Monday, April 30, 2007

Crispy Gnocchi Salad and Grilled Swordfish

Before I start, I must give a shout out to Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame. She recently published a wonderful cookbook called Super Natural Cooking, and it's a beautiful collection of recipes and photos that you must run out and buy right now! The book focuses on whole grains, vegetables, and other good-for-you stuff but has a fresh perspective, turning things like cannelini beans into a mouthwatering side dish or telling you how to get delicious crispy egg rolls in the oven, not the fryer. If you're feeling sluggish and want to know creative ways to put more power foods into your diet, pick up this book. Even if you're not feeling sluggish, go out and get this book! You won't regret it.

Although this recipe isn't in the cookbook (it's on her blog), the minute I saw her post on Golden, Crispy Gnocchi I knew it was a dish I had to make. I did deviate from the recipe based on what was in my fridge, but the concept of browning gnocchi in a bit of butter and then tossing it with vegetables or shelled beans never occurred to me until I saw that post. How brilliant is that?! I do love gnocchi but avoided making it often due to its heaviness; this was a way to enjoy the little nuggets in a much lighter way, and let me tell you- it was a hit. J's parents came to our house for dinner the other night and I served it along with some grilled swordfish and we couldn't stop eating the gnocchi "salad."

I didn't have any of the shelled beans that Heidi used in her version, so I just cut up some steamed haricot verts, sautéed some portabella mushrooms in a bit of butter and thyme, then tossed both with the golden gnocchi and cherry tomatoes and mixed it all with some finely grated Parmigianino-Regianno. The warm gnocchi and mushrooms melted the cheese and enveloped the whole dish with the nutty, salty flavor of it. The crisp hericot verts and sweet cherry tomatoes were the perfect compliment. I haven't fallen this hard for a side dish since discovering the wonder of puy lentils, although this certainly would make a substantial, vegetarian main course as well. It'll be appearing (in many variations, no doubt) on our table often this summer.

The swordfish I purchased at Fish King in Glendale was so gorgeous that it didn't need anything but a light brushing of scallion olive oil which I whipped up in the mini Cuisnart, some sea salt and black pepper. After about five minutes per side (these were thick!) on the grill and a sprinkling of some Meyer lemon juice, they were ready. Although swordfish is certainly not the cheapest fish, I have to say that the cost was far cheaper than if we had eaten this meal out, and it fed five people, so it was quite the bargain. If you live in the LA area and have a craving for swordfish, run to Fish King and get some......they were succulent, moist and simply delicious.

Super Natural Cooking

Fish King
720 North Glendale Avenue
Glendale, California 91206
Phone: (818) 244-2161

Friday, April 27, 2007

Yum Nuea

Yikes! I haven't blogged in awhile. There's a lot going on right now so I haven't had a lot of time, but I'll try to update as much as possible! For one, our dreams of a Greek vacation were dashed after weeks of trying to get Awards Travel tickets through United. I'm not going to spend almost $4K on airplane tickets that we could get for FREE, and there simply are no open seats that they'll give us, unless we want to spend 2 days on planes and in various airports. So, thanks for the advice on Greece, but we'll have to go another time when it's less hectic. We've switched gears completely and have decided to spend a few days in Mexico City and a few more in Zihuatanejo (which is where Morgan Freeman decided to "get busy living" and finally met up with Tim Robbins at the end of Shawshank of the best movies of all time!!!). Although I was initially disappointed that my hummus fantasies (um, nothing kinky, ok?!) were dashed, I am getting really excited about trying some restaurants in Mexico City and wading through the blue seas of Zihuatanejo. As always, any recommendations are utterly appreciated.

Now, onto the food! Almost every time I dine at a Thai restaurant, I order the beef salad- yum nuea. I love the combination of limes, chilies, cilantro, onions, fish sauce, mint and beef, but it's one of those dishes that vary greatly depending on which restaurant you go to. At some places, it's a sad pile of iceberg lettuce with a few overcooked slices of beef on top; at others, it's a glorious combination of many flavorful ingredients.

I've often wanted to make it at home, but never took the time to look up any recipes. Since our friend JN was kind enough to send us some fantastic beef as a thank you gift, I thought now was as good a time as ever to make this salad. I did a bunch of research and came up with a few recipes. It was easy to make and came out pretty well for a first try. After I made it, my friend D mentioned that his dad makes a fantastic version and uses shrimp paste ("the stinkiest stuff on earth" he says) in the dressing which really makes a difference. Although I have to admit I'm a little concerned with his description of the stuff, I'll have to add that next time.

You can find a version here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Product Review: Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Wheat Pappardelle

Who doesn't love a big bowl of pasta? I could sit down to one any day of the week- particularly if the pasta are the wide, flat pappardelle which is my absolute favorite. Most restaurants serve these noodles with some sort of Bolognese or ragu, and I'm a sucker for it wherever I go. If pappardelle is on a menu, that's what I'm ordering.

While I was perusing the aisles at Trader Joe's, I noticed a new product in the dry pasta section. Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Wheat Pappardelle almost called out to me to buy it. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical since a lot of the whole grain pastas out there are dense, heavy and too grainy. However, the light weight of the package and the relative thinness of the dry noodles hooked me.

I had purchased some gorgeous oyster mushrooms and red spring onions at the Farmer's Market a few days prior, so I wanted to put them to good use. After sautéing them in a bit of butter and olive oil, I added some green garlic and thyme and them tossed it all with the boiled pappardelle. A ladle of pasta water, some fresh Italian parsley, a good pile of grated Parmiggiano Reggiano and a drizzle of truffle oil finished the dish.

The verdict? The slight nuttiness of the pappardelle went perfectly with the earthy mushrooms and bright onions, and nothing perks up a dish like real Parmiggiano Reggiano. It was so easy, healthy and delicious that I think I'll be making this again very soon. I think this pasta is a great "star" of a dish- it would probably be best if tossed with some grated cheese and veggies like asparagus or cubes of butternut squash rather than coated with a rich tomato or cream sauce. J really loved the texture and flavor of this too.

If you're looking for a a healthy pasta, this is a great option. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chocolate Sandwich Cookie

As tempted as I am to try all of the gorgeous, multi-layered cakes and intricate pastry recipes found in my many cookbooks, I find that people react most strongly to the simple, traditional desserts. I could spend a lot of time making something fancy, and often want to in order to challenge myself, but my friends request things like brownies or chocolate chip cookies most of the time. Although I'd love to perfect a French Apple Tart with an elaborate fanned top, when given a choice between that and something simple, the people in my life want the latter. What's a girl to do?

I mean, who do we all cook for anyway? I guess the selfish person in me wants to say, "Me!" since I want people to eat what I want to make for them. But of course nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing someone truly relish something you've created. So I guess it's a little of both. Most times, I'm hard pressed to make yet another chocolate chip cookie (boring!) but when I see the smiles of my friends when they eat one, I figure I could make them more often.

Well, here is a cookie that fills both needs. It certainly isn't a complicated recipe, but it does take a bit of time to shape, bake, fill and put together these little chocolate sandwiches. My friends love them because they remind them of Oreos, but these, my dear readers, are so much more. Each chocolate cookie is moist and tender since it's made with brown, not white, sugar. When slathered with a vanilla buttercream icing and sandwiched with another cookie, it transcends any Oreo you've ever eaten. I make them small so you can just pop one in your mouth. Part brownie, part sandwich cookie- these are simply delicious.

I love making them because it does take some time, patience and a steady hand. The dough comes together in a second since you simply melt the butter with the brown sugar, add chocolate until it melts, then add the dry ingredients- you can do it all in one pot. It's very slick but easy to manage- I level off a perfect measuring teaspoon with some, then nudge it out with the edge of a butter knife to form a little half-moon. After about 7 minutes in the oven, they come out only slightly bigger than when they went in. After cooling, I just set up an assembly line of sorts and pipe the icing onto each half, make the sandwich and let the cookies sit out until the icing is truly set.

These travel extremely well - so next time you get a request for a traditional cookie, I highly recommend these. Of course, if you don't want to share, they're the perfect thing to have with a cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon............

Recipe here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Simple Never Tasted So Good.......

I realize it's been a couple of years since the whole roasted cauliflower craze has spread. I mean, it's not exactly on the same level as say, the American Idol or Toyota Prius boom, but in food circles, it was pretty big news. Most people had thought of the colorless vegetable as boring, bland and out of favor (again, only in food circles;). Then one day, somewhere there came news that the plain little cauliflower transformed into something magical when roasted in the oven. Alas, a new side dish was born.

Lay out the raw cauliflower in one layer on a baking sheet......

As a long time fan of roasted cauliflower, I can't tell you enough how fantastically easy, healthy and delicious this dish is. It's also very versatile- you can add whatever spices you like, toss it together with some wheat pasta, buttered bread crumbs, garlic oil and parmesan for a fantastic vegetarian main course or serve it alongside any meat or seafood. I make a big batch almost every week- the results far exceed the minimal effort so I just can't help myself. If I'm low on time (as I was this past weekend) I just buy two bags of cauliflower florets from Trader Joe's instead of a whole head. After slicing them into "1/2 pieces, I simply toss them with a bit of olive oil, sea salt, pepper and whatever else I'm feeling at the moment. Yesterday I cut one red onion into large chunks and mixed it in with the cauliflower, sprinkled the whole thing with Madras curry powder and coriander seed, and baked at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. The hands-on part of this takes less than 10 minutes total, and you end up with a load of this caramelized, nutty and buttery dish that could hardly be any better for you.

After baking at 450 degrees for 20 minutes....

If you haven't tried this preparation, I highly recommend it. One of my favorite dinners last week was a big bowl of this topped with finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, accompanied by a crisp, Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc. Delicious!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sourdough pancakes, a food blog and love

Is that title confusing enough for you? Here's the explanation: I happened to catch this little vignette on the Food Network a couple of weeks ago, and it just made me smile. Readers of the beautifully written and well-photographed (and now quite famous!) Orangette know the story of how a search for a cake recipe kicked off a whirlwind romance that will now be sealed with a summer wedding. As an avid reader myself, I couldn't be happier for Molly (Ms. Orangette herself) and her fiancée Brandon. After reading something about his famous sourdough pancakes on her blog, I commented that I lacked the sourdough starter necessary to make the pancakes, which are a favorite of J's. Not only did Ms. Molly offer to send me some of her starter, she cleverly dried it on parchment, broke it up into pieces, packaged it up with the most detailed instructions on how to reanimate it and ACTUALLY did it. We've had some of the tastiest sourdough pancakes since, and the starter continues to live in my fridge to this day. I don't mean to sound cynical but it's so surprising in this day and age when someone is so generous, and to a stranger no less!

Sourdough pancakes.......

So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy the story of how a certain New Yorker fell for a flame-haired Seattle girl and how the power of food brought them together.

And to Molly and Brandon- my heartfelt congratulations to you both.

The Story of Molly & Brandon

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dylan of eat, drink & be merry tagged me for this "5 Things About Me" meme. A meme (mēm) is defined as: "noun. A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another." So basically, it's the same concept as a chain letter, and D has passed the torch to me. Anyway, make sure you read his hilarious list here- you'll never think of The River Dance in quite the same way again (actually, no one should ever think of The River Dance. Ever. For any reason).

#1: I play(ed) piano for almost 18 years

I'm sure it will pain my parents to read that I hardly ever touch the piano anymore, but it all started when I was around 3 years old, living in Kamakura, Japan. They love to tell the story of how they just bought a piano, placed it in a room and waited to see which one of us would gravitate toward it first. Apparently, I did (Hello? I was three years old so I probably was thinking, What is this big, black thing?), so it was swimming school for my sister and piano lessons for me. The lessons continued after we moved to the U.S and went on forever until I finally put the brakes on it sometime in high school. I occasionally think I should buy a keyboard (it must have weighted keys...I hate the plastic feel of regular keyboards) and keep it around so I can start playing again, but we already have one musician in the family (J) and I have no desire for a Sonny & Cher kind of thing. How weird would that be if you came over and J busted out his basses and I'm at the piano? Um, no thank you Partridge Family. Not that I want to play next to him anyway- he's a brilliant musician and I'm incapable of improvising, thanks to years of classical training during which improvising anything was strictly forbidden.
(Drawing (c) 2001 Dallas Symphony Orchestra)

#2: I lived in Arkansas for three years as a child.

Where does one move from a bustling, metropolitan city like Tokyo when they decide to immigrate to the United States? Well Arkansas, of course. Cherokee Village, Arkansas, to be exact. My paternal grandparents lived there, so naturally we moved there to be somewhere close to family. Being only five years old, I only have great memories of the town and the community extended a warm welcome to us. I remember picking blackberries on the side of the road, seeing deer in the backyard, and listening to the radio to see if we'd get a snow day from school. Although we did enjoy our short stay there, I think the drastic differences between Tokyo and such a small town were too much for my mom to bear so we made our way to Los Angeles after three years of country livin'. I do have fond memories of the place, but I'm a city girl at heart and probably always will be.

#3: I had the celebrity sighting of my life!

Living in Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry, I see celebrities often enough. I'm not a celeb maniac in the least bit.......quite honestly, unless it was Elvis Costello or Thom Yorke, I don't generally freak out over seeing someone famous. However, I had the celebrity run-in of my life while working at Tower Records in Shibuya years ago. I was casually doing my thing when suddenly, I saw HIM. Now, keep in mind that I don't ever approach a celeb when I see one, but this time I just had to. So I walk up to him and say, "Aren't you Simon LeBon?" [Side note: For those of you who are scratching your heads wondering who this Simon is, I have two words for you: Duran Duran. I can't believe I'm admitting this but I used to write freakin' letters to Simon and John Taylor when I was a kid. I watched their 1983 tour documentary, Sing Blue Silver, over 50 times and cried every time it ended (how embarrassingly dramatic!). I knew every word to every song and had photos of them on my walls. OK- back to the story.] So Simon looks at me, smiles, and then pretends to faint. Like, drops on the floor in the middle of the store and plays dead for what seemed like hours (it was actually about 60 seconds). People started gathering around and staring......and I just stood there. He finally gets up, takes off his sunglasses, flashes that famous smile and says "You caught me!" all while oozing loads of British Rock Star Charm as I tried my damndest not to melt into a little puddle on the floor. He then puts his arm around me and TALKS to me for 10 minutes. I couldn't believe it- he told me about his wife, his recording studio in Tokyo, why he loves Japan, etc. When I offered to give him a discount on his purchases, his business partner looked at me and said "Oh no sweetie, that won't be necessary," to which Simon replied, "WHAT? Are you crazy? Of course we want your discount!" which made me like him even more because a frugal rock star is a good thing, no? Anyway, I processed their purchases and he gave me a kiss on the cheek, thanked me and left. My life was complete. I mean, how great is it that one of my idols from my teen years was almost better in person than I could have ever expected?
(Photo Copyright ©2007 Soylent Communications)

#4 I love the ocean

Nothing is better during the summer than the smell and view of the ocean. I don't what it is, but any bad mood I'm in or stress I may be having are instantly washed away when I see and smell the water. Sunrise, daylight or sunset- it's all good if you're standing in front of the vast sea. I couldn't bear to live in a place where you didn't have easy access to one!
(Photo © Harold Davis )

#5 I don't like anything that tastes like licorice

Since this IS a food blog, I figured I'd better include a food-related fact. I can't take the smell or taste of black licorice, or anything remotely similar in flavor. This knocks out fennel (I can eat it braised, but not raw), star anise and chervil from my cooking repertoire. It's a flavor that doesn't really exist in Japanese culture so, not really having had it growing up, I never grew to like it.
(Photo (C) 2000-2003 Aida Opera Candies)

I'll tag Mikey Hates Everything, Potatomato, Blue Lotus and Kuiadore with a disclaimer that there is no obligation, of course.......

Friday, April 06, 2007

Swiss Chard Gratin

I purchased some gorgeous Swiss chard at the Alhambra Farmer's Market last weekend. It's ruby red color makes it one of the most beautiful veggies around, doesn't it?? I buy it often but always make it the same way- lightly blanch the stems, then toss those in with the torn leaves and sauté with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. It's delicious and brings out the natural flavor of the chard, but I wanted to try something different and vaguely recalled seeing something about a gratin on a blog some time back. Since I didn't have a recipe, I kind of just made it up and viola! I think a new favorite side dish has been born.

After chopping and blanching the chard (blanch the stems for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves for about another 3-4 minutes), I squeezed out the excess water and started on a béchamel sauce. I wanted to make a healthier version of the rich sauce since I didn't want to coat such a healthy veggie in loads of fat. It's always risky to try and create lower fat versions of foods like this, but I thought what the hell, may as well try it. I used a tablespoon of Smart Balance spread, melted that along with some minced garlic, added one tablespoon of flour to make a roux and then slowly added 1/2 cup of fat free half and half, a pinch of salt and pepper and stirred until it became nice and thick. After taking it off the heat, I mixed in a half an ounce of finely grated, GOOD quality (it's key!) Parmigiano Reggiano and then added my blanched, chopped chard and stems and mixed well. I divided up the mixture into three ramekins and lightly topped each with a sprinkle of panko and grated parmigiano reggiano and baked at 425 for 15 minutes.

béchamel sauce

Ready for the oven.......

Bubbling, crisp top.......

It came out pink (the color from the red chard bled into the béchamel!) and bubbling. In addition to this dish I made a seared steelhead trout with a tomato/basil/balsamic salsa and olive oil/sea salt-roasted asparagus for dinner. The Swiss chard gratin was creamy and delicious- it's quite surprising how well the béchamel goes with a leafy, green veg like chard. I think it'd be a great little appetizer served with crackers and wine; in a larger portion a great vegetarian main dish. I'm guessing that kale or another sturdy leaf veggie would also work in this dish.

Swiss chard gratin, steelhead trout with tomato/basil/balsamic salsa and roasted asparagus.........

On that note-have a great holiday weekend! Also, I'll link to my previous post on questions regarding Greece and Lisbon in case anyone happens to think of any advice to give us for an upcoming trip.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Have You Been To Greece and/or Lisbon?

I realize that this blog is mainly made up of my incessant yammerings on cooking, food and restaurants. Although I am fairly confident of my skills in the kitchen (and in a restaurant....eating, that is;) I write this post as a request for your advice and assistance.

You see, after falling absolutely head over heels in love with the French Riviera a couple of years ago, J and I have dreamt of a return to the lush, blue waters of the Mediterranean. However, we wanted to go someplace new while still being able to bask in the familiar sunshine that lit up every single day of our last trip. After much thought, we have our sights set on Greece and Lisbon, Portugal, sometime in late June or possibly early July. One of my coworkers went last year with his wife and seeing their photos made me melt. Nothing is set in stone yet, but the research has begun in earnest as I have my heart set on the long days and bright scents of that part of the world.

So, I reach out to you for any insights, advice, must-see happenings, restaurant recommendations, lodging favorites and any other tidbit that will inch us closer to a well-planned-yet-adventurous trip. We'd like to visit two destinations in Greece plus Lisbon....which two Grecian islands have yet to be decided although we're leaning toward Athens and Santorini. I have to admit, I'm a city-girl at heart, so I can't imagine a maiden voyage to Greece without a stop in Athens.

I ask now, humbly, for whatever suggestions you can offer. And thanks in advance;)