Monday, February 23, 2009

Roll Your Own Sushi

One of the first times (if not THE first time) J and I went to my parents’ house as a couple, they served what we like to call “Roll Your Own Sushi.” My sister and I had grown having these dinners where mom would put plates of sliced sashimi, cucumbers, imitation crab (hey- it’s great in sushi rolls!) and sheets of toasted nori on the table along with a large bowl of sushi rice, and we would each make our own handrolls. I guess it’s akin to sandwich night, but instead of platters of coldcuts and loaves of bread, you’d see all of the ingredients necessary to make handrolls. Well let me tell you- J, who had NOT grown up having Roll Your Own Sushi Night was completely, utterly impressed and asked me every day for weeks after that if we could do it at our own home. It’s kind of funny because to people like my mom and me, Roll Your Own Sushi is an easy supper; a good way of making others do the work- I mean, there isn’t much effort involved in making a pot of sushi rice, and beyond that it’s just some slicing, dicing and plating.

So the other night when I felt like eating sushi but didn’t feel like going out (a rarity, I know!), I stopped at Fish King on my way home from work and picked up some salmon and hamachi sashimi. The salmon was beautiful and completely odorless (a very good sign as fish should never smell really fishy) so I sliced it into thin strips, while the yellowtail had a bit of a fishy smell so I rinsed it, patted it dry and diced it into a spicy hamachi mixture. After combining some Kewpie Mayonnaise with rayu (chili oil) and Sriracha, I folded the chopped hamachi in with a handful of diced green onions and seasoned it ever so lightly with a touch of sea salt. For the veggie elements I decided on Japanese cucumbers, diakon sprouts and Haas avocados.

I toasted sheets of nori over the flame on my stovetop and mixed in a portion of instant sushi rice seasoning (I know, it’s cheating but it was a weeknight!) into my pot of hot, Japanese rice and placed it all on the table. Personally, I think the thing that goes best with handrolls is miso soup, so I made a pot of that as well, using silken tofu and scallions as additions.

We made some hojicha, hunkered down and got to work rolling our own sushi. My favorite combo that night ended up being spicy a hamachi/cucumber/avocado handroll while J made lots with the salmon/daikon sprouts/avocado. The great thing about rolling your own sushi is you can make whatever combination you like, and it’s fun to play around with the flavor and texture combinations.

I have to admit- we got full quite quickly and there ended up being some salmon left over, which we cooked up into BBQ salmon crostini (slices of toasted baguette topped with quick pickled red onions, slices seared salmon coated in BBQ sauce and thinly sliced avocado) the next night . I highly recommend cooking any left over sashimi you have if you plan to eat it the next day- it’s great in miso soup too- but never eat it as sashimi just in case. Roll Your Own Sushi is great when you have friends over, and you really don’t need to buy a lot of sashimi to feed a crowd- the rice and veggies can be the main element- so it isn’t as expensive as eating sushi out.

Maybe you’ll try it? It’s fun too!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Little Flower Candy Co. - Pasadena

Have you ever dreamt of a fantasyland filled with piles of giant, sweet-smelling cookies and buckets of fruity, shiny lollipops in all the colors of a rainbow? A place where big, homemade marshmallows in chocolate and coffee billow out of bags and perfectly wrapped sea-salt caramels fill every shelf? If you have, it probably looked a lot like The Little Flower Candy Co. – a small store/café located just south of the 134 on Colorado Blvd, which also happens to be less than five minutes from my house. How lucky am I? This is the kind of place I think of when I hear the phrase, "Visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads."

As most of you know, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, although I have been known to enjoy a good cookie or pastry now and again. Luckily for me, The Little Flower Candy Co. has lots of things that would fill my non-sugar fantasies- several kinds of homemade soups each day, two different quiches, a nice selection of salads and, most importantly, a fantastic sandwich menu.

Now you know I love me a good sandwich. Sandwiches rank near the top of my favorite food list but as common as a sandwich is in this world, a good, well-made sandwich is a rare breed, which is unfortunate. I love the sandwiches at Europane, although it’s a bit of a drive to grab a quick lunch, and although Nicole’s uses amazing baguettes on all of her sandies, I sometimes need a bit more selection. This is where The Little Flower Candy Co has come into my life and filled that emptiness and I seriously couldn’t feel luckier. I could LIVE on their veggie wrap. I know, I know- now before you start accusing me of being a Crunchy Granola Hippie, I gotta tell ya- this wrap is so good it’d satisfy any meat eater, myself included. I don’t order it because its veggie- I order it because I NEED it. Crave it. Require it. It’s no longer a want, it’s a habit. The elements couldn’t be simpler- a nice, large whole wheat tortilla blankets a garlicky green hummus, fresh cherry tomatoes, crisp English cucumber, shredded carrots, lettuce and a mound of warm, tender brown rice. The warmth of the rice is KEY- no one wants to eat a burrito full of cold rice- and it just wakes up the garlic in the hummus which mixes with the cool veggies and combines into one perfect flavor combo. My husband J can’t seem to bring himself to order anything else as he, too, is an addict.

The tempeh sandwich (I know, AGAIN with the vegetarian option!) is also divine- thinly sliced, nicely seared tempeh piled on wheat bread with lots of veggies, perfectly rip avocado and tapenade (which, hello- I don’t even LIKE olives but it works so well here!). Can’t live without meat? The pulled pork sandwich is piled high with wonderfully meaty, tender pig and I love that the flavor of the pork is as prominent as the flavor of the BBQ sauce. On most days they offer a pulled chicken sandwich as well if you’re not into pig (but seriously, why would anyone NOT be into pig?). Although I’ve yet to try it, the egg salad sandwich seems to be one of their most popular items, along with the meatloaf sandwich (thick and tender) and the roast beef (bring an appetite!) made with arugula and house made aioli. Every sandwich comes with 2 pickle sticks- one pickle is “new” and greener, less tart; the other is older and has been pickling longer, so you get to try both. There are daily specials ranging from a Dal bowl to bahn mi, and you can get all of this, in addition to their soups, to go.

……which brings me to what made the Little Flower Candy Co famous in the first place- their sweets. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen their sea salt or vanilla caramels and giant, homemade marshmallows in boutiques and specialty shops for years. Both are delicious and taste nothing like their mainstream counterparts. If you haven’t had a homemade marshmallow, you haven’t had a real marshmallow. I prefer to grab a cookie after finishing a sandwich, my favorite being their cutout butter cookies which are flavored with liberal amounts of lemon or lime zest (or oil?) and the citrus flavor lingers in my mouth long after I’ve eaten it. YUM. It’s pretty hard to choose between those, their enormous chocolate chip cookies, mini red velvet cupcakes topped with a dollop of cream cheese icing, the frangipane tart with fresh raspberries or the chocolate croissants….I mean, what on earth is a girl to do?

The shop is filled out with tables boasting more sweet treats and a small selection of children’s books and cookbooks. I can just imagine how a kid must feel when they walk in (and many do), seeing the bars of chocolate and bags of candy filling the shelves. I feel that way when I look over the sandwich menu!!!

I have to say, it’s always great to see a small, local business thrive, but The Little Candy Co is doing so because they are putting out quality product made with great care, love and attention to detail. It’s evident in the faces of the staff- whether it’s owner/chefs Christine Moore and her husband or one of the nice ladies running the register. They always have a good recommendation if you can’t decide what to order and take the time to greet everyone, give a smile……as jaded as I can be sometimes, I gotta say…’s lovely. And it seems their love is spreading- the place gets pretty packed during lunch hour and you may have to wait for a seat, but it’s totally worth it. Just grab a cookie and cup of coffee- there are worse ways to wait, after all!

Little Flower Candy Company
1424 W. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105

Hours of business
Mon-Sat, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sun, Closed

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brick Chicken

I love few things more than a well roasted chicken. For some reason, I never tire of it and love the whole process of prepping, cooking, serving and eating it, then picking the meat off the bones (and making sure I get the oysters!!) and using it for another meal while using the bones to make stock. I guess saying that chicken is one of my favorite foods sounds awfully generic, but if you've ever had a well prepared bird, you'll likely agree with me. It's one of the simple pleasures in life.

I roast a chicken probably two or three times a month, but I'd never tried the brick method- butterflying a whole chicken and then cooking it on a grill or in a pan with another pan on top of the bird, weighed down by bricks. It's something I've always thought about trying, and after seeing it done twice in one week on the Food Network, I figured it was time to give it a go.

It was easy enough to cut the neck bone out with a pair of kitchen shears, then flatten the whole thing by pressing down on the back of the breast with some muscle. I slathered it in a paste made from garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lots of rosemary and put it in the fridge to chill out for a day.

After bringing birdie to room temp by letting it sit on the counter for an hour, I preheated a large pan, drizzled in a bit of olive oil and set the chicken in skin side down. Ok, here's where I improvised on the brick method- I didn't have any bricks so I filled up my kettle with water and got 2 large cans of tomatoes out to weigh down the pan I set on top of the chicken. It seemed to work well enough, and I could hear the chicken skin sizzling loudly. Oh and the smell! The aroma of chicken skin cracking mixed with garlic and rosemary.....seriously, shouldn't someone make an air freshner that smells like that?

After about 15 minutes I flipped the chicken over and let it finish cooking, then let it rest before chopping it into large pieces. J and I sat down, got our napkins ready and attacked! The skin was super crispy and the meat was tender. It was seriously delicious.

So what can be done with the leftovers? Well, J and I have this thing called "drunk cooking." OK, maybe I am not literally drunk when I do this but it's what happens when we have a few glasses of wine, then J says, "I'm hungry!" I don't know why but I take it as a challenge and try to make something really good out of what's in the fridge.

Our cat Cory, with that "any leftovers for me?" look... she sits perched on the arm of our sofa as she is every night!

So the other night when we found ourselves in this situation, I was lucky enough to have some leftover chicken. I also had one whole wheat tortilla and a nugget of good parmesan cheese. I tossed the chopped chicken in some spicy BBQ sauce and made a tortilla pizza topped with grated parmesan, chopped cilantro and diced green onions. Man, it was so good. Of course a glass of champagne makes anything taste better but it really was something that I think I'll make again while not drunk cooking, ha.

Shouldn't the Food Network create a show called Drunk Cooking?? I think it'd be a hit, especially with guys, ha.

Anyway, I think I prefer a roast chicken to this brick method, just because it's less messy (the rendered fat from the skin splatters all over the stovetop) and it's always nice to have something roasting in the oven. However, this brick method is great if you want a crispy skin and are short on time - since it lies flat it cooks much faster than roasting a whole chicken. Once summer rolls around, I will also see if it works better on the grill.

In the meantime, give it a try!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Busy, busy.....but with good news.......

I just realized I haven't blogged in awhile. The last two weeks have been really busy but filled with good stuff! I just posted this photo since a year ago, my sister took my whole family to Urasawa, and it was a wonderful experience, to say the least. Sometimes I just sift through the photos I took that night, drooling over each perfect piece of sushi.

I promise to get back to blogging, especially since J bought me a new camera for my birthday! It's a Canon EOS D20 and although I've been fiddling with it for a few days, there are lots of features that will take me awhile to get the hang of using so I'm studying up. I feel like such a novice trying to use it, but it does take wonderfully sharp photos without too much effort from me. Hopefully this will mean better photos on this blog! So that's good news!

In more good news, I have to say congratulations to my dear J and the rest of the band- they won their first Grammy on Sunday and we're still buzzing with excitment.

Also wanted to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my mom, who celebrates her special day on Valentine's Day.

Dad and Mom, last year at Urasawa

Have a great weekend, and I'll try to cook/take photos to post soon.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Mika's Doria

Doria. I’ve said that word to every food-loving friend multiple times in the seven years I’ve been back from living in Japan, and they all look at me with the same, Never-Heard-Of-It-What-Is-It look. I’ve spent time googling it and trying to find where the word originated from, only to be bombarded with endless pages of people named Doria Rice. What is doria, you ask? It’s just about the Greatest Dish On The Planet, my friends, and consider your taste buds sad from having to live without it for so many years.

Basically doria is a rice gratin. It comes in many flavors- sometimes it’s made with a béchamel-type sauce; other times it oozes piping hot marinara or even a demi-glace. It is extremely popular in Japan and found on just about every Italian or fami-resu (that's Japanese slang for "family restaurant"...which, come to think of it, is ALSO Japanese slang- think Denny’s, Applebees, etc) menu in the country. Most coffee shops even make one version of doria. “A lot of countries have popular dishes that aren’t well-liked here," you say. But what’s not to like about rice, sauce and cheese all baked together in a dish and served piping hot out of the oven? It amazes me this shoe-in for Best Comfort Food hasn’t made a blip on the food radar here in the States, where oozing cheese is ranked high on the list of Things People Want To Eat On A Daily Basis.

After many fruitless years of searching, I decided that if I wanted doria, I’d have to make it myself. I’ve made ones with tomato sauce, eggplant and mozzarella; others with Mexican rice, a spicy tomato salsa, white sauce and cheddar. Want steak doria? Just combine some rice with diced steak and maybe mix it up with a deep, brown demi-glace, chopped parsley and grated Gruyère and then top the whole thing off with grated parmesan! It’s a great way to use up leftover rice and pretty much anything else you may have in the fridge. The basic elements are simply rice, some sort of sauce, and cheese. Add whatever else you like.

Doria, just before a sprinkling of parmesan and a trip to the oven

Well, meet Mika. Mika is my best friend, soul sister and a fellow doria fanatic. She and I used to go to a little spot near my Tokyo apartment called The Apple Pot (oh, how I miss you!) that made the BEST chicken doria ever. It was a tomatoey rice mixed with lots of chicken, those frozen mixed veggies that we all ate as a kid (carrots, peans, corn) and drenched in the tastiest béchamel which bubbled out from a mountain of melted cheese. YUM! Mika resides here now and feels the pain of the non-doria culture we live in, so we’ve had numerous conversations about our beloved baked rice dish. When she and I planned to watch the Super Bowl together, I decided to surprise her with a custom made doria just for her.

Hot and bubbling out of the oven

One thing you should know about Mika is that she loves anything cheesy, creamy, rich and decadent and lists Kewpie Mayonnaise as her Favorite Food Ever. It hardly seems fair that she has a waist the circumference of a Frisbee since she puts extra mayonnaise (ONLY Kewpie brand though- she knows what she likes!) on any vegetable she consumes and orders spaghetti alla carbonara every time we go to an Italian restaurant. Luckily she’s one of the coolest girls I know, so although I’d love to envy her speedy metabolism, I love her dearly and am happy to contribute to her mayo/cream/cheese habit anytime.

I wanted to make her a doria that had all of the flavors she loves the most (sans mayo, which I knew she’d put on the salad I was planning to serve with it). So I decided on a sort of carbonara doria. After rendering down some pancetta I sautéed some onions in the fat, then tossed them in a bowl with the pancetta, diced roasted chicken, brown rice, green peas, grated Asiago and a creamy cheese sauce made with milk, asiago and a bit of egg mixed in to thicken it. After adding LOTS of black pepper (another Mika staple) I poured it into a baking dish, topped it with a nice grating of parmesan cheese, covered it with foil and baked for 20 minutes. After 5 minutes without the foil, the top was golden and it was ready to serve.

Creamy rice with crispy pancetta, tender chunks of chicken and cheeeeeeeeeeeese!

Mika loved the doria (I’d made myself a Mexican doria since I had leftover beans I had to use, plus my waist isn’t the size of a Frisbee!). I’ll definitely be making more dorias in the future, but if you get a chance, I hope you try this one. It’s made a bit healthier with brown rice and milk for the cheese sauce (instead of cream) and sure to please anyone who has a weakness for cheesy baked dishes.

Mika’s Doria

Makes 1 serving...if you're really hungry:)

1 ounce pancetta or bacon, diced
½ of a medium onion, diced
1 cup cold white or brown rice
½ cup cubed cooked chicken breast
¼ cup frozen green peas
Chopped parsley
Salt & pepper
Creamy cheese sauce (see below)

Creamy cheese sauce:

1 pat butter
1 garlic clove
½ cup whole milk
¾ cup grated Asiago cheese
¼ cup egg beater or 1 large egg, mixed
Salt & pepper

½ ounce finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sautee the pancetta in a pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is slightly crispy. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and add the onions, sautéing until they are translucent. Combine in a large mixing bowl along with the pancetta, rice, chicken, peas and parsley and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter under low heat, add the garlic clove and swirl it off the heat for about a minute to impart the garlic flavor; discard garlic. Add milk, heat under low heat until hot but not boiling, then add cheese, whisking constantly until cheese is melted and combined with the milk. Put your egg or egg beater into a small bowl, then add about ¼ cup of the milk/cheese mixture while stirring, then add it back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk/cheese mixture. Whisk over low heat until thickened, then add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over other ingredients in the bowl and mix well to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Pour into an 8 x 8 baking dish, or an 8 inch (roughly) round baking dish if you have one, patting the mixture down slightly. The doria will fill the dish about an inch high. Cover with grated parmesan, then cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then take the foil off and bake for another 5, or until cheese on top turns golden brown.