Friday, June 30, 2006

Chile Rellenos

Sorry for the lack of posting lately, but something about summer just makes me NOT want to spend much time in the kitchen. Heat and summer laziness are the main reasons. So you know what we bloggers do when we find ourselves in a I-have-nothing-to-blog-about pickle? We turn to our photo archives! While I was sifting through mine, I found these pics of a mouthwatering meal that my parents made for us at our house a couple months back. Perfect!

My mom has been making us chile rellenos since we were about eight years old. When I was that age, we had just moved from Arkansas to Los Angeles. What were we doing in Arkansas, you ask? Well, we emigrated from Japan and my father's parents lived there, so it seemed like a natural place to go. And natural it was. Forests, stick bugs, miles between houses and snow days; one high school and no alcohol in the county. After living her entire life in Osaka and Tokyo, my mom probably had the worst culture shock of her life. Luckily, my sister and I that were only five years old at the time and enjoyed seeing deer in the backyard and picking berries from bushes on the side of the road so we didn't mind at all. My parents didn't HATE it and Arkansas certainly has it's charms, but it wasn't the place that they wanted to settle. After three years of not being able to get sushi and having to drive across state lines for wine, my parents packed up the furniture, us, Kitty and Puppy (seriously- how creative are those pet names??) and hit the road to California. Once we arrived in Temple City, we rented a house with a huge backyard full of fruit trees and a renter named Joe in the guesthouse. It was the beginning of our new life....and our introduction to the chile relleno.

Not a relleno but the rice you can eat with one!

Joe was probably in his late 20's (although you know how it is to a kid- all adults are just, well, adults) and of Mexican descent. He quickly became our friend and one day invited us to eat dinner with him. He made his mom's chile rellenos and my parents were instantly hooked. We've since learned that not all chile rellenos are created equal. While we loved the Joe Chile Relleno, we discovered that the average restaurant relleno was filled with cheese....and cheese. You see, Joe's mom's version contained a savory mixture of ground meat, cheese and seasonings so you don't just bite into a thick mass of cheese. Luckily my mom asked for the recipe and she's been making them ever since. I just got the recipe from her so I thought I would share it with all of you. Hopefully Joe's mom won't mind!

Also not a relleno but goes well with one!

Again, no rellenos in this photo but a beautiful, creamy flan, courtesy of my dad!

It's been about 22 years (eek!) since we moved out of that house and we've long since lost touch with Joe but if he's out there, I'd like to give a shout out to him and his mom (although not to his little dog who BIT me when I was nine!) and say thanks for introducing my family to a real chile relleno. It's still the best chile relleno we've ever had!

Joe's Mom's Chili Rellenos (with Tokyoastrogirl's mom's notes)
(recipe from 1981)

1/2 lb ground meat (we use lean beef sirloin, ground)
1/4~1/2 bunch minced cilantro
1 chopped onion
1/2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp cayanne (more or less)
1/4 lb each Monterey Jack & Colby Longhorn cheeese, diced

Anaheim or Pacilla chili (roasted black, then peeled, seeded)
Peanut Oil
Eggs, beaten
Flour for coating

{ I usually double the recipe, makes about 20~24 chili Rellenos}

1. Brown meat, drain, add spices and 1/4 cup water, simmer 10 ~15 minutes, completely cool.
2. Dice cheeses, mince cilantro and mix them with meat - put this filling in a bowl, cover with saran wrap, and refrigerate.
3. Roast chilis, skin and seed
4. Stuff chilis - then return to refrigerator until ready to fry - this makes the rest of the work so much easier since the stuffed
chili is firmer .
5. Roll in flour, egg, then flour again, and pan fry in peanut oil until outside becomes crisp, brown.

My parents' dogs, Molly and Monk, hoping to get in on the relleno action.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006


My love affair with the grill continues since the weather has been unusually muggy (I know- ya'll over in the south have it worse but I'm a wimpy Cali girl!). Why stand in a hot kitchen when you can just stand outside with an ice cold glass of sauvignon blanc and have dinner on the table in a few minutes? I especially like the added bonus of delicious-smelling smoke wafting through the neighborhood. Something about barbeque smoke signals summer and the smoke that was coming out of my BBQ last weekend smelled oh-so good...thanks to OPAH.

I had Opah for the first time only two years ago. I had no idea what it was, but saw the gorgeous pink filets at Bristol Farms and just had to try them. It was love at first bite, although the Bristol prices have kept me from indulging too often. You can imagine my reaction when I saw the same, thick and glistening filets at How's Market the other day for about half the price of the Bristol Farm's fish. Reunited and it feels so good......reunited and it's understood.........Oops, ok I am getting off the point but I was ecstatic to find my Opah once again.

I tossed together a simple marinade of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, green onions, sesame oil, sake, mirin and sugar and let the opah soak up those flavors for an hour. The fish only took about 6 minutes to grill and we had a lovely dinner of opah, corn succotash and a fresh green salad. The next night we made fish tacos with the leftovers and today I am eating the remaining opah for lunch....which reminds me, it's time to eat!

Not to sound like the President of the Opah Promotions Board (if one existed), but if you haven't tried it and you get a chance, try Opah! It stands up well to marinades and, while it isn't as dense as swordfish, it doesn't fall apart one bit while grilling and is oh-so-tender!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Saturday Supper at The House: Father's Day

I purchased the much-lauded Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook a few months back and had waited for the right opportunity to put it to use. Since my dad has had such an influence on my love of food and my ability to cook in general, I knew that Father's Day would be a great chance to serve up my attempt at Suzanne Goin's dishes.

After learning that the weather would be hot that Saturday (ok, so it was Father's Eve...), I nixed my original plan to make the Wild Salmon A La Lutece w/ Sweet Corn, Green Cabbage and Brown Butter Vinaigrette since it would require me standing over the stove. Instead, I chose things that could either be made in advance or on the grill, and made sure I stuck to the Summer Menus highlighted in the book. The cookbook is divided by seasons, not courses, so it teaches you how to eat what is good NOW instead of spending tons of time trying to make out-of-season food taste decent.

Since corn is particularly plentiful and fresh during the summer, I started with the Sweet Corn Soup w/ Avocado Cream & Cilantro. This was probably the most time consuming but TOTALLY worth it. I made the soup in the morning while it was still cool out, then reheated it right before serving. I love that this recipe doesn't use any stock. Initially I was afraid that it may turn out bland but I now realize that stock would mask the fresh flavor of the corn, which is the main star here. After sautéing corn cut fresh off the cob along with sweet butter, one cup of diced potato, yellow onions, jalapeno and 1 whole arbol chile, I just simmered the mixture in water and then blended it in batches. Although the recipe doesn't tell you to strain the soup, I think it's a necessary step to get the heavy cream-like consistency that the book does state it should be. I just used a fine-meshed colander and the soup did indeed come out velvety smooth and delicious. The dollop of avocado cream added a nice contrast to the slightly spicy soup.

Sweet Corn Soup w/ Avocado Cream & Cilantro

I had noticed a few heirloom tomatoes at the Farmer's Market and made a simple side dish of sliced tomatoes topped with torn basil and a balsamic vinaigrette. The next Lucques recipe turned out to be our favorite- Summer Squash Gratin was succulent, sweet and just plain delicious....and easy! The preparation involves slicing several kinds of whatever summer squash is available and tossing it with a salsa verde (made from parsley, mint, garlic, oregano and olive oil), browned butter breadcrumbs, gruyere cheese and topping the whole thing with more of the same bread crumbs. I assembled this in the morning as well and just popped it into my toasted oven (no need to use the big one!) about an hour before we sat down. After 45 minutes the squash is tender and the topping is absolutely irresistible. This would make a nice main dish for your favorite vegetarian!

Heirloom tomatoes with basil and balsamic

Summer Squash Gratin

The main dish also involved the salsa verde used in the gratin- Grilled Veal Chops w/ Salsa Verde. The veal is simply rubbed with a combination of herbs, olive oil and garlic and left to sit overnight in the refrigerator. After a few minutes on a hot grill, it's topped with a spoonful of salsa verde. The meat goes SO well with the light touch of mint in the sauce and again- what could be easier than this?

Grilled Veal Chops w/ Salsa Verde

For dessert, I knew that I just had to try the Plum Sorbet Sandwiches w/ Molasses Cookies. Can you guess what's in the sorbet? Plums (skin on), sugar, honey and a squeeze of lemon. Period. No water, no corn syrup. The result? Pure, plum goodness which was made to be eaten with the spicy cookies. I baked the cookies two days earlier and simply put them in an air tight container. The sorbet came together in just a few minutes- macerate the plum halves in sugar and honey for 30 minutes, add a squeeze of lemon and blend into a smooth puree. Chill liquid and pour into ice cream maker. Done. No cooking, no standing over a stove for this one. I spread the sorbet into a square cake dish lined with waxed paper so I could use biscuit cutters to cut out rounds of sorbet to put on the cookies. I can't wait to try these again and experiment with different flavored sorbets- lemon would be fantastic with these cookies. And oh- the cookies. You know when you read in a cookbook that the dough "is a dream to handle?" This dough certainly fits into that category. Trust me- no one hates a fussier dough more than I do, especially when you're making cut-out cookies. There are few things worse than cracking, sticky dough. This one held together so well through rolling, cutting, baking and cooling that it's going in my "favorites" box.

Plum Sorbet Sandwiches w/ Molasses Cookies

Another peek........

The food was a hit and personally, a pleasure to make. There is something so appealing about cooking with the seasons, and Goin's carefully thought out recipes and menus are a joy to follow. Now I just have to make it out to her restaurant!

Oh- and Happy Father's Day Papa! Even though you always try to deny it, you really did put the love of cooking into our hearts. I don't know anyone else whose dad made them Welsh Rarebit for dinner or perfect lemon tarts for dessert.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Summer Grillin'

I'm finally getting a chance to blog as work has been crazy busy lately. Although I wanted to blog about my Father's Day dinner (which was made up almost entirely of Sunday Suppers at Lucques recipes), I don't have the energy to give it the attention it deserves so I will bank it for later in the week.

Due to the busy schedule and the increasingly warm temperatures, I've been spending more and more time with a new friend. To some extent, this friend has been around my whole life but I'd never really spent enough time with that friend to develop any really close feelings. Not that this friend was lonely- after all, half of the entire population (my dad included) have a deep and meaningful bond with said friend.

Well, lately I've been making up for lost time and enjoying every moment of it.

Everyone, meet my new friend, The Grill. Yes, I hate to admit that I've neglected this relationship most of my life and only occasionally invited her to the party (yes, my grill is female). Now that I've seen the light and realized how much time and effort she saves me on my weeknight meals, I've started hanging out with her almost daily....sometimes even twice in the same day! I love how it only takes about 8 minutes to grill up big, meaty whole chicken breasts while that old friend, Mr. Stove would insist that I spend at least 15 minutes for him to get the same results. Even thick filets of fish turn out slightly charred and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside in just a few minutes. Just check out this swordfish we had for dinner last night. Paired with mixed greens and a BBQ'd corn succotash, it was one quick and healthy weeknight meal that we'd have again and again.

Grill, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Back to the Kitchen

Now that I'm finished with my Japan Series, I need to get back to taking photos of my kitchen adventures. I have been cooking a lot lately but have not been documenting much since most of our meals have been low-effort, summer suppers. It's just getting too hot to spend much time over a stove, and with the abundance of fresh produce at the local Farmer's Markets, there isn't much need to put fire into the equation.

The other day I decided to give my local Pavilions a shot since I was in the mood for some fresh fish but didn't want to pay Whole Foods (AKA Whole Paycheck in some circles) prices. It's hard to part with $40 or more for a weeknight meal, no matter how strong the fish cravings are! The fish at my Von's is a joke- brown, smelly and forever marked with bright orange "Additional $1.00 Off!" stickers which don't exactly signal freshness. Although I am aware that Vons and Pavilion's is the same company, the latter generally has larger variety of fish and meat. Much to my surprise, I found some lovely, thick ahi steaks that did not have that fishy smell- fresh fish should NOT smell fishy.

Even though I daydream about seared ahi steaks often while I sit at work (so THAT's what they pay me for!) I've never ventured into the preparation of one. Strange, no? I've often bought tuna sashimi at Mitsuwa and have even made an enormous bowl of salmon tartar but shied away from seared tuna steaks for fear of over searing, and thus drying out, the tuna. Another worry was the potential for fishy tuna- no one wants to eat fishy fish but it's even worse when the fish is raw, as seared tuna is supposed to be.

I am happy to report that last Monday night, I not only overcame my fear but conquered my tuna demons. Ok, that sounds overly dramatic but I was extremely happy with both the Pavilion's tuna steaks and the recipe which I found here. I let the steaks sit out for about 10 minutes to take the chill off and seared them for only a minute and a half (the recipe says 3 minutes per side but that is way too long) in a couple of teaspoons of hot sesame oil. After placing the steaks on a plate tented with foil, I deglazed the pan with soy sauce and dry sherry to create a sauce. I had picked up some ripe avocados at the Farmer's Market and fanned those along with some Japanese cucumber on the plate before topping with the sliced tuna and sauce. It was absolutely delicious and had all of the freshness and light that you could ask for in a summer dish. Although fresh ahi steaks certainly aren't cheap, the $14.00 total we spent on our portion would barely cover one order in most restaurants.

One of two portions of seared ahi

With the ahi we had a simple side dish of lightly steamed broccoli tossed with a bit of my favorite dressing- it's a "diet" sesame dressing from Japan (found at most Japanese grocery stores). It's just the right combination of sweet, nutty sesame and just-tart-enough rice vinegar. The fact that it is "diet" is just icing on the cake- I'd eat it even if it wasn't! I included it in the photo since I had a few inquiries the last time I blogged about it. I hope you get a chance to try it. It is particularly good on steamed and cooled asparagus, green beans or broccoli.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Japan Part V: The Best of the Rest- Fluffy Meat, Iranian Food, Punk Rock Apartment & Scenes from Tokyo

This post concludes my five part series covering my recent trip to Japan (much to the relief of most of you, no doubt! Yes, this is a food blog, not a travel blog.....). I just wanted to use this chance to talk about the little adventures we had in between all of the big ones.

Fluffy Meat:

Menchi katsu

We did a very food-centric thing while strolling around in Kichijoi one day- we waited 45 minutes in line just to buy menchikatsu (fried meat ball) and korokke. Yup- as we were walking through the shotengai (shopping street) we saw a long line leading to a very small and worn butcher shop. I asked my friend Kazu what the fuss was all about and she told me that this particular butcher shop's menchikatsu was considered to be the best and quite famous by word-of-mouth. You can guess what happened next. We waited, and waited, and I tried to get a peep at these world-renowned (ok, more like Tokyo-renowned) menchi. The air was filled with the meaty scent of frying beef and I could not wait to get my hands on one. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got to the front of the line and I ordered three menchi and two korokkes (since meat shops are widely considered to make some of the best korokke as well). In my excitement, I forgot to ask for tonkastu sauce which was a serious bummer. Anyway, we sat down on the curb and dug out one of the baseball-sized menchi. I bit into it carefully (it was hot) and discovered a world of juicy and fluffy goodness. I've heard people describe meatballs as being "fluffy" in the past and never really got it until that moment. The meat WAS fluffy- it wasn't dense and packed together like other menchi I'd had. This had glistening pieces of sweet onion and mounds of meat- just packed just well enough to form an airy ball. It was truly the best menchi I'd ever had. The korokke was good but really needed some tonkatsu sauce.

Fluffy menchi meat!

Iranian Food: Bol Bol Restaurant in Koenji

My friends Mayu and Chiba met at a Iranian restaurant called Bol Bol. He lived upstairs and was helping out when she walked in. Six months later, they were married. I had to go to this magical place where love blossomed for one of my best friends. Well, actually my friends just wanted me to go there and I was indeed curious about an Iranian restaurant in Tokyo.

Bol Bol lamb

When J and I walked into the small, second story space, we felt instantly transported back to Iran. Well, not really since we've never been there but it did feel like another world. It was decorated from top to bottom with various Iranian artifacts and we were greeted by Bol Bol-san, the owner/chef. He showed us to a large table and started cooking right away. We started with a light salad, followed by intensely flavorful lamb kebobs which he slipped off of a long, narrow sword, crispy-skinned chicken breast in a tomatoey broth, saffron rice, flatbread and a chicken curry-like dish. Everything was amazing and Bol Bol-san told me the story of how he arrived in Japan ten years prior. We mostly communicated in Japanese and just had a really great time. Bol Bol san was quite the host and showed us photos of parties that he'd throw at the restaurant. He even has belly dancers on weekends for entertainment. If you ever find yourself in Koenji, you should go. And bring a big appetite.

Bol Bol chicken

Punk Rock Apartment

Even though this has nothing to do with food, I just had to showcase my friend and "little brother" Ugo's Higashi-Nakano apartment. I met him 13 years ago when we were both working at Tower Records in Japan- I didn't speak a word of Japanese and he basically helped me learn the language during slow days at the register. He's remained faithful to his punk and goth roots since then and has quite the record and toy collection to prove it.

Think he needs more stuff in there?

The Rest of the Best of the Rest:

The rest of the photos are just various scenes from Japan- things I ate, random people I saw, etc. I hope you enjoyed my Japan series and take a trip yourself sometime. I wouldn't call Tokyo the most relaxing place to visit, but if you want an adventure-filled, fast-paced vacation, it may be the place for you.

Wanna go get some coffee at White Lover?

Little school girls

Negi Toro Don in Asakusa

Omu Rice in Asakusa

Boy at a festival

My old workplace....

Busy Shibuya intersection

Scenes from a crowded train

Kyoto trees

Shinjuku at dusk

Ladies waiting for a train

Doria, food of the Gods, in Nogata at The Apple Pot


Friday, June 09, 2006

Japan Part IV: Department store basements or "Depa-chika"

Since I went into my adoration for the Japanese department store basement floor earlier, I'll save you the commentary this time. Let me just say that there is no grocery store as beautiful, tempting and vast as a Japanese depa-chika. No American chain can rival the selection of ready-made foods that a depa-chika has to offer. If you're in the mood for something fried, baked, sautéed, raw, rolled, grilled, steamed or broiled, you'll find it all in the DEPA-CHIKA! Whether it be at Seibu, Isetan, Marui or Mitsukoshi (the Grand Dame of all department stores), the basement floor is a food lover's dream come true.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, tons of gratuitous depa-chika food photos for your viewing pleasure.

Different kinds of rice

The famous musk melon.....

...3150 yen each. That's about $32 to you and me....better be a darn good melon!

Slices of juicy pork!

Piles of French macarons......

Large steaks of fish............

Which one should I eat?

Gems of the sea

Everything tastes better rolled in panko and deep fried...

Er...I think they meant Royal Jelly but hey- Jerry works too.