Archive | March, 2011

sukjunamul: korean-style bean sprouts

30 Mar

My goodness it’s hot out! According to the needle of my 1970’s thermostat, it reached a tropical 80-degrees in my western-facing apartment today.

As I sit here in my little greenhouse, sweating more than is appropriate in March, all I can think of is vegetables. Cool, crisp, watery plants. I want to shove as many as possible into my mouth, pronto. This must be how it feels to be a brontosaurus — giant and slowed by climate assault, and all you want to do is eat trees.

My refreshing vegetable of choice is the mung bean sprout. Mung beans are recognized in Asian culture as a “cool” food, which is easy to digest and has a cooling effect on the body. In Korean cooking, mung bean sprouts are blanched, seasoned, and served in an appetizer set of small dishes (including kimchi) called banchan.

I love Korean food because it’s so simple to prepare. It seems Koreans are only aware of five spices: garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and red pepper paste. Once you have these basics in your cupboard, you can make almost any Korean dish, including this refreshing vegetable side.

sukjunamul: korean-style bean sprouts
a crispy oasis

* 1 lb bean sprouts
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
* 2 teaspoons sesame oil
* 2 teaspoons minced garlic
* 1/3 cup finely chopped green onion

Add bean sprouts to boiling water and simmer for five minutes. Drain well.

Stir in the salt, sesame seeds, sesame oil, garlic, and green onions. Saute in a saucepan for a minute. Serve room temperature or cold.

bon appétit’s browned butter brownies

28 Mar

I feel particularly devilish watching an entire stick of butter melt into a frothy pool. If you wait a little longer, foam gives way to reveal brown specks with a distinct toasty aroma. It brings me great joy to pour this liquid gold over pasta, especially homemade butternut squash ravioli.

On a recent cover, Bon Appétit featured a nefarious stack of Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts. Browned butter in a brownie? Yes, please!

I whipped up a batch for a trip to wine country knowing they’d pair nicely with my favorite late harvest zin at Bella. I love that these brownies achieve the chewy and fudgey texture of a store-bought mix with a unique dimension of nutty flavor from the browned butter. I used unsweetened cocoa power from Scharffen Berger and substituted semi-sweet chocolate chips for the walnuts. Perhaps the extra chocolate chips were a bit over-the-top, but I’m sure any stoner would whole-heartedly approve.

browned butter brownies
gnaw-ty chocolate treat

* 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1 1/4 cups sugar
* 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 large eggs, chilled
* 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
* 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or walnuts)

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8 x 8 x 2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1⁄4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in chocolate chips (or nuts). Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 35 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies. Makes 16 pieces.

tsukemono: fresh cucumber pickles

16 Mar

Contrary to popular belief, sushi in San Francisco is complete crap with the exception of two microscopic sushi joints in Japantown. Both seat only a dozen guests and require reservations, which are tricky to get when neither answer the phone — and when they do, they hardly speak English.

Kiss Seafood is my undisputed favorite for impeccably fresh fish, on-par with what I’m used to back home in Hawaii. Ino Sushi has a slightly lower quality of fish, but amazing traditional tsukemono dishes (fresh pickles). Happily, I will slurp up the entire bowl of cold, crunchy cucumber slices soaked in a savory vinegar brine. I treasure the delicate paper thin slices of baby cucumbers no wider than a nickel in diameter.

At home, I attempted my own bastardized version of traditional tsukemono using a seeded English cucumber, dried wakame, and instant dashi. J and I were pleasantly surprised by the spot-on result and ate all of the pickles in just one sitting!

ino-inspired cucumber tsukemono
to pickle your fancy

* 1 Japanese or English cucumber (peeled, seeded, and sliced very thin on a mandolin)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons dried wakame (reconstituted for 10 minutes in cold water)
* 1 teaspoon instant dashi (dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water)
* 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
* Bonito flakes (optional)

Combine liquid ingredients in non-reactive bowl. Add cucumbers and drained wakame. Marinade in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Serve as a side dish topped with bonito flakes as a garnish.

Since these are fresh pickles, they must be served day-of or at the latest the next day, or they will get mushy.

i want my baby back ribs

15 Mar

Growing up, dinner at Tony Roma’s was reserved for only very special occasions. Nothing says “Happy Birthday” quite like saddling up to a sticky vinyl booth for a rack of baby backs drenched in tangy bbq sauce. Toss in a loaded baked potato, bib, and wet nap, and you’ve got a 5-star dining experience.

As a San Franciscan foodie, I would be scorned for my love of Tony Roma’s non-organic, ketchup-bottle sauced ribs. They will forever remain my dirty little bbq secret.

Hit with a baby back rib craving, I turned to Food Network genius Alton Brown for a suitable stand-in for my prized Tony Roma’s racks. Instead of a wet rub, Alton recommends a brown sugar, salt and chili dry rub, followed by a white wine and vinegar braise.

I opted to infuse my ribs with the dry rub overnight for extra flavor. The 2.5-hour braise in foil resulted in a falling-off-the-bone tender rack — exactly the texture one dreams of. Finally, a reduction of the braising liquid yielded a lovely deep brown bbq sauce, perfect for a finishing glaze.

These ribs have a sweet and tangy flavor, surprisingly reminiscent of Chinese spareribs. As expected, Alton has perfected a flawless technique for succulent baby back ribs… damn good eats!

baby back ribs
ribbed for your pleasure

* 2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs

Dry Rub:
* This recipe makes several batches of dry rub. If more rub is needed, it can be extended by any amount, as long as the ratio of 8:3:1:1 remains the same.
* 8 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
* 3 tablespoons kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon chili powder
* 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon jalapeno seasoning (I omitted)
* 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (I omitted)
* 1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme (I substituted dried thyme)
* 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Braising Liquid:
* 1 cup white wine
* 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
* 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 2 cloves garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of baby back ribs on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, shiny side down. Sprinkle each side generously with the dry rub. Pat the dry rub into the meat. Refrigerate the ribs for a minimum of 1 hour. In a microwavable container, combine all ingredients for the braising liquid. Microwave on high for 1 minute.

Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Open one end of the foil on each slab and pour half of the braising liquid into each foil packet. Tilt the baking sheet in order to equally distribute the braising liquid. Braise the ribs in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer the braising liquid into a medium saucepot. Bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce by half or until of a thick syrup consistency. Brush the glaze onto the ribs. Place under the broiler just until the glaze caramelizes lightly. Slice each slab into 2 rib bone portions. Place the remaining hot glaze into a bowl and toss the rib portions in the glaze.

zuni’s roast chicken with bread salad

9 Mar

I’m a chicken hater. Correction — was a chicken hater. It’s been about six years since I last touched a piece of raw chicken. My aversion to fowl began on the job, when I worked for an ad agency making TV commercials for a chicken farm. Let’s just say I was forced to watch one too many PETA videos during a lunch meeting where I was served a lukewarm chicken breast.

Slowly but surely, I’ve been coming around to the idea of cooking my winged friends once again. For my first endeavor, Zuni Cafe’s famous Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. It’s an epic recipe spanning two days and 1,200 words. Go big or go home, right?

I procured a 3.5 lb organic bird, herbs, Acme bread, arugula and zante currants from the new Haight Street Whole Foods store, which by the way, is the most questionably placed location. I won’t lie, Day 1 of the recipe was tough. I gagged a bit while shoving my fingers between skin and breast forming seasoning pockets for the herbs. I also plucked a few unsavory stray feathers.

Day 2 was all about the bread salad. That thing was a pain in the ass, but worth every step in the end. I had to draw myself a chronological checklist to organize the process (see below the recipe). In my opinion, the bread salad upstaged the bird itself, though J assured me the chicken was a succulent masterpiece of its own.

All in all, it was a highly successful reentry. Kudos to Zuni for the epic recipe.

Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad
from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook (via the Today Show)

For the chicken:
* One small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds
* 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
* Salt
* About 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
* A little water

For the salad:
* Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
* 6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
* 1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
* Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
* 1 tablespoon dried currants
* 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or as needed
* 1 tablespoon warm water
* 2 tablespoons pine nuts
* 2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
* 1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
* 2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
* A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried

Seasoning the chicken (Can be done 1 to 3 days before serving; for 3-1/4- to 3-1/2-pound chickens, at least 2 days)

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough-a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove and herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper {we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken}. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Starting the bread salad (Can be done up to several hours in advance)

Preheat the broiler.

Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Reserve the top and side crusts to use as croutons in salads or soups. Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil very briefly, to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2- to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits, and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside.

Roasting the chicken and assembling the salad

Preheat the oven to 475. Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven, and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 or as low as 450 during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly. If that proves to be the case, begin at that temperature the next time you roast a chicken. If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance browning, and may reduce overall cooking by 5 to 10 minutes.

Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.

While the chicken is roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish and set in the hot oven for a minute or two, just to warm though. Add them to the bowl of bread.

Place a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread-a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well. Since the basic character of the bread salad depends on the bread you use, these adjustments can be essential.

Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the salad bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time.

Finishing and serving the chicken and bread salad

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes of so.

Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.

Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest while you finish the bread salad. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste-the juices will be extremely flavorful.

Tip the bread salad into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter, and nestle the chicken in the salad.

Checklist for Day 2:

Broil bread
Mix vinaigrette
Dress salad
Soak currants

Preheat oven
Warm pan
Put in chicken
Warm pine nuts, add to salad

Wash and dry arugula
Saute garlic and onion
Add currants and stock to salad

Flip chicken
Put salad in oven
Flip chicken

Rest chicken
Swirl drippings
Add drippings to salad
Add arugula
Add vinaigrette

meyer lemon curd bars cockaigne

9 Mar

Every spring, Christina takes a trip to California for a treacherous dose of karaoke, wine tasting, and girly shenanigans. Fortunately, “Girls Gone Wineland” has become an annual affair — three years and counting. Rosie invites us to stay in an adorable guest house, near the citrus groves of her family vineyard. After a night of hot tubbing and Kinect-enabled dance competitions, we begin the day picking perfectly yellow Meyer lemons. At home, I pile the fruit basket high with a bounty of at least 2 dozen!

What better way to celebrate these sweet citrus gems than a batch of luscious lemon bars? This recipe is a favorite of mine from Amanda Hesser’s charming biography (and cookbook), Cooking for Mr. Latte, a gift from my friend Bifen. I love the decadent shortbread crust, which brims with tangy and creamy golden goodness.

meyer lemon curd bars cockaigne
for when life gives you lemons

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
* 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
* 6 large eggs
* 2 1/2 cups sugar (3 cups if using regular lemons)
* grated zest of 2 meyer lemons (1 lemon if using regular lemons)
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons)

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Sift 1 1/2 cups of the flour with the confectioners sugar into large bowl. Cut in the cubes of butter (I used a food processor) until mixture is the size of small peas. Tip into a 13″x9″ pan, then use your fingers to pat and press into the base and 3/4″ up the sides to prevent leaking. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool on a rack, reduce oven temperature to 300-degrees.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Sift remaining flour into the mixture and fold together until smooth. Pour batter into baked crust and put in oven. Bake until top is set, about 35 minutes. Remove pan to rack to cool completely before cutting into 3″x2″ bars. Makes 18 bars.