Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quick Supper: Grilled Miso Salmon + Spicy Peanut Noodles

Another quick post to break up the vacation ones. Right before we left, I cooked dinner for our friend SK who had generously offered to house-sit while we were gone. It was a Monday, I was driving home from work, giddy about my impending vacation and equally happy to be paying a visit to McCall's to pick up whatever lovelies they had on special that day.....until (insert record scratch sound here)...I pulled up and saw the "CLOSED" sign staring angrily at me. Doh! In my pre-vacation haze I'd forgotten that McCall's wasn't open Mondays. *Sigh*

I jumped back in the car and headed over to Fish King, and once in the store I stood there for literally 20 minutes with some sort of cook's block, not being able to think of a SINGLE thing to make for dinner. You know when you just feel paralyzed when standing in front of too many options? It certainly wasn't Fish King's fault for offering up multiple varieties of fresh fish, shellfish and poultry....I just couldn't decide. I loitered for so long the staff started to look concerned, so I finally decided on some salmon and headed home, still wondering what to create.

Setting the salmon aside for a moment, I made some appetizers- I'd never made these before but was thinking recently of the many nights spent in izakayas (Japanese pubs) while living in Tokyo. One of my favorite things to order was pari pari cheezu which, loosely translated, means crunchy or crispy cheese. Basically it would be some type of white cheese wrapped in wonton skins and deep fried- sometimes with the addition of kimchee or edamame. I happened to have some shelled edamame in the freezer so I added those to the jack cheese in my version, which I sprinkled with black sesame seeds and sea salt and served with some leftover mustard sauce I had from my mongolian bbq lamb chops.

Luckily some inspiration struck when I saw a jar of peanut butter in the pantry, and the rest was all gravy. I decided to smear a simple mixture of white miso, agave nectar and mirin onto the salmon to broil, then made a dressing of some smooth peanut butter, sambal oelek, grated ginger, chopped garlic, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, agave nectar, green onions, cilantro and some water to thin it out. I just whizzed it all with my beloved Cuisinart hand blender (seriously, if you don't have one, go get one!) and tossed it with hot, whole wheat spaghetti and some julienned carrots and cucumbers. It made a nice bed for the broiled miso salmon, and, garnished with some quickly blanched sugar snap peas- made a nice, balanced one-dish meal.

While in the pantry I also discovered a package of Japanese macha pudding mix that my mom had brought back from Japan. I had some of my favorite Pearl Soy Milk on hand so I mixed that with the powder, poured into ramekins and let it set up while we ate dinner.

I'd post a recipe for the noodles but all of the ingredients are listed above, and it's really all about what you're looking for- do you want them to be more peanuty? Add more peanut butter, less sesame oil (which is very strong). If you love ginger put more of that in and skip the garlic, etc etc. It's a very flexible dressing and fantastic on cold, shredded chicken (add some Sriracha for some extra kick) or even a pile of shredded romaine.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Scenes from Lisbon

As you know, J and I spent a few days in Portugal recently for vacation. We fell in love with the people, the food, the colors....the skies were blue for the entirety of our trip and we couldn't have had a better time in the amazing country. We started our trip in Lisbon, and I wanted to share some of the highlights of the city we had the good fortune of experiencing with you:

The beautiful streets of Lisbon:

Arches near Santa Apolónia train station:

Pasteis de Bacalhau- Portuguese cod fritters, made with bacalhau (dried, salted cod)

Portuguese egg tarts, called pastel de nata, were so delicious we ate more than our share. The burnt sugar at the top made them especially yummy.

Some local graffiti....

A tiny butcher shop/grill cafe right near Santa Apolónia train station where we stopped to buy lunch to take on our high-speed train to Porto. I got a grilled pork sandwich which was good, and J got a whole, grilled chicken that was incredible. He said it was the best chicken he's ever had, and wolfed it down before I could take a photo...just kidding;), but he did really enjoy it. A lot!

Laundry drying in the hot sun......

A typical pork sandwich on a peasant roll- this pork smelled heavenly- you could really sense the bay leaves- and was absolutely delicious.

I'm guessing you wouldn't want to lean too hard against this particular building...isn't it stunning though?!

Just a couple of the many magnificent display of colorful ceramic tiles, azulejos, found all over the country.

Speaking of ceramics, this store sold lots of original ceramic artwork and t-shirts designed by local artists ..

We bought a couple of the mugs you see at the very bottom of the photo above, although J was eyeing these one-of-a-kind ceramic roosters. I'm guessing our cat Cory would've been jealous had we come home with a new pet, so we bid them farewell.

Loved the outdoor dining set-up by restaurants along this long row of stairs- the sun was so bright you can't see the city square in the middle but it was so cool to walk up these steps and watch people drinking vinho verde, enjoying the weather.

J, looking at how many stairs we had left to reach the top!

A restaurant interior made almost entirely of beautiful, blue tiles with matching tablecloths:

A shot of the smooth, cobblestone streets all over Lisbon- I have no idea how the Portuguese manage to walk so quickly over these slippery little suckers- I almost broke my neck on several occassions...I can only imagine what they must be like when it rains.

I'll leave you with a little seafood porn....unfortunately we'd already eaten when we spied this display of giant shrimp and crab legs, but I figure it gives us a reason to go back...not that we need one. I'm already dreaming about a second trip!

Até a vista for now!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day Dinner: Trio of Sliders

I wanted to take a little break from our vacation posts and toss in the Father’s Day dinner I made for my dad this past weekend.

I always think long and hard about what to cook when my parents come over for dinner because they love and appreciate food so much (where do you think I get it from?!) so I want everything to be perfect. Even though I’d emailed my dad and asked if he had any requests, he simply put, “surprise me!” as he usually does when I’ve asked him in the past. After days of mulling it over I finally felt good about a menu I’d put together in my mind (homemade Swiss chard/ricotta ravioli with pomodoro, fried calamari salad, roasted asparagus) when my husband J said, “SLIDERS!”

Now sliders aren’t something I think of for a special occasion dinner, nor were they something I’ve made before. Sure, I’ve grilled up a few hamburgers in my day, but truth be told it had been awhile. Although it was Father’s Day, J rarely requests something so specific and was really rooting for the sliders idea so I wanted to find a way to fulfill his wish while satisfying my need to make it special for the occasion. I called my friend Dylan for inspiration, and he suggested making several different kinds of sliders- use different meats, toppings, etc- go decadent with truffle oil or different cheeses, etc. That conversation definitely pushed me in the right direction and after a few minutes, we’d decided on a Trio of Sliders.

I bought the house hamburger from McCall’s which was nicely marbled with fat, ordered 2 ounce brioche rolls from Euro Pane, stopped at the CheeseStore of Silverlake for some cheeses and grabbed some fresh produce and quail eggs at the Silverlake Farmer’s Market and was good to go. I spent about an hour making my caramelized onion jam (with a touch of thyme, something I love in onion jam) and got the rest of my mise en place together before putting all of the elements together for dinner.

Here are the three kinds of sliders I made:

The “Drago Centro” Slider- J and I go to Drago bar at least twice a month and order off their small bites menu, and their Kobe Beef Sliders are our favorite so I tried to recreate it in these. Arugula, fontina and sautéed mushrooms (I used brown instead of the king mushrooms Drago uses):

The Blue Slider: Caramelized onion jam, Dijon mustard, arugula and St. Agur blue cheese. The exceptionally creamy St. Agur went so well with the sweet onions and the mustard cut the richness of it all. Probably my personal favorite of the night.

The Bacon/Egg Slider- White truffle oil, arugula, Nueske smoked bacon (also from McCall’s) and topped off with a sunny-side up quail egg. Once we sat down, we all broke the yolk and let it run over the burger….it’s like breakfast for dinner, but much more luxurious. I loved this one as well, and the quail eggs were surprisingly easy to get open without compromising the integrity of the yolk.

To balance out the rich sliders I just served a green salad, and a plate of blanched asparagus and crisp radishes with some Provencal aioli for dipping.

All of the sliders were delicious- in large part due to the high quality of the ingredients. The ground beef at McCall’s is a mix of Angus and chuck and was super flavorful and moist. The ladies at the CheeseStore of Silverlake were so helpful in the process of choosing just the right cheeses, the Silverlake Farmer’s Market had some amazingly peppery arugula, bright asparagus and fresh radishes, and Euro Pane baked up the lightest brioche rolls. So thank you to all of the staff for making my Father’s Day dinner possible!

Not only are you supporting local business by shopping at specialty stores, but it’s a fun and educational way to shop and you can avoid the neon lights of a supermarket altogether.

What did you do for Father’s Day?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Restaurante Pedro Lemos, Porto, Portugal

I’m going to jump ahead a bit in our trip, because I am eager to tell you all about a wonderful restaurant we had the pleasure of dining at in Porto, Portugal. I’ll start off by telling you that we both fell in LOVE with Portugal- both Lisbon and Porto - the people, food, scenery, culture, everything really. To me, Portugal holds all of the charms of other popular European destinations like Italy and France, but doesn’t have the high prices. I’ll be blogging more about this fantastic country, but I’d like to introduce you to Pedro Lemos to start off.

Pedro Lemos is the name of the restaurant where J and I had our one “splurge” meal, when we decided to break from the casual meals we’d been eating thus far on the trip and give fine dining a shot. After doing some searching on the internet, we decided to go to Pedro Lemos, the namesake restaurant of the chef, who, from what we read, was taking food from his Portuguese upbringing and elevating it to another level. Needless to say, we were very excited.

After a short taxi ride from our hotel, we came upon the beautiful space, with downstairs dining room for nonsmokers, an upstairs gilded dining room for smokers plus a bar, and an outdoor patio on the roof for those who prefer to dine al fresco. The greeting from Sommelier/manager Eduardo Neto couldn’t have been warmer- he expressed his delight in our visit and showed us to a candlelit table in the main dining room downstairs. Off to a great start!

The restaurant offers a varied a la carte menu as well as two different prix fixe menus- one five course, and one seven course. We wanted to go with the seven course but J isn’t crazy about foie gras (because he’s crazy, ha!) which was the first course, but after Eduardo assured us that the chef would replace J’s foie with something else, we decided to go for it, including the wine pairings. All of the wine (with the exception of champagne) on the list are from Portugal, and not having had much Portuguese wine knowledge, we were really looking forward to trying many kinds.

The meal started off with freshly baked bread, served with a fresh, soft cheese- similar to homemade ricotta- studded with fresh chives which was delicious. We also had the option to dip our warm bread into local, Portuguese olive oil, which was green and bright. We tried to eat the bread slowly, but tell me- what’s better than freshly baked bread…with cheese…and olive oil? What could be more appetizing?! If we didn’t have seven courses coming I think we would have been perfectly happy to sit and eat that bread all night.

By the way: Sorry for the dark photos- I didn't want to use a flash, so this is the best I could do with my camera phone!

First course(s):

Ravioli de borras de Porto com foie gras recheado, em consumme de Rabo de Boi mergulhado- From the lees of port wine, the ravioli stuffed with foie gras from the ox tail, the aromatic consumme.
You can’t see it- but underneath this slice of perfectly seared foie gras is the ravioli, made from squid ink pasta and filled with shredded ox tail and more foie. What’s not to like?! As rich as this dish sounds, it was actually quite light.

Bacalhau de boas recordacoes, sobre gelatin das bochechas a posta desfiada num ourico com seu aveludado, acompanhada das caras num caldo de poejas- The codfish from Chef memories, shredded in sea urchin shape, filled with its velvet chowder and set on a cheek gelatin & pennyroyal broth.
Bacalhau (salted cod fish) is practically the national food of Portugal and you see it on almost every menu in the country. In this preparation it was served in a “shell” made to look like that of a sea urchin- using shredded potatoes and floating in a beautiful broth. This was one of our favorite dishes of the night.

Second course:

Vieira corada numa cigala espetada- A sea scallop in a spit with masala
Another favorite- the seared scallop is actually hiding underneath the large shrimp, and it was served with a wonderfully briny oyster and paired with an apple and endive salad.

Third course:

Codorniz de capoeria, cogumelos, espargos e macas moribundas- The farm raised quail, mushrooms, asparagus and baby apples
I LOVE quail, and this one was seasoned perfectly- the teeny, tiny apples (local, of course) it was served with were remarkable- they looked just like cherries, but tasted like tart apples sweetened with warm spice. The dish reminded me of the holidays.

Fourth course:

Corvina de anzol, em tranche num engaco abafada- The meagre fish, stilfed in rake.
We’d never heard of “meagre” fish before, but after some investigating, it seems it is a fish found in abundance in the Mediterranean Sea with increasing popularity, especially in Italy. It was a firm, meaty fish that was delicious. It came with cabbage, turnips and a tender, sweet chestnut that went so well with the fish, I only wished there were more on the plate.

Fifth course:

O Leitao da nossa interpretacao- The suckling pig, from our interpretation
Ah, roasted, suckling pig. A very popular dish in Portugal, it was on my list of things to eat while there. For this dish, the chef slow-roasted a whole, suckling pig, shredded the meat, then compacted it back together in a cube and topped it with a square of crispy, salty, gorgeous pig skin. The deep fried parsnips and taro root were also crispy and light, and the orange foam was a nice touch to cut through the richness of the pork.

Sixth course:

Crème fresco de limao com mousse de queijo- Fresh lemon cream in a cheese mousse.
This light, lemon mousse tasted like a very mild cheesecake, topped with crumbs and paired with thin rounds of rich, dark chocolate. Really incredible.

Seventh course:

Baunilha “Bourbon” e framboesas- Bourbon vanilla and raspberries in a sponge cream.
A raspberry and vanilla whipped cream encased in layers of “caramelized” pastry, served with beetroot sorbet which was an eye opener. It tasted exactly like earthy, sweet beets but when paired with the rest of the dessert, it created a perfect harmony. I especially loved the flaky pastry coated in caramelized sugar. Wow.

Each course was paired with wine chosen by Eduardo who carefully explained the origin and properties of each one as we went along. The standout for me was the late harvest wine he served with dessert- the smell of it (similar to a muscat wine) literally made my mouth water, and it was so good that I actually purchased a bottle to take home. He was kind enough to line up all of the bottles once we were finished, so I could take a photo:

After our meal, Chef Pedro Lemos came out and spoke to us about his culinary journey to finally realize his dream of owning his own restaurant. He’d had a successful career in engineering, but decided to leave it behind (much to the dismay of family and friends) to follow his passion for food, which he’d had ever since he was a small child. After studying and working with numerous master chefs, he spent a few years in Lisbon before returning to his roots and opening up a restaurant in his hometown of Porto. If I remember correctly (we did have a bit of wine!) he said he’d only been cooking professionally for a few years, which just shows if you have a passion that strong for something, you can succeed. Although his food is very refined, every dish is created from one he ate growing up and is his personal interpretation of the Portuguese food he loves.

J, Chef Pedro Lemos, Sommelier/manager Eduardo Neto, me

Both Chef Pedro and Sommelier/manager Eduardo Neto are extremely committed to showcasing local ingredients and wine, and are two of the most passionately devoted people I’ve ever met. It was very clear that it is their mission to introduce people to Portuguese cuisine done on a fine dining scale, and if you ever have the good fortune of being in the beautiful city of Porto, I highly recommend you pay them a visit. It’s a culinary journey through the best the country has to offer, created by one of the country’s most promising and talent young chefs.

We were very lucky to have had the experience and will remember our meal for years to come.

Pedro Lemos
Rua do Padre Luis Cabral, 974
4150-459 Porto, Portugal
Tel: (351) 22-011-59-86

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scenes From A Gourmet Supermarket in Ireland

We're back from our European vacation and it was awesome! We went to visit my sister in a town called Drogheda which is about 35 miles outside of Dublin, and we also went to Portugal for a few days. I have a gazillion photos so I'll try to cover the trip as thoroughly as possible without boring you all!

Drogheda is a small town, but has all of the conveniences of a city- you can read more about life in Drogheda on my sister's blog, An American in Ireland. It's a really cute place and the people are all so friendly- we met many of Clare's Irish friends and they were warm, kind and welcoming- one of them even baked an apple pie from scratch at the last minute when she heard we were stopping by! Who does that anymore?! It was nice to be taken care of like that...but I'll definitely be posting more on her friends and our other experiences in the days to come so you can get the full stories.

On our first day, the three of us strolled around and of course, had to make a stop at the local supermarket. One of my favorite things to do in any foreign country is to peruse the aisles of a grocery store and see what fun items they offer. Clare took us to the supermarket section of a popular department store called Marks & Spencer, and it did not disappoint. I only wish I would have bought more stuff to bring home.

An array of desserts, ready-to-eat, reminded me of the puddings common in Japanese grocery stores:

Honey roast ham flavored potato chips! You don't even need a sandwich to accompany them since you'd get the meat flavor right in the chips:). Love how it is "reduced fat" too!

Canned oxtail soup- a cut above your Campbell's beef broth, no doubt:

A huge selection of beautifully boxed juices:

Marks & Spencer is known for their "ready-meals," and they have a "Gastropub" line of foods that go well with beer and wine. I'm pretty sure I'd be happy to sit down to this King Prawns, Cod, Salmon & Smoked Haddock Pie after a long day at the office!

Jaffa Cakes are uber-popular in Ireland (and England, I believe) but I can't say I'm a big fan of jellied-fruit, so I wouldn't really like these too much.

In the mood for lamb? You can get the New Zealand variety....

Or local, Irish lamb (I think I'd go for this one!

Eccles cakes look like scones, but are actually made from puff pastry (helllllo butter!) and are dotted with currants:

Is this breakfast or dessert? Sure, we have chocolate flavored cereal here in the US (CoCo Puffs!) but this one is ultra-fancy, featuring white/dark chocolate curls right in the mix!

I loved all of the cheese we ate in Ireland (actually, ALL of the dairy was fresh and delicious) and there certainly is no shortage of variety- check out these fruit-filled cheeses, perfect for a dinner party:

I'm sure potted meats fall under the category of processed foods, but I don't care- few things go better with a glass of wine than salmon or beef rillet smeared on a slice of crusty French bread.

I might be outing myself as a total geek, but I'd prefer to spend hours strolling through grocery stores, gourmet shops and farmers markets than walking through clothing stores. What can I say, the local foods of different cities and countries are endlessly fascinating!

More to come.....