Saturday, April 4, 2009

The herban legend and much, much more!

Well, it's been months since the last relevant post. The baby has us really busy and it's been great! He really likes going to the Santa Monica farmers market to see all of the people and things abound. So, since we haven't posted anything in months, there's a lot to cover.

So, where to start? This might go out of chronological order, but let's start with last Christmas. Christmas dinner for us is usually spent with my family(5 others), so it's a really small group. However, last year, there was a last minute decision to have the entire side of my family have dinner at my parents' house. So, from 9 to about 30 since some of my family were out of town. What to cook? I had wanted to make something very different this year than the traditional Christmas dinner. I had been wanting to make this for years and years, so where did I look to?

Spain and paella!

So, I headed on down to Santa Monica Seafood(highly recommended) and bought enormous amounts of littleneck clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and I had already bought a free range chicken and imported Spanish chorizo(yes, the REAL stuff). I had a ton of rice at home, so I wasn't about to go buy Valencia(the short grain rice that is used in Spain for paella) rice. My parents have this amazing meyer lemon tree and the lemons were cut off of the tree minutes before serving. I don't remember where I got the recipes from because I basically saw a few that I liked and made a hybrid. Just google 'paella recipe', then pick and choose.

As you can see in the pictures, the seafood components don't have very much color from the saffron. Now, you must understand that my parents live about 40 minutes away and if I were to put all of the seafood into the pan when I was making the paella, by the time I got there, everything would be overcooked. If I par cooked the seafood and took it off of the stovetop and tried to let it fully cook with residual heat, it would be undercooked. So, I opted to do the smartest thing and just cook the seafood right before I was going to serve the paella.

It was absolutely delicious! The recipes I referred to were pretty authentic for a seafood paella.

Here are just a few random things that I made for J when the baby was first born, meaning, no time to do anything but take care of baby:

Fish sticks with homemade tartar sauce with fresh Thyme.

Roasted red potatoes with thyme.

The recipe is dead simple and was made with lack of time in mind. I don't remember the exact number of potatoes since this was from last year. Cut the potatoes so that they are all small and the same size so that they all cook and will be done at the same time and put into a med-large mixing bowl. Drizzle enough olive oil to coat the potatoes then add salt and pepper to taste. Also toss in some fresh thyme and mix around until everything is incorporated. Put into your 400 degree oven on a cookie sheet or your pan in the toaster oven and cook until golden brown. The outside should be crispy and the inside soft for nice contrasting textures. We put it in our convection toaster oven at 400 for about 35-40 minutes. Anything higher will burn the potatoes and leave the insides raw. I think a conventional oven would take close to an hour. Every oven is different, so keep checking those potatoes just to make sure.

Sauteed carrots with olive oil and fresh thyme.

Peel carrots and cut on the bias into about 1/4 inch cuts. Olive oil goes into the pan and cook the carrots and thyme on medium heat. Carrots take a while to cook, that's why I always cut them thin.

Homemade fried chicken (with GF batter) and homemade sweet and sour sauce. I made these a month before the baby arrived and they heated up great in the toaster oven @ 400 degrees.

The batter is just brown rice flour, but you can use white rice flour, tapioca(tends to get gummy if not cooked long enough) or most other GF flours. I broke down a whole chicken into little morsels, dredged them in the GF flour and then fried until golden and crispy. As far as the sweet and sour sauce goes, I never go by a recipe because I just make it from memory. There are plenty of recipes on the internet and mine was comprised of white vinegar, agave nectar, tomato paste, GF tamari and cornstarch.

Sauteed chicken breast with avocado and honey mustard sauce.

I can't remember if the bread was bought from Whole Foods(most likely since I didn't have time to make it). I always buy whole chickens. I can't justify paying just as much for a WHOLE frickin chicken as I would for 2-3 chicken breasts. It's just a crime. It basically works like this. J eats only the breast meat and I eat everything else. Yup, everything. Neck, gizzards, liver, the entire thing. After I break the chicken down, I'll usually make fresh chicken broth. So, after the breasts are removed from the chicken, I cut them in half so that they cook faster. Season both sides with salt and pepper. So, as far as the honey mustard sauce goes, it's easy. You can adjust honey or mustard(dijon is preferred) depending on your taste, but I usually have it more towards the mustard, but only slightly. You want balance. Add a tiny bit of olive oil to bind everything together and mix! You won't really need to add salt as the mustard is probably salty enough.

Bacon-wrapped yellowtail.

Now, you must remember. Yellowtail is an extremely lean fish. They are only fatty during the winter. Yes, I've caught my own and I know the difference. So, lean dry yellowtail needs....hmm...bacon! I believe that was free range pork bacon. Crispy bacon outside, moist, firm yellowtail on the inside. Just remember to cook on medium over the stovetop. If you can, cook both sides for 5 minutes and then throw the pan(if you have the proper kind) into the over at 425 for another 5 minutes to cook evenly.

Free range beef lettuce wrap.

You don't have to use free range beef. You can also use ground turkey, chicken, pork, etc.

This is for two people:
-1 package protein of choice.
-lettuce, iceberg or butter lettuce. I find iceberg to be better for this because of the crisper texture. That's about all iceberg is good for.
-fresh ginger, about 1-2 teaspoons(depending on your taste) of fresh grated on the microplane or very finely minced.
-cilantro, chopped. Put as much as you like.
season with salt and pepper to taste.
-sriracha if you like it spicy!

Thoroughly combine in a mixing bowl and then sautee on med high heat until cooked. Serve in lettuce cups that are washed and spun dry in a salad spinner if possible.

Clam pasta with white sauce, stuffed manilla clams and fresh asparagus.

Clam pasta with white sauce
-GF pasta, linguine is usually used, but I didn't have the time to go out and buy it, so I used GF spaghetti instead.
-fresh clams. Manilla or littleneck. Make sure to put your clams in a large container of cold water 30 minutes or so before cooking. Why? Well, if you do, the clams will spit out any residual sand that they have inside of them. Sand+pasta isn't a good combination.
-italian parsley, chopped
-milk or heavy cream, enough to thicken
-parmigiano reggiano

Cook pasta until done. At the same time, steam the clams in a pot and reserve some of the liquid since it's full of flavor from the clams. Let clams cool and remove clams from the shell, then chop. Put pasta in a large pan on med-high heat, add clams and add about a quarter cup of milk or heavy cream. Cook for only a few more minutes as you don't want the pasta to get mushy. It really depends on the brand of GF pasta you buy. I find with the GF pasta we buy from Trader Joe's, you really have to cook them for a while. Plate and sprinkle with freshly chopped italian parsley. Microplane some reggiano on top if desired.

Stuffed clams
-1 pound littleneck or manilla clams
-italian parsley, chopped
-bacon, cooked and minced. Reserve a tiny bit of bacon fat to put into the mixture to prevent it drying out.
-GF breadcrumbs. I used GF waffles. I toasted the waffles a few times to get them crispy and golden, then put them into a food processor.

Mix bread crumbs, parsley, bacon, reserve bacon fat, salt pepper into a mixing bowl. Steam the clams until they open. Discard any that aren't open after cooking. If they don't open, that means that they're dead and they were dead before you bought them. It happens. After removing clams from the steamer, scoop a bit of your mixture and put it inside of the clams. Arrange on a baking sheet or toaster oven pan and broil for a few minutes. Remove from heat, arrange on plate.

Asparagus is easy as anything to cook. We like to eat them when they have texture and a bit of crispness to them. Steam asparagus until they turn bright green and slightly tender. Don't overcook it or else it'll turn a very dull, greenish-brown.

Ok, fast forward a bit to this year and spring.

Fresh peas!

Minty peas with wild salmon and roasted potatoes.

-Enough fresh peas for 2 people, shelled.
-potatoes, I used fingerling potatoes. Probably 6 of them. Cut on the bias, about half an inch wide.
-Salmon, we used wild, you can use farmed of course.

The potatoes were tossed with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I then put them in the toaster oven on convection setting at 400 degrees. When the potatoes were almost done, I started seasoning the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides. Since it's wild salmon, I wanted to cook it medium rare. If you want well done, you mind as well buy farmed. Wild salmon is a beautiful thing, so treat it with great respect. While cooking the salmon for 3 minutes on each side on medium I also started boiling the peas. It only takes a few minutes for the peas. You don't want to overcook fresh peas. So, after cooking the salmon and peas, I chopped mint and mixed that with the peas along with sea salt, pepper and a tiny bit of olive oil. Sometimes you can partially mash them, but I kept them whole. The peas were succulent, tender and sweet. One of our favorite things for the spring season. Salmon and potatoes were also great.

Last week, I bought what seems like our weekly group of herbs.


Can you name all of those herbs?

The main reason for all of those herbs are because I've been making a lot of vietnamese style noodles(pho) that uses mint, basil and cilantro. Sweet thai basil that is commonly found with pho isn't always readily available here in West LA, so I get regular basil. The others there are chives, watercress, thyme and dill.

Fried rice.

-Any oil that is relatively flavorless like safflower, canola, NO olive oil.
- 2 free range organic eggs or any kind of chicken eggs
- fresh ginger, microplaned
- garlic, microplaned
- carrots, cut thinly on the bias for quick cooking (I used white and orange)
- chives
- long grain rice, we had previously made jasmine rice so we used that.

Scramble the eggs in a separate pan, but don't overcook them. Set aside. Add oil to a large pan on med-high heat, add carrots and cook for several minutes. Then add the rice and coat the rice with the oil by moving the rice around with a spatula. After close to 10 minutes and when the rice starts changing color, add microplaned ginger and garlic. Mix more and take off of heat. Mix eggs in, plate, then garnish with chives.

California sole with minty peas and roasted potatoes or California sole with minty peas and roasted dill potatoes.

Basically, the peas(peas were mashed this time)and the potatoes were prepared the same way as the wild salmon, roasted potatoes and peas. The only difference in this one is that it uses freshly caught sole from local waters and fresh thyme/thyme flowers are sprinkled on top to garnish.

Same exact thing here except dill is incorporated into the potatoes.

Everything was great, but man...the peas sure did stand out yet again.

Ok, now we go back in time around 8-9 months to 2008. I made a ton of food that was then frozen to be reheated later when the baby was born. If any of you have had a newborn, you'll know about the lack of sleep and time.

Homemade macaroni and cheese!

Hawaiian-style lunch.

Very spicy sausage(usually portuguese sausage), rice, spring onions, sunny side up egg.

Now we go back to summer when figs were in season. Figs wrapped with bacon. Super easy to do and based on a recipe by Eric Ripert. You can also substitute dates for the figs. It's a balancing act of sweet/salty/savory. Great little canapes.

The next few things were from the Sensitive Baker in Culver City. Cupcakes with frosting and Challah bread. J was pregnant during that time, so those cupcakes didn't last very long.

J did something ingenious with the Challah. She unrolled it and we had ingredients to make cinnamon rolls! I think those ingredients were cinnamon, powdered sugar and rice milk. She made a few and let me say, they were delicious! I wasn't allowed to take more than a tiny morsel though.

Jamaican black bean burger.

I don't remember what the sauce was. The black bean burger was really good, but I can't remember the ingredients besides black beans, rice and maybe allspice and ginger.

Dragonfruit and Satsuma oranges!

Lamb with chanterelle risotto, yams and black truffle.

-Free range lamb(cooked medium)
-fresh chanterelle mushrooms
-arborio rice
-chicken broth
-parmigiano reggiano
-black truffle(optional)

Don't worry, I trimmed the lamb fat afterwards and my dog got some of it as a treat.

Leftover chicken soup.

So, remember what I said about buying a whole chicken? The leftover roasted chicken that I had goes into a soup with fresh thyme, onion, shallots, carrots and celery. Bad photo though. Reflection from the lights.

Noodle soup.

Herbs. Lots of herbs! Remember the herbs way earlier in this post and 2 hours of your life wasted ago? Yep, some of those herbs.

-bean sprouts
-rice noodles(there aren't any good southeast asian stores around West LA, so I have to opt for pad thai noodles). Across town is a different story though.
-thinly sliced beef, chicken, pork or fish. Slicing any kind of meat, poultry or fish is really easy for me since I have really good knife skills. If you don't want to deal with the mess or aren't so good at it, have your butcher slice thin slices for you.
-baby bok choi

Seared diver scallops.

1 pound, diver scallops, dry packed. Season both sides with salt and pepper, put into hot pan on med high heat and sear until well carmelized on both sides. DO NOT overcook your scallops! Lemon juice and chives to finish.

Dungeness crab.

Unfortunately, we don't live in the SF Bay, Washington State or the Oregon coast. So, we have to get our dungeness crabs pre-cooked. I love dungeness crabs. I've been eating them since I was a kid.

The meat from the legs and claws is sweet, tasty and all, but the REAL crab connaisseurs know where the good stuff is. In the shell.

The pure crab taste along with the different textures from the viscera and fat is commonly referred to the 'crab butter' and it is mighty fine. If there is roe in there, you just hit the jackpot.

The oyster.

Perhaps my most favorite of all. It's hard. Really hard to beat something so pure in taste. It tastes of the ocean and depending on the variety and where they came from, sweeter or more briny. The Atlantic ocean has a higher level of salinity, so all of the east coast oysters are more briny in taste. My favorite is the Kumamoto. I like every kind I can get my hands on. Carlsbad Aquafarms sells a dozen for $10 and I usually get the Luna oysters. They are comparable to the Kumamotos. A complete steal if you ask me. Of course I've also eaten the hama hamas and they are slightly sweet and very plump.

Luna oysters(a dozen of the hundreds I've enjoyed this past year)

Hama hama oysters

That's about it for now.

Thanks for looking!

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