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halibut en papillote

8 May

20130508-224013.jpgWhen J and I moved into our new place, we bought this big awesome dining table that seats 10 people. Rather ridiculous considering it takes up nearly half of our living room space, but we were determined to entertain!

It’s now been 6 months and we’ve had one dinner party…

It was a glorious meal, sans the fruit flies that decided to hatch in my mushroom growing box and terrorize us by dive-bombing our wine glasses. Though I must say, that’s a great way to go. Drowning in a juicy zin.

We started with this incredibly easy roasted feta with thyme honey, Castelvetrano olives, and a nutty, oily manchego smuggled in from M’s Spain trip. Heaven.

For our salad course, we did a super easy romaine with April Bloomfield’s lemon caper dressing featuring whole segments of lemons, capers, shallots, and mustard. I loved the idea of the dressing, but in practice it was just too darn mustardy to the point where it reminded me of the stanky smell of a Burger King whopper where the yellow mustard had been warmed by meat. Okay, I’m being a little extreme. Everyone really liked this salad except me.

For our main course, I decided on halibut en papillote. I prepared 8 individual packets ahead of time and popped them into the oven, while we enjoyed our cheese. It couldn’t have been easier and I could tell everyone was pleased to have a toasted parchment gift to tear open at their place setting. The halibut itself was perfectly cooked and delicate in flavor, since J and I trekked over to Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley for the best of the best.

halibut en papillote
an aquatic surprise

6-8 oz individual portions of halibut
handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
thin slices of fennel bulb
thin slices of lemon
splash of dry white wine
1/2 T butter, cut into pieces
parchment paper

Place a thin layer of fennel slices in the center of a foot-long piece of parchment paper. Lay one piece of halibut on your fennel pile. Season with salt and pepper. Top with a layer of cherry tomatoes cut-size down. Top with 2-3 slices of lemon. Place pieces of butter on top of the lemon and finish with a splash of white wine.

Begin sealing your packet by folding your parchment paper in half, from left to right, over your fish like a book cover. Start at the fold on at the bottom left and folder the corner over to form a small triangle. Continue folding over 1-inch sections of the paper at a slight angle, like the folds of a fan. As you work your way around the rectangle, you’ll notice you’ll begin to form a half-moon shape. When you come to the end, twist it like a butterscotch candy wrapper until your package is sealed airtight. Bake at 425 F for around 12 minutes depending on the thickness of your halibut.

Serve your parchment packages unopened and let guests tear open their own portions. Bon appetit!

kale salad with apples and pecorino

24 Jul


Yikes! Just found this draft on my iPad WordPress app from a year ago! Still seems legit, so enjoy…

My grandma is really into wearing “batwing” sweaters, which are immensely popular right now (she’s been wearing them since the 80’s when they were last trendy). Like fashion, what’s old is always new again in gastronomy. Brussels sprouts are on every menu, anchovies are back on pizzas, and kale salad is the new arugula salad.

I was turned on to this particular recipe around Memorial Day, when my friend B, a New Yorker, prepared this on our annual girls weekend in Big Sur. We had procured beautiful salmon steaks, sweet summer corn, artichokes, and bunches of kale from a farmer’s stand. B had been obsessively making this Kale Salad recipe on Food52 for several months and was convinced we’d love it, too.

We hated it! I may have likened eating her raw kale leaf concoction to chewing leathery cardboard. Raw kale…seriously?!

It wasn’t until September that I noticed a pre-packaged, pre-dressed kale salad being sold at Berkeley Bowl and decided to give my leathery friend another taste. Dressed like an Asian slaw with red cabbage, carrots, sesame seeds and a rice vinaigrette, this kale salad was far less intimidating and absolutely delicious.

The difference? This salad had been sitting on the shelf fully dressed for several hours and the acid in the dressing had broken down the tough kale leaves into a palatable texture similar to a thin cabbage leaf — crispy and fresh, yet perfectly infused with dressing.

Inspired by my discovery, I retried B’s salad and let it sit for several hours before nibbling. One bite, and my prejudice against raw kale changed forever. The salad was even great the next day!

kale salad with apples and pecorino
warning: this WILL leave you with suboptimal breath

* 5 cups curly kale, torn into small pieces, thick stems removed
* 2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
* juice of 1/2 of a lemon
* salt & pepper
* 1 apple
* 1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped and toasted (I left these out)
* 1/4 cup pecorino romano or parmesan, shaved

In a large bowl, combine the kale, onions, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to really blend the dressing and rub it into the greens. Let the salad sit while you prepare the rest.

Core the apple. Thinly slice from stem to end. Add the apples to the salad and gently fold together so they don’t break in half. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts and cheese shavings.

salt roasted branzini

13 Mar

I’d love it if someone would describe me as “salt of the earth.” In an alternate universe where I am a farmer or a coffee plantation owner with a shacky chic house and rattan furniture, it would be so.

The reality is that I am writing this post in the midst of a packed bus, wrapping my thumbs aggressively on my iPhone. There’s a large man to my left flubbing several inches over the seat demarcation and an old Asian lady to my right yelling on her phone so loudly that I can hear it through my earbuds (I’m blasting the hipster cool soundtrack from Drive).

Back to my salt of the earth fantasies… I’m slicing open my beautiful silver-skinned, clear-eyed branzini. I’m stuffing her belly full of thinly sliced leeks and lemons. I’m cracking an egg open daintily with one hand and stirring my whites into a bowl of powdery salt. In a few minutes I’ll delicately mound salt around my branzini like the sand sculptures made when I was a kid.

And when I crack into the hardened salt dome after baking, the scent of the sweet sea and citrus steams from within. In that instant, I can think of nothing more perfect.

salt roasted branzini
savoring the salt of the earth

* 1 tablespoons coriander seeds
* 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
* 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
* 1 1.5-pound cleaned scaled branzini
* 1/2 cup thinly sliced leek (white and pale green parts only)
* 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
* 1 large egg whites
* 3 tablespoons water
* 3 cups coarse sea salt
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* Lemon wedges

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 450°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil, leaving generous overhang. Combine first 3 ingredients in small skillet. Toast spices over medium heat until beginning to pop, stirring frequently, about 9 minutes. Cool spices. Coarsely crush in mortar with pestle or in heavy resealable plastic bag with mallet.

Rinse fish inside and out; pat dry. Sprinkle all of spice mixture in fish cavity. Stuff with leek and lemon slices.

Whisk egg white and water in large bowl to blend. Add salt. Stir until salt is evenly moistened. Spread 2 cups salt mixture in 3-inch-wide, 10-inch-long strip (or use more to equal length of fish) on prepared sheet. Place fish on salt. Cover fish completely with remaining salt mixture, pressing to seal.

Bake fish 15 minutes. Let stand in crust 10 minutes.

Using large knife, rap crust sharply to crack. Brush salt from fish. Cut into portions and serve, passing extra-virgin olive oil and lemon wedges alongside. Serves 2.

red, red meat: harissa tri-tip roast

20 Feb

Red meat. It’s arguably the most controversial of all meats, second only to foie gras, of course. There’s just something about tearing into a huge slab of bloody steak that makes a lady really feel like a lady.

Submitting to my carnivore cravings, an affordable yet hearty tri-tip roast made its way into the shopping cart. With a quick tap through the Epicurious app, I found an intriguing recipe for Harissa-Crusted Tri-Tip Roast.

Normally, I’m not much for African food. I always think of  blobs of mashed meats you have to eat with your hands shaped like a cup–no thanks! Harissa, however, is a spicy chili condiment that comes from Tunisa, which borders the Mediterranean and has a cuisine more akin to the Middle East than the Ethiopian African cuisine I tend to think of.

Making harissa appealed to my pseudo ethnically diverse culinary explorations–and doubly interesting because this particular recipe utilizes one of my very favorite Asian chili pastes, sambal oelek, cousin of more famous sriracha. Oddly enough, when my harissa was all blended it up, it tasted reminiscent of Taco Bell mild sauce. This is a truly international recipe, indeed!

As for how the harissa tasted on my tri-tip roast… it was hot, garlicky, tomatoey meatliciousness! Loved it. And, it added an appealing red slather atop my beautiful slab of red meat.

harissa-crusted tri-tip roast
red, red meat

* 1 3/4 teaspoons caraway seeds
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 6 garlic cloves
* 1/4 cup sambal oelek
* 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
* 1 1/4 teaspoons chili powder
* 1 1 3/4- to 2-pound tri-tip beef roast, most of fat layer trimmed

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toast caraway seeds in small nonstick skillet over medium heat until seeds darken and begin to smoke, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add olive oil and garlic cloves to caraway seeds in skillet. Cover; remove from heat. Let stand 1 minute. Pour caraway mixture into processor. Add chili paste, tomato sauce, cumin, and chili powder and blend until garlic cloves are pureed. Season harissa to taste with salt.

Sprinkle beef all over with salt and pepper; place beef, fat side down, on rack on rimmed baking sheet. Spread with half of harissa. Turn beef over; spread remaining harissa over top and sides. Roast beef until thermometer inserted into center registers 125°F to 130°F for medium-rare, about 35 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes. Slice and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

portugese bean soup

25 Dec

I woke up with the sun today — I always forget how brightly it shines here in Hawaii. It’s Christmas day and it will be no less than 85 degees with golden sunshine and breezy tradewinds that will keep me from sweating too much.

For the rest of the nation, it’s probably a soup day. You know what I mean, after tearing open your pile of presents, it’s time to cosy up next to the fire and play with your new Kindle Fire (anyone actually buy that sh*t?). For lunch or dinner, nothing sounds better than a hearty bowl of soup made by mom or grandma.

While Christmas shopping, I spotted this cookbook at Williams Sonoma. 365 soup recipes?! Ridiculous and yet a mental note was filed under “must-haves.” It’d be even more ridiculous if I still lived here in Hawaii because no one eats soup here. That is, except for Portugese Bean Soup!

Made with smoky ham hocks, Portugese sausage (like a spicy linguica with a bit of stink, made locally in Hawaii), vegetables, beans, and macaroni, it’s a classic peasant food–hearty, filling and economical. It’s the best soup you could eat on Christmas day, or any day for that matter.

portugese bean soup
hawaiian style

1 smoked ham hock
1 (10 ounce) portugese sausage (or spicy cajun-flavored pork sausage, or even better, kimchi portugese sausage)
1 onion, chopped
2.5 quarts water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 celery rib, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 (15 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
1 (15 ounce) can white kidney beans
1 cup macaroni

Place ham hock, half of the chopped onion, and water in pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Meanwhile, slice sausage into bite-sized pieces (I like cubes) and saute until browned. Add half of the sausage into boiling mixture.

Remove meat from ham hock, chop, and return to soup (I toss the skin back in for flavor). Add two bouillon cubes, potatoes, celery, carrots, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, boil macaroni according to instructions on package. Drain and set aside.

Stir in cabbage and kidney beans, cook until the cabbage has softened, about 10 minutes. Spoon soup into bowls and stir in a scoop or two of the macaroni. You can also add the macaroni directly into the soup pot, but it will get soggy after awhile.

david lebovitz’s roasted figs

6 Nov

Somewhere between breakfast and dessert lies figs.

One of my favorite food memories is devouring a hot slice of baguette dripping with melted gorgonzola, topped with plump fresh figs and a liberal drizzle of honey. Only after the dinner guests had licked the cutting board clean did the cook inform us he had picked the figs from the sketchy tree in the backyard of his apartment in the Mission.

I f-ing hate “urban foraging.”

Now these beautiful figs, I picked right off the tree at my friend’s vineyard (thanks, Monsons!). As we squished through the muddy orchard rows, I greedily yanked at these black turgid teardrops.

Overwhelmed with my sack of 30 or so gorgeously ripe figs, I decided to snack on a few au naturale, but roast the rest using David Lebovitz’s recipe to savor over the week. He says you’re supposed to spoon these babies over yogurt or ice cream, but it’s really tough not to just pop them like candy.

roasted figs
it’s breakfast, lunch and dinner

1 pound fresh figs, sliced in half pole-to-pole
4-6 branches fresh thyme (I used a sprinkling of dried)
2 tablespoons red wine (I used left over pinot)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
three 1-inch strips of fresh lemon zest

Use a baking dish that will allow you to bake the figs in a single layer. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Toss the figs in a large baking dish with the thyme, red wine, brown sugar, honey, and lemon zest. Turn the figs so that they are all cut side down in the baking dish, in a single layer.

Cover the baking dish snugly with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the figs are softened and cooked through. When done, remove the baking dish from oven and let the figs cool completely. Roasted figs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. 6-8 servings.

ottolenghi’s soba noodles with eggplant and mango

10 Oct

Lately I’ve noticed more and more of my friends and their kids have grown allergies to certain kinds of food: dairy, gluten, nuts, fruit, chocolate (sad!), etc. I don’t know if science has improved allowing us to identify specific allergies, or if it’s a result of over processing our food to the point where our bodies begin to reject everything. Thankfully, the only thing I’m sure my body doesn’t agree with is Indian food, but that’s another story.

So when it comes to potluck parties, I always try to bring a dish everyone can enjoy sans epipen. With a vegetarian on the guest list, I turned to my newest cookbook acquisition, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, famous in the UK for his gourmet food-to-go shops and vegetarian column in The Guardian.

I’m a huge eggplant fan. Any Asian variety will do–I just cannot stand the standard American-Italian fatties that are chock-full of hard seeds. I scooped up a giant bag of six Chinese eggplants on the discount shelf of the Chinese grocery store. 3-bucks…SCORE! I also found ripe mangos (you definitely need ripe ones for the sweetness) in the discount bin for a buck. Old school Chinese!

I let this baby sit and marinate in its juices for the 2 hours as directed and wow, did the flavor intensify! The noodles got a little mushy too, so I’d say an hour max.

soba noodles with eggplant and mango
vegetarian brits make great asian food? yes.

* 1/2 cup rice vinegar
* 3 T sugar
* 1/2 t salt
* 2 garlic cloves
* 1/2 fresh red chile, finely chopped
* 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
* grated zest and juice of 1 lime
* 1 cup sunflower oil
* 2 eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice
* 8 to 9 oz soba noodles
* 1 large ripe mango, cut into 1/4-inch thick strips
* 1 and 2/3 cups basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some use Thai basil, but much less of it)
* 2 and 1/2 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
* 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chili and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the eggplant in three or four batches. Once golden brown remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel.

In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.