Monday, February 25, 2008

Austrian Raspberry Shortbread

I have a confession to make- I hate making shortbread, shortcrust pastry, pâte sucrée….anything with a high butter content that requires rolling out. The key is to chill the dough very well so that the butter will stay cold when you roll it out but I almost always end up handling it too much and getting most of it plastered to my board or counter. I’ve also tried the method of pressing the dough with my fingers into the baking dish, but that almost always results in uneven pastry. I mean, I can make pastry but it not my forte.

So imagine my utter delight when I came across this recipe for Austrian Raspberry Shortbread. At first glance it seemed that the recipe included some sort of grated cheese (?!?!) but upon closer inspection I realized that it was grated frozen shortbread dough. I read on and on and realized that this was the answer to all of my butter-based pastry problems. WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA! Make the dough, freeze it and then run it through your food processor with the grater attachment and simply pour the grated dough into a pan. Whoever came up with this method should get a freakin’ James Beard Award.

So here’s the step by step:

Cut frozen dough into small enough chunks to fit through the feed tube of your food processor

Grate the frozen dough in food processor

Take half of the grated dough and sprinkle it evenly in a 9 x 13 baking pan lined with parchment or foil

Drizzle 1 cup of raspberry jam over the grated dough (I know I know it looks like ketchup!)

Sprinkle remaining grated dough over the jam and resist every urge to press down - leave it alone!

Golden brown fresh out of the oven...

Sift powdered sugar over the top immediately after taking out of the oven

After letting it cool completely, chill in the fridge for an hour or so which makes it easy to cut the shortbread into clean bars

Box them up and take them to work so you don't end up eating all of the shortbread

This recipe has opened up a whole new world for me. Next time I need to make any shortbread crust or base I will use this method. Since you don't pat down the grated dough, there is a lightness that you don't find in other shortbread, although the pound of butter is definitely obvious. It's one of the most addictive things I think I've ever made. Be warned!

Recipe is here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kona Blue Kampachi & Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini

Last week I got an email with the subject line “Fish for Seafood Lovers!” and at first, I didn’t pay much attention. Lately I’ve gotten sucked in too many times by spam emails cleverly disguising themselves as genuine emails about food and/or cooking. Once I clicked on “Chocolate dreams!” thinking I’d be reading about a box of sweets and I ended up getting an eyeful of something I’d rather not repeat here.

Anyway, after I’d finished my move on Scrabulous (I’ve been playing my friend Nozomi in England for about 2 months and she’s kicking my butt!) I was going through my emails and spotted the Fish Email once again. I gingerly clicked on it and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was from a publicist who was promoting her client, Kona Blue, a Hawaii-based company specializing in kampachi (a type of yellowtail). She offered to send me some kampachi and made sure I understood that I was not obligated to blog about it. I found no reason to deny their request to send me free, sashimi-grade fish, so I wrote her back, gave her my info and told J to keep an eye out for a cold pak via Fed Ex.

A few days later, my seventeen (!) pound box arrived and I ran home to open it; luckily most of the weight was the result of the ice packs included in the box. I pulled out two large kampachi fillets- they were gleaming and gorgeous! I stuck one in the fridge, announced to J that we were having kampachi carpaccio for dinner and sliced off a big chunk which I cut into very thin slices, drizzled with good olive oil and a touch of ponzu, and then garnished with a bit of cilantro and red onion. It was so good that I didn’t even stop to take a photo. Sorry! I was worried that, due to the high fat content, it might taste fishy, but it tasted clean and fresh.

Since J left the next day for a month (insert sad face here), I knew I couldn’t possibly eat the rest of the kampachi the next day so I stuck it in the freezer.

Which brings us to yesterday, when I went on a cooking bender of sorts- baking a massive pan of raspberry shortbread to take to work (more on that later…holy cow it was insanely good), oven roasting some bruised roma tomatoes I’d gotten for a bargain at the Farmer’s Market and chopping, draining, roasting and mixing various ingredients to make Molly’s Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini. It’s kind of ironic that I was cooking so much since my household has shrunk from two to one in J’s long absence, but I guess I just got the urge, and hey- I’ll be taking gourmet brown bag lunches to work in addition to eating some good home cookin’ for dinner. Anyway, I decided to keep on my cooking marathon and moved on to the kamapchi.

Roasted butternut squash

Other salad elements.....

I’d experienced the pure, clean flavor of the fish raw and relatively unadorned; this time I wanted to try it cooked. The website is filled with lots of info on how it’s virtually impossible to overcook it due to its fat content, how versatile it is, etc. Since I already knew that the fish was of a very high quality, I wanted to keep it very simple and let the fish speak for itself. After a sprinkle of good sea salt and pepper, I dredged it lightly in super fine flour and seared it in a pan with a bit of olive oil. The fat from the fish rendered slightly and it was ready in no time. I topped it with a few of the oven roasted tomatoes which I smashed into a chunky salsa and served it with the chickpea/butternut squash salad and some leafy greens.

How was it? Ho-ly-mo-ly. Look, to any detractors who might be snickering that I loved the fish because it was free, I say “Pushaw!” or whatever disgusted sound I could make at you in writing. The kampachi was juicy, tender, meaty and just perfectly moist. Once again, the fat in the fish only added subtle flavor without any cloying fishy taste. I think I actually liked it better cooked since the heat made all of the lovely fish fat melt into the meat in such a nice way, giving it the texture of a good, well marbled salmon. The roasted tomatoes were the perfect tangy/garlicky foil to the pan seared kampachi. It’d tasted just as good if I’d paid a grip for it. Getting it sent to me was the icing on the cake!

The Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini was very good, but the small squash that I’d bought was lacking in sweetness….perhaps signaling the end of the butternut season *sniff.* I’ve eaten more butternut squash this past fall/winter than I’d ever had in my whole life, and it’s quickly become my favorite. I am sooo sorry to see it go, although a peek at some gorgeous sugar snap peas and stacks of sweet Satsuma oranges at the Farmer’s Market already has me dreaming of the next seasonal bounty. Guess I’m fickle with my produce!

Kona Blue

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Urasawa, Beverly Hills

Last Saturday, my family and I made our much-anticipated maiden voyage to Urasawa. My sister was generous enough to take us all there to celebrate our birthdays, anniversary and other milestones, and we had a wonderful time. I can’t really put into words the kind of service and food we experienced; it was all delicate, profound and will be put into the “once in a lifetime” category.

I’ll try my best to remember everything we ate; some of the sushi is lost on me now that a few days have passed but here is my photo essay of our wonderful Urasawa meal! Enjoy:

Beautfiul display behind counter

First course- hairy crab salad with crysthansamum petals

Lightly seared toro with ponzu
and edible gold leaf

Assortment of lightly stewed vegetables & seafood

Assorted sashimi on ice block...check out that!

Baked dish made of yamaimo (mountain potato) with various treasures hidden uni, ginko nuts, shrimp. Most surprising dish of the night- had the exact texture of rice but was made of this very healthy potato.

See the uni inside?

Tempura of cod sperm sack served with dashi dipping sauce

Chef Hiro Urasawa starts to work on a huge slab of Kobe beef.....

...perfectly marbled with fat

Toro seared on a hot stone

The leftover meat from the hairy crab used in the first course, cooked in it's own shell with a nice slice of uni. This was sublime...

Beef slowly braised in sweet soy....this was one of my favorites. So tender....!

The raw ingredients for shabu shabu, including a large slice of foie gras.

See huge slab of foie gras....

Cooked for about a minute in the hot broth, the foie gras was rich, tender yet extremely refreshing. My father and J, neither of whom are big foie fans, loved this dish.

Sushi course:



Kohada- much less "pickeled" than versions I've had before, you could really taste the fish instead of the vinegar.

Lighly grilled shiitake mushroom. This was absolutely meaty and delicious.

Sayori (half beak)

Aji- Spanish mackeral

Awabi (abalone)- I've never been a fan of abalone but this was very good.

Uni (sea urchin). The best I've ever had, hands down. No bitterness, just sweet and creamy. Wow.

Maguro (tuna)

Ama ebi (sweet shrimp)- we watched Urasawa-san cut open big, fat Santa Barbara spot prawns to create this. Again, the best I've ever had.

Giant clam- slightly crunchy and sweet

The housemade "gari" or pickled ginger was sweet and spicy with a softer texture than most.

Real, fresh wasabi root

Unfortunately, this one escapes me!

Saba- mackeral

This one is lost on me now as well...

Unagi, sweet and tender

Astuyaki tamago- his version was almost cake-like..I could have eaten a few more of these!!


Box containing assorted fruit- the stewed apple was my favorite

Sesame pudding topped with a sweet bean paste and matcha (green tea)

The sesame pudding was super smooth, slightly nutty and just sweet enough.

Toasted rice tea finishes out the amazing meal

The thing that surprised me the most, I have to admit, was the cheerful disposition of the chef, Hiro Urasawa. I guess I assumed that he would be a very serious and disciplined type, and although he certainly is when it comes to his food, he was good natured and joked a lot. He made everyone feel so comfortable and made sure to call each person by name.

Everything about the experience was perfect, and I highly recommend one visit if you ever get the chance. It is, as most people know, very expensive, so it certainly isn't a place to go often but everyone should experience this at least once in their lives. The food, service and watching Urasawa-san at work is absolutely worth every penny.


218 Rodeo Drive Los Angeles CA 90210