kernels burned and gave the whole bag of popcorn a harsh charcoal flavor. The same is true of cooking the shrimp in an aluminum pouch, be careful not to burn the shrimp.

Preparing the shrimp this way can produce perfectly steamed shrimp to use for an icy-cold shrimp cocktail to accompany an equally icy-cold vodka martini (dirty, of course, with an olive and an onion) or to be served hot and steaming on a platter.

With the shrimp cocktail, serve a horseradish-hot cocktail sauce. With the hot shrimp, remoulade is a good accompanying sauce or chermoula.

After steaming, the shrimp can be quickly charred on a carbon steel pan to add a bit of color and sweetness. That's what I did tonight for dinner when I made the shrimp with charred shallots and remoulade.

FAT JUICY STEAMED SHRIMP WITH REMOULADE SAUCE AND CHARRED SHALLOTS

Raw shrimp that have been shelled and devined can be used, but I prefer to go the distance and do the prep work myself. That way I know when the shelling and deveining was done and I will harvest the shells to make a light and delicious shrimp-shell sauce. More about that in another post.

Use any size shrimp you like. Smaller shrimp will cook more quickly and are more trouble to shell and devein. In general, I would recommend medium to large sized shrimp.

Time to prepare depends if you are shelling and deveining them yourself. The cooking time will also vary, depending on the size of the shrimp.

Choosing a mustard to use to make the remoulade is a personal choice. Dijon has a good clean flavor but can be intense. A milder choice is deli-style mustards. In either case, buy a good quality mustard.

Serves 4 as an entree, Serves 8 as an appetizer

Time to prep: approximately 15 minutes

Time to cook: approximately 5 minutes

Total time: approximately 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds raw shrimp, washed, pat dried
1/4 cup mayonnaise preferably Best Foods or Heilman's
1/4 cup good quality mustard, either deli style or Dijon
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5-6 large shallots, washed, skins removed and ends trimmed and discarded
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 sheet aluminum 15" long

Directions

To make the remoulade, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard and capers, seasoned with black pepper. Place in an air tight container and refrigerator.

If the raw shrimp are shelled and deveined, wash and pat dry. If not, peel the shells off, starting with the legs and rolling them off the flesh, pulling off the tail at the same time.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut a shallow incision in the back of the shrimp, remove the black vein and discard. After shelling and deveining, rinse the shrimp again in clean water, drain and pat dry.

Lay the sheet of aluminum on a flat surface. In the middle of the sheet, lay the shrimp snuggly together, all facing the same way. Imagine they are coodling in bed.
Fold the foil over the shrimp and neatly seal the ends being careful to keep the shrimp flat. The objective is to create an air-tight pouch. The ends of the pouch should be folded over 3-4 times so that as the pouch expands, the ends do not pop open releasing the heat and liquid.

Heat a pan large enough that the pouch can fit in the center. Turn the heat onto high. Have a pair of long tongs at the ready.

To determine that the pan is hot enough, dip three fingers into a bowl of water and fling drops of water into the pan. If the water skitters across, the pan is hot enough.

Have a large plate ready.

Place the pouch onto the hot pan. When the pouch inflates, the shrimp are cooked on that side. If the pouch is not sealed completely, the pouch may not inflate. The shrimp will cook regardless. In which case, assume that 3 minutes on each side will cook the shrimp.
Carefully use the tongs to turn the pouch over. Lay the pouch in the middle of the hot pan. If the pouch had inflated, turning it over will deflate it. When it inflates again or the pouch has been on the hot pan for 3-4 minutes, the shrimp should be cooked.

Using the tongs, hold the pouch over a bowl and cut open the pouch. Remove the shrimp, reserve the liquid to make a sauce for another dish and, if you are not immediately serving the shrimp, refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 24 hours.
Just before serving, finely slice the shallots the long way (end to end). Toss with olive oil. Heat a frying pan. I like using a carbon steel pan which will quickly add a beautifully flavorful caramelization on the shallot strands. Place the oiled shallots into the pan. Using tongs, toss well and sauté until the shallots are charred. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the pan again. When it is hot, place the shrimp in the pan for a few seconds on each side, just long enough to lightly char the sides. Remove.

Serve the shrimp topped with the charred shallots accompanied with a small bowl of remoulade.

The shrimp can be accompanied with steamed rice, freshly made pasta or a tossed green salad. And don't forget the dirty martini!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Latin Flavors Spice Up Our Love of Corn

Piled high on tables at farmers markets and in supermarkets, sweet corn is everywhere. At the beginning of summer after a cold, dark winter, the sight of corn leads to a stampede of shoppers.
Every week we brought home bundles of corn because who can resist the fat ears with their light green husks and wispy tassels? And so, happily, we have cooked corn every which way--boiled, grilled on the BBQ and roasted in the oven. 

But now at mid-summer, we feel corn-fatigue.  We have begun to take corn for granted. We need a way to rekindle our love affair with corn.

The solution was easy. All we needed was some Latin excitement.
Elote Mexican Corn Salad
My newest favorite corn salad borrows from the flavors of Mexican street corn called elote where ears of cooked corn are skewered on sticks, flavored with grated cotija cheese and dusted with red pepper powder. I turned that street food snack into a salad, tossed with freshly chopped Italian parsley. 

The recipe is on Zester Daily, please try it and let me know what you think. I love it!


Turn Salsa into a Salad

Salsa and chips or salsa and tacos is the perfect summer light snack. Freshly made, salsa brings the best of the garden to the table. Personally, I like to use cherry tomatoes to make salsa because they have a good sweet-to-acid balance. Toss in charred or roasted corn kernels and the salsa brightens with sweetness.

Grilled Corn Salsa

Adding corn caramelized from light grilling gives this salsa its distinctive sweetness. When you buy corn from the market, look for plump kernels. Avoid ears with wrinkled or shriveled kernels. 
You can use any kind of ripe tomato you enjoy, but I prefer cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and they hold their shape after being cut up. For added color, select a basket with a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes.
Serves 4
Ingredients
1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 8-ounce basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1 large shallot, ends and skin removed, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
Directions
1. Preheat the grill to medium-hot.
2. Drizzle the olive oil on a large plate and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roll the ear of corn to coat. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill. Turn frequently to prevent burning. Remove the corn when all the sides have light grill marks. Let cool. Cut off the kernels and place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to transfer the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the mixing bowl with the corn.
4. Add the quartered cherry tomatoes, shallot and parsley. Toss well and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust the flavors with more sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (optional).

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Old Favorites and New Discoveries in Little Saigon

Having written about Little Saigon over many years, I was looking at my last post from a year ago and realized I should update the entry. One of my favorite restaurants, Hanoi, closed and in the past year I discovered new restaurants and supermarkets I wanted to recommend.

Certain foods cause people to become rhapsodic. Proust had his madeleines. I have pho ga. At Pho Vinh Ky, the large bowl of chicken soup and rice noodles arrives with a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
Traditionally, the herbs and vegetables are added to the broth. Rau ram, ngo gai, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, purple perilla, a lime wedge and thick slices of serrano peppers add brightness to the flavors. I love the dipping sauce, nuoc cham gung, a mix of lime juice, dried pepper flakes, finely chopped fresh ginger and fish sauce. Everyone has their own way to eat pho. Mine is to eat the noodles first. Each spoonful flavored by the pungent, hot, salty dipping sauce.
If you haven't eaten Vietnamese food, you have missed out on one of the great Asian cuisines. Known primarily for their noodle soups, plates of barbecued meats piled high on mounds of broken rice or served in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and stir fries spiced with lemon grass, Vietnamese food has spread into the wider culinary community because of the popularity of pho (hot beef and chicken soups with noodles) and banh mi (crusty baguettes with spicy meats and pickled vegetables).With several large Vietnamese communities around the country, we are lucky to live close to Little Saigon in Orange County.

My trip to Little Saigon begins at Pho Vinh Ky with a large bowl of pho ga (chicken soup with noodles), only dark meat, and a Vietnamese iced coffee with milk. Arriving early in the morning, the restaurant is cold and mostly empty. The large window faces a small parking lot bordering busy Westminister Boulevard. A dozen Vietnamese men and women are also eating pho. Their heads bent low over the steaming bowls, chop sticks in one hand, a Chinese soup spoon in the other, they eat the more familiar, beef version of pho. 
Because we live an hour away from Garden Grove and Westminster, the epicenter of Orange County's Vietnamese community, instead of eating several dishes at one restaurant, I'll eat one dish at each of my favorite restaurants, taking home what I don’t finish and moving on to the next one. If you hadn’t guessed, that means I bring freezer packs and a small cooler for take-away because the left overs are delicious for next day-breakfast and lunch.

In between meals, I'll hunt out the best bargains at the local supermarkets. 

Here is the list of places I love going to in Little Saigon. Hope you have an afternoon to explore the area. A few weeks ago, I brought home two live Dungeness crabs from ABC (see below: a supermarket on Bolsa at Magnolia) for $5.99/lb. The shiitake mushrooms were also a bargain at $4.79/lb.

RESTAURANTS:

Many of the restaurants only take cash.  Most of them open for breakfast and stay open until late (which can mean 7:30am - 11:00pm; but often it means 10am - 10pm).

Pho Vinh Ky
8512 Westminster Blvd, Suite F
Westminister 92683
714/894-9309

Next to the Stater Brothers’ Market, west of Magnolia, east of Beach (Beach Blvd Exit on the Garden Grove/22 Fwy), Pho Vinh Ky has the best pho ga (chicken noodle soup) in the area. The light broth is clean tasting, the dark meat is sweet and the noodles are chewy. The interior is nondescript. The waitstaff is friendly even if they don't speak English. Besides the pho ga, the other dishes I would also recommend the spring rolls with shrimp and pork, crispy rice noodles with vegetables and tofu, BBQ pork with vermicelli, BBQ shrimp with vermicelli, the pork chop with broken rice and the BBQ pork with broken rice, topped with a fried egg.


Vien Dong
14271 Brookhurst Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843
714/531-8253

When Hanoi closed, I needed to find a replacement quickly because my wife loved the restaurant's catfish with dill and onions that was served on a sizzling hot plate. Chả Cá Thăng Long is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. After a good deal of research, I found the dish served at Vien Dong, a large and elegant restaurant on Brookhurst in a neighborhood dominated by car dealerships. Besides the sizzling catfish (#22), the fried spring rolls with pork (#2) is also delicious. Both dishes come with a plate of freshly prepared vermicelli and enormous plates of fresh green leaf lettuce, cilantro and Vietnamese herbs. The combination of savory, crisp, heat, sweet and citrus has to be experienced to be appreciated. Just saying they are delicious isn't enough.

Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant
9550 Bolsa Aven (Suite 11E-1)
Westminister, CA
714/531-7788

In a mini-mall, Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant, serves very good egg noodles with lemon grass chicken, tofu or vegetables. The small portions make the dishes pricey for the area, but the dishes are well-prepared.

Dim Sum - Giai Phat Food Co.
9550 Bolsa Ave. #123, 124,
Westminster, CA 92683

In the outdoor mall next to Grand Chicken Rice Restaurant, there are a dozen other restaurants including a Chinese take out restaurant serving inexpensive, well-made dim sum.

Dong Khanh
10451 Bolsa Avenue
Westminister, CA 92683
949/839-1014

The first restaurant in Little Saigon we tried a dozen years ago, Dong Khanh is still a favorite. The restaurant opens early in the morning and continues to serve well past midnight. The menu is quite large so there are many different dishes to try. I always get the lemon grass chicken with broken rice, the fried shrimp (head on, in the shell) with pickled cabbage and carrots, crispy noodles with sautéed vegetables and, when we have a large group and we have the extra money, a salt and pepper whole lobster. Dong Khanh also serves very good iced Vietnamese coffee with milk.

Le Croissant Dore
9122 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683 (714) 895-3070
lecroissantdore.com

On the eastern end of a mini-mall with half a dozen small restaurants there is a French-Vietnamese bakery/restaurant called Le Croissant Dore that sells good Vietnamese style French pastries. One of the specialties of the kitchen is a bœuf bourguignon that’s spicy with unexpected heat. Served with a freshly baked baguette, customers eat in a small dining room within sight of the bakery counter or outside at half a dozen tables which are usually occupied by circles of men, talking and reading newspapers. The Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is delicious but very strong.

Saigon’s Bakery
8940 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 896-8782
http://saigonsbakery.com

A few doors from My Thuan, an excellent Vietnamese supermarket, Saigon's Bakery sells breads, rolls and Vietnamese pastries, drinks and sweets, which, for most items, when you buy two, the third is free. People stand in line to buy the foot-long banh mi with a dozen different fillings. The baguettes are perfectly crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside.

MARKETS

There are a great many supermarkets in Little Saigon as well as Korean Markets in Garden Grove. Each one is different although they carry many of the same products. The prices are also pretty much the same, but there are notable differences between them.

My Thuan Supermarket
8900 Westminster, Westminster CA 92683
(714) 899-0700

A large supermarket with excellent fresh produce, dried noodles and frozen seafood, My Thuan has better prices than most of the nearby markets. My wife loves charred octopus salad with potatoes. My Thuan sells both fresh baby octopus and large frozen octopus. The fresh seafood, poultry and meat counters have all the cuts familiar to anyone who shops in Asian markets. The quality is above average. The prices are very affordable.

MOM Supermarket
5111 W. Edinger Avenue (the entrance is on Euclid)
Santa Ana 92704
714/839-3939

MOM has a good fish market but while they have live seafood, the prices are better at ABC; they have a fantastic dried and fresh noodle area and great selection of Asian sauces.

ABC Supermarket
8970 Bolsa Avenue at Magnolia
Westminster 92683
714/379-6161

Great for live lobsters (usually $7.99-$8.99/lb) and Dungeness crab ($5.99-7.99/lb), they have a large selection of fish, some in live tanks, fresh and frozen. The produce section is excellent, with shiitake mushrooms, leafy vegetables, citrus, onions, aromatic herbs and garlic as well as fresh poultry (chicken and duck), beef and pork. 

Bolsa BBQ
8938 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683
714/903-2485

Sharing the parking lot with ABC Supermarket are a dozen other businesses, restaurants and bakeries. Bolsa BBQ sells freshly prepared whole pig, chickens, ducks and delicious bao with hardboiled egg & pork.

Dalat Supermarket
13075 Euclid Street  at the intersection of Garden Grove Blvd & the 22
Garden Grove 92843
714/638-9900

The majority of dried noodles sold in Asian markets use lye. One of the few companies to avoid using lye in their noodles is found at Dalat: Twin Rabbit Vegetarian Noodles (Mi Chay Soi Lon) Product of Vietnam - dried wheat noodles: $1.19.

Have a Picnic for Super Bowl Sunday - Kimchi Chicken Wings, Salads & So Much More

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