Friday, February 20, 2009

Fideos in saffron-pimentón broth with mussels and linguiça

This is a variation on a dish I made awhile back, and though breaking up capellini to make a version of fideos seems more legit, I think the clams were a better addition than mussels. The problem with mussels (always) is that their thin shells buckle under the weight of their neighbors, and a good handful seem to be broken right out of the bag (this time, the nice fella at New Seasons even inspected each handful, but missed 6 or 7 that had little hairline cracks). Buttery littlenecks are just tougher. Oh well.

I sliced up the linguiça and some onions and browned them up in a little olive oil with some minced garlic. I threw in the broken capellini-as-fideos and stirred them around the savory, orange oil as one would for a risotto, then added about a cup of white wine, a crumbly pinch of saffron threads and a fingertip-sized bump of pimentón, a few pinches of kosher salt and some cracks of pepper. Dumped in the last jar of my home-canned Dr. Wyches Yellow orange heirloom toms and a rinse-out jarful of water, then covered and simmered for about 15 minutes. When the fideos were al dente, I tossed in the scrubbed and de-bearded mussels and reapplied the lid. Sprinkle copious chopped parsley and break open some baguette for soppage.

Serve with tiny tumblersful of cheap Tempranillo and the old tango records that you got for fifty cents at a yard sale years ago, yet are just now listening to for the first time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lychee red curry

This is my spin on one of my favorite Thai dishes, a classic pineapple red curry. Not that it needed spinning, I just had some canned lychee, but no pineapple. The bromeliaceous tang of the pineapple was missing a little (and no amount of lime could mitigate that), but the slightly savory, sweet pop of juicy orbs was really perfect in its own right. My curiosity was rewarded.

I've been sitting on this for a few days, on the fence about whether or not to even post it. I thought about revisiting it in the summer, when I could use fresh lychee and get glare-free photos, when I'd make time to make fresh curry paste from scratch instead of scooping it from a tub.

I remember a time when to me, this was really authentic Thai cooking. Knowing where to buy Mae Ploy, at one time, meant I was braver than the rest of my friends. It required an adventure into an Asian market that smelled of dried fish, incense and moth balls, and bringing home a tub of red or green curry was like sneaking a secret weapon into my kitchen. My friends would ooh and aah at how much my curry tasted like the "real" stuff at the restaurants.

Nowadays, an adventure into an Asian market means I come home with armloads of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal rhizomes and chiles, jars of shrimp paste and discs of palm sugar and tamarind. These are the bases from which I construct my nowadays curries, and for me, it was a major phone-in to make dinner from a tub (even though I'm pretty sure that's what the restaurants use).

But it was so tasty.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meatball sandwich with sautéed veggies and provolone

Did everyone have a nice Valentine's Day? That's good, me too. I haven't been around that much lately on account of not giving a shit about blogging, but I did make some nice meatball sammiches with sauteed peppers, onions and mushrooms last night.

I made the meatballs by mixing a pound of ground beef (I got the less-lean kind but should probably start paying better attention to that stuff); a quarter of an onion and two cloves of garlic (both minced); a few fat pinches of dried oregano and thyme, salt and pepper, a few squirts of Worcestershire sauce, a slightly-beaten egg and a handful of breadcrumbs (I make my own but you can use panko or the shit in a can if you want). Mix until just combined. Using the same technique as for the Swedish meatballs, just scoop, scoop, scoop with your little 1/8 cup-sized ice cream scoop until you have 15 perfect little meatballs on your Silpat. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, until golden.

Whilst the meatballs are roasting (and five minutes later, you added some parbaked pan au levain loaves to the oven), warm up some of the tomato sauce you canned last summer, but add more garlic and herbs, and some grated parm for good measure. Simmer until warmed through. In another pan, sauté some sliced onions, sweet peppers and mushrooms in a little olive oil.

Pull the meatballs from the oven and roll them around in the warm sauce to coat. Load the meatballs, sautéed veg and extra sauce onto the bread, then top with a couple slices of provolone. Slide the whole thing back under the broiler for a minute or two to get the cheese melty and browned.

Serve with a green salad and Nathan Petrelli's self-righteousness.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chicken enchilada soup and kabocha squash taquitos

I pulled some leftover soup from the freezer the other day, to make room for a tub of ice cream, and got around to heating it up for dinner. You can scarcely contain your excitement, right? Well sit tight, pretties, it actually gets interesting.

The soup was some of my spicy chicken-chile soup, or what I like to call sopa del fuego (aka "soup of fire", or Napalm in a Bowl). Holy shit, you know what? When I was pulling up that link just now and saw the recipe and photos of that Napalm in a Bowl post from January 2008, I came to the realization that the soup we ate tonight was literally the same soup from 13 months ago. I need clean out my freezer more often.

It was still good though! And slightly improved. Here's how, in a winding tangent: I was craving a crunchety taquito-type thing, had some leftover roasted kabocha that needed eating, and figured hey, squash - properly spiced and seasoned with cumin, achiote, Mexican oregano (actually a verbena) and diced chipotle* en adobo and onion - would be an excellent taquito filler. I hadn't, however, planned for the epic fail of rolling stiff corn tortillas without proper steaming, and ended up with several cracked and torn tortillas which were summarily tossed into the soup. Hence, enchilada soup. Besides, the broth is pure enchilada sauce. Top it with a dainty quenelle of crème fraîche (the last of it, I swear) and torn cilantro.

The rest of the tortillas were fail-free after microwaving them in a bowl (with another on top as a dome lid) with a sprinkle of water to hydrate. Scott helpfully suggested rolling them like streudel, so I gave the tortillas a complete smear of the squash mixture before rolling them up like cigarillos. Spritzed with some cooking spray (I only use the pure canola oil version that Trader Joe's makes) and baked until toasty in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Rotating halfway helps address the hotspot in my oven and ensure even browning. Next time I'll totally add black beans and sweet corn to make them more nutritionally complete, then someone will comment that they look like Southwest Eggrolls from Chili's and I will get hell of Google traffic from assholes who want to recipes to cook garbage chain restaurant food at home (you think I'm kidding? More than 10% of all of my traffic comes from people Googling the Olive Garden's chicken gnocchi soup.)

Serve with a lime margerita (on the rocks) and Pepto Bismol (straight up).

*I'm taking this opportunity to spank everyone who insists on spelling and (pronouncing) it "chipolte". Let's get it right, people. Say it with me: chee-pote-lay. Chipotle. And remember, when in doubt, Google is your friend.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Strozzapreti with curry-kabocha cream and paneer

...or, I ain't mad at a little fusion once in awhile, did I ever claim to be made of stone?

This sounds so wrong. I'd probably have been a little less off-base just putting this on basmati rice, in retrospect, but I wanted the toothiness of pasta with a squashy-curried cream sauce and squeaky paneer (purchased as a fool's substitute for cheese curds for my Super Bowl poutine). Kinda like north Indian mac and chee, I guess. I dunno. It's cold out n'shit.

I initially planned to leave the roasted kabocha in chunks, but it disintegrated upon a fingertip's touch and I ended up folding it into the creamy Béchamel instead. I added some hot curry powder, a scant pinch of my Seven Spice™ and some dhana jeera (a blend of coriander and cumin seed). Lots of fresh grated ginger and a pinch of crushed fennel seed, then I folded in some butter and crème fraîche to finish with extra dairy twang. Top with another googe of crème fraîche and some chopped cilantro (and S&P to taste), and it's like your Indian mom made you her best attempt at trashy American comfort food.

Serve with warm garlic naan and Madlib the Beat Konducta.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Yaki gyoza

I wanted to make gyoza with some of the ground pork from the quarter hog we bought, but having never made them before, had to thumb through my (only) two Japanese cookbooks for help. One of my books is just a pretty sushi book, but my favorite Japanese cookbook (maybe one of my favorite cookbooks, period) is the Japanese Country Cookbook by Russ Rudzinski. Funny, I never noticed a gaijin wrote that book until just now when I cited it, but it's really moot because these are authentic home recipes. Unfortunately, there's no recipe for gyoza, so I decided to shoot from the hip (my always wont).

Scott and I had gyoza in Tokyo that were incredible (Hakata hitokuti gyoza, a specialty of the Fukuoka Prefecture), and though I knew I'd never recreate the perfectly crusted sheet of potstickers, I figure the worst I'd end up with would be cooked pork meatballs. I could live with that. I got started.

I mixed together the ground pork, a chiff of napa cabbage, some finely sliced scallion, (too much) minced garlic and some grated ginger and a little finely-minced shiitake. I added a splash each of tamari, Chinese black vinegar, sake, sesame oil and mirin, and some pinches of salt.

I just sort of went on instinct as to how to actually make the gyoza, but it worked okay. My Asian friends are probably squeamish at the lack of proper folds - I'm sure their grandmas' nimble fingers get fifty creases along the top edge - but I think I did okay for a gaijin on her first try. I just took the gyoza wrapper, added a spoonful of filling, wetted one edge with a fingertip of water, and then pressed and creased until it was sealed. I steamed them in my bamboo steamer for about ten minutes (next time I will line with parchment to avoid the sticking) until they looked soft on top, then pan-fried them to get a nice crust on the bottom. I served these with a basic dipping sauce of tamari, rice vinegar and mirin and a quickle sopai no daikon that looks like every other sunomono I make, but with daikon instead of cucumber or green muskmelon.

Serve with a cold Sapporo and classic J-Pop hits.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Putting things into perspective

Last night Scott and I were wandering downtown after a couple drinks and some comic book shopping, and stopped into a new little French bistro for dinner. We took a seat in the half-full Chez Joly and ordered up a few items from the modestly-priced menu, had a glass of wine and a pleasant chat with the maître'd for a minute about business and whatnot. I gave him my card and assured him I don't review restaurants (I don't, really).

One thing that struck me as a little odd was that the place was only half-full, on first Thursday, in the Pearl. One of the owners (M. Joly himself) came to greet us and apologized for the loudness. It wasn't busy enough to be considered loud by anyone under 70, and it seemed to me that he was really coddling this image of a bustling bistro when in fact, it was kind of a sad little place that reeked of trying too hard. For the price point, I would've preferred a little more grit, more tattoos on the staff, and any music other than the soundtrack of La Vie En Rose.

Conversely, I'd happily have paid $10 more for any of the items if they had been prepared more thoughtfully. The duck was a skosh past medium-well and any flavor remaining after the skin was removed was obliterated by the surfeit of pink peppercorns dashed across the dish. The moules frites Scott ordered were fantastic, though, and worth it alone. They arrived propped on hunks of baguette, ready to sop up the sexy bivalve liquor and wine broth. The escargots were similarly pleasant, though the pâte (a rillette of chicken liver with pistachios) was unremarkable.

It occurred to me on the way home, my stomach stretched in painful distention, that I can afford to bitch that my fancy dinner in a French bistro wasn't good enough. Somewhere along my life's path, I became some entitled cunt who looks down her nose at frites that aren't shoestring-thin. I wasn't always this way. (There is a point that I'm going to make, here, I promise.)

When I was a kid, as I've mentioned myriad times, I lived in poverty. My family received every form of government assistance offered, and our meals frequently came from the Oregon Food Bank when the food stamps couldn't be stretched all month. The Oregon Food Bank, unlike many other family aid non-profits and food banks, is not affiliated with any church and does not proselytize the recipients of their services. They just feed hungry people. With the downturn in the economy, requests for emergency food are skyrocketing to record levels, and they need your help.

In the name of staying true to my roots, and maintaining whatever shred of street cred I have left, I've decided to participate in the Blog For Food campaign (in addition to making a donation myself). Please click the logo at the top of this page or any of the links I've inlined in this post and make a donation.

To be part of the official Blog For Food tally, please enter "Blog For Food" in the tribute section on the OFB donation page. Donations may also be mailed to the Oregon Food Bank at PO. Box 55370Portland, OR 97238-5370. Please mention "Blog For Food." The campaign will run from February 1 to February 28, 2009. They're trying to raise (a modest) $5000.

Thanks, you guys! Just think, your donation today may help another precocious little girl grow up to be a snarky food blogger like me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Spaghetti alla Bottarga with Meyer lemon and parsley

I was going to call it "Spaghetti alla Bottarga con Limone e Prezzemolo" but that seemed too fussy, so I broke half of it into English. That way I can confuse the Italians and English-speakers who find me accidentally through Google. Plus I don't know how to say "Meyer lemon" in Italian.

So, I got some bottarga. Color me smug. I didn't win any during that auction last Christmas, but was able to procure some anyways through a combination of whining and extremely good fortune. A generous Floridian fisherman took pity on me and sent a little sunshine my way, and I didn't even have to show him my tits.

Bottarga is a sun-dried, salt-cured mullet roe sac (though tuna is also used in Sardinia). This stuff is intensely flavorful, and little shaving is all you need. It's like the flavor of Mother Ocean and rich egg yolk fecundity concentrated down to a briny little ochrecake, and begs for citrus, olive oil and minerally herbs (I'm also interested in tasting it as karasumi to enjoy with cold sesame soba and premium sake but that's another day).

This hot little bitch doesn't play second fiddle to anyone (the bottarga, not me). I merely shaved it over some fresh spaghetti that I'd tossed aglio e olio with the zest and juice of a Meyer lemon, some chopped parsley and lots of good, crunchy sea salt. I warmed the garlic and lemon zest/juice in the olive oil before tossing it together to volatilize the fragrant essence, but other than boiling pasta, I didn't even have to cook to do this dish proper justice.

Serve with a chewy French batard (to sponge up the crumbles and drips) and humble indenture (thank you, Robert).