Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Going Against the Grain

Photo: Braised Brisket with Panko Topped Penne with Cheese and braising vegetables. (The baked mac'n cheese was made with a bechamel and grated fontina.)

I've always been a little weird. In high school I used to make vests with matching scrunchies. So maybe I wasn't so much weird as I was a NERD, but I've changed??? I'm now a FOOD nerd. And why do I digress, you ask? Well, because I know now that it's acceptable to be different, and if that means going against the grain, then damn it, go against the grain and I promise you'll never go back. I just wish someone had told me this at a younger age. I could've saved money instead of spending it on all those therapy sessions...

It's how you slice it. Last night I made a beef brisket, which I slow braised in my trusty Le Creuset cobalt blue braiser for 6 hours at 275 degrees. It would have been great at 3 or 4 hours, but the house was cold so I went until dinner time. Cut along the grain, the meat can appear stringy and tough, but once you slice it AGAINST the grain, alles gut, ja. Of course, if you totally screw up and the meat is tough all around, cutting across the grain will help but not cure your culinary disaster.

Most meat should be cut across the grain. The resulting shorter fibers means less work for your jaw, and hence more tender feeling meat. Sometimes you'll want to shred meat, as in pork shoulder roast, but when it's steak or brisket, think again(st.)

So try braising a brisket. Revive the Jewish grandmother in you. Use stock or red wine until it reaches 3/4 of the way up the meat, add some tomatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and bay leaves, and forget it in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours. Perfection, and at a cheap cost, too! Now YOU can use this extra money for your own therapy.

Buon Appetito,

Monday, December 18, 2006

Maximizing your Oven - Part III: Roasted Garlic

Roasted garlic is so different from raw garlic. No worries about kissing anyone after slathering this onto crusty bread. It's also extremely easy to make.

Here goes:

Cut off the tops of the garlic head after peeling as much of the superficial skin as possible. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Wrap in foil. Place in the oven at whatever temperature you're roasting your vegetables for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature. It should turn a beautiful caramel color.

Remove from oven. It should squeeze out easily like toothpaste. Add some olive oil, s&p to taste and you're ready to dazzle everyone with your homemade roasted garlic oil. Add some chopped fresh herbs for additional freshness and color. Add to mashed potatoes, or slather on a whole chicken or cornish hen before roasting, or your favorite works like chocolate, except savory. What?

Maximize maximize maximize, especially now that it's "cold" here in California.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lesson Learned

Photo: I usually scrape out the gills of portobelli, especially when making a tomato sauce, as they tend to darken the mixture.

The other night I had a dinner party where I completely experimented with the entree and side dishes. Very bad idea. Usually I'm on time with dinner, but this time I served an hour and fifteen after guests had arrived. Yes, I am human, and no, I'm not perfect. However, complete disaster was averted thanks to the dishes turning out great and initially disgruntled guests leaving happy and drunk (but not too drunk to drive, mind you!)

Here's what was on the menu:

To start, a cheese and chartucerie platter consisting of parmeggiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyere, salame and soppresata, dried figs, crostini and homemade pesto. Thank goodness since dinner was taking so damn long!

Main course:
Roasted Cornish hens
Braised Kale
Soft Polenta with Portobello, Sage, and Pancetta

Pear Galette with Homemade French Vanilla Ice Cream

I was worried that the side dishes would overpower the hens, but they stood up to the challenge.

Something I've started doing lately is roasting birds with their necks and livers in the bottom of the roasting pan. I placed the hens atop onions, stuffed them with garlic, lemon, thyme, and slipped medallions of herb butter under their skins. I think next time I will sear the skins on the stove before placing them in the oven to roast, as their skins could've been browner. Even though I dried the skins best I could and rubbed them with oil, it was hard to get that dark tan without overcooking. The butter under the skin does help, however. Lesson learned.

So after removing the birds from the roasting pan, I placed the pan with the livers, onions, and necks, over the stovetop and deglazed with white wine. The roasted bits really add great flavor to the jus, as opposed to just the drippings. Try it!

I served the birds on a bed of braised kale and the soft polenta in small bowls. For dessert another disaster averted...barely. I went to my favorite store which was CLOSED, so I couldn't get my fresh berries for the galette. Instead, I had to go next door to an inferior produce mart and get some pears. I probably should've roasted the pears for the galette, but had no time, so they were a little al dente. However, the crust, a pasta frolla, was fantastic (it's made with corn meal so it can withstand juicy fillings and has that extra crunch) and of course you can't go wrong with ice cream!!!

Phew. Next time I will test recipes before serving them at a dinner party. Just another excuse to keep cooking, really.

Save those giblets!!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Scones: Rock hard = Bad (unless discussing abs)

Photo: Quyen's Blueberry Buttermilk Scones with Lemon Zest

This morning we had some friends visiting, so I decided to make some scones (plus I just bought some dried blueberries and wanted to use them.) Any excuse, really, to bake. Seriously, though, by the time your oven is fully preheated, your scones are ready to go in.

With quick breads, scones, biscuits, etc. it's more about technique than anything else, and that mainly entails NOT overmixing. Overmixing is for bread and pizza dough, where you actually want to develop the gluten in the flour. I know it's tantalizing handling that biscuit dough, but REFRAIN from TOUCHING. Make yourself some playdough and play with that, but RESIST the URGE to touch. You can look all you want, but don't touch. Just imagine me standing there with a wooden spoon smacking you...yeah, that's right, a little harder...what? No! Bad touch! Bad touch!

Moving on, whether you're making biscuits, scones, zucchini bread, pancakes, or other delicate treats, always stop mixing a couple beats before you think it's fully mixed. Make sure all your ingredients are COLD for scones and biscuits (room temperature for cakes, but that's another topic), and work with your fingertips quickly. And of course, your oven should be completely preheated.

Not to brag or anything, but I actually had to WAIT for my oven to preheat because I made the scones so damn fast.

Wish you could have a bite,

PS Scones shouldn't be rock hard. They should be flaky, delicate, and moist. It's all in the hands, baby. You haven't had a good scone unless you've made them yourself (or I've made them for you, and trust me, mine are gooooooood.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Caveat Emptor

My pyrex exploded in the oven on Thursday. I had spent 2 days making stuffing for Thanksgiving day--a whole day ahead making the cornbread and chicken stock, and then the actual prep day. Thankfully, since I was making enough stuffing for 20 people, I prepared 2 trays. I have no idea why it exploded, since I've used that pyrex hundreds of times before.

I found this on Wikipedia:

Safety issues

Pyrex, while more resistant to thermal shock than other types of glass, should never be subject to drastic or uneven temperature changes, such as when taken from the oven and placed on the stove elements (an excellent heat conductor) to cool, or immersed in cold water when hot. This can crack or shatter the dish.

However, recent reports suggest that due to the change in manufacturing, notwithstanding the claims made for Pyrex, the glassware can shatter violently and unexpectedly, even when used in accordance with manufacturers instructions. Claims have been made of severe personal injury during these events. Some reports have suggested that older Pyrex was not as susceptible to these problems as currently produced Pyrex. It is unknown whether this has anything to do with the recent change in ownership and location of manufacture of the Pyrex brand.

Crazy, eh?

Thanks for RUINING Thanksgiving Day, Pyrex.

At least some good came of oven is now cleaner than it's ever been!

Thanks Pyrex. You're the best.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Maximizing your Oven - Part II: Tomato Soup

PHOTO: Quyen's Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil Oil and Chiffonade

I've noticed that a lot of people don't like tomatoes. I wonder what it is about them that is unlikable. Is it the texture? The taste? I know some only like cooked tomatoes. Why? Why?

If you DO like tomatoes, though, you're in for a treat if you've never made your own tomato soup. I like to use three types of tomatoes for my soup, which I think gives it much more depth than just fresh or canned alone. Since heirlooms can be quite pricey, it's hard to find really delicious "regular" tomatoes, so I find that roasting them concentrates the flavor. Here's how I make it:

Several pounds of Roma or Vine-Ripened Tomatoes, cleaned and halved
Olive oil
Sea or grey salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed chili flakes
1 12 oz. can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
Couple onions
Chicken (preferably homemade) or vegetable stock
Several large handfuls of basil leaves, washed and dried
2 heads of garlic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a sheet pan spread out your halved tomatoes, and generously drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Save a couple fresh tomatoes to add to the soup later. Prep your garlic heads for roasting. Cut off tops, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and wrap in foil. Roast tomatoes and garlic for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until caramelized and tomato skins wrinkle. When cool enough to handle, the garlic should easily squeeze out--add a touch of olive oil and set aside. (I like to roast garlic whenever I make a savory dish in the oven...maximize baby.)

In a large Dutch oven, sweat onions and a couple cloves of fresh garlic in olive oil until translucent, about 10 mintues. Add chili flakes, roasted tomatoes, half the basil, canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and enough stock to just cover the veggies, and simmer for about an hour. Add the rest of the basil and blend together until desired consistency. If you have a food mill, process your soup to get rid of the skins. Be careful when pureeing hot liquids. Use a dish towel to hold down the top and work in small batches, or use a hand immersion blender.

Garnish with basil chiffonade (roll up basil leaves and slice thinly into long strips), and serve with bread or crostini and roasted garlic oil.

If you want an even richer soup, you can add the roasted garlic to the soup near the end of the simmer, and / or add a dollop of cream, creme fraiche or goat cheese before serving.

I prefer it without cream, though, for a change :)

Wish you could have a bite,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Maximizing your Oven - Part I

PHOTO: Quyen's Espresso Gelato, made from beets...well, maybe not. OK, more heavy cream I know I know. But, the beets balance out the cream!

If I'm going to use the oven, I'm getting the most out of making the house a toasty place. A few days ago I think I completely maximized oven time--here's what I made for dinner.

OVEN-roasted Beets with Frisee and Goat Cheese
OVEN-roasted Tomato Basil Soup with OVEN-roasted Garlic
Salmon en Papillote
Chocolate Souffle with Espresso Gelato

Unfortunately, however, I forgot to charge my camera batteries, so I don't have any pics from the actual night.

Anyway, beets are fantastic and good for you. It sounds a little wasteful, but you must individually wrap them in foil before roasting. Just drizzle with olive oil, wrap, and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until tender. Let cool, and the skin should come right off. I use a towel for more friction. Expect to get your hands dirty, and don't be scared later on when you use the restroom...

Beets were created to be dressed with an acidic dressing. For this occasion, I made a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, and basil) which I tossed with the frisee right before serving. Other times I'll make a dressing from orange and lemon juice and zest, white vinegar, and olive oil, and also serve orange wedges (blood oranges if they're in season). They're also high in folate, dietary fiber and antioxidants.

Eat some beets!

PS I will describe the other items on the menu in upcoming entries. Stay tuned for Parts II - IV of "Maximizing Your Oven."

Saturday, November 18, 2006


PHOTO: Bacon, arugula, tomato on toasted bagel with herb butter and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Recently my friend Lillian in Singapore sent me a link to this website.  Although I do love bacon, I'm holding off on buying that bacon bracelet (for now.)

In the meantime, this morning I made a BLT for breakfast.  Instead of lettuce, though, I used arugula (or rocket lettuce for those of you from outer space, or South Africa).  I also made an herb butter the other day, which I spread on my perfectly toasted bagel.  It's always great to have herb butter on hand.  It'll up the gourmet factor for any meal, especially those "spontaneous" dinner parties where ya just throw somethin' together.  "Oh, I didn't have that much time to cook.  I only made a 5 course meal as opposed to a 12.  Apologies."

Here's how I make mine:

Stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
Herbs that have been fully washed and DRIED
teaspoon of Honey
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Finely mince any herbs you may have on hand--rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, chervil, oregano, sage, dill, etc.  For this occasion I had rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley on hand.  You can also add garlic or shallots if you'd like, also finely minced.

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon.  If you are using salted butter, you don't need to add salt obviously.  Salt helps to preserve the butter, but you can buy unsalted and keep it in the freezer.  I always have a pound or two or butter in my freezer for those buttercream emergencies.  Buying unsalted also helps you control your sodium intake.  Anyway...

Using parchment paper or saran wrap, shape the butter into a cylindrical log using your spatula.  Roll tightly, and place in freezer or refrigerator until needed.  You'll have perfect herb butter to spread on your crusty, homemade bread, (or storebought baguette from Gelson's...YUM).  Place a medallion of butter atop grilled fish, or to finish off that wine reduction for your steak au poivre.  Off the heat, of course.

It's the little touches that count.  Basil oil, for example, which I made as well this week, but that's a future blog.

I love bacon.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Curry in a Hurry

PHOTO: Quyen's Shrimp Curry with Cauliflower

After a long day of work, who wants to then spend a couple hours in the kitchen (besides me, of course?) One of the best quick dishes you can make is curry. Well, that is if you have all the ingredients...

Here's how I make a quick shrimp curry:

In a mini food processor, puree together garlic and ginger into a paste. Set aside. Slice a couple onions.

Heat vegetable oil in a dutch oven or heavy braising pan. Add whole cardamom, cloves, dried chiles, and allspice. Toast until fragrant. Add the garlic ginger paste and saute for another minute. Add the onions and a couple tablespoons of garam masala (you can buy at a specialty store, or curry powder at a regular supermarket.)

Sweat the onions until translucent, about 10 minutes. You don't want for them to caramelize, so turn down the heat if they start to brown. Your house should be filled with an amazing aroma by now!

Add a couple diced tomatoes, making sure to squeeze out excess juice, and also a can of coconut cream, as well as a bay leaf. Simmer until thick, about 8-10 minutes. Add a couple cups of chicken stock and simmer some more. At this point you can simmer away until your girl or boy comes home, or your guests, or that sassy neighbor you've been have over for dinner.

Finally, when ready to serve, add your wholly defrosted shrimp, cover, and cook until just cooked through, about 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

Stir in freshly chopped coriander, or cilantro, and serve with lime over rice. (To give some color to your rice, add some saffron and a touch of turmeric.)

While your curry is simmering, make a healthy side dish. For this meal I steamed cauliflower, then finished off in the saute pan with garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

Enjoy! You should be able to have delicious shrimp curry in about 45 minutes total. It's worth it :)

You CAN have a bite,

Friday, November 10, 2006

Steal of the Day - Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis

Photo: Quyen's Vanilla Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberry Coulis

In my last post I mentioned how expensive raspberries were. I spoke too soon. Yesterday, while shopping at my favorite local produce store down the street, they were selling a half flat of raspberries for $1.99. That's 14 South African Rand, 3.10 Singapore Dollars, 32,009 Vietnamese Dong. It's hectic. It's manic. I love it. I bought three. I asked the owner what was wrong with them. They were PERFECT. For a coulis, that is.

So I asked myself, what do I do with all these raspberries? I can't pass up a good bargain, whether it's clothes, food, or men. It's in my nature. Naturally, eating them fresh with a sprinkle of sugar came first. Then, a raspberry coulis:

Simmer together raspberries, sugar, water for about 10 minutes. Sieve to get rid of all the seeds and you'll be left with a thick, smooth coulis. Add a little lemon juice and / or liquer and you're ready to drizzle it over ice cream, chocolate souffle, or panna cotta, or "cooked cream." I made a vanilla bean panna cotta (because I'm in my vanilla bean phase, plus I have like, over 100 beans dying to be used).

Panna cotta is one of the easiest, most rewarding desserts you can make. You dissolve unflavored gelatin in milk, simmer it for a few minutes, stir in sugar, add vanilla steeped heavy cream, place it over an ice bath, stir until thick, strain, pour into molds and refrigerate until set. How easy is that???

Wish you could have a bite,

PS I know it looks bad, but my diet is not comprised merely of heavy cream and berries. Heavy cream, berries, AND vanilla beans.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ay ay ay ay-scream!

I made up a song about ice cream to the tune of that famous song, which I can't recall the name of because every time I think of it, I replace the lyrics with my own. I think it's either in Italian or Spanish...

ANYWAY, here's a picture of my ice cream with strawberry compote. I boiled together fresh strawberries, water, and sugar, then simmered until desired consistency. Near the end, I added a little lemon zest and a splash of Grand Marnier (of course) to the compote. Yum!

There are so many variables in making good ice cream, but what makes good ice cream? Below are criteria for tasting ice cream as described in the book FROZEN DESSERTS by Liddell & Weir. It is most excellent for food snobs.

Appearance: No ice crystals on the surface, even distribution of fruit, nuts, etc. Color should match flavor.

Body: Note resistance of ice cream when scooping. If too firm, ice cream will be too cold and uncomfortable to eat. Body shouldn't be waxy, gummy, crumbly, soggy, or fluffy. (Cheaper ice creams incorporate AIR into the ice cream, which is why premium and homemade creams are denser.)

Texture: Smooth. Large ice crystals present = faster melting, rough on roof of mouth. Sandy texture is due to lactose crystallization. Yuck.

Flavor: Should taste like what it is. Shouldn't be too rich to swamp the flavor, nor flavor so rich you can only have a couple spoonfuls (and not because you're on a diet, in which case you don't know what you're missing.) Pleasant aftertaste, no cooked-milk flavor, or metallic or rancidness.

Melt: Should melt to a creamy liquid, not like shaving cream, or separate or worse, curdle.

Try varying the balance between fat and sugar, and total solids and water. Since taste is subjective, you can create your own specialty ice cream. Or, just buy Haagen Dazs. Never skimp on ice cream. If you're gonna eat it, then go for it.

Wish you could have a bite,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Save those VANILLA BEANS!!

Photo: Artichokes in acidulated water. To prevent oxidization, squeeze lemon juice in water. Drain right before use.

Photo: Preparing the custard for French vanilla ice cream.

If you have vanilla beans that have already been used to make, say, a silky panna cotta or decadent French vanilla ice cream, do not discard the used bean. Instead, rinse it off, let it dry out and throw it into your sugar jar. You'll have delicious vanilla scented sugar. If you're REAL fancy, scoop out the fresh beans into your sugar (along with the pod) and pump up that ordinary cup of joe. You'll never go back again--none of that "Vanilla Half & Half" stuff. Ugh, gross. Use extract at least, please!

Also, don't refrigerate your vanilla beans, else they will crystallize. Who wants that? Just store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. They should stay moist and malleable...

Speaking of which, I am going to prepare my French vanilla ice cream now to go with a strawberry compote. (Raspberries are WAY expensive right now!)

On tonight's menu:

Roasted leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary
Artichokes with mint and garlic
Fennel Gratin with pecorino
French vanilla ice cream with strawberry topping

It's nice to be back in the kitchen again. I actually have been WORKING, for crying out loud. I'll let you know how the dinner turns out!


PS Dinner was delicious, but I realized after we ate everything that I hadn't taken any pictures :( Also, the wine didn't help.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tomato Paste Is the Bane of My Existence

I hate wasting food. I get very upset when neglected veggies go bad because I can't get to the back half of the frig because there's just too much damn crap. Sam's even worse, though, because he'll drink sour milk. He'll smell it, shrug his shoulders, and pour it into his cereal. "Eh." It's both adorable and horrifying.

Tomato paste vexes me. It's commonly sold in little cans, and since most dishes call for a mere Tablespoon or two, what do you do with the rest? Well, because I hate wasting food, I just use the whole can. Or, if I know I'm going to make something in the next couple of days with it, (since I'm crazy and plan out dinners a week in advance) I'll scoop the excess into Saran wrap and refrigerate it. Oftentimes, I'll forget about it and find a little treat weeks later...

To get rid of the "rawness" of the paste, though, you must cook it thoroughly. For example, in making my pizza sauce the other day, I started with anchovies, a mirepoix (2 parts onion to 1 part celery and onion), and tomato paste. Just make sure it doesn't burn, as it gets bitter. If you add paste to an already simmering pot of sauce, you'll never quite get rid of the rawness, but it's not so bad. It's just not gourmet. Amateur move, in fact. Your guests will be asking, "Why is there no depth to your sauce, Lillian?" and you'll respond, "What? I live in Singapore and would never make my own pizza sauce!" and I'll say, "Lillian, you must move back to Los Angeles!" and so forth. Whaaa? I digress...

I also have a tube of tomato paste, but I don't like it as much. It's never quite as fresh as the canned stuff, but it's fine in a pinch. Funny, how canned stuff is often times better than "fresh." I prefer canned tomatoes, especially, when they're out of season, although here in California it's hard to know what's in and out of season.

I've been getting recipe requests and other questions about food, and sometimes not about food. Please don't be shy. Comment away.

In the words of Jacques, happy cooking!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dinner with Jodie

Photo: Endless supply of vegetable skewers, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Foster, that is. OK, so I didn't REALLY have dinner with her, but she sat at the table next to ours at AOC (on 3rd St. and Crescent Heights), so that kinda counts, right? I couldn't check out her calves, though, since she was wearing pants. Apparently they're AMAZING. I must admit I was a teeny bit star struck, although I didn't start crying and hyperventilating like that one time, in band camp, Jacques Pepin came over to my table, placed his big, strong, deft hands on my shoulder and whispered into my ear, "How's the food?" in his thick French accent. Muy caliente.

Speaking of food, dinner was excellent, but I can see how it could be hit or miss, depending on the dishes you order. I would recommend getting the cheeses and the chartucerie. Most excellent. And of course, some red wine(s). Random--I recently learned on NPR that the master cheese makers in the world are mostly women.

I haven't been able to cook very much this past week. In fact, I've been eating leftovers from a BBQ we had this past weekend, so I'm on the last of the vegetable skewers. In spite of what some of you may think, I actually WORK...sometimes. I'll be out of town next week, but hopefully I'll be able to try some unique alligator dishes where I'm going.

I love sheep's milk cheese!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Chocolate Rum Buttercream - Need I Say More?

Photo: Frosted Cupcakes

Sometimes a girl's gotta have her chocolate. I don't know why, and I don't understand why it's women and not men who have these cravings. Or are there men out there who enjoy a truffle every now and then? Guys? A little insight? Brycey baby?

To sate my chocolate desires, I decided to make yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting. The cake itself, though fluffy and yummy, in this case is just a cleaner and more civil way of delivering the chocolate into my mouth (although licking chocolate from the palm of the hand is much naughtier).

To make matters worse, I grated some 70% cacao chocolate (Valrhona of course) using my Microplane over some of the cupcakes. Although providing a more complex texture to the cupcake, I preferred those without the extra shavings, as they interfered with the sexy silkiness of the buttercream. The combination of rum and chocolate makes it extra shiny like my hiny.

Wish you could have a bite (of my cupcakes, not my hiny you perverts)!

PS In a taste test, I must admit that Butter Golden Recipes from Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines provide a fluffy, light yet very flavorful cake, and it takes a quarter of the time. So if you're lazy and uncultured, make it from the box. No one will ever know, except for snobby foodies.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Split Pea 'n Ham Soup

Photo: Quyen's Split Pea and Ham Soup with fresh thyme

I grew up in a Vietnamese household eating mostly homemade Vietnamese food with the occasional spaghetti with meat sauce or hamburgers. I'm not complaining at all, and in fact, my mom is quite the inspiration in the kitchen. However, I'd never tasted the likes of Campbell's Split Pea and Ham Soup EVER. Chicken noodle...maybe. Well, today I popped my split pea, and I'm never going back.

The best part about this soup is that it's so cheap, and it goes a looooooong way. My peas cost $1. That's 7.75 Rand. Or 1.58 Singapore Dollars. Or 50.3 Afghanistan Afghanis. It's manic. And the ham only cost $5.

Anyway, it's so good. I feel like I've really now just arrived in America. Oh wait, I was born here. It reminds me of Sam's gramma's house in southern Virginia, where we fish, hike, and shoot guns. Good times.

Back to the soup, though. It did take nearly 4 hours to make, but it was worth it. I tried drizzling in a little balsamic vinegar to contrast with the richness of the soup. Delicious. You can also try lemon. Drop a little acid. Go ahead. It's OK. Just a little.

I think I was hallucinating last night because my herbs smelled like weed and my carrots like cocaine. Weird.

OK, I'm going to make yellow cupcakes dressed in chocolate rum buttercream frosting.

Wish you could have a bite,

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Pic: Quyen's Buttermilk Fried Chicken

On Monday morning, looking out into the calm that is the Puget Sound, I had the urge for some fried chicken. So, a day and half later, I made some for myself (and others.) I wanted it Monday night, but it's best to soak the chicken for several hours, so I had to wait until Tuesday. Ugh. So annoying.

Before heading to the gym for my plyometrics session, I butchered the whole chicken into 8 pieces using my beautiful 9” chef’s knife, leaving the skin on, of course, and prepared the buttermilk brine. Buttermilk, sugar, salt, bay leaves, garlic, and paprika made up the brine. I left for my workout wearing my AWESOME “I survived the blackout – NYC 2003” T-shirt which, using only a pair of shears, I’d crafted into a muscle T by cutting off the sleeves and expanding the neck. I am so f-cking cool.

After 2 hours of non-stop aerobic and anaerobic exercise without any water whatsoever, I figured I’d burned enough calories to deserve some fried chicken. So, I poured about 2 cups of canola oil into my Le Creuset braising pan, turned up the heat to medium and let it heat consistently to about 375 degrees (190 Celsius), even though my thermometer just broke. I also set my oven to about 200 degrees (90 Celsius) to keep the cooked pieces warm. A trick you can also use to determine whether the oil is just right is putting a wooden spoon into the oil and seeing whether little bubbles form on contact.

To prep the chicken, I let it drain a little to take some excess off, then dipped it into a mixture of flour, pepper, paprika, and cayenne (whatever spices you like), and shook off the excess again. I then dipped the pieces into ANOTHER mixture of egg, baking soda (bicarbonate), baking powder and buttermilk, then dipped it again into the flour mixture. Double dipping is perfectly acceptable here. Just try not to lick your fingers, please.

By now my oil was just right, I hoped, and after placing just a couple pieces of chicken into the oil I waited patiently. When adding meat to oil, make sure you don’t overcrowd, as that will bring down the temperature of the oil, and you don’t want that to happen now, would you? Anyway, I fried the pieces for about 7-9 minutes per side, depending on thickness of the piece, then flipped them for another 7-9 minutes.

I let the meat rest on a wire rack to get rid of excess oil, placed it in the oven to stay warm while I fried up the rest of the meat, and made the accompanying dishes—green salad and a French style potato salad. Unlike a mayonnaise-based salad, this potato salad is a much lighter, healthier alternative.

First you slice potatoes into about 1/4” thick discs, boil them in salted water with some garlic cloves for about 7 minutes or until al dente, and drain, reserving a little of the liquid. To the liquid I add whatever fresh herbs I have on hand, which last night consisted of dill, thyme, and parsley. I then added some white wine which we were drinking with dinner, tarragon vinegar, whole grain mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, and tossed everything together. Very simple, but delicious and “healthy”—don’t be stingy with the herbs. They’re the stars of this dish, the potatoes just a vehicle for them.

Judging from the reactions of my guests, I think the dish was a hit. The skin was crispy, not oily, and the meat tender and juicy. Even if you’re a vegetarian, doesn’t that sound tantalizing?

Wish you could have a bite,

PS I think I sated my desire for fried chicken for at least a couple years.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lemongrass Is the New Lavendar

I knew that God was trying to tell me something when the TSA confiscated my L’Occitaine Lavendar Hand Lotion on my way home from South Africa. As I squeezed as much lotion onto my arms and body as I could without garnering too many stares, I bid my lotion farewell.

Since then I haven’t bought any new lavendar products. I recently bought a new lemongrass and sage deodorant. Has anyone noticed that NOBODY sells deodorant for women? Everything is anti-perspirant, and being a hypochondriac, I recently decided that anti-perspirant isn’t good for me, so now I smell like a man…or an herb garden.

Anyway, my next phase is herb infused products, be it shampoo, lotion, tea, or deodorant.

Lavendar is SO passe.

Flying Fish and Pesto

Pics: Q's Pesto Chicken Pizza, Fishmongers throwing a salmon at Pike's Fish Market, funny sign at Pike Market, monkfish (aka poor man's lobster) sign at fish market

Just got back from Seattle, Washington, home of Pike's Fish Market where they throw fish around. Coincidentally I ate at a restaurant called Flying Fish which totally blew my mind. It was amazing, and trust me--coming from me, an extremely judgmental foodsnob, that’s quite a review. Seriously, even the cocktails rocked. So here's what I had:

Fried Oyster Caesar Salad
Smoked Cod with Horseradish
Grilled Swordfish with Spaetzle and Tarragon

Salad--I always think it very classy when restaurants serve Caesar Salad with whole leaves of romaine lettuce, although hand-shredded lettuce is also very tasteful. Each leaf was delicately smothered in a light dressing which I assume was composed of the standard caesar dressing of raw egg and anchovy. (FDA warns that women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid raw egg products.) The croutons were perfectly toasted (also hand-shredded) and the oysters melted in your mouth, not a second beyond al dente. Crispy on the outside, delicate on the inside. Heaven all around.

Cod--If there's one thing I've never attempted at home, it's smoking fish. First of all I don't have a smokehouse, and second, I don't have the time or space to build one as I live in Los Angeles. The smokiness of the cod was offset by a delicate horseradish sauce, with just enough bite to compliment but not overpower the fish. I almost came after my first bite, but then realized I was in a public space. Divine.

Swordfish--It is now politically acceptable to order swordfish. Due to overfishing, these fish were on the endangered species list for quite some time. However, this doesn't mean you should order it wherever you go. I, for one, have not had swordfish in several years, and ordering it yesterday felt very very naughty. Who’s a naughty girl? Who’s a naughty, naughty girl? The FDA also warns of potential toxicity from methylmercury in this fish. (Tuna also has high levels of this toxin.) So don't eat it every day, and if you do choose to eat it, get a steak and grill it because this fish was meant to be grilled. Yum. Or, if you're feeling fancy, slice it really thin and roll it up to make "involtini." I'll blog about that later. Anyway, the swordfish at FLYING FISH was perfect. It was served with spaetzle, which added beautiful texture to the dish as a whole. Both the fish and spaetzle gently yielded to each bite, yet held its integrity like Custer.

What blew my mind the most about this dish, however, was the tarragon part of it. Now I've made tarragon with chicken, potatoes, seafood, you name it. But I've NEVER thought to cook it whole as a side dish. Tarragon has a slightly anise scent to it, and is very subtle, which makes it a perfect herb for seafood. (That’s why you don’t put cheese on seafood—it’ll overpower it.) Anyway, the cooked herb lent a somewhat bitter green taste to the dish, which gave it a new layer of complexity. Who would’ve thought? Brilliant. Also, I drank a pale ale with it, which washed down the dish better than a pinot grigio could have. That slight accent of bitterness got me. I’m hooked. (No pun intended.)

OK, that’s enough. Next time you’re in Seattle, you MUST dine at FLYING FISH. Just don’t walk down Pike St. at night alone…CREEPY!

Wish you could have a bite,

PS My pesto chicken pizza turned out great. The pizza stone didn’t crack, either. Here’s my own recipe for pesto. Take it or leave it. I don’t really measure anything when I cook, (only when I bake,) so if you guys want exact measurements, email me.

Bunches of washed and FULLY DRIED basil
Pignoli, or pinenuts (or walnuts if you must)
Couple cloves of peeled garlic
Fresh lemon juice
Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Crushed red chili flakes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a dry sauté pan, toast your pine nuts over low heat until the fragrance fills your kitchen and your roommates ask, “Wow, what is that amazing smell you brilliant cook?” They burn FAST, so make sure the flame is low and shake the pan frequently. Set aside to cool.

In a food processor add your basil leaves, garlic (optional), pinenuts, chili (optional), some sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a couple of squeezes of lemon juice and blend until coarse. With the machine still running, drizzle in the olive oil until the desired consistency. You don’t want your pesto to look too oily, so stop the machine before it’s too late. I personally prefer it creamy and spreadable.

Stir in freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. Taste and season accordingly. I like to store mine in a sealed container with a layer of saran wrap pressed right onto the surface to help with color and freshness. Try this with ice cream as well to prevent crystallization.

Basil tends to oxidize rather quickly, so when you notice the brownish top layer, it’s fine, just a little ugly. The acid in lemon juice helps slow down oxidization, and I also like the brighter note it brings to my pesto. If you want really green pesto to stay green, you can add Vitamin C powder to it—plus it’ll prevent scurvy. OR, you can add a little spinach to it, but I’m still scared of ecoli. Try making pesto with other herbs, or even artichokes. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Malva Pudding

PHOTO: Quyen's Malva Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream (I didn't have time to make ice cream). Pardon the missing green sprig of mint.

As mentioned in my other blog, I had my first attempt at Malva Pudding (a traditional South African dessert.) Wherever we went, Thabo and I would always order Malva Pudding. Some places totally missed, but the pudding at SOULSA in Melville and KITCHEN BAR in Bryanston hit the mark exactly. Ethereal clouds of sweetness that melted in your mouth...Absolutely divine.

The ones that missed were just way too sweet, and the texture too grainy, like cornbread. You definitely need ice cream or custard to cut the sweetness, and everything just tastes better a la mode, right?

I was horrifically delighted as I poured the boiling cream, butter, and sugar mixture over the cake immediately after it came out of the oven, the mixture still bubbling as it seeped its way into every crevice of the evenly browned cake. It seemed like way too much liquid, but the cake drank up every ounce.

I'm not sure if every recipe includes vinegar in it, but I found that to be interesting--if you've made Red Velvet Cake you'll know that that has vinegar in it as well, but this used regular milk, not buttermilk. I wonder if there is still some sort of chemical reaction that occurs, as I've noticed in both recipes you always want to stir in the vinegar right before it goes into the oven. I'll do some research and get back to you on that one!

So here's my first attempt at Malva Pudding. Next time I think I'll use about a quarter cup less of cream to pour on top, and maybe pour half the mixture, wait a little, then spoon the rest, as it wasn't perfectly distributed. Tastewise, though, it was fantastic--not too sweet, moist, yummy. I could actually bake it a little longer, though, as it wasn't evenly browned as I thought upon first inspection.

If you'd like to try it, this is the recipe I used.

Wish you could have a bite,

Tonight's dinner:

Pesto Chicken Pizza (homemade of course, with toasted pignoli, or pine nuts)

I just bought a new baking stone, since my other one cracked for some reason. If you have an oven that turns on and off, a baking stone helps regulate the temperature, providing a calibrated environment for your delicate baked goods. It's also good to have an internal thermometer.

OK, I'm off to prep my pizza dough...