Monday, December 20, 2010

Prawn and Pomelo Salad--Yam Som Oh

I have had my eye on this recipe for a while.  I was only waiting to cross paths with the fabulous Citrus maxima.  The pomelo, also known as Chinese grapefruit, jabong, shaddock, and pompelmous, is a large citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia. Ancestor to the grapefruit, the pomelo has a rich and intriguing history.  Those who know them as "shaddocks" are invoking the name of the mid 17th century English sea captain who brought the fruit from Polynesia to the West Indies.  The word "pomelo" can be traced back to the Malay pumpulmas, which became the Dutch word pompelmoes.  Pomelos still grow wild in their native Malaysia and Indonesia, and there is evidence that they grew in China as early as 100 BCE.  The fruit is part of the Asian family ritual and believed by the Chinese to be a sign of prosperity and good fortune.  So, I'm going to start eating them all the time...I could use some extra prosperity.

In Thailand the pomelo is called som-oh (ส้มโอ), and its inclusion in this northern Thai salad is fantastic.  This recipe comes from "The Food Of Thailand: A Journey For Food Lovers," available through the link at right. As often occurs with "ethnic" recipes, you may need to have a pantry stocked with ingredients that some of your friends have never even heard of.  This one isn't outlandish, but it does require some extra effort, as it calls for a tablespoon of chili jam, which you'll have to make beforehand.  Let's begin there then, shall we?

Chili jam--naam jaew
-oil for frying
-20 Asian shallots, sliced (I substituted French shallots)
-10 garlic cloves, sliced
-3 tablespoons dried shrimp
-7 long dried chilies, chopped
-3 tablespoons tamarind purée
-6 tablespoons palm sugar
-1 teaspoon shrimp paste (I couldn't find shrimp paste, so I omitted it)

Makes 1 cup.

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the shallots and garlic until golden, then transfer to a food processor.  Fry the chillies and shrimp paste for 1 to 2 minutes, then add to the food pro along with the remaining ingredients and as much of the oil as necessary to make a pourable paste when pulsed.  Put the paste back into the clean wok and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until thick. Be careful not to overcook or you'll end up with a caramelized lump.  Season with salt or fish sauce.  Chili jam is used as a base for recipes, especially stir-fries, as well as a seasoning or accompaniment.  It will keep for several months in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Now for the salad.... 
For the dressing:
-1 tablespoon fish sauce
-1 tablespoon lime juice
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1 tablespoon chili jam
For the salad:
-1 large pomelo
-10 oz. raw medium prawns, peeled and deveined, tails intact
-3 tablespoons shredded coconut, lightly toasted until golden
-3 Asian shallots, finely sliced (again, I substituted French)
-5 bird's eye chilies, bruised (I substituted serranos)
-1 cup mint leaves
-1/3 cup cilantro leaves
-1 tablespoon fried shallots

Boil the shrimp in a large saucepan for 2 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool.  To peel a pomelo, cut a 3/4 inch disc off of the top then deeply score the skin into quarters.  Peel away the skin, remove any remaining pith, and gently separate each segment (see wikihow for a more detailed description). In a large bowl combine the pomelo, prawns, toasted coconut, shallots, chilies, mint and cilantro.  To make the dressing, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chili jam in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Just before serving, add the dressing and toss gently to combine all of the ingredients.  Serve sprinkled with fried shallots.

The flavors, though deep and complex, combine to make a beautiful and surprisingly subtle dish.  I made a very simple veggie pad Thai noodle to accompany the salad.  I also served a sparkling guava cocktail to further elevate the senses and wash everything down.  I look forward to the day when I will once again be eating this salad...IN THAILAND! 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

At the Santa Cruz County Fair with my Phone Camera

This is a photo I took while Lissa and I were riding the ferris wheel at the Santa Cruz County Fair.  I took this photo, as with all of the other photos in this post, with my phone.  So this post is partly a reflection on county fairs, and partly an exposition of phone-camera blogging.

The relationship between my phone camera and my Panasonic Lumix camera is a complex one.  The Lumix knows that when push comes to shove, she is the only camera I really need...and she is confident that she is much more capable than the silly little camera in my phone.  But where I used to take Lumix with us on even the most casual of romps, she now stays back, and my little Droid camera slips into my pocket, with me always.  And Lumix is a little jealous.  But having a camera that lives in your phone, that you have on hand at all pretty cool. Especially when you can use it via different apps that offer a multitude of effects. So, even though I love my Lumix, you may be noticing more snaps from my phone here on TGAL. In addition to the built-in camera, I use the f(x)camera, retro camera, and camera360 apps.

Now let's say a couple words about this fair business.  Fairs, or fayres, have been an important part of our history since antiquity.  There are all kinds of fairs, and each one may have it's own unique feel.  Some fairs are, or have been, commercial nerve centers, driving economies and livelihoods.  Others showcase a particular industry or product, such as farming goods and equipment.

It's fun to be able to see things with fresh eyes, so when my friend Ricardo, who is from Spain, went to the fair a few days before we did, I got to hear him describe what the experience was like.  For most of us who grew up with the "typical American county fair," we know what we are getting into: rides, games, food, animals and quilts and bricks of pink popcorn.  I think much of the draw for us is nostalgia.  We've always gone to the fair, so let's go again!   Still, when Lissa and I went, I couldn't help but to imagine what it may have been like for Ricardo to experience his first American-style county fair.

I try to do this quite often actually.  I call it "living like a tourist," as if you are a visitor in your own world.  When I do it right, it's amazing.  The mundane is all of a sudden transformed into a glorious anomoly.  

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Yellow Dal, Spinich Salad with Yogurt Pistachio Dressing, and Marinated Cherry Tomatoes

Indian inspiration is the name of the game tonight.  In order to get my head in the right space, I popped open a Denogginizer India Pale Ale and put on some bhangra music.  That definitely did the trick.  I'll explain the salad and the tomatoes in a moment, but for now let's talk about dal.  Dal (also spelled dahl, daal or dhal) refers to a preparation of pulses (dried lentils, peas or beans) which have been stripped of their outer hulls and split, or also to the thick stew prepared from these.  Dal is a mainstay of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi cuisine as it is a great source of protein for a balanced diet containing little or no meat.  Most dal recipes are simple to prepare. The standard preparation of dal begins with boiling a variety of dal (or a mix) in water with some turmeric and salt, and then adding a tarka towards the end of the cooking process.  Tarka is a technique whereby whole spices (and sometimes other ingredients such as ginger or sugar) are briefly fried in oil or ghee.
In this case I used yellow dal, simmered in salted water with a couple dashes of curry powder (I was out of turmeric).  My tarka consisted of cumin and fennel seed, ginger and garlic.

Rinse 1 cup of dal until the water runs clear, then place in a large saucepan. Add 3 cups of water, 1 tbsp salt and 2 tsp curry and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until lentils are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Keep warm over low heat.  I wanted a very thick end-product, so I cooked almost all of the water off,  but you can keep the heat very low or add more water if you want a more stew-like consistency.

Next, heat 1/4 C of oil or ghee in a medium skillet over high heat.  Once hot, add the cumin seeds and fennel seeds until they pop, then add the garlic and ginger and saute another minute or so.  Pour mixture over the dal. Taste for salt, and garnish with cilantro.  I used two spoons to make little quenelles.

My marinated tomatoes were extremely simple.  I halved a basket of cherry tomatoes, tossed them in a couple of tablespoons of red chile oil and salt, and let them chill in the fridge until dinner was ready.  They provided some heat and also some acid that really helped balance the meal.

My salad was quite simple as well.  I tossed spinach, thinly sliced red onion, and sliced and seeded cucumber in a lovely pistachio yogurt dressing.  For the dressing, I began by lightly toasting my pistachios on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes (making sure to keep an eye and a nose on them so they don't burn).  I then ground them in the food processor with 1 clove of garlic.  I added the juice from 1 lemon, 2 teaspoons of ground coriander, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1 cup of plain yogurt, and stirred to combine.  I then drizzled in 1/2 C of sunflower oil while the motor was running, added salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and tossed with my salad.  It was a lovely meal, and one that resulted in some fabulous leftovers (post to follow).  Namaste India, for all of your wonderful culinary contributions to our world!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A North American Food Tour-Part I

Well, we mostly toured the U.S. but I can't omit our little stint in Quebec, and we didn't go to Mexico, but "U.S. and Quebec Food Tour" just doesn't have the same North American Food Tour it is!  In case you didn't know, Lissa and I went on a transcontinental train trip.  As you can see from the map on the previous post, we stopped in Chicago, D.C., Montreal, Quebec City, New York, Charlotte, and New Orleans.  In each one of these cities, in addition to other activities, we ate food.  As happy as I am with the gross amounts of great food I stuffed my face with, I could probably do it twice over again.  I mean, these are some great food cities!  So without further ado, let me take take you on a tour of the culinary highlights of our trip.

First stop, Chicago.  This was my first trip to Chi-town, so I had to hit up a couple of the classics: deep-dish pizza and hot dogs.  Let's begin with the pizza.  So, you know how they call pizza "pie"?  Yeah, well deep-dish pizza from Chicago is a freakin' pie!  A piece of deep-dish is as thick as a piece of your Grandma's apple pie, the crust is flaky like pie dough, and it sits in your stomach like a couple pieces of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner.  We considered going the tourist route and visiting Pizzeria Uno or Gino's East, but our host, Leena, persuaded us to check out one of her favorite restaurants, Bella Bacino's.  Overall I thought the restaurant was mediocre, but the pizza was really quite good.  As mentioned above, this kind of pie is no joke.  With the crust towering at around 3 inches, you're dealing with 2 and some inches of cheesy, meaty, saucy, gut-bomby goodness.

Now, Chicago-style hot dogs.  What really sets Chicago dogs apart is the array of condiments.  Complete with mustard, chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt, it is said that a Chicago hot dog has been "dragged through the garden" (wikipedia).  For our dog-devirginization we had to hit up Portillo's.  It was a darn tasty dog--nice snap, soft bun, and all the tasty condiments that you would expect.

Alas, we didn't get to hit up any of Chicago's famous Polish specialties, but we did manage to squeeze in some Greek food!  The famed Greek Islands Restaurant was our destination.  This place is no joke.  It's a big place, and they employ a small army of cooks, bussers, and waiters.  On everyone's name tag is printed their name and city of origin.  I can't remember our waiter's last name, but I think it started with a "p" and ended with an "s" :)   Anyway, it was a great meal and definitely worth a mention here.  Pictured at left is my tender grilled octopus, with Lissa's keftedes (meatballs) and spanikorizo (spinach and rice) in the background.

Our next stop was the nation's capitol.  Perhaps not as well known for its culinary delights as some of our other stops, D.C. did not disappoint--mostly due to one very special experience.  Lissa has family scattered in and around the metro area, so the horns were sounded for a "comeallya" (that's the code name for a get together in her family).  Uncles, aunts, cousins, and significant others gathered for a good-ole' Maryland-style Crab feast.  Now having been born and raised on the west coast when I think crab, I think Dungeness, but this is a whole different thing.  Here we're looking at Blue crabs-Callinectes sapidus.  The meat in Blue crabs is sweet and delicious, but damn is it labor intensive to get it out!  We went down the the wharf with Lissa's cousins and picked up a bushel (about 70-80 crabs).  They season them with Old Bay and steam them right there for you.  I must have eaten 20 crabs when it was all said and done, which yielded at least 12 ounces.  It's a labor of love though, and I savored every last nibble of those little guys.  The only other time I had tried Blue crabs was last year in Veracruz, Mexico.  There we had them stuffed and baked, which required less work on my part, and were delicious (link to my Veracruz post here).

After D.C., we boarded the train again and headed up to the Great White North.  I had been wanting to go to Quebec for some time, and my years of anticipation were not in vain.  Our first stop, Montreal, ended up being one of my favorites of the whole trip.  I love multilingual cultures (Barcelona, Switzerland, Belgium...) and though French is the only official language in Quebec, most Quebecers (in our experience) speak English quite well.  In many of our initial exchanges we were greeted with "Hello, Bonjour..." like a fork in the road that would determine the conversational route ahead.   Food-wise, Quebec is probably most famous for its tourtières (meat pies), and maple desserts, but I came for one thing and one thing only: poutine.  Pronounced "poo-TSIN" this hearty dish is said to taste best after a long night of drinking.  It consists of a pile of french fries topped with cheese curds and beef gravy.  I didn't think it was going to be as good as it really was, but it really was!  Our host, Catherine, directed us to what has been touted by many as the best place to in Montreal to get your poutine on, La Banquise.  With 28 variations of the Québécois diner classic to choose from, it's easy to get nervous.  For my first experience, though, I took a deep breath, and ordered a regular sized classic.  The guy sitting next to us ordered a large poutine Italienne (covered in meat and tomato sauce)...I was glad I ordered the regular size.  The gravy was not nearly as thick as what I am used to, so it really isn't as heavy as you might think.  It was really and truly, awesome.

You got me Montreal!  You lured me in with your je ne sais quoi, and then the poutine was the nail in the coffin.  Now, if I can only find some poutine in Cali....

Part II of the North American Food Tour coming soon.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A North American Food Tour-Part II

Moving on from Montreal, our next pause was in the city of New York.  I'll just say it, I love New York City.   There is a contagious energy coursing through the veins of this city that I happily and
willingly contract.  The rough-edged attitude of New Yorkers is so often mistaken as discourteous, but I have always found people in the Big Apple to be outstandingly gracious.   New Yorkers are also extremely proud of their city, which despite its flaws, makes it that much more enchanting.  Of the six million things to do in the city, eating is certainly one of them and there is no shortage of  establishments (according to the NYC Dept. of Health, more than 20,000) to do so.  With five days to wander the island and its neighboring boroughs and three to four meals a day, we barely made a culinary dent.  Oh, but what a delicious little almost dent it was.  We landed at The Pod Hotel, on E. 51st St between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.  It was late when we got in, but that's not so much an issue around here.  We wandered out into the madness of Times Square and were instantly dizzied.  I consulted the Yelp app on my Droid (love it!) and we stumbled into a nearby restaurant called Havana Central.  It was just what we needed: live music, cocktails, chicharrones de pollo, arroz con pollo, and tostones.  Refreshed, we meandered back to the Pod to rest up and prepare for the next day's meals.

The location of the Pod Hotel is great for many reasons, and upon rising in the morning I found that one of those reasons is the proximity to Ess-a-Bagel on 2nd Ave.  There are many things that New Yorkers claim they do better than anyone else, but none are so clear and true in my opinion as the bagel.  In fact, I have a very difficult time eating bagels anywhere but New York.  Ess-a-bagel's tagline is "Everything on a bagel," and they do offer just about everything.  For me though, I just want my schmear.  One cinnamon raisin bagel with raisin walnut cream cheese and a black coffee...unbeatable.  Guess where we ate breakfast the next day?

We also had to make at least one stop to a Jewish Deli.  We were lucky enough to get to see a live taping of the Late Show with David Letterman (special guest: Bill Murray...awesome!) and we left the theater starving.  So why not go get a pound or so of sliced meat stacked between two pieces of bread at Carnegie Deli?  True, it's a pretty touristy place, but what can I say...we're tourists.  Plus, we sat next to some very nice guys from Jersey and had a great conversation as we noshed.  Anyway, would you look at the size of that sandwich!!  That is the Woody Allen, which is "lotsa corned beef and lotsa pastrami."  It must have weighed a pound and a half. 

Perhaps the culinary highlight of NYC was had in Brooklyn.  We met up with a friend of mine from high school who insisted we meet him and his girlfriend for dinner at a place near his apartment in Bushwick.  Located in a former garage, Roberta's offers a "unique space that has both a handmade and original feel," complete with wood-fired oven, roof-top garden and aviary!  What?!  They also purchase most of their high quality meats from Heritage Foods USA, for whom my friend John happens to work.  Salumi plate, coppa di testa, veal sweatbreads, bibb lettuce salad with dried-cherry vinaigrette, purslane salad with bacon and pears, a couple wood-fired pizzas and a beer or 10 was just about enough to fill us up (note sarcasm).  After dinner, John took us on a tour of the roof-top garden where they grow their tomatoes and herbs, and then we moved over to the dimly lit vegetable garden next door to sit and talk some more.  Thanks John and Nami for such a wonderful evening!

Some other highlights of our stint in the city included roti canai and beef rendang at Nyonya, breakfast at Popover Cafe, cupcakes at The Magnolia Bakery, pistachio and apricot tart at Georgia's Cafe and Bakery, plantains and courve and The Coffee Shop, and the cheese plate at Celeste.  Ah, island life...   We'll be back to gobble up more of your goodies soon enough New York.

After Nueva York, we headed south.  We had only two days and one night in Charlotte, North Carolina, but I made certain that I would eat some barbecue before we left.  Lissa and I used different methods of deciding where to eat on our trip, but in Carolina I decided to rely on Guy.  Yep, Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visited a place in Charlotte called Bar-B-Q King, so I figured we should visit too.  I must admit, it wasn't the best BBQ I've ever had but it was darn good, and since we don't have any barbecue drive-ins in Santa Cruz, I particularly enjoyed the experience.  We shared a pulled pork plate, with slaw and hush puppies on the side.  The meat was slathered with tangy vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce...mmmm.   It was just what we needed to fuel us up for our day trip to beautiful Chimney Rock.

Now, we had planned on driving back in to Charlotte that night to catch our next train to New Orleans, but we got a phone call from Amtrak notifying us that the train had been canceled due to a tropical storm.  After some deliberation and about 15 phone calls, we decided to extend our rental and make our way down to Louisiana by car.  Road trip food can be a scary thing, but I dove in head first and relished the novelty of places like Zaxby's and Waffle House.  There's nothing to be frightened of...well, at least that's what I kept telling myself.

20-some hours later, we arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Just like the original cajuns, we made the same trek from Northeastern Canada down to the bayou, and we were hungry.  Our first meal was The Old Coffee Pot on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter.  They were short staffed and pretty busy so I figured I should occupy my time sipping on a New Orleans classic cocktail (reportedly one of the oldest): The Sazerac.  I ordered the Louisiana Crab Platter (pictured at left): corn and crab bisque, fried soft shell crab, sauteed lump crabcake with shrimp Bienville sauce, broccoli au-gratin and Lyonnaise potatoes.  Lissa had the New Orleans Sampler:  a portion of jambalaya, red beans and rice with Andouille sausage, and a cup of seafood gumbo.  It was a great introduction to NOLA.

After wandering around the French Quarter a bit more, both our appetites and some rain had reappeared so we ducked into Cafe Beignet for a sweet treat.  We really only wanted to share one, but they came three per order so I took one for the team and ate two and a half of them.  We took refuge under an umbrella in the courtyard and listened to the band that was playing.  There were three or four other groups of people doing their best to stay dry.  One couple, though, decided that they had had enough.  So they got up...and started to dance in the rain.  It was a beautiful, beautiful moment.

Before we hobo'd up and left town again, we had one more lovely meal at the Bourbon House, where I had fried oysters, french fries and a fried hush puppy, and the entire plate was coated and lowered into the deep-fryer.  I ordered a neat Maker's Mark and a side of triple-bypass surgery to go along with it.  Lissa had shrimp remoulade and fried green tomatoes.  Dessert: Pecan Pie and Bourbon Milk Punch.  Good.Night.

I'm baaaaaaaaaack

I'm back peoples.  After a one month transcontinental train trip, we ended up crossing 25 states, sleeping in 18 beds, and stopping in 20 cities!  Here is a map of the general path we took...

View To Quebec in a larger map

To give you a quick taste (emphasis on quick) of the trip, I have put together a photo montage of the many snaps taken during our voyage:

Much food was eaten and many good times were had.  More to come on both, soon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pizza Pugliese and Baked White Eggplant

Have you ever wondered why eggplants are named so?  Well, the first hint to ease your curiosity is that they are not always purple.  Some eggplants are pink, some striped pink and white, and others pure white.  Another thing to keep in mind is the shape.  Not all eggplants are oblong.  When you have a look at the variety pictured in this photo (courtesy of Susan at Fatfree Vegan), not much is left to the imagination.  Behold the Egg Plant!  The kind that I used in my recipe, however, was more akin to the eggplants found in this link here on the right:
White eggplant tends to be less seedy and softer than the big purple variety many of us are used to.  I can tell you quite simply that in this baked dish I prepared, they were rendered so smooth and delicate, that Lissa and I were both brought to but one descriptor: butter.  Velvety and rich, I don't know that I have ever had an eggplant dish that brought me so much enjoyment.

                    photo by Susan V.

I'll tell you what I did with the eggplant in a bit but before I get too ahead of myself, let me say a few words about the accompanying pizza.  First off, we must talk crust.  I bought my crust (made of RICE FLOUR) at the local Whole Foods Market.  Much to my chagrin, my body and gluten don't seem to get along too well-I apparently have what is known as a gluten intolerance.  I often simply play ignorant and apologize to my belly later (can't we all just get my tummy?!).  When I do choose to listen to my body, eating out is surely more of a challenge than cooking at home.  Still, certain products are difficult to replicate well.  Often I rely on the experts–bakeries and food companies who have patiently perfected combinations and ratios–rather than experimenting myself.  For example, if you want gluten-free bread, nothing beats Udi's.  I finally found a decent gluten-free pasta from Bionaturae, Arrowhead Mills makes a great GF pancake mix (see my post on yummy pancakes), and Glutino makes one hell of a cracker.  Alas, I had not found a good pizza crust, dry mix or pre-made...until, I saw this crust at Whole Foods.  I had a
feeling it was going to be good the minute I laid eyes on it and indeed it was.  I am of the opinion that pizza crust should be thin and crispy like it has always been in its birthplace, and this crust is just that.  It is more dense than wheat-based crust, but it is the best that I have tried.  So, what did I do with this fabulous rice crust?  I made Pizza Pugliese.  Puglia is the heel on the "boot" of Italy, a place I have not been but would love to visit.  I have seen different recipes for Pugliese pizza, some showcasing olives and capers, others potatoes, but this version is made with caciocavallo cheese, caramelized onions, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  I couldn't actually find caciocavallo, so I substituted an aged provolone (a similar product) which worked beautifully.  Caramelizing onions does require some patience, but it is well worth the wait.  It is just a matter of stirring a big pot of onions until the sugars therein caramelize, which could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  The resulting sweetness of the onions contrasts beautifully with the sharp tang of the cheese, and the bite of the black pepper...mmm, veramente delizioso! 

Back to the eggplant.  What I created was basically an eggplant parmigiano without the parmigiano (I figured we had enough cheese on the pizza).  I lightly fried slices of the eggplant in a little olive oil and set them aside.  I then sauteed a big pile of mushrooms (I used crimini but I'm sure wild mushrooms would be fantastic) and some minced garlic and set that aside.  The eggplant was stacked in a ceramic loaf pan with alternating layers of tomato sauce and mushrooms, eggplant, tomato, mushroom, eggplant and so on.  I had preheated my oven to 350° and placed the pan, covered with foil, inside for 15-20 minutes.  I gave it an extra 5-10 minutes sans foil then brought it out to cool slightly.  A nice slice on each plate, along with a couple slices of pizza and some arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil and salt), and you have a lovely meal.  Buon appetito!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mexican Sole en Papillote and Grilled Corn on the Cob

Or should I say: Lenguado en Papillote con Elote a la Plancha.  Whether you say it in French or in English or in Spanish, cooking something "en papillote" is a method in which you steam food folded in a pouch or parcel, often made of parchment paper.  In Italian it is known as cooking al cartoccio, or cooking 'ala cartridge'.  It makes sense once you find out the etymology of cartridge: alteration of earlier cartage, alteration of French cartouche, from Italian cartuccio, variant of cartoccio, roll of paper! Instead of parchment, one might also use aluminum foil, a paper bag, or banana or cassava leaves. Whatever the material, the parcel it forms holds in moisture to steam the food.  The moisture may be from the food itself or from an added moisture source like water, wine, or stock.
In this case I added a pureed tomato and red pepper sauce.  My inspiration was from a recipe in Susana Trilling's fabulous book, Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico.  In this book, Susana highlights what for me is one of my greatest joys (and deepest frustrations); the rich diversity of regional Mexican Cuisine (and the all too frequent lack of it's representation in the U.S.).  I know, I know, there are some great restaurants in this fine country of ours that collectively serve up a fantastic variety of the Cocina Mexicana.  I just long for something other than your standard taqueria that seems to plague us here in Santa Cruz (if you search for taquerias in or near Santa Cruz, CA on Yelp, by the way, you will get 87 results) .  Maybe one day Susana Trilling will open a Oaxacan restaurant here and serve dishes from her book like: Stuffed Crepes with Sweet Potato and Pineapple Sauce, Fried Plantains with Ginger Jalapeño Cream, Pork Loin Medallions with Cactus Fruit Sauce, and Herbal Tamales with Smoked Chile Salsa.  Maybe she'll even serve Pescado Empapelado al Diablo!  Trilling mentions that her recipe for this dish comes from Juana Ramírez, owner of the Los Delfines de Chacahua in the coastal region of Oaxaca.  As I mentioned before, and as is pretty common for me, I used the recipe as an inspiration, but improvised according to what I had on hand and appealed to me.  I tossed some yellow onion, tomato, roasted red pepper, garlic, Tapatío hot sauce, fresh epazote, salt and pepper in a wide-mouth jar and pureed with my hand blender.  Then I heated some butter in a saute pan and simmered the sauce for 5 minutes.  I seasoned each sole fillet and set it down on a piece parchment at least twice it's size.  I poured the sauce over the top of the sole, and folded the parchment to form a parcel (see cookthink for some tips on how to fold it).  Placed on a baking sheet and into a 400° oven, the fillets should be done in 6-10 minutes.
 On to the corn.  Elote (from the Nahuatl word elotl) is a popular street food in Mexico. Elote is prepared by steaming the corn or roasting it in the husks until the kernels are soft and charred.  The corn is then removed from the husks and grilled.  After grilling, the corn is spread with mayonnaise and sprinkled with a mild-flavored Mexican white cheese called cotija.  Finally, it is seasoned with lime juice, cayenne pepper or chile powder and salt.  SO DAMN GOOD!  I took a more simple approach.  I made a compound butter with lime juice, chipotle, lime zest, and salt. I simply charred the corn in their husks on a grill pan, then slathered on the butter and got all Mickey Mouse on it!

A simple green salad to round things out, and we have ourselves a lovely meal.  It's fun cooking things ala cartridge!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Slow-Roasted Halibut with Shaved Asparagus and Fennel Salad

This recipe hails from Bon Appetit Magazine.  It was part of a feature on exciting ways to prepare three spring vegetables: asparagus, artichokes, and peas.  Other asparagus recipes included were lasagna with asparagus, leeks and morels, and Korean rice bowl with steak, asparagus, and fried egg (yum, and yum).  Let us then talk about asparagus, shall we?

Asparagus has been used from early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius's third century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.  It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter  (wikipedia).  Asparagus is rich in vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, folate and the flavonoid rutin, plus fiber; it has no fat or cholesterol and is very low in sodium.
O.K., on to the recipe...

For the salad:
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
  • 3/4 pound asparagus spears (about 1 bunch), trimmed
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb (preferably shaved with V-slicer)

For the Fish:
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 6 6-ounce halibut fillets
For the salad:
Whisk lemon juice and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil, then add capers. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.  Place 1 asparagus spear flat on work surface. Using vegetable peeler, shave asparagus into long thin strips. Place asparagus strips in medium bowl with shaved fennel.  Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
For the fish:
Coat rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, and lemon peel in another medium bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle melted butter over. Using fork, toss to incorporate evenly.  Place halibut fillets on prepared baking sheet, spacing apart. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide breadcrumbs among fillets to cover top (about 1/3 cup each), pressing to adhere.  Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and chill.  Preheat oven to 300°F. Bake halibut until opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Turn on broiler. Broil halibut just until breadcrumbs start to brown, about 1 minute.
Place 1 halibut fillet on each of 6 plates. Pour dressing over asparagus and fennel mixture; toss to coat. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among plates and serve.